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CARDINALS OF ST. LOUIS

Four MLB All-Stars who could be Cardinals right now but aren’t

by: Schneider, Joey

ST. LOUIS, MO — Just seconds before Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia squared off in Monday’s Home Run Derby, ESPN made a startling statement: “This is a St. Louis Cardinals nightmare scenario.”

CARDINALS

The former Cardinals prospects became close friends while teammates on several St. Louis minor league clubs, but they earned their first Home Run Derby and All-Star honors away from the team. Arozarena even finished second in the derby, narrowly missing out on the championship crown by a few home runs.

The St. Louis Cardinals, who originally recruited them, severed company with both before the COVID-19 outbreak. And now, many years later, the Cardinals are in the unusual position of sending only one All-Star to the Midsummer Classic. That has only happened four times in the twenty-first century.

Arozarena and Garcia are the only Cardinals players to become All-Stars after leaving the team. Depending on how you look at it, four players may be Cardinals right now but are now All-Stars elsewhere with four separate teams.

Who are these people? And how did they beat the Cardinals to their current positions? Let’s get started.

Arozarena, Randy

Randy Arozarena signed as an international free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He spent three seasons in the minor league system, honing his power and speed. In 2018, he helped Triple-A Memphis win the Pacific Coast League championship, earning co-MVP honors with future Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman.

Arozarena was called up to the St. Louis Cardinals in August 2019. In 19 games, he hit.300 with four runs scored and two stolen bases, for a.300 average. Arozarena was named a reserve outfielder for the 2019 postseason. After the Cardinals won, he ended up live-streaming former manager Mike Shildt’s wild celebration, which drew some criticism elsewhere in baseball.

Arozarena was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays just a few months later. In exchange for Matthew Liberatore, catcher Edgardo Rodriguez, and a second-round supplemental pick that the Cardinals eventually used on Tink Hence, he and a first-round competitive balance pick went to Tampa.

Randy has established a flair for delivering in the spotlight since the deal. That began as recently as his first season in Tampa when he blasted a career-high 10 home runs while batting.362 and nearly single-handedly pushed the Rays to their second World Series berth.

The following season, Arozarena earned the AL Rookie of the Year award with 20 home runs, 69 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and a.269 batting average. In 2022, he performed at a similar clip, and earlier this year, he represented Mexico in the World Baseball Classic to commemorate his family’s heritage. Arozarena is on pace to set career highs in home runs, RBI, and hitting average this season.

Adolfo Garcia

Adolis Garcia, like Arozarena, was given a chance with the St. Louis Cardinals out of Cuba, albeit as an international minor-league deal at first. In his first two minor-league seasons, he had strong raw power between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, averaging roughly 19 home runs and 68 RBIs per year.

Garcia was promoted to the major league level in August 2018 for a desperate Cardinals team that was on the verge of missing three consecutive postseasons. Unfortunately, he failed to impress in his first major-league appearance, only batting. Over 21 games, he batted 118 with no home runs and one RBI. His time was also marred by a costly out at home plate in a game the Cardinals desperately needed to win against Milwaukee to keep their postseason hopes alive.

The Cardinals missed the playoffs by three games that year, and it would be Garca’s final appearance in a Cardinals uniform. He stayed in the organization in 2019 and even hit 32 home runs, although with a high strikeout rate and a.253 batting average.

Garcia was designated for assignment by the Cardinals in December 2019 to make room for international pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim. Garcia was out of options at 26 years old and was exposed to other teams via waivers. The Cardinals hammered out a deal with the Texas Rangers just before Christmas to move Garcia for cash considerations. There are no other players or picks, only cash.

Garcia was called up by Texas late in 2020, but he failed again with limited opportunities. The Rangers then designated Garcia for assignment in February 2021 in exchange for Mike Foltynewicz. Unclaimed his second time around, it was a valuable learning experience for him and Texas.

Garcia was chosen for his second big-league assignment in 2021 and has never looked back. Over his first two seasons, he averaged about 29 home runs and 98 RBI while also earning an All-Star nod in 2021. He is on pace to break his career highs in batting average, home runs, and RBI, leading the American League with 75 almost halfway through the season. He also leads all players in outfield assists with ten this season.

