SAN DIEGO – The halfway point for the MLB Winter Meetings has passed, and the Cardinals have yet to pull the trigger on a trade or sign a big-name free agent.
Leaving without any moves could be a missed opportunity for the Cardinals. St. Louis has been insistent on finding an heir to Yadier Molina at catcher. The team could address a rotating cast at shortstop with a big-name free agent. Other moves could give the Cardinals stability for a rotation facing uncertainty beyond this year.
Perhaps it could be a matter of time. Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak is optimistic some moves could be coming. In particular, the team hopes to acquire a catcher, according to reports from St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Ben Frederickson and The Athletic’s Kate Woo and others at the Winter Meetings.
Whatever the next course of action might be, the Cardinals might not want to wait much longer. Some of the top teams in the National League from last year have already added to their arsenal. Three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and speedy infielder Trea Turner earned massive paydays with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, possibly shaping the free agency market if the Cardinals opt to spend over trading.
As the Winter Meetings progress, it appears the Cardinals are trying to do some homework for a catcher and possibly a shortstop. Fortunately, there are many options who could fill both roles next season.
Current situation: Sean Murphy appears to be a top priority for the Cardinals, two sources tell St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold. The 28-year-old has backstopped the Oakland Athletics for the last four seasons, a squad that could accelerate a rebuild after a last-place AL finish last season. He also carries three more years of team control wherever he plays next year.
Oakland received several calls for Murphy’s services at the trade deadline last year, even though a deal wasn’t reached, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Murphy proved reliable for a struggling Oakland Athletics offense this season, hitting .250 with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. He also took fourth place in rookie of the year voting in 2020, won a Gold Glove in 2021 and has increased his innings count significantly in each of the last three seasons.
The Cardinals are expected to increase payroll next season, and Murphy could be favorable to make it more of a gradual process than a large spike through free agency. Who might the Cardinals deal to get him? There have been rumblings of either prospect Masyn Winn or rookie Nolan Gorman via Twitter, though St. Louis would risk losing young upside with either.
Other options: Former Cub Willson Contreras reportedly met with the Cardinals ahead of the Winter meetings and St. Louis remains among the favorites for his services, per MLB Network’s insider Jon Heyman. St. Louis also has some interest in reigning World Series champion Christian Vazquez, per MLB insider Ken Rosenthal. The Blue Jays might consider moving one of two young backstops, Alejandro Kirk or Danny Jansen, for more roster flexibility, though it’s unclear if the Cardinals have pondered either.
Current situation: The Cardinals project to be “active” in the market for a big-name free agent shortstop, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. He adds that former first-overall draft pick Dansby Swanson might be the leading candidate. Swanson might be the cheapest All-Star option in a stacked shortstop class.
Swanson is coming off his best season in which played all 162 regular season games, won his first Gold Glove award and set career-highs in hits (775), runs batted in (96) and stolen bases (18). The durability and defense could be key for a Cardinals team that won five individual Gold Gloves two years ago and address the position after prolonged struggles from Paul DeJong. One source tells Goold that St. Louis’ interest ‘has its roots,’ though it’s unclear if the team has tried to negotiate a deal with him.
MLB Trade Rumors projects a lofty seven-year, $154 million pay day for Swanson, which would be a larger deal for anyone on the Cardinals but Nolan Arenado. Turner’s deal with the Phillies ($300 million for 11 years) hints that the demand for quality talent could be increasing out of free agency more than previous years. If Swanson joined the Cardinals, the team would also forfeit a draft pick to the Braves since he rejected a qualifying offer into free agency.
Other options: Two-time World Series champion Xander Boagaerts might still be exploring a change of scenery after the Red Sox reportedly did not send him a “competitive offer.” Carlos Correa might seek another contender after departing the eventual World Series-champion Astros last offseason, though recently met with the Cubs, per Morosi. Jose Iglesias and Elvis Andrus are also free agent veterans with experience and could be cheaper options to use payroll elsewhere. A free agency signing appears more likely than a trade if the Cardinals want a middle-infield upgrade.
The Winter Meetings conclude on Dec. 7.