As the Cardinals brace for the offseason, a few vacancies will need to be filled during next month’s winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. General manager John Mozeliak will be busy sending text messages, manning the phones and scouting the market for upgrades fitting his team’s needs.
In no particular order, a shortstop, second baseman and outfielder should headline the Cardinals’ wish list as the holidays near.
Rafael Furcal, who was lost for the season after undergoing ligament replacement surgery on his throwing elbow, will be a free agent. It’s highly unlikely he will be re-signed. The Cardinals may look for a younger, more promising solution to anchor their middle infield. Perhaps even an experienced veteran.
Matt Carpenter, who had a breakout season in 2013, will likely transition to third base (his natural position) if the Cardinals don’t re-sign David Freese. The 30-year-old Freese is susceptible to injury and didn’t produce like many thought he would this season. If Carpenter moves to third, Mozeliak needs to find a second baseman, a seasoned player to mentor and develop the young Kolten Wong, who’s the future holder of second base.
If Carlos Beltran decides to test the market, the Cardinals could use an outfielder providing the readiness of Oscar Taveras, their top prospect. Another outfielder will add much-needed depth to the combination of Allen Craig and Matt Holliday.
Keeping all of this in mind, here are three potential under-the-radar free agent targets the Cardinals should pursue heading into the offseason.
Stephen Drew, Shortstop
Drew is an interesting name heading into free agency. He signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with Boston last winter and will more than likely test the market in the coming weeks.
The 30-year-old shortstop makes sense for the Cardinals for a number of reasons. He’s a reliable bat with pop. He hit .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI in 2013. Sure, Drew had a lousy postseason (6-for-54, .111 average), but his overall numbers speak for themselves.
Some may think Drew will be too expensive. His agent is Scott Boras, who’s notorious for inking ridiculous contracts. However, Boras does represent current Cardinal left fielder Matt Holliday.
I’d be willing to bet there will be some interest from the Cardinals' standpoint, considering they need an upgrade at the position.
Statistically, Drew has been a better hitter in the National League than the American League. Drew was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2006-2012. He hit a combined .266 with 72 homers and 333 RBI. From 2012-13, Drew spent time with Oakland and Boston, where he hit .252 with 20 homers and drove in 83.
Luke Scott, Outfielder
Beltran’s future under the Arch remains a mystery. However, if the Cardinals decide to part ways with him, Scott would be a prime candidate to add depth to the outfield.
Scott, 35, signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with Tampa Bay last winter and will hit the market next month.
A veteran of nine years, Scott could be a cheaper option for Mozeliak. Scott isn’t as young as he used to be, but he’s still capable of putting up steady numbers. With the Rays in 2013, Scott hit .241 with nine homers and 40 RBI.
He’s not going to put up gaudy numbers like he did with Baltimore from 2008-2010, but Scott could platoon with Holliday, Craig, (Jay?) and the young Oscar Taveras.
If nothing else, Scott’s bat would be a dangerous one off the bench.
Kelly Johnson, Second Base
Johnson would be another foreseeable option for the Cardinals’ middle infield. The 31-year old signed a one-year, $2.45 million deal with Tampa Bay last winter and will likely look to make a new home in 2014.
The left-handed hitting second baseman would give the Cardinals a legitimate bat from the left side of the plate to accompany Adams, who’s arguably the biggest power threat from the left side.
Johnson posted a .235 average in 2013. However, he hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 to complete his best offensive season since 2010 as a member of Arizona.
Each of these aforementioned free agents bring different accolades and skill sets to the table. It would be wise for Mozeliak to gauge the temperature of overall interest these players have in making a new home in one of the winningest and historic franchises in baseball.