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.
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.
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.