Monday, December 30, 2013

The Cardinals top 5 stories of 2013

Every December you will see various publications posting their Top 10 lists relating to the concluding year, whether it be top news stories, top sports moments, best defensive plays, etc...

This year CFCL, as part of the United Cardinals Bloggers December project, is joining the fray with the top 5 Cardinals stories for the 2013 season.

My criteria for the top stories are those that I feel impacted the Cardinals the most in their run to the World Series.   

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the top 5 Cardinals stories of the year, in countdown order:

5.  Edward Mujica steps up

After losing Jason Motte to Tommy John surgery and fill-in closer Mitchell Boggs to ineptitude, the Cardinals were desperate for someone to step up and fill the closer role.

Enter Edward Mujica.  After taking over the closer role in mid-April, Mujica saved 35 out of 37 games before tiring down the stretch and losing the closer role to Trevor Rosenthal.

However, make no mistake about it, the Cardinals would not have reached the playoffs without Mujica's quiet efficiency as closer from April to August.

4.  Cardinals redefine the term "clutch"

When it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP), no one did it better than the Cardinals in 2013.  As a team, they hit .330 with RISP, nearly 50 points higher than the second place team, the Tigers, who hit .282 with RISP.

Leading the way for the Cardinals was Allen Craig who hit an insane .454 with RISP.  In 130 at bats with RISP, Craig had 84 rbi's, despite just 4 homers.

In addition to Craig, Matt Holliday was 4th with RISP with a .390 average, Matt Carpenter was 5th with .388 average and Carlos Beltran 8th with a .374 average.

3.  Cardinals rookie pitchers come up big

Due to an seemingly endless string of injuries and ineffectiveness, the Cardinals relied on their rookie pitchers early and often during the 2013 season.

It started with Shelby Miller, who won the 5th starter spot in spring training and finished the season with a 15-9 record, a 3.06 ERA and a third place finish in the ROY voting.

Second on the list was Trevor Rosenthal who absolutely dominated in the setup role, posting a 2.63 ERA and 108 K's in 75.1 innings.  He took over the closer role late in the season and locked up the 2014 closer role with 11.2 scoreless innings in the 2013 postseason.

Other key rookie arms were Seth Maness (2.32 ERA and an incredible 4.40 GO/FO ratio), Kevin Siegrist (0.45 ERA in 39.2 innings), Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78 ERA) and Carlos Martinez (5.08 ERA in the regular season, but a 3.55 ERA as the primary setup man in the playoffs).

2.  Adam Wainwright returns to form

After shaking off the rust from Tommy John surgery during an up-and-down 2012 season, Adam Wainwright showed he was back as the Cardinals ace in 2013. 

Wainwright was among the top 5 in ERA for most of the season, holding a 2.58 ERA through August 23, before back-to-back poor outings against the Reds ballooned his ERA up to 3.14.  He settled down after that to lower his ERA to 2.94, good for 7th in the league while tying for the league lead with 19 wins.

Add to that his leadership and dancing ability, and its easy to see why Waino is a fan favorite.

1.  Michael Wacha dominates the postseason

In all my years of watching and following the Cardinals, I am hard-pressed to think of any pitcher, let alone a rookie, who had a better stretch of starts than Michael Wacha did in his first 4 postseason starts.

It started with game 4 of the NLDS against the Pirates.  Facing elimination, Wacha no-hit the Buccos through 7.1 innings before allowing a homer against Cardinal killer Pedro Alvarez.

He followed that up by throwing 13.2 scoreless innings against the Dodgers in the NLCS, including 7 innings of 2 hit ball in the decisive 6th game, earning the NLCS MVP award.

He then went on to win game 2 of the World Series, allowing just 2 runs on 3 hits.

All told, Wacha went 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his first 4 postseason games.

That he ended up losing the decisive game 6 of the World Series does not diminish his heroics as the Cardinals certainly would not have even made the World Series without him.

I'm sure there are other key moments that I probably have forgotten about, but those are the ones that stood out to me.  What's yours? 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What is the best way to develop the Cardinals' Carlos Martinez in the 2014 season?

Derrick Goold posted an interesting article a couple days ago stating that Carlos Martinez could be this year's Trevor Rosenthal.

If you remember, Rosenthal was slated to compete for a rotation spot in the spring, along with Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller.  However, he was bumped to the bullpen without really getting a shot at the rotation, while Kelly and Miller battled it out for the final spot.

