St. Louis Cardinals Rumors

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

Central Notes: Burnett, Kluber, Cardinals

A.J. Burnett will prove to be a bargain for the Pirates, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. The Pirates have a great record with recent free agents like Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez, and Burnett is still a strikeout pitcher. He’ll also be recovered from a hernia issue that dogged him in 2014, and he’ll have a more favorable ballpark and defense than he had in Philadelphia. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • Potential offseason extension candidates include NL Central and AL Central players like Josh Harrison of the Pirates, Corey Kluber of the Indians, and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas of the Royals, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes. It will be awhile before Kluber can really cash in on his AL Cy Young award win, Castrovince notes — he isn’t eligible for free agency until after 2018, by which point he’ll be heading into his age-33 season. Extending him now would give the Indians cost certainty through his arbitration seasons. As Castrovince points out, extensions for Harrison, Hosmer and Moustakas don’t appear that likely — the Pirates would probably like to see how Harrison performs in 2015, and Hosmer and Moustakas are represented by Scott Boras, who may prefer to see what his players might get in free agency in a few years. Also, neither Hosmer nor Moustakas were nearly as impressive in the regular season as they were in the playoffs.
  • GM John Mozeliak says the Cardinals aren’t heavily involved in the market for Asian players right now, Fangraphs’ David Laurila tweets. Mozeliak does add that the Cardinals can’t totally ignore that market, however. The GM’s answer came in response to a question about Japanese phenom Shohei Otani, who struck out 179 batters in 155 1/3 innings and threw 101 MPH as a pitcher, as well as hitting .274/.338/.505 as an outfielder for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. Otani is probably many years away from playing in the US, if he ever does, but MLB scouts are keeping an eye on him, for obvious reasons.

NL Notes: D’backs, Murphy, Rockies, Cards, Nats

Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa says he has hired Ed Lewis to take charge of the team’s analytical department, Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal reports on Twitter. Lewis is an old friend of La Russa’s who does stock market analytical work, the head D’backs baseball man tells Costa. The question whether and how the Arizona ballclub would incorporate analytics into its operations has been a topic of interest since even before La Russa’s hiring, and it will be interesting to see what this latest front office addition means for the team’s intentions.

Here are a few more stray notes from the National League:

  • The Mets do not have any near-term intentions to approach second baseman Daniel Murphy about a contract extension, GM Sandy Alderson tells ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin. At the same time, the team is “reluctant” to deal him away at present, said Alderson. That could change, of course, if the club adds a new shortstop or otherwise adds offense, per the report.
  • Rockies GM Jeff Bridich says that deciding whether to deal stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez is “not just a casual type of process” for the club, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports. Calling them “marquee” players, Bridich said it could be that other teams will not be willing to give up a haul that meets that lofty standard given both players’ injury issues. “We may or may not find out in the coming weeks,” he said. “Nothing of substance has taken place, so here we are.”
  • The Cardinals have “payroll muscle” at their disposal, GM John Mozeliak tells Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Though the team has no intentions of spending its money just to put it to use, Mozeliak says it will do so in the right circumstances: “You’re definitely right in the assessment that we do have resources. If adding a year or adding a higher [average salary] means a deal, yes, we’re capable of doing that as long as it stays within the parameters of being rational.”
  • Deciding to deal a high-performing veteran is a difficult decision in many circumstances, none more so than for a team that intends to contend. That is the strategic choice facing the Nationals, who have several top players entering their final year of team control. As I noted about ten days ago in my offseason outlook for the Nats, the concept of a trade (most likely involving Zimmermann) has to at least be entertained, particularly if a young middle infielder was part of the return, and GM Mike Rizzo sounds willing to consider anything. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post argues, quite validly, that this is not the time to be viewing the pitcher as an asset to be optimally leveraged, but rather an opportunity to push for the present (comfortable with the knowledge that a qualifying offer would still be available). Drew Fairservice of Fangraphs, meanwhile, proposes that the Nats should move the righty as a means not only of setting up for the future but also possibly addressing present needs (namely, second base).

NL East Notes: Desmond, Fish, Phils, Hamels, Braves, Medlen

The Nationals made Ian Desmond a seven-year, $107MM extension offer last year, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports, though that also included contract deferrals that would have reduced its true value. Negotiations are expected to pick back up in the months to come, per Kilgore, and that offer will presumably be the starting point. Desmond, who put up another strong year and is now one year away from the open market, is one key piece of the team’s increasingly pressing long-term strategic questions.

