St. Louis Cardinals Rumors

St. Louis Cardinals trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

NL Notes: Nationals, Escobar, Holliday, Lopez

The Nationals haven’t managed to avoid the possibility of losing key members of their team due to free agency, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports. The Nats could be without Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Doug Fister after the season because they haven’t managed to sign those players to long-term deals that delay free agency. That might not be entirely their fault, Svrluga suggests — they tried to sign all three players. In the meantime, though, they have another wave of core players (Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon) to whom they could turn their attention. Strasburg, Harper and Rendon are all represented by Scott Boras, who does not generally like long-term deals for pre-free-agency players. Some of his clients, such as Jered Weaver and Carlos Gonzalez, have signed them, however. Here are more notes from the National League.

  • Yunel Escobar wasn’t happy to have been traded away from the Rays to the Athletics and then from the Athletics to the Nationals, and he also wasn’t happy he’d have to move from shortstop to second base, the Post’s James Wagner writes. Escobar has changed his mind since then, however. “They’ve reached the playoffs two of the last three years,” says Escobar. “I want to help them win a World Series. If the missing piece is me playing second base, then I’m here for anything.” Escobar says certain aspects of playing second base, like turning double plays, are “confusing,” but says that he’ll improve that them with practice.
  • Baseball is full of incredibly disappointing free-agent contracts, but Matt Holliday‘s current seven-year, $120MM deal with the Cardinals isn’t one of them, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I really wanted it to work out great for both sides,” says Holliday. “A lot of times with a long-term contract, you hear ‘They hope to get a couple of good years out of it.’ My goal from the day I signed was to get to the end of the contract and have everybody feel really good about it.” Holliday’s defense has slipped since signing, but he’s maintained a high standard offensively, and with just two years (plus an option) left on the deal, it looks like the Cardinals are going to get more than their money’s worth.
  • When Cuban righty Yoan Lopez signed with the Diamondbacks, he joined the organization he rooted for as a child, Carlos Torres Bujanda writes for Baseball America. “Since I was a kid, I followed the D-backs when Randy Johnson was on the team,” says Lopez. “To see the games or check the stats I had friends who worked in hotels with Internet access. They download the games so I can watch later, or see the numbers.” Lopez adds that he’s happy the Diamondbacks also signed another Cuban player this offseason, Yasmany Tomas.

NL Central Notes: Wainwright, Manny, Maddon, Pirates

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has left the team’s Spring Training complex in Florida and will head to St. Louis after experiencing abdominal pain, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright will see a specialist in St. Louis to diagnose the source of the injury. GM John Mozeliak said it would be incorrect to label the injury a sports hernia at this time. Wainwright said that he’s been feeling better each day, but seeing a specialist will give the team some further clarity.

  • The Cubs announced today that they have hired Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant. Ramirez, who spent the 2014 season as a player-coach with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, will work with the Cubs’ Major League and Minor League players on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting, according to a press release from the team.
  • Via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the investigation into the Cubs‘ alleged tampering regarding their hiring of Joe Maddon will be resolved by Opening Day (Twitter link). The Cubs agreed to bring Maddon on as their new manager on a five-year deal just 10 days after he opted out of his contract with the Rays.
  • Corey Hart had other offers in free agency but welcomed the opportunity to return to the familiar setting of the NL Central when the Pirates made a one-year offer, he tells Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hart admits that he also rushed back to action too quickly in 2014 after missing the entire 2013 season due to surgery on both of his knees. The fact that Pirates have morphed into one of the National League’s best teams over the past few seasons also played a role in his decision to select Pittsburgh’s offer.
  • The Pirates are drawing some influence from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in determining how much to rest their stars this offseason, writes ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Manager Clint Hurdle said that an interesting article on how much the Warriors are resting their best players and how the on-court production has improved as a result Seeing the analysis was no accident, however, as GM Neal Huntington tells Stark that the Pirates are constantly studying successful teams in other sports to see if any trends or philosophies can carry over to baseball.

Latest On Cliff Lee

The Rangers and Padres were among teams to at least “kick the tires” on Phillies starter Cliff Lee earlier this winter, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  Of course, the Padres have since signed James Shields to a four-year, $75MM deal, which probably means that they won’t be making a play for Lee or teammate Cole Hamels.  The Rangers have also added to their pitching depth this offseason.

Meanwhile, Heyman believes that Lee would be a solid fit for the Red Sox as their own talks on Hamels seem to have stalled.  Boston won’t part with either catching prospect Blake Swihart or second baseman/outfielder Mookie Betts to pry Hamels away, but a Lee deal could get done with lesser assets.

