Every year around this time the United Cardinal Bloggers have typically taken on the project of looking back at the last calendar year and noting the biggest stories that happened over those 12 months. I don’t know that any other bloggers are going to do it this year but, given I don’t have much else to write about, I figured I’d take a whack at it. Counting them down…..
#5: The Memphis Magic
Not only did the AAA club win 91 games (a mark the big league club couldn’t approach even with 20 more opportunities) and took the Pacific Coast League championship, but they also provided much of the good that St. Louis had this season as well. Whether it was true minor leaguers like Paul DeJong, John Brebbia, or Harrison Bader making their major league debuts after time on Beale Street or folks like Tommy Pham and Luke Weaver returning to the bigs after starting the season there, even the middling success the major league club had would have been unattainable without the latest version of the Memphis Mafia.
#4: Another cold October
For the second straight year, the Cardinals wound up watching all of the playoffs from their various living rooms. In some regards, just the fact that they still were technically alive going into the last week of the season was an accomplishment given they spent a majority of the year under the .500 mark. Still, for an organization which made Red October almost commonplace, missing out on any sort of playoffs, even the Wild Card Game, two years running made a lot of Cardinal fans irate, especially when there didn’t seem to be the urgency from the organization to try to correct the issues during the season.
#3: Old faces in new places
On June 9, the Friday before UCB Weekend (which gave us plenty to ask John Mozeliak about), the Cardinals made more significant changes in one day than they had in a long time. Out went Jhonny Peralta. Out went Chris Maloney (reassigned within the organization but, given that he’s now with Atlanta, that seems to have been an euphemism). Mike Shildt moved from quality control coach (which we still really don’t know what that was) to third base coach. Bill Mueller temporarily was replaced at assistant hitting coach, though that really was due to a family emergency and he was back after a week or so. Pop Warner came up. A lot of deck chairs were shuffled and while it seemed to make an impact initially, that might have been because the Cardinals were playing the Phillies.
Less than a month later, after Mozeliak had said in that press conference that even his job was on the line, he was out as GM….and bumped up to President of Baseball Operations, with Michael Girsch taking on the GM role. It’s difficult to say what sort of change this has enacted in the front office. The intent was to let Mozeliak look at more big-picture items, places where the Cardinals could exploit inefficiencies and the like, and let Girsch handle the day-to-day. So far, it’s still a lot of Mo being the public face so that may still be in development.
Finally, at the end of the year, there was another coaching shakeup. With David Bell leaving for San Francisco, a new bench coach was going to be needed. The Cards shifted Shildt again to that role while bringing back fan and player favorite Jose Oquendo to return to third base. Derek Lilliquist, who had been on the staff since the Tony La Russa days, was let go as was bullpen coach Blaine Ilsley, with noted pitching coach Mike Maddux being hired to take over for Lilliquist and Bryan Eversgerd promoted from Memphis to take Ilsley’s spot. Not to be overlooked, the Cards also hired Willie McGee to be an outfielders and baserunning coach. The number of potential managers on the staff seems to portend a warming seat for manager Mike Matheny, but that may be a story for 2018.
While it seemed very little went the Cardinals way in 2017, there’s no doubt that Tommy Pham made his presence known. With his contact prescription off during spring training, he actually lost out on the final roster spot to Jose Martinez. He took a couple of days before reporting to Memphis to get things corrected and came out swinging with authority. In 25 games in Memphis, he slashed .283/.371/.500, numbers that amazingly got better once he was promoted and the Cards realized the Matt Adams in the outfield idea wasn’t completely thought out.
Pham hit .306/.411/.520 with 23 homers and became the first Cardinal since Reggie Sanders in 2004 to hit more than 20 homers and to steal at least 20 bases. He brought stellar defense, enough that he’ll bump Dexter Fowler out of center when next year rolls around, and an honesty to media (both traditional and social) that was either refreshing or off-putting, depending on your point of view. There was little going on that Pham wasn’t involved in and it got him down-ballot MVP votes as a result.
#1: The big trade
For what seems like forever, the feeling has been the Cardinals had 1) plenty of money and 2) almost too many prospects. A trade for something, most likely a notable slugger, seemed almost inevitable. However, nothing of the sort happened last offseason. The trade deadline was quiet and even though there were expectations of “a busy August”, all that entailed was ridding the club of Mike Leake, paying Seattle to take him off their hands. The 2017-2018 offseason, though, was going to be different. The Cardinals were in on everything. The dam was going to burst.
Still, nothing happened. While much of the early winter was tied up in a pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton, a pursuit that eventually ended not because St. Louis didn’t offer a good deal but because Stanton wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause, it still felt like there were multiple avenues that could be pursued. A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing was what many fans were coming to believe.
Finally, as the winter meetings wrapped up, the Cardinals pulled the trigger on the most prospect-heavy deal they’ve made in a long time, sending Sandy Alcantara and Magneuris Sierra, both of whom had major league debuts (but limited action) in 2017, along with two other prospects for outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna, considered by many to be third on the “desirable Marlins outfielders that could be traded” list, boasted 37 homers and a .312 average. The Big Bear brings immediate thump to a lineup that had its power fairly decentralized and lacking in that one big power threat. Whether Ozuna, who turned 27 after the season, is becoming that player or had a career year remains to be seen but the #4 spot would seem to be locked up for at least the next two season.
There were other things, of course. The aforementioned Leake deal plus the trade that sent Stephen Piscotty to be in Oakland closer to his ailing mother. The complete dropoff by Aledmys Diaz which saw him go from a starter to Memphis to, after the season, Toronto. The drop in popularity for Matt Carpenter, who now is seemingly reviled by a section of the fan base. The non-tendering of Trevor Rosenthal after he had Tommy John surgery. The collapse of Seung-hwan Oh. There are many, many more. If there is one that you think should have made the list, let me know in the comments!