Public Pressure and the 2019 Trade Deadline

Ah, trade deadline day. One of the bigger days on the baseball calendar, though admittedly it has diminished somewhat the past few years, considering how tightly teams are holding on to their best assets now. There are still deals that happen, obviously, and we occasionally still get one of those crazy 24-48 hour periods where everything happens all at once, but I have to admit most of the time when the 31st of July rolls around I just don’t expect blockbusters to go down very often.

We Cardinal fans are, of course, used to blockbusters just not happening very often; every year it seems like the Redbirds are buyers at the deadline, but always cautious, conservative buyers. They buy a lefty reliever pretty much every July – they actually got a start on the lefty relief train this year with a couple of extremely low-cost deals – and that’s usually about it. Sometimes there’s a second reliever, occasionally there’s like a middle infielder or something. The past few years, with the exception of last year’s disastrous half-assed sell, it’s been strictly buying, but strictly off the rack.

This year promises one of the more interesting decision points the franchise has faced for awhile at a trade deadline. I’m writing this while the Cardinals and Cubs are tied at one in the top of the fifth inning, so present me doesn’t really know if El Birdos are in first or second place when this column goes up. However, they are, at worst, a game out of first place at the end of July. Yes, the NL Central this year has been both worse than we thought and also the same kind of dogfight we expected, leading to exactly zero teams ten games over .500 or more, but all the same, the fact is the Cardinals are not only in the mix this year, they are smack dab in the middle of the race. After a couple of years of also-ran status, even if they were also-rans who kept up with the pack for awhile, it feels good to have a first place team as we hit the trade deadline again.

There is, however, an interesting divide in the range of opinion regarding the club this year. I’ve written multiple columns here about the team’s approach to the trade market, and for the most part the consensus here seems to be the Cardinals should not, under any circumstances, make a serious investment in upgrading this particular edition. There are dissenting voices, of course, but the majority of our readership here seems to be very much on the page of letting the 2019 club sink or swim on its own merits, and avoiding any moves that might cost future clubs useful pieces.

Meanwhile, the other side is equally as vociferous in demanding this club do something, anything, but preferably something big, to upgrade this team. I think you all know that I am a consistent listener to Bernie Miklasz’s radio show, and he’s been mercilessly beating on this point for the last week at least. (It’s actually been rather obnoxious, leading to much fast-forwarding of the podcast version of the show, to be honest, but sports talk radio brings with it certain realities.) I tend to use Miklasz’s show as a barometer for the general opinion of the passionate, informed, but not deep in the weeds (read: you and I), fanbase. I don’t think the most gas stationy fans care much for his forays into nerdiness, even if they probably love the bluster, so I mostly think he attracts that wide swath of fans who mostly know their shit, but aren’t digging down on wRC+ too very often.

The Cardinals themselves seem to be leaning toward buying, with John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch both making comments over the past week that would indicate they’ve assessed the team after their recent successes and decided it’s worth reinforcing. Then again, both have also left some wiggle room in their statements, which is hardly surprising considering how seldom we see Cardinal executives get tied down in conversations.

What I wonder is this: what kind of backlash is there going to be if the Cardinals, rightly or wrongly, decide the prices to buy help on the market are just too high, and they can’t justify pulling the trigger? Miklasz has been beating on the point that the Cards themselves have sold 2019 as being an important year, and seeing as how they’re in it, it would be unforgivable for the front office to once again fail to make a major upgrade. There’s something to that, as well; if the 2019 season really is a do or die moment for the franchise to return to the postseason, then standing pat would be tough to swallow. But making 2019 a bigger deal than every other season requires you to be comfortable with the boom and bust cycle, and this organisation does not seem willing to engage with that aspect of modern baseball. Maybe they should, and maybe they shouldn’t; that’s really a philosophical discussion, and one in which we’re going to have plenty of people come down on both sides of the debate. The point is, though, if you really do have perennial contention as not only a stated goal, but essentially your franchise’s internal manifesto, then the future has to be as important as the present, with some allowances made for birds in hands versus those in bushes, obviously.

But then, what do you do if the natives are getting extra restless, and demanding you do more than you have in the past? To be fair, I think there is absolutely a road somewhere between crazy thoughts like dealing away the Gorman/Carlson/Knizner triad and what the Cards have done the past few years, but how much of the future do you really want to give up if you’re never going to go into full future talent acquisition mode? On the other hand, just how much heat are you willing to take from a fanbase that is frustrated by three years of no baseball in October and seems disinclined to believe bad stretches really do happen without having to be anyone’s fault?

Put it this way: if you say you’re going to jump ten buses on a motorcycle, and then double down on jumping ten buses on a motorcycle when someone brings it up again later, if you get to the place where you’re going to jump ten buses and suddenly realise that’s a hell of a lot of buses to jump, should you back out? Or should you go through with it, even if it seems like not nearly such a good idea as it did before you saw just how long a jump that is? And what if everyone who heard you say you were going to do this crazy thing then jumps up and screams but you promised you were going to jump ten buses? That’s the mindset that gets us hilarious YouTube videos and the Jackass franchise; I wonder if it’s a good way to run a baseball ops department? the Jackass franchise

We’ll have at least some of the answers by this afternoon. Cards just took a lead on a Paul Goldschmidt home run. Hashtag the trade worked. Wonder if we have another Colby Rasmus laying around we could deal for something?

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A.E. Schafer
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