It was completely unplanned, but the St. Louis Cardinals lucked out by not going after many rentals in the offseason before the 2020 season.
By all accounts, the 2020 baseball season has been the worst of my life, and probably of yours as well. This year’s lack of baseball is different than the 1994-1995 strike, and it is getting to the point where it is painful to follow the St. Louis Cardinals on a daily basis.
We may have baseball again soon though.
Experts still claim that the odds that there is at least some sort of baseball in 2020 are very high, but whether or not a deal is agreed on between the MLB and the MLBPA or if a season is implemented by Rob Manfred, COVID-19 could wash all of it away in an instant.
Whether or not there is baseball in 2020, the Cardinals are one of the teams that have unintentionally set themselves up well for a season that was wiped out with service time still being granted.
Take a look at the Dodgers for example. This past winter, they made a blockbuster trade to acquire Mookie Betts and David Price for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong. They have to be hurting right now.
While Price is on the books until 2023, he was more of a throw-in to alleviate the salary concerns of the Red Sox. Betts was the big piece and the former MVP is a free agent after this season. Different than signing a free agent, the Dodgers gave up a ton of controllable young talent for what is going to end up being less than a full season of Mookie Betts.
Between Verdugo, Downs, and Wong, the Dodgers gave up five years of control with Verdugo, a top 100 prospect at AA in Downs (six years of control), and another six years of control with Wong (the 23-year-old had a .997 OPS at AA last year). This was highway robbery by the Red Sox, especially when you consider their luxury tax being reset so they can comfortably resign Betts this winter as well.
The only trade the Cardinals made this winter was two controllable talents for another (Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena for Matthew Liberatore), but they were rumored to be involved with the Red Sox for Betts.
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The only signings the Cardinals made that will be gone after this year is Brad Miller and technically Matt Wieters and Adam Wainwright. Kwang-Hyun Kim was signed for multiple years, so missing year one of that isn’t huge.
As much as I was excited to have Brad Miller filling the Jedd Gyorko role of the past few years at a fraction of the price, missing out on him being a Cardinal isn’t the end of the world.
The Cardinals will have a fair amount of money from getting the contracts of Yadier Molina, Brad Miller, Brett Cecil, and Adam Wainwright off the books, even if they end up resigning two of those guys (it won’t be at $20M a year for Yadi).
It seems the Cardinals’ standard operating procedure of not going for rentals is showing why it’s smart. Sure, COVID-19 is a very different animal than if a player were to be injured all year, but the same result would happen. Mookie Betts could’ve come into spring training and broke his arm and missed the whole season anyway.
There is always an inherent risk for trading for rentals, and this is one of the reasons why the Cardinals have stayed so successful. Verdugo, Downs, and Wong may never turn into much at the MLB level, but Verdugo had a great rookie season and the other two have all the makings of productive MLB players. Obviously, the Dodgers are kicking themselves now.
The way the Cardinals operate may be infuriating for some fans, but in general, it has done a fantastic job of keeping the team in the running for a postseason spot. They may have benefited from diving in and trading for big-name players during the last decade, but staying away has also proved to be the right move. Whether it was on purpose or not, the team put themselves in a good spot should they have to miss 2020 as a whole.