The coming offseason will be all about starting pitching and inspecting president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. to see if (a) they’ve learned any hard lessons from the collapse of 2023, and (b) they are dedicated to having a winning team that all can be proud of. There is no mystery here. There is no ambiguity. This is a simple test.
In advance of 2024, the Cardinals require the addition of multiple MLB starting pitchers that can elevate the most important area of the team. An area, starting pitching, that has been sinking in recent years.
From the start of 2000 through 2020, the Cardinals ranked second in the majors in starting-pitching ERA, second in starting-pitching Win Probability Added, and were 14th in starting pitching WAR.
Since the start of the 2021 season, the Cards rank 15th in starting-pitching ERA, 17th in starter Win Probability Added, and 19th in starter WAR.
The trend is undeniable. The arrow is pointing down. Management-ownership has taken an established strength of St. Louis Cardinals baseball and turned it into a prominent, detrimental weakness.
This is the No. 1 reason why the 2023 Cardinals were 14 games under .500, stuck in last place in the NL Central, and ranked 13th in the NL and 25th overall with a .435 winning percentage through Tuesday.
The Cardinals just acquired needed pitching depth by offloading rental pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Jordan Hicks, Jack Flaherty and Chris Stratton and shortstop Paul DeJong at the 2023 trade deadline.
Mozeliak did a good job of taking on a problem and flooding the zone with young pitching prospects. But the next part is the hardest part. The Cardinals have to reestablish their reputation, as an organization that traditionally has specialized in having consistently good starting pitching.
As it stands now, the Cardinals have only two starters for a five-man rotation: Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz. If winning in 2024 is an urgent priority, they have important work to do.
Their offseason goal shouldn’t be about filling rotation spots in a way that we all do laundry, or cut the grass, or give the back deck a scrubbing. Acquiring starting pitching isn’t a chore. It isn’t on a checklist of things to do that we post on the refrigerator door.
And this isn’t like keeping your old TV set because it still works OK, even if it’s frustratingly outdated and unreliable at times. The Cardinals need something new, and more modern, and is a reflection of the evolving industry standards.
St. Louis is challenged by a serious shortage, a flaw that impacts the franchise’s competitive direction. They’ve suffered the consequences in 2023. They can do better and must do better.
The veteran starters brought in by the Cardinals next offseason have to be an improvement on Mikolas and Matz – but also an upgrade on the departed Montgomery, Flaherty and the retiring Adam Wainwright. Do you want to compete for a World Series? This is way.
Here’s what the Cardinals can’t do …
Try to convince everyone that the 23-year-old Matthew Liberatore is ready for a full-time 2024 MLB rotation spot and that Dakota Hudson is making real progress and is a bona fide candidate to earn a spot in the five-man starter staff. They can’t try to convince us that Michael McGreevy is the real deal.
They can’t be cheap in pursuing free-agent starters and then tell us that they’re happy with the results – and that you should be happy too!
The Cardinals can’t rush the intriguing crop of new prospects to the big leagues in an attempt to show everyone that they were so remarkably smart to acquire them and get attaboy credits. A couple of these dudes could be viable as soon as 2024, but they should be viewed as supplemental pieces instead of rotation fixtures. First things first.
And no more spinning, no more conning.
No more of the Jimmy McGill hustle that we watched in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The eroding credibility of Mozeliak-DeWitt will be squarely on the line when the offseason gets underway.
The Cardinals have to be willing to think big, spend big and trade big.
The Slippin’ Jimmy McGill routine is played out. It’s tired. It no longer works.
The owner and the president of baseball ops need to respect the fans instead of repeatedly trying to dupe them.
Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt deserve a good major-league starting rotation instead of being surrounded by pieces from a rummage sale that management promotes as an improvement. What was the point of trading for the first baseman and the third baseman – future Hall of Famers – is you’re going do drown them in the team’s roiling, ridiculously high ERA?
Cardinals management has the revenue and the resources to do anything that it wants to do. Next offseason the St. Louis commitment to winning will face the most strenuous test of DeWitt’s 26-plus years as the franchise leader.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts a weekday sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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The “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and B. Miklasz is available at 590thefan.com, the 590 the fan app or your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus or Bill James Online.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.