Sunday, March 23, 2014

Joe Kelly given Cardinals 5th starter job over Carlos Martinez

As I suspected, the Cardinals announced today that Joe Kelly has "won" the 5th starter job and the Carlos Martinez will be the 8th inning guy in the bullpen.  This despite Martinez' sparkling 1.76 ERA this spring compared to Kelly's 6.28.

Makes you wonder why they went through all this pretense of a spring competition in the first place.  What kind of message does this send to Martinez?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think its a bad decision on the Cardinals part, I just don't get the rationale for having a competition for the 5th starter job when they already knew who the 5th starter was going to be.

Martinez took well to the 8th inning role last season, while Kelly had an excellent second half as a starter, which should carry more weight than what they do in 15-20 spring innings.
Making Kelly the 5th starter and Martinez makes sense, for now.

However, I do not want to see the Cardinals pigeonhole Martinez into a bullpen role, like they have done with Trevor Rosenthal. 

The best case scenario is for the Cards to use Martinez in the 8th inning role for the first month or two until Jason Motte proves healthy enough to take over.  Then send Martinez back to the minors to stretch him out as a starter again.

Once he is stretched out, he can take over for any under-performing pitchers in the second half of the season (read "Lance Lynn") and perhaps pull a Michael Wacha down the stretch and in the playoffs.

So, for now at least, the decision makes sense.  We just could have done without the dog and pony show.

Cardinals Spring Training Battle #3: The Bench

With the start of the season only 8 days away, its time to look at the final Spring Training Battle for the Cardinals--the bench.

The Cards recently announced that Kolten Wong had beaten out Mark Ellis for the starting second base job, which means that the starting lineup is pretty much set, if not the batting order.

Here's how the team lines up:

Catcher - Yadier Molina
First Base - Matt Adams
Second - Kolten Wong
Shortstop - Jhonny Peralta
Third - Matt Carpenter
Leftfield - Matt Holliday
Center - Peter Bourjos
Rightfield - Allen Craig

Ellis and Jon Jay are likely guaranteed a spot on the bench along with Tony Cruz at backup catcher.  That leaves just 2 spots open on the bench. 

The leading contenders are Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, Randal Grichuk and Shane Robinson.  Its likely that the Cards will keep one more outfielder and one more infielder.

Here's a look at each contender:

Pete Kozma

The main advantage for Kozma is that he is the best shortstop on the team defensively.  If the Cardinals feel they need a defensive replacement for Peralta late in games, then Kozma may be the man.  However, with trade rumors already swirling around him, it appears that the Cards are ready to part ways with Kozma.

Daniel Descalso

Descalso may have an edge in the infield battle as he can play second, short and third and is a better hitter than Kozma.  However, with a career .243 average and .655 OPS, he should not feel too comfortable.  Aledmys Diaz is waiting in the wings in the minors and, as soon as he proves himself ready, he could easily fill Descalso's role, but with an higher offensive upside.

Shane Robinson

Robinson was the Cardinals 5th outfielder last year and hit .250/.345/.319 in just 144 at bats.  He is versatile, playing 26 games in left, 27 in center and 34 in right, but with a career .246 average and .644 OPS, his hitting leaves much to be desired.  If the Cardinals value his defense and versatility, he will likely make the team.  However, if they are looking for a little more pop off the bench, they may go in another direction.

Randal Grichuk

Acquired from the Angels in the David Freese trade, Grichuk is also capable of playing all 3 outfield positions.  In addition, he has a bit more pop than Robinson.  Robinson had only 22 homers in his minor league career, while Grichuk hit 22 homers last year alone and has 61 for his career.

Again, whoever wins the job may be there only temporarily as the Cardinals will likely promote top prospect Oscar Taveras, when the deem him ready.


The Cardinals will probably go with Descalso and Grichuk to start the season.  But look for Diaz and Taveras around mid-season.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bird's Eye View: Cardinals Season Preview

Each year, a group of us Cardinals bloggers puts together a newsletter that is e-mailed out before each series.  The bloggers take turns writing the newsletter, so you get a different style and viewpoint each time.

