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- Mets Acquire Jerry Blevins
- Kris Bryant To Begin Season In Minors
- Mets Acquire Alex Torres
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St. Louis Cardinals Rumors
With teams making decisions on the final piece of their Opening Day rosters, especially regarding Article XX(B) players, we’ll keep tabs on the day’s moves to add non-roster invitees to the 40-man.
Right-handed relievers, somewhat unsurprisingly, dominate today’s news in this arena:
- Lefty specialist Joe Thatcher has been added to the Astros‘ 40-man roster, Rosenthal reports on Twitter. The Article XX(B) veteran will receive a $1MM salary and can add an additional $1.3MM through incentives. If he can return to form, Thatcher could be quite a nice addition to a Houston pen that was an area targeted heavily for upgrades this offseason.
- Fellow non-roster invitee Roberto Hernandez will also make the club, the Astros have announced. As MLBTR originally reported, Hernandez will earn $2.65MM on the year. The 34-year-old joined the fold in Houston late in the spring, but provides a sturdy and versatile presence as the club seeks to take the next step this year.
- The Twins have announced that righty Blaine Boyer is now a member of the team’s major league roster. Boyer’s deal will pay him $750K at the big league level and includes up to $100K in incentives tied to appearances, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. MLBTR’s Zach Links recently spoke with Boyer about his interesting professional journey.
- Likewise, right-handed Carlos Villanueva has been added to the Cardinals‘ 40-man roster, the club announced. That means that the veteran swingman will be entitled to a $2MM salary this year with St. Louis. Villanueva, 31, has racked up 863 2/3 MLB innings in 76 starts and over 300 relief appearances. Though he had only a 4.64 ERA last year with the Cubs, Villanueva’s peripherals earned him strong marks from ERA estimators.
- The Indians have informed righty Anthony Swarzak that he will make the pen, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune tweets. Though it does not appear he has been officially added to the 40-man, that will need to occur. The 29-year-old has a 4.48 career ERA in 439 2/3 frames at the major league level, most of them coming from the pen. Swarzak will take home a $900K salary and can earn up to $350K in incentives.
- Similarly, the Cubs have told southpaw Phil Coke that he will be on the club, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Coke had exercised his opt-out clause on Friday when he was not added to the 40-man at that time, says Rosenthal. Now, it appears he will receive the $2.25MM (and up to $900K in bonuses) that his deal allows; indeed, the team has now announced that his contract was selected.
After visiting with a team physician, Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia has been diagnosed with arm fatigue, writes Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. Garcia is still trying to work his way back from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He was on track to earn the fifth slot in the rotation, but will now miss the opening week. As Langosch noted, former Cardinal Chris Carpenter failed in his return bid from the surgery, although he was older at the time. One of Carlos Martinez or Marco Gonzales will likely replace Garcia.
- Indians pitcher Shaun Marcum will report to Triple-A to start the season, tweets Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He’s currently still in big league camp and was informed last Tuesday that he would not make the Opening Day roster. He last appeared in the majors in 2013 with the Mets. He made 14 appearances and 12 starts with a 5.29 ERA.
- Brewers GM Doug Melvin does not anticipate adding any players from outside of the organization for the Opening Day roster, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Rather, all roster decisions will pertain to players already in the system.
- The Brewers and Aramis Ramirez will meet to discuss how he’ll be used this season, reports Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Leg injuries plagued Ramirez last year, so the thought is that frequent rest could improve his durability. The current plan is to sit him once a week with other off days built in as needed. Of course, no plan will be immutable. Ramirez and the Brewers will respond to how he feels and matchups.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe checked in with Max Scherzer, who is missing former teammate Rick Porcello. Scherzer, of course, left the Tigers in free agency to sign with the Nationals in January. Porcello, meanwhile, was shipped from the Tigers to the Red Sox in December. Scherzer still texts a lot with Porcello, and they have had conversations about free agency.
“He understands the business of the game really well and what teams are trying to accomplish,” said Scherzer. “As most players, he’s motivated by winning as well. What works is going out there and having one motivation and that’s winning. And those things will take care of themselves.”
