Many thoughts are swirling in my jammed head on this Trade Deadline Day, and now it’s time to offload with a Stream of Consciousness:
1. The Cardinals did … nothing. From what I saw on social media, many STL fans hopped on to express their anger, frustration, confusion. Or any emotion that needed a healthy airing out. I’m not going to get all haughty and rip any fan that’s upset with the state of the team, or management’s inactivity at the deadline. This franchise that tells us — over and over again — that the annual goal is to win enough games to compete in the postseason and take a shot at another pennant or World Series title. This franchise tells us — over and over again — that its standards are high. When that’s your pitch to the customers, naturally they’ll expect more than what they’re getting: a losing season from an underachieving team that continues to spin its wheels to crash into disappointment. The Cardinals aren’t hideous; through Sunday they’re 14th among the 30 MLB teams in winning percentage. Over the last two seasons they’re 11th in winning percentage. This doesn’t make them the Reds or the Phillies. But we aren’t very accepting of mediocrity around here. There’s a growing perception that the Cardinals have become complacent. This is a business, but it’s also a public trust. And perception does matter.
2. Now, having said that, I want to tell you what I think about the Cardinals’ eerily quiet Monday: I didn’t want to see the Cardinals do something, do anything, in a phony display to appease critics. Again: the critics can howl. You’ll receive no pushback from me. But if you believe that owner Bill DeWitt Jr. baseball president John Mozeliak or Michael Girsch had to make something-anything happen just to do it, then I can’t agree with you there. If the right deals didn’t surface, then I’d rather see this organization hold tight and make an aggressive play next offseason. The circumstances will be much more favorable for large deals and sweeping changes. Why? Because the 2017 deadline featured a limited number of teams looking to go big. This coming offseason, just about every MLB front office will be casting lines or trawling for trades that can enhance their rosters for 2018. Compared to this rather lean trade-deadline market, the Cardinals will have more potential trade partners after the season. As I have been saying and writing in recent weeks, the Cardinals are a team in transition. They have many moving parts. They’re still trying to determine who can be a vital piece for the future. They are wise to be careful with their restocked supply of prospects. This wasn’t a time for short-sighted, stopgap moves. If the Cardinals’ baseball brains couldn’t find a suitable deal that would give the team a boost for the remainder of 2017 and a jump on 2018 and beyond … well, what’s the point of doing something stupid or inconsequential? You don’t part with good prospects in a willy-nilly trade that tampers with the future. Save the prospects for more meaningful trades that bring a long-term benefit.
3. Sure, the Cardinals could have gone into the seller mode, but as I write this I have no idea about other teams’ interest level in Cards players. There was no need to donate starting pitcher Lance Lynn. If management believed they would receive more value in a compensatory draft pick when Lynn (presumably) signs elsewhere as a free agent this winter, I can understand the thinking. And with closer Trevor Rosenthal at the top of his game and ranking among the MLB reliever leaders in strikeout rate, strikeout-walk ratio, and fielding independent ERA, there was no reason for the Cardinals to sell short when Rosenthal is in place to be their closer in 2018. And it’s easy for me to say: trade some of these outfielders. But how many teams were pining for Cardinals outfielders? The Cardinals have overvalued some of their own players; other teams are not required to do the same.
4. Am I giving the Cardinals a free pass here? Let me be very clear here: HELL, NO. The Cardinals will have no choice but to be aggressive and go hunting next offseason. DeWitt, Mozeliak and Girsch can’t remain in a holding pattern when the pre-2018 offseason arrives. Pardon my exaggeration, but this is a team with about 5,000 established or promising outfielders … a team with 400 middle infielders … a team with 175 lefty relievers … a team that has too many pieces that don’t fit … a team that has good talent in spots, but is low on elite talent. The Cardinals can’t bring back the same team (roughly) in 2018 and expect dramatically better results. Management knows this. Management has to be proactive. Management has to thin the positions that are overloaded with a surplus of job candidates. Unless the baseball Cardinals plan to become an NFL team — with 11 starters on each side of the ball — it would be absolutely preposterous to go into the 2018 competition with another oddly composed roster that has too many players at certain spots, and skimpy talent at other spots, and personnel congestion that’s blocking the advancement of young players that can be impact performers in the near future. And team management will be out of excuses this winter. I’m not growling over the front office inaction at the deadline, but inertia is unacceptable once the offseason arrives.
5. If nothing else, I believe the Cardinals needed to secure some help for a shaky bullpen. Isn’t that Mozeliak’s traditional maneuver this time of year? But the market for relievers was pricy and favored the sellers. OK, we can make the case that Mozeliak should have gone into the seller’s lane in the trade mart. What is this team doing with four lefty relievers? Again, I don’t know if any quality offers came in. But here’s something I do not understand: why has manager Mike Matheny declined to give a more meaningful role to RH reliever John Brebbia? Why hasn’t Matheny given an extended opportunity to young RH power reliever Sam Tuivalala, who is stuck at Triple A Memphis with a strong strikeout-walk ratio? Goodness, if you aren’t going to trade for a reliever, then it’s time to give other relievers a shot to determine what the Cardinals can count on — or not count on — for 2018.
