St. Louis Cardinals should horde pitching and leave the offense alone
Since the St. Louis Cardinals are handcuffed in the moves they can make offensively, they should be heavily in the market for more pitching. ‘A run saved is a run earned.’
The St. Louis Cardinals excel when built for run prevention. Some of the Cardinals’ greatest years for hitting recently also ended in duds in terms of making the playoffs. 2017 was the highest year this decade for slugging. 2016 was the highest year in the 2010s for OPS. Both years the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs.
Now that the Cardinals defense has done a 180°, and become one of the elite defenses of the National League, the front office should make sure that the pitching is always there to complement the defense.
“Let the rough side drag.” It’s an old Southern expression of wisdom that nobody seems really sure exactly what it means. Presumably, when carrying a heavy load across a bumpy road, it is a bad idea to put the smooth side on the side closest to hitting the bottom. Put the rough side at the bottom.
It’s not going to do it any harm, and the wear and tear might just end up smoothing it out for you. Jesse Winchester, a Memphian and probably a fan of the old Memphis Chicks, even wrote a song about it.
I think that is basically what the Cards ought to do with their offense in the off-season and heading into 2020. There is a jostling in the outfield the likes of which we have never seen before. A mix of veterans with big contracts, young players still working out the kinks, players with high UZR and DRS coupled with low OPS+ and vice versa. There are pure green rookies with enormous potential and even one who is a five-tool player.
The front office said as much in their post-season press conference. The Cardinals did not sound inclined to add to their outfield via free agency and instead talked about the importance of finding innings for their young wave of players at that position — and admitting their reluctance to trade any more of them until they get a better feel.
There will be a lot of friction in the outfield … and at third-base. But you have to believe it will smooth out in the end and the Cardinals will find the four players who will help the team repeat as NL Central Champs (still sounds good, doesn’t it, after a three-year dry spell?).
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The main thing to watch out for is some pitching regression. The league has already shown signs of catching up with John Gant and Andrew Miller. What if they catch up with Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos too? All at the same time?? There will be a world of hurt! The Cardinals enter 2020 without a named closer.
On the starting staff, things are looking good but Dakota Hudson‘s second half wasn’t as strong as his first. In Miles Mikolas‘ second-year back from Japan, he looked more like the fifth-starter he was originally hired-in to be. What if Adam Wainwright‘s odometer finally ticks past obsolescence in mid-season? Carlos Martinez has been cleared to throw, but no one seems certain that he will just slide into Michael Wacha‘s spot in the starting rotation.
Yes, there is plenty of work to do to shore up the pitching staff. Fortunately, there are a ton of free agents available. Plus there are at least a half-dozen teams who are playing for Team Tank in 2020 and might trade a pitcher with only a year or two of control for one of our outfield prospects.
If Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Yadier Molina, and Paul Goldschmidt all perform to the levels that netted them all-star recognition, the Redbirds have nothing to worry about. Final scores of 6-4 will be commonplace. And there will be a lot of Cardinals outfield prospects on the trading block by Memorial Day.
But to be safe, the Cardinals need to get ready for final scores closer to 4-2 to be the norm, much like last year. And since the Cardinals can’t really do much to retool the offense without breaking faith with their contracts and their rookies (or doing major damage to their relationships with their players both young and old) the best thing to do is to stockpile the commodity that is the most fungible: pitching.
Adding an arm or two or (three!) seems to never be wasted, especially if it is a proven arm. Of course in the past we know that proven doesn’t always mean provable. (I won’t embarrass those pitchers here by listing their names).
But the Cardinals can’t get completely gun-shy about trading for or signing experienced pitching talent. They are just going to have to get more acute in their perception of pitching value. I can see the team using all three of a starter, a closer and a swing-man, who can be a starter or be happy toiling in the bullpen. They should also upgrade the back-end of their bullpen.
A pitching, pitching, pitching strategy is what makes the best sense now. Let the offense smooth itself out on its own. Good luck to the St. Louis Cardinals front office in the Winter Meetings!