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Cardinals Game of the All-Stars, Welcome to the world

Cardinals draft pick when he went pro, was on his way home from a Cardinals pitching camp when he got the call that changed his life in December 2017.

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After being captivated by Mark McGwire’s home runs at Fenway Park during the 1999 Home Run Derby, Gallen began wearing No. 25 because “I want to be that guy,” and in 2016, he got to at least wear that jersey as the Cardinals’ third-round pick. He was on his way back to New Jersey when his phone rang with the news that he’d been dealt.

The Cardinals traded two future aces, Gallen and Sandy Alcantara, along with two other minor-leaguers to Florida for Marcell Ozuna, the cleanup hitter they craved to amplify their offense, in a defining trade for the Cardinals, their challenged model, and the talent leak from their organization at areas of current need.

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As much as I grew up a Cardinals fan, and as much as I was their draft pick, they needed to fill a need with another type of player, and they needed to move me,” Gallen explained. “That’s the strange thing about being traded; you get this feeling — whether true or false — that another team wants you and is unwanted by another.” I can find a flaw in “anything. So, yes, I did use it. It served as an incentive for me. “I also put something on the bulletin board.”

As much as I grew up a Cardinals fan, and as much as I was their draft pick, they needed to fill a need with another type of player, and they needed to move me,” Gallen explained. “That’s the strange thing about being traded; you get this feeling — whether true or false — that another team wants you and is unwanted by another.” I can find a flaw in a”He may need to remove it and replace it with the lineup from Tuesday’s 93rd All-Star Game, which features him as the National League’s opening pitcher.

Because of their poor, last-place first half, there is only one Cardinals representative at T-Mobile Park — Nolan Arenado will start at third and bat fifth for the NL — but there are many Cardinals reminders of what once was, not what is.

Gallen, a first-time All-Star, was selected as the NL manager’s starter for “numbers (that) just come off the page.” Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia, two of his teammates in the Cardinals organization at Class AA Springfield in 2017, faced off in the first round of the Home Run Derby on Monday night, with Tampa Bay’s Arozarena advancing past Texas’ Garcia and making it all the way to the final round before falling just short to Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The Cardinals currently have zero players on their major-league roster after three deals to first reinforce the outfield with slugger Ozuna and then streamline their congested outfield by moving sluggers.

There are three All-Star rosters and starting lineups this year.

When Gallen and AL starting outfielders Garcia and Arozarena were asked about their careers after departing the Cardinals during All-Star workouts on Monday, the same word came up many times. What they gained in the exchanges was the most valuable.

“I appreciate the opportunity (Tampa Bay) gave me to play every day,” Arozarena remarked, according to a team official who translated his words. “I believe Tampa Bay made a terrific trade. They’re giving me a lot of chances to show what I’m capable of on the field, and I appreciate it.”

“When I left (St. Louis), I really believed in myself and how much work I was going to put in,” Garcia said in Spanish, “and I’m grateful I had an opportunity.”

With Texas, Garcia improved his plate discipline. With Tampa Bay, Arozarena gained weight and muscle.

Gallen acquired a changeup at Miami.

He has moved again, this time to Arizona for infielder Jazz Chisholm Jr., and suddenly he received the ultimate currency for any young player: opportunity.

“There’s some truth to the fact that sometimes you’ve got to go to a place where there’s an opportunity for you to be able to play and develop,” Gallen told the Post-Dispatch during batting practice at T-Mobile. “That was a big deal for me. ‘You’re our guy,’ Arizona said after trading their top prospect for me. That inspired me.”

As the Cardinals, 38-52 at the break and 11 games short of a playoff spot, reflect on their current situation, the decisions that led them here can also guide their future.

Particularly in terms of player development and deployment.

Opportunity chasm
Tanking clubs, by definition, invest in better draft picks and then provide opportunities for players to develop as a group into contenders, as the Orioles are doing. These teams also cycle through dozens of players, looking for or attempting to locate those who rise. As a team that strives to be competitive all the time — “Cardinals are not allowed to rebuild,” according to the president of baseball operations John Mozeliak — the Cardinals try to strike a balance between patience for development and the urgency of winning, of production.

It has the potential to generate an opportunity gap.

