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.

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A Center Field Solution for the Cardinals

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?

Cardinals Rumor Roundup: November 21

The free agent farmer’s market is officially open for business, and the rumor mill is churning in full force. Fellow citizen, prepare to be fully immersed in a perpetual and almost nonsensical stream of rumors and “inside information.”

With that lead in, let’s take a look at all of the rumors surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals and how I personally feel about them and gauge their probability of actually coming to fruition.

Rumor #1: Cardinals could target Freddie Freeman in a trade

I haven’t really heard this from any credible insiders, it’s been more of an internet blogger piece of clickbait. But still, it gets my attention because we’re talking about Freddie Freeman here.

Freddie Freeman
Photo by Steve Mitchell for USA Today

I’ve written about possibly solving the Cardinals 1st  base issue by trading Matt Adams to Baltimore for a bullpen package and letting Stephen Piscotty run with 1st base, but the more and more I think about that the more and more I realize that Piscotty’s future is in the outfield, not at 1st base. So why put him there now?

Atlanta sort of seems to be caught in the middle of a total rebuild and an attempt to contend right now, as they have been acquiring players that are young and raw enough to be developed as future talents, but still will be able to contribute right away in 2016. The Cardinals have plenty to offer in that regard.

Ideally, they could sell Atlanta on the potential of Matt Adams as a cheap alternative to Freeman and the veteran presence of Matt Holliday in that outfield to help bolster the development of Hector Olivera. Combine that with a pitcher like Tim Cooney or Marco Gonzales and it would be enough to get the deal done.

But we don’t live in an ideal world and there is no way in hell that scenario would ever play out. Regardless of that, if Atlanta is selling Freeman the Cardinals should give him a look. He would be a massive upgrade over anything the Cardinals could put out there in 2016, not to mention they would have control of him for 6 more years at a rather modest $16 million a year considering his talent level.

Freddie Freeman 2
Photo by Curtis Compton for Associated Press

Will it happen? Extremely doubtful for two reasons. Reason 1 is that the Cardinals don’t go out and make big deals for positions that they already have internal options for. John Mozeliak is too conservative, and loves giving his homegrown guys a chance. And reason 2 is that the Braves really have no reason to deal Freeman. He’s young, he’s controlled, and he’s exceptionally talented, not to mention the fact that he’s the face of the franchise. This deal won’t happen.

Rumor #2: The Cardinals have reached out to Mark Buehrle to express their interest, but Buehrle isn’t sure if he wants to play in 2016

            This one actually has some weight, as Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun writes that, “while Buehrle is unsure of whether or not he wants to pitch in 2016, he will sign with the Cardinals if he does.” So basically, it’s retirement or the Cardinals for the St. Charles native Buehrle. How do I feel about it?

Don’t like it.

Buehrle requested that he be left off of Toronto’s playoff roster because he was retiring at the end of the season and didn’t want to pitch in the playoffs. That, to me, sounds like a guy that’s out of gas in his baseball life and I just have no interest in that on the Cardinals in 2016.

Buehrle
Photo by Elsa for Getty Images

Currently, with Lance Lynn’s absence, the Cardinals have an innings void that they don’t necessarily know how to fill at the moment. Could Buehrle provide the club with about 200 or so quality innings to fill that gap? Potentially, and he’d probably be relatively cheap too. But I just don’t like this one.

I feel like Buehrle has run his course in the game, and when I consider the incredible depth of the starting pitching market this offseason, the Cardinals can find a much, much better option to fill those innings.

So I don’t like this one, but the probability of it happening is way higher than the Freeman trade. Keep your eyes on this one.

Rumor #3: The Cardinals are in contact with Scott Boras and have shown strong interest in Chris Davis

            Again, like the last rumor this one has significant weight, as Ken Rosenthal first reported it and was subsequently backed up by John Paul Morosi and multiple other outlets. But unlike my casual displeasure with the last rumor, I really don’t like this one.

The Cardinals need power, and they need it in spades, and this has been well documented by anyone with an opinion that has watched the Cardinals over the course of the past 4 or 5 years. But Chris Davis is not the answer to the Cardinals power deficiency.

Chris Davis
Photo by Tommy Gilligan for USA Today

Everything in baseball is a gamble, but some gambles are not ones worth taking. And although Davis has defensive versatility and can launch homers when he’s right, he strikes out so freaking much, doesn’t fit the Cardinals offensive mold, would cost them a 1st round draft pick, and will likely command around $25 million a year.

