One of the most interesting parts of spring training is the team’s messaging. The offering of a mission statement, the setting of the tone, the conveyance of optimism. If this baseball ritual could be expressed in a song, it would be “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles.
I love the way first-year manager Oli Marmol came out swinging.
His team’s mentality?
Win the World Series.
“In contacting our guys, it’s beyond optimism,” Marmol said in a media briefing earlier this week. “They are beyond just being committed to winning. You can hear the conviction in their voices that they are dedicated to winning a World Series. It’s impressive, and it’s exciting. The first three calls I made, in their own way, said it would be a disappointment if we didn’t win a World Series.”
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak wasn’t quite as adamant. In the standard way of the Cardinal way, Mozeliak was more measured. Pragmatic. Centered. Calibrated. He did the Mo.
“I’ve always told you guys,” Mozeliak said, “I never speak in absolutes. Look, he’s excited about this club, I think we all are. I think I’ve been doing it long enough to know that (if) trying to position expectations so high, you can’t guarantee delivery. But I think really his point is that he knows we have a talented team, he knows there are guys that understand what it takes to win at a high level, at a consistent level — and what it takes to get to October and win in October. And so, when you have those attributes or those traits, you can easily connect dots to getting there.
“For all of us that have been around a long time, we know there are other things that also factor into that. And that’s good fortune, good health, good luck, to name a few. And so there are some things you can control, some things you can’t. The good news is we have a talented team, and hopefully we can control that.”
The youngest manager in the majors boldly stepped forward to raise the expectations.
One of the most experienced front-office leaders in the majors immediately stepped back and lowered expectations.
We can say that Marmol’s statements were directed at the media, the fans, and his entire squad. His Cardinals are after a World Series championship. It should be the only goal that matters. He wanted everyone to know that.
That said, the devil in me wonders: was Marmol also sending a message to team management? The Cardinals reside in the weakest division in baseball. The 2022 postseason has been expanded to six teams in each league. Though nothing should ever be taken for granted, the ‘22 Cardinals certainly seem bound for the playoffs. But what happens once they arrive there?
Making the playoffs is an achievement, and you can’t compete for a World Series unless you qualify for the postseason invitational. But as we’ve pointed out many times, the Cardinals have lost 15 of their last 20 postseason games overall, and are 4-9 in the last three tournaments.
I like this team. The 2022 Cardinals should be good, maybe very good. But can they be great? Since the end of last season, they’ve added a middle-rotation starter in Steven Matz, who isn’t Max Scherzer. They’ve made some modest-cost signings for the bullpen. (This could turn out fine. Expensive relievers haven’t paid off for St. Louis.) The Redbirds have not gone outside the organization to improve their player-position depth. (Of course, moves can still be made.) The Cardinals presumably will do more work on their roster.
And as of Tuesday afternoon, the Cardinals had two important pieces of their pitching staff — Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes — dealing with shoulder concerns. This could be nothing, this could be something, or it could be bad news. But it’s never a positive when pitchers can’t work in camp because they’re having their shoulders examined. So … here we go again. It happens every spring, right? Seems that way.
As I’ve written before, I will praise the Cardinals for their consistency in producing 14 consecutive winning seasons and the NL’s best winning percentage (.559) since the start of 2000. And how about this stat? Over the past 22 years MLB teams have combined to have 318 losing seasons – but only one belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals. The franchise can be proud of that, and fans should admire the track record. We’ve been treated to many seasons of excellent baseball.
On the other hand …
There’s been slippage.
Since the start of the 2016 season the Cardinals rank third in the NL and eighth in the majors with a .539 winning percentage. That’s still good. But it’s a drop from what the Cardinals did from 2000 through 2015 – compile a .565 winning percentage that was second overall and first in the NL.
And in the more recent trend, the St. Louis postseasons are short on wins. From 2000 through 2015 the Cardinals ranked second in the majors with 32 postseason victories – two fewer than the Giants. But since the start of 2016 it’s been a much different story, with 13 MLB teams (including six in the NL) winning more postseason games than the Cards.
I’ve been harping on this, so here I go again: the Cardinals need to take a more robust all-around team into the postseason. As we’ve learned a team can win 100 regular-season games and still flop in the postseason. That occurrence reaffirms the randomness of postseason ball.
And it’s true that once you get in, anything can happen. The 2006 Cardinals proved that by winning only 83 regular-season games before making a bull rush to the World Series title.
But the last 10 full-season World Series champs averaged 95.7 wins during the regular season. And over the last 10 full seasons the AL and NL champs averaged 97 and 94 regular-season victories, respectively.
This is a long way of me saying that I’d very much like to see the Cardinals take a better team into the postseason. I’d like to see them do more than add Steven Matz and a couple of budget relievers to a roster that needs more oomph.
Yes, the Pirates are hideous. The Cubs are average or perhaps slightly better and have made some ambitious moves since the end of last season. The Reds are withdrawing from contention by dumping contracts – well, that isn’t an excuse for the Cardinal to go into the cruise-control mode in a polite NL Central road race with the Brewers.
Let’s do a quick review of the NL Central:
– Since the end of last season the Reds have either traded or cut loose starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Wade Miley; reliever-outfielder Michael Lorenzen; catcher Tucker Barnhart; sluggers Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos; and infielder Eugenio Suarez. Estimated payroll savings: around $60 million for 2022, and $95.6 million if we count the future guaranteed salaries moved by dealing Gray and Suarez. The Reds’ current payroll sits at $76.8 million.
– The Cubs just made a splash move by signing Japanese right fielder Seiya Suzuki. He signed a five-year, $85 million contract — but including the posting fee paid to Hiroshima, his club in Japan, the Cubs’ total cost is $99.6 million. From 2016 through 2021 Suzuki batted .309 with a .402 OBP and .541 slugging percentage and hit 25+ home runs in all six seasons. The Cubs have have a decent rotation led by Kyle Hendricks, Miley, free-agent signee Marcus Stroman – but many holes remain unfilled. They also signed great-glove, no-hit shortstop Andrelton Simmons. They’ll do more. After the Suzuki deal, the Cubs have an estimated payroll of $119 million. They’ll be competitive.
– The pathetic Pirates spent $54 million on player payroll last season. But with team owner Bob Nutting perfectly happy to lose 100 games while collecting revenue-sharing payments from his fellow owners … the Bucs at the moment have a payroll of $34.5 million.
– The Brewers traded for bopper Hunter Renfroe (31 HR for Boston last season) and signed aging outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and now we’ll wait and see if they go for a bigger move. Their current payroll is about the same as last season ($100 million.)
– And that reminds me: as of now the Cardinals have a payroll that’s $40 million higher than Milwaukee’s. (Subject to change, of course.) According to Spotrac, the Cardinals had a payroll of $172 million last season – and it’s around $141 million right now.
Given the landscape of the NL Central and their wide-open payroll space the Cardinals have the resources to dominate this division. But here’s the more important question: does management have the necessary aggressiveness?
Let’s sit back and watch the show … or the no-show. The Cardinals can add a player or two now, or do it later during the season after assessing their strengths and weaknesses. If the issues concerning Flaherty and Reyes are serious, will the Cardinals react in the usual casual way or seek pitching help?
Their team-building shouldn’t be all about gauging the NL Central. This should be about matching up with the Dodgers, Braves, Giants, Mets, Padres and other NL contenders in potential postseason meetings.
Manager Marmol and his players are unconditionally setting their sights on winning the World Series – and nothing short of that will do.
Winning the World Series would be a more realistic goal if management shared Marmol’s gung-ho attitude.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead and Spotrac unless otherwise noted.
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.