Cafardo has talked with a few baseball executives who believe Porcello will walk from the Red Sox and do exactly what Scherzer did – go to the highest bidder. Here’s more from today’s column..
- The Rockies tried to trade Jhoulys Chacin but couldn’t find a buyer, so they released him last week. The 27-year-old was a victim of Coors Field, where his ERA was 4.21 as opposed to a much more palatable 3.24 on the road. Cafardo writes that the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays, and Blue Jays have been looking for a veteran starter and may be considering him.
- Braves people insist that they will not entertain a deal for closer Craig Kimbrel, but a few executives expect that Atlanta will be thinking differently if they are out of contention at the trade deadline. The Braves are eyeing 2017 as their relaunch, so Cafardo doesn’t see the need for them to hang on to a top closer like Kimbrel in the interim.
- Dan Uggla has an April 1st opt-out on his minor league deal with the Nationals and his play this spring is giving GM Mike Rizzo something to think about, but roster space is an issue. If Uggla doesn’t make the cut in Washington, Cafardo suggests that the Angels, Braves, Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Padres, and Rays could all justify bringing him aboard.
The Cubs‘ impending decision about whether to have Kris Bryant start the season in the minors has players around baseball talking about service-time rules, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes in a story that collects responses to Bryant’s situation from players from several teams. “Hey, we have a chance to make a lot of money in this game, but the rules are the rules,” says Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. “If that works in the Cubs favor, and the Cubs are a better team for that, they’re entitled to (use the rule to their favor). We negotiated that. It’s the reality of what our collective bargaining agreement says.” Here’s more from the National League.
- Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia will miss his start due to a shoulder issue, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. Garcia likely will not be in the team’s Opening Day rotation. Garcia had impressed the team in camp and might well have made the Cardinals’ rotation, particularly since having him start rather than Marco Gonzales or Carlos Martinez would have been the best way for the Cards to protect their assets — they could have easily just optioned Gonzales to the minors, put Martinez in the bullpen and kept all three pitchers. Instead, it’s yet another injury for Garcia, who’s dealt with plenty of them in the past few seasons. There is, however, reason to hope it won’t be serious — GM John Mozeliak (via Langosch on Twitter) characterizes the injury as fatigue and the missed start as “more of a pause than anything.”
- Pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on a minor-league deal with the Cardinals, can opt out of that deal Monday, Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch notes (via Twitter). Villanueva has gotten fairly good results in camp and has a track record of providing solid performances in a swingman role, so the Cardinals could try to find space for him on their roster.
- Intentionally or not, the Nationals, who have lefty relievers available, gave the lefty-starved Mets a look at Jerry Blevins Saturday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. (Blevins struck out Curtis Granderson but gave up a triple to Lucas Duda.) The Nationals have Blevins, along with Xavier Cedeno and Matt Thornton, and all are out of options, so they could end up trading one.
The Rangers have announced that they’ve acquired lefty Sam Freeman from the Cardinals for a player to be named later or cash. Freeman, 27, posted a 2.61 ERA with 8.3 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 38 innings with the Cardinals last season while showcasing good velocity from the left side. He was, however, out of options, and the Cardinals had two other bullpen lefties in Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate. Freeman also struggled with his control this spring, issuing five walks in five innings.
It’s not surprising the Rangers would pursue lefty relief help (although Freeman doesn’t look like an archetypal lefty specialist, having actually performed considerably better against righties than lefties in his career, as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News points out). They had released Joe Beimel earlier this week, leaving them with the inexperienced Alex Claudio as their main left-handed relief option. They had also been connected to Marlins lefty Mike Dunn. Freeman has two seasons remaining before he can become eligible for arbitration, and then three more seasons after that before he can become a free agent, so there’s also the possibility (although it’s admittedly probably somewhat unlikely) that he could become a long-term asset for the Rangers if they can find a way to harness his stuff.
