Heading into a pivotal offseason it it may be time for the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason strategy to be a little different.
Over the years the St. Louis Cardinals‘ offseason strategy has seemingly been about doing what is comfortable, what makes sense, and what the overall long term best interest of the club is. Maybe it’s time for the team and organization to take some risks in this pivotal offseason?
The St. Louis Cardinals, historically, are one of baseball’s most storied and winning franchises, actually only ranking 2nd behind the N.Y. Yankees. The 2000’s have been good for the Cardinals. They’ve represented the N.L.’s best four times since 2004 (2004, 2006, 2011, 2013) and were World Champs in both 2006 and 2011. The Cardinals have appeared in 9 NLCS series overall since 2000.
The point? The Cardinals have been consistent winners and a postseason presence for a sustained period is the point. But recently that “point” now has an asterisk tagging along with it. Beside that asterisk it says “three straight years of no postseason appearances”. Yes, they’ve won, they have still turned in winning seasons from 2016-2018. But to paraphrase owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, Bill DeWitt Jr., in the press conference following Matheny’s firing and Shildt’s appointment to manager, “This is the St. Louis Cardinals, with a fan base that turns out 3.4 million fans year after year that buy tickets and attend games. The lack of consistently making the postseason year after year is unacceptable and not up to our standards”.
Myself, I believe Mr. DeWitt meant it, and his demeanor matched his words.
When the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny as manager and DeWitt was asked “why Matheny?” his answer was “continuity”. DeWitt felt Matheny gave a continuity to the flow and operation of things and said he felt continuity was very important. It worked for a few years, but for a myriad of reasons the continuity lost it’s, well, “continuity”.
While the Cardinals under Matheny’s reign did “win”(never had a losing season under Matheny’s tenure), the absence of making the postseason for two years (2016, 2017) and the same looking likely for 2018 illuminated one thing, “consistently making the postseason trumped continuity”.
When asked about continuity after Matheny’s dismissal , DeWitt answered, “Continuity is desirable but when it’s not working and you feel like changes need to be made … you need to act. Continuity, in and of itself, isn’t the goal. The goal is to have a successful team and try to get in the playoffs every year.
what I really value is consistent winning.”
And by “consistent winning”, make no mistake, Bill DeWitt means “consistent postseason presence”.
The Cardinals have made a name for themselves regarding how they’ve turned around their farm system under Mozeliak’s tenure. They’ve been ranked #1 in that area and stay in the top-tier in rankings year after year under Mozeliak’s tenure. Other franchises have even modeled their farm system structure and operations after the Cardinals due to looking at the Cardinals’ success in that area. But homegrown talent can’t always bring and sustain you consistent, year after year, postseason appearances and the last three years have proved that.
The Cardinals haven’t intentionally tanked like teams like the Astros and Cubs have in attempts to rebuild into perennial contenders. While this has meant not seeing seasons of Cardinals baseball where we’d see 90-100 or more losses, it also means it affects where the Cardinals end up in the draft order. And I think this is a point many Cardinals fans miss and don’t consider when they voice their opinions about the mode of operation by the Cardinals. Meaning that, with season after season of sustained winning a team doesn’t find themselves high in the draft order where they’re picking the cream of the prospect crop.
Granted, not all “elite” talent are the ones that get drafted in the top-tier of the first round, Cardinals fans will quickly remember that Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round, 402nd overall, in the 1999 MLB draft. However, many of the first rounders do go on and show why they were first rounders, showing why they were touted as future “elites”. Two names in this offseason’s free agent class were such, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Then we could mention Mike Trout and Kris Bryant as well.
So if you’re not tanking on purpose and getting those top first round picks trying to get that elite talent, what’s an alternative? If John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt’s hints in recent press conferences over the last two years are any indicator, it’s via free agency or trade.
The Cardinals have been good at finding those prospects under the radar that go on to be decent big leaguers. Most of us Cardinals fans know names. But recently the Cardinals haven’t been able to develop elite position players. They’ve been stellar in the pitching development department, but lack in the position player area. They’ve developed “good” position, but have failed to develop the “elite” bat that the organization needs. Even Mozeliak said as much in a recent press conference. Mozeliak went on to say that it means that to have that “elite” talent it means operating in a different method, taking more risk, to get it, and he meant getting it via signing a free agent or by trade.
Some fans will be quick to scoff at the idea of the Cardinals taking more risk or spending more money to acquire an elite player. However, the Cardinals have already shown they’re willing to do so. Just last offseason they actually agreed to a trade with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton (the reigning N.L. MVP at the time) where they were not only willing to part with prospects but also willing to take on the majority of the remainder of Stanton’s contract which is the largest contract to date. When that was vetoed by Stanton they sent a handful of prospects over to the Marlins for the next big bat, Marcell Ozuna.
The Cardinals also took great risk in signing Greg Holland to a one year deal worth a whopping (for a reliever) 14 million. Yeah, it went badly, but they took risk.
Reports are that the Cardinals are putting the baseball world on notice that they’re open for business this offseason in a big way and that they’re going to be key players and aggressive, take bigger risks, operate in a different mode. They say they’re attempting to add to their team what they think will get them back to being a perennial postseason presence.
I’m inclined to believe the Cardinals’ brass. So, we’re patiently, but eagerly, waiting to see what you got in your bag-o-tricks Mr. DeWitt, Mr. Mozeliak, and Mr. Girsch.
In the words of the cable guy named Larry….”git r done!”.