Momup got me a smartwatch for Christmas this year. Not the Galaxy Gear, because I no longer need a foolproof way of seducing the ladies—a Pebble, which I will use to not kill myself every time the phone buzzes in my car. I think it’s exceedingly neat, and I’m going to love tinkering with it, but realizing that the only thing I could think to ask for was another way of performing e-mail triage was grist enough for a realization that I don’t actually need anything, material-goods-wise.
The St. Louis Cardinals are well into smartwatch phase this offseason. They’re paging through the Sharper Image catalogue trying to convince themselves they really could use an LCD picture frame that projects the current time or the words "It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!" onto the ceiling.
Setting aside the morally superior plays—donate some money to a charity, volunteer at a food bank, give the smartwatch to a down-on-his-luck serial entrepreneur—this is where the wise option, the prudent and almost fatally boring option, is gift cards. At some point I will become obsessed by another mid-century author, or in need of a weird Nintendo peripheral, and then I can cash in on my current satiety.
The Cardinals, to their credit and my abiding, irrational frustration, will not make a bid for Masahiro Tanaka, the NPB pitcher who went 24–0 with a 1.27 ERA last year. (He had a K:BB ratio of 5.72, if the headline numbers are not enough for you to be pleasantly confused by him.)
That’s probably among the easier shows of restraint they’ve made this year, but it’s the most recent in a long line of them. The Cardinals are defined by the trades they didn’t make as much as the ones they did.
You can hop backward a year at a time just by watching the Cardinals resist the flashiest move they could have made. This year they not-traded Kolten Wong and/or Shelby Miller and/or Oscar Taveras, along with a pudgy-looking thirtysomething shortstop and an injury-prone adjunct to Jon Jay, for Troy Tulowitzki. The year before they held off on a name-brand infielder and Kyle Lohse in favor of Matt Carpenter and Michael Wacha (nice!) and Pete Kozma (… also not-flashy.)
Before that, of course, they resisted the impulse most native to St. Louis—history, legacy, all those words—by replacing Albert Pujols.
It’s not wrong to treat the decision-making that leads to Matt Carpenter and the decision-making that leads to Pete Kozma separately; the team can and should be able to isolate choices like that and improve on them. But I think they come from the same place. The Cardinals know when they have needs, and they’ve mostly done an outstanding job of filling them. But their success also comes from understanding when they don’t need much at all.