Updated: May 31, 2019
For the past few years, I’ve sat back as a Cardinals fan, and wondered simply if we’ve all been duped. I specifically don’t like being duped. I know I’m susceptible to it. I’m human. We all are. The negatives and positives of projection season often have me wondering if I’m the blind one – are the Cardinals really the juggernauts the optimists tell us? Are they the trash some particular corners would have us believe? When does a small sample become reality?
I don’t know the answer. I sure don’t know it as it pertains to the 2019 Cardinals. They are a team that is 2 games below .500. That sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world. It happens to feel like the end of the world because May has turned into a cataclysmic extinction event that just happened to immediately follow talks about the Cardinals being the absolute unstoppable force of baseball. It’s been a weird year.
Reverse April and May, and there’d be palpable excitement in the air about the Cardinals surging to somehow go from the ashes to be a mere two games below .500 and racing upwards. April would have called for the firings of bat boys, the expulsions of ushers, the stake burnings of announcers. May would have turned into an “I told you so” of the always optimists that love to point out that miracles have in fact happened, so probability be damned, go ahead an expect a miracle once again. I mean, this team is JUST like 2011. Had they kept winning, they’d be nothing like 2011, but them losing is GOOD news, it has that 2011 once in a lifetime vibe that we’re supposed to somehow hold out as a possibility 8 years later.
The truth is, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. The Cardinals might reel off 10 of 11 - after all, this very team has already done that just a month ago – and they’d be sitting pretty near first place, just two weeks ago, with Cardinals fans screaming at every publication about them not being higher in their power ranking.
Or, May might be real, and this team not only has a legitimate, but likely chance of being the 1st Cardinals team to suffer a last place finish since 1990, which, to put it in perspective, was well before Michael Wacha was born – he who has since traveled the birth canal, played little league, become a Major League phenom and playoff star, and now is being declared washed up and ready to be put to pasture.
What I do know is this: If this isn’t a mirage, if a month from now the Cardinals look like a .500 or worse team destined to a 4th year of having plenty of time to pick out Halloween costumes – then it’s time to bid adieu to the front office.
Yes, I’m talking 30 days from now. We’re at the deadline. There is no more time to trust the process. It would be absurd to think that a 5th year of the front office once again creating a roster on hopes and dreams might actually work.
You see, I don’t like to be duped. I can take 85 win teams. I can take 65 win teams as long as I expect a 65 win team, and can see a road map to future success that makes it necessary. What I can’t stand anymore, is perennial disappointment. What I can’t stand is forking over my money to a front office that tells us year and year out they are going to compete, and they like where their team is (despite seemingly obvious flaws) and watching the team fall short with little to no in season aid to get the team across the finish line.
The lack of in season improvement has been tantamount to sabotage. It would have been so EASY to grab Josh Donaldson while Gyorko was hurt last year! But with the Cardinals recent history of moves, perhaps staying pat was best for this team. This team traded for Paul Goldshmidt and signed Andrew Miller – to over 30 players – putting an emphasis on the near future. They then wouldn’t even bother to meet with Bryce Harper who of course is currently on pace for just below 5 WAR. He’d rank 2nd on the Cardinals (behind God-send Paul DeJong) by a full half a win. But, for this team, he wasn’t even worth considering. Neither was a starting pitcher on a team that went into the season with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Dakota Hudson in its starting rotation. All 3 had very clear question marks. All 3 are now often the subjects of “who needs to go first?” That’s 60% of the rotation.
And the other two haven’t exactly shown. Both improving after rough Aprils, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty were each tasked with leading a playoff team on the basis of a sole good season each. The idea that one or both might regress some in this season had to be an expected possibility, and thus had to be prepared for, and I suppose it was, in the form of the injured Carlos Martinez and the constantly enigmatic Alex Reyes. The former who arrived at camp not the only player to not follow the Cardinals prescribed regimen, and the latter who sits on May 30th with a self-inflicted broken finger suffered after a minor league game, and still not enough major league innings to pass last year’s tragic grand total of 4. Alex is joining a long list of young, hopeful Cardinals stars that the team hasn’t been able to get messages through to. Whoever’s fault it might be, the Cardinals or the individuals, with each new name it becomes harder and harder not to look at the team.
