What to do About the Upcoming Trade Deadline ?


New Cardinals General Manager, Michael Girsch, has quite a task a head of him.  So much for an easy transition period allowing the new exec to come up to speed, eh ?

The first salvo in Battle 2017 has been fired by the Cubs.  The Cubs sent two of their top prospects, power hitting outfielder Eloy Jimenez (1 in the organization and 8 overall) and right handed pitcher Dylan Crease (4 in the organization and 63 overall) plus a pair of infielders to their cross-town rivals for left handed starter Jose Quintana.  That seems quite a lot to give up for a sub-.500 starter with an elevated ERA.

A deeper look at both sides of this deal begin to show it as a winner for each team.  In his last 7 starts, Quintana is 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA, opponents are hitting .213 against him, and he has logged more than a strikeout (45) per inning pitched (40).  Quintana has also logged 200 innings in each of his last 4 seasons and there is every reason to believe 2017 will be his fifth.

As for what the Cubs gave up, all four players were in A ball,  with Jimenez in High A.  That means all four are still 2 to 3 years away from playing in Wrigley, though some optimistic (overly so) projections have Jimenez making his MLB debut in 2019.  Not only are they a long way away from the big club, each is currently blocked though a lot can change in those 2-3 years.

So how will the Cardinals match this move ?

They won’t.  At least not directly. There is nothing the front office has said or done that suggests 2017 is an all in type of season for them.  Sure, they want to remain competitive, or at least appear to be competitive, but the Cardinals are more than one or two players away from making a serious postseason run.  We will talk about this in more detail in the coming weeks.

That doesn’t mean they will sit by idly at the trade deadline.  They have several players that are now more valuable to other teams than the Cardinals.   Top of that list is Lance Lynn.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the Cardinals are not going to re-sign Lance Lynn, nor should they at this point.  The money they will save by using internal options to replace Lynn next season can go to other areas where the needs are greater, such as first and third base.  Sueng-Hwan Oh is another possible victim of his contract situation and could be moved in the next few weeks.  Kolten Wong’s return could be the straw that strained the oblique muscle, in this case making former All Star Matt Carpenter the odd man out.

All this trade speculation is fun because few of the rumors or preposterous ideas ever happen.  That said, there is one deal out there, that should it become available, Girsh and the Cardinals need to go all in and end their string of second place finishes.

That deal is Giancarlo Stanton, and there are two words that explain why this deal is perfect for the Cardinals.  Oscar Taveras.

Simply put, Oscar Taveras is what the team is missing in 2017.  Taveras was to be the centerpiece of the post-Pujols era.  Taveras and Carlos Martinez were supposed to dominate the National League for the next decade and strike fear in the hearts of the NL Central.  Sadly, that did not go as planned and the loss of Taveras is still felt in the farm system and on the big league roster today.

In 2015, then General Manager, John Mozeliak, felt that Braves slugger, Jason Heyward, might be the guy, not to fill Taveras shoes, but to build that next core around.  As the 2015 season played on, many fans began to believe that as well.  Sadly, that was not to be as Heyward opted for free agency and signed with the NL Central rival Chicago Cubs.  Though his contributions there were on the meager side, the Cubs did win it all in 2016.  Like the Cardinals, the 2017 Cubs are more than one player away from standing up to Washington or Los Angeles in a short series, though the acquisition of Jose Quintana improves their chances to prove everybody wrong.

So who would be an Oscar Taveras like player to anchor the next round of talent expected in 2019 ?  That would be Giancarlo Stanton.  Though this is his eighth season in the big leagues, Stanton is only 27 years old, two years younger than Matt Holliday was when Mo made his blockbuster deal in 2009.  Though he has an opt-out after the 2020 season, Stanton is under contract where Matt Holliday was potentially a summer rental.

Let’s first address the reasons not to do this.

It will cost too much!   Perhaps not as much as you might think.  The Cardinals are in a perfect position to absord Stanton’s entire contract.  If you add what the Cardinals were prepared to spend for David Price and Jason Heyward two years ago, and subtract what they will be paying Dexter Fowler, you will have money left over after paying Stanton.  In other words, the team has already been willing to spend that much and in the case of Jason Heyward, for a fraction of the player that Stanton is and likely will be.  With the Marlins being sold, cleaning off future salary debt might be just the opening the Cardinals need to get this done.  By taking on that financial obligation, it might only take an exciting cost controlled near-MLB-ready outfielder like Adolis Garcia.  If the Marlins want something more or different, perhaps a three way team deal could be structured with Lance Lynn heading off to a post-season contender, sort of like the Ludwick-Kluber-Westbrook type of trade.

That contract is an albatross!  Is it really though ?  I balk at what major league players make these days, but is $25M next season really that much more than the $17M Matt Holliday made in 2010 when he signed his contract extension.  When when you look at the $32M in some of the latter contract years for Stanton, that is where any free agency deal for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper will start.  The team has a new TV contract that will start showing up on the books, and Adam Wainwright’s contract will soon be coming off those same books.  And as I said before, the team has already mentally spent that money once before.

The injuries! Yeah, OK, but we are not talking Tommy Pham type of injuries here.  Stanton is a physical beast and his injuries have largely been freak accidents you don’t expect to happen again.

Now let’s look at the reasons to do this deal.

  1. There is no power or RBI bat coming up in the minor leagues. None.  There are plenty of speedy table setters, but the Cardinals still need that cornerstone offensive player – the one that Mo had hoped Taveras would be by now.  Stanton’s 58 RBIs would lead the Cardinals by 13.  Put Magneuris Sierra, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham or Oscar Mercado on base ahead of Stanton and it will be Jack Clark all over again, maybe not to the ridiculous running of 1985, but certainly a more dynamic and fun offense than we have seen in St. Louis in a long time.
  2. The contract is a big one, but the Cardinals can absorb it and still have room to add other needed players.  It will take more than Stanton, to be sure, but with Stanton on the roster, Girsch’s has many options to fill out the 2019 roster.   It also keeps the Cardinals out of the Machado or Harper bidding war.  Sure, I’d rather have Machado but a bird in hand, so to speak.
  3. The outfield will be set for years.
  4. Stanton’s career OPS is .899, his OPS+ is 145.  Wouldn’t that look good in the Cardinals side of the box scores ?

Giancarlo Stanton would be the perfect deadline deal for the 2017 Cardinals.   It would be big and bold and silence a growing number of fans that are getting frustrated by the recent front office failures in free agency.  It would be a big step forward in the type of rebuilding the team needs to do over the next two or three years.  The price is right and the risk is low.  The only thing stopping it would be Jeffrey Loria waking up and not being Jeffrey Loria.

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think, yes or no, in the comments.

Posted in 2017 Season | 5 Comments

Hechavamissed Opportunity


When the news broke on Saturday that the Miami Marlins were actively shopping shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria, and the Cardinals were rumored to be one team showing interest, armchair general managers, myself included, took to Twitter to voice their opinions.

The overwhelming concensus, much to my surprise, was negative.  And not just a little bit, but actually somewhat hostile.  Comments ranged from “Hechavarria is just another Pete Kozma” to “Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak, should be waterboarded and then fired”.  I think I got the order right in that last part, but I’m not sure it really matters in the end.  And the waterboarding may have been an exaggeration, but Mo has come under a lot of criticism of late.

I have to tell you, I was truly shocked at the negative reactions.  Apparently some of you are not watching the same team that I am.   Please tell me what channel that team is playing on because the one I have been watching for months is not very good.

