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Problem: The Cardinals Have Too Many Cardinals and Need Outside Help To Win Again

It seems like the finest organizations in Major League Baseball  are following a standard formula that usually leads to success.

There isn’t anything revolutionary about it.

1. Scout, draft and develop young players that will ascend to the majors and form a cost-controlled nucleus. Keep that channel open and flowing with prospects who turn into core players. You can’t win just by spending like deranged people who think that money solves everything. Not in baseball. Even for the wealthiest franchises, a healthy amount of payroll discipline is mandatory.

2. Once your prospect stock matures and becomes a big part of your 25-man roster, then you have to supplement the talent and complete the process by making impact trades for established major leaguers, and strengthening other roster weaknesses by signing select free agents.

The job is never really done, of course. Rosters aren’t permanent. Young players grow up and become free agents that leave for more money. Veterans get old, and break down. Injuries can prompt a major change in plans. And invariably, some of your starry prospects aren’t who you thought they were. But if your front office strikes the right payroll balance to ensure flexibility and stays on top of the constantly evolving roster … this works well.

The Cardinals — and other organizations — have used this basic model to attain and sustain success.

There’s only one thing wrong with this.

Not that this model is the intellectual property of the St. Louis Cardinals — because it most definitely is not — but it’s been a good way to go for them. And many teams use this model. All teams do it, to some extent.

Well, all teams except for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals haven’t been following the Cardinals model.

The Cardinals draft well. They find overlooked gems. They do a good job of developing  talent. Homegrown Cardinals played a large role in the team’s streak of five consecutive playoff appearances (2011 through 2015.) But those Cardinals’ rosters were also featured meaningful trade acquisitions, and valuable free-agent signings.

The problem with the Cardinals … they have too many Cardinals.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch have done a fine job of replenishing the farm system and reopening the flow of young talent.

But the Cardinals haven’t supplemented their homegrown talent by adding a sufficient number of  significant pieces via trade or free agency. Perhaps the Cardinals will set the proper balance this offseason … and they’d better. But if you look around the 2017 postseason, you’ll see rosters that were greatly enhanced by outside additions.

Let’s take a look at the eight teams that made it to the Division Series round of the playoffs. These teams generally fit in one of two categories: those who make trades or sign players in an attempt to speed up the process and turn an improving, growing team into a winner and contender;  those that already have a winning roster but make trades and sign free agents to improve their standing as a contender.

I won’t list the names of every player secured by trade, or brought in as a free agent. I will limit the roll call to the notable players that start or have a key role. I’ll put this symbol   next to the names of players signed as a free agents. The others were obtained in trades.

CUBS: Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Wade Davis, Mike Montgomery, Tommy LaStella, Jon Lester*, John Lackey*,  Jason Heyward*, Ben Zobrist* and Jon Jay* … Hell, the Cubs spent $25 million to sign free-agent manager Joe Maddon* so he probably should be on this list.

NATIONALS: Trea Turner, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, Daniel Murphy*, Max Scherzer*, Jayson Werth*, Matt Wieters*, Adam Lind* and Oliver Perez

DIAMONDBACKS: Ketel Marte, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Drury, Tajuan Walker, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley, David Hernandez, Zack Greinke*, David Peralta*, Jeff Mathis*, Chris Iannetta*, Gregor Blanco

DODGERS:  Chris Taylor, Yasmani Grandal, Chase Utley, Curtis Granderson, Logan Forsythe, Austin Barnes, Andre Either, Enrique Hernandez, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood, Tony Watson, Josh Fields, Tony Cingrani, Justin Turner*, Kenta Maeda* … the Dodgers also spent a large pile of money to win a bidding battle for Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig.  Another trade acquisition, Andre Gonzalez, is on the DL.

RED SOX: Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed, Joe Kelly, Carson Smith, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rajai Davis, Brock Holt, Hanley Ramirez*, David Price*, Chris Young*

ASTROS: Marwin Gonzales, Brian McCann, Justin Verlander, Ken Giles, Joe Mugrove, Brad Peacock, Francisco Liriano, Chris Devinski, Josh Reddick*, Charlie Morton*, Luke Gregson* … other Astros acquired through trade — Tyler Clippard, Colin McHugh, Mike Fiers, Cameron Maybin — weren’t on the 25-man roster for the ALDS series vs. Boston.

