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St. Louis Cardinals wasted time chasing players they couldn’t get

Did the St. Louis Cardinals blow other opportunities to improve the team while chasing pipe dreams?

That’s how it’s starting to appear.

It seemed three weeks ago that St. Louis was on the verge of acquiring closer Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays. As part of the deal, according to the reports from Florida, the Rays wanted the Redbirds to take Gold Glove third baseman Evan Longoria. It seemed to make sense because, although Longoria is on the wrong side of 30, St. Louis could certainly use a slugging corner infielder.

Inexplicably, the Cardinals walked away from the table. According to the Tampa Tribune, folks in the Rays front office believed it was because the siren call of the chance to make a trade for Baltimore Orioles superstar Manny Machado proved too difficult to resist. In the meantime, the Birds seemed to have a strange obsession with former American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson.

The Cardinals may have had some fear about Longoria’s contract, which runs through his age 37 season and pays him $86 million over that time frame. But by the hyper-inflated standards of Major League Baseball, is that much of a risk? We were led to believe that the Cardinals could take on $250 million over nine years in a failed effort to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. That deal ran well into Stanton’s 30s and he has a scary history of injuries. But the Cardinals couldn’t afford to take the risk on Longoria?

The Rays slugger eventually was traded to the San Francisco Giants which means, since the Cardinals can’t accept Longoria’s salary as part of their compensation to the Tampa Bay, the price of Colome in terms of prospects went through the roof.

In the meantime, former Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis signed a somewhat shocking three-year contract with a vesting option to take his talents to the Colorado Rockies. That leaves pickings slim on the free-agent market for closers.

Greg Holland still is floating out there. But the Rockies allegedly tried to retain him without success before moving on to Davis. That either means that Holland wants more money than Davis or that he at least wanted more money than the team who had him last year when he was brilliant in the first half of the season and startlingly bad in the second half was comfortable investing. Either way, it doesn’t look like he is going to end up in the bargain bin for St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak.

Speaking of the Cubs, we heard this week that the Redbirds are a strong suitor for free agent ace Jake Arrieta. I guess we’re supposed to believe that St. Louis is going to outbid Chicago for Arrieta when we’ve been told for weeks that Mozeliak is satisfied with a rotation that subtracted Lance Lynn and replaced him with a guy who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2014. All the Cardinals are trying to do here is drive the price up so the Cubs have to pay more than they otherwise would have to retain Arrieta.

What were the Cardinals doing while all these players who could have helped them were snatched away? They were chasing Machado and Donaldson when they knew (they had to know, didn’t they?) that neither player was likely to end up wearing the Birds on the Bat.

There was much skepticism on the part of baseball pundits that the Orioles would part with Machado. Baltimore owner Peter Angelos is notoriously stubborn to the point that he will hang on to a player he knows he can’t re-sign until that player walks away as a free agent instead of projecting the image that his ballclub is a second-rate operation that can’t retain its own stars. Instead of getting a haul of prospects who could help the O’s compete in the future, he’ll hang on for one more season with Machado, finishing in the lower half of the standings against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

If the Cardinals could have landed Machado, then what? He and Bryce Harper are set to hit the open market in the fall of this year and will command record contracts. They’ll make Stanton’s deal seem like chump change. And if there is one thing the Redbirds don’t do, it’s passing out record contracts. They had to know that the odds they could get Machado in an open bidding process at a price in prospects they were willing to pay for a one-year rental were slim and none. Still they passed on the deal for Longoria and Colome.

And then there was Donaldson. The Cardinals have been calling the Blue Jays front office since last season trying to get Toronto to part with its best player. The answer has been that Donaldson isn’t available. Every. Single. Time. The Cardinals invested way too much of their offseason on a player they couldn’t get, seemingly at the expense of other moves that could have helped this team. Indeed, even this week the Toronto press reported that the Blue Jays aren’t entertaining any offers for Donaldson. The only thing writers there have to say about the St. Louis club is that Randal Grichuk might make a nice addition in the effort to bolster the Blue Jays for a run at the postseason this year.

My predication is that the next time we hear Donaldson’s name is when Toronto announces it has signed him to a four or five-year contract extension. But that’s probably just as well. Because when he hits the free-agent market at the end of the upcoming season, the Birds will declare he’s too old and too expensive — after they were allegedly the “most aggressive” team in pursuit of him for the first two months of the winter.

This was supposed to be the winter the Cardinals were bold and aggressive to turn around a proud franchise. Instead, they made one big splash in signing Marcell Ozuna, two sketchy moves in bringing back an aging Luke Gregorson and former Japanese League hurler Miles Mikolas — and they shed the contracts of Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, Jonathan Broxton, Seung Hwan Oh, Stephen Piscotty and Jhonny Peralta.

People keep saying there is time left to get deals done. But what deals? Are the Cardinals going to sign Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas to a nine-figure contract? Are they going to pay Holland $18 million a year to close games? Do you really believe that they’re saving their pennies to pay Harper or Machado half-a-billion dollars next winter? It’s not going to happen. This team with a starting rotation that won 42 games last year, a lousy bullpen and crummy defense is the same team we’re going to get. And it’s probably what we’re going to get in 2019, too.