St. Louis Cardinals: Sluggish offseason, a cause and effect expose
The extremely sluggish free agent market this offseason has had an impact on virtually all teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals.
On cost and cockiness
Dan: Larry, per usual, you make excellent points about the St. Louis Cardinals nibbling at the margins instead of hunting bigger game. I posit that the decision to make value plays for Gregerson and Mikolas as opposed to making a big splash for an Arrieta, Darvish, or Holland come down to the two Cs: Cost and Cockiness.
First, as to cost, I mentioned that the St. Louis Cardinals would rather have young players instead of more expensive, yet proven, veteran free agents.
There are exceptions to that rule, however. One of those exceptions is when the cost for a high-performing veteran dips so low that the mentoring and intangible value of having a veteran leader for your young players outweighs the necessity to differentiate on cost.
Enter Luke Gregerson. His market fell so low that the St. Louis Cardinals paid significantly more than the cost of a rookie for his veteran presence and leadership.
Mikolas does not fit that mold. With Mikolas, the St. Louis Cardinals saw an opportunity to sign an innings eater for insignificant dollars.
Why does this create an exception to the cost rule, you might ask? Well, the biggest risk you have with young, cheap starters is durability and innings coverage. Thus, the Cardinals mitigated their risk, at a low market price, in violation of my cost theory. They made an exception to fill a need on the roster that the young guns could not fill. Thus, necessity overpowered cost.
Second, as to cockiness, it appears that playing on the margins is related to John Mozeliak’s faith in the team he has – as currently constructed. If the St. Louis Cardinals thought they needed an Arrieta, Darvish, or Holland, they would go sign one of them.
As you mentioned, they have plenty of money available. Such a move, however, would violate the rule of cockiness and would require an implicit admission by Mo that the expensive free agents will out-perform players he drafted. Mo was not willing to make such a concession (see, e.g., cockiness).
Finally, the slow offseason does not affect the current St. Louis Cardinals as much as former St. Louis Cardinals. The players feeling the impact of the slow offseason are exemplified by former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn. Lynn, along with Trevor Rosenthal and Seung Hwan Oh, remain unsigned. This, despite Lynn’s durability and established resume as a solid three and potential number two in a rotation.
The factors we have outlined above are really taking a toll on these players, and, frankly, I feel bad for them.
Are the winds of change blowing?
Will this change? You mentioned the MLBPA complaining about the tanking Pirates and Marlins and you also mentioned that the teams can conjure up any excuse to dismiss such claims. You were right. MLB recently issued a statement that they have no concerns with how the Pirate and Marlins spend their money.
How does this relate to the slow offseason? MLB’s response provides the tea leaves that one must read when predicting how MLB will deal with any claim of team collusion affecting the free agent market.
The players are in for a long, uncomfortable free agent experience. What you are seeing this offseason is the new normal, and I do not see a compelling reason as to why it will change until the CBA expires and players get another shot at fixing this mess. You are right, Larry, the rich will continue getting richer at the expense of the very players that got them there.