The Cardinals' international failures are an overlooked piece of their collapse

The St. Louis Cardinals have a surprisingly short list of productive free agents from Latin America in their recent history, which is a telling sign of their problems with developing quality players.
San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals / Michael B. Thomas/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals' recent descent from a top-class franchise into a laughingstock has been well documented, and much has been made of the Cardinals' troubles developing young talent into stars. But their issues with creating major league talent with international signings from Latin America are perhaps even more telling of the organization's development woes.

Free agents from Latin America are probably the biggest lottery tickets in professional baseball. Most of these players are signed when they are around age 16 or 17, so they are extremely raw and must have their teams transform their tools into skills that translate to the baseball field.

Most of the Cardinals' international success has come from Asia, where the players are more or less fully fleshed out and there is little development to be done. But in Latin America, the Cardinals have continually whiffed. Ivan Herrera is the only player on the Cardinals' active roster who was signed as an international free agent.

Their biggest success story in modern times is Carlos Martinez, signed in 2010 for $1.5 million. But even Martinez frustrated fans with his inconsistency and only showed flashes of the talent he possessed. Another signing, pitcher Fernando Salas, had a few solid years with the Cardinals, serving as the primary closer in 2011.

There was, however, an instance of what might have been. In 2008, the Cardinals inked Oscar Taveras to a $145,000 bonus and was deemed by many to be the club's best offensive prospect since Albert Pujols. Unfortunately, his potential was never realized, as he died in a car accident months after his first season in the major leagues.

The rest of the Cardinals' Latin American signings haven't done much with the team. Alex Reyes, the top signing in 2012, has had his career derailed by constant injuries. They signed Sandy Alcantara the next year, who has become a star — with the Miami Marlins. 2016 signing Randy Arozarena and 2017 signing Adolis Garcia are two more examples of those who got away but might have never reached their current heights if they had remained with the Cardinals.

One player the Cardinals likely regret not being more aggressive for is outfielder Luis Robert, whom the Cardinals tried to acquire but were outspent by the Chicago White Sox. Although Robert has dealt with injuries in his career, he has been electric when healthy and has a career OPS+ of 124.

The Cardinals' largest international signing in 2024 was Branneli Franco for $800,000. They signed 11 other players to smaller deals, and the hope is that at least one of these players can break out and become a useful contributor to the Cardinals.

With the amount of talent available internationally, the Cardinals should have a better record than they do in the Latin American market. The Cardinals' recent history with Latin American free agents is disheartening and speaks to the team's shortcomings in helping players reach their full potential.