Did they do enough?
Variations of this question will be asked of team decision-makers by both media and fans this weekend during an annual downtown tradition that reminds us baseball, blessed baseball, is nearly back.
Multiple times and in multiple ways during Winter Warm-Up festivities, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and general manager Michael Girsch will explain how they view the roster they have constructed. They will speak to which uncertainties remain, and which of those uncertainties — if any — will be fortified before games begin.
At some point, Chairman Bill Dewitt Jr. will give an optimistic state of the organization address, one that almost always reiterates that his team’s primary goal remains bigger than simply reaching the postseason, grander than just winning the division.
The Cardinals, first and foremost, compete for championships. And when you have 11 in the bag, that actually means something.
But can this team, as it is constructed on the first day of the 22nd annual Winter Warm-Up, expect anyone to believe the 12th is within reach?
Do you believe that?
I mean you, as in the autograph-buyers, the season-ticket holders, the folks who will spend your summer sipping Buds in the new terrace above Dexter Fowler’s head.
I don’t see it.
And I say that as someone who is genuinely optimistic about the impact Marcell Ozuna can make on a power-hungry lineup, and about a new-look outfield that has the potential to be one of the most electric in the game.
My problem? Pitching.
• MORE BENFRED: Columns, blogs, videos, podcasts
Not the lack of a closer. Not the unproven rotation. All of it. Pitching, unabridged.
I’m not sure the Cardinals can truly contend when bounce-back candidate Luke Gregerson is the lone outside addition to a bullpen that last season blew 17 saves and ranked second-to-last in the National League in inherited runners scored percentage (35.2). Gregerson’s year and a half run as Astros closer came to an unpleasant end in 2016. If his career has a label, it reads setup man.
I’m not sure the Cardinals can truly contend when they waved goodbye to bulldog Lance Lynn and welcomed back just one starter (Carlos Martinez) who logged more than 170 major-league innings last season. Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright might prove their critics wrong. Betting on both to do so invites risk.
Adding an established late-inning reliever makes the overall pitching outlook less shaky.
Adding that along with a veteran starter could make the Cardinals scary.
• PODCAST: BenFred in ‘Eye On The Tigers’
That’s the only way for Cardinals fans to view the Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals at this moment: scary.
The Dodgers have the firepower to go right back to the World Series. If Clayton Kershaw is healthy, look out.
The Nationals’ young talent is a year older. Former Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist has Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the bullpen his predecessor, new Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux, often lacked. Adam Eaton is back, and Bryce Harper is playing for a contract.
The Cubs returned all their important position players, refreshed their bullpen and still want a big-name starter, perhaps Yu Darvish.
These are the National League powers the Cardinals should be compared to, unless the standards have changed.
The Cardinals don’t chase. Never have. Never will. They can and should observe the competition. Now is no time to shutter the shop.
• CARDS TALK: Sound off about offseason moves
Unless there is a trade to be made that relieves the Blue Jays of Josh Donaldson’s stunning new single-year salary of $23 million, along with the firm notion that the third baseman would ink an extension with the Cardinals, the hope for another impact hitter should probably be shelved. No complaints here. Better to bank on current lineup than lock in a long-term contract with hot-then-cold free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. A look at free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas’ career on-base percentage (.305) and his Fielding Bible Runs Saved at third base (eight below average) takes some shine off last season’s career-high 38 home runs. Adding more bodies who can play corner infield does not mean upgrading corner infield.
The slow-moving pitching market, on the other hand, remains ripe.
Greg Holland is a top-shelf free-agent closer with high demands, but the Cardinals have no shortage of cash. The intriguing Alex Colome is still waiting for the right trade to save him from the rebuilding Rays. Post-Dispatch colleague Derrick Goold makes a compelling case for Addison Reed.
Would former Cub Jake Arrieta take a big paycheck for a shorter-term deal? Lynn is still unsigned, by the way. I’d even settle for wily 31-year-old free agent Andrew Cashner as an innings-eating security blanket until the Cardinals’ exciting yet unproven arms force him out.
A splash made in the bullpen could mean top pitching prospect Alex Reyes enters the rotation sooner. An addition to the rotation could let lefthanded Tyler Lyons and his sky-high strikeout percentage (30.9) shift into a closer’s role.
One proven pitcher helps Maddux immensely. Two puts the contenders, the true contenders, on notice.
Don’t ask if the Cardinals have done enough. Ask if they will by the time it matters.
If not, the hibernation that followed winter meetings could sting come October.