More Tyler O’Neill’s: A Sequel

On yesterday’s episode of, ‘Ryan is the GM of the Cardinals’, I traded away Kolten Wong to Oakland in exchange for Matt Chapman and I also sent Jedd Gyorko and Trevor Rosenthal to Tampa Bay in exchange for Willy Adames.

My trade deadline goal remains to sell 2017’s expendable parts in exchange for pieces that will help the Cardinals win in 2018 and beyond. So, with all this in mind, let’s take a look at who is still left in my ‘sell’ pile, shall we?

The most simple player in the pile is Lance Lynn, so let’s start there.

Lynn is set to become a free agent at the end of 2017 and he surely won’t re-sign with the Cardinals. For starters, St. Louis has a wealth of pitching talent just waiting for an opportunity to take Lynn’s rotation spot. Alex Reyes is presumably first in line, closely followed by Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson among others.

Secondly, with Lynn’s track record of quality, (career 3.37 FIP while averaging 191 IP in each of his 4 full seasons as a starter) he will likely be able to command money on the open market the Cardinals won’t be willing to pay him with so many younger, cheaper options available.

Lance Lynn
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals

The course of action is simple here. With a 3.30 ERA in 114 IP so far this season, Lynn poses as an attractive piece for one of 2017’s many contending teams in dire need of starting pitching help. Houston needs pitching help, Milwaukee needs pitching, the Cubs need pitching, but I’ve got my eyes on two teams and I want a bidding war between them.

With today’s news that Clayton Kershaw will be out for 4-6 weeks with back trouble, the Los Angeles Dodgers suddenly have a real need for starting pitching. Pair them up with a New York Yankees team desperately trying to catch the Boston Red Sox and we’re in business.

From both of their perspectives, Lynn makes a lot of sense both during and beyond 2017. Quality, durable, dependable starting pitching is difficult to find. Lynn would fill an immediate need in both teams’ rotations – the Yankees’ rotation already needed help before Michael Pineda went down with Tommy John surgery – and he would make sense to sign in the offseason considering that both teams easily have the money and will definitely be looking to win immediately beyond 2017.

From the Cardinals’ perspective…oh boy is this going to be fun.

Both the Yankees’ and Dodgers’ farm systems are loaded, but I believe the deal more feasibly gets done with the Dodgers as the trade partner. For one, the Yankees have already given up Blake Rutherford and others to trade for a Todd Frazier package and they could be hesitant to give up even more future talent for more rentals. However, if the Cardinals can manage to net Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams in return for Lynn, that would be ideal.

As for the Dodgers, they haven’t made any moves yet and maintain that the team they put out on the field right now is plenty good enough to win the World Series. However, staring down the barrel of being without Kershaw for possibly 6 weeks and with the Diamondbacks and Rockies hot on their trail, starting pitching is needed and the iron is hot.

Does that mean that the Dodgers will panic and give up Yadier Alvarez or Walker Buehler for Lynn? No, that seems excessive, but neither of those guys are players the Cardinals should target. Willie Calhoun makes much more sense.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars Game
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Dodgers

Could demanding a Calhoun for Lynn trade still seem excessive from the Dodgers’ end? Absolutely, but he’s the guy the Cardinals should have earmarked in this potential trade.

Calhoun is currently wrecking Triple-A to the tune of a .965 OPS with 22 homers and 65 RBI’s and the bat is an asset. He’ll be ready to contribute immediately in 2018 and getting him in return for Lynn would be a steal for the Cardinals.

I’m probably overvaluing Lance Lynn right now, but the need for starting pitching is dire for contending teams right now and the starting pitching market appears dry. Other than Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray – who will both cost a fortune of talent – the trade market for starting pitchers is weak at best. Lynn has definite value and the Cardinals need to capitalize on that value while the need is there for some teams.

After trading Lynn, I’m left with Michael Wacha, Randal Grichuk and Seung Hwan-Oh as the only remaining players in my ‘sell’ pile. I don’t think any Cardinal fan needs a reminder that Oh has struggled this year, so I’m not even going to pretend like I can move him for any future value players. I’ll keep him in St. Louis, let him play out his deal and then go from there.

But Wacha and Grichuk? I’ve got a few ideas.

