Dexter Fowler and the Importance of Clubhouse ‘Chemistry’

If you went on Google right now and looked up ‘Dexter Fowler’ – like I did earlier when I wanted to do some research for this article – the majority of articles that would be returned from your search involve Fowler doing something off the field.

Dexter Fowler’s Importance to the Cardinals Goes Far Beyond Baseball

Dexter Fowler’s Mission: Change Tune in the Cardinals Clubhouse

Fowler Already Having an Impact on Cardinals

You have to dig a little bit, but eventually you might find something about how his switch hitting ability or high on base percentage will add a different dynamic to the Cardinals lineup this year. But the point here is that Fowler’s initial impact on the Cardinals has mostly come off the field.

Keeping up with baseball over the past few seasons has become more difficult as each year goes by. Every year it feels like more statistics are added and baseball becomes less and less of a game and more and more of a robotic numbers business. Too many people forget that a player’s impact on a team can’t just be quantified by on field performance.

Some of the best players that I ever played alongside were vile teammates that pushed away the rest of the locker room and were not fun to be around. It’s something that’s hard for any non-baseball players/athletes to understand when looking in from the outside, but clubhouse chemistry means way more than on field performance ever will.

This is going to be pure speculation, but take Barry Bonds for example. Excluding the claims that he was a PED user for most of his key earning years, Bonds is, based strictly off of numbers, probably the best player to ever play the game of baseball. I could list his career accomplishments and it would go on forever. The man was the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, steroids or not.

Barry Bonds never won a World Series.

But considering the numbers he put up over his career, that’s not his fault though, right? It might not be entirely his fault, but there is no way that the single greatest player in the history of the game not winning a World Series is a coincidence.

Look at all the other great players up in the same echelon as Bonds. Out of all 32 players that have ever accrued over 100 bWAR in the history of baseball, Bonds is the only one without a World Series title.

Please, I dare you to try and convince me that this is a coincidence.

Well, based purely on reputation alone, Barry Bonds was not a good teammate. He had a reputation for being selfish, and he often carried himself in a manner that would reflect it. In an article written in mid-December chronicling Bonds’ friendship with Dexter Fowler – funny enough – Bonds said that, “he didn’t handle himself the way he wanted to be handled during his career.” And the article goes on to casually say that Bonds is, “known as one of the coldest men in baseball history.”

Not exactly a glowing review.

The greatest statistical position player in the history of baseball. Career numbers that will never be matched by anyone, steroids or not. And a reputation as possibly the coldest man in the history of the game.

Starting to see how Bonds’ non-possession of a World Series Title can’t be a coincidence?

A clubhouse atmosphere and clubhouse chemistry matter, and they were clearly lacking in St. Louis last year. Patrick Cramer, a clubhouse attendant for the Cardinals, notes that “last year, some players were walking on eggshells around here. Dexter came in during spring and just stomped all over those eggshells.”

Everything in this article revolves around speculation and word coming out of Cardinals camp. I will never exactly know the full impact that Fowler is having on the clubhouse of the Cardinals. But I can tell you that, personally, I play my best baseball when I’m having fun.

The Cardinals have never been a club associated with the word ‘fun’. I mean sure, winning is fun, but the way the Cardinals have always won has never had a ‘fun’ feel about it. The club is buttoned up, serious about the work they do, and even makes every prospect and new team employee read an 80 page manual entitled, ‘The Cardinal Way’ – which is exactly what it sounds like.

Fowler, a key member of the 2016 Cubs’ team that finally broke the 108 year World Series curse, has seemingly come in and flipped everything about ‘The Cardinal Way’ on its head.

Listening to music during batting practice is completely normal; hell, we do it on my college team. But it’s making waves of headlines from Cardinals camp because it’s never happened before. Fowler brings a boombox to batting practice every single day and lets a different member of the roster choose the music.

“Dexter is kind of a personality that we haven’t had, that we didn’t have last year,” starting pitcher Mike Leake said in an interview with Ben Hochman on Saturday. “His personality, which is very outgoing, I think helps this team.”

