This is Part 2 of a series about an alternate timeline in which the St. Louis Cardinals decide to function solely to succeed in 2018, abandoning all interest in long-term player development and instead hoping to win this one title. You can read Part 1, about the first day of trades, which included the acquisitions of such superstars as Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Bryce Harper, here.
Following my March 28 trading frenzy, I decided to call it a day. And I literally mean a day. Because the next day, one day before Opening Day at Citi Field, I’m back, baby.
- St. Louis Cardinals acquire Sergio Romo from the Tampa Bay Rays for Alex Gallegos: Gallegos, 19, has no 2018 future with the Cardinals, so when the Rays decided to put their now-kinda-starter on the trade block, this was a simple call. This move barely even fits in the “win now” ethos–it’s just objectively sensible.
The next day, Bill DeWitt Jr. sent me an e-mail with my season expectations. “We expect you to finish above .500.” Well, I certainly hope so! Anyway, early enough in the day that these moves could impact the Opening Day roster, I made another trade.
- St. Louis Cardinals acquire Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson from the Chicago White Sox for Harrison Bader: Anderson is a DeJong-like shortstop for the White Sox, under a low-cost long-term contract and also not better than Manny Machado, so for now, he will serve as a backup middle infielder along with Greg Garcia. Giolito, a former super-prospect whose prospect status has been tarnished a bit, is good enough to crack the Opening Day rotation as the #5 starter behind Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, and Miles Mikolas. And Bader, as previously indicated, is mostly interchangeable with Jake Marisnick, who I will maintain as a fourth outfielder behind a starting group of Wil Myers, Tommy Pham, and Bryce Harper.
Here is the Opening Day lineup (keep in mind the Adam Lind signing is still pending):
- Tommy Pham–Center Field
- Manny Machado–Shortstop
- Bryce Harper–Right Field
- Josh Donaldson–Third Base
- Brian Dozier–Second Base
- Wil Myers–Left Field
- Luke Voit–First Base
- Yadier Molina–Catcher
- Dallas Keuchel–Pitcher
Pretty good! Aaaaaaand we lost the first game. We lost 1-0. Noah Syndergaard is really, really good, and it’s annoying, but I haven’t lost faith. I never expected to win every game and, yes, this is disappointing, but if I occasionally lose to one of the best pitchers in baseball, I can live with that. We won’t have to face Thor every day.
After the game, I got some good news–Adam Lind, Scott Diamond, and Dioner Navarro all agreed to contracts. Lind and Navarro were immediately put on the big league roster, while Diamond went to AAA Memphis. I should probably clarify something here, since I mentioned Memphis–I didn’t totally decimate the farm system for win-now reasons. First of all is the obvious factor of health–guys are going to get hurt throughout the season and having somebody who can take his place is going to help. My farm system is going to be bad, and I know this, but it’s not nothing. Second, I can hold on to a few lottery tickets, high-upside low-floor guys, and rather than trade them now for quad-A relievers, I can hope they improve their stock and flip them later for high-end players.
On April 8, Luke Gregerson came off the Disabled List. I wasn’t able to trade Gregerson before, because he was on the DL and that’s apparently against the rules (hence why Alex Reyes is getting his first mention 2,000-plus words into this series). But now the option is available. Gonna keep that in mind. Anyway, to make room for Gregerson on the big-league roster, I made what was unequivocally the least relevant trade I made all season. I wanted to demote Preston Guilmet from the big-league roster, but I had to designate him for assignment, so instead I traded him, along with non-prospect Ian Oxnevad, for Scott Van Slyke.
Van Slyke, who formerly was pretty good on some very good Los Angeles Dodgers teams, is bad now, in real life and in the game, but I figured I’d rather take a shot on him than one of the 20 year-old low-A players I also could have had. I immediately sent Van Slyke to AAA, but there were several other former MLBers who were signed to minor league contracts. Like, a lot of guys you’ve definitely heard of. And the most amazing thing about this to me was that this wasn’t by my design. Here is a list of players signed to the Cardinals’ minor league system that I did not personally choose for my own personal entertainment.
- Pablo Sandoval
- Derek Holland
- Will Middlebrooks
- Dustin Ackley
On April 16, Greg Holland was eligible to come off the Disabled List. I considered a rehab assignment, mirroring what the Cardinals did in real life, but I decided to make a trade instead.
- St. Louis Cardinals acquire Drew Pomeranz from the Boston Red Sox for Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito, Brett Cecil, and Jake Woodford: Essentially Bader/Cecil/Woodford for Pomeranz, this should be a big help to my dismantled rotation. Pomeranz, due to be a free agent, has been bad for the Boston Red Sox this season in real life, but had been a very good pitcher in his career up to this point (the numbers which informed his ratings in thsi game). He is an easy upgrade for Giolito, Anderson has little role on this Cardinals team, Woodford is a minor leaguer, and the loss of Cecil (and his $7.5 million contract) is more than mitigated by the presence of a vastly improved rotation.
The month of April was honestly a bit disappointing. It wasn’t bad, but 16-12 as the record for an all-in team is hardly ideal. But Alex Reyes is coming off the DL (ah, happier times) and now it is time to do the thing I wanted to do all along–get a big-time first baseman. The problem is that the big-time first basemen are expensive and because of Greg Holland’s contract, I don’t have the budget for most of them. I could have afforded Anthony Rizzo and thought I might be able to make a run at Paul Goldschmidt, but ultimately I didn’t have the prospects necessary to acquire him without hurting the MLB club. So while my move I ultimately made may seem underwhelming compared to acquiring a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, it does improve my team.
- St. Louis Cardinals acquire Justin Smoak from the Toronto Blue Jays for Alex Reyes and Sam Tuivailala: Even with recent developments I wouldn’t make this trade, but Reyes, who OOTP likes far less than Luke Weaver in terms of upside of young Cardinals pitchers, was just another guy on this roster. And Justin Smoak, a switch-hitter who had a surprising age-30 breakout last season, is an improvement over a platoon of Adam Lind and Luke Voit. Oh, right, Lind. He’s basically 2017 Matt Adams at this point for me.
- St. Louis Cardinals acquire Jeremy Hellickson from the Washington Nationals for Adam Lind: With Matt Adams struggling, the Nationals decided they wanted to re-acquire Adam Lind, and in exchange, I got a veteran starter who had a poor 2017 but could be a bounce-back candidate. I can certainly imagine Hellickson not working out, but I can’t imagine missing Lind too badly, so this deal is fine.
On May 21, Cardinals fans woke up to an extremely hot team sitting atop the NL Central standings. The team had lost just three games all month, and stood at 30-15 following an eight-game winning streak. A 108-win pace is pretty fun. Fans were assuredly very happy with the way things were going. When a team goes all-in, this is what you expect: an overwhelming, dominant experience. It may only last a year, but that year is going to be glorious.
But then, some terrible news.
Yep, it’s a cliff-hanger. I’m doing that. Keeping checking back in for Part 3.