While the two of them do seem to be having down years, there is a lot of value between Wacha and Grichuk, so I want to package them together. Neither of them are rentals in any way, as Wacha has 3 more years of team control after 2017 and Grichuk has 4 more years of control. Both in their age 26 season, it’s reasonable to expect each of those team controlled years to be of prime production.

So what kind of team would want two young, controllable, productive players? Both Wacha and Grichuk strike me as players that don’t fit in on a winning team right now, but will be focal points in a year or two. This means that the kind of team interested in Grichuk and Wacha would have to be a rebuilding club, but not a club in a full rebuild. Someone like the Angels, the Twins, Rangers or Mariners. However, the Angels don’t have any pieces I like, the Twins just made a trade for Jaime Garcia, the Rangers appear to be in sell mode, and the Mariners just gave up a top prospect to the Cardinals already so let’s leave them alone for now.

None of those teams make perfect sense, so let’s head down to the Braves and make a deal with them because they make perfect sense.

Firstly, from the Braves perspective, they have never viewed themselves as truly rebuilding. With the opening of a new park this year, Atlanta tried to put out as competitive a team as possible to break in SunTrust Park instead of buying into a full rebuild. But, while still doing that, the Braves have stacked up their farm system and will be loaded in two or three years.

Wacha and Grichuk, being young and controllable, make sense in the mold of Atlanta’s rebuild. They can both help right now while still being around for the completion of the rebuild project. Grichuk and Wacha both slide right into Atlanta’s current team and help to accelerate the rebuild process.

For the Cardinals, we’re gonna keep looking for players that can help win in 2018. One name from the Braves’ system come to mind; Sean Newcomb.

sean newcomb
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Braves

Newcomb has already come up and had a cup of coffee with the big club and although he struggled, the stuff is outstanding from the left side. A high 90’s fastball combined with a hammer curveball have produced 75 K’s in 56 IP at Triple-A this year. As stacked as the Cardinals’ farm system is with pitching, there aren’t any top quality left handed starters. Newcomb fits that bill perfectly.

A Michael Wacha and Randal Grichuk for Sean Newcomb trade would serve the Cardinals and Braves both well and would continue the necessary ‘Tyler O’Neill’ trend in St. Louis.

So, after all the dust has settled, let’s take a look at the work we’ve done.

Kolten Wong is an Oakland Athletic in exchange for 3B Matt Chapman. Jedd Gyorko and Trevor Rosenthal have both been sent to Tampa Bay for SS Willy Adames. I’m making an executive decision here and sending Lance Lynn to the Los Angeles Dodgers in return for Willie Calhoun. And a Michael Wacha + Randal Grichuk package has been shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Sean Newcomb.

These 4 deals combined with the Tyler O’Neill trade that I based these articles on create a clear direction for the Cardinals and put them in prime position to win in 2018 and beyond.

Matt Chapman slides in at 3rd base with Gyorko gone. Willy Adames takes the reigns at SS while bumping Paul DeJong over to 2nd base. With Lynn and Wacha now out of the rotation, the way is cleared for Luke Weaver and Sean Newcomb. Calhoun stays down at Triple-A for now, but he’ll hit his way up soon and create some fantastic outfield depth.

My way certainly isn’t the only way for the Cardinals do go about their trade deadline business, but I believe it’s pretty darn effective. Here’s hoping Mike Girsch can come up with a plan as good as one created by an unexperienced kid that works retail and still believes that ERA is more important than FIP.

Happy deadline week!

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

More Tyler O’Neill’s: A Sequel

Josh Donaldson to St. Louis: Yes or No?

MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reported yesterday morning that the St. Louis Cardinals are interested in trading for Toronto Blue Jays’ 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson but “have not had any formal discussions.”

Now, full disclosure here, while I understand that Morosi has to have something to base this report off of, it does seem a little dumb when you step back to think about it. I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in trading for a player that is 2nd in the American League in WAR since 2015.

But, when I read about the Cardinals’ interest in Donaldson, I was immediately intrigued. Normally when I hear about the Cardinals having interest in a big name player, I brush things off and take it with a grain of salt; I mean, aside from St. Louis having a very conservative approach to player acquisition over the past several years, it is just a rumor.

But I’m intrigued because Donaldson to St. Louis just makes so much sense to me. So, to answer the question I posed in the title of this article…

Yes.

Yes times 50,000.

