St. Louis Cardinals Rumors
The Cardinals have announced that they are cutting ties with Dr. George Paletta, an orthopedic surgeon who had served as the club's medical director since 1998, in favor of a relationship with Mercy Sports Medicine, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. GM John Mozeliak made it clear that the team expects to reap dividends from the move. "The Mercy Sports Medicine model allows us to improve the level of innovative care available to our team by tapping into a remarkable team of physicians who are leaders in sports medicine," explained Mozeliak. "The biggest change I see with the approach is that it is truly a team model -- a model that leverages the strengths of multiple physicians within the Mercy Sports Medicine group. This is a strategic plan that will handle our short-term needs, but also focus on long-term goals." As Strauss notes, St. Louis has undergone a series of changes in its medical and training departments.
- One notable injury situation for the Cards is that of starter Jaime Garcia. As Strauss reports, Garcia says he has "never" been able to pitch with complete freedom due to ongoing elbow and then shoulder issues, but is ready to move forward as best he is able. "What I have to learn now is that fine line where you can go out and compete and the point where you can't," said the 27-year-old. "It's not about feeling 100 percent. It's not about feeling great. That's not the case. It never will be. It's a matter of finding something that allows you go compete."
- We learned earlier today that the Pirates could be looking to deal outfielder Jose Tabata and are willing to listen on reliever Vin Mazzaro. Also potentially available is outfielder Travis Snider, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review further reports. Though Biertempfel says that the willingness to deal Snider is somewhat surprising since he has looked good, dropped some weight, and brings some upside to the table, he notes that those factors also potentially increase his trade value. While clearing out corner outfield inventory would ultimately make way for the call-up of top prospect Gregory Polanco, Biertempfel says that the team is still likely to let Polanco spend some time at Triple-A and avoid starting his service clock soon enough for him to become a Super Two.
Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review chronicles the rise of Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco, who signed in 2009 as a skinny 17-year-old. Polanco is now 6'5" and 230 pounds, and walked as often as he struck out in Double-A last season. The outfielder's speed, despite his tremendous size, stands out, says Pirates Latin American Scouting Director Rene Gayo. "Guys that big don't move that fast," Gayo said. "You're basically looking at a guy the size of Jim Thome running around." Here are more Central notes:
- In an honest, open interview with ESPN's Jayson Stark, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny says he regrets not doing more to publicize the dangers of concussions as a player. Concussions ended his career as a big league backstop. "I did a very poor job, at the end of my career, of really telling people how weird and how tough the circumstances were for me after getting that last concussion, how that impacted my life," Matheny said. He's since been one of baseball's loudest voices in arguing for a total ban of home-plate collisions, Stark writes.
- The Twins are aware that they're among a dwindling group of clubs that are comfortable giving long-term deals to closers, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Glen Perkins' four-year, $22.175 million deal, which guarantees him two years and $14.1MM in new money, ranks him beneath only Craig Kimbrel and Jonathan Papelbon in terms of contract size for an MLB closer.
Coming off a World Series appeareance in 2013, the Cardinals decisively addressed their few obvious needs and now head into 2014 with a better defense and a good bat at shortstop.
Major League Signings
- Jhonny Peralta, SS: four years, $53MM.
- Aledmys Diaz, IF: four years, $8MM.
- Mark Ellis, IF: one year, $5.25MM.
- Total spend: $66.25MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
- Traded 3B David Freese and RP Fernando Salas to the Angels for OF Peter Bourjos and OF Randal Grichuk.
- Claimed OF Rafael Ortega from the Rangers.
- Matt Carpenter, INF: six years, $52MM, with a 2020 club option
Peralta, the Cardinals' key offseason addition, may be due for a downswing after a .374 BABIP in 2013, but he'll likely still provide a big offensive boost over Pete Kozma, who was a hole in a strong 2013 lineup. Peralta also has long posted surprisingly good defensive numbers. At $53MM, Peralta wasn't cheap, particularly in light of the complete absence of a market for Stephen Drew, but he was one of the top players on the shortstop market, and the Cardinals badly needed an upgrade. Kolten Wong appears to be the Cardinals' second baseman of the future, with 2013 MVP candidate Matt Carpenter moving to third, but the Cards also added Ellis in case Wong isn't yet ready to step in.
