Thursday, September 18, 2014

Schedule favors the Cardinals down the stretch

With the Cardinals battling the Pirates for the NL Central crown and just 11 days left in the season, its getting to be crunch time.  The Cards have a 2.5 game lead on the Buccos, with 10 games remaining.  The Pirates have 11 games left.

Here's how their schedules break down:

Cardinals:

9/18:  vs. Brewers (79-73)
9/19 - 9/21:  vs. Reds (71-82)
9/22 - 9/24:  @ Cubs (68-84)
9/25:  off day
9/26 - 9/28:  @ Diamondbacks (62-90)

Pirates:

9/18:  vs. Red Sox (66-86)
9/19 - 9/21:  vs. Brewers (79-73)
9/22 - 9/25:  @ Braves (76-76)
9/26 - 9/28:  @ Reds (71-82)

The Cardinals opponents have a combined weighted-average winning percentage of .440 vs the Pirates' opponents weighted average winning percentage of .490, a clear advantage for the Cards. 

In addition, both teams play the same number of home games (4) while the Pirates have one more away game than the Cards (and one more game overall), which might be a slight disadvantage for them.

Finally, considering that the Brewers and Braves are both fighting for a playoff spot, one can assume they will give the Pirates a tougher test than the Cubs and Diamondbacks for the Cardinals. However, there might be more pressure on the Brewers and Braves, which may make them not play as well, while the Cubs and Diamondbacks have nothing to lose, so who knows who has the advantage here.


Overall, the schedule favors the Cardinals.  However, the Pirates have been hot lately, winning 11 of their last 12 games.  So, although I think the Cards will win the division, they still have to take care of business and win the games they are suppose to win.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How do the Cardinals' July trades affect their roster going forward?

The Cardinals current and future roster changed dramatically in July when John Mozeliak jettisoned Allen Craig, Joe Kelly and minor leaguer James Ramsey in exchange for pitchers Justin Masterson and John Lackey, along with minor leaguer pitcher Corey Littrell.

Kelly would have been under team control through the 2018 season and Craig was signed to a reasonable contract through the 2017 season, with a $13 million option for 2018.

In exchange, the Cardinals got Masterson, who is a free agent after this season, and Lackey, who has an incredibly low $500K option for 2015.

The move also cleared room for top prospect Oscar Taveras to play everyday as the starting right fielder.

Does it make the team better in the long run?  That's hard to say, but at least one writer, Bob Nightengale thinks that the Cardinals will regret the Lackey trade.

However, it does change the Cardinals projected lineup and starting pitching for 2015 and beyond, here's a quick look at both:

Lineup

With Taveras replacing Craig, the lineup should be pretty much set through the 2016 season, after which, both Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos are set to become free agents. 

Back in December, I predicted that James Ramsey was the heir apparent to the center field job, eventually replacing Bourjos after the 2016 season (I predicted Jay would be traded this year).

The Cards other top outfield prospects, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are both projected as corner outfielders, leaving the team without an obvious center fielder of the future. 

Tommy Pham is probably the Cardinals best defensive center field prospect, but has a career .253 average in the minors.  He has hit well this year, with a .332 average, albeit in the hitter-friendly PCL.

In any case, the Cards could always extend the contracts of Jay or Bourjos, if needed.

Starting Rotation

Here's where things get a little more interesting.  The Cardinals obviously needed starting pitching this year to make up for the losses of Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha.  Its unlikely that Garcia will pitch for the Cards again, while Wacha hopes to return sometime in September and should be healthy going forward.

With Lacky signed through 2015 and Masterson a free agent after the season, here's what the 2015 rotation should look like:

  1.  Adam Wainwright
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. John Lackey
  4. Lance Lynn
  5. Shelby Miller
 There are still some concerns about Miller, but the Cardinals will still have Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales and some other young guns waiting in the wings.

For 2016, Lackey will roll off the books, with Martinez and Gonzales battling for the 5th spot.  Giving us the following rotation:
  1. Wainwright
  2. Wacha
  3. Lynn
  4. Miller
  5. Martinez/Gonzales
This rotation will continue through the 2017 season, after which Lynn becomes a free agent, giving us the following projected rotation for 2018:
  1. Wainwright
  2. Wacha
  3. Miller
  4. Martinez
  5. Gonzales
After that, I would really need a crystal ball, as Wainwright and Miller will be free agents after 2018 and who knows which prospects will be ready to take their places (Rob Kaminsky, Tim Cooney, etc.).

Overall, I think the Ramsey loss could create a hole in center in the future, while the Cardinals overall pitching depth doesn't seem as strong as the past few years.  But, if the team can keep drafting and developing players like they have in the past, these issues will resolve themselves.



Friday, August 1, 2014

Random thoughts on the Cardinals moves as the trade deadline dust settles

As we all continue to digest the trade deadline moves by the Cardinals, here are some of my random thoughts on them.

The Cardinals overpaid on John Lackey

Lackey is a good pitcher and all that, but is he really worth both Allen Craig and Joe Kelly?  My initial impression when I heard of the trade was that we "sold low" on both Craig and Kelly.  Yes, they were both having down years and perhaps had fallen out of favor with the Cards, but couldn't we have gotten something better for them?

Despite all that, I don't think we could have used those two to get David Price and I don't think that John Mozeliak would have given these guys up for a two-month rental (aka Jon Lester), so maybe Lackey was the best he could do.

David Price's price was cheaper than I thought

In a 3-team deal, the Rays traded Price to Detroit while getting Nick Franklin (from Seattle), Drew Smyly (from Detroit) and minor leaguer Willy Adames.  Franklin was, at best, a top 50 prospect and has yet to hit in the majors.  Smyly is a good, solid left handed pitcher.  While Adames is kind of a "meh" prospect.

