Pitchers and catchers report this week. That means we can stop scouring Twitter for the latest burner account rumors and start scouring it for videos of grown men having a catch. I’m dusting off my glove as I type this.
Before we jump head-first into spring baseball, lets take a final look back at a winter to forget. Here are 4 winners and 3 losers from the offseason.
4 Offseason Winners
While Cardinals fans have focused their angst on John Mozeliak and their ambitions on Nolan Arenado, it is Bill DeWitt that was the true center of the offseason. Mr. DeWitt got everything he wanted from 2019 and it’s aftermath. The team made an improbable run to the NLCS. Buoyed by that success, he was able to set a hard budget line. Since the trade deadline, the Cardinals have removed significant salaries in Jedd Gyorko, Michael Wacha, Marcell Ozuna, and Jose Martinez, without adding any long-term obligations. Improvements will come from within - either through hoped-for bounce backs from established players or through the emergence of young talent. Barring something unseen, DeWitt will see another 3.4 million paying customers come through Busch stadium. The club, though far from perfect, will probably contend. The Cardinals owner has learned how to spin 88-90 wins into piles of cash. The 2020 Cardinals are DeWitt’s ideal club.
Coaches & Front Office
It was a very good year for the non-player personnel of the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Mike Shildt deservedly won Manager of the Year, and was rewarded with a three-year contract extension. John Mozeliak was given a four-year extension as President of Baseball Operations. General Manager Michael Girsch had his 2020 option picked up and another two seasons added. Shildt’s entire coaching staff will return for this season. The Cardinals have been one of the more stable and consistently successful organizations since 2000. DeWitt is rewarding that, hoping that such a commitment to franchise leadership will lead to another decade of sustained success.
It had to be a trying offseason for Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. After a disappointing season in 2019 that saw him lose playing time to Tommy Edman, rumors about a potential deal with perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado persisted all winter. As of this posting, though, Arenado is still a Rockie and all signs point to that continuing until at least the end of spring or perhaps the trade deadline. Edman spent his winter working out at SS and could be a factor in an uncertain outfield. On the cusp of Spring Training, it looks like Carpenter has emerged from his winter’s hibernation with a relatively firm grasp on the starting third base job. For now.
Tyler O’Neill & Harrison Bader
Harrison Bader is coming off a very difficult season at the plate. Tyler O’Neil was injured, ignored, and ineffective for much of 2020. The Cardinals have aggressively moved outfielders who have not performed up to expectations over the last few seasons. That seemed a certainty again this offseason with a log jam in the outfield, a 40-man roster crunch, and several young players who have not consistently performed as hoped. Then, Marcell Ozuna was allowed to walk. Veteran Jose Martinez and prospect Randy Arozarena were moved for an intriguing pitching prospect. The club suddenly needs both O’Neill and Bader to perform up to (or above) their talent levels in starting roles this season. Their immediate back ups, toolsy center-fielder Lane Thomas and elite prospect Dylan Carlson, have less than 50 plate appearances combined, but have the talent to push O’Neill and Bader if they stumble early.
3 Offseason Losers
When Carson Kelly was traded to the Diamondbacks for Paul Goldschmidt, all eyes turned to Andrew Knizner as the Cardinals heir apparent at the catcher position. Knizner needed more seasoning in 2019, however, and Matt Wieters was signed. A year later, Knizner finds himself in pretty much the same situation. Analysts believe his defense is still not up to the club’s expectations, Wieters is back, and now Molina is talking about playing another two seasons. While Knizner has an outside shot at making the Opening Day roster if the club decides to carry three catchers, it is more likely that he’ll return to Memphis for his age 25 season, his third stint in AAA.
It’s been a rough offseason for Cardinal fans, armchair GM’s, and, yes, even us bloggers. While the 2019 club reached the NLCS, their stagnant performance against the Nationals left a sourness around the club. Having tasted the postseason for the first time since 2015, the fan base was hungry for the front office to be aggressive in fixing roster holes and building a club that would be poised to not just challenge the Brewers but to face-off against the Dodgers for NL supremacy. DeWitt’s end-of-season press conference crushed that hope. Every subsequent move made by the Cardinals was done with a strict budget in mind. The high point of the offseason was probably the acquisition of Kwang-hyun Kim (KK). While the signing of the mysterious lefty swing-man from Korea amused us for a few days, the reality is that the Cardinals did not actively attempt to improve this winter. They cleaned up their roster, cleared some payroll space and let free agents walk, all while talking about their hope in unproven players. Whatever good will the NLCS appearance might have brought to the front office or ownership has puffed away like the smoke surrounding Nolan Arenado. Cardinal fans desired more and they deserve better.
There were times this winter when I wondered if baseball was not intentionally trying to burn itself to the ground. Early in the offseason, Major League Baseball went public with their plan to contract dozens of minor league franchises. That led to a very public feud between the symbiotic institutions, with fans and affiliates caught in the middle. It was ugly. It still isn’t resolved. If that wasn’t bad enough, accusations began to circulate that the 2017 World Series Champion Astros used outfield cameras to steal signs from opposing pitchers. After a lengthy investigation, MLB suspened Manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for a year. The two were subsequently fired. The Astros were fined and lost significant draft picks. The effects of the scandal were felt across the game. The Red Sox fired Manager Alex Cora. Newly hired Manager Carlos Beltran parted ways with the Mets and apologized for his part in the cheating. So far, no players have received any discipline for their involvement in the scandal. As baseball nears another season, it faces significant questions about the integrity of the game. One of its most competitive teams will be play this season shrouded by controversy. The public bullying of minor league baseball is sure to continue. Oh, and new CBA negotiations are looming. Baseball had a terrible winter. The game itself was the ultimate offseason loser.