A Calmer Look at the Cardinals’ Trade Deadline

Yesterday, as three o’clock ticked past and the Cardinals’ roster look exactly as it did the last few days, a lot of frustration welled up inside many of us, including myself.  While I don’t recant anything I wrote in the heat of the moment, I do want to revisit the issue after a few hours of reflection and a decent night’s sleep.

  • I can understand not moving Lance Lynn if, in fact, there were no significant offers for him.  Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish did finally go off the board, but it was late.  There wasn’t any time to try to position Lynn as the best alternative, even if that would have been effective.  It feels wrong that no one in contention valued Lynn’s workhorse mindset and results to make an offer, but perhaps the Tommy John surgery played a role.  Or maybe we overvalue Lynn, which is always possible.  (By we I mean the fans, though it’s also possible it applies to the front office.)
  • I do wonder if Houston was in on Lynn at the last, though.  They wound up making a move for Francisco Liriano, but both John Mozeliak and Jeff Luhnow used the “couldn’t get over the finish line” analogy when they were talking about moves that they couldn’t quite get made.  Maybe it’s just some of the Cardinal way of speaking still lingers with Luhnow.  I just thought it was interesting to hear.
  • By the same token, the arguments against not making a cosmetic move and adding some middling bullpen arm have some merit as well.  There’s not much help it would be this year and you don’t want to just make a move to make a move.  Still, let’s not fool ourselves that making a move here would have had some far reaching impact on the organization.  The Diamondbacks got David Hernandez, a pitcher with a checkered career but having a solid season, for a Single-A pitching prospect and not one whose numbers jump out at you.  That’s the kind of deal the Cardinals could have made without ever noticing what they gave up.

Not making a move is more defensible than it felt like yesterday as the clock ticked down.  That said, there are still issues with it.  I was listening to some of the latest UCB Podcast and Kevin (I believe) said it pretty well.  He noted that the Cardinals have cashed in a lot of the chips they have with the fanbase.  Which is where a lot of the frustration comes into play, in my opinion.

How long have the Cardinals been talking about making a big move?  How long have they been talking about transforming the team?  Yet opportunity after opportunity goes by and nothing really changes.  Last year at the trade deadline, it was just Zack Duke.  A valuable piece, to be sure, but not one that revamps the squad.  Last winter, it was Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil.  Granted, we’ve not seen the best out of either of them and if they’d played up to reasonable expectations maybe we’d be at least a bit happier with 2017, but they are at best complementary pieces.  The argument that Fowler was a key cog in the Cubs’ World Series run seemed to make sense in the first half, but as the Cubs collect themselves they are proving they can win without him.  I guess the closest you could get to such a transformational deal was the Jason Heyward deal.  If Heyward had been the player that everyone thought and had stayed, he could have been the guy to build around.  It’s becoming more obvious that Heyward isn’t that guy, that he works best as a team player, but you can say that John Mozeliak was going for a team-changing move there, even if it was born out of the need to fill the gap left by Oscar Taveras.

Each of these, taken by themselves, are logical and you can see what the club is going for.  When you start to look at them together, the big picture is not nearly as pretty.  The talk of the front office–“I think we’re going to be active”–doesn’t match up with what the results are.  Pretty soon folks stop believing the talk.  Now, there are always folks that are going to ascribe base motivations to anything the front office does or doesn’t do, that it’s a conspiracy to enhance Bill DeWitt’s pocketbook, that they don’t care about the fan base.  Those are always going to be with you, no matter what you do.  It’s when you start losing the more reasonable fans that you have issues.  And when the talk–and the product on the field–are lacking in results, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

It’s also hard to swallow a roster that is still not affected by the outside when close to two months ago supposedly every job was on the line and people better watch out.  As Kevin pointed out in the podcast, Mozeliak said that and included himself even as he must have been aware that his promotion was coming.  It’s things like that that give such a lifeline to those that want to criticize and are frustrating to those that would like to give the benefit of the doubt to those in power.  Mo was right in that he wouldn’t have his job much longer, but the implication wasn’t that he’d get a better one.

And how has this “on notice” team performed?  Well, since that time they are a few games (I believe four) over .500, which is better than their overall season but not exactly what folks were looking for.  They are still 4.5 games out, but now chasing a more robust Cubs team than a Brewers team nobody really fully believed in.  You could believably argue that this team could make a run at Milwaukee.  You can’t–and especially now–make that case and expect folks to believe you now.  (I will note that Twitter user Mo’s Algorithm is saying he predicts them to win the second wild card and win that game and more power to him.  I hope he’s right, but I can’t actually believe he is.)

The roster has shuffled over the last couple of months, but it’s been more of a trip to Memphis, then a trip back.  Eric Fryer, I believe, is the only person that’s been actually let go since Jhonny Peralta was in that press conference in June.  It’s been nice to see some of these Memphis guys, but it’s not exactly the spark and the edge that apparently Mozeliak and Michael Girsch were expecting.  And, since there were no trades, even that’s going to be dulled.  Harrison Bader has already been sent back to Memphis in anticipation of Stephen Piscotty‘s return from the disabled list and Dexter Fowler will be back soon as well, forcing another move.  Then, most nights, you’ll have pretty much the same lineup you had in June out there.  Paul DeJong might be the exception and obviously Tommy Pham is more integral than he was, but it is difficult to really see where the finger wagging at this team from the front office has paid off.

It was almost laughable that Mo comes out yesterday, when this expectation of being active at the deadline was still ringing around Twitter in a derogatory way, and says that you could see some deals in August.  August deals do happen, for sure, but they are much tougher and hardly ever generate a name worth noting.  They are the kind of names that makes sense when a contender has a small flaw they want to fix during their run.  They aren’t a team changer.  Put it this way: the kind of small deal that they didn’t want to make yesterday are the only real kind of deals that happen in August.  They would have been understandable yesterday.  There’s no point in making them today.

Other than that, they are going to “evaluate for 2018”.  Which makes sense, of course, because that’s what the focus has to be on.  That said, they’ve already been evaluating for two months.  I don’t know what the next two months tell them unless they bring up more prospects to see what they have, but I don’t know how they get them into the lineup or the bullpen, at least not until rosters expand and evaluating in September has to be more difficult than evaluating in August.  I’m not disagreeing or downgrading what they are saying, I’m just not sure how much it means.

Which leads us to the last point.  Everyone–I’m pretty sure this literally means every Cardinal fan–realizes that the 2018 roster can’t look like the 2017 roster, at least not significantly.  Things have to get done this winter.  Bernie Miklasz talked about it in his deadline column yesterday.  Everyone knows that things have to be different, but the trust that the front office is actually going to do something is lacking.  What’s the saying, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?  With a bunch of talk over the last few years and relatively little action, it’s tough to really get excited about that.  The reservoir of good will needs to be replenished and the only way to do that is to make good on some of this talk this winter.  A bunch of “we tried, but the market wasn’t there” or “we got uncomfortable but ultimately couldn’t get it done” isn’t going to cut it.

Thankfully, the Cardinals get back on the field this evening in Milwaukee and we can talk about actual baseball and start our own evaluation of the next two months.  I mean, it’ll likely be frustrating as well, but at least it’s a different frustrating, you know?

Also, if you’ve made it this far, go vote in yesterday’s Greatest Cardinal Moment matchups.  It’s Chris Carpenter versus Ozzie Smith here and the Running Redbirds versus Jim Edmonds here.  Honestly, diving into the history may be the best way to stay sane for the rest of the season!

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