The Cardinals are readying to face some potentially tricky decisions with regard to franchise stalwarts Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. While the organization is hoping for both to finish out their careers in St. Louis, a sentiment the players share, such arrangements are sometimes easier said than done. Extension talks are planned at some point this year with Molina, who remains a highly valuable workhorse behind the dish. The guaranteed portion of his contract ends after the season, with a mutual option looming. As Goold explains, it’s hardly a straightforward matter to reach a new deal; the question of how great a commitment the team wants to make will have to account for not only the valuation of an aging catcher, but also the rise of prospect Carson Kelly. As for Wainwright, who tells Goold he’ll only be interested in single-season contracts when his deal is up (after the 2018 season), there’s more time to see how things progress and less pressure given his position.
Veteran infielder Jhonny Peralta and young catcher Christian Vazquez have each changed their representation, moving to Melvin Roman’s MDR Sports, according to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal (subscription link).
Peralta, 34, is entering the final year of his free-agent contract with the Cardinals. He has been mentioned as a possible trade candidate, though his focus figures to remain on securing playing time and engineering a bounceback after an injury-plagued 2016 season.
Though he had been a steady contributor to the Cards in the first two years of his deal, Peralta fell off last year. After returning from wrist surgery, he managed only a .260/.307/.408 batting line with eight home runs over 313 plate appearances. He also showed some erosion in his glovework, and did not draw strong ratings upon shifting to third from his native shortstop position.
One of Peralta’s most notable teammates, veteran receiver Yadier Molina, is perhaps MDR’s best-known current player. The agency has a long list of catchers on its rolls, including not only Molina but also players such as Robinson Chirinos, Dioner Navarro, Brayan Pena, and Rene Rivera.
Vazquez will join that group as he enters a key season. The 26-year-old will qualify for arbitration after the year, so long as he accrues enough service time in 2017 with the Red Sox. As things stand, he has logged two years and 31 days at the MLB level.
Certainly, Vazquez will need to boost his offensive productivity to set himself up as hoped. After missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, he did manage to make a full return and is regarded as a highly talented defender. But he struggled last year to a .227/.277/.308 batting line over 184 plate appearances and will need to earn playing time this spring in a camp battle with Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart.
As always, you can keep up on the latest agency information with MLBTR’s Agency Database.
- The Redbirds have an impressive selection of outfielders with Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham on hand, but they’re looking to add to the group. General manager John Mozeliak is specifically seeking a left-handed hitter (Piscotty, Grichuk and Pham are righties) who can play multiple positions in the grass. There’s a wide array of current free agents who match that criteria.
- The Cardinals still intend to stretch out erstwhile closer Trevor Rosenthal, a plan which Mozeliak first revealed in November, but it doesn’t seem as if he’ll have a chance to crack their rotation. Instead, the goal is for Rosenthal to serve as a versatile bullpen option. “I think all of us were intrigued by how the postseason went this past year and how pitchers were being used,” said Mozeliak, surely referring to the Indians’ October deployment of Andrew Miller. “I’m not one who thinks that’s really something you can replicate in a 162-game season, but clearly it could be a weapon down the road if you do get to the postseason.”
- There “will be a competition” for the starting third base job this spring, according to Mozeliak. Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta will vie for the role after experiencing vastly different 2016 campaigns. Gyorko hit a solid .243/.306/.495 and popped a personal-best 30 home runs in only 438 plate appearances, whereas the normally steady Peralta may have endured the worst year of his career. While battling injuries, the 34-year-old batted .260/.307/.408 and posted a negative fWAR (minus-0.5) in 313 PAs.
Considering his murky contract status beyond 2017, there’s an outside possibility catcher Yadier Molina is entering his final season with the Cardinals. Molina will make $14MM this year, the last guaranteed season of his contract, and then he and the Cardinals will have a decision to make on a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout) for 2018. However, the two sides are motivated to stay together and are considering hammering out an agreement to render Molina’s option moot, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
“It has been something that we have talked about in terms of what that might look like,” said general manager John Mozeliak. “But when you talk about extensions … I think it’s always best to keep that internal. But not to acknowledge that he has a year left with a mutual option wouldn’t be fair either. So I think as we look at ’17, it’s certainly something we have to think through. He’s made it no secret that he would like to find a way to stay here, and I would imagine that it’s something that we will mutually try to do.”
