Friday, December 21, 2018

Cardinals add Andrew Miller to bullpen, but who is their closer?

The Cardinals made another big splash today by finalizing a deal to sign lefty reliever Andrew Miller.  Per Ken Rosenthal, the deal is for two years and $25 million with an option for 2021 that vests if Miller pitches in 110 games between 2019 and 2020.

According to Jeff Jones, when discussing Miller's role with the team, John Mozeliak said that "we see this as someone who will be used in high leverage situations...when you talk about role, there will be some flexibility in that."

So, even though Miller has served as closer before, saving 36 games for the Yankees in 2015, he is not guaranteed to be the closer for the Cards in 2019.  The fact that the deal does not include incentives for games finished is another indication that neither the team nor Miller expect him to be the closer or at least not full time.

In early November, Derrick Goold indicated that the Cards see Jordan Hicks as a potential closer in the not-to-distant future.  In addition, its been hinted that star prospect Alex Reyes could work out of the pen next year, to help limit his innings after an injury plagued season.  He too has closer-worthy stuff.

So, who will emerge as the closer in 2019?

My (somewhat) educated guess is that the Cardinals will use a combination of all three.

From the Tampa Bay Rays using "openers" (relief pitchers used to get the first several outs in a game), to starters lasting fewer innings due to the risks associated with facing a lineup for a third time in a game, the world of relief pitchers is constantly evolving.

No longer are managers just relying on their best pitchers to get the last 3 outs in a game, but they need quality relievers to help bridge the gap from when the starter hands the ball over in the 5th or 6th inning until the end of the game.  In addition, closers are often required to get more than just 3 outs. 

All of this means that relievers, including closers, will need more rest during the season, and managers need more than one option to close out games.

The Brewers used a three-headed monster of Corey Knebel (16 saves), Josh Hader (12 saves) and Jeremy Jeffress (15 saves) to close out games in 2018 on their way to the division title. 

The Cincinnati Reds did the same thing all the way back in 1990, using the "Nasty Boys" of Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble, to lead them to a World Series title.

One thing is for sure, if Miller, Hicks and Reyes are all clicking in 2019, manager Mike Shildt will have the luxury of picking and choosing who he uses on any given night and what was a weakness in 2018 could become a strength in 2019.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Is Bryce Harper still a possibility for the Cardinals?

At last week's winter meetings, uber-agent Scott Boras held his annual press conference, basically because he can.

During that press conference, he indicated that he was not worried about the perception that the Cardinals are not pursuing free agent Bryce Harper (one of his clients) saying that "they sit on the big bank of St. Louis".

Boras went on to say that "This is about winning and it’s about a good franchise and ownership, and the reality of it is that franchise is worth billions of dollars and they’re a top-10 revenue team".

The implications are that the Cards have money to burn and Boras still thinks that they will be a player for Harper when its all said and done.

But will they be?

The short answer is maybe.

The long answer is it's complicated.

First of all, the Cardinals already have a glut of outfielders.  They spent some time during the winter meetings trying to find a suitor for Jose Martinez, he of the good bat and no defensive position.  Chances are that he will end up in the AL, but the Cards are not dealing from a position of strength here as everyone knows he is likely to be traded.

In addition, with Marcel Ozuna and Harrison Bader penciled in for left and center field, the Cards have Dexter Fowler and Tyler O'Neil vying for the right field job.  Fowler is going to be given every chance to reclaim the job, especially considering he has 3 years and $49.5 million remaining on his contract. 

O'Neil is an intriguing prospect, with good power, but questions about his contact ability.  The Cards also have Adolis Garcia, Randy Arozarena and Dylan Carson waiting in the wings.  Needless to say, the team doesn't necessarily need another outfielder.

Secondly, Boras is notorious for waiting out the market, often up until Spring Training, to get his players what they want.  Can the Cardinals wait that long?

Well, trading for Paul Goldschmidt buys them some time and leverage.  They no longer need to acquire a big bat via free agency.  But they won't mind indulging themselves, if the price is right.

Which brings me to my third point, the asking price for Harper is currently way too high.  He already turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Nationals, so you can expect to pay considerably more than that to acquire him.

Rumors have him seeking a 10-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $400 million.  Boras' goal is likely to break the record for the largest contract in baseball history.  Giancarlo Stanton set the record for the largest contract with a $325 million deal over 13 years, while Zack Greinke set the record for the largest per year contract value at over $34 million per year.

Its highly doubtful that the Cards won't go to 10 years for Harper, but I could see them willing to go 8 years and $35 million per year ($280 million total value).  That would give Harper the highest AAV contract in history, while also placing him second behind Stanton for the largest total contract.

Boras is going to wait and see if he can get someone to overpay on Harper.  However, the longer he waits, the more likely it is for teams to drop out of the race, which could leave the Cardinals in prime position to strike.

All we can do now is wait and see what happens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cardinals acquire Drew Robinson. Needle doesn't move.

One of the items on the Cardinals to do list for the Winter Meetings was to acquire a left handed hitting bench bat, preferably one with pop. 

Today the Cardinals acquired Drew Robinson from the Rangers for Patrick Wisdom.

Here's hoping he's not what the Cardinals had in mind.

Yes, he's a left handed hitting utility player with some pop.  However, to this point he has not shown he can hit major league pitching.  In 216 major league at bats in 2017 and 2018, he has struck out 99 times or nearly 46% of the time.