General Manager John Mozeliak echoed Leake’s sentiment when he commented that, “…on the field and off, he’s been everything we could’ve hoped for. The one word I would use to describe him is inclusive. What he’s been able to do in this clubhouse so far is extremely positive.”

Listening to sabermetric-based baseball pundits on television talk about how clubhouse chemistry is a myth and it doesn’t matter as much as on-field numbers has always annoyed me. The type of energy that Fowler can inject into a club can mean so much more than a 5 or 6 WAR season ever will.

The 2015 Cardinals won 100 games and were the best team in baseball before an untimely exit from the postseason. A virtually unchanged 2016 Cardinals team won 86 games and missed the playoffs, underperforming expectations and being just a general pain to watch on a nightly basis. And further pointing towards clubhouse division in 2016, Stephen Piscotty mentioned in an interview with Mark Saxon that, “Already, this year seems more fun, and I think we’ll play looser. I think that’s a good thing, instead of tight and rigid like last year…when you play this game, if you’re not having fun, it’s just an absolute grind.”

That grind is the reason why I believe the Cardinals underachieved last year. And with everything that’s being said this year, combined with Fowler’s reputation as one of the clubhouse leaders of an energetic and fun Cubs team last year, the Cardinals seem to have signed the perfect guy to help reinvigorate a seemingly dead and dry clubhouse.

Having played on a team that wasn’t overly talented but was very tightly knit and had a strong clubhouse bond, I can attest to how much a team atmosphere can mean. A positive team atmosphere is infectious, makes the game more fun than it normally would be, and can cultivate overachievement, something the Cardinals might desperately need from players like Kolten Wong, Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk.

Whether Dexter Fowler is worth -1 or 7 WAR in the 2017 will not and should not be the complete end-all evaluation of him. No, Fowler’s value should be measured in something that can’t be fully quantified and that very few of us will ever understand.

Making the Cardinals fun again.

Thanks for reading

-Ryan

 

Author’s Note: This article was written in March of 2017, but I never got around until publishing it until July 30th of 2017. The perspectives reflect this

Dexter Fowler and the Importance of Clubhouse ‘Chemistry’

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.

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 9.12.15 PM

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

Mike vs Yadi: The Final Straw?

Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

$82 million is a lot of money. It would be a lot of money regardless of who was collecting that money, but it really looks like a lot of money when it is being paid to a 31 year old center fielder who has spent as much time on the disabled list as he has on the field.

Just over halfway through the first year of his 5 year contract with the Cardinals, Dexter Fowler already looks like a mistake. Offensively, Fowler has been okay. His .452 slugging percentage and 14 home runs have been a pleasant surprise. However, the on base skills that were the primary reason behind the Cardinals being willing to pay him $82 million have diminished to the tune of a .334 mark and only 4 stolen bases.

And the improved center field defense that took Fowler from being a -20 DRS player during the 2014 season with the Houston Astros to being a +5 DRS player with the 2016 Chicago Cubs? Yeah, it’s been pretty awful to the tune of -12 DRS and a -3.3 defensive fWAR in only 631 innings.

Yikes.

With yesterday’s announcement that Fowler was headed to the 10 day disabled list for the 3rd time this season, I heard a lot of kicking and screaming on Twitter about his contract. And after top prospect Harrison Bader’s heroic performance last night, that kicking and screaming has only gotten louder this morning.

Well, as the headline says, everyone needs to chill.

Fowler 3
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Firstly, Dexter Fowler hasn’t been that bad. His on base skills have always been prevalent, and if he can shake the injury bug and find himself some consistent at bats, he’ll be right around the .380 – .390 OBP mark that we all expected prior to this season.

The unexpected slugging has been beautiful to see. Fowler’s 2017 ISO of .210 would be a career high mark by nearly 50 points, and project out his 14 HR’s in 333 plate appearances over a full season of 600 plate appearances and we’re looking at 25 HR’s. Combine that with the on base skills that will show with consistent at bats and the Cardinals have themselves a dynamic offensive player.

