Hey there Cardinal fans. Especially you angry ones. You know who you are.
I'm about to drop a take on you all that I'm afraid you're not going to like. You're going to think I'm some sort of front-office stooge that somehow found a way to hack into this website. But I'm not. And I promise that here at Birds on the Black we writers have better password standards than the Astros.
So moving along here...I understand that a lot of you are upset. Like, I can barely scroll through Twitter without seeing some sort of angry rant type of upset. I understand that the Cardinals have been a winning organization for a long time, and you got used to that sort of thing and the past few years have sucked.
No one is asking you to demand less than excellence. And there's really no excuse for not trying at all like so many other clubs seem so content to do.
I'm also not here to shove the fact of how successful the Cardinals have been over the last couple of decades in your face and say that you're being ungrateful. But I just have a couple of questions:
1. What exactly did you expect going into this season?
2. What would you have done so differently?
What exactly were you expecting?
FanGraphs had the Cardinals finishing with an 88-win record. The readers of the site thought that was a bit overly-optimistic and said 86 wins. PECOTA forecasted 85 wins. Rational Pastime said 86. CBS Sports and USA Today both also projected 86. We all should have known that a wild-card was an at best scenario going into this.
If you were going to be frustrated with the team, it should have been before a game was played. But hope springs eternal every late March.
So right now FanGraphs has the Cardinals finishing at 83 wins. That's going to be another miss. Things could change and I expect the lineup to wake up at some point for some reason, but it's looking pretty dicey, to say the least. Their playoff odds are sitting right around 25%.
Yet, I have to say, this underperformance so far hasn't been just been a byproduct of Mike Matheny's management. Let me be very clear: I haven't wanted Matheny around since Travis Ishikawa hit that homer against Michael Wacha. I don't care anymore about all the weird rumors. I'm going to assume that he's a good person, but by the numbers, the man doesn't know how to manage a bullpen.
But can Matheny completely control that Carlos Martinez, Molina, DeJong, Alex Reyes, Wacha, Leone, Wainwright, Gregerson, etc. have got injured?
Can he completely control that Fowler, Ozuna, Pham, and Wong have all hit well below their projected numbers?
Or let's look at the bullpen: Going into the season, Leone, Bowman, Lyons, Cecil, Tui, Holland, Gregerson and Norris were all projected to be assets. The only one with a positive WAR out of that group has been a surprisingly good Bud Norris.
I just don't see how that's all entirely Matheny's fault.
So what would you have done so differently?
Asking myself that question, I can't say that I think the Cardinals did a terrible job this offseason. They went all-in and had a trade in place for Giancarlo Stanton that he turned down.
They tried getting Machado and those crazy Orioles asked for Flaherty, Weaver, and Hicks. They kicked the tires with the Rays and Colome, and maybe Archer and Longoria too. I give them a gold star for trying.
Having been spurned by Stanton, they settled for Ozuna. While no one expected him to be an MVP candidate, the trade was applauded pretty much in every corner, and yet he has hit -.44 points below his projected wOBA.
They ended up landing Norris and Mikolas for cheap and both have combined for 3.6 WAR.
Furthermore, no one really hated the Holland deal when it happened. No one would have anticipated how bad his start would be.
And the jury is still out on Tyceps O'Neill for Marco Gonzalez, even though as of right now the M's are clearly winning the trade at the moment. When the move was made, the Cards had an abundance of rotation depth and Marco was pretty "meh".
I just can't really fault their efforts this past offseason.
So where do we go from here?
The Cardinals have been in a tricky position for a while now. They're just not good enough to compete with the Cubs, but they're not bad enough to sell because there's always a tantalizing shot at the Wild Card. And well, 2006 baby. They can't seem to land the big fish they want because the market gets crazy or players say no. They're just kind of stuck.
I thought their window was going to close earlier than it has, to be honest. It's instead been more of a slow and painful death.
At this point, I'd rather just see them be sellers for the sake of breaking up the monotony of mediocrity. Let the kids play. Stock up the farm system with whatever talent you can get. Keep Willie, Oquendo and maybe Maddux and then bring in fresh faces for the rest.
Try crazy things, like using an opener or putting your best reliever in a situation other than their normal rigid inning roles. Stop telling the fans you're going to be "competitive". Rather, sell them on the hope of a better future while letting Molina go out as a Cardinal.
The staleness just won't be tolerated forever. It's time to break up the band.
In the meantime, temper your expectations and chill a bit, Cardinal fans. Some of you are too shocked and angry. I understand the frustration, but after trying to look at it a bit more coolly, it's a little harder for me to in a rage over this club.
There's just a lot of things that have happened beyond their control, and this past offseason they did just about all I could hope for them to do. Baseball is just cruel sometimes, and we're having a hard time getting used to it.