Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why the Cardinals should pass on extending Carlos Beltran.

About a year and a half ago, the Cardinals were in a bind, they had just lost their icon, Albert Pujols, to the Los Angeles Angels and needed to find someone to replace him.  Two weeks later, they signed Carlos Beltran.  Little did they know at the time, but in the 1 1/2 season since then, Beltran would actually out produce Pujols, hitting .282/.347/.512 with 50 homers to Pujols' .275/.338/.491 with 43 homers.

Now that Beltran is facing his own contract year with the Cardinals, there has been a general groundswell of support for signing Beltran to an extension.

It started with Beltran's own admission that he wants to stay in St. Louis, saying "I really love playing here. There's no doubt about it. I experienced something here last year that I hadn't experienced in a long time. It was a good clubhouse and so many good people, playing in front of these fans. They really support you when you do well and when you do terrible. It's a great feeling. Playing in a city like this, it makes everything easy."

From there Bernie Miklasz jumped on the bandwagon, saying "put me in the pro-Beltran camp, at least for now."

He has since been joined by the likes of Corey Rudd ( and Cardinals fans on message boards.

It seems like every Cardinals fan believes the team should bring back Beltran...except me.

I think it would be a mistake for the Cards to bring Beltran back, for the following reasons:


Beltran turns 37 next April 24 and while his age may not show in his current stats (.308/.349/.546), you can see it taking a toll on his body.  Knee problems may have led to his poor second half last season and he wasn't 100% at the start of this season due to a broken toe.

As we saw with Lance Berkman, after the Cardinals signed him to an extension after his stellar 2010 season, a player past his prime with previous knee problems is a high-risk proposition.

In addition, unless you are a 'roid enhanced guy like Barry Bonds, baseball skills generally decline with age.  So, while Beltran may be performing well this season, the chances of a repeat are slim.

The Outfield Logjam

Heading into next season, the Cardinals could have 5 players--Matt Holliday, John Jay, Oscar Taveras, Allen Craig and Matt Adams vying for 4 spots (including first base).  Add Beltran to that mix and things really get crowded.

Taveras, when healthy, looks like he can step in and contribute right away.  Other than his first season with the Cardinals Dominican League team, Taveras has hit above .300 each season and is starting to show the power that everyone has said would come.  Between him and Adams, the Cardinals should be able to replace a good portion of the offense that Beltran has provided.

Team Philosophy

As Bill Baer of ESPN points out, the Cardinals have played it smart when building their teams over the years.  General Manager John Mozeliak has, mostly, "eschewed expensive, long-term free-agent contracts in favor of young, cost-controlled players from within the organization, short-term free-agent contracts and contract extensions for key players such as catcher Yadier Molina."

Beltran is an example of a short-term free-agent signing by the Cards and while it might make some sense to bring back Beltran on another short-term (preferably one year) contract, what it really comes down to is...


Beltran is making $13 million this year and it would probably take a similar amount to bring him back for another year.  After signing Adam Wainwright to a 5-year, $97.5 million extension in March, the Cardinals are probably looking to save money elsewhere and Beltran is one luxury they can do without.

Take that money and apply it to other areas of need, such as shortstop or some bullpen help, and the Cards will come out ahead, just like they did when Pujols left.

Bottom line, unless Beltran is willing to take a one-year deal at a steep discount, that both limits the Cardinals risk while also allowing them to address other areas of need, the Cardinals should thank him for his service to the team and move on after this season.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Who are the Cardinals trade chips?

After taking a look at who the Cardinals might pursue at the trade deadline a couple weeks ago, its time to think about who the Cards might trade to get some of those players.  This is not to say that any of these players will be traded in July, but that these guys are, for various reasons, potential trade chips for the team.

First Tier - The Blockbuster Guys

These guys would only be traded in a blockbuster type deal.  I'm thinking along the lines of Cliff Lee, Jurickson Profar or Giancarlo Stanton.

Oscar Taveras

The Cardinals top prospect is likely untouchable, but if it meant getting a player that the team could control for several years, such as Profar or Stanton, I'm sure the Cards would at least consider it.  Taveras is considered the heir apparent to Carlos Beltran in the Cardinals outfield.  However, the emergence of Matt Adams could make Taveras expendable.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez is pitching well at AAA and could be a staple in the Cardinals rotation for years to come.  However, with the abundance of young power arms in the Cards farm system, the team could decide to move him if it meant getting a guy like Lee in return.  There have been questions as to whether Martinez is better suited for the rotation or pen going forward and if the Cardinals don't think he is suited for the rotation, they could make the move.  They just don't want to end up making another Dan Haren for Mark Mulder type of deal.

Second Tier - The Big Deal Guys

These are guys who probably wouldn't be used in a blockbuster type deal, but could get the Cardinals a quality player in return.

Matt Adams

Adams has proven that he is major league ready, but as he is blocked from a starting gig this year and Oscar Taveras is coming up behind him, the Cardinals could make him available for the right piece.  It would have to be someone like Matt Garza, Bud Norris or possibly Ricky Nolasco.

Kolten Wong

Wong is another guy who is blocked at the major league level, which could make him expendable.  As one of the Cardinals top 10 prospects, the team would like a good player in return.  The Phillies could be a possibility if the Cardinals want to upgrade at short with Jimmy Rollins or perhaps Wong could be used in a bigger deal.

Bottom Tier - The Missing Piece Guys

These are guys who the Cardinals might move just to get the final piece to their playoff puzzle, such as another bullpen arm.  Something along the lines of the Cards Zack Cox for Edward Mujica trade last year.

