Dec. 20, 2016
Cardinals Solidify Centerfield. What About The Infield?
Right after the close of the MLB Winter Meetings, the St. Louis Cardinals announced they had, indeed, signed free agent centerfielder Dexter Fowler, 5 Yr/$82.5 MM with a blanketed no-trade clause. Also, in recent reports, Cardinals lead-off hitter Matt Carpenter would be moved down in the line-up, giving way to Fowler's LO capabilities. Plus, Carpenter would take over as Cardinals everyday first baseman.
With Carpenter at first, reports have come from the Cardinals camp that Kolten Wong is intended to be the Cardinals everyday second baseman. Defensively, hands down a great asset for the team. Offensively, we can only hope he recaptures a decent bat. Aledmys Diaz will cover shortstop, even though talk has been a possible move to third base. However, to date, Jhonny Peralta is still with the team and looking at his last contract year in 2017. He covered third base when he returned from the 60 Day DL due to a thumb injury sustained in Spring Training 2016.
Peralta had been a very strong shortstop prior to his injury. But, with the strong play by Diaz, he lost the position to the rookie in 2016. During rehab, he worked out at third. Will he return for the 2017 season as strong as he was in 2015? He closed that season with a .275 BA/.334 OBP/.411 SLG/.745 OPS with 17 HR/71 RBI. Last season, shortened to just three total months of play, he closed 2016, .260/.307/.408/.715 with 8 HR/29 RBI. I, personally, feel he will be just as solid in 2017, maybe even more so with his pending free agency in 2018. He is 34 years old; but, in my opinion, he still has some very good baseball left in him yet to be played. He's solid in the field and comes up with some key hits at the plate. Having a full off-season to heal, look for him, and Wong, to be in the mix come Spring Training competing against Jedd Gyorko (30 HR/59 RBI) as the Cardinals everyday 2B or 3B player. May be a stretch to think of Gyorko at second. But, that will depend on Wong's bat, in my opinion. Even though Gyorko led the Cardinals in home runs with his career best in 2016, he only held a .243 BA/.306 OBP. We need to see more RBI from Gyorko, which Peralta is able to provide. "IF" Gyorko sees an increase in RBI in 2017, he sees an increase in his OPS which was at .801 last season. And, keep in mind, Peralta does have an agenda - having a very strong season as an audition for his future.
Also, the backstop behind Yadier Molina, for 2017. With Brayan Pena, signed in 2016 as back-up with only two game starts, now gone from the Cardinals as they released him into free agency. It was surmised immediately prospect Carson Kelly would fill the role. But, as playing time would be limited for the young Kelly, the Cardinals feel he would benefit more to remain at Memphis Triple-A. They have since "re-signed" catcher Eric Fryer. You remember him? The catcher behind Molina last season while Pena was on the 60 Day DL and lost at mid-season off waivers to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fortunately, he's back with the Cardinals. Look for him to be penned in as backup in 2017. Both Kelly and Fryer will be at Cardinals 2017 Spring Training camp.
After the signing of Fowler, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak mentioned that "complimentary pieces" may be added; but, don't look for another large contract to be on the table. To date, news on that front has been nil. However, there is a still time between now and mid-February for the Cardinals to add another bat. As of today, there are only 59 days left until Spring Training (February 13, 2017) fires up with pitchers and catchers reporting in. Even though extremely cold here in Central Illinois, that one factor gives me a very warm feeling.