- Injuries have done a number on the Cardinals’ minor league pitching depth, Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, as Marco Gonzales is considering elbow surgery and Tim Cooney has been battling with a sore shoulder. “When you look at what we have going on at [Triple-A] Memphis, it’s not as strong as we thought we were. But, that’s not to say we are in a panic mode by any means,” Cards GM John Mozeliak said, noting that top prospect Alex Reyes could be an option in a couple of months. Reyes is currently serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for marijuana in November. Mozeliak also provides updates on a few other injured Cardinals within Frederickson’s piece.
- Cardinals lefty Marco Gonzales is deciding whether to undergo elbow surgery after consulting with doctors, including renowned orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache, tweets Saxon. It’s unknown what type of surgery Gonzales is considering, writes Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. If the 24-year-old undergoes Tommy John surgery, he’d face a 12- to 18-month recovery, Langosch notes. Prior to notifying the Cardinals’ medical staff of elbow discomfort during the final week of Spring Training, Gonzales was expected to serve as rotation depth for the club this season. Gonzales, who dealt with shoulder issues last season, has logged a 4.82 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against 5.3 BB/9 in 37 1/3 MLB innings.
Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts has changed agencies, staying with his representative — Steve Veltman — as he moved to The Legacy Agency, as Robert Murray of Baseball Essential was first to report (via Twitter). He’s not alone, as players including Jonathan Schoop of the Orioles and Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks are also making the move, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports, with player rep Ed Cerulo accompanying Veltman to a new home.
Betts, still just 23, has emerged as one of the game’s most exciting young talents. He followed up a highly promising partial season in 2014 with an outstanding campaign last year in which he put up a .291/.341/.479 slash over 654 plate appearances with 18 home runs and 21 steals. Of course, Betts is also a high-quality and versatile fielder and excellent baserunner.
Boston has plenty of cheap control remaining, as Betts won’t even reach arbitration eligibility until 2018 and doesn’t stand to hit the open market until 2021. He certainly profiles as an extension candidate, though, and his new agency will quite possibly field interest from the Sox.
Other quality 1+ outfielders have signed lengthy deals — including, recently, Gregory Polanco ($35MM) and Christian Yelich ($49.57MM) — but it seems fair to expect that Betts would command a good bit more given the floor and ceiling he’s shown to this point. And the price will likely only rise, as his service clock continues to run and he pads the stat sheet.
Schoop and Ray also rate as promising young players, but have more to prove at this stage than Betts. Other big leaguers joining The Legacy Agency, per Rosenthal, include Cody Anderson and Rajai Davis (Indians), Trevor May (Twins), Kevin Siegrist (Cardinals), Carter Capps (Marlins), Jerad Eickhoff (Phillies), and Tony Wolters (Rockies). Several unnamed prospects are also changing agencies.
As always, you can find reported player representation in MLBTR’s Agency Database.
The Orioles announced this morning that they’ve acquired left-hander Jayson Aquino from the Cardinals in exchange for cash considerations. Aquino, who turned 23 in November, was on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster and will therefore bring the Orioles’ 40-man roster count to 38. Per the O’s, the newly acquired southpaw has been optioned to Double-A Bowie.
Though Aquino has never pitched in a big league game, he’s an intriguing enough arm that he’s made his way around the league on the fringes of multiple 40-man rosters. Originally signed as an international free agent by the Rockies in 2010, Aquino was designated for assignment by Colorado in January 2015 and traded to the Blue Jays shortly thereafter. The Jays designated Aquino in May and traded him to the Pirates (also for cash), who subsequently flipped him to the Indians on July 31 (once again, for cash considerations). Upon being designated by the Indians this offseason, Aquino was claimed by the Cardinals. While Aquino has been designated several times over the past 15 months, the fact that he’s only been exposed to waivers once (and didn’t clear) indicates that a number of clubs believe that he has enough upside to merit placement on a 40-man roster.
Last season, Aquino split the season between the Class-A Advanced affiliates of the Blue Jays, Indians and Pirates, working to a combined 3.80 ERA with 5.6 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 in 137 1/3 innings. Baseball America ranked Aquino near the back end of Colorado’s Top 30 prospects four times during his Rockies tenure, most recently praising a “well above average” changeup but noting that he throws the pitch too often and doesn’t field his position or hold runners well. The southpaw works in the upper 80s with his fastball, per BA, and also features a solid-average curveball.