This year, we put together a season preview as well.  I did the writeup on the infield, while other bloggers discussed the lineup, outfield, bench, defense, starting pitching, bullpen, manager and front office.

Here's a sneak peak at my section:

The Cardinals infield underwent some significant changes over the winter, as the team looked to shore up its defense while also improving the offensive production from the shortstop position.  Here’s a position-by-position look at the Cards 2014 infield.

First Base
With the free agency departure of Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig moves to right field to replace him and Matt Adams steps into a full-time role at first base.  After hitting .284 with 17 homers in just 296 at bats, Cardinals fans are excited to see what numbers Adams can put up in a full season.

Second Base
The departure of David Freese caused the biggest shake-up, allowing Matt Carpenter to move to his natural third base position and opening the door for rookie Kolten Wong at second.  Wong didn’t hit much in his limited exposure to big league pitching last season (.153 in 59 at bats), but is a career .301/.365/.446 hitter in the minors.

Third Base
Matt Carpenter takes over at third for the departed Freese.  He hit .318/.392/.481 and finished 4th in the MVP voting last season.  His shift to third and the addition of Wong at second should greatly improve the Cardinals’ defense at those positions.

Obviously displeased with the offensive production they received from the shortstop position in 2013, which finished 13th in the league in OPS (.583), the Cardinals quickly addressed that issue in the offseason by signing Jhonny Peralta to a 4-year, $53 million contract.  While the Cards may lose a little bit defensively over the displaced Pete Kozma, Peralta, and his career .755 OPS, should make up for it offensively.

The Cardinals brought in second baseman Mark Ellis as an insurance policy for rookie Kolten Wong and holdovers Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma should back up the other positions.  The X factor is recently signed Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz.  Capable of playing second, third or short, he could replace Descalso or Kozma on the Cards bench when ready.
If you're interested in seeing the rest of the season preview as well as receiving the newsletter before each series, you can signup using the following link:
Thanks and Go Cards!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Are the Cardinals really using Spring Training performances to determine their 5th starter or was the decision already made before spring?

Its no secret that Spring Training stats can be misleading.  Pitchers may be working on specific pitches.  Teams rarely roll out their starting lineups until the end of the spring.  Its a small sample size, etc...

So, to base an important decision, such as who will be the Cardinals 5th starter purely on Spring Training stats is a bit ridiculous.

My theory is that a team normally knows who they want to win the job up front and that the Spring stats are used to justify their decision (or they just ignore them, if it doesn't support their decision).

Case in point, last season's 5th starter battle between Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal.  Rosenthal really didn't have a chance, as the Cardinals had already predetermined that he would help the team more in a relief role.  Thus, he got a token start, didn't fare well and was immediately relegated to the pen.

The same could be said regarding the Miller and Kelly matchup.  The Cardinals wanted Miller to "win" the competition and, although Kelly fared better at the beginning of the spring, Miller eventually ended up with better spring stats and was named the starter.  However, if Kelly had an ERA lower than Miller last spring, do we really think he would have been handed the job?

Fast forward to this spring and the competition between Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez.  Martinez has been spectacular, with a 1.76 ERA in 15.1 innings, while Kelly has struggled with a 7.71 ERA in just 9.1 innings.

If the victor is going to be determined by just spring stats, Martinez would pretty much have the job locked up.  However, I think there are other factors at play.

Kelly was brilliant in the second half of last season, posting a 9-2 record and 1.91 ERA, while Martinez took well to the setup role late in the season and in the playoffs.  Thus, the Cardinals may decide its in their best interest to stick with those same roles this season.

I'm not the only one who is thinking that the whole spring training battle is a sham, as Rotoworld indicates that the "speculation of late has the Cardinals putting him (Martinez) back in the pen".  But if that's truly the case, why go through the whole competition to begin with?

It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out.  Because, if Martinez continues to pitch well and Kelly is still handed the 5th starter role, Martinez certainly won't be a happy camper. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cardinals Spring Training Battle #2: The Bullpen

The good thing about having a solid team, like the Cardinals, is that there is not a lot of unsettled positions heading into the season.  A little over a week ago, I took a look at the Cards 5th starter competition.

