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Running to stand still

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The Cardinals undoubtedly improved this offseason. But many fans still haven't found what they're looking for.

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

With the last few remaining free agents of note finally coming off the board, some at bargain basement prices, it's more clear than ever that we are looking at the roster the Cardinals will take into opening day. And people have emotions about that.

I've seen some go as far as to say the Cardinals are worse than they were last season. That seems like quite a stretch to me. Projections may not be perfect, but I don't know anything that gives us a better baseline, and ZiPS sees this year's team WAR two wins better than last season.

The Cards lost Lance Lynn but added Miles Mikolas. Now don't get me wrong, there's a part of me that - especially when Mikolas struggled early in spring raining - wanted to put a wad of dip in my lip, spit into an empty can of Bush Light and say "he ain't done it in the big leagues." But the robots calculate that he will be as good as Lance Lynn, and I trust the robots. (He looked damn good in that last start, too.)

I expect Mikolas to be about as good as Lynn this season. He's also a year younger and signed for just under half the AAV.

In the outfield, it would be hard to argue Marcel Ozuna is not a major upgrade over the Piscotty/Grichuk combo that earned many of the starts last season.

In the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal has departed (though he wouldn't be playing this season anyway). But the Cardinals have added Dominic Leone, Bud Norris and Luke Gregerson (hopefully). These may not be the guys you most wanted, but it would be hard to argue the talent coming in has not eclipsed the talent going out.

Among the many Cardinal holdovers, it's probably about a wash with last season. A few aging guys will probably decline further. Several younger guys could well improve.

So in total, this offseason, the Cardinals plugged their biggest hole - an open spot in the rotation. In their weakest position, the third outfielder, rather than rely on full-time duty from Jose Martinez or hope for a step forward from Harrison Bader or one of their other high minors guys, they went over-the-top and acquired a player who now projects to be their highest WAR position player. They bolstered their bullpen with a grab bag of intriguing talent, exactly as they should have done.

The Cardinals clearly improved this offseason. But did they do enough?

This is the perennial, existential anxiety of being a Cardinals fan in the modern era. Does the team make smart personnel moves? Yes, to a ridiculously high degree. But that doesn't mean they couldn't do more, especially with a payroll they always say they will increase but only do in very small degrees.

My instinct is always that they could do more and they should do more. Then I sit down to write a well-reasoned post for this Cardinals blog I write for, I crack open Fangraphs and Cot's Contracts... and I have a hard time putting together EXACTLY what move they should have made.

This year, they sought a significant upgrade somewhere on a roster that was very consistent but consistently average throughout. By all accounts, they went full Lloyd Dobler for Giancarlo Stanton, but he turned them down. Perhaps if they'd played hard-to-get a little longer, they could have landed Christian Yelich, but there's not a huge gulf between he and Ozuna (and I'm in the minority that would take Ozuna, anyway).

I really hoped we'd see a trade for Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson, but we haven't. And based on the fact that those guys have gone nowhere, it's entirely possible they are either not really on the market or the asking price is exorbitant.

It's a little maddening to see guys like Mike Moustakas and Logan Morrison signing for such low dollar figures, but it's hard for me to see any of those guys as an upgrade over what the Cardinals already have, and I can't imagine them agreeing to sign somewhere they were likely going to be splitting time anyway.

I've already raved about the bullpen moves, so that leaves only the starting rotation. That's the one area where I feel like I might be able to construct a logical argument to match my gut instinct that the team should have done more.

That Cubs Yu Darvish contract looks pretty damn reasonable to me. Long-term deals for starters usually terrify me, but Darvish is not only very good, but he gets outs in a variety of ways, not entirely dependent on velocity, and that makes me believe he will age better than most. I would take that contract in a second.

Why weren't the Cardinals more in on Darvish? I have no idea. Yes, they have a lot of cost-controlled pitching on the way, but Darvish would have significantly improved them this season and remained an asset into the future, perhaps allowing some of those prospects to be flipped for upgrades elsewhere. Maybe the Cardinals don't see Darvish the way that I do. Or maybe they called his agent and he said "Yu like, totally hates you guys." I don't know why they weren't in the mix for Darvish, but that is one free agent move I wish they had made.

Like many of you, I've also fallen in love with the idea of a trade for Chris Archer, both because he is 1) good as hell and 2) woke af on Twitter. On this one, there's been a lot of smoke, but nothing has materialized. And just as with Machado or Donaldson, it's impossible to say to what extent Archer is even available, or if the Cardinals SHOULD be making a move with whatever's on the table...

In terms of big moves to improve the rotation... that's about all I got: One free agent move and one trade. I would have loved to see either of those moves, but given all the things I don't know inside the world of free agent or trade acquisitions, it's hard for me to argue the Cardinals are absolutely at-fault for not making one of these materialize.

It's also hard to evaluate how much the Cardinals should be doing in a landscape with so many teams tanking, and most of the rest coming out of a tanking cycle and pushing their chips all-in. Maybe the Cardinals should become one of those all-in teams, but that's it's own argument.

I wish the Cardinals had done more this offseason, but I don't know that I can pinpoint what that "more" would have been.