Aledmys Diaz's future role with the Cardinals is less clear, given that the team already appeared to be set in the infield at the time of his signing, but he should provide depth, at the very least, in the near future. The Cardinals plan to have him start the season at Double-A, so it will likely be awhile before he makes an impact at the big-league level. Some scouts feel the 23-year-old Diaz may be stretched as a full-time shortstop, but he could play solid defense at second while hitting for average.
After moving Carpenter to third base, the Cardinals rewarded him for his excellent 2013 season with a six-year extension that bought out his last four years of team control and two free-agent seasons, with an option for a third. The signing, while not a huge overpay, is a gamble. Carpenter started his big-league career rather late and had already been under control through his age-31 season, so his contract buys out his age-32 and age-33 seasons, when he might be past his peak.
Not many. The Cardinals hardly bothered to address their pitching staff this offseason, probably (and sensibly) figuring that a rotation topped by Adam Wainwright and young guns Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller and a bullpen headed by young flame-throwers Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez was more than good enough on its own. (Martinez is also still a candidate to start.)
Offensively, it's unclear how much Bourjos and Wong will hit, but Bourjos' defense helps compensate for any offensive troubles, and Ellis is a very strong backup plan if Wong doesn't settle in. The Cardinals' offensive depth should give them decent options at nearly any position if there's an issue (with the possible exception of catcher, should Yadier Molina suffer a significant injury).
Deal of Note
The Cardinals' trade of David Freese and Fernando Salas for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk quietly addressed several issues in one fell swoop, no small feat for an organization that didn't have many issues to begin with. The Cardinals' outfield defense was probably an even bigger weakness than the shortstop position last season. They had aging veterans Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran in the corner outfield positions, with Jon Jay frequently looking like a fish out of water in center field. The three combined for -28.1 UZR in 2013.
The Cardinals let Beltran go to the Yankees, and they'll miss his bat, but the playing time top prospect Oscar Taveras will likely receive in his absence is a nice consolation prize. (Allen Craig will also likely receive playing time in right, especially at the start of the season -- the Cardinals have already optioned Taveras to the minors after a spring training fraught with hamstring issues.) Jay will return, now in a reserve role. And Bourjos will provide an enormous defensive upgrade in center field. He's a ground-ball hitter who will likely be decent at best offensively, but if he's ten runs above average with the glove, he won't need to hit much. Meanwhile, trading Freese -- also likely a below-average defensive player, particularly going forward -- cleared the way for the Cardinals to install defensive upgrades at both third and second. The Cardinals also plan to use more shifts in 2014.
What do you get for the team that has everything? The Cardinals' only major weaknesses last season were shortstop and defense, and GM John Mozeliak addressed both this offseason. With Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal (neither of whom played for the Cardinals in 2013) coming off the payroll along with Beltran and Jake Westbook, the Cardinals had plenty of payroll space, and not much that they needed to spend it on.
The Cardinals do, of course, have a core of veteran stars in Wainwright ($19.5MM in 2014), Holliday ($17MM) and Molina ($15MM). But their flexibility stems from an army of effective homegrown players each making less than $4MM in 2014: Matt Carpenter (7.0 fWAR in 2013), Lance Lynn (3.3), Craig (2.6), Rosenthal (2.2), Miller (2.1), Jay (1.9), Matt Adams (1.7) and Wacha (1.1). That's the function not only of good scouting and development systems, but also simply a lot of talent getting to the Majors at the same time. The Cardinals' 2009 draft, which produced Carpenter, Rosenthal, Miller, Adams and pitcher Joe Kelly, was one of the best drafts in recent memory, and now the Cards are reaping the benefits. Those five players produced almost 14 WAR for a total of about $2.5MM in 2013, and it's hard not to pile up wins with that kind of head start.
That advantage will shrink in the coming years as those players become more expensive, but the Cardinals farm system can continue to augment a winning team, and Taveras and Wong, who could help this year's club, are no slouches. Taveras is still fighting to stay healthy, but whenever he ends up in the big leagues, he's a great bet to hit for average and probably also for power. Wong doesn't have Taveras' superstar upside, but he profiles as a solid contributor at second base.
