- The Cardinals signed righty Josh Zeid to a minor league deal, as per Zeid himself via Twitter. Zeid pitched 48 1/3 innings out of the Astros bullpen in 2013-14, after joining the organization as part of the trade package sent by Philadelphia to Houston for Hunter Pence in July 2011. Zeid spent 2015 and 2016 in the minors with the Tigers and Mets, respectively, and he most recently pitched for Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
- Manager Mike Matheny confirms that Michael Wacha will serve as the Cardinals’ fifth starter, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Wacha appeared to have the inside track on the job after the team lost top prospect Alex Reyes to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Joining Wacha in the rotation will be Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake and Lance Lynn. The loss of Reyes and the injury situations of a number of pitchers (including Wacha, Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales) leave the Cardinals with somewhat depleted depth. Lynn, who is pitching without restrictions as he returns from his own Tommy John surgery, says he’s aiming to reliably make his starts and accumulate innings. “If you set yourself below that, why take the ball?” he says.
The Cardinals have tabbed Michael Wacha to begin the season as their fifth starter, tweets Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. That’s not particularly surprising, as St. Louis optioned one of Wacha’s competitors, Luke Weaver, to Triple-A on Saturday after he showed poorly over five spring training innings. The other contender for the Redbirds’ last starting role, former closer Trevor Rosenthal, fell behind the 8-ball when he dealt with right lat muscle soreness earlier this month. Barring an injury, the other four-fifths of the Cardinals’ season-opening rotation will consist of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake and Lance Lynn.
- The Cardinals may have some interest in Derek Norris. St. Louis currently has Eric Fryer penciled into the backup catcher role, with prospect Carson Kelly waiting in the wings at Triple-A. Norris has received interest from multiple teams (including the Rays) since being released by the Nationals earlier this week, so he could prefer to sign somewhere that can offer him a clearer shot at a starting job, rather than settling for a role as Yadier Molina’s understudy.
- According to scouts Cafardo has spoken to, Norris would be best served by avoiding the Cardinals and other NL teams in order to stay in the American League. The general consensus among Cafardo’s sources is that Norris isn’t much of a defender, so playing for an AL team would allow him to take the field as a DH. The scouts do praise Norris’ work ethic and leadership abilities, on the plus side.
Right-hander Luke Weaver entered spring training with a chance to win the last spot in the Cardinals’ rotation, but that bid officially ended when they optioned him to Triple-A on Saturday. Weaver dealt with back spasms earlier this month and performed poorly when on the mound. In five spring innings, the 23-year-old allowed seven earned runs on seven hits and eight walks, and struck out only one hitter. Michael Wacha has fared much better, meanwhile, and taken hold of the No. 5 role as a result, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It seems Trevor Rosenthal will begin the year in the bullpen, then, though the Cards aren’t yet sure how they’ll use him. Both a long relief role and a “hybrid high-leverage job” are on the table for the former closer, per Goold.
- Although the Cardinals’ Matt Adams has only seen action at first base since debuting in 2012, the club will give him some left field work on the back fields of its minor league complex Saturday, tweets Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. St. Louis is “curious” to see how Adams will look in the outfield, adds Langosch. With Matt Carpenter taking over at first, Adams doesn’t appear likely to receive much playing time at his typical position this season. The fact that Adams slimmed down over the winter could help make him an outfield candidate, though the Redbirds already have everyday-caliber corner options in Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk.
FRIDAY: Fortunately, Schafer was able to receive the repair procedure rather than requiring a full ligament replacement, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports. That leaves him with an approximately seven-month rehab timeline. While he won’t be able to pitch this season regardless, Schafer will have much more time to show he’s back to health before seeking his next opportunity.
TUESDAY: Cardinals left-hander Jordan Schafer, who is in his second season of pitching after opening his career as an outfielder, is headed for elbow surgery, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. It’s not yet clear whether he’ll need Tommy John surgery or the less-invasive “primary repair” procedure (the same operation that former Cardinals righty Seth Maness underwent last August), though either operation would end Schafer’s season.
An MRI taken this weak revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in Schafer’s left elbow, per Goold, and Dr. George Paletta will determine upon cutting into Schafer’s arm which operation he will receive. (As Goold explained in reporting on the primary repair operation earlier this winter, candidates cannot yet be identified until the procedure is underway, as it’s largely dependent on the extent of and location of the tear.)
