If you go onto Cardinal Facebook Pages, you’ll notice that there are a few common complaints around the team right now. The team is not good, they didn’t make moves at the deadline, they let the wrong players go, they can’t scout players. While there are some truths there, people are focusing on the wrong part of the issue. (Note: Stats are from Tuesday morning).
The team isn’t good. No, the team isn’t as good as they could be. It’s not totally because they have the wrong players; while the outfield is weak, they’ve also be hit hard by injuries this season. As of today, the Cardinals have had 534 days lost to the IL this season; that includes Covid-19 time for multiple players. As a result, they’ve used a lot of unproven and inexperienced players. Dylan Carlson, Max Schrock, John Nogowski, Ricardo Sanchez, Nabil Crismatt, Ryan Meisinger, Rob Kaminsky, Roel Ramirez, Jesus Cruz, Johan Oviedo, Seth Elledge, and Kodi Whitley have all been added to the 40-man this season, and none outside of Carlson and Whitley were expected to be promoted. Many of the pitchers really had no business on the active roster.
They also had a schedule that no team has seen in 30 years; they are playing 53 games in 44 days. They only had 2 days off in that time. The team is tired, specifically the pitchers. Starters weren’t stretched out to begin with; add in the 16-day layoff for Covid-19 and pitch counts for starters were lower than normal. So the bullpen had to pick up the slack, including those young pitchers mentioned above. The roster and schedule also caused another issue.
The team didn’t make deadline moves. At the deadline, the team didn’t have room to make additions. In fact, they were looking at ways to shed players without losing some of them long-term. Guys like Sanchez, Ramirez, and Cruz are low level prospects, but still young enough that they could be useful in the future. Sanchez ended up on the 60-day IL, but Cruz, Meisinger, Kaminsky, and Ramirez have been designated for assignment at various points this month and could have been (or in the case of Ramirez, could still be) lost. The team also wasn’t going to get much if they moved some of the players on the current roster; value for guys like Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, and Tyler O’Neill are at a low point and those are the guys who are expendable. The infield is carrying the offense, so trading one of those guys was a long-shot.
They let the wrong players go. This is specifically in reference to Luke Voit and Marcell Ozuna; both players are having great seasons. That doesn’t mean they would have been doing the same thing for St. Louis. Voit is hitting a ton of homers for the Yankees, but his home ballpark and the lineup around him has as much to do with that as his skills, if not more. Voit didn’t show much power in the minors until he got to Springfield and Memphis, which are hitters park. He didn’t show the same abilities in St. Louis; he slashed .240/.307/.432 with 5 homers and 106 OPS+ in 125 at bats. At the time, Matt Carpenter was playing first on a regular basis and hit .257/.374/.523 with 36 homers and a 143 OPS+; no one saw Carpenter completely falling off the way he did, but that led to the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt. Voit has the edge this year over Goldie (164 OPS+ for Voit vs 149 for Goldie), but I’d take Goldie over the long term. Voit’s numbers are largely driven by Yankee Stadium. He’s hitting .327/.366/.798 with 15 homers at home while splitting .224/.313/.447 and 6 homers on the road; his tOPS+ is 132 at home and 64 on the road. And let’s not forget that the Cardinals received Giovanny Gallegos when they traded Voit; he’s been one of the best relievers on the team and was considered one of the best in the league last year.
(And let’s not go into what the Cardinals gave up for Goldschmidt. Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly were good last year, but haven’t done a thing this year. Andy Young wasn’t even in the picture for the team.)
Ozuna is a little more complex of an issue. Ozuna carried OPS+ of 108 and 106 for his 2 seasons in St. Louis, just barely above league average; he was also a sub-par defender in left field (remember his wall climbing). Had the team known that the DH would be used this year, they might have been more open to signing him; they didn’t know and they had a large contingent of players that could have filled in for Ozuna. Much like Carpenter in 2018, no one could have seen O’Neill, Thomas, and Carlson failing to seize the position (Bader was a different case, since it was pretty clear already that he was a defensive first player at the Major League level).
The team can’t scout players. This comment is pretty common, but there was an instance with Fernando Tatis Jr.being named. While his father (the famous 2 grand slams in the same inning Fernando Tatis) wanted the Cardinals to sign him, they passed. It wasn’t just them though; only the White Sox, Indians, Blue Jays, and Rays showed interest in Jr. He was ranked the 30th best international prospect in the 2015 class and only received a $700,000 bonus from the White Sox. Tatis ended up with the Padres as one of 2 players (Erik Johnson) traded for James Shields; Johnson was the headliner of the trade and the Padres tried for a few other players before settling on Tatis. With the Padres, Tatis grew 2 inches and broke out in his second season in the minors. This is pretty common for international free agents; a majority of the big name guys never hit their potential (Miguel Sano, Yunesky Maya, Rusney Castillo) and some of the lower end guys exceed expectations (Jose Altuve, Jose Ramirez, Eugenio Suarez).
I do believe the Cardinals have issues identifying MLB talent; most of the talent on their roster has been homegrown, but they haven’t gotten the same results on the free agent market. Dexter Fowler has been good this season, but last year was abysmal. Relievers have been a major issue – Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson, and Andrew Miller have all been subpar (although Miller has been better this year). In fact, the team will normally pick up a reliever or 2 each year because the bullpen has needed reinforcements.
This is far from a perfect team; in fact, I feel lucky that we’re a notch above .500 and in contention for the post-season. This season does give the idea to the team that they need reinforcements in the outfield and maybe some additional pitching depth for next season.