St. Louis Cardinals – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-06-05T23:25:42Z WordPress Steve Adams <![CDATA[Chris Ellis, Oscar Hernandez Among Cardinals’ Minor League Releases]]> 2020-06-02T21:20:57Z 2020-06-02T21:20:57Z Right-hander Chris Ellis and catcher Oscar Hernandez were among the 33 minor leaguers released by the Cardinals in the final week of May, Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat reports (Twitter thread). Right-hander Johnny Hellweg was also cut loose. Jones’ thread has additional names from each level of the Cardinals’ system, though none of the bunch has any MLB experience.

Each of Ellis, Hernandez and Hellweg has had a fleeting look at the Majors. Ellis was a Rule 5 pick of the Royals in 2018 and subsequently tossed one inning in Kansas City last year before being returned to the Cards. The 27-year-old has been moved in a pair of notable trades, going from the Angels to the Braves alongside Sean Newcomb in the Andrelton Simmons swap before being flipped from Atlanta to St. Louis a year later in the Jaime Garcia deal. (The Braves also sent John Gant and Luke Dykstra to the Cards in that deal.) Ellis had a nice year between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018, but he was rocked for a 7.18 ERA in 79 Triple-A frames in 2019.

Hernandez himself was once a top pick in the Rule 5 Draft, going from the Rays to the D-backs in 2014. He appeared in 22 games with Arizona but hit just .167/.239/.262 in 47 plate appearances. Now 26 years old, Hernandez signed a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp this winter. Despite a solid defensive reputation, he’s managed just a .210/.279/.336 slash in parts of three Triple-A campaigns.

Hellweg, 31, was once a rather well-regarded prospect himself. Originally a 16th-round pick by the Angels (2008), he was in the midst of a solid 2012 campaign at the Double-A level when the Halos flipped him, Jean Segura and Ariel Pena to the Brewers to rent ace Zack Greinke. He was hit hard in 30 2/3 frames with the Brewers and hasn’t pitched in the Majors since the 2013 season. Since then, he’s spent time with the Padres and the Pirates in addition to stints in the independent Canadian-American Association and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Like Hernandez, he’d inked a minor league deal with the Cards this winter.

Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Did The Cardinals Get A Steal In Matthew Liberatore?]]> 2020-06-01T04:19:54Z 2020-06-01T02:08:17Z
  • The January swap with the Rays that saw the Cardinals acquire left-hander Matthew Liberatorecould be a monster trade” for the Redbirds, an American League scout tells Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  “There is a small clutch of the best pitching prospects in the minors, and I don’t think you could find 10 better than Liberatore,” the scout said, reinforcing the belief that the Cards have quickly been able to reload its young pitching depth (and its left-handed depth, specifically, as Liberatore and 2019 first-rounder Zack Thompson are both southpaws).  The full trade saw St. Louis and Tampa swap draft picks in Competitive Balance Rounds A and B — the Cards got the lower of the two selections — and exchange Liberatore and minor league catcher Edgardo Rodriguez for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena.  Since Martinez and Arozarena were both somewhat blocked in the crowded Cardinals’ depth chart, moving them for a very promising young starter indeed looks like a shrewd move for St. Louis, as the Cards lost little from their big league roster.
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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest News, Notes On Minor League Pay]]> 2020-05-29T21:36:05Z 2020-05-29T15:57:39Z The manner in which teams are — or, in some cases, aren’t — continuing to pay their minor league players has drawn increased attention as the end of the month draws near. Major League teams agreed back in March to pay minor league players $400 per week through the end of May, but most minor league players now face ongoing financial uncertainty. The Dodgers have already committed to continue that $400 weekly stipend through the end of June, but veteran left-hander David Price is stepping up to add a helping hand, pledging $1,000 to each non-40-man Dodgers minor leaguer, according to a report from Francys Romero (Twitter link). That includes more than 220 minor leaguers, per’s Chris Cotillo. It’s a similar gesture to the one Shin-Shoo Choo made with the Rangers back in April.

    Of course, the very fact that veterans such as Choo and Price even feel it necessary to step up to help out minor leaguers speaks to the manner in which minor league players are under-compensated. While some clubs — the Marlins and Padres — are reportedly set to pay out that $400 weekly stipend through the end of the minor league season, the Athletics are cutting off the stipend at month’s end. Others have extended the stipend through June but have not committed further.