After a strong offseason, the Cardinals have enough talent to make another playoff run. That their top competitors in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati shed talent (with the Pirates losing A.J. Burnett and the Reds losing Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo) should only help, and so the Cardinals enter the season as favorites to win the NL Central.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Baseball America's Matt Eddy's latest piece is a fascinating look back at the history of platoon usage in Major League Baseball and the increasing role of specialized relievers in Major League bullpens. Last season, more pure left-handed relievers (i.e. lefties who made zero starts) appeared in a season than any year in Major League history. Eddy's piece is rife with tables and charts to provide the breakdown on the numbers behind left-on-left matchups as opposed to right-on-right matchups (not surprisingly, the former leans more heavily in the pitcher's favor) and is well worth the read. Here are some more links from around the league for some late-night Thursday reading...
- The Cardinals optioned top prospect Oscar Taveras to Triple-A today, putting an early end to a Spring Training that didn't allow him to fully showcase his talents, writes MLB.com's Jen Langosch. Taveras received just six plate appearances in a pair of games after sitting out the first week due to what Langosch calls "hesitancy to fully trust his surgically repaired right ankle." He also left his second and final Spring Training game with a minor hamstring injury.
- Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley is well ahead of schedule in his rehab from Tommy John surgery and could be ready to pitch in the Majors as soon as late April, reports ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon. Billingsley will face live hitters next week and begin a minor league rehab assignment on April 3. Billingsley's return further crowds the competition for the team's fifth starter. Josh Beckett or Paul Maholm figures to occupy that role to open the season.
- Right-hander Todd Coffey has drawn interest from as many as nine to 10 teams and expects to sign right around Opening Day, according to MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). Coffey is currently throwing 91 to 92 mph in bullpen sessions, he adds. Coffey last pitched in the Majors for the Dodgers in 2012.
- Cotillo also tweets that free agent catcher Kelly Shoppach is looking to play in 2014 "if the right situation/opportunity presents itself." The 33-year-old isn't close to a deal at this time. He slashed just .199/.288/.339 in 127 PAs between the Mariners and Indians last season.
- Lastly, Cotillo tweets that former AL Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa, now 34, is seeking a minor league deal to return to affiliated baseball. Berroa spent 2012 playing independent ball and was in the Mexican League last season, where he slashed .293/.362/.462 in 460 trips to the plate.
Two-sport stars do not always choose baseball, but those who do tend to cite the better financial prospects from the player's perspective, writes USA Today's Gabe Lacques. Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley, for example, says it was hard to turn down the chance to be "a legend" by playing quarterback for Oklahoma, but his awareness of the lack of guaranteed money and attrition in football led him to take a $5MM signing bonus. Billy Hamilton and Carl Crawford are other players quoted in the article who do note regret their choice. "Look, there's way more money in baseball," says Cubs president Theo Epstein. "We have to do a better job as an industry in promulgating that fact." Or, as Bradley puts things, "obviously, guaranteed money is never a bad thing."
Here are a few more stray notes from the day:
- Longtime Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter says he is at peace with his decision to hang up his spikes, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The 38-year-old says that, after working out over the winter, he knew it was time: "It's not going to work," he realized. "No matter how hard I push it's just not going to happen." Carpenter and GM John Mozeliak are still sorting out what role he will play in the organization going forward.
- Veteran hurler Joel Pineiro is still working on his comeback, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. He showed off his form a few days back in front of at least a dozen teams' representatives. The 35-year-old righty has played in parts of twelve MLB campaigns, posting a lifetime 4.41 ERA over 1,754 1/3 innings, but has not pitched in the bigs since 2011.
- Another familiar arm, Aaron Cook, is now pumping the brakes on his own attempt at a return, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. Though he is not retiring, Cook is reportedly unlikely to pitch in the coming season. The 35-year-old has a career stat-line not unlike that of Pineiro, with a 4.60 ERA over 1,406 1/3 frames in parts of 11 seasons. After developing into a solid innings-eater in his late twenties, Cook's production took a distinct downturn over the 2010-12 campaigns.
WEDNESDAY: Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel tweets the breakdown of Diaz's contract: he receives a $2MM signing bonus before earning $500K in 2014, $1.5MM in 2015 and $2MM in 2016-17.
MONDAY: Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (via Twitter) that Diaz's deal was worth just $8MM -- a significant departure from his initial goals.
SUNDAY, 4:20pm: The contract is worth less than $20MM, tweets FOXSports' Jon Paul Morosi.
