- The Cardinals have cut ties with righty Seth Maness rather than tendering him a contract, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch tweets. St. Louis has tendered all its remaining players with arb eligibility. While Maness, 28, has been a steady pen presence for the Cards, he underwent surgery on his UCL in mid-August. He did manage to avoid a full ligament replacement, and comes with another year of control, but evidently the price was too high for the Cards to roll the dice. Maness had projected to receive a $1.6MM salary and would have commanded at least that again in 2018.
The Giants, Cardinals and Blue Jays are all believed to be interested in free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, who hears that Fowler’s camp is of the mind that they can land a multi-year deal that will pay the switch-hitter $18MM on an annual basis (Twitter link).
[Related: Dexter Fowler’s Free Agent Profile]
Any of the three listed clubs make perfect sense as a landing spot for Fowler. The Giants saw Angel Pagan hit free agency and have somewhat of a vacancy in left field. Beyond that, they could see a significant amount of money come off the books following the 2017 season. Matt Cain’s ill-fated contract extension will come to a close at the end of next year’s campaign, and if he repeats the form he displayed in 2016, Johnny Cueto figures to opt out of the remaining four years and $88MM on his contract. Infielder Eduardo Nunez, too, will be a free agent at season’s end.
As for the Cardinals, they’ve been linked to Fowler for most of the offseason due to the potential void they face in the outfield. Signing Fowler would allow Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to flank Fowler in the outfield. While many are quick to point out that Fowler isn’t necessarily a defensive upgrade over Grichuk in center — improved glovework is said to be a priority for GM John Mozeliak — an outfield alignment of Grichuk, Fowler and Piscotty would be superior to last year’s mix of Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss, Grichuk and Piscotty.
As for the Blue Jays, they’ve previously been linked to Fowler on more than one occasion but also represent an easy on-paper fit. Toronto’s primary corner outfielders from the 2016 season, Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, are both free agents. Fowler would represent a defensive upgrade while providing the Jays with lineup balance and speed — two elements that GM Ross Atkins has gone on record to call desirable this offseason (when speaking generally and not specifically of Fowler). Signing in Toronto would surely require Fowler to shift to an outfield corner, as Kevin Pillar is arguably the game’s best defensive player, but Fowler’s reported talks with the Orioles last offseason potentially signaled a willingness to do just that. His openness to an outfield corner this winter hasn’t been stated to this point, but he’d certainly widen his market if he were comfortable shifting off of center field.
An $18MM average annual value represents a lofty goal for Fowler, who one year ago languished in free agency for nearly the entire offseason as teams were reluctant to part with a draft pick in order to sign him. Multiple reports indicated that he agreed to a three-year deal with the Orioles in February, but that deal was either never agreed to or never finalized, as Fowler wound up back with the Cubs on a more modest one-year deal worth $13MM. The decision represented a show of faith in Fowler’s talent and somewhat of a gamble from both the player and his agents at Excel Sports, but Fowler’s terrific 2016 season made the decision look wise; in 551 plate appearances with the Cubs, Fowler batted .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases in addition to vastly better defensive and baserunning contributions.
It’s also worth noting that an $18MM annual value can mean a variety of different things, as contract length is often a larger deterrent than AAV for teams when signing players to a long-term pact. An $18MM AAV over five years would represent a massive commitment to Fowler and seems decidedly unlikely, but an $18MM AAV over a four-year term would line Fowler up for the same payday that Alex Gordon scored from the Royals last winter. That outcome seems more plausible, depending on the level of interest in Fowler, but the market for his services does seem to be more robust this year than last.
It’s probably fair to rule out the Cubs as a candidate to make a big splash for Fowler given their signing of Jon Jay and the glut of outfielders up and down the rest of their roster, but plenty of other teams make sense. In addition to the three listed by Heyman, the Mariners, Rangers, Phillies, Dodgers, Nationals, Indians and Orioles (if that bridge isn’t burned) are all logical suitors, though that list is speculative on my behalf.
6:04pm: Both teams have announced the trade via press release.
5:20pm: The Braves have been one of the most active teams of the offseason thus far, and that continued on Thursday as the team reportedly struck a deal to acquire veteran lefty Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals in exchange for minor league infielder Luke Dykstra and young right-handers John Gant and Chris Ellis.