INDIANS:  Carlos Santana, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Miller, Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, Mike Clevinger, Brandon Guyer, Nick Goody, Edwin Encarnacion*, Austin Jackson*

YANKEES: Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Clint Frazier, Chase Headley, Aaron Hicks, Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Adam Warren, Jaime Garcia, Michael Pineda, Matt Holliday*, CC Sabbathia*, Aroldis Chapman*, Masahiro Tanaka* … (Pineda is on the DL)

What about the Cardinals?

It depends on how we do the accounting.

For example: the Cardinals made trades that included Randal Grichuk and Adam Wainwright. But they were prospects — and in the minors at the time of the transaction.

When the Cardinals purchased Jose Martinez from the Royals, he hadn’t appeared in the big leagues.

I only cited a couple of prominent international signings when putting together the list of the eight teams that competed in the Division Round. Does that also mean I should include Aledmys Diaz and Seung Hwan Oh for the Cardinals? (I don’t think so, but at least I mentioned them.) And there are also  two Cardinals’ Rule V draftees … Matthew Bowman and John Brebbia. But I didn’t include Rule V guys when I made the lists of the eight playoff teams.

Trades: Jedd Gyorko, Randal Grichuk, Adam Wainwright, Zach Duke, and John Gant. But again, Waino was so young and still in the formative stages of development when the Cardinals got him in the J.D. Drew trade way back when.

Purchased: Jose Martinez.

Free agents: Dexter Fowler, Brett Cecil.

No matter how we do the accounting, I think it’s safe to assume that we can agree on this much: when you look at the Cards’ trade acquisitions and signings, the list is thin compare to the powerhouse names that appear on my playoff-team grouping. Not even close, really.

The Cardinals have made excellent progress in getting another wave of youngsters ready to make their way to St. Louis (hopefully) to join the likes of Paul DeJong, Luke Weaver, and Alexander Reyes. But so far, the Cardinals simply don’t measure up to the eight playoff teams for impact trades and signings.

We like what the Cardinals are gathering.

We like the young Cardinals.

But this team can’t rise to match the Cubs (or others) with a predominantly homegrown collection.

The eight playoff teams were very aggressive in going outside the organization to bolster their rosters.

No disrespect to Gyorko, who has done a good job in his two seasons here. But when Gyorko is the No. 1 trade addition to the roster in the last two-three years, it’s abundantly clear that the Cardinals have failed to keep up with the other teams we looked at here.

Of course, that could change at the opening bell for the pre-2018 offseason.

And as for Fowler and Cecil … whatever you think of those signings is fine with me. But the fact is the Cardinals invested about $112 million in the two contracts, and that was aggressive.

Besides, this isn’t just about throwing money around. As we saw by glancing at the lists of the eight postseason teams, a substantial number of their major upgrades occurred via trade.

So get to it …

The Cardinals have enough Cardinals.

More than enough Cardinals.

Now they need to go out and procure some non-Cardinals to  become  Cardinals to seriously elevate the overall talent level for the 2018 roster and beyond.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

  • Christopher Toth

    Bernie, I get it. The Cards are all in on Matheny. But for as spot on as you are in your analysis (and as always it is terrific analysis), to paraphrase Hillary Clinton what difference does it make if he’s still the manager?

    This whole scenario is utterly inexplicable to me.

    In Mo’s eyes, everyone but Matheny is the culprit.

    In his world, if a player gets played too much when stats don’t warrant it, trade the player. And whatever you do, don’t blame the manager who kept penciling him in over superior players.

    If a relief pitcher blows his arm out, make sure Girsch tells the world that’s why we don’t pay retail for closers. But for goodness sake, don’t fault the manager for injuring his own players by overusing them.

    If the Cardinal Way as been AWOL, then call up as many minor league staff as possible to try and right the ship. But for God’s sake, don’t try pinning this on Matheny, you know the guy on whose watch the Cardinal Way went AWOL.

    If the Cards had the worst starting pitching earned runs given up before pitchers are pulled, then by all means fire the pitching coach. Just make sure you don’t question why a manager who is a former MLB Gold Glove catcher couldn’t see let alone do the simple math of the holes he constantly was putting his offense in game after game (especially must win games).

    Seriously, in Mo’s world, what does Matheny do right?

    Strike a pose?

    Keeps his mouth shut and head down?

    I just don’t get. Every other NL Central manager had a better record against the Cubs this year than Matheny and yet, this is the guy who Mo keeps insisting is the right guy to lead the Cards into the future.

    If so, the Cubs future will remain very bright until someone has the guts be it the media or a Cardinal HOFer alum or owner to call Matheny for what he is: a nice guy version of Jeff Fisher who has no clue what he’s doing on the dugout steps.

