As of the time I am writing this sentence, the Cardinals have played 81 games. Exactly half of the 2016 season is complete.
While this hardly constitutes a "large" sample size, it is a large enough one to comprise a decent chunk of any move the Cardinals made (or did not make). And while no transaction has a result which is absolutely set in stone, some are looking better than others. Here is a semi-chronological look back at what has become of the Cardinals' moves.
October 31: Cardinals pick up $11.5 million option for Jaime Garcia
For a time, the oft-injured Garcia's contract looked like a grin-and-bear-it kind of deal for the Cardinals. He was very effective--not quite an ace, but not as far from it as one might assume--but he was hampered by injuries. And this wasn't a "missed a season due to Tommy John surgery" kind of thing: it was a series of injuries from which he didn't seem like he would get better.
Jaime Garcia was truly dynamic following an injury to start 2015, so the Cardinals picked up his 2016 option, and while he has not been as good on a rate basis as he was in 2015, $11.5 million appears to be a good deal for the team.
His first-half numbers have been slightly above average (3.84 ERA, 3.69 fielding-independent ERA, a 6-6 record for those of you who care about such things), and $11.5 million for a slightly above average pitcher over the course of a season is a steal. Fangraphs estimates that he has been worth $11.9 million already this season. The decision to pick up his option (which I suspect wasn't an especially difficult decision, but it was a decision nonetheless) was a calculated risk that Jaime Garcia could stay healthy. He has, so the move has worked.
November 30: Cardinals signed Brayan Pena to 2 year, $5 million contract
After four years of Tony Cruz, the Cardinals signed veteran backstop and great person Brayan Pena to a contract to back up Yadier Molina. The team previously saw little need for a high-end backup catcher since Molina was consistently healthy and durable, but after he had incurred injuries and faced the inevitable enemy of the aging curve in future seasons, the Cardinals made a move for Pena.
In the first half of 2016, Pena had five plate appearances. He walked in one of them, but that's not the point. Pena still has a year and a half to be worth his contract, which even in limited playing time is hardly an impossible task given how small his contract is, though the strong play of Eric Fryer while Pena was on the Disabled List may subdue any excitement about whatever production Brayan Pena contributes.
December 7: Cardinals trade Jon Jay to the San Diego Padres for Jedd Gyorko and $7.5 million
Jedd Gyorko's acquisition led to much talk about his versatility, though in practice, this has not been an enormous benefit for the 2016 Cardinals, as the emergence of Aledmys Diaz and, to a lesser extent, Greg Garcia, have kept Gyorko primarily at second base. Gyorko has started as many games, five, at first base, than he has at shortstop, three.
That said, Gyorko has been quietly productive as a Cardinal. His 91 wRC+ is hardly amazing but for a backup middle infielder, it is perfectly cromulent. His defensive metrics have been solid, though hardly overwhelming enough to draw any major conclusions in such a small sample of data.
Meanwhile, with a surging Randal Grichuk and a healthy Tommy Pham, Jon Jay seemed redundant. But in retrospect, he could have been useful to this Cardinals team. Even with his defensive numbers the worst they have been since he became primarily a center fielder in 2011, Jay's offense has bounced back in a big way. By which I mean "unlike last year, he hasn't been a terrible hitter but rather a slightly above average one."
Last week, Jay suffered a broken forearm, which will hamper his value going forward. At the same time, Jedd Gyorko doesn't have a clear role for the Cardinals going forward, and while the $7.5 million in cash acquired from the Padres is nice, it won't even pay off the $13 million he will be owed in 2019.
December 8: John Lackey signed with Cubs for 2 years, $32 million
December 15: Jason Heyward signed with Cubs for 8 years, $184 million, and a whole bunch of options
These non-signings both involved a compensation draft pick heading to the Cardinals, so I'm lumping them together.
The compensation draft pick isn't a complete nonfactor in evaluating these moves, but it's close to one.
For not signing Lackey nor Heyward, the Cardinals acquired the 33rd and 34th overall picks. I will now fire up the ol' Baseball Reference machine to look at the history of these picks and...of the 52 #33 draft picks, only 20 have made the Majors. Even considering that it is unfair to factor in the last few years of these picks since they still have plenty of time to make it, less than half make it to MLB. Of the twenty, only eight have been worth positive Wins Above Replacement. The best of the lot was Mike Gallego.
#34 picks fared a little better, with just over half making the majors, but even so, only 14 of 52 have been worth positive WAR. Assuming substantial production doesn't make sense, especially as a contrast to established stars.
Evaluating these players should come down mostly to their individual merits. And on Lackey's merits, he has been worth the contract so far. By a lot. His estimated value per Fangraphs is $16.8 million; he only needs to be worth about 2 WAR, roughly a league average pitcher over a year, in a year and a half to justify the contract.
Heyward, on the other hand, had loftier expectations and has failed to live up to them. His defense has been great, per usual, but his offense is easily the worst it has ever been. Heyward will make $58 million in the three seasons before his first player opt-out (which he will almost assuredly exercise if he performs well enough to justify the initial $58 million in the first place), and in the first half, he was worth $8.2 million.
While the breakout of Stephen Piscotty, a better player in the first half of 2016 by any measure, has been used to exaggerate Cardinals wisdom in not signing Heyward (Piscotty can play first base or left field, Heyward can play center field; it's not as though Piscotty was being sent back to Memphis had Heyward signed an extension in St. Louis), there is some substitution effect here. While nobody should put it past Heyward to make the Cardinals eventually look like fools, it wouldn't be because of anything he has done so far.
December 10: Cardinals signed Jonathan Broxton to 2 year, $7.5 million contract
$7.5 million is a drop in the bucket for two years of a Major League Baseball contract. And while Broxton is often maligned by fans (I blame this picture for 90% of it), he isn't quite the disaster he's made out to be. Baseball Reference says he's a little above replacement level; Fangraphs says he's at replacement level.
The real issue is Steve Cishek, whom the Cardinals non-tendered. The Cardinals could have had the Mariners closer, who in the first half had 20 saves and a 2.39 ERA, at below market value for a year. Instead, they locked up Jonathan Broxton for two years. It's a marginal move but it was questionable at the time and borders on indefensible in retrospect.
December 22: Cardinals signed Mike Leake to 5 year, $80 million contract
I have a blind spot with Mike Leake, in that I still have a hard time grasping that $16 million for an average-ish pitcher isn't terrible. But through half a season, Leake hasn't been average. He's been a hair below average. And the $6.4 million he was worth in the first half of 2016 puts him behind the curve to be worth the contract. Since Mike Leake is fairly young and has been healthy thusfar in his career, this may wind up being a very slow and boring race for five years to determine if he is worth the money.
January 11: Cardinals signed Seung-Hwan Oh to 1 year, $5 million contract with 2017 team option for $6 million
With this move, the Cardinals signed a guy I'd never heard of, and it was their best move of the offseason.
Let's put it this way: if Oh were suddenly incapable of pitching for the rest of the season today, the Cardinals determined he was okay to pitch in 2017 and they picked up his option and he ended up missing the entire 2017 season, he would still nearly be worth the contract. The occasional 1.71 reliever ERA season will happen, and it generally is a bit flukish, but Oh also had a 1.70 FIP in the first half of 2016. With the struggles of Trevor Rosenthal, Oh has been particularly valuable for the Cardinals.
Anyway, I could go over the boring Ruben Tejada contract, where the Cardinals paid very little and got even less, but Oh seems like a good note on which to go out, doesn't it?