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BenFred: What kind of trade deadline awaits the trending-up Blues?

Doug Armstrong

Blue general manager Doug Armstrong watches his players take part in drills on the ice during the second day of the St. Louis Blues 2021 training camp at the Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com)

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Here are highlights from sports columnist Ben Frederickson’s weekly chat with St. Louis sports fans.

Q: The Blues are getting healthy and playing well. The trade deadline is coming. Who should the team target and what should they be willing to part with? Perhaps some of that promising talent that flashed when the roster was thin?

A: We saw the Blues sprint out of the gates to start the season, and now that they are nearing full health from injuries and COVID, with a lengthy time for most players until they have to be tested again, so there's a real chance they could make another push now. Blues GM Doug Armstrong is going to be able to deal from a position of strength after showcasing the team's depth. I wonder if he would entertain the idea of moving a goalie not named Jordan Binnington?

The deadline is not until March 21, so it's a bit early to start tossing out specific names — especially this season due to injuries and COVID issues — but there is some cautionary news to consider. The market for buyers is not expected to be great, between the amount of interim front office leaders and lack of impact rentals on struggling teams. That means lots of competition for what could normally be average-ish upgrades. Before Armstrong makes any decisions, he's going to want to see this team's capabilities at full strength. He hasn't gotten a real chance to do that just yet. 

Q: I’m excited about Mizzou football but concerned about the quarterback situation moving forward. It’s a lot, expecting a freshman to come in and play right away. Am I off base with my concerns?

A: No, you are very on-base with your concerns. Eli Drinkwitz is not just the Tigers' head coach. He is the offensive coordinator, the play-caller and the quarterbacks coach. His bread and butter is offense, and the bread and butter is stale and melted without a plus player at the most important position on the field.

Connor Bazelak transferring out leaves two options who didn't play much last season, and just one (Brady Cook) who looked like he should have played more than he did. Sam Horn is highly touted as an incoming freshman but remember the baseball what-if there and the fact you mentioned — it's not easy going from your senior year of high school ball to starting in the SEC. Drinkwitz has shown some interest in the transfer QB market and I imagine he will still look at that, but those guys are transferring for a reason. They are either hunting bigger and better name, image and likeness money, or they lost their job.

Drinkwitz's ceiling will be limited until he has a better than average QB.

Q: What role do you suppose the Cardinals have penciled in for Alex Reyes in 2022?

A: One of the guys who gets to show up to spring training (whenever the lockout ends) and prove with his performance there that he should stay in the rotation conversation. The sour ending to last season might deter the team from nudging him toward closer, but there is gravitational pull toward the bullpen that has been established. He has to break it. The Cardinals, at least before they bunkered, seemed willing to give him that shot.

Q: Has Rob Manfred done anything good for baseball as its commissioner? This news story about Ken Rosenthal being pushed out at MLB Network for being critical of the commissioner is the latest bad decision.

A: The best thing Rob Manfred had going for him, from my view, is that he had avoided a work stoppage during his run as commissioner. And now he no longer has that going for him, either. He comes across as thin-skinned, and I think that's beginning to show more and more during this lockout. It's optics more than anything, but MLB Network reportedly pushing Rosenthal out due to critical reporting about Manfred, and that story coming out on the beginning of the second month of the lockout, raises questions about the commissioner's priorities, whether that's fair or not. Manfred works for the owners, and they are happy with their revenue growth under his leadership, but if this work stoppage blows up on baseball, those owners will regret not caring a little bit more about having a commissioner who remembered part of his job was looking out for the good of the game, not just the bottom line.

Rosenthal knew what he was signing up for when he worked for MLB Network. The league owns the network. It can decide who it hires and does not renew. That said, MLB has tried to suggest MLB Network is where fair, objective coverage of the league is allowed. A decision like this nukes that claim. Same for the fact no lockout coverage is found on MLB.com and good reporters for the site are being told they can't write certain things. That's not independence, so MLB does not get to say it promotes that in its in-house coverage. Rosenthal, because he's very good at his job and has multiple jobs, does not need MLB Network to do good work for other platforms. Meanwhile Manfred is getting crushed for an unforced error.

Q: The last few years, Missouri’s backfield has featured one primary back. With Tyler Badie gone, who emerges, or could there be a more spread out approach?

A: This season was supposed to be the one where there was more of a committee approach — or so we thought. Badie took off with it and no one else could keep up. Drinkwitz has shown he will ride the hot hand, and that will be the case moving forward I imagine. Spread the love around unless someone makes it clear they deserve the lion's share of the reps. Respond to what happens on the field, in each game. Badie was the guy Mizzou wanted to have the ball, every game. Until Drinkwitz seemed to talk him out of playing in the bowl game, that is.

I thought Elijah Young would make more of an impact this season. Maybe he blossoms now.

Michael Cox should be used more. Runs hard and heavy. Nice element to the ground game.

Tavorus Jones was putting up big numbers against top competition in Texas high school ball as a senior. It should not be a surprise if he gets early work.