    This – really! – is my last post on Matheny. He’s a great guy and I take no pleasure in constantly railing against him. My comments are not intended as critcism of the man, but rather only the manager who obviously 6 years into his job is in over his head.

    • Gavin Morgan

      what was that hillary quote?

      • Christopher Toth

        Changed it to paraphrase … good catch. My fit of pique over MM served me badly in my word choice.

    • David B

      Two things in your post are especially damning: the decline of good fundamentals in recent years, and ruining the arms of certain relief pitchers through overuse. I think it’s possible to blame everything on MM, when there is shared responsibility above and below, but it seems really clear that a change at the manager level is overdue. I just don’t understand what the FO expects to see from MM in years 7,8 and 9 that they haven’t seen in years 1-6.

      • Christopher Toth

        Agree. He’s not responsible for everything but arguably what he does well could be accomplished with a different role in the organization.

      • JohnS

        That would be truly sad too, no World Series championships in (ugh!) nine years of Matheny. Some of our older Cards’ fans have passed away during the time this bozo has taken over the team, it is truly tragic they had to watch this garbage before they departed this earth. I mean that seriously too! Especially as a fan who is not getting much younger himself!

        • Dan Patterson

          I understand and share your concerns. I’m 72 and fear I’ll never see another World Series in St. Louis.

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    • JohnS

      Actually I’m not so sure Moe is as much to blame for Matheny’s continued employment as Cards’ manager as DeWitt. Apparently DeWitt wuvs Matheny, so who and how is Moe to fire him?

      • Christopher Toth

        Can’t know for sure, but as I just noted above, I suspect Mr. DeWitt genuinely respects MM as a man.

        Also, I think Mo is afraid to hire a Maddon type lest he lose control of a team to a manager with a big ego who is able to win. In that regard, Mo pales in comparison to Theo Epstein who isn’t intimidated by hiring strong personalities.

        • Dan Patterson

          Does Mooo hide behind the ego of his bow tie?

    • James R. Norvell

      Way to go, Christopher1 You just didn’t start high enough in the food chain. I don’t know if he’s being led around on a leash by the DeWitt’s or he is just serially culpable, but Mozeliak was in charge when Matheny was hired, he was in charge when an extension was signed and he continues to defend the team’s decline. Since we can’t fire the DeWitt’s, how about we replace Mozeliak with someone who has the juevos to say, “I’ll take the job and the responsibility if you just get out of my way.” The two biggest deceptions are “The Cardinal Way” and Mozeliak being the smartest GM in MLB.

      • Christopher Toth

        I can’t know for sure but if you factor in the media coverage when Matheny was first hired, there was a ton of discussion that Mike was a guy Mo could assert greater control over than he was ever able to with TLR.

        In that scenario, Mo was simply out to consolidate his power so as to – in his mind – run a tighter ship.

        Unfortunately for Mo and Cardinal fans, Mike wasn’t as controllable as thought and Mo’s only means of controlling him is via trades, firings, etc.

        Most GMs would have canned their managers for subordination so absolutely there has to be another factor here and it most likely is Mr. DeWitt genuinely likes Mike Matheny as a man.

        As an aside, this raises an interesting comparison between Mo and Theo Epstein. Epstein is way more secure than Mo and is willing to hire big egos such as Maddon so long as it gives the Cubs a better chance to win. Mo simply isn’t. Clearly the thought of a strong independent manager scares him.

        • James R. Norvell

          Great analysis. I wasn’t reading Mozeliak as insecure, quite the opposite, but you may well be right. Still justifies my strong belief that Mozeliak has to go for all good things to happen.

          • Dan Patterson

            The bottom line is mgr. mikey works cheaply.

          • Christopher Toth

            Agree.

        • Dan Patterson

          Please allow me to supplement your post by adding, Mooo is also fearful of the owner who pays his salary.

          • Christopher Toth

            Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t picked up on that but in all objectivity you very well could be right.

      • Dan Patterson

        How correct you are.

    • Dan Patterson

      A great post couldn’t agree more.

  • David B

    Great column, Bernie. It has seemed for a while now that because the FO has over-valued some of their home-grown talent, they have been reluctant to make trades for fear of giving up “too much” to fill some key needs.

