This is one of a series of posts in which we belittle and berate each team for their blunderous offseason bungling, and sparingly salute them for scarce successful strategems.
A case can be made, and made fairly easily, that the St. Louis Cardinals have been the dominant Major League team of the new millenium. Beginning in the year 2000, the Cardinals went on an incredible run in which they made postseason appearances in 6 out of 7 seasons, including two World Series appearances and one World Championship. In those 7 campaigns, from 2000 to 2006, the worst season record the Cardinals posted was 83-78 in 2006, but they also won the World Series that year, so all in all it was a pretty awesome run.
But that run decisively came to an end last year, just as I had predicted, and the future looks rather grim for the Redbirds, especially in the near term. Since peaking at 105 wins in 2004, the Cardinals have won fewer and fewer games each year. Last year they won only 78, and are very likely to win even fewer this year, thanks to an already subpar bullpen further weakened by Troy Percival’s departure, and one of the worst starting rotations around. It also doesn’t inspire confidence to hear whispers of possible Tommy John surgery for the team centerpiece Albert Pujols, although he insists that he is going to try to play through “high grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, as well as bone spurs, inflammation and arthritis in the joint.”
The reasons for the Cardinals’ rapid decline since 2004 have been twofold. First, the Cardinals have demonstrated an ironclad determination to refuse to allow their payroll to surpass a threshold $90 million or so, despite opening a brand new stadium two years ago. In order to avoid passing this $90 million threshold, each year for the past four years the Cardinals have allowed virtually all of their free agents to walk, without signing any new impact free agents.
This might have been okay if the Cardinals had a fresh supply of talent from the minor leagues to replace departed stars, but this is where the second problem lies – despite all the draft picks the Cardinals have received for letting top talent depart via free agency, their drafts of late have generally been abominable, and they currently have one of the more barren minor league systems in the game. At present, the Cards do have one true grade A prospect in CF stud Colby Rasmus, but once he makes the big club for good (which will almost certainly be sometime this season), their next prospects with any real projectability are all several years away.
This all means that Cardinals fans will have to suffer through at least three years or so of mediocre baseball before the team might have a shot at having hope again. This might have been a nice time for the Cardinals’ ownership to open up the wallet and use some of that new stadium and World Series cash to reward what by all accounts is one of the most devoted and loyal fanbases in the game with at least some semblance of a competitive team, but instead it was just more of the same, letting free agents walk or trading away salary while signing no one new of any consequence.
2006 World Series MVP and working class hero David Eckstein was allowed to leave as a free agent, and long-time centerfield human highlight reel Jim Edmonds and his no-longer-in-the-budget $10 million salary were traded to San Diego for basically nothing. There was also the “challenge trade” of injury-ridden third basemen which sent Scott Rolen to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus, which is basically a wash, but other than that the only other additions the Cardinals have made this entire offseason have been to sign Matt Clement, Cesar Izturis, and Jason LaRue (a catcher too awful for even the Royals), and to bring in Juan Gonzalez as a circus sideshow non-roster invitee to spring training.
In short, it was another utterly dispiriting offseason for Cardinals fans, really the fourth one in a row, and if you get the feeling that Cardinals ownership might be taking that famous loyalty of its fanbase for granted a bit, you would not be the only one.
Offseason Grade: D-
Additions: 3B Troy Glaus, SS Cesar Izturis, SP Matt Clement, C Jason Larue, 1B Josh Phelps (NRI), OF Juan Gonzalez (NRI)
Losses: 3B Scott Rolen, OF Jim Edmonds, SS David Eckstein, RP Troy Percival, OF So Taguchi, SP Kip Wells, OF Preston Wilson, C Gary Bennett, 3B Russell Branyan, 2B Miguel Cairo, OF John Rodriguez
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
RF Skip Schumaker – .333/.358/.458, 2 HR
CF Rick Ankiel – .285/.328/.535, 11 HR
1B Albert Pujols – .327/.429/.568, 32 HR
3B Troy Glaus – .262/.366/.473, 20 HR
LF Chris Duncan – .259/.354/.480, 21 HR
2B Adam Kennedy – .219/.282/.290, 3 HR
C Yadier Molina – .275/.340/.368, 6 HR
P Mediocre Pitcher Du Jour
SS Cesar Izturis – .258/.302/.315, 0 HR
RHP Adam Wainwright – 14-12, 3.70
RHP Joel Pineiro – 6-4, 3.94
RHP Braden Looper – 12-12, 4.94
RHP Matt Clement – 5-5, 6.61 (2006 stats)
RHP Anthony Reyes – 2-14, 6.04
CL Jason Isringhausen – 32 SV, 2.48