St. Louis Cardinals: Rage, rage against the rebuild
It has long been said that the St. Louis Cardinals would never rebuild. With the acquisition of Nolan Arenado, there is no reason to even re-tool.
If you could trade baseball futures, the last 10 days for the St. Louis Cardinals would’ve been fun to watch.
Last Wednesday, fans were as pessimistic as they have ever been when it comes to the team. There was no excitement and public perception was barreling towards apathy. However, things are different now.
In the span of 10 days, John Mozeliak has signed Adam Wainwright, traded for Nolan Arenado, and traded away Dexter Fowler. There is also the rumor that Yadier Molina is just waiting to finish the Caribbean Series to sign.
These moves weren’t easy, but now the fanbase is awake and excited to spend their money on this team again. As Bill DeWitt mentioned in Arenado’s press conference, all of this is only possible because of the fans and the team rewards the fans with a competitive team.
With the current climate of the MLB where it is and has been for a few years, there has been a topic debated fairly often: the rebuild. For teams like the Cubs and Astros, tanking and then riding the wave of young talent up led to a World Championship. The Padres are benefiting from a rebuild right now as well and it has proven to be an effective if painful way to build a team if done right.
Before the Cardinals made their big moves in the past week, they were a team stuck in the middle. For the past few years, really, this has been the case. They are good enough to win more games than they lose, good enough to make the postseason sometimes (or even sneak into the NLCS), but don’t have the talent to make it all the way to the finish line.
Some section of the fanbase wanted to tear it all down, go full rebuild because of the excitement that it brings on the way back up. While the point was made well that there weren’t many players that could bring back the prospects for a full rebuild, that wasn’t even all of it.
The bigger part is about purposely losing games and how quickly fans would abhor it. Could purposely losing in St. Louis ever go well? Do we even know how these other tanking fanbases feel? Sure, it’s fun to be a Padres fan now when they are signing and trading for everyone, but before 2020, the Padres had been painfully bad for a decade.
From 2011 to 2019, the Padres lost at least 85 games each year. Five times they lost more than 90 games. This brings out the dangers of a rebuild: there is no telling how long it will last. Take a look at the Pirates and the Phillies. They both tanked, but the Phillies botched riding the wave up and the Pirates haven’t been able to keep the guys who were the most promising.
Tanking is a painful game if it doesn’t work and in the case of the Padres, it took a long time to finally work. The highs are high, but the lows are just as low. It’s just not who the Cardinals are. When Cardinals fans see the excitement of the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, they don’t consider how bad things were for over 100 years and how bad things are financially right now.
Since the DeWitt family bought the team in the late 1990s, the goal has always been a competitive team. There are lulls like what we saw in the final quarter of the 2010s, but the team was still winning. Making it to the NLCS in 2019, no matter how lucky they were to be there, no matter how ugly it was once they got there, was a feat that some fanbases haven’t seen in decades. Trust that no matter how frustrating, the way the Cardinals do it is the best.
When Nolan Arenado accepted his trade here, he knew that the Cardinals have had 13 straight winning seasons. He cited that as a reason why he wanted to jump on board. Before the Arenado move, it seemed like 2021 was going to be a re-tooling year. The Cardinals had big money coming off the board in 2022 and this year was going to represent the transition between the old guard of Waino and Yadier Molina to something new.
This wasn’t supposed to be a “going for it” type of year. As most detractors of this front office were so kind to point out, the bar was set very low in the NL Central. By simply not getting worse, the Cardinals could’ve been mediocre and still easily won the division.
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The team’s window wasn’t closed, but it was just cracked open enough to have a chance. Then the last 10 days happened, jamming the window open once again.
What Mozeliak did in the past 10 days (and will continue to do this winter as the Cardinals may not be done) reminded me a lot of the famous Dylan Thomas poem, Do not go gentle into that good night. This poem has been used in Interstellar and is a popular one.
The two main repeated verses of this poem are “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” and “Do not go gentle into that good night.” While I’m no poet and this poem is not about baseball, it feels like that is exactly what John Mozeliak has been doing lately. One of the main themes is identity. For the Cardinals, it seemed they were sliding away from theirs.
While projections don’t solely matter, their win total was looking like it was going to be somewhere between 80-85 wins in 2021 with the team they had just last week. They lacked star power, they were on the cusp of losing their franchise icons, and the team was going in the wrong direction even if the hope of better times was there for 2022 and beyond.
The Cardinals weren’t headed for a rebuild, but they were headed for worse times that could’ve collapsed into one. The fanbase knew it.
Now, they have their superstar for the foreseeable future and two formidable names in the middle of the order. I enjoyed Dexter Fowler but trading him doubled down on the defense and the youth movement while trimming fat from the roster.
All of the sudden, the Cardinals are back in business. What may have been a re-tooling year is no longer that. The Cardinals are looking to further bolster their starting rotation and are clear-cut favorites to win the NL Central and be set up to do so for the first half of the 2020s.
Fans are now excited to come back to the ballpark. All of a sudden, the ship was righted proving that this is not a team that tanks. This refusal to rebuild confirms ownership’s commitment to winning.
The Arenado trade doesn’t fix everything and doesn’t guarantee anything, but it sure does flip public perception and set them up a lot better. For now, the Cardinals continue to rage, rage against the rebuild.