Which Free Agent Shortstop Should the Cardinals Pursue?

photo: Carlos Correa (Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)

Financial considerations aside, which free agent shortstop may be the best fit for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022 and beyond?

The 2021-2022 Major League Baseball offseason with its plethora of free agent shortstops will provide baseball fans with a scintillating winter. A possible work stoppage notwithstanding, four of the most dynamic players to stand in the number six spot on the diamond should each garner a massive payday. Colorado’s Trevor Story, New York’s Javier Baez, Houston’s Carlos Correa and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager are waiting for the suitors to come calling.

Which one should the St. Louis Cardinals chase – if money was no consideration?

The Cardinals have employed their fair share of competent shortstops but have not had a great one since “The Wizard” (Ozzie Smith) called Busch Stadium home. Before that, one must go back to the heyday of the 1940’s with Marty “Mr. Shortstop” Marion to find the organization’s last true franchise shortstop.

The Cardinals thought they had developed the next big thing when they signed current shortstop Paul DeJong to a big contract extension in 2019. However, the incumbent has not lived up to his billing so the team must consider those on the market.

In a perfect world, the next shortstop in St. Louis would be a slick fielding, power hitting, high average, solid base stealing threat. Each of the available four have some but not all of the aforementioned traits. Here is the argument for each including my choice for the Cardinals infield.

Trevor Story

Trevor Story (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Since breaking into the majors in stunning fashion, Story has been one the bedrocks of the Colorado lineup (along with current Cardinal Nolan Arenado). And therein lies one of the arguments against Story. He plays in Colorado where the air is thin and the ball travels faster than a speeding bullet.

How would he perform away from Coors Field? Well, if Matt Holliday and Larry Walker are any indication, Story would hit quite well. The soon to be 29-year-old (Nov. 15) leads in nearly every offensive category of the four shortstops over the span of 2016-2021.

Following Fernando Tatis Jr., Story is the next best thing on the left side of the infield, leading the National League in double plays. His 14 errors could be a bit troubling to potential suitors. As for Cardinals fans, they have been intrigued with the possibility of reuniting third baseman Arenado with his former Colorado colleague. Although never confirmed, it was rumored at the trade deadline that Story was a deal pursued but did not work out for Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.

Javier Baez

Javier Baez (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Mention Javy Baez and the words “inconsistently spectacular” come to mind. For a while, it was thought “El Mago” (The Magician) would be the cornerstone of the Chicago Cubs infield for years to come but that all changed with a slump followed by a midsummer trade in 2021.

Now Baez is a free agent of the New York Mets and the question is whether the Cardinals should be entertaining the thought of signing him as their long term answer in the middle infield.

One thing in his favor – okay two things – are his versatility and the pop in his bat. Baez can play second and third in addition to shortstop and is adept at all three. A strong .271 batting average coupled with nearly 30 home runs and 61 extra base hits almost makes you forget his downside. Troubling are his rate of errors and strikeout percentage. He was at the top of the list in miscues in 2021 with 24 errors offsetting his incredible range and powerful arm. His career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is the second worst of the four free agents. Only Seager was worse and he played almost 30 fewer games then Baez. His proclivity to strike out at a 28 percent rate is the highest of the four.

If the Cardinals were to sign Baez, he would look good at the top of the lineup, but one has to wonder if the cost offsets the liabilities.

Corey Seager

Corey Seager (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The Dodgers shortstop might be better off staying right where he is – in Los Angeles. Having recently changed agents to join the Scott Boras Group, Seager’s numbers are strong in comparison to the other three top shortstop free agents. The best attributes of Seager are his fielding and his bat. Although his game appearances were limited to 95 in 2021, he still posted the second-best error to chances ratio of the four, ahead of both Baez and Story.

His batting average over the last five seasons is 19 points higher than Carlos Correa’s .276. Seager offers his next club an average of 20 home runs, 69 RBI and 53 extra base hits a season. His durability is the sticking point, as he played in less than 100 games in three of the last four seasons. Seager may be the cheapest of the four.

Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa (USA TODAY Sports Images)

This brings us to Carlos Correa. Arguably the most complete ballplayer of the four free agents, the Houston Astros would be foolish to let Correa walk. Correa led all shortstops with a defensive WAR of 7.2 in 2021 and third of all major leaguers including pitchers. In the history of baseball, his career defensive WAR of 11.1 ranks him 194th and climbing. Only Andrelton Simmons ranks higher on the list of active shortstops.

Correa’s 11 errors were the fewest of any of the four free agents though he handed the most chances. Over the past five seasons among the four, he ranks first in WAR and walks. With almost 400 fewer plate appearances, he still ranks second of the four in batting average, lowest strikeout percentage, and Runs Created.

The one knock against the 27-year-old is his durability. Prior to 2021, when Correa missed just 14 games, he had not played in more than 110 regular season games in each of the previous three campaigns. His range, arm strength, plate discipline and power should remind Cardinals fans of another great shortstop known simply as “The Wizard.” Oh, and by the way, Ozzie Smith is all-time leader in defensive WAR at 44.4.

The day Correa arrived on the major league scene in 2015 and having watched him ever since, I believe there is really nothing he cannot do. He has all the tools and the “It” factor when it comes to big moments. New manager Oliver Marmol’s job would be so much easier penciling the name “Correa” on a St. Louis lineup card every day.


It’s unfortunate that dollar signs have become so ridiculously extravagant, but that is the world in which baseball dwells in the 21st Century. If I am the Cardinals brass, I start my chase for a new shortstop with Carlos Correa. Technically speaking, he would be worth every penny a team offers and could become the franchise face much like Albert Pujols years ago.

In the right situation, the Cardinals are not averse to giving out big contracts and this is one contract (unlike Albert) in which most of the payoff would be in the player’s prime years. Offer Correa Francisco Lindor-type money – and the city, the fans and the team will reap the benefits for years to come.

As for the others, they are not in the same park.

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