|This year's Cardinals will draw stares|
as much as they return them.
They were THIRD — also behind the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Birds made a good move this offseason with trading for Marcell Ozuna (with a decent give-back to Miami of Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano).
The Brewers countered by acquiring Christian Yelich (who I preferred) while sending a good package of prospects, Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto back to Miami.
Then, later in the same day, they signed Lorenzo Cain as a free agent. While some folks at places like MLBTradeRumors and other folks like St. Louis Post-Dispatch Hall of Fame columnist Rick Hummel are wondering if it's an overpay, I don't think so. While it does take the team one year deeper into Cain's age than the Cardinals' similar contract with Dexter Fowler a year ago, it's for a bit less money, has only a partial no-trade at the end of it —
And Cain is a better player.
Hummel, who generally continues to fall lower in my estimate of P-D writers, claims the Brewers' pitching problems will keep them behind the Cards. This is even while admitting Mo is standing pat on a staff in flux in St. Louis. He then claims Cain and Fowler are "similar players." Cain has three 5-WAR years; Fowler has none. And, while Cain showed some decline in center field last year, he's still a plus defender, and Miller Field, being smaller than Kaufman, will help him extend his career there. Also, if one values consistency, he's wrong about Ozuna being better than Yelich.
Hummel then goes on to claim the Cards have the best pitcher in the division. Yes, Carlos Martinez may have better stuff than Jon Lester or Kyle Hendricks, but he hasn't translated that into results yet. And, on the mental side, he now faces the baggage of being a defendant in a personal-injury lawsuit. (OTOH, Derrick Goold, reading between his lines, seems to indicate it's little more than a shakedown suit.)
It's not just Hummel on Official.Cardinals.Media.™, aka the Post-Dispatch, drinking the John Mozeliak Kool-Aid. Indeed, in Slide 12 of this slideshow, Jose de Jesus Ortiz claims that with Yelich, but not yet with Cain, the Cards of 2018 were still better than the Brew. I wouldn't have totally bought that then. Post-Cain, I don't buy it at all.
Ortize goes on to let John Mozeliak's flunky, Michael Girsch, add to the "we're good" mantra.
Goold, while not specifically saying the Cards are looking up at the Brewers, says at best they're a second wild card. That means he ranks one of three of the Brewers, Dbacks and Rockies ahead of the Cardinals at minimum. (Nobody else from last year qualifies as having moved ahead of the Cardinals.) Seeing how the two western teams have made no major additions or subtractions, I put both ahead of the Cards, barring some major player regression. And, I still put the Brewers ahead.
Well, since I started writing this, Ben Frederickson, whom I consider the most honest of the paper's writers on the Cards' current situation, has weighed in and said, no the rotation is built on hope more than anything else, and even wonders if Lance Lynn might be available for a call-back. Hell, I'd pay Lynn 2/$36 instead of the Mets' alleged 3/$36. Might also exempt the Cards from being a target of a potential collusion lawsuit. I asked Goold in his Monday chat if he agreed and my Q never got out of moderation or whatever. (Maybe the next labor agreement will move at least somewhat in the direction of other leagues' caps, along with more revenue sharing, AND minimums on team spending that right now are toothless.)
So, let's look for other analysis.
Bernie Miklasz, while thinking the Crew overpaid somewhat for Yelich, also indicates he thinks the Cards may now be looking up again.
One of Bernie Miklasz's ESPN Radio compadres, Kevin Wheeler, agrees with Bernie even more strongly.
Let's look at the Milwaukee picture.
Ryan Braun still has a decent bat and is available to the Brew Crew for three more years plus a team option at $15M. In short, the Brew know what they've got out there for years to come and can build elsewhere. Or — and with his willingness — Braun can move to first base. That presumably means Eric Thames, with a relatively low contract, gets moved, presumably for pitching. Of course, that presumes Keon Broxton will improve that much in the outfield. Kevin Wheeler says that this now leaves Domingo Santana free for trading. He'd fit great in the AL, where he could DH more, given his limited range. The AL is home of the Tampa Bay Rays and pitcher Chris Archer, who reportedly continues to draw Rays interest. If they land Archer, signed through 2021, including team options, boom. (That said, it will take at least one and probably two prospects as well as Santana to land Archer for that reason. And Archer is not an "ace," just an upgrade.)
If this trade happens, contra Hummel again, the Brewers' pitching staff moves ahead of the Cardinals for sure. Or, even if BenFred's scenario pans out, Brewers + Archer are probably about even with Cardinals + Lynn on starting rotation.
One final note? Brewers manager Craig Counsell has not been under too much of a spotlight yet, but the team hasn't significantly underperformed its Pythag under him. On the other hand, Cardinals fans know just how much Mike Matheny does NOT bring.