Defense Matters

Over the winter, John Mozeliak (Mo), spoke repeatedly about increasing the athleticism of the 2017 Cardinals.  The signing of Dexter Fowler was an indication that Mo was serious about actual improvements in team speed and defense in spite of a roster that still had the likes of a Jhonny Peralta among the twenty five names.  We can argue about the reasons, and likely will in a future post, but the fact remains that the 2017 Cardinals are not good with the glove nor are they good when on the bases.

Another working story entering the 2017 season was the continued defensive improvement in shortstop, Aledmys Diaz.  For the entire 2016 season, Diaz actually posted a slightly positive dWAR of 0.2, which ranked 28th of the 67 men that played shortstop in the National League (Greg Garcia was 16th, Jedd Gyorko at 11 and Jhonny Peralta was 63rd, albeit with a very small sample size).  So far this season, Diaz has dropped to -0.6 which ranks 50th.  There are only two names below Diaz this year.  Ouch.

Sadly, the eye test seems to back this up.  At least Diaz hit enough in 2016 to compensate somewhat for lack of range and occasionally wild arm.  The decline in defense this year is nothing compared to his struggles at the plate.  Diaz has gone from an OPS+ of 134 last year to an 80 this year, significantly below league average.   And if you think Diaz is getting better at the plate lately, think again.  His last 28 day slash line was .266 / .293 / .392, 14 days .250 / .289 / .250 and last week plummeted to .188 / .188 / .188.

But it is not just Diaz.  Infield defense has been a complete nightmare for the Cardinals this season since opening day.  Matt Carpenter fields first base like his cleats are full of cement.  Recently promoted Paul DeJong, a career third basemen, is playing out of position and looks like it.  That is not completely fair to DeJong as he was a pretty good third baseman before moving to shortstop this year in Memphis.   Kolten Wong, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable 2017 season so far, can make some of the most spectacular plays and then turn into Charlie Brown on a routine grounder.

The Cardinals infield defense is bad, people, especially with Kolten Wong on the disabled list.

So why all the negativity about adding Hechavarria to the roster ?  For the first time in about a decade, the Cardinals would have a shortstop with an actual shortstop arm.  Maybe that’s it.   It has been so long since the Cardinals have had a good shortstop, people have forgotten what one looks like.  Well, they did have one in 2013 with Pete Kozma (1.6 dWAR, 7th in the National League), but all fans did was criticize the lack of offense and Kozma became a social media punching bag.  And then there was Brendan Ryan.

Help is on the Way

There are two very good defensive shortstops in the Cardinals minor league system right now, and neither appears to be a liability at the plate.  While he got off to a slow start this spring in Palm Beach, MLB Pipeline’s 13th Cardinals prospect, Edmundo Sosa, seems to have righted the ship and was enjoying a solid season in the Florida State League.  He has recently been promoted to Springfield where he joins a very good defensive ballclub.  Sosa is still two years away from playing with the big club, which is one reason Paul DeJong was moved to shortstop this spring.

The other is Delvin Perez.  Perhaps the most exciting prospect in the Cardinals minor league system, the 18 year old will spend the summer of 2017 in Johnson City, the Cardinals rookie league affiliate in the Appalachian League.  Many expect him to fly though the Cardinals system, but he is at least three years away from even making an appearance.

Outside of Mr. DeJong, there is no help coming any time soon from the minors.   Why wouldn’t Mo want to add Hechavarria as a bridge to these prospects, allowing DeJong to return to his normal position ?  If you think shortstops are thin in the minor leagues, try to find a power hitting third baseman.  No, go ahead, I’ll wait.   Still waiting.

The New Cardinals Way

One of the other criticisms voiced on Twitter was that Hechevarria was a dumpster dive and the real target should be Andrelton Simmons.  Other than insulting the current Cardinals shortstops, I think the proper response here is ….

There is a bit of a problem with this.  If the Angels decide to put Mr. Simmons on the market, every team that thinks they will be in contention will be calling and offering prospects that the Cardinals either don’t have or would be unwilling to part with (Delvin Perez, Magneuris Sierra and Jack Flaherty).  While it works with trading baseball cards, you just can’t unload half a dozen players you don’t want and somehow acquire the top player in the league.  I’m sorry, baseball just does not work like that.

Back to Hechavarria.  Look at what the Bay Rays gave up to get the shortstop.  Two fringy prospects that weren’t even in their top 30.  Goodness, the Cardinals got more than that for Jaime Garcia in an almost embarrassing winter fire sale.  Come on people, the price here was right.  The Cardinals are loaded in fringy prospects and hardly any of them would have been missed.

Non-Offensive

My favorite reason against the acquisition of Hechevarria was his lack of offense.   While this is absolutely true, there are several ginormous flaws with this line of reasoning.   Though the offense is a bigger concern, improving the defense has nothing at all to do with fixing the offense.  Mo can, and should, do both.  Considering what Tampa gave up for Hechavarria, Mo still has plenty of resources to kick the Cardinals offense into a higher gear, should he find the right opportunity.

But even more distressing is the notion that the Cardinals are going to somehow hit their way out of their current state by adding more low average high strikeout rate power hitters.   The Cardinals already have plenty of those.  They have so many that they just traded one away and sent another one down to Palm Beach to work with their hitting guru to see if he could be less of a low batting average and high strikeout rate guy.

Swing and a Miss

I hate to be the contrarian here, but this is one deal that Mo should have made.  While it is unlikely to have changed the NL Central standings in any meaningful way, it would have taken some pressure off of a pitching staff that is beginning to look more like extras from The Walking Dead than a professional baseball team.  It also would have started the systematic upgrade program that Mo will need to do if he expects this team to be any better next year.  More on that in a future post, but the bottom line is that any upgrade, even one as marginal as this one, would have been welcome.  Unless something changes, the Cardinals may be looking up at the Reds in the standings before this season is over.

Once again, thanks for reading.  Please leave any comments or suggestions as they are always welcome.

Posted in 2017 Season | Leave a comment

A Practical Look at the June 25 Roster Moves


There are far too many thoughts on this one to try to share on Twitter, so this minor set of transactions have become the proverbial straw that got the camel up to dust off the covers of this derelict blog, if you don’t mind the string of mixed metaphors.  I am a little bit out of practice.

Medic!!!!

Let’s start with the givens as we have little control over these transactions.

Kevin Siegrist has gone on the disabled list with a back injury.  That does not sound terribly promising, but does explain some of what we have seen of late.  Let’s hope this is not a chronic condition that impacts the career of the Cardinals young left-hander.

While reading comments today on Twitter, it became apparent that some people out there that don’t know basic human anatomy.   The cervical portion of the spine is at the top, the thoracic portion is in the middle and the lumbar at the bottom.  A cervix is a completely different part of the anatomy, and not to be found anywhere on Mr. Siegrist unless you are speaking metaphorically.  And not terribly nice.

Dexter Fowler will be joining Siegrist with a recurrence of a right heel spur.  If you have not experienced that particular injury, you have no idea how painful that can be.  As with Mr. Siegrist, let’s hope the rest will help that area settle down and that this does not become more serious.

Calm Down Already

Given those two holes in the roster, what does Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak, do to fill them.  Let’s be reasonable here.  Mo is not going to trade Greg Garcia for Giancarlo Stanton, so please limit the discussion to things Mo can do before, say, game time ?