Sam Freeman

Despite posting good numbers at AAA Memphis so far this year (3.30 ERA in 54.2 innings), the Cardinals have passed on Freeman on several occasions when looking for bullpen help.  At age 26, he is no longer considered a prime prospect, but he still throws in the mid-90's and could develop into a good setup man at the major league level.  The Cardinals could potentially swap him for someone like lefties Wesley Wright or Oliver Perez.

Seth Blair

Blair has fallen behind other starting pitchers in the Cardinals organization due to injury and could be trade bait as a result.  He throws 92-94 mph with a potential plus curve and could garner a reliever in return, such as Steve Cishek or John Axford.

These are just a handful of the players the Cardinals might make available at the trade deadline.  With the best minor league system in baseball, the Cards have an abundance of talent to draw from to get a deal done.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why are the Cardinals scuffling in June?

After a great month of May in which the Cardinals went 20-7, the Cards have been scuffling in June, with just a 12-11 record so far.  However, when you take a look at the team's stats for the month, it makes you wonder why they are only one game over .500.

For the month of June, the Cardinals lead all NL teams with 122 runs scored, while giving up only 88 (8th fewest among NL teams).  Using the Pythagorean Winning Percentage formula, the Cards should have a winning percentage of .658 for the month or a 15-8 record.

So, why are the Cardinals falling 3 games short?

Its mainly due to the way the Cards have been winning and losing.  Said another way, when they win, they win big, when they lose, its usually close.

In the games that the Cardinals have won, the average margin of victory has been 5.25.  8 of their 12 wins for the month have been by 5 or more runs.

On the other side, in the games the Cardinals have lost, the average margin has been just 2.87 runs.  However, what is more telling is that, in those losses, the Cardinals have averaged only 2.4 runs, while in their victories, the Cards have averaged 7.8 runs.  A pretty big discrepancy and one that indicates that the Cards are becoming kind of an all-or-nothing type of offensive team.

Another telling statistic is that, for the season, the Cardinals are only 8-8 in one run games and 1-4 in extra innings.  Part of that is due to the early season struggles of the bullpen, but it makes one wonder how the Cards will fare in the playoffs, which are usually close games, when they struggle in those types of games.

The Cardinals have proven the can put runs on the board in bunches, but can they do it consistently.  The team is last in stolen bases and tied for 11th in home runs, so they are not using their speed to manufacture runs, nor are they relying on the "two bloops and a blast" offense. 

What has carried them so far this season is their ability to hit with men in scoring position.  The Cardinals lead the league with a .336 average with MISP, nearly 60 points higher than the next closest team, the Rockies, who have a .278 average. 

Can the Cardinals keep up that pace or is it just a small sample size aberration? 

That will likely determine the Cards fate going forward.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tyler Lyons roughed up again. Does this spell the end for his spot in the rotation?

After lasting just 1.2 innings tonight while allowing 4 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks, it appears that Tyler Lyons time in the Cardinals starting rotation is nearing its end. 

With three off days coming up, the Cards can skip Lyons' turn in the rotation and give themselves some time to figure out who they'll use the next time a 5th starter is needed. 

The Cardinals have days off on June 24, 27 and July 1.  Thus, the next time the Cardinals need a 5th starter is on July 6th against the Marlins.  Not a bad team for a pitcher to make his first major league start against.

Who might they call up?

My money is on Carlos Martinez.  However, the Cardinals have surprised us with their decisions before, going against the grain or conventional thought.

Another option might be Boone Whiting.  He has pitched well at Memphis, with a 4-2 record and 3.86 ERA.  The 18th round pick in 2010, would be on schedule to pitch on July 6th. 

In any case, we'll likely have to wait a couple weeks to see what happens, until then we keep guessing.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Michael Wacha's not coming back anytime soon

After Tyler Lyons struggled in his last start, many were quick to speculate that the Cardinals might make a change in the rotation again, perhaps even bringing Michael Wacha back.  However, the way they are handling their starting pitchers down at AAA Memphis tells a different story.

As reported by Derrick Goold, the Cardinals are shifting to a modified 6-man rotation down at Memphis to help monitor the innings for Wacha.  In the meantime, the Cardinals other top prospect, Carlos Martinez, will stay on his normal 5 day rotation, to build up stamina to be ready in case he's needed at the major league level at the end of June.

Thus, its pretty obvious that, should Lyons falter, Martinez would be the next in line for the 5th starter spot.

The Cardinals have already done their part to keep Martinez' innings down by using him in the major league bullpen for a month.  Plus, his visa delay at the start of the season also worked in his favor.  Thus, between the majors and minors, Martinez has only logged 41.2 innings so far, compared to 75.1 innings for Wacha.

If Martinez were to be called up at the beginning of July, the Cardinals would have about 81 games left, which would give him about 16 starts with the club (plus, maybe another 2-3 starts at Memphis).  Assuming 6 innings per start, that would be 114 innings and, combined with his innings to date, would put him at 155.2 IP. If we assume that Martinez is on the same 150 innings limit as Wacha, then that would be a reasonable innings total.

Based on that, it appears that Martinez is being prepared to take over the starting role at the end of June and for the rest of the season, if necessary, and Wacha is now out of the picture.

As for Wacha, I could see him getting another 10 or so starts at Memphis and then being called up in September to work out of the pen for the Cards.  This would be the ideal situation for him and could provide a boost to the Cardinals beleaguered pen down the stretch.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is Trevor Rosenthal now pigeonholed as a reliever?

Bernie Miklasz had an interesting article today discussing the possibility of the Cardinals trading for Cliff Lee (something that I already discussed here).  While an interesting analysis and one that reached the same conclusion as I did (we don't need Lee), what really caught my eye was his discussion of the 2014 starting pitching logjam.

