It’s no secret that the Cardinals offense has struggled in recent years. It isn’t uncommon for a team to have offensive struggles. Even great teams go through periods of offensive anemia. But a prolonged slump like the one the Cardinals seem to be in is a fundamental issue reserved for perennial losers.
The Cardinals have ranked in the bottom third of the majors in nearly every measurable offensive category for the past three years. Every year the team has come up with a plan to address the issues. They traded for Marcell Ozuna in 2018 and for Paul Goldschmidt in 2019. For 2020 they decided it best to trade away some of their crowded outfield depth to make room for internal options. They took what they felt to be the safe bet. They were disastrously wrong.
The Cardinals scouting department is clearly missing something when it comes to evaluating hitters. They bet on Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler in the outfield with Dylan Carlson getting his shot this season. Carlson struggled at first, but after a brief trip back to the alternate training site he came back and performed well enough. Even so, the guy he replaced (Bader) actually produced more than Carlson.
Either way, the main fixtures in the outfield were not good...at all. We will use park adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+). O’Neill, Bader, and Fowler produced a wRC+ of 70, 113 and 95, respectively. Only Bader was better than league average, but not by much. And that’s just the outfield. I don’t know about you, but it makes me wonder what might have been.
Let’s just take a quick look at some players the Cardinals passed on:
Ozuna’s time in St. Louis was a mixed bag to put it lightly. Still, Ozuna wanted to stay and was willing to re-sign. He was, by every measure, the best hitter for the Cardinals in the 2019 playoffs. The Cardinals passed on Ozuna to give the reigns over to Tyler O’Neill.
Finally healthy again, Ozuna mashed in Atlanta. He looked every bit the player the Cardinals traded for. Ozuna hit 18 home runs in a shortened season and produced a wRC+ of 176. But the potential of O’Neill and his 70 wRC+ was apparently more preferable.
Randy looked really good during his 23 games for St. Louis in 2019 with a wRC+ of 138. It was a small sample size to be sure, but should have been enough to get him a long look for 2020. Unfortunately, Arozarena decided to live stream a clubhouse pep talk. It was a rookie mistake, but apparently enough for the Cardinals to say goodbye and they traded him to Tampa Bay.
Fast forward to 2020 and Arozarena burst onto the scene in Tampa. He compiled a wRC+ of 176 (yes, you read that right) with 7 HR and a .281 AVG in just 23 games. Too bad Dexter Fowler and his contract kept Randy from getting a real shot in the Lou. Luckily for him, he found a home in Tampa where he just set the MLB postseason home run record.
Let’s be honest, nobody saw this coming. Voit was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft, the 655th overall pick that year. That’s more than 250 picks later than another first base slugger the Cardinals drafted in 1999. Maybe you’ve heard of him. So apparently they know value when they see it. Projecting potential though, well that’s another story.
History is littered with guys that produced big numbers in the minors only to flop in the big leagues. However, it’s also littered with guys who weren’t highly regarded in the draft and yet thrived at the MLB level. The Cardinals of all teams should know this.
Voit put up good numbers in his time here. In 47 games split between the Cardinals and Yankees in 2018, Voit put up a 188 wRC+ with 15 HR and a 2.0 WAR. In 47 games! He followed that up in 2019 by securing the first base job in New York and mashing 21 homers in 118 games with a wRC+ of 126. You might look at the .345 BABIP and think a regression was on its way. You’d be wrong.
Voit’s 2020 was even better. In half the games he hit 22 HR, posted a wRC+ of 152 and a 1.8 WAR. Better numbers in half the games. Oh, and his BABIP? It was .268. To add insult to injury, Voit is a local product out of Lafayette High School that attended college at Missouri State. He should be putting up these numbers for his hometown team, but the Marp and Jose Martinez experiment was more important apparently.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.
This one is just absolutely unconscionable. Tatis, Jr.’s dad wanted him here. There was a familiarity with the organization. The younger Tatis worked out for the Cardinals 19 times. How on earth did they get that long of a look at him and still pass? Again, there has to be a problem with how the Cardinals evaluate offensive talent.
Tatis, Jr. burst onto the scene in 2019, but was widely regarded as one of the top two prospects in baseball on his way up. Once in the majors, he flashed all five tools and wowed everyone. His wRC+ of 150 was otherworldly for a rookie. Tatis, Jr. looked every bit as ferocious in a shortened 2020, posting a wRC+ of 149 and putting up numbers that far outpaced his 2019 numbers.
This is another case of pouring salt in the wound. Tatis, Jr.’s San Diego Padres bounced the Cardinals from the postseason in a series where he reminded the Cardinals brass what they passed up on. He should be putting up these numbers in St. Louis, but again, the wise sages in the Cardinals scouting department decided to pass on a future generational talent. To be fair though, he wasn’t highly regarded as a 16 year old at the time.
Things don’t always pan out the way you think they will. This is especially true in professional sports. However, there is usually enough information to have at least some idea of how a player will perform. Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said that they viewed all of their outfield prospects as basically the same when they traded Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it’s clear that someone in the talent evaluation department needs corrective eye surgery, and quickly.