Cheap Seats

If the Cardinals want to make the playoffs in 2019, they need to be great at something

I’ve complained the last two winters that the biggest problem with the St. Louis Cardinals is not that they aren’t a good team. It’s that they aren’t great at any aspect of the game.

With a 25-man roster, it’s darn near impossible to have a top-flight player at every single position. But if you can’t have all your angles covered, you need to at least have something that is your calling card. The pitching isn’t so great? Then you’d better have an imposing offense. Don’t have a lot of power at the plate? You better have some speed on the bases. The Redbirds have missed the playoffs the last three years because they had a decent pitching staff exposed by lousy defense. They had decent team power. But they lack offensive consistency and give up more runs than they can score.

So, if the Birds want to make things better this year, they need to at least create one irresistible force in their arsenal if they can’t fix all their problems. That’s where Bryce Harper fits into the picture. He’s an easy answer because he’s a game changing hitter who will make everyone around him in the offense better. Is there any doubt that Marcell Ozuna, the big winter acquisition of last winter, would be second banana to Harper if they both played on the same team? That’s not a knock on Ozuna. He’s a very good player that I’m counting on make a big step forward in 2019. But Harper is a legitimate superstar. If he’s in the batting order, Ozuna can be bumped up to third. Add slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson on a short term deal and suddenly the Cardinals have the best offense in the National League on paper. That, plus their talented young pitching staff, would give St. Louis a good chance to win the division.

If the Cardinals can’t make the giant move to land a mega star, they may have to make a couple of smaller ones. But which ones?

St. Louis has a very solid — albeit young — starting rotation. It’s the sort of staff that ought to be able to keep the team in games, but maybe not the sort that can shut out the opposition on a regular basis. The bullpen looks much better after a mid-season overhaul in 2018. But it lacks a reliable left-handed option and doesn’t have a proven, experienced closer.

Maybe, if the offense can’t put things over the top, the Birds ought to think about how they can make the pitching staff the foundation of their club.

There has been some talk about the possibility of trading Carlos Martinez to land a hitter. But what if the Birds held on to Martinez and left him in the bullpen as a closer then signed or traded for an ace starter? Dallas Keuchel, late of the Houston Astros, has averaged 28 starts over the past three seasons with a 3.77 earned run average in a home ballpark that’s pretty brutal for pitchers. Then the team could try to make a trade for the lefty reliever and have a pretty mean pitching staff.

If the team had the best hurlers, top to bottom, in the NL, it would stand a pretty good chance to get into the playoff picture once again. And, if the club could add a big stick like Donaldson, it would improve the offense and the defense, too.

I really like Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt who has been rumored to be on the trading block. But I’m concerned about trying to make a deal for the veteran who is in the last year of his contract. First, it would be a disaster if St. Louis depleted its pitching staff to add a guy who might leave after a year. The other problem is that Goldschmidt plays the same position as the Cardinals’ top offensive performer, Matt Carpenter. If Goldschmidt is added to the offense, it’s going to make the defense worse by putting Carpenter and his compromised arm back at the hot corner.