With the Cardinals Pitching Staff Reeling, Front-Office Inactivity is Inexcusable

I realize this is a significant transition season for the Cardinals. Just look at all of the internal moves the team has made since the start of the season, pruning the roster to spruce it up and give meaningful opportunities to rookies and other inexperienced players.

I’ve been fine with that. I was fine with it at the July 31 MLB trade deadline. I saw no reason for Cardinals president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch to sell low on starting pitcher Lance Lynn. Nor was there a reason for the organization to sacrifice one of its preferred prospects for a rental or a short-term upgrade for relatively minor impact.

As for the people who are still hollering about the Cardinals’ failure to trade for a BIG BAT … well, as I’ve written before, and this is a reminder: only one slugging presence was moved before the deadline, with corner outfielder J.D. Martinez dealt from Detroit to Arizona. Based on hints dropped by Mozeliak, the Cardinals apparently made a pitch for Martinez but the Tigers opted for the D-Backs offer. For sure, Martinez is a power source with 25 homers and a .609 slugging percentage this season. He also becomes a free agent after the season. The Cardinals already have too many outfielders (veterans and prospects) and not enough slots for them.

The Cardinals are facing an extremely important offseason which will shape their future. I’m one of the more patient critics out there. I respect this team’s consistent and formidable success under chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak.

I also understand that no resident power stays at the top for decades at a time. The New York Yankees had to regroup and get younger and missed making the playoffs in 2013 and 2014. The Boston Red Sox made the playoffs only twice in the previous seven seasons. The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t qualify for the postseason for three consecutive years (2010-2012). This season the Washington Nationals will make it back to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.  The Philadelphia Phillies had a special run between 2007 and 2011, then collapsed. The Phils haven’t had a winning record since ’11.

And while watching Cardinals baseball over the last two seasons has often been frustrating, bewildering and maddening … they’re still 10th among the 30 MLB teams in regular-season winning percentage since the start of the 2016 campaign. Does this excuse the sloppy play, the betrayal of the organization’s smart fundamental-baseball tradition? No. Does this excuse some of the puzzling personnel decisions? No. Should DeWitt have a higher payroll? Absolutely, yes. Does manager Mike Matheny confuse me? Yes.

Do I believe that Cardinals ownership-management is little too comfortable and needs to be more aggressive going forward. Yes, 100 percent.

But I try to keep this in perspective … which I can do … believe it or not … in between my rants.

And after a 16-season period (2000-2015) through which the Cardinals led the NL in regular-season wins and all MLB in postseason games played and postseason games won … well, I just don’t see a crime against humanity when the same franchise has a two-year dip but still has THE 10TH BEST RECORD IN BASEBALL and a regenerating farm system. The last two seasons have been disappointing, but Busch Stadium hasn’t turned into Hell on Earth.

All of that said …

I need to holler here.

The Cardinals’ rotation is slumping. Adam Wainwright is on the DL. Mike Leake is serving up batting practice. Michael Wacha has lasted fewer than six innings in three of his last four starts. The rotation erosion has created a lot more work for a bullpen that was thrown into chaos by an elbow injury to knockout closer Trevor Rosenthal. Fatigue is an issue. Brett Cecil isn’t as reliable as hoped. Matthew Bowman is overworked. Kevin Siegrist (on the DL) hasn’t pitched well.

I don’t know if this amounts to a crisis, but you’d like to see Mozeliak and Girsch make a move, or two moves, to invigorate this staff. But so far … nothing. How about promoting top starting-pitching prospect Jack Flaherty to the big club?

The Cardinals — through bruised by five losses in their last seven games — are only 3.5 games behind the first-place Cubs entering Tuesday’s three-game home series against San Diego. The Cardinals are also trying to get back in front of second-place Milwaukee. The NL wild card is in play, with the Brewers and Cardinals within range of challenging Colorado and Arizona.

If Cards’ management is determined to compete and get into the playoffs, then why is St. Louis the only National League contender that hasn’t added one current major-league player to the 25-man roster since MLB teams headed to spring training?

The aggressive Chicago Cubs traded for starting pitcher Jose Quintana, catcher Alex Avila, lefty reliever Justin Wilson and picked up additional catching depth by claiming Rene Rivera on waivers.

The small-market Milwaukee Brewers acquired reliever Anthony Swarzak from the White Sox, infielder Neil Walker from the Mets, and claimed catcher Stephen Vogt on waivers.

The Pittsburgh Pirates did move lefty reliever Tony Watson to the Dodgers, but grabbed reliever George Kontos from the Giants and made a deal to bring back a good utility man (Sean Rodriguez) who signed with the Braves last offseason.

The thriving Washington Nationals refurbished a weak bullpen by acquiring two closer types — making a trade with Oakland for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The Nats also made a smart move for veteran infielder and corner outfielder Howie Kendrick (Phillies) who has a .909 OPS in his first 19 games.

The Colorado Rockies maneuvered for trades that added reliever Pat Neshek (Phillies) and catcher Jonathan Lucroy (Rangers.)

The Arizona Diamondbacks not only made the trade for J.D. Martinez but padded their depth with deals for reliever David Hernandez (Angels) and infielder Adam Rosales (A’s).

The Los Angeles Dodgers, an astounding 88-35, continue to be relentless in adding to their rich talent base.  The latest is outfielder Curtis Granderson, formerly of the Mets, who already has cranked two homers including a grand-slam in his first days with the Dodgers. The Granderson pickup followed deals for starting pitcher Yu Darvish, and  lefty relievers Tony Watson and Tony Cingriani.

Except for Pittsburgh, all of these clubs are better than the Cardinals.

And all of these teams have made multiple moves to address performance-related weaknesses, or fill voids caused by injuries.

And the Cardinals?

(Crickets.) 

NOTHING.

I’m not demanding some “blockbuster” trade. And I’m not calling on the Cardinals to do something impulsive or dumb  — or a short-sighted deal that may later be reviewed with regrets .

But at some point Mozeliak and Girsch have to give their team a boost, even if it means patching a thinning pitching staff.  Mozeliak’s go-to move in recent years is trading for relief help.

Not this year.

Not even that.

Not even one little move that might give your bullpen a lift.

At least not yet.

It’s ridiculous. You can’t assert that you’re really trying to win when you leave your team hanging. And  you aren’t trying to win if you decline to make even one trade to solidify the pitching staff as your direct competitors are securing help.

Pragmatism is fine. Caution is fine.

A conservative approach is fine.

Inertia is inexcusable.

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – Cardinals Give Back Much of What They Gained During Eight-Game Winning Streak