It’s no surprise that Molina and the Redbirds are mulling extending their relationship, given both his status as a franchise icon and his still-strong production. Now 34, Molina debuted with the Cardinals in 2004 and has been building what could end up as a Hall of Fame-caliber resume ever since. The ultra-durable Molina is coming off yet another terrific season behind the plate, one in which he amassed at least 130 appearances (a career-high 147, including a league-best 142 at catcher) for the seventh time in the past eight years. Along the way, he once again ranked as an elite pitch framer (via Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner) and blocker, though he only threw out 21 percent of attempted base stealers (exactly half his 42 percent lifetime mark).
Molina has long been a defensive stalwart, of course, but it took several seasons for his offensive production to reach the position’s upper echelon. Aside from a down 2015, though, Molina has been consistently above average at the plate dating back to 2011. In 581 plate appearances last season, the high-contact hitter batted .307/.360/.427 while striking out in only 10.8 percent of PAs – just under half the rate of the 21.2 percent league mean.
With no apparent signs that Molina is poised to markedly decline, it appears his future in St. Louis will last at least another couple seasons, though his next deal obviously won’t approach the five-year, $75MM extension he signed in 2012. In the improbable event he and the Cardinals part ways next offseason, it would likely pave the way for the Carson Kelly era. In the meantime, the 22-year-old is ticketed for Triple-A Memphis in 2017, while veteran Eric Fryer stands to serve as Molina’s backup. Judging by Molina’s history, Fryer won’t see much action this year.
- Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk underwent left knee surgery to remove loose cartilage earlier this offseason, he told reporters – including Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – on Sunday (Twitter link). Grichuk added that he’s doing well after a month-plus recovery. The 25-year-old has now undergone surgeries in back-to-back offseasons, including a procedure to repair a sports hernia last winter. With the signing of big-money center fielder Dexter Fowler in free agency, Grichuk is in line for the everyday job in left next season (depth chart).
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak addressed questions from fans and media during the club’s Winter Warm-Up event this weekend. Here are some of Mozeliak’s hot stove-related comments, courtesy of Derrick Goold, Jeff Gordon and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch…
- After failing to reach agreements with Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha before Friday’s arbitration filing deadline, the Cardinals won’t pursue further negotiation with either right-hander and will instead go to arbitration hearings. Martinez asked for $4.25MM while the Cards countered with a $3.9MM offer, and Wacha filed for $3.2MM with a $2.775MM counter from St. Louis. As Goold notes, this will be the first time the Cardinals have gone to an arbitration hearing with any player in 17 years. Mozeliak explained that the Cards had explored using the “file-and-trial” strategy in the last couple of years before finally taking the stance during this winter’s crop of arb-eligible players.
- Martinez and the Cardinals were discussing a multi-year extension this winter, though obviously no agreement was reached before Friday’s deadline. The hearing “would not put a chill” on the relationship between the two sides, as Goold put it, so talks could very possibly resume during Spring Training once Martinez’s 2017 salary has been decided by the arbiter. For his part, Martinez said (via an interpreter) that he wants to spend the rest of his career with the team.
- St. Louis was rather surprisingly linked to Brian Dozier’s name in trade rumors last month, though later reports downplayed the Cardinals’ interest. Mozeliak said his team’s pursuit of Dozier “was news to me.” As Goold explains, the connection could have been due to the Cards’ discussions with teams in order to properly gauge market values, rather than an actual interest in acquiring Dozier. “If [the Cardinals] knew what a top-tier second baseman was going to command on this pricey trade market then they also could evaluate their own players, and they could evaluate their own offers,” Goold writes.
- Left-hander Marco Gonzales said he is feeling healthy and is hoping to begin the season in the Triple-A rotation. Gonzales, picked 19th overall by the Cardinals in 2013, quickly reached the bigs to toss 34 2/3 innings for the club in 2014, and injuries have since derailed his progress. Shoulder problems limited the southpaw to just one game in 2015, and Gonzales missed all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery.
The Cardinals and first baseman Matt Adams have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.8MM, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (on Twitter). That figure is an exact match with the projection from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Adams, 28, missed roughly three weeks of the 2016 season with shoulder troubles but was productive in a part-time role when healthy. The slugging lefty batted .249/.309/.471 with 16 homers in a 327 trips to the plate. The shoulder injury and Adams’ deficiencies against left-handed pitching combined to limit his on-field action last season, and with Matt Carpenter penciled in as the everyday first baseman for the 2017 club, he’s unlikely to see an increase in playing time (barring injuries elsewhere on the roster). Adams has been mentioned as a possible trade candidate this winter, and the Royals are one team that has shown some preliminary interest. However, the free-agent market is flooded with players of comparable skill sets that don’t figure to come with significant asking prices at this point, which likely limits interest Adams to some extent.