Q: The Cardinals need to realize fans don’t really care about winning 80-something games per year. They want championships. Didn’t Theo Epstein once say something about the Cardinals being able to do more if they wanted?

A: I think Pirates fans would love to win 80 games.

It's all relative, and the Cardinals' problems are almost always what we would call first-world problems, but the Cardinals have a higher bar, and they benefit from it in support and ticket sales and merchandise and everything else.

So, yes, 10 years without a ring is something. The Cardinals have one first-place National League Central finish since 2016, and one National League Championship Series game won — game, not a series — since 2014.

It's OK to want more from the team.

The Epstein quote was to Derrick Goold in 2014.

Here it is:

“In reality, they’re a powerhouse. The Cardinals are the standard in a lot of ways. They’ve built an incredibly healthy baseball organization and a thriving, robust business operation and they combine those things really well. I don’t think they’ve reached their potential yet. I think there isn’t a player in baseball that they couldn’t go get if they wanted to. If they sensed a threat and they wanted to put their foot on the gas I think it’s almost unlimited what they could do.”

I've said in this chat and columns, multiple times, that the Cardinals can and should tweak their sustained-success model to have more win-now lean as they have drifted from championship contention. My feelings on that have not changed.

Theo didn’t exactly leave the Cubs in great shape though, for the record.

The Cardinals are anti-tanking, and I appreciate that. Always will, and you should, too.

Q: Why have the last two Mizzou basketball coaches had such a hard time keeping the players they recruited from leaving via transfer?

A: It's a college sports issue, in general.

Check out the transfer portal annually in both men's basketball and football these days.

The grass has never been greener. The poaching has never been more prevalent. The transfer restrictions have been scaled back significantly from previous years, when guys had to sit out a season if they changed programs. And now NIL money is compounding things.

If guys are not happy with their playing time, with their team's success, with their experience on or off the court, they bounce.

It's happening everywhere.

Best way to stop it? Win. Have a program players don't want to leave. That's on the coaching, for sure. Also on fans, now more than ever before because of name, image and likeness deals.

Q: Where are people getting the idea that Jack Flaherty should be worth something like $25 million per season?

A: He's never made $25 million in a season.

He made $3.9 million in 2021.

Now, if the Cardinals want to sign him to an extension that pushes back his free agency, they have to come up with a number that pays him what he agrees to accept to do that.

Projecting a players' value moving forward is the key to both free agency and extensions.

There has to be a compromise between a team to guarantee a number, and from a player to accept that number, knowing the security now could be less than what could be leveraged as a free agent later.

Could Flaherty be a $25 million per season pitcher in the future? Yes, I think he good get there if he stays healthy and continues to improve. He had a historically good second half in 2019 before COVID arrived in 2020, scrambling the season. Then injuries messed with 2021.

He's 26. I'll continue to bet on the future of Flaherty. He likes betting on himself, too. We will see, eventually, if the Cardinals want to convince him to hedge or want to let things play out.

Q: If a donor wants to pay $6 million to shred Cuonzo Martin’s contract at Mizzou, who should the Tigers target to replace him? Some Mizzou fans like to suggest Kim English should be the next Tigers coach if things don’t work out for Cuonzo Martin. Can he recruit?

I would encourage that donor to direct the money toward name, image and likeness efforts that could improve the roster with the coach who signed on to improve a down-and-out program. I think it would be a better use of money.

English is known as a strong recruiter but he has not yet fully proven that he can do it at his own program as the head coach. Recruiting for Rick Barnes is one thing. Doing it as the head man at your own program is something else. That said Kim is an engaging, smart, modern-thinking coach who is going to bond well with recruits and their families. It would be almost impossible to not be impressed with him as a player and parent. But if you're looking for stacks of evidence he's a can't-miss recruiter, there's just not enough right now. Could be. If Kim was not a former Tiger he would not be moving the hypothetical needle like he is now. I get it, but it's that connection more than his recruiting that is driving that fan-driven discussion. I'm a big fan of Kim. Have been for a long time, since we were in college together. I've joked with him many times that he will be coaching the Tigers one day. Is he next up? I'm not sure. He just started his first head job.

Q: The BattleHawks seemed like a fun outlet for St. Louis to give the NFL a message, but could it recapture interest if it returns?

A: I think so. The XFL is starting to formalize the path toward its return and I think St. Louis is very much a part of the plan. It would be crazy for it not to be. It crushed the competition in any category, from ticket sales to merchandise, attendance and so on. It's not for everybody, but it doesn't have to be. It's fun. It's football. It found a following here that wants it back. The league should really study the success of that team here and use it to create other examples elsewhere. It never, ever made sense to put an XFL team in a city that had an NFL team. Go where the NFL is not. Go to the places The Shield has scorned or overlooked and ignored. That's the ticket. 

Q: The money from the Rams relocation settlement did arrive, right? Do you know who paid what of it?

A: Yes, the money showed up before Christmas.

Who paid what, I don't know.

My guess is the league cut the check and moving forward will sort out who owes what in terms of repaying the league, or loans or whatever else the league can cook up now that it's simply a league issue and the lawsuit has been dissolved.

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