The St. Louis Cardinals got off to a good start in reshaping the roster for the 2018 season when they traded for slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna, formerly of the Miami Marlins.
But their aggressive attitude seems to have waned with the end of the winter meetings. Prospective deals with the Tampa Bay Rays for closer Alex Colome and potentially Gold Glove third baseman Evan Longoria and ace starting pitcher Chris Archer and with the Baltimore Orioles for superstar infielder Manny Machado seem to have cooled off if not evaporated completely.
It’s causing a lot of consternation among Redbirds rooters. A week ago they were on the sports radio channels and on social media calling for the heads of the Chicago Cubs. Just a few days later, talk has changed to “I should have known we were lucky to see them get one player. But that’s all they’re going to do.”
On one hand, it’s hard to blame St. Louis fans for being frustrated. Over the past three or four years, the Cardinals front office has had an incredible ability to look a good deal -- one that would certainly help this team get over the hump -- in the face only to say “pass.” Last year Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner lingered on the free agent market seemingly forever before he accepted (by modern baseball standards) an incredibly reasonable four-year, $60-million deal to return to Chavez Ravine. I know, I know. Conventional wisdom is that Turner is a California guy and he was going to go back to the Dodgers no matter what. But how do we know for sure if the Cardinals never tried? Did he want to play in LA so badly that he would have turned his nose up at another $10 million? I would have liked to find out. Before that, Redbirds fans were led to believe that our team had a deal with ace starting pitcher David Price. When the Red Sox upped the ante at the last minute, the Cardinals stood firm on their offer, counting on Price to take less to play in St. Louis.
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I admire the front office folks’ ability to stand on their principles. But how many ballgames have their principles won lately? There always seems to be some sort of hangup that provides a convenient excuse for the Redbirds to walk away from expensive — but helpful — players.
On the other hand, there is still a lot of time to go in the off-season. The problem is that the ideal solutions are out there now. Once the players the Cardinals have targeted start to be snapped up, the alternatives are going to be less appealing — and probably more expensive.
If the Cardinals would have spend $70-$75 million on Turner last year, we certainly wouldn’t be hemming and hawing about the thought of committing $86 million to a 30-something Longoria now. If Longoria goes away, who will the Birds turn to? Maybe they’ll give Mike Moustakas, a free agent third sacker formerly with the Kansas City Royals, a nine-figure contract. (Doubtful.) While some folks are concerned that Longoria isn’t what he used to be, it’s more likely that Moustakas never was what he appeared to be last year. He had a career season in his walk year and his numbers were greatly inflated over his career averages. Or maybe they’ll give Eric Hosmer a $200 million contract to move Matt Carpenter back across the diamond to third base. (Extremely doubtful).
I don’t want the moon and stars. If the Cardinals think it would be too expensive in terms of the prospects they’d have to give up to land Machado, I completely understand. So finish the Tampa Bay deal, already.
Look, this club didn’t hit enough last year. It played lousy defense and the players lost their clubhouse leader, Matt Holliday, to free agency. Is Longoria 28 anymore? No. But he did win a Gold Glove last season and hit 20 homers in a “down” year. He’s one year removed from smashing 36 balls out of the yard. According to baseball-reference.com, he’s projected to hit .272 in 2018 with 23 homers. If you look over his three-year average, he’s on pace to hit .268 with 26 homers. Don’t think of him as the main guy in the middle of the order. He’s not going to play that role. What he can be is a very solid fifth hitter who can provide Ozuna with some protection in the middle of the lineup.
Beyond that, a Tampa trade would fill the pressing need for a new closer with Colome, a guy who has saved 84 games over the past two years. As I have mentioned, I have a lot less problem with taking Longoria’s contract if the Cardinals can leverage it into getting the Rays to include Chris Archer in the deal. By trading Longoria, Tampa is heading into rebuild mode. So it won’t need him. Archer would give the Cardinals a top of the rotation starter with four years of control for a ridiculously team-friendly deal. So it’s worth it to take Longoria just for that.
It would also be nice to have Archer because he raved about how much he liked playing in front of the fans at Busch Stadium last season during interleague play. Plus, as an added bonus, he used to be a Chicago Cubs farmhand. So it would be nice to force them to look at him several times a season as Archer wears the Birds on the Bat against them.
So... to sum it up, put me somewhere in the middle. My pitchfork and torch as still safely stowed away. Yet I am in the camp that thinks the Cardinals need to rediscover that refreshing sense of urgency they had a week ago to complete the work they’ve already started.
After two years in a row of not making the playoffs, my bottom line is that the Cardinals need to make enough moves that the national baseball media perceives them to be a legitimate threat to win their division. That means they need to address all their needs in some way — offense, defense, rotation, bullpen. The Rays deal is one-stop shopping. It may not be the flashy trade. But it’s the one that is going to make all the difference.