I’m not generally interested in discussing what an entire fanbase “thinks” or “feels.” Take a spin around Cardinal Nation or any other, and you’ll find every possible take. But I have to concede that the question of what Cardinal fans think or what they should think has been pretty hot lately.
MLB.com’s Mike Petriello was the latest to stir the pot with this tweet yesterday:
I keep getting this impression that Cards fans aren't happy with Paul Goldschmidt? I get that he's Not Bryce Harper, so fine -- get him too! -- but good lord, Paul Goldschmidt is incredible.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) February 5, 2019
Now some responses were pretty defensive, and I get it, he is doing that thing where you extrapolate an entire fanbase’s attitude based on some small subset. But if we’re being honest, we’ve all probably seen the type of people who Petriello is talking about here, whether in the comments, on Twitter or in the mirror.
I’ve seen people proclaim they will not buy tickets, will move to Canada, etc. based on the team’s lack of moves. Spend your money however you want, but that seems overcooked to me in a year where they did trade for the best first baseman in baseball.
At the same time, the team has yet again declined to spend anywhere near the top of the free agent market, despite various statements about prioritizing winning in 2019. That alone touches a raw nerve.
Nothing tweaked that nerve this offseason quite like the (soon deleted) Tweet from the Fox Sports Midwest account, which essentially told fans to be happy with Fowler and Co. and stop asking about Bryce Harper.
In the immortal words of Crash Davis, “we’re dealing with a lot of shit.”
We are all floating around in hot take culture, where the pressure is on to either be “fer” something or “agin” it. Is the Cardinals offseason good or bad? I think it’s a little more complicated than that, but still pretty simple.
I’m happy with what the Cardinals have done this offseason. I just wish they would do more.
The things that make me happy
Adding Paul Goldschmidt is a move on-par with something like the Scott Rolen trade. One of the very best players in the league - a guy I’ve always watched and thought “I wish he played for the Cardinals” - will be wearing the birds on the bat next year. That is very, very good. I will enjoy watching him play immensely.
I’m a little more mixed on the other big move: Andrew Miller. My religious preference is Don’t Pay for Relievers. His age and a dip in performance last year are concerns. But this is also a guy who has been a premium talent pretty recently, the very face of the Modern Fireman movement. The possibility to watch Really Good Andrew Miller pitch for St. Louis? I am all about that.
The things than don’t make me happy
For the last three seasons, there was no realistic way the Cardinals were going to make themselves better on paper than the freshly untanked Chicago Cubs. But the Cubs have drifted back to the pack a bit, and with marquee players like Carpenter and Molina nearing the end of their deals, and especially after the team added just a single guaranteed year of Goldschmidt, 2019 sure looked like the year to make a big push.
How long have ownership and the front office been talking about “keeping the powder dry” as a metaphor for waiting to spend until the time was right? Well, here’s one from 2010, and my heart can’t withstand looking back any further than that.
The Cardinals reportedly just missed on Jason Heyward. Reports also say they were ready to take on Giancarlo Stanton’s deal, but he declined. So give them as many points for effort as you’d like, but it’s been nine full years since the team signed Matt Holliday. That’s the last time they acquired a cornerstone player via free agency. (And of course, Holliday had played half a season in St. Louis via trade the year before, so account that however you like.)
The point is, if all of this powder was kept dry until the time was right, that time is/was clearly now. I don’t think it’s fair to judge the team only based on Bryce Harper, but it’s hard to ignore a cornerstone player in the position they are most in need. And leaving aside any individual moves, it again appears that ownership strongly prefers to improve the team in any way that does not require additional DeWitt Bucks.
As it stands currently, the Cardinals actually have slightly less payroll on the books than they did last year.
In his most recent comments on the offseason, John Mozeliak said not only that adding any additional players would “just make things tougher,” but he reiterated the idea that the team had a plan going into the offseason and they have executed it.
Fangraphs Depth Charts currently peg the Cardinals to win 86 games, two behind the Cubs and just one ahead of the Mets for the first Wild Card spot. Clearly, flexing some of that alleged payroll muscle for a Harper or a Keuchel or any other free agent acquisitions could push the Cardinals ahead of the Cubs on paper for the first time since 2015.
But as I said a couple weeks ago, what the team is telling us is clear: Becoming the favorites to win the division is not a priority - not when their offseason moves are complete with an 86-win team.
If anything, it should be sobering to see that even with the acquisition of the best first baseman in baseball, the team is only projected for 86-wins and a Wild Card slot. The organization has acted as if they were just a move or two away for three years now, but this team has finished third in their own division two years in a row. This might well squeak them back into the playoffs, but by no means does it assure them of going back to that 90+ win juggernaut we all got used to.
...and there you have it, the good and the bad. Does that make me as a fan or those who feel like me as a fanbase happy? Sad? Entitled? Ungrateful?
I’m more excited heading into this season than I have been in several years. A full campaign without Matheny will be great in itself. Goldschmidt is the most exciting addition to the team since maybe Holliday or even Rolen.
As for the parity in the division, I’m disappointed to see it more or less confirmed that ownership is prepared to settle as perennial Wild Card contenders rather than going for the jugular. But in practice, it should make for a fun season, where a small swing above or below projections could mean a division title or finishing behind the Reds.