12:35pm: The Cardinals have signed Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz, USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweets. Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan tweets that it's a four-year deal. Diaz will report to spring training tomorrow. Diaz is represented by Jaime Torres.
"We have been following Aledmys for quite some time," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said in a statement. "His signing marks a significant benchmark for the Cardinals in the international arena, and we are excited to have reached this agreement."
Terms of the deal are unclear, but there has been some speculation that Diaz could receive a deal slightly larger than those signed by fellow Cuban infielders Erisbel Arruebarrena and Alexander Guerrero of the Dodgers. Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel suggests Diaz could get $5MM-7MM per season.
McDaniel also suggests Diaz should hit well for average, but with below-average power. He reportedly isn't a strong defensive shortstop, but he could be better at second base. Whether Diaz can play shortstop regularly may not be a huge issue for the Cardinals anyway, at least not in the short term, since they signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53MM deal this offseason. The Cardinals currently have Kolten Wong penciled in as their starter at second base, with Matt Carpenter (who signed a six-year, $52MM extension only yesterday) at third and Mark Ellis as a key infield backup.
Diaz worked out for the Cardinals last month and, per a tweet from MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, the Cubs this past Wednesday. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets the Padres made a run at the 23-year-old, who had also been connected to the Giants, Blue Jays, Yankees, Phillies, Mariners, Braves and Athletics. Besides the Cardinals, Diaz had received offers from five other clubs, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.
Edward Creech contributed to this post.
One of the keys to success for last year's Pirates ballclub was its ability both to generate ground balls and convert them into outs. It all started with a pitching staff that had far and away the highest ground-ball rate (52.5%) in the big leagues. Featuring prominently in the repertoire of several Bucs hurlers, of course, was the sinker. As Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com found when he investigated, those sinkers come in many different varieties. He provides a fascinating breakdown of the pitch from the perspective of Pirates players and coaches (including many staff members and catcher Russell Martin). Here's more from the National League:
- With just two weeks left in camp and top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras still working his way back, there is now little chance that he'll come north with the Cardinals for Opening Day, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Of course, that was the likely outcome from the get-go, as St. Louis has a keen interest in delaying his service clock to gain another season of control and minimize the likelihood of a Super Two qualification.
- The Phillies outrighted righty Michael Stutes off of the club's 40-man roster to begin making room for non-roster invites, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Struggling to regain velocity after a series of shoulder issues, Stutes had to clear waivers to be stashed in the minors.
- Though it may yet be a longshot, the Mets have begun working out Wilmer Flores at short, reports Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. With continuing uncertainty as to whether Ruben Tejada can be relied on as an everyday option, DiComo says the team is "overturning every stone on their 40-man roster" to find a solution. Of course, that does not mean that Flores is a serious possibility to man the job for the coming season, but he could be a more attractive big league piece if he could spend some time at short.
- As I recently noted in the club's offseason review, the Diamondbacks have not conclusively addressed their backup catching situation. They are among the teams taking a hard look at Francisco Cervelli of the Yankees, reports George A. King III of the New York Post.
New Cardinals prospect Aledmys Diaz participated in team drills with the club on Monday but will return to Mexico next week to receive a work visa that will allow him to compete in Spring Training games, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. GM John Mozeliak said the club will have Diaz focus on shortstop rather than trying to carve out a utility role. However, asked about the overlap between Diaz's contract and that of fellow offseason signee Jhonny Peralta, Mozeliak simply said, "Jhonny Peralta is our shortstop. We think he's really good."
Here's more from baseball's Central divisions...
- The Post-Dispatch's Rick Hummel writes that the Cardinals were Missouri native Max Scherzer's dream team growing up. Scherzer told Hummel he always envisioned playing for the Cards as a kid, and he had the chance to do so when St. Louis drafted him in the 43rd round out of high school. However, Scherzer honored his commitment to Mizzou and now doesn't think about his old Cardinals aspirations: "The thing is that now I’ve gotten to the big leagues and I’m in this position, it’s really hard to still dream about that when you’ve got this clubhouse and you look around and see Miguel Cabrera. You see the talent here. This clubhouse can win and it’s so much fun. This is my dream now, playing with the Tigers."
- Left-hander Chris Capuano told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Twins showed some early interest in him, but that interest seemed to dry up after the team re-signed Mike Pelfrey in December (Twitter link).