Here's what Bernie had to say about the Cardinals glut of starting pitching for 2014:
Looking beyond 2013, Lee could slide into the Westbrook slot for 2014 because Westbrook becomes a free agent after this year. But with Lee in the mix, that would still leave the Cardinals with Wainwright, Lee, Lynn, Miller, Wacha, Martinez, Kelly. Let's not leave Seth Maness off the list; the Cardinals like him a lot. And there’s also Jaime Garcia, who should rehab his rotator cuff in time to pitch at some point in 2014. You can throw Lyons into the mix, too. And other potential starters will likely emerge from the system. We’ve already mentioned at least nine or 10 starting-pitcher entries for 2014 and beyond.
Yes, he mentioned 9 or 10 starting pitchers, but nowhere does he mention Trevor Rosenthal.

Is it already a forgone conclusion that Rosenthal will remain a reliever for 2014 and beyond?

Heading into this spring, there was suppose to be a 3-man battle for the 5th starter spot between Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal.  However, Rosenthal was only given a token chance, as he was only given one start before he was moved to the bullpen.

Next spring, with Jake Westbrook likely becoming a free agent and Jaime Garcia's availability at the start of the season up in the air, there will likely be two spots open.  Will Rosenthal even be part of that battle?

It seems unlikely, as the Cardinals should have Michael Wacha, John Gast, Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly, Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons all battling for those two spots, making the need to use Rosenthal as a starter uneccessary.

Normally I'm opposed to relegating a top arm to the bullpen when he can be much more valuable as a starting pitcher.  However, in this case, it probably makes the most sense.  Edward Mujica will likely be gone via free agency and with the struggles of Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals will likely need Rosenthal to be the 9th inning guy.

It just would have been nice if he had been given a chance as a starter first, because now we'll never know what we might be missing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Are the Cardinals pursuing Jonathan Papelbon?

We're not even to July yet and the rumors are already flying around the Cardinals.

The latest involves Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. 

According to Nick Cafardo, the Phillies believe there are at least 3 teams--the Red Sox, Cardinals and Tigers--that may have some interest in their closer.

From a purely "win now" standpoint, Papelbon would make sense for the Cardinals.  He is having an excellent season, with a 1.46 ERA in 24.2 innings to go along with 13 saves.  He would definitely help shore up the back end of the Cardinals bullpen and likely push Edward Mujica back to his 7th inning role from the beginning of the season.

However, there is some baggage that comes with Papelbon.  Namely he is owed another $26 million on his contract for 2014-2015, plus a potential vesting option for 2016 for another $13 million.  A pretty steep price for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30.

Ever since Jason Isringhausen and the Cards parted ways after the 2008 season, the Cardinals have been very frugal when it comes to finding their closer, typically filling the position from within.  That's not to say that they definitely wouldn't pursue Papelbon, but it seems to go against their philisophy.

In addition, you have to consider the cost in terms of the prospects it would take to land Papelbon.  I'm guessing the Cardinals might have to part with one of their top prospects, such as Kolten Wong.

Finally, Mujica has been perfect in his save chances so far this season.  If it ain't broken, why fix it?

Add it all up and I think its highly unlikely that the Cards will pursue Papelbon.  If the Cardinals are going to part with one of the top prospects, I think its more likely that they will pursue an upgrade to their starting rotation.  Otherwise, they will probably target a lesser reliever that will not cost as much.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

How long is Tyler Lyons' leash?

I can understand the Cardinals decision to option Michael Wacha back to the minors.  I made the case for doing the same thing a couple weeks ago.  Wacha is only one year removed from college and still has things to work on before he truly reaches his potential.

Tyler Lyons had two excellent starts to start his major league career, but has gotten progressively worse since then.  In his third start, he only allowed two runs while he was in the game (the bullpen allowed two of his runners to score).  In his 4th start he allowed 4 runs in 5.1 innings and in his start tonight, he allowed 6 runs in 5.1 innings.

This makes one think how many more chances Lyons will get to turn things around before the Cardinals decide to try someone else?

Lyons currently has a 4.65 ERA and the Carindals are 2-3 in his starts.  Despite his recent clunkers, the Cardinals are not going to recall Wacha anytime soon to take Lyons' place.  They made their decision and they are going to stay with it for a time.

Another thing that may come in to play is how Chris Carpenter and/or John Gast progress from their injuries.  If either one of them show that they could be ready to return in 3-4 weeks, the Cards may decide to stick with Lyons until that time. 

The Cardinals have that luxury with a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central standings and the best record in the majors.  It should help that the Cardinals face one of the easiest stretches on their schedule facing sub .500 teams in 18 of the next 24 games.  However, if the Cards should slip a little and Lyons continues to struggle, they will not hesitate to make a change.

Its obvious that the league has adjusted to Lyons.  Now its up to him to make adjustments if he wants to stay in the rotation.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Michael Wacha is odd man out for Cardinals rotation

After much debate and discussion, the Cardinals finally decided today to keep Tyler Lyons in the starting rotation and option Michael Wacha to AAA Memphis.  Derrick Goold tweeted this just minutes ago and Rick Hummel confirmed it.

I can't say that I'm surprised by the decision.  Wacha is still just one year removed from pitching in college and could probably use some additional development time--primarily to work on his breaking ball.  In addition, this will help the Cards to keep his innings down and potentially avoid Super Two status as well.

However, I am disappointed.  Like many of you, I have developed a huge man crush on Wacha.  It started with his impressive spring and only got stronger with his incredible first major league start and his ability to adjust in his last start.  (It doesn't hurt either that I have him on more than one fantasy team as well).

Make no mistake about it, Wacha time is coming (again) in the not-to-distant future.  I could definitely see him coming back up in September to fill a bullpen role down the stretch, much like Shelby Miller before him. He will also be the leading candidate to step into the rotation next year to replace likely free agent Jake Westbrook (although Carlos Martinez might have something to say about that).