About a month ago, Ben Markham over at Viva El Birdos broke down what he believed it would take for the Cardinals to land Josh Donaldson. To summarize, Markham pull together several packages all based upon the concept of ‘surplus value’ – based upon the market price of WAR and a player’s projected WAR, how much ‘surplus’ do they create?

Donaldson’s projected surplus value over the 2017 and 2018 seasons that he would be under guaranteed team control is $56.7 million. Fangraphs projects a 5.5 WAR 2018 season for Donaldson at $9.5 market WAR value, creating a tremendous value of $52 million.

Now, 5.5 WAR is an aggressive projection for a 32 year old coming off of an injury prone season, but it still feels reasonable for a superstar like Donaldson.

So, as I was initially brainstorming the idea of a St. Louis Cardinals trade for Josh Donaldson, the package that I immediately put together in my head was Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, and either Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty.

In Markham’s article, he centers each of his proposed trade packages around Kolten Wong; understandably so. Wong is under team control through 2020 with a 2021 team option year on a friendly extension that  pays him an average salary of $5.1 million.

Wong’s projected surplus value while under team control is $37.4 million, and while that’s a nice number, it doesn’t match up with Donaldson’s. However, Wong is still the centerpiece of my trade concept for several reasons.

Firstly, the potentially 4 years of team control are an attractive commodity to the Blue Jays and it’s the type of attribute that the Cardinals will need to give up in order to entice Toronto into giving up one of their franchise faces.

Secondly, depending on how Toronto views itself right now, Wong could be exactly the type of player they are looking for. Young, controllable and cheap, yet ready to produce right away at the Major League level. I believe that the Blue Jays view themselves as a contender having a down year, meaning that they will look to trade Donaldson for several pieces that can help them win as soon as possible.

And lastly from the Cardinals’ perspective, Kolten Wong is expendable. There’s a lot to dive into on this topic, but just to shorten my reasons I’ll just put it this way: Paul DeJong > Kolten Wong.

I can’t speak for Toronto in this situation because my proposed return package going back to them is speculative and does feel light when considering just how good Donaldson has been. But 4 cheap years of Kolten Wong, 4 years of Randal Grichuk, and 6 years of Luke Weaver is an attractive package for your 32 year old 3rd baseman who appears set to walk after his contract is up in 2018.

From the Cardinals point of view, if a Wong, Grichuk and Weaver for Donaldson deal goes through during this July trade window, I believe that it solves all of the Cardinals’ issues in the foreseeable future.

Donaldson slots in at 3rd base and immediately becomes a big time bat right in the middle of a currently thin Cardinals line up. Jedd Gyorko, currently receiving the lion’s share of at-bats among St. Louis’ currently employed 3rd base options, would move to 2nd base full time and Paul DeJong would take over at shortstop with Matt Carpenter still holding down the fort at 1st base.

Mike Matheny has a track record of mucking up things with the Cardinals that make sense, but moving Wong for Donaldson seems to set the Cardinals’ infield for at least the next 2 years.

Leaving the Cardinals for Toronto with Wong would be Randal Grichuk, and with Dexter Fowler’s return off of the DL the Cardinals now have 4 starting caliber outfield mouths to feed with only 3 spots. Tommy Pham isn’t moving, Fowler isn’t moving, and Piscotty isn’t moving, which leaves Grichuk as the odd man out anyway so you might as well do him a favor and give him a change of scenery.

Bang, another problem solved.

But, the biggest issue that a Donaldson trade would solve for the Cardinals is the lack of a true #3 hitter.

Between Matt Carpenter, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Jedd Gyorko, Dexter Fowler, and even Paul DeJong, the Cardinals have a bunch of guys all suited to be a #2 or #5 hitter. None of those guys are a true #3 hitter.

So, what is a true #3 hitter and why does Josh Donaldson fit that bill?

From a numbers standpoint, your #3 hitter should be the best run producer in the lineup. In a perfect world he will be the hitter with the most opportunities to drive in runs, so it makes sense that he be your lineup’s best run producer. Josh Donaldson has driven in 93, 98, 123, and 122 runs in his past 4 respective seasons. Those RBI totals would have ranked 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 1st on the Cardinals during each season.

Best run producer? You bet Josh Donaldson fits that bill.

But, the other part about a true #3 hitter that is much harder to quantify is the presence that your #3 brings to the plate.