Davis will also be on the wrong side of 30 for the majority of any long term deal he would sign, and aging power hitters are not something that you want to be dishing out $20+ million to.

As I inferred with my endorsement of the Cardinals potential pursuit of Freddie Freeman earlier, I am all for going out and searching for answers at 1st base from outside sources, but I would much rather have an internal solution over Chris Davis.

Chris Davis 2
Photo by Patrick Semansky for Associated Press

Do I like it? Hell no, and I’m really against it. But will it happen? I have absolutely no clue. I expected the Cardinals to check in on Davis, but I still don’t expect them to be major players in his market. So keep an eye on this one simply because it’s a big fish in the free agent pond, but don’t put too much stock into the early rumor reports.

If you can’t tell from these rumors, the Cardinals deficiencies heading into 2016 are really clear. They need starting pitching in place of Lance Lynn – and also with the entire rest of the rotation having injury issues – and they need a solution to their 1st base issue. What doesn’t come up here is their bullpen issues, but that’s a different topic for a different day.

As I usually say, the cards are in the hands of almighty John Mozeliak, and I have faith that he’ll get the job done. As for the rumor mill, it’ll keep churning, and I’ll keep looking and listening and opining.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

 

Cardinals Rumor Roundup: November 21

Spitfire: Cardinals Offseason Improvement Ideas

About a month ago, when the sadness of a broken season was still freshly marinating in my mind, I put out a fairly halfhearted list of some steps the Cardinals front office could take to put out an improved product in 2016. As I sort of mentioned, it was a pretty halfhearted and safe list and since then I’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. So here’s a new, improved, and much bolder list of Cardinals offseason improvement ideas.

When I put together that list about a month ago, the 2016 rotation looked pretty set in stone. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, with Alex Reyes, Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney waiting in the wings.

Well, since then Lance Lynn has undergone Tommy John surgery, Reyes has been suspended for a positive marijuana test – the unfairness of which I’ll get into later – and the overall health record of the rotation looks pretty shaky.

Lance Lynn will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Lance Lynn will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch

Wainwright will be 34 on opening day and coming off a serious Achilles tear, Martinez will be coming off a shoulder strain, Wacha looked like a shell of himself in the 2nd half of the 2015 season coming off his serious shoulder injury in 2014, and Garcia’s injury track record is quite alarming.

On top of all that, Reyes won’t be a big league factor until the middle of May, Gonzales is coming off injuries, Cooney’s coming off an appendectomy that robbed him of the last two months of his season, and Lyons is a guy that really shouldn’t be relied upon as a consistent major league starter at this point.

In case you haven’t gotten the point yet, the Redbird rotation is in some serious flux right now. So that’s where this list starts.

Revised Step 1: Go Get a Mid-Tier Starter or Two

Would it be cool if the Cardinals landed David Price or Zack Greinke? Of course, but should they be willing to potentially spend upwards of $200 million on a pitcher? The Cardinals are in a bit of a rut, but not that kind of a rut. But this SP market is really deep – like really deep – and the Cardinals should be making serious runs at a lot of guys in the middle of this market.

Three names really jump out at me here; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Leake, and Scott Kazmir. Each are quality, middle of the rotation guys who can be had for relatively low coin.

Iwakuma is coming off an injury plagued year, but placed 3rd in AL Cy Young voting just two years ago and has a no-hitter to his name.

Iwakuma celebrates his August 2015 no-hitter vs. Baltimore. Photo courtesy of USA Today
Iwakuma celebrates his August 2015 no-hitter vs. Baltimore. Photo courtesy of USA Today

He could reasonably be had for somewhere around $9 or $10 million on a 1 year, prove-it deal. Although, he comes with the most risk, as he has the qualifying offer mantra attached to him, so the Cardinals would have to give up a 1st round pick for potentially just a year of Iwakuma’s services.

Kazmir’s 2015 season numbers don’t really impress you – a 3.98 FIP and 130 ERA+ in 183 IP – but take a look deeper and see that he posted a 3.16 FIP and 160 ERA+ during his time in Oakland, and was an all-star in both 2014 and 2015.

Oakland is a notorious pitcher’s park, and St. Louis is becoming the same type of mold. Houston is a notorious hitter’s park, and Kazmir understandably struggled. Bring him to St. Louis on a 2 year deal and he could thrive just like he did in Oakland. Also, Kazmir would not cost the Cardinals a 1st round compensation pick like Iwakuma would, but will likely be more expensive.

