St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt has talked the talk since the offseason began for his club, promising while making rounds with the St. Louis media that the team would be aggressive this winter in finding the core pieces it needs to be competitive with the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers.
I like what I’m hearing. If you’ve visited this corner of the Redbirds blogosphere before, you know that I have lobbied for impact players every winter since Jim Edmonds and Chris Carpenter left town. Then Matt Holliday left and Yadier and Matt Carpenter began to edge their way toward the sunset. The team has flirted with the likes of David Price, but always seems to end up shopping in the scratch and ding aisle.
So, forgive me if I am going to hold back my enthusiasm and take a wait and see approach to this winter. I can’t help it. DeWitt and President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak speak with so many qualifiers in their statements, it’s hard to not feel as if they’re baking in a technicality to get them off the hook for their promises.
DeWitt didn’t boldly state that the Cardinals were going to sign Manny Machado, no matter what it takes. He said the team will be aggressive — not successful, but aggressive — in pursing players if they become available. Aren’t free agents available by definition? So, that must not be what he’s talking about. I suppose that’s code for “we’re going to try to make some trades.” The problem with that plan is that it takes two teams to make a deal. The Birds have had little success on the trade market recently, failing to land previous off-season targets Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and others. The team did land Marcell Ozuna last winter. But only after it failed to acquire it’s primary target, Giancarlo Stanton, from the Miami Marlins. And St. Louis looked like it was snookered when it took Ozuna, who struggled much of the season, while their Central Division rivals in Milwaukee landed MVP candidate Christian Yelich from the fish.
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I understand that owners and their front office staffs have to be pragmatic about things. But I wish just this one offseason that the Cardinals’ operators would think more like the team’s fans and get angry about not making the playoffs three years in a row. Don’t tell me if the time is right and opportunities present themselves maybe we’ll break out some dry powder and look for low-hanging fruit. Tell me you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore.
The Redbirds have worked under the plan of trying to win 88-90 games a year to sneak into the playoffs, keeping fans coming through the gates because they’re always sort of in contention. But it seems, judging from the empty seats the last two series of the season at Busch Stadium, that the plan has gone stale. When DeWitt’s group bought the Cardinals 23 years ago, he said the team understood that it had to invest money to make money. He needs to take his own advice to get fans excited about this club again.
Maybe St. Louis fans are “spoiled” by success and they expect the unrealistic goal of winning every year. But let’s not forget that the Birds are also spoiled by fans that support the club pretty darn well. This isn’t a one way street and fans deserve to expect results for paying rising ticket prices. I’m willing to bet that if the Cardinals stopped playing for a wild card spot and fired a shot over the heads of the Wee Bears and Brew Crew to declare their intentions of taking back the NL Central crown, people would buy tickets like crazy.
But playing it safe doesn’t seem like it’s doing it for fans anymore.