Fast forward to spring 2014 and we could find Martinez in a similar situation.  After a nice showing in relief down the stretch and in the postseason, the Cardinals, who have several options for the rotation, could slot Martinez in the bullpen, basically replacing Rosenthal as setup man.

Martinez could certainly excel in that role.  However, Martinez could be a whole lot more valuable as a starter, with the upside of an ace.

To me, it would make more sense in the long run if the Cardinals followed the Michael Wacha 2013 development plan.  Keep Martinez in AAA to work on his secondary pitches and as insurance should injuries occur in the rotation. 

After a very strong spring, the Cardinals were highly tempted to include Wacha on their opening day roster, but with the exception of a 3-start stint in late-May and early June, Wacha spent most of the year in the minors, mainly trying to refine his breaking ball.  He was called up to make a spot start on August 10th, then spent the next 3 weeks in the bullpen before returning to the rotation for good on August 28th.

All told, Wacha worked 180.1 innings in 2013, including 30.2 in the playoffs, which was a 46 innings increase over his 2012 workload (Wacha pitched 134.1 innings in 2012, including college). 

The Cards reportedly wanted to limit Wacha to 150 innings in 2013, which they did--in the regular season.  However, his dominance in the post season proved too valuable for the team to pass on and they leaned on him heavily in the playoffs and World Series.

In contract, the Cardinals placed a 180 innings limit on fellow rookie Shelby Miller and, after pitching 173.1 innings in the regular season, the team only used him for one inning in the post season.

Due to a late start to his season and being used primarily in a relief role in the majors, Martinez logged just 120.2 innings this year. Thus, its likely the Cardinals would limit him to a similar 150 innings as they placed on Wacha and, if they follow the same development path as they did with Wacha, they can accomplish just that.

If the Cardinals put Martinez in the bullpen for all of 2014, he would be limited to around 70-80 innings for the year.  Then, if the Cardinals needed him to fill a rotation spot in 2015, he would be hard pressed to throw the requisite 160-180 innings required of a full-time starter.

The ideal scenario would be to start Martinez in the bullpen as the setup man for Rosenthal to begin the 2014 season.  Then, when Jason Motte proves healthy, he can take over the setup role and Martinez can return to the minors to further his development as a starter. 

This would help limit Martinez' innings while also allowing him to complete his development and perhaps, down the stretch, we can see Martinez become the 2014 version of Wacha.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Projecting the Cardinals future lineups

According to GM John Mozeliak, the Cardinals are likely finished with their offseason moves, meaning that, besides adding some minor league depth, the Cards roster is pretty much set.

Thus, as I did with the starting rotation a little while ago, its time to look at the projected Cardinals lineups not only for 2014 but for future years as well.

In case you missed it, as I had just started up this blog at the time, I did a similar exercise last year, which can be found HERE.  

Its always interesting to see how my projections look a year after they are made.  The main restriction I put on myself is to assume that all openings will be filled in-house (i.e. no free agents or trades), thereby relying only on the Cardinals farm system to fill holes, which, as we have seen this offseason, is not always the case.

Thus, last year, I showed 2013 free agents Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran being replaced by Pete Kozma and Oscar Taveras in 2014 and then 2015 free agent David Freese being replaced by Kolten Wong with Matt Carpenter moving over to third.

However, this year, with the likely starters all locked up through at least the 2016 season, taking the above approach would be pretty boring, thus, I decided to shake things up a bit by assuming some possible trades and free agent signings.

In any case, here's how I see things shaking out over the next few years:


As I alluded to before, the 2014 lineup is set, its just a matter of figuring out the batting order.  I think Mike Matheny will make new addition Peter Bourjos the leadoff hitter, followed by Matt Carpenter.  However, I'm not entirely sold on Bourjos as a leadoff man, given his career .306 OBP and I can see Carpenter returning to the leadoff spot with Jhonny Peralta hitting second.

From there, Matt Holliday will likely stay in his familiar 3rd spot with Allen Craig hitting 4th.  Then Yadier Molina and Matt Adams following, with perhaps Adams moving down further against some lefties.  That leaves Bourjos and Kolten Wong bringing up the rear.

Thus, here is my projected 2014 lineup:
  1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  2. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  3. Matt Holliday, LF
  4. Allen Craig, RF
  5. Yadier Molina, C
  6. Matt Adams, 1B
  7. Peter Bourjos, CF
  8. Kolten Wong, 2B
  9. pitcher

At some point in the 2014 season or before the 2015 season begins, the Cardinals are going to have to make a big decision.  Oscar Taveras will likely be ready to assume a full-time outfield role with the team and the Cards already have too many outfielders.

