Well, the fire is lit, and let the speculations fly it is that point in the Baseball season we call Hot Stove. In my previous article, I identified the main needs as I see them for the St Louis Cardinals. Those were Catcher, Outfield, Rotation, and SS.
I said in the previous article that Catcher should be the team's TOP priority and I have not wavered from that. currently on the active depth chart the only catcher listed is Knizner. It is no secret that St Louis is in the Market for catcher.
Katie Woo of the athletic tweeted this
I like "Kiz", I think he is a solid back who can play as the backup or fill-in or even a platoon player if need be. I just don't think he is ready to be THE guy.
Now I don't truly think this is a knock-on Knizner. It is stating the fact that Andrew has struggled at the major league level at the plate. Now you can get by with a relatively weak spot in the lineup if that player were a defensive machine-like Molina was for so many years. But Gold Glove defense is not in a quality I would attribute to Mr. Knizner.
So, what about Ivan Herrera? Herrera had been rising through the Cardinal system and is only 22 years old! He had a good year at Menphis this past season but did not set the world on fire going .268/.374/.396 with only 6 HRs and 34 RBIs. He had a brief cup of coffee when Molina was out a very forgettable 18 ABs that produced 2 hits. Not enough ot draw a conclusion on. He does show a good arm but only threw out 18% or base stealers.
So, with the clear direction that catching is the priority what are the options?
Free Agent wise the pickings are slim.
Willson Contreras. from the Chicago Cubs who has been rumored to want to play in St Louis. According to NBC sports Chicago's Gordon Wittenmyer who reported that Contreras has had conversations with former teammate Jose Quintana who reportedly said very good things about the Cardinal organization. Now while Contreras didn't say he WANTS to play in the Gateway City he did indicate he is open to it. Contreras hit .234/.349/.466 for a struggling Cubs offense. He is not a TRUE Slugger (say 30+ HRs per year) but he has power. He has hit 20 or more Home Runs 4 times in his 7-year career. Also, he is not a big RBI man only topping 60+ RBIs on two occasions, but that could change in St Louis depending on his spot in the order. He is average to slightly above average on defense but does possess a strong arm. Contreras will be 31 in May of 2023. Spotrac lists his market value at 4 years $64.2Million or about $16Million dollars per year. Now he did decline a $19.65M from the Cubs this indicates to me he is looking for a multi-year deal and also maybe a salary of 20+M per year. If the Cardinals believe in Herrera does a 3 or 4-year deal fit their timeline? If they don't then is this a stop gap. Certainly at 31 a long-term deal does not seem likely.
He is older than Contreras, (32) He played for both the Red Sox and Astros this year. Going .274/.315/.399 9 HRs 52 RBIs so not a power guy but also has a LOW strikeout rate 16.2% meaning he puts the ball in play. He is an above average defender. He is currently 5th among ALL MLB catchers in defensive runs saved. His projected market value is about 6.7M annually so a three-year deal would be around $21M. Again, if they are looking for a stop gap at catcher to give Herera another year or two then this would be an affordable option.
Barnhart is 31 and while his defensive skills are without question. He is a two-time Gold Glove winner (2017 & 2022) his offense has been spotty. career wise he is
248/.320/360 around 10 HRs per year tops, and somewhat light in the RBI department about 40 per year so not really a big offensive upgrade but a change of scenery might be what he needs. Barnart made $7.5M with the Tigers blast year. So, you are looking at maybe 3 years $25M. So, he would be another stop gap until Herera is ready, and again affordable if they plan on making a splash elsewhere.
For the most part the Free Agent options are not long-term guys. If they are looking past Herera then they will have to go the trade route.
Sean Murphy Is the one name that keeps popping up and not just in St Louis. he has been rumored as a target for the White Sox. While his career numbers may not be sexy.
236/.326/.429 he is coming off one of his best seasons .250/.332/.426 18 Home Runs and 66 RBIs. He was a Silver Slugger finalist this year. Murphy does excel in the defensive department. He was a gold glove finalist this year. His CS by catcher rate was 31%. He only had 2 passed balls in 1004 innings as a catcher. What would it take to land Murphy. the price might not be ultra-high but it will be steep. At 28 and still under arbitration (not FA eligible until 2026) makes him very appealing but also tends to drive the asking price up. The A's would want at least an MLB ready guy, a top 10 prospect and maybe a lower tier minor league guy. The A's could use help in many spots in the Outfield, Infield and Pitching. They could also use some thump so They might take a flyer on say Yepez, Gorman or even Tyler O'Neill with the right prospects. One of those prospects could be Masyn Winn Oakland's middle infield is little lacking so a player like Winn even if he is a year out could be very attractive. They could be looking for an up and comer like Alec Burleson. even a utility guy like Brendan Donovan. In the pitching department the rotation is abysmal. So, depending on fast they want to build that rotation you could be looking at anyone from Jack Flaherty or Dakota Hudson to Matthew Liberatore, Tink Hence, Gordan Graceffo, or even Michael McGreevy. A lot would depend on what the combination of players would look like.
The Toronto Blue Jays could be looking to deal out some catching as well.
With a trio of catchers posting good numbers the Blue Jays may be a team to look to as well.
Alejandro Kirk is arguably the best offensive catcher that the Blue Jays have he hit .285/.372/.415 with 14 HRs and 63 RBIs in 470 ABs. That was good enough to earn him a Silver Slugger award. He is only 24 and will not be a Free Agent until 2027. This is really his first full year in MLB. and he has seemed to make the most of it as his fielding is pretty good as well. with a 26% caught stealing rate and only 1 passed ball in 654 innings behind the dish. He has a solid upside and would fit a long-term deal If the Cardinals are moving on from Herrera.
Danny Jansen is another Catcher who put up good numbers in Toronto this year. This year Jansen went .260/.339/.516 with 15 round trippers and 44 RBIs in 215 ABs. The question is though is trending up or was it just a good season. this is the first time his average has been north of .250 A notoriously slow starter in April and May, he picks up the pace as the season goes on. Defensively he is very steady and only allowed 8 passed balls in 2,407 Innings caught in his career. Jansen is 27 and not a Free Agent until 2025. It's conceivable that you could have him for five years. or just a stop gap until Herera is ready.
The Blue Jays have a promising third catcher, in Gabriel Moreno but I don't think he would be on the Cardinal radar.
As for what it would take to pry either Jansen or Kirk away from the Blue Jays. I don't think you see Winn or Walker in play here, but hey could use some left-handed power. Which could be Nolan Gorman. They could also use Left hand help in the rotation, and bullpen so guys like Liberatore, Thompson even Cabrera could be in play.
IN my mind I think the best play here is, if they do not believe in what they have with Herera then Sean Murphy is the play. if they are looking for someone to keep the spot warm and mentor Herera then I think Vazquez is the best option or Barnhart. Danny Jensen is intriguing because with only two years left before Free Agency and only 27 you could have him for 2 years or as many as six if need be. Whatever direction the Cardinals go in WILL have a direct effect on how they approach the rest of the off season.
Thanks for reading in Part 3 I will look at the Outfield and DH
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I will see you soon.