The Cardinals have yet to have much engagement with the offseason’s top-tier free agents, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This relates to both starting pitchers and position players, as in regards to the top of the shortstop market, the Cards “have remained on the outskirts of the shortstop discussions, staying aware but not plunging in,” Goold writes.
This isn’t to say the the Cardinals aren’t active, as the team is focusing on its need behind the plate. Cards officials will be meeting with the agents for Willson Contreras and Christian Vazquez, and such other free agent catchers as Omar Narvaez and Mike Zunino have also been explored by the team, as well as trade candidates like the Athletics’ Sean Murphy or any of the Blue Jays’ three backstops.
Catcher is the most pressing need for the Cardinals, so it isn’t surprising that the team might be looking to get its catching situation settled before moving onto other targets. With Adam Wainwright re-sigining and Nolan Arenado passing on his opt-out clause, St. Louis had two major bits of business settled before the offseason even officially began, perhaps giving the team some extra flexibility to proceed a bit more slowly on other matters.
Signing Contreras would certainly count as a headline-grabbing move, as the longtime Cubs catcher is projected to land a four-year, $84MM deal, and would also cost draft pick compensation since he rejected Chicago’s qualifying offer. $84MM would count as the second-biggest contract the Cardinals have ever given to a free agent, behind only Matt Holliday’s $120MM deal from the 2009-10 offseason. That deal was also a re-signing, as Holliday had become a familiar quantity to the Cardinals after spending the last two-plus months of the 2009 season in a St. Louis uniform.
In short, making a big free agent splash usually isn’t the preferred strategy of Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. This obviously doesn’t rule out Contreras altogether, but it might make St. Louis more open to trade talks with the A’s or Jays in the catching search. That said, signing Contreras for just money and a draft pick might be preferable to giving up a big trade package for Murphy, Alejandro Kirk, or Gabriel Moreno.
On the pitching side, the Cardinals are known to be looking at re-signing with Jose Quintana. For the bullpen, the Cards are targeting high-strikeout relievers — as Goold notes, the team is looking to add more swing-and-miss after finishing near the bottom of the league in strikeout percentage. St. Louis is looking at pitching options both in North America and overseas.