Garcia, 30, has long been a steady member of the Cardinals’ rotation but struggled a bit in 2016, working to a career-worst 4.67 ERA with 7.9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a very strong 56.7 percent ground-ball rate in 171 2/3 innings. He’s controllable only through the 2017 season, as the Cardinals exercised his $12MM option at season’s end. Despite the fact that St. Louis picked up that option, though, trading Garcia has long seemed like a highly plausible outcome. The Cards already have Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake and Alex Reyes in the fold in addition to right-handers Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn returning from injuries.
As for the Braves, Garcia will be the third veteran arm they’ve added to their rotation already this winter. He’ll join fellow newcomers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey in the Braves’ rotation behind right-handers Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz. Like Colon and Dickey, Garcia is a one-year commitment that can function as a reasonable stopgap to upper-level arms in the Braves system like Sean Newcomb while also give young righties Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler, who have struggled in the Majors, additional time to develop in Triple-A.
Despite Garcia’s 2016 struggles, he’ll bring to the Braves a career 3.57 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 56.5 percent ground-ball rate in 896 innings as a Major Leaguer. Shoulder injuries have limited him throughout his career, and he missed time with a groin strain as well in 2016, but he’s averaged 151 innings in 2015-16 and made a total of 50 starts in that time.
While the Braves have been connected to Chris Sale and other front-of-the-rotation names in trade chatter, the addition of Garcia lessens the chances of that hope becoming a reality for Atlanta fans, though it doesn’t eliminate the possibility. Both Mark Bowman of MLB.com and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports note (Twitter links) that the Braves still intend to pursue front-line starters. The rotation certainly looks full at the moment, but it’s possible that as a young right-hander with a fair bit of MLB experience under his belt, Foltynewicz himself could be added to a trade package to help bring in a significant upgrade (though that’s merely speculation).
Each of Ellis (No. 17), Gant (No. 21) and Dykstra (No. 29) appeared on MLB.com’s midseason list of the Braves’ Top 30 prospects. Ellis, who turned 24 in September, was acquired with Newcomb in last year’s Andrelton Simmons trade. The former third-rounder posted a strong 2.75 ERA in 78 innings at the Double-A level this year, averaging 7.0 strikeouts against 4.0 walks per nine innings before moving up to the Triple-A level. He struggled in 67 2/3 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett, though, working to a 6.52 ERA. He did register an improved 8.6 K/9 mark, though he also averaged 6.9 walks per nine innings there as well. MLB.com’s report on Ellis notes that he has the size, strength and repertoire to become a No. 4 starter with three average to above-average offerings but slightly below-average command.
Gant, also 24, was acquired from the Mets in the 2015 Kelly Johnson/Juan Uribe trade and made his MLB debut last year, totaling 50 innings with a 4.86 ERA. Gant logged 49 strikeouts against 21 walks with a 42.1 percent ground-ball rate. He also worked to a 4.18 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning in 56 Triple-A innings. Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com call Gant’s fastball, changeup and curveball each an average offering but also note that he has a tremendous feel for pitching. Nonetheless, they peg his ceiling as a back-end starter, albeit one that could conceivably join the Cardinals’ staff immediately out of Spring Training if necessary.
Dykstra, the son of former Mets/Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra, is a 21-year-old middle infielder that the Braves plucked with their seventh-round pick back in 2014. He went through his second stint in the Class-A South Atlantic League in 2016, hitting .304/.332/.363 with no homers and seven stolen bases in 81 games. Callis and Mayo call him a fringe defender with an average arm and note the he hasn’t shown any power to this point in his career, but his hit tool draws strong marks — and that skill is reflected in his career .300/.335/.385 batting line through parts of three minor league seasons.
ESPN’s Mark Saxon first reported that Garcia had been traded to the Braves. FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported (on Twitter) that three prospects were going to St. Louis in exchange. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Dykstra and Ellis were in the deal (Twitter link). SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reported Gant was the third piece (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
NOV. 30: ESPN’s Mark Saxon tweeted yesterday that he was told recently that the Cardinals aren’t pursuing Turner, and he adds in a followup that he checked in again today and was told the same. While it’s perhaps possible that the Cards are fans of Turner but don’t view him as a priority right now, Saxon’s reports certainly seem to suggest that St. Louis is not actively pursuing Turner at this time.