In 2018, the Cardinals chose to double down on defense, depriving Arozarena and his lively bat of playing time in favor of Harrison Bader’s superb glove. Garcia slugged 32 homers and 96 RBIs at Class AAA Memphis a year later, but he had a lot of swing-and-miss in his bat, so he never got the promotion, and the Cardinals determined they had a roster constraint. Rebuilding Texas was acquiring right-handed power and sending cash to the Cardinals in exchange for Garcia. Would either of them have broken through if they had remained blocked as Cardinals? Examples of the Cardinals’ ability to scout and discover talent can be seen all around the majors, from current roster positions to Lane Thomas hitting.300 in Washington, but

So are examples of talent flourishing that the Cardinals were unable to foster or get playing time to realize what they were missing.

There was a disparity between what the Cardinals provided and what numerous players could get elsewhere to progress and unlock their potential.

How can the Cardinals keep their model from becoming self-contained?

“When you don’t have to win, you can run the (auditions),” Cardinals general manager Oliver Marmol explained. “That is not acceptable here. It will never happen. You’re going to lose some good guys here and there. Do you want to make that a habit? No. You want to make the best decision possible. You do miss some times. That is a feature of the competitive environment.”

The Cardinals have had to deal with exactly what they intended to avoid this season. They’ve had to rely on a slew of newcomers. Rookie outfielder Jordan Walker is getting a chance to shine at the highest level, while pitcher Matthew Liberatore has gotten a chance to start. The opportunity gap is closing, but not because of their preparation, but because of the circumstances.

A dozen players on the 26-man roster have less than three years of experience, including all four outfielders.

“When you have those contending teams, there are maybe one or two spots open,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said on Monday at T-Mobile. “With us, there could be three spots on the field, two in the bullpen, and two starting spots.” The fact that there are more opportunities is the most important factor. I believe we can create a situation in which we provide more opportunities and you have a little more time.”

He was questioned if this helped develop a better player.

“I think it brings out something good and something bad,” Shelton explained. “There are two sides to it. Sometimes a player’s sense of hurry is beneficial, and sometimes it is not. It depends on the individual.”

Arozarena was victorious.

Arozarena gained 15 pounds of muscle during the quarantine in 2020, and “because he always had a lot of talent,” Garcia said, “he got stronger and way better.”

“In Cuba, he showed he was a star player,” Arozarena said of Garcia in Spanish. “And in St. Louis, honestly, they didn’t give him a lot of opportunities, and thank God he found a team that did.” Nobody can deny that he’s had some tremendous years, with 30 home runs and more than 100 RBIs.”

Every year, the All-Star Game is peppered with what-if scenarios. Gallen could win the NL Cy Young Award this year, following in the footsteps of Springfield colleague Alcantara, who did so for Miami last year. On Monday night, White Sox outfielder Luis Robert Jr. faced Garcia and Arozarena in the Derby, a player the Cardinals did not sign out of Cuba. Consider the outfield. Sean Murphy, the catcher the Cardinals chose not to trade for this winter, is one of Atlanta’s All-Stars. Despite the fact that Cincinnati enters the break in first place, five former Reds pitchers were selected for this year’s All-Star Game, including Mariners ace Luis Castillo.

Arenado: ‘There are pressures’
Arenado, the Cardinals’ lone All-Star, followed a similar path to other prior Cardinals prospects to the All-Star Game. The Rockies went winless in Arenado’s first four seasons with them, but they were transitioning from one core to the next. They created opportunity, an opportunity free of expectation.

Bonds in common

Garcia and Arozarena, both from Cuba, met as Cardinals and were roommates and great friends. Arozarena’s daughter has Garcia as her godfather. They were both traded by the Cardinals within a month of each other during the 2019-2020 season. Arozarena became a Tampa Bay sensation in 2020, smashing postseason records previously held by David Freese. Garcia hit 31 home runs, was an All-Star, and placed fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2021.

When speaking with his young Cardinals teammates, Arenado mentions this.

“I tell them all the time: I almost feel bad for you guys,” Arenado confessed. “I didn’t have all the expectations when I was in Colorado — the expectation wasn’t for me to make this thing right and win this division.” I’d never thought of it that way. But now that they’re here, there are complications. Because of the pressures of performing and having to win, I love this company.

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