“Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go
I wanna be sedated.”

– The Ramones

It’s getting crazier by the minute out there. Someone please hit me with the tranquilizer gun. I’m a big boy, so you better dose it up. But I do not complain. This playtime, filled with rumor-chasing activities, is a lollapalooza of fun, anticipation, obsessive Twitter tracking, and faux outrage. Everybody out there is Branch Rickey, 100 percent convinced about what’s the best move – or worst – for their favorite team. I like to know what the peoples are thinking and saying.

It says something about the state of major-league baseball when fans are more excited about trade rumors than the action on the field.

On Monday morning the always entertaining Jim Bowden (The Athletic) dropped this firestarter into the Twitter kettle: “The Cardinals are ready to part with outfielder Dylan Carlson and infielder Nolan Gorman to headline their package” for Washington outfielder Juan Soto. Reading the responses left me dizzy and disoriented … but I am bizarrely addicted.

That’s why I wanna be sedated.

I don’t know what the Cardinals will do. But a few other things are clear to me …

The St. Louis ownership-management is under intense pressure to make this team better via trades. There hasn’t been an in-season move for a notable hitter since Brandon Moss in 2015, or a swap that landed an above-average starting pitcher (John Lackey) in 2014.

As I write this on Monday morn, the Cardinals (54-48) would not be in the playoffs if the season had ended Sunday. They’re close enough, trailing Philadelphia by a game for the NL’s third wild-card. That’s sad.

Can you imagine the Cardinals missing the playoffs in a 2022 season during which they have:

(A) two of the top four position players in the NL, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, based on FanGraphs WAR.

(B) Have benefited from surprisingly valuable rookie contributions by Brendan Donovan, Andre Pallante, Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez.

(C) Are receiving a healthy and largely unexpected boost of offense from the 42-year-old Albert Pujols

(D) Are rated near the top of the NL in defense and baserunning.

(E) Have an All-Star closer in Ryan Helsley; and (F) compete in baseball’s weakest division and are playing the easiest schedule in the majors since the All-Star break.

And if the Cardinals are unable to qualify for October baseball, it would come down to one principal reason: the front office didn’t do enough to strengthen their starting rotation before the season, and they didn’t respond to the rotation’s significant decline after being struck by the inevitable and predictable injuries.

The Cardinals trail the first-place Brewers by three games in the NL Central despite having a 40-man luxury tax payroll that’s around $26 million higher than Milwaukee’s this year.

Mozeliak has put three different managers in charge of pushing Craig Counsell and the Brewers into the also-ran category again, but for now the Brewers remain on top. And it would be a embarrassment for Mozeliak to see the Cardinals take a step back after Mo fired Mike Shildt and replaced him with rookie manager Oli Marmol.

Since the start of the 2018, the Brewers have a .564 winning percentage, won two division titles, and made the playoffs four times. Over that same time the Cardinals have a .546 winning percentage, captured one division title and have made the playoffs three times. And that’s with St. Louis spending $222 million more on payroll (the 40-man) over the last five seasons. How would Cardinal ownership-management defend that? Answer: it’s indefensible.

And I wrote that BEFORE the Brewers traded monster closer Josh Hader to San Diego on Monday afternoon. Hader can stroll into free agency after the 2023 season, and figures to make about $15 million in ‘23. Milwaukee president of baseball ops David Stearns is thinking ahead – securing a package of talent with a bigger picture in mind. Stearns also knows that he has a perfectly fine closer, Devin Williams, to take over for Hader. And Padres closer Taylor Rogers is headed to Milwaukee as part of the trade – though he hasn’t been good so far in 2022.

Does the Hader deal take the Padres out of the Soto sweepstakes? Heck, no. Hyperactive baseball boss A.J. Preller is always all-in, pursuing big names the way kids chase autographs at the ballpark. He just wants recognition and praise from the national baseball media. Never mind his record. Since Preller’s first full season in San Diego (2015) the Padres have spent a fortune to have the No. 25 winning percentage in the majors over the last seven-plus seasons. And they have made the postseason one time – that coming in a pandemic-shortened season in 2020 and was also the Padres’ only winning season under Preller to date.