Here’s the latest out of the division:

  • The Marlins‘ interest in the starting pitching market is fairly diverse, as Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports. Possible trade targets range from buy-low (Ubaldo Jimenez) to buy-high (Johnny Cueto), and interest on the free agent markets includes Kyle Kendrick and Ervin Santana. The unifying force here is probably the expected ability of these varying arms to provide innings; as I noted yesterday, the Fish hope to add a solid, veteran presence to their staff.
  • Spencer also spoke with the Miami brass about Giancarlo Stanton, and discusses the team’s reasoning for trying to build a winner around him now, even if an extension cannot ultimately be worked out. “We’re trying to get away from that, that we have to trade everybody because they get expensive,” Hill said. “Enough of that. We want to win. We want to keep as many of our pieces as we can.”
  • There are “a lot of good fits” for Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd, who is likely to be traded, sources tell Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Philadelphia is seeing interest in Ben Revere as well.
  • Of course, the flashier chip for the Phils is lefty Cole Hamels. As Salisbury reports, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says “the free agent market will kind of dictate where this thing goes,” referring to the possibility of striking a deal. “[A]t some point the dominores will start to fall and then we’ll see where it takes us,” said Amaro, who notes that there is no need to deal Hamels since he “traverses the timeline” of contention that the club has in mind.
  • Hamels would prefer to be dealt, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Nightengale provides additional teams to which Hamels cannot decline a trade (on top of the previously-reported Cubs): the Yankees and Rangers are the two A.L. clubs, with the Dodgers, Nationals, Cardinals, Braves, and Padres among the National League teams.
  • The Braves increasingly sound inclined to aim for the near future, and we’ve already heard several prominent names listed as possible trade candidates. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman provides two more, via Twitter: reliever Jordan Walden (who projects to earn $3MM in arbitration) and young second baseman Tommy La Stella.
  • Braves president of baseball operations John Hart says the sides will “need to get creative” to work out a deal to keep Kris Medlen, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. While the team has every hope of keeping the righty, his second Tommy John procedure and $5.8MM projected arb price tag do not make for a straightforward situation given the team’s tight payroll. Sherman suggests that a significantly lower guarantee, combined with incentives and a 2016 option, could be palatable for both sides. It seems that Medlen would be able to do better, however, were he to force the Braves’ hand: he would either be tendered a contract, or hit the open market with plenty of suitors given his upside.


NL Central Notes: Zimmermann, Cards, Miller

A rumored deal of Jordan Zimmermann to the Cubs is reportedly not happening, which makes sense to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal since such a trade wouldn’t really be a fit for either the Cubs or the Nationals.  The Cubs are likely to address their pitching need by either signing a top free agent arm or trading one of their infield prospects for a controllable younger arm.  Dealing for Zimmermann would the Cubs to both give up prospects and spend big, Rosenthal notes, since Chicago would obviously want to sign the righty to a long-term extension.

Here’s some more from around the NL Central…

  • The Cardinals are wary of making commitments that will result in future roadblocks to upcoming younger players, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.  GM John Mozeliak notes that the team feels it could be “exposed” at first base or the corner outfield if it does not get the performances it hopes for, and is interested in left-handed relief help and a utility infielder.
  • In fact, the Cardinals met with representatives for Andrew Miller on Tuesday, Goold tweets. The meeting was characterized as exploratory in nature, though the fit is obvious.
  • Both the Cardinals and Reds had interest in Michael Cuddyer before he signed with the Mets, Goold reports in a separate piece.
  • Though the Reds are interested in Nori Aoki and Michael Morse, that is not an exclusive list, GM Walt Jocketty tells C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). The club’s top priority is adding offense, and it is considering trade scenarios in addition to looking at the free agent market.

Minor Moves: Castellanos, Cardinals

Today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The Mets announced that they’ve signed outfielder Alex Castellanos to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Castellanos, 28, has bounced around to many clubs on waivers over the past 18 months due to his strong Triple-A numbers. He’s a career .286/.372/.497 hitter at the Triple-A level, though he’s batted just .171/.186/.390 in 43 big league plate appearances.
  • The Cardinals have signed third baseman Scott Moore and right-handers Marcus Hatley and Miguel Socolovich to minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training, per the team’s transactions page. The 26-year-old Hatley has spent his whole career with the Cubs and has big strikeout numbers in Triple-A but a career ERA around 5.00 at that level. Moore, 30, has 152 games of MLB experience but hasn’t been in the Majors since 2012 with Houston. He hit .238/.326/.397 with the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate last year. Socolovich, 28, saw big league action with the Cubs and Orioles in 2012 and spent last year in the Mets’ system, posting a 3.64 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 59 1/3 innings of relief at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Cardinals Sign Dean Anna To Major League Deal

The Cardinals have signed 27-year-old infielder Dean Anna to a Major League contract, reports Chad Jennings of LoHud.com  (via Twitter).

