- Southpaw Andrew Miller looks more like the second coming of Greg Holland than the savior the Cardinals’ bullpen was hoping for this season, Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observes. Signed to a two-year, $25MM contract over the winter, Miller has given up six runs (four earned) on five hits (three homers) and four walks, with just two strikeouts, in his first 3 1/3 innings as a Cardinal, thereby mimicking the awful performance Holland registered last season after inking a one-year, $14MM deal. While it’s clear Miller has looked nothing like the dominant force he was with the Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Indians from 2012-17, it’s obviously far too soon to write him off as a bust. Fortunately, both Miller and Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak insist the 33-year-old is healthy after knee, hamstring and shoulder injuries plagued him in Cleveland last season.
The Cardinals have optioned righty Alex Reyes and utilityman Yairo Munoz to Triple-A Memphis, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Corresponding moves haven’t yet been announced.
Reyes will received “scheduled work” in Memphis, Goold notes, rather than his irregular deployment out of the Cards’ bullpen over the first week of the season. This usage could be a reason for Reyes’ struggles. as the 24-year-old has allowed five earned runs over his three innings pitched this season for an ugly 15.00 ERA. Reyes has allowed runs in each of his last three outings, including a rough frame of work on Friday that saw him surrender a Fernando Tatis Jr. homer as well as three walks, leading to three Padres runs.
One of the game’s most heralded pitching prospects, Reyes burst onto the scene with 46 innings of 1.57 ERA ball for the Cardinals in 2016, but has since barely pitched. Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of 2017, and Reyes only amassed 27 total innings in the minors and majors in 2018 after tearing a tendon in his right lat.
A more steady workload could be the best move for Reyes as he continues to get his career back on track, and it seems likely that he’ll be back in St. Louis at some point this season after he begins to string together some good results. Whether that return would be as a reliever or as a starter may depend on the status of the Cardinals’ rotation members, though Reyes could again be seen as a potential multi-inning relief weapon for late in games.
Two pitchers are likely to be added to the 25-man roster, Goold writes. Since the Cardinals were playing with a five-man bench, Munoz became expendable as the team looked to add an extra arm to the bullpen. Munoz has five plate appearances over four games for St. Louis, making one start and mostly coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter and late-game defensive sub. The 24-year-old Munoz was a valuable bench piece for St. Louis last season, hitting .276/.350/.413 over 329 PA in his rookie season while seeing time at six different positions.
Cardinals left-hander Brett Cecil underwent surgery this week to alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome in his left wrist and through his forearm, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link).
Cecil, 32, wasn’t expected back until at least the end of May after being placed on the 60-day injured list when the club claimed right-hander Merandy Gonzalez off waivers on Opening Day. Whether this injury substantially pushes back his timeline isn’t yet clear. Because the surgery isn’t common among big league pitchers, there’s little in terms of historical precedent to use as a barometer. David Price’s carpal tunnel issues were a storyline last season, but the Red Sox lefty didn’t undergo surgery.
Signed to a four-year contract in the 2016-17 offseason, Cecil logged a respectable 3.88 ERA in 67 1/3 innings in his first season with St. Louis but posted a 6.89 mark over 32 2/3 innings during an injury-shortened 2018 campaign. He began the season on the shelf due to a shoulder sprain and would later miss time due to a foot injury as well.
The Cardinals still owe Cecil the remainder of this year’s $7.5MM salary as well as a $7MM salary for the 2020 season. Cecil’s injury currently leaves Andrew Miller as the only left-hander in manager Mike Shildt’s bullpen, though the Cards also have lefty Tyler Webb in Triple-A and on the 40-man roster should the need for a second southpaw become more pronounced.
Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup after experiencing pain in his torso, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Goold further tweets that Ozuna is headed for an MRI tomorrow, and manager Mike Shildt expressed some concern about a potential intercostal strain. It’s a frustrating development for both team and player, as Ozuna was hoping to bounce back from an injury-marred 2018 season in which ongoing shoulder issues hampered his swing. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were hoping that a healthier Ozuna could pair with offseason acquisition Paul Goldschmidt to bolster the middle of the batting order. If Ozuna needs to miss time, Tyler O’Neill could step into a larger role with the club, and Jose Martinez (who started in place of Ozuna today) could get some additional at-bats as well.
