Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Cardinals Winter of Fan Discontent

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't exactly had the offseason a lot of their fans were expecting. Mozeliak talked big about having money to spend, then failed to land David Price, or retain Jason Heyward. The big acquisition was Mike Leake. There seems to be real concern the Cubs have surpassed the Cards as the best team in the division, which may be true, but I feel past history has demonstrated they just need to be good enough to make the playoffs, and hope they're healthier than everyone else at that point. Let's take a look at what's gone on this winter.

Rotation: John Lackey turned down the Cards' qualifying offer, then signed with the Cubs for twice the years and twice the money. I'm fine with that. Giving multiple years to a pitcher in his late 30s seemed unwise, and Lackey had some substantial home/road splits last year, enough I wonder how he'll do moving from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park.

Beyond that, Lance Lynn had Tommy John surgery, and is out for the year. Which is probably why the Cardinals signed Mike Leake. I understand the move, but still don't like it, for a myriad of reasons. I get that without Leake, the Cards as they stood at the moment, would be relying on some combination of Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, and Marco Gonzales to be the 5th starter, when none of those guys have managed a full year in the majors, let alone made 30 solid starts. Throw in there are legit concerns about the ability of the other 4 projected starters - Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez - to make it through an entire season unscathed, and I see the argument for bringing in a guy with at least a track record of giving you 30 solid, if unspectacular starts every year.

That said. . .

Just because Leake has stayed healthy so far, is no guarantee he'll remain healthy. Lynn hadn't missed really significant time with injury either, until now. Two, the time table for recovery from Tommy John surgery is pretty standard. Miss a season, come back and pitch like crap for a half season, then regain form, pitch like they used to. So by mid-2017, Lynn is back to himself, but Leake is still signed for another 3.5 years, with an option for another year, and a no-trade clause. Yes, other pitchers will undoubtedly get hurt over that span of time, or leave in free agency, but the contract still seems excessive for a team that allegedly has pitching depth in their minor leagues (I am convinced Mike Leake is going to be constant thorn in my side, blocking younger pitchers I want to see in the rotation for the entirety of this contract). People compare this to the Kyle Lohse signing, but Lohse was originally signed for $4 million on a one-year deal in Spring training. Did the Cards need to sign Mike Leake in mid-December? Could they have waited a month or two, saved some money to spend somewhere else they could use it?

Leake doesn't really move the needle for the Cards much. He hopefully keeps their season from cratering if/when one of the other starters gets hurt, but he doesn't elevate the team's performance much if people stay healthy. He's the 5th starter, unless things go wrong. I was not a proponent of signing David Price, because $200+ million for a pitcher seems like a bad idea, but if they really wanted him, then spend the damn money to get the ace pitcher they want, rather than cheaping out and getting mediocre ass Mike Leake to shore up the back of the rotation.

Bullpen: Let Randy Choate, Steve Cishek, Matt Belisle, and Carlos Villaneuva go. I would have kept Villaneuva and used him as a possible 5th starter. He's been able to start 30 games in a season more than once before. Resigned Jonathon Broxton, came to terms on one-year deals with Rosenthal and Maness, signed Seung-hwan Oh from Korean leagues.

Tyler Lyons is probably in the bullpen until they need another starter. Siegrist is still around. Maybe Jordan Walden will be healthy enough to be useful. The bullpen is probably fine, as fine as these can be, given variance in relief pitcher performance from year-to-year. I've seen some suggestions the Cards should consider trading Rosenthal. I know the Padres got a good haul for Craig Kimbrel, but seriously, how many GMs are out there dumb enough to pay through the nose like that for relief pitchers?

Besides, the Cards already traded Jon Jay this offseason. I don't know what Matheny would do if they traded Rosenthal, also. I don't have much to say about the bullpen. Not really excited about Broxton coming back, have no idea what to expect from Oh. I'm glad they resigned Maness. I know he's always going to be walking the tightrope of needing those groundballs to find gloves, but I like pitchers like that, even if just as a change of pace from all the fireball-throwing strikeout artists.

Infield: Tony Cruz is gone. Despite having no baseball skills that are even above-average, the Royals actually traded something to get him. Yes, a 19-year old A ball shortstop who probably won't even have the amount of major league at-bats Cruz has managed, but still. The Cardinals replaced Cruz with Brayan Pena, who can actually hit a little. Maybe Molina will get some days off when he comes back from thumb surgery.

They appear content to address first base with in-house options, ranging from Matt Adams, Brandon Moss, Stephen Piscotty, and maybe Matt Holliday? Surely between that bunch they can get some production out of the position. I prefer that to giving Chris Davis $150 million. I know he hits for power, and the Cardinals are lacking in that area, but Davis strikes me as someone who's going to age quickly, and become a real albatross of a contract.

Jay was traded to San Diego for Jedd Gyorko, who is good at hitting lefthanded pitching, but not a lot else. He'll hopefully make a decent platoon partner for Kolten Wong, and maybe give Matt Carpenter some days off. Which is not good news for Greg Garcia, who was probably hoping to get those jobs. I have no idea who is backing up Jhonny Peralta. I doubt Gyorko can do it. There was an idea going around online, to move Carpenter to first, Peralta to 3rd, and add a shortstop. Improve 3 positions defensively at once. Of course, you have to find a shortstop. Asdrubal Cabrera was apparently available, but the Mets got him (and I'm kind of tired of the Cards trading with Cleveland, anyway, the trades never seem to work out).

Outfield: The Cardinals wouldn't give Jason Heyward opt-outs, so he signed with Cubs. They traded Jon Jay, and waived Peter Bourjos, who was immediately signed by the Phillies. At least he'll get to play. It stuns me that Bourjos, who at the least is an excellent center fielder, was simply released, because every team knew Matheny didn't want him around, but they got something for Tony Cruz.

I was on record as being ambivalent about resigning Heyward. He's better than any of the remaining outfielders - Holliday, Grichuk, Moss, Pham, Piscotty - but also was going to be much more expensive. To the point I had to wonder if the difference in value was worth the difference in cost, if the Cardinals could use that money to patch some area of greater need. Of course they wound up spending some of the savings on Mike Leake soooooo, not optimal maneuvering there, guys.

I think the predicted outfield configuration right now is Holliday-Grichuk-Piscotty. I'd rather see more Pham in that, mostly because I remain unconvinced Grichuk will be able to remain a productive player with his total lack of plate discipline. Also, I think Pham has the widest array of skills out of all five of them. But I imagine there'll be playing time for him. I have nothing much to say about Moss. I didn't think he was worth trading for, and I don't expect him to be of much use this season.

It's hard to say how the season is going to go, because so much of it depends on key guys being healthier than last year. If Wainwright pitches like his usual self, the loss of John Lackey hardly matters. If Holliday and Adams can be productive, they can at least mitigate the loss of Heyward offensively (defensively, not so much). Peralta and Kolten Wong need to remember how to hit for more than half a season. Depending on how many of those things go well, the Cardinals should be able to at least contend for a wild card spot, and that's all they really need ultimately, is to get in the door. They haven't won the World Series in any of the seasons in the last 10 or so years where they had the best record (2004, 2005, 2013, 2015), so why worry about that? Let the Cubs have the pressure of being the team with all the expectations that everyone is gunning for.