Tonight, I will look at the bullpen.

Sure Things

Given the way that they pitched last year, there are four pitchers who are virtual locks to open the season in the major league bullpen:  Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and veteran LOOGY Randy Choate.

Rosenthal is the Cardinals closer and should be for the whole season.   Siegrist was nearly unhittable last season, posting a 0.45 ERA in 39.2 innings.  Choate does was he always does, gets lefties out, holding them to a .176 average (.492 OPS) in 2013.  Maness' performance this spring may give Mike Matheny some pause (9.39 ERA in 7.2 IP), but his 2.32 ERA and incredible 4.40 GO/AO ratio in 2013 is what probably matters more to Matheny.

The Almost Sure Thing

One of Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez, whoever loses out in the 5th starter battle, will likely end up in the Cardinals pen to start the 2014 season. 

Martinez performed well as the Cards eighth inning guy in the playoffs last year and could fill the same role this year.  While Kelly was valuable to the team as a swingman last season.

The Battle

We can assume that the Cardinals will go with at least 7 relievers to start the season (maybe 8), so that leaves two spots open. 

The leading candidates are Pat Neshek, Sam Freeman, Tyler Lyons, Jorge Rondon and Keith Butler.

Non-roster invitee, Neshek, has the advantage of experience, with a career 2.56 ERA in 9 seasons.  He has also pitched well this spring allowing only 2 runs in 6 innings.  He is likely going to earn one spot.

Freeman has a career 2.75 ERA in the minors and pitched well in his September callup last year (2.19 ERA in 12.1 IP).  His main problem is his control (career 3.9 BB/9 in the minors).

Lyons has not pitched well this spring, allowing 8 runs in 6.2 IP.  However, he did fare well in a relief role towards the end of last season (1 ER in 9.1 IP). 

Rondon has yet to allow a run this spring in 6.1 IP.  However, his minor league track record is less than stellar (4.86 ERA in 8 seasons).

Butler has the minor league stats (2.29 ERA and 265 K's in 212 IP), but has struggled with his control at the major league level, giving up 11 walks in 20 innings last year and 5 walks in 7.1 innings this spring.


As of right now, I would have to go with Neshek and Freeman for the last two bullpen spots.  Lyons will likely start the 2014 season in Memphis' rotation, while Rondon and Butler will likely ride the Memphis/St.Louis shuttle this season, whenever the Cards need a fresh arm.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Carlos Martinez has early edge on Joe Kelly for 5th starter spot

I know its still early in spring training, but it appears that Carlos Martinez already has a leg up on Joe Kelly for the 5th starter job.

With each pitcher having two starts under their belt, Martinez has been more impressive so far, sporting a 3.00 ERA in his 6 innings of work, whereas Kelly has an unsightly 15.75 ERA in just 4 innings.  Kelly was lit up in his last start against the Nationals, giving up 5 runs in just 2.1 innings, which is the main reason for his bloated ERA.

Of course, Kelly is probably wondering why he even has to try out for the 5th starter spot.  Especially after posting a 9-2 record and 1.91 ERA in the second half of last season (12 starts).

Dark horse, Tyler Lyons, appears headed for AAA Memphis, after giving up 7 runs in just 0.1 innings today against Detroit.  That ballooned his ERA up to 12.71 on the spring. 

Whoever ends up with the job may not have it for long, as Jaime Garcia is making progress from his shoulder injury.  According to Rick Hummel, Garcia will visit with Dr. James Andrews, starting today, to undergo two days of tests on his shoulder.  Should everything check out fine, he could begin throwing as soon as Wednesday.

For his part, Garcia says he feels good and this is by no means a setback.  If he continues to progress, I would estimate his return sometime late April or early May.  However, as Cardinals fans are aware, these things almost never go smoothly.

In any case, Martinez seems to have positioned himself well for the 5th starter gig and I, along with Cardinals fans everywhere, will keep a close eye on how Garcia progresses.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cardinals sign Aledmys Diaz. But where will he play?

