The Silly Season is Upon Us

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series. Congratulations!

IMG_0263.JPGNow the Silly Season is upon us. I mean, the MLB offseason, also known as the Hot Stove, is upon us. Some teams  will overpay for several, if not many, free agents this winter. I won’t speculate on which teams will overpay, but we all know which ones typically overpay for players. Plus, while not a free agent, Giancarlo Stanton is due a pay raise, either through arbitration or a new contract (he got a huge, 13-year contract, the largest in Major League Baseball history). That’s why I call it the Silly Season; because teams get silly, over paying for mediocre players, aging veterans and, sometimes, even big name talent.

As my favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals, I’m going to add to the offeason noise by looking at the team and what moves I think they should make as they prepare for the 2015 season. Be forewarned, my plan is extremely bold, but with the Prirates breathing down our necks, Brewers and Reds always NL Central Division contenders, the Cubs poised to be contenders and the annual goal to win the World Series, I think the team needs to be bold.

Starting Point

Here’s where the team is at as the 2014/15 Hot Stove season starts.

Catcher

Yadier Molina is the starter. Enough said.

1st Base

Matt Adams is the starter. He needs to improve against left-handed pitching, against which he was atrocious in 2014; but he he did hit them fairly well in the minors. With a few improvements against lefties, he should be fine in 2015. Xavier Scruggs is, at the moment, his right-handed hitting backup.

2nd Base

Kolten Wong, who placed 3rd in Rookie of the Year balloting, is the starting second baseman. He has occasional power and adds some speed to the lineup.

Shortstop

Jhonny Peralta was a great free agent addition prior to the 2014 season, despite the initial criticism. He’s entrenched as the starter for three more years.

3rd Base

Matt Carpenter had a “down” year in 2014 if you’re comparing it to 2013. But he still had a very good year. He’s entrenched at the hot corner for the foreseeable future.

Left Field

Matt Holliday is solid if unspectacular in left field. All he does is hit .280+ with 20+ home runs every year. Left field is his until his contract is up after the 2016 season.

Center Field

John Jay made some improvements with his fielding in 2014, but, in reality, his 2014 season wasn’t much better than his 2013 season. Peter Bourjos was brought in to be the 2014 center fielder but struggled at the plate early in the season. Manager Mike Matheny never gave him much of a chance after that.  His struggles may have been due to offseason wrist surgery.

Right Field

Right field was a black hole in 2014. It was Oscar Taveras’ position to lose in 2015, but with his untimely death during the World Series, the position is wide open. In-house candidates are John Jay, Randall Grichuk and Stephen Piscotti.

Starting Rotation

The starting rotation looks strong with Adam Wainright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Shelby Miller. Marco Gonzales is the lone lefty. Lefty Jaime Garcia is also in the mix, but considering his health issues the last few years, the Cardinals are not counting on him. Carlos Martinez started a few games during the 2014 season and is an option. Trevor Rosenthal has stated he wants to start as well, though that’s not likely going to happen. Southpaw Tyler Lyons is also an option for the rotation, if needed. However, Wainright has had some August struggles the past two seasons and is 36. He won’t be the ace of the staff much longer. Also, the starting rotation lacks left-handed presence.

Bullpen

There are a lot of arms to consider for the bullpen: Kevin Siegrist (L), Seth Maness (R), Randy Choate (L), Sam Freeman (L), Nick Greenwood (L), Martinez (R), Rosenthal (R), Lyons (L), Gonzales (L) and Garcia (L). With so many arms I don’t think Keith Butler and Sam Tuivalala make the big club out of spring training barring injuries or trades. It’s rumored that the team is shopping Choate because he’s a lefty on lefty specialist, limiting his usefulness.

Bench

Peter Bourjos Daniel Descalsco, Shane Robinson and Tony Cruz are eligible for arbitration and the Cardinals have stated that they will offer a contract to each of them. The Cardinals just signed Dean Anna, who can play 2nd base, shortstop and 3rd base. Pete Kozma, who is a slick fielding, no-hit infielder, Greg Garcia, Xavier Scruggs, Tommy Pham, John Jay (depending upon who starts in center field and what happens in right field), Grichuk and Piscotti are also bench candidates.

My Thoughts

Starting pitching is a strength. The bench and right field are weaknesses. The Cardinals would like to trade Randy Choate so a few changes may be coming to the bullpen as well.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. The Cardinals value players with versatility. That is, they like players who can play multiple positions, giving Mike Matheny a plethora of lineup options, late inning substitutions and double switch capabilities.
  2. The Cardinals prefer not to block top, nearly ready, prospects by handing out long contracts. With Randall Grichuk, Stephen Piscotti, Tommy Pham, Marco Gonzales, Rob Kaminiski and perhaps a few others who are, or almost are, ready to make the jump to the major leagues full time, don’t expect the Cardinals to sign a free agent to a long term deal, or make a trade for a player with several years remaining on his contract, unless they trade one or more of them.