To backfill Fowler, the answer is obvious.  Randal Grichuk is the next guy on the depth chart, is already on the 40 man roster, and has played in St. Louis.  Since being sent to Palm Beach to clear his head and work on his batting approach, Randal Grichuk has played like, well, Randal Grichuk.  In 14 games with Memphis, Grichuk has slashed a .270 / .313  / .603 line, thanks to some recent power and a couple of good days at the plate.   His strikeout rate is still 30% and he rarely walks.  Let’s not pretend that Grichuk has turned anything around and earned this promotion back to St. Louis.  At the same time, let’s not pretend that the Cardinals front office has any better choices, other than Magneuris Sierra – but that is a topic for another blog post.

With Grichuk in St. Louis, where is manager Mike Matheny going to bat him ?  IT DOESN’T MATTER.  With Matt Carpenter cemented in the leadoff spot and at first base, Tommy Pham occupying the second or third spot and Stephen Piscotty in right field, your only good choice to hit cleanup, Jose Martinez, will be on the bench.  So Grichuk is your cleanup hitter.  It is not a good choice, but Mike Matheny is rather void of better ones.

Complaining about this latest Grichuk situation seems rather silly.  Should Mo do something about the gaping holes in the roster ?  Yes.  Has he done the best he could to field a 25 man active roster for a 7pm game.  Yes.

That brings us to the subject of Mike Mayers, who will replace the injured Kevin Siegrist.  Oh, this one has gone over well on Twitter 🙂  Once again, take a step back and see how the pieces all come together and see if you have any better ideas.

First, Brett Cecil has already taken the spot we think of as Kevin Siegrist’s.  Few probably saw the turnaround happening this quickly, but Cecil has been one of the best out of the bullpen of late.  In the last two weeks, Cecil has been a rock.  Opponents are hitting just .136 against him and slugging, if you can call it that, a mere .182.  At the UCB Blogger event a few weeks ago, Mo said that he believed Cecil’s issues were mechanical and very minor.  Recent observations say Mo might have been right.

Tyler Lyons will step up to fill the other lefty spot in the bullpen.  Expect to see him getting more playing time which will make Daniel Shoptaw happy.

The real hole in the bullpen once the shifting around is complete, is for a long man.  That is the role Lyons had been performing.  When you look down in Memphis for likely candidates, the list becomes rather short.  Sorting the pitchers by WHiP (Walks and Hits per inning Pitched), you get Sam Tuivailala and John Brebbia, who are already on the active roster.  Next is Mark Montgomery, who we should keep an eye on for the next time an arm is needed in the Cardinals bullpen.   Then comes Luke Weaver who will likely be called up soon to replace Michael Wacha in the rotation.  Jack Flaherty is next, not on the 40 man roster.  Neither are Artie Reyes or Ryan Sherriff, who probably deserves a consideration at some point this summer.   Marco Gonzales needs innings more than the Cardinals need him in the bullpen.  Trey Nielsen and Josh Lucas are not on the 40 man roster.  We’ve seen John Gant and were less than impressed.  Rowan Wick is injured.  The next name is Mike Mayers.

Hmmm, so yes, he is the 14th guy on the WHIP list, but the ones ahead are either not on the 40 man, injured, or recovering from injury.  If you only remember Mayers from getting shelled by the Dodgers last season, that is not the Mike Mayers that has been throwing a ton of quality innings for Memphis.   His 3.74 ERA doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but remember that the Pacific Coast League is one the most hitter friendly in the minors.   Mayers is throwing strikes and not getting himself into trouble with walks.

Considering the role of long relief, likely in a mop up situation, Mike Mayers is the right guy to be called up.  Let Tui and Brebbia handle the higher leverage innings, Mayers is the innings eater for the next time Lance Lynn or Michael Wacha can’t get out of the fourth inning.  Can we all calm down about this now ?

Welcome Luke Voit !

That brings us to the final roster move made today.  Chad Huffman has been optioned to Memphis and the Cardinals have purchased the contract of right handed slugging first baseman, Luke Voit.

Is this really a question here ?  Is there anybody that would rather see Chad Huffman come in to pinch hit in a game situation than Luke Voit (.322 / .406 / .561, 12 home runs, 48 RBI) ?

Once again, we need to be realistic here.  The Cardinals offense has been anemic and rendered nearly inert when it faces good teams.  Luke Voit is basically a right handed Matt Adams without the goofy nicknames and social media baggage and won’t cure the Cardinals offensive woes, but he does give Mike Matheny a bat that might put the ball in play.

For those of you that will still complain that this is just a lateral move, continue to dream on about Mo signing Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or somehow cobbling together enough of a package to get Marcell Ozuna away from the Marlins (like every other team is trying to do).  None of those were going to happen today. More important, nothing Mo did today keeps those unlikely deals from happening, save the unlikeliness of them actually happening.

What John Mozeliak has done is improve the roster, albeit marginally, with the talent he had at his disposal.  Instead of complaining about all of the things Mo hasn’t done since the beginning of time, most of which are not realistic in the first place, how about acknowledging an effort to patch some holes in a very leaky battleship.   It is a step, a tiny one.   With the trade deadline quickly approaching, perhaps there will be more.  And some big ones would be very welcome.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read.  Please share any ideas in the comments.  Go Cardinals.

Posted in 2017 Season | 2 Comments

Intentional or Just Irresponsible


Not that either team needed it, but tensions were raised a notch as the final 2015 regular season series between the Cardinals and Cubs got under way in Chicago.   The first of two linked events occurred in the top of the fifth inning, when Cubs starter Dan Haren hit pinch hitter Matt Holliday in the head.  Holliday appeared to be OK but left the game immediately, for precautionary reasons.  The second happened with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the game was all but over.  Cardinals reliever, Matt Belisle threw behind Anthony Rizzo, just clipping his uniform behind the knee.  Belisle was immediately ejected.

Reading some social media comments both during and following the game have led me to an observation that I will call Bob’s Razor, in homage to the common interpretation of the famous Occam’s Razor.

With all other things being equal, a sports fan will look at 
any given play and see what they want to see.

Applying this to these two game events, Cardinals fans are convinced that Dan Haren intentionally threw at Holliday and Cubs fans are outraged at Matt Belisle’s retaliation.  It doesn’t really end there as Joe Maddon referred to the Cardinals as vigilantes with Tony Soprano calling the shots in the dugout.  Following the game, he offered this comment, “But you don’t do that under those circumstances. We don’t start stuff, but we will finish stuff.”

Anthony Rizzo piles on with this postgame gem,  “at that moment, I want to kill someone because I know it was intentional.

OK, let us all take a step back and take a deep breath.  Try to watch the two plays with as much detachment as you can muster and tell me what you see.  It is a fact that we don’t know what either pitcher was trying to do, on their own or following orders from the dugout.  All we have are our eyes and hopefully some common sense.

It is easy to overlook the previous batter that Dan Haren faced before hitting Matt Holliday.  An 0-1 pitch sailed high and inside to Tony Cruz, causing him to spin out of the way and step out of the batter’s box.

Curz

With that image fresh in your mind, what is the most likely scenario that led to Dan Haren hitting Matt Holliday – that it was intentional, hitting a player that has not had an at bat in a game since late July or that the pitch just got away from him, like the one thrown to Cruz ?  Unless Haren has taken acting lessons in the off season, his reaction to the pitch should tell us all that we need to know.

Sorry Cardinals fans, the most likely scenario here is that it was not intentional.   It was a careless pitch that probably should not have been thrown.  Oh, it is fine to be outraged over lack of control, but that is a different situation that needs a bit less venom.

Now let’s look in on Matt Belisle in the seventh inning.

