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The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t to blame — this time — if they fall short

The St. Louis Cardinals have taken a lot of criticism the past few years because of their pattern of being the runner-up when it comes to the pursuit of top free agents and star players on the trading block.

Regardless of the way the Giancarlo Stanton drama plays out — and it seems we will finally see a merciful end to this gut-wrenching saga in the next couple of days — it seems this effort is certainly an exception.

According to reports from credible baseball writers, the Redbirds have offered the best trade prospects and to take on the largest amount of money left on Stanton’s contract as the team tries to add the 2017 National League Most Valuable to the middle of its batting order.

The Birds have done everything they could reasonably do to convince the Miami Marlins to send them the slugging superstar. Hopefully, the team made a convincing pitch to Stanton and his representatives a couple of days ago when they met.

If there is one thing I wish the Cardinals would have done differently — and this was quite possibly beyond the team’s control — it would have been to proceed to address some other needs while we all waited for Stanton to make up his mind.

While St. Louis’ main competitor, the San Francisco Giants, offers Stanton a location on the coast that he supposedly desires, that club finished in last place in the National League West last season, 40 games behind Stanton’s preferred destination, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So if the Cardinals could have added a lights-out closer and a good starting pitcher to their roster over the past couple of weeks, it might have highlighted the Birds’ strongest case: This is the better team and if Stanton wanted to play in his first playoff game in 2018, the Cardinals are the right choice.

I think the perception of some outsiders is the Redbirds don’t have the financial ability to pay a superstar and put a strong supporting cast around him. I don’t believe there is any truth to that conclusion.

The Cardinals once had Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright on their roster at the same time. That’s an awful lot of star power for a team with a tight budget.

Those were the days before the mega local television contract the team signed kicked in. Starting this year, the Birds will have a big infusion of cash that would allow a club that claimed payroll flexibility when the salary outlay was $145 million or so to spend upwards of $185 million on talent without breaking a sweat. Factor in that Wainwright’s $19.5-million-a-year contract is over after the upcoming season and St. Louis has tons of money to spend to put a good team on the field around Stanton. They still have plenty of young talent to balance out the expenses.

The Cardinals put themselves in that situation by spending the last year of Pujols’ reign in St. Louis crying poor, implying that if they paid the greatest slugger in the franchise’s slugger what he was asking, that they wouldn’t be able to put a competitive team on the field around him.

I didn’t believe it was true then and I don’t believe it now. If the Cardinals didn’t want to pay Pujols because they didn’t think he would hold up past 35, they should have just been honest about it. I think the evidence has supported that conclusion.

If the Cardinals would have rushed out and made a move for Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer and closer Alex Colome, they’d be the talk of the baseball world right now. As Stanton tried to make up his mind, it would only help to enhance St. Louis’ appeal. If reports are true that the Marlins have signed off on the St. Louis trade offer, the Birds know who is still available to include in the swap, so holding back reserves for Stanton shouldn’t be an issue.

And this isn’t an either/or situation. The Cardinals must, whether they get Stanton or not, go out and get both a closer and a decent starting pitcher if they want to have a shot at winning the National League Central Division next year.

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