In the meantime, Cardinals fans will just have to wait and watch his development at AAA. 

Could Kolten Wong end up being traded?

Earlier, I made the case for keeping David Freese (along with Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong).  In his chat today, Jeff Gordon backed me up, indicating that Matt Carpenter is probably the Cardinals long-term second baseman and that the Cards are unlikely to trade Freese.  However, he surprised me a bit by indicating that Wong is expendable. 

Here's Gordon's quote:

Matheny's proclamation that Carpenter is the league's best 2B tells you that Matt will play 2B here for a long, long time. And there is no need to run off David Freese any time soon. With Descalso firming up his utility value, that clearly blocks Wong. Other teams will be on this.
So, while I suggested that Daniel Descalso could be the odd man out, it appears, to Gordon at least, that Wong is the guy that could be moved.

It makes sense, in that you could get more in return for a top prospect like Wong (perhaps the Cardinals could use him to acquire Cliff Lee).  I'm not sure if this is a move the Cards will make in July, as they don't really have an abundance of needs at this time.  Sure, someone like Lee would be great, but is he really necessary?

More likely, the Cardinals will wait until the end of the season and assess their organizational depth and how to sort it all out. 

As Joe Strauss points out, the Cards are in an envious position, with an abundance of major league ready talent as well as money to spend heading into next season.  What they do with all that leverage remains to be seen.

Should the Cardinals trade David Freese? I don't think so.

After a slow start to the season, which included a stint on the D.L., and a hot start by Kolten Wong at AAA, many Cardinals fans were thinking that the team should trade David Freese, put Matt Carpenter at his natural position (third) and call up Wong.

It got so bad that even Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports picked up on it, saying that trading David Freese made sense financially, as Freese earns $3 million and will likely get a raise through arbitration during the offseason.

However, sometime its not always about the money.

Freese, a World Series hero and local kid made good would sorely be missed, not just by the Cardinals fans who love him, but also because he is an important cog in the Cardinals lineup.

Its no surprise that in April, when Freese was struggling with a .163/.255/.204 line, the Cardinals went 15-11 for a .577 winning percentage.  However, in May, when Freese turned things around and hit .299/.365/.429, the Cardinals were 20-7 (.741).  Put another way, in games that the Cardinals have won, Freese has hit .330/.416/.450 and in games that the Cards have lost he has only hit .194/.231/.258.

That's not to say that Freese is the most important piece of the Cardinals offense, but he is an important piece and the offense works best when everyone is clicking.

I think it doesn't have to be a case of Wong vs Freese.  I think the Cardinals could carry both players next year (along with Carpenter) and make it work.

Here's the plan.  The Cardinals rotate Freese, Wong and Carpenter at the second base and third base positions next year.  On days that Carpenter starts at second, Wong can come in as a late inning defensive replacement.  In addition, by rotating the players, it would help keep Freese, a notoriously injury prone player, fresh and (hopefully) healthy.

Its not a perfect plan, but it might allow the Cardinals to trade Daniel Descalso or, better yet, dump little used Ty Wigginton, while improving their bench as a whole. (In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing the Cardinals release Wigginton and call up Wong now, but that's a discussion for another day).

Overall, I think that by keeping Freese, Carpenter and Wong, the Cardinals will be a better team in the long run.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Could the Cardinals pursue Cliff Lee at the trade deadline?

Last week the news leaked that the Cardinals were one of 9 teams that can acquire Cliff Lee without his permission.  Lee apparently left the Cards off the list because he was intrigued with the idea of playing for them, due to their winning culture and proximity to his Arkansas home, and because he probably figured the Cards wouldn't want to trade for him.

But, not so fast, says Derrick Goold:

"It is never wasteful to trade for a boost to the bullpen. A sure-thing reliever is a valuable commodity at the trade deadline. The Cardinals, however, may find the answer for the bullpen by seeking a starter. The Cardinals will look at the available starting pitcher market with the idea that if there is an upgrade to what they have -- an innings horse, for example, with great results -- then they should look into acquiring that player.
"Cliff Lee is going to be the starter that generates a lot of attention/hype/rumors and that's partially because the Cardinals are not on his no-trade list. That's not a surprise. Lee has expressed an interest in St. Louis before, and his agent has approached the Cardinals in the past about his free-agent clients.

"Lee may be the moonshot for a move, but it won't be because the Cardinals are opposed to considering starting pitching as a target at the trade deadline."
So, there could be mutual interest there, but does it make sense from the Cardinals standpoint?

Well, Lee would be an obvious upgrade to the Cardinals rotation.  He has plenty of playoff experience and could give the Cards an imposing one-two-three punch of Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee and Shelby Miller for the playoffs.

Another advantage to adding Lee is that it would allow the Cardinals to move Michael Wacha to the pen, as a means to keep his innings down.  As Wacha showed last year in the minors, he can excel in relief role and help alleviate the Cardinals bullpen issues.

However, we also have to consider the possibility of Chris Carpenter returning, however remote.  If Carpenter has made enough progress by early July, such that he is pitching in rehab games without any setbacks, the chances of the Cardinals trading for someone like Cliff Lee are greatly diminished.

Another factor to consider is the cost.  For one thing, the Cards would likely have to give up a handful of prospects to pry Lee away from the Phillies.

For example, between July 2009 and July 2010, Lee was traded 3 times garnering a variety of returns.

When the Cleveland Indians traded Lee to the Phillies back in July 2009, they received Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp, the Phillies # 3, 4, 5 and 10 ranked prospects, according to Baseball America, by far the biggest return for the lefty.

