Monday, April 28, 2014

Does the Cardinals' Greg Garcia have what it takes to start at second base?

With the demotion of Kolten Wong and the promotion of infielder Greg Garcia, fantasy baseball players everywhere were left asking the question:  Will Greg Garcia start?

Its a legitimate question, as the Cardinals other option, Mark Ellis, is currently hitting .100 (2 for 20), however, is Garcia a legitimate starting second baseman for a major league team?

Short answer--probably not, but that's not to say that Garcia doesn't have his merits.

Over 5 seasons in the minors, he has compiled a .280/.385/.411 line.  He has a little pop, with a career high 10 homers in 2012 and he can steal a base on occasion,  with 14 stolen bases in 2013.

However, what is most impressive about Garcia is his eye and ability to get on base.  In his 2012 breakout season, he drew 80 walks against 83 strikeouts finishing the year with a .408 OBP. 

His minor league stats are very similar to Ellis, who put up a .293/.393/.419 line in the minors prior to his first callup.

Best case scenario - Garcia, who hits left handed, forms a platoon with the right handed Ellis and gets the majority of the at bats while Wong sorts things out in the minors.

Worst case scenario - Garcia spends a month with the team as a pinch-hitter, defensive replacement before being sent back down to the minors when Wong is deemed ready.

While its unlikely that Garcia will make a big impact during his current stay, he could eventually replace the light-hitting and overused Daniel Descalso as the Cardinals primary utility infielder.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cardinals look to shake thing up by demoting Kolten Wong

With their offense continuing to struggle, the Cardinals decided to shake things up by demoting second baseman Kolten Wong to AAA.  Wong has certainly struggled on the season, hitting just .225/.276/.268, but he is not the only one.

Shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.195/.290/.476) is not doing much to make Cardinals fans forget about Pete Kozma and his offensive struggles.  "Clutch" hitter Allen Craig is sporting a .177 average and just 6 rbi's and offseason acquisition Peter Bourjos has lost his starting job to Jon Jay thanks in large part to his .163 average.

Unfortunately, the Cards cannot demote their entire team, so they are making this change to try to light a fire under the team.

The Cardinals have recalled Greg Garcia to replace Wong on the roster. Mark Ellis should get the lion's share of the starts at second, however, with Ellis hitting only .100 since coming off the DL, don't be surprised to see Garcia split time with Ellis.

In addition to Wong's demotion, the Cardinals also sent down Shane Robinson and called up Randal Grichuk.  Grichuk was hitting .313/.356/.542 in AAA and will look to provide a spark off the bench.

Hopefully Wong's demotion will be short-term as he looks to get his stroke back.  However, it is good to have a veteran like Ellis available to plug into the void and hopefully either he or Garcia can provide the offense with a boost.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Could Oscar Taveras provide the spark the Cardinals offense needs?

There has been much hand-wringing when it comes to the Cardinals offense and for good reason.

Through 23 games, the Cardinals have scored just 80 runs, 12th in the NL, and their 3.48 runs/game is behind only the San Diego Padres (2.78) for worst in the league.

If it weren't for the Cardinals starting pitching, which ranks second in the NL with a 2.30 ERA, the Cards would be in a world of hurt.

Bernie Miklasz says the "Cardinals need a wakeup call" and I agree.  But who is going to provide that wakeup call?

Enter Oscar Taveras, who could be the Cardinals version of Yasiel Puig.

For those of you who do not follow the Dodgers (and I don't blame you), the Dodgers started the 2013 season scuffling just like the Cards.  Through the end of May, they were just 23-30 and were averaging 3.52 runs/game.

Then the Dodgers called up Puig on June 3rd and the team's offense took off.  Over the last 4 months of the season, the Dodgers scored 462 runs in 109 games for a 4.2 average.  They went 69-40 (.633) over that stretch and won the NL West by 11 games. 

