Why would the St. Louis Cardinals send the message that they were going to be aggressive this offseason when the reality is that there is nothing that could happen to inspire the front office to go out and sign a player who could actually help this team?
Not only did the team completely back off its claim that it would pursue an experienced closer over the winter, but it called off plans to improve the offense after adding former Miami Marlins slugger Marcell Ozuna.
The Redbirds said after the Ozuna move that they were confident in the team’s ability to score runs if the rest of the offensive pieces produced well. But was expecting players who hit well in the past a realistic expectation for 2018?
First, Tommy Pham had a career year last season. It was a fantastic campaign by any standard. Pham had a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, a slugging percentage over .500 plus 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a little better than three-quarters of a season.
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But his batting average was 61 points over his combined total from the previous three seasons, his on-base percentage was 78 points over his career average and he hit nine more home runs than he had in his career before 2017. Sure, Pham could reproduce those numbers. But is he the guy who couldn’t stick in the big leagues until he was 28 or is he one of the elite all-around hitters in the National League? The answer is that he’s probably someplace in between.
If Pham falls back to Earth and has a respectable .275 season with 15 homers and a .340 on base percentage, that’s a lot of middle-of-the-order production lost.
Another component of the St. Louis offseason planning was apparently counting on infielder and leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter to rebound in a big way from a mediocre 2017 season. He hit .241, his worst batting average since he became a full-time player in the big leagues and much of the disappointment was blamed on Carp’s balky back.
Guess who hasn’t yet made a plate appearance in spring training with a sore back. Did the Cardinals not know that Carpenter’s back was still an issue? As a person who has had back problems, let me assure you that once you have a serious back problem, you’re always going to have back problems. Sometimes they’re better than others and sometimes things get worse. But they’re never quite right again and you’re always in danger of a flare-up.
I didn’t figure that St. Louis was likely to sign Eric Hosmer to a six- or seven-year deal to fill in for Carpenter. But as Carpenter sits on the bench, this morning it was announced the Royals re-signed infielder Mike Moustakas to a one-year, $6.5-million contract. The Cardinals could have added one of the biggest power bats of 2017 for the price of a middle reliever. Why wouldn’t they pursue that?
On the other side of the coin, the Birds have apparently had no contact with free agent closer Greg Holland or starting pitchers Lance Lynn or Jake Arrieta when makeshift closer Luke Gregerson is out with an injury and Plan B closer Bud (I still can’t believe the Cardinals signed him) Norris is fighting a hamstring issue. Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright hasn’t been fooling many hitters this spring as he tries to bounce back from a troubling 2017 and Japanese import Miles Mikolas has been completely dreadful.
I don’t expect the Cardinals to spend like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers. But for as much as they talk about being “opportunistic” when a player who can help the team becomes available at a reasonable price, there doesn’t seem to be any need or any opportunity that can move the Redbirds to make an improvement to this roster.