- Kolten Wong would be open to discussing a long-term extension with the Cardinals, he told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week. The 29-year-old has settled in as a productive everyday second baseman in recent seasons. Since the start of 2017, Wong has compiled a productive .274/.357/.409 slash (105 wRC+). More importantly, he’s emerged as one of the game’s top defenders at the keystone. Wong will make $10.25MM in 2020, the final guaranteed year of the early-career extension he signed. St. Louis also holds a $12.5MM club option ($1MM) on his services that would easily be exercised if he continues to produce at his recent levels.
- Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas is working back from a flexor injury and could be delayed in spring training, the team told reporters (including Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Mikolas had some recurring flexor soreness last season, Goold adds, although the hope was that a postseason PRP injection and rest would alleviate the issue. With the soreness having cropped back up, Mikolas is likely ticketed for an MRI, Goold reports. Notably, manager Mike Shildt stressed to Goold that the injury is likely not indicative of any damage to the UCL, which would obviously have been quite problematic. It doesn’t seem there’s overwhelming cause for concern just yet. Of course, it’s not ideal for a key member of the St. Louis rotation to be dealing with arm soreness this early in the season. (UPDATE: Mikolas underwent an MRI this morning, Goold tweets. The exam did not reveal any ligament damage, tweets Anne Rogers of MLB.com).
3:27pm: The deal is “believed” to guarantee Miller $2MM, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets.
3:10pm: The Cardinals announced Wednesday that they’ve signed infielder/outfielder Brad Miller to a one-year, Major League contract. Right-hander Jordan Hicks, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, was transferred to the 60-day injured list to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Miller is represented by ISE Baseball.
Miller, 30, split the 2019 season between the Indians and Phillies, turning in a particularly productive showing with the latter. In an admittedly limited sample of 130 plate appearances, Miller slashed .263/.331/.610 with a dozen home runs, three doubles and a triple. With the exception of the 2017 season, Miller has been a roughly average or better bat each season dating back to 2015, by measure of OPS+ and wRC+. In that time, he’s logged a combined .241/.318/.431 line.
Defense hasn’t been Miller’s strong point, however. While he’s appeared at every spot on the diamond outside of pitcher and catcher, Miller doesn’t have particularly strong ratings at any of them. But he’s nevertheless a versatile piece to add to manager Mike Shildt’s bench — one who has been particularly impactful against right-handed pitching. The St. Louis organization has long been reported to be seeking a left-handed bat, and while Miller isn’t exactly a high-profile means of satisfying that need, he’s been solid in a platoon role each season beyond the aforementioned 2017 campaign.
It’s the latest in a long-running string of infield additions for the O’s, who’ve collected young glove-men at nearly the same rate the Giants have claimed relief pitchers. Urias and Valaika will both be among the camp competitors for utility roles, presuming there is no further action in the next week.
Urias spent most of his developmental time in the Mexican League, impressing there before jumping to the Cards. He’s primarily a second baseman but also has logged substantial time at the hot corner.
Though Urias has shown well with the bat at times over the past two seasons, he hasn’t yet forced his way into the majors. Urias slashed .263/.369/.424 in 375 Triple-A plate appearances last year — a touch below average in that high-powered offensive environment — but has since struggled quite a bit in Mexican winter ball.
- Michael Wacha recognizes the starting depth he will be contending against in Mets camp this spring, but he’s undaunted, per Newsday’s Tim Healey. After all, as Healey points out, Wacha twice fought his way back into the Cardinals rotation last season after time in the bullpen. Of course, that might also be a sign that he’s the likeliest of the Mets’ six rotation candidates to start the year out of the money (both literally and figuratively, given the incentives in Wacha’s contract for games started). Wacha finished last season with a 4.76 ERA/5.61 FIP across 126 2/3 innings, and he’s only twice crossed the 150 inning threshold. It’ll be an uphill climb for Wacha to make the rotation by opening day, but it’s not impossible. Given the injury rate, there’s a decent chance he finds his way into the rotation at some point in 2020 regardless.
