Cheap Seats

2019 should be an exciting season for St. Louis regardless of how 2018 ends

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, left, congratulates starting pitcher Jack Flaherty after a strike out ends the top half of the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in St. Louis, Mo.. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, left, congratulates starting pitcher Jack Flaherty after a strike out ends the top half of the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in St. Louis, Mo.. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst) AP

I’m not giving up on the St. Louis Cardinals making the playoffs just yet, although their horrific performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers dealt their chances a serious blow.

But maybe this bad stretch is a good thing for the team in the long run.

After all, the Redbirds stunk it up all year before they got an injection of life from some dead weight being stripped away and replaced by youthful talent. But let’s be honest, this team didn’t plan for these moves to carry them to the World Series in 2018. They made the moves because they wanted to start the rebuilding process sooner rather than later. So, if they managed to win a wild card spot and make it a round or two into the playoffs, it would be logical this winter to stand pat. But the latest St. Louis slump should serve as a reminder that this team still has plenty of room for improvement and the front office shouldn’t take the winter off.

The kids are going to be a big part of the next several seasons. But there is no one among the group of mid-season call ups who is going to start for this club at third base and hit in the middle of the batting order and, while this team has tons of pitching depth, it hasn’t had an ace since Adam Wainwright started to fade and succumb to injuries. Austin Gomber, who was walloped by the Dodgers in a playoff-like game was probably going to have to be the club’s number three starter in the postseason. As we can clearly see, St. Louis doesn’t have the front end of the rotation to match up with the better teams in baseball.

It’s fitting that the Cardinals got knocked out of their wild card slot by Los Angeles because it was the Dodgers who traded for Manny Machado and Brian Dozier to bolster their roster while the Cardinals shed Greg Holland and Tommy Pham to replace them with unknowns. This is the way things were expected to go all along. It was just a bonus that St. Louis caught lightning in a bottle for a while and made things interesting.

On the bright side, it looked two months ago like the Birds were past due for a total tear down. Since the roster was turned over, we’ve learned that Harrison Bader is the real deal and that he can change a game with his legs, his glove or his bat. We’ve learned, despite the fact that it appears the youngsters who are used to a lighter innings load, that Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson are legitimate major league pitchers. We’ve learned that Kolten Wong is worth hanging onto and that Tyler O’Neill seems to have a chance to be a starting major league outfielder in the near future.

The obvious move everyone seems to expect the Cardinals to make is to pursue Josh Donaldson and put him in the middle of the order. It doesn’t seem like there is much chance of landing Machado, who could break records for the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Donaldson would probably be a lot cheaper because of his lost 2018 due to injuries. But I am not convinced there isn’t a team more willing to take a risk on Donaldson than the Redbirds. If that happens, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cardinals get a little bit creative in its plans to improve the offensive while bolstering the defense at third base.

What if the Birds traded for Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and moved Paul DeJong to third?

Andrus, who turned 30 this month, is owed $59 million over the next four seasons. While he had a little bit of a down year this season because of an injury, if you average out his last three seasons, he’s a .290 hitter with a .340 on base percentage. He averaged 31 doubles and 18 stolen bases, numbers that are depressed because he has only played 85 games this year. Andrus might not be the middle of the order slugger the Birds could use. But he’d be a guy who would make the defense better because he is not only much better than DeJong in terms of range, but DeJong is much better than Matt Carpenter with the glove. The Cardinals don’t seem to think of Jedd Gyorko as a starter, preferring to use him as a swing player between second and third.

Maybe if St. Louis went the Andrus route, trading with the rebuilding Rangers, they could fill the need for a power bat by retaining Matt Adams and using him as part of a slugging rotation including him, Gyorko and O’Neil. It’s not the ideal situation in many ways. But it’s very difficult to find a legitimate cleanup hitter to back up Marcell Ozuna without spending a couple hundred million or trading away the farm system. And it might help to keep the whole roster sharp to have three players seeing regular action in games. I’m sure, if he’s still here, that Jose Martinez would get regular action off the bench, too.

I know, I know. We’re way ahead of ourselves talking about 2019 when there are still a couple of weeks to go in 2018. I’m not shutting the door on this season. I’m just more optimistic about the future than I have been for an awful long time.