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What’s This Nonsense About a “Window” For the Cardinals?

Last month Derrick Goold wrote a fine piece for the Post-Dispatch, describing the Cardinals’ front-office urgency to win now, because the “clocks’s ticking.”

Goold mentioned how the Cardinals “threw open a window” of limited opportunity and characterized the “clear shelf life” of the team’s push for a title.

I  don’t understand the concept … this bizarre notion …  that the Cardinals are driven to win ASAP before their “window” slams shut.

Um, why would there even be a window?

Why is a metaphorical clock going tick-tock, tick-tock at a quickening pace to set offanxiety at Busch Stadium?

Makes no sense.

None.

The idea that the Cardinals have a casement or an hourglass piece is ludicrous. Why would there be a time restraint on their goal of reclaiming the NL Central, seizing the division and overthrowing the Cubs, and marching on to compete for another World Series championship?

I believe that should be an annual goal, with no windows in the way.

Why would the Cardinals or their fans look at their watches and start sweating over the days running short in their chasing of the Cubs?

This is nonsense.

The Oakland A’s always have that window. We have seen the cycle from the A’s many times … they assemble a cost-controlled roster, reach contender status, and give up prospects to make daring trades in a leap for a championship. And after coming up short, Oakland rebuilds anew.

The Kansas City Royals were a franchise on the clock, tracking time, acquiring players, trying to win it all because they knew their talented core nucleus would break up soon. KC management knew that Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales, Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Edinson Volquez (and others) were zooming in on free agency … presumably unaffordable to the Royals. So if the baseball people had any chance to win the team’s first World Series since 1985, the time ws NOW. There was understandable desperation behind the trades that brought in pending free agents such as the multi-position Ben Zobrist and starting pitcher Johnny Cueto. The aggressiveness paid off with a 2014 AL pennant and the 2015 World Series title. The buzzer sounded on the clock. The Royals now must retool, and start over. But that World Series parade made everything worth it.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a porthole and a chronometer and a deadline … taking advantage of a veteran roster, a winning roster, for as long as they can contend until the payroll tightens and time runs out.

The Tampa Bay Rays have lots of windows that open for a while until getting locked shut by the usual financial realities of a small-market club with pathetically low attendance.

The Milwaukee Brewers have opened a window … the Cincinnati Reds are getting closer to respectability and will soon be trying to pry that window open. The Brewers and the Reds will have an opportunity to win, at least until it’s time to slash payroll again.

The Cardinals?

Please. They are not the Royals, they are not the A’s, they are not the Rays, they are not the Pirates or Brewers or Reds.

The Cardinals are a wealthy, prosperous, generously supported franchise that draws nearly 3.5 million fans to home games each season … they are a deep-revenue franchise that is about to realize the financial bonanza of a $1.2  billion local TV deal that begins this year.

In addition to winning 11 World Series and 19 NL pennants, here are two other factoids about the Cardinals’ historically prominent standards:

Most postseason games, MLB history:

  1. New York Yankees,   392
  2. St. Louis Cardinals,  247

Most postseason victories, MLB history:

  1. Yankees,  230
  2. Cardinals,  130

The Cardinals aren’t out on the street, busking for dollar bills.

They have the financial firepower to do just about any damn thing they want to do. They can buy any player, make any deal, and lean on a replenished and ascendant farm system. This isn’t an economy-class operation. This is a first-class ride all the way, and there are no limits to the champagne.

What is this limited window of opportunity based on?

OK, so Adam Wainwright’s contract expires after the 2018 season. Great Cardinal, great guy, but also an aging pitcher coming off elbow surgery following two troublesome seasons that produced a substandard 4.81 ERA. Wainwright has a chance to be better this season — he could use some fair batted-ball luck for a change — and I wish him well. But I don’t think this is panic room stuff.

OK, so the Cardinals acquired big bat Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins, and he’ll be here for at lest two years … meaning that he can leave as a free agent after two years. Just because Ozuna will be in position to explore free agency following the 2019 season, why do we assume he’ll run off and join another team? If the dude is everything the Cardinals hope he will be — if he’s a rocking presence in the middle of the lineup — then here’s how you keep the window open. YOU PAY THE MAN so he continues to swat homers for your team.

OK, so mystery man starting pitcher Miles Mikolas came back from Japan to sign a two-year deal with St. Louis.  Can we at least watch him make 12 or 15 starts against big-league hitters before we develop a hideous rash out of fear he’ll leave as a free agent following the 2019 season?  If Mikolas turns out to be, say, a younger version of Zack Greinke … well, then it’s fine to fret over losing him. But once again: if Mikolas has a couple of good seasons and establishes himself as a true asset, you don’t have to close the window on him… you PAY THE MAN to stay.

