After Bill DeWitt Jr. stated that the Cardinals payroll, which is currently hovering near $170 million, is basically set for the upcoming season, it appears likely that there will be no more significant acquisitions to the team. The Cardinals seem set on the idea of running it back with nearly the same team in 2020, other than parting ways with Marcell Ozuna and acquiring Kwang-Hyun Kim. Although rumors of a Nolan Arendao trade were flying around for a bit, and there was some speculation that the Cardinals were going to bring back Ozuna, this offseason seems pretty much like every other one — a low-key acquisition to fill out the major league roster and then a bunch of minor league depth signings. While this might be disappointing to some fans, it might have actually been the right course of action.
It is understandable that fans want more money invested into the roster, but there was not a single player that the Cardinals had a reasonable chance of acquiring, not named Nolan Arenado, that could have improved the roster enough to justify the cost. If the Cardinals bring back Ozuna then Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Justin Williams, and Dylan Carlson are all blocked or potentially blocked from significant major league playing time. The model of the Cardinals has always been building from within and that is a strategy that has worked well. Also, with the quality of these prospects, it would not have made sense to prevent them from getting a real chance to lock down regular playing time. Even a Nolan Arenado trade would have had at least one negative impact by blocking Nolan Gorman in the future. Now this is not a reason that should strongly deter the Cardinals from trading for an incredibly productive player like Ozuna, but the point is that he would have come at a high financial cost and a high prospect cost, while also blocking a top prospect from a future role. Once again, an Arenado trade would likely have been great for St. Louis, but it would not have been perfect.
The frustration with the constant long term focus of the team can be annoying; however, at the very least, it is sustainable and it has allowed the Cardinals to be good for a long time. While this off-season did not bring much in the way of roster improvement for 2020, the team is banking on internal improvement in order for the team to get better next season. Instead, the Cardinals decided to strengthen the future of this team. Someone will claim left field this season, we do not know who yet, but it seems very unlikely that none of the previously mentioned outfield prospects will play well enough to deserve consistent time. Also, letting Marcell Ozuna join the Braves in free agency the Cardinals acquired a the #71 pick in the 2020 MLB draft. Additionally, the trade for Matthew Liberatore gave the Cardinals a left handed pitcher with front-of-the-rotation potential which is a valuable addition to the team. By giving the young outfielders a chance, gaining a draft pick, acquiring Liberatore, and signing Kim it seems fair to say that the Cardinals had a solid offseason.
On the other hand, the Reds did everything that the Cardinals did not. They were heavily involved in rumors throughout the offseason and ended up signing Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama, and Nicholas Castellanos. This gives the Reds nearly $150 million in total contract value added this offseason. While this a signal that the Reds want to win and it is certainly something for the Cincinnati fan base to get excited about, it will be interesting to compare the results of the two teams in the next few years. Obviously, the two teams started from different places in terms of 2019 success. However, these are aggressive moves that have a chance of paying off for the Reds, or leaving them disappointed. Castellanos is a solid bat but has a terrible glove. Akiyama will play most of next season at 32 years old and he signed a three year contract. Moustakas is 31 years old and just signed a four year contract. He also has an average glove at best, but has been a pretty consistent hitter. These moves might make the team better in the present, but there is a risk that the Reds will be hurt in the future. Additionally, shortly after the Castellanos signing was announced, a rumor was reported that the Reds might trade Nick Senzel. It appears that lineup spots may have run out for the former top prospect and even though he had a difficult season in 2019, he still has considerable potential.
If this new trio of Reds all play well and it turns out that Senzel is only a slightly above average player, then this sequence of moves will look good in hindsight. However, if the highly paid trio age poorly and the Reds get trade or bench Senzel and he turns into a star then this sequence of moves will not look nearly as good. For better or worse, the Cardinals have taken an opposite approach by building internally and playing it safer. For as frustrating as this approach may be, it might not be the wrong idea. At the very least, it will be interesting to compare two teams as the next few seasons unfold.