This is the latest post of MLBTR’s annual Offseason in Review series, in which we take stock of every team’s winter dealings.
The Cardinals added a major star via trade but otherwise largely doubled down on their existing roster as they seek to break an uncharacteristic string of postseason-free campaigns.
Major League Signings
Trades And Claims
- Acquired 1B Paul Goldschmidt from Diamondbacks in exchange for SP Luke Weaver, C Carson Kelly, INF Andy Young, Competitive Balance Round B draft selection
- Acquired INF/OF Drew Robinson from Rangers in exchange for 3B Patrick Wisdom
- Claimed RP Ryan Meisinger off waivers from Orioles
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: five years, $130MM
- Miles Mikolas, SP: four years, $68MM
- Jose Martinez, 1B/OF: two years, $3.25MM
- Adam Wainwright, SP: one year, $2MM
Minor League Signings
- Harold Arauz, Chris Beck, Hunter Cervenka, Mike Hauschild, Joe Hudson, Tommy Layne, Francisco Pena, Williams Perez, Matt Wieters
The Cardinals have rolled off eleven-straight winning seasons, which is really quite an accomplishment. But the last three of those campaigns have ended without a posteason berth and the club last won the World Series in 2011. It’s hardly an epic drought, but this is an organization that holds itself to a high standard.
The problem, arguably, was that the club has of late lacked truly premium players on an otherwise deep and talented roster. In 2018, no St. Louis player reached five wins above replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference. The organization seemed like a prime contender to chase after superstar free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Instead of dangling $300MM+ contracts to those younger players, the Cards coughed up some of their solid young MLB assets in a swap that brought in outstanding first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks. Luke Weaver has at times looked like a quality, mid-rotation hurler; Carson Kelly at one point seemed the long-term replacement for Yadier Molina. Both will now seek to stake out a career in Arizona while their new team mourns the departure of an all-time franchise great.
That acquisition only brought the Cardinals one year of control over Goldschmidt, who was slated to test the open market next winter. But he and the team cozied up quickly and worked out a contract that meets the needs for each. Defensively limited sluggers just don’t earn like they used to. Goldschmidt turns 32 this September, so he’s hardly youthful. And he’ll take home a bigger deal (albeit without the opt-outs) than that secured last winter by top slugger J.D. Martinez (five years, $110MM). It’s sensible for him to take the money now and understandable that the club was willing to pay something close to open-market value to ensure they keep their new lineup centerpiece.
The other major deal struck by the Cards this winter went to an existing player. Having struck gold with their signing last year of starter Miles Mikolas, the team doubled down with a lengthier contract. It’s a manageable risk at $17MM annually over four years, but also represents a good bit of faith in a pitcher who had not even cracked one hundred MLB innings before his triumphant return stateside last year.
St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak obviously felt quite good about the organization’s pitching depth on the whole. But he did make one new acquisition to boost the pen, placing a sensible bet on veteran lefty Andrew Miller. The multi-inning relief ace was limited by a balky knee last year and just wasn’t as sharp as usual. If he can recover some of his lost velocity and get batters to start chasing out of the zone again, Miller could be a bargain. Even if not, he still ought to be an effective relief arm so long as he’s able to stay on the field.
Otherwise, the Cardinals picked around the edges of the roster. They decided to give another year to veteran Adam Wainwright to buttress the rotation — which ultimately made it easier, at least in the short term, to part with Weaver. Veteran receiver Matt Wieters was added late in camp; he beat out Francisco Pena for the right to spell Molina here and there. Drew Robinson was snagged as a utility option, while the team also made low-risk depth moves for hurlers including Ryan Meisinger, Mike Hauschild, Chris Beck, and Tommy Layne.
There aren’t many holes on this roster. As we touched on at the outset, though, that isn’t really the question. It’s this: did Mozeliak and co. do enough?