Jon Jay will likely have already been traded by the July 2014 trade deadline, but that still leaves the Cardinals with Holliday, Craig, Bourjos, Adams and Taveras to fill 4 spots (including first) and that's not even considering the Cards other top hitting prospect Stephen Piscotty.  I could see the team possibly trading Holliday, who will be 35 at this time, to free up some salary and to replenish their farm system.

Holliday is owed $17 million a year through 2016, with an $17 million option for 2017 that carries a $1 million buyout.  Thus, trading him at this time would save the team $35 million.  Allen Craig is another trade possibility, but he's younger and under a more reasonable contract, thereby making Holliday the more appealing option.

Thus, here is how I see the 2015 lineup panning out:
  1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  2. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  3. Yadier Molina, C
  4. Allen Craig, RF
  5. Matt Adams, 1B
  6. Oscar Taveras, LF
  7. Peter Bourjos, CF
  8. Kolten Wong, 2B
  9. pitcher

Again, there would be no free agents to worry about at this time, so it comes down to whether the Cardinals feel a trade or free agent signing make sense.

My main concern around this time would be Peralta's defense at short.  He will turn 34 during the 2016 season and will likely have lost a step or two on defense.  Thus, it might make sense for the Cards to pursue a free agent shortstop.

Yunel Escobar will be a free agent after the 2015 season and could be a good fit for the Cardinals.  While he is an average hitter, he has proven to be an above average fielder in his career and would give the team's defense a boost.

Of course, if the team signs Escobar, that leaves Peralta without a position.  He could become trade bait or a super utility player, but in either case he will be out of the starting lineup.

Also, by this time, I would think that Wong will have established himself as a good major league hitter and capable leadoff man, thereby allowing Carpenter to bat second, thus giving us the following lineup:
  1. Kolten Wong, 2B
  2. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  3. Yadier Molina, C
  4. Allen Craig, RF
  5. Matt Adams, 1B
  6. Oscar Taveras, LF
  7. Peter Bourjos, CF
  8. Yunel Escobar, SS
  9. pitcher

Finally, a free agent!  After the 2016 season, Peter Bourjos will likely leave via free agency.  Waiting in the wings could be James Ramsey, who will have likely served a long apprenticeship, beginning in 2015 as a 4th outfielder.

Other than that, it will be more of the status quo for the team, giving us the following lineup:
  1. Kolten Wong, 2B
  2. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  3. Yadier Molina, C
  4. Allen Craig, RF
  5. Matt Adams, 1B
  6. Oscar Taveras, LF
  7. Yunel Escobar, SS
  8. James Ramsey, CF
  9. pitcher
Overall, the Cardinals are setup pretty well for the future and do not have to make any moves in the foreseeable future.  There are some tweaks they can make along the way to avoid being stuck with a large contract for an aging veteran (i.e. Holliday) or having to make due with an aging veteran at a key position (Peralta).

However, the team is certainly set up for long-term success and, if they continue to develop players as they have recently, that success will continue.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cardinals sign Mark Ellis as a $5.25 million insurance policy

The Cardinals announced the signing of second baseman Mark Ellis to a one-year, $5.25 million contract yesterday, which should all but conclude their Hot Stove League moves. 

Ellis, who will turn 37 next June, will head into the 2014 season as the Cardinals insurance policy for the unproven Kolten Wong. 

The second base job is Wong's to lose and he will likely be the Cards opening day starter at second.  However, should he falter, having Ellis as a backup plan will certainly help the team.

Ellis is a career .265/.330/.390 hitter across 11 MLB seasons and is generally considered a good defensive player.  However, what is more important is that Ellis has fared well against lefties in his career, posting a .276/.348/.429 career line against them.

Thus, should Wong, who is left handed, struggle against lefties, Ellis could form a nice platoon with him. 
What's more, Ellis does not show a significant drop off against righthanders, hitting .262/.324/.377 against them.  Thus, should Wong require more minor league seasoning, Ellis can certainly hold down the fort until he's ready.

Overall, its a nice signing by the Cardinals.  Sure, $5.25 million is not cheap for a backup player, but considering what else Ellis brings to the table, I feel its worth it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Projecting the Cardinals starting rotation for 2014 and beyond

Each year around this time, I try to take a look at the Cardinals roster and project out the starting rotations and lineup for the next year and a few years into the future.  Its mainly an exercise in speculation and highly subjective, but its fun to try to figure out what the team might look like in the future.