A make or break aspect of being the 3rd hitter in a batting order is the confidence that you bring to the plate. The #3 hitter is expected to be the best in the lineup, and that pressure follows you up to the plate every time you step into the box. I’ve never been a successful #3 hitter because I’ve never had the confidence in myself to succeed under that pressure and I haven’t seen a Cardinals player that can say any differently.

Josh Donaldson oozes confidence when he steps into the box.

Josh Donaldson gets offended whenever a pitcher throws him a strike because he knows the damage that he can do to a baseball.

In 1087 Toronto at bats as the #3 hitter, Donaldson has a .934 OPS with 72 home runs and 201 RBI’s. For comparison, Matt Carpenter, the guy the Cardinals tried to push into the #3 hole at the start of the season, held a .723 OPS over 159 AB’s with only 7 home runs and 28 RBI’s.

Putting Josh Donaldson in the #3 hole completely transforms the Cardinal lineup.

Carpenter is able to settle back into his leadoff role like he has – since moving back to the top spot, Carpenter has a .437 OBP with 6 HR’s and 16 RBI’s. Tommy Pham can lock into the #2 hole. Jedd Gyorko can be the #4 hitter, Dexter Fowler #5, Stephen Piscotty can bump down to #6 and take the pressure of being the #3 hitter off his shoulders, Yadi in the 7, Paul DeJong in the 8.

Every #3 hitter that Mike Matheny has penciled onto his lineup card this year has felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole. Being able to pencil Donaldson into the #3 hole every day immediately lengthens the lineup and transforms the Cardinal order.

Don’t believe that a true #3 hitter can make a difference? Go take a look at the Dodgers.

Justin Turner (and Cody Bellinger) made his season debut on April 25th and has taken every one of his 2017 at bats in the #3 hole of the Dodgers’ order. Los Angeles is 51-18 since Turner took over as the #3.

Donaldson can make that kind of impact in the Cardinals order.

2017 has gifted the St. Louis Cardinals a sub-.500 Chicago Cubs team and a weak Milwaukee Brewers team leading the NL Central division. Even with both of these presents, St. Louis will still find a way to be under .500 at the All-Star break.

Trading for Josh Donaldson is risky, but it’s a division changing move. The Cardinals will win the Central if they make this move.

Take it to the bank.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Josh Donaldson to St. Louis: Yes or No?

A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

What can I say about the Cardinals center field situation that hasn’t already been said? Randal Grichuk, while not as bad as you might think, played just above the replacement level by crushing baseballs after his August recall from Triple-A to make up for ‘blah’ defense.

Look, you know the deal by now, Grichuk is not a center fielder, as badly as you and I both might want him to be. For Grichuk, this season can be viewed one of two ways.

You can be disappointed in his center field defense, porous ability to get on base, high strikeout rate, and view Randal Grichuk’s 2016 season as a lost cause that will only hurt his development as a quality player. Or, as I see things, you can view his season as a positive.

See, in 2016 we learned what Randal Grichuk isn’t, which can often be more important than knowing what someone is. We learned that Randal Grichuk is not a center fielder, and he is not a hitter who gets on base at a high clip.

Right now, we’re in a situation where he had to take one step back in order to take a big leap forward, which I believe will happen in 2017 when he likely takes over the full time left field job. Grichuk is a plus defender in left field – tallying 5 DRS in just under 370 innings while playing left field in St. Louis. And he can, and will, hit 40 home runs while slugging .500 and driving in over 100 runs if the Cardinals simply leave him be in the lineup and don’t nag him about getting on base all the time.

Did we not go over this already?

Anyway, this article isn’t about Grichuk, nor is it about Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinals everyday right fielder. This article is about the hole that is left by Grichuk’s evacuation of Busch Stadium’s center field.

While not officially confirming that Grichuk will be moving to left field, Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak, emphasized that two of his priorities during the 2016 offseason are upgrading the porous St. Louis defense and finding a solution in center field.

Many names have been floated around as a potential solution to the Cardinals central issue of the offseason. Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Carlos Gomez, Adam Eaton, Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler are just a few of the names that have been tossed into the magic hat of potential options for the Cardinals. However, I want to zero in on one guy that wasn’t listed above.

Kevin Kiermaier.

Kiermaier.jpg
Photo by Will Vragovic for the Tampa Bay Times

John Mozeliak’s two main focuses for the offseason, as he stated, are center field and defense. So why not kill a ton of birds with just one stone?