Adams has long been a weapon against right-handed pitching when healthy, mashing opposite-handed pitchers at a .284/.331/.480 clip in his career. Lefties have befuddled the big man, however, as he’s mustered a woeful .212/.243/.342 slash against them. Durability has also been an issue for Adams in the past. In addition to last year’s shoulder troubles, he had brief DL stints for oblique and calf injuries in 2013 and 2014, respectively, before missing about half of the 2015 campaign with a torn right quadriceps muscle.
This marks the second trip through the arbitration process for Adams, who will be eligible once more next winter before becoming a free agent upon completion of the 2018 campaign. Remember that you can follow along with this year’s arb class using MLBTR’s 2017 Arbitration Tracker.
Over the next few days, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong. Click here to view all of the 2017 projections.
Ever since Dontrelle Willis received $4.35 million in arbitration in 2006, it has been hard for first-time eligible starting pitchers to top his salary. The record stood for ten years, until last year Dallas Keuchel took home $7.25 million following a Cy Young Award-winning season. In the decade since Willis received his record first-year salary for starting pitchers, many pitchers have come extremely close to hitting his $4.35 million or have actually hit it. David Price matched Willis’ $4.35 million in 2012 and Shelby Miller did so last year. Seven other starting pitchers have earned between $4 and $4.35 million in the last decade as well.
Other pitchers who would likely have exceeded Willis’ record received multi-year deals, which usually removes them from consideration when looking for comparables. Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw were both coming off Cy Young seasons when they received multi-year deals, and Lance Lynn and Cole Hamels also received multi-year deals and subsequently missed out on breaking the record as well. Many elite starting pitchers are worthwhile candidates for multi-year deals, so it is not surprising that few of them actually receive one-year deals and become comparables. Among pitchers in the last decade with 30 career wins, 450 career innings, career ERAs below 3.50 and at least 100 platform year innings, five of nine signed multi-year deals before reaching agreement on one-year deals for their first year of salary arbitration.
Modeling arbitration salaries is obviously something that requires much precision, but the psychological barrier of $4.35 million is something that emotionless mathematical modeling will miss. As a result, I have written several articles over the years in which I explained that certain pitchers who were projected just over $4.35 million probably would not actually do so. Jacob deGrom and Carlos Martinez may be two such pitchers today, although Martinez is more likely to best that amount.
Jacob deGrom is coming off a mediocre platform year (for arbitration purposes) where he only won seven games amidst throwing 148 innings. Although his ERA was 3.04, lack of counting stats is likely to hurt his arbitration case. His career numbers may offset this—he has 30 career wins and a 2.74 ERA across 479.1 innings and has struck out 492 batters. He also won Rookie of the Year in 2014. His projection is $4.5 million, although I think there is good reason to believe that he will fall short of this.
Carlos Martinez has a much stronger case, and is projected to earn $5.3 million. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA in 195.1 innings with 174 strikeouts, and has a career 34-21 record with a 3.32 ERA in 492.2 innings with 466 strikeouts. Few pitchers can match his performance, and he may be able to top the old record of $4.35 million, although he will come nowhere near the new record. The peculiarity of Martinez’ case is that is that there are no comparable pitchers with salaries in the range between $4.35 and $7.25, so he will be filling in some empty space if he does exceed the old Willis number.
In the last five years, there have only been five pitchers who had 25 career wins, 400 career innings, 400 career strikeouts, and career ERAs under 3.50 who did not sign multi-year deals. All five received between $3.97 and $4.35 million in arbitration. These include Shelby Miller at $4.35 million, Matt Harvey at $4.32 million, Doug Fister and Alex Cobb both at $4 million, and Stephen Strasburg at $3.97 million.
It is difficult to see a good reason why Jacob deGrom would earn above or below this range as a result. Although he had slightly fewer innings than all of them, Doug Fister in 2013 was coming off just 161.2 innings and Alex Cobb was coming off 166.1 innings. Both won 10 games, more than deGrom’s seven, but neither had a Rookie of the Year Award under his belt and deGrom’s career ERA is lower than both of theirs. He also has more strikeouts than either had in their careers at this point as well. As a result, I think he will probably top their $4 million salaries.
I think deGrom will struggle to top Matt Harvey’s $4.32 million from last season, though. Harvey had a better career ERA and a better platform ERA, along with many more platform innings. Something around $4.2 million seems likely for deGrom—below his $4.5 million projection.