6. If you sense that I’m extremely doubtful about the Cardinals’ chances of chasing down the first-place Cubs to get into the postseason tournament … well, you are correct. Look, the Cubs are 13-3 since the All-Star break. They obtained one of the best starting pitchers on the market in Jose Quintana. And he’s a big part of an improving rotation that has a 2.53 ERA since the break. Monday, the Cubs completed a deal with the Tigers to land outstanding LH reliever Justin Wilson, and a veteran catcher in Alex Avila. At the All-Star break, the Cubs and Cardinals were tied with identical 43-45 records. Both teams trailed the first-place Brewers by 5.5 games. A little more than two weeks later, the Cubs lead the Brewers by 2.5, and the Cardinals by 4.5 games. The Cardinals are 9-8 since the All-Star break. They’ve lost essential ground — and lots of it — to the Cubs. And after adding impact talent in the recent round of trades, the Cubs are more formidable. Let’s be realistic. This STL team can’t hang with the Cubs.
7. Moreover, the Cubs had one clear advantage over the Cardinals in the trade-deadline jockeying: the North Siders could afford to empty their system and move coveted prospects for immediate help in the quest for a second consecutive World Series title. Do the Cardinals look like a legit World Series contender to you? Since May 15, the Cardinals are 31-38 for a .449 winning percentage that ranks 12th among 15 NL teams over that time. There was no instant cure for all that ails the Cardinals. In my view, this wasn’t the time to trade future assets in a desperate, long-shot lunge. Feel free to disagree. Like it or not, the Cardinals and Cubs are in dramatically different positions as the schedule moves into August. The Cubs have every reason in the world to go all-in to win big, win now, and win again. The Cardinals are sitting at a different poker table these days. They Cardinals aren’t seated at the big-shooter table. They have no business of being at the big-shooter table with the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, etc. That’s the unpleasant truth. After all, we’re talking about a St. Louis side that hasn’t been at .500 since June 2.
8. For those who wanted the Cardinals to come out of the deadline crunch with the elusive big bat to strengthen an unimposing middle lineup … well, I don’t disagree with your wish list. But from June 17 through Monday’s deadline-day closing, here’s the list of MLB position players that were moved in trades: middle infielder Tim Beckham; outfielder Norichika Aoki; middle infielder Adam Rosales; middle infielder Eduardo Nunez; middle infielder Howie Kendrick; corner infielder Todd Frazier; first baseman Lucas Duda; corner outfielder Melky Cabrera; corner outfielder Hyun Soo Kim; shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria; infielder Trevor Plouffe; corner outfielder J.D. Martinez; first baseman Scott Van Slyke; and catchers Avila, Anthony Recker and Jonathan Lucroy.
9. If you browse through that list you’ll see a limited supply of power bats: The Marlins held on to outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. The Blue Jays want to win in 2018 and kept third baseman Josh Donaldson. As for the guys that were available, let’s take a closer look: Martinez, Frazier, and Duda were the only real power sources. All three can become free agents after the season. Frazier has a rep, and I like him, but he’s rolled up only 1.1 WAR this season, and his wRC+ (park adjusted runs created) is only two percent above league average. Frazier has 17 homers; that’s nice but hardly makes him a transformative bomber. Duda is a first baseman; the Cardinals already have too many of those. By far the best of the bunch is Martinez; he’s put up thunderous numbers that include 21 homers, a .638 slugging percentage, and a loaded 1.012 OPS. (As for St. Louisan Scott Van Slyke, he’s been dogged by injuries and has spent much of season in the minors.)
10. On the other hand, the Diamonbacks didn’t have to give up much from their prospect tree to fetch Martinez from the Tigers. The Cardinals had similar pieces to make that trade. But I don’t think the baseball bosses were inclined to bring in a walk-year guy. I think it’s fair to scrutinize or criticize the Cards’ decision to pass on Martinez, but we don’t know how that played out behind the scenes. We don’t know if Detroit preferred Arizona’s prospect package. And even with Martinez in the mix, do you really believe his presence would (A) hoist a flawed Cardinals’ team out of their mediocre rut, and (B) catapult the Cards over the Cubs? Sorry, but I don’t see it.
— I’m glad Lance Lynn is staying … at least until the end of the campaign. I’ll probably write more about him later this week.
— As constructed, are the 2017 Cardinals worthy of a bold and risky investment via trade? Again, we’re talking about a group that’s 31-38 since May 15, and is 21-27 on the road, and is 17-25 against NL Central rivals, and is 23-31 vs. teams with a winning record.
— The men who run the 52-53 Cardinals just need to come out and acknowledge the reality of their present circumstances: they’re in transition, and continue to churn in this tricky transition, and this year has evolved into a season of discovery. In the month of July, a fat 52 percent of the Cardinals’ plate appearances (non-pitchers) were taken by rookies, players that opened the season in the minors, and players that at some point were demoted to the minors. And if you go back to the first 12 games of the season, 68.2 percent of the plate appearances were taken by players who are no longer here, or have been demoted. This roster has experienced a substantial turnover during the first 105 games.
— And while no one is satisfied with the Cards’ inconsistency, general messiness and bottom-line record, some positives are emerging from this roster scramble. I’ve enjoyed watching rookie Paul DeJong hit for heavy power and shortstop better than most expected… I’m intrigued by rookie first baseman Luke Voit … after the Cardinals belatedly gave have him an extensive opportunity, outfielder Tommy Pham has been a marvel.
I’m out of words… too many words … more words on Tuesday …
And please pardon my typos.
I had to gun this one through in short time, and my eyes are screaming at me to power down the laptop. I shall oblige.
Thanks for reading …