The 30-year-old Schafer had been attempting to make the Cardinals’ roster as an outfielder/reliever and had pitched 3 2/3 innings this spring in addition to making seven plate appearances. As Goold notes, Schafer making the team was contingent on how well hit pitched. Schafer felt something in his forearm in each of his final two pitching appearances this spring but attempted to pitch through the discomfort in hopes of making the Cardinals’ roster.
Once a well-regarded outfield prospect in the Braves organization, Schafer is a .228/.308/.307 hitter through 1472 plate appearances between Atlanta, Houston and Minnesota. Though he hasn’t hit much in the Majors, Schafer offers well-above-average speed and can play anywhere in the outfield, so adding relief work to his resume would’ve made him an interesting and uniquely versatile reserve piece for the Cards. In 49 1/3 minor league innings with the Dodgers last season, Schafer pitched to a 3.83 ERA with 10.8 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. Opposing lefties batted just .189/.267/.396 against him in 61 plate appearances.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.
The Cardinals added two top free agents this offseason and said goodbye to some longtime contributors as they tinkered with the core that won them 86 games in 2016.
Major League Signings
Notable Minor League Signings
- Jose Adolis Garcia, Eric Fryer
Trades And Claims
- Acquired RHP Chris Ellis, RHP John Gant and 2B Luke Dykstra from Braves for LHP Jaime Garcia
- Lost OF Jeremy Hazelbaker on waivers to Diamondbacks
- Lost LHP Tim Cooney on waivers to Indians
- RHP Carlos Martinez: five years, $51MM (includes club options for 2022 and 2023)
The Cardinals ended the 2016 season by parting ways with a longtime star, giving the aging Matt Holliday a $1M buyout rather than exercising a $17MM option. Though he hits capably, the 37-year-old Holliday no longer provided enough offense to offset his salary and health and defensive issues. He headed to the Yankees, who can use him as a DH. The Cardinals also saw the departure of another veteran slugger, Brandon Moss, who didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the club before he ultimately landed with the Royals.
The Cardinals thus set about adding another outfielder who could bump 2016 center fielder Randal Grichuk to a corner. They were linked to a number of high-profile names, including Adam Eaton, Charlie Blackmon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Ian Desmond, before ultimately signing Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5MM deal.
The Cardinals’ seemingly singular focus on finding a center fielder rather than a corner outfielder initially seemed odd, since advanced stats actually identified Grichuk as a better defensive center fielder than Fowler and several of the other rumored options. UZR pegs Grichuk as being a few runs above average in about 1,200 career innings in center field, and Defensive Runs Saved is even more bullish, rating Grichuk as 14 runs above average. Both stats rate Fowler as a hair above average last year, but below average (sometimes significantly so) in the five seasons before that. Fowler will also be 31 later this month, and though his athleticism makes him likely to age relatively gracefully, his defense seems unlikely to improve as he ages and slows. The Cards reached agreement with Fowler during the Winter Meetings — relatively early in the offseason, and significantly before most of the other outfield bats signed. They also paid almost $20MM more for him than MLBTR projected he’d receive. One wonders whether they might have gotten better value had they kept Grichuk in center and signed one of the many cheaply available sluggers to join him and Stephen Piscotty in their outfield.
There was also another cost to signing Fowler, in that the Cardinals forfeited their top 2017 draft pick, No. 19 overall, to complete the signing. That loss will hurt, particularly since the team also lost its next two picks (Nos. 56 and 75) as part of its penalty for its role in the Astros hacking scandal.
Perhaps that’s overthinking it, however. The only free agent outfielder who compared favorably to Fowler in overall value was Yoenis Cespedes, who was already off the market by the time the Cards landed their man. Unlike some of the defensively challenged sluggers who languished on the free agent market, Fowler’s well-rounded game insures him somewhat against decline. At least in the short term, he should upgrade the Cardinals’ offense with his on-base ability and their defense by virtue of being significantly better than players like Holliday or Moss. And, of course, in signing Fowler, the Cardinals lured a talented player away from the rival Cubs, who replaced him with the much less costly Jon Jay.
More analysis after the break …Read more
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak addressed the contract situation of long-time catcher Yadier Molina with Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Though he declined to address specifics of any extension talks, Mozeliak emphasized that the club is “always open for business.”
That comment largely confirms the status quo; it has long been assumed that the Cards would attempt to work out a new contract for Molina, whose former extension includes only a mutual option for 2018. As camp opened, the sides were said to have begun at least preliminary talks, and agent Melvin Roman said recently that “both sides are trying to work hard and see if we can make it happen.” At the moment, Molina is away from the club while he competes with the Puerto Rican entrant in the World Baseball Classic.