Kazmir delivers a pitch for the Oakland A's in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Tribune
Kazmir delivers a pitch for the Oakland A’s in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Tribune

Mike Leake really shouldn’t need much of an introduction among the members of the BFIB, as he has consistently shut the Cardinals down throughout his career with Cincinnati.

Leake delivers a pitch against St. Louis during a Sunday night game in May. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Leake delivers a pitch against St. Louis during a Sunday night game in May. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch

He’s an innings eater who fields his position exceptionally, can swing the bat a little bit and be a quality back of the rotation arm. Like Kazmir, there’s no compensation pick attached to his hip, and, considering the numbers, Leake should be able to be had for somewhere in the neighborhood of what Bartolo Colón got from the Mets two offseasons ago – 2 years for $20 mil.

These three were just names that jumped out at me, but the Cardinals should be very actively mining the middle of the starting pitcher market for quality arms to replace Lance Lynn and bridge the gap until guys like Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty are ready to take on big league roles.

Should the Mozeliak hat be thrown in the circles of David Price and Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto? Sure, but the Cardinals can’t get caught up in bidding wars with the Dodgers or Cubs just because they now have “payroll muscle” to flex.

Revised Step 2: Clear Up First Base for Piscotty

First base is clearly the Cardinals’ biggest everyday positional issue with too many mouths to feed and not enough playing time to go around adequately. So who gets the majority of the at-bats and who doesn’t?

Well, I’ve got a rather creative solution that I can guarantee you’ll be hearing about for the first time.

As I stated in that big bold sentence up there, the Cardinals need to clear the way for Stephen Piscotty to take over as the everyday 1st basemen in 2016. He was their best offensive player in 2015 – yeah, all of 2015, not just the 2nd half, but the whole season – and the Cardinals need to make room for his bat to be in the lineup every day.

So how do they do that with Matt Adams still sitting there as a very viable option? We’re going to deal Adams somewhere, and I have a very specific destination in mind.

Baltimore.

Matt Adams makes a play during a 2014 game against the Orioles. Photo by Rob Carr for Getty Images
Matt Adams makes a play during a 2014 game against the Orioles. Photo by Rob Carr for Getty Images

Why Baltimore? Well, let’s think about it together. Who was Baltimore’s first baseman in 2015? Chris Davis.

Davis is coming off a monstrous year, will command an equally monstrous paycheck – one that the Cardinals need to avoid throwing their hat in on – and with Matt Wieters accepting his qualifying offer – which will put him on the books for $15.8 million – and Darren O’Day on their minds, the Orioles chances of keeping Davis are becoming increasingly slim by the day.

In come the Cardinals with the offer of Adams, still a quality first baseman, especially in the American League where O’s manager Buck Showalter can rest his legs but still keep him in the lineup with the DH option.

Adams could have a lot of value to Baltimore, and potentially yield a return of either a solid pitching prospect – a la Mike Wright – or a solid bullpen haul – Brian Matusz, Brad Brach, or, if God is on our side, Zach Britton.

This could potentially fix two issues. 1st base is now Piscotty’s, and the bullpen is strengthened.

Boom. Mic drop

Revised Step 3: SIGN JASON HEYWARD

This isn’t revised at all, but I’m putting it in here because it just can’t be said enough. Pay the man. Pay him whatever you need to pay him. Offer to re-name the stadium after him, offer him all your shares of Apple, offer him a lifetime supply of Imo’s, offer to build him a house in Frontenac; whatever you have to offer him, do it.

This seems harsh and untrue, but if Jason Heyward is in a different uniform on opening day 2016 playing on a salary under $200 million the Cardinals will have failed the offseason. Heyward is the top priority and nothing should get done before signing him. Plain and simple.

Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo courtesy of USA Today. I can't get enough of Heyward, please sign him. Please?
Photo courtesy of USA Today. I can’t get enough of Heyward, please sign him. Please?

So there it is, all shiny and new and improved. Ryan’s Cardinals offseason blueprint 2.0. I hope it’s as exciting to you as it is to me. But my work really means nothing, John Mozeliak holds all the cards in his hand and he needs to deal them out and push his chips to the middle of the table.

