The St. Louis Cardinals bringing back franchise icon Albert Pujols has energized much of the fan base. How much can the nostalgia disguise a lackluster offseason?
The St. Louis Cardinals had a great opportunity to dramatically improve the team this offseason. The free agent market offered some intriguing options to fit several key areas of need. With it being Yadier Molina (and perhaps) Adam Wainwright’s final season in 2022, the lack of urgency to meaningfully improve the roster was striking.
The big contracts that fell off the books were not offset with any high dollar, high impact additions. The team’s biggest offseason acquisition was free agent starting pitcher Stephen Matz. The move, in a vacuum, is solid. Matz is a mid-rotation starter, and a lefty. He gives the Cardinals a different look from their rotation. The Cardinals’ elite defense should help him maximize his value. Again, a good move.
But the starting rotation is already carrying substantial risk. The team’s most consistent starter, Wainwright, is 40 years of age. The rest of the rotation comes with recent injury concerns. Jack Flaherty is already on the shelf for an undetermined period of time. The team could have and should have done more for the rotation.
The bullpen was an area that, coming out of the lockout, seemed poised for a big addition. Several reliable reporters were linking the Cardinals to high-end bullpen arms. Skip ahead to spring training and they did not add any certainty for the bullpen. They added a handful of scratch-off lottery tickets and minor league deals hoping that quantity will produce quality. Maybe it will work? But a few proven commodities for the bullpen would have been nice.
Pitching was clearly the emphasis of the offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals. The front office rightfully saw the need for more arms and added some depth. Is it going to be enough?
On to the offense, the Cardinals had an opportunity to add a shortstop in what was a great free agent market for the position. The Cardinals elected to remain with Paul DeJong, coming off several straight seasons of regression. Shortstop is absolutely a need, and the team passed on upgrading.
In the maiden voyage of the designated hitter for the National League, the Cardinals seemed poised to allow prospects Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez to earn that role. Neither player has excelled offensively thus for in spring training.
This brings us to the signing of Corey Dickerson. The team needed a lefty bat to balance out the lineup and Dickerson fits. He seemed likely to serve as the DH this season for the Cardinals.
That is, until a certain franchise icon walked through the door.
The Cardinals made the decision to bring Albert Pujols back to the team, a decade after he originally left as a free agent to sign with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols, just 21 home runs away from 700 for his career, seems likely to serve in a platoon situation with Dickerson at DH. Pujols still mashes against lefty pitching.
As disappointing as this offseason was in my view, the Cardinals absolutely got this right. If the team was not going to sign a Kyle Schwarber or Nelson Cruz type as the DH, a Dickerson/Pujols platoon should put up league-average production with the potential for much more.
The Pujols signing was surely driven at least in part by the business aspect. How many tickets and how much merchandise can the team sell with Pujols back in the fold for his final season?
There’s also the nostalgic side of things. Seeing Pujols with the Cardinals jersey again will be exciting and letting him retire as a Cardinal, alongside Yadier Molina, is a fitting end to his legendary career.
However, I still think Pujols has something left in the tank. I wouldn’t even be stunned if he makes real run at hitting number 700 this season.
I think people are going to travel to Busch Stadium in bunches to witness the return of Pujols and to see Molina’s final season. Unfortunately, the front office neglected to build a real championship contender this season. With the expanded playoffs, the Cardinals can almost back into the playoffs and boast of another winning season. But for the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans, the bar is raised higher. They don’t hang banners for winning seasons, and it’s been over a decade since the last title.
Yes, I know this sounds like a spoiled Cardinals fan talking. Some teams would do cartwheels to get a World Series within a decade. But as a fan, I am frustrated with the lack of impact moves and offseason activity. It seems like winning is secondary judging by the transactions the Cardinals have made this winter and spring. The players were available that could have put this team alongside the NL’s best and they simply didn’t make a real effort.
Bottom line, after the lockout and relatively quiet offseason from the St. Louis Cardinals, I was not particularly interested in baseball this season. However, with the Pujols signing, my interest in the 2022 season has doubled -no, tripled- and I can’t wait for the season.
With that said, the front office failed to build a real serious championship contender. I am not highly optimistic regarding the team’s success this season. At least with Albert Pujols back in the birds on the bat jersey, the 2022 season is sure to be an exciting ride. Even if the offseason that preceded it was rather dull and lackluster.