With the Redbirds falling back to Earth a little bit over the past couple of weeks, I am hearing a lot of grumbling about what could’ve been. Fans on social media are griping that former St. Louis players Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham are killing it for their teams and they might have provided the offensive spark the Cardinals need if they would have been kept.
It’s particularly puzzling when it comes to Piscotty. Do fans not remember that the former St. Louis outfielder wasn’t only traded as a swapping of assets — but because he wanted to be closer to his mother, who died earlier this year from Lou Gehrig’s Disease? I would think that fact, alone, would be enough to keep the fans off the front office’s case regarding Piscotty. However, that’s not the end of the story. The Birds managed to land infielders Yairo Munoz, who is hitting .281 with a .347 OBP, and Max Schrock.
Pham wasn’t traded as a punishment and he wasn’t really traded as a statement about his talent. He’s got a well-documented injury history and a degenerative eye problem. Meanwhile, St. Louis had a herd of outfield prospects who were blocked by veterans in left and right and Pham in center. Honestly, Pham with his low financial commitment and high level of control was the easiest of the outfielders to trade. Go for him that Pham has found his elusive batting stroke in Tampa Bay. I hope he has a great career. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinals were wrong to trade him.
I don’t think Pham or Piscotty would make a huge difference for the Cardinals right now. While their bats are helpful, Harrison Bader is superior to both of them in the outfield. Without Munoz, the Birds would really be hurting with Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko both spending time on the disabled list lately.
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Let’s stop worrying about guys we don’t have and concentrate on the ones we do. Whether they would have been able to help the Cardinals win if they were here, I know they aren’t going to do anything for the home team now that they’re gone.
Holding prospects back hurts baseball
The St. Louis Cardinals have recaptured the imagination of their weary fans by pumping the roster full of exciting young talent.
Yet it seems like it’s still the standard operating procedure of most clubs to irritate their supporters and taint their future by holding their best prospects in the minors as long as possible to manipulate when the players can reach free agency.
It used to be that teams, whether they were still in the pennant race or not, would call up their best players when rosters expanded to 40 men. The players would get a taste of big league pitching and inspiration to work over the winter to try to permanently stick with the big club in spring training the following year. Clubs would get a chance to evaluate how close the kids were to being ready and the fans would have something to look forward to — a reason to say “wait ‘til next year.”
But the way the rules work now, if teams call up a player in September — or in the first two weeks of the following season — they become a free agent a year earlier than they would if they’re held in the minors. Now players who used to come up in September of this year come up in late April or early May next year.
Cardinals fans have seen the benefits many times over. Stan Musial came up in 1941 and electrified fans with his September play, a prelude to things coming for the next 20 years. That’s the way things used to happen. Today, teams do what the Chicago Cubs did with top prospect Kris Bryant: Despite a killer spring training during which no reasonable person on the planet could conclude Bryant didn’t earn a spot on the major league club, he was sent to Class AAA Iowa to cool his heels for a month or so.
It’s just not right. Players resent it and it’s one of the reasons they drive such a hard bargain in free agency, so it cost the owners money in the long run. When the Cardinals brought Albert Pujols north at the end of his first major league spring training, it created good will that led to him accepting a deal that bought out several years of his eventual free agency. Players who have been intentionally held back like Bryant have claimed that they won’t accept such a bridge deal, vowing instead to go through the arbitration process and hit the open market as soon as possible. I hope they stick to their guns because it would seem like the system needs to change.
It would be better for players, teams and fans to get the most talented young players to the major leagues as soon as possible. With everyone on the same page, there ought to be a way to get it done.