Backup Catcher – The Cardinals need to give Molina more time off during the season, whether that’s sitting him on the bench, having him DH during interleague play or having him play the occasional first base. Tony Cruz is the incumbent backup catcher, but I think he is expendable. He doesn’t hit much and his defense isn’t that good either. Ed Easley was added to the 40-man roster just after the World Series ended to protect him in the Rule 5 draft. I think that means they like him. Why not give him an opportunity to back up Yadier Molina? If Easley is not in the Cardinals plans (and I find it hard to believe he is not since they added him to the 40-man roster) or he isn’t ready to make the jump, then Giovanni Soto or Nick Hundley might make a nice, low cost backup catcher.

Infield – Trading Allen Craig to the Red Sox at the trade deadline left the Cardinals without a true 1st baseman to back up Matt Adams. In addition, considering his struggles against left-handed pitching, Adams may find himself in a platoon situation if he doesn’t improve in that area. Xavier Scruggs will get an opportunity to be Adams’ backup as he’s a right-handed hitter with some power, but I get the feeling that the Cardinals are not very high on him. Still, he did get a September call up. That has to count for something, doesn’t it? Michael Morse is a free agent first base option, and he’d be an excellent option for Matheny as a pinch hitter. He can also play the corner outfield positions. His salary requirements might fit in well with the Cardinals budget. The Mets Eric Campbell, Tommy Medica of the Padres or the Indians AAA slugger Jesus Aguilar are potential trade candidates. For the rest of the infield, Aledmys Diaz needs an opportunity to show that he’s over his injury problems and can be a a viable option off the bench. There are not many free agent options better than what the Cardinals have right now in Descalso, Garcia and Kozma, except Alberto Callaspo. He would be an offensive upgrade from all three and can play 2nd base, shortstop and third base.

Starting Rotation – As I mentioned, Adam Wainright has battled minor “injuries” and/or a tired arm the last two years, or, at the very least, he’s struggled the past two Augusts. He’s 36 and is due to begin his decline. The Cardinals might have an ace in waiting in Lance Lynn or Michael Wacha, but why not buy one? Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are available for the right price. The Cardinals traded Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward, so that opens a spot for Max Scherzer or Jon Lester. Since there’s only one opening, I’d prefer Jon Lester, who is a lefty. The Cardinals rotation has been lacking a lefty presence the last two years.

Bullpen – The Cardinals want to trade Randy Choate. He’s a lefty on lefty specialist. Right-handed hitters hit him hard. That limits his usefulness out of the bullpen, Nick Greenwood, Kevin Siegrist, Sam Freeman, Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia are in-house options to take his place, with more versatility; although Garcia can’t be relied upon given his injury history. The Cardinals are rumored to have interest in Andrew Miller, but he comes with a significant cost. However, he is effective against lefties and righties, and could step in as the closer if Rosenthal falters. I think pursuing miller is a smart move. Zach Duke and Neil Cotts are also left-handed free agent options with lower price tags.

Right Field – This is resolved! It won’t take much to improve upon the dismal production the Cardinals got from Allen Craig, Oscar Taveras and Randall Grichuk in 2014. Oscar Taveras was going to get every opportunity to be the regular right fielder in 2015, but his untimely death changes the Cardinals plans. John Jay, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotti are in-house options. Michael Cuddyer was a rumored free agent target, but he signed with the New York Mets. There are a few moderate-cost free agent right-fielders worth signing; Nori Aoki comes to mind. Torii Hunter is also available, but he’s not a guy I would sign. Right field is where the Cardinals need to make a splash and a statement. The only big ticket free agent outfielder is Cuban prospect Yasmany Tomas, who is likely major league ready. The Cardinals could sign Yasmany Tomas to a 4- or 5-year contract. However, it’s been written that the Cardinals will not pursue Tomas. A big trade is another option. The big names? Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, Matt Kemp and Carlos Gonzalez. Lets explore these potential blockbuster trades.

Giancarlo Stanton – He signed a huge, 13-year deal, the largest in Major League Baseball history, to stay with the Marlins.

Jason Heyward – The Cardinals acquired him and Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrelle Jenkins. We got the guy I wanted.