RizAgain, what is the mostly likely scenario here ?  Yeah, that one was intentional.  But sorry Cubs fans, it is exactly the type of “retaliation” that you should have expected and not the type of thing to get your undies all in a bunch.   If you look very carefully at the next few frames of the video above, you will see that the ball does clip Rizzo in a part of his uniform behind his knee.  The lack of deflection of the ball’s trajectory tells you that Rizzo was just grazed, if anything.

Was it poor sportsmanship on the part of Matt Belisle ?  If Bob’s Razor was not in play here, no, it is not.    The same can be said of the Chris Coughlan slide a few days earlier that ended the season of Jang Ho Kang of the Pirates.

We often talk about old school retaliation and much of what is discussed is more folklore than actual history.  Pitchers like Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver had such pinpoint control, they could knock a mosquito off the uniform of an opposing batter.  When they wanted to send a message, it would be behind a player or at least heading towards the lower part of the hitter’s body.   Sandy Koufax refused to throw at hitters, causing his catcher, Johnny Roseboro to buzz Juan Marichal in the famous incident in August 1965.   When these guys hit a batter, it was almost always to regain control of the inner part of the plate, not some vigilante act of revenge.

The problem today is that most pitchers don’t have the control of a Gibson, Drysdale, Koufax, Seaver, Feller or even Bob Veale (who did have a bit of a mean streak).  Most have no business throwing inside even though the opposing batters are wearing more armor than the Knights of the Round Table.   When they do and hit a player, as happened to Matt Holliday 17 times last season, a bit of careful retaliation might prevent number 18 and perhaps a career impacting in jury.

As for Maddon and Rizzo’s comments, it all just

badwolfblowIf either team need comments like these to be fired up at this point in the season, they don’t belong in postseason.  The same should be said of the fans.

Posted in 2015 Season | Leave a comment

BFIB and the Myth of “The Cardinals Way”


The two phrases that will make a baseball fan’s head spin the fastest today might be “The Best Fans in Baseball” and “The Cardinals Way”.   With the Cardinals unexpected, and mostly unexplainable, success heading into the 2015 All Star Break, it is understandable how these words that Cardinals fans say with genuine pride are often linked to a deep loathing of the team.  Instead of being upset about this, Cardinals fans should embrace the angst because it means that the team, and by proxy, the fans are relevant.  I fear the day that nobody is talking trash about the Cardinals because that means they have fallen from the headlines to the forgettable.

But are the Best Fans in Baseball and The Cardinals Way a real thing or just something invented to give us comfort in the face of all this disrespect ?

Well, they are real, but maybe not in the way that you might think.  Let me explain.

The Cardinals Way

george-kissellThe Cardinals Way is very much a real thing, dating back to the days when the Cardinals minor league farm system was spreading faster than the latest Kardashian selfie on Twitter.  The phrase is often associated with George “The Professor” Kissell, a minor league infielder in the 1940s and then manager and later coach in the Cardinals system.  It may mean different things to different people over the years, but the essence is paying attention to details, execute the fundamentals, honor the game (written and unwritten rules), honor the uniform (those that came before you) and work together as a team. Nobody in baseball taught it better and to more players than George Kissell.

Is this unique to the Cardinals ?  No, that’s absurd.  But it is one of the few things that ties together the various managerial and ownship eras of the last half century, from Johnny Keane to Mike Matheny, the Busch family to the DeWitts.  Bill DeWitt, Jr. clearly understands how much Cardinals fans value The Cardinals Way as an identity and has made it a very public part of the team culture and marketing programs to this day.

That is not to say that everybody wearing the uniform has followed the code.  Those that didn’t were frequently shown the door, often in a hastily arranged deal.  Once such example was during the cocaine scandal of the 1980s.  That hit the Cardinals very hard and cost them fan favorites such as Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez and Joaquin Andujar.  But the Cardinals Way persisted and good times returned, albeit for just a little while.

The big misunderstanding here is that The Cardinals Way is no secret handshake ritual that is guaranteed to win a championship nor is it somehow unique to the Cardinals.  Over the long haul, it has been a recipe for success, and thanks to the stewardship under the current owners, it remains that way today.  It is also good to remember that it has not always been that way.

While an entire generation of Cardinals have have never experienced a time when the Cardinals have not been successful, the truth is that there have been many dark times over the last half century.  Woeful times in fact.  I am referring to 1965-1966, the entire decade of the 1970s, first half of the 1990s and curiously 2007-2009.  While those teams were abysmal, almost laughable at  times, they were every bit The Cardinals Way as the team that just swept the Cubs in some of the scrappiest baseball that any Busch Stadium has seen.   It just didn’t work for other reasons – a critical injury or two, players aging and not being replaced or the front office not spending the money needed to lock up or acquire key talent needed to compete.  It is hard to believe, but that is true, especially under the Fred Kuhlmann era.  Apparently it takes more than just “The Cardinals Way” to win – it actually takes some talent.   And a front office that cares about success.

Perhaps we should be talking more about “Mo’s Way” today as that probably has a bigger impact to the Cardinals recent success than the teachings of George Kissell, Johnny Keane,  Hub Kittle or any of the other legends from the Cardinals past.

Best Fans in Baseball

So what does The Cardinals Way have to do with The Best Fans in Baseball ?  If you have been following along, quite a bit actually.  Showing up every night cheering on a winning team is easy to do – ask the Washington Nationals or Atlanta Braves.   In October.

There are a number of aspects to the Best Fans in Baseball that should bring a touch of respect to Cardinals fans.  Sure, giving a standing ovation to Shane Robinson or Daniel Descalso is the kind of thing St. Louis is known for.  Again, the big stars are easy to cheer for, but Cardinals fans love their scrappy overachievers just as much, if not more.  It may not be logical, but it is so St. Louis.

albert-pujolsThe interesting truth is that the Cardinals haven’t really lost all that many impact players to free agency or unpopular trade deadline deals, so we sort of have to cheer for the little guys.  Albert Pujols is the only big name player in recent years that “took the money and ran”.  Larry Walker and Chris Carpenter retired as a Cardinal, Jim Edmonds was injured and in late career decline as were Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman.  I’m hoping that some of that is not lost on Jason Heyward as he ponders over his first free agency contract.  Of the current core of players, only Lance Lynn seems likely to take an early walk out of St. Louis.  Maybe that’s why we get so attached to the little guys.

But it’s more than that.  Cardinals fans gladly cheer for an opponent player when he makes a great play on the field.   There is no tradition of throwing back home run balls, though some careful observation shows that Cubs fans may actually be keeping those balls, throwing junkers back on to the field.  None of this is unique to Cardinals fans, it is just the rule in St. Louis and not the exception.  Oh, there have been times when Cardinals fans were poor sports – the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers was one such time, but those have been few and far between.   Heck, we even learned to embrace Will Clark though Brandon Phillips and Johnny Cueto still seem to rankle Cards fans.

I think the real essence of Best Fans in Baseball lies in remembering when times were not as good as they are now but treating the team with the same respect and admiration.  That certainly required some effort in the early 1990s when Joe Torre always seemed an inning too late in making pitching changes and Germimo Pena could not stay out of the hospital.

The other day, one of my Twitter buddies sent out this little reminder

@cigarmike
In 1995, Rich DeLucia led the St. Louis Cardinals with 8 
wins. 8. Those were dark days. 

Mike forgot to mention that DeLucia was a relief pitcher!  Dark times, indeed.  Yet the memories of that era are fond ones, not downing in angst.  And the fans did not stay away from the ballpark as they have been doing in places like Houston.

