If John Mozeliak wants to make his new manager look good, he needs to improve the Cardinals’ roster


Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Improvement for a Major League Baseball team can come in a variety of ways, such as a new manager. But many (including myself) could argue that Oliver Marmol isn’t an improvement over Mike Shildt. Even John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt Jr. couldn’t convince St. Louis Cardinals fans that their new manager is better than the last one, but they could make Marmol look good by handing him a better team.

Their goal this winter should be to improve a roster that leaked oil for much of the regular season and met their limit in the playoffs. Where they improve could determine how far they go in next year’s postseason, and the number of areas that require fixing isn’t limited to one.

Some problems are indeed bigger than others, though. For the past two weeks, I have presented ways for the Cardinals to improve at one vital position: shortstop. After all, you wouldn’t have to be a gambler to suggest that Paul DeJong-even if he has years left on his contract-isn’t the long-term answer for the job. Edmundo Sosa had a nice breakout this year, but his bat still carries more questions than answers at the moment. There isn’t a shortstop in the minors ready to take over the position or make a real run at it, including young prospect Delvin Perez.

Whether it’s Marcus Semien or Corey Seager, either player gives the Cardinals a 5-7 fWAR player that wasn’t on their roster in 2021. Seager was one of the fellas celebrating on the field the night the lights went out on St. Louis; that would be Seager. He’s exactly what the Cardinals need at the shortstop position and in the lineup: a left-handed power source. For a right-handed-heavy lineup, Seager would be a breath of fresh air–even if his defense leaves something to be desired.

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Let’s be honest with ourselves. The Cardinals may not upgrade in a big way at short. After trading for and extending both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, the front office may not see the benefit in handing $18-26 million-per-season to another hitter. The team could throw a mix of DeJong, Sosa, Tommy Edman and prospect on the rise Nolan Gorman at the middle infield spots. It’s not implausible; boring but possible, actually.

If Bill DeWitt Jr. doesn’t open the wallet for a shortstop, he has to look to the designated hitter market. If the honesty is still flowing, here’s a reminder that it’s highly unlikely the team will put Juan Yepez into the role. He made an ascent similar to top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore in 2021, but the team didn’t go to his bat late in the close wildcard game. I can’t see them giving the kid 500 at-bats in 2022. At some point, if the position did go universal in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, St. Louis could use a combination of Gorman and Yepez, but not out of the gate and not with a real certainty of production.

One of the first names that comes to mind for the DH is former Cub, Kyle Schwarber. He has a mutual option for $11.5 million with the Boston Red Sox that the player will most likely decline. In the American League Championship Series, Schwarber reminded folks of his unstoppable power stroke at the plate. Cardinal Nation hasn’t forgotten his majestic blast in the 2015 postseason off Kevin Siegrist. He slugged 32 home runs last year between Washington and Boston, adding 64 walks and compiling a .928 OPS.

Starting pitching is a definite option. Noah Syndergaard is a name that stands out to me. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are hanging out in the $30 million or higher range, so get them out of your realistic minds right now. Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman won’t be that cheap either, but Syndergaard is an intriguing option. He should be cheaper than a lot of top arms due to having missed most of the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and recovery. But in the two innings at the end of the season, Syndergaard looked to be in top form and ready to step back into the rotation next year.

Place Syndergaard into a group already including Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, and Dakota Hudson–and it’s instantly formidable. You can continue to develop Jordan Hicks as a starter or keep him in a late-game bullpen role. Alex Reyes could start anew elsewhere, or battle for a starter role in case an arm comes up hurt in spring (it almost always happens). Jon Lester is most likely retiring and J.A. Happ sounds like a fallback option if the team can’t come to terms with a Syndergaard-type.

Those are the three areas the team could address this offseason: shortstop, DH, and starting pitching. They will bring in a couple bullpen arms but after the brutal ending with Brett Cecil and Andrew Miller having finished his time here, I don’t see them paying big cash for a reliever. Centerfield is a spot they could peak at, but Harrison Bader just completed his best season at the plate, and that followed an impressive 2020. Unless something unforeseen occurs, St. Louis will begin 2022 with Tyler O’Neill, Bader, and Dylan Carlson in their outfield. After the time committed to those three gents and their rise in 2021, a breakup isn’t in order. Even “philosophical differences” couldn’t deter those working relationships.

All of this could be mute if the Players Union and MLB owners can’t come to an agreement on a new C.B.A. The current one expires on Dec. 2, and it took a white-knuckle, late-hour agreement to get the pandemic-shortened 2020 season going. After the NBA and NHL agreed, baseball was the last sport to find a way to salvage games last year—millionaires fighting like children while millions found themselves without a job. If they can’t figure something out, free agency could be delayed or quite uneventful.

Teams aren’t going to spend heavily if a portion of 2022 may fall to the wayside due to greed. The players feel like they have given inches in past negotiations, so I wouldn’t expect a yield on their side. The owners are business-minded people, so betting on consolation and feelings isn’t wise. It could be a long waiting game for everybody.

When the dust does settle, Mozeliak-who is really driving the ship here-must ensure the roster is considerably better than last year. A sinister wrath of injuries did limit their potential to surge deep into the postseason, but a repeat performance wouldn’t make their new manager look so good. DeWitt Jr. made it pretty clear at the press conference after Shildt’s firing that this is Mozeliak’s hire. Marmol has an impressive resume and said all the right things last week, but the book is still out on his in-game managing abilities at the big-league level.

Set Marmol up for success by improving his roster, Mo–something you didn’t do enough last offseason for Shildt.