I don’t think anyone really needs an introduction to Kiermaier’s defense, but just in case you do, here are the things you need to know.

In two seasons and just under 2,000 innings played in center field, Kiermaier has an astonishing 68 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 35.4. No one has ever posted a higher single season DRS in center field than the 42 DRS that Kiermaier posted during his gold glove season in 2015.

The man is the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, not even remotely kidding with that statement. While playing nearly 500 less innings than 2nd place Kevin Pillar, Kiermaier led all center fielders with 25 defensive runs saved and a 26.9 UZR/150 during the 2016 season. 

So, let’s say that the Cardinals make a deal for Kiermaier. Not only does this solve the problem of center field defense by nabbing the greatest center field defender of all time, but left field defense is made stronger by the simple subtraction of Matt Holliday and addition of Randal Grichuk.

And just imagine all of the extra base hits that the outfield trio of Kevin Kiermaier, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty could potentially take away from opposing hitters. It’s mesmerizing just to dream about it.

Now, I know that there are much better offensive options available, and Kiermaier’s career WRC+ of 105 isn’t ideal offense from a franchise center fielder, but with the offensive talent that the Cardinals can trot out in 2016, they do have the ability to pull Kiermaier’s potentially league average offense.

Just as I have pointed out that Randal Grichuk does not need to be an on-base maestro, Kevin Kiermaier – in a potential sense – would not need to carry the Cardinal offense. The 2017 Cardinals must be a puzzle in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So, what does Kevin Kiermaier do well that could fit into a puzzle?

Kevin.jpg
This. He does this very well. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

I already touched on his defense, but his other plus quality is base running. If you had no prior knowledge of Kiermaier, but knew that he was an outstanding defender in center field, you might have been able to guess that he was a pretty darn good baserunner too; which he most definitely is.

In 2016, Kiermaier’s 6.5 BsR – “an all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays into runs above and below average” – ranked 7th in all of baseball, just ahead of Starling Marte.

The highest Cardinal on that list? Stephen Piscotty in a tie for 114th with Chris Carter of the Milwaukee Brewers at -2.8 BsR. Yikes.

Our findings conclude that Kevin Kiermaier’s strengths are running the bases and defense. And what were the Cardinals primary weaknesses in 2016? Running the bases and defense; it’s almost too perfect of a fit.

And even further, Kiermaier plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, a notoriously low budget team that must maximize the talent they have by trading it for young, controllable players before the current roster gets too expensive for them to keep.

Kiermaier fits this bill. Although he is still several years away from free agency, it continues to seem more and more likely that, even with his league average offense, Kiermaier will be able to command a hefty contract that Tampa Bay will not be able to afford. Considering what we all saw Jason Heyward sign for this past offseason, defense and base running can command massive contracts, and that’s what Kiermaier has.

And with a restocked farm system, the Cardinals now have the depth and young, controllable talent to be able to reasonably make this deal happen. So, not only does this appear to be an absolutely perfect fit, but the deal doesn’t seem outlandish to accomplish, as a potential trade for Andrew Mccutcheon or A.J. Pollock currently feels, as great as those would be.

Look, everyone needs to get over the fact that the Cardinals don’t have a bona fide, all encompassing superstar player that can garner MVP votes and put up 7 WAR seasons. That means, as I said, that the whole of the 2017 Cardinals must be greater than the sum of its parts.

If we include Kiermaier into this puzzle, all of the pieces are there for the Cardinals to be successful.

Power? Yup, even with the assumption that Jedd Gyorko regresses back to his career norms, the Cardinals still have Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter as power sources; and if Gyorko doesn’t regress, that’s even more power.

Speed? Kiermaier takes the reigns here and joins up with Kolten Wong to spearhead a much improved St. Louis Cardinals team on the base paths.

On base ability? Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz, step right up and show off your shiny on base percentages that set the table for the run producers behind you like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.

Defense? Kiermaier takes the reigns here as well, covering acres of ground in center field, while having Kolten Wong as the – supposed – primary second baseman in 2017 also will definitely help in this area.

From a position player standpoint, the Cardinals have every ingredient to field a very successful team in 2017 – provided that my theoretical Kevin Kiermaier addition does occur. All of those ingredients may not come from one player, but that’s the beauty of this team. All of the pieces of the puzzle fit together to produce a winning ball club.

All we need is Kevin Kiermaier to fit into those last few tricky spots.