- Cardinals lefty Marco Gonzales is being assessed for a left elbow injury, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. The 24-year-old is slated to visit orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache — one of the foremost experts on pitching elbows — for a second opinion. Per GM John Mozeliak, Gonzales did not report discomfort until after he had been moved to minor league camp this spring, which might suggest that the club will be able to avoid allowing Gonzales to accrue service time during any DL stint. The young southpaw has previously battled through shoulder issues, but this appears to be a new problem. Though he’s only managed a 4.82 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against 5.3 BB/9 over his 37 1/3 MLB innings, Gonzales had been expected to factor into the club’s major league rotation depth in 2016 and beyond.
- In other Cardinals injury news, reserve backstop Brayan Pena is expected to miss a month after undergoing knee surgery, Langosch reports. While there was some positive news, in that no additional problems were discovered beyond the loose piece of cartilage that had been identified, the absence is somewhat longer than had been hoped. Eric Fryer will hold down the fort in Pena’s stead, but certainly the Cards will look forward to Pena’s return, having signed him to a two-year, $5MM deal before the season.
- The Diamondbacks and Cardinals are potential fits for center fielder Michael Bourn, tweets Heyman. The 33-year-old Bourn was recently designated for assignment by Atlanta and could be had for the league minimum if he is ultimately released, as the Braves and Indians would be on the hook for the remainder of the veteran’s $14MM salary. (The Braves, of course, could try to find a taker in the meantime, although they were unsuccessful in that effort this winter.) The D-backs recently lost an elite center fielder to injury in the form of A.J. Pollock and have been linked to Bourn on multiple occasions since that news. St. Louis, meanwhile, is relying on a pair of largely inexperienced outfielders in Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, and the Cards also recently placed backup Tommy Pham on the disabled list with an oblique injury.
- Cardinals backup catcher Brayan Pena will begin the season on the DL and will require surgery to remove a body from his left knee, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes (Twitter links). That means the Cardinals will add minor-league signee Eric Fryer to their roster to serve as their backup catcher until Pena can return, which should take two to four weeks. The 30-year-old Fryer played most of last season with Triple-A Rochester in the Twins system, batting .293/.367/.360. He’s appeared in bits of five big-league seasons with the Pirates and Twins.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.
After a winter in which they dealt with several significant losses, last year’s winningest team will try to regroup for 2016.
Major League Signings
- P Mike Leake: five years, $80MM (plus 2021 mutual option)
- P Jonathan Broxton: two years, $7.5MM
- C Brayan Pena: two years, $5MM
- P Seung-Hwan Oh: one year, ~$5MM (plus 2017 option)
- SS Ruben Tejada: one year, $1.5MM
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades And Claims
- Acquired IF Jedd Gyorko and cash from Padres for OF Jon Jay
- Acquired SS Jose Martinez from Royals for C Tony Cruz
- Claimed P Jayson Aquino from Indians
- Selected P Matthew Bowman from Mets in the Rule 5 Draft
- Kolten Wong, 2B: five years, $25.5MM (plus 2021 option)
- Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Jay, Steve Cishek, Peter Bourjos, Randy Choate, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Villanueva, Cruz
A variety of departures and injury issues had the Cardinals playing catch-up this offseason. They tried to retain star outfielder Jason Heyward with an offer for a greater total value than the deal Heyward eventually received, but were dealt a serious blow when Heyward instead picked the Cardinals’ division rivals in Chicago. The Cards were briefly connected to Alex Gordon, but instead chose to focus on other needs, going with Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty in the outfield and Brandon Moss and Matt Adams at first.
In the rotation, one top starter, John Lackey, left via free agency. Then, in early November, the team announced that another top starter, Lance Lynn, had undergone Tommy John surgery. Those losses left the Cards with significant holes at the top of their rotation. They aimed high, making a serious bid for David Price, but they lost out to the Red Sox and ended up signing Mike Leake (pictured) instead.
