Cheap Seats

Dear St. Louis Cardinals, are you glad you saved the cash on Justin Turner now?

My one big wish for the St. Louis Cardinals over the offseason was that the club would have taken a serious run at then free-agent slugging third baseman Justin Turner.

It seemed like a perfect fit. The Redbirds had a gaping hole in the middle of their batting order. Jhonny Peralta, a career shortstop who was trying to overcome a serious wrist injury, was Plan A at third base. Plan B was to remove Jedd Gyorko from his original role as supersub and power source off the bench to man the hot corner every day. St. Louis could also use any help it could get on the defensive side of the game and Turner is as big a contributor with the leather as he is with the lumber.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers were playing hard to get, letting Turner linger on the market for weeks before they begrudgingly offered him a very reasonable deal to return.

Fast-forward to the 2017 season: Turner hit .322 with 21 homers despite missing time with nagging injuries. But we all saw what type of player he is Sunday night when the slugger stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game and did his best Kirk Gibson impression by launching a game-winning home run into the night.

I’m not sure what it would have taken to land Turner, who got $15 million a year for four seasons from Los Angeles. He’s a California native who loves playing for the Dodgers. But all I hear from fans and pundits alike is that professional athletes only care about getting the biggest offer. I would have to believe if St. Louis came calling with a five-year deal at the same rate or a four-year contract for something like $68 million that Turner would at least have had to think about it.

The quick reply is that the Dodgers would have just upped their ante to keep Turner. But would they? Los Angeles had an Opening Day payroll this year of nearly $230 million. The team has talked the talk about bringing its expenditures back down from the stratosphere and walked the walk by calling ace starting pitcher Zack Greinke’s bluff when the hurler opted out of his contract in hopes of cashing in a richer deal.

This offseason, the Cardinals’ needs are the same. They’re still without an established third baseman or cleanup hitter. They could go out on the market and try to sign Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. But Moustakas might end up being more expensive. Moustakas is a little younger at 29, which will likely cause him to call for a longer contract. And he’s got the flash of hitting 38 homers this year on his resume. Big power usually translates into big dollars.

The other option, as has long been rumored, would be for the Redbirds to make a trade for Toronto Blue Jays slick-fielding and power-hitting third baseman Josh Donaldson. But that is going to cost a ton of young talent and Donaldson is set to be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. The Cardinals can’t afford another Jason Heyward bust where they give up young, controllable talent for a player who walks away after only one season, especially when names like Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver are being thrown about in the rumor mill. If St. Louis parted with that much pitching, it would only create a bigger, tougher-to-fill hole in the roster.

The St. Louis front office can’t afford, after a second year sitting home to watch the playoffs, to be a day late and a dollar short to the free-agent auction. Otherwise, it’s going to be another long, frustrating summer next season. While the club might have gone a little bit out of its comfort zone to land Turner, I have little doubt this team would have been better to the point that it would have made the postseason — and maybe Turner would have hit that home run against the Cubs while wearing Cardinals red.

But we can only dream about that now.

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