As a general rule, I tend to want my sports teams to focus more on the future than the present. I don’t think this is an inherently right or wrong point of view—it’s a reflection of my own arbitrary tastes and preferences. But this year, I think I’m right. And I invite all temporary bandwagoners to my side. You can stay as long as you’d like.
It’s hard to get upset about a trade that works against future interests if it results a championship immediately. Call it the Rasmus Principle. But that is based on an assumption that a championship now is at least as good as, if not better than, a championship in future years. And 2020 is a whole different animal.
Even in my future-focused standard ideology, I would never claim that future titles are outright preferable to present-day ones, but for this year, I am willing to make that call. No matter which team wins the championship in 2020, it’s going to inevitably be a bit asterisky. Even if the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in baseball so far that most thought was the best team in baseball entering the season, wins the World Series, it will be seen as less of an accomplishment as one won in a full season. The Cardinals, currently a low-level playoff team, are already too far back to be viewed as a juggernaut no matter what happens in September.
The playoff format of 2020 will make winning a championship more random than ever. The Dodgers could easily win games at a 120-win pace over a normal schedule during the regular season and then be knocked out of the playoffs after two home games in empty stadiums. And if the Dodgers could be two and done, so easily could the Cardinals. A far less random postseason system in 2019 still yielded a team that didn’t win its own division as World Series champions.
A sixteen-team format with shorter postseason sets and seeding based on an artificially brief regular season might as well be determined by a random number generator. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that a run this October would, intangibly, be a lot less fun. We wouldn’t be able to attend games. We wouldn’t even really be able to have mass gatherings to watch games, in the traditional sense. We wouldn’t be able to have a championship parade. I’d still watch the postseason and I’d still want the Cardinals to win. But it would be diminished.
If anything, I would be okay with the Cardinals becoming sellers, but from a practical standpoint, there isn’t much to be gained from it. In terms of expiring contracts at the end of the 2020 season, only one full-time starter, Yadier Molina, has one, and one member of the standard rotation, Adam Wainwright, does. And while both players are intermittently good enough to garner some attention from other teams in a vacuum, would either be worth losing from a sentimental perspective if all that comes back in return is some non-prospect or a player to be named later? And this is even assuming either player, who has the right to nullify a trade involving them, would do so. Perhaps there is something that could be had for Brad Miller, the inexpensive veteran utilityman turned power hitter/sometimes DH and cleanup hitter. But expecting that 69 plate appearances of BABIP-enhanced production would net more than a C-level prospect is perhaps overly optimistic.
2020 is a strange season. We will inevitably view a championship, fun to win as it might be, as lesser, and this assumes that, with COVID continuing to intensify, the season actually does culminate with a championship being handed to somebody. And for now, I’d rather not mortgage a more engrossing future for a season still grasping for legitimacy, a season that will always be a footnote to the broader themes of the year. When I think of 1999, 2006, 2011, and 2019, the first thing I think of is St. Louis sports championships. That simply cannot happen in 2020. For now, we might as well regroup and give caring about sports with our full energy another shot in 2021 (hopefully).