How to Salvage the Cardinals’ Offseason

CMART(Sept. 19, 2015 – Source: John Konstantaras/Getty Images North America)

The St. Louis Cardinals are in the midst of a very underwhelming offseason. This statement is not really controversial. The Cardinals reportedly entered this offseason with more financial might than they have had in any previous offseason, thanks to their new television contract. Despite their increased wealth, the Cardinals have failed to improve their roster for 2016. They have whiffed in their attempts to add star players David Price and Jason Heyward and have lost significant pieces from their 100-win ball club of 2015. Beyond losing Heyward, the Cardinals will compete in 2016 without John Lackey and Lance Lynn, two of their top starters a year ago. Even with these significant losses, the Cardinals’ acquisitions have been underwhelming, with Jedd Gyorko, Brayan Pena and Jonathon Broxton constituting all of the Major League talent the club has added this offseason. Their lack of impact acquisitions isn’t from a lack of trying, as their offer to David Price was the second richest he received and their offer to Heyward exceeded $200 Million. Regardless, they signed neither of these players and are now potentially heading into the 2016 season with a significantly less talented roster, so how can they salvage their offseason?

For many people, the next logical move after missing on the top free agents is to move to the next tier of the market and maybe spread the money around to multiple players. This especially appears like an ideal next step for the Cardinals because this year’s class of free agents is very deep. However, this Cardinals roster does not have many holes to fill, just right field or first base and a starting pitcher position remain open for upgrades. The top position player free agents remaining don’t fit these needs for a right fielder or first baseman. The remaining outfielders all profile as left fielders, which hinders the Cardinals ability to add them because Matt Holliday has that position locked down for at least one more season. Chris Davis certainly seems like an ideal match for the Cardinals because he can take over first base and bring 40-homer power to a lineup starving for home runs. However, Davis has already turned down a 7-year contract worth upwards of $150 Million. This commitment isn’t beyond the Cardinals’ means, but they are known for being very prudent with their money and as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs pointed out, Chris Davis is likely to be a very poor investment due to how his one-dimensional skill set typically ages.

The market for starting pitchers, on the other hand, may be a better match with what the Cardinals are seeking, but it lacks any real impact arms. While solid mid-rotation arms like Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen and Scott Kazmir are still available, the Cardinals may not feel compelled to spend around $15 million per year on an extended contract for a marginal upgrade over their current options for a 5th starter.

The Cardinals’ next option beyond the free agent market is to turn to the trade market. The Cardinals are reportedly discussing a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for a starting pitcher, likely Jake Odorizzi. They could also engage the Indians on a trade for one of their young hurlers: Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar or Trevor Bauer. However, the increased price of pitching on the free agent market has driven up the cost of talent necessary to acquire a cost-controlled starter, like the ones above. The Indians are willing to trade from their rotation, but only if the return includes young, MLB ready position players. With the Cardinals looking to augment their offense as well, this trade scenario doesn’t matchup too well. Likewise, a trade for a quality outfielder, such as one of the Rockies’ starters Carlos Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson or Charlie Blackmon, will likely cost a young, MLB ready pitcher. Even if the Cardinals could find a trade partner that was seeking prospects, their system lacks elite prospects, barring Alex Reyes, who is near untouchable in trades. The Redbirds’ system does have plenty of depth, which leaves the door open for a trade, just not a very impactful one.

The best way to salvage this offseason may not involve significant forays into the free agent market or even the trade market, instead the Cardinals could use their increased financial might to extend some of their budding young stars. Locking in a few of their top young players may not improve their 2016 roster, but they may be able to contend without significant upgrades, as they are coming off a 100-win campaign and still project as 5th best team in the NL. While Heyward pointed to the Cardinals’ aging core as a primary reason for leaving, the Cardinals still boast an impressive collection of talented young players, and as I mentioned earlier they have a deep farm system. If the Cardinals can lock up a few of their key youngsters, namely Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, they can give themselves some cost-certainty moving forward and potentially lower their future costs. This will free them up to be aggressive in free agency again in an offseason or two. Extensions carry plenty of risk, especially when they involve pitchers and pitchers that have injuries in their recent past. The benefits of these extensions can outweigh the potential costs, especially since salaries for pitchers on the open market are growing much faster than those of position players. By guaranteeing the money ahead of free agency, the club can limit the overall cost of signing the player and certainly lower the amount of money due to the player in the future by paying more money up front, which makes perfect sense for the Cardinals because they have plenty of money to spend now.