A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

Free Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk, the greek god of baseball, a “Lamborghini”, a “wild stallion that just needs to run free”; the man of many nicknames, long hair and glorious forearms is stirring the pot of conversation in Cardinal-land.

He’s been hailed as the next great Cardinal center fielder, sent down to Triple-A, called back up, sent back down, called back up and been a general disappointment along the way. But, the heir to the great Colby Rasmus’ throne has caught fire recently, and he’s done it by accepting his game and playing it.

In all my years of studying baseball, I’ve made the mind-blowing discovery that you can break down every single hitter in the history of God’s greatest game into two categories. Hitters either slug, or they get on base. If you do both, you are a superstar. If you do neither, you are not collecting paychecks as a professional baseball player.

Randal Grichuk slugs, and he slugs really well.

Entering the season, Grichuk was saddled with the expectation that he would seize the Cardinals center field job by storm, maximizing his incredible raw power, stealing 20 bases, playing top notch defense, and finally mastering the art of becoming an on-base aficionado.

As exciting as the though was, our expectations of Grichuk were too high, and he crumbled underneath them. He’s admitted that he was trying to hard to modify his swing and his approach in the name of trying to get on base more, and that he “lost most of [his] power in the process.”

The Cardinals sent him down in mid-May, and then recalled him in June, only to send him back down in July and call him back up just after August started. Upon his most recent call-up, Grichuk got some words of advice from a fellow slugger, Brandon Moss.

“I wanted to show him some things on similar players that have struggled in their careers or struggled in their first couple years and then all of a sudden the power number starts to spike because the on-base started to climb. The batting average slowly climbs, sometimes goes down, but that’s okay. I’m not trying to shape him, but I’m trying to give him a better idea because I feel like that’s where he was lost. He wants stardom. He needs the patience for it, but it will come.”

Those are some powerful words, coming from a late blooming slugger like Moss, who accepted what he was, and unapologetically exploded onto the scene in Oakland during his age 29 season, in which he slugged .596, sported an insane .954 OPS, and blasted 30 home runs to drive in 87.

Moss’ career high average in a season in which he has at least 300 plate appearances is .263, which he’s tallying this year, and he’s clearly never cared about that; nor should he. Like I said, hitters either get paid to slug, or they get paid to get on base. It’s that simple, and Moss slugs as well as anyone in baseball.

And, since his latest promotion back into the Major Leagues, Grichuk is slugging at ridiculous levels as well.

Much like Moss was doing during his initial stint in the major leagues with Boston, Grichuk has been trying to be a player he is not. Drafted with the pick before Mike Trout, he has consistently tried to be a dynamic power-speed threat that plays sparkling CF defense and is the total package 5 tool player. That’s just not who he is.

When Randal Grichuk is at his best, his walk rate will sit around 6 or 7%, his strikeout rate will be somewhere around 25%, and his OBP will be in the .320’s. And this is all 100% okay, Randal Grichuk does not need to be an on-base machine, the Cardinals can pay other guys to do that.

STOP TRYING TO MAKE RANDAL GRICHUK INTO SOMETHING HE ISN’T.

What Grichuk is, however, is a man of large biceps and monstrous power, so turn him loose and watch baseballs fly.

Since his latest callus – and, presumably, his chat with Brandon Moss that has seemed to set him free – Grichuk is slugging .900, with 5 home runs and 12 out of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases. He is getting on base at a respectable .341 clip, but his K/BB ratio is 15/1. So just let him be what he is.

Grichuk is absolutely mashing the baseball since coming back, and the one stat that really jumps out at me and is indicative of his approach is added velocity. Really quick, added velocity is a stat cast number the measures the difference between incoming pitch velocity and exit velocity. The difference is either added or subtracted velocity.

Randal Grichuk has a season average of 10.52 MPH of added velocity, meaning that the balls he does square up are being absolutely smashed. He has seemed to stop worrying about trying to make contact with everything – and thus stopped chasing that pesky breaking ball away that every pitcher knows is his weakness – and has started hunting fastballs that he can do damage with. For reference, the MLB average for added velocity is 3.51 MPH.

Even more indicative of the type of player Randal Grichuk is are his numbers over the last 30 games. He’s slashing .250/.287/.615 with 8 home runs, 18 RBI’s and a K/BB ratio of 38/5. As I said, he slugs, and he slugs very well.

