- The Cardinals optioned catching prospect Carson Kelly to Triple-A today, seemingly solidifying Francisco Pena’s spot as Yadier Molina’s backup. Pena was a non-roster invite to the Cards’ spring camp, and though neither Pena or Kelly hit much, the team would prefer to see Kelly continue his development with regular playing time in the minors rather than spending most of his days on the Cardinals’ bench. “[Kelly] needs to play,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com’s Joe Trezza and other reporters. “He’s still too young with too high of a ceiling not to go and be ready. If something happens, we need him to step in and be our guy. There are not going to be a whole lot of repetitions to get here.” As Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, Pena’s defense has helped his case in a camp that also saw catchers Steven Baron and Andrew Knizner impress the team.
The Cardinals won’t necessarily have a set role for right-hander Alex Reyes when he’s able to return from Tommy John surgery, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He’ll be something of a hybrid pitcher, working out of the bullpen but also making occasional starts with a goal of reaching 90 to 100 innings in the 2018 season. That, the organization hopes, will put the vaunted top prospect on track to work a full starter’s workload in 2019. The target for Reyes is still a return in early May, per Goold, who walks through Reyes’ Thursday workout and has quotes from Reyes, pitching coach Mike Maddux and others in his update on the 23-year-old.
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- Also from Goold, right-hander Mike Mayers is forcing his way into consideration for a bullpen spot with a strong spring showing. Mayers has ditched an ineffective sinker and begun to rely less on his changeup and far more on his slider. He’s also showing improved velocity — in the 98-99 mph range at times — with a move to shorter stints out of the ’pen and a focus primarily on a two-pitch mix. The biggest change, though, is “between the ears,” as Mayers puts it in an interview that’s well worth a read. Despite brutal results in limited prior MLB action, the righty may now be ready for a full run at establishing himself at the game’s highest level.
- Youngster Yairo Munoz did not come to the Cards with huge fanfare, but he was a significant part of the recent Stephen Piscotty swap. As MLB.com’s Joe Trezza writes, the 23-year-old has also made a favorable impression in his first camp with his new organization. Indeed, it seems there’s at least some chance he could crack the active roster, though that’d likely mean exposing the out-of-options Greg Garcia to waivers and would cost Munoz the chance at steadier playing time. Defensive versatility is the key feather in Munoz’s hat, as he says he feels comfortable lining up all over the diamond.
The emergence of Tommy Pham was one of the best developments of 2017 for the Cardinals, who saw the former reserve deliver a stunningly great age-29 campaign (6.4 rWAR, 5.9 fWAR). Pham may not have been in position to break out as a Cardinal if not for their then-farm director, John Vuch, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details. Even though Pham suffered through injury-shortened seasons in the Cardinals’ minor league system in 2011 and ’12, Vuch remained bullish on the former 16th-round pick and convinced him to re-sign with the organization on a two-year minors pact entering 2013. Pham’s driving force then was to eventually get to the majors, which he did in 2014. He’s now trying to remain among the game’s premier players and, according to agent Eric Izen, “understands that he’s got a smaller window than a lot of players. He’s 30 years old.” Unfortunately for Pham, his age may prevent him from ever landing a huge payday in the league. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until next offseason. In the meantime, he’ll make $570K this season after the Cards renewed him for that rate this week. That came after discussions regarding a two-year deal failed to gain traction, Goold wrote earlier this week. “The numbers didn’t add up to me and my agency and the union. Nothing made sense,” Pham said. “I didn’t think. It’s business first and foremost. I didn’t like it. The numbers didn’t seem right. I wouldn’t sell myself short like that.”
- The Cardinals have decided to put righty Bud Norris in the bullpen, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. That’s not terribly surprising, but the organization had at least been stretching him out as a starter to open camp. Norris showed some renewed vigor at times last year as a late-inning reliever and could be used in that capacity, though skipper Mike Matheny also did not rule out relying upon Norris for multiple innings in a swingman role. In other news from St. Louis, the club announced that outfielder Tyler O’Neill has been diagnosed with a hamstring strain. The severity is not known, but the the odds were already stacked against the well-regarded prospect cracking the Opening Day roster.
Presumptive Cardinals closer Luke Gregerson is dealing with a strained oblique, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. While such injuries can often take upwards of a month to heal, it seems that Gregerson’s could be more minor, with manager Mike Matheny referring to it only as a “little setback” that “doesn’t seem very bad.” That said, doctors haven’t placed a timeframe on Gregerson’s return to action, either. The 33-year-old Gregerson (34 in May) has pitched just once this spring, and it’s currently unclear when he’ll get back on the mound for his next appearance.
