It’s certainly hasn’t been the easiest of seasons, 2017. But do this years woes tell of a darker future?
The Red Birds are en route to missing the Postseason for consecutive years for just the second time in the 21st century. However, the last time this occurred, in 2007-2008, it was following a 10th world Series Championship over the Detroit Tigers, and was shortly followed up by another championship in 2011 over the Texas Rangers. Although it is possible that this Cardinals team could turn it around and produce some deep playoff runs in the near years, it is equally possible that the Cardinals may be entering a rut in their history.
During their great stretch of the 2000s, there were two always two constants that held the Red Birds’ roster together: Albert Pujols, and Yadier Molina. Of course, Albert Pujols was shipped off to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after the 2011 championship, following a historically great decade with the Cardinals.
Still, after his departure, the team was anchored by a strong developmental system, good front office management, and the true rock of the team, Yadier Molina, behind the plate. Through this, the Cardinals were able to make the playoffs the next four years, even winning a pennant in 2013.
However, no one can deny that Yadi is aging. At 34, no one knows how much longer he will be in the league. Further, with the recent conflicts between he and Matheny, it may be even less time before he is no longer a Cardinal. Do I think it is likely that Molina will retire in a color other than Cardinal red? No, but it is possible. Either way, Molina will not be behind the dish forever to anchor this franchise on the field.
And if there was ever a time that this team needed to be anchored, it’s now. As of now, besides Molina, the Cardinal roster is young, inexperienced, and lacks any sort of notable leader among them.
Now, a born captain may arise from the proverbial ashes, but as things stand, this Cardinal team is made up just a bunch of young players either just coming into the league, or taking too establish themselves as the players they should be. Unless things change, the Cards’ roster may get stuck in a sort of limbo, with young players cycling in and out without the constant presence of a true leading force.
Another part of the great run of the 2000s was the system which the brilliant Tony La Russa was able to put into place to hold around his often underwhelming rosters. When La Russa left, however, an amateur manager in Mike Matheny took the helm.
Despite having a winning record in his first five years as manager of the Cardinals, including one World Series appearance in 2013, Matheny’s inexperience has consistently shown through. His lack of true managerial skill has been most apparent in 2017, which is on pace to be Matheny’s first losing season as a manager.
Of course, dealing with a roster of young talent is no easy task for any manager, especially when the talent is constantly being called up, sent down, and called back up again due to inconsistencies in performance.
However, it is the job of the manager to rally the troops around a single cause, despite however many moving pieces there may be. Matheny has not done that. If anything, he has alienated the most important part, and the leader of, the team’s roster, Yadier Molina.
Matheny, just this offseason, was signed to a contract extension through the 2020 season, which means, unless he figures something out about how to manage, the team will be headed by a mediocre at best leader for the next three years, at least. That is the exact opposite of what the Cardinals need, with a young, growing roster, struggling to find itself, if the organization hopes to avoid a lull in their history.
The era of John Mozeliak as Cardinals general manager was one of the most successful timeframes in Cardinals’ baseball history. From 2007-2016, the Red Birds brought home two N.L. pennants, and a World Series Championship.
As well, Mozeliak was responsible for making some key moves that made these titles possible, such as acquiring Matt Holiday midseason in 2009, and signing 34 year old Lance Berkman to a one-year deal entering the 2011 season after a mediocre 2010. Bergman would end up providing a game saving hit in Game 6 of the World Series against Texas en route to a World Series victory.
However, on June 30th of this season, Mozeliak was promoted to President of Baseball Operations. Accompanying this promotion, assistant GM Mike Girsch was awarded the senior GM position, along with the Vice President’s position.
As we all know oh so well, Girsch, in his first go at the General Manager’s position, made zero moves at the deadline for a team very much in need of a boost. I get it, the trade deadline came just a month after Girsch’s promotion, and inactivity in 2017 may not say much about what will come going forward. But it does say something that the Cardinal front office wasn’t able to go out and get any support for a struggling, yet fighting, young team midseason.
Anything would have been an improvement, even a veteran presence to help solidify the clubhouse, or some sort of spark plug to go at the top of the lineup. But the inactivity during this trade deadline, with a team still in the race, yet slipping and sliding to keep up, may be a sign of the direction this organization is headed.
With the way the Cardinals’ roster and management stands at the moment, there is a chance the Red Bird’s organization may be entering a bit of a down turn in the upcoming years. The Cardinals are a young team without any clear, breakout stars, organized by relative inexperience in managerial and front office positions. The Cardinals are not doomed by any stretch of the imagination; but if the team continues to stand idly by, as they have in 2017, it may be a while before we see “Cardinal Baseball” in St. Louis again.