A deal for Lee could even include former fan favorite Shane Victorino as Heyman hears the Phillies wouldn’t mind a reunion.  The Red Sox can certainly part with the Flyin’ Hawaiian given their crowded outfield, even though they’re pushing the idea that he’ll start Opening Day if he’s healthy.

While there haven’t been any known talks between the two teams regarding Lee, the BoSox do have an affinity for him and they’ve seemingly had interest since he joined Philly as a free agent.

He’s hard not to like,” one Red Sox person told Heyman.

However, another Boston official characterized the Lee possibility to Heyman as a “long shot” since he still has to prove his health.  On the other hand, it’s well known that Lee wants to play for a winner and his track record of pitching in the American League could appeal to the Red Sox.

Outside of the Red Sox, Heyman posits that the Cardinals are a team that would seem to fit since they weren’t all that aggressive in adding pitching and they’d be almost local for the Little Rock, Ark. resident.

Lee is owed $25MM for the coming season and can be controlled for another year through a $27.5MM option that comes with a hefty $12.5MM buyout.  Prior to his 2014 elbow trouble, Lee boasted a streak of six straight seasons with 200+ innings.  Over that stretch, he carried a 2.89 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against just 1.3 BB/9.  The 36-year-old (37 in August) has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to twenty teams per year.



Cardinals To Sign Carlos Villanueva To Minors Deal

FEBRUARY 24th: Villanueva will earn $2MM if he reaches the majors, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

FEBRUARY 4th: The Cardinals have reached a minor league pact with righty Carlos Villanueva, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. Villanueva will receive an invitation to big league camp.

The 31-year-old swingman spent the past two seasons with the Cubs, working to a cumulative 4.27 ERA over 206 1/3 innings (including twenty starts) with 7.6 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. Though he was hit hard when working from the rotation last year, Villanueva held opposing hitters to a .226/.284/.364 slash in 237 plate appearances when pitching from the bullpen.

Villanueva looks to be a solid depth addition to a Cardinals staff that has plenty of talent, but also some important questions. It seems unlikely that he will crack the rotation out of camp, but could have a reasonable claim to a long-man/spot-starter role.


Central Notes: Madson, Wood, Castillo, Cardinals

Ryan Madson, who’s in Royals camp and who faced live batters for the first time in a year and a half on Sunday, encountered plenty of obstacles as he battled back from Tommy John surgery, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes. Madson, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2011, ultimately spent the 2014 season out of baseball. But he got the urge to come back after Royals special assistant Jim Fregosi, Jr. enlisted him to help instruct a Southern California high school pitcher. Madson does not have any limitations in camp this spring, although it’s unclear whether he’ll be available to join the Royals’ bullpen once the season starts. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • Cubs pitcher Travis Wood hasn’t been given a heads-up from the team on the likelihood of a trade, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets. “If I get traded, I get traded. It’s part of the business,” Wood said.  At present, Wood figures to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation alongside Tsuyoshi Wada and Felix DoubrontJon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks, of course, make up the Cubs’ front four.
  • The Cubs trading Welington Castillo is not a foregone conclusion, as President Theo Epstein says the team is considering keeping three catchers, tweets Bruce Levine of 670theScore.com.
  • Yadier Molina has lost 15-20 pounds this offseason after injuries limited the Cardinals catcher to 110 games and forced him to miss the final three games of the NLCS, reports Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Molina has three years and an option remaining on his contract and expects to play beyond its length. “Oh, my God. I’m 32 years old. I’ll play as long as my body lets me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll catch 10 more years. You don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows.
  • In a separate article, Hummel details how Cardinals reliever Randy Choate has expressed his frustration to manager Mike Matheny about being used for complete innings (and being exposed to right-handed hitters) rather than in his specialty of lefty-on-lefty situations. Matheny says the confines of a 25-man roster prevents using a player in such a limited way. “You can’t completely cater to one guy if it’s going to beat up two other guys where they can’t do their job. How does that work?
  • Cardinals infielder Pete Kozma, who is fighting for a roster spot and is out of options, is increasing his versatility by donning the tools of ignorance with hopes of serving as the team’s emergency catcher, according to MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch.

NL Central Notes: Villanueva, Castillo, Leake, Kang

Carlos Villanueva had hoped to throw in a different division before he was contacted by the Cardinals, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. After spending seven of his nine seasons with NL Central teams, Villanueva will look to take a swingman role with St. Louis. Though Villanueva was given no guarantees, Goold says that the club targeted him with hopes he would earn a pen/spot starter slot in camp.

