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St. Louis Cardinals fans search for something to believe in

With a home series loss to the San Diego Padres, one of the worst teams in baseball, in the record books, it’s pretty hard these days for St. Louis Cardinals fans to remain optimistic.

But it’s even tougher to sit here and watch the front office do nothing to make things better, either in the short or long term.

Redbirds rooters have been criticized the last two years for being “spoiled” and “impatient.” And that burns me up because this is a two-way street. It costs a lot of money to go to baseball games and buy a bunch of the merchandise that is constantly being placed in front of us. In return for supporting this franchise to the tune of 3.4 million paid customers a year, I think it’s justified to expect a high quality product in return.

It seems the people who make the roster decisions are far too content with a team makeup that has too many one-dimensional players and underdeveloped prospects and not enough dynamic players who can carry the team on their broad shoulders for a week or two at a time when necessary.

This week, the Birds held a season ticket holder appreciation event. It’s something I’ve had the good fortune to attend many times over the years. But this year the vibe in the room was different. I get the sense that some of the die-hard supporters of this team are getting a little bit impatient for the club to show some signs that it’s serious about putting the best product possible on the field.

In the past, when the general manager took questions from the crowd, folks wanted to know when this highly-touted prospect or that would make the big leagues. This year fans peppered GM Mike Girsch with questions about why the team hasn’t re-signed Lance Lynn, why the team didn’t make a trade for major league help at the non-waiver trade deadline and how much manager Mike Matheny was to blame for the disappointing 2017 results.

When asked what the Redbirds planned to do about adding a much-needed power hitter to the 2018 roster, Girsch asked the fan if he was aware of the trade that brought former Seattle Mariners prospect Tyler O’Neill into the organization in exchange for former St. Louis prospect Marco Gonzales.

Yes, Mr. Girsch, I am fully aware of the presence of the powerful youngster — and his .240 batting average with 145 strikeouts in 450 at bats this season in the minor leagues. Maybe O’Neil, who is only 22, will pan out and increase his contact rate. But it’s ridiculous to pencil him into the cleanup spot of the major league lineup next season. And the Cardinals know that.

I get that a major league executive can’t talk about specific players he’d like to target. But the front office needs to face the fact that this has been an awful season and, while the fans have been patient and loyal, the team has to do its part to turn things around. At the very least, the GM could say something to assure fans that he recognizes that the current edition of the Cardinals lacks core players and declare that he’s going to do everything he can to do something about it.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a sense of urgency in the front office. And, if the GM isn’t just throwing up a smoke screen, it sure seems like the team doesn’t intend to make any major moves yet again this winter.

The lady who asked about Lynn said she didn’t understand how he could have been such a good pitcher for the Cardinals for so many years when they have such an obvious need for hurlers. Girsch gave a meandering answer that the team likes Lynn... But Alex Reyes is coming back and Dakota Hudson this and Jack Flaherty that... The woman said she’d heard about those kids, and that’s great. But she’s also watched Adam Wainwright throw 83 mph fastballs and Mike Leake not win a game for six weeks.

If the Birds loved Flaherty so much and don’t recognize the need for veteran pitching, why did they try to trade the prospect for Sonny Gray at the deadline? What are you complaining about, you say? Isn’t the Gray trade attempt a sign that the team is trying to get better? Sort of. It’s an admission that the club needs help. But the Cardinals have a bad habit lately of coming in second in their efforts to land players.

Baseball is a results-based business. Sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone to get things done. While they’re always looking for steals, at some point, the Cardinals front office is going to have to pay market value to get the players they need. And market value isn’t what some pencil pusher decides a player is worth. It’s what the bidding reveals the player is worth.

It’s getting to the point that I am afraid the Cardinals are going to kill the golden goose.

This team can punch above its weight in the payroll department because it has the second-best attendance in the majors. Better than the teams from New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. But if the front office doesn’t do its part and put a product on the field worthy of drawing 3.4 million fans and the crowds start to dwindle, then its “payroll muscle” starts to disappear, too. If that goes away and this team starts its way down the spiral, in this financial environment, I wonder if it could ever come back.

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