- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes a long look at the question of whether the Cardinals can mimic some of the Indians’ success in finding a top-notch relief pitcher to throw in a flexible capacity, as Andrew Miller has done for Cleveland. Goold wonders whether either Trevor Rosenthal or Michael Wacha might be positioned to function in the role that he dubs the “fixer.”
By now, everyone who follows free agency in baseball should be keenly aware that the offseason market for free-agent starting pitching is arguably the worst in history. This winter’s top names will include a 36-year-old that was pitching in independent ball last season (Rich Hill), a former Rookie of the Year that was moved last winter in what amounted to a salary dump (Jeremy Hellickson) and a 30-year-old that opened the season in a long-relief role before a stunning transformation following a trade to the Pirates (Ivan Nova). That’s a far cry from the 2015-16 offseason, when David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija and Mike Leake each reeled in contracts of at least five years in length and at least $80MM in total value.
The paucity of not only top-tier starting pitchers but simply reliable arms that can be plugged into the middle or back of a rotation on this year’s open market has an impact not only on teams looking for starting pitching, but teams with decisions to make regarding club options on starters that, frankly, didn’t do a lot to justify the salaries that are included in those options in 2016.
The Rangers, for instance, hold an $11MM option with a $1MM buyout over left-hander Derek Holland. For a pitcher whose ERA has come in just shy of 5.00 over the past two seasons and has averaged just 68 innings per year dating back to 2014, an $11MM salary seems steep, to say the least. Holland, as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News points out in examining his option case, has had two shoulder injuries and a major knee injury in the past three years and has scarcely been able to take the mound at all. The Derek Holland that pitched 213 innings with a 3.42 ERA for the 2013 Rangers probably feels like a distant memory for Rangers fans.
However, it’s also worth considering that even a bounceback candidate like Doug Fister received a one-year, $7MM deal last winter, while Mike Pelfrey pulled in two years and $16MM coming off a dreadful three-year run with the Twins. The Rangers owe Holland $1MM one way or the other, by virtue of the buyout on his option, so they effectively have to determine whether he’s worth investing an additional $10MM. Given the dearth of quality options this offseason, it’s not unthinkable that even rebound candidates will command numbers not that far off from that level. Edinson Volquez and Andrew Cashner, for instance, will probably both receive fairly notable contracts despite coming off of poor seasons. And while each has a better recent track record of health, neither delivered demonstrably better bottom-line results than Holland (who is also three years younger than Volquez). The Royals are effectively deciding that Volquez isn’t worth offering another $7MM by reportedly planning to buy out his $10MM mutual option for $3MM, but that certainly doesn’t mean that he won’t find a taker at or above that $7MM rate on an open market that is devoid of talented arms. In fact, I’d wager that he will top that $7MM mark and come out ahead of the $10MM he’d have earned via that mutual option.
The same logic can be applied to the options held by the Cardinals over Jaime Garcia ($12MM with a $500K buyout) and Clay Buchholz with the Red Sox ($13.5MM with a $500K buyout). An $11.5MM net investment in Garcia, who logged a 4.67 ERA in 171 2/3 innings this year and has his own history of durability issues, might seem steep to some, but a 30-year-old left-hander with a decent track record that finished the year healthy would probably command a multi-year deal in the upcoming market. If anything, his agents may be hoping that the Cardinals elect to decline the option option, but the context of the free-agent market suggests that there’s some value in that one-year commitment, even if the team explores the option of trading him after exercising the option.
Buchholz’s option may look even more daunting, as investing $13MM more into a pitcher that lost his rotation spot and finished the year with a 4.78 ERA and lackluster peripherals absolutely feels like an overpay. But Buchholz pitched more effectively in 28 2/3 innings after returning to the rotation in September, and he’s only a season removed from a 3.26 ERA that came with outstanding peripherals. While he’s been one of the more mercurial arms in the league over the past half-decade, the type of upside he brings on a one-year commitment is greater than that of most other options on the free-agent market. As is the case with Garcia, a multi-year pact could be attainable if he were to reach the open market (remember, again, that Pelfrey found two years last winter coming off not just a poor season but a poor three years and has never matched the success of Buchholz’s best years).
