Mike vs Yadi: The Final Straw?

2 nights ago, I decided that I wanted to bring my mom to her first Cardinals game of the 2017 season. She doesn’t get to many, so I figured she would enjoy it. On the day of the game, I learned that Yadier Molina would be getting a night off and my first thought was disappointment that mom wouldn’t get to see Yadi play in what will probably be her only live game of the season.

But, when I thought about why Carson Kelly was starting instead, everything made sense from a baseball standpoint. The Cardinals need to get Kelly playing time in order to continue helping foster his growth; and with Luke Weaver getting a start – Kelly has worked routinely with Weaver at Triple-A over the course of the past season and a half – the fit was perfect.

I thought nothing more of it, went to the game, enjoyed it as much as I could when considering it was a long, boring shutout, and then went to sleep.

In case you haven’t heard, Yadier Molina resting last night was a much, much bigger deal than I just made it sound.

When asked about his decision to start Kelly, Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny pointed out that Carson Kelly needs playing time in St. Louis while he’s here, saying “we’re going to have to keep him engaged if he’s going to be able to contribute like he needs to.”

That reasoning makes perfect sense and should have been the end of Matheny’s answer. But, instead, the embattled St. Louis skipper foolishly took a presumably unintentional pot shot at one of the greatest servants in franchise history.

“Yadi’s caught a lot,” Matheny added. “Yesterday, just kind of watching him go around the bases too, you could tell that he’s, you know…”

I haven’t seen or heard Matheny’s comments, but I’m assuming that he realized what he’d done, tapered off his sentence and then went on his merry, mumbling way. Now, to his credit, Mike never actually said the word “tired” and he made sure to point that out today in his pregame comments. Matheny said something about how Yadi looked a little hurt while running the bases Wednesday and that was what he was talking about.

But what, exactly, had Mike Matheny just done? I’ll let Yadier Molina’s Instagram tell you.

 

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I don’t care what anyone says, shots have been fired. Public shots.

If you’re looking for a glimpse into the Cardinals’ clubhouse right now, this exchange pulls aside the 4th wall curtain and gives us a great feel for what’s going on with the struggling team.

What I see here is a clueless and ignorant manager pissing off the face of his franchise, who seems already fed up with the inconsistency and losing.

I completely understand the need to rest Yadier Molina. His health is imperative to the Cardinals being able to play winning baseball, and burning him out is reckless. But why would you come out to the media and broadcast the fact that one of your everyday players is tired? And then, the next day, why would you try and backtrack your comments and make it sound like he’s hurt?

I believe that Matheny tailed off his sentence halfway through it because he knew that he would be angering one of the most important players on his team. It’s a widely known fact that Yadier Molina prides himself on being able to play every day. He’s known to argue, scratch and claw his way into the lineup when his manager tries to give him a night off. If I know these things, Mike Matheny surely knows them. So why even insinuate that Yadi is tired or hurt if you know it’ll tick him off? And, even further, this begs a bigger question.

Why doesn’t Mike Matheny know?

Switching your story, talking about how your catcher is tired and hurt, reacting to what he thinks he sees by taking Yadi out of the lineup without consulting Molina first; all of these things are reasons why I believe Matheny is ignorant and clueless.

As a Major League manager, Mike Matheny has 25 players to keep track of. Yes, there are minor leaguers that he certainly cares about, but the 25 players that put on a big league uniform every night have to be Matheny’s priority. Yadier Molina, as I’ve harped on, is the face of your franchise and arguably the most important position player on the team.

How in the blue hell do you not know his fatigue or health level?

Watching Yadi over the past month or so, he has looked tired at times. During the series against the Rockies, there were several times that Molina, looking noticeably slower than usual, had to be held up on the base baths. From the stands, it appeared to me that Molina was struggling.