Secondly, Fowler’s injuries this year have been small, nagging things that no player can control. Injuries are the worst and it’s not fair to already call his contract a ‘mistake’ just because of the injuries he’s dealt with.

Personally, I believe that those nagging injuries have been a part of Fowler’s determination to play center field in St. Louis. Earlier in July, when asked how the outfield would shake out after Fowler’s initial return from injury, Tommy Pham commented, “Dex is in center field, we know that for sure.”

Center field is a tough position to play every day. It’s especially tough for a guy dealing with small, nagging injuries. So, to do our part in trying to solve some of Fowler’s injury issues, just move him to a corner outfield spot. The Cardinals already have several in-house replacements to take his spot.

In just 178.1 innings played in CF, Tommy Pham has been worth 6 DRS and 1.1 defensive fWAR. His defense hasn’t just been good, it’s been exceptional. So why keep trotting out a terrible defensive center fielder when there’s a great defensive center fielder hanging out next to Fowler?

And thirdly, we all have to take a look back at the state of the Cardinals when they initially signed Dexter Fowler.

On December 9th, the Cardinal outfield looked unstable, at best. Randal Grichuk was coming off of a rough year during his debut season in CF. Stephen Piscotty was locked into the right field position, and beyond those two players, there didn’t seem to be any options that could be counted on to produce in 2017.

Tommy Pham was an oft-injured Triple-A guy that didn’t seem to have a spot. Jose Martinez wasn’t a name that anyone knew, Harrison Bader wasn’t ready yet, and Tyler O’Neill was still in Seattle.

The Cardinals needed a center fielder. The trade market was exploding, and players like Adam Eaton were being dealt away for entire farm systems. St. Louis was wise to avoid an inflated trade market, and Fowler was clearly the best fit on the free agent market.

Fowler 2
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

At the time of the move, it was imperative. Fowler slid right into the Cardinals immediate plan and the 5 year deal provided St. Louis with future stability, which was desperately needed entering the 2017 season.

Since then, Tommy Pham has played his way into becoming the Cardinals’ most productive position player and a 5 WAR outfielder. Jose Martinez has turned heads and become one of the best pinch hitters in the sport. Harrison Bader has crushed Triple-A and now made his mark in the Major Leagues. Tyler O’Neill has been acquired from the Seattle Mariners and players like Magneuris Sierra, Randy Arozarena and Adolis Garcia have shown themselves to be potential Major League impact players.

If, on the day Dexter Fowler signed his contract, you saw all of this coming, you’re lying.

Hindsight is everything, and being able to look back on all that has transpired during the 2017 season allows us to see that yeah, if we were given the option right now of whether or not to sign Dexter Fowler before the season, we would gladly pass on him.

But he was needed at the time and that’s all that matters. So everybody take a second and chill; have some patience.

Fowler simply needs to be moved out of center field, which will hopefully solve the nagging injury problem. Being moved to a corner outfield spot will improve his defense by giving him less ground to cover. With the nagging injury issue presumably solved, Fowler will be able to gain his stride and get consistent at bats. With consistent at bats, the on base numbers will get back to where we expected them and can combine with the improved power to create a highly productive corner outfielder.

So everybody just relax. Put away your pitchforks and torches about Dexter Fowler’s contract and have some patience. Baseball is a fickle beast and unexpected things happen. Fowler is not suddenly a horrible player that needs to be cut. He’s a productive and dependable Major League player that simply needs a few adjustments to harness that production and dependability.

Let’s all enjoy Harrison Bader and Tommy Pham for right now, but stop going too far and calling Fowler a mistake.

He’s not. So chill.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Everyone Chill on Dexter Fowler

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

Looking for More Tyler O’Neill’s

About 3 weeks ago, when the Cardinals initially announced that they would be promoting John Mozeliak to President of Baseball Operations and that Mike Girsch would be taking over Mozeliak’s former role as General Manager, my initial reaction was one of hope.

