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Which Shortstop Should Be Cardinals Top FA Target?

John Mozeliak photo credit: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

St. Louis Cardinals President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak has mentioned that the team would look to the catching position as a top priority this off-season to replace future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina.

I don’t disagree that a catcher is a need for the Cardinals, as current starter Andrew Knizner seems more suited for a backup role. However, given what’s on the free agent market (Willson Contreras, Christian Vasquez, Gary Sanchez), I think St. Louis would be better suited in pursuing the catching upgrade through trade rather than free agency.

Sean Murphy photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Catchers that have been linked to the Cardinals this off-season (aside from free agents Contreras & Vasquez), would be Sean Murphy of the Oakland Athletics & one of the three Toronto Blue Jays catchers (Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen & Gabriel Moreno)

Those should be the names that the Cardinals pursue heavily and not just kick the tires on as it pertains to backstop. They have the potential pieces to get a deal done, albeit the only ones who truly know what a team would ask for in return, is the Cardinals front office.

Having said that, many believe that the shortstop position and elite names available should be where St. Louis focused their attention. I admittedly am in that camp.

Tommy Edman photo credit: Joe Puetz/Getty Images

I’ll start by saying I am well aware that Tommy Edman is more than capable of being the Cardinals shortstop in 2023. He started 74 games at SS for St. Louis this past season with 93 putouts, 215 assists, 49 double plays and just 2 errors in 622 innings of work.

This was a big part of why Edman was nominated for not only the National League Gold Glove at second base, but also as a utility player. While Tommy lost out on that award to teammate Brendan Donovan, Edman already has some hardware by winning a Gold Glove at second base in 2021 and did win the 2022 Fielding Bible Award for multiple positions. On a per-inning basis, he had the second-fewest misplays at second base and the fewest at shortstop.

Tommy Edman/Nolan Gorman photo credit: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

But should the Cardinals slot Edman into the everyday role at shortstop? With Brendan Donovan having a breakout season in 2022 and third baseman turned second baseman Nolan Gorman getting his feet wet at the position in the majors, that move could be serviceable for the Cardinals next season.

That’s also putting a lot of stock in two young players that may or may not be able to handle the position daily at the rate that Edman has shown that he can. And with Paul DeJong struggling mightily, there’s little chance the Cardinals can go into next season entertaining the idea that he’d be a front runner to go back to being the everyday starter at short.

Masyn Winn photo credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

There’s also Masyn Winn who is one of the Cardinals top prospects on the rise that has an absolute cannon for an arm, but I feel like he’s at least a season or two away from true consideration of holding down shortstop at the big league level.

That’s why I think the shortstop free agents should be where Mozeliak and company really take a hard look at.

Trea Turner photo credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The biggest name of the free agent shortstops is obviously Trea Turner. While I’d absolutely love Turner in St. Louis and think he’d be the perfect fit in the field & lineup, I think it’s a safe bet that his price tag is going to be more rich than what the Cardinals will even consider.

In 160 games played with the Dodgers last season, Turner had a slashline of  .298/.343/.466 with 21 home runs and 100 RBIs. With 194 total base hits on the season, Turner finished second — to teammate Freddie Freeman — for most hits in all of Major League Baseball.

Trea is also a base stealing threat, with 27 last season and a career 230 to his credit. Turner turns 30 in June and despite a contract that would likely put him through his age 37-38 season, his speed will likely play especially given the bigger bases and fewer pickoff attempts that MLB is implementing.

Trea Turner photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

His versatility to be able to play shortstop, second base and even centerfield, should make him the most sought after SS this offseason. There will be a draft pick compensation going to the Dodgers by the team signing Turner, who turned down the team’s $19.65M qualifying offer.

Projections for a Trea Turner contract seem to be in the 8-year/$270M-$290M range, for an AAV of between $33.75M-$36.2M. I do not think the Cardinals will dish that kind of money out there, much to the dismay of much of the fanbase.

Carlos Correa photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Carlos Correa (the youngest of the top free agent shortstops) doesn’t turn 28 until September. He may very well be seeking a higher dollar amount/longer contract than Turner given his age, but that same approach last offseason had him taking a 3-year deal with opt-outs with the Minnesota Twins.

The former Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star slashed .291/.366/.467 with 22 home runs, 24 doubles and a triple in 590 plate appearances across 136 games, and despite not being the threat on the base paths as Turner, his defense and power numbers make him a target franchise player for several clubs out there.

While there isn’t a qualifying offer attached to Correa due to being ineligible after rejecting one a season ago, that likely won’t factor in on a team’s decision to go after him.