But I’m in the stands and have no access to the players. Mike Matheny spends nearly 8-9 hours each day with his players and can talk to them whenever he wants. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t know the daily health and fatigue level of every single member of the 25 man St. Louis roster.

Mike Matheny has done a lot of questionable things during his time in charge of the Cardinals. Bullpen mismanagement, player overuse, other miscellaneous poor decision making, the list goes on and on; but this should be the final straw.

Clubhouse dissension is something that the public often never sees. Beef between teammates is usually handled within the clubhouse confines and never sees the light of day. Thus, it’s easy for us to forget the fact that our favorite baseball teams spend nearly 7 months together and need to have an element of respect and love or else they’ll kill each other.

The tone of a clubhouse atmosphere begins with the manager and is carried out by the players. By my estimation, somewhere around the end of 2015, Mike Matheny ‘lost’ his clubhouse.

What I mean by ‘lost’ is that, for one reason or another, the players lost respect for Matheny and his leadership began falling on deaf ears. A lack of respect for the supposed leader of the team quickly generates tension and creates an atmosphere that feels like “walking on eggshells,” as Stephen Piscotty said during 2017 Spring Training.

Having to spend 8-9 hours in an atmosphere full of tension and annoyance every day is toxic and I believe it’s the reason why the Cardinals have significantly underachieved over the past two seasons. However, we have never truly had any evidence of Cardinal clubhouse dissension.

Until now, that is.

Yadier Molina’s comments, no matter how he tries to walk them back or clarify, peeled back the facade of respect that has been put up during Mike Matheny’s time as manager in St. Louis. What I read from Molina today showed a player who is completely fed up with his manager. Should this have been a big deal? No, but it’s just another example of Matheny’s ineptitude and someone is finally showing some anger.

To further the situation, Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, and Tommy Pham all ‘liked’ Molina’s post this morning, clearly showing how the other players feel.

Molina’s jab and frustration at Matheny wasn’t subtle, and the front office now has a serious situation on their hands. Fans have been calling for Matheny to be fired since for years, and for years the front office has been able to talk their way around and give the manager their support.

With the players publicly making their feelings known, how long will Cardinals’ brass continue to stick with a manager that is clearly unfit for the job? How much more will it take for the most obvious deadline move to finally be made?

That deadline move being Mike Matheny’s, you know…

 

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

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Mike vs Yadi: The Final Straw?

It is Officially Time for the Cardinals to Sell

It is July 6th, and the St. Louis Cardinals are 43-41. That record places them 9.5 games back of the 52-32 Chicago Cubs and sitting in 3rd place in the National League Central division. Normally, still being 3 months away from the playoffs, Cardinals fans would have reason to be patient and optimistic – particularly considering that St. Louis is only 3 games shy of the second wild card spot.

This year is very different.

Following a dreadful 7-5 home loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, St. Louis sits in a very precarious position. With the trade deadline coming up, General Manager John Mozeliak has a potentially franchise altering decision to make. Do the Cardinals buy or sell?

In this writer’s opinion, for the first time in my recent memory, the Cardinals should sell.

There are a lot of factors to this decision, but let’s start with the things that tonight’s 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh taught us.

The Pirates, despite their underwhelming start, are still very good and will only get better. Having won 6 straight games, Pittsburgh has now surpassed St. Louis for 2nd place in the division. Gerrit Cole just made his first start of an injury rehab assignment on Tuesday, striking out 6 in 3 innings of work for Triple-A Indianapolis, and is due back very soon. His return, combined with the arrival of top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow and the impending returns of Francisco Cervelli and, eventually, Jameson Taillon can lead Pittsburgh to believe that they will only get stronger in the second half.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are trending in the very opposite direction. The team’s leading home run hitter, Brandon Moss, was put on the 15 day disabled list on Tuesday with a sprained left ankle, and that news came following the news that ace reliever Kevin Siegrist would be placed on the disabled list with mononucleosis – basically, extreme fatigue.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the Cardinals’ only All-Star, Matt Carpenter, left tonight’s game in the 2nd inning with what the club called, “a strained right oblique.” Carpenter – 1.001 OPS / 164 WRC+ / 3.5 WAR – has dealt with said injury before, and we could be looking at possibly a month long stay on the shelf. Carpenter potentially being out for a month would be a devastating blow to St. Louis, and the fact that the Cardinals haven’t been able to win with Carpenter doesn’t remotely give me any belief that they can win without him.

