Until Hector Rondón’s 0-2 slider caused Stephen Piscotty’s wild swing and miss to officially send the Cubs to the National League Championship Series, I didn’t really believe what was happening. The Cubs couldn’t actually be about to defeat the big-brother Cardinals…could they? I was in shock, disbelief, embarrassment, and complete and utter disappointment. This really just happened, and now I was lift to wonder, what now?
So much had gone wrong in 2015, injuries had consistently hammered the club, yet they had somehow pushed through just about every single one of them to accrue an improbable and magnificent 100 win season. But it finally caught up to them against Chicago, as a worn down bunch of Cardinals slogged their way to another premature playoff exit.
My first thought was, “Damn, this is some St. Louis Blues type stuff here. The Cardinals aren’t supposed to be like this.” But, alas, the injuries caught up to them, particularly the ones to Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina. And now reality sets in. What comes next?
As has been well documented, this is the fourth straight season that the Cardinals have exited the playoffs on the heels of three consecutive losses. The Mike Matheny burner, at least among fans, has had the heat significantly turned up. Unfairly? Probably, but if Ken Hitchcock gets so much hate for premature playoff exits four straight years in a row, why doesn’t Matheny deserve it?
So now the Cardinals appear to be stuck. In my own estimation, this year could have been the Cardinals’ fifth consecutive World Series Title. They have had five straight teams that should have – in my own mind – gotten the job done. Yet only one of those teams has.
Moving forward, there isn’t an obvious answer to the question, “what is keeping the Cardinals from the World Series?” Is it Mike Matheny’s managerial inexperience/ineptitude? Is it poor luck at the worst times? Is it an inconsistent offense? Is it an inconsistent bullpen? I don’t think anybody really knows the concrete answer, but here’s my two cents on how the Cardinals can finally get over the hump in 2015.
Step 1: Fire John Mabry
In his end of season press conference, General Manager John Mozeliak made it evident that every member of the coaching staff would be returning in 2016. When I read the comments I was incredibly frustrated. Come the hell on, Mo. You can’t be serious. These comments are a heavy part of the reason why the Cardinals can’t get it done.
Complacency. It’s everywhere with this team. “We had a great regular season but just couldn’t get it done.” “We have to take the good from this season and appreciate everything we accomplished.” WHEN IS FAILURE GOING TO STOP BEING ACCEPTABLE?! Make some changes, this isn’t the goddamn Boy Scouts.
The offense has been unbelievably inconsistent, so start by making a simple change here. Does John Mabry deserve the full blame for the offensive ineptitude? Absolutely not, but this is a simple change that could possibly lead to much greater offensive dividends.
Step 2: Sign Jason Heyward
How much will it cost? I have no idea, only Jason Heyward and his agent know. But what I do know is that the Cardinals need to pay the man. Whatever he’s asking for, give it to him. I could throw all the numbers in the world at you, but I’m sure you’ve already seen just about all of them. Heyward clearly proved his astronomical value to the club day in and day out in 2015 and deserves whatever sum he’s asking for. If it’s 8 years for $180 million, what are you waiting for? Go get it done.
Step 3: Have a Heyward Back-Up Plan
Has having a back-up plan ever hurt anyone? No, and if the Cardinals can’t get the Heyward deal done they need to be able to have one in place. If you’re satisfied with just moving Stephen Piscotty over to RF and rolling with an outfield of Holliday-Grichuk-Piscotty then that’s fine. But whatever money you were planning on using to re-sign Heyward should still be used. Yoenis Cespedes is a viable corner outfield option if Mozeliak views that as a pressing need. Chris Davis is definitely worth a long look. Regardless of any of this, the Cardinals need to have a back-up plan that will keep them from panicking – example: last trade deadline’s acquisition of Brandon Moss – and making a poor move.
Step 4: Put Some Money Into the Bullpen
The Cardinal bullpen has always been a hot button topic in St. Louis. In 2011 it was an incredible strength that Tony La Russa rode to a World Series title. In 2014 it imploded and gave the Giants an NLCS victory. And in between Mike Matheny’s bullpen management has been consistently scrutinized. But one thing that John Mozeliak has not really done is put money into the bullpen and really go get some quality arms.