According to Jennifer Langosch (and other) the Cardinals have signed infielder Aledmys Diaz to a major league deal.  The team did not release details, but it is believed to be for 4 years. 

This represents the biggest investment ever by the Cards in a Cuban player and while that is all fine and good, the first question I asked myself is where will he play?

According to scouts, Diaz is capable of playing second, third and short.  However, the Cardinals currently have Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta manning those positions.  Carpenter just received an extension from the Cards, which has him under team control through 2019.  Peralta was signed as a free agent through the 2017 and Wong is under team control through 2019.  So, there is no obvious spot for the young Cuban.

But there are some scenarios under which he could make an impact this season:

1.  Kolten Wong struggles

This is Wong's first full season in the majors.  He was a September callup last year and hit an uninspiring .153 in 59 at bats (small sample size rules apply).  However, he is a career .301/.365/.446 hitter in the minors.

He could hit the ground running or he could struggle in his first extended taste of the bigs.  If its the latter, look for Diaz to get the call.

2.  Someone gets injured

Obviously, the addition of Diaz gives the Cardinals some much needed infield depth.  Behind the starting 3, there is only Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma and Mark Ellis.  Ellis has only really played second base in his career and while Descalso and Kozma can play short, neither is a very good hitter.

Diaz would give the Cards a decent hitting backup to Wong, Carpenter or Peralta, should they get injured and would not be as big of a downgrade as Kozma or Descalso would be.

3. Trade

The Cardinals could decide to jettison one of their infielders for an upgrade elsewhere.  This doesn't seem likely though, as it appears that the Cards are committed to Carpenter, Peralta and Wong on the infield.

4.  Utility Infielder

This seems to be the most likely scenario.  With his ability to play 3 different positions, Diaz could become a better hitting version of Descalso.  Despite hitting a meager .238 with a .656 OPS last season, Descalso still managed to play in 123 games last season "earning" 328 at bats.  He played 39 games at second, 55 at short and 38 at third.

Diaz does not have a lot of pop, but he showed the ability to hit for average, batting .315/.404/.500 with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases in his last season in Cuba.  In fact, Diaz' presence could spell the end of Descalso's career with the Cards.

My guess is that the Cardinals will start Diaz in the minors to get him accustomed to American baseball.  Ones he proves himself, he will get called up to play a utility role. He could get significant playing time if there is an injury or Wong struggles, so I could see him getting around 300 at bats.

Did the Cardinals overpay on Matt Carpenter's extension?

With the recent news that the Cardinals are close to signing Matt Carpenter to an extension, estimated to be for 6 years and around $50 to $55 million, it got me to thinking what is Carpenter really worth and are the Cards overpaying?

Per Fangraphs "Value" calculation, Matt Carpenter's 2013 season would have been worth $35.1 million, based on what a player would make in free agency.

However, Carpenter was not even eligible for arbitration and the Cardinals would have had him under team control through the 2017 season.  With the extension, the Cards will buy out his arbitration years plus two years of free agency, locking him up through the 2019 season.

Thus, even though his season was worth $35 million in free agency (for which he was only paid around $500K), the fact that he is under team control gives the Cardinals significant leverage and allows them to pay a lot less than that to keep him around.

So, instead of looking at his value on the free market, let's compare his value to other players who have signed extensions recently.

To do this, I first looked at all players who have signed extensions since the end of last season, utilizing's Extension Tracker.   There were 20 such players.  I then narrowed the list down to those players who were pre-arbitration when they signed their extensions, like Carpenter, which left me with 10 players.  I then calculated the average annual salary of their deals and the average WAR per year (prior to signing the extension) to determine the average dollars per WAR.

Here is what I came up with:

Based on the above, the average dollars per WAR was $2.66 million.  Carpenter's contract pays him $52 million over 6 years or $8.67 million per year.  In his 2.012 seasons, he has accumulated 7.50 WAR, giving him a 3.73 average.  Thus, his contracts pays him $2.32 million per WAR.