Carlos Correa photo credit: David Berding/Getty Images

Teams with money to spend will surely be in on his services, as the projected offers of 9-years/$280M-$300M have been circulated by some for the former Gold Glove & Platinum Glove Award winner.

If I don’t believe the Cardinals will go in on Trea Turner, I’d be hard pressed to think they’d pursue the likes of Carlos Correa either. Which leaves just two other free agent shortstops for them to consider.

Xander Bogaerts photo credit: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

30-year old Xander Bogaerts, would admittedly be one player I’ve wanted to see St. Louis acquire almost as much as I did with both Nolan Arenado & Paul Goldschmidt. The guy just hits.

He’s coming off a .307/.377/.456 batting line, 15 HR and 73 RBI in 2022. And while the power numbers were down a bit and with him not being a base stealing threat, the 4 time All-Star and 5 time Silver Slugger would add a very tough out to the current Cardinals roster. Something that is very much needed.

Xander Bogaerts photo credit: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

In his 10-season playing for the Red Sox, his offensive consistency would seem to be a comfort to any team looking to add him. While Bogaerts has a career .292/.356/.458 slash, playing in Fenway might skew some’s thoughts on if his offensive will hold up on the backend of a long term deal. I suppose that’s reasonable to an extent, but many thought Arenado’s numbers would dip outside of Coor’s Field yet we know how that’s working out thus far.

Bogaerts has been projected at a 7-year $185M-$195M deal which could put him in the AAV of $26.5M-$28M range. I think this is again a bit steep on where the Cardinals would feel comfortable spending, but he should be a player at least looked at and to highly consider.

Dansby Swanson photo credit: Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

Dansby Swanson (who turns 29 in February) is the second youngest of the bunch. He’s coming off a 2022 campaign that included a .277/.329/.447 slashline with 25 HR, and career highs in RBI (96) & SB (18). He was also a National League All-Star for the first time.

On top of that, Swanson won his first Gold Glove Award this past season. He led all NL players with 21.4 Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) per FanGraphs. He’s also a reliable player that you can count on to stay healthy as he played in 161 games last year and 159 during the 2021 season.

Dansby Swanson photo credit: Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

While there’s a chance that the Braves try re-signing Dansby, it’s been reported that they offered him a $100M deal at some point during the season with him electing to test the waters in free agency. With Swanson’s blend of defense, pop in the bat, great baserunning & ability to stay healthy, he could provide the Cardinals with a lot of what they are looking for to bolster their already elite defensive infield.

Swanson is projected to receive a 7-year/$154M contract per  The AAV of $22M might be in the wheelhouse of what St. Louis would be willing to spend this offseason.

Although by some reports on where the Cardinals see their Opening Day payroll, this may hamper other free agent deals that could improve the club. Regardless, he’s worth a hard look for St. Louis in my opinion.

Carlos Correa/Trea Turner photo credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To sum it up, I think the Cardinals won’t be players in either the Trea Turner or Carlos Correa sweepstakes. I say that with no “inside sources” just speculation on the potential dollar amounts and total years.

But if I could spend Bill DeWitt Jr.’s money, I would without question be in on Turner being a Cardinal, even at slightly above the projected salary if it brought that level of talent in.

Dansby Swanson is the shortstop that I think the Cardinals would be most likely to pursue. Whether the front office views it the same way, remains to be seen. I do think given his age, intangibles and numbers on the rise, that he seems the type of player that St. Louis might go after.

But for me, it’s Xander Bogaerts that would be the signing that I think not only appeases a good chunk of the fanbase (including myself) but would be the most “bang for the buck” producer to add to this Cardinals lineup. While I don’t see St. Louis shelling out the cash if they have any intention of adding a pitcher or catcher this offseason, Bogaerts would still be a preferred choice by many as one of the top four available shortstops.

Tommy Edman/Brendan Donovan photo credit: Jonathan Hui/USA Today Sports

I do still think the Cardinals could benefit from allocating their payroll towards a top-tier starting pitcher, catcher and other depth positions. Thus allowing Nolan Gorman & Brendan Donovan to split time at second base with Tommy Edman being their everyday shortstop. But in a lineup that sees a lot of feast or famine production, a good hitting shortstop signing could be just what this Cardinals team needs even if the front office isn’t saying it.

What say you, Cardinals Nation? Should shortstop be a position the front office chases this offseason? And if so, which of these names would you most like to see wearing the Birds on a Bat. Sound off in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading and Go Cards!

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