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Credit or blame for Cardinals front office with Giancarlo Stanton?

The Cardinals tried really hard to get Giancarlo Stanton, and they failed. Do you blame them?

MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals tried hard to acquire Giancarlo Stanton. They made the best offer to the Miami Marlins, and the two parties reached an agreement. They then flew to Los Angeles and gave it their best shot at convincing Giancarlo Stanton to waive his no-trade clause and play for at least the next three seasons, but likely the next 10 years in St. Louis. It didn’t work, and ultimately the team failed to land Giancarlo Stanton, but do they deserve credit for pushing their chips into the middle of the pile?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and some of the arguments lead down a somewhat circular path. Over the past few years, the Cardinals have held to their internal metrics how about valuable a player is, and they have failed to land any of the impact players available.

Two years ago the team made an offer to David Price, but it wasn’t for the most money and David Price signed with the team that offered the most money. During that same offseason, the team made a large offer to retain Jason Heyward. While the offer seems to have been for more guaranteed money than what he signed for with the Cubs, due to the somewhat complicated nature of the opt-out and the $26 million per season guarantee the Cubs made in the the first three seasons if Heyward opted out. It is still somewhat unclear if the Cardinals made the best offer financially, and Heyward went to the Cubs.

Last season, the free agent market was weak, but the Cardinals didn’t step up in the trade market. Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were both traded for big prospect packages. Jose Quintana was available for a price that wasn’t met until the All-Star Break. Certainly other discussions were had about other players, but the Cardinals didn’t make an impact move because they didn’t match the price. If you don’t make the best offer, you don’t get the player.

With Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals made the best offer, willing to commit around $250 million to Stanton’s contract and willing to send the best players to the Marlins. The Cardinals absolutely stepped up in this situation, and they deserve credit for doing so. That Stanton ultimately decided to pass on joining the Cardinals has nothing to do with the credit for making the best offer, something they have not done in similar situations previously.

So what about the blame in failing to convince Stanton to come to St. Louis? As far as what happened in the pitch to Stanton, I don’t believe it really matters. The Giants, based in California in a large market with a winning tradition made a pitch to Stanton, too. It didn’t work either. The reason Stanton didn’t accept a trade to the Cardinals is because they aren’t as good as the Cubs.

If we are to believe the report that the four teams Stanton is willing to move to are the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Astros, then we need to believe that winning, now and in the future is the most important thing to Stanton. The Cubs and Astros aren’t on the coast, and while Houston has plenty of money, they aren’t a huge market. The advantage those teams have over St. Louis is that right now, they are better.

Without trying to get too far into Stanton’s head, it seems pretty reasonable if he is going to waive his no-trade clause for a team other than his hometown favorite Dodgers, he would choose the very best teams. There are seven teams already projected for around 90 wins next season with a pretty big gap to the rest. The teams not among the four Stanton listed are Cleveland, which isn’t going to sustain a big payroll, Washington, whose window might be closing, and Boston, who maybe he just didn’t like.

If you want to be mad at the Cardinals for failing to convince Stanton to come to St. Louis, don’t blame them for the pitch, blame them for not being the Cubs. I’ve written a little bit about this before, but the Cubs being really good drives Cardinals fans bonkers. Not being as good as the Cubs, or say the Astros, is what cost the Cardinals Stanton. The problem is, not being as good as the Cubs is also what necessitates the Cardinals to try and acquire Stanton in the first place.

If the Cardinals were already a 90-win team, they wouldn’t need Stanton. They could fiddle around on the margins to make the team better without having to worry about making the big move. It’s what they did for the last decade due to a great core of players and a steady stream of help from the minors, and it worked up through the 2015 season when they won 100 games before getting bounced in the playoffs by the Cubs.

Moves to keep them atop the central the last two seasons didn’t work as the Cardinals finished a bounce or two from the playoffs in 2016 while the underlying 88-win performance in 2017 only got them 83 in the standings. Just about everything went right for the Cubs, and without Stanton, they are a 90-win team. The Cardinals failures the last two seasons are the reasons they didn’t to get Stanton. Weirdly, if the Cardinals had succeeded the last two years, they also would have failed to get Stanton because the urgency wouldn’t be there to take the big risk. The last two seasons have put the Cardinals in a spot where they have to take more risks.

If you want to blame the Cardinals for not getting Stanton, fine, but what you are actually blaming them for is not being better to begin with. The team does deserve credit for entering a space they have previously avoided in order to make themselves better. The big test is to come.

Forgive the strained analogy, but the Cardinals just put a ton of chips in the pot to get Stanton and they ended up splitting the pot or however that works and got all of their chips back. If they spend the next hour at the nickel slots and then go home, then failing to land Stanton will be a true failure. If they keep putting those chips in the pot to get a difference-maker, then what happened here with Stanton doesn’t really matter. The Cardinals took a shot, did their best while not knowing the actual odds of success, and it didn’t work. They need to keep taking these chances, using a combination of money and prospects to close the gap on the Cubs, because that is what really matters.