- 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.
- The Cardinals still view Michael Wacha as a starter, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports, though that’s in greater question than ever after an injury-riddled 2016 season that was easily his worst as a big leaguer. Skipper Mike Matheny suggests that Wacha’s shoulder health could be improved by building up his upper-body strength. “As you start to look for some compensation and where there might be weaknesses, how can he build up some parts of his body muscularly that will help support maybe the arm and the demand that comes with being a starting pitcher?” asked Matheny. “When his health is right, you’re seeing the right arm action. The next step is going to be the one that’s missing right now. That’s consistency in the strike zone. He’s a rare talent that we need to figure out how to get into a consistent spot.”
- Sticking with the Cardinals, Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at some options for the team in center field — which increasingly seems to be a target area this winter. He runs through a variety of trade and free agent targets, some of whom seem more achievable than others. At this stage, it’s tough to handicap from the outside, though GM John Mozeliak has certainly hinted that defense will be a priority in the search.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that the league is nearing the end of its investigation into the improper accessing of the Astros’ computer systems by at least one Cardinals employee, as the Associated Press reports (via USA Today).
“We are in the process of finishing up our investigation,” said Manfred. “I wish it had gotten a little more help a little sooner from the U.S. attorney’s office. But the cards come up how they come up, and we’re going to finish our investigation, and there will be a resolution of that during this offseason.”
Unsurprisingly, the commissioner did not hint as to whether the team would face any punishment, or if so of what kind and severity. The individual seemingly directly responsible for mining information from the computer systems of the Houston organization, then-Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa, has already paid an extremely heavy price with a prison sentence and order to pay restitution.
It seems to be all but a foregone conclusion that the Cards will face some kind of punitive measure, since the intrusion came from a fairly high-ranking member of its front office hierarchy. But the scope will surely be tied to Manfred’s assessment of how high up the chain of command the matter rose. The Cardinals have suggested publicly that this was an isolated situation, but as Manfred’s comments hint, nobody is really sure what the prosecuting authorities know (and what of that they’ve shared with the league).
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak spoke about several notable topics impacting the team in an interview with 101sports.com. You can find audio of the full chat at the link, but here are some of the highlights:
Generally, Mozeliak said that he is “still sort of reflecting on our past year,” which just ended a hair shy of qualifying for a sixth-straight postseason. That means that he doesn’t quite yet have a clear picture of how the club will tackle the winter to come. “I’m still sort of reflecting on our past year and I haven’t necessarily set out our offseason strategy,” says Mozeliak.
That being said, the veteran executive obviously has a good idea of where the needs will be. The rotation, in particular, suffered a significant fall-off in 2016. Mozeliak suggests that he sees room for more from veterans Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake, though he notes that’s hardly a sure thing. Michael Wacha remains a bit of a wild card, too, while the club sees reason for optimism in Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes. With Lance Lynn returning to join a list of possibilities that also includes Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales (if he makes it back), Tim Cooney and others, Mozeliak says he hopes to “have the depth we thought we were going to have a year ago,” though he notes “that just means maybe something else is going to go wrong.”
Notably absent from that list of hurlers? Lefty Jaime Garcia. The club is reportedly still weighing whether to pick up his option, though Mozeliak’s comments seemed to throw some doubt on the idea that he’d be with the organization in 2017.
“What we’ll do is spend the next two to three weeks sorting through our roster and getting a feel for what we think makes the most sense for us,” Mozeliak said when asked about Garcia. “I just went through our rotation and I didn’t mention Jaime because I think, given how he finished, it’s going to be tough for him to fit in there. But I also would say last year when we were sitting here talking, I thought we were going to have Lance Lynn and then two weeks later he ends up having Tommy John. So you just never know.”
Of course, even if Garcia doesn’t end up with the Redbirds, he could have his option exercised and then be traded. Mozeliak also says he won’t hesitate to trade young players to drive improvement, though he suggests that he won’t overreact after just missing the playoffs.
“You can’t always react to just today’s needs,” says Mozeliak. “When you’re looking to build long term success you damn well better be keeping some assets in your system. I think, historically, we’ve proven right on that with that strategy. We’re not going to deviate.”
Otherwise, the organization has already stated an intention to improve defensively, and Mozeliak adds that he’d like to see the team become “a little bit more aggressive on the basepaths.” For the former, he notes that getting Kolten Wong more time at second base and “trying to find a consistent position for Matt Carpenter” would help with the infield, while the team has to figure out a center field solution.
Reading between the lines a bit, since Jedd Gyorko and Aledmys Diaz seem all but certain to command significant playing time, it’s fair to wonder where this assessment leaves Jhonny Peralta. He could conceivably share time at first or end up on the trade block. It also certainly seems as if the center field spot could be filled from the outside, with Randal Grichuk sliding over to a corner role. Perhaps there’s also a way the club can address the baserunning issue through a new up-the-middle performer; Mozeliak notes that he’s interested in “trying to get a little smaller on the basepaths, trying to add a little speed to this team,” and this may be the spot to target to find such a skillset.
