Column: Cardinals miss on Luis Robert

Saturday was the first day that 19-year-old Cuban phenom Luis Robert was officially cleared to sign a deal with a Major League club and the action moved quickly. Several clubs made bids on the young player who one anonymous American League executive hyperbolized as “the best player on the planet.” The last couple weeks it had been reported that it was going to come down to the Cardinals or the White Sox. And then on Saturday it became apparent that the White Sox were the chosen team.

Reporting over the weekend initially indicated that the Cardinals had the best offer on the table, but that the White Sox wowed Robert with their presentation that included a Spanish-speaking manager and fellow Cuban stars (both of which the Cardinals have as well). But later reporting by MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosh indicated that they may not have even been on par with the White Sox’s offer.

So once again it appears that the Cardinals stuck to a proven broken model and missed out on the player they wanted.

“What I know is that we didn’t sign him. All negotiations have different nuances. All negotiations have different risks. All negotiations have different upside. This was certainly a unique opportunity for us because historically we are not playing or trying to sign these types of players. I don’t second-guess our strategy or second-guess our approach,” said Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak to the Post Dispatch on Sunday after the team had been informed that their bid was not the winning one.

It’s okay, Mo, I’ll take it from here and do some second-guessing on the strategy and approach.

Under the tenure of Mozeliak, the Cardinals have routinely come up short when it comes time to sign players on the open market. Overall, those decisions have worked out for them, though I’m not sure how much credit you can give the Cardinals simply because another team got more aggressive than they did.

The Cardinals have been missing a franchise altering talent in their lineup since the departure of Albert Pujols following the 2011 season. Oscar Taveras was supposed to be the next one and Mozeliak responded to his potential by paving his road to the Majors. As we all know, Taveras never got the opportunity to realize that potential and the organization is still lacking a player of his caliber.

By all accounts, Robert is a potential franchise altering talent. Even if you don’t buy all the hype, the odds that he becomes a consistent contributor are still very good.

He was the best player available in this international signing period. He was routinely the best player in international tournaments playing against players older than him. Most scouts even consider him to be better than any player available in this summer’s draft, where the Cardinals’ first pick will be #94.

Simply put, of all the talent he has ever faced or been stacked up against to this point in his career, he has been the best.

If the Cardinals believed that Luis Robert was a potential franchise altering talent, and it would appear that the answer to that question was yes, then there is only one question to be asked. If not Robert, then who?

If not Luis Robert, who is going to be the franchise altering talent for the Cardinals?

The Cardinals’ minor league system has plenty of quality talent that projects to contribute at the Major League level, but it has no singular position player that has the potential that Robert has.

In a little over a month, the Cardinals will be locked out of making a play for a player like Robert in the next two international signing periods, but there doesn’t appear to be another one coming that soon anyway.

The odds that that player will be selected in this year’s draft are slim as well thanks to the signing of Dexter Fowler and the penalties for Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros. Furthermore, they aren’t a franchise that is generally bad enough to earn high picks in future drafts and hoping a Delvin Perez caliber talent drops to you in the late first round or that you stumble upon the next Albert Pujols in the 13th is not a sound franchise building strategy.

For those reasons, there was no better time for the Cardinals to put the model aside, step beyond their comfort level and do what it took to ensure that Robert would one day be playing in St. Louis.

Because of the salary structure in baseball and how players in the first six years of their career are generally underpaid, even if they went beyond their comfort zone, the odds are still very good that Robert will give you a return on your investment unlike any veteran free agent would.

Instead, the Cardinals played it cheap, stuck to the model and once again came up short. And for the Cardinals, that question still remains.

If not Robert, then who?

And I don’t see an answer to that question.

The Cardinals could act by trade, but the prospect cost to acquire a franchise altering talent is incredibly high and rightly so. But that kind of trade would require far too much talent leaving the franchise to make sense.

That leaves free agency where we will see a number of potential franchise altering hitters available over the next couple years at much greater costs and similar, if in different ways, levels of risk. And given the Cardinals’ track record in free agency, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mozeliak said on Sunday that they will redeploy the money not spent on Robert elsewhere, but that’s what they have always said after coming up short. For two years now we’ve heard about how the organization has cash and is willing to spend it, but we have yet to see it make a difference in their approach to free agency.

This team is a player short. Robert was a golden opportunity to get a potential franchise centerpiece player. The stars were aligned, but when it came time to score, the Cardinals’ choked.

It’s a familiar story. But at some point, actions speak louder than words.