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Lukewarm in June: Cards in need of a shuffle

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A .500 team in mid-June could benefit from some new Cards added to the deck.

St Louis Cardinals v Miami Marlins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

I’m not a fan of the typical extremism that accompanies columns.

Opinion pieces in typical media settings are pretty polarizing. Plenty of hot takes. Capitalizing on the hot-button issues of the team’s fans.

It’s especially hard to avoid that style of writing in the blog space, where clubhouse access isn’t available and player interviews aren’t an option.

I feel like this season has evoked a lot of column-esque work from me, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. I’ve been a pretty even-keeled fan in the past, in terms of trusting the organizational depth and waiting for performances to level out.

But the Cardinals are 33-33 in mid June, five games back from the Brewers and 4.5 away from the second-place Cubs. Making moves for Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller this offseason, and the push for Marcell Ozuna before 2018, combined with an “all-in” narrative to push the Cardinals into a corner of taking extreme action this year.

Here are some quotes from John Mozeliak in a December piece by Derrick Goold:

  • “Simply, we realize the importance of 2019.”
  • “What I’m thinking about today is 2019.”
  • “It wasn’t working. Got to do something different. You’re right, I’ve always been one for the bigger picture, the longer-term decision-making. But we’re trying to win now.”

To be fair, they never said they would trade everything away and spend exorbitant amounts to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy this season. Both ownership and the front office have never been ones to offer too clear of a message, opting to work in vaguer spaces.

The rest of the piece is filled with quotes from Bill DeWitt III talking about avoiding large contracts with risk, taking age into account, etc. It’s cost-conscious rhetoric that one expects from MLB team ownership.

Michael Girsch pulled the front office’s message back to a place where both ownership and the fan base could both feel lukewarm with this quote:

“I think the message is not that we’re emphasizing 2019 at the expense of all else. We’ve always had a long-term view, and perhaps tweaking (that) is what’s leading us. If we were focusing on 2019 exclusively, there is a lot more young talent that wouldn’t be here in 2019 that we could move. No one does that. We’re not going to. We’re not just going to throw everything at 2019. But relative to long-term vs. short-term views, that math changed.”

I’m not really sure he said anything in that quote. “We’re trying to win this season, but we’re also trying to win in the future,” is what I pulled from it. Which sounds decidedly middle-of-the-road.

Still, a breaking point is obviously coming.

It’s now been what qualifies as a “few years” since the Cardinals saw postseason baseball. A lot of the moves the team has made hasn’t worked out—be them trades, actual signings or avoidance of signings.

It isn’t all the front office; ownership has to be willing to spend. After inking multiple players to extensions, including Paul Goldschmidt to a pretty large deal, they’ve shown they’ll spend when they feel it’s necessary. But with the bulk of the Cardinals’ long-term core well into their 30s, it feels like the window is closing. It’s felt that way more and more.

The consistent under-performer has been the pitching.

The offense was 8th in wRC+ from the start of the season through the end of April with 110. From the start of May through now, they’re 26th with 81 wRC+.

Two hitters have put up wOBA’s over the league-average .322 in that span: Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna. And it’s hard to be too excited about those numbers, when noting that Goldschmidt’s 103 wRC+ isn’t what the team was expecting from the slugger.

Still, the offense has shown elite potential. They’ve demonstrated an ability to put up excellent numbers, and the offense as a whole is slightly underperforming when looking at their xwOBA.

The defense actually isn’t a problem at all. They’re 7th in defensive fWAR, and there hasn’t been a fall-off. They’re second in base running, with 6.5 BsR, behind the White Sox. Since the start of May, they’re tied for the league lead in the category.

The pitching is the area where middling performance has been the best result.

The Cardinals were 29th in pitching fWAR from the start of the season through the end of April (-0.4). They’re 15th since the start of May (4.0).

Sure, that’s better. But it’s not great. It clearly hasn’t been capable of competing with the Cubs and Brewers, as they’re leaving the Cardinals behind at the moment in the NL Central.

In talking with Buster Olney before Sunday Night Baseball, he referenced two tiers of trades this year. He believes there will be more June trades, as teams in the middle try to re-tool, get it together and make a push, while still being able to blow it all up with trades at the end of July if things don’t work out.

The Cardinals need to do just that.

Someone like Madison Bumgarner is a guaranteed trade piece. He’s not what he used to be, but he’s still been better than any of the Cardinals’ starters, and he has considerable postseason experience.

It’s surprising to me that Bumgarner is only 29, as he brings a serious veteran presence to the club (though I could do without the whole, “yelling at batters who hit home runs off of him” thing).

Why not make a push right now? Bumgarner doesn’t have the team control of some of the other potential trade pieces, and he hasn’t been the elite version of himself in a while. He’s going to be cheaper than other options, and it would behoove the Giants to move him earlier in an attempt to get more, since the rental would be longer.

It would benefit the Cardinals, too.

They don’t have the time to keep mixing and matching, waiting for the youth to pull it together and anchor the pitching staff. July 31 is a month and a half away, and a .500 team could fall pretty far in that time.

The words of the Cardinal front office and ownership walked the line between fully investing in 2019 and planning for the future. Their actions said that 2019 was the year to make a push.

There are a decent number of minor league prospects who are ready to get a crack at the majors, even if their ceilings aren’t very high. That place would not be on the roster of a team making a push for the top of a division as stout as the NL Central.

It’s time to make some big moves in June. And, if it doesn’t work out, it’s time to send some pieces away come July 31.