It’s been quiet of late, but there’s no doubt that 2015 had its share of newsworthy moments. Every season has its plotlines, its notable occurrences, but this year will be memorable for a number of different reasons. There were enough of these that started with the same letter (if I stretched) that I figured I’d make it a theme. When you think back on 2015, you’ll think of….
1) Heyward. While the trade for Jason Heyward was made in the 2014 portion of the offseason, no one person dominated our thinking this year more than the outfielder. From his introduction at Winter Warm Up in January to his slow start in April, Heyward started out with the headlines and never really relinquished them. His free agency was a thread that ran throughout the whole season, with folks continuing to try to read the tea leaves to see whether he was staying or going. While everyone was doing that, Heyward started hitting and wound up as the most potent overall force in the lineup. We’ll not soon forget his outfield play (even if Yadier Molina is still paying for that throw in Chicago) and most anyone that was hating on him when he hit around .200 in April was fully on his side when the season ended.
Which made his decision to leave St. Louis for Chicago even more painful. It’s one thing to leave for more money or a different out of division spot, but the Cubs? A lot was made of Heyward’s comments about Chicago being “younger” but whatever the reason, whether youth or money or a chance at history, Heyward’s turn made a lot of people feel like shouting like this guy:
(If you aren’t expecting Force Awakens references here, I don’t know what to tell you.)
Heyward will spend at least the next three years coming into Busch Stadium three times a year as an opposing player. That’s not a wonderful thing to look forward to, but it definitely will always remind us of this year.
2) Hundred. 100 wins isn’t easy to come by, especially when the offense is less than impressive. The Cardinal pitching staff was historic (which continues our theme), allowing 70 fewer runs than the next best team in the NL Central. The team was hurting (another theme word) all season long, with Adam Wainwright going down at the end of April setting a tone that saw just about every major piece miss some time during the season. (The injuries didn’t stop after the season either, with Lance Lynn already out for the entire 2016 campaign.) To have a team that was flawed like this one was, most notably with injuries, turn in the best record in baseball and become the first 100 win team since 2011 in Philadelphia was a remarkable achievement and one that we’ll probably remember for a while. If nothing else, it’ll be used as a “last time the Cards won 100” marker.
3) Hacking. In what was possibly the most stunning thing related to the Cardinals in quite some time, in mid-summer it was announced that the FBI was looking into the organization in relation to the release of private information from the Houston Astros. Nobody ever expected this organization to be at all involved and we looked at it from both humorous and serious angles at the time, not expecting it to be anything more than low-level shenanigans. Instead, eventually the scouting director, Chris Correa, was let go in relation to this right after the June draft. Correa was lower in the organization at the time of the hacking, but it still was not a good look for such a high level guy to be caught up in this.
Of course, this also led to a lot more slams and shots at the Cardinals, a club that somehow has surpassed the Yankees on the “teams the general public loves to hate” list. It was a black eye for St. Louis, there’s no denying that, but it does not seem to have been a systemic issue nor a cultural one, but more of one person’s overstepping of what should be done. The investigation is still ongoing, which means we may here some of that in 2016 as well, but likely the bulk of the scandal will remain in ’15.
4) Humbled. Beyond the hacking, the myth of the Cardinals, the ones that always were able to be a postseason winner, who always seemed to find a way to the NLCS, was punctured like planets in the Hosnian system. For the first time since 2009 and only the third time in their history, the Cardinals were unable to get past the NLDS when they made it to the playoffs. What was even worse, of course, is that it came at the hands of their long-time rivals in their first October meeting. While the series was over in four games, it was a closer one than that and it could have easily turned St. Louis’s way if Jaime Garcia hadn’t been pitching sick or any other of small things broke in their favor. That said, the Cubs slugged their way into the NLCS and the Cardinals weren’t able to deal with that. If they are to make sure to be a roadblock in the way of Chicago finally having postseason glory, they’ll have to be able to shut down those young power bats.
5) Hunting. The Cardinals may not have been successful this offseason (and you can argue whether that was their fault or not) but there’s no doubt that they were more aggressive in certain pursuits than we’ve seen them be in the past. They offered almost $200 million to a pitcher (David Price) and over $200 million to Heyward. They were stymied in every way, though, as Price wound up taking a late larger offer from Boston and Heyward, as mentioned, took less overall money to go to Chicago. Still, their willingness to go beyond their comfort level for players that they saw as being additions to the core of the team going forward was nice to see, even if it was fruitless.
That aggressiveness was limited to just those two players, though. While the Cardinals did sign Mike Leake to a five year deal, that was more insurance and security than an exciting addition. Leake may be core by default, given he’s got a no-trade clause, but nobody expects him to be in the same breath as Chris Carpenter or Wainwright at the end of the deal. (If he can be in the Kyle Lohse conversation, we’ll call it a win.) The club has also stated they are fine with their offense, though with numerous outfielders still on the market that seems a bit questionable and something that may change if prices continue to drop.
There was a lot that happened in the past year, but there are plenty of things to wonder about for 2016. Will the team be healthier? Will John Mozeliak have a better trade deadline? Can this team hold off Pittsburgh and Chicago or will this be a year that is wild-card or, horror of horrors, a playoff-less October? Can the young guys step up and can the veterans hold off Father Time a bit longer? Will Molina be OK after his surgeries? So much to look forward to. The WWU is just three weeks away and spring training kicks off in about six. Here’s to a great new year!