- Indians manager Terry Francona spoke with reporters, including Zack Meisel of the Northeat Ohio Media Group, and said that he would be lying if he knew what the team's third base plans were this coming season. Reports have pegged Carlos Santana as uncomfortable at the position to date. Francona also said he thinks David Murphy will be an excellent addition to the team, adding that Cleveland was able to get him due to a down year in 2013: "If he would've had his normal year, he probably wouldn't have been as available."
- Phil Coke has struggled this spring, and this could be a big week for him, writes MLB.com's Jason Beck. The Tigers can cut ties with Coke this week and only owe him $316K of the $1.9MM the two sides agreed to in arbitration. However, Beck expects Coke to hang around at least until the end of Spring Training; Detroit would only owe him $475K were they to cut him at that point. Detroit made a similar move with Brennan Boesch last spring, and Casey Crosby's return from injury gives the team another left-handed option out of the bullpen. MLive.com's Chris Iott also expects Coke to hang around beyond Wednesday's deadline.
In an interesting piece for Sports Illustrated, Richard Deitsch posed a range questions to a group of five outstanding baseball writers -- Jay Jaffe of SI.com, La Velle Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle -- who represent different aspects of the baseball media sphere. Here are some more links from the day:
- Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz could be had via trade, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The "progress" of Ryan Kalish makes that a possibility, says Morosi. Schierholtz is owed $5MM this year before qualifying for free agency. As Moroso mentions, the Tigers are a club that could hypothetically be interested in Schierholtz given the injury to Andy Dirks.
- The Cardinals introduced new infielder Aledmys Diaz today, as the Associated Press reports (via the Boston Herald). Though the Cuban was brought in for a relatively meager $8MM guarantee over four years, Cards GM John Mozeliak says that the team is "very confident that [Diaz] can be an offensive middle infielder, especially a shortstop." Mozeliak said the club would exercise patience with its new addition, who has not played competitively for some time.
- Though the Mariners' additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison over the offseason raised some questions about incumbent first baseman Justin Smoak, manager Lloyd McClendon says that Smoak will remain the starter, MLB.com's John Schlegel reports. It seemed more recently that things were headed in that direction, but McClendon's statements today would make a trade of Smoak a surprise at this point. "Will other guys play first? Yeah," McClendon said, "But Smoak is my first baseman."
- The independent Suger Land Skeeters have invited former NBA star Tracy McGrady to their spring camp, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. At 34, McGrady is working to build up arm strength and develop an off-speed offering.
In his latest notes column for FOXSports.com, Jon Paul Morosi spoke with several Blue Jays players, including Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie, about the team's chemistry and whether or not it played a role in their disappointing 2013 campaign. Bautista said that it wasn't a problem, but the team will benefit in 2014 from having spent a year together. Morosi writes that the Jays' players are paying particularly close attention to the level of resources (dollars) ownership is willing to allocate to a potential Ervin Santana signing. Here are some highlights from Morosi's piece...
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told Morosi on Sunday, via email, that the club is "looking at [its] own personnel" and "will continue to evaluate" outside alternatives for left field in the wake of Andy Dirks' injury. Non-roster invitees Ezquiel Carrera and Trevor Crowe will compete for a spot to platoon with Rajai Davis, though neither has been impressive thus far in Spring Training.
- The Cardinals could've lined up as a trade partner for Dombrowski had Oscar Taveras been fully healthy, as he could've served as more of a challenge to Jon Jay's spot in Spring Training. Taveras has played in just two games at this point, however.
- Morosi also hears that the Rockies aren't looking to trade an outfielder and haven't had discussions about doing so, even though it may be tough to fit Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson on the Opening Day roster. Either left-handed hitter would be a logical target for Detroit to pursue should Colorado change its mind.
- Michael Pineda could give the Yankees a playoff-caliber rotation if he's able to pitch a full season, Morosi writes. He spoke with Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who recalled feeling uncomfortable when facing Pineda in 2011 and has been encouraged by his work in Spring Training thus far.
- MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told Morosi that the union and MLB continue to discuss potential changes to the Joint Drug Agreement that could take effect for the 2014 season. Clark has received "extensive" feedback from players on whether stiffer penalties are needed, including opinions on the 50-game suspension for first-time offenders.