Cubs president Theo Epstein said yesterday that he’s never taken a Minor Leaguer and put him on an Opening Day roster with zero prior big league experience, but super-prospect Kris Bryant feels like he could be the exception to that rule, writes ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers. “I look at it as ‘Why not me?” Bryant said on Friday. “I think I’m the type of guy that can go out there and do it. I’ve made it a point of mine to come out here and show them that I can.” Bryant, of course, is the talk of Spring Training with nine homers and a ludicrous .406/.472/1.313 batting line in 36 plate appearances. The Cubs, though, can delay his free agency by a full season if they keep him in the Minors for a bit less than two weeks to open the season. While Cubs management and ownership naturally insists that any decision would be baseball-related as opposed to business-related, it seems likely that Bryant would be recalled early in the season once the year of team control is gained.
More from the NL Central…
- Jung-ho Kang has struggled to a .111 average in Spring Training thus far, but Pirates GM Neal Huntington is still planning on bringing the Korean infielder north with the club to open the season, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’ve seen some really good things,” Huntington told Biertempfel in regard to Kang.
- Chris Dominguez, Brennan Boesch, Ivan De Jesus and Irving Falu are all competing for the Reds‘ final bench spots, writes MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon, and each has performed well in Spring Training. Manager Bryan Price also noted that the rotation isn’t yet settled. Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias are all in the mix for the final two spots, and Price explained how his club is looking beyond statistics to determine who will fill those roles. In general, he spoke very highly of DeSclafani, so it seems likely that he’ll be in the rotation to open the year.
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak spoke with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (subscription required/recommended) about his tendency to hang onto young pitching and his deviation from that process by trading players such as Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to land John Lackey and Jason Heyward. “Believe it or not, even though in these deals it appears like we’re giving up the control factor, we felt they were fair deals for both sides,” said Mozeliak. “Put it this way: We understand the risk.” Mozeliak went on to discuss the increased importance teams now place on prospects as opposed to the 1990s and early 2000s, noting that cost control has become an increasingly large factor in trades. The Cardinals, Goold writes, have an in-house algorithm and scouting process to assign dollar values to players, which they use in free agency and in trades. Said Chairman Bill Dewitt, Jr.: “Our model is value-based, and what we want to do is get value back for value given. Because there is always opportunity to use resources to acquire talent.”
The Rays will honor the late Don Zimmer by announcing that his #66 jersey will be retired in a ceremony on Opening Day. Zimmer only wore #66 for one season during his 11 years as a senior advisor for the Rays, as he increased his uniform number by one every season to reflect how many years he had spent in baseball. The beloved long-time coach, manager and player passed away last June.
- Using Max Scherzer‘s signing with the Nationals as an example, Scott Boras discusses how he markets (though the agent dislikes that term) and presents his major free agent clients in an interview with Bloomberg’s Joshua Green. Boras and his staff identify which teams are ideal fits for his clients and then specifically tailors each pitch to relate to each team owner during negotiations. With Scherzer, Boras had four lengthy meetings with Nats owner Ted Lerner highlighting how Scherzer would create more value to the franchise both baseball-wise and from a business perspective.
- MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo debate which club has had the best farm system of the last five years. Callis chose the Nationals since they’ve found more superstar talent, while Mayo picked the Cardinals due to their system’s overall depth.
- The possibility of an international draft has been a topic of discussion throughout baseball lately, with proponents like commissioner Rob Manfred advocating a “single modality of entry” to allow consistency in the way MLB teams sign amateurs from various parts of the world. Flipping the idea around, however, Rob Neyer of FOX Sports suggests that MLB could instead ensure consistency by abolishing the amateur draft. Instead of a draft, MLB could allow teams to spend a predetermined amount on amateur players (be they domestic or international) each year. Neyer favors doing so in such a way that would stop baseball from penalizing winning by having the top teams take lower draft picks. The idea could also be easily modified so that teams with the worst records would be able to spend more money. In either case, Neyer believes his system would encourage all teams to hunt for talent both at home and abroad.
- It’s becoming rare to see pre-arbitration players sign extensions that don’t cover at least one free agent year, yet Brian Dozier‘s new contract with the Twins is such a deal, Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards writes in his analysis of the extension. Edwards thinks more players could possibly pursue “a safe deal” like Dozier’s if they “place an emphasis on getting to free agency.”