Let’s also not forget the 1970s when Gussie Busch traded away Willie Montanez, Steve Carlton, Jerry Reuss, Bake McBride, Mike Torrez, Richie “Dick” Allen, Reggie Smith and Jose Cruz.  Yet we came back night after night to watch the ones that remained, such as Silvio Martinez, John Fulgham, Jerry Mumphrey, haplessly playing the game until Whitey Herzog came along and rebuilt the team into a new generation of winners.

Maybe it is during those bad times that you really learn to appreciate the beauty of the game and not just the outcome – the game within the game.  For a couple of decades, that’s all we had.

Best Fans in Baseball does sound a terribly pretentious, but it is sure easier to say than Least Bandwagonny Fans in Baseball.   At the end of the day, both are true.  Not that there aren’t great fans of every team – there certainly are and we members of The Best Fans in Baseball should remember that.   Red Sox Nation and Yankees fans are just as rabid, though perhaps more on the bandwagon side of things and certainly with a more abrupt vocabulary, but I would never question their enthusiasm.  Dodgers fans buy tickets and either show up late to the games or not at all.  Giants fans kill all others with their use of social media and swarming the All Star Voting system.  Perhaps they are worthy of the title of Best Fans of their Team, sure.   Of baseball as a game, maybe not as much.   As with The Cardinals Way, BFIB is not an exclusive club.  It is, though, an accurate description of the unique relationship between the fans and players in St. Louis.

77ec85d9169ba4690cd3c295ee57c281If George Kissell was the architect of the Cardinals Way, who turned Cardinals fans into the Best Fans in Baseball ?   That one is easy, thanks to a wonderful comment from Wayne Grote (thanks, Wayne!).  For decades, the broadcast team of Jack Buck and Harry Caray taught us how to be fans of the game, not just the home team.  Harry was the emotional fan, with his voice and word choice matching what he was seeing on the field while Jack was the technician, carefully describing every little detail and explaining why it was important. They were both quick to praise opposing players when they made a great play as they were to criticize the home team when they did something wrong.   As with The Cardinals Way, Jack and Harry were not unique to St. Louis.  Mel Allen, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Bob Prince, Harry Kalas, Jack Brickhouse and Vin Scully were legendary broadcasters and equally loved by their listeners, but there is something different about how the lessons stuck with Cardinals fans.

Once we can all admit that the Cardinals Way has not always worked and that there are fans of other teams that love their players as much, though perhaps differently, than in St. Louis, we can move past all of this silliness and get back to watching and appreciating the game of baseball.

Posted in 2015 Season | 5 Comments

April 21-23, St. Louis at Washington


Birds Eye View Header

The Cardinals start their second road trip of the 2015 season with a three game series against the Washington Nationals.  It will be the first time this season that the Cards face an opponent outside of their division.  Both teams were pre-season favorites to make the playoffs, so this could be something a preview of a divisional or league championship series in October.   In  the 13 regular season games since the 2012 NLDS, the Cardinals have an 11-2 record against the Nationals.

Nationals LogoWith a series win, the Nationals (6-7, 4 games out) can improve to .500 for the first time since April 8, the second game of the season.    After losing their first three series, the Nats are coming off a strong home series against the struggling Phillies, winning three of the four games.

It is a bit early to draw too many conclusions about Washington’s offense, except that they will strike out.  A lot.   That should help the Cardinals pitchers as they tend to be around the strike zone.   Ryan Zimmerman leads the team with 11 RBIs while Bryce Harper leads the Nats with 4 home runs.   As a team, they have already belted 14 long balls, compared to just 6 by the Cardinals.

On their pitching side of the game, it is something of a contrast of extremes.  New comer, Max Scherzer (1-1, 0.83 ERA) and former Tigers rotation mate Doug Fister (1-0, 0.69 ERA) have been sensational.   Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have been touched up for more than a few runs in their starts.   Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they will face both Scherzer and Fister in the series.

While the loss of Craig Stammen is a huge blow for the Nationals bullpen, they have been very effective in holding leads so far in the season.   Closer, Drew Storen, is 4 for 4 in save opportunities and has only allowed 1 run over 5 innings.   Felipe Rivero, a 23 year old left hander, will take Stammen’s spot in the bullpen, at least for now.

cardinalsFor the Cardinals (8-3,  1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs), the story is pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching.   The staff enters the series with an ERA of 1.91.  Only two pitchers, Seth Maness and Randy Choate, have an ERA over 3.   This is not a sustainable way to win games over a long stretch, but the pitching has carried the Cardinals in the early going.

Whether last weekends series sweep of the Reds was more the Cardinals bats finally waking up or the continued struggles of the Cincinnati pitching staff, Matt Carpenter made a huge impact as the catalyst at the top of the batting order.   For his efforts, he was named the NL Player of the Week (Apr 20).  Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta continue to hit with regularity.   Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Cardinals fans is that Yadier Molina is heating up after a slow start to the regular season.

Mitch Harris

Mitch Harris

For the second time this season, the Cardinals will have a player on temporary leave to attend the birth of their child.  This time it is  center fielder, Peter Bourjos.   The Cardinals have purchased the contract of Mitch Harris to take Bourjos spot on the active roster.   If you are not familiar with the Mitch Harris story, it is an incredible one.  The Cardinals drafted the hard throwing right hander out of the Naval Academy in 2008, but Harris served his military commitments.  The Cardinals held a spot for him and five years later, Harris began his professional baseball career with the State College Spikes (short season A).  Two years and nearly 100 innings later, Harris will on the major league roster. He features a fastball that can get into the mid to upper 90s, so don’t be surprised if we seen him often this season.

Speedy center fielder, Gary Brown, has been designated for assignment to make room for Harris.   Brown was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants a few weeks ago.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, Apr 21 – 6:05 pm CDT

Lance Lynn (1-1, 1.64) vs Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 5.11)

Lance Lynn has given up just a single run in each of his first two starts this season.   If there is a criticism in Lynn’s game so far it is pitch count.  Lynn did pitch into the seventh inning in his first start, but pitch count limited him to just five innings almost a week ago.  This will be the 100th career start for Lynn (50-29, 3.43).

While the lefty dominated Cards batting order should give Gio Gonzalez an advantage, St. Louis has done well against him in his career.   Gonzalez was the starting pitching in the now famous (or infamous in Washington) Game Five of the 2012 NLDS.  Control still seems to be the big issue for the Nationals left hander.  If the Cardinals are patient, and can drive up his pitch count, it could be a short night for Gonzalez.

This will be the debut StatCast broadcast on the MLB Network.  StatCast uses a set of high resolution cameras to measure detailed items in the game, such as the speed of a baseball off a hitters bat.  For the stats heavy fan, this should provide a cornucopia of new information to absorb.  Since you will need there, here is a glossary of StatCast terms.

Key to the game: Lance Lynn going 6+ innings.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MASN, MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (1120 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Wednesday, Apr 22 -6:05 pm CDT

John Lackey (1-0, 2.77) vs Doug Fister (1-0, 0.69)

After a rough debut to start the 2015 season, John Lackey was a textbook on efficiency in his last start, going seven strong innings.

There is nothing much more to say about Doug Fister other than he has been brilliant so far in 2015.

On paper, this should be a low scoring game, which means it will probably be a 10-8 slugfest.   If John Lackey pitches as he did in his last start, this should be a thrilling pitching duel, decided by the bullpen in the late innings.