Certainly, speed and defense are not the calling cards of slugger Brandon Moss, though defensive metrics rated him surprisingly well in the outfield in limited time there this season. Mozeliak says that the overall results from Moss were good, and praised his work in the clubhouse, but added that it was tough to deal with his lengthy slumps. Ultimately, there’s interest in bringing him back, says Mozelik, “but it’s going to be at what price?”
The Cardinals and right-hander Carlos Martinez have mutual interest in a contract extension, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The two sides plan to discuss a deal in the coming months and could reach an agreement by next season, per Goold, who notes that the Cardinals have previously signed the likes of Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong to extensions during spring training.
Martinez is currently on track to make his first trip through arbitration during the offseason, which means the Cardinals’ days of paying him a relative pittance are over. As a result, there’s less incentive for him to sign a team-friendly extension. He’ll also be eligible for arbitration after the next two seasons and is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the 2019 campaign.A long-term deal would require the Cardinals to buy out free agent years for Martinez, thereby increasing his price tag.
The Cardinals signed Martinez as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2010, and after spending a couple seasons as primarily a reliever in the majors, the 25-year-old served as a front-line starter over the past two campaigns. Martinez logged a 3.04 ERA, 8.02 K/9, 3.23 BB/9 and 56.4 percent ground-ball rate over a career-high 195 1/3 innings in 2016, and he was similarly effective last year. In 2015, his first season as a full-time starter, Martinez earned an All-Star nod and posted a 3.01 ERA and 54.5 percent ground rate to complement a 9.22 K/9 and 3.13 BB/9 in 179 2/3 frames. Wins also matter to arbitrators and agents, and Martinez has racked up 30 victories against just 16 losses since last season.
Among starters who have signed extensions over the past year-plus, the Indians’ Corey Kluber is a potential comparable for Martinez solely in terms of production. Kluber was entering his age-29 season at the time (April 2015) and still hadn’t reached arbitration eligibility, but his output from 2013-14 was similar to Martinez’s from 2015-16. In the two years before his extension, Kluber went 29-14 with a 2.98 ERA and 9.52 K/9 against 1.97 BB/9 over 383 innings. That led to a five-year extension worth $38.5MM in guarantees. As a younger starter who’s closer to free agency than Kluber was, Martinez could certainly have a case for a richer deal.
The Cardinals are still debating whether to pick up the $12MM club option over southpaw Jaime Garcia, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. St. Louis would need to pay a $500K buyout if it declines.
Garcia, 30, just made thirty starts for only the second time in his career, representing a highly promising return to health for a pitcher who has battled shoulder problems. But his results fell well shy of his established benchmark. Between his first full season in the majors through last season (i.e., 2010-2015), Garcia compiled a 3.25 ERA over 708 1/3 innings.
In his 171 2/3 frames in 2016, Garcia ended up allowing 4.67 earned runs per nine. His peripherals weren’t that far off of his career norms — 7.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 were both on the high side of his typical range, while his strong 56.7% groundball rate was nearly an exact match for his lifetime average.
Really, Garcia suffered most from an elevated home run susceptibility. He was touched for dingers on over one of five flyballs put in play against him, with opposing hitters launching 1.36 per nine. Whether he can pare back the long balls may be the biggest question remaining. Ultimately, ERA estimators suggest that his down year occurred at least in part due to some poor fortune (4.49 FIP; 3.77 xFIP; 3.93 SIERA.)
In terms of the underlying physical tools, there are indications that Garcia has continued to adapt with a shoulder that will probably never be fully normal. His release point continues to drift (see here and here), with his breaking balls showing marked changes in behavior as well as some inconsistencies. With those changes, Garcia’s typically double-digit swinging strike rate has resided just below that level (9.2%) for each of the last two years. On the other hand, his average fastball velocity is better than ever.
Garcia acknowledged that some of his struggles may be related to his efforts to stay ahead of the shoulder problems that have plagued him for so long. “I got caught up so much in being healthy and working hard to stay healthy that sometimes mechanics took a hit,” he said. But he says he’s glad to have ended the year on an uptick, proclaiming: “I found it now. … I know the kind of pitcher I am.”
All told, it seems hard to imagine that the Cards will punt Garcia onto an open market that is starved for arms. There’s certainly an argument to be made that it would be unwise to sacrifice the depth after a season in which Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales, and Michael Wacha were among the club’s hurlers who dealt with varying degrees of injury problems.
If anything, a trade would seem the more likely scenario. According to Goold, St. Louis “floated” Garcia’s name over the summer to assess his value. Whether or not there was ever serious consideration of moving him in 2016, that could become an option this offseason. As Goold explains it, promising the $12MM payday to Garcia “would give Mozeliak control of an asset for 2017 and pitching depth that he could use in deals even into spring training.”
Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday plans to play in 2017 despite the team’s recent decision to decline his option, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com tweets. “I have a lot of good baseball left in me,” he says. He adds, however, that he doubts he will return to St. Louis, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets.
The Cardinals recently made clear that they would pay Holliday a $1M buyout rather than paying him $17MM next season. Holliday then issued a statement in which he thanked the Cardinals organization but did not indicate whether he would continue playing.
