Cheap Seats

The Cardinals are sending mixed signals this offseason

What was the point of the St. Louis Cardinals trading valuable prospects Sandy Alcantara and Magneuris Sierra for slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna if the team didn’t plan to address its need for help in other areas of the roster including adding a top end of the rotation starter and a closer.

Ozuna is a strong addition. But he’s eligible for free agency in two years and, if he has a couple more seasons like he did last year when he hit .312 with 37 home runs, he’s going to be tough for St. Louis to re-sign. So it would seem his addition to the Cardinals roster is a sure sign the team is trying to win now. That’s why just about every national baseball reporter has breathlessly predicted the Redbirds would be a top contender to sign or trade for just about every big name hurler on the market. So why has the team refused to make any of those anticipated moves?

While another middle-of-the-order bat is needed, the offense is OK as it stands. This team is vulnerable at the plate if Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong or Ozuna take a step back from stellar 2017 seasons that are unprecedented in their respective careers. But I am not convinced at all that this team has enough pitching to be a legitimate contender to win the National League Central Division in 2018. Adam Wainwright hasn’t pitched like Adam Wainwright in three years. Michael Wacha will always be a concern because of his chronic shoulder problem — and let’s not forget that he was so shaky the first half of last season that Redbirds rooters screamed for him to be taken out of the starting rotation, relegated to mop up duty in the bullpen. The Cardinals subtracted Mike Leake from the mix in a trade and the team seems intent on going separate ways with Lance Lynn, an incredibly consistent and effective starter.

The result is that the Cardinals will count on Japanese league reclamation project Miles Mikolas and a cast of prospects. The St. Louis front office seems to be high on Mikolas. But he didn’t impress the last time he was in the major leagues in 2014. That’s how he ended up in Japan in the first place. Let’s hope John Mozeliak and Co. are right in their hunch about the right-handed hurler. But do they think he’s going to go from an ERA over 5.00 in limited experience to a guy who can bolster ace Carlos Martinez as a No. 2 starter? Luke Weaver looked pretty good late last season after Leake was exiled. But the toughest leap a young pitcher has to make is finding ways to get hitters out after they’ve all seen him once before and his stuff is no longer a surprise.

Conventional wisdom after the Birds passed on signing or trading for a closer is that signee Luke Gregerson will hold the job temporarily until top prospect Alex Reyes is ready in his comeback from Tommy John surgery sometime in May. Then, in a throwback to Wainwright’s debut season in 2006, he’ll eventually end up finishing games instead of starting them.

Reyes can be effective — if he is healthy. But if he is in the bullpen, he’s not going to be able to led a much-needed hand in the starting rotation.

It seems unless the Cardinals make other significant additions before the start of the season that they’ve tried to soothe restless fans by adding a little star power — but what they’re quietly trying to do is conduct a rebuilding project, intentionally leaving gaping holes in the pitching staff in order to allow youngsters a chance to acclimate themselves to the big leagues regardless of the fate of the team as a whole. Developing young players is a good thing. But if a team wants to be competitive, it needs to add a few youngsters at a time to a core of players in their prime. I’d rather see guys like Reyes and Jordan Hicks break in with a team that has a winning culture and veterans to lead them than see them thrown to the wolves and have to rebuild the team on their backs.

Besides, if the Cardinals were going to rebuild, why give away Alcantara and Sierra? Alcantara, with his triple-digit fastball, might have had a future in St. Louis as a front of the rotation starter — or the closer the team apparently plans to develop from within to replace Trevor Rosenthal.