In the Hader transaction the Padres held onto the top prospects that Preller can dangle before the many teams he’s yapping with about potential trades – including the Nationals. How about a Soto-Hader exacta?

Preller’s opposite is St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. The slower and steady approach is his preferred style. Mozeliak seems more willing to break from the organization’s time-honored model that has produced sustained success over an extensive period of time.

The winning STL system shouldn’t be dismissed and I don’t take it for granted. It’s impressive and lasting. Since Bill DeWitt Jr. took over the franchise in 1996, the Cardinals have competed in more postseasons (15) than any NL team and rank second overall to the Yankees (16.)

Since the start of the 2000 season the Cardinals have the NL’s second-best regular-season winning percentage and rank No. 3 overall.They’ve competed in the playoffs 15 times, most by an NL team and second overall to the Yankees (18.)

But for all of their success, the Cardinals continue to decline as a postseason force. From 2011 through 2013, the Cardinals won 27 postseason games, two NL pennants and a World Series championship.

From 2014 through 2021, they’ve won nine postseason games and haven’t advanced to the World Series. And they’re 1-8 in NLCS games since 2014.

For those of us that appreciate having the Cardinals representing St. Louis for the last 27 seasons during the DeWitt regime, I don’t need the Cardinals to make an idiotic trade to appease me. That’s for the fake tough guys. If the Cardinals land Juan Soto and keep him through 2024, how much closer does that realistically put them to the NL pennant and a World Series spot?

Well, it doesn’t depend on Soto as much as the team – specifically the pitching – that the Cardinals would put around Soto. That part, for some reason, continues to be overlooked by hyperventilating fans and media.

No doubt, Soto would give STL a better offense. But unless Mozeliak gets serious and committed to putting together a rotation that can match up against the best, tell me the part about how a Soto rental would give the Cardinals a superior starting-pitching matchup in 2022 postseason showdowns against the Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Padres, Phillies, etc. And not just this season, but during his entire stay in St. Louis. I’d like pretty much any Soto maneuver that ends with DeWitt signing Soto for the long term in the contract-on-demand conditions set by Soto agent Scott Boras. But what’s the probability of that? Less than Ryan Helsley’s ERA.

Right now the Cardinals have the worst starting-rotation ERA (3.98) among NL postseason contenders. Since June 15 the Cardinals rank 10th among the 15 NL teams with a starter ERA of 4.40, and that includes a 4.40 rotation ERA (13th NL) in the month of July.

Meanwhile the STL offense ranks tied for 8th in the majors in average runs per game, is 5th in MLB in OPS+, and has a position-player collection that ranks third overall and second in the NL in FanGraphs WAR.

The offense is imperfect, and can be irritating to watch. But the offense isn’t a liability or the most problematic aspect of this team. Not even close.

Kindly repeat after me: it’s pitching, pitching, pitching.

Unlike many others, I don’t want to see the Cardinals blow up their model. I enjoy watching a winning, contending team on a yearly basis. The people who are hollering for Mozeliak to go “all-in” would be the first to blast him if the all-in move fails.

I just want the model to undergo a more ambitious adjustment, and it’s best to do that during the offseason. You have more time and leeway to make trades without having to overpay at the trade deadline. And in the offseason you can make a more aggressive effort to punch up your rotation by signing the most appealing free agents.

The Cardinals don’t have much of a stomach for spending a lot of free-agent dollars on starting pitching. But if they want it both ways – holding onto their best prospects and also boosting their starting rotation – this is a lousy time to do that. There will be many more options available after the season.

And should the Cardinals acquire Soto (doubtful) for a humongous return that lessens their overall talent – it won’t matter if their starting-pitching miseries continue.

And that applies to 2023 and 2024 as well.

Unless, of course, the Cardinals reel in a couple of starting pitchers that can make a significant difference for the remainder of 2022 and beyond.

Adam Wainwright could retire at the end of this season. If he comes back for a final campaign next year, he’ll likely retire at the end of 2023. That’s when Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty can depart as free agents. (His pitching health will determine his future, one way or another.)

The Cardinals could be sorting through the deck to find a rotation for 2024. As of now the names in the deck include Zack Thompson, Matthew Liberatore, Steven Matz, Dakota Hudson, Andre Pallante and current prospects Gordon Graceffo, Mike McGreevy, Inohan Paniagua and Tink Hence. But Paniagua and Hence are pitching in Class A baseball this season, and their timetable is uncertain.

