How can it be that all the people on the planet who don’t see the obvious fit between Bryce Harper and the St. Louis Cardinals work in the team’s front office?
When John Mozeliak and company walked out of Las Vegas without even taking a meeting with Harper, I was pretty thoroughly convinced that the team’s plans for 2019 and beyond don’t include the slugging former MVP who fits the bill of being a left-handed, fearsome hitter who can play a position where the Redbirds need some help. In fact, when the Birds traded for former Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, they forced nomadic infielder Matt Carpenter back across the diamond to third base, ruling out Manny Machado and Mike Moustakas as alternative additions to the St. Louis batting order. So, it would seem a guy who could play right field is the ONLY player St. Louis could take on to add another bat to its order.
Curiously, while the talk around the club since last season has been that it needed a “middle of the order” hitter, after acquiring Goldschmidt, manager Mike Shildt said he’s considering hitting Goldy second? Wouldn’t that mean there is still a hole in the middle which is usually defined as the third, fourth and fifth-place hitters?
On Thursday, MLB Trade Rumors published its 2019 payroll projection for the Cardinals and, based on the fact St. Louis has a need for Harper, has the payroll flexibility to afford such an investment and the team has repeatedly said it feels the urgency to get back to the playoffs, the online publication seems to refuse to believe the team’s claims that it doesn’t plan to purse the former Washington Nationals outfielder.
Goldschmidt is certainly an improvement to the St. Louis batting order — and in the field for that matter. But the third spot in the batting order is usually reserved for the team’s best all-around hitter. If Goldschmidt bats second, the implication would be that the team plans to add someone who is arguably better than him. And he’s one of best hitters in the NL. If Goldschmidt bats second, who else is going to bat third? The problem with the St. Louis order has plenty of sixth, seventh and eighth-place types. But last year it was forced to deploy slow footed catcher Yadier Molina in the second spot, even though he risked clogging up the bases, because there was no other reliable option for the spot.
To be honest, I have heard people say for two years that the Cardinals didn’t sign this guy or that guy because they were saving their money for 2018 when Harper was a free agent and I rolled my eyes thinking there was no way St. Louis was going to be the high bidder for one of the most-anticipated free agents in baseball history. So, when the season ended a couple of months ago, Harper wasn’t even on my radar. But so many baseball pundits have said over and over again that Harper would be the perfect fit at the perfect time for the Birds that I couldn’t help but get excited about it. Now I’m bought in and, when what I expected to happen becomes reality, I’m going to feel disappointed. If you would have told me in September that the Redbirds would trade for Goldschmidt, I would have been thrilled. But now, that move seems like the typical refusal of this club to make a long term financial commitment to a premium player.
Maybe the Cardinals plan to spring from the weeds at the last minute to pounce on Harper and they’re playing it cool in effort to avoid stoking the fires of the bidding. But if I was Harper and St. Louis wouldn’t even meet with me at the Winter Meetings, I think I would start to factor the Birds out of the process, focusing on the team’s that actually seem like they’re interested.
I couldn’t believe it nearly a decade and a half ago when the Cardinals aggressively went after then Philadephia Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen despite the fact that the club already boasted stars Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds. It was a bold move by a team that was committed to getting back to the World Series. I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever see that sort of commitment again. Now, the team talks about being all-in for 2019. But its actions don’t match its words when the major off-season overhaul consists of adding a veteran player in the walk year of his contract and trading one minor league player who was doubtful to make the opening day roster for another. It’s too soon to be satisfied. This club made the offense a little better and improved the defense at first base — at the cost of worsening it at third — while doing nothing to add late inning relief help.
The Cardinals must have more moves up their sleeves than this.