It's becoming a depressing tradition.
Cardinals fans turn on a postseason game, wishing it was a Cardinals game, and find themselves wondering why that player performing on baseball's biggest stage can't play in St. Louis.
Sometimes, he can.
We will spend much of the offseason discussing and debating potential free-agent and trade-candidate solutions for the Cardinals.
And we will spend much of the offseason discussing and debating if the Cardinals, like their National League Central rivals, will move with the kind of aggressiveness needed to match the competition. The Cubs and Brewers have turned the postseason into the floor. For the Cardinals, it has remained the ceiling.
The opportunities for improvement are endless. The front office says it will consider all options. Today, let's limit the focus a bit.
Is there a player still alive in the postseason who might make sense for the Cardinals?
Three pending free agents — some more realistic than others — come to mind.
He would have the best beard in St. Louis since Jason Motte. The 30-year-old lefty starter proved to be both durable (career-high 34 starts, 200+ innings for the third time in his career) and effective (3.74 ERA and 20 quality starts, which tied for fourth-most in the AL) during his contract year. Did I mention he's a lefty? The Cardinals rotation, like the lineup, could use some more of that. Keuchel was statistically better last season, when he went 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA, but his Fielding Independent Pitching has been about the same the past two seasons. He did not look all that great between March and June, as he compiled a 4-8 record and 4.22 ERA in 17 starts (nine quality). Then he went 8-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 17 starts (11 quality) after that. The groundball-getter who is allergic to hard contact used more four-seam fastballs and changeups to diversify his often-used cutter. The end result was the second-most strikeouts (154) of his career. Do the Cardinals need to add starting pitching? A debate is brewing. But if they do, what they could use is help at the front end of the rotation, not another candidate to compete for the bottom spots. Keuchel is a front-end arm, a two-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner in 2015. He's also a Scott Boras client. Insert cash register sound here.
They are chanting "Moose" in Milwaukee after the third baseman came up big in the NLDS. And if this postseason ends the way the Brewers hope, maybe Moustakas winds up staying there. The two-time All-Star is not new to potential-Cardinal discussion. That chatter dates back to his time with the Royals, who sent him to Milwaukee before the trade deadline. I have never been as high on Moustakas as some, but he's developed a deserved reputation for playing big in big games, and the Cardinals' situation at the hot corner has changed a bit. Not for the better. The Cardinals clearly could use an upgrade there, as explored here. Moustakas' left-handed swing would help balance out a right-leaning lineup. If Matt Carpenetr is locked in at first base, it would be a move of hope for the Cardinals to return to Jedd Gyorko as the starter at third, considering he was once again unable to capture consistency in performance and health. If the team views third baseman Patrick Wisdom as the answer, it has given zero indication of it in words or handling of the 27-year-old. Some believe Moustakas is a clubhouse minus, but that has not seemed to be the case for the Brewers, and if that was a big concern, Lorenzo Cain might have expressed hesitation before the trade-deadline deal. The former Royals teammates are the only players on the Milwaukee roster who have won a World Series. Moustakas' season batting line reads .251/.315/.459. Nothing amazing there. But he did hit 28 home runs and 33 doubles. His .774 OPS would have trailed only Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez among current Cardinals who played regularly. His home run and doubles count would have trailed only Carpenter. His career-high 95 RBIs would have led all Cardinals. And after Moustakas was dinged hard by the defensive metrics last season (eight runs below average according to Fielding Bible) he is back in the green this year, checking in at two runs above average. Acquiring Moustakas as one of multiple upgrades would make sense. Presenting him as the sole answer to a lagging lineup would not. Moustakas made less than $10 million this season after signing an incentive-laden one-year contract with the Royals. That deal includes a $15 million mutual option (and $1 million buyout) for next season.
There are two ways to respond to the Greg Holland swing and miss. The Cardinals could retreat from the market for expensive relievers and double down on developing internal options and/or repurposing cheaper ones for those roles. The other option would be spending even more to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible in the hunt for a sure thing at such a volatile position. Full disclosure: I doubt the second route is the one the Cardinals take, especially with emerging closer Jordan Hicks in the mix. But this postseason has taught us once again that having multiple shutdown relievers is a very good thing, and it's hard to find one more imposing than the 31-year-old righthander and seven-time All-Star in Boston. He has the second-highest save percentage in MLB history (90.7 percent) and converted 42 of 47 opportunities this season. If you want to find warning signs, there are some. Kimbrel's ERA (2.74) nearly doubled from last season and his Fielding Independent Pitching (3.17) more than doubled. He posted a 4.57 ERA after the All-Star break and came dangerously close to blowing a three-run against the Yankees in the ALDS. Kimbrel is not getting crushed. He is hurting himself with walks. He remains one of the most dominant relievers in the game today.