When the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners in December 2009, they only received one top 10 prospect, Philippe Aumont, who was ranked as the Mariners 3rd best prospect by Baseball America, along with pitcher J.C. Romero and outfielder Tyson Gillies.

Finally, when the Mariners traded Lee to Texas in July 2010, they got Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson in return.  Smoak was rated as the Mariners #2 prospect by Baseball America, Beavan was a former first round pick and Lueke and Lawson were average prospects, at best.

Thus, looking at his trade history, one could assume that the Cardinals would have to give up at least one of their top prospects for Lee, as well as some mid-tier prospects.  My guess is that it would likely require the Cards to part with someone like Carlos Martinez, along with someone like Maikel Cleto and another lesser prospect.

But that's not the only cost that would be associated with Lee.  One also has to factor in his salary.  Lee would be owed the prorated portion of his $25 million salary for the rest of 2013, plus an additional $25 million in both 2014 and 2015. So, we're talking about adding roughly $60 million of salary to the books over the next few years.

With the contracts of Jake Westbrook, Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal coming off the books, the Cardinals could probably afford to pay the remainder of Lee's contract.  But is it really necessary?

If the Cardinals are looking to shore up their bullpen by acquiring a starter, there are probably a lot cheaper alternatives available out there.

Bottom line is, despite the appeal of adding a guy like Cliff Lee for the stretch run and playoffs, the Cardinals are unlikely to make such a move, as it would probably be too costly.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who are the potential sellers as the trade deadline approaches and do the Cardinals need to buy anything?

With the trade deadline looming on the horizon, its time to start thinking about who might be sellers this year and do they have anything the Cardinals need?

Taking a look at the current standings, its pretty easy to pick who will definitely be selling come July.  The Miami Marlins, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are all far enough out of the race for a playoff spot to assume that they will be sellers.

Here's what those teams probably have to offer come July that might have some interest for the Cardinals:

Miami Marlins

Ricky Nolasco is on the block and the Marlins may not wait until July to trade him.  With some of their starters getting healthy, the Marlins could move Nolasco to make room for them in the rotation.  With the rash of injuries to their starting pitching, the Cardinals could pursue someone like Nolasco as a short term rental and ease the pressure on their rookie starters.

After Nolasco, the most likely targets could be right handed relievers Chad Qualls and Ryan Webb, who could help shore up the Cardinals shaky bullpen.

Of course, there have been rumors surrounding Giancarlo Stanton ever since the Marlins completed their latest fire sale.  However, given that the Marlins haven't shown an interest in trading Stanton and the Cardinals probably wouldn't want to pay the enormous price to acquire him (I'm thinking any discussion begins with Oscar Taveras), a trade involving Stanton is highly unlikely.

Houston Astros

The Cardinals were linked to Astros pitcher Bud Norris back in March, per Peter Gammons, however I do not see a fit here, as I don't see him as an upgrade to their rotation.

Eric Bedard is another possibility, but he has fared worse than Norris and is an unlikely target for the Cards.

The more likely scenario is that the Cardinals make a play for either righty Jose Veras or lefty Wesley Wright.  Either of them could help bolster the Cards bullpen and would likely come at a low cost.  I'm thinking something similar to the Zack Cox for Edward Mujica trade last year would get the job done.

New York Mets

The Mets are a mess and thus their potential trade candidates are not very appealing.  Thus, the most likely trade targets for the Cardinals would be relievers Brandon Lyon or LaTroy Hawkins.  Again, the Cardinals would be hoping to get one of them cheap in an effort to shore up their bullpen.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs could have as many as 3 starting pitchers on the market in Matt Garza, Scott Feldman and former Cardinal Edwin Jackson.  Garza would be the best option, but would also cost the most.  While Feldman and Jackson have not proven to be any better than the Cardinals current internal options.

Then there's the case of Carlos Marmol.  He can be a lights out pitcher when he's on, but more often than not he's off.  Unless the Cubs basically give him away for next to nothing, I don't see him as a viable option for the Cards.

Milwaukee Brewers

Again, there's not much here to look at.  John Axford is a possibility, if the Cardinals think they can turn him around.  Otherwise, the best bet would likely be lefy Mike Gonzalez.  He shouldn't cost too much in terms of prospects and could provide the Cards with another lefty option in the pen.

The way I see it, the Cardinals could do one of two things, pursue a starter to allow them to push Michael Wacha into a bullpen role down the stretch and limit his innings or pursue another reliever.  In either case, their goal should be to strengthen their main weakness, their bullpen. 

Michael Wacha makes his case to stay in the rotation

Despite a rough first inning, in which he allowed 2 runs on 2 hits (including a homer) and 3 walks, Michael Wacha was able to settle down to earn his first major league win. 

With Jake Westbrook set to return to the Cardinals rotation on Friday, early indications were that he would replace Tyler Lyons in the rotation, as that would be Lyons' normal day to start.  However, the Cards could just push Lyons back a day and replace Wacha in the rotation.  The Cardinals were awaiting the outcome of Wacha's start last night before making a decision.  A bad start by Wacha likely would have sealed his fate.

However, with his solid effort--he did not allow a run beyond that first inning last night--Wacha did everything in his power to make his case for staying in the rotation.  Now its up to the Cardinals to decide.  Do they go with the high upside Wacha or do they play it safe with the youngster and send him back down to AAA?

I've been going back and forth on this for a while now too.  I think that, over the rest of the season, Wacha would probably give us the best chance to win, but at what cost? 

Could Matheny push him too far and potentially set him up for an injury?  Will the Cardinals be forced to shut him down in September, like Washington did last year with Stephen Strasburg, leaving a hole in the Cards rotation during the most critical time of the season?

