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3 free agent contracts St. Louis Cardinals should’ve matched this offseason

Fansided 2/2/2023 Kevin Henry
© Provided by Fansided

Every offseason, MLB teams bypass free agents who could have helped their team. Could the St. Louis Cardinals regret passing on matching these three free agent contracts?

The St. Louis Cardinals made one big splash this offseason, inking catcher Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million contract. The signing filled a need for the Cardinals, but could more have been done to improve the roster?

Take a look at the projected depth chart for the Cardinals heading into the 2023 season (via FanGraphs) and you will see some areas (including the outfield) where St. Louis is planning on prospects such as Jordan Walker to make an impact as the season goes along. However, could the Cardinals have brought in some veteran help this offseason as well in those areas?

In this article, we'll look at three contracts that would not have broken the bank for the Cardinals, but still allowed the team to bring in a veteran who potentially could have paid dividends as St. Louis looks to avoid another early postseason exit in 2023.

Contract that should have been matched by the St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter

The Cardinals were all about the farewell tour last season, with Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina both signing deals to finish their careers in St. Louis while being celebrated by Cardinals fans. Adam Wainwright will be a part of the same plans this season.

There's a sense of nostalgia about players who have contributed to the franchise riding off into the sunset under the Gateway Arch. That's why it was a little surprising when the Cardinals didn't beat out the San Diego Padres for the services of Matt Carpenter, who signed a two-year deal worth $12 million this offseason.

Carpenter brought his career back to life with the New York Yankees last season and received an incredible welcome-back ovation from Cardinals fans when New York paid a visit to Busch Stadium in early August. Carpenter slashed .305/.412/.727 in 154 plate appearances with the Yankees last season, so perhaps the 37-year-old got hot at the right time in the Bronx and would've cooled off with more at-bats. However, bringing Carpenter back to St. Louis with a relatively inexpensive contract (perhaps the last MLB one he will sign) would have been a great way to not only give the fans another trip down Memory Lane, but also perhaps give St. Louis some veteran infield depth and options at designated hitter.

Contract that should have been matched by the St. Louis Cardinals: Michael Brantley

Among the three biggest decisions made by the Cardinals this offseason was their choice to keep all of their current outfielders rather than use one or more of them as a trade chip to land pitching depth. Certainly, there's plenty of talent there with Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O'Neill (plus Jordan Walker waiting to make an impact in his rookie season), but could there have been a veteran option available that would have provided some insurance in the case of an injury or down season at the plate?

Of course, there were options available, including Michael Brantley, who signed a one-year, $12 million deal this offseason to return to the Houston Astros. The five-time All-Star has played parts of four seasons with the Astros, including last year when he slashed .288/.370/.416 in 277 plate appearances over 64 games.

Brantley was injured and didn't get to play in last year's World Series, so the hunger to get back to the Fall Classic and take the field is certainly there. So is the pedigree that Brantley has shown at the plate in the postseason during his 14-year career, putting up a .296/.357/.380 slash line in 239 pressure-filled at-bats.

With the Cardinals needing to find a way to advance deep into the postseason, having a bat like Brantley's available when the lights of October get bright certainly might have made a difference.

Contract that should have been matched by the St. Louis Cardinals: Johnny Cueto

Remember when the Cardinals were reportedly in the hunt for starting pitcher Carlos Rodón but shied away from paying him the money and giving him the number of years that were eventually handed to him by the New York Yankees (six years, $162 million)? It's clear the Cardinals didn't want to invest that much in the southpaw, but it's also clear that the Cardinals would have liked to have had another starting pitcher option entering the season.

That's where bringing in a veteran like Johnny Cueto may have made sense. The 36-year-old right-hander signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Miami Marlins this offseason after a solid 2022 season with the Chicago White Sox (3.35 ERA/3.79 FIP/1.225 WHIP), and will likely not only bring flair when he is on the mound but also results (Cueto logged 3.5 bWAR last season while St. Louis starters combined for minus-1.1 bWAR).

Cueto has struggled somewhat in his 12 career starts in St. Louis (4.86 ERA), but his ERA inside Miami's home park stands at 6.33 in four starts, and that didn't scare off a Marlins team that is already deep with pitching.

Much like Miami, St. Louis finds itself with options in the rotation. However, a proven veteran starter who could help fill the middle or the back end of the rotation is never a bad thing.

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