St. Louis Cardinals: The NL Central Race is irrelevant

llevin
Oct 8, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill Dewitt Jr. talks with a member of the media during NLDS workout day prior to game one of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill Dewitt Jr. talks with a member of the media during NLDS workout day prior to game one of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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A certain column this morning, in a certain newspaper, in a certain Midwestern baseball-crazed city, suggested perhaps the prospect of winning the lousy NL Central will keep the St. Louis Cardinals from being sellers at the trade deadline. I sure hope not.

To base personnel decisions on the outcome of this mediocre division would be a mistake of major proportions. Why? In weighing the St. Louis Cardinals chances for postseason success this year versus the prospect of a long stretch of competitive seasons, the balance must at this point favor the latter.

Right now, the only remotely realistic chance for this team to play in October, as pointed out in Jesus Ortiz’s column this morning, is to capture the NL Central title.  Both chasers in the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks (who the Cards should have just swept, but due to a bullpen collapse, had to settle for two out of three) and Colorado Rockies, have huge leads on the Central teams.

How huge? Well, let me put it this way: If the Rockies, currently in the second wild-card spot, went .500 the rest of the way, the Cards would need to finish out with a 51-33 run. They’d have to hope none of the other WC contenders do better.

Does this look like a team that can pull that off? Do you wear those rose-colored glasses ALL the time?

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This just leaves the NL Central; the place where four of five teams are engaging in a mud-wrestling jamboree to see who can play in the least mediocre manner.

The Brewers lead the Cubs, Cards, and Pirates; all three teams are within four games of the lead.

So it would seem, with a half season left, there’s a reasonable expectation any one of these clubs has a decent chance of claiming the title.

However, there’s a big catch. The 2017 season is not located in a vacuum. The chances of success this year must be balanced against the long-term prospects for the Cardinals, which, likely, are far better than this season appears to offer.

What does that mean in real-life? Well, simply put, the small chance the Cards have to beat out their divisional rivals just isn’t worth foregoing serious efforts to improve this team for the longer run. They know the Cubs have resources for a big deal.  The Brewers may also consider this an infrequent opportunity to roll the dice on a win.

That doesn’t mean GM John Mozeliak should go forth willy-nilly and divest the team of its current assets. What it does mean, however, is that Mo’s time leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline should be devoted to two priorities.

The first of those priorities is to better understand which of the team’s assets, both at the major and minor league levels, are essential to the Cardinals multi-year success. Whether that’s as narrow a swath as the exceptional Carlos Martinez, or a palette of key resources, it is incumbent on Mo to determine who must stay.

The second priority is to determine which outside assets might better this team for the future. If they happen to strengthen the team this season, so be it. However, given the very narrow road to 2017 postseason play, the focus ought be on maximizing the 2018-and-beyond landscape.

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If the Cardinals happen to win the NL Central this year, I’ll be as thrilled as the next guy. But to use a very remote chance of victory in 2017 as the basis of analysis for transactional decisions would be faulty management. It’s better to realistically plan for better days, and use the potent assets Mo has at his disposal to accomplish that end.

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