While many might not believe another big bat to be among the St. Louis Cardinals' needs for 2013, that may be the most important piece in putting them in the running for another championship.
The team does have its obvious needs, like a left-handed reliever, a backup at shortstop and a short-term solution at second base. Another addition, however, could be the most important need for the Cardinals over the 2013 season.
The Cardinals were arguably one of the best offensive teams in baseball in 2012. They led the majors in OBP (.338), tied for first in hits (1526), ranked fourth overall in batting average (.271), tied for fourth in RBI (732) and ranked fifth in runs scored (765).
Those are numbers any team would be proud of, but there are still areas where they can stand to improve.
Despite having five everyday players with 20 or more home runs, the Cardinals ranked 17th in home runs with 159. While living by the long ball isn’t safe, it also isn’t safe when three division rivals had more home runs in 2012.
In order to get back on top of the NL Central, which will be more difficult with the Houston Astros out of the picture, the Cardinals need additional power.
The question of where to put it is where this gets tricky.
The Cardinals have two solid sluggers knocking on the door for the big league club in 2013, but they may not have space for either of them.
Matt Adams, who is virtually blocked by Allen Craig, would make a nice addition, but both he and Craig are limited in terms of defensive positions.
Craig could get some time in the outfield to help rest Carlos Beltran on occasion, but first base is preferred for him long-term. That would give Adams some time at first base, but he needs to be in the lineup every day.
John Mozeliak has repeatedly shown a desire to have Adams playing every day, as opposed to as a utility player, to avoid doing him any harm.
Another interesting question is whether the Cardinals are getting enough power out of their center fielder, Jon Jay.
Jay, who put up a stellar season with a .305 average, was lacking in terms of power and what teams expect from his position. With only four home runs and 40 RBI, there is definitely room for improvement.
Oscar Taveras, the shining star of the Cardinals farm system, has been playing center field, but is viewed at this point as a replacement for Carlos Beltran in the event of injury or at the end of his current contract.
In all likelihood, Taveras will see playing time in 2013—sooner rather than later. Given the offensive fireworks he has shown in Double-A Springfield, there is no reason to expect him to not make the big league club before the All-Star break.
The downfall is that for him to be in the lineup, it would likely mean that Beltran’s bat is out. The key to success is finding a way to shove another bat in an already good lineup.
The only way to make that happen is to get Taveras at center field. Where this gets even more complicated is the fact that the Cardinals will likely want to keep Jay’s .300 bat in the lineup.
There’s simply not a way to get that done in 2013.
There has been discussion of a trade for an additional middle-infielder like Asdrubal Cabrera who could play second base or shortstop if Rafael Furcal’s condition isn’t what the Cardinals hope.
Whether it’s a trade for Cabrera or a similar player, it’s possible that the most sensible way for the Cardinals to get an additional big bat into the lineup in 2013 will be through a trade.
A trade for a middle infielder could bring in another bat as well as improved defense in a way that also keeps the majority of the current lineup in place. The addition of a player like Cabrera could be a huge push for the Cardinals and put them in position to make another title run in 2013.