Wheelin’ and Dealin’

St. Louis has three major concerns, and one position will have a domino effect on the entire situation. 

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak didn’t exactly spew the offseason agenda at Monday’s press conference, but he did say this:

“Looking for different places to improve the offense is probably a good place to start when you’re evaluating the team. That’s why we start at shortstop. You could argue third. You could argue center.”

And that’s great to hear because those three positions need significant attention, specifically shortstop. 

You already know about the crater-size vacancy at shortstop. It’s almost as if the team put the position on the same to-do list with Ballpark Village. Ah, hell with it. Finally, it seems Mozeliak is intent on finding an impact player at short this offseason. With so many franchise shortstops under long contracts, the question remains if it’s even possible to acquire one. I’ll go over three logical scenarios in a bit…

But first, David Freese. While forever written into Cardinal gold for his 2011 miracles, Freese is no longer a viable starting third basemen when a lineup also includes Jon Jay and Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso. Superstars at third base are few and far between, and the statistical drop off at the position is staggering. Here’s the list; it’s not the deepest position. 

Freese’s nine home runs last season ranked 27th among third basemen, but his 60 total RBI ranked 14th among 3B and 45th overall in the National League.

The Cardinals need more pop from the hot corner. It helps bail out a struggling offense, just ask Johnny Gomes. That ‘one swing of the bat’ thing only happened 125 times for St. Louis during the regular season, 27th in all of MLB. One name to think about? Chase Headley, San Diego Padres. 

Center field is a great debate among Cardinals fans. The love affair with Jon Jay is one of the most perplexing affections in all of sports. It’s like ESPN and Tim Tebow — why?

Look, Jay makes some remarkable plays in center — unforgettable really. His fearless mentality of an immovable wall deserves credit. But, it’s as if people forget about the mind numbing, game changing plays he doesn’t make that seem all too pedestrian.

He ranked 32nd among center fielders with minus 10 runs saved. His arm is probably the worst among all outfielders. Center field too, is a power position. Jay hit seven homers last season, has 25 in four career seasons, and zero in the postseason.

But here is why a team can’t rely on Jon Jay: in 48 postseason games, including 183 at bats, Jay is a career .188 hitter. That’s no sample size — that’s pathetic.

Mozeliak preached about his team’s flexibility heading into the offseason. He’s right, but flexibility also means banking on scenarios that haven’t quite worked before.

Drawing It Up 1

1B Matt Adams 2B Kolten Wong SS ?? 3B Matt Carpenter CF Oscar Taveres RF Allen Craig

Pros: This scenario parlays into a prime player at shortstop. Given the payroll flexibility, Mozeliak can acquire a big time cornerstone piece at short.

Con 1: Can Wong hit the ball out of the infield? Will his plate discipline improve?

Con 2: Taveres enters 2014 coming off season-ending ankle surgery and has just 46 games of experience above AA.

Con 3: Adams ran out of gas after getting significant playing time when Craig hurt his ankle.

Con 4: Craig spends way too much time disabled to not have an insurance policy (a la Adams).

Drawing It Up x2

1B Craig 2B Carpenter SS ?? 3B ?? CF Taveres RF Carlos Beltran

Pros: With this scenario, the Cardinals would trade Matt Adams in a blockbuster deal for a SS.

Pros: The Birds keep Beltran, who kept the offense from drowning during the postseason. Beltran plays a role in developing Taveres, and potentially a guy like Starlin Castro.

Pros: The Cardinals upgrade third base, and keep David Freese as a bench bat.

Cons: St. Louis would likely settle for lower hanging fruit at both SS and 3B with the money tied up to retain Beltran.

Cons: Lose Big City.

Drawing It Up x3

1B Adams 2B Carpenter 3B Freese SS ?? CF Taveres RF Craig

Pros: The Cardinals acquire an All-Star SS.

Pros: They didn’t have to deal Adams

Cons: The money spent leaves no better option at 3B than Freese

Cons: Beltran is gone

I believe the third scenario is most likely, but I prefer the second. When you talk about upgrading offensively, and part of the decision includes losing Carlos Beltran, there is some skepticism as to whether it’s actually an upgrade.

Grading Potential SS

Tier 1

Troy Tulowitzski, J.J. Hardy, Elvis Andrus,  Starlin Castro

Tier 2

Everth Cabrera, Stepen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Yunel Escobar, Alexei Ramirez

Mozeliak has flexibility, but how much does he trust the health of injury-prone pieces? By letting Beltran walk, Mo essentially hands Taveres, 21, a shot at stardom. The shortstop position will have a domino effect on the entire offseason. If the team can land an elite player like Tulowitzski, the Cardinals can survive with Freese at third and some platoon of Taveres, Jay, and Shane Robinson in center.

If they settle for a player like Alexei Ramirez, Mozeliak has some work cut out. Either way, one of those three positions needs an elite bat to justify letting Beltran leave.

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