Updated: Feb 4
After pulling off arguably the best trade in team history, President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said, “We went from a good to a great team.” Mozeliak’s comments came during the team’s introductory press conference for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, acquired from Colorado over the weekend and finalized Monday evening.
The biggest news to come out of the presser, though, was when Mozeliak hinted that the Cardinals might not be done adding to the roster. While the team is much improved, they likely still sit behind the Dodgers, Padres, and Braves when it comes to legitimate World Series contenders.
Mozeliak said, “We might not be done. There are always opportunities to keep looking.” The team is, indeed, still looking. The 40-man roster currently sits at 37 players. Catcher Yadier Molina is expected to re-sign following the end of the Caribbean Series. That still leaves two roster spots open, but it will go back down to 37 once pitcher Dakota Hudson goes on the 60-day IL after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Let’s look at what the Cardinals might do to finish this roster off with three spots open.
The addition of Arenado adds a lot to the infield and the offense, but the Cardinals would do well to add to one of the worst outfields in baseball over the last couple of years. Dylan Carlson could be something special but is still an unknown until he fully establishes himself.
There are two ways Mozeliak can address the situation. The first is to go big and sign or trade for a sure thing. That’s the least likely option at this point. Defensively the Cardinals outfield was among the best in the league. Given the run prevention philosophy, they don‘t want to lose that edge. So what’s the other option?
St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel mentioned the likeliest of options in his fan chat earlier in the week. He noted that the Cardinals are looking to add a lefty bench bat. There are some low-risk, high-reward options on the free-agent market. Shin Soo-Choo and Nick Markakis both fit that mold and could platoon with Tyler O’Neill. It’s also possible that the answer is already on the roster. Justin Willams also fits that need but still has a lot to prove.
The rotation is likely set except for a couple of spots. That being said, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the starting five. Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright are locks. Beyond that, there is some volatility. Miles Mikolas is coming off surgery. Kwang Hyun Kim hasn’t faced a full starter’s workload. Then there’s Carlos Martinez, who is, well, Carlos Martinez.
The Cardinals do have some depth here. The most exciting is Alex Reyes as long as he is healthy and Genesis Cabrera. The rest are either unproven or underwhelming. Top prospects Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson are likely still a year away. Johan Oviedo could make a case for a roster spot this spring, though. That list still contains many uncertainties.
There is a bevy of free agency options right now, but there are two that immediately stand out. Trevor Bauer and Jake Odorizzi are both available. That might sound a little crazy but stay with me for a moment.
Getting Bauer would be the cherry on top for Mozeliak and his staff. Bauer is far and away the best starter on the market after his 2020 Cy Young campaign. Better yet, he is said only to be entertaining one-year offers. This is the classic one-year rental, go for broke kind of move that could put this team over the top. It would be a win-now move that allows the prospects to develop without handicapping the team when they’re ready.
When it comes to Odorizzi, the Cardinals have shown interest in the past. He’s a solid pitcher who was an All-Star as recently as 2019. He is also a local product out of Highland, IL. Odorizzi is a durable starter that can be counted on for around 170 innings in a season. He’s the kind of pitcher that can be a steadying presence in the middle of the rotation. The Cardinals haven’t been connected to him, but with Odorizzi likely only getting one-year offers, there’s a chance the Cardinals could swoop in with a two year deal with an option.
All of these moves are feasible. It just depends on what the front office wants to do. If they're going to push and go all-in, they have to fill this roster out. If Mozeliak can fill those last three roster spots with Markakis, Bauer, and Odorizzi, he may win his fourth Executive of the Year award. After landing Nolan Arenado, anything is possible.