The silver lining in all of this is that the Cardinals have these difficult decisions to make because they have an abundance of quality young starting pitchers to choose from.   So, if the Cardinals make the difficult decision of sending Wacha down, much to the chagrin of Cardinals fans everywhere, it will be because it is in the best interests of the team and Wacha in the long run.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cardinals pitchers bringin' the heat

Its no secret that the Cardinals have some power arms in their organization.  Its part of the reason that the Cards farm system was rated the best in MLB and also why the Cardinals rotation has been so successful. 

But, how do the Cardinals power arms compare to the rest of MLB? 

Well, thanks to Fangraphs and Pitch/Fx, we can compare how the Cards pitchers' average fastball velocity compares to others around the majors.

For example, of all pitchers that have pitched at least one inning in the majors, the Cardinals have two pitchers in the top 8 in terms of average velocity, Carlos Martinez at 97.1 mph and Trevor Rosenthal at 96.3 mph.  Martinez ranks 4th in average velocity, behind only Bruce Rondon, who has as average velocity of 99.3 mph, but has only pitched 2.1 innings; the "Cuban Missile" Aroldis Chapman, who averages 97.4 mph; and Kevlin Herrera, who averages 97.2 mph.

Looking at those numbers, it easy to understand why the Cardinals want to keep developing Martinez as a starter, as his plus fastball, as well as other potential plus pitchers, give him "ace" upside.

Rosenthal, on the other hand, may be best suited for relief, just like Chapman of the Reds, as he has dominated in that role.  I could easily see Rosenthal taking over the closing duties next year, should Edward Mujica leave via free agency.

As for the starters, Shelby Miller leads the Cards with an average velocity of 93.4 mph.  However, that is only good enough for 11th place among starting pitchers (identified as those with over 50 innings). 

Lance Lynn is the next highest Cardinals starter on the list, checking in at # 31, with an average fastball of 92.1 mph.  In his two starts, Michael Wacha has averaged 92.5 mph on his fastball, which would have placed him 21st, tied with Clayton Kershaw, had he pitched enough innings to qualify. 

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright only averages 90.9 mph on his fastball, which places him 62nd on the list.  However, he more than makes up for it with his devastating curve.

Finally, I should point out that throwing hard does not always translate to success.  Two of the Cardinals hardest throwers, Maikel Cleto (95.2 mph) and Victor Marte (94.3 mph) have struggled at the major league level, as has Mitchell Boggs this year, despite his 93.7 mph fastball.

There's more to pitching than just rearing back and throwing high 90's heat, but, as most teams and scouts will tell you, having a big fastball is probably the number 1 indicator for future success.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jake Westbrook looks sharp in rehab outing. Decision looms on starting rotation.

Jake Westbrook pitched 7 strong innings for low A Peoria on Sunday and looks ready to return to the rotation, which means the Cardinals have a difficult decision to make.  Should Westbrook replace Tyler Lyons or Michael Wacha when he returns?

Last week, I made the case for keeping Lyons in the rotation.  However, since then, Lyons has had another clunker of a start and now I'm not so sure Lyons is the best bet for the Cardinals going forward.

Part of my case was built on the expectation that Chris Carpenter was nearing a rehab assignment.  However, per Carpenter, he is going to take it slow and it will be a while before he is ready to pitch in games.  I thought he could be back at the end of June and its sounds more like it will be after the All-Star break.

Bottom line is that the Cardinals have to do what gives themselves the best chance to win.  Lyons, while impressive his first couple times out has been more hittable in his last couple starts.

On the other hand, in his short major league career, Wacha has one excellent start and one dud.  While his first start showed what he is capable of, his second start indicates that he is not ready.  So, while he may have the more upside of the two, the Cardinals may decide to send him down for more seasoning.

In any case, we should find out the Cardinals decision by the end of this week.  In the meantime, all eyes will be on Wacha for his start on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cardinals take a pair of lefties with first two picks in 2013 draft. Pick up shortstop in second round.

The Cardinals went against the grain a bit with their first two picks of the 2013 draft, selecting Gonzaga lefty Marco Gonzalez at #19 and high school lefty Robert Kaminsky at #28.  The last time the Cards selected a lefthander in the first round was back in 1994, 3 month before Kaminsky was born.

Gonzalez has a fastball that sits at 88-91 mph, but is more known for his changeup that ranks as the best in this year's draft class.  He is polished and is expected to move quickly (much like Michael Wacha last year).  He has earned comparisons to Jason Vargas. Baseball America ranked him #28 on their top 500 draft prospect list.

Kaminsky from St. Joseph Regional H.S. (N.J.) is one of the top high school lefties in this year's draft.  He has a plus fastball that sits in the 92-95 mph range and a hard breaking ball that also rates as a plus pitch. Baseball America ranked him #21 on the top 500 draft prospect list.

Its interesting to note that the two pitchers I liked, Ryne Stanek and Sean Manaea, were both available at #19 and #28 for the Cardinals, but they passed both times.  Stanek was picked by the Tampa Bay Rays at #29 (right after the Cards selected Kaminsky) and Manaea lasted until the first competitive balance pick (#34 overall).  Goes to show just how unpredictable the draft is.

In the second round, selecting #57 overall, the Cardinals took shortstop Oscar Mercado out of Gaither High School (Fla.).  Mercado stands out for his defense, but his bat is still a question mark.  Per, he showed some ability with the bat, standing out at the East Coast Pro Showcase over the summer.  He has some potential, but will need time to develop.

The first overall pick went to the Houston Astros, who selected Mark Appel, whom the Pirates drafted #8 last year and were unable to sign.  Picking at #2, the Cubs surprised some by selecting University of San Diego slugging third baseman Kris Bryant. 

