All the stars have lined up perfectly this winter. Yet, still, the St. Louis Cardinals absolutely refuse to pounce at the opportunity to add a 26-year-old slugger to the middle of their lineup for the next several seasons.
The pundits were convinced that free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were in a race to be the first person to land a contract in excess of $400 million. Yet, here we are in the last week of January and neither player has found a new home.
Harper seemed like he was going to spark a bidding war between LA and the New York Yankees. But when the Dodgers finally signed a free agent outfielder to a multi-year deal this week, it was former Arizona Diamondbacks centerf ielder A.J. Pollock. Seemingly Harper, who turned up his nose at a $300 million offer from the Nationals and supposedly doesn’t want to play for the Philadelphia Phillies is running out of places to land.
The Chicago White Sox have been reported to be interested in both players. But, over his agents objections, rumors have surfaced that the Sox won’t offer Machado more than $175 million over seven years. I’d take it in a heartbeat. But we’re essentially talking about a half-off sale for the two biggest stars on the market this winter.
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Still, not a peep from the Cardinals who instead excited their loyal, ticket-buying masses Thursday with big news that they’re putting in new light bulbs at Busch Stadium. Swell.
Bryce Harper makes Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna expendable
Not only is the competition for Harper much less intense than anyone could have anticipated. But the hole in the St. Louis roster seems to fit him perfectly. The Birds have an incumbent right fielder who hit all of .180 last season in between stints on the disabled list. Harper’s natural position is the Cardinals’ biggest area of need. But what if Dexter Fowler rebounds? So what? if he raises his average 50 points next season, he’s still a .230 hitter who can’t stay on the field because of a list of maladies thicker than Scott Boras’ free agent pitch books.
Look, if you’ve been reading anything about the Cardinals over the past few days it’s that the team is somewhere between freaked out and hacked off about Marcell Ozuna’s lack of interest in sharing what’s going on with the shoulder that’s blamed for making him a shell of the player St. Louis expected when it traded for him a year ago. The odds he’s going to be back with the club in 2020, regardless of what he does in 2019, are next to nothing. I don’t think the team brass trusts his dedication and his desire anymore. So, if Ozuna has a mediocre year, the team isn’t going to pass him an eight or nine-figure contract for the next five or six years. And if he’s excellent, they probably wouldn’t want to pay the going rate anyway.
Cardinals have the money to pay for Harper
Don’t tell me that Paul Goldschmidt makes Harper unnecessary. The Cardinals have no clue right now if they’ll even be able to keep the slugging first baseman past the end of the upcoming season. In the short term, Goldschmidt makes the same amount of money as Fowler in the last year of his contract, a far cry from what other players of his ilk pull down. So when the Birds have to pay the piper in 2020, they’ll have not only Ozuna’s money, but also Michael Wacha’s to make up the difference.
Where’s Wacha going? Well, I love the guy’s stuff and I’d love to see him stick around. But the Birds have Carlos Martinez, Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon and John Gant as candidates for the starting rotation. Plus, I’d be shocked if the team doesn’t work out an extension for last season’s ace, Miles Mikolas. Wacha is surplus talent and would likely be the second-most expensive guy in that group if he was kept in house. So he’s probably history.
There are all the reasons in the world for the Cardinals to make a run at Harper and he’s just sitting there for the taking. How the team can not even check in on the former National League MVP is beyond me. With Harper in the middle of their order, St. Louis would be hands down the best team in the NL Central and would rival the Dodgers as the best team in the Senior Circuit. Without him, they’re probably fighting it out for a wild card spot again. And that hasn’t worked out well for them the past three years.
A lot of people look at the records at the end of last season and then add Goldschmidt and reliever Andrew Miller to the list, penciling in the Cardinals for another 10-12 wins. But let’s not forget that the Chicago Cubs had a lot of injuries last season and their keystone player, Kris Bryant, had the worst season of his career. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers took the first half of the season to get their act together and were a force the rest of the way.
I can’t say I’m surprised by how things are working out. But I can sure say that I am disappointed.