Following Carpenter’s exit, the Cardinals took a 5-1 lead and looked poised to snatch a crucial win from Pittsburgh. That was all before Jaime Garcia and the sieve-like Cardinal bullpen decided to have another breakdown and change the script. With no Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton inherited the 7th inning tonight, and promptly gave up the 3 runs which would give Pittsburgh a lead that their lights out bullpen would not relinquish.

The Cardinals’ bullpen has been a problem all season long, and there isn’t a reason to believe that improvement will occur. The Cardinals’ collective 3.73 bullpen ERA ranks 10th in baseball, and the 9 losses surrendered is tied for 4th best in baseball. So the fact that the Cardinal bullpen has still felt extremely inconsistent and vulnerable despite the seemingly solid numbers is worrisome.

Yeah, I know, how brilliant to base my opinion on a bullpen off of a gut feeling that I get while watching them every night, but it’s true. No team can win in the playoffs with a bullpen like the Cardinals have. With Siegrist’s injury being as unpredictable as it is, Trevor Rosenthal’s meltdown – 5.28 ERA, 22 walks in 29 innings – and Jonathan Broxton’s inconsistency – 1.80 ERA in April, 9.31 ERA in May, 0.77 ERA in June – the Cardinal bullpen doesn’t really point towards improvement.

But, let’s assume that the Cardinals decide to become buyers at the July trade deadline, they would presumably be shopping for bullpen arms and/or a position player. So what kind of bullpen help is out there on the market?

Looking to New York, the names of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman have been thrown all over the trade rumor mill. Miller is likely out of the Cardinals price range, as the Yankees’ have reportedly asked for Kyle Schwarber in return for Miller from the Cubs; the Cardinals do not have a player comparable to Schwarber that should be dealt for two and a half years of an 8th inning reliever, that’s completely unreasonable for a transitioning club like St. Louis.

Moving along to Chapman – who will be a free agent at the end of the season – his asking price will likely be in the range of either a young, MLB ready position player – a la Kolten Wong or Randal Grichuk – or a B+ position player prospect – a la Carson Kelly or Harrison Bader. Neither of those scenarios should be attractive to St. Louis, as Chapman’s price tag at the end of the season will be too high to re-sign him, and giving up any of those four names for three months of Aroldis Chapman should be a big red light.

In an almost identical scenario to Chapman is Arizona closer Brad Ziegler. He is a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, and would likely carry a high price tag due to his sparkling 1.85 ERA and 18/19 save record. Milwaukee closer Jeremy Jeffress – he of a 2.45 ERA and a 23/24 save record – will carry a heavy price tag due to the 3 years of control a club will have over him following the 2016 season, and it’s highly unlikely that Milwaukee would be willing to part ways with their top reliever to a team in the same division.

In looking at the possible bullpen trade market, none of the Cardinals’ options really make sense at this point in the season, and ever since the 2nd wild card was added into the mix by Major League Baseball, the trade deadline has become a sellers’ market.

The injury to Matt Carpenter – on top of the already existing injuries to Brandon Moss, Kevin Siegrist, and now Jhonny Peralta – combined with an inconsistent bullpen and the recent and expected continual resurgence of the Pirates put the Cardinals in a position to sell; a position they must take advantage of…

…which brings us to a different question. If the Cardinals are to sell, who do they put out on the market?

In no particular order, here are the players that St. Louis should look to sell before the July 31st trade deadline.

