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St. Louis Cardinals: 5 Potential Center Field Targets

The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off a season where they just nearly missed out on making the playoffs. With a 86-76 record, many would say they had a decent season. But the club finished one game back of a Wild Card slot, and surely ended the season disappointed as a franchise. To rub even more salt in the wound, their division rivals, and the team who won their division, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series.

So the Cardinals are surely approaching this winter looking up at the Cubbies. The Cardinals may have finished second in the NL Central, but that was still 17 and a half games behind their rivals from Chicago. If the team wants to make a run at the Cubs, they are going to need to make a few improvements this offseason. Their key position of weakness that is in desperate need of an upgrade: center field.

As things stand right now, Tommy Pham is set to be the team’s starting center fielder in 2017. Not exactly an inspiring option given Pham only hit .226 in his 186 at bats last year. As a soon to be 29 year old in a prime age range, Pham could have a little bit of upside, but still not enough to help the Cards make up nearly 18 games in their division.

With the Winter Meetings set to start in about a weeks time, the Cardinals time to improve is fast approaching. The Winter Meetings is when the hot stove gets burning, and many bold moves will be made. If the Cardinals want to have a chance of overtaking the Cubs, which is not going to be an easy task, they are going to have to make a splash. So below are five names the team could potentially add to the mix in the near future.

Dexter Fowler

Well if the team is looking to overcome the Cubs, why not make an addition, while also subtracting from their rivals? The soon to be 31 year old currently sits on the free agent market, with plenty of teams after his services. The Cubs, the New York Mets, the San Francisco Giants and the Toronto Blue Jays are only a few of the potential suitors the Cardinals will have to compete with to land the switch hitter. He is hands down one of the top free agents out there, considered by many to be the best option after Yoenis Cespedes.

Fowler comes off a season that saw him hit .276, slug 13 home runs and score 84 runs. Like most seasons, Fowler did miss some time in 2016, as he played in 125 games on the season. He is the type of guy who is not great in any one category, but does a little bit of everything. His speed in the outfield makes him a very capable option to roam around in center, and the Cardinals will certainly give him a strong look. And there is no denying that they would love taking him away from the Cubs, and they would hope this wouldn’t turn into a Jason Heyward situation (He left St. Louis for Chicago last winter, and had a pretty brutal season).

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Ian Desmond

Another top option on the free agent market is Ian Desmond. Desmond is a guy who took a one year deal with Texas last winter, and it paid off big time. Desmond went from shortstop to outfielder, and built up his value considerably in his one season with Texas. He has the added flexibility that would allow the Cardinals to play him at multiple positions if need be, but if he signed with the Cardinals, there is no doubt center would become his primary home. Desmond played 130 of his 156 games last year in center.

The 31 year old thought he was going to get a nice contract last year. But his market never developed, leading to the one year “show me” contract. And Desmond sure proved himself worthy of that bigger deal, hitting .285 on the year. He was a 20/20 man, as he hit 22 homers and stole 21 bases, while driving in ¬†86 runs, and scoring 107 more. There is no doubt Desmond will be on the Cardinals wish list, but they are going to have to fight off teams like the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles for his services.

Marcell Ozuna

Not too long ago I touched upon the idea of the Cardinals trading Michael Wacha to the Miami Marlins (link). The primary piece that would go back to the Cards, Marcell Ozuna. The Marlins are a team always open to making deals, and they are in need of pitching upgrades. Ozuna is a name that has been mentioned in trade talks since last winter, when the team looked to deal him thanks to his bumpy relationship with upper management. His name has once again popped up in trade talks, and I can’t help but feel the Cardinals are the best match-up for a deal.

Ozuna is still only 26 years old, and possesses plenty of upside. He is the type of talent the Cardinals would love to add, as they would be penciling him in as their man in center for the foreseeable future. He is coming off a 2016 campaign that saw him bat .266, and he tied his career best in home runs at 23. We know he is athletic enough to cover center, where he manned 123 games for the Fish a season ago.

Charlie Blackmon

If the Marlins prove to be a tough sell with Ozuna, the Cardinals could very well turn their attention to the West. The Colorado Rockies have an abundance of left handed hitters, especially outfielders. That fact paired with the team’s desire to add some pitching could result in a trade of Charlie Blackmon. The team has no luck signing free agent arms given the reputation of Coors Field, meaning a trade is their best route to adding young arms. It just so happens the Cardinals can match-up given their depth in the rotation. Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jamie Garcia and Mike Leake could all be considered trade-able, so the Rockies could have their pick of the bunch. Or maybe they prefer to go younger, and ask the Cards for someone like Marco Gonzales (out half season while he recovers from Tommy John), Alex Reyes (unlikely St. Louis would move him) or Jack Flaherty.

Blackmon certainly proved to be a desirable commodity in 2016. In just under 600 at bats, Blackmon hit an outstanding .324 to go along with 29 home runs, 17 stolen bases, 82 RBIs and 111 runs scored. And all of this while playing for the Colorado Rockies, who are not exactly a juggernaut. Blackmon would fit in really nicely in the Cardinals lineup, and is certainly a name to watch when it comes to the team from St. Louis.

Lorenzo Cain

A while back we looked at the Kansas City Royals and how they find themselves between a rock and a hard place this winter (link). Given the team’s core will be hitting free agency after the season, and they are in desperate need of an infusion of youth with longer deals, someone like Lorenzo Cain could very find himself on the trade block this winter. Not many people will be expecting him to get dealt, but the Winter Meetings is always good for a deal that comes from nowhere. Could that deal come from two teams who are not too far away from one another on the map?

Cain is coming off an injury plagued season that saw him miss a handful of time. When all was said and done, Cain played 103 games, with 72 of those coming in center. He hit .287, but only managed nine homers thanks to the wrist issues he dealt with. The soon to be 31 year old will certainly be looking to have a bounce back season in what will be a contract year for him. Like the Rockies, names like Gonzales, Reyes and Flaherty would certainly be appealing to Kansas City. Even someone like Kolton Wong, who has not lived up to his hype yet, but is locked up on a long term deal while still possessing plenty of upside, could see his name bandied about in talks for Cain.

So what do you think? Who will the St. Louis Cardinals add to play center field this winter? Tell us in the comments!

Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com