    Here’s how a few other clubs are handling the matter…

    • The Mets, Rays, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants and Indians are all extending the $400 weekly stipend through the month of June, per reports from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (tweet), the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak (tweet), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold, Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area (tweet) and Kyle Glaser of Baseball America (tweet). “This money right now, especially for guys who aren’t as well off, this is a huge deal,” Rays minor league catcher Chris Betts tells Topkin. “…I’m beyond excited about it, and I’m honestly just more stoked and proud that the organization I play for took this route more than anything.”
    • The Athletics have, unsurprisingly, drawn a wide array of harsh criticism for their wide-ranging furlough and the full cutoff of minor league payment, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. Slusser notes that owner John Fisher repeatedly used the word “family” in his letter to fans explaining the cutbacks, but many impacted by the cuts don’t feel the effects of that word. “It’s very hard to preach family and then not act like it when times are difficult,” Class-A pitcher Aiden McIntyre tells Slusser. Triple-A outfielder Jason Krizan added: “…[I]t hurts to see the Marlins continue to pay their players when they made the least in baseball last year,” though he noted he’d rather remain an Athletic and receive benefits than otherwise. Other players, past and present, voiced similar criticisms to Slusser, as did a big league agent and an executive with another club. Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein writes that termination of the stipend saves the Athletics an approximate $1.3MM.
    Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Cardinals Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> 2020-05-27T18:24:39Z 2020-05-27T21:00:10Z In a few weeks, we’ll be running a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR – just for the fun of it!  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.

    The American League results are in!  Click here to see who’s protected and who’s available for each AL team.

    So far, we’ve covered the PiratesBrewersRedsCubsDiamondbacksRockiesDodgersPadresGiantsRangersMariners, Athletics, Angels, Astros, Twins, Royals, Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.  The Cardinals are up next.

    First, we’ll remove free agents Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Wieters, Brett Cecil, and Brad Miller from consideration.  Andrew Miller has a $12MM club option for 2021, and we’ll consider him a free agent for this exercise.  In the case of Kolten Wong and his $12.5MM club option, we’ll assume the Cardinals exercise it and protect him.  Outfield prospect Dylan Carlson will be protected out of the gate given his 2020 ETA.  Paul Goldschmidt, Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, and Miles Mikolas will be protected due to their no-trade clauses.  Here’s the full list of 11 players we’ll lock down right out of the gate:

    Paul Goldschmidt
    Dexter Fowler
    Matt Carpenter
    Miles Mikolas
    Dylan Carlson
    Jack Flaherty
    Paul DeJong
    Tommy Edman
    Dakota Hudson
    Giovanny Gallegos
    Kolten Wong

    That leaves four spots for the following 19 players.  Be sure to check out their contract statuses and team control here.

    Harrison Bader
    John Brebbia
    Genesis Cabrera
    Austin Dean
    Junior Fernandez
    John Gant
    Ryan Helsley
    Jordan Hicks
    Kwang Hyun Kim
    Andrew Knizner
    Carlos Martinez
    Tyler O’Neill
    Daniel Ponce de Leon
    Rangel Ravelo
    Alex Reyes
    Edmundo Sosa
    Lane Thomas
    Tyler Webb
    Justin Williams

    With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly four players you think the Cardinals should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft.  Click here to view the results.

    Create your own user feedback survey

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Ivan Herrera: Cardinals' Future Catcher? ]]> 2020-05-26T03:52:39Z 2020-05-26T03:52:39Z
  • With catcher Yadier Molina potentially months from free agency, the Cardinals may soon have to find a long-term replacement for the franchise icon. That could one day be prospect Ivan Herrera, whom Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles. Set to turn 20 on June 1, Herrera – the Cardinals’ fourth-ranked prospect at – spent the majority of last season in High-A and batted .286/.361/.423 with eight home runs in 291 plate appearances. Although he’s not as advanced as a defender, there’s optimism he’ll keep improving that aspect of his game, as Goold writes. “We hear he has the aptitude to go along with the game plan behind the plate,” manager Mike Shildt told Goold.
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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[A 4-Year-Old Trade That Could Have Long-Term Effects]]> 2020-05-31T18:42:36Z 2020-05-25T21:20:07Z For the most part, if one team trades you to another for cash considerations, odds are you aren’t going to amount to much in Major League Baseball. But it was four years ago today that the two Missouri-based franchises – the Royals and Cardinals – came together on a cash/player trade that made an impact in the ensuing couple years and could continue to have a long-term effect. On May 25, 2016, the Cardinals acquired outfielder Jose Martinez, whom the Royals had recently designated for assignment to clear roster space for a guy named Whit Merrifield, for money.