- Orlando Hudson is in the Diamondbacks‘ camp to work with the infield, though he plans to be back on a diamond in more than an instructor role, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports (via Twitter). Hudson hopes to play winter ball and attempt a Major League comeback for the 2016 season. The 37-year-old former Gold Glove second baseman last played in the bigs in 2012 and had seemingly hung up his spikes following brief stints in the Mexican and Dominican winter leagues in 2013.
If the Cubs keep Kris Bryant at Triple-A to begin the season, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes the MLBPA should file a grievance as a matter of principle. It would be a mostly symbolic gesture (“The case law overwhelmingly favors the clubs,” according to one of Rosenthal’s sources) yet it would indicate that the players’ union is serious about addressing this service-time loophole when the new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated next year. It would also be a big-picture show of strength by the union, as some player agents feel that the MLBPA has a bit too lenient on some recent issues.
Here’s more from around the NL Central…
- The Braves initially asked for Carlos Martinez when they began discussing the Jason Heyward trade with the Cardinals, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Cards refused, just as they’ve steadfastly turned down other trade offers for Martinez in recent years, yet Miklasz wonders why the club is so committed to keeping Martinez but is hesitant to give him a regular rotation job. Miklasz argues that if the Cardinals have any doubts about Martinez, they might be better served by dealing him now while his stock is still high.
- Arquimedes Caminero has been impressed scouts this spring, and the Pirates may be forced to put the out-of-options righty on the roster in order to keep him, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Keeping Caminero in the bullpen could force John Holdzkom to start the year at Triple-A, as while Holdzkom has pitched well himself in camp, he still has minor league options.
- Speaking of the Pirates‘ roster crunch, GM Neal Huntington told Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that a move could possibly be made to address the Bucs’ several out-of-options players. “We have some guys who are out of options who may be of interest to other clubs,” Huntington said. “We may make a small trade … or claim somebody on waivers or lose somebody on waivers. We still have some (roster) decisions to make and are always open to improving our talent level.”
- The Reds have told veteran southpaw Paul Maholm that he won’t be earning a rotation job, though Maholm isn’t yet considering opting out of his minor league deal with the club, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. “We still have some time left in camp,” Maholm said. “I’m trying to pitch and get ready for the season. Those are decisions we have to make at the date that’s set up. Until then, I’m just going to pitch.” The Reds would have to pay Maholm $100K to retain his services if he’s not going to make their Major League roster, as per his status as an Article XX(B) player.
The Cardinals only made one big move this offseason, but it was a big one indeed, and they’re again in strong position to contend despite an offseason touched by tragedy.
Major League Signings
- Matt Belisle, RP: One year, $3.5MM plus up to $500K in incentives
- Mark Reynolds, 1B: One year, $2MM plus up to $800K in incentives
- Dean Anna, IF: Cost unknown
- Total spend: ~$6MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired OF Jason Heyward and RP Jordan Walden from Braves for P Shelby Miller and P Tyrell Jenkins
- Acquired C Michael Ohlman from Orioles for cash
- Acquired 2B Ty Kelly from Mariners for P Sam Gaviglio
- Lance Lynn, SP: Three years, $22MM (with incentives for playing time that can push the deal to $23.5MM)
- Jordan Walden, RP: Two years, $6.6MM plus 2017 option
- Jon Jay, CF: Two years, $10.975MM
Notable Minor League Signings
- Oscar Taveras, Miller, Pat Neshek, Justin Masterson, Jason Motte, A.J. Pierzynski, Daniel Descalso, Mark Ellis
The Cardinals’ offseason began in the worst way imaginable, as outfielder Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old potential star, passed away along with his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo in a car accident in the Dominican. The tragedy shook not only the Cardinals organization but the entire sport, which lost one of its brighter young talents.
Following Taveras’ death, the Cardinals made one dramatic move to replace him in right field, then had an otherwise quiet offseason. That dramatic move came in mid-November, when they shipped Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden.
The Cardinals paid heavily, giving up four years of control for Miller and six of Jenkins in order to get one year of Heyward and two of Walden. (The Cardinals added an extra year of control for Walden when they signed him to a two-year deal with an option in December.) The key to the trade, however, might be that the Cardinals know their pitchers better than anyone else does. Miller is only 24 and still has an electric arm, but his strikeout rate per nine innings alarmingly declined from 8.8 in 2013 to 6.3 last year, and his walk rate rose as well. Miller basically has two pitches (he threw his changeup just 2.4% of the time last year), and his curveball declined in velocity last year, becoming much more hittable in the process. Miller improved down the stretch and is clearly a big-league starter going forward, but if the Cardinals felt comfortable selling low on a pitcher who once looked like an emerging ace, they might well have good reasons.
