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

Trade Market For Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels is coming off one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 30 years old. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia Phillies are looking to trade their ace for a substantial haul. After finishing last in their division with a 73-89 record, the Phillies plan to undergo a rebuilding phase in order to restock their talent supply. The Phillies current roster is full of veterans signed to poor contracts, but Hamels is one of the few players who could bring back a significant return in a trade. Hamels is signed to a reasonable 6-year contract worth $144 Million through 2018, which is just about what he is worth, leaving little surplus value. While the Phillies appear willing to deal Hamels and expedite their rebuilding process, it appears they are expecting a significant haul in return for their ace. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, the Phillies are seeking “at least three top prospects”. They are looking for 2 of those players to be Major League ready. This is essentially the same asking price reported at the 2014 Trade Deadline when the Phillies were unable to make a trade. While the Phillies certainly have the right to ask for whatever they want, the market is unlikely to meet their demands, if only because few teams have this level of talent that they are willing to trade.

For the 5th straight season, Hamels eclipsed the 200 inning plateau with better than an 8.0 K/9. In 2014, he also posted the best ERA of his career at 2.46, which was supported by 3.07 FIP. For his career, Hamels has been very consistent with a career ERA of 3.27 and FIP of 3.48, in route to a career fWAR of 34.4 over his 9 seasons in the league. While Hamels is an outstanding talent and will certainly garner a great amount of interest on the trade market, there are still plenty of obstacles to any trade. For starters, Hamels has a 21-team “no trade” clause, which was recently updated, so it is unclear who is on the list. While Hamels will likely approve a deal to any contender he will have leverage to demand more money or some other compensation in order to waive his “no trade” clause. Another challenge for the Phillies in trading Hamels will be finding a team that is willing to meet their asking price, rather than signing one of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields and not sacrificing any talent, except the draft pick. Hamels has only 4 guaranteed years remaining on his deal and will likely earn less average annual value (AAV) than each of the above, except Shields. Teams will likely prefer signing one of the free agents and retaining their prospects, rather than pay Hamels similar money and lose 3 top prospects. Despite the fact that many teams are interested in acquiring a true ace like Hamels, the market for his services will be relatively thin because few teams can come close to the Phillies’ demands.

There are seven teams that both have the financial will power and prospect depth to make a deal for Hamels.

Dodgers: They were linked to Hamels at the Trade Deadline because of their incredible financial flexibility and elite Minor League talent. With the possibility of Zack Greinke opting out of his deal after next season, the Dodgers could pursue Hamels to go for it in 2015 and also give them an option if Greinke departs. In terms of Minor League talent, the Dodgers have shortstop Corey Seager, outfielder Joc Pederson and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias. Each of these players are consensus Top 50 prospects, but there is no chance the Phillies land all three for Hamels, and would likely only receive one added with lesser prospects in any deal.

Cubs: The Cubs seem poised to go for it as early as 2015 and if they miss on the Free Agent aces, they could turn to the Phillies. They have an unmatched pool of offensive talent in the upper minors, so they could afford to deal a few of their prospects and still be among the top systems. Some players the Cubs could offer include shortstop Javier Baez, shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Albert Almora, catcher Kyle Schwarber, right-hander CJ Edwards, and outfielder Billy McKinney. A deal involving either Baez or Russell would likely only include them and a couple lesser prospects. Deals starting with the other players above would likely involve two of the names, as they are lesser prospects, but still very valuable.

Cardinals: The Cardinals have 7 candidates to be above average starters 2015, but they are still among the few teams that have the finances and Minor League depth to acquire an ace like Hamels. They are the least likely team to acquire Hamels, but were linked to him at the Deadline, so those talks could resurface. Trade talks would likely center around one or two of right-handed Carlos Martinez, left-handed Marco Gonzalez, and Rightfielder Stephen Piscotty with other lesser prospects added in.

Red Sox: The Red Sox were interested in Hamels at the Trade Deadline, but because they were not in contention decided against paying the steep price, in the hopes that it would go down in the offseason. The Red Sox have plenty of prospects in the upper minors, but many scouts differ in their assessments of each. One of utility man Mookie Betts, catcher Blake Swihart or left-hander Henry Owens plus some of the more advanced but lower ceiling players would likely get the deal done. However, the Red Sox will be very reluctant to part with either Betts or Swihart as they are both elite talents that will have good opportunities with the club.

Yankees: The Yankees obviously have the financial capacity to take on his contract and are in the market for an ace to anchor their rotation, but they lack the Minor League talent in the upper minors to match the current asking price. The Yankees do, however, have enough high upside talent to entice the Phillies. Prospects they could offer include right-hander Luis Severino, outfielder Aaron Judge, and catcher Gary Sanchez, along with a few other lower level players.