None of the three players in question here enjoyed a particularly good season, but each at least finished the year healthy enough to take the ball and has enjoyed quality results in the past. Even if their current teams feel that there’s no fit on the 2017 roster for a pitcher with these levels of question marks, it still makes sense to exercise the options and explore the trade market. Even if the Rangers, for instance, include $4MM to trade Holland elsewhere in exchange for a minor leaguer or two, they’re effectively purchasing those prospects for $3MM. It’s far from a lock that these options will be exercised, of course, and it’s worth also mentioning the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Jason Hammel, who seem like easier calls but wilted in the final month of the season in this discussion as well. From where I stand, so long as a pitcher finished the season in a reasonable state of health, committing to a one-year deal at a not-backbreaking rate given the market alternatives and the number of rival clubs that figure to be on the hunt for rotation help is the right call.
- A lack of bullpen depth proved to be a glaring deficiency for the Cardinals this season and must be addressed by general manager John Mozeliak over the winter, opines Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gordon points out that with Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Alex Reyes, a returning Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia (whose option seems likely to be picked up) all in the rotation picture, the rotation looks to have good depth (though further depth could be added on minor league pacts or small deals this winter), but the ’pen took hits with the loss of Zach Duke and Seth Maness to Tommy John surgery. Potential replacements for Duke like Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales battled injuries this season, and Trevor Rosenthal’s inconsistencies and injury problems render him a question mark as well. Gordon calls for multiple arms capable of pitching high-leverage innings and makes his case that said relievers should be a focal point in the Cardinals’ mission to improve their run-prevention skills this winter.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tackled questions from a number of fans earlier today and addressed a wide number of topics pertaining to the team’s offseason. First and foremost, Goold reports that he’s heard “more and more… how the Cardinals see trade opportunities as their preference” in their search for a center fielder. Specifically, he mentions Charlie Blackmon and Adam Eaton as speculative possibilities, though it personally strikes me unlikely that the Sox would deal Eaton. Blackmon has been an oft-rumored trade candidate over the past few seasons and will be again this winter with a projected arbitration salary of $9MM and a surplus of left-handed outfield bats in Colorado (Blackmon, David Dahl, Carlos Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra). Regarding Dexter Fowler, Goold notes that the Cardinals typically shy away from committing lengthy free-agent contracts to players on the wrong side of 30, downplaying the team’s potential interest.
More from Goold’s Cardinals rundown…
- Goold characterizes a significant investment into a starting pitcher as unlikely, noting that last winter’s pursuit of David Price was considered by the team to be a “special situation.” That type of opportunity isn’t present on this year’s free-agent market, though he does note that the Cardinals would consider Chris Sale a similarly “special” situation if he were to be made available on the trade market. That’s far from a guarantee, of course, as the White Sox could opt to take aim at contending once again in 2017.
- The Cardinals will be without left-hander Zach Duke for all of the 2017 season due to his recent Tommy John surgery, and Goold rattles off a number of internal replacements without making mention of the team potentially pursuing outside help. Among the candidates are Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and “sleeper picks” Corey Littrell and Ryan Sherriff, each of whom is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
- St. Louis will pursue other options early in the offseason as opposed to exploring a reunion with Brandon Moss, per Goold. If the team is unable to acquire a center field upgrade and Moss lingers on the free-agent market, a fallback would be signing Moss to play left field and keeping Randal Grichuk in center field.
- Despite a midseason demotion to Triple-A Memphis for Kolten Wong, the St. Louis front office remains “bullish” on the 26-year-old and would like to see him get a prolonged look at second base in 2017. According to Goold, there’s long been a separation between the front office and the manager when it comes to dividing playing time, but there was an agreement in place late in the season that Mike Matheny would give Grichuk an extended look in center field down the stretch. Wong could be the beneficiary of that same extended stint despite his disappointing April and May in 2016. For what it’s worth, Wong did hit .251/.341/.401 in 217 plate appearances following his recall from Triple-A.
We’re just a few months away from this winter’s Rule 5 draft, so it makes sense to take a look back and see how things shook out from the 2015 selections. Several organizations found useful players, even if the most recent class didn’t include an Odubel Herrera-esque breakout sensation. Some of the most recent draftees have probably locked up MLB jobs again for 2017, though others who stuck on a major league roster all year may head back to the minors for further development. (Once a player’s permanent control rights have been secured, his new organization is free to utilize optional assignments as usual for future years.)
Here’s a roundup of the 2015 draft class with the 2016 season in the books:
- Tyler Goeddel, OF, kept by Phillies from Rays: The 23-year-old struggled with the aggressive move to the big leagues, carrying a .192/.258/.291 batting line in 234 trips to the plate, but showed enough for the rebuilding Phillies to hold onto him all year long.
- Luis Perdomo, RHP, kept by Padres (via Rockies) from Cardinals: It didn’t look good early for Perdomo, but he showed better after moving to the rotation and ended with a rather promising 4.85 ERA over twenty starts. Though he struggled to contain the long ball, and only struck out 6.4 per nine, Perdomo sported a nifty 59.0% groundball rate on the year.