    Jose Martinez

    Back when the trade occurred, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd wrote of Martinez: “He’s a ten-year minor-league veteran who has yet to crack the majors. In parts of two seasons at Triple-A, Martinez owns a productive .359/.431/.525 batting line over 556 plate appearances. He hasn’t quite maintained the pace he set last year at Omaha, but will nevertheless provide the Cards some outfield depth in the upper levels of their system.”

    Indeed, Martinez didn’t look as if he’d make a mark in the majors when the Cardinals got him. After all, along with the Royals, the White Sox and Braves gave up on Martinez earlier in his career. But following a couple months in the Cardinals’ system, the club recalled him Sept. 6, 2016, for his long-awaited major league debut. Martinez has defied the odds and gone on to a pretty successful offensive career since then.

    In 2017, his first extensive action in the bigs, Martinez batted a hearty .309/.379/.518 (136 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 307 plate appearances. The good times continued the next season in an even larger role, as Martinez hit .305/.364/.457 (127 wRC+) and put up 17 HRs over 590 trips to the plate. As solid as Martinez was as a hitter then, though, defensive questions have consistently dogged him. He posted minus-13 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-5.3 Ultimate Zone Rating as a corner outfielder from 2017-18, preventing him from maxing out his value as a hitter. By fWAR, Martinez was roughly an average contributor during that span, though he was passable as a first baseman in 675 innings in ’18 (minus-1 DRS, minus-3.2 UZR).

    If you struggle as a defender, you have to hit in order to be of much use to your team, but Martinez even had difficulty doing that last year. On the heels of two impressive seasons in a row, he stumbled to a low-power line of .269/.340/.410 (101 wRC+) and managed just 10 homers in 373 PA. Between that and more subpar outfield defense (minus-10 DRS, minus-4.6 UZR), Martinez was close to a replacement-level player.

    Despite his underwhelming output in 2019, as someone whom they gave up almost nothing to acquire, Martinez provided St. Louis more value than it could have realistically expected when it landed him. However, the Cardinals bid goodbye to Martinez last offseason, sending him, outfielder Randy Arozarena and a Competitive Balance Round A draft pick to the Rays in a deal that netted the Redbirds left-hander Matthew Liberatore, Tampa Bay’s Competitive Balance Round B selection and catcher Edgardo Rodriguez.

    In the 31-year-old Martinez, the Rays got a player who, as mentioned, has typically fared well at the plate. Plus Martinez is under affordable control for the next three seasons, which is important for a low-budget club. It remains to be seen whether any of the younger talent in the swap will pan out, but it seems Liberatore stands the best chance. The 20-year-old currently ranks as the game’s 42nd-best prospect at Baseball America, which contends that he has “mid-rotation or better” upside.

    Unlike the original Martinez trade, which was a win for St. Louis, we don’t yet know how the Cardinals-Rays one will go. Regardless, the Royals-Cards trade from four seasons ago is another sign that deals which may look insignificant at the time are capable of affecting teams for years.

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Latest On MLB Teams’ Plans For Employees]]> 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z 2020-05-22T00:55:42Z A variety of MLB teams have already revealed plans for the year for non-player employees. Some have instituted furloughs and/or pay cuts while others have committed to carry employees through the fall. Still other teams are taking things on a month-to-month basis, with several revealing their latest plans in recent days.

    At least three teams have decided to continue paying employees in full through at least the end of June. The Cardinals are one such team, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on Twitter. The Twins are also in that camp, Jeff Passan of tweets. And the White Sox are adjusting work hours but not take-home pay, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter).

    Elsewhere in the central divisions, there were some cuts. The Cubs are keeping their full slate of employees at full-time capacity, but are instituting some salary reductions, Jeff Passan of reported on Twitter. And though the Pirates will not draw down their baseball operations staff, they will reduce pay in that arena while furloughing some business employees, as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

    Out west, the Giants will retain their entire full-time staff but will be trimming pay for those earning over $75K, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Part-timers have been furloughed.

    The Astros have committed to maintaining full pay and benefits for full-time employees, but only through June 5th, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. Whether some action could occur beyond that point remains to be seen. The Orioles are also still in flux, but the organization appears to be leaning towards keeping staff as usual through June, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter).

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[An Unpopular Trade Paying Off In Seattle]]> 2020-05-26T15:47:25Z 2020-05-20T00:45:52Z The Mariners’ rebuild began in earnest following a disappointing finish to the 2018 season, when GM Jerry Dipoto first began talk of re-imagining his roster. The M’s have added a bevy of prospects since that time, highlighted by Jarred Kelenic and Justus Sheffield, but one of their most important long-term pieces was acquired on July 21 in 2017, when the club was still aiming for immediate contention.