Go make it happen, Mo.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

 

Spitfire: Cardinals Offseason Improvement Ideas

St. Louis Cardinals 2015-16 Offseason Blueprint

Cardinals Loss
Jon Jay slams his helmet following Stephen Piscotty’s series ending strikeout, while Cubs fans celebrate

Until Hector Rondón’s 0-2 slider caused Stephen Piscotty’s wild swing and miss to officially send the Cubs to the National League Championship Series, I didn’t really believe what was happening. The Cubs couldn’t actually be about to defeat the big-brother Cardinals…could they? I was in shock, disbelief, embarrassment, and complete and utter disappointment. This really just happened, and now I was lift to wonder, what now?

So much had gone wrong in 2015, injuries had consistently hammered the club, yet they had somehow pushed through just about every single one of them to accrue an improbable and magnificent 100 win season. But it finally caught up to them against Chicago, as a worn down bunch of Cardinals slogged their way to another premature playoff exit.

My first thought was, “Damn, this is some St. Louis Blues type stuff here. The Cardinals aren’t supposed to be like this.” But, alas, the injuries caught up to them, particularly the ones to Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina. And now reality sets in. What comes next?

As has been well documented, this is the fourth straight season that the Cardinals have exited the playoffs on the heels of three consecutive losses. The Mike Matheny burner, at least among fans, has had the heat significantly turned up. Unfairly? Probably, but if Ken Hitchcock gets so much hate for premature playoff exits four straight years in a row, why doesn’t Matheny deserve it?

So now the Cardinals appear to be stuck. In my own estimation, this year could have been the Cardinals’ fifth consecutive World Series Title. They have had five straight teams that should have – in my own mind – gotten the job done. Yet only one of those teams has.

Moving forward, there isn’t an obvious answer to the question, “what is keeping the Cardinals from the World Series?” Is it Mike Matheny’s managerial inexperience/ineptitude? Is it poor luck at the worst times? Is it an inconsistent offense? Is it an inconsistent bullpen? I don’t think anybody really knows the concrete answer, but here’s my two cents on how the Cardinals can finally get over the hump in 2015.

Step 1: Fire John Mabry

In his end of season press conference, General Manager John Mozeliak made it evident that every member of the coaching staff would be returning in 2016. When I read the comments I was incredibly frustrated. Come the hell on, Mo. You can’t be serious. These comments are a heavy part of the reason why the Cardinals can’t get it done.

Complacency. It’s everywhere with this team. “We had a great regular season but just couldn’t get it done.” “We have to take the good from this season and appreciate everything we accomplished.” WHEN IS FAILURE GOING TO STOP BEING ACCEPTABLE?! Make some changes, this isn’t the goddamn Boy Scouts.

The offense has been unbelievably inconsistent, so start by making a simple change here. Does John Mabry deserve the full blame for the offensive ineptitude? Absolutely not, but this is a simple change that could possibly lead to much greater offensive dividends.

Step 2: Sign Jason Heyward

How much will it cost? I have no idea, only Jason Heyward and his agent know. But what I do know is that the Cardinals need to pay the man. Whatever he’s asking for, give it to him. I could throw all the numbers in the world at you, but I’m sure you’ve already seen just about all of them. Heyward clearly proved his astronomical value to the club day in and day out in 2015 and deserves whatever sum he’s asking for. If it’s 8 years for $180 million, what are you waiting for? Go get it done.

Step 3: Have a Heyward Back-Up Plan

Has having a back-up plan ever hurt anyone? No, and if the Cardinals can’t get the Heyward deal done they need to be able to have one in place. If you’re satisfied with just moving Stephen Piscotty over to RF and rolling with an outfield of Holliday-Grichuk-Piscotty then that’s fine. But whatever money you were planning on using to re-sign Heyward should still be used. Yoenis Cespedes is a viable corner outfield option if Mozeliak views that as a pressing need. Chris Davis is definitely worth a long look. Regardless of any of this, the Cardinals need to have a back-up plan that will keep them from panicking – example: last trade deadline’s acquisition of Brandon Moss – and making a poor move.

Step 4: Put Some Money Into the Bullpen

The Cardinal bullpen has always been a hot button topic in St. Louis. In 2011 it was an incredible strength that Tony La Russa rode to a World Series title. In 2014 it imploded and gave the Giants an NLCS victory. And in between Mike Matheny’s bullpen management has been consistently scrutinized. But one thing that John Mozeliak has not really done is put money into the bullpen and really go get some quality arms.

