It is a tribute to the success the Pirates had last season that any news being made by the St. Louis Cardinals is of interest in Pittsburgh. And the Cardinals are making news. They might not be wheeling and dealing this month, but they are at least wheeling.
* On Friday, they traded third baseman David Freese to Anaheim for center fielder Peter Bourjos.
* Last night came word they are close to a deal with free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta. The deal has not been confirmed.
So what does it mean to the Pirates?
It means St. Louis is taking steps to upgrade a team that was better than the Pirates last year.
No one expected the Cardinals to stand pat. They are most likely going to lose right fielder Carlos Beltran, a key player in their offense, to free agency. They also had a gaping hole at shortstop where Pete Kozma was okay defensively but a near sure-out at the plate.
Bourjos is an interesting addition. Some rank him as the best center fielder in MLB. He was good enough to move Mike Trout to left field for the Angels. He has superior speed which gives him the potential for more offense, although he not been especially good at the plate.
The Cardinals have multiple options in right field. They could play Allen Craig there and start Matt Adams at first base. Adams was excellent in filling in at first for Craig, who missed more than a month late in the season. If they want to keep Adams on the bench - or use him as a trade chip - they could play Jon Jay, their former center fielder in right.
Both of those moves could be temporary. The Cardinals have one of the best outfield prospects in baseball in Oscar Taveras. Pirates fans are excited about Gregory Polanco, but Taveras is ranked higher as a prospect, is closer to MLB and is younger. He will get a chance to win the right field job in spring training but more than likely will start the season in the minors.
To counter the absence of Freese, the Cardinals will move Matt Carpenter from second base to third and allow Kolten Wong, another top prospect, to take over at second.
If the Cardinals are successful in signing Peralta, who was looking for a four-year deal in excess of $60 million, he will help make up for the likely absence of Beltran. Peralta is an average shortstop with an above-average bat for the position. He hit mostly sixth last season in the power-packed lineup of the Detroit Tigers.
The Pirates have yet to do anything in free agency although, since it’s early, that should not be held against them. It was hoped by some they would go after Peralta, but as his asking price and number of years soared, they quickly fell out of contention.
It’s early but in the race for NL Central superiority, St. Louis still has the advantage.