The group has potential, but that’s what rebuilding teams do … go with young dudes to form much of the rotation and let them develop without the pressure of winning and raised expectations making the task more difficult.

Do you see a proven, established, high-quality starter among STL future rotation candidates? As of now, no. This can always change, of course. And some of the names are capable of turning into a solution. But I don’t see an anchor there, not right now. I don’t see an imposing No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 starter. This is no small thing, either.

That’s where DeWitt comes in.

The Cardinals can continue to prioritize player development, and keep the pipeline pumping talent to the big club in St. Louis. But the maturation is different for most prospects; we don’t know who will rise or fall over the next two or three seasons.

So …

If DeWitt and Mozeliak want to retain their top prospects and plug them into major roles in the relatively near future, and they have a desire to elevate the rotation they’ll have to raise the payroll from the current position. According to Spotrac, that’s $159.46 million in the 40-man luxury tax payroll tabulations, which ranks 13th in the majors.

That isn’t high enough for all that the Cardinals want to do. If the Cardinals are serious about composing a team that has much higher potential for winning a pennant and/or World Series, they’ll have to raise the payroll to get it done … and do it without messing with the future by busting up their precious model. That way they can hold onto Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, and others. And reinforce the current and future wave of offensive talent via offseason trades or purchases at the pitching store.

If the Cardinals are reluctant to “spend” their highest-rated prospects to secure upscale pitching help, then they’ll have to spend money to make it happen. And if the Cardinals have no choice to overpay in trades … well, they do have a choice. I’d rather see them overpay in the coming offseason in a contract for a coveted free-agent starter.

I’m different than many in the media here; I’m not kicking and bawling like a baby and demanding that the Cardinals make a stupid trade. I’m saving my kicking and bawling for the offseason, if Mozeliak takes ANOTHER half-hearted approach to building rotation strength and depth. But he seems largely resistant to media and fan pressure. I don’t know what his breaking point is. Missing the playoffs? A second-half collapse? Being informed, by DeWitt, that his job is on the line in 2023?

The problem out there? Too many people think that Juan Soto is the great equalizer, the invincible savior out there for the Cardinals. I’ll say it again: Soto’s importance to the Cardinals will be diminished if the franchise doesn’t back up him – and back up Goldschmidt, and Arenado – with a more formidable rotation. Remember: Baseball is a team sport.

The possibilities over the next 24 hours:

– Go for Soto, agree to Washington’s price, and give away a treasure of young players and prospects for a likely rental that will walk into free agency after the 2024 season.

– Go all-in, go crazy, by giving up a large part of the farm for Soto, then sending the remainder of the farm to a team for a good starting pitcher.

– Just say no to the Nationals and let go of the Soto fantasy and save the trade chips for a run at a prominent pitcher … hopefully one that has time left on his contract past 2023.

– Just go for a couple of rental starters. Mozeliak would have to give up more than he wants to, and it wouldn’t be as easy and painless as last summer’s acquisition of Jon Lester and J.A. Happ. But if the goal is a rotation upgrade, then Mozeliak will have to get over the discomfort by landing a starter or two. Better yet, add in a tough, walk-year reliever.

– Do very little or nothing at all, and rile the fan base to a more intense level of disdain and disgust. That would also ignite a “Fire Mozeliak” movement. His contract expires after the 2023 season.

I believe Mozeliak is more willing to make a bold move, more than he has in the past. But willingness only matters if he actually follows his impulses and makes a trade … or trades.

And Mozeliak is too determined to win every trade and crush the other side. In that regard he isn’t easy to deal with. Does Mozeliak have the mettle to go for it now? Can he erase the pre-2018 Sandy Alcantara trade from his mind? My guess is that Mozeliak is still haunted by the Alcantara trade with the Marlins.

If Mozeliak doesn’t go for it, he’d better develop a fresh spin to explain himself. (Good luck with that.) That would start by telling us that the club will aggressively pursue a higher-caliber brand of starting pitching when the trade mart, and the free-agent store, opens in preparation for 2023.

Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go …

Thanks for reading.


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.