Puig was a catalyst for the offensive turnaround, hitting .319/.391/.534 with 19 homers in just 382 at bats.  But, more than just that, he brought energy and enthusiasm to the team.

So, could Oscar Taveras provide the same kind of spark to the Cardinals sagging offense?

Well, he could give at least give the struggling Allen Craig (.179/.231/.250 on the year) a breather.  Taveras is hitting .296/.351/.479 at AAA Memphis with 3 homers and 12 rbi's in 19 games.  He was rated the third best prospect in baseball by Baseball America heading into the season and, if he hits the ground running, he could certainly provide the Cardinals with an offensive boost.

The Cards are probably wary of promoting Taveras too early, primarily because he missed so much time last year due to injury and, in part, because they want to avoid "super two" status, if possible.  But when you're a team that is expected to win and you're not, then sometimes you have to take a chance.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Should the Cardinals consider trading Matt Holliday or Allen Craig this winter?

If you read my article from the other day, you know that the current strength of the Cardinals organization is their outfield depth.  The Cards currently have 4 outfielders on the major league roster (Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos and Allen Craig) who could start for most teams.

In addition, the Redbirds have two top prospects in Oscar Taveras (.299/.356/.493) and Stephen Piscotty (.353/.397/.515) tearing it up at AAA Memphis.  Its only a matter of time before they force their way onto the major league roster and then the team will really have a logjam.

So, with the abundance of quality outfielders in their system, one wonders what the Cardinals are going to do with all this talent?

One possibility is that the Cardinals could trade either Matt Holliday or Allen Craig this winter to make room for Taveras or Piscotty.  Let's look at some of the pros and cons of trading each.

Matt Holliday

Holliday is the oldest regular on the team and also the highest paid position player.  He is signed through the 2017 season at $17 million per year.  He also has a 2017 option worth $17 million or a $1 million buyout.  Thus, trading him could potentially save the Cardinals $35 million.

Holliday's defense is much maligned, and the advanced defensive metrics back it up, but he makes up for that by being one of the Cards best and most consistent hitters.  He has hit .305/.388/.515 in his 6 seasons with the team.

However, at 34 years of age, its likely that Holliday's best days are behind him and it might behoove the team to trade him while his value is still relatively high.

Allen Craig

Craig is only 29 and signed at a reasonable price.  He will make just $5.5 million in 2015, $9 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017, with a $13 million option for 2018 ($1 million buyout).

So why trade him?

Well, for one thing, because he is still relatively cheap, he could fetch more in a trade. 

In addition, like Holliday, he is below average defensively. 

Finally, there are some questions about his offense.  For instance, much of his success driving in runs last season was due to an abnormally high batting average with RISP (.454).  Can he possibly keep that up?

Also, his power has dwindled the last two years, with his homers dropping from 22 in 2012 to just 13 last year and just 1 so far this season in 80 at bats.  His isolated power has also dropped from .215 in 2012, to .142 in 2013 to just .075 this season.

But, what does trading either of these players accomplish?

Well, for one thing, it would help improve the Cardinals defense.  Replacing Holliday or Craig with a younger and more agile player would help the team cover more ground in the outfield.

In addition, trading either of these guys would free up money for the Cardinals to use to improve elsewhere (i.e. the bullpen), while the Cardinals could also use the trade to help improve their minor league depth and talent.

Overall, it might make sense for the Cards to make such a move this offseason.  Is it likely?  Probably not, but it should at least give us something to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Could the Cardinals trade one of their surplus outfielders for relief help?

Over the last few years, the Cardinals have been know for developing and promoting power arms, including such standouts as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez.

With those pitchers having already graduated to the majors, it appears that the Cardinals system strength is now their outfielders.

In addition to major league regulars Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos, 3 of the Cardinals top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America are outfielders, headed by top prospect Oscar Taveras, as well as spring standout Stephen Piscotty (#4) and up-and-coming James Ramsey (#8).