The Cardinals play in the most competitive division in baseball, from top to bottom. While most would tab the Reds and Pirates as underdogs, both project as approximately average teams. The Brewers and Cubs have their warts, but those teams won 96 and 95 games apiece last year, respectively. There’s ample wild card competition in the rest of the National League as well.
While adding Goldschmidt is precisely the kind of move the Cards could and should have made to put more wins into their lineup, it’s arguable they should have done more. A spirited pursuit of Harper or Machado may still have made sense. Had they gone big with another acquisition, the Cards could have used any displaced players as trade chips to boost the pitching. Or, the team could have gone straightaway after high-end arms in free agency or trade. A significant rotation upgrade, high-end closer, or multiple top late-inning relievers could all have made sense. Heck, perhaps they still ought to be in on Craig Kimbrel.
Going with the existing options was certainly defensible in many respects, but the Cardinals will need some things to go their way to take the NL Central. The organization continues to pump out young arms, but they’ll be put to the test to a greater extent than had been hoped due to ongoing injury issues for Carlos Martinez. When he’ll be back isn’t known. Neither can we guess at this point what the team will get from the aging Wainwright, oft-injured Michael Wacha, or still-raw Dakota Hudson — a groundball monster who won the final rotation spot in Martinez’s place. Alex Reyes is a fascinating talent but will be handled carefully after a brutal string of injuries. He’ll be in the pen to open the year. Mikolas and Jack Flaherty were excellent last year but are (in quite different ways) still thin on MLB experience.
The pen has some fire — Jordan Hicks, in particular — but would look that much better with a veteran closer sitting atop the depth chart. Otherwise, there wasn’t much need to spend on depth. The club opened with John Brebbia, Dominic Leone, and Mike Mayers supplementing the above-noted players as middle relievers and John Gant on hand as a swingman. There are some veteran pieces available if any of those arms falter; in addition to the minor-league signees, the club held onto Chasen Shreve after bumping him from the MLB roster and could still hope for contributions from rehabbing, high-priced veterans Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson.
It’s hard to quibble with any of the position players on the roster to open the season; all seem like quality big leaguers. But it’s hard also not to wish that there was one more star-level performer in the mix, with the other players all bumped down a peg on the depth chart. There’s a plethora of ~2 WAR projected players on the roster. If deployed with precision, perhaps the exceedingly deep mix of individuals will play up as a unit. But truly optimal usage is difficult to pull off.
The potential lineup issues are most obvious in the outfield, where the Cardinals feature two bounceback candidates (Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler) who realistically weren’t going anywhere after tough 2018 seasons. Harrison Bader impressed as a rookie, but projection systems expect his bat to take a step back with the bat; it’s the opposite situation for Jose Martinez, a highly talented hitter who probably ought to be on an American League roster. Tyler O’Neill has a chance to be the most productive member of the bunch, but he’ll have to pare back the worrying volume of strikeouts he ran up last year and prove he can overcome the adjustments of MLB pitchers. The Cardinals have already spun off a number of other outfielders in recent seasons — Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Magneuris Sierra — and yet still seem to have a mix that’s deep but potentially lacking in top-end pieces.
It’s not altogether dissimilar in the infield, though it’s easier there to see why the Cards held pat. Matt Carpenter was the team’s best player last year and is an easy choice to pay nearly everyday. They already locked into Paul DeJong with an extension. There’s a sensible platoon match at second between Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko, with the latter joined by Yairo Munoz as utility pieces who can also spell DeJong and help keep the older corner players fresh.
2019 Season Outlook
This club has every hope of returning to the postseason. But it would hardly be surprising to see another disappointing conclusion to the year. It seems fair to say the front office could have pushed harder to boost the near-term outlook, though that would have meant giving up future value in a trade and/or further expanding an Opening Day payroll that is already topping $160MM for the first time in club history.
How do you think the Cards handled things this winter? (Link for app users.)
The 23-year-old Gonzalez didn’t have a stirring performance in 2018, leading the Marlins to dump him from their 40-man roster. But he has drawn no shortage of interest from clubs that like the raw tools, with the Cards now following the Giants in being willing to commit a roster spot to get a first-person look.
