The Cardinals got within two wins of their 12th World Series championship last year. Their main strength was a plethora of young pitching -- Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Joe Kelly, etc., etc. Their main weaknesses were:
- poor outfield defense,
- no hitting whatsoever from the shortstop position,
- a star playing out of position at second base (Matt Carpenter),
- a fading hometown hero playing abysmal defense at third base (David Freese),
- no positions for our best young power hitter (Matt Adams) and our best overall prospect (Kolten Wong),
- problems hitting against left-handed pitching, and
- a weak bench.
Which leads me to my assessment of the Cardinals' off-season:
JOHN MOZELIAK IS A FREAKIN' GENIUS!
The Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak, managed to solve every single issue the Cardinals -- a 97-win team last year -- had, and he managed to do it (a) without trading any of the organization's young pitching talent, and (b) while reducing the payroll. What? How the heck did he do that?
Step 1. Mozeliak traded a liability -- the fading, horrible fielding Freese -- for arguably the best fielding centerfielder in baseball, Peter Bourjos of the Angels. Bourjos improves the Cardinals outfield defense, its overall team speed, and he's both younger and cheaper than Freese. Moving Freese also allows Carpenter to move to his natural position, third, which in turn frees up a spot for Wong, with the result that the Cardinals, in one fell swoop, improved their team defense at 3 different positions. Oh, and the Cards also picked up a former 1st round draft choice and high-level prospect, CF Randall Grichuk. Five years from now this trade will be thought of on a level with Broglio-Brock... mark that down, you heard it here first.
Step 2. Mozeliak signed a front-loaded deal with Johnny Peralta, the best hitting (and also good fielding) shortstop on the market. He didn't have to trade Shelby Miller or Carlos Martinez or any other young pitching talent to get him. He just signed him to a team-friendly deal where his salary in the third and fourth years drops to $10 million, and makes moving him via trade or to the bench at that time much more palatable. Meanwhile, he's a huge upgrade of Pete Kozma and/or Daniel Descalso.
Step 3. Mozeliak signed Mark Ellis, a right-handed hitting second baseman (Gold Glove caliber) to platoon with and/or provide insurance for Wong. Because Bourjos, Peralta and Ellis are all right-handed, the Cards will be much improved against left-handed pitchers. And, with Ellis from the right side and Jon Jay returned to his natural role as a left-handed hitting 4th outfielder, our bench is much stronger.
Yes, we lost an aging Carlos Beltran to the Yankees. But we weren't going to give him $15 million and we weren't going to give him a three-year deal. And, because Beltran is gone, we've opened up a place for Adams by moving Allen Craig to RF. Oh, and, ultimately, we've opened up a slot for the best hitting prospect in baseball, 21 year-old Oscar Taveras.
And Mozeliak did it all without giving up Wacha, Miller, Rosenthal, Kelly, Siegrist, Lynn, Marco Gonzalez, Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, John Gast... nobody. I mean... Holy Cow!
Prediction: the Cardinals win 100+ games next year. And, of course, that 12th World Series.