The St. Louis Cardinals are in the market for an upgrade at the catcher position. You all know it, I know it, and Mozeliak has said as much. We also know the names that the Cardinals have been linked to that would address that need in free agents Willson Contreras & Christian Vasquez as well as trade targets Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen & Sean Murphy.
In looking at these options, I think it’s safe to say that any would be an offensive upgrade from what they currently have in Andrew Knizner. The issue, is the projected payroll that the Cardinals are said to have in 2023. In acquiring Contreras, would likely make for the only significant free agent signing.
John Mozeliak has said that “payroll will go up” but wouldn’t elaborate on details of how much. I’ve read where St. Louis ideally would like to be somewhere in the $180M-$185M range in total to start next season, and Spotrac has the Cardinals currently at just under $163M (which includes estimated salaries for arbitration/pre-arbitration players. That leaves around $22M in off-season spending (give or take).
So like many of you, I spend the offseason playing “armchair GM” and try to come up with ways to project/predict what moves the Cardinals can make to improve their club. And to be honest, when evaluating what the Cardinals have and what they need, it’s really hard to matchup a deal and feel 100% good about it (especially via trade). I think John Mozeliak & company’s jobs are tougher than most of us fans give them credit for.
In trying to come up with a trade for a catcher, I’ve already written a piece on what I think it would take to acquire one from the Blue Jays. This time I want to spitball the idea on trading for A’s catcher Sean Murphy.
Murphy slashed .250/.332/.426 with 18 HR & 66 RBI last season for Oakland and in 148 games, tallied 134 hits (37 doubles). He struck out 124 times in 612 plate appearances & walked 56 times.
Compare that to Andrew Knizner’s .215/.301/.300 slash with 4 HR & 25 RBI, 56 hits (10 doubles) in 96 games, and who also struck out 62 times in 293 plate appearances with 26 walks.
Looking at the defensive side of things, not only does Murphy rank well in pitch framing, but he won a Gold Glove in 2021 and was nominated for another last season. The Cardinals value defense, and landing him would not just be an offensive upgrade but behind the plate as well.
He’d be a perfect bridge gap to Ivan Herrera, or if he continues to produce at a high level, could be in the long term plans.
Murphy (28), is arbitration eligible for the upcoming 2023, 2024 & 2025 seasons. He’s projected to earn around $3.5M, $5.6M & $8.7M respectively. That would be ideal to take on if the Cardinals want to acquire another offensive upgrade. I’ll get to that part later.
Now, to land the likes of Murphy, the Cardinals are going to have to part with some prospects that may not be the most ideal to move. Having said that, only the A’s really know what they are looking for so any proposal I can come up with is pure speculation.
I’m not sure the exact positional needs that Oakland covets, but it could be possible that a package of Top 5 Cardinal prospects SP Gordon Graceffo, OF Alec Burleson, or SP Tink Hence could be involved. I think a move that doesn’t affect the immediate future of the Cardinals would be the best bet and safest path to go.
But for the sake of considering a “worst case scenario” where Oakland asks for a haul for some young MLB-ready talent, I went with the Cardinals having to part with 2B/3B Nolan Gorman, SP Matthew Liberatore, SP Andre Pallante & OF Moises Gomez.
Yes, that is what I’d consider a large overpay and not suggesting that I’d even want to do it. But, what if that’s what it would take?
I can see it now, if the Cardinals were to do this, then Nolan Gorman will hit 30 HR next season and the “Best Fans in Baseball” will take to social media every time he gets a hit to remind us of how bad of a decision it was and that John Mozeliak should be fired. I mean, we’ve seen that reaction before with Randy Arozarena, Luke Voit and most recently Harrison Bader right?
You can almost certainly figure that Matthew Liberatore will also blossom and become the next Zac Gallen or Sandy Alcantara too. Again, that’s a guess at what the hindsight uproar would be.
Andre Pallante could be an intriguing piece and throwing in the added power bat of Moises Gomez (we’ll say for the sake of argument) gets the deal done.
Gorman & Liberatore will both be entering their age 23 seasons and Pallante & Gomez are both just 24.
While Gomez is the only one of the four with no MLB experience, he’s coming off a minor league leading 39 HRs hit. Pallante was very serviceable for the Cardinals last season going 6-5 with a 3.17 ERA in 108 innings. Liberatore got his feet wet in the majors too, going 2-2 with a 5.97 ERA over 34.2 innings. Gorman played in 89 games for St. Louis, and while he did hit 14 HR & 35 RBI, he slashed .226/.300/.420 and struck out 103 times in 313 plate appearances.
There’s huge potential upside with these young Cardinal players who are under club control, and again I’m not suggesting that I want to part with this particular package, it’s simply a “what if” type of deal.