In addition, BA lists Mike O'Neill as having the "best strike-zone discipline", Charlie Tilson as the "fastest baserunner", C.J. McElroy as the "best athlete" and Tommy Pham as the "best defensive outfielder". 

Now, let's consider the Cardinals bullpen.

The Cards pen ranks 13th in the NL with a 4.47 ERA.  Manager Mike Matheny has leaned heavily on Pat Neshek and Kevin Siegrist, who have both appeared in half of the Cardinals 20 games, as well as rookie Carlos Martinez who has appeared in 9 games.

Some help may be on the way in the form of Jason Motte, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and could return sometime in May.  However, its obvious that Matheny could use another reliable arm (or two) if only to lessen the burden on Neshek, Siegrist and Martinez.

So, with an obvious need and an obvious surplus, it would only make sense for the Cards to trade one of their outfield prospects for a reliever.  The only problem is that there probably aren't any pitchers on the market right now.

The Cardinals have had success the last two years trading for struggling relievers in July and helping them get back on track.  It worked with Edward Mujica, who the Cards acquired from the Marlins in 2012 for Zack Cox and it worked with John Axford, who the Cards got from the Brewers for Michael Blazek last July.

Expect a similar move this July, with an outfielder at the center of the deal.  It likely won't be one of the top 3 guys, but I certainly could see someone like Mike O'Neil being moved for a reliever.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cardinals Hall of Fame Vote

In case you've missed it, in connection with the opening of the Cardinals' Ballpark Village, the team is letting fans vote on the two former Cardinals that they would like inducted into the Cardinals' Hall of Fame.  You can vote over at the Cards website (link) and select two players from the following list:

  1. Jim Edmonds
  2. Bob Forsch
  3. Keith Hernandez
  4. Willie McGee
  5. Mark McGwire
  6. Matt Morris
  7. Ted Simmons
  8. Joe Torre
The United Cardinals Bloggers are all making our selections for the Cardinals Hall of Fame as part of our April project.  Here are the two players I am voting for and why:

Ted Simmons

One of the best hitting catchers of his time, Simmons is often overlooked as he played during the same era as Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk. 

In a 2013 version of the 50 Best Baseball Players not in the Hall of Fame, former senior research associate for the Hall of Fame, Bill Deane, wrote this about Simmons:

As a teenager in the mid-1970s, I’d hear people debating about who was the best catcher in baseball: Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, or Thurman Munson? I’d say, “What about Ted Simmons? The guy hit .332 with 100 RBI!” I’d get only puzzled looks from people who were barely aware that St. Louis had a team.

That exemplified Simmons’s problems in getting attention throughout his career: He played in media-Siberias and was overshadowed by two contemporary HOF catchers. But consider their average HR-RBI-AVG stats from 1971-80: Bench (27-93-.263), Fisk (16-57-.285), Simmons (17-90-.301).
Ted Simmons retired as the all-time leader in hits and doubles among catchers, and ranked second in RBI behind only Yogi Berra. Only Ivan Rodriguez has surpassed him in those categories since.
Simmons was one of the ten best all-around catchers in baseball history. He deserves serious consideration for Cooperstown.
 If the Baseball Hall of Fame won't honor Simmons, then I would make him the first Cardinals player voted into their Hall of Fame. 

Bob Forsch

I'll admit to a bit of personal bias here, as Forsch was one of my personal favorites growing up, but there is no question that Forsch had an outstanding career as a Cardinal.

His name litters the Cardinals record book:
  • 3rd in career wins (163), behind Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines
  • 5th in career strikeouts (1,079)
  • 3rd in career innings (2,658.2)
  • 2nd in games started (401)
  • 4th in total games (455)
  • 9th in career shutouts (19)
  • The only pitcher in Cardinals history with two no-hitters
He was pretty good with the bat too, hitting .213 for his career with 12 homers.