Holliday returned from a thumb injury to hit a pinch-hit homer against the Pirates yesterday, but he’s otherwise had a modestly disappointing season, batting .244/.320/.459 in 425 plate appearances — a decent enough line for most hitters, but perhaps not for one with limited defensive and baserunning value. Nonetheless, as MLBTR’s Jeff Todd pointed out yesterday, the 36-year-old Holliday should still attract interest on the free agent market, perhaps from an AL team hoping to have him occupy the DH spot at least part of the time. He remains a productive hitter, and his career .303/.382/.515 line and solid clubhouse reputation should make him a desirable target for a team hoping to bolster its lineup.
5:53pm: Holliday has issued a statement thanking the organization, his teammates, and the fans for his time with the Cards, via MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. He, too, kept the door cracked for a return but acknowledged that this could be the end of his tenure. (The statement, notably, does not seem to indicate whether or not Holliday has decided whether he’ll continue playing.)
“It has been an honor to play in front of such great fans and for such an historic organization,” says Holliday. “I can honestly say it has been a dream come true. While I’m disappointed this could be it here in St. Louis, I understand that it might be time to move on.”
5:38pm: The Cardinals anticipate declining the club’s 2017 option over outfielder Matt Holliday, per GM John Mozeliak, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was among those to report. (Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball noted earlier this week that the Cardinals do not plan to pick up the option.) Holliday will, however, be activated from the DL in the hopes that he can make at least one final appearance before the St. Louis faithful.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Holliday won’t return, of course, but it’s not really known whether there’s serious interest on either side in negotiating a new contract. That the team appears to be giving the long-time star a sendoff suggests the sides could be preparing for a split, but GM John Mozeliak wasn’t willing to rule out a continuation of what has been a productive relationship.
“Speaking in absolutes and saying there’s no chance of him coming back — I’m not prepared to do that,” said Mozeliak. “We haven’t had our offseason meetings.”
Ulimately, the Cards were never particularly likely to pick up the option for the veteran’s age-37 season at a heavy $17MM salary. But the decision to pay a $1MM buyout instead became clear given Holliday’s middling output and injury troubles down the stretch.
Holliday remains an above-average hitter, though his .242/.318/.450 batting line represents a rather stark falloff in overall productivity from the consistently excellent batting results he logged for most of a dozen prior seasons. With poorly-rated fielding and baserunning added to the uncertainty at the plate, the cost was just too great.
Still, there’s plenty of reason to think that Holliday could remain a useful player — even if a trip to the American League, with frequent or even full-time DH usage, makes the most sense at this stage. Odds are that there would be plenty of organizations with at least some interest in that kind of arrangement, particularly given the high regard in which Holliday is held around baseball.
For the Cards, who say they’re looking to improve on defense, Holliday is something of an odd fit moving forward. If he is willing to accept a reduced role, he might still remain a plenty useful piece by sharing time at first base, appearing occasionally in the corner outfield, and otherwise functioning as a bench bat. But regular playing time probably won’t be on the table, as the team seems lined up to add a replacement or instead to acquire a new center fielder while bumping Randal Grichuk to the corner.
It has been something of an odd final two seasons in St. Louis for Holliday. Both have been limited by injuries, and both have involved very different types of performance issues. Last year, his power disappeared, but he was able to maintain a robust .394 OBP. That mark fell by 76 points in 2016, but he significantly upped his power output (.450 slugging, 19 home runs).
No matter where things go from here, it has been a great run for Holliday with the Cards. In eight years and over 4,000 plate appearances, Holliday carries an outstanding .292/.379/.493 batting line with 155 long balls. Ultimately, he was worth every penny of the seven-year, $120MM contract he signed before the 2010 season.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. says that skipper Mike Matheny will remain at the club’s helm next year, as Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Matheny’s contract runs expires after 2017.
There had been at least some outside questions of Matheny’s status, given the Cards’ somewhat disappointing 82-75 mark with five games left to play. St. Louis is still battling for a Wild Card spot, of course — and the team has already qualified for the postseason in all four prior seasons of Matheny’s tenure — but never really competed this year in an NL Central that has been dominated by the rival Cubs.
“Mike’s done a really good job for us,” said DeWitt. “There’s no thought that we’re going to go in any different direction.” The owner went on to explain that Matheny remains “a great leader” who isn’t responsible for what has been “one of those years where things haven’t worked.”
GM John Mozeliak also expressed confidence in the organization’s dugout chief, saying that the 46-year-old Matheny can be unfairly blamed when things don’t go smoothly. “Mike takes a lot of heat, and I’ve defended him and I will continue to,” said Mozeliak. “I really feel like some of the things that we’re dealing with aren’t fair to put on the manager.”
It is certainly hard to argue with Matheny’s overall results, though obviously he was entrusted with a talented and veteran-laden ballclub. Still, the former big league backstop has received his share of criticism for in-game management, focused particularly on his use of the bullpen.
Clearly, though, the Cardinals’ top decisionmakers don’t feel that any shortcomings in those areas override Mathany’s track record and overall management of the club. That being said, it’s not clear that any new contract discussions will take place, and Matheny could enter the 2017 season managing for his future in the organization.