The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have a clear path forward with the trade deadline just over a month away.
Do you remember the last time the St. Louis Cardinals won a series against a team that wasn’t the Philadelphia Phillies? It was May 12-14, against the Chicago Cubs. That series victory concluded a stretch of baseball that catapulted the Cardinals to first place in the National League Central Division.
Since then, the Cardinals have gone 13-25 and find themselves closer to last place in the Central than second place. Despite spending most of June under .500, they’re still within striking distance in the division. This creates some uncertainty for the front office with trade winds beginning to blow.
In most other years, this Cardinals team would already be buried in the postseason chase. If the Cardinals were six under .500 at this time last year, they’d be twenty-some games out of first place, behind the Chicago Cubs. However, since the Central is so weak this season, a look at the standings suggests the Cardinals have a better shot than they probably actually do.
The Cubs and first-place Milwaukee Brewers are real contenders for the division. They’ll be looking to improve their respective rosters over the next month. The Cardinals have needs of their own. Their offense is in need of an impact bat that changes the look of the lineup. The starting rotation needs a stabilizer. The bullpen has been in disarray for much of the season.
However, with a team that is often fundamentally flawed, how much will a bat or an arm really improve the season’s outlook? If the Cardinals somehow manage to end up in first place in the division, how much of a shot would they have to compete in the postseason?
This team knows what it’s like to make it to the postseason with a dominant regular-season performance only to fall short in October. Just ask the 2013, 2014, and 2015 division champion teams.
At the onset of each season, in any sport, teams often like to make a “checklist” of goals for the year. Teams complete those goals in a certain order. For teams that expect to contend annually for a championship, it would look something like this:
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- Make the postseason
- Win the division
- Win in the postseason
- Make the championship
- Win the championship
The St. Louis Cardinals are a team, in recent years, that no doubt has had its eyes on the ultimate prize since day one.
Sure, manager Mike Matheny preaches the “day-by-day” mentality, which is the correct way to run the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season, but the ultimate goal remains.
For the 2017 Cardinals, it would be a tall task to transform a team that was seven games below .500 to a club that could compete for a World Series all in the span of a few short months.
GM John Mozeliak may choose to deplete a solid farm system to land an impact bat or an impact arm. Such a move doesn’t have to necessarily be short-sighted, either. A trade for a player with lengthy team control would be like grooming a prospect in the minor leagues now.
At the same time, Mo could choose to sell off some big-league pieces that don’t fit into the team’s plans for 2018 and beyond.
All to say, expect the Cardinals to add major-league talent to the roster because of their standing in the division. Adding additional pieces could fit into the team’s future plans as well. However, don’t be surprised if the Cards also sell some players on their current roster to more competitive clubs.
It’s a scenario Cardinals fans aren’t comfortable with, and haven’t been used to, because of the recent sustained streak of winning baseball. Regardless of the path forward for this year’s club, the trade deadline will be a time for management to keep an eye on the future while at the same time maximizing this year’s result.