Mariners: The Mariners may not necessarily need an ace, since they have both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but they have the financial room and prospect depth to get Hamels and push them over the cusp of the playoffs. A deal would center around one of left-hander James Paxton or right-hander Taijuan Walker. The Mariners would likely have to include shortstop Brad Miller and another talented prospect.

Rangers: Texas’s interest in Hamels depends entirely on whether they feel they can be competitive in 2015, after finishing last in the AL during an injury-plagued season. If they feel Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will be healthy and productive then Hamels could be a possible addition, especially with all the injury concerns associated with their current rotation. Jurickson Profar could be the centerpiece of a deal, if the Phillies believe the injuries are behind him. Otherwise a deal could center around Joey Gallo and some lesser prospects.

The Cardinals and Rangers are the least likely of the above teams to swing a deal for Hamels, but they do have the necessary pieces to pull off a trade. The best move for the Phillies is likely to wait until the three Free Agent aces sign with teams and then try to deal Hamels to the teams that were unable to land one of the Free Agents. The Red Sox or Cubs seem like the most likely destinations, assuming they cannot sign a Free Agent. Either way, it is unlikely the Phillies will receive the steep price they are demanding, but nevertheless, will receive an impressive haul if they do trade Cole Hamels.

Anthony Cacchione

Cardinals’ Options at Shortstop

The St. Louis Cardinals have just completed a very successful season, in which they won the National League Pennant. However, even after such a successful season this club has plenty of issues to address this offseason. The Cardinals must look for an improvement at shortstop and also need to find a way to fit Kolten Wong into the everyday lineup, likely at 2nd base. While the Cardinals will likely address needs in Centerfield and their bullpen, this post will focus on the Cardinals’ options to fill their hole at Shortstop.

During the 2013 season, the Cardinals used a combination of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso at shortstop. Both of these players are light-hitting infielders, who fit best as utility infielders, but were used more as starters at one of the most important positions on the field. Kozma was initially used as the starting shortstop with the belief that his defensive ability would make up for any weaknesses in his offensive game; however, as the season continued, it was clear that his offense was worse than expected. This led the Cardinals to add Descalso to the mix at short, as he is a better hitter that Kozma, although still below league average. The duo combined for a 63 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR, each of which ranked the Cardinals’ shortstops 27th in the MLB at the position.

It is clear that the Cardinals need a new option at this position, as they can no longer afford to get such little production from such a premier position. The Cardinals do not have an elite prospect in their system that inspires hope that the answer can come from within the organization, so it is likely that they will have to address this issue from outside the organization. Now let’s analyze some of the options the Cardinals can turn to.

Internal Options:

  1. 1. Re-sign Rafael Furcal: There has not been much talk of this option and there is good reason for that.  He is not a long-term solution and may choose to retire after missing the entire season due to Tommy John surgery.
  2. 2. Transition Kolten Wong to Shortstop: Many Cardinals fans hope for this solution. It would provide a long-term solution at short and give the Cardinals the opportunity to hang onto fan favorite, David Freese. However, this is not a very realistic possibility due to his lack of range and fringy defense at second base.

Trade Possibilities:

  1. 3. Trade for Troy Tulowitzki: The Cardinals have the Farm System to pull off such a big trade, but the Rockies insist that they will not trade Tulowitzki. The Cardinals may not want to pay the price, but if the Rockies become willing to trade Tulowitzki, he would immediately become the best option available.
  2. 4. Trade for JJ Hardy: This has been discussed since last offseason, but it is more likely that the Orioles will extend him, especially after the injury to Manny Machado.
  3. 5. Trade for Erick Aybar: The Angels are looking for pitching and the Cardinals have surplus pitching, essentially making this a very likely possibility is the Angels are willing to deal a quality shortstop they just extended through 2016. Aybar is a plus defender, who put together two strong offensive seasons between 2011 and 2012.
  4. 6. Trade for Asdrubal Cabrera: Definitely the most talked about trade possibility since last offseason. Cabrera had a down season in 2013, but is still a quality defender and should return to being a premier offensive shortstop. The Indians would likely be willing to trade Cabrera for pitching, especially since they have top prospect, Francisco Lindor in the Minor Leagues, potentially ready to ascend to the Major Leagues.
  5. 7. Trade for Elvis Andrus/Jurickson Profar: The Rangers have surplus middle infielders and are likely to trade one of Andrus, Profar or Ian Kinsler. Andrus was just signed to an 8-year extension, but they were reportedly willing to trade him this past Trade Deadline. Profar is a 20-year-old elite shortstop prospect, who may require just as big a return as Andrus. The Rangers would seek Major League level talent, making this a difficult trade to pull off.
  6. 8. Trade for Alexei Ramirez: The White Sox would likely jump at the opportunity to trade Ramirez for prospects as they begin to rebuild. However, there are concerns about his declining power and his always-poor on-base numbers. His defense is still strong and he would not require as much talent in return, but he likely would provide as much value as the other options.
  7. 9. Trade for Yunel Escobar: Escobar enjoyed a strong first season with the Rays, as his defense greatly improved and his on-base numbers went back up to .332 from .300. However, there are concerns about his mental makeup and his clubhouse attitude.