Ever since Marc Rzepczynski left, the Cardinals haven’t had a truly consistent weapon to shut down opposing left handed hitters. Go get one. Antonio Bastardo, Tony Sipp, and Brian Matusz are three names that should be heavily looked at by the Cardinals. Preferably, I would like either Sipp or Bastardo – or both – signed, but either way, address the left side of the bullpen.

Also in the bullpen, just go get more weapons for Mike Matheny. Consistently, he burns out Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal until their effectiveness is all but naught. So go get him more weapons that he trusts. Go pay Darren O’Day, Ryan Madsen, Shawn Kelley, Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria. Stop shying away from spending money on the bullpen and pretending that what you have back there is good enough to get it done. It’s clearly not and your approach of taking low-risk gambles and letting homegrown guys fill in roles isn’t working. So change the approach and go spend some money.

Next year’s opening day bullpen should be dramatically different and more effective. I’m not trying to bash on the homegrown guys or the low-risk guys, but those guys should be the bullpen depth, not having to come in and fill high-pressure roles.

Step 5: Give Yadier Molina a 1st Basemen’s Glove

Huh? This one really makes no sense. Except that it does. This offseason the Cardinals need to tell Yadier Molina to put his pride aside and learn how to play an adequate 1st base. Go look at what San Francisco has done with Buster Posey. Posey is consistently excellent in the second half and postseason. Why? Because the Giants give him about 40 starts at 1st base every year to rest his legs. He’s still playing 150-155 games a year, but he’s only catching about 105 of those games. That makes a huge difference and, if done to Yadier Molina, will keep his bat fresh down the stretch and hopefully prevent the injuries that have plagued him the past few seasons.

Step 6: Explore the Trade Market for Jurickson Profar

Yeah, bet you didn’t think you were going to hear that name during this column, did you? Profar has all but gone missing the past two seasons due to a very serious shoulder injury and has been mostly forgotten about. But just three years ago he was Baseball America’s #1 overall prospect. That type of transcendent talent doesn’t just go away, and being 23 years old, at the start of next season, it’s reasonable to believe that Profar can still become the player he was projected as just two to three years ago.

Now, why should the Cardinals be looking at him? During the 2nd half, Jhonny Peralta looked alarmingly old, and the Cardinals do not have an immediate answer at SS for when Peralta suddenly becomes ineffective. Profar can be that answer. Granted, it might take a year or two, but Profar can be the answer at SS very quickly.

And on top of all that, this is a classic buy low scenario. In Texas, Profar is currently blocked by Elvis Andrus, under contract until 2022, and Rougned Odor, who emerged as a viable franchise 2nd baseman this season and is only going to get better, and Joey Gallo, the franchise’s top prospect who is currently being blocked by Adrian Beltre. So Profar’s pretty far down on the franchise depth chart and could potentially be had for fairly cheap.

Assuming this is so, the Cardinals can deal from their positions of depth and strength – pitching and outfielders – and cut a deal with Texas for their former all world prospect. Profar would immediately become the heir to Peralta’s SS throne and could impact the club immediately in 2016. This could be a low-risk, high-reward deal that could pay off in a massive way down the road.

Step 7: Sign Trevor Rosenthal to an Extension

Out of the Cardinals’ arbitration eligible players, Rosenthal is really the only one that warrants a long term extension. Something along the lines of Andrew Miller’s recently inked 4 year $36 million deal should be the blueprint. Also speaking of arbitration, only Steve Cishek and Brandon Moss should be non-tendered. I believe Tony Cruz can be a viable back-up for Molina if the club plays him at 1st base, as I have suggested. Matt Adams should not be given up on yet, and should be given every opportunity to win the everyday 1st base job. As for Peter Bourjos, he should be signed looked to be dealt.

Pick up Jaime Garcia’s Option and Let John Lackey Walk

In my mind, the 2016 rotation is all but set. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Jaime Garcia should be the five trotted out there in April, with Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, and Tyler Lyons waiting in the wings. In order to achieve this, Garcia’s option needs to be picked up, and John Lackey – who has made it clear that he will go where the money is – should be let go. This is the most sensible thing to do and the path that the Cardinals need to take.

This, obviously, is not the only blueprint to offseason success for John Mozeliak and the Cardinals. But it’s certainly a start. The bullpen needs re-working, Jason Heyward needs to be re-signed, and the Cardinals must be creative in order to push the 2016 team over the edge and towards the World Series trophy that has eluded them since the magical 2011 run.

St. Louis Cardinals 2015-16 Offseason Blueprint