Kozma and the Cards look to bounce back in 2013
With some time to let the Meltdown at McCovey Cove sink in, it's time to look towards the offseason and the likely changes that will be made with the St. Louis roster.
As reported by various outlets, starting pitcher Kyle Lohse and slugger Lance Berkman are not expected to return in 2013. That leaves a couple of potentially big slots to fill. While it would be nice to see star prospects like Shelby Miller, Oscar Tavares and Kolten Wong get a shot with the big club, chances are they won't all exit spring training on the 25-man roster.
That means that help will likely come via free agency or through trades. Here are three moves I think the Cards could make to bolster their already capable unit in 2013.
A proven playoff guy (2010 NLCS MVP), Ross would be a great fit in St. Louis
In a year in which the Boston Red Sox were more dysfunctional than the Bad News Bears, Cody Ross was a dim, distant beacon in an otherwise dark, dismal existence. He is going to be a nice under-the-radar outfield option this winter. I think he would fit well with the Cardinals.
For Boston, Ross ranked third in home runs with 22, had 81 RBI (good for second on the team) and was second on the club with 70 runs scored. Defensively, he was great as well, committing just one error in 2012 while playing all three outfield positions.
Because of the injury history and advancing age of Carlos Beltran, as well as the need to bolster the middle infield, it is not a stretch to think a deal could be made from a place of strength. That means there might need to be other options at the ready.
The 31-year-old Ross is a hard-nosed guy who will bring a winning mentality to any team. I think he fits excellently and could play everywhere in the outfield productively.
Kelly could be moved to fetch infield help
As much as I like Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, middle infield is a problem for St. Louis. Kozma just isn’t ready to be an every-day shortstop. A utility guy, certainly. But I’m still not convinced he’s good enough either offensively or defensively to be on a major league roster for a full season.
In regards to Descalso, he just doesn’t hit enough to play second base every day. Kolten Wong is proceeding through the minors and is destined to arrive at second base soon, maybe even in 2013. I personally don't think that's going to happen just yet, though.
Also, incumbent starter Rafael Furcal missed the final five weeks with an injured elbow, and at his advanced age, there are no guarantees he will even be back.
To fill a need area, the Cardinals will have to take from a position of strength to improve. A trade from the surplus of young, starting pitching might be the ticket.
Miller scuffled in Triple-A in 2012, but most think he's going to be a top-flight starter in the majors. Trevor Rosenthal is a plus arm and isn't going anywhere.
That leaves Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn. I could see them packaged with prospects individually in an attempt to fetch a player like Yunel Escobar of the Toronto Blue Jays.
A true leadoff hitter would do wonders for St. Louis
No team used to use speed and defense to its advantage more than the St. Louis Cardinals. Ozzie Smith is in the Hall of Fame because he is the greatest defensive shortstop to ever live. And while the game has changed from a literal turf war to something more like a surface to air assault, there is still very much a place for guys who can run and get the ball on defense.
Enter Michael Bourn.
Among the game's elite center fielders, he will be a highly valued free agent this winter. Unlike a player of Josh Hamilton's caliber, though, Bourn is not a run producer. His major values come from strong base-running skills and his exceptional defense in center. With more of an emphasis on defense and speed, that should mean a lucrative deal for him.
However, that does not mean he will be paid (err, overpaid) like Carl Crawford. Bourn will make $10-plus million a year, but it won't be much more than that. And as the meltdown against San Francisco showed, the Cardinals do need to improve their defense. It starts up the middle, and there's not many that do it better than Bourn.
In addition, Jon Jay does a great job of getting on base. But I ultimately think he is a much better two-hitter than a leadoff hitter.
Bourn gives the Cardinals something they didn't have much of in 2012: the ability to manufacture runs. It will be interesting to see what his market value is, but I do think the Cardinals should be players for him this offseason.
Matheny's crew ended up just short of the World Series in 2012
The final analysis is simple: St. Louis is already among the elite teams. The Cardinals have the right mix of youth and experience, with budding stars (as usual) ready to contribute if need be in 2013. But there are holes that need to be filled.
Pitching is a question mark. Chris Carpenter's health will be a big question in the offseason, as will who will replace the likely departing Lohse. A stopgap measure could be someone like Shaun Marcum, but realistically, the young arms will get a shot to step in.
All in all, it is not a bad time to be a Cardinals fan. There is still plenty of talent and experience returning. Just the right touches can vault them right back into title contention next season.