Carlos Gonzalez – He’s owed $53 million through 2017 and he’s only 28. But, he’s been hurt, having surgery on a knee and finger in 2014. His output resembles that of Matt Holliday. I’m not sure if that’s with his Coors Field numbers or projections in Busch Stadium. It’ll take a big league pitcher (Lynn or Miller) and a couple of other young players either from the major league roster or from the minors. If he’s healthy, CarGo could be a steal for the remainder of his contract. I’m not sold on Car-Go. I think the team needs someone with more thump – .290+ batting average, 25+ home runs and 110+ runs batted in per year.

Matt Kemp – If the Cardinals are willing to take on most or all of the remaining $100+ million on Kemp’s salary, the trade cost could be reasonable, probably some minor leaguers. If he plays the majority of his remaining contract like he did during the second half of the 2014 season, he’d be worth it. The questions are “can he stay healthy?” and “will his skills deteriorate sharply toward the end of his contract?” I’m not convinced. Plus, he’ll definitely block the young guys in the pipeline.

Marlon Byrd – He has one year left on his contract, so he’s be nothing more than a stop gap for a year. He’d provide decent production (though it won’t take much to improve right field) and his cost should be very reasonable. The Cardinals wouldn’t like try to resign him before or after the 2015 season. I think Byrd is a player to target if Heyward cannot be had.

What I’d Like to See Happen

  1. Dump Descalso, Cruz, Robinson and Kozma. I know that sounds cruel, but that’s life in the big leagues.
  2. See if Ed Easley can handle the backup catching spot. If not, sign a low cost free agent like Hundley or Soto.
  3. See if Diaz can handle multiple infield positions and is ready to make the jump to the majors.
  4. Sign Alberto Callaspo to back up at 2nd base, shortstop and 3rd base. He shouldn’t be too expensive.
  5. Sign Michael Morse to back up/platoon with Matt Adams, play an occasional corner outfield spot and pinch hit. As long as his fielding is replacement level or even slightly below that, his bat will make it worth it. 2 years at $14 million or 3 years at $19 million sounds about right and should put Birds on a Bat on his chest..
  6. I was going to suggest the following: trade from outfield and pitching depth (say Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Stephen Piscotti or John Jay) for Jason Heyward and a couple of low or mid level minor league players and sign him to an extension. On Monday, 16 November 2014, the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller and Tyrell Perkins to the Atlanta Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. The trade fills the right field hole and the role Pat Neshek filled in 2014. I’m surprised it didn’t cost the Cardinals more. As of this post, it looks like the Cardinals got the better end of the deal.
  7. Sign Jon Lester for 5 years at $125 – $150 million. That’s an average of $25 to $30 million per year. That should be enough to lure him to the Gateway City.
  8. With the acquisition of Jordan Walden, Andrew Miller is a nice to have player, not a must have player. If Andrew Miller is willing to take a setup role (he wants to close) and occasionally closing out games with the possibility to close if Rosenthal falters (he was shaky at times in 2014), sign him. Miller is reportedly looking for 4-5 years so 4 years at an average of $4.5 – $5 million per year sounds right. Front load the contract so he’s easier to move toward the end of the contract if his performance declines.
  9. Trade John Jay for a decent right-handed middle relief pitcher, major league backups (first base or catcher) or minor league depth. With Jay and Peter Bourjos both on the roster and controllable for a couple more years through salary arbitration, they are blocking center fielder Tommy Pham, who appears close to being ready for the majors. Trading Jay creates a path for Pham in 2016. Jay’s value is as high now as it will ever get. Might as well get something for him while they can.
  10. Unless the Cardinals use the 2015 season to get Stephen Piscotti valuable experience in left field, they should trade him for minor league depth, relief pitching or major league backups (first base or catcher). For 2015, he’s blocked by Jason Heyward and Randall Grichuk. Assuming the Cardinals do not resign Jason Heyward (and I hope they do – he’s only 25 heading into the 2015 season) and Grichuk improves, Piscotti is still blocked in 2016. He could become the starting left fielder in 2017, as Matt Holliday’s contract expires after the 2016 season. Still Grichuk can play all three outfield spots and could be Matt Holliday’s replacement in 2017.
  11. Add low cost players to fill out the bench and/or AAA roster (who are better than what we had last year) as needed for injury reserves..

Here’s my roster and lineup if the Cardinals were to do everything I suggest.