So, what might the extensions for Rosenthal, Wacha and Martinez look like?

Rosenthal: 4 years, $38 Million + 1 club option for $13 Million

Rosenthal’s best comp is Craig Kimbrel’s extension from 2014. Kimbrel’s deal awards him $42 Million over 4 years with a club option valued at $13 Million. Rosenthal may not be as dominant as Kimbrel was when he signed, but he has the same amount of service time and has racked up plenty of saves to get a major payday through the arbitration process. Shutdown relievers are en vogue right now, so the cost to acquire control of two of his free agent years will be costly. However, relievers are also known to be quite volatile, so Rosenthal should be interested in locking in a significant guarantee, while he is both healthy and effective.

Wacha: 5 years, $37.5 Million + 1 club option for $15 Million

Wacha has just over 2 years of service, which means he is still one year away from arbitration and 4 years from free agency. His best comps include Yovani Gallardo, Jon Lester and Ricky Romero. Each of these starters signed for right around $30 Million over 5 years. While each pitcher had similar, if not slightly better, track records than Wacha, their extensions are a bit outdated as the price for starting pitchers has skyrocketed recently, so Wacha’s extension will have to adjust for this. What will likely keep Wacha’s extension below $40 Million is his distance from free agency, previous injury to his throwing arm and the fact that arbitration is slow to correct itself. The last point means that while free agent pitchers are receiving more money, pitchers going to arbitration have not seen as substantial increases in salary. Wacha’s rare shoulder injury in 2014 will likely motivate him to sacrifice two years of free agency in exchange for guaranteed money. The Cardinals will certainly consider Wacha’s health when discussing an extension, but it is important they lock Wacha in before he reaches free agency and sees his salary climb even further.

Martinez: 5 years, $35 Million + 1 club option for $15

Martinez has the same service time as Wacha, but a different case in his extension negotiations because he has only one full season as a starter under his belt. He may lack the same experience in the rotation as Wacha, but his one season in the rotation bested any of Wacha’s single seasons. Martinez is also considered to have a higher ceiling compared to Wacha, so his extension will have to consider the likelihood that his performance continues to top that of Wacha. Similarly, to Wacha, Martinez recently had a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his season, which may motivate him to give up to free agent years in order to gain financial security now.

Extending these budding stars may not improve the 2016 club, but it will prepare them to further improve the roster in the coming years by providing them cost-certainty. The 2016 roster likely doesn’t need a major addition to begin with; adding Heyward or Price would have been beneficial, but not essential. As always, the Cardinals have someone within the organization ready to step up. They should still look to augment this roster, but with more modest additions. If they can convince Mark Buehrle to play one last year before retirement, they can add to their rotation and give themselves more pitching depth in case any of their starters go down with injuries. If they are willing to spend more money, Scott Kazmir seems like a good fit if they can get him on a 3-year deal with an Average Annual Value under $15 Million. On the offensive side, they can sign Steve Pearce to a cheap 2-year deal to platoon with Matt Adams at first base and maybe Pearce will rediscover the magic he had in 2014. The Cardinals may not be able to sign each of these players to an extension because not every player is interested in giving away free agent years and not every player is worthy of a risky extension. However, putting their extra money towards locking in their young core and putting less of it into the free agent market is a better move than spending significant money on players that are not great fits for their club. The Cardinals dealt with arguably the worst injuries of any club last year and were still able to reach the 100-win plateau, so I don’t think it’s accurate to assume they have to force additions on their roster in order to succeed in 2016. While Heyward feels the club’s core is nearing the end of its run, the Cardinals have anther core ready to establish itself, just as they always do. They should use this offseason to begin ensuring their core of tomorrow will stay together for a long time to come.