But Mozeliak did also make clear that the organization wouldn’t put any timelines on talks. “We are not a deadline organization, historically,” he explained. “So, as far as timing and how that goes, I’m not drawing any lines in the sand.” Whether or not Molina and his representatives would be amenable to continuing discussions into the season remains to be seen, though Mozeliak’s comments seem to put that possibility on the table.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals GM didn’t express any alarm at recent comments from former big leaguer Bengie Molina, who suggested his brother would test free agency if he didn’t receive an offer to his liking. That’s to be expected, Mozeliak indicated. Much as the Cardinals star will be looking out for his own interests, the veteran exec says he’ll be “trying to do what’s best for [the Cardinals] organization,” noting that “there is always a short-term approach and a long-term approach” that must be accounted for even as he acknowledged Molina’s importance to the team.
Molina’s central role and workhorse approach present a somewhat unique situation. At 34 years of age, it’s at best questionable whether Molina can continue to thrive while playing 130 or more games annually. And the team has a prized prospect on the way in Carson Kelly. Figuring out how lengthy a commitment to make, and at what price, isn’t straightforward for the Cards. Molina’s current contract paid him $75MM over five years, with the final $2MM of that guarantee coming in the form of a buyout of the $15MM mutual option.
- Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty is working to correct some bad habits in his swing that were related to the movement/placement of his back leg. Piscotty and hitting coach John Mabry break down some previous mechanical flaws in the 26-year-old’s swing to Goold, with Piscotty adding that his goal is to be able to elevate the ball more often. With his previous swing mechanics, Piscotty feels that he focused too much on his upper half and would subsequently roll over too many pitches and hit too many grounders. Mabry notes that Piscotty would like to boost his home run total from the low 20s to 30 or more. Per Goold, Piscotty is likely tabbed as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter heading into the 2017 campaign.
- Goold also reports that 20-year-old Low-Class-A outfielder Magneuris Sierra has turned heads in Cardinals camp with his speed and defensive prowess. While Sierra isn’t pushing either Tommy Pham or Jose Martinez for a spot in the team’s Major League bench, he could move quickly through the organization and jump to Double-A to open the current season. Manager Mike Matheny lauded Sierra for his defensive ability and noted that his bat and approach give him a chance to be a well-rounded player in the Majors. Last season in the Class-A Midwest League, Sierra batted .307/.335/.395 with three homers and 31 steals in 122 games.
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams gave an interesting interview to David Laurila of Fangraphs that’s worth a read. The top Cincy baseball decisionmaker noted that it’s harder for clubs of that market size to pay solid veterans on short-term deals during a rebuilding campaign, which is one of several factors that tends to make the process more painful. But the organization is plainly committed to doing it and doing it right. Williams detailed many different initiatives underway after an exhaustive review of “where we thought dollars would have a better return on investment than at the major league payroll level.” You’ll want to give the post a full read.
Here’s more from the National League:
- With Ian Desmond set to miss a chunk of time early in the season, the Rockies are sorting through their options for filling in, as Nick Groke of the Denver Post writes. Mark Reynolds is the obvious choice as a primary replacement, of course, but the team will need to line up some bodies behind him. With manager Bud Black saying the club hopes to “take advantage” of the versatility of some of their own players, he lined up each of Jordan Patterson, Stephen Cardullo, and Cristhian Adames at first in drills. Whether the organization might look at external names isn’t known, but Black did say that he has not heard any discussion surrounding former Rockies first bagger Justin Morneau.
- Righty Matt Wisler is still trying to establish himself for the Braves, Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. The 24-year-old has been hit hard this spring, as he was in the majors last year, and there doesn’t seem to be much chance that he’ll crack the MLB rotation unless there’s an injury or big performance downturn during the season. Still, manager Brian Snitker says he’s a believer — at least in the quality of Wisler’s offerings. “[I]t’s just location– fastball location,” Black said of Wisler’s struggles. “He’s just got to keep working on location. The stuff is there. The kid’s stuff is too good not to be successful.”
- Jordan Schafer’s efforts to make the Cardinals roster as a lefty reliever have run into some difficulties, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch Reports. The 30-year-old is dealing with forearm soreness, with the root cause yet to be determined. He hadn’t been particularly effective in his five outings anyway, and struggled upon reaching Triple-A briefly last year with the Dodgers organization. But Schafer was actually quite impressive at Double-A in 2016, working to a 3.15 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over forty frames.