The Cardinals of today are very different from the Cardinals of yesteryears. The Cardinals have invested heavily in pitching when it comes to the draft and this year seems to be the tipping point. Players like Jack Flaherty, Alex Reyes, and Luke Weaver among others are expected to compete for rotation spots going into 2018. This draft strategy stands in stark contrast to their division rival Chicago Cubs who have gone all in on hitting in recent drafts, nabbing players such as Kris Bryant. People always say hitting prospects are more of a sure thing then pitching, and if you look at the results, it would seem that way. Aaron Judge and Cory Bellinger burst onto the scene while players like Blake Snell are quickly falling into obscurity.
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So why the continued insistence on keeping a large pitching prospect pool when hitting seems to have a higher success rate? The answer? The Cardinals are gearing up for a big trade. Pitching is at a premium these days and many teams are looking for an ace to head their staff. It’s no secret that Giancarlo Stanton might be on the trade market this off-season and the Cardinals have the pieces to acquire him. Even if they don’t go that big, all these young arms give them flexibility in any trade discussion. Their minor league system continues to produce enough good hitters to give them a halfway decent lineup. Players like Paul Dejong and Jose Martinez are great examples of this.
Let’s say the Cardinals aren’t stacking their minor leagues with pitching for a trade, but rather they want a top tier rotation. In steps Mike Maddux. His structured approach to pitching should help these young arms blossom into what could be one of the best young rotations in baseball. With Adam Wainwright in the twilight of a great career, the young arms of Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, John Gant, and Jack Flaherty are ready to take on the reigns. With the steady hand of Yadier Molina and Mike Maddux, they could all become above average Major League Pitchers.
The Cardinals are at a crossroad, they need their pitching to work out if they want to compete for the NL Central title. Any regression means another mediocre season for a team that has drawn 3 million+ fans for quite some time. Not only do they need their pitching, but their young hitting core has to avoid regression. Paul Dejong needs to be the shortstop the Cardinals have been looking for. Stephen Piscotty needs to prove his prospect pedigree was not just a mirage. There are a lot of question marks for this young team.
It remains to be seen if they will be active in the FA market this year. They signed Fowler and Brett Cecil in the 2016 offseason, and while Fowler was hot down the stretch neither proved to be enough to catch the heavyweight Chicago Cubs. A Yu Darvish or J.D Martinez signing would instantly put the Cardinals in contention with the rest of the league, but they haven’t had a signing that big since they extended Matt Holliday’s contract way back when.
The Cardinals indeed are a team to watch this offseason, do they believe in their team enough to go after free agents or trade targets this winter? Or do the Cardinals rely on their young pitching to try and avoid a third year without a playoff appearance? Only time will tell.
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