The St. Louis Cardinals and Giancarlo Stanton weren't meant to be.
After some not so subtle flirting and advances from the Birds, the epic pursuit of Stanton by the team ended on Friday night when official word came back from Miami that the 28 year old MVP wasn't interested in St. Louis as a landing spot. That was indeed that.
And I'm here to inform you that the world will now abruptly end. Busch Stadium will burn to the ground, cars will stop working, and the heat in your house will change to a chill.
I kid, of course.
The tell tale signs came back in July, when National sports radio host Craig Mish reported that Stanton wouldn't waive his no-trade clause for St. Louis. What could possibly change in five months except for the weather? This was a long shot from the beginning, like Rocky, only with more waiting instead of constant punches.
Right now, Cardinals fans are feeling the sting, because this is the latest trial and error with free agents and the Lou. Jason Heyward chose less money and Joe Maddon. David Price chose more money and bean town. Stanton eventually agreed to wear pinstripes.
And no one can blame the guy for wanting to be the executioner to Aaron Judge and play for the most illustrious franchise in the history of the game, just like you can't blame Heyward for wanting to be the supporting player in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant's summer action film up in the Windy City. Sometimes you're the prom king, and other times you are the nerd who eats alone.
The Cardinals flew over waters they usually avoided; they were willing to give more money than any NL team for Stanton's services, along with the best players to Miami. If there wasn't a no-trade brick wall, Stanton would've been a Cardinal a week ago. But, he held the power and picked his spot. There was no twist ending. The Cardinal got beat.
Now, all the Cardinals can do is decide what they do next. As a bloodied Sean Connery told Kevin Costner in their own pursuit for a North City rival: "what are you prepared to do, DeMoGirsch?
Participation prizes are for soccer moms, so there's no time to hang your head, because Hot Stove really gets going in 24 hours at the Winter Meetings.
The Cardinals have a lot of holes on their roster, ranging from the rotation to their lineup and back to the bullpen.
Their current rotation contains only one surefire 200 inning starter, and they do not have a closer for their bullpen. You can lean on Miles Mikolas' Japan pitching all you want, but until I see him erase that 2014 horror show in Texas, there's going to be doubt. Until he blows a fastball by Rizzo or makes Joey Votto look hopeless, his MLB potential is a mystery.
If you think Michael Wacha or Adam Wainwright can be a #2, you need to drink less whiskey and more water. The Cardinals need another established starter, because while their young arsenal of baby birds looks good, they are far from ready to provide stable production for a rotation spot.
Trevor Rosenthal is gone, and an invite back wasn't extended to Juan Nicasio. Addison Reed is out there still, but no deal has been reached. Alex Colome is said to being shopped by Tampa Bay, but there's nothing definite. The Cardinals could use a setup and closer arm, or else 2018 will be another disappointment.
Then there's the lineup...
Via Steamers over at Fangraphs, your starting lineup WAR is projected to run like this: Matt Carpenter (2.7), Tommy Pham (2.9), Paul DeJong (2.5), Dexter Fowler (2.0), Yadier Molina (2.6), Jedd Gyorko (2.1), Stephen Piscotty (0.9), and Kolten Wong (2.1).
The current lineup is projected to produce 17.8 wins above replacement, which isn't very good. It doesn't take more than a few glances at the group to notice there is no legit threat. There are no definite 4.0 WAR players to boost the under-performance of another. There is a reason the team pushed hard for Stanton, because he would have made the rest of the Birds shine like a brand new penny.
What should the Cardinals do about it? I wouldn't sign Eric Hosmer. The former Royals first baseman is going to cash in, and more than likely will not duplicate his 2017 season. Logan Morrison and Mike Moustakas don't appeal much either.
Evan Longoria would have been a catch three years ago, but not now. He is due over $90 million through 2022, and doesn't produce much better than Gyorko. Chasing him after losing out on Stanton would be like hiring Sam Elliott to be your bouncer in Road House after missing out on Patrick Swayze. It would be quite subpar.
Sure, taking on Longoria if the Rays included Colome or young phenom in the making Chris Archer in the deal would make it easier to digest, but that's a far-fetched hypothetical.
Hoping to get a starter, third baseman, and closer in a single trade tells you how much the Cardinals need.
Right now, the Cardinals wouldn't win more than 82 games with their current roster, and no way am I replacing Lance Lynn's results with Mikolas'.
There is work to be done, and the first thing the Cardinals should do is ask the Marlins about Christian Yelich. Sure, I wrote last month he was the sirloin to Stanton's porterhouse, but when cooked right, a sirloin is quite satisfying.
Yelich, unlike his fellow Miami dweller Marcell Ozuna, is a player trending in the right direction. He is only starting to find his power and is becoming an easy bet for a 3.5 WAR. Scroll back up and you'll notice no one on the projected lineup even has a proposed 3.0 WAR.
Yelich would be a fine get for the Cardinals-and a classic Mozeliak move with the team friendly contract that will easily see the centerfielder outdo the money earned.
He won't come cheap, and that's fine, because the Cardinals have young prospects to offer. Derek Jeter and company didn't get much from the Yankees in the Stanton deal, so they will still look to refurbish their living room with a set of starting pitchers.
When the Marlins say they aren't shopping Yelich, they simply haven't found the right price. As one noticed with the negotiations between St. Louis and Miami can attest, the South Beach suits like the Midwest offerings on the farm. If it helps get the deal done, the Cardinals can always take Brad Ziegler, who makes $9 million, in the deal as well. Ziegler has closer experience.
If the Cards can't deal with Tampa Bay, they can get a reliable closer in Reed, who saved 19 games for the New York Mets last year and generally fares better in the National League (2.98 career FIP). Acquiring Reed would cost the Cards nothing but cold hard cash.
Suddenly, in one trade and signing, the Cardinals found an outfielder and two relievers.
What about the starter? Yu Darvish looks like a great #2, but if the rumored contract of six years and $160 million are true, there's no way DeWitt Jr. is handing that to a 31 year old coming off Tommy John surgery.
What about Alex Cobb? The former Tampa Bay Rays starter has a career 3.69 FIP and gave TB 179.1 innings last year with 12 wins. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015, took a couple years to find his form, but finished 2017 well with a 3.07 ERA over his final 17 starts. He won't cost you an arm and a leg, and can provide some stability in the backend of the Cardinals rotation.
You acquire Cobb, or reopen communication with Lance Lynn (who projects similar to Cobb in 2018) or hand Jake Arrieta four years and $100 million.
Here's the reality for starting pitching in the 2018 free agent class: it's not that great. If Darvish is your bright light, it's best to pass and wait for the trade deadline or next year. If Archer can't be acquired via trade, Mozeliak should stay away from foolish dealings. Cobb is a good call.
So, what should the Cardinals do in order to put the Stanton miss in their rearview: Trade for Yelich and Ziegler while signing Reed and Cobb.
You get a nice late game combo, a 180 inning starter, and an outfielder with 4.0 WAR potential. Then, next year, when Adam Wainwright's $19.5 million comes off the books, you strike big on a bold lineup bat.
Acquiring the big bat this winter would have been nice, but missing on #27 doesn't mean the offseason is a failure. It means there is work to be done and players to be collected.
As the calendar quickly speeds to 2018, the Cardinals can't afford to drag their feet, but don't need to do anything crazy. Why go after Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado while giving up tons of young talent and getting only one year when you can sign them as free agents next November?
The Cardinals can get rid of the bad taste in their mouth by acquiring Yelich and Reed. Get busy dealing or get busy settling into second place. I showed you the way. Now get it done.