ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- In the final days before the All Star break, as the season enters the period in which it’s both too late and too early to be truly captivating, fans are searching for something, anything, to spice up the action. Perhaps that’s why a tweet like this sent Cardinal Nation into a tizzy:
All that tweets says, in essence, is a struggling team is interested in a player that’s pretty good. Not that they’re actively pursuing him, or even that they plan to. They just have interest, the same way I might have interest in going to Bermuda, though I’ve had no formal talks with any airlines or hotels.
Morosi is in the scoop business, so these little nuggets serve a dual purpose: 1) it lets you know he’s still a guy who gets inside information and 2) it primes the pump for the actual scoops to come at the end of July. Parts are going to start flying, and he’s chumming the Twitter waters for when they do.
Now, Morosi might know much more than he put out. He may be withholding some of his information out of deference to its source, opting to protect a relationship for future use. But as it stands, the Cardinals’ interest in Donaldson is just that, and how much further they go down that road depends on which season they’re playing for.
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2017 or 2019?
The Cardinals aren’t in teardown mode. They’re not competitive with the league’s best teams, but they’re a lot closer than clubs like the Padres or Reds. It’s not time for The Process, but they are quite obviously more than one piece away. The only way this team makes a meaningful run in October is if all their existing talent peaks at the right time, and even then they’d need some help. New GM Mike Girsch can’t count on that, and he certainly shouldn’t trade away marquee prospects based on the premise.
To get where they need to be, the Cardinals would hemorrhage young pitching (Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty) and positional talent (Harrison Bader, Paul DeJong, Delvin Perez). Were they to fall short in their championship pursuit, they’d face a future bereft of cost controlled talent and have nothing to show for it.
Rather than throwing good money after bad, they should get up from the table and come back when the odds are better.
If the Cardinals are to take the long view, the beacon in the fog has to be the 2018-2019 free agency period. It will be the most talent-rich, cash-soaked offseason in history and a chance to reshape a franchise with the stroke of a pen.
Up for grabs: Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, Daniel Murphy, Josh Harrison, DJ LeMahieu, and on and on. Elvis Andrus can opt out of his contract that year, as can Clayton Kershaw and David Price. Dallas Keuchel will be on the market along with Andrew Miller.
Heck, the Cardinals could even sign Matt Adams if they wanted him back.
Also on the market? Josh Donaldson. He’ll be 33 during that signing period, and the question has to be asked: Would the Cardinals sign him heading into 2019? He had an MVP season in 2015 and was a thunderous talent the last couple years. But he’s struggled in 2017, and is currently slashing worse than several existing Cardinals. If Donaldson wouldn’t be earmarked as part of a long-term plan in 2019, then why spend prospects (who would be part of long term plan in 2019) to rent him for two seasons if the championship window isn’t there?
Machado and Harper would be 26 years old in 2019. Either one of them could be The Guy the Cardinals are missing and could remain so for the better part of a decade. By that time players like Reyes and Bader and Flaherty could have matured into bonafide MLB talent and still be wearing The Birds on the Bat (and still be under low-cost, long-term control).
There’s no guarantee every one of those above names make it to free agency (the Orioles haven’t spent a dime in pitching, presumably saving up for their offer to Machado), but enough of them will. With the $1 billion TV deal the Cardinals signed with Fox Sports Midwest set to kick in next year, they’ll have plenty of cash to go after the name (or names) they want.
With that opportunity on the horizon, any trades this season should pass through a simple filter: will this player be part of the long term plan in 2019? Unless the answer is yes (and yes in a sense that goes beyond him being a complimentary piece), shipping ascendant talent out for new blood is tough to justify.
As is targeting someone like Giancarlo Stanton, who would command a tremendous talent outlay in a trade, is a mortal lock to miss time each season to injury and has a contract worth the GDP of a small nation. Both Machado and Harper will make brain-melting amounts of money, but that’s all it would take to get them. No prospects need to be exchanged, only a check. If you’re going to pay someone $200 million-plus, that should be the sum total of the bill.
A stagnant 2017 has the fanbase clamoring for the front office to make moves, but unless they’re the right moves, the result will just be more of the same.