It’s not too early. Whether or not one considers preseason speculation about the Cardinals being contenders entering the 2023 season good or ill-conceived, they certainly aren’t contenders now. Reassurances he’s still early season no longer working as baseball nears the halfway point and the All-Star break. Wednesday night’s eighth-inning collapse against the Astros dropped St. Louis to 33-46, giving the team a four-game protection in the ignominious contest to be the worst in the NL Central. The only silver lining is sad: in a sea of humiliation, no one notices another bucket being shoved into it. The Cardinals’ chances in the final game haven’t completely evaporated, but it more reflects the bland mediocrity covering the division rather than any significant team advantage. For the first time in a long time, “What’s next?” It may not just be “the second verse, like the first.”
Describing the Cardinals in recent decades, I’d personally call them the best conservative franchises in baseball. One of the awful things about the team is how incredibly stable and consistent they are. I was in middle school the last time St. Louis lost 90 games in a season (1990); Only five people alive on the planet were around the last time a team lost 100. Even looking only at starts rather than entire seasons, this is one of the worst performing Cardinals teams anyone has seen alive.
Cardinals’ worst start, first 79 games
Source: Baseball Reference
It was the worst start to the franchise, but most of it was in too many days. Aside from a potential handful of 105-year-old St. Louis natives, we have only two Cardinals in recent memory who have gotten off to a worse start.
If you’re looking beyond 2023, the Cardinals are in a bit of a bind. It’s been a long time since they’ve ripped the list to its foundations or gone completely off-season investing, and they may find themselves in that awkward territory where they’re not good enough to win now or later. Ken Rosenthal wrote in The Athletic about this dangerous trap they fell into, which is one of the reasons I wrote this article. In Ken’s words:
Drafting and development is still the prerogative of the Cardinals. Both Keith Law and Baseball America rated their system the ninth best in the majors before the season began. So if a free agent’s splurge is out of the question, why not push toward more young talent and move Goldschmidt in addition to the more obvious trade candidates? And if Goldschmidt goes, why not Arenado in the offseason?
I know this sounds like a lot. It would be too much, Mozeliak said in his remarks on Friday. A team that averages about 41,000 at Busch Stadium and makes great use of the nearby Village Ballpark should think twice seriously about the resemblance to a tank club. But if it’s just an intellectual exercise, let’s look at how this idea can be implemented.
So what I want to do is test the feasibility of trying to master the Goldilocks strategy at this point. Let’s start with some new 2024 projections for the Cardinals – which Cardinals are under contract for 2024 – and try to assemble a team of them:
ZiPS Predictions – 2024 Cardinals Offense
This is the strong part of the Cardinals. The core is fully signed for the 2024 season. All six of the team’s MLB free agents are pitchers, with Paul DeJong as the only expected departure here, right now, and I don’t think many people reading this will disagree with my idea that the team’s $12.5 million option It will not be chosen higher.
But even with a solid set of projections, there are cracks that show. As a group, ZiPS sees these players about three wins worse overall next year than it initially envisioned for the 2024 seasons in March. In other words, even with the good outlook, there has been some decline in the long-term outlook.
But it’s about to get worse; Time to take a look at the pitchers:
ZiPS Predictions – 2024 Cardinals Pitching
While the outlook has actually improved slightly for 2024, overall, it’s a bunch that misses the high end. Outside of Helsley, who ZiPS doesn’t even know is out of a dreaded forearm strain, nobody is shining. And the loss of Jordan Montgomery especially hurts. Let’s put it this way: ZiPS Matz projects to drive rotations at K/9 in 2024.
Now, if I convert my playing time into a more realistic allocation, bring in more reserves, and repeat the process with the other four NL Central teams, here’s what I get in the 2024 NL Central standings using only players under contract:
ZiPS Predictions – 2024 NL Central
|St. Louis Cardinals||80||82||.494||3|
That’s 11 games worse than the 2023 projection, and while the Cardinals literally won’t stand it, I can’t see them adding 11 wins compared to what other NL Central teams add this coming winter. They probably can’t significantly improve the offense in free agency, save for signing Shuhei Ohtani. (They don’t sign Shohei Ohtani to free agency.) The starting pitcher is probably the area that could add the most wins, but the problem is that the picks look kind of weak. There’s also already $125 million committed for 2024, and with arbitration and different salaries for different parts of the team, you’re probably looking at about $150-160 million as a starting point. The team’s ownership group has given no indication that it is about to go for Steve Cohen in free agency; For $35 million, St. Louis couldn’t keep their team Present The rotation, one with a 4.81 ERA, is intact. The needs on the promotion side are more than a couple not. 3 entrees and a few handfuls of relief.
So in the end, I find myself forced to agree to Kane’s thesis: The Cardinals no longer fit the requirements needed to stay on their long-term course. It’s not enough to expect the rest of the band to outperform the average. Whether it’s an aggressive rebuild or an aggressive spending spree, they need to spoil the apple cart.