Starting pitcher Michael Wacha can become a free agent after the 2019 season. And do we know how Wacha will be pitching when his contract expires? Will he be pitching regularly? Will he be forced to endure another setback with the stress issue in his right shoulder blade? No disrespect to Wacha but are we supposed to believe the Cardinals would be in dire straits — because Wacha is irreplaceable! — after the 2019 season? Hey, if Wacha rediscovers his peak form and receives an overdue kiss of good luck that will keep his shoulder sound, then you don’t have to jump off a bridge just by thinking of him departing as a free agent. You can prop that window open by PAYING THE MAN to stay.

OK, who else? The Cardinals have an option year on Matt Carpenter for 2020 … if they pick up the option it means he’ll play for them over the next three seasons. The Cardinals have a 2020 option on reliever Luke Gregerson. So if he’s still an above-average bullpen arm, the Cardinals can count on three seasons from Gregerson. The Cardinals have third baseman Jedd Gyorko under contract for two more seasons — and he too has an option for 2020 that ensures he’ll be a Cardinal for three seasons if that’s what the team wants.

I don’t see a crisis surfacing  … do you?

I mean, even if the Cardinals had every one of these guys leave as free agents over the next few years, does the franchise crumble? Would it doom the Cardinals to a 15-year disappearance from the postseason? Hardly.

They’re replaceable …

They are replaceable for two obvious reasons:

1. The Cardinals have the payroll power to go out and find replacements for those who leave.

2. The Cardinals have touted their revived farm system as a source of sustainable talent that will play a significant role in maintaining a  winning tradition.

Question: if the Cardinals can afford to sign or acquire any player to fill a major need — then why would they have only a two-year window?

Another question: if the player-development system is thriving again, and funneling good, cost-controlled talent to St. Louis … then why would there be a limited opportunity to win before the window comes down hard on the hands of chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball ops John Mozeliak?

The window should ALWAYS BE  OPEN because these are the St. Louis Cardinals.

This not a pauper franchise. This not a franchise that must wonder and worry about fans showing up at Busch Stadium. This is not a franchise that must hustle and scrap to scrounge up some TV revenue. This is not a franchise that requires a rebuild, not with so much financial clout and a deepening farm system.

I’m not only rejecting the “window” premise here … I’m smashing the window.

It should never exist. Not with this team, not with their money, not with their farm system, not with their passionate fan support, and not in this baseball-mad town.

Now … having unburdened myself with this therapeutic rant, let me take a breath and offer this:

In speaking to the Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak seemed to reject the idea of a limited “window” for catching the Cubs. Mozeliak wasn’t quoted citing a two-year window of opportunity. Or maybe something got lost in translation. But …

“I think our expectations are the same every year,”  Mozeliak said. “It’s never been one of those (clubs) where you’ve seen the massive reset or rebuild. We’re trying to reload. And as we enter into how we start about 2018 there is just a lot to be excited about how this club looks today. And we may get more excited about it in time. Under my time with the Cardinals, I don’t know if we’ve ever not had the pedal down.”

That last part is debatable. But Mozeliak is a competitor. Overly cautious, yes. Overly pragmatic at times, yes. But he wants to win.

And I think that by now he’s probably sick of the fawning over the Cubs and Theo Epstein. I don’t think Mozeliak has set up a window for a two-year run. I’d expect to see him  jump through  an open window in a tall building instead of putting a fake time limit on his team’s chances of taking the Cubs down.

If the Cardinals have urgency this offseason — as the baton-twirling media often tell us — it isn’t because of the pressure of a mythical window of limited opportunity.

It would be because of an increased aggressiveness in their desire to win. But the Cardinals really haven’t displayed the level of urgency that they’ve been credited for … not yet, anyway.

Ozuna was a smart trade at a reasonable cost. But the Cardinals need to do more before I organize a tribute dinner in praise of their “urgency.”

Why would we go nuts about their “urgency” and offer testimonials when the Cardinals have an obligation to win? Trying to upgrade your roster in a substantial way isn’t an act of urgency … it’s an act of duty in respect to the remarkably consistent support of the fans.

The “urgency” narrative is mostly a media concoction.

There’s still time for the Cardinals to actually make this overused word — urgency — matter by taking action and making roster-enhancing moves to legitimize it.

I would even say that the window for improving the 2018 roster is still wide open …

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend…

-Bernie

More: ESPN’s Schoenfield Says Cardinals Are Currently NL’s “Fourth-Best Team”