Jenkins, meanwhile, is still 22 and has twice been rated in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, but his performance record doesn’t yet match his reputation, and he missed chunks of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with a shoulder injury. He did pitch well in the Arizona Fall League after the trade, and like Miller, he has a terrific fastball. But he’s still at least a year from the Majors and represents plenty of risk.
Getting a prime season of Heyward in the deal was a coup for the Cardinals, much more so if they can extend him before he becomes a free agent after the season. Heyward is still only 25 and is an elite defensive corner outfielder and a reliable on-base threat. And given his off-the-charts tools and athleticism, he probably still has untapped upside, perhaps a lot of it. He already posted 5.1 fWAR last year while hitting a relatively meager .271/.351/.384; if he can return to, say, his 2012 total of 27 home runs, his $7.8MM salary will make him among the best values in the big leagues.
Walden is no mere throw-in. He dramatically improved his ground ball rate last year, although possibly at the expense of his walk rate. Either way, his blazing fastball should help him strike out more than enough batters to be a successful setup man. Walden’s extension, too, was a smart move, though a small one, for the Cardinals. Between his $2.5MM 2015 salary and his $350K signing bonus, the Cards will pay Walden less in 2015 than the $3MM MLBTR projected, and Walden’s $3.5MM 2016 salary is far less than Cardinals would have had to pay through the arbitration process if he had had a good 2015 season. The Cardinals also got the rights to a reasonable $5.2MM option (or a $250K buyout) for 2017.
Beyond that, the Cardinals didn’t have many holes, and thus had few excuses to spend. The Cards added Matt Belisle to their bullpen after he spent six years in the Rockies organization. Belisle is coming off his worst year in Colorado, posting a 4.87 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 2014, but he posted solid peripherals in four straight seasons before that. The Cardinals won’t have to depend on him to pitch high-leverage innings, and if he doesn’t pitch well, he won’t have cost them much.
They also signed corner infielder and strikeout king Mark Reynolds to a cheap one-year deal. Incumbent first baseman Matt Adams has a career .553 OPS against lefties, and allowing Reynolds to smash southpaws while sitting against righties should enable the Cardinals to get the most bang for their buck. Reynolds himself had a .573 OPS against lefties last season, but an .809 OPS against them for his career. And while he’s had a reputation as a marginal talent for several years now (failing to top a .221 batting average in five straight seasons will do that), he’s never been used as a part-timer, exactly — the Brewers gave him 433 plate appearances last year, his lowest total since he was a rookie. Giving him about 250 plate appearances, most of them against lefties, seems like a good way to harness his power, which remains formidable.
Finally, in addition to the aforementioned Walden contract, the Cardinals signed starter Lance Lynn and center fielder Jon Jay to fairly straightforward extensions that buy out arbitration seasons. Lynn’s $22MM deal buys out all three of what would have been his arbitration years. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz guessed that Lynn would have made something like $4.5MM for 2015, so it isn’t hard to see how Lynn might have reached or topped $22MM in three years total. At the same time, Lynn received a hefty chunk of guaranteed money and didn’t delay his free-agency eligibility.
Jay’s deal is even simpler. He had already been through arbitration once, and he and the Cardinals had already exchanged figures for this offseason, with a midpoint of $4.55MM. The extension essentially merely guarantees him a modest raise for 2016 — slightly smaller than the one he would have received had he gone year-to-year, but that’s to be expected given that the Cardinals agreed to pay his salary for both years up front. That point might seem significant to a player who briefly lost his everyday job to Peter Bourjos last year, although perhaps it shouldn’t be. Jay is, at this point, probably slightly undervalued. Particularly in the 2013 season, Jay developed a reputation for being defensively erratic. For his career, though, that’s not the story the numbers tell, and his OBP-heavy offensive game is consistently strong.
