The Cardinals’ bid for Giancarlo Stanton has flopped. The slugging outfielder and reigning NL MVP has informed the Cardinals he would not accept a trade to St. Louis. As announced in a press release Friday, St. Louis had an agreement in place with Miami, but with his no-trade clause in hand, Stanton nixed it.
The primary target in the Cardinals' plans to reinvigorate offensively, Stanton had been the sole focus of hot stove discussion among fans who wanted to see his Herculean home run prowess on display in the shadows of The Arch for the next decade. Unlike past examples of St. Louis’ unwillingness to go the distance for the prized asset, this round as runner-up can’t be pinned on the Cardinals—they did what they could. Stanton had other plans.
But now that Stanton is off the table, where should the Cardinals turn in search of improvements? One whiff cannot define this offseason for St. Louis—significant action remains imperative.
Finding an impact bat, a feared thumper that forces opposing pitchers to rethink how they attack a lineup based on the presence of this one individual, should remain at the center of the Cardinals’ interests.
Of course it should.
But with Stanton off the list, how many players befitting this description remain available?
Josh Donaldson could be costly considering Jon Heyman’s September report that the Jays would only move him in a deal that improves their team for 2018. With the former AL MVP set to hit free agency after 2018, it could also mean repeating this same exhausting dance a year from now.
In free agency, J.D. Martinez most closely resembles the hitter the Cardinals want—he smacked 45 home runs last year and led the majors with a .690 SLG—but Scott Boras’ asking price of seven years, $210 million for the 30-year-old free agent will likely price him out of St. Louis’ range.
Beyond Martinez, former Royals Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are free agents after strong offensive seasons. It’s not the Cardinals' preference to overpay for players coming off career years, though they did bend that rule with Dexter Fowler last winter.
Thanks to organizational depth in the outfield and in young pitching, St. Louis can afford to continue its search for an upgrade via the trade market. And in terms of controllable talent that could alter the roster, it would behoove St. Louis to go right back to the well after the Stanton miss, and again engage the Marlins in trade talks.
Beyond Stanton, Miami has two outfielders—Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich—that could fit the Cardinals’ agenda.
Ozuna enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, posting career bests in virtually every offensive category. If he has truly turned the corner, and his .312/.376/.548 batting line with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs prove repeatable for the 27-year-old outfielder, Ozuna would be a dream fit for the Cardinals. If he regresses to his ordinary numbers from 2013-2016, trading for Ozuna when his stock is so high could set St. Louis up for buyer’s remorse. Ozuna is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and can become a free agent after the 2019 season.
Meanwhile, Yelich would provide the Cardinals long-term roster stability thanks to a remarkably team-friendly contract that keeps him under control through 2021. At a combined $43.25 million from 2018-2021 with a $15 million team option for 2022, the 26-year-old Yelich could become a cornerstone in St. Louis. With a .290/.369/.439 lifetime batting line, Yelich has yet to display the power Ozuna flashed in 2017, but his consistency would be a fascinating addition as he enters his prime.
Elsewhere in the Sunshine State, Tampa Bay has a few names the Cardinals should find attractive if they can't land their desired impact bat. Closer Alex Colomé and starter Chris Archer would fill critical roles on the pitching staff, while Evan Longoria—whose contract the Rays might conceivably be interested in moving—could provide stability to the infield. A blockbuster trade for the trio would represent the kind of bold move the Cardinals should consider in the aftermath of their failed Stanton pursuit.
Missing on Stanton is disappointing, but it doesn’t have to signal the end for the Cardinals’ efforts to improve. With considerable assets available to spend, the Cardinals have numerous directions—outfielders, infielders, elite starting pitching, bullpen—in which they could focus to prepare for a run in 2018.
Now, it's time to use them.