Updated: Feb 12, 2020
There’s a growing sense among the Cardinals fan base that the front office is not fully committed to doing everything it takes to win the World Series. Just a cursory look at social media shows the temperature, and it’s building to a boiling point.
The 2018 offseason proved to be a fruitful one. The trade and subsequent signing of Paul Goldschmidt provided at least a glimmer of hope that the St. Louis Cardinals front office was finally realizing something. In order to win, you got to spend.
It’s not so much that the Cardinals aren’t willing to spend money. They had the ninth highest payroll in the majors in 2019. Goldy aside, they just aren’t willing to spend money on the right players.
They will, however, dole out bad contracts to aging veterans who display clear signs of a skills decline. Think Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals extended Carpenter last off-season after a mixed bag of a year in 2018. It was the wrong move. His two year, $39 million extension looks really bad right now.
Consider this. In 2018, Carpenter hit 36 home runs, scored 111 runs, and drove in 81 RBI. He hit .257 and produced a 5.0 WAR and wRC+ of 140. Pretty good right? Not when you look at the whole body of work.
Nineteen of those 36 HR were hit in July and the last week and a half of June. Nine were hit in the month of August. He only hit eight home runs total in all the other months combined.
Carpenter’s wRC+ during that time was as follows:
Make no mistake, Carpenter had a monster year in 2018. However, it was a tale of three Carpenters. The first and final thirds of the season were horrendous. His strikeout rate ballooned to 28.4% in the final month of the year. In fact, the only month he posted a K% below 20% was in July. The signs were already there pointing to a decline.
Fast forward to 2019. Carpenter was awful. He hit 15 HR, put up a 95 wRC+ and a measly 1.2 WAR. What’s more, his ISO dropped a full 100 points from .266 in 2018 to .166 last year. His power completely fell off in 2019. A fact supported by the Cardinals analytics team which found that Carpenter’s strength declined significantly last year.
According to Mozeliak, Carpenter’s struggles were due to his inability to maintain strength and weight. Really? He’s 34. What did the front office expect? Kudos to Derrick Goold on the story.
I’m not trying to knock Carpenter. I like him. I actually consider him a future Cardinal Hall of Famer who should be wearing a red jacket on Opening Day one day. Not Cooperstown worthy, but definitely worthy of a red jacket.
Now here’s the rub in all this. Third base was clearly one of the weakest, if not the weakest, spots in the lineup in 2019 pre-Tommy Edman. Marcell Ozuna is leaving as a free agent leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the order.
There’s plenty of young guys with extreme talent in the outfield portion of the Cardinals’ farm system. So clearly an offensive upgrade should come at the hot corner. Enter this year’s crop of free agent third basemen.
Anthony Rendon just signed with the Angels for seven years and $245 million. Rendon is a 29 year old third baseman who was squarely in the MVP conversation last season. Why weren’t the Cardinals even remotely interested in him?
I asked Derrick Goold if there was a sense that the Cardinals were involved in Rendon’s market at all. The short answer? None at all. That begs the question as to why not?
Two years ago the Cardinals were willing to make a deal absorbing Giancarlo Stanton’s mega deal. It was a clear upgrade and they went for it, eventually coming up short when the trade was accepted but Stanton vetoed it with his no trade clause. But they went for it nonetheless.
Instead of going for it again when there was a clear upgrade and they could absolutely afford it, they sat on the sidelines. And that’s the point I’m making. They extended Carpenter at a time when you couldn’t bank on a repeat performance from an aging veteran. Yet they wouldn’t go after a superstar in his prime that would have definitely improved the lineup.
They gave the money to the wrong guy. They knew Rendon was going to hit free agency this offseason. Everyone knew it. Without the extension, so would Carpenter. Instead of going all in on Rendon, they chose to spend the money on a much lesser player.
The Cardinals placed their bets on Carpenter and lost. That’s the problem with this front office. They will spend money, just not on the right guys.
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