- The Cardinals announced this afternoon that lefty Chasen Shreve has cleared waivers following this week’s DFA. He’s been assigned outright to Triple-A Memphis. While Shreve does have enough service time to reject the assignment, electing free agency would mean forfeiting the $900K salary to which he’d agreed earlier this winter. The 28-year-old Shreve came to the Cards as part of the now-lopsided deal that sent Luke Voit to the Yankees last summer. Over the past four seasons, Shreve has posted a solid 3.85 ERA and missed bats (10.3 K/9), but he’s also been far too prone to walks (4.7 BB/9) and home runs (1.8 HR/9) for either the Yankees or Cardinals to deem him a reliable bullpen option. Furthermore, he’s not a candidate for a more specialized role, as left-handed opponents have been even more successful against Shreve (.248/.335/.444) than right-handed opponents have been (.222/.316/.430).
1:38pm: Bob Nightengale of USA Today adds details (via Twitter) on the incentives package included in Goldschmidt’s new contract. The slugger can earn $250k for being named an All-Star, $250k for winning a Gold Glove award, and $1.5M for winning the NL MVP. As Saxon reported earlier, Goldschmidt’s yearly earnings will tally $26MM, which comprises a $22MM yearly base salary in addition to a $20MM signing bonus that will be spread evenly across the five years of the contract.
10:17am: Goldschmidt will earn $26MM per season from 2020-24, The Athletic’s Mark Saxon reports (Twitter link).
TODAY, 8:04am: The deal is done, and the Cardinals will officially make the announcement at a press conference this morning, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports (Twitter link).
THURSDAY: The Cardinals are closing in on an extension with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). If he passes a physical, Goldschmidt will remain a Cardinal for five additional seasons at a price of $130MM, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Twitter), thus setting a new contractual record for the storied St. Louis franchise.
Goldschmidt is already slated to earn $14.5MM in 2019, the final season of the extension he signed earlier in his career. With five new seasons tacked on, he’ll now be under contract through the 2024 season. The new deal will afford Goldschmidt full no-trade protection but will not include any opt-out opportunities, Rosenthal tweets.
The Cards are now set to accomplish what they set out to do when they acquired Goldschmidt earlier this winter. The club made no secret of its desire to hammer out a long-term arrangement with its new first bagger. Indeed, achieving exclusive negotiating rights likely motivated the St. Louis organization to part with starter Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, minor league infielder Andy Young and a Competitive Balance Round B selection to land Goldy in the first place.
Getting the deal done now means that both the Cardinals and Goldschmidt (along with his representatives at Excel Sports Management) need not think about alternatives next winter. It surely would have been interesting to see how the star performed on the open market. It’s hardly an optimal time for a defensively limited slugger to reach the open market. The Chris Davis deal (seven years, $161MM) is scarcely three years old, but seems a relic in retrospect. We’ve seen a steady reduction in earning expectations for such players in recent years. Still, significant money has still been there for the very best players. J.D. Martinez took down $110MM over five years despite profiling as a DH. Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion each commanded $20MM annual salaries over three-year terms. And first bagger Eric Hosmer — a much younger but lighter-hitting first baseman — went for eight years and $144MM.
There’s an argument to be made that Goldschmidt could have earned more on the open market. He’d have faced little competition at the top of the first base market outside of the older Jose Abreu, though there are a few notable other players available next winter. But it’s frankly difficult to argue with the decision to sign onto this contract, particularly with another year of health and performance risk still separating Goldschmidt from free agency. The Cards obviously were quite fond of their new acquisition — and, perhaps, felt no small amount of pressure to get something done. It’s no small achievement in this climate for a first baseman to secure a $26MM AAV over a five-year term that begins in his age-32 season.
Goldschmidt, of course, is no ordinary first baseman. Comparing him to his peers at first base, in fact, isn’t quite the right scope. Over the past three years — that is, not including his personal-best 2015 campaign — Goldy has been among the dozen top position players by measure of fWAR. He’s in a dead heat with Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto in that regard. Now, he’ll join that pair of star performers in securing a large and lengthy contract extension.
