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 …