So the World Series was...kind of a letdown. Not because the Cardinals lost, of course; I'm not so spoiled as a fan I can't appreciate how amazing any season you make it to the World Series is. No, it was disappointing because at no point in the series did I ever feel as if the Cardinals were really playing their absolute best baseball. They didn't play badly, mind you (with a few exceptions), but they just seemed a half-step off of what we saw for most of the season. Slightly sloppy, I suppose I would call it.
It's also funny how a single series can throw into such sharp relief every single issue a team has. Usually, when a team loses a playoff series, you find yourself a little surprised at how it went down. Take the Dodgers, for instance; when they lost the NLCS, you have to imagine their fans were surprised all to hell and back it was because they lost three out of four games started by the best 1-2 starting rotation punch in the majors. Things like that. But for the Redbrds, well, it sort of seemed as if there was a script being followed, to expose the weakest parts of the roster. Adam Wainwright's inexplicable lack of Wainwrightness was the only huge shocker.
The bench is weak, the offense is entirely too reliant on hitting with runners in scoring position, the middle of the rotation is vulnerable, the Cards are pretty much the bottom of the barrel in terms of defensive efficiency, those sorts of things. On the other hand, you never want to overreact to one six-game stretch, regardless of when it takes place. A few well-placed grounders, rather than line drives finding Boston gloves, and the outcome could have been a whole lot different. So calling for wholesale changes based on one series isn't a great idea.
That being said, I think we all have a pretty good idea of what the problems with this team are. The offense looked so good all season, but if you aren't setting an all-time record for average with RISP, things tend to bog down. If you have an offense that requires three, sometimes four baserunners to score one run, you'd better make sure you have more than five hitters in your lineup you believe in. If you've got two players in that group of five capable of hitting 30-35 homers, then maybe that's good enough. The Cardinals do not have that, and far too many rallies stalled out once the Freese/Jay/Kozma/Descalso portion of the lineup came rolled around.
The answer? Well, you can try to add a couple mashers, add a bunch of speed, or deepen the lineup. Of those three options, power is the one most likely to be prohibitively expensive. Speed is attractive, and I would love it if the Cardinals could add some speed to the team, but it seems like a poor skill to put the emphasis on. To me, you have to lengthen the lineup, eliminate the easy outs at the bottom, and watch the runs come marching through the door.
I will say this: I am preparing myself to be very let down by the Cardinals' offseason this year. I don't say that because I think Mozeliak and Company are incompetent, or that they'll fail to make any kind of upgrades to the roster, but because my own personal ideas of how to go about fortifying this team are ludicrously ambitious, to the point I can't imagine many, if any, major league teams actually willing to go apeshit crazy and do the things I would do, much less a conservative organisation like this one. So I'm sure the Cards will make a handful of well-reasoned, rational, intelligent moves to bolster the club, and I'll be left so rosterbate alone.
A few random thoughts and players I have mentally targeted as we kick off the Hot Stove league for 2013-2014:
- The club's decision to go forward with Trevor Rosenthal as strictly a closer is, I think, a huge mistake. I hate hate hate the decision, and it's an enormous waste of what could be a rotation ace to limit him to a third of the innings he might otherwise throw. A very poor management of resources, I believe. Rosenthal's combination of multiple plus offerings, excellent mechanics, and above-average command is everything you look for in a top of the rotation arm; sticking him at closer (where he'll be wonderfully successful, I'm sure), is just a huge waste of potential. If you need a can opener, you go find yourself a can opener. You don't go and get a top of the line, three or four hundred dollar Swiss Army Knife and stick it in the drawer, refusing to use it for anything but opening cans because you really like how nicely it does so.
- I have very little interest at this point in either of the Boston free agents, despite both of them being pretty obvious upgrades for the Cardinals. Jacoby Ellsbury I really like, but I think he's going to get a really large contract that he will probably just about live up to, but won't produce much, if any, excess value. Paying market price for wins isn't always a bad idea, but I think you could do close to Ellsbury for far less money and without giving up a draft pick.
- And speaking of draft picks, it's the single biggest reason I don't particularly want Stephen Drew. I like Drew as a player, but he's likely going to command a four-year deal from someone, pushing him through his age-34 season (middle infielders age notoriously poorly), for a huge pile of cash, and he's going to cost the team signing him a first-round draft pick as well. I know the value of a draft pick at the end of the first round where the Cardinals are going to be picking isn't all that high, but I believe in this organisation's ability to turn draft picks into value at a greater rate than usual. The Redbirds have made it a habit -- actually, a core value, I would say, rather than just a habit -- to hoard draft picks as much as possible over the past decade. I don't see them going against that now, even if Drew would likely be a big upgrade at short for the next two or three seasons.
