No Tanking Needed, But Changes Must Happen

This article was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but as we continue our merger, I am glad to provide this content to the Conclave and the new Bird Law blog.

The rising frustration level with the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals — which carried over from the 2017 team, which carried over from the 2016 team — has reached a point where die-hard and smart fans are now entertaining the idea of a complete rebuild. Tear it down. Start from scratch. Tank, if you will.

Now, to be fair, not all fans talking rebuild want to see a Cubs/Astros level tank. There is a stark difference between tanking for 5 years to get high draft picks and selling with aims to turn it around within 2 years. Regardless of which method you are interested in, I still don’t think this organization needs to be that dramatic. That said, big changes still need to happen.

Why Not Rebuild?

For me this comes down to pitching. This organization has it. Carlos Martinez is a legitimate #1 and Jack Flaherty is trending that way as well. Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas are under control through 2019. Luke Weaver, even with his struggles, can be a solid #5 with upside for more.

And there is more on the way, still.

Even with another season ending injury to Alex Reyes, an extended absence from Adam Wainwright, and time missed by Martinez and Wacha; they have still not exhausted all of their depth, with Dakota Hudson, Daniel Poncedeleon, and even Austin Gomber yet to be forced into the starting rotation. If there is one thing this organization does well, it’s develop and find pitching. I don’t see that changing.

A full rebuild would involve selling off a lot of that pitching, and waiting for the next wave to come. I just don’t think that trading young pitching for young hitting is the route to go.

The First Change to Make…

I’d like to see what this organizational talent can do with a change in leadership, which is another reason I don’t want to see a complete roster teardown right away. At least wait until there is a new manager in place for awhile. It’s blatantly obvious that the fundamentals and style of play has gradually gotten sloppier and sloppier under Mike Matheny. It’s getting worse, not better.

Part of that is on the front office. They have made some personnel decisions that sided with a specific need and ignored overall fundamentals. Jose Martinez, as much as I love him, is the prime example of this.

However, there is talent on this roster that is badly underperforming. Why?

And don’t tell me it’s because baseball is hard. Other teams seem to be doing just fine.

Why is it that the front office continues to churn the roster and try different players, and consistently builds a roster with good (50%) pre-season playoff odds, only to see the same disappointing play every year? Could there be a common denominator?

Matheny is stale. He is also just not very good at the 7-10pm part of his job. I don’t know that he’s lost the respect of his players, but I also don’t think he is viewed as the authority figure that he should be. It’s time for the message to change. Now, that being said, there still is no public indication from ownership that their faith in Mike has waivered. I cling to some hope because John Mozeliak stated in a recent interview that “something has to change.” That was while the team was in Milwaukee and they managed to reel off a 4-game win streak at that time. Since then, back to the same old show. I have to believe that Mo’s patience is wearing very thin. Maybe, just maybe, a change is nigh.

The Lineup Needs a Change

Mo has been patiently waiting for the return of some injured players. The thing is, in recent weeks, the bullpen has improved, so good returns from Luke Gregerson, Dominic Leone, or Matt Bowman would just further fortify something that has not been the team’s biggest issue, at least lately.

The problem is on offense. As much of a difference maker that Paul DeJong can be, I don’t think he can raise this sinking ship. It needs a reset.

This is the part of the team that I would be in favor of a moderate sell-off. Jedd Gyorko is under contract for 2019 for $13M ($5M of which will be paid by San Diego). That alone makes him an attractive trade piece. He also has a $13M team option for 2020. This is the year to move him and get assets in return.

There has been some groundswell for trading Jose Martinez. As much as it would hurt to lose his bat, if he can bring a good return as a DH going to an AL club, this is probably the peak of his value.

It’s time to make the Mike Leake move with Dexter Fowler. You may remember that Leake was also traded (despite a no-trade clause and on waivers, no less) in Year-2 of a 5-year, $80M-ish contract. It can be done. They will have to eat some money and get next to nothing in return, but opening up the roster spot and some payroll space may be value enough at this point. In recent interviews, Mozeliak has challenged Fowler’s effort and energy, which is as close to a direct call-out that I have ever heard from Mo. Something has to give here.

He’s not a hitter, but I do want to mention that Greg Holland’s turnaround could make him a very valuable trade piece a month from now. I would love for him to be Good Holland for a contending Cardinals team down the stretch and into the playoffs, but if things continue to not look so good, cash in.

Let the Children Lead the Way

There are young outfielders in Memphis that deserve a look, Tyler O’Neill will get a brief chance in Arizona, but others, like the exciting Oscar Mercado, could bring speed and defense (things we rarely see in St. Louis these days) to the team.

Again, I can’t advocate a full rebuild, but I can get on board with starting an offensive retool this season. Sell some vets this season for players that can help in 2019 and beyond, clean up redundancies on the roster, while opening up opportunities to see what you have in-house offensively with O’Neill, Mercado, and even Memphis stalwart, Patrick Wisdom. Don’t let contracted veterans take all the at-bats and end up not knowing anything more about your young hitters in November than you do right now. Mama, let ’em play.

Worst case scenario, it looks a lot like what we’ve already watched this season. Best case, they make like the 2017 Twins and improve-by-change and make a run after selling.

Then in the winter, you can address the deficiencies that you have identified. But be smart about it.

Don’t declare a rebuild. Definitely don’t tank. Retool. Refresh. Reset. Keep the pitching intact, find out what you have in the offensive coffers over the next three months, and go from there.

And get a manager that won’t handicap the talent.

Thanks for reading!

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