- Jack Flaherty isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 season, which means he can’t test free agency until following 2023, but the Cardinals ought to do their due diligence in locking him up now, writes Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Easier said than done of course, especially with a player who has already shown signs of understanding his tremendous value. Frederickson recounts Flaherty’s rejection of the Cardinals salary offer before last season, which cost him $10,000, though the penalty was worth it from Flaherty’s perspective. The statement he was able to make about the current system was of bigger importance to the Cardinals’ ace. That’s a good sign in terms of Flaherty’s character and competitive spirit, but perhaps less so for Cardinals fans hoping for news of an early extension. Flaherty’s displeasure with the arbitration system has little to do with the Cardinals, of course, but after a dominant 2019 in which he posted a 2.75 ERA/3.46 FIP, including a mind-boggling 0.91 ERA in the second half, it’s understandable for Flaherty to be at least a little displeased at making close to the league minimum.
We checked in earlier tonight on how things are shaping up for last year’s American League division winners as get set for a new season. Let’s do the same here for the three Senior Circuit clubs that won division titles in 2019…
NL West – Dodgers (106-56; won division by 21 games)
- It’s hard to assess the Dodgers’ roster without knowing if their planned Mookie Betts acquisition will go through. There are many moving parts involved in that deal, as a Betts pickup would send fellow outfielders Alex Verdugo and Joc Pederson, not to mention righty Kenta Maeda, to different teams. Regardless of that, and regardless of what wasn’t an especially active offseason for the Dodgers before the Betts swap, they’re in line to take home their eighth straight division championship in 2020. That said, they’ll face more competition from the Diamondbacks and Padres. Those two teams have enjoyed impressive offseasons, though it’s still difficult to imagine either toppling the juggernaut Dodgers in 2020.
NL East – Braves (97-65; won division by four games)
- The Braves lost a few key free agents in Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran, but they still look like a rock-solid club when considering the talent on hand and their new additions. Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka continue to headline their core, and they’ve picked up Will Smith, Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels and Travis d’Arnaud in free agency. There’s little doubt the Braves will be very good again in 2020; problem is that they’re stuck in a division with two or three real challengers. The Nationals, last year’s world champions, as well as the Mets and Phillies have done quite a bit of tinkering with their rosters this winter. Even the Marlins have tried to better themselves. All things considered, the NL East is shaping up to be a dogfight this year.
NL Central – Cardinals (91-71; won division by two games)
- Like the NL East, the NL Central should be hotly contested in 2020. The Cardinals ruled by a thin margin last season, but they’ve since had a pretty low-key offseason. For the most part, they’ll be relying on their talent from 2019 to nab another title this year. Luckily for the Cardinals, neither the Brewers nor Cubs look demonstrably better (they’re arguably worse) than they were last season, and the Pirates’ roster is a mess. The Reds have been one of the offseason’s busiest teams, though, and look as if they’ll have a chance to jump from 75-win team to playoff-caliber club in 2020.
The Cardinals have claimed left-hander Ricardo Sanchez off waivers from the Mariners, as announced by both teams. Infielder Ramon Urias was designated for assignment by St. Louis to create a 40-man roster spot for Sanchez.
Sanchez hit the waiver wire last week, when he was DFA’ed by the Mariners to make roster room for Yoshihisa Hirano. The southpaw has spent four of his six pro seasons in the Braves organization, sandwiched between his debut season with the Angels’ rookie ball affiliate in 2014 and a 2019 season spent with the Mariners’ Double-A club.
Sanchez has an unimpressive 4.52 ERA over 517 1/3 innings, though with some solid peripheral numbers (8.2 K/9, 2.25 K/BB rate) and youth still on his side, as he doesn’t turn 23 until April. There isn’t much risk for the Cards in seeing what Sanchez can do in a new system, as at worst, he can be a depth rotation in the minors. Sanchez has started 106 of 111 career games, so a turn to relief pitching could also be explored if Sanchez ultimately doesn’t develop as a starter.
Urias, a longtime veteran of the Mexican League, has spent the last two seasons in the Cardinals’ farm system. The bulk of that time has been spent at the Triple-A level, where the 25-year-old hit .262/.347/.426 with 14 homers over 524 plate appearances. Urias has played mostly as a second baseman while in the Cards’ organization, though he also has quite a bit of experience as a third baseman, and seen some time as a shortstop, first baseman, and left fielder over his nine professional seasons.