NOV. 29: The Cardinals have at least some interest in free agent third baseman Justin Turner, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network (Twitter link). It is not apparent from the report whether the club has spoken to Turner’s representatives.
As things stand, St. Louis appears to have a full slate of infielders, even after deciding to shift Matt Carpenter to first base for the coming season. With Aledmys Diaz at short, Kolten Wong at second, and Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko also available up the middle and at third, there are plenty of established options on hand.
Given that array of players, Morosi suggests that the Cards would likely need to find a taker for Peralta to facilitate an addition of Turner. The 34-year-old Peralta is coming off of a rough 2016 season, though he’s owed just $10MM entering the final season of his front-loaded free agent contract.
Turner, who just turned 32, would represent a nice upgrade for the Cardinals, though of course that’s also true of many other teams. Since reviving his career with the Dodgers, Turner owns a .296/.364/.492 batting line and has rated as a top-quality defender at the hot corner.
That production also means that Turner is likely to earn a hefty deal on the open market. MLBTR ranked him fourth among this year’s crop of free agents, predicting a five-year, $85MM contract. Because he turned down the Dodgers’ qualifying offer, moreover, Turner will come with the cost of draft compensation.
St. Louis has emphasized its interest in improving defensively, and Turner would certainly help in that regard. Though Peralta has typically rated well as a shortstop, and would seem to have the skillset for third base, he drew very poor metrics there last season.
Of course, the Cards also have a variety of other needs. Most pressing, perhaps, is the open outfield spot. The organization has been said to be hunting for a center fielder, with the idea of moving Randal Grichuk to a corner spot. Whether the team could pursue an upgrade there while also making a move on Turner remains to be seen.
NOV. 28: The Cardinals announced today that they’ve granted Pena his unconditional release.
NOV. 21: The Cardinals announced on Monday that they have designated backup catcher Brayan Pena for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Brett Cecil, whose four-year contract is now official.
Pena, 35 in January, signed a two-year, $5MM contract to serve as the primary backup to Yadier Molina last offseason but was limited to just 14 plate appearances with the Cardinals due to lingering knee problems that persisted after he underwent surgery back in April. Prior to his injury-marred 2016 campaign, Pena was Cincinnati’s backup catcher (though injuries to Devin Mesoraco increased his role). In 739 plate appearances with the Reds, Pena slashed .263/.313/.339 with five homers and prevented 25 percent of stolen bases attempted against him to go along with slightly below-average framing marks. In parts of a dozen Major League seasons, the veteran Pena is a .259/.299/.351 hitter.
Pena, who is owed $2.5MM by the Cardinals next season, figures to clear waivers and become a free agent (though the team can certainly attempt to trade him before exposing him to waivers). At that point, he’ll be eligible to be signed by any club, and his new team would be on the hook only for the league minimum. Any salary he earns with a new team will be subtracted from what the Cardinals owe him, but St. Louis will be on the hook for at least $2MM to Pena in 2017.
The Cardinals are on the lookout for center field help, and while free agents Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond could be possibilities, the team could also turn to less obvious solutions, ESPN’s Mark Saxon writes. One of those is Carlos Gomez, who excelled down the stretch with the Rangers, and could be a riskier, but perhaps also more upside-laden, alternative to someone like Fowler. Ender Inciarte, Marcell Ozuna and Jarrod Dyson could also be possibilities via the trade market, Saxon suggests. Here’s more from the National League.
- The Diamondbacks have hired former Cardinals international crosschecker Cesar Geronimo Jr. to serve as their new Latin American scouting director, writes Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Geronimo, the son of former Astros, Reds and Royals outfielder Cesar Geronimo, had success with St. Louis after becoming international crosschecker early in 2012, as the Cardinals signed good prospects like Alex Reyes, outfielder Magneuris Sierra, shortstop Edmundo Sosa, and righties Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez. The hire is a significant one for the Diamondbacks’ new front office — beginning July 2, the team figures to be free of international bonus penalties for the first time since their seemingly poor decision to sign Yoan Lopez for $8.26MM in the 2014-15 signing period. Depending on the terms of the next CBA, the Diamondbacks could also have a large pool to work with after winning just 69 games in 2016.
