Do the Cardinals' recent failures prove it's time for change in St. Louis?

Cardinals baseball has significantly deteriorated over the past several years, and it's fair to wonder of those in charge truly know what they're doing.
Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages

To the Cardinals front office and ownership, 2023 was a blip on the radar screen.

But to the fans, 2023 was the culmination of years of half-measures and bad organizational decisions all around.

Fortunately, 2023 is behind us, but 2024 is beginning to look very much like the start of 2023. Sonny Gray is doubtful for Opening Day after a hamstring injury, as is Tommy Edman, who is recovering from wrist surgery.

To make matters worse, Lars Nootbaar is going to be out for two weeks as he recovers from a few fractures in his ribs.

This is not looking promising. The roster appears to be falling apart before our eyes, and it's fair to question if Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak truly know what they're doing.

Do the Cardinals know what they're doing?

Before we have kneejerk reactions and quickly respond with a simple "no", we have to take a look at the past couple of years. It starts with the 2015-16 offseason when the Cardinals lost Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs.

While the Cubs spent on high-level players, the Cardinals didn't respond and simply let it happen. It was from this point on that the Cardinals were no longer a model franchise. Soon, they experienced a three-year postseason drought, while the Cubs won a title.

Fast forward to the 2019-20 offseason and the Cardinals were once again quiet, not addressing key areas of their roster, such as their offense. Marcell Ozuna left for the Braves and was not replaced. But this was where the first major misstep came.

At the time, the Ozuna trade didn't look like a bad deal, but Mozeliak made a fateful trade with the Rays that set the Cardinals back a couple of years. To clear out the outfield logjam, they traded Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to the Rays in exchange for Matthew Liberatore.

All Arozarena did as win ALCS MVP, break the single-postseason home run record, win Rookie of the Year, and emerge as a perennial MVP candidate. Meanwhile, the Cardinals bet on guys like Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Harrison Bader, all of whom struggle to stay healthy and two of which are no longer Cardinals.

But it gets worse. The Cardinals later traded Adolis Garcia to the Rangers for cash considerations. Garica was the ALCS MVP last year as the Rangers cruised to their first World Series title.

But around 2021, other issues began to surface. Not only did the Cardinals organization look bad for trading away young talent and betting on the wrong horses, but the pitching staff that had long been a strength was beginning to falter.

Pitchers such as Jack Flaherty could never stay healthy, while former Cardinals Zac Gallen and Sandy Alcantara became Cy Young candidates. It was then that the Cardinals started to really feel the effects of the Ozuna trade.

Suddenly, their pitching was depleted, and they weren't churning out quality arms like they used to.

And when top-level pitchers were available, the Cardinals either stood pat or took half-measures. In 2021, they added Jon Lester and J.A. Happ, who were both past their primes. It almost seemed as if they added those guys just to say they did something after years of quiet trade deadlines.

Then, after a 17-game winning streak got them to the postseason, they surprisingly fired then-manager Mike Shildt over a perceived "philosophical difference." He was replaced by Oli Marmol, who led the Cardinals to a division title in 2022, but ultimately couldn't get them any further than the Wild Card round. They still haven't won a playoff series since 2019, much less a playoff game since 2020.

Finally, 2023 came along. After Adam Wainwright fell off a cliff the prior September, the Cardinals no longer had an ace. They needed one heading into 2023, and they chose to give $17.5 million to a depleted Wainwright instead of trying for pitchers such as Nathan Eovaldi or Justin Verlander.

And so, without enough pitching, the Cardinals lost 91 games and missed the postseason for the first time since 2018. Marmol began to rely too heavily on analytics, while also making the puzzling decision to play Taylor Motter.

This past offseason, they were active and addressed their starting rotation, but didn't spend big like they needed to. Instead of adding two frontline starters, they added just one, Gray, while filling the rest of the rotation with back-end guys like Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson.

Of course, the front office has made some poor decisions, and they deserve blame. But ownership has also been unwilling to spend big money on key players, which forces the Cardinals to settle for half measures.

Now, as we head into 2024, it looks as though the Cardinals will be without their ace for a little bit, leaving Miles Mikolas as the most likely candidate to start Opening Day.

For years, the standards have been lowering. The Cardinals went from a championship contender to a team that just strived to be good enough to get into the playoffs and banked on hope that magic from 2006 and 2011 would repeat itself.

Yes, the Cardinals should be better than last year, but they haven't done enough to be a World Series contender, but rather, just a borderline playoff contender.

This is why it's fair to say no when posed with the question of whether or not the Cardinals truly know what they're doing. They've made questionable decisions that have set the organization on the wrong path, and 2023 was the culmination of such decisions.

And without Gray, the pitching doesn't look any better than last year.