Some St. Louis Cardinals fans felt as if they were dealt a blow when team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. announced at the Winter Warm-Up he would be surprised if the Redbirds made a significant free agent signing before the start of spring training in a little over a month.
What? I thought this team was actively and aggressively searching for a closer to replace injured and then non-tendered reliever Trevor Rosenthal. Wasn’t there a plan to add a second big bat? Was all the talk about trying to trade for Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado just a bunch of bull?
I’ve been watching Major League Baseball for a lot of years. And this St. Louis squad doesn’t strike me as one that is perfect. While the offense would probably be at least decent the way it is configured, the pitching staff seems to have big holes both in the starting rotation and in the back of the bullpen. And we all know, with the long-awaited arrival of the Birds’ new local television contract — something that has been firmly in the minds of Cardinals fans since the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim used their local television bounty six years ago to steal away St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols — that the team has a brand new infusion of cash it could spend to add to its arsenal.
So why would DeWitt pour cold water on the fans’ hopes and dreams for the 2018 season when so many free agent players are still available?
Is this posturing? I know that last winter the St. Louis front office declared it would be surprised if any significant additions were made before spring training — and then it inked former Chicago Cubs fly chaser Dexter Fowler to a five-year contract. So, maybe this is a bluff designed to hold the price down for players the Birds might covet. If it is, it’s a risky maneuver to test the patience of a fan base that is already disappointed by two seasons without playoff baseball and a downward trend in the performance on the field that dates back five years. I realize you can’t show your hand. But, if the Cardinals don’t mean that they aren’t interested in making additional deals, they shouldn’t say it. How about the ever-popular “we’re not going to talk about what we’re working on” instead of playing word games?
If I am Fowler last year and I hear the Cardinals representatives say they don’t think they’re going to make any more significant moves while they’re negotiating with me, it doesn’t make me want to run to my agent and take anything that’s offered. It makes me want to run to my agent and tell him to call other teams that might be more interested in having me be a part of their club. Fortunately, it worked out and Fowler did, in fact, accept a contract from St. Louis. But it reportedly took the Birds adding another year to the deal to out-bid other suitors. So it doesn’t exactly seem as if the tactic pays large dividends.
It’s great that the Cardinals have been able to remain competitive for many years without breaking the bank on players. But sometimes they are going to have to pay market value if they want to add top talent to the roster. It is very difficult to field an entirely home-built team that is capable of winning a pennant. By nature, some guys are going to reach free agency by the time the next wave of talent matures and is ready to contribute. Sometimes prospects are going to be a bust, too. And you can’t just shrug your shoulders and say “Oh well” because a key player didn’t pan out.
People love to point fingers when Cardinals fans express anxiety over the state of the roster or missing the playoffs as if this team is a gift to us and we should accept whatever we get without question. Ironically, at the same time, we’re reminded that this is a business and the numbers have to make sense for any players to be added to the mix. Well, it works both ways. A business is only successful if it puts out a product that consumers want to buy. So, when I shell out my hard-earned money for season tickets, don’t tell me I don’t have a right to complain if I don’t think the team is up to snuff. It’s just business.
There isn’t much difference between St. Louis and Kansas City when it comes to city size, income of the population, weather, etc. But the Cardinals draw nearly twice as many fans as the Royals on an annual basis because they are a more competitive team. One hand washes the other. The Birds put a good product on the field, we readily buy tickets and jerseys. The Royals finish in the second division for 30 years, selling off their stars before they can hit free agency and fans stay away in droves. The Royals made a short term push to be relevant and people started to come back to the club. But we’ll see what happens now that the team is, once again, losing its crop of young talent to free agency. If the club would have spent to retain those players, might its future both on the field — and on the business side — be more successful?
I really hope the Cardinals aren’t done. Call me spoiled. But if the fans don’t feel the team has done enough to compete, that’s a problem whether the people who run it believe it now or not.