- Joey Rickard, OF, kept by Orioles from Rays: After opening the year with a bang, Rickard faded to a .268/.319/.377 batting line on the year but held his roster spot in Baltimore. He ended the season on the DL with a thumb injury, though, and may end up at Triple-A for some added seasoning.
- Joe Biagini, RHP, kept by Blue Jays from Giants: The only Rule 5 pick to appear in the postseason, Biagini was a great find for Toronto. He ended with 67 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA pitching, with 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, and now looks like a potential fixture in the Jays’ relief corps.
- Matthew Bowman, RHP, kept by Cardinals from Mets: Bowman rounds out a trio of impressive relievers. He contributed 67 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 6.9 BB/9 against 2.7 BB/9 to go with a monster 61.7% groundball rate.
Retained By Other Means
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, re-signed by Angels (who selected him from Pirates) after being outrighted: Guerra was in an unusual spot since he had previously been outrighted off of the Bucs’ 40-man roster when he was selected, meaning he didn’t need to be offered back. Los Angeles removed him from the major league roster and then brought him back on a minor league deal, ultimately selecting his contract. Though he was later designated and outrighted by the Halos, Guerra again returned and largely thrived at the major league level, contributing 53 1/3 much-needed pen frames with a 3.21 ERA on the back of 6.1 K/9 against just 1.2 BB/9.
- Jabari Blash, OF, acquired by Padres (who acquired Rule 5 rights from Athletics) from Mariners: Blash’s intriguing tools weren’t quite ready for the majors, but San Diego struck a deal to hold onto him and was surely impressed with his showing at Triple-A. In his 229 plate appearances there, Blash swatted 11 home runs but — more importantly — carried a .415 OBP with a much-improved 66:41 K/BB ratio.
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B, outrighted by Angels after Orioles declined return: The 25-year-old scuffled in the bigs but was rather impressive at the highest level of the minors, where he walked nearly as often as he struck out and put up a .346/.434/.527 slash with five home runs in 227 plate appearances.
- Jake Cave, OF, returned from Reds to Yankees: After failing to crack Cinci’s roster out of camp, Cave impressed at Double-A but slowed at the highest level of the minors (.261/.323/.401 in 354 plate appearances) upon his return to the New York organization.
- Evan Rutckyj, LHP, returned from Braves to Yankees: Sent back late in camp, the 24-year-old struggled in limited action on the Yanks’ farm after missing most of the season with elbow issues.
- Josh Martin, RHP, returned from Padres to Indians: In his first attempt at Triple-A, Martin posted 66 frames of 3.55 ERA pitching with 8.2 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, returned from Phillies to Royals: Slowed by a PED suspension, Stumpf was bombed in a brief MLB stint with the Phils but dominated at Double-A upon his return to K.C., posting a 2.11 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 21 1/3 innings.
- Chris O’Grady, LHP, returned from Reds to Angels: Sent back in late March, O’Grady compiled a 3.48 ERA over 95 2/3 innings in the upper minors, though he performed much better as a Double-A starter than he did as a Triple-A reliever.
- Zack Jones, RHP, returned from Brewers to Twins: The 25-year-old was out with a shoulder injury for most of the year, and ended up being sent back to Minnesota in late June, but has shown swing-and-miss stuff when healthy.
- Blake Smith, RHP, returned from Padres to White Sox: Smith ended up making a brief MLB debut upon his return to Chicago, but spend most of the year pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte, where he ran up a 3.53 ERA in 71 1/3 innings with 9.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- Colin Walsh, INF, returned from Brewers to Athletics: After struggling badly in his major league stint with the Brewers, Walsh went to Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate and put up a .259/.384/.388 bating line over 245 plate appearances.
The Cardinals have a number of roster decisions to consider even before beginning to look at free agency this winter, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Jordan Walden’s option will be bought out, while Seth Maness, who is currently on the 60-day DL, is a possible non-tender candidate in Goold’s eyes (though that decision won’t come until later this winter). Plenty of deliberation will need to be dedicated to the Rule 5 Draft, Goold writes, as the Cardinals have a large number of players to consider protecting. Last year, St. Louis opted not to protect right-hander Luis Perdomo, believing him to be too inexperienced to stick in the Majors for a full season, but the Padres hung onto him and received 15 starts with a 4.13 ERA in the final few months of the year. Goold lists 15 players that are in need of protection this winter, headlined by infielders Eliezer Alvarez, Edmundo Sosa, Allen Cordoba and Juan Herrera as well as outfielder Magneuris Sierra. Goold’s piece has quite a bit of additional info on each prospect listed, so Cardinals fans (and those who track the Rule 5 Draft in general) will want to check out his column.
