The worst thing a sports team can do once they find their way back on top is become complacent. It's like accepting a participation trophy and going to get pizza to celebrate that you are merely alive instead of wondering why you weren't more successful.
After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals returned to division supremacy this year. They now have a chance to solidify their place atop the National League Central Division.
The Chicago Cubs are taking offers for Kris Bryant and reeling from the "all in" nature of their World Series chase while the Milwaukee Brewers are set to come back a little weaker in the 2020 season. The Cincinnati Reds, however, are loading up, angling to get back into the race. The Pittsburgh Pirates won't be far behind.
Why take your foot off the gas when there's a lot of road left to cover?
The Cardinals aren't the team that is satisfied with winning a division and besting four other teams. They should want to get the best of 29 other teams, making a clear run for World Championship number 12. Right?
Sure, the payroll will be tight, unless the team wants to increase it significantly. For example, making a run at Anthony Rendon will cause a payroll rise up near the luxury tax limit, which is something the Cardinals will simply never do. This is the kind of team that won't get caught with their hands near the cookie jar, in fear of rupturing their reputation.
This week at the winter meetings, President of Baseball Operations, aka a fancy name for the real General Manager, John Mozeliak, noted the team doesn't want to carry a deadline in their head to get deals done.
He used "finish line" and "want to get a grasp of the market" in his comments to reporters as well. This basically means don't expect a substantial move this month or possibly in January.
This is disheartening to say the least. Mozeliak could just be spinning people's wheels and playing things close to the chest, but is he here? The Cardinals never seem to be players for the big fish anyway, but if they think going into 2020 with their current outfield will lead to improvement, they are dead wrong.
It's suitable to not believe enough in Marcell Ozuna for an extended contract. But if he walks, there needs to be a Plan B.
News Flash: Dexter Fowler won't do any better than 2019. If you are expecting 2014-16 Fowler to show up at age 34, place your bet somewhere else. Mozeliak made a point of embracing Fowler as a starter, a finality that would be easier to accept if you didn't look around and see other question marks.
Harrison Bader had a problem staying over .200 at the plate this past season, didn't win a Gold Glove in center field, and had his job taken away multiple times, so he's not the answer.
Will the team actually invest time in Tyler O'Neill? With the exception of a month last season where Ozuna was injured, they haven't given him a look in three seasons.
Do you really think Lane Thomas or Randy Arozarena will just be slotted into the starting lineup? Guess again. Mike Shildt will run with the experienced Bader and Fowler most likely.
What about the phenom prospect, Dylan Carlson? Mozeliak has compared him to Albert Pujols when it comes to potential ability and impact, but don't expect to see him in April. It was noted Monday's media session that Cardinals fans will see Carlson "at some point" in 2020, so that doesn't translate to opening day.
The Cardinals outfield was one of the worst in baseball in 2019, leading to their at the last minute division clinch and early playoff exit. It wasn't their pitching, even if the injuries and setbacks mounted up quickly there. The bats were the issue. A lack of power to be exact.
If the Cardinals aren't going to look into Corey Dickerson or Nicholas Castellanos, or make a trade for a guy like Joey Gallo or Joc Pederson, then how do they expect to truly make a dent in 2020 and travel further into the postseason, or even get back to the playoffs at all?
Weaker or not, the Cubs and Brewers will somehow be standing at the gates. The Reds are going to make a push. The Pirates won't make anything easy. The Cardinals can't go into the 2020 with roughly the same roster and expect to walk right through. The Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, and others will be standing in front of that gate to the World Series as well. It won't be easy.
This isn't like the St. Louis Blues, who entered this season with nearly the same roster as they did during their Stanley Cup-winning run last spring. The Cardinals don't get that luxury. There is money to spend and trades to be made, so make a move.
Bringing back Ozuna still isn't the worst idea if his market dries out. Dickerson carries an .832 career OPS and 119 OPS+ (average is 100). Castellanos is an extra base hit machine, something the team lacked in 2019.
The Cardinals could package a piece of their pitching depth and/or outfield depth to make a move. It was just this past summer where the New York Mets wanted Bader and/or O'Neill to trade Zack Wheeler to the Cardinals. If a team is interested in them this winter, pull the trigger. Bader's trade value will only decrease and O'Neill's stock hasn't even been counted yet. All of these pitchers and outfielders won't see the light of day with the Cardinals, so use their untapped value to improve your current team.
Once again, it could be classic smoke and mirrors with Mozeliak's comments. He's done it before. He'll do it again. But there's a difference between patience and complacence, and the Cardinals are walking that fine line right now.
They got back to the top of the division in 2019, but the moves they decide to make or not make will decide how long they stay there.