NOTE: While I hate the Cubs with all my being, I am a fan of my business partner John Pearman. Therefore, I am airing his opinion about the Cardinals and Cubs at mid-season. These opinions are his own.
When we started the CubsCardsCast podcast in advance of the 2015 baseball season, the purpose was to have a lively discussion around the rivalry that exists between the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals. And it turns out we picked a good time to do this. Our teams have been very competitive each year since and the rivalry has been more balanced than any other time in modern history.
2019 is no different. As I write this post the Cubs and Cardinals are tied atop the NL Central with identical 57-50 records. However, on this August 1st morning it feels like these teams are headed in different directions.
The July 31st trade deadline came and went yesterday. The Cubs methodically went out and checked the boxes that required attention leading into the one and only trade deadline this year. The Cardinals did not.
Arguably, the Cardinals roster had more boxes to check than the Cubs. They checked none of them. (I recognize the Brewers are just one game out of first place and very much in the divisional race…but this is CubsCardsCast. We compare the Cubs and Cardinals here. I’m sure there is a podcast out there somewhere trying to gin up the Cubs and/or Cardinals rivalry with the Brewers. If that’s what you’re after, feel free to stop reading and go there now.)
Though Cubs fans may find it difficult to get too excited about two months of Nick Castellanos and the additions of Tony Kemp, David Phelps and Derek Holland. They add depth and address current needs and they improved the roster. Factor in the earlier signing of Craig Kimbrel and the Cubs were one of the more active teams leading up to the deadline.
The bottomline is that the Cubs management looked at their flawed first place team and said we’re going to do what we think is needed to win this year. And despite the many excuses and all the finger-pointing engaged in by the Cardinals management, they clearly didn’t view their first place team the same way.
While Cubs fans should be pleased with the approach taken by their front office and ownership, Cardinals fans should be more incensed than ever. And the reason is that the Cardinals possess the necessary depth of talent that was needed to acquire difference-making players to help carry your team to a successful 2019 season. For a team that has not made the post-season since 2015 you would think there might be more urgency for a team that now finds itself in first place with 2 months to play.
I’m not going to try to convince anyone that Zach Wheeler was the key element the Cardinals needed to win the division. But I would argue that he’s better than Michael Wacha or Daniel Poncedeleon. In fact, few would argue otherwise. It is being alleged that the asking price for Wheeler by the Mets was Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. It is also alleged that the Cardinals didn’t want to part with Bader, back-up catcher Andrew Knizner or prized prospects Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman. According to the same source, they were offering O’Neill and Lane Thomas in trade discussions.
So why didn’t they get Wheeler? If they were truly offering O’Neill to other teams then it would seem that they viewed the cost of O’Neill and Bader to be too much to pay for two months of a pitcher that’s just a little better than okay. They’re right. That is too much to pay. And newsflash to the Cardinals front office: the reason you always come up short in your pursuit of every free agent (except Dexter Fowler!!!) and trade possibility is because of your unwillingness to overpay. When a team’s management has confidence in their team’s ability to win, they’re willing to overpay for the elements needed to put their team over the top.
The Cubs have famously done it. In 2016 they gave up their top prospect, Gleyber Torres to rent Aroldis Chapman. And in case you’re not aware…it worked out. In 2017 they gave up Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez to get Jose Quintana. That one hasn’t quite worked out as hoped. But Quintana goes to the post every 5 days and has been more than adequate.
The point I’m trying to make is that Harrison Bader shouldn’t be the reason you don’t have Zach Wheeler. You’ve seen enough of him at the MLB level to know what he is and what he isn’t. And your organization likely has the best depth at CF of any team in baseball. Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Dylan Carlson….Dexter Fowler. The Cardinals would be no worse off had they traded O’Neill and Bader for Wheeler than they are now and would likely be better off every fifth day with him taking the place of Wacha, Poncedeleon or Adam Wainwright in the rotation.
The Cardinals management and ownership appear to be acting out of fear. And not the right kind of fear. They should fear losing the division…a division they find themselves leading on August 1st. However, they appear to fear that Bader and/or O’Neill will find success elsewhere and are concerned about how that reflects upon them. These aren’t players that are essential to the Cardinals ability to win. The Cardinals have Marcell Ozuna returning to play LF. They have Fowler in CF currently. They appear to prefer Jose Martinez to O’Neill for some reason when they’re forced to choose. So why not give up O’Neill and Bader for Wheeler?
This is just one example. In reality, the Cardinals have the personnel and talent in their organization to have been players for Madison Bumgarner, Zach Greinke (yes, he had a no-trade clause…and YES, he said he was willing to waive it for the right deal), Marcus Stroman, Matt Boyd or Trevor Bauer. The Cardinals didn’t do what it takes to deliver a difference-making talent to help their 2019 team win. Or how about a left-handed bat or two? What you’re getting from the left side from Fowler, Matt Wieters, Kolten Wong and what’s left of Matt Carpenter isn’t scaring anyone. Another box that Cardinals management didn’t check.
Left-handed relief? Andrew Miller and….? This wasn’t even a difficult or costly need to fill. Look at what the Nationals gave up to get left-handed set-up man Roenis Elias. The Cardinals have a dozen prospects exactly like the ones traded. Instead the Cardinals are turning to Zac Rosscup.
With two months to play the Cubs aren’t yet planning any parades, but they’re in better shape today than they were yesterday. And the team they find themselves tied with atop the NL Central are not.
August 1st may prove to be the key demarcation date this season for the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry…and if that does indeed prove to be the case, the Cardinals management is clearly to blame.