$80MM for a seemingly mid-grade starting pitcher like Leake seems like a lot, but perhaps it isn’t in an offseason in which Jeff Samardzija, Wei-Yin Chen and Ian Kennedy all received comparable amounts. (MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicted Leake’s $80MM contract exactly.) The 28-year-old Leake is easily the youngest of the four, and the Cardinals are effectively buying his late-prime years, at least in theory. Also, he has a strong health record, and his good control, ground-ball tendencies and strong hitting give him a high floor. Leake’s $80MM price tag reflects an escalation in starting pitcher salaries, but it’s also a reflection of Leake’s abilities, which are considerable, even if he isn’t as flashy as many of this winter’s other rotation options were.
The Cardinals’ other big-league signings were less significant, although they took steps to improve their bullpen. They re-signed Jonathan Broxton to a two-year deal after trading for him last July. The last several seasons of Broxton’s career have been spotty at times, and he struggled in 2015 with Milwaukee before being dealt to St. Louis, but he whiffed 9.4 batters per nine innings last year and still has mid-90s velocity. He should be in the Cardinals’ late-inning mix.
Joining him in that mix will be Seung-Hwan Oh, who’s making the leap to the US after nine seasons in his native Korea and two in Japan. Oh was a highly effective closer in both the KBO and the NPB, racking up a total of 357 saves between the two leagues and posting a career 1.81 ERA, 10.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. The details of Oh’s contract still haven’t been released, but it reportedly guarantees about $5MM, with the chance to increase to $11MM over two years if Oh clears his incentives and the Cardinals pick up his 2017 option. That price would be a relative pittance for an everyday player, but it’s a significant commitment for a reliever, so the Cardinals seem to be banking on Oh being a key contributor to their bullpen.
Between Broxton, Oh and whatever they can get out of Jordan Walden (who’s currently struggling with what appears to be a continuation of the shoulder issues that cost him most of last season), the Cards’ bullpen could look quite different in 2016 than it did for most of last year, though it will also feature holdovers Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and lefties Kevin Siegrist and Tyler Lyons (who’s out of options). Rule 5 pick Matt Bowman will reportedly get an opportunity in Walden’s absence.
Elsewhere, the Cardinals dropped light-hitting backup catcher Tony Cruz and replaced him with Brayan Pena, a competent but forgettable second catcher who signed a cheap two-year deal. In Spring Training, a late-breaking thumb injury to starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta forced the Cards to sign Ruben Tejada to a one-year, $1.5MM contract. Tejada is hardly a world-beater, but for the Cardinals to get a decent defensive shortstop with on-base ability after losing their shortstop in March rated as a minor coup at the time — Tejada is a credible big-league starter who only became available once the Mets released him, and in many seasons, it would have been hard for a suddenly-injury-ravaged team to find someone as good as Tejada without giving up any trade assets. Of course, Tejada went down with a quadriceps strain this week and will join Peralta on the DL to start the season.
The Cardinals also signed second baseman Kolten Wong to a five-year, $25.5MM deal that begins in 2016 and includes an option for 2021. The deal allows the Cards to control Wong for an extra two seasons through age 30 (since he would have been eligible for free agency after 2019), while providing Wong financial security. Wong doesn’t profile as a star, but he’s a solid defender and a good baserunner, and he provides enough offense that ensuring two extra years of his services on a relatively cheap extension seems like a reasonably low-downside gamble.
More analysis after the jump.
- The Cardinals aren’t looking for outside help at shortstop in the wake of Ruben Tejada’s injury, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Instead, the Redbirds will at least wait until they have a better understanding of Tejada’s status. He’ll start the season on the disabled list with a muscle strain in his left quadriceps, leaving Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia as the Cardinals’ options at the major league level. They also have Aledmys Diaz of Triple-A Memphis as a potential call-up.
Cardinals shortstop Ruben Tejada left Thursday’s game with a muscle strain in his left quadriceps and will begin the season on the disabled list, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link). As a result, both infielder Greg Garcia and outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker have made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com tweets. Tejada’s injury is the latest unfortunate news at shortstop for the Cardinals, who signed the ex-Met earlier this month to replace the injured Jhonny Peralta. With Tejada on the shelf, the Cardinals are expected to start Jedd Gyorko at short in their Sunday opener against Pittsburgh, Goold writes. Garcia, meanwhile, has dealt with his own injury – a sore knee – and put up a meager .289 slugging percentage in 52 plate appearances this spring. Hazelbaker has been far more successful at the plate, amassing a .300/.364/.500 line in 44 PAs. The 28-year-old, a longtime minor leaguer, will finally have a chance to see his first major league action since Boston took him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.