Cards sign top picks, restock farm system and future


There will be a day in St. Louis when Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday begin to age. The core of the Cardinals success this decade will be old and this team will need a new crop of talent to take the torch to continue the winning tradition.

The Cardinals aren’t big on wheeling and dealing or spending sprees like other teams. St. Louis had built a foundation on scouting and drafting players that fit the organization’s style and adding good role players and veterans at smart prices. It’s a formula that works. The Cardinals have dominated the NL Central and won a World Series in the last 10 years.

While the Cards are coming down the wire in another competitive season, the future is hardly the first priority for the fans. But it is important. In baseball, teams wrestle with the decision to go all in when they’re a winner or pull back so the cupboard isn’t bare five years later. Win now or stay competitive for a long time. It’s the ultimate dilemma.

Take the Philadelphia Phillies for example. The Phillies are built similarly to the Cardinals. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins have won a lot of ball games. The Phillies have been to two straight World Series. But around the same time Pujols and Holliday get old, the Phillies big bats will be too. Philadelphia could feel the future weighing on them during the offseason and they traded Cliff Lee to Seattle for some prospects. By June, it was clearly a mistake. The Phillies could have had Lee and Roy Halladay, but the future got in the way. After trading for Roy Oswalt, the front office decided going for everything in the next five years is worth a dip in success in 10. I like that attitude and think winning should trump everything. When a special group comes along, you have to take advantage and try to win as many pennants and rings as possible.

So while the front office works hard to add the missing piece in the big leagues in the present, the best way to protect the future is to draft smart and develop the players so they’re ready to take over. It started in June with the draft. St. Louis has a weak farm system — low in talent and depth — so the draft was even more important to them. The Cards did a good job.

The next step was to sign the players which can be tricky in baseball. With so many rounds and players from high schools, junior colleges, and universities, there are a lot of options for the draft picks; they hold the leverage. Bryce Harper signed with one minute left in the deadline, a popular tactic to get every penny possible.

The Cardinals took the next step this morning at midnight. St. Louis signed every player it took in the first 11 rounds, a big boost for the farm system and the club’s future. The Cards signed Zack Cox and Jordan Swagerty with the deadline closing in to complete a successful class.

Cox was one of the top hitters in college baseball at Arkansas this past year and the Cards were excited to have him fall to them with the 25th pick overall. He is described as a throwback ballplayer who works hard and can flat out hit. The  sweet-swinging lefty hit .429 with nine home runs and 48 RBI while playing third base for the Razorbacks. He signed a Major League contract, which puts him on the 40-man roster. He will report to the Cards Gulf Coast affiliate.

Swagerty joins college teammate Seth Blair in the Cardinals class of 2010. He was the closer for Arizona State in 2010, helping them to another appearance in the College World Series. He had 14 saves for the Sun Devils and struck out 48 in only 37 innings. He was the 75th overall pick. Swagerty will start in Batavia.

Blair and Tyrell Jenkins signed with the team earlier in the summer. Blair was the ace of the Arizona State staff and was named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. His deal was worth around $750,000. Jenkins, another supplemental first rounder, signed for around $1.3 million.

The lone letdown was the failure to sign Austin Wilson. The five-tool prospect who has been compared to Andre Dawson decided to go to Stanford to play ball instead. Considered by many as a first-round talent, he fell to the 12th round because of expectations that he would go to college. The Cards took a chance and tried to convince him to sign with a visit to Busch Stadium.

Cards fans will have to keep an eye on the youngster at Stanford and hope that St. Louis can find a way to get him in the future.

For now, though, the future is looking up in St. Louis and the days after Albert’s rule aren’t so scary.