With the clear exception of the still-unsigned Yasiel Puig, free agency is almost devoid of high-upside contributors at this point. The majority of players capable of securing guaranteed contracts have already come off the board, making this a good time to check in on which teams have spent the most and which clubs have paid the least via the open market. We’ve already gone through the same exercise for the American League, where the Yankees have returned to the top of the heap as the biggest spenders in their league and in the sport in general. Meanwhile, over in the Senior Circuit, reigning world champion Washington clearly isn’t resting on its laurels after a storybook playoff run…
Nationals: $316.75MM on 10 players (Stephen Strasburg, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Starlin Castro, Yan Gomes, Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ryan Zimmerman and Kyle Finnegan; financial details unclear for Finnegan; top 50 MLBTR signings: four)
Brewers: $48.38MM on eight players (Avisail Garcia, Josh Lindblom, Justin Smoak, Brett Anderson, Eric Sogard, Alex Claudio, Ryon Healy and Deolis Guerra; financial details unclear for Healy and Guerra; top 50 signings: two)
Rockies: Signed RHP Jose Mujica (financial details unclear; top 50 signings: zero)
Now that Marcell Ozuna has signed, all 10 of the players who were issued a one-year, $17.8MM qualifying offer in November have settled on teams for the 2020 season. Of that group, two (Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Jake Odorizzi of the Twins) accepted their qualifying offers and returned to their clubs — Abreu, in fact, topped off his QO by signing a contract extension that will run through the 2022 season. Stephen Strasburg also isn’t changing uniforms, as the longtime Nationals ace rejected the club’s qualifying offer but eventually re-signed with Washington on a seven-year, $245MM deal.
That leaves us with seven QO players who will be playing on new teams in 2020, and as such, the draft compensation attached to those seven players has also now been allotted. Under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the same compensation was handed out to all six teams who lost those players, as the entire sextet fell under the same financial criteria. The Mets, Cardinals, Braves, Giants, Nationals, and Astros all aren’t revenue-sharing recipients, nor did they exceed the luxury tax threshold in 2019, so all six teams will receive a compensatory draft pick between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round of the 2020 draft.
Here is how the so-called “Compensation Round” breaks down. The order of the picks is determined by worst record-to-best record from the 2019 season.
68. Giants (for Madison Bumgarner)
69. Giants (for Will Smith)
70. Mets (for Zack Wheeler)
71. Cardinals (for Marcell Ozuna)
72. Nationals (for Anthony Rendon)
73. Braves (for Josh Donaldson)
74. Astros (for Gerrit Cole)
San Francisco now possesses five of the first 87 picks in next June’s draft. With the Giants still in the NL wild card race last summer, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi opted to hang onto Bumgarner and Smith rather than trade either player, a decision that led to some criticism since San Francisco was widely considered to be closer to rebuilding than truly contending. The critics’ judgement grew even harsher after the Giants went 22-32 record in August and September and fell well short of the postseason. Still, given that teams were reluctant to part with top-flight young talent for even controllable players (let alone rentals like Bumgarner and Smith) at the trade deadline, Zaidi clearly felt that the two picks he could recoup from the qualifying offer process were more valuable than anything offered for the two Giants pitchers last July.
It’s worth noting that the 74th overall pick will be Houston’s first selection of the 2020 draft, after the Astros lost both their first- and second-highest selections in both 2020 and 2021 as part of their punishment for the sign-stealing scandal. Since the Red Sox are also under league investigation for their own alleged use of electronics to steal opponents’ signs in 2018, Boston could also potentially lose at least one pick in this year’s draft, so we can’t yet say that the 2020 draft order is finalized. Of course, the order could be further muddled if more trades occur involving picks from the two Competitive Balance Draft rounds, which are the only types of draft picks that can be traded. We’ve already seen the Rays and Cardinals swap their picks in Rounds A and B as part of the multi-player trade that sent Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Let’s now look at the six teams who signed the seven QO-rejecting free agents, and see what those clubs had to give up in order to make the signings.
Yankees, for signing Gerrit Cole: Since New York exceeded the luxury tax threshold in 2019, they gave up their second- and fifth-round picks in the 2020 draft (a.k.a. their second- and fifth-highest selections). The Yankees also gave up $1MM in funds from their international signing bonus pool.
Diamondbacks, for signing Madison Bumgarner: As a team that didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold and was a revenue-sharing recipient, the D’Backs had to give up their third-highest draft choice to sign Bumgarner. This ended up being Arizona’s second-round selection — the team’s first two picks are their first-rounder (18th overall) and their pick in Competitive Balance Round A (33rd overall).
