It’s tough to project team performance in November. We haven’t been through the transaction season, we don’t always have a great sense of playing time, and the interrelationship between competitors within a division cannot be accurately sussed out.
To that end, when the first set of ZiPS projections came out earlier this month, we emphasized “It’s fun! Treat it as mostly fun!”
One of the “fun” things you can do with a projection like that is start thinking about how offseason moves could directly impact the competitiveness of the teams within a given division. For example, the Cubs don’t win or lose the NL Central in isolation. They win or lose it in relation to how the other teams perform.
So that’s why I’m about 75% as obsessive in tracking and mulling transaction rumors throughout the rest of the NL Central as I am when it comes to the Cubs. The Cubs projected in ZiPS to win 87 games in 2018 (before making any moves), which was tops in the NL Central. The Cardinals were at 80, in 4th place. But if they were to add a huge player in the next week, that hypothetical gap could shrink rapidly.
And the Cardinals do sound very intent on adding a huge player – in the form of an impact bat – this offseason.
As Derrick Goold reports: “Two executives with other teams remarked how ‘aggressive’ the Cardinals appeared to be, according to media reports they read and chatter they heard about [President John] Mozeliak’s intent to assert the team’s playoff presence. An agent referred to how it was clear to him that the Cardinals ‘are thinking big.'”
Goold goes on to say that the Cardinals have considered all free agent hitters, and have talked to the Marlins about Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, in addition to the big fish everyone knows they’re targeting in Giancarlo Stanton.
It’s clear that the Cardinals intend on improving their offense as much as possible this offseason (they do have quite a bit of quality pitching coming along at the upper levels, so it makes sense). They’ll either pull it off, and teams elsewhere in the NL Central will consider the implications for their own competitiveness, or they’ll fail to make a major addition, even after putting everyone on notice that it was their primary goal.
It’s worth pointing out that the Cardinals weren’t *that* bad offensively last year, posting a perfectly average team wRC+ mark of 100, just one point behind the Cubs. Where they flagged was in converting that production into runs. While the Cubs, for example, scored 822 runs on the season (4th most in baseball), the Cardinals scored just 761 (13th).
As a Cubs fan, I will keep watching this stuff closely, because, even if they’ve missed the playoffs a couple years in a row, and even if the projections like other teams in the Central better, it’s impossible not to take the Cardinals seriously every year.
And that goes double if they add someone like Stanton, though the latest rumors have the Giants as the favorite.