Ever since Marc Rzepczynski left, the Cardinals haven’t had a truly consistent weapon to shut down opposing left handed hitters. Go get one. Antonio Bastardo, Tony Sipp, and Brian Matusz are three names that should be heavily looked at by the Cardinals. Preferably, I would like either Sipp or Bastardo – or both – signed, but either way, address the left side of the bullpen.
Also in the bullpen, just go get more weapons for Mike Matheny. Consistently, he burns out Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal until their effectiveness is all but naught. So go get him more weapons that he trusts. Go pay Darren O’Day, Ryan Madsen, Shawn Kelley, Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria. Stop shying away from spending money on the bullpen and pretending that what you have back there is good enough to get it done. It’s clearly not and your approach of taking low-risk gambles and letting homegrown guys fill in roles isn’t working. So change the approach and go spend some money.
Next year’s opening day bullpen should be dramatically different and more effective. I’m not trying to bash on the homegrown guys or the low-risk guys, but those guys should be the bullpen depth, not having to come in and fill high-pressure roles.
Step 5: Give Yadier Molina a 1st Basemen’s Glove
Huh? This one really makes no sense. Except that it does. This offseason the Cardinals need to tell Yadier Molina to put his pride aside and learn how to play an adequate 1st base. Go look at what San Francisco has done with Buster Posey. Posey is consistently excellent in the second half and postseason. Why? Because the Giants give him about 40 starts at 1st base every year to rest his legs. He’s still playing 150-155 games a year, but he’s only catching about 105 of those games. That makes a huge difference and, if done to Yadier Molina, will keep his bat fresh down the stretch and hopefully prevent the injuries that have plagued him the past few seasons.
Step 6: Explore the Trade Market for Jurickson Profar
Yeah, bet you didn’t think you were going to hear that name during this column, did you? Profar has all but gone missing the past two seasons due to a very serious shoulder injury and has been mostly forgotten about. But just three years ago he was Baseball America’s #1 overall prospect. That type of transcendent talent doesn’t just go away, and being 23 years old, at the start of next season, it’s reasonable to believe that Profar can still become the player he was projected as just two to three years ago.
Now, why should the Cardinals be looking at him? During the 2nd half, Jhonny Peralta looked alarmingly old, and the Cardinals do not have an immediate answer at SS for when Peralta suddenly becomes ineffective. Profar can be that answer. Granted, it might take a year or two, but Profar can be the answer at SS very quickly.
And on top of all that, this is a classic buy low scenario. In Texas, Profar is currently blocked by Elvis Andrus, under contract until 2022, and Rougned Odor, who emerged as a viable franchise 2nd baseman this season and is only going to get better, and Joey Gallo, the franchise’s top prospect who is currently being blocked by Adrian Beltre. So Profar’s pretty far down on the franchise depth chart and could potentially be had for fairly cheap.
Assuming this is so, the Cardinals can deal from their positions of depth and strength – pitching and outfielders – and cut a deal with Texas for their former all world prospect. Profar would immediately become the heir to Peralta’s SS throne and could impact the club immediately in 2016. This could be a low-risk, high-reward deal that could pay off in a massive way down the road.
Step 7: Sign Trevor Rosenthal to an Extension
Out of the Cardinals’ arbitration eligible players, Rosenthal is really the only one that warrants a long term extension. Something along the lines of Andrew Miller’s recently inked 4 year $36 million deal should be the blueprint. Also speaking of arbitration, only Steve Cishek and Brandon Moss should be non-tendered. I believe Tony Cruz can be a viable back-up for Molina if the club plays him at 1st base, as I have suggested. Matt Adams should not be given up on yet, and should be given every opportunity to win the everyday 1st base job. As for Peter Bourjos, he should be signed looked to be dealt.
Pick up Jaime Garcia’s Option and Let John Lackey Walk
In my mind, the 2016 rotation is all but set. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Jaime Garcia should be the five trotted out there in April, with Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, and Tyler Lyons waiting in the wings. In order to achieve this, Garcia’s option needs to be picked up, and John Lackey – who has made it clear that he will go where the money is – should be let go. This is the most sensible thing to do and the path that the Cardinals need to take.
This, obviously, is not the only blueprint to offseason success for John Mozeliak and the Cardinals. But it’s certainly a start. The bullpen needs re-working, Jason Heyward needs to be re-signed, and the Cardinals must be creative in order to push the 2016 team over the edge and towards the World Series trophy that has eluded them since the magical 2011 run.