Let Randal Grichuk be himself, stop trying to turn him into an on base machine  while still maintaining his power, we all saw how that experiment turned out, (demotions…lots of demotions). Put him in every day CF, hit him 6th or 7th in the lineup, and turn him loose. The man will absolutely mash.

The Cardinals can pay other guys to get on base in front of Grichuk, but they just need to leave him be and let him do his thing. Balls will fly, runs will be driven in, and everyone wins.

#FreeRandalGrichuk.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Featured image courtesy of Harry How for Getty Images

Free Randal Grichuk

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

Star Power: Does St. Louis Have It?

Considering my busy schedule, I’ve been writing a lot lately; and there has been a lot to write about recently. The Rams ditched town, hockey is hockey-ing, and ZiPS released their annual projections, so there has certainly been quite a bit for me to discuss; and speaking of those projections, they will be cited, and we will be talking more baseball. So let’s do it.

On Monday, St. Louis columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote an article headlined, Cardinals Have Depth Among Position Players but is There a Star in the House? As a precursor, I have not actually read the article, but just the headline got me thinking and researching. So here’s my take on the proposed ‘issue’, apologies in advance to Bernie if I steal any of his points as it is unintentional.

Before we dive in I want to define what I mean by ‘star’ or ‘star-power’. A star is someone who is within the top 5 for MVP candidacy or Cy Young candidacy. A Paul Goldschmidt or Mike Trout or Kris Bryant type player that produces big numbers and can have an entire lineup or pitching staff revolve around him.

Moving on.

Last season, en route to becoming the first team since the 2011 Phillies to win 100 games, the Cardinals had no position player exceed the 6.5 WAR benchmark set by Jason Heyward and no pitcher exceed the 5.6 WAR benchmark set by John Lackey.

Both of those players are gone, which leaves the highest returning WAR being Matt Carpenter’s 3.9. 3.9 WAR certainly isn’t indicative of a bad player, but it’s definitely not star-level production. The highest ZiPS projected position players, in terms of WAR, for the 2016 Cardinals are Carpenter at 3.8 WAR and Yadier Molina at 3.3 WAR.

All solid numbers, but nothing to really revolve the world around. But, as I brought up earlier in my article about how underrated the Pirates were, ZiPS has a tendency to perennially underrate teams and players – looking at you, Royals.

If you’re looking for the stars in St. Louis, it takes a lot of optimism and hometown bias to find them. Fortunately for the sake of this article, I have both of those things in spades.

If you asked a random sample of 100 people that know the game of baseball, “who is the best position player on the St. Louis Cardinals?” your answers would vastly vary.

All of the stat-heads would tell you that Matt Carpenter is because of his combination of surprising power and his ability to get on base at a very healthy clip. Fans who watch the Cardinals on a day-to-day basis and trust their eyes more than the numbers – kind of like me – would tell you Yadier Molina is the best player on the Cardinals and it’s not up for debate. Optimists would tell you Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty and pessimists would tell you Matt Holliday is still the best of a bad bunch.

Asking the same question to the same audience about who the best pitcher was would reveal many different answers as well. Stat-heads would say Carlos Martinez because of his ability to punch people out, keep the ball in the ballpark and do all of the things that FIP-people enjoy. The same people that told you Yadier Molina was the best position player would tell you that Adam Wainwright was clearly the best pitcher because of his ‘ace’ status and workhorse mentality and that won’t change until he retires. Optimists still believe in Michael Wacha and pessimists would argue for Lance Lynn – even though he’s hurt. But that’s all a different article for a different day.

Unlike a lot of other teams, the debate of who is the best position player and pitcher in St. Louis yields a multitude of different answers. It’s an extremely unique situation that the Cardinals have, as this exercise proves their exceptional depth but also proves their lack of top-end talent.

So are there any true “stars” in St. Louis?

Carpenter 1
Photo by Dilip Vishwanet for Getty Images

If you’re really optimistic, you might believe that Matt Carpenter is the star in St. Louis. In 2013 he displayed his now legendary penchant for getting on base by posting a .392 OBP and leading the league with 126 runs scored, 199 hits, and 82 walks to only 98 strikeouts. 2 years later, in 2015, Carpenter demonstrated his surprising power, blasting 28 home runs, knocking in 84 runs, slugging a robust .505, still walking a healthy 81 times to augment a .365 OBP and doing all of this out of the leadoff spot.

