After acquiring one of the best players in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals have earned some leeway. However, a refusal to make further moves is indicative of the team’s “half-measure” approach.
When the St. Louis Cardinals traded for Nolan Arenado, fans were ecstatic. His arrival gave the team a true superstar that they were lacking since Albert Pujols departed after the 2011 World Series title. After such an impact move, one that represented a tectonic shift in the National League, the Cardinals have earned some leeway. However, I have noticed a pattern.
After acquiring Paul Goldschmidt prior to the 2019 season, the St. Louis Cardinals decided to remain relatively quiet. They also signed relief pitcher Andrew Miller that offseason in what was another notable move. But how does this have any correlation with the Nolan Arenado trade?
In both circumstances, the team could have done more. I’ve criticized the team sometimes for being, in my view, a bit complacent. Goldschmidt and Arenado are both star players and the Cardinals did a great job in acquiring both of them. It is possible to appreciate and applaud the organization for making those moves while also being aware that more needs to be done to match-up comfortably against the Los Angeles Dodgers and other baseball powerhouses.
Why is this argument relevant now? By all indications, the St. Louis Cardinals are ready to enter spring training with this current roster. That’s totally fine, and they could do that. As constructed this team would be my pick to run away and hide in the NL Central division. The roster, with new superstar Arenado, is poised to dominate the division.
Let’s assume I’m right and the Cardinals win the division. How do they stack up against the Dodgers, Braves, and Padres? As of now, those three teams are ahead of the Redbirds and would certainly present a challenging matchup in the postseason.
A playoff series against the Dodgers would see the Cardinals facing a starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Trevor Bauer. Good luck facing that in a seven-game series, let alone a short series.
The Padres have been active this offseason. They boast a starting rotation that has added Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to the mix.
The Braves rotation is a bit more iffy but still solid. They have a great core of hitters and should be a legit contender in what appears to be a competitive and interesting NL East division.
Why did I highlight those teams? If the Cardinals face any of those teams in the playoffs (playoffs?! Can we at least start spring training first?) as would be safe to assume, I’m not sure how the starting rotation lines up against those others. After Jack Flaherty, there are some question marks, and even if the rest of the rotation pitches up to realistic expectations, it’s not a starting staff that would have the advantage in a postseason series.
Even after getting Arenado, the Cardinals’ offense is still probably going to be mediocre. Some fans were looking at this team as being a roughly .500 team or so before the Arenado trade. So far, he’s been the only unfamiliar addition to the major league roster.
My point is, the Cardinals are taking a “half-measures” approach to roster building. They have done enough to get to the playoffs but when facing off with the elite teams, it’s plain to see where the team still lacks. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the front office, more of a reflection that the team is still good, but maybe not great.
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There are still some players on the free agent market or trade block who could help this team. For example, a fourth outfielder who could serve as a platoon partner or insurance if an incumbent outfielder struggles. Another starting pitcher to help close the gap between the Cardinals and, say, the Dodgers or Padres.
The hard part and heavy lifting are likely done for the St. Louis Cardinals this winter. Any potential upcoming moves would likely be on the depth side. The issue is that the Cardinals in recent years have made approximately one significant move every season or two and failed to supplement that with more talent. Their inactivity at the trade deadline in past years is a perfect example.
The Cardinals have Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Jack Flaherty. Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright both returned on one-year deals. This roster is good and has the potential to sleepwalk through the division into a red October. But why settle for “good” when a few additional moves could make them “great?”
The St. Louis Cardinals have the talent to make the playoffs and the potential to make a run. But on paper, the roster simply isn’t on par with the top teams in the league. The Cardinals’ “half-measures” approach has made them consistently good but for this team to be looked at as a favorite to win the National League pennant, they need to take another step and go full measure.