Matt Adams – With the injury to Brandon Moss, Adams should get the bulk of the playing time over at 1st base for the next few weeks. But, with Mike Matheny being the manager that he is, Jedd Gyorko has started both of the games that Moss has been unavailable for. As Adams showed earlier in the season, he is a very productive first baseman when he gets consistent playing time. When given 22 starts during the month of May, Adams posted a 1.064 OPS and drove in 19 runs. He will have two years of arbitration control beyond this one, so to a team looking to buy, such as the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, or Houston Astros, Adams could present very good value.

Seung-hwan Oh – By far, Oh has been the Cardinals best reliever. Sporting a 1.67 FIP, 12.2 K/9 rate and racking up 1.4 WAR so far this season, Oh represents a very dependable and very versatile reliever, as he has pitched anywhere from the 6th to the 9th inning for the Cardinals this year. In a reliever market that seems very top-heavy, Oh could be a mid-level option for any team looking for reliever help. Being on a one year deal, the Cardinals’ asking price couldn’t necessarily be particularly high, but Oh is still a valuable piece that could fetch a solid return in a somewhat sparse reliever market.

Brandon Moss – Depending on how long his DL stint is, Moss could be unavailable at the July deadline due to nobody wanting to trade for an injured player. But, with a .566 slugging percentage, a .910 OPS, 17 home runs, and the ability to play both corner outfield positions and first base, Moss presents tremendous value. He is a free agent at the end of the season, but plenty of teams could use a player like Moss, and if the Cardinals decide to sell him, he would be in high demand among relatively offensively challenged teams such as Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jaime Garcia – This is the Cardinals’ big ticket to a truly successful trade deadline, in my eyes. The starting pitching market at this year’s trade deadline is pretty low on talent, with the biggest potential names out there being Rich Hill and Hector Santiago. Julio Teheran’s name has been thrown around, but the Braves are adamant that they will hang onto their ace and keep him around through their rebuild. With many contending teams in dire need of starting pitching – Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Texas – Garcia would be in high demand. He has proven his health over the past season and a half, and his 162 ERA+ and 4.1 WAR during the 2015 season show that Garcia can be a frontline left-handed starter. On top of that, Garcia has a very reasonably priced $12 million team option in 2017, so there is control beyond this season. For a pitching-needy club making a postseason push, the Cardinals could really pull in some pieces for Garcia.

This article could be interpreted as Ryan panicking and giving up on the Cardinals after just one frustrating July game, but I don’t view it that way. I viewed tonight, July 6th, 2016, as a reality check.

The Cardinals are in a very precarious position. The team’s core is finally showing signs of slowing down and breaking down. Yadier Molina got off to hot start, but has since struggled his way to a .671 OPS and a startling -1 defensive runs saved. Adam Wainwright has somewhat turned things around following his dreadful start, but still sits with a 4.70 ERA and a career low 6.1 K/9 rate, suggesting that his stuff just simply isn’t fooling hitters like it normally has. And while Matt Holliday has hit 15 home runs, his OBP is a career low .319 and his defensive metrics are atrocious.

The 2012 Phillies are often used as an example of how not to deal with an aging core, as that front office simply held on too long and the team’s core aged and sent the team into a rebuilding abyss. If the Cardinals decide to be patient and make one last run with this core, they will have to give up valuable young pieces to do so and thus could be looking at a similar situation; a gutted farm system, a bunch of aging veterans, and no success to show for it.

The Cardinals have plenty of young talent spread throughout their minor league system and are not far away from being a very good team. But this is just not their year, and giving up valuable young farm system talent for short term rentals would only set them back further.

This one month could decide the future of one of the greatest franchises that baseball has ever known. Let us all hope and pray that John Mozeliak makes the moves that help us look back upon this month as the time that the Cardinals began their next great dynasty, not the time that the Cardinals began their descent into baseball hell.

It is Officially Time for the Cardinals to Sell