Key to the game: John Lackey keeping the game close

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MASN, MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (1120 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Thursday, Apr 23 -3:05 pm CDT

Michael Wacha (2-0, 1.35) vs Max Scherzer (1-1. 0.83)

Michael Wacha has been lights out to start the 2015 season.  Longevity and load will remain a question as he approaches 150 and then 200 innings, but when healthy, Wacha is one of the most exciting right handers in the game today.   Unfortunately for the Cardinals, he will be facing a veteran that is just as stingy and not likely to break down any time soon.   As with the Lackey/Fister game, this should be a thrilling pitching duel, decided by a run or two late.

Key to the game: Michael Wacha’s velocity

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MASN, MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (1120 AM),WJFK (106.7 FM)

Injury Update – Washington

Craig Stammen (RHP) – the 31 year old right hander had surgery to repair two torn flexor tendons (forearm) and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

Casey Janssen (RHP) – right shoulder tendonitis.  Janssen has recently started throwing again, but has not begun a minor league rehab program.   He is expected to return in late April or early May.

Erik Davis (RHP) – recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring.  No timetable for his return has been set.

Yunel Escobar (SS) – missed the last series and is listed as day to day.   He is expected to play in the Cardinals series.

Nate McLouth (OF) – may be activated soon.   He is recovering from shoulder surgery last August.  He has not yet started a minor league rehab assignment.

Anthony Rendon (3B) – sprained left knee.   Has just started throwing and light batting activities.  Should be starting a minor league rehab assignment soon.

Injury Update – St. Louis

Randal Grichuk (OF) – has been placed on the 15 day DL with a lower back sprain.   He is expected back in early May.   Infielder Dean Anna has been called up to replace Grichuk on the roster.

Jaime Garcia (LHP) – continues to recover from season ending shoulder surgery last May.   Garcia pitched effectively early in spring training, but had difficulty in recovering in time to make his next start.   He will remain in extended spring training for a while but is expected to start a minor league rehab assignment with a possible return to the majors in late May.

Tommy Pham (OF) – has recently been cleared to resume baseball activities following a left quad strain.  There is no timetable for his return.

 

 

This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2015 Season, Bird's Eye View, United Cardinals Bloggers | Leave a comment

X-Men Unleashed: Fixing the Cardinals Offense


I am reminded of a Tony La Russa interview in April 2011 when he asked reporters, “are you telling me Yadier is not going to get a big hit” ?   Yes, that was also the first week of the season and it was a fair question.  We also know how that story ended, with the Cardinals celebrating their 11th World Championship.

But if Mike Matheny were to ask that question in a post-game press conference today, the responses might be something like “yeah, Mike, that is exactly what we are saying.”   So what are a manager and general manager to do ?

The first thing is to admit that while this is the first week of the season, it sure looks a lot like long stretches of last season and most of the spring.   To be honest, the best parts of spring training were when kids like Charlie Tilson were on base, running and helping manufacture runs.  None of that seems to be happening now that the games count.

It is early, but not too early to make a couple of changes.  Let’s take a look at a few.

Mark Reynolds Stays on the Bench

We can argue endlessly about whether or not Mark Reynolds should have been signed this winter, but the fact is that he was and it is too early to give up on that decision.   At the same time, a long look at his numbers when playing regularly last season in Milwaukee (.196 / .287 / .394 in 433 plate appearances, 22 HR, 45 RBIs and 122 Ks) should convince you that he is not a realistic platoon partner for the struggling Matt Adams.  While this will probably end in the same way as the Ty Wigginton experiment, he has to be given a fair opportunity to produce.

ed note: Mark Reynolds is 2-3 in the current game and has just driven in his first run of the season.  Xavier Scruggs has driven in 9.

Call up Xavier Scruggs

As the Cardinals start play on April 16 (game number 8), Xavier Scruggs has the same number of home runs (4) as the Cardinals do as a team.  Some will be quick to point out that Scruggs is doing that in the homer friendly Pacific Coast League and completely miss that he has done that in 24 plate appearances where the Cardinals as a team have 275 (and add another dozen or so as the game is now in the sixth inning and no big flies have been seen yet).

In his minor league career, Scruggs has the typical power hitter splits, tearing up left handers and struggling against righties.  That would make him the ideal platoon partner for Matt Adams, keeping a power bat on the bench regardless of who is getting the start.

Who would be optioned to Memphis to make room for Scruggs ?  Easy.

Option Randal Grichuk

Oh, you can’t send Randal Grichuk to the minors ?

Why not ?

In this case, we do have some good comparison data between Grichuk and Scruggs and the results may surprise you.

Randal Grichuk  .259 / .311 / .493 (.805 OPS), 25 HR, 71 RBIs, 108Ks in  472 plate appearances.

Xavier Scruggs  .286 / .370 / .494 (.864 OPS), 21 HR, 87 RBIs, 114 Ks in 538 plate appearances

Scruggs out hit, out slugged, drove in more runs – basically outproduced Randal Grichuk last year.  This is on the same team, in the same ballparks and against the same pitching.  Most of the season, Grichuk hit second, Scruggs cleanup or fifth.  Grichuk did hit more home runs, but that’s it.   Scruggs is also 28, Grichuk is 23, so which of the two can benefit more from consistent playing time in the minors ?

Mike Schildt should play Grichuk every day in center field, giving him some much needed experience at the position.  If the Cardinals do sign Jason Heyward to a long contract extension, Grichuk will have to take center field away from Jon Jay or wait for Matt Holliday to retire.   Seeing him play for a summer in Memphis would go a long way in figuring out where his future lies, not to mention a ton of at-bats to improve his pitch recognition against right handers.

Swapping Grichuk for Scruggs is about a break even in the offensive production, based on last year in the PCL.   It doesn’t really leave the outfield short as Peter Bourjos is still available as is Pete Kozma.   It leaves the bench largely unchanged, but gives Mike Matheny a more balanced lineup against left handed pitching.

If I was the general manager, Xavier Scruggs would already be heading north on I-55.   What would you do, if anything, to get the Cardinals offense going ?   Let me know in the comments.   As always, thanks for reading.

Posted in 2015 Season | 1 Comment

What to do About Jon Jay ?


Now that the Lance Lynn contact has been taken care of, and both Tony Cruz and Peter Bourjos have avoided arbitration, we can turn our attention to the last piece of the Cardinals 2015 puzzle, Jon Jay.

The Good

Jonjay2014aThere may not be a more polarizing figure on the current Cardinals roster than Jon Jay.  There is no question that he is a likeable player and has developed a strong fan base just on his personality alone.  In addition, fans that favor offensive production first will tend to side with Jay and point to his consistency in batting average (career .295 without much deviation) and on-base percentage (.379 last year, .359 for his career).  They will also be quick to point out his lack of errors, some to the point of suggesting he is worthy of a Gold Glove.  Perhaps that is going a bit overboard, but Jon Jay does have a good glove and catches any ball that he can get to.

 

The Bad

The other side quickly dismisses those claims by using his slugging percentage to show (rightfully) that he is a singles only hitter as well as a lack of stolen bases (6, down from 10 and 19 the previous two seasons), proclaiming him a base clogger, thus not a good choice for the top of the batting order.   The persecution of Jay continues with a deeper look into his defensive performance, specifically below league average range and less than impressive defensive runs saved.  It is hard to argue with this after watching Billy Hamilton score from third on a short fly ball.  That video should come with a parental warning.

The fact is that all of this is true and just demonstrates the wide diversity of how fans look at and evaluate a player in the game today.  Perhaps it would be different with a more critical approach to broadcasting on television and radio, but that is not the product being offered at the moment.