I believe that Mozeliak’s approach as GM had become stale and passed over. His ‘win now, but protect the future’ thinking model had led to an average Major League team and an average farm system, leaving the Cardinals stuck in an awkward spot entering 2017. That awkward spot has brought St. Louis to a 47-50 record thus far and left the team without a clear direction for the future.

When Mozeliak’s promotion was announced, I was hopeful because I figured that a new set of hands on the Cardinals could bring some direction to the team. Girsch’s first significant trade as General Manager happened on Friday afternoon, shipping out Marco Gonzales to Seattle in exchange for Tyler O’Neill.

The move has gotten rave reviews from all corners of Cardinal nation thus far, and for good reason.

Gonzales, at 25 years old and coming off of an entire missed season because of Tommy John surgery, had been passed up on all sides within the organization as a pitching prospect. Once viewed as a potential #2 or #3 starter, Gonzales had become expendable as the incredible wealth of Cardinal pitching talent has unfortunately flown by him during his missed injury time.

Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Luke Weaver, Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and others are now viewed as far more valuable than Gonzales. Capitalizing on the value that Gonzales still had, Girsch managed to net a top OF prospect from Seattle in return for him.

Tyler O’Neill immediately jumps to the front of the line among Cardinal outfield prospects, and he was acquired in exchange for a position that St. Louis had depth from. It was a textbook trade executed brilliantly by Grisch.

And while a prospect for prospect deal doesn’t particularly seem like it designates a clear direction for the Cardinals, this particular deal provides a valuable start to a pivotal trade deadline for the St. Louis front office.

Considering where they are right now, the approach that I believe the Cardinals need to take during this deadline is giving up on 2017 while building to win in 2018. It’s both buying and selling, but avoiding rentals at all costs; specific and difficult, but necessary.

The Tyler O’Neill trade fits this bill almost to a ’t’. O’Neill is a future asset that the Cardinals have long term control over, but can realistically be counted on to help the big club win in 2018. And he was acquired for practically nothing in the big picture of the St. Louis system. So what are some other Tyler O’Neill-esque trades that the Cardinals can make before the July 31 deadline?

I’ve got some ideas.

The thing the Cardinals need to do in order to successfully execute a ‘sell for 2017 but buy for 2018’ trade deadline is know the players that are expendable. In the ‘sell’ pile, I’ve placed Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Seung Hwan-Oh, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, and Randal Grichuk.

Out of those listed, the most valuable trade asset the Cardinals possess is Wong. A plus defender still yet to enter his prime and controllable for another 3 years after 2017 at a team friendly salary of $5 million per season. Wong’s potential surplus value (the difference between the value of his projected WAR versus actual salary) is immense and serves as an attractive piece for a team like Oakland.

So that’s where we’ll look to start this. Who can the Cardinals gain from Oakland in exchange for Kolten Wong?

Matt Chapman.

Matt Chapman
Photo by Getty Images

A Kolten Wong for Matt Chapman trade serves the Cardinals (and Oakland A’s) beautifully. With Jed Lowrie under contract and struggling defensively at 2nd base, the A’s gain a cheap 2nd baseman that slots right in and allows Lowrie to slide into more of a classic Oakland platoon role. The deal also fully clears the way at 3rd base for Ryon Healy, having a breakout season and needing at bats to stay consistent.

As for the Cardinals, Chapman is the type of piece they need; not ready right now, but has near future 4-5 WAR potential. He plays a top quality defensive 3rd base, (Fangraphs has him at a future 60 on the 20-80 scale for both arm and glove) and the power is legit. His career ISO in the minor leagues is a robust .231, highlighted by a .331 mark at Triple-A this season with 16 home runs in only 204 at bats.

Chapman has struggled at the major league level this year, but has the kind of difference making bat that the Cardinals could realistically count on to produce in 2018. And although this is a much bigger subject to be discussed deeper on a different day, I prefer Paul DeJong as the future 2nd baseman of the Cardinals over Kolten Wong anyway.

