The St. Louis Cardinals may pay a steep price this off-season for holding off on committing to long-term contracts.
Last off-season the Redbirds decided to give slugging first baseman and corner outfielder Brandon Moss a qualifying offer as opposed to a long-term contract. It made a lot of sense at the time not to commit to a player coming off a significant injury and a down season.
But St. Louis’ gamble that Moss would recover to re-establish himself as a power source more than paid off. The lefty swinger leads St. Louis in home runs with 25 and the major leagues with his frequency of long balls to at-bats.
When is that not a good thing?
When the player in question is set to hit a free agent market starved of power options.
The Cardinals might have convinced Moss to take a three-year deal worth of total of $30-$35 million at this time a year ago. Back then he looked like a part time player with a .225 batting average and no clear fielding position. He also showed a lot of warning track power. I suspect now that the bidding will start with offers of AT LEAST $55 million over three years (about the going annual rate for a qualifying offer in 2016, times three years.) If previous experience is any indicator, however, a maverick owner will swoop in and offer a fourth or maybe even a fifth year to a player who will be on the wrong side of 35 on the back half of the deal. At four years and $65 million, I imagine the Birds will likely fold up their free agent bidder tent and walk away.
I’m not 100 percent sold on Moss as a player. He’s a C- defender and a one-dimensional, all or nothing hitter at the plate who strikes out in bunches. He’s more of a Reggie Sanders, a nice complimentary bat, than a Matt Holliday, a guy expected to camp out in the three hole for the next half a decade plus. But in an era where offense is tough to come by, teams can’t afford to be too choosy. So you get less ballplayer for more money.
It’s a lose-lose situation for St. Louis. If it doesn’t buck up for Moss, the Cardinals likely go from one of the most powerful teams in the majors to one of the weakest. It’s uncertain at this point if Matt Holliday’s 2017 option will be picked up — or if he’ll be able to return to form after a pretty serious hand injury. Meanwhile, Johnny Peralta has slowed considerably. Losing the production of Holliday, Peralta and Moss is tough to absorb. On the other hand, St. Louis might tie its hands in the future by overpaying for a good — but not great — player now. Let’s not forget that Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Aledmys Diaz will all become MUCH more expensive by the time Moss’ deal would be up and cash to keep most of them around is going to have to come from someplace.
I’ll be shocked if Moss — or a similarly powerful free agent replacement — ends up in a St. Louis uniform next season because of the overheated, under-stocked market. I expect the Birds to give Moss another qualifying offer — and then to collect a draft pick when he walks away.
The Cardinals are desperately in need of some new franchise cornerstones as Holliday reaches the end of his Redbirds career and Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright age. I’d like to see them make a deal from their surplus — pitching and second basemen — to land a middle of the order bat. Evan Longoria comes to mind.
Would the Tampa Bay Rays be interested in a swap of Luke Weaver and Kolten Wong for Longoria?
Sure, Weaver would be a big price to pay. But the Birds stand to have a rotation that includes Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake and Lance Lynn for the 2017 campaign. After that, they have top pitching prospect Alex Reyes, recovering prospect Marco Gonzales, an option on Jaime Garcia and Tyler Lyons. Then there are wildcard potential starting pitchers in Matt Bowman and deposed closer Trevor Rosenthal.
The Birds are going to need to do SOMTHING to restock the cupboard for next season. And a trade might be more practical than a signing. Longoria is inked to a deal that keeps him under control to 2022 and he’s currently 30 years old.
Here is one potential 2017 Cardinals Lineup:
Carpenter (1B or 2B)