A few months ago, I had told Daniel Shoptaw that I wanted to begin writing again and asked to be included back into the United Cardinal Bloggers community. With so many good writers out there today, especially in this group, it is very difficult to find a unique voice worthy of asking you to spend the time it takes to read the words that I struggle to put on this page.
A lot has been written, tweeted, blogged and said about the Cardinals in the last 24 hours. Goodbyes have been said to players traded, often lamenting the perceived value in the players acquired. I totally understand the cathartic value of a good emotional rant on Twitter as I have done so many times. I would also be the last person to tell another one how to “fan”. But is that really the the best way to welcome a new player into an organization that prides itself on having some of the best fans in the sport ? And are things really as bad as some might suggest, even allowing for the ever present Chicken Little’s ?
Evaluation Criteria – Front Office
How do you evaluate the performance of the front office, and ownership for that matter ? A proclamation of just success or failure is not good communication as it implies a common set of evaluation criteria that just may not exist. My definition of success may be completely irrelevant to you. So let’s expand on that a little bit, but keep the scope to just the trade deadline.
We all know that the goals of any for-profit business is to make money (they do, and lots of it), promote a good brand (they have), invest in their business (they do in spite of some poor returns of late) and to have consistent success year over year (they have). But what about the product on the field as that is what most of us care about ?
Trade Deadline Priorities – Buyers, Sellers, Neither or Both ?
Let’s be honest here – the Cardinals are a .500 team. It is what they are. The roster is largely made up of a friendly group of “jack of all trades, masters of none” utility players. There are a few exceptions, such as Kolten Wong, Harrison Bader and the most important position player on the roster, Yadier Molina. The rest are a collection of interchangeable parts. They have a right fielder with a weak arm which the other teams exploit regularly who should be playing left field if at all but can’t because they have a cleanup hitter with a bad shoulder with an OPS of a middle infielder, a setup man performing admirably as a closer, nobody in the bullpen that can get a left handed hitter out in a game critical situation, two designated hitters in a league without the designated hitter, and I could go on. We do love them, but we have to admit that the Cardinals are a .500 team and are more than just one or two players away from seriously contending for a playoff spot.
Well, the front office can’t really be short term buyers then, can they ? Not for the 2018 season at full market pricing, no.
Let’s go to the words of the President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak.
"We still feel like we are in a place where we can still be competitive. We feel, unlike you, that we are in an OK spot".
Those comments have certainly provoked some ire on social media. That is actually a polite understatement if my Twitter timeline is any indication of the larger group opinion. But let’s take a look at the actual words Mr. Mozeliak said and see if the pitchforks and demands for his resignation are really warranted.
The team could have gone on a complete talent dump as some others have done. When you are sporting a .400 winning percentage, there isn’t really much farther to fall in the standings. But that is not the Cardinals situation. By keeping players such as Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez and Bud Norris, the Cardinals are competitive. That doesn’t mean they are contenders, but they will still win their share of games. Half of them to be exact. Mr. Mozeliak is not being disingenuous with his comment. It is factually correct. Maybe some of these players aren’t part of the Cardinals future, but their dismissal would have made the present team quite unpleasant to watch. While I am surprised that the Cardinals could not get enough value to move Norris, his staying means that baseball will continue to be watchable, at least for the next two months.
The “we are in an OK spot” comment seemed to rankle more than a few fans, but again, it is not disingenuous especially if you consider the future of the franchise.
If they aren’t buyers or sellers, what should the front office have done at the deadline ? Since they aren’t in an all in for 2018 position like the Dodgers or a just on the outside looking in spot like the Pirates, they should look to the future and start filling in some gaps in the farm system. What exactly would those be ?
- Fix the bullpen
- Clear the logjam of outfielders in Memphis – goodness, Randy Arozarena in destroying the Texas League just to get playing time
- Raise the ceiling – take some risks to develop some big talent to make up for lack of draft slots or less than desirable drafting position
- Left handed starting pitching – what was once an abundance has all but dried up due to attrition (injuries, changing roles to relief work, failing to deliver consistent performance)
- Left handed power bat – the Oscar Taveras void still exists to this day
- Players with multiple plus tools (hitting, power, arm, glove, speed) it is OK for your RBI guy to run the bases and make defensive plays.
- A jaw dropping defensive shortstop
- Spread the talent out across multiple levels of the farm system to prevent the very same logjam that exists in Memphis today.
How did the front office do ? Not terribly well if all you care about is the season you are currently watching. But Mr. Mozeliak did change the bullpen. It remains to be seen if it is, in fact, better than it’s predecessor, but it doesn’t take much imagination to believe it will be. Gone are Greg Holland (DFA), Tyler Lyons (DFA), Brett Cecil (DL), Luke Gregerson (DL) and Sam Tuivailala (Trade). Replacing them is some combination of John Brebbia (R), Daniel Poncedeleon (R), Dakota Hudson(R), Austin Gomber(L), Tyler Webb(l) and Chasen Shreve(L). Webb was a late June waiver pickup and Chasen Shreve came over in the Luke Voit deal.
