Note: This post was written in conjunction with Jeff Jones of St. Louis Game Time, our sister site on the SB Nation network which covers the St. Louis Blues. The post also appears on St. Louis Game Time. Please visit St. Louis Game Time for more information regarding the Blues.
Entering 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals had playoff aspirations. They had a nonzero chance at making a run at the NL Central if the Chicago Cubs experienced a World Series hangover to start the season (check), and the Wild Card field appeared thin enough that the Cardinals expected to at least contend for a berth in the Wild Card Game.
The Cardinals entered the season with a handful of free agents-to-be, most notably veteran starting pitcher Lance Lynn, who could have some value to playoff contenders if the season went awry. After all, if the Cardinals were not going to make the postseason, and Lynn was going to hit free agency after the World Series, the Cardinals could easily find a team that had more use for two months-plus-playoffs of Lynn than they did.
But the MLB trade deadline came and went and Lance Lynn remained a Cardinal, with his team below .500 and 4.5 games back of the ascending Cubs in the NL Central.
Lynn does have some salvage value in the form of a qualifying offer: following the season, the Cardinals can offer him a one-year contract worth the average of MLB's 125 richest salaries (expected to be around $18 million) and if he declines, which is probable since he could get a longer-term deal, something even more appealing to a man who missed 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, in free agency, the Cardinals would receive a draft pick sandwiched between the second and third rounds of the MLB amateur draft.
While the exact offers are unknown, and Lynn didn't quite have the deadline cache of now-Yankee Sonny Gray or now-Dodger Yu Darvish, it seems likely he could have garnered a prospect(s) worth more than a 2nd-3rd round pick.
Just down Clark Street, Kevin Shattenkirk saw the move coming for months. He was due to be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, and the Blues weren’t about to waste an asset.
In June of 2016, before the NHL Draft, Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong had a phone call with Shattenkirk’s agent, Jordan Neumann, where the stakes were clearly laid out. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that the deal would take place around the draft.
It didn’t. It lingered. Reports throughout the year suggested the Blues worked out separate deals with Arizona, Edmonton, and Tampa Bay, but each time, Shattenkirk declined to negotiate an extension and the deal was scuttled. On a trip through eastern Canada in February, his locker was surrounded at each stop by reporters who were eager to hear his deadline thoughts.
On February 27th, the Blues pulled the trigger. Shattenkirk was traded to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Zach Sanford, Washington’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, and a conditional pick that eventually failed to come to fruition.
St. Louis, of course, regrouped. They made the playoffs and defeated the Minnesota Wild in five games before falling to the eventual Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators in six. The Blues’ path proved that selling one commodity can be distinct from surrendering the season.
The argument has been made that hanging on to Lynn is forgivable, since the Cardinals will have the benefit of that compensatory pick. However, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the Cardinals may not opt to extend a qualifying offer to Lynn, allowing him to walk for nothing.
Even if the Cardinals do decide to qualify Lynn, there’s little to no certainty that a player chosen after the second round of the draft will develop into a significant asset. Taking the 2012 MLB Draft as a reference point (so as to allow for player development) shows very little value in the players selected after pick 60.
In 2012, Alex Wood was selected 85th overall by Atlanta. Jake Lamb, Preston Tucker, Kyle Barraclough, Joey Rickard, Devon Travis, and Matt Duffy were all picked between 213th and 568th overall. The Cardinals made five selections between the first and supplemental first round – Michael Wacha, James Ramsey, Stephen Piscotty, Patrick Wisdom, and Steve Bean.
It’s evident that drafting in baseball is significantly more difficult than drafting in hockey. The Cardinals, by opting to roll the dice on qualifying Lance Lynn, are forced to hold their collective breaths and hope that they dig out a diamond in the rough.
Last year's Washington Capitals were the epitome of a win-now NHL team. The Capitals were already on track to have the NHL's best record and they already had a premium power play point man in Alex Ovechkin. Adding Kevin Shattenkirk, one of the NHL's most highly regarded offensive defensemen, was a power move for a team aiming for its first Stanley Cup.
The Blues made an all-in move three years prior when they packaged draft picks, a prospect, a veteran, and starting goalie Jaroslav Halak for (Steve Ott and) impending free agent Ryan Miller, who in turn played more or less like Halak for the remainder of the season.
In 2016, the Blues didn't go all-in but they did hold on to future free agents David Backes and Troy Brouwer at the trade deadline. In retrospect, even though Backes signed with Boston and Brouwer with Calgary in the offseason, it seems like an obvious move, since the ensuing playoff run was the deepest for the franchise in thirty years, but how might perception change had the Blues, say, lost a decisive Game 7 on home ice against the hated Chicago Blackhawks to cap a blown 3-1 series lead? Because this wouldn't be a stretch to imagine.
The Blues did not take such a risk in 2017, getting a promising forward and a first round pick later parlayed into Brayden Schenn, a player who fulfills a more direct need than Kevin Shattenkirk. The presence of less utilized youngsters such as Colton Parayko and playoff hero Joel Edmundson helped to mitigate the absence of Shattenkirk. Seemingly, had the Cardinals traded Lance Lynn, pitchers such as Luke Weaver could've done at least an adequate job.
Because the NHL playoffs include more teams than MLB, selling Shattenkirk was a less obvious white flag, but scarcity of available spots also increases the odds that keeping Lance Lynn will be a complete bust.
Doug Armstrong became general manager of the Blues in 2010, arriving in St. Louis as Director of Player Personnel in 2008. John Mozeliak, formerly the Cardinals’ Assistant General Manager, moved into the big chair in 2007 and ascended further this season. Now the President of Baseball Operations, Mozeliak retains control over the organization as Michael Girsch enjoys a title bump.
The two have charted very different paths in their respective times in St. Louis. Mozeliak has led his team to a World Championship and two pennants, and Armstrong is still searching for that elusive first Stanley Cup parade down Market Street (or even a Cup Final).
Given their choices over the last six months, however, it’s becoming clear that their paths have diverted yet again. For the first time in a long time, it’s Mozeliak who appears to be falling behind Armstrong.
The Blues have made recent moves with precision and intent. The Cardinals could use that lesson.