- Four-year deals for relievers are demonstrably dicey propositions, so it’s unclear why the Cardinals committed to Brett Cecil for that long, ESPN’s Keith Law writes (Insider only). Cecil was worth roughly $7.5MM per year (the annual value of the contract he just received) in 2013 through 2015, but it’s optimistic to expect him to be worth that several years from now, given the uninspiring histories of relievers who’ve received long-term deals (B.J. Ryan, Justin Speier, Joe Nathan, Steve Karsay, and so on).
- Cardinals fans would be unwise to read too much into the news that the team has mentioned Michael Wacha’s name in trade talks, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes in a series of questions and answers about the Cards’ offseason plans. The Cardinals might simply be trying to gauge Wacha’s value, as they did in previous discussions about pitchers like Shelby Miller and Kyle Lohse.
- The Orioles announced the signing of first baseman/outfielder David Washington to a minor league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Norfolk. Washington, who turned 26 on Sunday, had a big year in 2016, hitting a combined 30 homers between the Cardinals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. His .259/.359/.532 slash line is impressive, but Washington is no stranger to strikeouts, as he whiffed in a bit more than 34 percent of his plate appearances last season. Since being selected in the 15th round of the 2009 draft, Washington has punched out in 30.6 percent of his professional plate appearances. Still, his power is intriguing, and he’ll give the O’s a depth piece as they seek out potential options in right field.
- Shortstop Wilfredo Tovar appears to have signed what is presumably a minor league deal with the Cardinals, as the infielder himself tweeted a thank you to the organization for his latest opportunity. The 25-year-old Tovar came up through the Mets system and made a pair of brief MLB appearances in 2013-14, collecting three hits in a tiny sample of 22 plate appearances. Once rated as one of the Top 15 prospects in the Mets’ system by Baseball America (and thrice rated as that system’s best defensive infielder), Tovar spent the 2016 campaign with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, where he served as their primary shortstop. Defensive prowess aside, Tovar doesn’t bring much to the table offensively; he hit .249/.301/.327 with one homer in 494 plate appearances at Triple-A last year, although he did chip in 29 steals (in 38 attempts) when he managed to reach base.
GM John Mozeliak spoke with the press about the team’s decision to sign southpaw Brett Cecil to a four-year deal, as the Associated Press reports (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). That article also provides a breakdown of the contract, which provides Cecil a $1MM signing bonus along with three years of $7.5MM salaries and a $7MM payout for the 2020 campaign.
- Cecil’s contract was a fair bit larger than most were expecting, but Mozeliak explained that the market dictated the deal. “Brett was the one person we thought if we were going to make a splash in the bullpen, he was the one we identified,” the veteran executive said. “There was a lot of demand for him and it was moving.” As ever, the presence of multiple bidders is a recipe for success in free agency.
- Clearly, there was plenty of interest, and more than one team that believed the 30-year-old was in an upper tier of relief pitchers. As Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs explains, the $30.5MM guarantee really shouldn’t be seen as much of a surprise. (Mea culpa: we at MLBTR predicted a three-year, $18MM deal.) Cecil has been rather dominant when healthy, with the peripherals to match. And he is not only reasonably youthful, but has the kind of arsenal that gives reason to think he can keep it up. Sullivan argues that the pact fits comfortably in with precedential contracts such as Darren O’Day’s four-year, $31MM payday last winter.
- One of the major reasons that Cecil’s contract rated as a surprise is the fact that he registered only a 3.93 ERA and managed just 36 2/3 innings in his platform season. St. Louis (and others) were willing to look past that, and Cecil suggested in his comments that he was already rounding back into form late in the year (as his strong late-season performance suggests). His torn lat muscle plagued him in the middle of 2016, as he balanced the need for healing with the urge to get back to the mound. “We tried to rest, tried to let it heal. It wasn’t working,” Cecil explained. “I was sidelined for six weeks. I almost had to start spring training over again in the middle of the season. It took me a little bit to get going, and there in August and toward the end of the season and in the playoffs, I was beginning to feel like my old self again.”