Starting Roster

  • 1st Base – Matt Adams
  • 2nd Base – Kolten Wong
  • 3rd Base – Matt Carpenter
  • Shortstop – Jhonny Peralta
  • Left Field – Matt Holliday
  • Center Field – Peter Bourjos
  • Right Field – Jason Heyward
  • Catcher – Yadier Molina

Starting Pitching

  • Jon Lester
  • Adam Wainright
  • Lance Lynn
  • Michael Wacha
  • John Lackey

Relief Pitching

  • Andrew Miller (setup/closer)
  • Kevin Siegrist
  • Seth Maness
  • Carlos Martinez
  • Trevor Rosenthal (closer)
  • Marco Gonzales
  • Jordan Walden

Bench

  • Michael Morse (1st base & corner outfield positions)
  • Aledmys Diaz (middle infield) or Dean Anna (2nd base, shortstop & 3rd base)
  • Alberto Callaspo (2nd base, shortstop & 3rd base)
  • Randall Grichuk (all outfield positions)
  • Ed Easley, Nick Hundley or Giovani Soto (catcher)

Gone

  • Daniel Descalso (non-tender, free agent)
  • Tony Cruz (non-tender, free agent)
  • Shane Robinson (non-tender, free agent)
  • Pete Kozma (release or trade)
  • John Jay (trade)
  • Shelby Miller (trade)
  • Stephen Piscotti (trade)
  • Randy Choate (trade)
  • Pat Neshek (free agent)
  • Jason Motte (free agent)

Waiting in the Wings

  • Tommy Pham
  • Sam Freeman
  • Sam Tuivalala
  • Greg Garcia
  • Xavier Scruggs
  • Dean Anna or Aledmys Diaz
  • Tyler Lyons
  • Keith Butler

Batting Lineup

  1. Peter Bourjos
  2. Matt Carpenter
  3. Jason Heyward
  4. Matt Holliday
  5. Matt Adams/Michael Morse
  6. Jhonny Peralta
  7. Yadier Molina
  8. Kolten Wong
  9. Pitcher

Here’s What I Think Happens

While the Cardinals do have budget flexibility, I don’t expect them to get in on any high profile free agent signings. So no Max Scherzer or Jon Lester. With the trade to acquire Jason Heyward, neither will Yasmany Tomas, though I wasn’t expecting the Cardinals to sign Tomas anyway.

So what will they likely do now?

  • They will try to trade Randy Choate. I have no idea who they will find as a trade partner, but they’ll likely trade him for a minor league player.
  • Even though the Cardinals acquired Jordan Walden in the Jason Heyward trade, I still think they make a run at Andrew Miller. Unless his asking price, either dollars or years, is too high, they’ll get their man.
  • Trade for Jason Heyward, which they did. He’s a free agent after the 2015 season. If they don’t sign him to a long-term contract extension, they will extend him a qualifying offer after the season. If he doesn’t accept it, the Cardinals will receive a compensatory 1st round draft pick in the 2016 draft. If they fall out of contention (unexpected) they can trade him to a contender. Unless he signs an extension, he won’t block Randall Grichuk or Stephen Piscotti.
  • Make some minor trades or free agent signings to improve the bench, major league and minor league depth.

With Manager Mike Matheny’s propensity (stubborness, if you will) to play “his” guys, here’s the lineups I expect in 2015.

Starting Lineup

  • 1st Base – Mat Adams
  • 2nd Base – Kolten Wong
  • 3rd Base – Matt Carpenter
  • Shortstop – Jhonny Peralta
  • Left Field – Matt Holliday
  • Center Field – John Jay
  • Right Field – Jason Heyward
  • Catcher – Yadier Molina

Starting Rotation

  • Adam Wainright
  • Lance Lynn
  • Michael Wacha
  • John Lackey
  • Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez

Bullpen

  • Trevor Rosenthal (closer)
  • Kevin Siegrist
  • Nick Greenwood
  • Jordan Walden (setup)
  • Seth Maness
  • Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez
  • Andrew Miller (setup/closer)

Bench

  • Dean Anna (2nd base, shortstop and 3rd base)
  • Peter Bourjos (center field)
  • Randall Grichuk (all outfield positions)
  • Tony Cruz (catcher)
  • Daniel Descalso (all infield positions) or Xavier Scruggs (first base)

Batting Order

  • Matt Carpenter
  • John Jay
  • Matt Holliday
  • Jason Heyward
  • Matt Adams
  • Jhonny Peralta
  • Yadier Molina
  • Kolten Wong
  • Pitcher

The Cardinals already filled its major hole, right field, and a replacement for Pat Neshek by acquiring Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. If the Cardinals do much of what I expect, the bench will be as weak as it was in 2014. I hope they don’t do what I expect and do more of the things I think they should like signing Michael Morse and Alberto Callaspo. Those two guys along with Dean Anna or Aledmys Diaz, Randall Grichuk and Ed Easley (or a backup like Nick Hundley or Giovani Soto) will greatly improve the bench and its versatility. And they can strengthen the bullpen even more by signing Andrew Miller.

 

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