Losing Marcell Ozuna and making no major moves is upsetting, but there should be no reason to panic for St. Louis Cardinals fans.
If an offseason can truly be won or lost, the St. Louis Cardinals have been beaten, bashed, and embarrassed from November to the present. They acquired 20-year-old minor league pitcher Matthew Liberatore from the Tampa Bay Rays on Jan. 9, which might work out, but they surrendered Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to get him, making a thin outfield thinner.
The one saving grace to this atrocious offseason? It might not matter.
Every year, some team is hailed for “winning the offseason,” which is a bizarro concept along the lines of “winning breakfast” or “winning the crawl space.” Nobody wins anything in baseball from Oct. 31, the end of the World Series, till March 26, the start of the 2020 season. But some teams (the Yankees and Angels) have signed big-name free agents (Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon), while another team (the Dodgers) traded for a superstar (Mookie Betts), and these clubs are deemed offseason “winners.”
Yankees, Angels, and Dodgers fans have every reason to be excited about their shiny new additions. And Cards fans have every reason to resent the dilution of their major-league talent. The team (Cardinals) with the second-best attendance in all of baseball (behind the Dodgers) should be more than a shrinking bystander when good-to-great players are seeking new places of work from November through January.
But that doesn’t mean the stand-pat or lose-a-star teams are doomed to failure. Who won baseball’s offseason a year ago? The Phillies, who signed ex-National Bryce Harper. Who won the World Series? The Harper-less Nats. Who won the NFL offseason before last year’s kickoff? The Cleveland Browns, who traded for Odell Beckham Jr. Who went 6-10 and got their coach fired? The Browns. Who did CBS Sports rank 29th in a preseason “How They Did in Free Agency” story? The Kansas City Chiefs.
Clearly, front offices should do what they can to make their teams better. And sometimes “winning the offseason” works. Approaching the 2018 season, the Milwaukee Brewers, who hadn’t made the playoffs in seven years, were lauded as “winners” for acquiring Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. Yelich went on to an MVP season, Cain was a deserving All-Star, and the Brew Crew won the NL Central with a franchise-record 96 wins.
Other times, it takes a year or two for the triumphant offseason to bear fruit. One century ago, the New York Yankees won the offseason by purchasing a Red Sox right fielder who’d led the AL in home runs, runs, RBI and slugging percentage in 1919. Babe Ruth slammed a record 54 home runs, 35 more than runner-up George Sisler, and led the 1920 Yankees to a franchise-record 95 wins, but they still finished third in the AL, behind the Indians and White Sox.
A year later, the Yanks won their first pennant. Two years after that, in 1923, Ruth hit .393 with a ridiculous .545 on-base percentage and 1.393 OPS as New York’s AL team beat the New York Giants for its first World Series championship.
On the flip side, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan made a laughable claim of conquering the pause between seasons. In June of 2016, he told ESPN after his team’s first minicamp practice, “We won the offseason. I would challenge any team. I think we’ve won the offseason.” Coming off an 8-8 record, the 2016 Bills went 7-8 before Ryan was fired with one game remaining.
You have every right to be disappointed with the Cardinals’ offseason, but that’s no reason to give up on 2020. In the spring of 2012, Redbird Nation had way more cause for pessimism. Following the team’s 11th World Series title, they’d lost their best player, Albert Pujols, to free agency, plus manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to retirement.
Carlos Beltran was their only significant addition, but he was 35 and had averaged just 96 games played the previous three years. Then their best 2011 pitcher, Chris Carpenter, got hurt and threw just 17 innings before he retired.
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The 2012 Cardinals didn’t repeat as World Champions, but they didn’t miss by much. They won 88 regular-season games, just two fewer than the previous year, and took the eventual champion Giants to seven games in the NLCS. Losing the offseason didn’t hurt them much. Maybe it’ll be the same this time around.