    That day saw Seattle trade slugging minor league outfielder Tyler O’Neill to the Cardinals in exchange for left-hander Marco Gonzales. The now-28-year-old Gonzales has become a fixture in the rotation, but the trade wasn’t exactly well-received among M’s fans at the time. The club was below .500 but just 1.5 games back from a Wild Card spot at the time of the swap. Dipoto had been trying to acquire young pitching, hoping to add to his core while also remaining competitive in a top-heavy American League. (The 85-win Twins claimed the league’s second Wild Card position that year.)

    Marco Gonzales | Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    The consensus among Mariners fans at the time of the swap was, essentially, “Why would they do this?” Social media reactions to the deal weren’t favorable, and looking through the comments on the trade’s writeup at MLBTR, FanGraphs or most other sites reveals a similarly perplexed set of replies. O’Neill had entered that year as one of the game’s 100 best prospects and the second-best in the Mariners organization, while Gonzales had made just one appearance in the Majors since returning from 2016 Tommy John surgery. He was having a nice season in Triple-A, but most scouting reports on him pegged Gonzales as a mid-rotation arm, at best. In addition to that Tommy John surgery, he battled shoulder troubles in 2015.

    Injury risk or not, Dipoto was undeterred. The Mariners’ GM spoke the day before the trade about only being willing to deal from his premium prospects if it meant acquiring a long-term rotation piece, and days after the swap he called Gonzales “about as big-league-ready as a Triple-A pitcher could be.” Sure enough, Gonzales was in the big leagues less than three weeks later.

    The initial results did little to assuage the concerns of Seattle fans. Gonzales pitched just 36 2/3 innings of 5.40 ERA ball down the stretch as the Mariners again fell shy of the postseason. O’Neill hit .253/.304/.548 with a dozen homers in 37 Triple-A games following the trade that year. On-base questions notwithstanding, the power was still impressive and Mariners fans were skeptical of the lefty for whom O’Neill had been shipped out.

    Despite that lackluster showing, Gonzales opened the 2018 season in the Seattle starting five. His early work didn’t inspire much confidence, but after four shaky starts, Gonzales settled into a groove and pitched to a 3.60 ERA over his final 150 innings, averaging 7.6 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 along the way. In 2019, Gonzales posted a 3.99 ERA that was nearly identical to his 4.00 ERA from 2018 — but he did it in a larger sample of 203 frames.

    Setting aside his rocky debut in 2018, Gonzales has given the Mariners 369 2/3 frames of 3.99 ERA ball with an even better 3.83 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9 and a 42.5 percent ground-ball rate. From 2018-19, he was worth 6.0 bWAR and 7.1 fWAR. The rebuilding Mariners made clear that they view Gonzales as a core piece back in February, signing the southpaw to a four-year, $30MM contract extension (2021-24) that also contains a $15MM club option for the 2025 season.

    The trade would likely look like a solid one for the Mariners even if O’Neill had blossomed into an everyday corner outfielder. That hasn’t happened yet, however. While Gonzales was solidifying himself in the Mariners’ rotation, O’Neill was bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and St. Louis, hitting a combined .258/.307/.454 with 14 home runs in 293 plate appearances. The power has been good but not elite, and O’Neill’s contact struggles have indeed been magnified against MLB pitching; he’s punched out 110 times in those 293 plate appearances (37.5 percent).

    To be fair to O’Neill, he hasn’t exactly been given a real opportunity to win an everyday job. Just months after he was traded to St. Louis, the Cardinals went out and acquired two years of control over Marcell Ozuna in a trade that sent Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen and Magneuris Sierra to the Marlins. With Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham (in 2018) and Harrison Bader all logging considerable time in the St. Louis outfield, opportunities for O’Neill have been sparse. But the very fact that the Cards felt it necessary to pursue a Giancarlo Stanton acquisition and then pull off a deal for Ozuna speaks to some level of question in O’Neill’s readiness.

    The Cards didn’t add a left fielder to replace the departing Ozuna this winter, but they also have uber-prospect Dylan Carlson nearing the Majors. Even if Carlson seizes an outfield spot, the likely implementation of the universal DH will give O’Neill some additional opportunities to get into the lineup, so perhaps he’ll finally get the chance to justify the deal from the St. Louis end. The Cards haven’t exactly been hurting for pitching even without Gonzales in the fold, but there’s no denying he’s been the more valuable piece of the straight-up swap to this point.