Sure, he wasn't as dominant as Gibson, but he had a career 3.67 ERA with the Cards and a .562 winning percentage.  He helped set the tone for the Cardinals victory over the Atlanta Braves in the 1982 playoffs, shutting out the Braves in the first game and was part of the Cards 3 World Series teams during that decade.

So, for those reason, and because I had a serious man-crush on him back in the day, he's my second choice for the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

What's yours?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cardinals' Joe Kelly headed to DL. Who will take his place?

Joe Kelly injured his hamstring today trying to beat out a bunt, leaving the Cardinals with a hole in their starting rotation.  Who are the candidates to replace Kelly?  Let's take a look.

Carlos Martinez

Martinez, who lost out to Kelly for the 5th starter job, would be the obvious choice to replace him in the starting rotation.  However, there are some factors working against him.

First, the Cardinals may think they are better off leaving him in the bullpen, where he has enjoyed success (1.86 ERA) in a setup role.

In addition, if the Cards take him out of the setup role, who would they use to replace him?  Jason Motte is not ready yet.  Perhaps the team could bring up veteran David Aardsma from AAA Memphis, but, coming off a season in which he posted a 4.31 ERA, can he be relied upon as the setup guy?

Finally, Martinez may need time to stretch out, after spending the first two-plus weeks of the season as a reliever.  While he has gone more than one inning in 5 of his 7 appearances, he has not pitched more than 2 innings in any game.

Tyler Lyons

If the Cardinals decide to keep Martinez in the pen, Lyons would be the most logical choice. 

For one thing, he has pitched well so far this season, going 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in 3 starts.

Second, he is on the 40-man roster, so it would not required the Cardinals DFA's any of their current 40-man guys.

Finally, he pitched today at Memphis, so he would be in line to make Kelly's next start.

Boone Whiting/Tim Cooney

Both Whiting and Cooney could be dark horses to fill in for Kelly.

Both are off to good starts at AAA Memphis:  Whiting is 0-1, but with a 1.98 ERA, while Cooney is 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA. 

If the Cardinals are not ready to give Lyons another try as a starter, especially after he posted a 5.56 ERA last season in 8 starts and they do not want to move Martinez from the pen, then Whiting or Cooney could get the call.

Whiting has more high level experience, having made 21 starts at AAA last season, while this is Cooney's first season at AAA.  However, Cooney has arguably more upside than Whiting.

In either case, neither of them is on the 40-man roster, so the Cardinals would have to make room for them, which makes it less likely that it will happen.


The Cardinals will likely give Lyons the first shot to replace Kelly.  This will allow the team to keep Martinez in the pen and keep his innings down.  However, depending on how long Kelly is out (and how Lyons fares), the team could be forced to use Martinez.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Have the Cardinals lost their hitting with RISP magic?

There's no secret to the Cardinals success last year--clutch hitting. 

Their .330 average with runners in scoring position (RISP) led the majors.  Not only that, but their .330 mark was nearly 50 points higher than the next closest team, the Detroit Tigers, who hit .282 with RISP and they shattered the record for hitting with RISP, previously held by the 2007 Tigers, who hit .311.

It was this ability to hit in the clutch that allowed them to lead the NL in runs scored despite finishing last in stolen bases and 13th in homers. 

The Cardinals chalked up their success to their approach at the plate--how they stayed disciplined and didn't try to do too much.  This was backed up by the fact that the Cardinals had the second lowest strikeout total in the NL as well as the highest OBP in the league.

However, this year, the Cardinals have not fared as well. Through Sunday, the Cards are hitting just .213 with RISP, 13th in the NL. 

Some might say that this is just the law of averages coming back to bite the Cardinals in the butt.  There have been several studies done on the myth of clutch hitting, including a groundbreaking article by Baseball Prospectus from about 10 years ago.

But, could this also just be a case of bad luck for the Redbirds?

As a team, the Cardinals are hitting just .236 on the season, yet they have the fewest strikeouts in the NL with just 78.  As a result, their batting average on  balls in play (BABIP) is just .276 compared to the league average of .300 (the Cardinals had a .311 BABIP in 2013).