The Ugly

How does this affect Jon Jay ?   Simple – of all the players on the roster today, Jon Jay should be the last to face an actual arbitration hearing.   All of the positives from his 2014 season (taking the every day center fielding job away from Peter Bourjos, an improved offensive year, better base running) will be shattered by a cold hard examination of his defensive performance, which will be the basis of the Cardinals case to the arbitration committee.

The two sides have not disclosed any numbers publicly, but we do have some information start forming a basis for a possible resolution.   Jay avoided arbitration last year by signing a one year $3.25M contract.   Based on his 2014 season, and both sides should agree with this, he surpassed the previous performance that earned him that contract.  As a result, he should expect some raise above the league inflation, and the Cardinals should be expected to do at least that.  That puts a number like $4.5M in play and will likely be near the midpoint of the two sides.

What to do ?

The proper play here is for a one year contract for $4.5M.   His fans can rejoice that they will have another season with the young man while his critics will wince at nearly $5M spent for a player that they don’t think should be an every day player and would rather see him not even on the roster.   The outcome of an arbitration hearing could make that a reality sooner rather than later.

The thing that should not happen is a multi-year deal, buying out Jay’s last two years of arbitration and any free agency years.   Unlike the Lance Lynn situation, the Cardinals have quite a bit of depth in the position, though nobody particularly stands out, including Jon Jay.  Right now, Tommy Pham can play better defense, though he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to hit major league pitching.  Peter Bourjos has a slightly better track record than Pham, though he can’t be viewed as anything more than competition to push Jay for another year.  Randal Grichuk remains a curious possibility, especially if Jason Heyward is up for a move to center (unlikely).   Stephen Piscotty squelches any thoughts about Jay as a long term play in left field.  Down in the minor leagues, Charlie Tilson continues to move up and could soon be pushing his way into consideration.   The point here is that the Cardinals do not have a clear cut answer for the center field situation, and that should keep the front office from offering an extended contract to Jay.   The upside here is that if viewed as a non-punitive course of action, that could be exactly the fire Jon Jay needs under his feet to prove his critics wrong.

A one year $4.5M contract is the answer that both sides should be able to live with.  That is what I would work to if I were the Cardinals front office or Jon Jay’s agent.   The next few days should be interesting as the deadline for submitting arbitration offers has passed.  Unless the two sides are finalizing some sort of deal, it appears as if Jon Jay will be the first Cardinals player to reach arbitration since Darren Oliver in 1999.  Oh, the Cardinals won that case – and non-tendered him at the end of the season.

What would you do about Jon Jay ?  Let me know in the comments or yell at me on Twitter

Posted in 2015 Season | Leave a comment

What to do about Lance Lynn ?


I knew it would take a special topic to get me blogging again, and this one is as good as it gets.   For the record, I have been an unapologetic Lance Lynn fan since his days with the Springfield Cardinals, way back in 2009.   He went 11-4 that year with an ERA just under 3 runs per game – in a very hitter friendly league and park.

The Cardinals Other Lance, Lance Lynn

What to do about Lance Lynn

The question of what to do about Lance Lynn brings out all sorts of responses, but they tend to fall into one of three categories.  Let’s look at each and try to figure out what the right answer is.

1. Trade him at peak value

I believe this is the stance from one of my favorite bloggers and sports buddies, Bill Ivie.  We have had many fun conversations about Kyle Lohse over the years, and this feels very much like one of those, for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the pro side of the argument.

There is no question that Lance Lynn’s value has never been higher.  In spite of posting records of 18-7 and 15-10 in his first two seasons as a starter,  there still seems to be some lingering doubt about how much of that was Lance Lynn and how much was the Cardinals offense blowing out opponents in his starts.  Some of those critics were silenced with another 15-10 record last year where the big guy shaved more than a run off his ERA, while others will point to his relatively unchanged FIP, suggesting he was just more lucky than actually good.

Perhaps more important than his wins and losses, Lynn has now gone back to back seasons with 200 or more innings pitched.  He pitched into the seventh inning in 14 of his 33 starts last year, including two complete games (one was a shutout).  The last Cardinals pitcher to have back to back 200 inning seasons, not named Adam Wainwright, is Chris Carpenter (2010-2011).    You have to go back to 2005 to find another name, and that was Jason Marquis.  No, really.

While all of this Lynning stuff might make for fun debate on Twitter or one of the various message boards, it really doesn’t matter.  The con side won this debate on Nov 17. 2014.  That was the day Shelby Miller was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jason Heyward.  The depth of the Cardinals rotation, once an almost embarrassing abundance, was impacted significantly by this deal.  So much so that Lance Lynn becomes nearly untouchable.  He is now one of the veterans in spite of just entering his first year of salary arbitration.  Even with the rumors of the Cardinals pursuing big name pitchers, such as Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer and David Price, those are all about adding depth to supplement the existing rotation, not to replace any of the core members (Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha).

Shelby Miller’s departure just means you can write Lance Lynn’s name in to the Cardinals 2015 rotation in ink, not pencil.

2. Let’s take it one year at a time

This should be a non-starter for a number of reasons, the foremost being that the Cardinals want to avoid salary arbitration at nearly all cost.  On one hand, it is a contentious process that the front office views as destructive to the relationship they have worked so long and hard to build with a young player.   It sends a message that the player is not a core member of the roster, but a commodity.   That is a sure way to push a player, such as Lance Lynn, into testing the free agency market at their first opportunity.

Another risk for the front office is lack of salary control in subsequent years.  The two sides could enter the process next year, differing by millions of dollars, dollars that the team would much rather spend courting new free agents early in the next signing period instead of holding in reserve should they lose in arbitration.

If that is not enough, there is even more risk on Lance Lynn’s side of this negotiation.  While he has made steady improvement in his first four seasons, he is also one pitch away from a season or career ending injury.   While fans may dismiss this rather quickly, this is Lynn’s career  and he has an opportunity right now to guarantee a lifestyle for his family that many fans can only dream about.

The end result is that both sides benefit by avoiding yearly arbitration.  So much that it leaves us with

3. Sign Lance Lynn for __________________

This is ultimately the right answer, though opinions on  “how long” and for “how much” vary significantly. Fortunately we have some examples in recent Cardinals history that should help us sort this out.

Just before the start of the 2008 season, Adam Wainwright signed a 4 year $15M deal.  It was structured as $750k signing bonus, $500K (2008), $2.6M (2009), $4.65M (2010) and $6.5M (2012).  It also included options for 2013 and 2013, valued at $9M and $12M respectively.  This was for a former first round draft pick (Braves, 2000) that had lived up to and probably surpassed many expectations.  In other words, Adam Wainwright was seen as a future top-of-the-rotation-face-of-the-franchise guy.

Midway though the 2011 season, Jaime Garcia signed a 4 year $27M deal.   Like Adam Wainwright’s, it bought out his last team controlled year as well as all of his arbitration eligible time.  It was structured as a $500k signing bonus, $3.25M (2012), $5.75M (2013), $7.75M (2014) and $9.25M (2015).  It also included two option years at $11.5M and $12M, respectively.   At the time of the signing, Jaime Garcia was 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA after a rookie season where he went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.  In other words, he was the left handed young stud to pitch alongside Adam Wainwright for the foreseeable future.

For the risks the Cardinals took in both of these deals, they were rewarded with what turned out to be discounts later in the later (free agent) years as salaries escalated pretty quickly, thanks to some gargantuan deals elsewhere.   The players got some security, which turned out to be bigger benefits than the team discount as both missed significant playing time.