Thus, from the above, we can conclude that the value of Carpenter's contract is reasonable and, given his performance last season, the Cardinals probably got a bargain, if Carp can keep it up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Spring Training Battle #1: 5th Starter

With Spring Training games already underway, its time to take a look at some of the Cardinals Spring Training Battles.

First off is the one that everyone will be paying attention to the 5th Starter job.

With Jaime Garcia out indefinitely, Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly and Tyler Lyons will battle for the 5th spot in the rotation.  Here's a breakdown of each of the candidates.

Joe Kelly

Kelly would have to be considered the favorite for the 5th spot, at least at this point. 

Over the last two seasons, Kelly has compiled a 13-9 record and 3.03 ERA in 31 starts for the Cardinals, including 9-2 with a 1.91 ERA during the second half of 2013.

However, for some reason, the Cards do not appear to favor Kelly as a starter, forcing him to compete for the 5th spot despite those gaudy stats. 

The same thing happened with Kelly in the spring of 2013.  Kelly had to compete with Shelby Miller for the 5th spot, before eventually losing and being relegated to a long relief role.

Perhaps with his more recent success, the Cardinals will give him the 5th spot this year

Carlos Martinez

Martinez has probably the best stuff of the 3 competitors and it was somewhat telling the the Cardinals allowed him to pitch 3 innings in his first spring start. 

The biggest question though is whether the Cardinals think they are better off with him in the rotation or the bullpen.  Martinez was impressive in the 2013 postseason, manning the 8th inning role and setting up for closer Trevor Rosenthal. 

With Jason Motte still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals may want to return Martinez to that same 8th inning role, at least until Motte is ready.

In addition, Martinez could probably use some more time in AAA to work on his changeup before he is considered ready for the rotation.  However, if he has an impressive spring he could force his way into the 5th spot.

Tyler Lyons

Lyons is a bit of a long shot to earn the 5th starter spot.  He doesn't have the stuff of Martinez nor the experience of Kelly.  However, what he does have is the fact that he's lefthanded.

If the Cardinals feel they are better off with a lefty in the rotation, Lyons would likely get the nod. 

Besides, its not like he's chopped liver as a pitcher.  He had an impressive 3.32 ERA in the hitter-friendly PCL in 2013 and won his first two big league starts, allowing just 2 runs in 14 innings, before the league adjusted (and he didn't).

However, he would have to have an outstanding spring to overtake both Kelly and Martinez.


Overall I think Kelly will get the nod as the 5th starter.  His experience and performance last year says he deserves the shot.

Martinez will likely be put in the bullpen to start the 2014 season, at least until Motte is ready.  Then he will probaly be sent down to work on his secondary pitches.

Lyons will probably head to AAA to keep himself stretched out.  He would likely be the first guy called up when the Cardinals need another starter.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

UCB Roundtable: Which rookie will have the biggest impact in 2014?

As part of the United Cardinals Bloggers Annual Spring Roundtable, today I got to ask the question for discussion.  What I originally thought would be a straight-forward question turned into a bit more.

Here is the question I posed and the resulting discussion.


Despite several prospects graduating to the big leagues last season, including Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha and Seth Maness, the Cardinals still have one of the best minor league systems. 

Excluding Kolten Wong, who is projected to start at second, which rookie do you think will have the biggest impact on the Cardinals in 2014?  
Mark Tomasik, Retro Simba

Oscar Taveras. He’s likely to emerge as a run producer who gets significant playing time at all three outfield spots.
Matt Whitener, I70 Baseball

Whereas last year's team needed a lot of rookie contribution to make everything work, that's not the case this time around. The sophomores have established roles and the vets are all back for the most part, so it is considerably tougher to pick a rookie that makes a huge splash this year. Not due to a lack of talent, but simply because of available time to make a splash in.

With that preface, I think this year's top rook is finally Tavares, who wont get the early impact chance that everybody wants, but once he hits the field, has the type of talent to force his way into the mix and change what is established already. I see a year for Oscar that mirrors the type of year that Wil Myers had last year: mid-season promotion and increasing impact as the season gets older. He's the type of talent that is an internal trade deadline-like boost, and most importantly, provides a more stable option out of the #2 spot in the lineup, because that's a void that has not been able to be seamlessly filled like others have since Beltran moved on.