    The Gonzales/O’Neill trade won’t be looked back upon as any time of blockbuster, but it offers some reminders when judging future trades:

    • Prospect rankings are useful and entertaining, but it’s easy to overemphasize them. Prospect values are in a constant state of flux. Even a few weeks and certainly a couple months can change the opinion on a prospect. Whether it’s adding a new pitch, adding/losing velocity, outgrowing a position, altering mechanics at the plate or any number of other changes a player can exhibit, a prospect’s value can alter in a hurry.
    • It’s too easy to write off post-hype prospects. Gonzales himself was a first-round pick and top-100 prospect prior to injury troubles. At the time of the O’Neill trade, he was less than two years removed from ranking as the game’s No. 50 prospect, per Baseball America. A recent top prospect with some big league experience and four to five years of control is generally still a valuable piece even if he’s not a star. MLBTR’s Connor Byrne recently looked at another player fitting this mold: Pittsburgh’s Joe Musgrove.
    • Position scarcity matters. We’ve seen corner outfielders and first baseman go for smaller returns on the trade market and in free agency in recent seasons. Part of the Mariners’ calculus was surely that a corner outfielder with some on-base questions was easier to come by than an affordable mid-rotation starter, even if the latter carried considerably more risk.

    In some regards, the end result of this trade is common. “Team gets one of its best pitchers by trading away key prospect” is hardly a unique storyline in baseball, but the manner in which the Mariners went about this particular instance of that narrative isn’t typical. The result speaks for itself right now, though. And while O’Neill can still change how we look at the deal in the long run, it’s worked out about as well as the Mariners could’ve hoped.

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Cardinals Notes: Mikolas, Freese, Molina]]> 2020-05-18T15:00:18Z 2020-05-18T14:26:40Z Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas tossed a bullpen session last Friday and expects to be ready to go whenever play resumes, per The Athletic’s Mark Saxon (subscription required). Mikolas feels he’ll have time to get in another “eight to ten” bullpen sessions between now and the reported mid-June target for a reboot of Spring Training, at which point he’d be able to kick things off with a two- or three-inning appearance. A flexor strain slowed the right-hander back in February and likely would’ve cost him a notable portion of the season under normal circumstances, but like many others, he’s been able to use the extended time off to heal up. Mikolas also chats with Saxon about the likely addition of the designated hitter in the NL and gives his reasons for welcoming that change.

    More out of St. Louis…

    • St. Louis native and postseason hero David Freese plans to be with the Cardinals’ fantasy camp next year, and the recently retired corner infielder tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’s open to coaching in the future but not fully committed to the idea. “I always think about it, just because baseball is a part of me,” says Freese, who goes on to marvel at the manner in which the workload of Major League coaches has expanded over the past several years. A managerial role, even at the minor league level, has a bit more appeal to Freese than a coaching job, but the 37-year-old is currently focused on his family, with a second child due next month. Cards fans will want to check out the interview to read Freese’s personal recollection of a legendary postseason showing in 2011, when he rallied back from an icy NLDS showing to hit a combined .444/.528/.889 with four homers, six doubles and an unforgettable triple in just 53 plate appearances between the NLCS and World Series. He was named MVP of both series.
    • ESPN’s Marly Rivera recently spoke with Yadier Molina about his willingness to test free agency and sign elsewhere if a reunion with the Cardinals doesn’t work out. Those comments were understandably the focus of her initial piece from their talk, although a lengthier transcript of the interview was published last week — one in which Molina discusses his Hall of Fame aspirations, his journey from a “defensive catcher” to a well-rounded All-Star performer, his pursuit of the 2,000 hit milestone and the change in the way that catchers have been valued since his MLB debut. There’s no additional context or change in his thoughts on potentially playing elsewhere; those comments were published in their entirety from the get-go, and it’s clear that Molina hopes to remain in St. Louis but wants another two years whether as a Cardinal or not. Still, as with the Freese interview, Cards fans will surely enjoy the personal stories and recollections from a revered player looking back on his career and discussing his future in the game.
    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest On Jordan Hicks]]> 2020-05-15T19:16:35Z 2020-05-15T19:16:35Z Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks threw a pair of 20-pitch sets in a bullpen session at his home in Houston on Tuesday, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak tells Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It’s the latest positive step in the rehab process for the flamethrowing Hicks, who underwent Tommy John surgery late last June.

    The Cards aren’t putting a firm deadline on Hicks’ readiness to pitch in a big league game, but Mozeliak spoke in broad terms when he expressed “optimism that if we do have a season, he’ll have some way of being a key member of it.”