Anthony Cacchione

Carlos Martinez vs. Shelby Miller: Did the Cardinals make the Right Decision?

Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America

Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America

Early this past offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves agreed to a blockbuster trade that sent Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves in exchange for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. As with many big trades, this one has been continuously analyzed to determine who is the “winner” of the trade. However, this article will not perpetuate this trend because it seems pretty clear that the Braves will receive the most value from this trade, not because Heyward hasn’t become the offensive threat many hoped for, but because Shelby Miller has transformed himself as a pitcher and come back strong from a weak sophomore campaign. Instead, this post will look at whether the Cardinals made the right decision to trade Shelby Miller over Carlos Martinez, who was the Braves’ preferred choice in the trade. Both pitchers are enjoying breakout seasons, but which one has the brighter future?

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Martinez 107.1 9.48 3.61 0.84 56.0% 14.7% 2.52 3.46 3.13 1.5
Miller 113.2 7.52 2.77 0.48 50.2% 5.9% 2.38 3.09 3.64 2.3

The above graph displays each pitcher’s numbers so far in 2015.

The Case For Shelby Miller

I did not have much faith in Miller coming into the 2015 season. He was coming off a down 2014, in which he struggled to generate swings and misses and battled control issues all year. He was still young, however, just 24-years-old, so he still had time to develop into a more complete pitcher, rather than the thrower he seemed to be in 2014. I did not see anything close to Miller’s remarkable turnaround coming; he has become a completely different pitcher. During his time in St. Louis, Miller was a fly-ball pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff, but he struggled to consistently generate the whiffs expected with such great stuff. In half a season with Atlanta, Miller has moved into the league’s top-25 in GB%, after ranking in the bottom-20 last season. He has done this while also improving both his strikeout and walk rates. Here is a graph of Miller’s 2014 statistics compared with his numbers this season.

Year IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2014 183 6.25 3.59 1.08 39.9% 9.9% 3.74 4.54 4.47 .5
2015 113.2 7.52 2.77 0.48 50.2% 5.9% 2.38 3.09 3.64 2.3

Is Miller’s turnaround legitimate or has his success this season been a fluke? While Miller is not likely to sustain an ERA in the low-2s moving forward, his groundball and strikeout numbers seem genuine. That is because these statistical improvements have been accompanied by adjustments in Miller’s repertoire, as he has adopted both a sinker and a cutter that have changed his results. When Miller was with the Cardinals, he featured a fourseam fastball that reached the mid-90s and a curveball that showed flashes of plus, but lacked consistency. This year, however, Miller has used his sinker more frequently than his straight fastball and has implemented his cutter 20% of time, compared to just 6% previously. These two pitches have both contributed to Miller’s new groundball tendencies and have even improved his fourseam fastball, which now generates more swinging strikes than last season.

The best predictors for a pitcher’s future success are strikeouts, walks and home runs and Miller has developed an excellent approach for controlling these three outcomes. He has improved his command and refined his repertoire to increase his groundball rate while also generating more swings and misses.

While Shelby Miller has controlled the three most important outcomes for a pitcher very well, Carlos Martinez has mastered just one of the three. Martinez is among the NL leaders in strikeouts, but he has struggled to limit walks and homeruns, which could catch up to him moving forward. Miller’s ability to control those outcomes better than Martinez is what gives him a brighter outlook.

The Case For Carlos Martinez

While Miller’s transformation is very impressive and noteworthy, it does not match what Martinez has consistently produced. He has maintained a strong strikeout rate throughout his career and even seen it increase each season. He has coupled his healthy strikeout numbers with impressive groundball rates, with each season’s GB% topping Miller’s career best groundball rate.

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Martinez 225 8.84 3.52 0.60 53.5% 9.3% 3.44 3.30 3.38 3.1
Miller 483.2 7.57 3.14 0.89 41.9% 9.0% 3.11 3.81 3.98 5.7

Above is the career numbers for both Martinez and Miller.