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants

Oscar Taveras is my answer.  I would expect that Randal Grichuck or Stephen Piscotty will see some playing time come September.

Bill Ivie, I70 Baseball

Taveras is the obvious answer, and I can't argue it. I think the team has a bright future, but most of the players are not quite ready yet.

Christine Coleman, Aaron Miles' Fastball

I agree with Bill, that Oscar Taveras is the obvious and inarguable answer. With the depth and talent (and youth) on even the 40-man roster, hard to see anyone else really having the chance to make a big impact.

Dan Boffa, Dose of Boffa

While we can all say Oscar, I am going with Tim Cooney. I've seen him pitch twice this spring and he's got command, a fine array of pitches and a poise out there that can't be taught. 

Sure we haven't reached the regular season grind yet but this talented lefty could definitely help the club, especially given Garcia's health concerns and John Gast's shoulder surgery comeback. Cooney may not provide a Wacha moment in 2014 but he could have a big impact down the stretch of a long season.
Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat 

While, as everyone said, you have to figure Oscar Taveras will be the answer to this question, I'm wondering if it might not be a bullpen arm that comes in and pulls a Kevin Siegrist or Seth Maness when someone (inevitably) stumbles.  Could that be Cooney, like Dan said, shifting from the rotation in Memphis to the big league pen?  Lee Stoppelman is my dark horse in that regard.

Mary Claussen, MLBVoice

Oscar Tavares.  He's got oodles of potential.  I'm excited to be able to see him this season (barring no more ankle stuff).

As you can see, the consensus is that Oscar Taveras will be the Cardinals top rookie in 2014.  However, I was surprised that no one mentioned Carlos Martinez in the discussion, which led to a discussion on Martinez' rookie eligibility, as follows.

Me:  What about Carlos Martinez?  He's still a rookie.

Daniel Shoptaw

For some reason, I think Martinez is technically not a rookie.  He didn't reach the 50 innings pitched requirement, but I think he might have had 45 days or more on the active 25-man roster before September. I could be wrong on that, obviously, but I'm thinking I remember that coming up last year.

Bill Ivie

There's a huge debate on Martinez' rookie status.  I've counted his service days and thought he was clear by a day, others have said that he is one day past rookie status.

For what it's worth, MLB does not show him in their rookie run downs.

Daniel Shoptaw

Cot's Contracts shows Martinez with 73 service days, but that should be counting September as well. Which would seem to back up Bill's contention that he was just short.  Like he says, though, Martinez never seems to be included in any rookie rundowns.  Someone Tweet at Goold and have him clear this up!  :)


I stand corrected.  According to Jennifer Langosch, Martinez is not a rookie.  This is from her January 13, 2014 article (in the comments section):
Martinez just narrowly misses rookie status. A player loses his rookie eligibility if A) he exceeds 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched or B) is on a team’s roster for 45 days or more (not counting September, when rosters expand). Martinez only pitched 28 1/3 innings in the regular season, but he did (just narrowly) surpass that 45-day mark for service time. As a result, will not consider him for its prospect list.

Bill Ivie

From Goold on Twitter:  Baseball has him hitting just the mark.  Not a rookie.

So, from a discussion on rookies, we found out (or at least I did) that Carlos Martinez is no longer considered one.  However, I think Martinez will have a bigger impact on this year's team than Taveras, rookie status or not, and Daniel Shoptaw agrees:
Per Dan: "To the rephrased question (whether Taveras or Martinez would have a bigger impact), I'm going to lean toward Martinez, just because I'm not sure when Taveras will make the major leagues and I'm guessing they'll break him in gently with a rotation of him, Craig and Adams.  I don't necessarily think Martinez will start the year in the rotation, but what he does give to the team might be more than OT does."

Be sure to check out more discussions, like these, at the United Cardinals Bloggers site, as well as the individual site links provided above.