Over the weekend, I'll highlight some of the Cardinals picks from the 3 to 40th rounds of the draft.

Who will be bumped from the Cardinals rotation when Jake Westbrook returns?

On Tuesday, Jake Westbrook starting his rehab assignment with AA Springfield, throwing 3.2 innings.  He is scheduled to make another rehab start on Sunday (with low-A Peoria) and, assuming he has no setbacks, he could be activated some time next week.

The question on everyone's mind then is: who will Westbrook replace in the rotation?

Assuming there are no more injuries during that time (which, as of late, is not a safe assumption), the choice will likely come down to either Tyler Lyons or Michael Wacha.  While Wacha, who has quickly become a fan favorite, is the sentimental choice to stay in the rotation, the more logical choice would be to keep Lyons.

Here's why.

First off, Lyons has not done anything to deserve a demotion.  He has started 3 games, giving up just one run in each of the first two and only 2 runs before leaving the third game, after which the bullpen allowed two more runs, which were charged to him.  Wacha, while brilliant in his first start, got roughed up in his second start, which is probably a good indication that he still has some developing to do.

Second, the Cardinals have already said that they are going to be cautious with Wacha and limit him to 150 innings this year.  With the Cards in the middle of a pennant race, this could turn into another Stephen Strasburg-type situation, with the team forced to shut Wacha down in September.  If that were to happen, the Cards would need to call up someone to fill in for Wacha down the stretch, such as Lyons, putting a lot of undue pressure on that guy.  It would be better to have that guy in the rotation the whole time.

Third, the Cardinals can still avoid Super Two status for Wacha by sending him down now for another month or two and then calling him up for the stretch run.  He can then be used out of the pen, similar to how Rosenthal was used last year, to help keep his innings down.

Finally, Chris Carpenter is ramping up his bullpen sessions and could start a rehab assignment soon.  Assuming no setbacks, he could return around the end of June or early July.  If that happens (and I admit, that's a big IF), the Cardinals would only need about 5-6 more starts out of either Lyons or Wacha.  Does it make sense to use Wacha for those 6 starts, when it appears that Lyons can be just as effective and we can avoid adding to Wacha's service time?

Both Lyons and Wacha will have one more start to prove whether they are worthy of retaining their spot in the rotation and while I may be pulling for Wacha, in my mind I think Lyons should be the one to stay.

Let's make June 6th Stan Musial day for Cardinals Nation

One of my United Cardinals Bloggers cohorts, Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the Bat, came up with a great idea that I would like to share.

Make June 6th every year Stan Musial day.

In his article, Daniel outlined some ideas on how to honor Stan, including the following:

  • All Cardinals players would wear a retro jersey from Stan's career
  • The team would have some sort of Stan Musial related giveaway for the fans
  • A member of Stan's family would throw out the first pitch
  • A portion of the proceeds from the game should go to one of Stan's charities
  • Work with MLB schedule makers to ensure the Cardinals always play at home on this day
Its a great concept and one that I hope the Cardinals brass will implement.  However, it may take some encouraging from Cardinals Nation.  So, let's start a grassroots campaign to make this happen.

Write a letter to the Cardinals Executives at:  700 Clark Street, St. Louis, MO  63102 and ask them to make June 6th Stan Musial day.

What better way to honor "the Man". 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cardinals bullpen in danger of being overworked

After yesterday's 14 inning affair that saw the Cardinals use 5 relievers, including 4 (Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica and Keith Butler) for 2 or more innings, the Cards bullpen is in serious danger of being overworked.

Tonight, the Cardinals plan on using Joe Kelly to start against the Diamondbacks, in what will likely be another bullpen affair.  Kelly, who has not been stretched out since beginning the season as the Cards long reliever, is unlikely to last more than 4-5 innings, meaning the bullpen will have to be relied upon heavily again.

For teams with a lot of bullpen depth, both at the major and minor league level, this is not an issue.  But for a team like the Cardinals, who have had bullpen issues all season, this could spell trouble with a capital "T".

The Cards have tried to alleviate this problem by recalling Maikel Cleto from AAA and sending Victor Marte down.  However, Cleto's track record doesn't inspire confidence and its unlikely that Mike Matheny would use him in a pressure situation. 

So, if its a tight game tonight, who will Matheny turn to?  Trevor Rosenthal, who has been used heavily all season, including pitching 3 innings the last two days?  Edward Mujica, who was extended to two innings last night instead of his normal one inning save duties.

Only Randy Choate and Cleto are "fresh" and ready to go for tonight's game.  Beyond that, its anybody's guess as to who will get the call.

One thing is for sure, the Cardinals better hope that Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright can give the at least 7 innings the next two nights so the bullpen can get some much needed rest.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What does the Cardinals starting pitching depth chart look like now?

The Cardinals pitching staff has seen many changes during the first two months, primarily due to injuries.  The starting pitching depth that was once a strength of this team has taken the biggest hit, with 4 pitchers currently on the DL.

Here's a look at the Cardinals depth chart for their starting pitching prior to spring training:

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Chris Carpenter
  3. Jaime Garcia
  4. Jake Westbrook
  5. Lance Lynn
  6. Shelby Miller
  7. Joe Kelly
  8. Trevor Rosenthal
  9. Carlos Martinez
  10. Michael Wacha
Lance Lynn was originally suppose to battle Miller, Kelly and Rosenthal for the 5th starter job, but Carpenter's spring injury locked up a rotation spot for Lynn and made the 5th starter job a battle between Miller, Kelly and Rosenthal.

