Four things the Cardinals still must do this offseason after trading for Paul Goldschmidt

After a quiet few weeks to begin the offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals made one of the most impactful trades of the winter this week, adding first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in a four-player trade with the Diamondbacks. Righty Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, prospect Andy Young, and a 2019 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick went to Arizona.

Goldschmidt gives the Cardinals the kind of middle-of-the-order force they've lacked since Matt Holliday was in his prime in 2013. Maybe even since Albert Pujols was in his heyday. This is the lineup Cardinals manager Mike Schildt can run out there next season:

  1. 3B Matt Carpenter
  2. RF Dexter Fowler
  3. 1B Paul Goldschmidt
  4. LF Marcell Ozuna
  5. SS Paul DeJong
  6. C Yadier Molina
  7. 2B Kolten Wong
  8. CF Harrison Bader
  9. Pitcher's Spot

Four consecutive right-handed hitters in the 3-4-5-6 spots could make it easy for the opposing manager to match up with his bullpen, though I'm not sure it matters with hitters like Goldschmidt and Ozuna. Schildt could always drop Carpenter into the cleanup spot to counteract that. Point is, the St. Louis lineup is much more fearsome now with Goldschmidt.

The team's offseason work is not done, however. They've addressed their biggest need by adding a middle-of-the-order thumper, but there is always room for improvement, and that is especially true for a Cardinals team that has missed the postseason in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-99. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak still has some work to do this offseason.

"When you look at our every day lineup, we're pretty excited about it," Mozeliak told reporters, including Jason Koch of the Belleville News-Democrat, at Goldschmidt's introductory press conference. "We still have two months before spring training ... (so) we're not on the clock to say we have to have our team ready by the time we get back from Vegas next week. We're going to be active at the Winter Meetings but we feel really confident about our club right now."

While the bulk of the roster appears to be in place -- for what it's worth, FanGraphs currently projects the Cardinals as one game worse than Cubs next season -- there are a few areas of need Mozeliak and his staff figure to address before the club reports to Jupiter, Florida, for spring training in two months. Here are four things the Cardinals still have to do this offseason.

Add a closer

MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals
Jordan Hicks could use some help in the late innings. USATSI

The Cardinals remade their bullpen on the fly this past season out of necessity. Most notably, they jettisoned Greg Holland, Tyler Lyons and Matt Bowman at midseason and replaced them by calling up Dakota Hudson and trading for Tyson Ross and Chasen Shreve. Here is the team's bullpen at the moment:

Depth starters such as John Gant, Austin Gomber and Daniel Poncedeleon could factor into the bullpen as well. So, too, could Alex Reyes, if the former top prospect is healthy and not needed in the rotation. The Cardinals are a pitching factory and they have plenty of bodies for the bullpen. Options are good. You need options.

Although the bullpen looks good on paper, it sure seems the Cardinals would benefit from adding a lockdown closer. That would push Hicks and Hudson into the seventh and eighth innings, or maybe even free one of them up for fireman work. That "Moment of Truth" reliever who pitches whenever the game is on the line, regardless of inning. That's how manager Terry Francona used Andrew Miller with the Indians the last few seasons.

Free agency offers two premium veteran closers in Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton, either of whom would improve the Cardinals bullpen considerably. Kimbrel is said to want a six-year deal. That is only his opening ask -- surely he's willing to negotiate, right? -- but, if that number scares St. Louis away, Britton is still available. He might be open to a three- or four-year contract. Either way, getting someone to anchor the ninth inning would put a nice bow on this relief unit.

Find a quality backup for Molina

As great as he is and as durable as he's been, Molina will turns 37 in July and the Cardinals need a quality backup catcher to lighten the load on their franchise backstop. Kelly, the in-house front runner for the backup job, was included in the Goldschmidt trade. The next best in-house option is prospect Andrew Knizner, whose emergence made Kelly expendable. He has only 17 games worth of Triple-A experience, however. Expecting him to be the Opening Day backup might be too big an ask.

The free agent market is loaded with backup catcher types. Nick Hundley, Devin Mesoraco, James McCann and Rene Rivera are all available for nothing but cash. What about Alex Avila? The D-Backs are obviously selling and Avila, who is owed $4.25 million in 2019, could be the odd man out with Kelly and fellow youngster John Ryan Murphy available to share time behind the plate. Point is, the Cardinals need a backup catcher. Someone to lighten the load on Molina and allow Knizner to get the developmental time he needs in Triple-A.