Here are some notes from the rest of the division:

  • The time for Welington Castillo with the Cubs is up, says Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Though the backstop has said he still hopes to compete for a job, multi-year commitments to Miguel Montero and David Ross make that exceedingly unlikely. Chicago has continued to discuss trades — and had already started doing so even before dealing for Montero — with the Phillies among the teams in talks, per Wittenmyer. Castillo certainly seems to be bringing a good attitude with him to camp, but the report indicates that Chicago is mostly just waiting for the market to open up.
  • Righty Mike Leake, who’ll qualify for free agency after the season, said he would be interested in exploring an extension but that the club has not approached him, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports“I’ll be happy to stay in Cincinnati, but I’d also be happy to go to free agency,” he said. “I’d like for them to show interest. They haven’t yet. If they don’t have interest, they don’t have interest.”
  • It’s all reading tea leaves at this point, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave no indication in early spring comments that Jung-ho Kang is being groomed as an eventual replacement for second baseman Neil Walker, MLB.com’s Tom Singer reports. Per Hurdle, Kang “will get reps at short and third, positions he has played, then maybe second.” While Kang’s potential versatility — like that of Josh Harrison — could well impact the team’s plans for the increasingly-pricey Walker, it seems most likely that Pittsburgh will allow circumstances to dictate how things proceed.
  • Of course, Kang has a significant period of transition in store, on and off the field. Global Sporting Integration discusses that and provides an audio link to the proper pronunciation of the Korean star’s name.

No Progress On Extension Talks Between Cardinals, John Lackey

Reports from earlier this winter indicated that the Cardinals and John Lackey would be discussing “possibly reworking” the veteran righty’s league-minimum salary for the 2015 season.  With Spring Training about to begin, however, the two sides don’t appear to be close to either a new 2015 contract nor a multi-year extension, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Obviously, the (minimum salary for Lackey) compensation for 2015 was attractive to us. In terms of trying to change that structure, I don’t know if both parties are going to find there’s a very desirable reason to do that, considering the opportunities that might exist for him entering his free agent year,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said.  “I’m not closing the door on anything but I’m not pursuing anything either at this point.  I don’t feel that either party is pushing, for that matter.”

Lackey himself also confirmed that there was “nothing close” in contract talks, though he was open to staying in St. Louis beyond this season.  “If it’s something that works for both sides. I would like it,” Lackey said.  “This group of guys…this organization…it’s a great place to be and it’s something I would entertain for sure.”

The five-year, $82.5MM contract Lackey signed with the Red Sox in December 2009 contained a clause that added a team option season (at the league minimum) if Lackey was to miss significant time with an elbow injury.  This clause was triggered once Lackey spent all of 2012 on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery, and after Lackey returned from injury to throw quality seasons in each of 2013 and 2014, he stands as one of the biggest bargains in the game.

As Mozeliak noted, getting an established quality starter for only $507.5K in 2015 was undoubtedly a major reason why the Cards acquired Lackey from the Sox last July.  Likewise, the club may also be wary about extending a pitcher entering his age-36 season.  MLBTR’s Jeff Todd pointed out in December that there’s really no reason for the Cardinals to renegotiate Lackey’s 2015 deal unless they were able to work out an extension “that added a reasonably priced season or two to the 36-year-old’s deal.”

From Lackey’s perspective, he may not want to sign an extension that locks him in at what could be another team-friendly price, as he undoubtedly feels his 2013-14 performance (and obviously what he hopes is a similar or better 2015 season) should earn him another significant multi-year commitment.  This is probably Lackey’s last shot at a such a deal, so there’s all the more reason for him to maximize his earnings.  On other hand, Lackey already has a lot of money in the bank and may be more concerned with winning at this stage in his career, so it’d make sense that he wants to stay with the perennially-contending Cardinals.


Cole Hamels Hopes To Be Traded To Contender

Phillies lefty Cole Hamels would prefer to be dealt to a contender, he tells Bob Nightengale of USA Today“I want to go to a place where I can win again,” said Hamels. Though he made clear he was not demanding a trade, Hamels did indicate that he wants to play for a winning ballclub, saying “I know it’s not going to happen here.”

Hamels, 31, has represented perhaps the biggest unconsummated trade story of the offseason. With all major arms now signed off of the free agent market, and most teams presumably set to enter camp with their rotations intact, he may well be the only achievable prize left for clubs looking to add an impact starter.