Anna made his big league debut in 2014 with the Yankees, appearing in 12 games and totaling 25 plate appearances. He batted .136/.200/.318 with his first Major League homer in that time, and he also picked up an inning on the mound when he spared the Yankee bullpen by pitching an inning in a 16-1 blowout (he allowed two runs on three hits — no walks though!).

Anna is capable of playing shortstop, second base, third base and the corner outfield spots, having logged at least 50 games at each of those spots in the minors. He has an excellent track record at Triple-A, where he’s a lifetime .296/.385/.432 hitter in 823 plate appearances.


NL Central Links: Hamels, Cards, Cueto, Reds

The Cubs weren’t included on Cole Hamels‘ updated 20-team no-trade list, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter link).  The Cubs are known to be looking for top-of-the-rotation arms this winter, and the remaining four years/$96MM on Hamels’ contract would cost Chicago less than what it would take to sign a top free agent starter like Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.  On the other hand, the Cubs would have to give up multiple top prospects to obtain Hamels from the Phillies, so they could prefer to just keep their young talent and spend extra to sign a free agent ace.  The Red Sox are thus far the only team known to be on Hamels’ no-trade list.

Here’s more from around the NL Central…

  • Right field has sadly become an offseason concern for the Cardinals due to Oscar Taveras‘ untimely death, GM John Mozeliak told MLB.com’s Jen Langsoch.  “I think it certainly leaves that position in question,” Mozeliak said. “Clearly internally, we have [Randal] Grichuk and potentially [Stephen] Piscotty to fill that spot. I would also say that it does now force us to explore other options, whether it’s the free-agent market or the trade market….I’m not saying it’s a must, but I also think we need to be prudent and make sure that we understand what that landscape looks like.”  The Cards will explore both short-term and long-term options in RF, Mozeliak said.  Out of respect for Taveras, Mozeliak waited a week after the outfielder’s passing to begin making calls to agents and general managers, Langosch writes.
  • The Reds “are listening” to offers for their starting pitchers but ace Johnny Cueto seems the least likely to be moved, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports.  Cincinnati would probably have to be “absolutely overwhelmed” to deal Cueto, Heyman writes, as the team plans to contend in 2015.
  • Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan also hears that Cueto is unlikely to be traded, though rival executives tell Passan (Twitter link) that the Reds are willing to discuss trading Mat Latos and Mike Leake.
  • The Reds are “at [a] fascinating crossroads,” FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes in a series of tweets.  If the Reds deal Cueto, they might as well deal Aroldis Chapman too as part of a rebuild, Rosenthal opines.  Attendance and the fact that they’re hosting the All-Star Game could make 2015 a bit of a “buffer” year for the Reds, though Rosenthal points out that the team might not want to rebuild in a season when they’re hosting the Midsummer Classic.  Back in September, I explored Cincinnati’s trade options with their rotation members in a Trade Candidates piece.
  • Major League Baseball has opened an investigation into whether or not the Cubs tampered with Joe Maddon when he was still under contract with the Rays, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.  The Rays asked MLB to investigate last week.  “There was no tampering whatsoever,” Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters (including ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers).  “I’d rather they investigate so we can clear our name and move on from this quickly. We’re giving our full cooperation and we welcome it.”

Offseason Outlook: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals made it to the NLCS for the fourth straight year in 2014, but their season was overshadowed by Oscar Taveras‘ tragic death last month.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections by Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

One year after winning the NL Central with a 97-65 record, the Cardinals captured the division yet again, although this time they won 90 games and had to chase the Brewers most of the season. They also ran seven games ahead of their BaseRuns expected record, indicating that they weren’t as strong as they appeared.

Backing into a division championship betrays the kind of weakness many teams would love to have, of course, and the Cardinals’ 97-win season in 2013 was itself unsustainable, partially the result of a .330/.402/.463 line with runners in scoring position. Still, it’s worth looking closely at the Cards’ seven-win drop to see what it might mean going forward.