- Shoring up the bullpen was a major need for the Cards, especially once Zach Duke was lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery. But perhaps the single greatest opening for the organization is in the outfield, with the team giving indications that it prefers to add a center fielder — preferably, one with defensive chops. Still, there’s also a need to replace some of the pop that the club has lost with Brandon Moss and Matt Holliday heading to free agency, Mark Saxon of ESPN.com notes. He suggests that Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna is a “name to keep an eye on” for the Cardinals. Ozuna has rated well with the glove in the past, though his metrics dipped last year, but he also brings a power bat. (In 2016, Ozuna hit 23 home runs for the second time in his career while posting a personal-best .187 isolated slugging mark.) Of course, he’s also going to cost quite a bit in trade value since he’s only projected to earn $4.5MM in his first of three seasons of arbitration eligibility. That being said, the Cardinals look to be a strong possible match with the Marlins, at least on paper, given their relative abundance of MLB-level starting pitching — a major focus of Miami’s offseason.
- After designating catcher Brayan Pena for assignment today, the Cardinals seem like a possible suitor for a backup catcher to spell Yadier Molina. As their updated depth chart shows, the club’s top in-house options (assuming Pena takes free agency) are youngsters Carson Kelly and Jesse Jenner along with journeyman Alberto Rosario. It may be the right time for the organization to give Kelly an extended look, as Molina is only controlled through 2018 (via club option) and is already 34 years of age — though the lauded veteran proved again in 2016 that he’s still capable not only of carrying the bulk of the load, but playing at a high level. At the very least, though, it seems reasonable to expect St. Louis to make a depth addition. While the free agent crop of catchers may not quite be up to the demand for everyday pieces, it does have quite a few experienced backstops who’d make for solid reserve options.
NOV. 21: The Cardinals have formally announced Cecil’s four-year deal and introduced him at a press conference.
NOV. 19: The Cardinals have agreed to a four-year deal with southpaw reliever Brett Cecil, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). The deal will pay Cecil $30.5MM over the four seasons and includes full no-trade protection, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links). The contract will be official when Cecil, an ACES client, passes a physical.
[Related: Updated St. Louis Cardinals depth chart]
St. Louis was known to be interested in bullpen help this winter, and adding another left-hander was the more logical fit, as Kevin Siegrist was the only other healthy southpaw in the Cards’ bullpen. Tyler Lyons will miss at least the start of the 2017 season due to knee surgery, while Zach Duke will miss next season entirely after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
In Cecil, the Cardinals have landed one of the top setup men on the market this winter. In four years as a full-time reliever, Cecil posted a 2.90 ERA, 11.5 K/9 and 3.68 K/BB rate with the Blue Jays, with grounder rates of over 50% in three of those four years. Over his career, Cecil has dominated left-handed hitters, limiting them to just a .226/.281/.344 slash line.
Despite this solid track record, the thought of Cecil landing a four-year deal seemed pretty remote in mid-July. The lefty missed six weeks due to a tear in his lat muscle, and he had a whopping 6.75 ERA over his first 16 innings of action. Down the stretch, however, Cecil looked far closer to his old self, posting a 1.74 ERA over his final 20 2/3 innings of the year.
Cecil’s 3.93 ERA was his highest in four seasons, though a .344 BABIP and an inflated 20% home run rate can be partially blamed for that spike. Advanced metrics peripherals (3.64 FIP, 2.87 xFIP, 2.71 SIERA) take a more positive view of Cecil’s season, and he also posted a 11.05 K/9 and 1.96 BB/9. His grounder rate did drop to just 42%, however, and hitters were making very good contact — 37.3% of Cecil’s contact allowed was comprised of hard-hit balls, easily the highest total of his career.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranked Cecil 26th on his list of the winter’s top 50 free agents, and projected him to land a three-year, $18MM contract. The fact that Cecil ended up with a fourth year and $30.5MM in guaranteed money is both a nice win for his representatives at ACES and a sign of just how far the Cards had to go to win the bidding. The Mariners and Blue Jays were both known to be interested in Cecil’s services, with Toronto reportedly putting a three-year deal on the table to retain their longtime reliever. Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the Jays were one of multiple teams willing to give Cecil a three-year commitment.
Photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports Images