Now, the one problem with a trade for Matt Chapman is that it creates a logjam over at 3rd base for the Cardinals with Jedd Gyorko currently playing at a high level. So, instead of letting Mike Matheny decide this (please fire him anyway and solve ALL the problems), let’s see what we can get for Gyorko, shall we?

According to defensive runs saved, Jedd Gyorko has been the second best defensive 3rd baseman in all of baseball only trailing the immortal Nolan Arenado. Combine that with a 117 WRC+ over 343 AB’s and you have a player on pace for a 5 WAR season while under contract for only $6 million.

Gyorko is signed for the next two years at $9 million and $13 million, and when considering the production he’s posted over the last two seasons and the current market value for a win, he’s a bargain buy.

The exact kind of bargain buy that the Tampa Bay Rays create the base of their franchise off of.

From the Rays perspective, Gyorko is an attractive piece; controllable, cheap and versatile. He could slide in to provide production from a 2nd base position that has posted a combined 0.1 WAR between Daniel Robertson and Brad Miller. He could slide in at 3rd base when Evan Longoria needs a day off. He’ll be ready to help a currently playoff bound Rays team win right now and he’ll still be around for another 2 years to help a young team still win in the future.

From the Cardinals perspective, Chapman makes Gyorko expendable and the Rays have an overflowing fountain of talent that fits the current trade deadline blueprint. I’ve got my eye on one guy, though.

Willy Adames.

Willy Adames
Photo by USA Today

Now, considering the type of franchise the Rays are, giving up their top prospect in exchange for a 28 year old utility guy makes no sense. And that’s why the Cardinals also throw Trevor Rosenthal into the deal.

Under contract for next season in his final year of arbitration, Rosenthal gives the Rays another bullpen weapon as they close in on October. Now, bullpen arms and quality infielders aren’t a position of strength for the Cardinals so this doesn’t technically qualify as a ‘Tyler O’Neill’ trade, but it’s two expendable pieces being traded for a quality prospect at a position of need in 2018.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, Adames becomes the anointed shortstop of the future. Is it fair to move on from Aledmys Diaz so quickly? Absolutely not, but I’m in the business of winning baseball games, and Willy Adames helps me do that more effectively, fairness be damned.

Adames is another part of the generation of bigger shortstops, listed at 6’1” and 200 lbs. His power grades out as a future 60 (according to Fangraphs), and while he’s never been known for his glove, the defense has markedly improved between 2015 and 2017 to the point where he is now a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball.

Currently at Triple-A, he falls almost exactly into the same mold as O’Neill and Chapman; not quite ready yet, but will be in 2018 and beyond.

Trades for Matt Chapman and Willy Adames sets the Cardinals infield for 2018, with those two manning the left side of the diamond while Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter hold down the right side of the infield. Young, athletic, and massive power potential.

With the amount of pitching talent that is about to tear it’s way up to the Major League team, the Cardinals aren’t far away from being the type of winning team that they are used to being. These two trades give St. Louis an even clearer sense of direction heading into 2018 and I haven’t even touched players like Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn or Randal Grichuk, which leaves St. Louis with the pieces to still go pull off a blockbuster deal for somebody like Christian Yelich.

This trade deadline is as pivotal as any I can ever remember to the Cardinals’ future and it needs to be executed with a clear sense of purpose for the team to be successful in the future. Tyler O’Neill was just the start, but more trades like that are exactly what the doctor ordered.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Looking for More Tyler O’Neill’s

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?

The Michael Wacha Solution

In 2013, he was the future of the franchise. He went from ‘fast rising prospect’ to ‘late season revelation’ and ended the year as a postseason hero with possibly the brightest future of any Cardinal pitching prospect in a stacked system.

In the first half of 2014, he was dominant. Over the first 2 months of the season, he posted a 2.77 FIP with a 75-19 K/BB ratio and 1.07 WHIP in 77.1 IP. Then, a unique injury bug bit Michael Wacha and left him on the sidelines until his infamous flameout in the NLCS, which ended the Cardinals’ 2014 season with him on the mound watching Travis Ishikawa circle the bases after hitting a pennant clinching home run for the San Francisco Giants.