Given where Lance Lynn is today, these two deals should serve as something of a floor for a forward looking deal, for two reasons.  First, and most significant, all of the years in a potential long term contract will be at arbitration rates, not the league minimums where Garcia and Wainwright started.  The other factor is overall rise of salaries in the major leagues, which makes Adam Wainwright’s 2008 deal look like a huge bargain.

The ceiling for such a deal could be Kyle Lohse’s contract from the end of the 2008 season.   In his case, he was already a free agent thus his contract extension reflected that escalated yearly salary.   He signed a 4 year $41M extension which was split out as a $1.25M signing bonus and $7.125M (2009), $8.875M (2010), $11.875M (2011) and $11.875M (2012).

Lohse is a particularly interesting case as he went to arbitration in his first two eligible seasons with Minnesota, winning both times.  He was traded to Cincinnati in the last of those as the two were unlikely to work out any long term deal.  That is not how the Cardinals would want to proceed with Lance Lynn, especially now with Shelby Miller in Atlanta and Michael Wacha not anywhere close to 150 innings, let alone the 200 mark that Lynn has turned in the last two years.

Any deal that the Cardinals make with Lance Lynn, other than a year at a time, will buy out all three years of arbitration.   In order to get something of a discount to compensate for their risks, it should also include his first year of free agency, some of which can be front loaded as an incentive.   Going beyond that, remembering that Adam Wainwright just signed a 5 year extension, would be in the way of options, protecting both parties.   Using the Lohse and Garcia deals as bookends, you get something that might look like $1M signing bonus, $5M (2015), $7M (2016), $9M (2017) and $14M (2018). Adjusted for salary differences, this is not all that far off Adam Wainwright’s deal back in 2008.  This would provide an incentive up front while not blowing out any arbitration comparisons for the next round of pitchers that will go through the process.

What will they actually do ?  Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Lance Lynn and the Cardinals announce a 4 year contract in the vicinity of $36M in the next few days.

What would you do ?  Please share your ideas in the comments.

Thanks for reading.  Go Cardinals.

ps: All contract information is courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Posted in 2015 Season | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

NLDS Game One – It is the Little Things


It always has been and it will always continue to be the little things that win baseball games.  In a matchup of two of the best pitchers in the National League, you expect the little thing to be a hanging curveball hit into the bleachers (Randal Grichuk) or someone laying out to make a spectacular play (Adrian Gonzalez, sort of), In a 10-9 slugfest you have to look hard to find the key little thing amongst many little things, but it is there for those willing to look.

Don_Mattingly_DodgersIn a season where Cardinals fans, me included, have criticized Mike Matheny for being three batters too late to make a pitching change, it was refreshing to see the same thing happen to Don Mattingly on the other side of the diamond.  But that is the little thing that might have a large impact to this divisional series.   It was certainly the turning point in Game One.

A few days before the series started, our friend, Dan Buffa, wrote a blog and started up a twitter conversation, urging Cardinals fans to stay engaged and optimistic in the divisional series.  Dan suggested that the two teams were a lot closer than some analysts have have you believe, and I completely agree.  Local sports writer, Bernie Miklasz responded with

... and what happened last year is irrelevant.

which is the right thing to say if you are being all cool and analytical about the game, forgetting that it is played by young men that have emotions.  And memories.

There was one rather Nostradamus like reply to Bernie that I am particularly fond of

tell me that if Matt Carpenter has another 10 pitch
at bat in a close game.


OK, so it might have been only 8 pitches, but I think the point was made.   The feeling of deja vu was eerily comforting when Matt Carpenter stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning, but let’s go back and set it up to see where Don Mattingly’s mistake happened.

With two outs in the sixth inning, and the Cardinals trailing 6-1, Matt Carpenter connects with a Clayton Kershaw fastball and deposits it in the seats to make it a 6-2 game.   That was the only the second Cardinals hit of the game.  There were no signs being stolen, Kershaw was not tipping pitches.  Carpenter knew first ball fastball and took an appropriate swing.  The problem was that Kershaw left it in the fat part of the strike zone, and Carpenter did not miss.   File this away for a few moments.

In the seventh inning, the shadows were no longer a factor.  It was the third time through the batting order for the Cardinals and it was a hot night in Los Angeles.  Sorry Harold Reynolds, there were no tipping pitches and nobody was stealing signs.   The answer was much less dramatic, Kershaw lost  his control and it compounded when he was forced to pitch from the stretch.

Look at the Matt Holliday at bat to see the inning unfold.  Kershaw missed on his first two pitches, and they were not close.  Holliday swings and misses a 2-0 meatball, but takes the next pitch to run the count to 3-1.   That, Harold, is how this inning happened.   Holliday sat on a 3-1 get me over fastball and ripped it for a single.   Unlike the 2-0 pitch, Holliday hit it squarely.

The same situation happened with Jhonny Peralta, though much quicker.  Peralta smoked a single on a 1-0 fastball, over the heart of the plate.   Yadier Molina smacked the first pitch he saw, also a fastball, also over the plate.   None of these pitches were tipped, they were just left over the fat part of the plate, like the home run last inning by Matt Carpenter.   This was not vintage Clayton Kershaw, this is a pitcher that was running out of gas.

Matt Adams singled on a 1-2 pitch that again caught too much of the plate.   There is no magic here.   Control is the issue, just as it was when Adam Wainwright was struggling earlier.

Kershaw made Pete Kozma look silly at the plate and just painted a called third strike on the outside corner for the first out.  With all due respect to Kershaw, my daughter could probably strike out Pete Kozma, and I say that as a big Kozma fan.   What Don Mattingly missed here is that this was no turning point for Kershaw, he was not righting the ship.  He just struck out a .200 hitter.

After the Kozma strikeout, Jon Jay singles home Jhonny Peralta to cut the lead to 6-4.  It was a good piece of hitting by Jay, the first time where the hit was not on a Kershaw mistake.  Left hander, JP Howell, was ready in the bullpen and should have come into the game at this point.

After striking out Oscar Taveras, Don Mattingly leaves Clayton Kershaw in to pitch to Matt Carpenter.  That is the little thing that we are looking for.   There are only two people on the planet that did not see this Carpenter at bat coming, Don Mattingly and Bernie Miklasz, though I kid about Bernie. As with Kozma, Don Mattingly overlooked the batter and just saw his pitcher being successful.  Taveras, a young slugger, was overly aggressive and swung at pitches he had no business swinging at.  That strikeout was more on Taveras, than Kershaw.  Bravado and support of your players is one thing, but managers are paid to look beyond this and make tough decisions at pivotal moments of a game, especially in the playoffs.

MarpIn what almost looked like a replay from 2013, Matt Carpenter laid off pitches outside the strike zone and fouled off the close ones, waiting for his pitch.   This time it would come on the 8th pitch, a 95 mph fastball that was in nearly the exact same spot as his home run in his previous at bat.  He jumped all over it and hit it to the base of the wall, clearing the bases and giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead.

Matt Holliday would cement the victory with a three run homer two batters later, but leaving Kershaw in to pitch the Carpenter was the turning point in the game.   With respect to Bernie Miklasz, sometimes what happened last year is still relevant.   And baseball can be just like that.

Credit the Cardinals for being aggressive and not giving up after trailing in the late innings.  On any other regular season game, they might have packed it in and started thinking about the post-game meal and a good night rest.  But this is the playoffs and you have to win one game on the road.  That means playing a hard nine innings, and they did.   Against one of the best.

This series is far from over, so we should take the Game One win in the proper context as a very exciting start to the NLDS.  There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but if you are a Cardinals fan, you have to love the way they battled in this game.  Maybe, just maybe, history will repeat itself and the Cardinals can win this series.

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