Contention often breeds desperation in Major League General Managers, and amidst a divisional race last July, Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak may have been guilty of just that. Mozeliak tipped his hand near the trading deadline, trading away Brett Wallace, Clay Mortensen, Chris Perez, Jess Todd and Shane Peterson for Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa, committing the Cardinals window of championship opportunity to as long as this current brand of veteran stars allots it. Bringing Holliday back into the fold for seven seasons was not a luxury but a necessity — with little left in the farm system, this is a team that will simply ebb and flow as Holliday and Albert Pujols do.
And number 28, who if you haven’t heard, “hits that triple, double, single, that smooth home run.”
As poor a state as the Cardinals minor league system currently stands — and it’s a shockingly shallow group of players — credit where it’s due: the St. Louis opening day lineup will have six homegrown starters. And while half of them feel like second-division starters (David Freese, Skip Schumaker, Brendan Ryan), the presence of Pujols and Colby Rasmus overshadows a lot of the organization’s other shortcomings. Assuming they can re-sign Pujols, and I truly believe it is going to happen, the Cardinals have three very talented hitters under control for the indefinite future. Not many teams can boast such a thing.
The rest of the team’s future seems a little more definite, as a lot of money looks to come off the books after 2012: Kyle Lohse, Yadier Molina, Ryan Ludwick, and some combination of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright (depending on their respective options). This buys the scouting department some time to rebuild this farm system, as replacements aren’t needed for three years. It certainly lends for patience in regards to top prospect Shelby Miller‘s development, and the raw first-round pick needs it. Miller has great potential, but his secondary stuff must come a long way.
While the process for procuring and developing stars promises to be a slow process, I do expect the Cardinals to continue to fill holes with cheap, low-ceiling, homegrown options. For example, Tony La Russa’s acceptance in opening positions for David Freese and Jaime Garcia as his third baseman and fifth starter, respectively. I do like Garcia, a guy that has legitimate sink to every pitch he throws. It’s very possible he’ll be the Cardinals third-best starter as early as this season. If Garcia does falter, it won’t be long before Lance Lynn is ready to replace him in the back of the rotation. Freese, I’m not so excited about. Neither his walk or strikeout rates inspire me enough to believe he’ll hit, and I know his defense won’t be a help. It’s hard not to wonder if dealing with Allen Craig‘s brutal defense at third base, while retaining some offense from the position, isn’t the better option.
The bullpen is another place that will be ripe with homegrown players as long as Pujols and Holliday eat up forty percent of the payroll. Four of the seven relievers slated to open the season in St. Louis are products of Cardinals minor league affiliates. Each of them succeeds in different ways, from big velocity (Jason Motte) to a lot of movement (Mitch Boggs). But there is more on the way, like Eduardo Sanchez or Adam Reifer or, maybe even Adam Ottavino. The scouting team clearly knows that the production of relievers is important to what they do, as both their third (Joe Kelly) and fourth (Scott Bittle) round picks last season were college relievers.
With the development of superstars out of the way, at times it feels the scouting department becomes complacent and seeks out only high-floor players that will produce marginally above replacement level. This is not a great way to run a team; I much prefer swinging for the fences on guys like Rasmus and Shelby Miller. Not thinking about what will surround Albert, and instead thinking about what will complement him, is a much better way to ensure long-term success.