Free Agent Possibilities:

  1. Sign Stephen Drew: Arguably the best Free Agent shortstop available, but he has plenty of holes in his swing. He is an outstanding defensive shortstop and hit 13 home runs in 2013. His agent is Scott Boras, which could complicate things, but if the Cardinals choose not to trade from their Farm System, then Drew is the most likely solution to their shortstop woes.
  2. Sign Jhonny Peralta: He was suspended for 50 games last season for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic. That could drive his price down, even though he is coming off a strong season, in which he slashed .303/.358/.457.  He is a consistent defender, but his offensive numbers have been sporadic through the years.

Looking at all 11 of these possibilities may seem ridiculous considering some are unlikely, but the Cardinals have the Farm System and the financial resources to pull off any of these moves. I feel the three most likely moves are the Cardinals acquiring either Aybar or Cabrera via trade, or Drew via Free Agency if  they are unable to swing a trade. No matter what move they make, it is clear that the Cardinals will do something this offseason to address their hole at shortstop.

Check out pieces that the Cardinals have to trade: https://baseballstooges.com/2013/11/13/cardinals-trade-chips-for-2013-2014-offseason/

Anthony Cacchione

The Case Against Moving Wacha to the Bullpen

When Michael Wacha was first promoted to the MLB, I gave a scouting report in which I suggested Wacha would eventually develop into a #2 or #3 starter. However, at least for the near future, the Cardinals have shifted Wacha to the bullpen. There are a few factors that led the Cardinals to make this decision, but most of them seem very shortsighted. The Cardinals should not risk Wacha’s long-term health and long-term abilities in order to slightly improve the team’s bullpen for the remainder of the 2013 season.
The Cardinals clearly have their reasons for changing Wacha’s role, and since they see the move as temporary, most of their motives are related to this season. There is no doubt that Wacha is ready for the Majors, as he has succeed in 4 Big League starts with a 4.37 ERA, which is inflated by one tough outing against Arizona. Despite Wacha’s success, there is really no opening in the rotation. The Cardinals feel that by moving Wacha to the bullpen they can limit his workload on the season, while still allowing him to contribute at the Major League level. Clearly, the Cardinals have a need in the bullpen if they are willing to convert one of their most prized starting pitching prospects into a reliever, even if it is only temporary. The Cardinals certainly need better performances from its relievers, as the team ranks 20th in ERA at 3.79, which is actually lower because of how good their late-inning relievers have done, but the middle relievers have not been as reliable. And while it was in the lower levels of the Minors, Wacha has enjoyed success as a reliever, with a 0.86 ERA across three Minor League levels last season. It is not crazy to think that Wacha can immediately dominate as a reliever at the Big League level, especially because he will be able to work with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and devastating -, while being able to only throw his curve on occasion. The current plan is for Wacha to be used as a late-inning reliever for the Cardinals, in order for them to control the innings of their other late-inning relievers.
Other than limiting his innings, which could have been accomplished by another method, none of these reasons are designed to improve Wacha’s long-term development. Obviously, at some point, a team has to stop focusing on a prospect’s future and shift to how that player can help the team now, but Wacha was drafted just last season, and still has plenty he needs to improve, such as his curveball. While a shift to the bullpen will limit his innings, it will also allow Wacha to pitch without using his curveball very much, which is a pitch he drastically needs to improve in order to take his game to the next level, as a true three-pitch pitcher. The better option for Wacha’s development would be to keep him in Triple-A as a starter and allow him to develop all three of his pitches until he reaches his innings limit, at which point the Cardinals can shut him down. Many young starting pitchers have been converted to relievers for what was meant to be temporary, yet not many are able to return to being successful starters. That list includes:

