The St. Louis Cardinals have already acquired Miami Marlins left fielder Marcell Ozuna this offseason, but in order to be legitimate National League contenders, they need more firepower. How about trading for Tampa Bay Rays righty Chris Archer and signing former Colorado Rockies closer Greg Holland?
Last season, the 83-win Cardinals owned one of the better pitching staffs in baseball. Finishing with the 10th-best ERA in MLB (4.01), they were able to keep their offense in the game. At the same time, righty Lance Lynn remains on the open market and there hasn’t been much talk regarding St. Louis going all-out to retain the homegrown arm. And with Yu Darvish inking a six-year deal with the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, the free agent dominos on the pitching market may begin to fall. If St. Louis isn’t going to spend big on starting pitching in free agency, then they’re going to have to go the trade route.
The Rays have already traded Evan Longoria, who manned the hot corner in Tampa Bay for the last ten years, and with the team missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, a full-on rebuild appears to be taking place. The next player to be traded could be Archer.
Over the last two seasons, Archer has pitched to an ERA of just over four (4.02 in 2016, 4.07 in 2017), but for his career has pitched to a 3.63 ERA. He has also recorded 230-plus strikeouts and pitched 200-plus innings in each of the last three seasons. To add onto the benefits of acquiring him, Archer is also under contract through 2021 at less than nine million per year. For the Cardinals, it’s worth running the risk to see whether the righty can regain his ace status. A rotation consisting of Archer, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and whatever Adam Wainwright has left in the tank is one the Cardinals can win with. When it comes to what they should offer Tampa Bay in a potential trade for Archer, righty Dakota Hudson and outfielder Tyler O’Neill would be a strong package to center a deal around.
Inserting Archer into Mike Matheny‘s rotation would replace the void created by Lynn’s likely departure and new pitching coach Mike Maddux — who’s held in high-esteem around the league — could help get him back to pitching with consistency.
Another potential area of need for the Cardinals is in the backend of their bullpen. While their pen did post the seventh-best ERA in the majors (3.81) last season, the departure of Trevor Rosenthal and improved versions of the Milwaukee Brewers (who have added outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain) and even the Cubs (who have signed Darvish and righty Tyler Chatwood to potentially replace Jake Arrieta) make upgrading in any way possible a must for the Cardinals. With desperation kicking in on a number of big-name free agents, the Cardinals should pounce on Holland.
After not pitching in 2016, Holland bounced back last season. Converting 41-of-45 save opportunities, he was able to overcome adversity and finish off games in the ninth inning for the Rockies. At the same time, he pitched to a shaky 3.61 ERA and surrendered a career-high seven home runs — which gives reason to doubt Holland’s ability to be lights-out in the ninth.
But if you’re Cardinals, Holland is a proven commodity, and based on not pitching in a year, held himself together well in 2017. And with uncertainty in the late innings on the Cardinals’ end, taking a chance on Holland wouldn’t kill them. A two-year, $30 million deal would be fair for both parties with all factors taken into account.
Adding Ozuna will certainly give the Cardinals a boost in the middle of the order. Coming off a career year in which he hit .312 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs, Ozuna has come into his own as one of the better hitting outfielders in baseball. Ozuna hitting alongside Yadier Molina, Tommy Pham, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Dexter Fowler, and Jedd Gyorko will give the Cardinals an electric offense in 2018. But if their pitching staff can’t keep that lineup in the game, it’ll be an unfortunate waste — making it even more imperative that they snatch a top of the rotation arm (Archer).
Holland remains the best closer on the free agent market, and in an era where you can’t have enough bullpen ammunition and/or rotation depth, his addition can’t hurt the Cardinals. But, more importantly, the fit is there. Fresh off a year in which he won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, Holland can continue working on becoming the stellar closer he once was; granting him a two-year deal is more than fair, considering the money and risk that potentially comes with doing so.
The Brewers and Cubs have each improved, as have the Cardinals. But the Cardinals need more in order to contend. Trading for Archer gives them a much-needed top of the rotation arm and Holland helps shore up the ninth inning.