TODAY: Bob Nightengale of USA Today has tweeted the full breakdown. DeJong will receive a $1MM signing bonus and $1MM salary this year. Thereafter, he’ll receive $1.5MM (2019 and 2020), $4MM (2021), $6MM (2022), and $9MM (2023). The first option comes with a $2MM buyout, the second a $1MM buyout.
YESTERDAY: The Cardinals have announced an extension with shortstop Paul DeJong, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported. DeJong is represented by the C.L. Rocks Corporation.
DeJong will be guaranteed $26MM over a six-year term, FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter links). That includes $2MM in buyouts for a pair of club options that, per Goold, are valued at $12.5MM and $15MM, respectively. The $26MM guarantee on the extension breaks Tim Anderson’s record (six years, $25MM) for the largest sum ever guaranteed to a player with less than one full year of Major League service time. (Related: MLBTR Extension Tracker; Pre-Arb Extension Records).
The 24-year-old DeJong debuted with little fanfare last summer but quickly thrust himself into the national spotlight with a terrific .285/.325/.532 slash line and 25 homers through just 443 plate appearances in 108 games.
DeJong spent a bit of time at second base but spent most of his rookie season at shortstop, where Defensive Runs Saved pegged him as an average defender and Ultimate Zone Rating graded him slightly above. In all, he was worth 2.7 rWAR and 3.0 fWAR in his debut season — a strong enough performance to land him second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Cody Bellinger.
That strong rookie season wasn’t without its red flags, though, and DeJong will have some notable areas on which to focus for improvement in 2018 and beyond. Most significantly, the young slugger’s 28 percent strikeout rate and 4.7 percent walk rate each cast doubt on his ability to repeat his OBP and batting average, both of which were propped up to some extent by a .349 BABIP that looks poised for some regression. To his credit, DeJong did scale back his strikeouts and boost his walk rate over the season’s final five to six weeks, perhaps signaling that he’s already begun to make some adjustments. However, he’ll need to do so over the course of a full year to prove that this level of production is at least somewhat sustainable.
DeJong isn’t on track for Super Two status, so the Cardinals have bought out three pre-arbitration seasons and three arbitration years with today’s deal in exchange for control over his first two free-agent years. In doing so, they’ve bet a fair amount on DeJong remaining a productive cog in their infield for the foreseeable future. If he rewards that faith, however, the Cardinals will effectively control DeJong for the entirety of his prime without needing to pay for much, if any, of his decline phase. The guaranteed portion of the contract runs through DeJong’s age-29 campaign, while the two option years cover his age-30 and age-31 seasons.
From DeJong’s vantage point, he’ll now obtain his first baseball fortune three years ahead of schedule. The former fourth-round pick received a $200K signing bonus out of Illinois State in the 2015 draft but wouldn’t have been eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 season. He’ll sacrifice some earning power down the line as a would-be 30-year-old free agent, though that’s the trade-off that virtually all young players make when locking in this type of financial security well in advance.
Early extensions of this nature have become a hallmark of the Cardinals’ front office, though the success rate on such long-term deals probably hasn’t been as high as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Mike Girsch would like. The Cards have done well thus far in long-term arrangements with Carlos Martinez and Matt Carpenter. However, last year’s extension with Stephen Piscotty didn’t pay dividends as the team hoped — he’s since been traded to Oakland — nor did Allen Craig’s five-year deal (although the Cards were able to trade him before thatdeal imploded). The jury is still out on Kolten Wong’s five-year, $25.5MM deal, though Wong rebuilt his value last season after a poor 2016 campaign.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Red Sox left-hander Drew Pomeranz exited today’s Grapefruit League start with tightness in his left forearm, though he told reporters after the game that he’s not concerned about the possibility of a serious injury (link via MassLive.com’s Jen McCaffrey). Obviously, caution is called for all the more at this stage of spring, so it’d be wise not to leap to any conclusions — particularly given Pomeranz’s comments. The 29-year-old, who is coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he posted a 3.32 ERA in over 170 frames, is a key piece of the Boston rotation. He’ll be further evaluated on Saturday.