After losing their 5th starter battle to Miller, Kelly and Rosenthal have been relegated to the bullpen and it appears that they are there to stay, at least for this season.  With the emergence of Wacha and John Gast, along with relatively unknown Tyler Lyons, I would say the depth chart now looks more like this:
  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Chris Carpenter (DL - could return in July?)
  3. Jake Westbrook (DL - expected back in 1-2 weeks)
  4. Lance Lynn
  5. Shelby Miller
  6. Michael Wacha
  7. John Gast (DL - out 'til end of June?)
  8. Tyler Lyons
  9. Carlos Martinez
  10. Jaime Garcia (DL - out for season)
Shifting Kelly and Rosenthal to the pen hurt the Cardinals depth some, but it was offset by the emergence of Wacha and Gast.  In particular, if Wacha hadn't pitched lights out in the spring, I think that one of Kelly or Rosenthal would have started the season at AAA to remain stretched out as a starter.

Gast's emergence helped the Cardinals to delay the callup of Wacha, but when Gast got injured, it finally forced the Cards hand.  The question that looms is who will stay in the rotation once Westbrook, Gast and possibly even Carpenter return from the DL.  But that's a topic for another day.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Who might the Cardinals take at #19 during this week's draft?

Trying to predict the MLB draft is an effort in futility.  Once you get past the first 5 or so prospects, its anybody's guess as to what might happen.  Teams rank players differently, draft pools come into play and all hell breaks loose.

So, I'm not going to pretend that I know who the Cardinals are going to take with the 19th overall pick in this year's draft.  Instead, I'm going to highlight a handful of prospects who intrigued me while looking through the rankings and that I think would be good picks for the Cards.

First off is shortstop J.P. Crawford of Lakewood, CA high school.  ESPN (paysite) ranks him #12 while Baseball America ranks him #15 on their respective draft prospects lists.

A relative of Carl Crawford, J.P. has a good arm and the range to stay at short.  Baseball America states that he projects as a "solid-average or slightly better defensive shortstop and an average hitter with fringy power."  ESPN says that Crawford is "the one true, no-doubt shortstop in this draft class, putting him in top-10 consideration even though he's probably four or five years from the big leagues."

With their troubles at short, the Cardinals could snap up Crawford, should he fall to them at #19.  However, the way ESPN is talking, he shouldn't last that long.

Next is Ryne Stanek, a right handed pitcher for the University of Arkansas.  Both ESPN and Baseball America rank him #13.

Stanek has good stuff--his fastball ranges from 92-98 mph and he has a power slider--but his results don't always measure up.  Baseball America says that "a tweak here or there could unlock Stanek’s frontline potential, but other scouts see him as a future closer or set-up man in the Daniel Bard mold."

His stock has dropped some and if he keeps sliding he could possibly fall to the Cardinals.  The Cards have shown an extraordinary ability to develop power arms in their recent history and Stanek could be one of those Michael Wacha sleeper-types who develop into a frontline starter.

One of the more intriguing pitchers on the board is Sean Manaea, a lefty from Indiana State University.  He was the star of the Cape Cod League last summer, striking out 85 in 52 innings while showing a fastball that  reached the mid-90's.

However, this year, compensating for an ankle injury led to hip issues, which have sapped his fastball and caused his stock to drop.  He was only topping out at 91 mph in an early May start and scouts are trying to figure out who the real Manaea is.

Like Stanek, the Cards would probably be ecstatic if he were available to them at the #19 pick and would likely take a chance on him if he's available.

Finally, there's Alex Gonzalez, a right handed pitcher out of Oral Roberts University.  ESPN ranks him #16 and Baseball America lists him at #19.

He has a fastball that sits in the low 90's with natural cut and sink and Baseball America says his slider is one of the best in the draft and gives him two plus pitches.  He's one of those pitchers who may not have a high ceiling, but is pretty polished and will likely move quickly through the minors (kind of like Wacha). 

Personally, I would like to see the Cardinals select either Stanek or Manaea with the #19 pick (if either is available).  Both have upside but have slipped recently due to injury or lack of results.  I think that, the way the Cards have been developing pitchers lately, if they got their hands on either of those too, they would flourish in the Cardinals organization.

Who will get the start on Wednesday?

As a result of the rainout on Friday, the Cardinals pushed back Shelby Miller's start to game one of their split double-header against San Francisco Saturday, with Adam Wainwright starting the nightcap on normal rest.  But the rainout also will force the Cardinals to have to make a difficult decision as to who will start this Wednesday's game, which would have been Miller's normal turn.

One option would be to start either Miller or Wainwright on short rest.  However, given that Miller is a rookie and Wainwright is not too far removed from Tommy John surgery, this is probably the least likely scenario.

Another option would be to call up a pitcher for a spot start. But who?

Carlos Martinez, who was with the big club earlier, is still ramping up as a starter and just pitched Sunday, so he is not an option. Two other pitchers, Boone Whiting and Richard Castillo, have been pitching well at AAA, but neither is on the 40-man roster and its unlikely that the Cardinals would want to clear roster space for one start, as any player dropped from the 40-man roster would have to clear waivers.

Maikel Cleto is on the 40-man roster and last started on May 29th. He would be the most logical starter if the Cardinals decided to call someone up.  He is slated to make the start tonight for Memphis, so keep an eye on him.

The final option would be to use a bullpen start.  For example, start Seth Maness or Joe Kelly and let each of them pitch 2-3 innings, before giving way to the other relievers.  This is less than ideal, as is puts a strain on the bullpen and the Cardinals have no days off for the next week.  However, it appears that this is the direction the team is leaning, provided they do not have to utilize their bullpen extensively over the next two days.

So, keep an eye on the Cardinals bullpen usage and who starts or is pulled from their start at Memphis over the next two days.  The Cards will likely announce who's starting on Tuesday, but we can probably figure it out before then.