The word on the street is that the St. Louis Cardinals are facing more tepid than usual season ticket sales as spring training begins.
Could it be that fans, who started to disappear from games late in 2016 and 2017 as the Redbirds faded and were unable (or unwilling) to fortify their roster have finally started to decline buying tickets altogether as opposed to losing interest and abandoning the tickets they already bought as the season wore on?
I haven't heard any firm numbers. But if that's the case, it might be the one thing that gets the attention of an ownership group that has become accustomed to seeing well more than 3 million people file into Busch Stadium every year, win or lose.
While President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak might be sincere in his statement that he thinks he has done enough to improve a lackluster team that finished in third pace last year, it doesn't seem fans are convinced. Social media pages and sports talk radio airwaves are filled with perplexed Cardinals fans who are aghast that the team didn't sign a closer, didn't sign a starter capable of holding down one of the top two or three spots in the rotation or didn't add a slugger after alleged flirtations with making a trade for Manny Machdo or Josh Donaldson.
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How do we go from being willing to spend superstar money on a third baseman to deciding the team really doesn't need offensive help at all? Was the front office potentially going to spend $20 million next year on one of these players for no good reason? Or was it that the team wanted to appear as if it was being aggressive but it never actually intended to pull the trigger.
For all the talk about the Birds plucking Donaldson from the Toronto roster, it was the Blue Jays who made sellers out of St. Louis. Toronto added former Redbirds Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk and Jaime Garcia this offseason in exchange for a serviceable middle reliever and a little minor-league depth.
As they say these days, the optics of the Cardinals situation isn't good. It's team that is long on talk and short on action. If it resembles the club of 2017 — and there are lots of reasons to believe that it will — this is going to be a mediocre defensive team with a subpar rotation and a bullpen that is short of a lockdown closer. Who would want to pay to see that?
This team is trying to conduct a stealthy rebuilding process, shedding decent major league players like Grichuk, Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Lance Lynn to give raw youngsters a chance to establish themselves. They just don't want to say so because they didn't want to turn off the ticket-buying public. Unfortunately, the Cardinals' lack of communication with fans has caused a lot of distrust, and maybe even resentment, and the situation has backfired.
A youth movement would be fine if the kids were going to be studs. But no one is talking about the St. Louis rookies like they did about Kris Bryant and the other Cubs kids a couple years ago. The fact that the team isn't pushing them in its marketing makes me even more skeptical.
Time will tell. But I can't agree with Mozeliak's tactics or his optimism this winter.