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What did St. Louis Cardinals fans do to deserve this lump of coal of a winter?

How did the St. Louis Cardinals go from being the “most aggressive team this offseason,” supposedly in the bidding for Giancarlo Stanton and Manny Machado, back to dumpster-diving in the course of less than two weeks?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Being a Cardinals fan during the Hot Stove League season is like being a kid waking up on Christmas morning knowing he misbehaved all year. What’s on deck just isn’t going to be a satisfying experience.

I think it’s great that the Redbirds added Marcell Ozuna. I really do. But I’m not content that one substantial move — plus the addition of a 30-something reliever who had a terrible season in 2017 and a starting pitcher who had a crummy season the last time he pitched in the major leagues three years ago – is enough to improve on a club that won four games more than it lost last year to finish in third place.

This team let go of a solid veteran starting pitcher in Lance Lynn to save $7.5 million, shed the contract of Johnny Peralta to save $10 million, finally rid themselves of Mike Leake and Jonathan Broxton to save millions more — and, let’s not forget that Adam Wainwright’s $19.5 million annual contract is up after the 2018 season. Add in the Cardinals’ new television contract and the alleged desire to get black in the playoffs and this should have been a remarkable, transformational winter. There were big moves ready to be made and plenty of the ubiquitous “dry power” in the magazine. But it turned out to be a winter of rumors without any substance.

Ozuna alone can’t turn this team into a division title contender. He book-ended with Stanton in Miami to give both hitters some protection. If he bats third for St. Louis, who will bat fourth?

There is time left to make additional moves. But what appealing moves remain? Are the Cardinals going to spend nine figures on slugging third baseman Mike Moustakas? Or even more to sign Eric Hosmer? I sincerely doubt it. Are they going to shell out a four-year contract for Wade Davis? I’d be surprised. Maybe they’ll shock us all and pay ace hurler Yu Darvish $150 million to add to a starting rotation that accounted for 42 wins last year. But don’t bet on it.

Not only do the Birds not like to pay retail for talent, those players all have significant question marks that make them less-safe gambles than trading for players they could have had — but passed over. It seems like the Cardinals are always searching for the perfect move. And when they can’t find it, they do nothing.

I refuse to get excited about the potential of adding Josh Donaldson to the middle of the lineup, despite the current direction the rumor mill is churning. First, the Toronto Blue Jays don’t seem inclined to trade him.

Second, if Toronto did let go of its slugging third baseman, the cost in prospects isn’t going to be any cheaper than the cost for Machado — which caused St. Louis to walk away without ever making a former trade proposal.

Third, the idea has been floated that Donaldson would be easier to re-sign than Machado. But that doesn’t mean he would re-up with the Cardinals. President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak doesn’t like to pay players late into their 30s — and what are the odds that Donaldson, 32, won’t want at least a five-year deal? I can see the Redbirds shying away from the commitment it would take to keep Donaldson here.

Basically, St. Louis passed on Machado because Mozeliak didn’t want to pay the price in talent it would take to make the trade and figured he couldn’t re-sign the superstar infielder. Then he passed on a teed-up trade with the Tampa Bay Rays to land closer Alex Colome and third baseman Evan Longoria because he didn’t want to pay Longoria on his current contract that runs until he’s 37. But we’re supposed to believe he’s serious about trading for a player who in is the last year of his contract who’d have to be signed until he’s 37 if he could stack up enough talent to even get his current club to agree to a trade?

Yeah, sure.

So now we’re back to talking about platoon infielders and has-been or never-will-be closers. And the same people who tell me I’m unrealistic for thinking the Cardinals should take on the $81 million owed Longoria because it’s an “albatross” of a contract somehow have convinced themselves if St. Louis keeps the purse strings tight — again — in 2017, then it will be able to outbid the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs for Bryce Harper or Machado next year, passing out $400-million contracts like they’re candy bars.

It’s ridiculous to even imagine.

It seems there are two truths in baseball that you can’t get around: 1) You never look foolish in baseball if you hustle and 2) You can’t avoid looking foolish if you buy into the idea that the Cardinals are going to be bold when it comes to spending money on talented players. No matter how much sense it would make to the future of this franchise.

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