The major league bullpen looks very different than it did at the All Star Break. If the bullpen can protect a few more late inning leads, the Cardinals may play August and September at a slightly better than .500 clip. Probably not enough to climb over the three teams between them and the second wildcard spot, but you never know.
It is when you look at the rest of the franchise, you start to feel better about things. I believe it was Bing Devine that said that a good General Manager always deals from what he has in excess to fill areas in which he has a void. For the 2018 Cardinals organization, those excesses are high level mid-to-low ceiling outfielders and right handed pitching. That is what Mr. Mozeliak traded away, though the Tommy Pham situation is a bit different. More on him in a later article.
What the Cardinals received were left handed power hitting outfielders in 22 year old Justin Williams (AAA), 21 year old Conner Capel (Adv A) and 18 year old right handed hitting Jhon Torres (DSL). While Williams is struggling a little bit adjusting to AAA this year, both Williams and Capel have good defensive skills to complement their offensive potential. These are exciting young kids and it will be fun to watch their development. In addition to the three outfielders, the Cardinals picked up a quality MLB left handed reliever in Chasen Shreve, a hard throwing left handed starter Genesis Cabrera (AA), right handed reliever Seth Elledge(AA), right handed starter converted to reliever Gio Gallegos (AAA) and right handed reliever Roel Ramirez (AA). There are some exciting arms in this group, and a couple of them (Gallegos, Elledge) will fly through the Cardinals system, perhaps landing in the Cardinals bullpen next year. It is easy to get excited about this young batch of players and they clearly make the future of the Cardinals brighter.
About that “we are OK” comment, I am inclined to agree. If you are singularly focused (the nice way of putting it) or obsessed (the not so nice way) with making the playoffs this year and don’t care about anything else, you will clearly disagree. What was done at the trade deadline had absolutely nothing to do with the 2018 season, other than patching the obvious holes in the bullpen. It was all about making “systematic improvements in the organization” to paraphrase Mr. Mozeliak.
So Why Care ?
The Cardinals are not likely to make the playoffs this year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t play increasingly better baseball. For one thing, Mike Shildt is auditioning for a job in 2019. As are several other players, including the oft criticized Dexter Fowler. I can’t see a future with Mr. Fowler wearing the Birds on the Bat with the level of defensive skills ready to be promoted from Memphis, but that is what August and September baseball will tell us.
There is also the little game within the game that happens every night. Will Tyler O’Neill prove that he is an every day outfielder and does he have the range to play center field opposite a pair of iffy defenders ? Will Harrison Bader hit enough to warrant a spot in the batting order every night. Certainly his glove and general hustle do, but sometimes that is not enough. Will Adolis Garcia, down in Memphis, become the Cardinals version of Yasiel Puig ? And will Randy Arozarena become the best of all of those outfielders and turn heads next March in Florida ?
We will miss Tommy Pham, both on and off the field. While fans of the Memphis Redbirds will certainly miss Oscar Mercado, getting Randy Arozarena back will take away the sting faster than a quart of Bactin. And who didn’t love the story of Luke Voit, overachieving and busting through every ceiling the projection experts put above him. But he was never going to be the every day first baseman in St. Louis.
Back to John Mozeliak.
I feel like what we are trying to do is put ourselves into a position to get a peek at the future.
That is exactly what Mr. Mozeliak and Mr. Girsch did at the trade deadline. They broke up a log jam of outfield talent at the top of the farm system, did not trade away any player that looked to play a key role in the Cardinals future, filled several holes in the organization by adding some high risk – high ceiling talent at all levels and slowed, if not completely stopped, the leaking in the major league bullpen.
Was it enough ?
To make the 2018 playoffs, unlikely.
To make the Cardinals competitive enough to win their share of ballgames in August and September, probably.
To make baseball interesting to watch again, where it really hasn’t been since mid-May ? I think so. Certainly if you are interested in watching some of these young arms mature and estimating the distances when Tyler O’Neill launches the baseball deep into the nighttime skies.
But what about 2019 and beyond ? No, but it is a good start. The organization is better off today than it was at the All Star Break. If that is how you judge the front office performance, and I believe it should be a large part of your assessment, then give Mr. Mozeliak and his team a pass on the trade deadline, perhaps even a bit of a pat on the back. Ever so slightly. But keep an eye on this winter because the Cardinals are still a .500 team, even with these changes. The 2019 roster must look very different or we will find ourselves having this very discussion, though not as jovially, next August 1.
Thanks for taking the time to read. Please leave any comments or suggestions below.