Today I'm starting with the rotation.  Here is what I project for 2014 and beyond.


With Adam Wainwright locked up through 2018, Jaime Garcia signed through 2015 (with club options for 2016 and 2017) and all the other potential starters still pre-arbitration, the Cardinals could have a logjam of pitchers for the next several years.

There are no shortages of starters in the Cardinals organization. With the likes of Wainwright, Garcia, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, John Gast and a host of prospects waiting in the wings, the Cardinals have a seemingly endless pipeline of pitchers.

For 2014, John Mozeliak has already gone on record as saying that Garcia will be in the rotation, if healthy, and he will likely join Wainwright, Wacha and Miller as the top 4 starters.  This means that Lynn, Kelly and Martinez will likely battle next spring for the 5th starter spot.

Although I see Lynn eventually winning out, with Kelly returning to his swingman role and Martinez working as a setup man, this is probably Lynn's last chance to prove himself worthy of a starting spot.  Lynn will be arbitration eligible after the 2014 season and thus next year will be a make or break year for him. 

He has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but has been far too inconsistent and seems to let his emotions get the better of him at times.

With that said, here is my predicted 2014 rotation:
  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Shelby Miller
  3. Jaime Garcia
  4. Michael Wacha
  5. Lance Lynn

Again the usual suspects should be vying for a starting spot in 2015, with a couple exceptions. 

I think that Lynn will be traded at some point prior to the season, opening up a spot for someone else.  My hope is that Carlos Martinez will be the one to step up and take that spot.  He has the stuff to be a front line starter and the Cardinals may use the Wainwright method of developing him by using him in relief first (in 2014) before moving him to the rotation in 2015.

The other starter I think could be gone is Garcia.  His shoulder issues are a big concern for me and I think that, if the Cards find a taker, they could trade him or his shoulder will knock him out of the rotation.  In either case, the Cardinals have a few options to replace him.  If addition, the have a good stock pile of young lefties who could replace him. Gast, Lyons or one of their prospects, Marco Gonzalez or Tim Cooney, could fill the void.

If the above plays out, here is how I see the 2015 rotation:
  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Shelby Miller
  3. Michael Wacha
  4. Carlos Martinez
  5. Tim Cooney

Even if Garcia is still a part of the Cardinals rotation in 2015, I think he's likely gone after that year, as the Cardinals will probably not pick up his option. 

Thus, for 2016, the top 4 from the 2015 rotation should still be in place, leaving the 5th starter spot as a battle between lefties Cooney, Gonzalez, Lyons and Gast.

This time I predict that Gonzalez will win out, due largely to his higher upside than Cooney.

Thus, here is the 2016 rotation:
  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Shelby Miller
  3. Michael Wacha
  4. Carlos Martinez
  5. Marco Gonzalez
2017 and beyond

Once you get past 2016, things are really going to get dicey.  2013 first rounder Rob Kaminsky will likely be major league ready by 2017 or 2018 and young flame thrower Alex Reyes could also be ready by that time, leaving the Cardinals with even more arms to choose from.

Obviously, not every one of these prospects will pan out and some pitchers could be traded at some point to replace Jhonny Peralta at short when the Cardinals are forced to move him to third or the outfield.  So, there are a lot of variables at play here.

With that said, I think the front 4 will remain a staple of the Cardinals rotation for as long as the Cards control their rights (Wainwright and Miller are signed or controlled through 2018 and Wacha and Martinez through 2019) and the team can just ride the hot hand in the 5th starter spot.

In any case, no matter how you look at it, the Cardinals pitching is stacked and should be for years to come.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cardinals step up their search for right handed infielder and Rule 5 wrap

As I noted a couple days ago, it appears that the main piece the Cardinals need to complete their team is a right handed infielder, one who can back up Kolten Wong at second or perhaps even platoon with him.

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, obviously aware of this need, has been poking around the free agent market to find such a player.

On Tuesday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that the Cardinals met with Mark Ellis' agent, Jamie Murphy of TWC. 

Derrick Goold confirmed Slusser's report on Wednesday and also indicated that the Cards met with the agent for Ryan Roberts, stating that the team is looking for a backup or compliment for Wong, but not necessarily competition.