Twins, for signing Josh Donaldson: Minnesota also received revenue-sharing and didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold, so signing Donaldson put the Twins in position to give up their third-highest draft selection. However, the Twins are actually giving up their fourth-highest pick in the 2020 draft, which is their third-round selection. The Twins’ actual third selection is their pick in Competitive Balance Round B, but those picks aren’t eligible to be forfeited as compensation for QO free agent signings.
Angels, for signing Anthony Rendon: Since the Halos didn’t receive revenue-sharing funds and also didn’t pay any luxury tax money, they had to give up their second-highest draft pick (their second-rounder) and $500K in international bonus funds to sign Rendon.
Phillies, for signing Zack Wheeler: The Phillies surrendered their second-highest selection (their second-round pick) and $500K of their international bonus pool, since they were another team that didn’t exceed the luxury tax line and didn’t receive revenue-sharing money.
Braves, for signing Will Smith and Marcell Ozuna: The dual signings put Atlanta in line for a dual penalty. The Braves didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold and also didn’t receive revenue-sharing money, so they gave up their second-highest draft pick (their second-rounder) and $500K of international bonus money for Smith. In landing Ozuna, the Braves then had to also forfeit their third-round pick (their third-highest selection) and another $500K from their international bonus pool.
Losing two draft picks and $1MM in international pool money isn’t nothing, though these particular sanctions had less impact on the Braves than on other teams, which undoubtedly influenced their decisions. First of all, the compensatory pick Atlanta received for Donaldson is higher in the draft order than their third-round pick, so the net loss is only a second-round pick. Secondly, the Braves’ movement in the international market is still limited by the punishment handed out by Major League Baseball in November 2017 for Atlanta’s past international signing violations. Part of that punishment included the Braves’ pool for the 2020-21 international market being reduced by 50 percent — being so handcuffed in the international market anyway, the Braves probably felt $1MM in pool money was no great loss.
It wasn’t that long ago that Alex Reyes was arguably baseball’s best pitching prospect — a power right-hander heralded as the Cardinals’ ace of the future, Injuries, however, have decimated Reyes’ past few years. Tommy John surgery plus lat and pectoral strains have limited him to a combined 195 2/3 innings in the past four seasons (despite working almost exclusively as a starter in that time). Still just 25 years of age, Reyes tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he hopes to continue as a starter now that he’s healthy, but president of baseball operations John Mozeliak suggests that’s not likely — at least this season.
“It’s going to be tough for him to break our rotation given the talent and the names we have in it,” Mozeliak tells Hummel. “We are going to bring him to camp and stretch him out the best we can. But I think the likelihood of how he most likely contributes to the Cardinals in 2020 is in the bullpen.”
The Cardinals’ rotation consists of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright. Fifth-starter candidates include Carlos Martinez (who was forced into a relief role by injuries in 2019) and winter pickup Kwang-Hyun Kim, who could work in either the rotation or the ’pen. Right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon and lefties Genesis Cabrera and Austin Gomber are depth options on the 40-man roster. One would imagine that a healthy Martinez is the best option, but he did excel in a relief capacity in 2019 (3.17 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 9.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.37 HR/9, 56.5 percent ground-ball rate).
Turning back to Reyes, it’s indeed difficult to see how the club could expect him to function as a starter in the short term. He’s thrown just 84 1/3 innings in the past three seasons, including just 40 1/3 frames in 2019. Dropping him back into a starter’s workload would necessitate an enormous increase in his total innings and pitches thrown — and that’s particularly problematic for a pitcher who has never even tossed 120 frames in a single season; Reyes’ career-high innings total is 115 1/3 all the way back in 2015.
That’s not to say that the talented righty doesn’t have any sort of future in the rotation, but between the organization’s pitching depth and Reyes’ injury history, it’s easy to see why the club has its sights set on a relief role in 2020. Looking down the line, Wainwright is only playing on a one-year deal, while Kim is being paid $4MM in both 2020 and 2021. A strong relief effort for Reyes this coming season could well lead to a look as a starter in 2021, but he’ll first need to prove his arm can hold up. The Cardinals control Reyes through the 2023 season.