I am so ready for this winter of discontent to be over, for the St. Louis Cardinals to pack their bags and head to spring training.
It sounds like a lot more fun than the last month of having nothing to discuss other than who is not coming to the Redbirds. Barring some unexpected plot twists, I’m considering the winter to be over. The ingredients have all been bought and it’s time to start the cooking.
What the Cardinals did right over the offseason:
While I’m concerned, to say the least, that new first baseman Paul Goldschmidt comes to St. Louis in the walk year of his contract, there is no denying that one of the best hitters in the major leagues will call Busch Stadium home in 2019. Goldschmidt absolutely kills Cubs pitching, giving Chicago something to worry about when they face the Redbirds. The Cardinals had an uneven offense last year and Goldie should certainly make a big difference in the middle of the lineup — or at the top, if manager Mike Shildt follows through on allegations that he’ll bat the slugging All-Star in the number two hole.
The bullpen was a major concern last year. In fact, it was so horrible that it probably was more responsible than any other single factor last year in sinking the team’s playoff hopes. It was better in the second half, relying on youngsters to fill in for jettisoned veterans like the disastrous pickup that was Greg Holland. So the addition of Andrew Miller, who was recently one of the best and most versatile relievers in baseball should help. That is, if he can stay healthy. He wasn’t very good at that last year. But the St. Louis front office thinks he’s put his health woes behind him.
Adam Wainwright may not be the pitcher he was a few years ago. But he’s a great leader, an awesome competitor and a dedicated teammate. So, I’m glad if he thinks he can still pitch that he only wanted to do it for the Redbirds. I think there is a 50/50 chance that he’ll decide he can’t perform up to his legendary standards and retire before the upcoming season is over. But he’s certainly earned the chance to give it another try. I see Wainwright as a starter or nothing, based on what he has left in his pitching arsenal and the amount of time it takes to loosen up a body with as many miles as he’s logged. But, I think he could be a really interesting candidate to come into a tight game with two on and two out in the sixth because he’s been really great for an inning or two the last couple of years, only to fall off as the pitches start to mount.
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What the Cardinals did wrong:
This was the free agent class of the decade and, if the Birds were intent on getting better, this was the time to do it. They passed, apparently, on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But couldn’t they have benefited from adding more relief help to a bullpen that is very short in late inning experience. They could have benefited from adding a middle tier hitter like Michael Brantley. But they decided to double down on Dexter Fowler instead. It seems like this team has the potential to be competitive. So it seems strange that the front office would cut corners instead of going in for the kill when they’ve been on the outside of the playoff picture three years in a row. If this winter wasn’t the time to go big, will there ever be a time to go big?
Team President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and Chairman Bill DeWitt constantly talk about not doing short-term fixes, instead planning to be consistently competitive over the long haul. So it seems strange that they will go into the 2019 season with their left fielder and first baseman — their middle of the order lynch pins — in the last year of their contracts. I would have liked to see the team try to extend one of them or both of them this winter but it appears that never was considered. The club seems unhappy with Ozuna about his bum shoulder that made it difficult for him to throw effectively last year while sapping his power at the plate. If the team plans to let him walk instead of committing to him for four or five more years, why not consider Harper? In addition to having two key hitters standing at the exit, Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas are in their last year, too. So St. Louis could lose 40 percent of its rotation for 2020, and that’s not including Wainwright.
The Cardinals could have addressed the bullpen in a couple of ways but chose to go with holdovers who weren’t successful last season. Does anyone have faith it Brett Cecil at this point? The Cincinnati Reds last weekend signed former St. Louis lefty Zach Duke to a contract. I would have had a lot more confidence in him than Cecil. If the Birds don’t want to cough up big bucks for a closer like Craig Kimbrel, they could have gone shopping for a reliable starter and left makeshift closer Carlos Martinez in the ninth inning.
What I’m most looking forward to this season:
Jordan Hicks was breathtaking with his 105 mph heat last year. But he didn’t miss as many bats as it seemed like that kind of stuff would cause. I’ll be excited to see if Hicks can take the next step and dominate hitters like most of us think he can. Beyond that, I’d like to see the other pitchers show they belong in the big leagues, especially Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Austin Gomber. Can Alex Reyes stay health for once? Those four could be the best rotation in the NL for the next five years if they pan out like we hope they will.
It seemed like the Cardinals were all excited about Harrison Bader until he got to the big leagues. Then they parked him in a reserve role behind Tommy Pham and let him rot on the bench. After Pham was traded, Bader finally got a real shot and didn’t disappoint with stellar glove work and hustle on the bases that has been sorely lacking for the past decade or two. I’d love to see if Bader can turn his talent into a job as a lead-off or second hitter to put pressure on pitchers and really make things happen.
I’d love nothing better than to see Dexter Fowler hit .270 with 20 home runs. But I think the chances of that are slightly better than the odds that the Cardinals will call me and ask me to take over for Mozeliak in the front office. If Fowler can’t turn back the hands of time, I’d love to see Tyler O’Neill get a shot at playing every day. I think the Cardinals mishandled Randal Grichuk with their punitive benching as he was trying to establish himself in the big leagues. Let’s not make the same mistake with O’Neill, benching him if he strikes out two or three times in a game.