    • JohnS

      The original plan was to grow the farm system to supplement the team and build around Albert Pujols. They blew this by not extending Albert earlier in his contract and taking him out to age 36 or so and jumping his salary considerably also. Then when he left, they blew it again by not seeking or trading for another big star to replace him and build around. They started passing out relatively high paying contracts to players who were not difference makers, instead of building around a bona fide stud. That was the plan. They didn’t follow it. Much as I like Wainwright, he probably should never have been given that big deal. You basically could have gotten his production by signing two year deals for guys like Edison Volquez and not had to go to $17 to $20 mil per year for a pitcher who is/was injured for half of the contract. Ditto on Holiday, the contract he signed was fine, but he should have been traded after 2013 or so, when he was entering his decline phase. Also as a “big man” physically, and given his basic uselessness defensively, Holiday should have been gone sooner. And I say that liking the guy and liking his offense overall. Just not a complete player, unfortunately. Actually kind of like MCarp in that regard, who also is slow and poor defensively and tends to get injured a lot. This will only accelerate going forward. Hopefully they can get a half-way decent year from Carp and then trade him! Or trade him now if they can get something really useful, but his stock is likely too far down right now.
      Whole problem with Cards is that they got stagnant and just tried to hold onto what they thought they had, but what they thought they had really wasn’t all that great say after 2014 or so. Moe has been basically putting bandaids on things since Albert left, and early on some of the bandaids were pretty good (Beltran and Berkman when healthy), but they went from acquiring “Band Aids” to acquiring Dollar Tree bandages if you get my drift….and the team has been slowing degrading since 2011. Now it is going to really bottom out in the next two years IMHO, as I don’t see the Cards being able to make the needed moves to compete with the Cubs or even Brewers for the next couple of years. A sub .500 record over the next couple of years would not surprise me. Especially stupid is letting Lynn go and keeping (apparently) Waino in the rotation and having little in the ways of an innings eating starter next year. They may get a closer (or not) and a better hitting outfielder (or not) and still have a weak starting staff next year…..and not much production out of their lineup….I really don’t think “one big bat” will change the Cards’ offensive outlook that much….

      • LawrenceKScardsfan

        The death of Taveras – it all flows from that. Taveras was the offensive threat that they wanted to build around. Where they made a mistake was trading for Heyward to replace the sadly departed Taveras. Great offense replaced by great defense? Since then the Cardinals have, as you so clearly pointed out, missed a central star – someone capable of combining HOF offense with great defense.

        • Dan Patterson

          Two mistakes, Taveras was vastly overrated and a knee jerk signing of Heyward proved to be fruitless.

          • LawrenceKScardsfan

            Taveras might have been overrated. Won’t ever know. Heyward was a mistake. Like Leake, I think both signings were made out of a sense of panic that was not necessary at the time.

      • James Berry

        You were on track pretty well until you got to Lynn. Your whole premise was getting rid of players before they start a steep decline and that’s just smart business. But if we were to sign Lynn, it would be for a minimum of 4 years and more likely 5. Lynn is a 1 pitch starter. Please don’t try to say things like he uses that 1 pitch in ways that makes it like multiple pitches. That’s what the booth idiots say and it’s nothing more than propaganda. You and other fans, about 2 years into his contract, would be regretting it. And, i can almost promise you he’d get a full no-trade clause in that contract. It’s a scary trend with our FO. We’d have a starter who doesn’t average 6 innings per outing, that has chronic blister issues, doesn’t stay in shape(unless you consider oval a good shape) and gets his pitch count up quickly. He’s going to get $18-20 mil per season.

  • Jody Wassmer

    I’ve said it for two years: MoTie over-values his many AAAA prospects and won’t make necessary trades to upgrade this team. Leave it to Bernie to prove it. Well done and until Matheny is gone, my enthusiasm for Cardinals baseball is tempered.

    • Dan Patterson

      Well said.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Bernie – don’t you think it really comes down to what are the Cardinal’s goals? The Cardinals feel a 90-win team should make the playoffs, whether they beat the Cubs are not. As I’ve pointed out on this forum, the Cubs have won at least 92 games over the last three seasons. So no – you’re not beating the Cubs with a 90 game winning team. And we should recall that the Brewers expect to contend next year again. So just where are those 90 wins going to come from?

    Which brings us to the wild card slot. At 90 games, you’re a wild card. But the risk rises if you don’t win your division. Why? Down the stretch weeks at the end of the season, teams play other teams exclusively in their divisions. So that means that you must hope that other teams win against a wild card contender in a different division as you will not play that team down the stretch. In other words – you are not in control of your destiny.

    The only control option available is to win your own division. The Cards used to know this. They appear to not know this now.

