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The Cardinals will be the NL Central offseason winners... by doing nothing

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The rest of the NL Central is getting worse, the Cards are getting... less worse.

National League Wild Card Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals v. San Diego Padres Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to use the Cardinals’ money to address their needs. They have two legacy players to re-sign. They could really use another infielder. An outfielder who can hit right-handed pitching would be appreciated. The Cardinals have depth at starting pitcher but very little certainty. Aside from the legacy players, it doesn’t seem like the Cardinals will do any of these things though. And even that part is not currently a sure thing.

Here’s the weird thing though. The rest of the NL Central are all making their team worse. Voluntarily. If the goal of an offseason is to make the team better, no NL Central teams have or are likely to achieve that goal. Of course, that’s not the goal of the offseasons of the NL Central teams. The goal for all five teams is to shed money, and maybe they can at least keep the team static.

This fact has created a very weird environment. I think the Cardinals will end up signing Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. And I think they may make another signing, possibly even Kolten Wong at a lesser price. And the fact of the matter is that, if the Cardinals end up having that offseason, they will easily win the offseason in the NL Central.

As it stands, they may very well win the offseason without that anyway. Not signing either legacy player will... not actually impact the team in 2021 all that much. Hate to say it, but losing both players would not matter a lot on the win total, in all likelihood. Kolten Wong is the real loss and even he seems to replaced by Tommy Edman (who could replace Matt Carpenter with a Wong signing but would really replace Tyler O’Neill I think). So currently, the Cardinals are losing out on a projected 2.7 WAR player by ZiPS.

And if they did nothing this offseason, they would win the battle of offseasons among NL Central teams.

How insane is that?

The Cubs have traded Yu Darvish for a litany of super young prospects who won’t see the light of day for a few years and Zach Davies. Hard to see how news can be any better for the Cards specifically. With the disclaimer that using pitcher vs team stats is a very dubious way to analyze anything, Zach Davies has a 4.55 career against Cards and Yu Darvish 3.13. His 4.55 ERA includes his first full season against the Cards when he had 25 Ks to BB and a 1.66 ERA... things have not gone well for him since that season against the Cards.

In addition to Darvish, the Cubs have let Jose Quintana become a free agent and declined a mutual option on Jon Lester. Neither are really bad moves, but together it means they’ve now lost 3/5 of their rotation and replaced them with Zach Davies and shrugged, hopeful shoulders. They also non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and reportedly plan to try and trade Willson Contreras.

The Reds are tearing down too. They already traded Raisel Iglesias to the Angels. They’re losing 2/5 of their rotation in Trevor Bauer and Anthony Desclafani to free agency and will probably rely on internal options to replace them. They nontendered Archie Bradley. They are reportedly trying to trade Sonny Gray, who’s locked into a pretty team friendly deal.

The Pirates, well it’s hard to argue the Pirates aren’t at least doing the right thing. They are a little bit behind the other teams. They traded Josh Bell, which theoretically is a smart call since he’s never been as good as perceived thanks to some truly shitty defense. However, they really didn’t get much and he’s coming off a -0.4 WAR season so... feels like you could have banked on him having a bounceback season AND then traded him. But alas, I think most people online did not notice how bad of a season Josh Bell had when thrashing the Pirates, nor how mediocre he is in the first place. He is fantastically awful on defense guys. They also declined Chris Archer’s club option and put Trevor Williams on waivers plus lost a few bullpen guys to free agency. All smart and defensible moves here.

Lastly, the only real competition for having the best offseason is the Milwaukee Brewers, who share the distinction with the Cards of not trying to trade all their good players. But it’s a matter of opinion on this one because it’s pretty similar to the Cards. They traded expensive reliever Corey Knebel for a player to be named later (which became a pitching prospect who wasn’t ranked by Fangraphs prospect lists). They declined a $4.5 million club option on Jedd Gyorko, which included a $1 million buyout. Which means they rejected Gyorko for the small price of $3.5 million and one year. They also declined Ryan Braun’s option, but you know, smart.

The Brewers and Cardinals have very comparable offseasons. Wong is a better player so it can be argued losing him is a worse offense than losing Gyorko. But the jury is still out on how smart or dumb it was to reject his option - 2B market has been pretty bad for a few years so it seems like Wong has no shot at $12 million this offseason. I’d kill to have Gyorko for 1 year, $4.5 million.

What probably gives the Cardinals the edge however is the fact that they’re better. Not so much better that the Brewers couldn’t have a few surprises from a few players and surpass them. But better enough that the projections will say they’re better. Better on paper.

And really, while I’d say the goal of an offseason is to improve the team, it’s really just to try to be the best in your division. Which will end up happening to the Cards, purely because everyone else is getting worse. But they are the best team in the NL Central right now. Which is a bit depressing for the state of baseball.

The Cardinals, entering an offseason where they were probably behind the Cubs, rejected a reasonable option on a 2.7 WAR player and have done nothing else and will come out of the offseason as the odds on favorite in their division. Which de facto means the Cards will be the winners of the NL Central offseason. Hooray?