Cardinals lefty Zach Duke has undergone Tommy John surgery and also had work done to his flexor muscle, according to MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch (via Twitter). He’ll miss all of the 2017 season, after which time he is set to reach free agency.
Duke, 33, reinvented himself as a reliever after beginning his career as a mediocre starter. A redemptive 2014 season earned him a three-year, $15MM contract with the White Sox. He had delivered 98 1/3 frames of 3.11 ERA ball to Chicago heading into this year’s trade deadline, striking out 9.9 but walking 4.4 batters per nine in that span.
St. Louis didn’t make any major splashes in the summer trade market, but did ship outfielder Charlie Tilson to the White Sox to add Duke. In doing so, the club sought not only to bolster its pen from the left side down the stretch in 2016, but also to get out ahead on its shopping list heading into 2017.
Duke provided the Cards with 23 1/3 quality frames, posting a 26:13 K/BB ratio and allowing just five earned runs on 17 hits. He has been brutal for opposing lefties in recent years, and continued that trend in 2016.
While St. Louis won’t enjoy Duke’s presence in the 2017 pen, it will remain obligated to him for the final $5.5MM of his deal. While there are internal options available, led by Kevin Siegrist, the loss could well have a rather substantial impact on the team’s offseason plans. It squarely puts the club in the market for another southpaw, and perhaps even adds to the case for picking up the option of southpaw Jaime Garcia — who could conceivably be utilized in a swingman role.
The 30-year-old Harris spent the season on the 60-day disabled list. The Cards had hoped that he could return from Tommy John surgery in June 2015 to make an impact on the roster this season, but Harris didn’t end up pitching in the Majors or minors this year. The Naval Academy product made his MLB debut last season and tossed 27 innings of 3.67 ERA ball with 5.0 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 45.1 percent ground-ball rate. In addition to the 27 frames he compiled in 2015, Harris has a 2.92 ERA with 7.2 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9 in his minor league career.
Rosario, 29, made his MLB debut this season, hitting .184/.225/.237 over the life of 41 plate appearances. He’s never hit all that much, as evidenced by his .253/.302/.327 line in parts of five Triple-A seasons, though he’s caught 42 percent of attempted base-stealers throughout his 11-year minor league career.
Ohlman, 25, is a former Orioles farmhand that spent his second season with the Cardinals organization in 2016. The 25-year-old split the 2016 season between Double-A and Triple-A, where he batted a combined .287/.344/.434. Ohlman saw 54 games/186 plate appearances at the Triple-A level this year — his first exposure to that level of competition — and fared well with the bat, hitting .280/.333/.464.
- The Cardinals will have some sorting to do in their rotation this winter, and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (slideshow link) handicaps the odds of the various internal options heading into the offseason. With Lance Lynn hopefully returning from Tommy John surgery and Alex Reyes all but nailing down a spot, that could leave several rather heralded arms on the outside looking in. Among them are Luke Weaver, Jaime Garcia, and even Michael Wacha. Weaver excelled in the upper minors and showed plenty of promise (but also some areas for improvement) in his MLB debut; he’ll likely return to Triple-A. Garcia remains a major question mark with the team undecided on his option. “There were nights where he looked like he was a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, and then there were nights where I’m sure the manager wanted to punch me,” GM John Mozeliak said of the enigmatic southpaw. And in the biggest head-turner of them all, Wacha is likely out “on paper,” as things stand, in Frederickson’s analysis. That’s still likely open for debate, and certainly is subject to health considerations.
- The infield is a source of some uncertainty for the Cardinals heading into the 2017 season, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. However, unlike many clubs with positional uncertainty, St. Louis’ problem isn’t a lack of options but rather a number of potential fits. The hot corner looks to be Jhonny Peralta’s entering next year, Hummel surmises, as Matt Carpenter could play either first base or second base — representing another position change for the versatile infielder. Peralta acknowledged to Hummel that rookie Aledmys Diaz has seized the shortstop gig and will play there moving forward, and the veteran didn’t have any complaints about the move. Nonetheless, Hummel writes that Peralta could potentially be dealt this offseason as well, if there’s interest, noting that he’s owed $10MM next year in the final season of a front-loaded four-year, $53MM pact. The presence Matt Adams and Kolten Wong (as well as potential interest in re-signing Brandon Moss), of course, only further clouds the infield picture.