When the New York Mets made a huge trade on Thursday by bartering four prospects to Cleveland for elite shortstop Francisco Lindor and solid starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, I had a three-part reaction: 

1. Finally, some big-time action to break the tedium of a boring offseason. Someone tell the teams in the NL Central about it. Wake ‘em up. Time to improve your ballclubs and compete instead of determining the division race by playing “MLB The Show 2021” online from remote locations. 

2. Just a dynamic trade for the Mets. They’ve moved quickly and aggressively to strengthen the roster and the franchise brand under new owner Steven Cohen. And why not? Cohen, worth an estimated $14 billion, spent $2.4 billion to purchase the team two months ago. Since then the Mets have spent $40.6 million on free-agent catcher James McCann, made the powerball move for Lindor and Carrasco, and remain in hot pursuit of free-agent center fielder George Springer. Lindor can become a free agent after the 2021 season, but Cohen and the front office have every intention of keeping him in place with a massive new contract. 

Money is no problem for Cohen, who likes nice things. 

Mr. Met has one of the most valuable art collections in the world, valued at well over $1 billion. His most prominent pieces include Koons’s Rabbit, Picasso’s Le Rêve, and Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. I guess we could say that Cohen has added Lindor’s Celestial Shortstop to his personal museum of fine arts. I don’t think he’s into collecting those cheap if funny dogs-playing-poker paintings … but I could be wrong.

3. The Cardinals were never a factor in the Lindor sweepstakes. This is hardly a revelation or  breaking news. But let this serve as a public-service reminder for those expecting a daring, bold and exciting move by the STL front office this winter. I’m not sure why anyone would believe the Cardinals would try to keep up with Cohen, or knock the spunky, freewheeling San Diego Padres out of the headlines. When your favorite baseball team isn’t willing to pick up Kolten Wong’s 2021 option (cost; $11.5 million) and are hemming and hawing over new contracts for icons Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright … 

Well, the payroll slashing and extreme caution doesn’t exactly scream “FORGET LINDOR, WE’RE GOING TO MAKE THAT MONSTER TRADE FOR NOLAN ARENADO!” Am I right? Arenado has six seasons and $199 million remaining on the eight-year contract with Colorado. And no, Arenado isn’t going to opt out of Colorado after 2021. For the most part MLB teams are in the cost-slashing mode, and will be for a while. And Arenado isn’t dumb to put $199 million guaranteed into a shredder. 

Attractive free agents should be available next winter. Assuming that Lindor will be secured by Cohen’s Mets, that leaves potential free-agent shortstops Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javier Baez and Carlos Correa on the market for 2022. A lot can happen between now and then, including a new collective bargaining agreement (or labor war) between the owners and players. 

To assume here and now that Cardinals ownership-management will spend like mad men a year from now — after shedding the contracts of Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Andrew Miller and (probably) Carlos Martinez — frankly, that’s loco. 

The Cardinals have a problem. The offense is thin and the star power is fading. 

It’s a winning team, and a competitive team, and the usual depth of pitching could lead to a kinda-nice 2021 season. But it’s silly to deny that the Cardinals are short on talent. 

ESPN’s Buster Olney has been rolling out his annual “Top 10 Players” at each position. If my count is accurate, Olney named a total of 155 MLB players to his Top 10 or “Best of the Rest” lists for starting pitchers, relievers, infielders, outfielders and catchers. 

The Cardinals had one Top 10 guy: Paul Goldschmidt was No. 3 at first base. 

Molina was ranked No. 9 at catcher, but technically isn’t a Cardinal right now. But if he re-signs here, then the Cardinals would have two Top 10 mentions.

Only one Cardinal, starting pitcher Jack Flaherty, was included in the “best of the rest” group at each position. The Cardinals remain positive about shortstop Paul DeJong. And I’m not saying that they’re wrong. But for what it’s worth, DeJong didn’t make the cut with Olney, who cited 16 shortstops in all. (Top 10, and six “best of the rest.) 

The Cardinals weren’t exactly flashing all over the place in Olney’s best-in-show lineup of 155 players and pitchers.

However … The ex-Cardinals did much better: 

  • Kolten Wong, No. 8 among second basemen.
  • Luke Voit, No. 7 at first base.
  • Marcell Ozuna, No. 3 at left field.
  • Tommy Pham, No. 8 at LF
  • Randy Arozarena, No. 9 at LF.

Good grief. 

I’m not saying that my friend Buster’s selections are baseball gospel, and we can nitpick or question some of his choices. And I don’t think we’d be surprised at all to see Flaherty return to form in 2021 and resurface on many Top 10 lists for 2022. 

But at this moment in time, Olney’s best-of lists are a valuable reference point. And when the players that the Cardinals gave up on or traded away are better than the players they still have, it isn’t a good look. And it says a lot about the state of Cardinals baseball. 

Historically the Cardinals have almost always been a franchise of big stars. A parade of Hall of Famers through the generations. MVP and Cy Young award winners, All-Star selections, gold glovers, silver sluggers, batting champions, home-run kings, RBI machines, etc. 

When the Cardinals won 105 games and the NL pennant in 2004, they had three position players worthy of the league MVP award: Pujols, center fielder Jim Edmonds, third baseman Scott Rolen. And that was going into the 2004 season; future Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Walker was added in July. The 2006 champs had Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, the rising-star Molina and 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter. In 2011, it was Pujols, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, and seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday. David Freese became the star of the 2011 postseason. 

Freese proved that stars can suddenly appear in the night sky, largely in an unexpected and breathlessly exciting way. 

The Cardinals could use instant-star impact in 2021. 

In a recent interview, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. stressed the importance of having star players. 

“We have had some really good players over the years and it really is fun to think back about the players we’ve had,” DeWitt told me on my KFNS radio show. “And I don’t think we’ve gone a season without having really signature players on our team. That’s something where you try to win, you try to win championships, but you also want quality players and players who are really good in the community which we’ve really been fortunate to have.

“I’m a believer in star players. Your best players make everybody else better on a team. I’ve believed that for a long time and I think it’s true. But we’ve got a number of good players. Paul Goldschmidt is clearly a star, and hopefully Waino and Yadi will be back. 

“But as you said there comes a time. Nobody can play forever and we don’t know exactly when that will be. But it’s our job to go out and draft and develop the stars of the future, and maybe we acquire players that either are stars or turn into stars.” 

The Cardinals have some potential new stars in outfielder Dylan Carlson and third baseman Nolan Gorman. Reliever Jordan Hicks was an emerging star before and we could review the top prospects lists and offer more names. 

But I’ll pass on that for now; this isn’t supposed to be a piece on could-be, might-be stars. I’m talking about stars for 2021, and the count is low. (Especially if Wainwright and Molina are done here.) As DeWitt said, the obvious value of stars is that they’re really good or even great players who lead the team to a tall stack of wins, and deep postseason runs. And big stars sell tickets and keep the fan base energized. 

“I think you make a good point,” DeWitt said. “You need some signature players on your team. But you know it’s interesting. You look at Tampa Bay this past year, and everybody starts to look (and say), ‘Why don’t we do that.’ They have a low payroll and they go to the World Series. So it’s not necessarily the stars that carry you if you have a lot of good young players, a lot of good players, and you can win also. But clearly there is drawing power to having signature players.” 

Thanks for reading …

And have an awesome and safe weekend. 

–Bernie 

Please listen to Bernie’s 590-AM The Fan sports-talk show, weekdays from 3-6 p.m. You can hear it online and listen to the show podcast through 590thefan.com or via  the 590 The Fan St. Louis app, available in your app store.