Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch doesn’t think so. Citing the major signings by the Braves, LA Dodgers, Reds, Nationals, and the Phillies as examples of other contenders loading up, Miklasz believes that the Cardinals’ relatively low-key signings of lefty reliever Randy Choate and utility infielder Ty Wigginton may not be enough to give the Cardinals the edge when it comes to competing once again for the pennant.
I think that while splashy, expensive free agent signings may increase ticket and merchandise sales as well as help build a palpable (yet often transient) feeling of excitement with the fans, too often they do not result in on-the-field success, which should be the only ultimate goal of any franchise and their fans. All you need to do to get a sense of how little of an effect major free-agent signings often have on the level of success of the team the next year is look at the major signings of 2012: the Angels with Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Marlins with Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, the Brewers with Aramis Ramirez, the Rockies with Michael Cuddyer, and the Phillies with Jonathan Papelbon. What do all of these teams have in common? None of them made the playoffs!
Now you may have noticed that I didn’t mention the Tigers signing of Prince Fielder or the Rangers signing of Yu Darvish. The Rangers lost in the first round of the playoffs, but the Tigers did make it to the World Series, so it is not impossible for teams that make huge signings (and believe me, Fielder [and his $214 million contract] was a huge signing by any measure) to find success on the field. However, it is interesting to note that Fielder batted .071 as the Tigers got swept in 4 games by the Giants, so it can be said that his ability to come through when it matters has become a little less clear.
Why does signing major free agents rarely translate to on-the-field success? Well there are usually a lot of factors at play, but one common thread is that most free agents tend to be past their physical primes by the time they are available on the market to sign the big deal. The same logic applies not only for baseball but for the NFL and to a slightly lesser extent (due to the new “super team” trend) even to the NBA. Especially considering baseball’s grueling 162-game schedule, team chemistry with each player filling a defined role is what is crucial to team success, not throwing too much money at whatever is available during the summer.
So do I think that we should be worried? Not at all. We proved last year that we are good enough to make it to within one game of the World Series only a year after winning it all. While the impending loss of Kyle Lohse is troubling, I believe that this team has enough pitching to overcome it.