There’s kind of a lot going on with the Cardinals right now.
Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols have retired, Adam Wainwright is returning on a surprisingly healthy one-year contract, the team lost its hitting coach, pitching coach, *and* bench coach, Nolan Arenado decided to just … not take more money (for god knows what reason) and Cardinals President John Mozeliak is (uncharacteristically) signaling his willingness to spend big this offseason.
It’s that latter point that’s given me the most heartburn, not only because I also expect the Cubs to be aggressive this winter (more competition on the market is never a good thing), but also because the Cubs already have an uphill battle in the NL Central next season. If the Cardinals open up the checkbook, it’ll just be that much tougher.
But I’m starting to think maybe we shouldn’t be so worried — at least, about the spending part. Especially after reading this from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “When the Cardinals held on to their blue-chip prospects at this year’s trade deadline, they held on to pieces they believe can help them contend in the years to come. Now, with the offseason looming and the Cardinals looking to make roster additions through trades or free agency to prepare for 2023, some moves will be made with those prospects in mind.”
Not long after professing his desire to increase payroll this offseason, Mozeliak started pumping on the brakes, suggesting that the team needs to be “very careful on what [they] do this offseason in terms of, you know, making sure we still create opportunity.”
Now, that’s only a partial relief, because the prospects in question are really good, but still … Does that sound like someone who’s going to go hog-wild? I don’t think so. I think it’s someone who’s maybe walking back his earlier comments a bit.
Unfortunately, the roller coaster doesn’t end there, because even if the Cardinals don’t make a TON of moves this winter, the one big move already being floated — signing free agent catcher Willson Contreras — could sting the most. Maybe that’s where the increase in payroll comes from, since it’s a justifiable necessity after Molina’s retirement?
We’ve already seen external rumors on Contreras becoming the heir to Molina for the Cardinals (including the fact that he’s already asked about life as a Cardinal), but now those stories are being written out of St. Louis:
….From this view, none of the potential upgrades are more important than one mandatory upgrade: catcher.
Molina’s bumpy final season proved an uncomfortable fact. The Cardinals’ in-house options, Andrew Knizner and Ivan Herrera, are not quite ready for the full-time spotlight. More proven help is needed for 2023, no matter how things shake out for Knizner and Herrera down the line. If the Cardinals had an in-house candidate ready, we would know it by now. It would have been made clear when Molina spent time away from the team. Maybe isn’t a definitive answer. Adding a catcher of impact is a must.
If the Cubs are now unwilling to give the free agent the commitment required to let him fulfill that role, and it sounds like they are, the Cardinals should strongly consider benefitting from the Cubs’ loss.
This is becoming a very real possibility.
I found it interesting, by the way, that Contreras’ plus-arm is among the reasons the Cardinals could be especially interested in a deal this winter — remember, the 2023 bases will be bigger and the pickoff attempts will be limited next season. Steal attempts could go up and an arm like Willson’s might be more valuable than it was in the past.
As a reminder, the Cubs are going to extend the one-year, $19.65M qualifying offer to Willson Contreras after the World Series. And when he rejects it, he’ll cost his new team draft pick compensation, as well as some international free agent dollars. But if the Cardinals are going to have their last dance with Wainwright, as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado theoretically age out of their prime, then going all-in on a bat like Contreras makes a whole lot of sense. Especially with Molina gone and the DH available if they don’t like his work behind the plate.