    Under normal circumstances, the Cards would’ve been without Hicks for at least half the season, given the June 26 date of last year’s surgery. Now, with the season beginning no earlier than July 1 — and quite possibly later, depending on the input of government officials and health experts — Hicks could be in the ’pen for the majority of the shortened season. The right-hander is a Type 1 diabetic but recently expressed to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that his condition wouldn’t impact his willingness to play in 2020 amid coronavirus concerns.

    Hicks, 23, is the hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball, averaging an outrageous 101.5 mph on a sinker that helped him post a gaudy 67.2 percent ground-ball rate in 2019. The right-hander quickly ascended to the role of closer in St. Louis and had collected 14 saves while pitching to a 3.14 ERA, 9.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 28 2/3 innings last year. Hicks made notable improvements in his ability to locate that blistering sinker last year, dropping his walk rate from a 5.2 BB/9 and 13.3 percent overall mark in 2018 to that 3.5 BB/9 and a 10 percent overall mark in 2019. His first-pitch strike rate jumped from 58.2 percent to 60.9 percent as well.

    Hicks will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter and currently carries a 3.47 ERA, 20 saves and a 101-to-56 K/BB ratio in 106 1/3 career innings. He’s under club control through the 2023 season.

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Universal DH Could Give Blocked Cardinals Sluggers An Opportunity]]> 2020-05-15T17:40:02Z 2020-05-15T14:38:54Z More than a month ago, I took a look at several Cardinals hitters who had limited avenues to big league playing time by virtue of the team’s veteran roster. The sudden likelihood of a universal DH gives those players another notable chunk of at-bats to display their MLB readiness. The Cardinals’ depth perhaps makes it unlikely that they’ll go with one or even two players as their primary DH like the D-backs will, but they’ll be able to cycle through a blend of veteran and rookie options in a matchup-based approach.

    Matt Carpenter graded out well at the hot corner both in Defensive Runs Saved (+5) and Outs Above Average (+6) last year. But as he approaches his 35th birthday, he could see some more time at the DH slot or at first base on days when Paul Goldschmidt needs a breather. Either scenario makes it easier to slot Tommy Edman in at the hot corner. The 25-year-old Edman was the Cardinals’ 2019 out-of-nowhere breakout du jour — they have one every year, it seems — and manager Mike Shildt will want him in the lineup as much as possible after he hit .304/.350/.500 in 349 plate appearances.

    Given Edman’s ability to play virtually anywhere on the field, though, he’d have been worked into the mix regularly with or without a DH. That’s less true of young outfielders like Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas, who were vying for at-bats in left field in the wake of Marcell Ozuna’s departure. O’Neill has long been awaiting a legitimate opportunity in the Majors. Soon to turn 25, he’s shown some swing-and-miss throughout his career but has clear light-tower power. Thomas is more defense-oriented than O’Neill but has had his share of success at the plate in the upper minors, too.

    The Cardinals’ trade of Jose Martinez this winter may seem ill-timed now, as he’d have been well-suited for DH duties, but part of the reason for the trade may have been that the club believes in the also-right-handed bat of 28-year-old Rangel Ravelo — an out-of-options first baseman/outfielder who was squarely behind Goldschmidt on the depth chart. Despite a .293/.369/.452 slash in 1652 Triple-A plate appearances, Ravelo only has 49 big league plate appearances. That number wouldn’t have gone up much as a pure bench bat, so the implementation of a DH slot in the NL would be music to his ears. Waiver claim Austin Dean, another right-handed bat with a big Triple-A track record, carries a similar skill set. The left-handed-hitting Justin Williams is yet another option.

    Of course, the player who excites Cards fans the most is top prospect Dylan Carlson, a 21-year-old 2016 first-rounder who ranks among the game’s very best prospects. Carlson was hoping to break camp with the Cards and might’ve been a long shot, but the uncertain minor league season could make him likelier to land on the Major League roster and get his at-bats in left or center. The addition gives the Cards the opportunity to get a look at Carlson without those at-bats coming at the direct expense of O’Neill, Thomas, Ravelo and Edman. Carlson surely would’ve gotten a lengthy audition sooner than later, but a DH allows the organization to evaluate him and other young options in simultaneous fashion that would’ve otherwise been difficult in the past.

    With Edman and Brad Miller filling versatile super-utility roles, plus several intriguing younger and/or inexperienced bats who have been waiting for a chance (Carlson, O’Neill, Ravelo, Thomas, etc.), the Cards should be able to find a productive mix.