Miller has the career advantage in ERA, but Martinez trumps Miller in his peripheral statistics, such as FIP and xFIP, which are both better predictors of future performance because they only consider strikeouts, walks and home runs. However, looking at Miller’s career numbers isn’t entirely fair after we concluded his adjustments this year are likely to last. Looking strictly at this season, Martinez again bests Miller in xFIP, but not FIP. This is because Martinez has been plagued by an abnormally high HR/FB, which does not correlate well year-to-year, so he can expect to see that figure regress. Martinez’s advantage in xFIP is noteworthy because it corrects for the random variation of a pitcher’s HR/FB rate and is better at analyzing a pitcher’s true talent level.

The other positive for Martinez is his age and experience, as he is one year younger and also has one more year of team control, which means he will not reach free agency for another year after Miller. Even if you believe that Miller has a slight talent advantage, Martinez’s extra year of control makes him a more valuable player for now and the future. In just his first season as a full-time starting pitcher, Martinez compares very favorably with Miller, who is already in his 3rd season as a starter. While Miller’s improvements this season put each of them on the same level, Martinez is making adjustments of his own that will elevate him beyond their current level. In an effort to eliminate his platoon splits against left-handed batters, Martinez has increased his usage of his changeup, which he rarely featured out of the bullpen, but has now become an excellent pitch for him against lefties.

Martinez has been a very raw talent ever since his initial promotion to the Majors, but has shown tremendous improvements in his first season as a starter. Not only has Martinez’s pitch selection improved, but his composure and mentality on the mound have also come a long way from his days as a reliever. Martinez appears to have really blossomed under the mentorship of catcher Yadier Molina and carries himself with the confidence of a rising star. His improved demeanor on the mound is certainly a positive, but it is his improved pitch selection and consistent success through his time in the Majors that make him the more valuable of the two pitchers moving forward.

Conclusion

The argument can certainly be made that either of these two young pitchers is more valuable, and either starter you choose will bring enormous value. I favor Carlos Martinez to Shelby Miller because I believe his strikeout numbers and ability to miss bats will last long into his career. He has also consistently generated groundballs at a rate among the league leaders. With his propensity to generate groundballs, Martinez is more likely to avoid being plagued by home runs. Miller has certainly shown better control than Martinez, but Martinez looks better at generating strikeouts and limiting home runs, which will lessen the impact of his higher walk rate. Another factor in Martinez’s favor is his extra year of team control, which lessens his cost to his club and gives him more value, with all else equal. Miller’s improvements have been quick and impressive and I do believe they will last, but Martinez still has more value moving forward.

Anthony Cacchione

5 Players Due to Rebound in 2015

(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

The New Year cannot come soon enough for some players, who want nothing more than to turn the page on a disappointing 2014 campaign. With the new year just two days away and Opening Day less than 100 days away, it is appropriate that we look at the five players most primed to rebound from a down 2014 season. This list includes three veterans, who failed to reach their career norms last season and two youngsters that have yet to truly establish themselves in the Big Leagues. Each of these players has a very promising 2015 season ahead, which will make 2014 the exception, not the new normal.

Chris Davis

After two strong seasons from 2012-2013, Davis endured a very difficult 2014 season. After slashing .278/.350/.571 (Avg/Obp/Slg) from 2012-2013, Davis collapsed to a .196/.300/.404 slash line. On the field 2014 was tough enough, but Davis was also hit with a 25-game suspension with 17 games left in the season for using Amphetamines. Davis had been cleared to use Adderall in previous seasons, but not for 2014. However, this suspension is completely behind him and he has actually been cleared to use Adderall in 2015, so there is no concern over a longer suspension. While his K% is alarmingly high, that comes with the territory of being an elite power hitter and many of his other peripheral statistics point to a rebound in 2015. Davis’s BB% actually increased to a career high, which bodes well for his on-base abilities moving forward, but it also suggests that pitchers still feared Davis as a hitter. In fact, his .196 batting average was likely greatly influenced by a career low Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .242. His career mark for BABIP is .320, so once that normalizes, Davis will soar above the Mendoza line and more resemble his 2012-2013 self. While Davis will not match his 2013 power numbers, he is likely to surpass his 2012 campaign, where he hit 33 home runs. Even in his down 2014, his ISO (Slugging Percentage – Batting Average) was not far off his 2012 ISO, which shows his power did not go anywhere.

Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce’s 2014 season was painful to watch, especially because it came seemingly out of nowhere. Beyond being painful to watch, it was also painful to play, as Bruce battled nagging knee issues throughout the season that contributed to his reduced production. However, there is no reason to believe this is how Bruce will perform moving forward, even if the knee injuries are not entirely to blame for his struggles. Throughout his 6-year career before 2014, Bruce had been one of the most consistent players in the league, averaging over 2.7 fWAR per season. During his disastrous 2014, Bruce’s Ground Ball% soared, while his Fly Ball% sank to a career low. This does not indicate a healthy power hitter, but rather someone who does not have their legs underneath them and must instead do their damage using their upper body. The Steamer projection system calls for Bruce to post a 1.4 WAR, which would be a 2.5 win improvement. However, I think Steamer is being too conservative in its projection because Bruce should be fully recovered from knee surgery before the 2015 season, which will allow him to return to his previous norms. I would project Bruce to post a season closer to 2011, when he played about average defense and slugged 32 home runs, en route to a .349 wOBA and a 3.0 fWAR.

Evan Longoria

Longoria probably does not fit with the rest of the players on this list because he actually turned in an above average campaign by most players’ standards, but not his own. His 3.4 fWAR would have been a career low, if not for his injury-shortened 2012 season. Despite this being the first unimpressive season in Longoria’s extraordinary career, many fans are concerned about his decline beginning well before his $100 Million extension starts in 2017. Longoria’s 2015 season will quell any concerns about his new extension, at least the first few years of the deal. The 29-year-old third baseman averaged over 6 wins per season for his first 6 Big League seasons, and is unlikely beginning his decline, in what should be the middle of his prime. Instead, Longo suffered from a poor batted ball profile in 2014, which should readjust to his norms and an unusually average season on defense. Longoria saw a slight uptick in his GB%, but more significantly his FB% dropped 4% and saw a 4% increase in Infield Fly Balls (IFFB). Both of these shifts suggest that his timing was off, which is a poor excuse for an entire season; however this is not something that persisted the entire season, as his FB% increased by 10% in the second half and his IFFB% decreased by nearly 4%. He will likely enter this season with his normal timing, which will help him reach his career offensive norms. Longoria also posted the lowest HR/FB rate of his career, which will not repeat itself, as that usually remains near a player’s career norms, so he should expect at least a 5% increase, which will significantly help his power output. On the defensive end, I do not put much weight in one season of fielding statistics, so I do not have any concern over his defense, since he grades out as a gold glove defender by any metric for his career. With improved timing and a normalized HR/FB rate, Longoria will put to rest any mentions of his decline.