Not many. The Cardinals remain a strong team from top to bottom, and attempts to find their weaknesses mostly amount to nit-picking. The team’s fifth starter job is currently unsettled, although Marco Gonzales, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia all have upside. (The Cardinals might be leaning toward Garcia despite his long history of arm issues, since they can most easily keep all three pitchers in the organization by sending Gonzales back to the minors and Martinez to a relief role.) The Cards’ bullpen isn’t outstanding behind Trevor Rosenthal, particularly given the loss of Pat Neshek, but the additions of Walden, Belisle and minor-league signee Carlos Villanueva could all help, and hard-throwing rookie Sam Tuivailala could be a wild card. Also, Martinez would help the Cards’ bullpen depth tremendously if he were to lose out on the rotation job.
Beyond that, the questions, such as they are, are broader. The Cardinals’ core is good, but much of it is somewhat old. The Cards will lean on a great catcher (Yadier Molina) who will be 33 in July, a very good shortstop (Jhonny Peralta) who will be 33 in May, a great 33-year-old starting pitcher (Adam Wainwright), and good players in Matt Holliday and John Lackey who are even older. There are certainly scenarios in which several of those players falter at once this season, and the Cardinals are far worse than expected. The Cardinals’ depth behind Molina is one weakness that could become a problem if he gets hurt, as he did last year when he missed several weeks with a thumb injury. A minor deal with the Orioles for catcher Michael Ohlman might not help much, either, at least not right away, since Ohlman hit sparingly even at Double-A last year.
Deal Of Note
Last year, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes examined the sorts of minor-league free agents teams typically sign to big-league deals. Such players are typically around 27 when they sign, and within that context, the Cardinals’ signing of 28-year-old infielder Dean Anna to a big-league deal fits right in. Typically, though, players who receive such deals are former top prospects or hard throwers. Anna, in contrast, is a former 26th-round pick who had to scrap for playing time even in the low minors. He’s also coming off a .207/.325/.308 season at the Triple-A level, making him an even more unlikely candidate for a big-league deal.
What Anna does have is versatility (he can handle shortstop, second and third, making him a legitimate utility infielder) and on-base ability. Anna posted a .410 OBP at Triple-A Tucson in 2013 and has a .380 career minor-league OBP. Aside from a handful of games with the Yankees last season, Anna has no big-league track record, so the Cardinals’ Major-League deal amounts to a relatively cheap gamble that Anna’s minor-league track record can translate to the Majors. They can control him for up to five more years after this one if it does.
At this point, though, it’s not even guaranteed that he’ll make the team, as he’s played sparingly in Spring Training. Another unproven infielder acquired in a relatively low-profile deal, Ty Kelly, has impressed observers. Like Anna, Kelly has a great track record of providing OBP in the high minors, although Kelly doesn’t play shortstop, instead spending most of his time at second and third and in the outfield corners.
In any case, if Anna doesn’t make the squad, he could end up providing good depth at Triple-A. He might prove to be valuable if Peralta gets hurt or second baseman Kolten Wong doesn’t maintain the improvements he made in 2014.
Despite an aging group of core players, the Cardinals have an enviable blend of veterans, good players in their primes (Heyward, Lynn, Matt Carpenter) and youngsters with upside (particularly Michael Wacha and Martinez, but also Wong, Gonzalez, and outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty, who provides a solid Plan B if Holliday is out for an extended period). That diversification of assets should limit their downside — there’s a lot of talent here, and it’s spread fairly around the diamond and across the spectrum of player ages. They’re a bit too heavily weighted toward veteran talent, although that’s not necessarily surprising for a franchise that’s had seven straight winning seasons (and just lost its highest-upside young player in tragic circumstances). And the fact that most of their long-term contracts aren’t backloaded keeps them flexible.
With that in mind, the Cardinals can watch the season unfold, and use the trade market to address any weaknesses that emerge. They can also plan for the future. Lackey and Heyward are eligible for free agency after this season. While an extension for Lackey doesn’t look likely, signing Heyward, already a very good player who still has youth and upside, could become a priority. If Heyward departs, the Cardinals will likely have the flexibility to make a splash in next offseason’s free-agent market, if they so desire.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.