Needing starting pitching, the St. Louis Cardinals have signed Steven Matz to a four-year, $44 million deal. This signing marks the first big move the Cardinals have made in the 2021 offseason. While Matz signing with the Cardinals has certainly been nothing short of interesting within the Mets’ fanbase, the deal also has some intriguing implications for Cardinal Nation. By spending modestly on Matz out of the gate, the Cardinals have left their options open for the remainder of the offseason. Here are the two routes the Cardinals could now take moving forward.
Sign a Shortstop
Now that the Cardinals have signed Matz, they still has just over $50 million they can spend before hitting the competitive balance tax threshold. With this amount of money remaining, the Cardinals are still very much in the running for one of the three remaining big-name shortstops.
Carlos Correa seems to be the best candidate if the Cardinals were to go down this road. Reliable both offensively and defensively, and a veteran leader in the clubhouse, Correa fits the culture that the Cardinals have established. He would join Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado as veteran, power bats with plus-defense that the Cardinals have brought in. Trevor Story and Javier Baez are the other two big-name shortstops. Baez does not seem to fit the overall Cardinals archetype, so it seems unlikely the front office would target him. There are lingering doubts about Trevor Story’s arm strength at short, so he also seems like an unlikely candidate for a team that places a premium on defense.
Regardless of who the Cardinals might target, they certainly have the financial capital to go after a high-ticket shortstop if they choose. However, this would mean relegating Paul DeJong and/or Edmundo Sosa to a bench role or even releasing one or both entirely. If the Cards spent big at short, it would also mean less money to put towards pitching. While Matz certainly reinforces the starting rotation, there are still question marks to be addressed in the bullpen.
Go Big on Pitching
If the Cardinals stick with DeJong or Sosa at short, they would have more than enough money to sign a big-name starter, multiple fourth/fifth starters, or multiple quality relievers. The Marcus Stroman sweepstakes has already been entertaining, and St. Louis seems to be near the top of that list. Stroman’s listed market value is just north of $20 million. However, he will have enough suitors that he will likely sign for more. If the Cards were to nab Stroman for around $25 million, they would still have another $25 million before reaching the competitive balance tax threshold. They could use the remaining money to go after veteran bullpen arms like Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, or Jeurys Familia. Trevor Rosenthal could even make a return to St. Louis and would fit nicely in the middle-late innings.
If the Cardinals do not sign Stroman, Carlos Rodon is available at a similar market value. Rodon would add another lefty to join Matz in the middle of the rotation. That option may be appealing to the Cardinals’ front office based on last year’s trade deadline successes of lefties Jon Lester and J.A. Happ. If the Cards decided instead to spend more modestly on another starting pitcher, there is a uniquely deep market for a fourth or fifth starter. Zack Greinke, Danny Duffy, Chris Archer, and Matt Harvey are all free agents this year, in addition to many others that could be quality additions.
Which Will it Be?
Based on the trend set at the deadline last year, and the fact that the Cardinals already have a quality offense and defense in place, it seems more likely the front office will go big on pitching. Furthermore, it seems likely that the Cards might be content to spend less on starting pitching and more on high-end relief pitching. The way the 2021 season ended for the Cardinals captures what happened all too often throughout the year: an excellent start lost late by the bullpen. Expect the front office to make moves that ensure 2022 is not more of the same.
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Steven Matz, Carlos Correa, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa, Marcus Stroman, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Jeurys Familia, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Rodon, Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, Zack Greinke, Danny Duffy, Chris Archer, Matt Harvey