Try to unload Fowler

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago White Sox
A Dexter Fowler trade would seem to be the best thing for both parties at this point. USATSI

The Dexter Fowler era in St. Louis has not gone well. Fowler has hit .230/.328/.410 (97 OPS+) and been worth 0.2 WAR in his two years with the Cardinals, and he's played in only 208 of 324 possible games. Also, Mozeliak called Fowler out for his effort level during a radio interview this past July. Fowler hasn't played well, and it seems there's a rift with the front office.

It seems the best thing for both parties is a trade. Fowler would get a fresh start with a new organization and the Cardinals could plug Jose Martinez or slugging youngster Tyler O'Neill into right field on a full-time basis. The problem is Fowler is owed $49.5 million over the next three years and that won't be easy to move. Some potential trade partners:

  • Braves: They're looking for a corner outfielder and Fowler could be a cheaper option than, say, Michael Brantley.
  • Giants: Prior to the Goldschmidt trade, a Fowler for Evan Longoria trade would've made some sense.
  • Indians: They need an outfielder, for sure. Does Fowler for Jason Kipnis make any sense?
  • Rockies: What about Fowler for Ian Desmond? Desmond would give St. Louis a more versatile bench piece.
  • White Sox: They don't have a bad contract to swap. That's a potential obstacle.

The $49.5 million the Cardinals owe Fowler is a sunk cost. They have to pay it. Either directly to Fowler to wear their uniform or to another team to take him a trade. I suppose they could attach a valuable young player to Fowler to unload as much of his contract as possible, similar to what the Mariners did with Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. That's always possible.

Two years in, the Fowler-Cardinals marriage is not working out, and a split seems to be the best thing for both parties. Fowler gets a fresh start and the team could move on with more productive players. A bad contract for bad contract swap is the most likely outcome. For the Cardinals and Mozeliak, it only makes sense to push Fowler in trades the rest of the offseason. If they can get a more functional piece and unload salary, great. If they just save some salary, that's OK too.

Make a run at Harper

Yep. The Cardinals should make a run at Bryce Harper. Fowler isn't working out, and as promising as O'Neill looks, he's no Harper. Sign Harper, plop him into right field and in the cleanup spot behind Goldschmidt, a suddenly the lineup goes from very good to devastating. 

We know the Cardinals are willing to take on a massive contract because last year they made a run at Giancarlo Stanton. They didn't just make a run at him, they actually agreed to a trade with the Marlins, but Stanton used him no-trade clause to block it. The Cardinals even issued a statement to let everyone know:

The Cardinals traded for Ozuna after missing out on Stanton, and this year they added Goldschmidt, and those two aren't cheap. Both will be free agents after 2019 though. So will Gregerson, Jedd Gyorko and Michael Wacha. There's a lot of money coming off the books next offseason and that will make carrying what would inevitably be a monster Harper contract a little easier going forward.

St. Louis has steadily increased their Opening Day payroll in recent years and last season they opened at roughly $160 million. Right now, with Goldschmidt on board and arbitration projections considered, the Cardinals have about $150 million on the books for 2019. Another payroll increase into the $170 million range combined with, say, a Fowler or Gyorko or Wacha trade would make affording Harper possible. (The Cardinals are flush with young arms. Trading Wacha to free up payroll space for Harper isn't a crazy idea.)

Keep in mind it makes sense for the Cardinals to be very aggressive now. Goldschmidt and Ozuna will be free agents after next season. Molina and Adam Wainwright only have so many years remaining in their careers. Carpenter, Carlos Martinez and Miles Mikolas are in their primes right now. The 2019 season might be the last best chance to win with this group, and that should make Mozeliak & Co. want to be aggressive and add Harper. I mean, just think about the possible lineup:

  1. 3B Matt Carpenter
  2. SS Paul DeJong
  3. 1B Paul Goldschmidt
  4. RF Bryce Harper
  5. LF Marcell Ozuna
  6. C Yadier Molina
  7. 2B Kolten Wong
  8. CF Harrison Bader
  9. Pitcher

Golly, what a great lineup. That 1-2-3-4 is as good as any 1-2-3-4 in baseball. It might take some creativity -- or ownership being willing to expand payroll more than usual -- but adding Harper should be a serious consideration for the Cardinals. It would make them that much more dangerous and give them the best chance to win with this group, before Ozuna and Goldschmidt become free agents, before Molina and Wainwright hang 'em up, and before Carpenter and Martinez begin to decline.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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