  • Joba Chamberlain, who carried a 2.28 ERA through 22 starts at the Minor League level, but just a 3.80 ERA through 247 career games, just 43 starts. Chamberlain’s last Major League start came in 2009, which was his only full season as a starter due to a 4.75 ERA in 31 starts.
  • The 12th pick of the 2009 Amateur Draft, Aaron Crow, is another starter that was rushed to the Majors to work out of the bullpen. While Crow has been a reliable reliever, he was given the opportunity to develop a third, so he works almost exclusively with his fastball-slider combo, which is effective as a reliever, but insufficient as a starting pitcher. Three years into his Major League career, Crow has never made a start.
  • Neftali Feliz dominated to a 2.95 ERA during his Minor League career, which covered 86 appearances, 58 of which were starts. After pitching almost exclusively as a starter for three years, Feliz was promoted as a reliever at the age of 21. Feliz dominated as a reliever at the MLB level and was even successful for his 7 starts in 2012. Unfortunately, Feliz underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2012 season, which is the year he attempted a return to the rotation, after three seasons as a reliever.

The Cardinals have clear motives for moving Wacha to the bullpen, and although they are valid in the short-term, it is worth considering the possible long-term effects of the such a move. On Wednesday, Wacha made his first relief appearance at the Major League level, and pitched 2 perfect innings recording 4 strikeouts. After his strong relief appearance on Wednesday, I have no doubt Wacha can dominate as a reliever, but it does not seem worthwhile to risk Wacha’s potential future as a reliable starter in order to improve the Cardinals’ bullpen for the remainder of the season. It seems even more questionable, since the Cardinals seem bound for the playoffs, and with so little of the season left, Wacha’s impact will not be that significant.

Anthony Cacchione

Top Area of Need for Each NL Contender

With the All-Star Break upon us, more trades will begin to occur, so we now look at the top area of need for each NL contender. The top area of need for each AL contender will follow later.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Set-up Man/Closer

The Diamondbacks bullpen has been relatively strong this season with a 3.33 ERA, which ranks 6th in the NL. However, the Diamondbacks have had trouble late in games, especially when Heath Bell was the closer. The Diamondbacks have also blown the most saves in the MLB with 19 blown saves. Even though the Diamondbacks got their closer, JJ Putz, back from injury, they still need a late-inning reliever, as Putz is tied for the team lead with 5 BS’s. Unless the Mets make Bobby Parnell available, Kevin Gregg may be the best value of any late-inning relievers.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 2nd Base
The Dodgers have been hot of late and quickly climbed from the cellar of the NL West to being just 2.5 games back of the first place Diamondbacks. However, the Dodgers are still just a .500 team, and are 24th in the MLB in runs scored. One position really holding the Dodgers back is 2nd base, where their second basemen have slashed just .254/.315/.316. The best 2nd basemen that could be available is Chase Utley of the Phillies; however the Phillies have not yet decided whether to buy or sell, but are currently leaning towards buying.

Colorado Rockies: Starting Pitcher
The Rockies may choose not to buy, but the NL West is certainly up for grabs. Especially since the Rockies just got Tulowitzki back from the DL, they should consider acquiring a starting pitcher to help push them into the Postseason. The Rockies rotation ranks 12th in the NL in ERA with a 4.54 mark. It doesn’t seem that new addition Roy Oswalt will fulfill their expectations as he has pitched to a 7.64 ERA in his first 4 starts, and is now on the DL. If the Rockies are going to reach the playoffs, they must acquire another solid starter. While Matt Garza may be out of the Rockies’ price range, the Twins’ Kevin Correia may be more realistic.

St. Louis Cardinals: Shortstop
Shortstop has long been a position of need for the Cardinals, and this year is no different. They hoped that Pete Kozma would be able to step up this year and provide strong defense and adequate offense. Kozma has been able to provide value on the defensive side of the field, but his offense has not, as he has slashed just .232/.279/.293. The trade market for shortstops is pretty weak this season, which is why the Cardinals are hoping a platoon of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma can hold the lineup together. In the unlikely event that the Indians make Asdrubal Cabrera available, then the Cardinals could pursue him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Right Fielder
The Pirates sit just 1 game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, but most of that success is owed to the pitching staff, which leads the MLB in ERA. One position that could especially use an offensive upgrade is Right Field, where the starter, Travis Snider, has produced an underwhelming .224/.294/.332 slash line. One trade possibility is the White Sox’s Alex Rios, who is also under contract beyond this season.

Cincinnati Reds: Left Field
Ever since Ryan Ludwick landed on the DL after the first game of the season, the Reds have been looking for his replacement. Internal options have failed to solve the problem, with Chris Heisey struggling to stay healthy and few other internal options coming through for the Reds. If the Cubs are willing to deal Alfonso Soriano within their division, then he could be a fit for the Reds.

