We dream about stars coming to the St. Louis Cardinals but we all know the front office would rather stand pat than spend. Don’t expect any different.
Welcome to baseball’s silly season, the time when St. Louis Cardinals fans fantasize about all the shiny new ballplayers the team could but won’t sign in free agency.
The St. Louis front office behaves like a wealthy uncle who can afford a Bentley but drives a Ford Taurus — and complains about the car payments. Team president John Mozeliak might spring for a serviceable starting pitcher or outfielder, but past performance says we should curb our expectations.
That’s not much fun, though. We’d rather picture Anthony Rendon or Madison Bumgarner in a Cardinals uniform than face the fact that the famous free agents will likely sign elsewhere, leaving the 2020 Redbirds with the same shortcomings as the 2019 edition.
To paraphrase The Who in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”: “Meet the new team / Same as the old team.”
Still, we can dream. Here are some players linked to the Cardinals by various media, bloggers, and fans, and why they will or won’t be signed by St. Louis.
ANTHONY RENDON, 3B, Washington Nationals
Why StL should sign him: He’s good. Rendon, 29, hit 34 homers with 126 RBIs and a 1.010 OPS last year. And he plays third base, a position the Cardinals would like to upgrade. Tommy Edman did a nice job in the second half of the year, but can he keep that up? He had a career .769 OPS in the minors. Matt Carpenter is coming off a miserable campaign and will turn 34 in less than a week.
Why they won’t: He’ll cost a fortune, and the Cardinals don’t make big-splash free-agent signings. Also, Rendon might be a teeny bit overvalued right now, coming off a career year and a World Series Championship.
MADISON BUMGARNER, SP, San Francisco Giants
Why StL should sign him: The Cards need another starter, and Bumgarner is still a good one. After two injury-marred seasons, the 29-year-old led the NL in starts with 34. He managed a 3.90 ERA and a 1.127 WHIP, and his WAR of 2.8 was higher than any Cardinals starter not named Flaherty. He’s been a phenomenal postseason pitcher, with a 4-0 record and a 0.25 ERA in 36 World Series innings.
Why they won’t: He’ll surely cost more than the Cards want to spend. He’s a past Series hero, which might drive up the price for teams looking for a big name to attract or appease fans. He’s logged 1,836 innings over the last decade, which is a lot of mileage.
MIKE MOUSTAKAS, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers
Why StL should sign him: He’s a lefty-hitting third baseman with power, and the Cards are in desperate need of lefty bats and home-run pop. His 35 homers from last year would have led the Cardinals (Goldschmidt hit 34). His homers came with just 98 strikeouts; last year, six Cardinals whiffed 114 or more times.
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Why they won’t: Maybe they will; the Cards have been linked to Moustakas more than once over the past few years. But Moose doesn’t draw many walks and has just a .310 career on-base percentage. His career .751 OPS isn’t great. There’s a chance the Redbirds, paying Carpenter $18.5 million in 2020, will balk at paying big bucks to two veteran third basemen.
NICHOLAS CASTELLANOS, OF, Chicago Cubs
Why StL should sign him: He’s an outfielder who can hit, something the Cardinals desperately need. Castellanos had an OPS of .863 and 58 (!) doubles with the Tigers and Cubs last year. He’s still just 27. And it always feels good to snatch one from the Cubs.
Why they won’t: He’s a wretched outfielder. He’s a high-strikeout guy who’d be joining a team with too many strikeout-prone players. And he rarely walks — last year Castellanos compiled a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 41-to-143.
MOOKIE BETTS, OF, Boston Red Sox
Why StL should trade for him: He’s one of the best players in baseball, having finished second, sixth, first, and eighth in AL MVP voting the last four years. And he just turned 27. He’s a four-time Gold Glove right fielder who’d be a massive offensive and defensive upgrade over Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez.
Baseball’s best leadoff hitter, he’s led the AL in runs scored the last two years. With Carpenter and Fowler declining, the Cardinals desperately need a quality leadoff man. He’ll earn $27.7 million in 2020, a ton of money but a relative bargain for a player of his ability.
Why they won’t: Actually, they might. Jim Bowden of The Athletic lists the Dodgers, Braves and Cardinals as the teams most likely to deal for Betts. But he could leave via free agency after one year, and that $27.7 million is more than the Redbird brass likes to pay anyone, no matter how good. And who would they trade to get him? The Cards reportedly want to keep Nolan Gorman and Dylan Carlson, their two top prospects, which leaves them with a shortlist of players the Red Sox would actually covet.
So what moves will the Cardinals make this off-season? A big-splash deal is unlikely because of management’s proclivity for crying poor, and because they just won 91 games and reached the NLCS. Mozeliak and Co. may believe the team’s 2019 success proves you don’t need a high-priced Bryce Harper or Manny Machado (both of whom failed to reach the postseason) to win.
The most likely scenario is the front office will add a so-so, no-name starter and/or outfielder at a reasonable salary. And maybe that’ll work. But going all out for a Betts, Rendon or Bumgarner would be way more exciting.