St. Louis Cardinals: Punting at the deadline was the plan all along

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ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 25: Lance Lynn #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals returns to the dugout after being removed from the game against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on July 25, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 25: Lance Lynn #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals returns to the dugout after being removed from the game against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on July 25, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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Despite a much-anticipated trade deadline and promises from the front office that July would be a busy month, July 31st came and went without fanfare for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Two thirds of the way through the 2017 season, the St. Louis Cardinals have provided more questions than answers. As the final two months of the regular season begin, the Redbirds will field more or less the same team that has lingered under the .500 mark for the first four months.

Despite all of the questions hovering over the bullpen, the lineup, and the coaching staff, the biggest question of the summer so far was this: were the Cardinals going to buy or sell at the deadline?

The front office in St. Louis said that they would be “dealers” as opposed to being strictly buyers or sellers. Now that it’s August, we have our answer. The Cardinals weren’t buyers. The Cardinals weren’t sellers. They weren’t even dealers.

The only trade the team made this summer was to swap former first-round draft pick, LHP Marco Gonzales with Tyler O’Neill, a home-run threat who began the season in the Seattle Mariners system.

Despite the inactivity at the deadline, the Cardinals had numerous moves that they could have made. At any given point, Lance Lynn, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Jedd Gyorko, and Trevor Rosenthal were all rumored to be trade targets around the league.

Instead, the Cardinals’ major-league roster remains intact. It’s a roster that has compiled a 52-53 pre-deadline record. That remains just good enough to keep the Redbirds more or less in the National League Central race, although the Chicago Cubs have been on fire since the All-Star Break.

With the additions of Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila in Chicago, the Cubs figure to be the team to beat in the Central. The Cardinals haven’t done anything to show that they intend to keep pace.

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The Cardinals’ front office had to know that the Cubs’ approach at the deadline was to improve their postseason outlook this season. Despite being in third place and 4.5 games behind Chicago for the division lead, the refusal to make a commitment one way or another at the deadline this season indicates that this may have been the plan all along in St. Louis.

The front office can’t realistically think that standing pat while their rivals improve is a winning strategy in 2017. If the Redbirds make a magical run a-la 2011, then they’ll have proved everyone wrong. But that can’t be the expectation from the fans, or the front office.

Over the next two months, the Cardinals figure to ride it out with what they have. Where they end up in 2017 will give management a good idea as to what the plan should be in the offseason.

Ultimately, the uncertainty surrounding this team wasn’t going to be answered at the deadline. Even John Mozeliak acknowledged after the deadline passed that he will be dedicating the next two months to developing a strategy this winter.

Next: Can the Cardinals still aim for October?

That isn’t to say the hierarchy in St. Louis has thrown in the towel this year. The deadline was disappointing, but the Cardinals remain within striking distance in the Central division race. With other teams improving around them, the race to the top of the division becomes even steeper for St. Louis.

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