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The Cardinals can’t be done

The Cardinals have improved more than the Cubs or Brewers, but that’s not saying much.

League Championship Series - St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals - Game Four Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals must be feeling grateful that the Cubs and the Brewers are standing pat or making several tiny moves to get a little bit worse. Milwaukee and Chicago haven’t done anything to close the gap, but St. Louis has done almost nothing to widen it. Aside from making a trade for Matthew Liberatore, a promising pitching prospect who won’t help them win games in 2020, the Cardinals haven’t gotten a whole lot better.

Here’s a list of the major moves the Cardinals have made this offseason:

  • Signed Kwang-hyun Kim
  • Re-signed Adam Wainwright
  • Re-signed Matt Wieters
  • Traded Randy Arozarena and José Martínez for Matthew Liberatore and Edgardo Rodriguez
  • Traded Diowill Burgos for Austin Dean

Adam Wainwright is a perfectly cromulent signing even removed from any sentimentality. There’s a decent chance he can throw 170 league average innings again. There were certainly worse options for the back of the rotation.

Kim is easily the highlight of the offseason. In 2019 with the SK Wyverns, Kim struck out 180 batters in 190 1/3 innings while walking just 38. While there’s no telling how well his skills will transfer to MLB, ZiPS is awfully optimistic. The margin for error on Kim’s projected 2.5 fWAR is likely much, much greater than that of an established major leaguer, but so far, he’s the best candidate to be the impact addition of the offseason.

The second-best candidate is Austin Dean who wasn’t good in 98 major league games last year, but will undoubtedly emerge on Opening Day fully slathered with Cardinals Devil Magic. On any other team, Dean’s half-win projected over 600 plate appearances might be cause for concern, but in a Cardinals uniform, that equates to an All-Star appearance.

In actuality, If he gets 600 plate appearances, something went horribly wrong. Dean is just there in case someone gets hurt or the devil magic slathered on them runs out (looking at you, Tommy Edman.) With Martínez and Marcell Ozuna both gone, the Cardinals outfield is in fairly rough shape. Harrison Bader will likely never hit as well as he did in 2018. Tyler O’Neill looks more like the second-coming of Tyler Austin. Dexter Fowler looks less capable of offsetting his terrible defense.

As a whole, Steamer projects the Cardinals’ outfield to combine for 3.6 fWAR and none are projected to be above-average at the plate. Ozuna, who was allowed to go to Atlanta on a one-year deal, is projected for 2.6 fWAR on his own while Martínez would still be St. Louis’s fourth-best outfielder if he repeated his disappointing 2019. Regardless of what other acquisitions the Cardinals might make before now and Opening Day, the Cardinals can’t go into the season with this outfield and expect things to go well.

The decision to bring back Matt Wieters is also something of an uninspiring move. The best case scenario isn’t that Wieters hits like it’s 2014 again, but that he becomes the third catcher behind Andrew Knizner. Knizner is St. Louis’s sixth-best prospect according to FanGraphs, but he struggled in limited time last year. Knizner had just a 78 wRC+ in 58 major league plate appearances and a 99 wRC+ in 280 plate appearances at Triple-A. Knizner isn’t a good defender, so he has to hit to be valuable.

At this point of the offseason, there weren’t a ton of options left for back-up backstops. Russell Martin, however, is still available, and his defense is much more dependable than anything Wieters offers. There was also nothing stopping the Cardinals from waiting this long to snag a third catcher for their 40-player roster.

Even with a lackluster offseason, the Cardinals are probably still favorites in the NL Central. They haven’t done much to eliminate that “probably” though. The plan appears to be to rely on the Devil Magic, and sure, that’s worked several times in the past, but it has to run out at some point. Right?

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.