Can the Cardinals Contend for 2014 NL Pennant with Moves Made This Offseason?
The St. Louis Cardinals were the best team in the National League last season. Whether you use the measuring stick of regular-season record or simply the idea of which team represents the league in the World Series, the Cardinals were the answer either way in 2013.
The team went into the offseason with very few holes to fill and an impressively strong farm system to help fill in the holes. They did not need to make substantial moves to lay claim to being just as good next season. John Mozeliak, the general manager of the club, still saw a few ways he could improve the club.
Armed with a very short shopping list, Mozeliak went to work. Just a few months after the final out of the World Series, the National League champions have retooled their roster and made sweeping changes.
In the process, did they improve? Can they contend next year with the changes they made?
Transaction information can be found on the St. Louis Cardinals transaction page unless otherwise noted.
Mark Ellis Provides Insurance
The most recent of the team's moves brought free-agent infielder Mark Ellis to the Cardinals' roster. Ellis brings a winning culture and a steady, dependable presence to the team. His signing is a bit puzzling, however.
The team has shown a strong level of confidence in young second baseman Kolten Wong. It would appear that the team is ready to go into 2014 with Wong every day at the keystone position. If that is true, why would the team bring in a player like Mark Ellis?
One word: insurance. Wong is still an unproven commodity and his introduction last season did not go a long way in showing that he was completely ready. No one expects Wong to completely fail but the team needed to make sure, if he stumbled, they were protected.
Ellis is a veteran presence that can help bring Wong along. According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, Ellis was well aware of his place on this team when he signed. Ellis provided the following thoughts:
I know that Kolten Wong is a favorite of a lot of people in the organization for good reason, because he's a good baseball player. I'm coming there to be on the 25-man roster. Wherever I play or whatever my role is, that's what I'm going there to do. It may not be defined yet exactly what it is, but it's just being a baseball player. That's what I'm going there to be.
Ellis figures to provide insurance for Wong at second and take some time at third base as well. He adds a steady bat to a previously weak bench. Ellis figures to be everything the Cardinals wanted Ty Wigginton to be last year.
Trading David Freese for Peter Bourjos Improved Multiple Positions
Through various early rumors, such as Mark Feinsand's report for the NY Daily News suggesting the Cardinals were talking with the Yankees, it became clear that the Cards were interested in dealing David Freese. The team's most recent World Series hero would find himself traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as part of a four-player deal between the two teams.
The Cardinals obtained the services of one of the best defensive center fielders in the game in that trade. Peter Bourjos came to the Cardinals in the deal and the Cardinals' lineup changed drastically.
The trade had a much larger impact than just the two positions Bourjos and Freese play. It did, in theory, inject Bourjos as the Cardinals' starting center fielder. That places Jon Jay on the bench. The Cardinals now move from Adron Chambers on the bench to Jon Jay being a bench option.
In addition, Matt Carpenter moves from second base back to his natural position at third. That allows Kolten Wong to take over at second base. Assuming that Wong can produce with the bat this season, those two moves drastically improve the infield defense without sacrificing a lot of offense.
In one trade, the team improved defensively at three positions, improved the look of the bench and did not sacrifice much offense in the process. In addition, the injection of Bourjos and Wong in the lineup adds a lot more speed than the combination of Jay and Freese.
More than any other move this offseason, this trade improved the National League champs. Without any other move, the best team in the National League had become better. But they were not done.
Jhonny Peralta Provides Offensive Production at Shortstop
The single biggest item on the offseason shopping list for John Mozeliak was an upgrade at shortstop. If there was a rumor or whisper about a shortstop being available, the Cardinals were rumored to have an interest.
The trade market developed and seemingly set a high price tag for most players that were worth exploring. Free agents were taking their time and letting the market develop in front of them. The Cardinals, unwilling to wait deep into the offseason, decided to make their move.
The signing of Jhonny Peralta raised eyebrows based on his past connection to PEDs. The Cardinals felt that the past was behind him and that they could count on him going forward. Regardless of the morality of the signing, there is no denying that Peralta improves the Cardinals.
Pete Kozma never could quite figure out how to hit at the big league level. Moments of success were far outweighed by the lack of consistent production. Peralta is a run-producing hitter that can solidify the lineup going forward. His arrival should send shock waves across the National League.
The Cardinals also gain the ability to choose between Kozma and Daniel Descalso for the bench, giving them options to help improve themselves there as well. The Peralta signing will improve the team on the field and on the bench.
The St. Louis Cardinals Have Become Drastically Better
The St. Louis Cardinals have improved themselves drastically this offseason. They are a much better team defensively, took a step forward offensively, became a much faster team and improved their bench. Remarkably, every improvement they made came without having to sacrifice any of their young pitchers.
It is fair to say that the Cardinals improved at no less than four positions based on their acquisitions this offseason. They also improved their bench dramatically in the process.
The Cardinals are better going into 2014 than they were at the end of 2013. A team that fell just two wins shy of a world championship can say that they are a better team going into the next season.
The rest of the National League should take notice. The Cardinals are an impressive force.
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