UCB Roundtable Day 13: The Importance of the Cardinals’ Farm System
Each October the United Cardinal Bloggers hull up in a virtual bunker to discuss the most pressing issues facing Cardinal Nation. Functioning in a manner far more efficient than any government entity, and with far greater decisiveness, these bloggers answer the biggest questions you’ve had about the Cardinals. On my day to ask the question, I lobbed a 45 mph breaking ball that didn’t break. The results are below:
The Cardinals have many on their roster that came up through the team’s minor league system. This is a source of great pride for many Cardinals fans. Today’s question:
I suppose there are four ways to use a minor league system. 1) develop players and send use them to acquire key veteran player (the Jocketty approach), to scout like mad and hope to draft a group of winners (Washington, Anaheim, Kansas City), with questionable competence (Chicago Cubs), and the way the Rays and Cardinals have done it.
Let’s start with the easy part. The farm system has been a crucial component of the Cardinals success, perhaps now more than in any other time I can recall. While it has failed to produce a big name player, like a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper (recently), it has produced a deep roster of every day players as well as some great utility guys. What is lost in all of the spreadsheets and stats is that the kids have learned to play as a team, many of them winning at each level of the system. Until recently, that was lost on a lot of analysts, but I think they are beginning to understand that and now rate the farm system accordingly.
That said, the attention paid in drafting and developing pitching talent has been a particular strength of the club recently, and it has already paid dividends and looks to continue doing so. Good pitching with a deep bench of utility players allows the front office to focus on one, maybe two free agents instead of a roster full of them. The forward looking impact of this cannot be understated, and is a big reason why the Cardinals play like a big market team in a small market city (as does Tampa). It is also the big reason why the Cardinals haven’t gone into a long rebuilding period as many teams do (some seem to be stuck there – Chicago, Houston).
When comparing this system to that under Walt Jocketty, I prefer to see the kids come up and produce for the club for several years (Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso, Allen Craig) instead of being shipped off for some veteran talent. We will be able to see this play out over the next few years in the NL Central.
So, yes, I think it is a very successful system that takes a lot of pressure off the front office during the off season. I don’t think it is the only way, as Walt Jocketty has been successful with almost the exact opposite approach – we’ll see if that is a good strategy or slash and burn over the next few years . Teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Phillies have produced some bigger stars, but need a bigger payroll to field a competitive team with regularity.
Mark Tomasik – RetroSimba
Cardinals often have had a good mix of system-produced players and acquisitions. It’s when that mix goes to either extreme that the franchise gets in trouble. I like the mix the Cardinals have now. The DeWitts and John Mozeliak seem to operate strategically and that strategy includes a farm system that can produce big-league talent, enabling management to acquire others through trades and limited free agency while operating within a budget that maximizes profit. The Cardinals’ farm system plays more of a role in the team’s success than some (Red Sox and Cubs, for example) but not more than others (Giants and Reds, for example).
Daniel Solzman – Redbird Rants
It definitely plays a bigger role. All you have to do is look at all the guys on the roster that were drafted by the Cardinals.
Tom Knuppel – Cardinals GM
I believe it is cyclical. I don’t think the Cardinals produce an over-abundance of players for their own team. It averages out.
Dathan Brooks – Cards Tied For First
I’d say it’s a balance of both, but the Cards probably rely on the farm system more than other teams their “size”. On the other hand, not many teams their “size” can afford to go get deals done with key FAs when it’s a good fit. 3MM+ every year helps with the trade options Mo has, but by & large, they can’t spend the way larger market teams can. Credit really good ownership for that. No question, the draft is a critical piece of the puzzle here in St. Louis, but relying solely on one or the other would fast track this or any team to dismal days.
Bill Ivie – I-70 Baseball
I think comparing them to other organizations is hard. What is our barometer? Number of players on the roster? Quality of players on the roster? It all depends on whose glasses you are looking through.Look at it this way: players drafted by the Cardinals who now play on the major league roster are plentiful. During the LCS, you could find one of those players at three infield positions, catcher, and center field.That being said, I would argue that two of those players (Descalso and Kozma) are not slated to be starting players for most of their careers. Jon Jay is borderline where he would be a starter for most teams but not for others. Allen Craig is solid, if he can stay healthy, otherwise he is destined to become a role player. We all know who Yadier Molina is.But when we talk about the farm system, are we judging them by the number of players or the star quality of players? The organization has done a decent job of both, but I would like to see a few “star” players be developed by this team before I’m willing to say that the organization is doing a great job at that level.They have the potential over the next few seasons to prove that to me. Right now, I’d give them a solid C+ based on who we have seen. Rosenthal, Kelly, Miller, Tavares, and Wong have potential to move that to an A- very quickly, however.
I think the minor league system is vitally important given the club’s market size versus the expectations of that market.
St. Louis is, what, like 25th in market size in MLB? Yet they can consistently bring in top free agents (or at least be in the running) because of their “stars and scrubs” approach. What I mean by that is that they have a lot of guys that they pay minimum dollars and get much more production out of, which allows them to spend more of their money on the Hollidays and Beltrans. Where would this team be without players like Craig and Jay, who may not be superstars but produce at a level that is way above their pay scale?
