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Homebrew Goodness: the St. Louis Cardinals' Recipe for Success

The 2012 Cardinals put together the postseason team with the largest number of homegrown prospects. This trend is only likely to continue.

Bob Levey

a brief meditation on last night's world series game: while other people may take last night's bizarro pablo sandoval three-homer night against the most unlikely of pitchers in a reasonably unlikely stadium as evidence of momentum or fate or something, i find it an oddly comforting reminder that baseball - especially broken down game-by-game - is just fundamentally weird.

you just cannot watch baseball without remembering that the detroit tigers could play a best-of-seven series against the astros, and the astros would still have a 25 or 30% chance of taking a game from justin verlander and the tigers, and maybe a 15 or 20% chance of taking the series. we saw the best starting pitcher in the postseason face off against the worst starting pitcher in the postseason, and the cy young contender was the one who got drummed out of the game trailng by 5.

baseball is weird. the sooner fans accept its irrationality, the more fun it is. that irrationality is part of why the tail end of the NLCS just doesn't hurt that bad to me.


john sickels did an interesting write-up on the composition of teams in the playoffs, and noted that the cardinals had the highest proportion of players drafted by the club on the postseason roster. the cardinals were 64% homegrown, with more than 48% of the roster being a college draftee. the other LCS teams all had teams comprised only 40% by homegrown players.

note that sickels is looking at draft status, not tenure in the farm system, which leaves trade objects adam wainwright and david freese out of his equation.

what's remarkable is that - unlike a lot of other postseason teams who have tapped out their farms just to get to this point - the cardinals are very likely to see an even more extreme homegrown tilt in future seasons. kyle lohse is virtually assured to depart and be replaced by a homegrown starter in 2013; jake westbrook and chris carpenter will likely depart in the near future and be similarly replaced. carlos beltran will likely be replaced by oscar taveras by 2014. even if rafael furcal returns healthy, it's hard to see the club keeping him around after his current contract expires.

other than matt holliday, and the aforementioned freese and wainwright, it's hard to really pick out any players currently with the club who were acquired by trade or from free agency likely to stick around beyond 2013. marc rzepczynski remains under club control for several seasons and could stick around if he improves on his 2012 performance.

other than a fairly outside shot of acquiring a middle infielder, i see little likelihood of signing or trading for any new players (beyond minor role players on one-year deals, like a LOOGy or a bench bat) in the current off-season. the cardinals could easily put a team on the field in 2014 that is 75 or 80% homegrown.

and the team's homegrown talent is not just regurgitations of andrew browns and nick stavinohas from memphis in lieu of scraping the bottom of the free agent pile, but real fundamental talent that you can build a club around: allen craig, jon jay, shelby miller, joe kelly, lance lynn, matt carpenter, and trevor rosenthal. sure, there are a fair number of role players like shane robinson or adron chambers, but, moreso than at any time in recent memory, a substantial core of homegrown players is emerging.

the 2012 cardinals team is proof that the cardinals have put together an excellent plan for maintaining a role as a competitor in the division for quite a few seasons to come. the continued youth movement will keep the cost of running the team relatively low; aside from yadier molina, almost none of the homegrown prospects have played long enough (or, in skip schumaker's case, well enough) to become truly expensive to retain.

having a core of talented, club-controlled players with enough payroll flexibility to fill the inevitable gaps has been widely demonstrated to be among the best possible plans for maintaining a role as a perennial postseason contender; having lots more money than everybody else is the other one. although enough well-funded and poorly-run teams have spent some time in the cellar of their division that one can probably say that merely having lots of money is not enough to succeed.

at the outset of this season, a lot of people knocked the cardinals as too old and enfeebled to compete. and, yes, injuries took a big toll on this club, which was predictable. what very few people saw behind a line of big name, past-their-prime veterans like lance berkman, chris carpenter, and carlos beltran was a very young, very talented, very deep core of players. anyone who'd been paying close attention knew that the cardinals had the luxury of taking wild bets on aging players because of the depth behind them.

nobody will make that same mistake in 2013.

of course, injury could make a fool of me; as i noted at the top of this article, baseball is just an incredibly weird sport. it has a way of wrecking the best plans. the team can only make the best possible plan and try to plan for the contingencies that are bound to arise; i think they have a very solid model for years to come.


n.b. you may also appreciate sickels' rundown of three cardinal hurlers as prospects: kyle lohse, jason motte (did you know he used to be a catcher?), and chris carpenter. these ran during the postseason, and you, like me, may have missed them in the excitement.