BenFred: Cardinals legends tour (Pujols, Molina, Wainwright) should increase, not decrease, pressure on front office | Ben Frederickson


JUPITER, Fla. — Adam Wainwright and one specific word — nostalgia — have a mixed history.

The word was stuck to the Cardinals starter, like an unwanted bumper sticker, when he searched and struggled seasons ago.

Some wondered, when Wainwright was at his worst, if the beloved right-hander’s long and successful history with the team was obscuring reality, keeping the Cardinals waiting for a breakthrough that didn’t come.

We know what happened next.

Wainwright saw things and once again became one of baseball’s most reliable starters, regardless of age.

“That chip is good to put on your shoulder,” said Opening Day starter Wainwright, acknowledging how warm and fuzzy the word — nostalgia — can be at one moment, and cutting the next, if it involves to accept underperformance for the sake of sweet memories in the past.

The 2022 Cardinals can stack those kinds of chips as high as they want.

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A team designed to hit fans squarely in the feels will be put to the test, whether 2022 is more about going back or moving forward.

What had been billed by team officials as a send-off season for Wainwright and wide receiver Yadier Molina hit Hallmark movie territory when the Cardinals welcomed Albert Pujols to a one-year deal to become the hitter. designated team against lefties, and maybe more.

He’s being touted as a three-legend send-off, regardless that Wainwright, unlike Molina and Pujols, held back to ensure he retired after the season ended.

No one pours it thicker than President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak, who said in the team’s official press release that signing Pujols, “feels like looking through the pages of a book.” favorite album or baseball card album and see those pictures and memories. skip pages.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see why some of the more cynical Varieties see this as a plan that prioritizes reminiscence over chasing a World Series.

Proving that both can be true now becomes this club’s mission, and it comes from the top of the organization down to first-year manager Oliver Marmol and his players.

“A lot of times when there are farewell tours, you have players who don’t really contribute,” chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. told the Post-Dispatch the day Pujols was reintroduced. “The three names we have there, we expect to contribute a lot to a potential championship.”

“The only thing I wanted to mention is that this isn’t just a story about Albert coming back to St. Louis,” Marmol said. “It’s about him coming back to help us win a championship. His skills and leadership are very hard to match.

“That (a World Series championship) is still the bar, I think,” Wainwright said. “Since I’ve been here, we come up with an idea, and it’s not to finish second.”

What do you say, president of baseball operations?

“I’ve always told you guys that I never speak in absolute terms,” ​​Mozeliak said during camp. “He (Marmol) is enthusiastic about this club. We are all. I think I’ve been doing this long enough to know that (when) you try to set such high expectations, you can’t guarantee delivery. Really, what he means is that he knows we have a talented team. He knows there are guys who understand what it takes to win at a high level, at a consistent level, what it takes to get to October and what it’s like to win in October. When you have these attributes and characteristics, you can easily connect the dots to make it happen. Obviously, for all of us who have been in the game for a long time, you know that there are other things that come into play. It is good fortune, good health, good luck. To name a few. There are some things you can control. There are some things you can’t. The good news is that we have a talented team, and hopefully we can control that.

Tell me which quote doesn’t quite fit the others.

The Cardinals have a talented team. They will benefit from a weaker division than it has been. If they want to maximize their opportunities as the trio of Wainwright, Molina and Pujols share a roster with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, baseball’s best defense and an outfield poised to produce All-Stars, this is the moment.

The same front office that brought Pujols home should be under pressure to keep minimizing the number of dots that need to be connected for a deep and meaningful post-season run to happen.

Adding experienced left-handed DH option Corey Dickerson with right-handed DH option Pujols was a great start, one that prioritized what was made for complicated, high-pressure work instead of making it difficult. confide in prospects with little or no major. – league hitting experience. The Cardinals have lacked striking options off the bench in recent years. This has been reinforced now. Shortstop remains a big concern. Paul DeJong has a lot to prove.

The quality of the team’s throwing depth is again a major concern after spring injuries to Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes followed by free agent additions of Steven Matz and Drew VerHagen. The Cardinals want to see how the weapons acquired in an offseason of prioritizing ground ball throwers and strike throwers play an elite defense before seeing if another tweak is needed, and that makes sense. But waiting too long to add outside help last season cost the team a divisional lawsuit and instead forced a mad rush to a wild card draw that the Cardinals lost.

Hopefully this lesson has been learned.

This season’s trade deadline should be telling. The Cardinals got into a bad habit of not being able to justify a big swing due to a need to squint to see a deep playoff run. Cardinals fans are hungry to go deep. They’re tired of being told they should value back-to-back winning seasons and playoff appearances more.

Mozeliak has built a team that hasn’t won a National League Championship Series game since 2014. Dumping managers are out after firing Mike Matheny and Mike Shildt. While the spotlight is on Pujols, Wainwright and Molina, the pressure is squarely on Mozeliak. The narrative he has developed that it is too difficult, complicated or detrimental to long-term success to change and dramatically improve a team over the course of the season must end. Long is the list of recent World Series champions who found a way to improve their trajectory after the first half of the regular season, which gave the club a sense of what it had and what it lacked. It would be a good season for Mozeliak to remind everyone he can still do it.

It’s a lot to ask to rely on Wainwright, Molina and now Pujols so late in their careers. If they are successful, the front office needs to give this team the best possible chance to go deep. The nostalgia is coming for this race whether we like it or not, but the focus is on maximizing this season more than reminding everyone of the old ones.

This was the point made time and time again in camp, at least by the owner, manager and players.


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