In the light of the Miami selloff, it’s hard to fathom that a team in a market this size with contracts this big has gone 20 years (ironically, as long as the Marlins have been in existence) without being a seller at the trade deadline. What was the last contract they dumped, Lee Smith? The reason is because of the fan support, of course, but also because they can focus their dollars knowing that cheap and productive talent is coming through their pipeline.
Chris Mallonee – Birds On The Bat 82
No doubt a huge role and part of their strategy for building a club. I would say only Tampa has a parallel strategy with how they utilize their minor league system with similar payroll structure. The Cardinals would most likely not be where they are today had Mozeliak not changed the organization’s focus in 2007 on rebolstering its minor league club. I believe the team will continue to try and remain competitive by paying 3 or 4 premier players market value contracts and filling the rest of the roster with bargain-priced veterans and young players that have come up through the minors.
Matt Whitener – STL Sports 360
Kind of a tough question, because does it account only for homegrown,
draft or signed talent, or do guys acquired via trade as prospects
But at any rate. The Cardinals have their own completely unique niche
in the baseball universe. Are they on par with Rays on draft-to-pro
impact? No. The Rays don’t depend on free agency/trades at all, while
the Cardinals do, but balance it with influxes from farm as well.
They essentially should be a club like the Rays, where talent is
developed and ultimately traded off, yet followed by more replacable
talent. However, they are very different from them as well, wherein
they have kept their developed talent in the fold, with the
uber-exception of Albert Pujols. Yadier Molina doesn’t happen in
Tampa, Oakland or Kansas City.
But at the same time, due to the abnormal influx of dollars that are
pumped into the team via attendance, they are also players in a
sizable part of the free agent market. Matt Holliday doesn’t happen in
(once again) Tampa, Oakland or Kansas City. But at the same time, and
this may be a worry point, there are limits to that potential (which
will be tested like never before when Wainwright’s money comes up).
So the minor league system is massively important, and it always has
been that way. The Cardinals are one of the all-time great farm
systems, and when the team is at it’s best, it’s always due to strong
eras of home developed talent.
But on a day to day level, is it that much different in numbers of
contributors at the Major League level, in draft-to-pro talent? Not
particularly, but the caliber currently is massively important the
team’s success. And this is truly one of the great era’s of player
development in the team’s last half century.
Dustin McClure – Welcome To Baseball Heaven
To answer the first part of your question I’ll say if we’re talking about the MLB as a whole the Cardinals are definitely in the upper half of the league. The Cardinals have established themselves as a real player on the developmental side in recent years. I want to elaborate on that but I’ll answer the 2nd half of the question quickly as they’re about in the middle on that as well.
We’re all accustomed to how things were under Walt Jocketty and how his relationship with Tony LaRussa worked. They drafted and developed with the understanding they’d use the farm system to help acquire established MLB talent when needed. That works just fine if you can maintain a top 5 payroll. The Cardinals aren’t stingy on payroll but prefer to be ranked middle of the pack. Point being that the organization had a system in mind that would fit great into their pay scale. So Walt out Mo in. Concentrate resources on the draft and development in the farm and Latin programs. With the philosophy of using the farm as steps to St. Louis and having some success with that it allows the financial flexibility to bring in free agents that not only fit needs but the team is also comfortable with. (player and contract terms) In other words they don’t have to start slinging offers at the Winter Meetings to complete the team and face being crippled financially. This way of doing things requires smart baseball minds and the right people in the right positions. The organization seems to have this and other teams want it. (Jeff Luhnow to Houston) That is what Cardinals fans can take pride in.
In closing they don’t primarily rely on the farm like say the Tampa Rays and they typically need to complete a couple trades during the course of the season to fill holes so I guess I’d call the Cardinal way a balanced attack. Nice topic.
Nick – Pitchers Hit Eighth
I think it’s obvious that the Cardinals (and really, any team to some extent) must depend on their farm system to produce talent enabling the team to win. Even the Yankees depend on home-grown players like Robinson Cano to supplement their spending.The key difference, as has been mentioned, is the ability to latch on to the best of the best, like a Yadier Molina. Homegrown players will only serve you so well if you have to churn them every four seasons because you can no longer afford their increasing salary and/or a long-term extension.I’ll be very curious to see how the Reds weather their rapidly expanding payroll if attendance and revenue sources don’t pick up in a hurry. I don’t think there’s a billion dollar TV deal waiting around the corner for them.
Yes, it’s a fair assessment that the Cardinals’ farm system plays more of a role. Last year it was easier to see because the team actually kept a lot of those players and allowed them to advance to the major-league level as Cardinals (as opposed to trading them for rentals like Matt Holliday and Edwin Jackson). The 2012 team was what you might call “true red” from the standpoint of their being thoroughly Cardinals. Of their top 10 batters and top 11 pitchers, 14 played at the MLB level only for the Cardinals. Average tenure with the Cardinals among those 21 was an amazing 55%. (Not bad, considering that veterans Carlos Beltran, 8%, and Rafael Furcal, 11%, weighed down the average.) For perspective, the Giants relied on their own talent quite a bit, too, but even they had only a 42% “in-house” rate.