According to Nightengale, the Phillies have continued to work hard to find an acceptable deal. The Padres have dangled a package of Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges, but that was not deemed sufficient by the Philadelphia front office. And the Phils have been unsuccessful in prying their key targets from teams like the Red Sox (who won’t include Blake Swihart), Dodgers (who haven’t offered any of the team’s top four prospects), and Cardinals (who have not agreed to move Carlos Martinez).

Hamels says that he will do his best to prepare for the season in the normal course, and gave no indication that he will do anything other than honor his contract, particularly with camp set to open. “Now that I’m here, I plan on being here for the next six weeks,” said Hamels, explaining that he had kept an eye on rumors over the winter. “I think it would be pretty chaotic if that’s not the case. But it’s out of my control.”

The veteran southpaw says that he crafted his no-trade list by identifying the nine teams he would most want to play for and leaving himself unprotected from those clubs. Only the Yankees and Rangers can deal for him without approval among American League teams, though Hamels notes that he would be “all ears” to the possibility of waiving his no-trade protection were the Red Sox to work out an agreement to acquire him. (He did not address the idea, advanced in some earlier reports, that he might seek inducements, such as a guarantee of his fifth-year option, from a team over which he possesses veto power.)


NL Notes: Heyward, Cards, Roenicke, Padres, Rockies

Minor league coaches and instructors earn relatively meager salaries, reports Fangraphs’ David Laurila. The minimum salary for one club is $30K while multiple sources pegged the top end (for long-time managers and coordinators) between $150-175K. One source told Laurila the Marlins pay poorly while the Braves are among the most generous (“That’s why Miami has a lot of turnover and Atlanta doesn’t.“). Another reason Laurila cites for the low pay is the number of people who want those minor league positions with one front office executive saying his club receives between 300 and 400 resumes per year.

Here’s the latest news and notes from the National League:

  • The Cardinals have the payroll flexibility and the prospects to either extend a player like Jason Heyward or acquire a high-profile contract like that of Cole Hamels, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Within the same article, Goold notes GM John Mozeliak has fielded calls this winter on out-of-options players like infielder Pete Kozma and left-hander Sam Freeman.
  • Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he is not concerned about being on the hot seat as he enters the final year of his contract. “I know I’ve got a contract this year and I’ll try to do the best I can. I can’t control what happens with that. I just plan to get the guys playing well, and hopefully we’ll get off to a good start again and we’ll see what happens.
  • Despite the dramatic overhaul of their roster, the Padres have plenty of questions to address this spring, Jeff Sanders of U-T San Diego writes.
  • Nick Groke of The Denver Post takes a position-by-position look at the Rockies in 2015. This offseason, the Rockies put a heavy emphasis on improving their depth across the board.

Quick Hits: Royals, Hall, Red Sox, Astros

Entering 2015, the Royals possess baseball’s best defense, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. With stalwarts like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, and Alcides Escobar, the club can count on preventing dozens of runs next season. On the bench lurks speedy defensive whiz Jarrod Dyson to help track down fly balls. Rounding out Castrovince’s top five defenses are the Orioles, Reds, Yankees, and Cardinals.

  • Baseball is fighting for relevance, writes Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic. While football can claim a larger fandom than baseball, it’s not the job of Commissioner Rob Manfred to reverse that trend. Instead, the league needs to improve its relevance with youth. A lot of attention has fixated on minor tweaks to the game like a faster pace of play. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall has some more novel ideas for improving the fan experience. He suggests letting the home team take batting practice second to improve player-fan interactions. He also proposes using pre-game fielding practice as a stage for displays of athleticism.
  • The Red Sox have a revamped lineup, new rotation, deeper bullpen, and a $200MM payroll, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. The rotation is viewed as a weakness because nobody stands out as a potential ace. However, manager John Farrell believes the current unit will be sufficient. The lineup should provide plenty of fire power and the defense can also help to bail out the rotation. If the rotation is revealed to be a weakness, the club has plenty of prospects to acquire reinforcements.
  • The Astros are looking to win in the present season for the first time in the Jeff Luhnow era, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The club is setting a target for a .500 finish, which does appear to be a viable goal. With several 2014 breakouts and more impactful prospects on the way, Houston appears to be turning the corner on their rebuild. Luhnow points to building chemistry as one important piece of the puzzle. Several roster decisions will be made this spring, most notably in the outfield where Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley will be fighting for jobs.