Mikolas, meanwhile, a contact pitcher in a homerun age, was cemented as the Cardinals ace of the future with a long, rich contract all on the wrong side of 30 on the basis of one very good year. He sits now with an ERA+ of 89 and 12 home runs given up in just 62 innings. While it’s certainly too early to declare the contract a bust, one must wonder if 2 months later the Cardinals would do the same deal.
They have to be wondering the same thing about Matt Carpenter, right? You won’t find a bigger Carpenter honk than myself, but I admit bafflement at the timing and cost of his deal. Matt’s a 33 year old “third baseman” who had a team option on his contract for next year. With Goldshmidt around, there’s nowhere to shift Matt, whose contract didn’t even give the team an annual discount, and his price tag means he’s going to play. Carpenter will be a 35 year old third baseman earning $18.5 million dollars. Even if Matt was crushing the ball like last summer, you had an option on him, why the rush to lock down a declining player stuck at a position he isn’t adept at? What if he tears a rotator cuff this August?
Of course what’s blocking Matt is the Goldschmidt deal, the priciest in Cardinals history. Don’t get me wrong. I love the deal. I love seeing Paul as a Cardinal. I don’t see any reason he’s not going to end this year with the numbers we’d expect from him. But he’s signed until he’s 36, and however good he is when he’s 36, this is clearly a talent frontloaded deal. This is the best we can hope for from Paul Goldshmidt, which makes it all the more baffling that the Cardinals made clear their intent to not go all out.
Instead the Cardinals said no to Bryce Harper (839 OPS) and traded away Tommy Pham (860 OPS) all in an attempt to get value out of Dexter Fowler (762 OPS in a comeback year). They neglected to explore deals with Dallas Keuchel (3.74 ERA last year, lower than any starter the Cardinals have this year), or one of the greatest closers of all time, Craig Kimbrel.
Any and all of these players have good arguments why you wouldn’t make them, but facing reality the entire reason the Cardinals wouldn’t pursue any of the 3 players is simply because of how much money they are already wasting on bad deals. This year alone the Cardinals are paying Dexter Fowler $16.5 million, Andrew Miller $11 million, Brett Cecil 7.75 million, Luke Gregerson $5 million, Mike Leake $5 million, Dominic Leone $1.26 million, and Chasen Shreve $900,000.
The result is you can’t add depth to your bullpen, which means that you get Genesis Cabrera, who has an exciting arm, but has followed up absolutely getting shelled in spring training with a 6.35 ERA in Memphis, suggesting that maybe – just maybe - he wasn’t quite ready to face the 1st place Phillies in a hitter’s park. Of course it didn’t work out too well, shockingly, and so Michael Wacha ($6.35 million), demoted from ineffectiveness into a bullpen that also needs depth, actually came in to relieve him and gave the Phillies fans a home run derby atmosphere to celebrate in. Hindsight 20/20 and all, don’t tell me whatever legit and rightful reservations you might have had about Harper, Keuchel, and Kimbrel, that in the “important” year of 2019 this team wouldn’t be better with any number of them.
Of course, the talent given up has more than held its own. Carson Kelly has an 851 OPS. Luke Weaver’s 3.03 ERA would far and away lead the rotation. Luke Voit collects so many checks from his grandmother for hitting home runs that she has to be homeless by now. Tommy Pham is the face of the Rays. I could go on, but suffice to say the Cardinals are ending up on the negative side – sometimes by a large margin – on an alarming number of trades. Long gone are the days of giggling at Brett Wallace’s stats.
This isn’t to mention some guy named Luis Robert, who I declared last year as the most inexcusable miss by the Cardinals in the Mo era. That’s standing up. Outbid by the White Sox, and laden with bad excuses, Robert’s numbers in the minor leagues will make you cry, and you’ve probably done that enough reading this post.