While the Cardinals haven’t had much time to watch Goldschmidt up close, he really doesn’t have much of anything to prove. Somehow only an eighth-round draft pick back in 2009, Goldschmidt has been an offensive sensation ever since he reached the professional ranks. He destroyed minor-league pitching while racing to the majors, showing well in his 2011 debut. Thereafter, he emerged as one of the game’s best hitters and has rarely wavered from that standard.
All told, Goldschmidt carries a .297/.398/.532 slash (144 wRC+) through 4,708 plate appearances. That’s more or less exactly what he posted last year, when he ran up 690 plate appearances of .290/.389/.533 hitting with 33 long balls. Goldschmidt didn’t have his best showing in terms of plate discipline, but his 13.0% walk rate and 25.1% strikeout rate were hardly problematic and largely reflect his career levels. He continued to sting the ball, with a career-best 46.2% hard-contact rate (per Fangraphs), though he also made soft contact with greater frequency (16.9%) than ever before.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko is likely to start 2019 on the 10-day injured list, which will lead to roster spots for Yairo Munoz and Drew Robinson, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports. Gyorko has been dealing with a calf problem throughout the month. He’ll be an important bench player for the Cardinals when he returns, having posted three straight above-average offensive seasons with the club over a combined 1,321 plate appearances.
Matt Wieters has officially made the Cardinals’ roster as the backup to Yadier Molina, tweets Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wieters, who signed a minor league deal in February, will have his contract selected, and the Cardinals will designate left-hander Chasen Shreve for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Wieters, 32, has been beset by injuries in recent seasons as his offensive output has slowly deteriorated. The once-vaunted prospect and three-time All-Star most notably had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and also underwent hamstring surgery last season. He’s also missed time due to an oblique injury in recent years, and over the past three seasons he’s compiled a pedestrian .235/.303/.376 batting line.
Even that modest output from Wieters is worlds better than the Cards received from their backup catchers in 2018, however. Francisco Pena totaled 142 plate appearances but mustered a bleak .203/.239/.271 slash, while the since-traded Carson Kelly looked overmatched in a minuscule sample of 42 PAs as he hit .114/.205/.114. Pena also struggled with both framing and throwing out runners in 2018, so Wieters should present a definitive upgrade, even if he’s no longer a premier player at his position.
Shreve, 28, will ultimately pitch just 14 2/3 innings in a Cardinals uniform. The southpaw came to St. Louis in what now looks to be a remarkably regrettable trade with the Yankees, as Luke Voit burst onto the scene in New York late in the 2018 campaign and batted .333/.405/.689 with 14 home runs in 148 PAs down the stretch.
While some regression for Voit is inevitable, Shreve’s time with the Cardinals all but certain to end with today’s DFA. He has enough service time to reject an outright assignment even if he clears waivers. The Cardinals and Shreve had agreed to a $900K salary earlier this winter, avoiding arbitration, and the team will now at least save the majority of that sum with today’s move; Shreve will be owed 45 days of his salary as termination pay — a sum of about $218K. (The Cardinals, it should be noted, do still have 27-year-old reliever Giovanny Gallegos on the 40-man roster as part of their return for Voit.)
Over the past four seasons, Shreve has posted a solid 3.85 ERA and missed bats (10.3 K/9), but he’s also been far too prone to walks (4.7 BB/9) and home runs (1.8 HR/9) for either the Yankees or Cardinals to deem him a reliable bullpen option. Furthermore, he’s not a candidate for a more specialized role, as left-handed opponents have been even more successful against Shreve (.248/.335/.444) than right-handed opponents have been (.222/.316/.430).
With Shreve no longer in consideration for a bullpen role, it appears likely that Tyler Webb will open the season as the second left-hander behind Andrew Miller in manager Mike Shildt’s bullpen. Brett Cecil is expected to open the 2019 season on the injured list.
The out-of-options Mayers needed to either make the Opening Day roster or be designated for assignment. O’Neill has minor league options remaining but will make the club as a bench option behind Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler for the time being. It’s not difficult to envision the slugger eventually playing his way into a larger role, though Fowler (as with Cecil) seems likely to get a chance at redemption due to his sizable contract.