He was not much better during his minor league career, striking out 924 times in 2,911 at bats or 32% of the time. 

Perhaps the Cardinals just want to provide Tyler O'Neil (57 K's in 130 AB's) with some competition for the highest strikeout rate for 2019 or maybe the asking price for guys like Daniel Descalso was too much?

Whatever the case, I'm not enamored with the move.

Hopefully, Robinson will prove me wrong.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Winter Meetings: What is on the Cardinals to do list?

With the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks last week, the Cardinals already checked one item off their to do list for this off season. Although another big bat, like Bryce Harper, would be nice, it doesn't appear to be in the Cards.

So, what is left on the Cardinals to do list for this off season?  Let's take a look:

1.  Strengthen the bullpen, particularly from the left side

The Cards still have two years and $15 million left on the regrettable Brett Cecil contract and while they don't want to make the same mistake again, they still need to strengthen the left side of their bullpen if they want to contend next year.

Derrick Goold indicates that the Cardinals are in on lefties Zach Britton and Andrew Miller.  Both have closing experience, which could allow the Cards to give Jordan Hicks more time to develop before thrusting him into that role.  

However, both Britton (Achilles) and Miller (shoulder) dealt with injuries last year and will not come cheap.  They are in high demand and will likely cost in excess of $30 million over 3 years.  While the Cards have the financial flexibility to make such a deal, its hard to see them go all in on either Britton or Miller after getting burned by Cecil.

If neither of them work out for the Cardinals, they could pivot to the next tier of lefties, such as Justin Wilson, Oliver Perez and/or Tony Sipp.

2.  Add a left handed bench bat, preferably one with some pop

The Cards entered this off season looking for a big bat, preferably one who hits left handed. 

However, they ended up with Goldschmidt.  

While that is all well and good, the Cardinals could still use some pop from the left side to keep opposing teams honest.

According to Goold, they have had talks with Daniel Descalso's agent about a possible reunion and Derek Dietrich is another possibility.  

Beyond that, there's not many appealing options on the free agent market, so the team might have to look inwards and hope they can make do with someone like the switch hitting Tommy Edman or lefty Max Schrock, although neither offers much pop. 

3.  Sort out the outfield logjam

According to Brendan Schaeffer, the Cardinals are going to give Dexter Fowler every opportunity to assume the everyday right field role in 2019.  While that is the PC thing to say, its hard to see him bouncing back from a .180/.278/.298 season that was cut short by a foot injury.

The Cards have Tyler O'Neil waiting in the wings, but he strikes out a ton (57 times in 130 at bats) and may not hit much better.

That leaves Jose Martinez.  He was the second best hitter on the team, in terms of OPS (behind only Matt Carpenter) and while his defense is much maligned, his DRS of -6 is only slightly worse than Fowler's -5 and his UZR of -1 is actually better than Fowler's -5.2 mark.

Long story short, I wouldn't give up on Martinez just yet.  While they are unlikely to be able to trade away Fowler and his hefty contract, especially given his down year, they could be willing to relegate him to a 4th outfielder/defensive replacement role.

In any case, it should be an interesting week.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

After blockbuster trade for Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals fans still want more.

As you may have heard, the St. Louis Cardinals pulled off a big trade yesterday, acquiring Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a few spare parts. 

That's not to belittle Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly or Andy Young (or the compensation draft pick) that the Cardinals gave up for Goldschmidt.  They could very well end up becoming All-Stars for Arizona for years to come.  

However, it was pretty obvious that the Cardinals did not see any of these players as an integral part of their 2019 or future plans:  Weaver struggled last year and was demoted to the pen, Kelly may have been surpassed by Andrew Knizer as the Cardinals catcher of the future, and no one had probably heard of Young prior to this trade.

While that was an excellent get by the Cards and one that should help the team's offense and defense for 2019, what concerned most Cardinals fans was the news that came out shortly after.

According to Jennifer Langosch, despite "substantial financial flexibility", the Cards will not pursue Bryce Harper and will instead turn their attention to other needs.


Yes, you heard that correctly.  The Cardinals have the wherewithal to pursue another difference maker in Harper, but are already pulling themselves out of the race.

Granted, this could just be a smoke screen by the Cards.  A means of trying to lower Harper's asking price.  But, if it is not, it makes one wonder just how committed to winning the Cardinals really are.

The addition of Goldschmidt certainly improves the Cardinals chances for 2019.  But both he and Marcell Ozuna are due to become free agents after next season.  The Cards are certainly hoping to sign one or both of them to an extension, but that is not a given.

The Cardinals, due to their draft position in the mid to late first round each year, are unlikely to acquire a big hitter in the draft.  Thus, their best bet is to either acquire such a bat via trade (like Ozuna and Goldy) or free agency.

Signing a player like Harper would guarantee that the Cardinals have a middle of the order bat locked up for years to come.  Plus it would send a message to the rest of the NL Central that the Cardinals are serious about contending in 2019, not just for the division title but for the World Series.

Signing Harper would give the Cards a formidable lineup for 2019, as well as better lefty/righty balance in the heart of the order.  It would be the kind of bold move that the Cardinals management rarely makes, but one that they should make.

The Cardinals already have Nelly recruiting Harper for them and the addition of Goldschmidt should make the Cards more appealing to Bryce.  It just comes down to whether the Cardinals are willing to pony up what it would take to get him.

Past history and my gut tells me that will not happen.  But one can certainly hope.