- If it's free agency for shortstop, I'll take Peralta. Shorter contract, no draft pick loss. My preference, though, would be to fix the position for the next 7-10 years by prying someone like Jurickson Profar away from the Rangers. The Cardinals have a large bumper crop of movable assets in one spot right now; if ever they were going to shoot for the moon to turn their biggest liability into a noted strength for the next decade, now is the time. The Rangers have a huge, gaping hole at first base, and their pitching leaves quite a bit to be desired. The Cardinals have pitching to deal, as well a huge, gaping first baseman Texas might enjoy seeing hit in that bandbox they call home...
- I would love to see Greg Garcia get a chance in the big leagues next season, but I would much prefer it to be in the Daniel Descalso role, rather than starting at short. The bench was a big problem for the Cards this season; a guy like Garcia could represent a big upgrade playing multiple positions and accumulating 350 plate appearances, but I think you could do better at shortstop considering the resources this club has to make it happen.
- I don't want to see Allen Craig playing right field. At all. He's not good at it, and this is a player who has suffered injuries to both knee and foot over the past few seasons. For the love of god, don't ask him to run around the outfield. Move Matt Adams and actually maximize your return, rather than risking further injury to Craig because you've got all these square pegs and nothing but round holes to fill.
- I would like to see a change at third base, but it's easily the lowest priority for me at this point. Beyond even the possibility of a bounceback season from David Freese (which I'm not too confident of; he just looks as if his body is betraying him, unfortunately), you already have at least one internal option in the form of the Carpenter/Wong Gambit, a chess move I just invented that involves moving a bishop and a pawn around in some fashion. It still needs work, yes, but I'll get there.
- Speaking of Jacoby Ellsbury and upgrading center field, I'll beat the drum briefly for one of my favourite players to watch in the big leagues: Peter Bourjos. The downside with Bourjos is he did have a wrist injury this year, which can definitely be worrisome, but if there's a player in the game who has done more with his rather limited chances, I can't find one. He'll play all of next season at 27 years old, so he's just entering into his real prime years as a hitter (he's almost exactly one year younger than Jon Jay, in fact), and has been worth more WAR per plate appearance than Ellsbury to this point. To wit, Jay has produced 9.3 career WAR in 1956 plate appearances, or 0.0047 wins per PA, Jacoby has produced 23.7 WAR in 3204 plate appearances, or 0.0073 wins per PA, and Bourjos has produced 9.0 WAR in just 1136 plate appearances, or 0.0079 wins per PA. Of course, the question with Bourjos is what the trade cost would be, but he seems to me to be an extraordinarily reasonable target, not to mention one who has outproduced the biggest name on the free agent market this year in terms of value relative to playing time. Sure, a ton of Bourjos's value is tied up in his defense, but after watching Jay in the outfield this past season, not to mention seeing the guys on either side of him slow down considerably, I'm ready to see better defense in center.
- If the Cardinals were to look into trading for Bourjos, I wonder how much extra it would take to bring in Hank Conger? I know the staff likes Tony Cruz, but Conger has been a pretty solid part-time catcher to this point in his career -- much stronger than Cruz -- and the Cards are going to have to get smarter about managing Yadier Molina's playing time at some point before his knees burst into flames in a low-speed collision one of these days. Also, Conger is apparently a brilliant pitch-framer, which is one of those things Molina himself usually gets so much credit for.
- Or, hey, you say you don't want to trade for a possible upgrade in center field? Fine. How about Chris Young, coming off a really rough season with the Oakland A's? Maybe not to replace Jay, exactly, considering how poorly Young performed in 2013, but this is a guy who was worth 8.6 wins between 2010 and 2011, who suffered through an horrifically low .237 BABIP this year, and still has wheels, despite his defense taking a definite hit in 2013. On the downside, he did just turn 30 -- same as Ellsbury, in fact -- so he might be beginning to slow down a little. Like I said, I don't know I would want to go into 2014 with Young as my only option -- maybe not even Plan A, exactly -- but for the contract he's likely going to get, I believe he could end up a huge bargain for some team. Maybe our team.