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Wainwright Discusses Playing Beyond 2020]]> 2020-05-08T16:18:52Z 2020-05-08T16:18:52Z Adam Wainwright has been a fixture on the Cardinals’ pitching staff since 2006, and while the right-hander’s career looked to perhaps be drawing to a close a few years ago, he now tells Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required) that he hopes to return to the Cardinals for another go in 2021.

    Wainwright, who’ll turn 39 in August, details that as recently as 2017, “my arm hurt taking a spoonful of cereal.” Had the current shutdown occurred back then, the three-time All-Star candidly acknowledges that he “would have retired so fast it wouldn’t have been a second thought.” Now, however, his arm feels as healthy as it’s been since 2013-14. Wainwright is playing long toss with newly signed Cards lefty Kwang-hyun Kim from distances of close to 300 feet.

    The improved health in his arm is apparent in his results on the field as well. The 2019 season marked just the second time since 2014 that Wainwright has been able to make 30 starts, and last year’s 171 2/3 frames were his second-highest single-season total of the past five years. Wainwright worked to a 4.19 ERA last year, averaging 8.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 1.15 HR/9 to go along with a 48.8 percent ground-ball rate. He was slightly better than the league-average hurler, per ERA+ (102), and he was right at the league average in terms of FIP- (100).

    Certainly, it’s a far cry from the Cy Young-caliber ace that Wainwright once was, but the Cardinals weren’t asking him to be that — nor were they compensating him as such. Young Jack Flaherty has taken up the mantle as the team’s ace, while Wainwright gave the Cards 171 league-average frames while pitching on a $2MM base salary and maxing out an incentives package that earned him another $8MM. He re-upped on a one-year, $5MM deal this winter (with another set of incentives), as the organization hoped he could again serve as a steady source of innings and mentor for the younger pitchers.

    While he’s open to and even hopeful of playing another year in 2021, Wainwright didn’t sound like a player who has much interest in relocating to another club. Longtime teammate Yadier Molina recently went on the record to state a newfound willingness to play anywhere next season, but Wainwright focused his comments specifically on another year with the Cards:

    My wife loves St. Louis. My family loves St. Louis. As long as (the Cardinals) will have me, I’d love to play again next year.

    Presumably, Wainwright will play out the remainder of his career on a series of one-year deals in St. Louis, with similar incentives packages to those negotiated over the past two offseasons. Interestingly, both contained incentives based on both starting and relieving, so it seems that a return to the ’pen hasn’t been entirely ruled out for the longtime starter. For now, though, the expectation is that he’ll serve as a starter whenever play is able to resume.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[When Padres Gave Up An Eventual 2-Time Cy Young Winner]]> 2020-05-07T00:55:02Z 2020-05-06T23:54:58Z Although right-hander Corey Kluber has been one of the most successful starters in recent memory, it’s not as if his he was a can’t-miss prospect who was expected to turn into the two-time American League Cy Young winner he became. Kluber entered the pros as a fourth-round pick of the Padres in 2007, but he wasn’t lights-out at preventing runs at the lower levels of the minors with them during his time with the franchise. The Padres eventually deemed Kluber expendable when they sent him to the Indians in a July 2010 three-team trade that also involved the Cardinals. The headliners then were outfielder Ryan Ludwick (he went from the Cardinals to the Padres) and righty Jake Westbrook (the Indians shipped him to the Redbirds). Little did anyone know Kluber would turn into the most valuable player in the deal.

    Corey Kluber | Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

    If we go back a decade, Ludwick was amid a rather impressive run with the Cardinals, largely because of a 5.3-fWAR campaign in 2008 in which he posted a jaw-dropping 151 wRC+. While he fell back to earth from there, the Padres – who were playoff contenders in 2010 – expected him to at least serve as a solid regular in their uniform. But the Padres, despite winning 90 games that year, didn’t end up making the playoffs, and they never got much value from Ludwick. He slashed a weak .228/.301/.358 (86 wRC+) over 664 plate appearances in a Padres uniform in 160 games before they sold him to the Pirates in July 2011.

    Ludwick’s subpar production in San Diego makes it all the more unfortunate that the team said goodbye to Kluber, who later evolved into one of the top starters of the past several years. Kluber came into his own in 2013, his first full season in the majors, and proceeded to post a sterling 2.96 ERA/2.89 FIP with 9.91 K/9 and 1.86 BB/9 across 1,238 2/3 innings through 2018.

    As mentioned, Kluber took home a pair of Cy Youngs during his halcyon stretch. He also earned three All-Star nods, ranked 10th among all qualified starters in ERA, and helped the Indians to four playoff berths and three AL Central championships. Not bad for someone who was unheralded when the Indians got him. Westbrook, whom the Indians gave up, was quite good in their uniform at times, and he did enjoy success in St. Louis, but that’s nonetheless a trade that Cleveland would make again in light of how much Kluber blossomed as a member of the club.