    • scott goldberg

      My thoughts are the Cardinals are not cheap. We tried to sign both David Price and Heyward in the last two seasons and I am happy we did not. The Red Sox fired Farrell and there is no super number one candidate for his position. Maybe another ex catcher Jason Varitek. With respect to trades this off season do you want to trade Pham, Kelly, Weaver. Bader for Stanton and assume his long term contract. I do not. We cant make the playoffs every year and we still had meaningful and exciting late September baseball. I am ok with that.

  • JeremyR

    Gee, another column about how wonderful Mo is. Who’d have thought?

    But the reality is that no, he’s not particularly good at evaluating young talent. The Cardinals keep coming up with average players, not stars. With the team being too cheap to ever pay free agent stars, the result is an average team.

  • Scott Warren

    $112 million for those two wasn’t aggressive, it was dumb. Moves were made for the sake of making moves and being able to say they did something. Really not smart for an organization that loves to tell everyone and anyone how smart they are.

  • James Berry

    Farrell gets fired in Boston after 2 straight playoff seasons and we keep a manager after 2 straight years of missing the playoffs.

    • Dan Patterson

      That my friend is the new and improved “Cardinal Way.”

  • Big T

    What do the Cardinals have that they can make all of these trades you refer to? If we have just a good amount of “supplementary” home grown talent who are you acquiring with this?
    Most of these teams have tanked/rebuilt over 4-6 years to get where they are and had multiple top prospects to offer for those they traded for. We do not!! Look at who they gave up for their new talent. Thats why players like Adam Eaton ended up in DC and not here which the FO tried to do. Three prospect for him two of which were in the top 50 in baseball minors. Hefty price!

    Cards have attempted to sign notable free agents such as: Price, Heyward, Pujols, and others but came up short. And yes thankfully in some of those. In addition we regularly pick up bullpen help. Where is the trade for Lackey listed here? How about how everyone felt when we traded for Heyward? How about Matt Holiday? Extremely high value trades. I don’t buy that the FO isn’t trying to make trades but we are a small market team that needs to be wiser in our acquisitions. How many of these eight teams are in big markets or/and have much more higher payrolls? Almost all of them are on the downhill side of a tanking process. How many of us want the Cards to do that? I suspect not many.

    Cards future sustained a huge blow when Taveras killed himself in auto accident (DWI.) Most recently we came in second on the Cuban kid Robert. Our past success keeps us drafting late which affects our ability to offer a trade up for others. While I agree we need to be more active for a #3 and 4 bat most of all.

    In order to win you have to have top level talent. We do not. In order to make trades you need top level talent in the minors or bigs that people want that you can lose. We do not have many.

  • Christopher Michael Meister

    What makes STL a destination? The city looks daunting to an ethnicity other than
    white and who wants to play for Matheny? You can follow this guy for two weeks and know he is in over his head. Bullpen mgmt, revolving door line-ups, his past years of postseason all come in back2back2back losses – no ability to tactically change. Guy is a train wreck, but a good puppy to DeWitt

    • Dan Patterson

      Sadly you are correct. In the mid 50’s St. Louis was the “Mecca of Mid-America. The zoo, Harry and Jack, Stan the man, Kings Hwy. and the (pardon my spelling) Claireage? Hotel. Now it seems to be a old run down smelly river town full of crime and protest.

  • rightthinker4

    For those of us who wish for a managerial change, we can forget it. Mr. DeWitt keeps Matheny safe and secure. Coaches get thrown under the bus, but Matheny gets a pass. I truly believe MO’s hands are tied when it comes to Matheny. So what we have to hope for is MO coming up with an all star roster that can overcome Matheny’s managing.

    • Dan Patterson

      That is what transpired earlier when mgr. mikey sins of omission were covered by the players that he inherited

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    Well, it’s no news flash that the new Cardinal way is to be tight with money. They virtually never go for the big name premium players. They look for bargain players that are that are getting a bit older and coming off a down season like Reynolds or Moss. I still believe they will again try but not find the “right fit”or tell us that they couldn’t find a deal that “made sense” for them. Then they will look to “internal options” and start the hype machine around the two minor league players ‘Wilson, and O’Neil” who have hit a lot of home runs in the minors.

  • mokukeiki

    What i see in the pitching picture, is that Dave Duncan used to visit the mound alot before Tony would make the switch. I don’t know how often Lilliquist made tge trip, but maybe that could have helped. Just my 2 cents. Disappointed again but i am a Cardinal Fan.