Whether your favorite MLB team finishes with the league’s worst record or just won the World Series, fans want to see offseason moves made that will help them improve for the future.
When that doesn’t happen, they tend to get agitated.
However, when a team like the St. Louis Cardinals seriously pursues major free agents, puts competitive offers on the table and still comes up short, it’s more frustrating than anything else for everyone involved.
With Jason Heyward and John Lackey hitting free agency, along with Lance Lynn undergoing Tommy John surgery, general manager John Mozeliak knew the organization had to seriously pursue some major investments. From what we know, Heyward and David Price were their top two targets, and why wouldn’t they feel confident in landing them?
But here we are, just about a week before Christmas and St. Louis couldn’t close the deal on either one. First, the Boston Red Sox outbid them by about $30 million for Price. Then, they went over the $200 million plateau for Heyward, but were still spurned once he went to the Chicago Cubs for $184 million.
So…what are they supposed to do now?
Not only did these two situations end with the worst result possible, St. Louis also watched Lackey join the Cubs before Heyward even made his decision. Watching great players leave for another team always hurts, but it’s even worse when they land on a hated divisional rival:
According to @fangraphs, Heyward (6.0) & Lackey (3.6) were #1 and #3 in WAR for the #STLCards in '15. They play for the #Cubs now. #HotStove
— Matt Musico (@mmusico8) December 11, 2015
After swinging and missing twice, it’s time for the Cardinals to regroup and figure out how they’re going to fill the holes in their lineup. However it’s done, Mozeliak told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Dispatch what we can expect next from his front office:
“It’s clear now this offseason is not going to have that dynamic signing that we tried to do with Price and Heyward. There isn’t anything now that we’re chasing with a nine-figure contract. We can take the time to see what we have in the players we control. Obviously, we’re always open to adjusting.”
For those keeping score, this means they’re not going to panic and spend $200 million on Chris Davis. That’s not their style – it never has been and it never will be. Since they’ve made the postseason 12 times in the last 16 seasons (including five straight), one can assume they know what they’re doing.
This offseason has likely been frustrating beyond belief for the Cardinals front office, especially given how both the scenarios with Price and Heyward played out. Pitchers and catchers don’t report to Spring Training tomorrow, though – it’s only the middle of December.
Most general managers would like to have some clarity to roster questions following the Winter Meetings, but it doesn’t always work that way. Not having these huge contractual commitments on the payroll could end up being a blessing, enabling the organization to have more flexibility than many others moving forward.
It’s not as if there are no options left to pursue. If they want to explore trades, the Colorado Rockies apparently don’t like any of their outfielders anymore, and would probably take some young pitching in return. St. Louis has a deep enough farm system where they can do that, if they so desire.
If they’d rather make a “non-dynamic” move in free agency, there are options like Alex Gordon, Gerardo Parra and Will Venable, among others.
As for rotation help, we all know how deep the pitching market is this winter. So, if there’s anything the Cardinals and their fans can hold onto after those two failed negotiations, it’s that there’s still opportunities available to improve the roster – even if it’s not a big splash.
Not making a big splash doesn’t make them a “winner” this offseason, though, like the Cubs.
Chicago has made a number of moves this winter to improve the club, but there are three that really stand out: signing Ben Zobrist to man second base (and presumably, many others for Joe Maddon) and signing both Lackey and Heyward away from St. Louis.
Even though the Arizona Diamondbacks have overhauled their starting rotation – at a very steep price – most would say the Cubs have had the best offseason thus far, myself included. Bringing Lackey in as the no. 3 starter behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester was a great move that deserves more attention. Adding Zobrist will bring veteran leadership and World Series experience to a very young team and Heyward provides a huge upgrade to Dexter Fowler.
This is a movie we’ve seen before, though. Making huge moves and grabbing a bunch of headlines in the winter doesn’t guarantee anything for the upcoming year. Just ask the Washington Nationals after they signed Max Scherzer and everyone proclaimed them World Series favorites.
Or ask San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller after he went on a shopping spree last winter. Or ask the Miami Marlins when they tried signing every mega-star free agent in advance of their new ballpark opening. You get the picture.
This is not to say the Cubs are going to under-perform next year. They’re fresh off an NLCS appearance, a 97-win campaign and have one of the league’s best managers in Maddon. If anyone knows how to keep this young group of players loose while dealing with great expectations, it’s him.
The point here is we can look at all the moves being made, analyze them 15 different ways and declare which teams are World Series favorites, but none of it really matters. Does it matter how teams position themselves in the winter before regular-season games start?
Of course it does, but there probably isn’t a direct correlation between being the offseason winner in February and the actual winner in October. I haven’t done the legwork behind that analysis, but recent history is enough for me.
It’s natural for fans to watch a rival team make huge offseason splashes and want their favorite squad to immediately respond, especially when sluggers like Davis, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are still available. There’s no need to do that, though. Only bad things can come from those kind of knee-jerk reactions.
Not many teams in baseball know how to get every ounce of production from their players like the Cardinals do. Despite being in what should be considered the league’s toughest division (if it’s not already), we’ve learned to never count these guys out.
Remember when Albert Pujols decided to leave St. Louis for the Los Angeles Angels after winning the 2011 World Series? The Cardinals responded to that crushing news by signing Carlos Beltran to a manageable two-year deal and clinched a Wild Card berth with an 88-74 record the following year. Then, they’ve followed that with three consecutive 90-win campaigns.
What’s the lesson here? Watching huge free agents leave your favorite team is never fun, but it’s definitely not the end of the world, no matter what the analysts say. Especially in the middle of December.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter so we can get through a winter without baseball together: @mmusico8.