Could the Cardinals have topped that?  Certainly.  Give the Rays Shelby Miller, Stephen Piscotty and some mid-level prospect and you should have a deal.

My thought all along is that it would take a top-end prospect to land Price, but apparently that was not the case.

Acquiring Justin Masterson was a classic Mozeliak move

The last few years we've grown accustomed to the Cardinals GM John Mozeliak making small tweaks to the team at the trade deadline (or thereafter). The last couple years those tweaks were to use some extra prospects pieces to acquire a struggling pitcher in hopes they turn it around with the Cards.

In 2012, that pitcher was Edward Mujica, who had a 4.38 ERA with the Marlins before Mo acquired him.  He then proceeded to post a 1.03 ERA down the stretch with the Cardinals.

In August of 2013, the Cardinals picked up John Axford from the Brewers, who had a 4.45 ERA prior to the trade and a 1.74 ERA afterwards.

Hopefully, Masterson can follow this same trend.

Are the Cardinals really better off?

The team dealt from its surplus of outfielders to acquire some pitching depth, but does that make them better?  Well, maybe.


The starting rotation should be better with Lackey and Masterson replacing Kelly and Martinez, who has been shipped back to Memphis to keep him stretched out as a starter.  The biggest question is how Masterson's knee holds up.

On the hitting side, moving Craig opens up an opportunity for Taveras, but weakens an already thin bench.  It also remains to be seen if Taveras can outproduce Craig, at least this season.

Overall, I would have been happy if Mozeliak had just stopped with the Masterson trade.  The Lackey trade is one that could certainly come back to haunt him.  However, it obvious that Mo felt that he had to make a big move to try to shake up this team and get them back to playing the way they're capable.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cardinals trade Joe Kelly and Allen Craig for John Lackey

OK, stop me if you've heard this before:

John Mozeliak: Mike, you got a minute?
Mike Matheny: Yeah. Take a seat.
John Mozeliak: You can't start Craig in right tonight. You'll have to start Taveras.
Mike Matheny: Yeah, I don't want to go fifteen rounds, Mo. The lineup card is mine, and that's all.
John Mozeliak: That lineup card is definitely yours. I'm just saying you can't start Craig in right.
Mike Matheny: Well, I am starting him in right.
John Mozeliak: I don't think so. He plays for Boston now.
Mike Matheny: You traded Craig?
John Mozeliak: Yeah. And Joe Kelly too.
Mike Matheny: You are outside your mind.
John Mozeliak: Yeah. Cuckoo.


In a scene right out of Moneyball, the Cardinals traded Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for starting pitcher John Lackey, minor leaguer Corey Littrell and cash.  Not only does the move help shore up the Cards starting rotation, but it seemingly forces manager Mike Matheny to play Oscar Taveras, who has only started 6 games since July 10th.

Like Matheny, I was torn between playing Craig and letting him fight out of his slump versus playing Taveras and seeing what he could do on a regular basis.  Now that decision is no longer in Matheny's hands.

In addition, the Cardinals replace Joe Kelly in the rotation with John Lackey.  Kelly, who has a career 3.25 ERA as a starter, has struggled this year with a 4.37 ERA in 7 starts.  While Lackey has pitched well this year with a 3.60 ERA in arguably the toughest division in baseball.

As an added bonus, Lackey has apparently said that he will honor the unusual clause in his contract which pays him only league miminum for the 2015 season due to his having Tommy John surgery between 2010 and 2014.  Thus, the ability to keep Lackey around next year for a mere $500K definitely makes this move more attractive.

Long story short, it appears that both Kelly and Craig had fallen out of favor with the Cardinals, so Mozeliak made a move to bring in some new blood and hopefully breath some new life into this team.

Coupled with yesterday's acquisition of Justin Masterson, the Cardinals rotation now has a new look with Adam Wainwright, followed by Lance Lynn, Lackey, Shelby Miller and Masterson.

Plus, the Cardinals may not be done, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times is reporting that the Cardinals may also still be involved in the David Price sweepstakes.  (If such a move is made, its likely that Shelby Miller will be involved).

All-in-all, its been a pretty interesting deadline to say the least.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cardinals acquire Justin Masterson from Indians for James Ramsey

While John Mozeliak was busy blowing smoke around all the reporters, myself included, that thought he was chasing the likes of Jon Lester, David Price or Cole Hamels, he was quietly working out a deal with the Indians for starter Justin Masterson.

According to Peter Gammons, Masterson will be headed to the Cards and will likely make his debut on Saturday.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to report that James Ramsey would be the player headed to the Indians.

After a stellar 2013 season, in which he went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA for the Indians, Masterson has struggled this year, posting a 5.51 ERA in 19 starts.  However, per Steve Adams of mlbtraderumors.com, Masterson's former pitching coach, Mickey Callaway attributes his struggles to a knee injury which may have caused him to change his mechanics.

In any case, the Cardinals are hoping that he is now healthy and will return to form.

As for the Indians, they are getting one of the Cardinals better outfield prospects in Ramsey.  A first round pick in 2012, Baseball America ranked him as the Cards # 8 prospect heading into the season.  He has put up excellent numbers at AA Springfield, with a .300/.389/.527 with 13 homers.

Despite the acquisition of Masterson, the Cards could still go after Jon Lester, per Jon Paul Morosi.  However, such a deal would likely cost them Shelby Miller, per Morosi.

Overall, I like the Masterson acquisition.  It is a classic low risk/high upside kind of move.  Losing Ramsey hurts, as I considered him the Cards center fielder of the future, but hopefully the team can turn Masterson around and convince him to stay long-term.

As for a deal involving Miller for Lester--yes, please, as long as it doesn't require 3 other prospects on top of it.