In my years of studying baseball, I have broken down hitters into two categories; hitters either slug, or they get on base. If you do both, you’re a superstar, and if you do neither you’re not playing professional baseball.

Carpenter has shown the ability to both get on base and slug, but combining them is something we have yet to see. If he can, expect to see a season similar to his 6.3 WAR campaign in 2013, except look for more of those 55 doubles Carpenter mashed to leave the ballpark. Optimistically, Carpenter can absolutely be a superstar; realistically, he’ll continue to be a 4 or 5 win player that is vastly underappreciated and undervalued.

Much like Carpenter, it requires a lot of optimism to view guys like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty as superstars; but it is possible.

In just 350 PA in 2015, Grichuk produced a 3.5 WAR thanks to his terrific defense (9 defensive runs saved in just 783 innings in the field) and immense raw power (.548 slugging, .272 ISO). Projected out over 600 PA – again, according to my brilliant math skills – Grichuk produces 6.0 WAR and 29 HR; pushing superstar territory.

Grichuk 1
Photo by Harry How for Getty Images

The only real issue with Grichuk is his strikeout rate is alarmingly high (31.4%) and his walk rate is far too low (6.4%) which produced a .329 OBP. Ideally, Grichuk cuts down his strikeout rate, walks more, and thus gets more pitches to hit, but it’s hard to complain about the numbers I just projected out. But for the sake of this article, not quite a superstar level player.

Stephen Piscotty is the position player wild card for St. Louis. A textbook case of ‘small sample size theater’, Piscotty posted terrific numbers in a small amount of PA – .853 OPS, .189 ISO, 143 WRC+ and a .372 BABIP thanks to the 13th highest average velocity on balls in play (approx. 305 MPH). As Fangraphs’ Mike Podhorzer pointed out, this could either be the tip of the iceberg for a budding superstar, or it could be a flash in a pan for a slightly above average outfielder.

So what do I make of all those numbers?

I think Grichuk has shown his peak. He’s an extremely athletic outfielder – Cardinals’ hitting coach John Mabry called him a “Lamborghini” this past spring training – who plays above average defense at all three outfield positions and can hit a baseball a long way. Of the two categories of hitters that I brought up earlier, Grichuk slugs, and he slugs well. But I think it’s rather unrealistic to expect him to get on base at the type of clip that would warrant the ‘superstar’ label his slugging prowess would justify.

As for Piscotty, I firmly believe that he is a lineup staple in St. Louis, and the crown jewel of the whole Albert Pujols episode (sorry, Michael Wacha). Throughout the minors he showed an ability to consistently get on base, and while in the majors he showed a much greater ability to drive the baseball – thanks to some swing adjustments he made during the 2014-15 offseason. Is he a superstar right now? Not yet, but his time is coming and I believe that.

Piscotty 1
Photo by Jeff Curry for Getty Images

The Cardinals may not have a Mike Trout-type perennial MVP candidate in their stockpile of position players, but unlike Mike Trout’s Anaheim team the Cardinals have next to no positional weaknesses and their depth is unmatched.

Catcher? The best defensive catcher in the history of the game and the backbone of the club resides back there. 3rd base? Carpenter and his projected 3.8 WAR. Jhonny Peralta and his 7.5 WAR over the past two seasons holds down the fort at SS, while Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko project out as a 3.5 WAR platoon at second. I evaluated 1st base just this past week, but between Brandon Moss and Matt Adams, St. Louis is still projected to post up 2.3 WAR. Between the outfield trio of Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty, the Cardinal outfield is projected to be worth 8.2 WAR in 2016. The Cardinals top 5 bench options – which I’ve designated as Matt Adams, Tommy Pham, Greg Garcia, Brayan Peña and Jedd Gyorko – are projected to be worth 6.3 WAR.

As I said, the Cardinals depth is unmatched, but they do lack star power. You can’t describe them as top heavy, but the midsection of the St. Louis roster is incredibly thick and talented.

Is it a 100 win team? Probably not, but is it the team that ZiPS has projected for 84 wins? To me, that seems like an insult. I brought this up the other day, but I believe St. Louis will thrive in the underdog role the media has placed them in.

And their stockpile of middle-end talent will be leading the charge.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

 

 

 

Star Power: Does St. Louis Have It?