Danny Salazar

Salazar differs from the players above, as he has yet to truly establish himself at the Major League level. He dominated during his 50 innings of work in 2013, striking out 11.25 batters per 9 innings. However, in his first chance at a full season, Salazar struggled mightily to match expectations. He finished 2014 with a 4.25 ERA across 110 innings, but his 3.52 FIP suggests he was better than his ERA indicates. But there are plenty of more reasons for optimism heading into 2015 and the Indians should expect a more similar performance to his 50-inning sample in 2013. Salazar is not going to strike out 11 batters per 9 innings again, but he does not need to. 2014 was a season of two halves for Salazar, as he cut his FIP from 4.71 in the first half to 2.83 in the second half, which fit with his ERA dropping more than 2 runs from the first half. The second half version of Salazar most closely resembles the real Danny Salazar, as in the first half he was plagued by an inflated BABIP of .369 and an enormous HR/FB rate of 14.8%. Once these things that are not entirely under his control normalized, Salazar thrived, which is what I expect him to continue in 2015. He should be able to carry over his impressive K/BB ratio of 2014 and he is unlikely to have a BABIP north .340 again, which will help keep his ERA closer to his FIP.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez is very similar to Salazar, in that he has yet to match expectations at the Big League level, but this will be his first opportunity at being a full-time starter. Even in his time stuck in purgatory between starting and relieving, Martinez’s talent has shined, but the results have not always matched what people have seen. In his 117 2/3 Major League innings, the righty has carried a 4.28 ERA, but a 3.15 FIP, which points to better results ahead, once his surface statistics match his peripherals. While Carlos Martinez has been hurt by an inflated BABIP of .336 for his career, but based on pitchers with a similar profile, that is not likely to persist. The 13 pitchers in 2014 with at least 8 K/9 and at least a 50% Ground ball rate average a BABIP of .293, which suggests that Martinez is likely to see improved batted ball results. One thing he can control is home runs and Martinez has been fantastic at stifling home runs, allowing just .38 HR/9 through his career, which bodes well for future success, especially since he can strike guys out. Martinez will need to limit his walks better, but even when he walked over 3.5 batters per 9 last year, he carried an FIP of 3.18, so if he is more lucky with balls in play, it should not be an issue. I think Martinez should excel in his first opportunity as a full-time starter, but I wouldn’t expect him to reach the 200-inning threshold, as he will need to build up his workload, but also because his high number of walks will drive up his pitch counts.

 

I expect Longoria to turn in the best season of the players on the list, which isn’t surprising as he is the only established star and the one coming off the best season. Jay Bruce is my pick for the largest improvement, because I believe his performance was heavily influenced by his knee injury, which should be behind him. Of the pitchers, I’d expect Martinez to turn in the best season because I believe in his incredible talent, but also because his profile of high strikeouts and groundballs bodes well for success.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Carlos Martinez

In the wake of the Cardinals’ decision to demote relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs to Class AAA and call up right-handed pitcher Carlos Martinez, we take a look at Martinez‘s ability and future. The Cardinals signed Martinez out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 for a $1.5 million bonus, but he did not pitch in the US until 2011. The 21-year-old Martinez stands just 6’0”. He has never pitched above Double-A, but has enjoyed success across three levels. In 2012, Martinez pitched at High Single-A and Double-A, and pitched to a 2.93 ERA across 104 1/3 innings. Martinez is very similar to the last pitcher we covered, Yordano Ventura, because they are both relatively short power-pitchers, who could end up as top starting pitchers or shut down relievers. Throughout his Minor League career, Martinez has been used as a starting pitcher with a three pitch mix, including a fastball, curveball and a circle-change. As a starter, Martinez throws his fastball between 94-98 mph and can dial it up to 100 when needed. He has a tendency to leave the fastball up in the zone where it loses movement, but when he spots it down in the zone his fastball has good late life. Martinez’s curveball has very sharp downward action, making it very tough on right-handed hitters. He has good control of both his fastball and his curveball, but needs to keep the fastball down more consistently. He throws a circle change-up, which is his weakest pitch. Even though it is not his best pitch, the change-up has good arm-side run, but he needs better command of the pitch. He has a tendency to leave the change-up high in the zone, which diminishes the movement and makes it easier to hit. Martinez’s delivery is very violent with a quick arm action. He takes his arm a little too far behind his back and is unable to get it back into position by foot strike. This arm drag is intensified because of his propensity to drift from his balance point, which does not allow his arm to get back up by foot strike. He is able to create a little deception by slightly turning his back to the hitter, which also helps him keep his front side closed. Martinez’s finish is incredibly violent as he strides very far, but after he releases the ball, his front leg straightens and he spins off towards first base. Martinez currently projects as a #2/3 starting pitcher, but he will need to improve his change-up in order to have three plus pitches. After his promotion, Martinez will be used out of the bullpen, where the Cardinals are in dire need for a quality reliever. In my view, Martinez’s size and violent delivery will likely limit him to be a shut down reliever instead of a starter, because he would likely have durability issues as a starter.