    However, now 34 years old, Kluber is no longer part of the team with which he broke out. After a disappointing, injury-ruined 2019, the Indians sent Kluber and his waning team control (he has a guaranteed one year, $18.5MM left on the five-year, $38.5MM pact the Indians gave him in 2015) to the Rangers for reliever Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields. It has never come off as an overwhelming return for Cleveland, especially in light of Clase’s recent 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Then again, Kluber didn’t look like a special pickup when he joined the Indians, and look how he panned out. Regardless of what happens with Clase and DeShields, you can’t argue with what the Indians got from Kluber when he was in their rotation. For the Padres, though, he’s a star who got away.

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[A Shortstop Showdown]]> 2020-05-06T02:21:15Z 2020-05-06T02:02:10Z While they’re not in the same division, a pair of centrally based major league teams have produced a couple of the majors’ top-performing shortstops. The White Sox of the American League Central have seen Tim Anderson turn into a rather valuable player. The same goes for the Cardinals of the National League Central and Paul DeJong. They’re pretty similar in value, age and contract situations, but which of the two would you rather have?

    Anderson, 26, was a first-round pick in 2013 who debuted in ’16 and took some time to find himself as a major league hitter. In 1,643 plate appearances from his first year through 2018, he hit a below-average .258/.286/.411 (86 wRC+) with 46 home runs and 51 stolen bases. A high strikeout rate (26 percent) and a low walk percentage (3.4) were part of the problem. Those K/BB trends largely stayed in place last year (2.9 percent and 21 percent, respectively), but Anderson nonetheless found another gear a hitter. He slashed .335/.357/.508 (130 wRC+) with 18 homers and 17 steals en route to a career-best 3.5 fWAR (he combined for 4.1 in the prior three seasons) and an AL batting title. Of course, he was also the beneficiary of a .399 batting average on balls in play – up .110 points from the previous year – and Statcast wasn’t as bullish as his bottom-line production (.363 weighted on-base average versus .328 expected wOBA).

    Shifting to the defensive side, Anderson hasn’t been a consistently good player, at least not according to the metrics. By Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, he has been a plus player twice and a minus fielder twice. The most recent campaign fell into the latter category, as he posted minus-12 DRS with a minus-9.1 UZR. DeJong, meanwhile, has greatly outdone Anderson as a defender since debuting with the Cardinals in 2017. Last season, for instance, DeJong put up 26 DRS and 11.4 UZR, making him one of the sport’s top fielders.

    Also 26, DeJong has graded as a solid performer on a regular basis dating back to his first game in the majors. He has been at least a 3.0-fWAR player every season, including a career-high 4.1 mark in 2019. DeJong, unlike Anderson, has struggled to hit for average of late, but he was a 30-HR man last year – a season in which he finished with a .233/.318/.444 mark (100 wRC+) across 664 plate appearances. Going by wRC+, it was the third consecutive time that DeJong registered league-average or better offensive numbers. That and his excellent defense have combined to make DeJong quite valuable for St. Louis.

    Beyond the production on the field, you have to consider the two players’ contracts when comparing them. They’re pretty alike in that regard, too. Anderson inked a six-year, $25MM extension heading into the 2017 season. That deal also includes a $12.5MM club option for 2023 and a potential $14MM salary the next season. Whether or not the White Sox pick up either option, they’re surely not regretting the gamble now. Likewise, the Cardinals must be happy that they locked DeJong into a six-year, $26MM pact prior to 2018. That deal includes a $12.5MM option for 2024 and $15MM in ’25.

    There’s a lot to like about both of these shortstops, but if you have to pick one, whom would you want on your team? (Poll link for app users)

    Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Latest On Yadier Molina]]> 2020-05-04T03:04:49Z 2020-05-04T02:43:06Z
  • Yadier Molina raised some eyebrows by recently saying that he was open to play for another team besides the Cardinals when he reaches free agency, though Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch still feels Molina will ultimately remain with the Redbirds.  “The Cardinals need Molina more than any other team needs him, and no other team would appreciate him like the Cardinals do,” Frederickson writes, and a reunion should eventually happen “as long as sanity and reason remain at the heart of the conversation.”  That said, if another team could emerge as a potential suitor for the veteran catcher, Frederickson speculates the Angels could be a possibility, given Molina’s ties to Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa (who was hired in November as a special advisor to the Halos’ baseball operations department).
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