According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, my personal favorite, Jeff Baker, is being pursued by 6-7 teams, which will likely drive his asking price up (and may also explain the Cardinals interest in the other players). 

Finally, Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals have discussed Brian Roberts as a potential target, but his injury history makes the team a bit wary.

Overall, although I would prefer Baker, he may soon be priced out of the Cards range.  Short of him, the pickings are pretty slim. 

Ellis is a decent plan "B" and has a career .777 OPS against lefties, but has played primarily second in his career.

Ryan Roberts, despite years of inconsistency, has a career .785 OPS against lefties and has more versatility than Ellis, having played second, third and left field extensively in his career.  

Brian Roberts is probably more of a last resort type, as he has fared better against righties (.782 OPS) in his career than lefties (.716 OPS).  Plus, he's played most of his games at second in his career (1213 games) with 53 games at short and his days as a shortstop are likely over.

If I had to rank them, I would go Baker, Ryan Roberts, Ellis and then Brian Roberts.

In other Winter Meetings news, the Rule 5 draft was conducted today and the Cardinals did not select any players in the major league portion nor did they lose any.

However, in the minor league portion, the Cardinals lost RHP Kevin Thomas to the Twins, shortstop Jake Lemmerman to the Padres and LHP Hector Hernandez to the Diamondbacks, while claiming shortstop Greg Miclat from the Rangers and first baseman Jesus Ustariz from the Tigers.

Of the players the Cards lost, Lemmerman was probably the most well known, having been acquired by the Cardinals for Skip Schumaker back in December 2012.  However, he has only hit .232 above class A ball.  Thomas was a 33rd round pick of the Cards in 2008 and has a career 3.93 ERA in the minors.  Hernandez also has a career 3.93 ERA and was a 10th round pick in 2009.

Of the additions, Miclat was a 5th round selection in 2008.  He is a career .259 hitter in the minors and at age 25 is unlikely to be more than just organizational depth.

Ustariz may have a little more upside.  He is just 21, but has not played above short season ball.  However, he has a career slash line of .292/.382/.420 in 678 at bats.

Overall, not much to get too thrilled or despondent about as the Winter Meetings wrap up.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Catching up on the Cardinals Rumors

Things have been pretty quiet for the Cardinals (and this blog) for a while, so its time to catch up with the team and where they stand with the Winter Meetings going on this week.

The Cardinals got their Christmas shopping done early this year, acquiring center fielder Peter Bourjos in a trade for David Freese and signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta, all before Black Friday.  As Derrick Goold points out, that should make for a pretty boring Winter Meetings, at least by comparison.

That's not to say that the 2014 Cardinals team is complete.

The main piece remaining for the Cardinals, that Bernie Miklasz and yours truly have both pointed out, is a right handed infielder.

Miklasz listed a virtual who's who of right handed infielders for the Cardinals to choose from, including Jeff Baker (my personal choice), Ryan Roberts, Mark Ellis, Scott Sizemore, Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, Placido Polanco and Jayson Nix. 

As Miklasz points out, the guy the Cardinals are looking for would ideally give the team an option at second against left handers, potentially as a platoon with lefty Kolten Wong, or even as a fill-in if Wong is slumping. 

Beyond that, there are no glaring holes left to fill.

However, that doesn't mean that the Cardinals can't find other ways to improve their team.

For one thing, even though they have the shortstop for the near future, the Cardinals appear to still be looking for a long-term answer and have shown heavy interest in Cuban defector Aldemys Diaz.  Diaz cannot sign before February 19th and has drawn interest from several teams, so the Cardinals will have a battle on their hands if they want to sign him.

Other than that, there were rumors that the Nationals might make short stop Danny Espinosa available via trade, but those were quickly shot down.  Adam Kilgore of the Washington post noted that the Cardinals were already rebuffed when they inquired on him earlier this offseason.

Finally, we have Friday's Rule 5 draft to look forward to.  I previewed who the Cardinals left available back on November 21st and looking around the web, it appears that Boone Whiting is the odds-on favorite to be picked by some team.

On the flip side, the Cards might be able to find a useful shortstop in this year's draft, as Cubs farmhand Marco Hernandez is available.  The drawback to selecting a guy like Hernandez is that he hasn't played above class A ball and his development would likely be hindered by being buried on a big league bench for a season.

Overall, the Cardinals are sitting pretty and have time to wait for the right-handed utility infielder market to set itself before making a move there.  In any case, whoever they sign cannot be any worse than Ty Wigginton.