Not too many expected much of a race in the NL Central this season, but lo and behold, on July 20th, the St. Louis Cardinals have only a half game lead over the Cincinnati Reds, and it’s taken a six game winning streak to claim the lead. The Cardinals are still probably the most talented team in the division and arguably in the entire National League, but they’re in for a fight down the stretch, especially given how easy (warning: ESPN insider link) the Reds schedule is in the second half.
Buy or Sell
The Cardinals are clearly buyers, and there are a few clear positions to upgrade: starting pitching, shorstop, and depending on the timetable for David Freese’s return from the DL, second base, as Freese’s return would allow Felipe Lopez to shift from third base to second base.
The most obvious and the most pressing need is at starting pitcher, as the Cardinals rotation currently contains Blake Hawksworth and Jeff Suppan, who have combined for a total of -0.3 WAR this season, and neither is projected to reach replacement level.
Essentially any starting pitcher on the market fits the Cardinals roster, ranging from Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook to Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren. Haren and Oswalt are both highly unlikely, but the addition of Carmona or Westbrook would be an improvement over Hawksworth or Suppan, and if the price is right, the Cardinals should move to add any of the available starting pitchers on the market.
The needs in the middle infield aren’t quite as pressing, as Skip Schumaker‘s performance at second base is likely to improve (.323 projected wOBA), as is Brendan Ryan’s. Still, neither are more than an average player at this point, and the addition of Stephen Drew or a similar shortstop – if one is available – would both provide a big improvement to the starting lineup as well as the bench.
The Cardinals needs aren’t huge, though, as the additions of Ryan Ludwick, David Freese, and Brad Penny could be all the boost that St. Louis needs. I would still recommend the addition of another starting pitcher, but between Albert Pujols, Colby Rasmus, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter, there’s plenty of elite talent to go around on this team.
On The Farm
The Cardinals farm system is, quite frankly, pretty weak. The Cardinals ranked 30th in Beyond The Boxscore’s preseason farm system rankings, with only one prospect ranking in the top 95. That prospect is Shelby Miller, a right handed starter currently running 11.96 K/9 in A ball. 3B Zach Cox, the Cardinals first round pick, should be a huge addition to the farm system.
The Cardinals are going to need all the money they can have on hand in 2011, when Albert Pujols’s contract expires. As such, don’t expect the Cardinals to take on the contracts of Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt, or any other big time, multi-year contract. But the Cardinals don’t have any real albatrosses on hand and only four players due for arbitration raises in 2010 according to Cot’s Contracts, so one would assume that they could take on some cash for at least the 2011 season.
Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.