Finally there’s Mike Shildt. After over 6 years with Mike Matheny, including a dizzyingly stupid contract extension the very day after the Cubs won the World Series, Shildt was a breath of fresh air – and managed that way. It soon faded with the once again confusing 3 year contract extension he received before the season was over. “Why Now?” was the sentiment around baseball, and appropriately so. The recent Mozeliak era has trended to not waiting for more info even when you’re afforded the time to do it. It has plenty already questioning the decision as we see more and more what Shildt has to offer. While I’m personally still happy enough with Shildt, the frustrations have certainly begun. While Mike had his “guys” Shildt seems to want to be everybody’s pal, to a fault. The inmates, once again, seem to be running the asylum. A few days ago Yadier Molina bruised his hand badly enough that he could barely hold a bad – and he stayed in the game – even though he has a very capable backup in Matt Weiters. Indeed, a weakened and compromised Molina got 3 additional at bats that the Cards skipper seemed happy to waste to the detriment of the team, all in an effort for Yadi to get his wish to keep playing. In Yadi’s last at bat, he did ground a seeing-eye single up the middle – at a time the Cardinals could have used some power. In the meanwhile, Matt Wieters – who has actual power, and is hitting the ball well this season – sat the bench. The Cardinals lost. Yadi, still hurt, played the next game too. He went 0-2 with a walk and the Cardinals lost by one again. Finally, Weiters played in his stead and over the last two games has hit two home runs. Two home runs he didn’t have the possibility of hitting the games before.
Obviously if Yadi can play, we want Yadi in there. Obviously Yadi could be nothing more than a torso with a catcher’s mask and he’d still want to play (and probably do pretty well, considering). But a manager has to step in when a player is obviously hurt, for the good of the player and the good of the team. Shildt didn’t do that. You might as well have Yadi manage, if you are going to give up the job.
Just yesterday we saw another example. The Cardinals, already losing, have Matt Carpenter off the plate. He fouls a pitch off of his shin. It couldn’t look any more painful. He stayed in. The next pitch he fouled off the same spot, and now found himself face down in the dirt in absolute pain. He stayed in. Jedd Gyorko sat the bench Jedd Gyorko is good enough to start for most teams. Why on Earth wouldn’t you immediately get a slumping Matt Carpenter off the field to start getting treatment? Getting at bats for a slumping player is one thing, but how could you expect the next few at bats to help? Carpenter didn’t put a ball in play the rest of the night.
Players playing hurt cost teams wins. Ego must give way to the team. The Cardinals have a manager that thus far is prioritizing the ego of an individual over the rest of his 24 guys. That was a major fault in the last manager – and may end up being so in this manager also, who had barely faced adversity at all when his GM gave him a 3 year commitment. Both must do better.
We’ve been told by Mozeliak that he understands the importance of 2019. We were told during the 2018 debacle that the team had to get better or anyone might be held accountable – even himself.
I don’t know the truth. I don’t know if the Cardinals knew they didn’t have teams that were good enough these past few years, but still wore smiles on their faces? Or if the Front Office was just repeatedly and constantly shocked by watching their great teams be mediocre again and again. What I know is that 2019 is important, and 2019 is shaping up to be the biggest disaster of the entire era, and one month from now, if the Cardinals aren’t in a different direction, Mozeliak’s pink shirts need a matching pink slip.
I am rooting like Hell for this team – and for Mo. I believed this was a 90 or near 90 win team before the season. I have long been a Mozeliak supporter. I cheered loudly many of the moves he has made that have since imploded. Logic tells me that many of the now struggling players simply have to get better. Balls have to start bouncing the Cardinals way. I don’t believe the Cardinals are a sub-500 team, and I sure don’t believe that the month of May is a reality. But I may be wrong, and if I am, the Cardinals need a new captain immediately. If May is any glimpse of this true team, this team that has years of money tied up into underachievers, accountability & a new direction are needed as soon as possible. The villagers have never been more restless, and the horizon has never looked darker.
Post note – To be honest, part of why a lazy non-writer like me decided to actually sit down and write this, as opposed to the hundreds of things I think of and never bother to write – is that whenever I seem to be convinced one way or another about something Cardinals related, that’s when the exact opposite happens. Naturally as I write the Cardinals are leading 5-1. Hudson has pitched a solid game. Carpenter has homered. Goldshmidt has two hits. For at least one day, this looks like the St. Louis Cardinals team we expected to see in late March. May these 2500+ words serve as a team catalyst to give me great public embarrassment for my idiocy. For all of you with a deep and unwavering belief in the wrath of the Baseball Gods – you’re welcome.