The 2016 season was one of great frustration if you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan, inconsistent play, poor management, sloppy defense, and an overall inability to execute the fundamentals plagued this team all season. Are we spoiled as fans by the team reaching the playoffs every year, of course we are, but there are clearly roster decisions that GM John Mozeliak must make before the first pitch of the 2017 season is thrown to hopefully return the club to playing meaningful games come October 2017. The 2016 version of the St. Louis Cardinals was clearly constructed incorrectly by Mozeliak, so let’s take a deeper dive into the mistakes he made, and what he must do to correct them.
The major mistake that John Mozeliak made when constructing the team was the overload of power hitters in the lineup. The 2015 Cardinals were one of the worst homerun hitting teams in the Majors, playing station to station, and having to muster at least three hits in an inning just to score a single run. In the winter of 2015, John Mozeliak clearly over compensated for this weakness in the club by constructing a team of “high homerun, high strikeout” guys. John Mozeliak clearly accomplished his goal of adding more power to the team, the Cardinals who according to ESPN, were 24th in homers in 2015, escalated all the way to smacking the second most homers in all of baseball. One of the major flaws with this new team philosophy is that the team strikeouts ballooned in 2016 as well. In 2015 the Cardinals had the 14th most strikeouts in the majors versus this year having the second most in baseball. Strikeouts are absolutely the most unproductive action that a ball club can do because a strikeout never leads to anything positive for an offense, unlike a ground ball or fly ball. Another problem with this philosophy is that Busch Stadium is not conducive to supporting a home run reliant club. In 2016, Busch Stadium yielded only the 19th most homeruns in the majors. This clearly explains why the Cardinals had their first losing season at home since way back in 1999!
If the Cardinals want to be successful in the 2017 season, Mo must change the strengths and structure of the club. In lieu of power hitters, the organization should target players who have a high on base percentage, combined with above average fielding ability and speed. Free agents such as Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss should not be brought back for the 2017 campaign. In lieu of these veterans, a possible fit for the team’s new philosophy would be Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Ender Inciarte. Inciarte is not a household name I realize, but he may just be what the Cardinals need. According to FanGraphs, Inciarte ranks sixth among all Major League outfielders in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). Combine that with a respectable 291 average, Inciarte would be a perfect fit for the 2017 club. Depending on whether the Braves are able to work out a new contract with Inciarte, or agree to an arbitration hearing, Inciarte could be a free agent that the Cardinals should target. If the Braves resign Inciarte or the two parties agree to a one year arbitration deal, the Cardinals should offer Atlanta a deal for him.
With the Braves being in a state of rebuild, a young controllable asset such as Kolten Wong would more than likely be attractive to Atlanta. With Kolten Wong seemingly hitting a wall in his career, a change of scenery to a low pressure environment to perform may be the best for him and the Cardinals. Wong had the worst year of his career hitting a mere 240 with limited playing time along with a stint in Triple A. With the Cardinals having Jedd Gyorko and All Star Aledmys Diaz, playing time for Wong in 2017 will most likely be slim. Wong clearly has the raw ability to be a productive major leaguer, but I am not so certain that he will be able to do it wearing the birds on the bat. With an acquisition of Inciarte, the Cardinals would be the proud owners of one of the best defensive outfields in baseball with Piscotty manning left field, Inciarte in center, and Grichuk in right. The Cardinals would have three of the top twenty best defensive outfields in baseball!
These roster moves and alterations in team philosophy will most likely improve the Cardinals for the 2017 season. The Cardinals will have a solid rotation with Martinez, Reyes, Waino, Leake, and the return of Lance Lynn. If the Cardinals can provide this rotation with an excellent defense behind them, I forsee the Cardinals returning to their customary position of playing playoff baseball in 2017.