Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Cardinals are shopping shortstop Pete Kozma, who is currently on the outside looking in for an Opening Day roster spot with the defending National League champions. Rubin says the Mets probably aren’t interested because Kozma is “not really” an upgrade over projected starting shortstop Ruben Tejada.
Kozma plays decent defense at short, but he was a .236/.308/.344 career hitter in the minor leagues and is a .232/.293/.315 career hitter in the major leagues. The 25-year-old was a first-round pick (18th overall) in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft but hasn’t been able to develop offensively and his past numbers suggest that there is no improvement on the way.
The Cardinals signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $52 million free agent contract in November and they inked 23-year-old Cuban middle infielder Aledmys Diaz to a four-year, $8 million deal in early March. Daniel Descalso can serve as an emergency backup in the early going for Peralta while Diaz, a Cuban defector who did not play in 2013, gets acclimated to U.S. pro baseball in the minors.
Rubin says the Mets might be going after Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.