If it were to happen, the Cardinals would get their catching upgrade at a minimal dollar amount but a costly bundle of young talent. It would also allow the front office to allocate the $22M-ish towards other improvements.
Enter the shortstop market.
Yes, Tommy Edman can play shortstop. Yes, Brendan Donovan can play second base. No, the Cardinals aren’t likely to afford either Trea Turner or Carlos Correa. Xander Bogaerts may be a stretch on payroll too (although maybe not by much) and Dansby Swanson could be right in their wheelhouse.
Let’s assume the Cardinals go after either of the latter. If they could land Xander Bogaerts on let’s say a 6-year/$174M deal ($29M AAV), that would put them about $7M over projected off-season spending. The Cardinals will have some money coming off the books again next season that could make this signing easier to stomach financially.
Or if they could acquire Swanson on a 5-year/$125M deal ($25M AAV) or 6-year/$140M deal ($23.3M AAV) that would be something to consider also.
In Xander Bogaerts, the Cardinals would be getting the shortstop entering his age 30-season. And despite not being elite defensively in the past, he’s coming off one of his best defensive seasons where he nominated for a Gold Glove. If there’s any worry about the ground that he covers, there’s a guy named Nolan Arenado over at 3B that can only help alleviate those concerns.
Bogaerts would add an offensive weapon to the Cardinals lineup, that I think could very well be their missing link. He earned his fifth Silver Slugger Award in 2022 with a .307/.377/.456 slashline, 15 HR & 73 RBI. Xander also tallied 171 hits (38 doubles) in his fourth All-Star season.
If St. Louis can slot Bogaerts in the same lineup with Arenado & Goldschmidt, could you imagine how problematic that would be for opposing pitchers? Yikes!
Or, let’s say the Cardinals don’t want the flip the extra cost for Bogaerts and opted for Dansby Swanson. They would be getting him in his age 29 season, and coming off a 2022 campaign that included his first All-Star appearance as well as earning a Gold Glove. He slashed .277/.329/.447 with 25 HR & 96 RBI. While he isn’t Trea Turner, he did also steal a career best 18 bases last season.
It is hard to gauge just how many teams are truly in the shortstop market, or what the contracts that the top four will seek & be rewarded with. But if the Cardinals went out of their comfort zone financially and signed Bogaerts, or invested in getting Swanson, I think either of those moves really benefit the club.
Maybe the front office could justify the spending on a shortstop from the standpoint that in acquiring Murphy, the Cardinals wouldn’t have to shell out $18M-$20M AAV it would take to sign Willson Contreras.
If those are the only moves made, it still gives the Cardinals the luxury of having outfielders Lars Nootbaar & Alec Burleson who both hit from the left side, as well as Brendan Donovan a part of their roster and not having to look for a lefty bat this offseason.
It also puts Gold Glove defense at nearly every position on the field, while providing an offensive upgrade at both the shortstop & catcher positions.
This does leave Paul DeJong as a bench player earning $9M this season and also seemingly blocks prospect Maysn Winn’s path to the majors (projected to be 2024), neither of which are the most ideal of circumstances.
Despite not allowing the Cardinals to pursue another pitcher this offseason, the uptick in offense could give St. Louis pitchers the run support that they desperately needed last season.
The Cardinals would go with a rotation of Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright & either Steven Matz or Dakota Hudson.
The bullpen would include the likes of Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, Jordan Hicks, Chris Stratton, Zack Thompson, Jake Woodford, Genesis Cabrera, JoJo Romero, Drew VerHagen, & Packy Naughton.
The Cardinals 2023 lineup could look something like this:
1.) Tommy Edman
2.) Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson
3.) Nolan Arenado
4.) Paul Goldschmidt
5.) Tyler O’Neill
6.) Lars Nootbaar or Jordan Walker
7.) Juan Yepez
8.) Sean Murphy
9.) Dylan Carlson
Bench: Brendan Donovan (INF/OF), Alec Burleson (OF/1B), C Andrew Knizner, SS Paul DeJong.
To recap, this is just an idea of something St. Louis “could” do, and not necessarily something they “will do”. While the trade for Murphy may seem like a huge overpay, the Cardinals are going to have to part with something good to get something good. The A’s aren’t going to take Knizner & DeJong for Murphy like some people in fantasy land would like to think. And if the Cardinals could get Murphy without Nolan Gorman in the deal, then that would be even better!
While shortstop isn’t a glaring need for the Cardinals with Edman being capable to play the position, one of those signings would definitely address the need to improve the offense, while also keeping Tommy at second.
I’ll let you the readers tell me how crazy I am for coming up with this trade proposal & free agent signing combination. Just don’t shoot the messenger as it’s not necessarily a combo that I feel 100 percent sold on. However, it’s at least still worth considering though, which fills the downtime this offseason. What are your thoughts & opinions on it? Let me know in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading.