Will the Cardinals Ever Become Elite Again??

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  • #118712
    stlcard25stlcard25
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    At least under the way they currently operate?

    First, to define the term. Miriam Webster defines “elite” as the choice part, or the best of a class. In baseball terms, the way I would define it is that the “elite” are the teams that are threats to win 95-100+ games and are clear World Series contenders, if not favorites.

    What I’m *not* asking is if the Cards will or can win a World Series. Of course it’s theoretically possible that any team can. The playoffs are definitely a crap shoot and with 1/3 of the team’s making it in every year, a hot streak at the right time nets you a title. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s what we have.

    Now, in the last decade there have been two types of teams that have generally filled this kind of role. The first are the traditional big spenders in huge markets, like the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers. The other type of elite teams have been the “tank and rise from the ashes” group like the Cubs and Astros. Occasionally you will see a team like the Royals or Indians bounce into that upper tier for a year or two, but spending constraints inevitably push them back to the basement before long.

    At the onset of the decade, I would say there wasn’t much doubt that the Cards were one of the elite teams of baseball. They had been wildly successful in the 2000s and had ridden the star studded lineup of Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds to a World Series and several other deep playoff runs. But somewhere around the time Albert ran off to LA, the Cards’ model took a turn into a place where no other franchise really played. It became a team that would spend in the top half to third of the league, but never up with the big boys. It was clear that the Cards were going to say “no” to acquiring elite talent unless it was on their terms…via trade near the end of a deal in hopes to signing an extension for an aging player, or with shrewd scouting on short term deals. They depended on drafting well and developing that talent, especially pitching, to feed the next wave of playoff caliber teams. It worked well at times. For example, the future looked atomic in 2013 with a killer offense and a stable of young arms coming that was the envy of all. By 2018, all that potential had essentially fizzled and the Cards had to go to the well to pick up talent in other ways. Years of solid to good finishes have left the team without the high draft picks to collect sure fire top talent, and it shows in the roster we have in St Louis this coming year.

    The point being, the Cards have been good to great but not really elite since that 2013 run, and management is depending on a means that no other team has made work long term. Can the Cards really become elite again barring another Albert Pujols walking through that clubhouse door?

    I’ve got my thoughts…what are yours?

    #118714
    Avatarbccran
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    Sure. But it’s going have to come from within. All it takes is for Carlson and Gorman to live up to their potential. A MOTO of Goldy, Gorman, Carlson, and DeJong should get us there.

    #118722
    Avatargscottar
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    The Cardinals can be elite in any one year if things fall their way but I don’t expect them to be elite on a regular basis because their model prohibits it. Their model is to be good and/or above average annually, win 90 games, get in the playoffs, and hope to make a run.

    The Cardinal model changed when DeWitt decided to switch to a front office based more on analytics than by traditional means. It also changed when the front office switched from Jocketty to Mozeliak. Some may argue that Mo’s hands are tied by DeWitt, and there is probably some truth to that, but I think Mo was always going to be more risk averse than Jocketty regardless of the direction DeWitt requested. I am not saying Jocketty was great in every area because the farm system tended to be weaker under him because he felt that having a strong MLB team was more important than having a strong farm system. Of course, Jocketty’s model is not always sustainable unless you are willing to spend a lot of money or get lucky and convince high end veterans to come to St. Louis.

    So, can the Cardinals be consistent 90 game winners? Yes.
    Will they return to being a consistent 95-100 game winner? I don’t think so.

    #118733
    AvatarCardsFanInChiTown
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    Due to lack of adding a #4 type hitter, DeJong and Carp are going to be extremely important factors in the 2020 lineup. If Carp bounces back to somewhere close to his 2018 numbers, and DeJong doesn’t look lost half the time, the lineup could become at least league average. Those are both big if’s of course.

    With out either of those things happening, who the heck is going to hit behind Goldy? JMart or O’neill?

    #118748
    Avatarbccran
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    Mo looks at every player as a return on investment. And as a conservative investor, he doesn’t like to take big risks. Big time expensive free agents are too much risk.

    #118898
    stlcard25stlcard25
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    Mo looks at every player as a return on investment. And as a conservative investor, he doesn’t like to take big risks. Big time expensive free agents are too much risk.

    While I generally agree, he has also been in on Price and Heyward and was willing to take on the Stanton deal. So perhaps there is a point that the Cards are willing to go to…??

    #118902
    Brian WaltonBrian Walton
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    It is a major oversimplification and perhaps not too respectful to some great current and former players, but stepping back, I believe the Cardinals need their next superstar to become elite. THE guy to build the team around and who can carry them single-handedly when needed. Stan, then Gibson, then a long gap, then Pujols, and no one in the decade since. The next Albert probably isn’t coming in a trade or a free agent signing and cannot be predicted.

    For example, had the Cards drafted and developed Mike Trout and with everything else the same, would they be an elite team today? I think there is a decent chance of it. But would Bryce Harper or Manny Machado have moved that needle enough? No, I don’t think so.

    #118904
    stlcard25stlcard25
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    For example, had the Cards drafted and developed Mike Trout and with everything else the same, would they be an elite team today? I think there is a decent chance of it.

    Yep. The story of the Cards’ scout telling the Angels’ guy about Trout is heartbreaking.

    To your broader point, I agree. The Cards really do need Carlson or Gorman to become a superstar. Or someone else…but the distance between Pujols and now has been populated by some very good to great players who are more in the mold of “sidekick to a superstar” than #1 player on a championship caliber team. The Cards need a guy who is an MVP candidate on a yearly basis.

    #118905
    Avatarbccran
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    I can’t see the days of an MVP3 coming again. But a slate of above average guys up and down the lineup – and a rotation including Flaherty, Hudson, a healthy Reyes, maybe Helsley, Thompson, maybe Cabrera, and Liberatore could challenge for the crown each season. Would it be great to have an absolute elite super star to build around in the starting 8, like Brian suggested? You bet.
    Goldy is there for consistency, leadership, and mentoring right now. Maybe Carlson and/or Gorman will develop into that elite player to build around. Let’s hope so.

    #118906
    Brian WaltonBrian Walton
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    We are in agreement.

    My main point is that finding a true superstar isn’t easy or predictable. I believe that if or when that happens again for the Cardinals, they have the resources and the wherewithal to put a strong team around him that could be elite. In the meantime, they will remain competitive, but not elite.

    It seems their ongoing organizational philosophy works for them and I cannot see a major change to suggest that would guarantee them to become elite.

    #118917
    stlcard25stlcard25
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    Yeah, although picking higher in the draft has helped a number of teams find stars. Of course, players slip through the cracks or develop at different rates so it’s no guarantee. I think most would take the trade-off of consistent playoff appearances and occasional World Series runs for some lower draft picks.

    #118925
    Avatargscottar
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    I made a comment a few days ago in a different thread about the need for the Cardinals to acquire a true elite player once every five years or so, maybe seven years depending on how elite he is. In my opinion a trade is the best opportunity to make that happen.

    #118928
    Avatarbccran
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    I think their best shot is to hope that Carlson, Gorman, Torres, or Nunez, etc. become that super star. Or they pull off another trade like the Holliday trade and go for an extension. Holliday was 29 when he came to the Cardinals. Goldy was 31.

    #118933
    Avatarbccran
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    Also, maybe a trade like the Liberatore trade, but for a very high end, top 50+ position player.

    #119005
    Avatar14NyquisT
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    Maybe Carlson and/or Gorman will develop into that elite player to build around. Let’s hope so.

    bcran…. boy I hope so too. I love these two guys but don’t we have a tendency to overrate our own guys. Elite players don’t come around that often. You almost have to be lucky it seems to have one walk into your clubhouse. Fingers crossed.

    #119009
    AvatarBob Reed
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    Lots of good thoughts herein. Well done, gents.

    As for how we define an “elite” ballclub, at the risk of being the lonely contrarian here, personally I’m most comfortable saying that anything at the 90th percentile or better qualifies as elite, rather than a specific threshold of wins per season. And in a 30-team competition, the 90th percentile means no more than 3 teams better than you — over a prolonged period of time, of course.

    By that standard the Cardinals were elite in the 1960’s, finishing the decade with the 4th-most wins in the sport, trailing only the Orioles, Yankees, and Mays/McCovey/Marichal Giants.

    Led by Whitey Herzog the Cards were elite again in the 1980’s, tying for the 4th-best record, behind the Royals, Yankees, and Tigers. (So, best in the Senior Circuit, obviously.)

    In the 2000’s the Birds were 3rd in baseball, as only the Red Sox and (who else?) damn Yankees won more games. And finally, in the decade just completed the Cards finished 3rd in wins, trailing just the Yankees and Dodgers.

    You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the number of wins the Cards averaged in any of those decades. Well, if 95 wins is the cutoff for “elite,” then the Cards haven’t had any elite decades, or even close. The 2000-2009 stretch saw the club average 91.3 wins, and that was the best Redbird decade since the unstoppable Southworth/Musial juggernauts of the 1940’s. (And by “best decade” I mean, that was the best of any ten-year stretch. Not just ten-year periods ending in a 9.)

    —————————-

    In short, 95 wins is a monster standard. To see how monster, I thought I’d do a bit of research on how often the Cards have had a sustained 95-win stretch. So here goes.

    Longest period averaging 95+ wins since 1950? Six years with LaRussa, from 2000-2005, during which the team averaged 96 victories. Six years is fairly impressive, for sure. But the next-longest 95-win stretch during the last 70 years, for the most successful franchise in National League history, was a mere three seasons.

    It happened twice, one time for the Red Schoendienst Cards (exactly 95 wins on average from 1967-69) and also the Matheny Cardinals of 2013-15, who won 96 games per year and led MLB twice in victories. (Do Matheny’s wins count, though? Because everyone knows he was incompetent, which must mean his wins were all luck and therefore he shouldn’t receive any credit.)

    The best 3-year period under Hall Of Fame manager Whitey Herzog? Just 92 wins per year from 1985-87. In fact, here’s a surprising stat for the Whitey nostalgiasts out there. At 90 wins per year, the Cards averaged fewer wins during Herzog’s best 4-year stretch than the team has averaged over the past 20 seasons as a whole — the two decades being mildly lamented within this very thread. I loved Whitey and still love Whitey, as he unquestionably resuscitated the franchise. But now we have some context, to go with our sentimentality.

    So I guess my short answer to your question, stl25, would be that I think the Cards can improve very slightly upon their numbers of the past 20 years, and lift that average to maybe 92 or 93 wins per year over the next decade. But the last few wins are the hardest, and I feel that 95+ is a bridge too far.

    Oh, and as long as I’m playing the contrarian, one guy — even the greatest and most glamorous of superstars — is not nearly as important as a consistently strong overall development system. Just one sub-replacement level guy will negate a chunk of your superstar’s value. (And yes, I’m looking at Fowler circa 2018, and a whole junkyard of recent free agent relievers.) I really do want more stars, just like the rest of you guys, but even the best superduperstar can’t lift a team without good depth around him. Ask Mike Trout.

    #119147
    AvatarOquendo11
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    Of course sometime in the future the Cardinals will win 95-100+ games in a season and be “elite”. How soon may be the question.

    I don’t see how the Cardinals cannot be considered “elite” over the last decade or two. No matter how people try to rack the teams of the 2010’s decade, the Cardinals will be among the “elite”! (Unless you give cubs extra credit for being bad for a century prior.) And they rank even better in teams of the 2000’s century/ millennium.

    #119185
    stlcard25stlcard25
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    Good points, Bob and Oquendo. To me, the elite tag is for teams that may not always win 95-100 games each year, but they are a threat to at least for any given period of time. To me, that has to be more than a year. The Cards’ business model makes that sort of difficult to do. 85-90 wins and in the race for the playoffs, sure.

    #119190
    AvatarPugsleyAddams
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    The Cardinals had their elite player…..right there for the taking……and Mo didn’t nab him. Close your eyes real tight and imagine this—-Christian Yelich in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. If that thought doesn’t send an excited shiver down your spine then check pulse to see if you’re still with us. And I don’t want to hear that gibberish about Mo saying that Yelich wasn’t on the table when the Cards dealt for their other outfielder(Ozuna), FIVE WEEKS PRIOR to the Yelich trade to Milwaukee. Think about it. Does anyone actually believe that Mo would admit to the truth…..that all he had to do was to have made a serious play for Yelich and it would have been Christian heading to St. Louis instead of Marcell. I wonder if Mo’s pursuit of Ozuna instead of Yelich two years ago, has ever kept him awake, tossing and turning…..I bet it has….or let’s hope it has.

    #119192
    Avatarbccran
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    All reports indicated that Yelich wasn’t available. They wanted to keep him. After Ozuna was traded, he asked for (or insisted upon) a trade.

    #119194
    Avatarforsch31
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    I think that the Cardinals are heading towards being an elite team again. Whether or not they become elite depends a lot on some development of a few prospects. Just look at what the team could look like heading into 2022:

    C – Knizner, Molina
    1B – Goldschmidt
    2B – Edman, Sosa, Wong (FA after 2021)
    SS – DeJong
    3B – Montero, Mendoza
    OF – Carlson, Thomas, Bader, Williams, O’Neill
    SP – Mikolas, CMart, Flaherty, Hudson, Reyes, Gomber, Helsley, Cabrera, Woodford
    RP – Gant, Brebia, Hicks, Gallegos, Ponce de leon, Fernandez
    UTIL – Munoz

    close to majors – Liberatore, Thompson, Herrera, Julio Rodriguez, Gorman, Oviedo, Rondon, Nunez

    There is enough of a balance of between veterans and youth and high end talent. The one thing that can make a team elite is an elite rotation. The Cardinals can have that. There is also enough talent available to trade that the team could acquire missing piece or 2 with some shrewd trades (similar to the Liberatore trade).

    I think Williams and Thomas are going to be 2 players that surprise and wind up being players that get some MVP votes during their career.

    #119208
    Avatarbccran
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    Glad to see you’re so high on Williams and Thomas. They sometimes are in the shadow of Carlson.

    #119243
    Avatargscottar
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    Catcher will be Molina you can bank on that. Knizer will be traded by then.

    I doubt that Montero or Mendoza ever make it to St. Louis. Montero will be traded and Mendoza isn’t good enough. 3B will probably be Carp or Gorman. Either Carp’s 2022 option will vest or they will bring him back on another legacy deal.

    I would imagine there will an OF from outside the organization brought in before 2022 unless Ozuna is still here.

    If Liberatore is as good as advertised he could be pushing for a rotation spot by 2022.

    Bottom line for me is that is not an elite roster. It could be a good roster capable of 90 wins but we will need help from the outside to get back to 95-100 wins.

    #119250
    Avatarmspaid
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    You have to go big to be an elite team. Make the Arenedo trade and a couple of more for quality talent then you can approach elite. That would cost too much money and too many prospects and that will never happen. The Cardinals can be a respectable team and that’s all. Mo said the rumors were 90-95% untrue and I’m sure they are. That translates that there is a 5-10% chance they’ll do anything worthwhile.

    #119256
    AvatarBob Reed
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    “Just look at what the team could look like heading into 2022:
    C – Knizner, Molina
    1B – Goldschmidt
    2B – Edman, Sosa, Wong (FA after 2021)
    SS – DeJong
    3B – Montero, Mendoza
    OF – Carlson, Thomas, Bader, Williams, O’Neill
    SP – Mikolas, CMart, Flaherty, Hudson, Reyes, Gomber, Helsley, Cabrera, Woodford
    RP – Gant, Brebbia, Hicks, Gallegos, Ponce de Leon, Fernandez”

    “Bottom line for me is that is not an elite roster. It could be a good roster capable of 90 wins but we will need help from the outside to get back to 95-100 wins.”

    —————————-

    First, thanks for taking the trouble to put that lineup/roster together, Forschy. I do lean toward gscott’s view though that it’s a very good (but not great) assemblage.

    Looking at ways for the 2022 team to be an improvement on the 2019 squad, I think it has to come from the position player side. The 2019 pitching staff posted a cumulative 112 ERA+, and it’s a lot to ask for them to improve meaningfully upon that.

    How do teams break through to greatness — and stay there for more than a year or two? I believe it’s pretty much one thing, and we all know what that is. Stars.

    The deceptively straightforward pathway to an elite 2022 (and beyond) team is for one of Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, or Ivan Herrera to emerge as a 6-WAR superstar — the 15-1 longshot option — or two of them to be 4-WAR stars. The likeliest thing in my opinion is that one of them becomes a borderline star, one a solid regular, and one a bench guy. But even that could be enough for a true talent 95-win team, provided Dakota Hudson* keeps improving, and one from among Angel Rondon, Matthew Liberatore, and Zack Thompson becomes a mid-rotation stalwart. But look at me, I’m already dreaming unfairly about better pitching!

    —————————

    *Quick recap. In 2014 and 2015 college pitcher Dakota Hudson threw just 17 innings each year. Then in 2016 he dominated college baseball, as a starting pitcher in the toughest conference, which resulted in his being drafted in the first round. Then in 2017 he dominated Double-A. In 2018 he dominated Triple-A. And then in 2019 he enjoyed conspicuous success as a starting pitcher in the major leagues. Why is a pitcher with this resume still dismissed by a great many people as some sort of fluke? I’ll tell you why. In poker it’s called: think long, think wrong.

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