While the Cardinals have yet to make that elusive ‘big splash’ acquisition the past several years, it hasn’t been due to apathy the last few seasons. Fans and media have both pointed to the lack of a feared bat or ‘star,’ but in the Birds’ defense, they did make a run at Giancarlo Stanton last winter and recently gave a decent bid for Josh Donaldson.
Prior to these tries, Bill DeWitt Jr., John Mozeliak and company made plays to keep Jason Heyward in St. Louis before he opted to fly north to Wrigley, and attempted to bring former ace David Price to town (both of which may have been bullets dodged depending on your outlook). Regardless, none of these deals came to pass.
But the Cards got several shots in the arm this season, in the form of new skipper Mike Shildt and a Memphis makeover for the roster that saved what seemed a doomed season in June. Who knows what’ll happen between now and October, but the overall outlook has improved.
Could this finally lead to a big winter trade or signing? Who really knows at this point, but ESPN’s Buster Olney is intrigued by the possibility and discussed as much with Wednesday’s ‘Kevin Wheeler Show.’
Talking whether the Birds would be included in discussions about free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Olney brought up another well-remembered St. Louis split with a player.
“When I thought about the Cardinals in relation to the pursuit of a Machado or the pursuit of a Harper, you always think back to that time when Albert Pujols, his contract was expiring with the Cardinals,” Olney said. “They made up their minds at that time; John Mozeliak made a very deft decision, a very hard decision. ‘Look, we’re not going to keep this guy because we can’t be paying this kind of money to one player.”
Olney went on to seemingly quell any Machado thoughts for the Cards and most other teams.
“They would kind of be in the same [Pujols related] boat if they bid heavy on a Bryce Harper, if they big heavy on a Machado,” Olney said. “I will tell you this…I don’t have any doubts in my mind Manny Machado is going to end up with the Phillies. They have so many members of their front office who were with the Orioles when he was drafted and developed with that organization.
“Bryce Harper; let’s face it. He’s represented by Scott Boras, which means they probably are going to sign with the team that offers the most amount of money,” he added. “That would be a lightning strike for [the Cardinals] to get involved in that.”
There are other plays the Cards could make this offseason not involving bagillion-dollar players like Harper and Machado, and whatever those moves are depends much on who they value most on their current roster.
“How do they self-evaluate some of their guys defensively? You mention Marcel Ozuna; there’s no doubt with that issue with his right shoulder. Is that going to get better?” Olney said. “Will that affect him? Do they want to turn the page with him? Or are they looking at what he’s done more recently as an indication of what they could potentially get for him next year?
“How do they look at Harrison Bader? Is he someone who’s so aggressive at the plate that they look at him as more of a complimentary guy? Do they go and spend on a right fielder? Do they think that Paul DeJong is an everyday short stop? It still feels like they’re in a time where they’re trying to figure out exactly what they have.”
You can read more of Olney’s Cardinals thoughts below, followed by the entire interview’s audio.
On the Cards being more aggressive in pursuing bigger-name players:
“Their offseason will be fascinating to me…We’ve seen them in recent years be willing to go out and try to make the big play with the effort to go out and resign Jason Heyward and their interest, for what it was, in David Price.
“So, it will be interesting to see if they go out and try to make a big splash for somebody. Bob Nightengale had the information the other day that they were aggressive in their offer for Josh Donaldson, and that didn’t turn out that they landed him, but it gives you an idea of what their mindset was.”
On Jack Flaherty’s ceiling and NL Rookie of the Year chances:
“Acuna’s presence and Juan Soto with the Nationals; my guess is those guys are going to get a lot of first and second place votes. In most years, I think Jack Flaherty would win the Rookie of the Year. He’s been that good.
“We had him on the Sunday Night broadcast this year and Matt Vasgersian and I had a long conversation with him and we walked away like, ‘Wow.’ That’s someone who’s going to have success in the big leagues because the confidence, as you know, just oozes out of him.
“He’s such a phenomenal athlete and it translates into what he’s doing. You look at the Cardinals franchise moving forward, as Adam Wainwright begins to near the sunset of his career, there’s no doubt in my mind Jack Flaherty’s the guy you could see the Cardinals building and winning around for years to come.”