Ever since the injury, Wacha hasn’t been the same. There have been flashes of previous brilliance, but no real consistent stretches of 2013 Wacha. Rock bottom came last year, when Wacha’s full season ERA sat at 5.09 over 138 IP.

However, during April of 2017, Wacha showed some promise and reinvigoration. In 24 IP, he posted a 2.55 ERA with 24 K’s and 6 BB’s. But, over the last 35.1 IP, Wacha has slogged his way to a 5.88 ERA with 32 K’s and a frighteningly high 11.6 BB%.

So, what gives?

Diving into Wacha’s velocity numbers, I couldn’t find anything substantial that would point towards his recent struggles. Month to month, the velocity has held steady on each one of his 4 pitches throughout a game, so it’s not that. His heat maps are all similar, his pitch locations are all similar; I just couldn’t find anything.

With no statistic to point to as a reason for Wacha’s struggles, we just kind of have to assume one unfortunate thing. Until further notice, Michael Wacha is not cut out to be a starting pitcher; for one reason or another, whether we can quantify it or not.

That leaves the Cardinals with quite a predicament.

Wacha can clearly still be effective at the Major League level, as his great start to the season showed. However, as his recent track record has showed, that success, as a starter, is not consistent and can’t be counted on.

I can’t be the only one to think of this before, but the solution here seems simple.

The Cardinals shouldn’t just give up with Wacha and sell low on him right now (see: Matt Adams, and look how that’s turning out). Wacha also shouldn’t be sent down because he’ll just dominate the minors.

Michael Wacha should be sent to the bullpen and turned into a super reliever.

Now, I understand that transitioning from being a starter to being a reliever is difficult, no matter how simple anyone may try to make it seem. But the numbers that make me think Wacha’s transition could be simple are his splits each time he goes through a lineup.

As a starter, Wacha’s first time through the order is sparkling. This season, he sports a 1.95 ERA, 9.59 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, and a 0.95 WHIP. Further, for his career, Wacha has a 2.73 ERA with 200 K’s and 66 BB’s in 207.2 IP.

Essentially, over the course of a full season’s worth of innings pitched, Wacha has been worth 6.8 WAR according to FanSided’s WAR calculator. In case you don’t know, that is outstanding value.

The second time through the order? Yikes.

In 2017, Wacha’s second-time-through ERA balloons to 7.54, his K/9 drops to 6.08 and his walk rate also balloons up to 10.3%. Third time through the order is a similar story, (6.08 ERA, 9 K’s, 6 BB’s in 13.1 IP).

And, again, these numbers bear out over the course of his career. In 191 IP while going through the order a second time, Wacha’s ERA is a decent 3.91, but the K/9 goes down to 7.45 and the BB/9 goes up to 3.39. Third time through, his ERA balloons to 5.16 in 134.1 IP with a rather paltry 6.35 K/9.

Michael Wacha has electric stuff. He sports a 4 pitch mix with a fastball that can still touch the upper 90’s and a changeup that’s produced a career K% of 34.1%. This is a guy who definitely belongs in the Major Leagues, but as a reliever right now.

And, although limited, Wacha’s career numbers as a reliever are incredibly promising. In 16.1 career IP as a reliever, Wacha has a 12.6 K/9, 1.1 BB/9 and a heartening 2.10 xFIP. Personally, I rely on these numbers a lot more than Wacha’s 7.16 ERA in those 16.1 reliever innings.

For the Cardinals, the solution here seems pretty simple. With a guy like Luke Weaver currently tearing up Triple-A, Wacha’s transition to the bullpen doesn’t have to leave the Cardinals without a 5th starter.

Further, the Cardinals need bullpen help right now. So why not discover that help internally, like GM John Mozeliak just loves to do.

All the pieces here seem to perfectly fit, and if Wacha continues to struggle as a starter, you’ll only hear me harp on this point more.

Thanks for reading.

The Michael Wacha Solution