With RISP, the team's BABIP is even worse at .258.  Raise that up to a more normal .300 BABIP, and the Cards would have nearly 4 more hits with RISP, raising their average to .250.

Yes, its still a far cry from the .330 average from a year ago, but that was boosted by a .377 BABIP. 

So, while I do not see the Cardinals approaching .330 with RISP again this year (or ever), I don't see them hitting .213 either.  They should raise that average as the season progresses and I can see them finishing with a mark around .270 or so.

Combine that with their ability to get on base and limit their strikeouts and the Cardinals should have another successful offensive season.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Does Cardinals manager Mike Matheny trust his bullpen?

One week into the season, you get the sense that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny does not trust his entire bullpen.

In the first 7 games, Matheny has leaned heavily on holdovers Trevor Rosenthal (3 games), Carlos Martinez (4 games), Pat Neshek (4 games) and Kevin Siegrist (5 games). 

However, rubber-armed LOOGY Randy Choate has appeared in just 2 games, while last year's ground ball specialist Seth Maness and this year's "last spot in the bullpen" winner Keith Butler have appeared in just one game apiece.

I can understand the reluctance to use Butler, who was rocked for 5 runs in his lone inning of work, however, the lack of use for Maness and even Choate is unexplicable. 

Using Maness and Choate more would help ease the burden on both Neshek and Siegrist, who, at this pace, would appear in a whopping 93 and 116 games for the season.

Martinez is another problem though.

My initial thought was that, once Jason Motte gets healthy, he would replace Martinez in the bullpen, so that Martinez might be stretched out again as a starter.  However, now I'm not so sure.

Maybe the plan is that Motte replaces Butler in the pen and then Motte and Martinez split the setup duties.

Its not the best case scenario for Martinez' development, but it probably would be best for the team this season.

The bullpen is still a work-in-progress at this point and things may become clearer as the season wears on.

However, one thing is for sure, Matheny needs to find some other guys he can rely on this season or were going to have a lot of tired arms come September.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Catching up with the Cardinals

Well, as often happens with 3 kids and a demanding job, life got in the way of blogging the last couple weeks, so let's all catch up on what's happened during that time.

First, the Cardinals finalized their opening day roster, with the Spring Training Battles being decided, as follows:

5th Starter

Despite having a superior spring, Carlos Martinez was relegated to the bullpen, where his power arm was more desperately needed.  Joe Kelly "won" the 5th starter job, more on last season's performance than this spring's results, which is probably how it should be.


Thanks in part to an injury to Mark Ellis, both Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma made the opening day roster, along with 4th outfielder Shane Robinson. 

One of Descalso or Kozma will have to go when Ellis is healthy and, if the recent trade rumors are any indication, it will probably be Kozma. 

As for Robinson, he's likely just keeping the seat warm until Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty or even Mike O'Neill is deemed ready to take over the 4th outfield spot. 


The battle for the last bullpen slot came down to Jorge Rondon and Keith Butler, with Butler winning the job.  However, with Jason Motte expected back in early May, it will be interesting to see what the Cards do. 

Will they send Martinez down to stretch him back out as a starter or will they keep him in the pen and jettison Butler?  My hope is that Martinez will be sent down, but the team may keep him up out of necessity, as it already appears that Mike Matheny has few relievers he trusts in the pen.

The Season so Far

With the roster set, the Cardinals have faced the Reds and Pirates in their first 6 games and come out of the road trip with a 3-3 record.  They return home to face the Reds and Cubs this week.

While not a bad road trip, the lack of offense so far is a little bit of a concern.  The Cardinals have scored only 17 runs in those 6 games, including 4 games where they have scored two runs or less.  Hopefully their bats will warm up with the weather.

Overall, not a bad start, but not great either.  Hopefully the Cardinals can make some noise on this 6-game home stand and carry the momentum going forward.