I’ve discussed Jason Heyward’s decision on Best Dans in Baseball and had a good old-fashioned rant fest with Tara on Gateway to Baseball Heaven last night*. Much of this post may be a recap of those two shows, but I’ll put it down here so I can work through a few other things as well.
*Last night, after the show, I tweeted this. It seemed accurate.
This was basically tonight’s Gateway, with Iron Man standing in for Mo. pic.twitter.com/aWuUCgypqj
— Cardinal70 (@C70) December 14, 2015
So Heyward is off to Chicago. Given the fact that this is Star Wars week, this seemed appropriate.
You can understand Heyward’s thinking even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. More money up front, a chance to take another bite at the apple, the chance with a World Series win to be thought of in this way by folks from the future.
However, while we can understand the reasons why Jason Heyward now wears blue pinstripes (sadly, he wasn’t quite Han Solo), it doesn’t mean that Cardinal fans, as a whole, are going to accept them, especially when Heyward rejected a more lucrative total offer from the club to go play in Chicago. The Albert Pujols signing (and Tara laid out some great reasons why this is very different than that situation last night on the show) at least had the benefit of him being out of sight, out of mind. AP’s had roughly 12 or so at-bats against the Redbirds since the Angels signed him. The Cards will see that much of Heyward by May (at a guess–I’m not actually looking at a schedule but you get the point). I don’t expect he’ll likely get the warm former player welcome that Skip Schumaker and company have received. If fans are still booing Brandon Phillips, how long before Heyward gets just an ignored reaction?
The results of the last couple of months have brought up some issues relating to the Cardinal front office, though. Questions that seemed buried are coming back to life.
“Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fort-…“–Admiral Motti
The Cardinals have, for a while now, been very disciplined in how they approach signing players. For the most part, I think that’s amazingly admirable and it’s produced some great results. I don’t fault them for their formulaic outlook on the different markets. It’s helped the squad avoid any real terrible contracts and has given us five straight playoff years. I don’t want them to vary much from that.
However, being slavishly devoted to a plan can be a problem as well. Yes, they “stretched” to go after Heyward and David Price, but how much did they stretch? After losing Price and seeing that Heyward was going to their most dangerous (wow, I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it’s true) rivals, did they stretch even more? Was their creativity the issue or their pocketbook? I’ll admit, trying to counteract two opt-outs, something that had never been given before, is a difficult thing to do. Still, when it’s your top priority, you do everything you can to make that happen. From the outside looking in, it doesn’t feel like that happened. That may be a misconception, but unfortunately it’s one that is going to be prevalent for a while.
“Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”–Obi-Wan Kenobi
This weekend, Mozeliak made public pronouncements that, even though there are other outfield options on the free agent market, the club isn’t seeing a “dynamic” player and therefore won’t be making any dynamic offers. Which led to some predictable angst and accusations of cheapness on the part of ownership. A not unexpected reaction and, indeed, I’ve been more amenable to those arguments than I have been in the past after this.
That said, look, ownership okayed 200 million to Heyward and 185 million or so to Price. That’s not the actions of people that don’t want to spend money. Since Bill DeWitt took over, they’ve tried to be smart with their money, spending on players that they are comfortable with and that they believe can make a difference. They aren’t spending just to spend and I think that makes some sense. Just because you have $20 in your pocket doesn’t mean you can’t come home with it, which is a lesson I never seem to have learned but that’s beside the point.
In poker, after a tough loss or a bad beat, there’s that tendency for a player to go “on tilt”, throwing around money trying to win back what they just lost and basically abandoning their focused strategy. Usually that’s when mistakes happen. So I can understand ownership revamping and not wanting to just chase a player because they are out there.
However, while you can dream on what the Cardinals have right now and hope for some sort of regression from the Cubs, the simple truth is that the Cubs are the clear favorites in the division and, right now, you have to hope St. Louis has enough for that one-game wild card playoff, a situation that none of us ever want to see again. Yes, you can have an outfield of Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty and, best case scenario, that’s not a bad outfield. However, Holliday’s closer to the end of his career than the middle and is coming off injuries that kept him off the field most of the year. Grichuk also dealt with injuries and while he obviously has power, there’s some downsides to his game as well. Piscotty well may have been the second half MVP last year, but he had a .372 BABIP. Chances are, that comes down a bit, plus teams will have the offseason to plan on how to approach him. Will he make the adjustments?
Then, at first base, you have Matt Adams and Brandon Moss. Adams coming off injury and there were questions about him even before then. Perhaps with Moss taking the brunt of the lefties you’ll have them meld into one solid first baseman, but that seems to be expecting quite a bit. Moss did look a bit better at the end of the year and will be farther away from his own surgery, with a regular offseason of training and work, but it’s still hard to rely on him to be this 25 homer guy, even if he splits time in the outfield.
Basically, right now we need everyone to play at their best case scenario level to be able to compete and we saw in 2015 how fast “best case” becomes “tenth-best case”. The Cardinals needed a historic year from their pitching staff, a staff that’s already taken a serious hit with the loss of Lance Lynn. They aren’t going to pitch at that level again next year, especially since they aren’t adding a top-notch pitcher into that mix. You bring in Price, you have Wainwright return, and maybe you could weather the defection of Heyward. Now, with what’s left out there, it seems doubtful. Probably the best pitcher still available on the market is Johnny Cueto, and if you think letting Heyward go was a PR nightmare, replacing him with Cueto might mean structural damage to Busch Stadium given the torches and pitchforks.
There’s still the trade option (though the talent you’d have to give up to get a game changer is probably more than this organization would ever part with) and perhaps Mo can still pull out something that will let folks feel like this offseason has been salvaged, but losing out on two prime free agents–when the Cardinals legitimately could have had one or both of them–means there’s little way this winter feels like a win.
They play the games on the field, though, and the team that wins the offseason doesn’t even get a nice trophy for that (talk to the Padres, Blue Jays, and Nationals of recent years), so you never know what’s going to happen until the first pitch. It could be we’ll look back on this in a similar fashion as Pujols, feeling the bullet has been dodged. We’ll see. (Even when Pujols left, they got Carlos Beltran.) Mo’s gambling on the system being better than the individual parts. It may be the most risky thing he’s done since becoming a general manager.