The 2014 Cardinals scored 160 runs fewer than the 2013 team did. Some offensive decline was inevitable, given the ’13 team’s hitting with scoring position and given that much of their 2013-14 offseason was dedicated to improving their defense — they let Carlos Beltran head to New York, signed veteran infielders Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis, traded David Freese for a good defensive outfielder in Peter Bourjos in a four-player deal, moved Matt Carpenter from second to third, and installed Kolten Wong at second. The moves worked, in a sense — the Cardinals’ team defensive efficiency improved from 21st in the Majors in 2013 to seventh in 2014. For all that, though, they actually allowed seven more runs than they did in 2013.

So what went wrong? Offensively, Taveras hit .239/.278/.312 in his first 248 plate appearances in the Majors. Outfielder Allen Craig had an awful half-season before being traded to Boston. Ellis batted a mere .180/.253/.213. And Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina, while strong overall, took significant steps backward. Among the Cardinals’ pitchers, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn had great seasons, but Shelby Miller often struggled, Michael Wacha only pitched 107 innings, and the team got disappointing work from Nick Greenwood, Kevin Siegrist, Jason Motte and Justin Masterson.

Of course, none of this means it’s likely the Cardinals will struggle next year, only that they had a merely good season, not a dominant one. They can expect more in 2015 out of some of the players who were disappointing or hurt, like Carpenter and Wacha. Others who struggled, like Craig, Ellis and Masterson, have already left the organization.

The Cardinals have finally graduated everyone who’s likely to contribute from their brilliant 2009 draft, so the flow of talent from their farm system might be about to slow down somewhat, but in the meantime, they’ll have plenty of controllable seasons from young or young-ish players like Carpenter, Miller, Wacha, Wong, Matt Adams, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, and they have talented veterans at most of their other key positions.

The Cardinals’ collection of position players therefore needs only minor tweaking. Infielder Daniel Descalso hit .242/.333/.311 in a 2014 season and also didn’t grade well defensively; the Cardinals have said they plan to tender him, although they could consider dealing him instead. If they do, they could make a small move to acquire another bench infielder to pair with Pete Kozma — Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who played at Class A+ and Double-A last season, could need more time in the minors.

The tragic death of Taveras, a potential superstar, hangs over the outfield. Potential right fielder Randal Grichuk is unestablished and center fielders Jon Jay (who had wrist surgery this month and is expected to be ready for spring training) and Bourjos have at times been inconsistent. The Cardinals can, however, combat uncertainty with numbers — in addition to Grichuk, Bourjos, Jay, and left fielder Matt Holliday, they have credible fill-ins in Thomas Pham and top prospect Stephen Piscotty. The Cards already traded Allen Craig, and there was talk could deal another outfielder this offseason. Taveras’ passing might change their thinking on that, however, and someone like Bourjos, slated to be Jay’s backup, might seem less replaceable now.

The rotation is set with Wainwright, Lynn, Miller, Wacha and John Lackey, who has indicated he’ll honor the contract option that will pay him a league-minimum salary in 2015. Wainwright recently had surgery to fix some irritation in his elbow, but he’s expected to be ready in time for spring training. Jaime Garcia, who has a year and two team options left on the four-year deal he signed in 2011, will also try to return from surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome (a surgery the Cardinals weren’t thrilled about). It’s unclear when Garcia will return, whether he can stay healthy for any significant period, and what the Cardinals might be getting even if he is, so they’ll likely treat any contribution from him as a bonus. If anything goes wrong with the other five, the Cardinals have solid depth, with 2013 first-rounder Marco Gonzales possibly being the first to get the call. Gonzales could also work in relief.

The bullpen is set to lose Pat Neshek (who pitched 67 1/3 terrific innings after the Cards signed him to a minor league deal in February), the oft-injured Motte, and not much else. The Cardinals aren’t likely to re-sign Neshek or Motte, although they aren’t ruling out possible returns for either one. Rosenthal will likely return to the closer’s role, perhaps with the goal of reducing his high walk totals while remaining hard to hit. Martinez, who spent a chunk of his 2014 season in the Cardinals’ rotation, will be back as well, along with Seth Maness.

