Obviously, St. Louis Cardinals fans still have plenty of reasons to be interested in and concerned about the 2013 season.
But the Milwaukee Brewers potentially dealt a blow to their 2014 plans Thursday night when they seriously injured Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton with a pitch.
Stanton, the premier right handed power hitter in National League right now, has been linked to the Cardinals by numerous sources for months. Miami publicly says it would like to keep its star. But Stanton has been open about the fact that he doesn't trust his team's ownership after it inked Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell to lucrative contracts prior to the 2012 season and then sold them all off in an embarrassing public auction.
Miami currently has a $45.8 million payroll and, despite a young and exciting team and a new ballpark, it remains one of the poorest drawing teams in baseball. So the club's financial muscle doesn't seem likely to dramatically develop in the near future.
Stanton only made $6.5 million in 2014, a bargain for a guy who hit .288/37/105 in 145 games before a Brewers hurler hit Stanton in the face with an 88 mph pitch. He'll probably more than double that figure through arbitration, which would make him account for about 20 percent of his club's payroll. He's eligible again for arbitration for the 2016 season and would be a free agent for the 2017 season and beyond.
He'd make a lot of sense for the Cardinals, who not only have the prospects it would take to land an elite player but also a need to make their lineup more right handed. If there is anyone St. Louis could afford to give up Oscar Taveras to land, it's Stanton who primarily plays the same position -- but also is likely to be able to play first base because he started his career as a corner infielder.
So what's the problem?
Well, Stanton had several bones in his face broken and damage to his teeth from the ball that missed his helmet and hit struck him directly in the cheek. He's obviously out for this season. So the Cardinals will have no way to see how the incident will damage his ability to hit before an off-season swap could be made.
If Stanton hadn't been injured, a Taveras, Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales hypothetical trade is something the Redbirds could make without reservation. But now that one of the most steady young players in the NL is an unknown quantity, it's tough to give up so much young talent on a roll of the dice.
Major league history, unfortunately, is filled with stories about players who have suffered similar injuries and never been the same.
1930s Cardinals superstar Joe Medwick was one of the most feared sluggers in the game prior to him being beaned in 1940 when he was a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers by a former Cardinals teammate.
Medwick, prior to the incident that came six days after he was traded, was a .338 hitter who averaged and 72 extra base 109 RBI a year. Afterward he was a .305 hitter who averaged 27 extra base hits and 59 RBI a season.
Red Sox hitter Tony Conigliaro was hit in the face with a pitch in the 1967 season. He was a 22-year-old regular at the time of the incident who averaged 28 homers a year with a .273 average and seemed to have a limitless future. But the injuries he suffered caused him to miss the entire 1968 season and when he came back he was only a shell of himself. He was a .248 hitter who averaged 16 homers and retired from baseball at 26 before an ill-fated attempt at a comeback four years later in which he hit .123 in 69 plate appearances.
Whether he was destined to come play for the Cardinals some day or not, I sure hope Stanton's career isn't derailed by the terrible incident. But, even if his bones heal, his vision is unaffected and he's otherwise healthy, until he proves otherwise there is going to be concern about his ability to get back in the box again to face 100 mph pitches.