St. Louis Cardinals: Happ, Lester reinforce stodgy image

John Mozeliak watches the action prior to the start of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Jet Blue Field on February 26, 2013 in Fort Myers, Florida. The Cardinals defeated the Red Sox 15-4. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
John Mozeliak watches the action prior to the start of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Jet Blue Field on February 26, 2013 in Fort Myers, Florida. The Cardinals defeated the Red Sox 15-4. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The additions of pitchers J.A. Happ and Jon Lester didn’t help the St. Louis Cardinals shed their old and out-of-touch perception by fans and the league.

If the St. Louis Cardinals wanted to seem even more like the antithesis of the modern successful baseball team, they accomplished it at the 2021 trade deadline.

While the league’s star players seem to be skewing younger every year, the Cardinals decided not to partake in that youthful tomfoolery by trading for pitchers J.A. Happ, age 38, and Jon Lester, age 37. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak said the team needed pitchers that could provide innings. Regarding the quality of those innings, he stayed curiously silent. They’re baffling trades in that they don’t help the Cardinals’ chances this season or for the future.

For now, the Cardinals have an elderly (by baseball standards) rotation, comprising Lester, Happ, Adam Wainwright, Wade LeBlanc, and the young buck of the group, 33-year-old Kwang Hyun Kim.

While Happ and Lester are rentals and will likely be gone after this season, their ages reinforce the thought that the Cardinals are stuck in the past. In an era where fastball velocity and strikeouts are the name of the game, the current starter with the highest fastball velocity is Happ, at a meager 91 mph. That would be fine if Happ and Lester could make up for it by having pinpoint command, but these guys aren’t Greg Maddux.

Going against the grain in baseball is great, and it’s needed to stay ahead of the pack regarding analytics. But with these moves, the Cardinals are knowingly slipping further behind the times, and it’s bewildering.

Fans may remember the firing of sabermetrics-inclined hitting coach Mark Budaska and the retention of the more traditional Jeff Albert, who is currently subject to heavy criticism. It’s possible the team fired the wrong coach in its insistence to retain its traditional approach.

The Cardinals were already seeing other teams surpass them in the analytical department. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, while some teams have high-tech pitching and hitting labs, the Cardinals’ pitching lab still hasn’t been set up, and the hitting lab is not a major part of the team’s spring training. Signing struggling older players and not having the technology to give them a fresh tune-up seems pointless.

The only way the Cardinals are keeping up with the times regarding this move is in delaying prospects’ service clocks. Why bring up Matthew Liberatore now when you can give him another year of service time by waiting and keep his salary lower for a longer amount of time? This process needs to be examined in next year’s collective bargaining agreement discussions.

One reason Jason Heyward said he spurned the Cardinals for the Chicago Cubs was because he believed pillars like Wainwright and Yadier Molina would be gone soon, whereas the Cubs had a young core he wanted to spend a career with. This statement seems ironic now after the Cubs have dismantled their organization and Wainwright and Molina remain Cardinals, but it shows that keeping around older players could make younger stars feel out of place.

I won’t completely blame the front office for the Cardinals’ current image, though. We know that St. Louis isn’t the most glamorous place to play, and many fans remember Giancarlo Stanton shunning the Cardinals to be able to play in the huge Yankees market.

But Stanton also had a point in asking what the Cardinals could do for him now. The history of the team is rich, but the front office can’t use that as its only selling point. It needs to find fresh new faces of the franchise in trades and smart drafts and make them want to stay by performing well on the field.

Next. Grading the St. Louis Cardinals’ trade deadline moves. dark

The Cardinals are like that grandparent trying to stay hip with the younger generations by regaling them with stories about their past. The team’s history should be appreciated, but people in the front office need their eyes on the future while also weighing the needs of the present. The acquisitions of throwback pitchers Lester and Happ showed that the Cardinals remain starry-eyed and clamoring for days far gone.