One was a can’t miss pitching superstar, a former top prospect in all of baseball. The other was a first-round pick, a tantalizing shortstop who drew comparisons to Carlos Correa.
Both should be cautionary tales for the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason.
Alex Reyes and Delvin Perez are both out of the organization, the former being non-tendered and the latter choosing minor-league free agency. A reunion with Reyes is still possible (and one I’d advocate for) but the fact that both are no longer with the Cardinals should spur the team to spend for certainty this winter.
Jordan Walker looks like a superstar slugger. Masyn Winn seems destined to be the starting shortstop for a decade. Connor Thomas, Tink Hence, and others have fans justifiably excited. And I’m fully on board the bandwagon – I think the hype is worth it.
But it’s been worth it in the past, too.
Reyes was Baseball America’s top Cardinals prospect for four years in a row. He dominated after debuting in 2016, sporting a 1.57 ERA in 46 innings split between relieving and starting. He allowed one home run and struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings, numbers that portended future greatness.
Of course, we all know what happened next. A series of injuries and setbacks derailed his career until a bounce back stint as a reliever during the 2020 pandemic-shortened season paved the way for his turn as an All-Star closer in 2021. While that season’s end – giving up a walk-off homerun in the one-game wildcard game against the Dodgers – was bitter, it seemed things were finally back on track.
Until, of course, another injury wiped out his 2022 season.
Now Reyes is free to choose his next team, non-tendered by the only organization he’s ever known. The Cardinals should sign him to another deal but, even if they do, nobody is counting on him these days.
Perez never had the same hype as Reyes. He struggled after a promising 2016 debut in the Gulf Coast League (now known as the Florida Complex League), although he had finally started to get back on track before coming back down to earth last year.
After six years in the organization, he was a .250 hitter with a .322 on-base percentage. Not the kind of numbers a future superstar is putting up.
Winn had clearly supplanted Perez as the organization’s future shortstop and now he too is off the roster after electing minor league free agency.
It’s easy to forget now but Perez was a draft-day darling back in 2016. An ESPN scouting report described him as a “no-doubt shortstop in a draft with very little middle-infield talent” while also noting that he’s “as explosive an athlete as you’ll find in this draft.” Others referred to him as a potential future face of the franchise.
Reyes and Perez are gone for different reasons. Reyes had awful luck with injuries and Perez never seemed to be able to fully unlock his talent. But they both are gone and the lesson to the Cardinals should be clear: prosect hype is great but certainty is better.
If this team wants to avoid another postseason washout, it needs to use free agency or a trade to bolster its lineup. The Cardinals will always be a draft-and-develop team and their model has led to sustained success. But to field another World Series team, another impact move on par with the Arenado and Goldschmidt trades is necessary.
We know Aaron Judge isn’t walking through that door. But Trea Turner? An exceptional athlete who can shift to center field when Winn is ready to take over at shortstop? It’s an unlikely move for the team to make but it shouldn’t be.
A trade for Sean Murphy or a contract offer to Wilson Contreras? A good start but don’t let it be the only move for more thump in the lineup.
I’m hoping just as much as everyone that Walker, Winn, and others will be future stars for the Cardinals. But the team needs to make sure it’s not relying solely on that hope. Let the prospects grow into their roles and view any 2023 contributions as a bonus.
In the meantime, it’s time to pay for certainty for next year.