St. Louis Cardinals fans are dreaming big dreams that their favorite club will solve both its offensive and defensive woes with a single move: trading for Baltimore Orioles superstar infielder Manny Machado.
But the St. Louis front office has painted itself into a corner, making such a move somewhere between extremely risky and a suicide mission.
Talk is that the O's asked for a package that included Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks when St. Louis came calling last winter. While Reyes, after four innings pitched, has been shut down for the season following a second arm surgery is likely no longer on Baltimore's wish list, we can be certain that another top prospect would take his place in a prospective deal.
That's a huge price to pay for one player, no matter how good he is. But, if the Redbirds couldn't sign the pending free agent Machado to an extension after giving up so much for him, it would be disastrous. And, frankly, I think the odds of Machado choosing to stay in St. Louis are so small that the risk isn't even close to being worth it.
It used to be that the Cardinals traded for stud players like Mark McGwire and Matt Holliday on expiring contracts, gambling that those players would fall in love with the atmosphere in St. Louis and the chance to be in the postseason every year. But that's just not the case anymore. First, the Birds haven't made the postseason the past two seasons — and they sure don't look like a major contender this season the way they've played for the first third of the season. Second, the club has built a reputation of refusing to bid top dollar on free agents, gambling (and losing) that guys like David Price would take less to play in front of the Sea of Red instead of taking bigger deals elsewhere. That hurts the team's reputation in a couple of ways. It makes the Cardinals seem arrogant and out of touch, But it also makes it appear that the Birds aren't all in when it comes to trying to field a winning club.
Albert Pujols left because the Cardinals whined for two years that if they paid him market value, they couldn't put a competitive team on the field around him. I don't buy that for a New York second. But it seems that the team convinced him — and any other player who was listening — that St. Louis won't financially support what it takes to build a competitive team. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that Pujols left for more money with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But it's not that the Cardinals didn't sign him. It's that they publicly stoked the perception that they couldn't sign him, not that they shouldn't sign him. In fact, then-general manager John Mozeliak claimed that when he learned Pujols signed with Anaheim that he felt sick to his stomach. So let's not pretend the St. Louis front office was wise in passing on an aging player. It tried to play hardball and get that player to stay for less, and he wasn't having it.
The Birds could have salvaged their free agent reputation by investing their Pujols dividend in another franchise player — or two or three. But they refused. Max Scherzer, one of the best two or three pitchers in the game today, desperately wanted to play for his hometown team when he was a free agent. But the Cardinals wouldn't bite. Not at any price. There have been a dozen impact players that have hit the market over the past five years who could have made a difference for the Birds, but they never made a serious bid.
For the last two offseasons, national sportswriters predicted the Cardinals would be the most active team in free agency because of a convergence of a need for an elite player or two, a strong supporting cast and a giant influx of cash from a new local television contract. Plus, there is all the money the team rakes in through Ballpark Village. Still the team passed on the big names. When it tried to trade for one of the studs in baseball last winter, Giancarlo Stanton used his no-trade protection to block a deal to St. Louis. He said he didn't believe the Cardinals were in a position to be competitive.
So, I don't think Mozeliak can convince Machado that St. Louis is the place he wants to commit to for the balance of his career. The Cardinals are mired in third place in their division right now and are clearly playing for the second wild-card berth in the National League. While they have a lot of good, young pitching at or on the verge of the major-league level, those hurlers might not be quite ready to carry a team to the World Series. And the club isn't going to spend big bucks on veteran pitchers when Reyes, Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and other up and comers already are under team control.
I'd love to see Machado in a Cardinals uniform in 2019. But it's going to take a massive bid from St. Louis on the free agent market. I don't think I could sleep at night thinking about losing Flaherty, Hudson, Hicks and another prospect playing for the next seven years in Baltimore while Machado is wearing New York Yankees pinstripes.