Lefty Randy Choate will be in the final season of a three-year deal, although the Cardinals could trade Choate (who they use in a specialist role that doesn’t allow him to get the amount of work he desires) and either use Siegrist as their top lefty or acquire another arm from outside the organization. Lefties batted .091/.205/.147 off Choate last season, but righties hit .357/.458/.481. If the Cardinals do look for a lefty pitcher, someone like Zach Duke or Neal Cotts, who are both usable against right-handed batters, might make sense. (Andrew Miller is also available, although at a significantly higher price.) Righty Sam Tuivailala, a third-round draft pick in 2010, could be the next hard thrower to make an impact in the Cardinals bullpen — he carved up Class A+ and Double-A this season, then threw 97 MPH in a couple September appearances in the big leagues.

Unlike last winter, when the Cardinals had an obvious hole at shortstop (which they filled with Jhonny Peralta, a signing that has gone brilliantly so far), this year the Cards don’t have many clear needs. They could therefore do most of their offseason shopping via small moves made on the trade market. Players like Descalso and Choate have limited value, but the Cardinals might be able to significantly upgrade somewhere by dealing an outfielder. They have expressed interest in finding a righty first baseman to pair with Adams, who posted a .528 OPS against lefties last year. Someone like Eric Campbell of the Mets or Tommy Medica of the Padres might fit the bill, or perhaps a Triple-A slugger like Jesus Aguilar of the Indians.

The Cardinals also could try to extend Lynn this offseason. They’re also planning to significantly increase payroll in the next several seasons, perhaps accounting for increased salaries for players like Lynn, Miller, Adams and Rosenthal, along with already-set increases for Carpenter. Even so, the Cardinals are in a good position going forward, since their deals for Wainwright, Holliday, Molina and Peralta aren’t backloaded. Eventually, the Cardinals might have to grapple with how long they’ll be able to depend on veterans like Wainwright, Molina and Peralta, but with that collection of stars and a large group of good, cheap players from their farm system, they appear set to contend again in 2015.

The Cardinals’ brief offseason has already been touched by tragedy. The sudden deaths of Taveras and his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo were awful not only for the Cardinals, but for Taveras’ home country. It’s impossible to know how the team might respond on the field, and that sort of speculation is outside MLBTR’s purview anyway. It seems early even to acknowledge, as we do here, that the organization will go on, and will pursue an offseason plan based partially upon the reality that it just lost a player in the worst way possible. Some things are bigger than baseball. Here’s wishing the Cardinals the best as they begin what will be a difficult winter.


Rockies Claim Jorge Rondon; Designate Rob Scahill

The Rockies announced today (on Twitter) that they have claimed right-hander Jorge Rondon off waivers from the Cardinals and designated fellow righty Rob Scahill for assignment.

The 26-year-old Rondon made his big league debut in 2014, firing one scoreless inning in his lone appearance. The rest of the season was spent at the Triple-A level for Rondon, where he pitched to a 3.03 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 62 1/3 innings of relief work.

Prior to the 2013 season, Baseball America ranked Rondon as the Cards’ No. 24 prospect and graded his slider as the best in the Cardinals’ minor league system. Per BA’s scouting report from that timeframe, Rondon’s fastball has touched 100 mph, but he struggles with his command at times, particularly when he reaches back to get extra life on the previously mentioned heater. He figures to compete for a bullpen job with Colorado next spring.

Scahill, 27, totaled a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings with the Rockies this season and has pitched to a 4.42 ERA in 57 frames with the Rockies over the past three years. He’s averaged 5.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in the Majors while featuring solid life on his fastball — an average of 94.4 mph.


Nationals Claim Eric Fornataro From Cardinals

The Nationals announced that they’ve claimed 26-year-old right-handed reliever Eric Fornataro off waivers from the Cardinals.

Fornataro, a sixth-round draft pick by the Redbirds in 2008, made his Major League debut this season, allowing five earned runs on 11 hits and a walk with three strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. His average fastball checked in at a solid 92.8 mph in that time, and he registered a 51.4 percent ground-ball rate in that small sample as well.

The rest of Fornataro’s season was spent at Triple-A Memphis, where in 56 innings he posted a 2.57 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9, though it’s worth noting that at least part of his success was due to a likely unsustainable .254 BABIP.

Baseball America once ranked Fornataro 21st among Cardinals farmhands, writing prior to the 2013 season that his velocity jumped up into the 96-98 mph range and touched 99 on occasion following a move to the bullpen. BA praised his curve more than his splitter, adding that he tends to get grounders in bulk when he’s throwing well.