Cards cleaning up the farm


The Cardinals released 14 minor leaguers this week according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The shakeup comes after the organization appeared to recommit to developing a strong farm system that had fallen off in the last decade. That weakness could be seen in a disappointing season from the big league club.

The Cardinals had the big guns performing in all the right places, but the team still fell flat because the role players couldn’t get the job done. Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker weren’t difference makers. Tyler Greene, Joe Mather, and Allen Craig kept one foot in the minors and one in St. Louis due to inconsistent play. Anyone not named Pujols or Holliday couldn’t get a big hit. And that’s a reflection of the minor leagues and player development. It’s no coincidence that the Cards have been on the outside looking in during three of the last four Octobers. Free agent plugs can only do so much.

A winner is built on a strong foundation in the minors. Look at the Philadelphia Phillies in recent year. Their stars are home-grown and their All-Star pitching staff was put together in trades made possible by having top prospects to play with. Look at the Cincinnati Reds. The core of their team — Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Mike Leake, Travis Wood, and Johnny Cueto — was formed through the draft. Throw in Brandon Phillips whose career took off in Cincinnati and the veteran presence of Bronson Arroyo, Scott Rolen, and Orlando Cabrera in smart pick-ups, and you see the recipe for success. The Minnesota Twins — despite being snakebitten by the Yankees when October comes — have been successful for the better part of the last 20 years based on fundamentals and the minor league system.

The point: St. Louis needs to revamp the farm system to compete again soon.

The Cards began that process this summer with a strong draft. St. Louis landed one of the best hitter’s in the college game in Zack Cox and some live young arms in Seth Blair, Tyrell Jenkins, and Jordan Swagerty. Add youngster Shelby Miller and some intriguing seasoned prospects waiting for their first shot at the majors and the Cards have  a nice foundation for success in the near future.

They could be the complementary players needed in St. Louis to make some noise in the last half of Albert Pujols’ and Matt Holliday’s careers. Continuing the overhaul down on the farm, the Cardinals let go a handful of prospects that were never going to make a difference in St. Louis. It’s a tough day for them, but this is a business and the Cards need to improve their product’s quality fast even if it comes at the expense of some great guys and underdog stories.

Goold outlines the story of one player who was let go. Trey Hearne was one of those underdogs that the club was pulling for. But sometimes, no matter how much fight the underdog has, talent keeps him from fighting on. Hearne was a 28th-round-pick in the 2005 draft. He wasn’t a typical prospect with a big fastball and potential off the charts, but he was smart and had great control. He kept the ball down and rolled groundballs and the Cards liked these qualities. He had two 12-win seasons with an ERA under 3.00 including one last year in Double A, but with his lack of the gift of a big fastball, he was stuck at Double A. After going 4-4 with a 4.43 ERA in 12 appearances — seven of which were starts — the underdog story was on its last legs.

It’s over in the Cardinals organization for him, but maybe he’ll find another home to take one last shot at the dream.

For St. Louis, it’s about the ultimate dream — the World Series — and in order to make that dream a reality again, crushing others hopes is just part of life. In major league baseball, winning is everything.

And everything starts with the farm system.