Here’s the latest on the health front from around the game …
- The division-rival Yankees are also facing some injury issues, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch was among those to report (Twitter links). Of particular concern is prospect Clint Frazier, who required an MRI because he is still not recovering as hoped from a concussion. Surely the organization will exercise quite a lot of caution with the talented young player. Meanwhile, fellow outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has been diagnosed with a mild oblique strain. There’s no indication of just how limiting the injury will be — and for good reason, as oblique problems rarely seem to progress in a predictable manner. Fortunately for the Bronx Bombers, there are still four quality players ahead of this duo on the outfield depth chart.
- Rockies outfielder Gerardo Parra, who is recovering from hamate surgery on his right hand, took batting practice on Friday, tweets Nick Groke of the Denver Post. He’s slated to face live pitching for the first time since the operation on Monday, and manager Bud Black estimated that Parra could be in a game in eight to nine days, which should still give him ample time to ramp up for the regular season. It remains to be seen just how the Rox will distribute playing time in the outfield, though Parra seems to be slated for rather extensive action so long as he remains on an upward trajectory.
- An injury forced newly signed Cardinals right-hander Bud Norris out of today’s spot start, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Norris, filling in for Carlos Martinez (who had a personal matter to attend to, per the report), exited due to hamstring spasms after allowing five runs in 2 1/3 innings of work. At this point, it’s not clear whether this issue is simply an early-spring blip or something that will cause some problems for the hurler, who recently inked a one-year, $3MM deal to join the St. Louis organization.
- If there’s a hurler whose injury sparks some immediate cause for concern, it may be Dodgers righty Tom Koehler. It was announced he’d require an MRI on his shoulder not long after he was pulled in the middle of an inning, as MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick was among those to tweet. Shoulder bursitis caused problems for Koehler last year, when he struggled to a 6.69 ERA in 72 2/3 innings. The Dodgers have planned to move the long-time starter into a full-time relief role after promising him $2MM for the 2018 season.
- The NL Central rival Cubs were among the suitors the Cardinals beat out over the winter for the services of right-hander Miles Mikolas, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Mikolas, a former Padre and Ranger, joined the Redbirds on a two-year, $15.5MM deal after a tremendous run in Japan from 2015-17. The fact that the Cardinals’ spring training base is in Jupiter, Fla., Mikolas’ hometown, helped them win the derby, according to Goold. The 29-year-old Mikolas is now all but guaranteed a spot in the Cards’ rotation, along with Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha Adam Wainwright and Luke Weaver. The Cubs, on the other hand, made out well anyway, ending up with Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
Feb. 19: Motte has passed his physical, as the Cardinals announced the signing this morning.
Feb. 16: The Cardinals have struck a minor-league pact with veteran reliever Jason Motte, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Twitter). The agreement is still pending a physical. Chris Cotillo of SB Nation first connected the sides on Twitter.
Motte, 35, rejoins his long-time organization after a three-year hiatus. The former Cards closer has spent time with the Cubs, Rockies, and Braves since the start of 2015.
There’s little question that Motte did not regain his prior form after missing all of 2013 for Tommy John surgery. The converted catcher had posted 192 1/3 innings of 2.43 ERA pitching over the prior three seasons at that point. Since, he has allowed 4.12 earned per nine over 137 2/3 innings, with 6.7 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
Motte once averaged about a 12 percent swinging-strike rate and roughly 97 mph heater. Since returning from surgery, Motte has declined precipitously in both regards. He generated whiffs at a marginal 7.6% rate last year and averaged 93.8 mph with his heater.
To be fair, Motte found a way to succeed despite managing only 6.0 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 in his 40 2/3 innings in 2017. He ended the season with a 3.54 ERA, after all. But there’s little reason to believe that Motte will be able to replicate a .200 batting average on balls in play.
The Padres have claimed right-hander Rowan Wick off waivers from the Cardinals, reports Dennis Lin of The Athletic (on Twitter). Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had first reported that Wick, who was designated for assignment when the Cards signed Bud Norris, had been claimed by an unknown team (Twitter link).
Wick, 25, was drafted as a catcher and moved to the outfield before ultimately transitioning to the mound on a full-time basis in 2016. As one might expect, then, his body of work as a reliever in the minors is rather limited, but he’s shown some positive trends. This past season he split the year between the Gulf Coast League, Double-A and Triple-A, working to a combined 3.19 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Wick also issued 19 walks, hit two batters, balked twice and uncorked a pair of wild pitches, so he still seems somewhat raw on the mound.
The Padres aren’t strangers to the notion of trying to convert a position player into a pitcher, though, having gone through the process (albeit unsuccessfully) with former top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt in recent years. San Diego had an open spot on the 40-man roster, so a corresponding move from the Friars won’t be necessary to accommodate the addition of Wick.