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Cardinals Awaken From Mid-Winter Slumber

by Brad Kehl

The offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals has been one to remember. After the World Series ended, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Brad Miller, & Matt Wieters all became free agents. Kolten Wong and John Brebbia joined that list after the Cardinals declined Wong’s 2021 option and did not tender Brebbia a contract. Many people, myself included, wondered if the Cardinals would do much this offseason. It was clear that the Cardinals needed another potent bat in their stagnant lineup.

As the offseason progressed, it seemed as if the Cardinals were just going to sit on their hands and prepare for the 2022 offseason, which is loaded with many bright young stars. One of which was traded this offseason. Francisco Lindor was one name that was rumored that could come to St. Louis but alas, he and Carlos Carrasco were traded to the Mets. Not long after, one of the biggest hitters in the current free agent class signed with the Blue Jays: George Springer. JT Realmuto re-signed with the Phillies. It seemed like one by one, the Cardinals were losing options on who to sign. Cardinal Nation was growing increasingly frustrated with each free agent signing because they went elsewhere. DJ LeMahieu: re-signed with the Yankees, Ha-seong Kim: signed with the Padres, Marcus Semien: signed with the Blue Jays, Michael Brantley: re-signed with the Astros, Corey Kluber: signed with the Yankees. I think you get the idea. Player after player, trade after trade, did not involve the Cardinals. 

Fans wondered if they would do anything. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden even gave the Cardinals an offseason grade of a F. Wainwright and Molina were said to be receiving offers from not only the Cardinals but other teams as well. In a matter of hours, all of this would change. Thursday evening I received a notification: Cardinals to re-sign Adam Wainwright. Hallelujah! The Cardinals actually did something. I wondered if this would get the ball rolling. As I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep that night, I saw another notification: Cardinals and Rockies in discussions on Arenado. Whoa! This caught me by surprise. I had known they had been interested in Arenado for a few seasons now, even discussing names prior to the Covid shutdown in Spring Training last year. Nolan Arenado would be the potent bat the Cardinals have been searching for. Friday afternoon, more news came out. Yadier Molina was expected to re-sign with the Cardinals after the Caribbean Series. Wainwright’s back! Talks about Arenado! Yadi is likely back! 

A few hours later, here was the big one: Arenado traded to the Cardinals! As the names of the possible players going to the Rockies were being leaked, none were our big prospects: Gorman, Liberatore, Carlson, Herrera, Thompson. All staying put. This was an absolute heist. 

Colorado’s GM Jeff Bridich had absolutely zero leverage. He handled this whole situation poorly. When he gave Arenado that huge extension prior to the 2019 season, he included an opt out after the 2021 season. Okay, you may think many players have opt outs in their contract these days. That’s true. Here’s the kicker though. Arenado never asked for it. Bridich included it on his own. The Rockies were actually looking pretty promising. DJ LeMahieu just left for the Yankees as a free agent. Their offense was still loaded: Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, Ian Desmond. All they needed was a little pitching help behind German Marquez and Jon Gray. You would think, for a team just coming off of a postseason berth, beating the Cubs in the Wild Card game at Wrigley before being swept by the Brewers in the NLDS, you would think they would build on that. That’s what Bridich promised. Well, they didn’t. Dahl hasn’t been able to stay healthy (Colorado would wind up non-tendering Dahl this offseason), they haven’t added any pitching, or anyone for that matter. Entering the 2020 season they literally added no one to their major league roster. This is what made Arenado upset. Bridich created a “beef” with Arenado and Arenado was all but guaranteed of opting out after the 2021 season. Due to this, Bridich had zero leverage. He is even paying $51M to the Cardinals to help cover Arenado’s deal. 

I haven’t been this excited about a trade since the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt. This has been the Cardinals way of getting talent to come to St. Louis. Think about it. When was the last time we had a homegrown super star? Albert Pujols likely was the last one. Every other super star the Cardinals have had the past 20-25 years, we traded for. Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Matt Holliday, Jason Heyward, Paul Goldschmidt. All but Heyward either signed an extension or re-signed to stay with the Cardinals. Arenado is the same. While he may still opt out after the 2021 season (or 2022 with the added opt out), he has already said he’s not leaving. This was the move Cardinal Nation has been wanting.

Now with Arenado, what could the Cardinals do the remainder of the offseason? Bring back Wong? Well, he signed with the Brewers. Many fans have been speculating what they would do. Pitching? Outfield help?

Then Thursday afternoon, a week after the Wainwright announcement, reports started surfacing that the Cardinals are in the market for starting pitching. Guys like James Paxton and Jake Odorizzi were mentioned as possibilities. Then, once again, getting ready to fall asleep: Cardinals trade Dexter Fowler to the Angels. I honestly didn’t think anyone would take his contract was my first thought. Well, the Angels didn’t. Cardinals are paying all but $1.75M of his deal.

Now things are interesting. What will they do now? Will they add another outfielder? Will they add pitching? Could they be in line with another trade with the prospects they “saved” from the Arenado trade? All could be on the table. These moves have made the Cardinals the favorite to win the NL Central. I don’t think they’re good enough to make a deep run in the postseason. I think they need to make a couple more pieces, whether that’s now or at the trade deadline. 

If I was the front office, I would be calling the Indians and checking the availability of Shane Bieber and Jose Ramirez. Both would likely cost a lot in terms of prospects. Bieber is coming off a Cy Young in which he dominated the Central. He is entering his age 26 season and won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. Ramirez is the more likely of the two to be traded. He has team options the next two seasons. He’s mainly played 3B but spent a lot of time at 2B, which is likely where he would play unless he would move to LF. Ramirez has been a top 3 MVP finisher in 3 of the last 4 seasons, even finishing 2nd in 2020 behind Jose Abreu. These trades are unlikely to happen, in my opinion, but it doesn’t hurt to check in. I think the Cardinals will wind up with one of the starting pitchers that have been rumored to them the past few days. I also don’t think they will make a big splash before the season starts. They will likely add some bullpen help and pieces for the bench.

Spring Training starts in a couple weeks. I, for one, am pretty excited. Seeing Waino and (most likely) Yadi back, along with Arenado donning the Birds on the Bat are going to be great. In a matter of hours, the outlook on this season went from blah, to exciting!

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