Gallen, Zac

The St. Louis Cardinals selected Zac Gallen in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He advanced fast in the farm system, spending most of 2017 in Double-A Springfield and working his way up to Triple-A Memphis for a few starts at the close of the season. Overall, he went 10-8 with a 2.93 ERA in 147.2 innings thrown that season.

Though his numbers looked good on paper, Gallen’s advanced numbers suggested he might not be the star pitcher evaluators were looking for, specifically his low strikeout rate (7.3 per 9IP) and batting average against (.245). His stay in the Cardinals’ minor league system was brief.

In December 2017, a desperate St. Louis Cardinals squad, plus one that missed out on reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, got the Marlins’ next big slugger. Marcell Ozuna was acquired by the Cardinals in exchange for Gallen, Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, and Daniel Castano.

Looking back on the transaction, it’s fascinating to note that Gallen wasn’t even considered the main attraction or even the second-best player in the deal. Alcantara rapidly established himself as a starter for the Marlins and won his first NL Cy Young Award last season. Sierra had some MLB experience with the Cardinals and appeared to be an important contributor.

Gallen was an afterthought among the returnees, but he later proved both the Cardinals and the Marlins incorrect. Jazz Chisholm Jr., a fast infielder with similar upside, was moved to Miami before the 2019 deadline.

While trading Gallen may benefit Miami more than St. Louis, either team would welcome his bodywork right now. Gallen has a 33-25 record with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in three seasons with Arizona. He was also proud of his reduced average against and strikeout rates, especially when contrasted to his stint on the Cardinals’ farm.

He is the biggest gut blow of all, starting the National League’s All-Star Game on Tuesday. Ozuna only stayed with the Cardinals for two seasons before joining the Atlanta Braves batting order.

Gallen, who is known for his candor in the baseball media, did not hold back in a recent chat regarding his departure from the Cardinals’ farm system. He alleges the team sent him home from an offseason minor league camp and then traded him for Ozuna, claiming that “they got their certain ways about how they go about things” in reference to St. Louis.

Mr. Luis Robert

Luis Robert Jr. is arguably the largest stretch in this edition of “what could’ve been” for the Cardinals, but many felt he’d wind up in St. Louis. The Cardinals were aggressive in the MLB foreign pool in the mid-2010s, signing players like Arozarena and Garca. Another sought-after outfielder, Luis Robert, did not pan out.

Robert escaped from Cuba in 2017 and became a free agent with raw power, possibly more so than Arozarena and Garca. A Cardinals scouting team led by President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and then-director of international operations Moises Rodriguez. Both took the time to meet with Robert one-on-one and assess several workouts.

The Cardinals had significant ties to Robert, but a signing bonus was a major influence in Robert’s selection, having just defected from Cuba as a teenager. The Chicago White Sox gave him a contract with a $26 million signing bonus, which he accepted and used to motivate himself to reach the major leagues by 2020.

As for the Cardinals, several baseball insiders feel that the team’s impending cap on foreign free-agency signings prevented them from making a more aggressive offer to sign Robert. St. Louis could have been forced to pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty for every dollar spent beyond the cap on international free agents. They could have paid $52 million for Robert’s goods if they had matched Chicago’s $26 million incentive.

According to Viva El Birdos, Mozeliak stated in 2017 about the Cardinals’ failure to sign Robert: “It’s really hard to justify those types of dollars for any player with a lack of a proven track record.” It’s difficult to assess what the Cuban league or his overseas experience means to here.”

Except that, albeit slowly and with some growing pains, Robert’s arrangement with the White Sox now appears to be a no-brainer. Robert also competed in this year’s Home Run Derby but was eliminated in the second round by Arozarena. His 26 home runs are more than any other player in the American League other than Shohei Ohtani. Robert has a.284/.333/.569 slash line and delivers consistent defense in center field for Chicago.

Which of Arozarena, Garca, Gallen, and Robert hurts the most? There’s probably no clear-cut answer, but it’s quite clear that all four would be a significant lift for a Cardinals team that has been hovering near the NL cellar for the majority of the season if their present contributions were in play for St. Louis.

On Tuesday, you can watch all four All-Stars, including Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado, in the MLB All-Star Game. The first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT, with pregame coverage beginning at 6 p.m. CT.

At T-Mobile Park in Seattle, the National League will face the American League in the MLB All-Star Game. Since 2013, the American League has won the last nine All-Star games.

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Jhon Butler

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