Before the final days of the trade deadline, there was a lot of frustration among St. Louis Cardinals fans about the lack of movement from the front office. Eventually, they ended up dealing Jordan Mongtomery, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Chris Stratton, and Paul DeJong in an extremely active deadline.
The goal of the front office is not to make the quickest deal but to make the right deal. Fans should have had no problems with waiting until the final hours before the deadline if it meant the Cardinals would pull off the right moves to improve this ballclub.
But it does bring up an interesting question for the Cardinals - how do you avoid being so urgent that you make a panic move while also not being so patient that you miss out on quality deals in front of you?
The Cardinals keep backing themselves into corners, and the market tries to take advantage of them.
This past offseason, everyone in baseball knew the Cardinals needed a catcher. So guess what? Teams weren't going to let them get one without paying a king's ransom.
When the Cardinals called the Toronto Blue Jays about Danny Jansen, they responded with a desire to receive Lars Nootbaar in return. That was never going to happen. The Cardinals even put All-Star closer Ryan Helsley on the table to get a deal done, and the Blue Jays did not budge.
Then there was the Oakland Athletics, who wanted both Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar, plus potentially even another prospect, for the services of Sean Murphy. Again, the Cardinals balked at the asking price and went home with a huge five-year deal to Willson Contreras instead.
If the Cardinals had their way, Murphy or Jansen would be their catcher today, but they were held to the fire and decided not to cave. It's debatable if they made the right decision on Jansen, but Murphy has gone on to be an MVP candidate this year and would have been an excellent addition. The problem though was the Cardinals could not afford to wait to make a deal. They had to find a catcher (well...at least they thought they did...it seems like Ivan Herrera and Andrew Knizner could have been an adequate duo), and so they settled for Contreras.
The Athletics ended up getting a much weaker package for Murphy. I would be shocked if they still did that deal instead of one centering around just one of Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, or Nolan Gorman later on. But again, the Cardinals backed themselves into a corner and had no time to wait out the Athletics asking price.
In December 2016, the Cardinals once again found themselves in a very similar scenario with their outfield. Oscar Taveras died a few years prior, leading them to trade for Jason Heyward, who left them in free agency the very next year. They had their eyes set on Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox, but his price went sky high, and so they pivoted to signing Dexter Fowler to a large contract.
It was clear early on that Fowler was not the answer to their issues, and now they needed a bat for the middle of their order in the worst way, with an outfielder being the likeliest way of doing so. Naturally, they went after the biggest fish on the market - Giancarlo Stanton. They had a deal in place with the Marlins, but Stanton refused to waive his no-trade clause. They turned negotiations toward Christian Yelich but were told by the Marlins that he was not available.
Instead of waiting out the Marlins poker game, they caved in and sent Zac Gallen and Sandy Alcantara to Miami for Marcell Ozuna in what turned out to be a terrible decision by the Cardinals' front office.
Each of these decisions was made by the front office in moments when their backs were in the corner, many would even call these panic moves. When you desperately need an upgrade, it's hard to get picky about the ways you acquire said upgrades, but the Cardinals have to find a way to balance their urgency this offseason with the patience to make the right deal.
In free agency, names like Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be big fish that will require contracts well above $100 million to get a deal done. In the trade market, Dylan Cease and Logan Gilbert will command a ton of value in return, while Tyler Glasnow won't take as much prospect capital but will come with a $25 million salary and massive injury history.
No matter what path the Cardinals take to address their front-line pitching issues, they will incur massive risk. It could be in the form of a nine-figure contract that could end up being a major letdown. It could come in the form of giving away future star talent for a pitcher that could end up disappointing.
The Cardinals will have the thread the needle when it comes to filling their huge need and doing so in a way they will not regret down the line. It's a difficult problem to solve, but one they have created for themselves. There will be no way to truly know until years from now if they made the right decisions, but that is why the front office is paid to be in those seats. They've got to get it right this offseason.