Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a concerted plan to address power in the St. Louis Cardinals lineup. Is it a distinct plan, or is it just the result of other matters taking priority?
So there seem to be three different ways to fix the St. Louis Cardinals, right? One is the draft and farm system, one is trade, and one is free agency. How do those relate to the power surges and outages?
Let’s take those up in reverse order. It’s been unusual at best for the St. Louis Cardinals to participate in major hitter free agency. This past off-season was the Fowler add, though as you say, he has been hurt part of the season. I must say he has shown surprising power given his history. Still, he isn’t the kind of fearsome bat that freaks out other teams who face us.
Then there’s trade. And when you look at the history of St. Louis Cardinals power over the last couple decades, so much of it has arrived via deals.
Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Holliday, Gyorko, and Moss all are transplants who have been dealt here and sometimes encouraged to remain after being flipped to St. Louis. But most of those deals predated the current financial and collective bargaining environment.
Today, as opposed to in the Walt Jocketty era, it’s not nearly as easy to extricate big boppers from other teams without giving up something of consequence.
So that brings us back to the team’s player selection and development strategies and tactics. Is it fair to say that the St. Louis Cardinals perhaps haven’t made middle-of-the-order bats a specific goal when they’re planning for the annual amateur draft? Or even when they’re looking abroad at international talent?
I think that’s definitely fair, particularly considering the way the front office has described its philosophy when it comes to the draft.
I recall then-General Manager John Mozeliak saying a couple years back that the front office doesn’t tend to focus on specific needs (like say a replacement for Molina at catcher or for Pujols at cleanup) when they make their draft plans.
Instead, they aim to get whatever player they think has the most value, that they can reasonably hope to sign, that is left on the board.
Most years they seem to have shown a preference for college pitchers, which I think makes sense considering both their philosophy and their position in the draft. They haven’t had a chance to pick really high in the draft in a long time, so usually the hitters that seem like sure bets are long gone.
Teams always need pitching, so if the idea is to stockpile picks you can trade for whatever your needs are once those picks have matured enough to have trade value, then picking like they have seems the safe bet.
As far as the international market goes. I get the impression that they were a bit behind the curve when it comes to that, given comments by Mo that seemed to indicate they were somewhat playing catchup.
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They did get at least one really good hitting prospect in Oscar Taveras, but unfortunately we all know what happened there. That tragedy probably also affected their development plans, since I think they maybe got a bit complacent thinking they already had their next Pujols in the system.
I also think there’s room to question whether the club has been aggressive enough in moving those pitching prospects to get bats when needed.
It seems of late, they have opted to try and make low-cost internal candidates like Grichuk, Allen Craig, Carpenter, Piscotty, Matt Adams, and Wong work to mixed results instead of going out and getting a proven middle-of-the-order bat.
I don’t fault them that much in terms of what they’ve done in free agency. There were some power bats out there in the 2016-2017 off-season, but nobody else seemed that excited about them either and most of them were first-baseman bats of questionable defensive ability.
The club needed that slot on the field for Carp, since they didn’t really have another good place to put him.
I think what happens in this and the next off-season is going to determine whether the club has failed in terms of getting those middle-of-the-order bats.
There are more attractive free agents coming on the market and the club has a broader pool of prospects to perhaps deal on the trade market than in this past off-season’s thin free-agent market, when the Cardinal prospects were further away from the MLB level.
Those insights parallel many of my own, but let me add a few other observations.
Power hitters are a tricky lot. With many of even the best ones, you know you have to live with shortcomings, such as a high strikeout rate. Pujols spoiled us, as he was the rare egg who both blasted and, at least in his heyday, kept the K-rates low.
Holliday had his own weaknesses. Most unnerving to fans were his notorious famines. He could look like garbage for games and then return to a lengthy run of power and productivity.
So, for a lot of power hitters, you’re sacrificing something. Consistency. Contact. Strike- zone selectivity. What we really don’t know is whether the St. Louis Cardinals put more emphasis on those three attributes while players are developing than do other clubs.
And do the Cards give those characteristics more stroke in drafting players as well? I’m not sure.
I do think the Cards tend to draft best talent on the hitting side, and go deeper — that is, perhaps are willing to expand the set of potential attributes — on the pitching side.
In a way, this makes sense, as there are probably more examples of hitters whose bodies turn them into power hitters later, while it’s easier to “get” what kind of pitcher you’re drafting earlier on (at least until Tommy John surgery, anyway).
So it’s possible, and we’d need to do some more research on this, that the Redbirds don’t take as many chances on the guys who score high on the 20-80 scouting scale in just “hit for power.”
And actually, trading for a Grichuk wouldn’t invalidate this, since Randal had solid speed and a very strong right-field arm by scouts’ assessments.