Atlanta Braves: Center Field
The Braves have no glaring need, except in Center Field, where free-agent signing, BJ Upton, has struggled mightily. The Braves may not want to bench or platoon BJ for an extended period of time, especially since he is in the first year of a 5 year, $75 Million deal. However, a .177/.266/.300 slash line is not enough production for a team looking for a playoff berth. Justin Ruggiano of the Miami Marlins may be a good fit, as he is cheap financially and the Marlins are clear sellers.

Washington Nationals: Starting Pitcher
The Nationals have struggled in many areas this season, but the one position they must improve is their 5th starter spot. The Nationals starters as a whole have been very good, but that is in large part due to the excellence of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez. However, they are receiving horrible production from their 5th starter, Dan Haren, who was signed to a one year, $13 Million deal this past off-season. Haren is currently on the DL for the 2nd time, but even when healthy, Haren has compiled a 4-10 record with a 6.00 ERA. The Houston Astros’s Bud Norris may be a good fit for the Nationals, especially because he is controllable beyond this season.

Philadelphia Phillies: Right Fielder
The Phillies are right on the border between buying and selling, and in my last post I saw them more as sellers, but they have been hot of late and are currently leaning towards buying. If they do choose to buy, then many have speculated that they must shore up their middle and setup relief pitching, but their biggest area of need is in Right Field. Phillies Right Fielders have accumulated the 29th ranked WAR at -0.6. Free agent acquisition Delmon Young has failed to fulfill expectations, as he has slashed .268/.323/.419 with just 7 home runs. The Phillies do not have the prospects to acquire someone like Alex Rios, but a reunion with Raul Ibanez could be a possibility.

Anthony Cacchione

Making the Case for Matt Carpenter

After Mike Matheny named Matt Carpenter “the best second basemen in the league,” many pundits questioned Matheny’s assertion. Carpenter is a former fringe prospect, who opened some eyes in Spring Training 2011, but did not make an impact at the MLB level until 2012. In 2012, Carpenter served as a super-utility player with games in at 2b and all four corner positions – 1b, 3b, LF, RF. While his defense was sub-par, Carpenter’s offense was very impressive with a .294/.365/.463 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line with 6 home runs in just 296 ABs. In an effort to increase production at 2b and give Carpenter more playing time, the Cardinals experimented with Carpenter at 2b in a full-time role during Spring Training 2013. During the spring, Carpenter proved he was ready for a more expansive role at 2b.
Now that the season is more than 40% complete, it is time to accept that Carpenter is among the top second basemen in the league. Carpenter leads all MLB second basemen in WAR, Runs, OBP and OPS. Despite being a horrible defender as a utility infielder in 2012, Carpenter leads all MLB 2nd basemen in Fielding Runs Above-Average based on UZR.
In order to demonstrate how far Carpenter has climbed, we will compare Matt Carpenter with Brandon Phillips, who has long been regarded as the best 2nd basemen in the National League. When comparing the two 2nd basemen, it is important to remember that both batters hit in different spots in the order. Carpenter has been the lead-off hitter for the Cardinals for the majority of the season, and Phillips has been the cleanup hitter for the Reds for the entire season. Prior to the season, Phillips made it clear that the only thing he cared about when batting cleanup was driving in runs, and he has been successful in that regard with 56 RBI and 10 HRs so far this season. However, driving in runs is one of the few areas where Phillips has outperformed Carpenter. As mentioned above, Carpenter has fulfilled his obligation as a lead-off hitter by leading all MLB 2nd basemen in runs scored and OBP, which is .071 points higher than Phillips‘s OBP. Although Carpenter’s Home Run and RBI production do not equal Phillips’s production, Carpenter has out-slugged Phillips by .019, which has helped Carpenter accumulate a 145 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) compared to Phillips’s 107 wRC+. Even when comparing the defensive success of both 2nd basemen, Carpenter grades out as a superior defender to Brandon Phillips, who is a very highly regarded defender.
There is no reason to believe that Carpenter’s offensive production will begin to slide either. His incredible plate discipline has helped him have the best BB/K ratio in the NL at .82 and his walk rates are right where they were last year, so this is nothing new to him. While many people may warn that Carpenter’s Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is unsustainable at .356, he carried a .346 BABIP through all of last season. This season’s BABIP looks just as sustainable as his Line Drive% is up 4% to 27.8%, which is good for 2nd in the MLB. Also, based on his previous production, only his defensive statistics look unsustainable, but the sudden defensive success can also be attributed to playing the same position on a consistent basis. Even if his defense does not last, it seems clear his offensive production at a largely defense-first position has made him one of the top 2nd basemen in the league.