Martinez, on the other hand, does seem like a likely candidate to top the five aforementioned starters’ earnings. None of them had more than 13 platform year wins, and Martinez had 16. His 3.04 ERA is in the middle of the pack for the group, but his 195.1 innings total is only bested by Miller. His 34 career wins are bested by Alex Cobb, but exceed the other four starters. His innings and strikeouts are similar to them as well.
All things considered, he has a clear cut case to beat the $4.35 million mark. Comparing him to Shelby Miller alone, he went 16-9 as compared with Miller’s 6-17 in his platform year. His platform year ERA was nearly identical and he threw only 10 less innings but had three more strikeouts than Miller. In his career, he has two more wins than Miller but 14 fewer losses. He also has a relatively similar ERA. Although he has thrown about eighty fewer innings, he has only struck out seventeen fewer batters. Martinez is likely to succeed in asking for a number higher than Miller’s $4.35. But given that the main difference is ten platform year wins, I believe he will probably not get the $5.3 million projection my model estimates. I think something between $4.5 and $5 million is likely for Martinez.
Both of these pitchers are projected for slightly more than they will probably earn. The symbolic barrier at $4.35 million is still a factor despite Keuchel’s new record, which was set up by his 232 innings of 2.48 ERA pitching and the hardware to match. Because of that, the model is likely to miss on starting pitchers near that until that symbolic barrier has been passed enough times.
Earlier tonight, the Royals added a potential DH candidate when they acquired defensively-challenged slugger Peter O’Brien from the Diamondbacks, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that they also have had some “preliminary” talks with the Cardinals about first baseman Matt Adams (Twitter link).
The 28-year-old Adams has long seemed like a potential trade candidate. The Cardinals told Matt Carpenter back in November that he was going to open the season as the everyday first baseman, and Adams has never lined up anywhere else on the diamond in either the Majors or the minors. Because both Carpenter and Adams swing from the left side of the dish, there’s no potential for any kind of platoon scenario, and with a 6’3″, 260-pound listing, Adams isn’t likely to find much success in an already-full Cardinals’ outfield.
In Kansas City, though, Adams would be able to find much more consistent at-bats, presumably as a designated hitter. Currently, the Royals figure to give Jorge Soler plenty of looks there and also rotate players like Mike Moustakas and Cheslor Cuthbert into the mix from time to time. That outlook could change if the Royals deal an outfielder, thereby pushing Soler into the field with more regularity. (Jarrod Dyson has been an oft-rumored trade candidate this winter.) The Royals are actually trying to pare down the payroll a bit, but Adams is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn an affordable $2.8MM salary in 2017, so the Royals could find a way to squeeze him into the payroll (especially if any additional veterans are moved following last month’s trade of Wade Davis). As a bonus, Adams is controllable through 2018 via the arbitration process.
Adams has long been a force against right-handed pitching when he’s been healthy enough to take the field, amassing a lifetime .284/.331/.480 battling line when holding the platoon advantage. However, durability hasn’t been a strong point for Adams, who had brief DL stints for oblique and calf injuries in 2013 and 2014, respectively, before missing about half of the 2015 campaign with a torn right quadriceps muscle. He also missed about three weeks this past season due to inflammation in his left shoulder. Adams’ playing time has also been suppressed by dreadful performance against left-handed pitching; St. Louis has limited him to 280 career PAs against lefties, and the resulting .212/.243/.352 batting line and 29.3 percent strikeout rate aren’t encouraging.
The other question to address when considering an Adams trade is that the market is currently rife with sluggers bearing similar skill sets. Brandon Moss, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Lind, Logan Morrison, Justin Morneau and Ryan Howard are all free agents, as are left-handed-hitting outfielders like Michael Saunders and Colby Rasmus. While most of those players figure to sign for more than Adams’ projected salary, it’s doubtful that many of the bunch will earn significantly more. And, those free agents would obviously be available to the Royals without requiring the team to surrender any minor league talent. If the Royals are simply looking for DH candidates with power that can be had on one-year deals, then a right-handed bat like Chris Carter, Mark Reynolds or even old friend Billy Butler are free-agent options as well.
Put another way, it seems unlikely that the Royals or any other team would have a strong sense of urgency to swing a deal for Adams unless the cost of acquisition was truly palatable. That’s not intended to be a knock on Adams, but the supply of this type of player greatly outweighs the demand in the current market.