ST. LOUIS, MO- In past years, as Cardinals fans gathered for the annual Winter Warm-Up, people had a pretty good idea of who would be on the team in the coming year, with most of the offseason heavy lifting done. But this January is not like most years. There are dozens of free agents still on the market, as teams have been more focused on the trade market, willing to wait longer than normal for asking prices and length of contracts to come down. So while we know new faces like slugger Marcell Ozuna and reliever Luke Gregerson, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals. Here’s a look at some burning questions, in order of importance.
WHO’S THE CLOSER?: The back end of the bullpen is full of question marks. Is the person who will lead the team in saves in the organization yet? There were indications at the Winter Meetings that the team was engaged in trade talks with Tampa Bay about several players, including closer Alex Colome, a trade I’d still jump at, especially if it includes starter Chris Archer. Other external options have a long way to go for the price to come down, based on the 3 year, $52 million dollar free agent deal given to Wade Davis by Colorado. St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold has a must-read on the situation and where it could lead. Tyler Lyons had the job for about a week in late 2017, and Bernie Miklasz has pondered if Lyons could end up in a tag-team closer role with Alex Reyes after Reyes returns from rehab following Tommy John surgery.
ROTATION HELP: I said back in October that a grouping of Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha left a lot of starters innings on the table, which is why I was pushing for a trade with Tampa for Archer along with Colome. New addition Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty are there to vie for a fifth starter slot and to possibly stretch out the bullpen. More outside help could come if the asking prices and number of years for starters like Jake Arrieta or maybe even Lance Lynn come down.
ANOTHER BIG BAT? I also suggested last fall that the team didn’t just need one middle of the order bat, but two. The Cardinals obtained Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, and poked around on names like third basemen Evan Longoria (Tampa traded him to San Fran) and Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, entering his free agent walk year. Free agent bats like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still out there, but they’re seeking dollars and contract lengths that so far aren’t appetizing. Is it possible the Cardinals take their chances at third with Carpenter and Gyorko, and first with Jose Martinez and Luke Voit? Maybe Patrick Wisdom can show some plate discipline to go along with his home run stroke in spring training to enter the conversation at third. In theory, the longer Donaldson stays with Toronto, the less leverage the Blue Jays have when it comes to trade demands so it’s possible the Cardinals revisit this or even a deal for Baltimore’s Manny Machado, at the July 31 trade deadline.
The 2018 Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up runs Saturday January 13 through January 15, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch.