News: Cardinals send Grichuk to Blue Jays for pair of pitchers

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals traded OF Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for RHP Dominic Leone and RHP Conner Greene.

The story. The aim here was to open up the fourth outfielder spot off the bench while adding an arm to a questionable St. Louis bullpen.

The numbers.  Randal Grichuk, 26, hit .238/.285/.473 with 22 home runs in 122 games with the Cardinals last year. It was his second straight 20+ home run season, making him one of 67 players in Major League Baseball with back-to-back 20 home run seasons. His 11.3% extra base hit rate was 21st of the 216 players who had at least 400 plate appearances last season. He was arbitration eligible for the first time this season, settling on a $2.6 million salary.

Dominic Leone, 26, posted a 2.56 ERA over 65 appearances and 70.1 innings for the Blue Jays last season. Among Blue Jays relievers with more than 20 innings pitched, Leone’s 6.5 H/9 and 10.4 K/9 ranked third. Just 22% of inherited base runners scored on Leone last season, fourth best in the American League among relievers who inherited at least 50. He was arbitration eligible for the first time this season, settling on a $1.085 million salary. He is a “Super Two” so he has three years of team control remaining.

Connor Greene, 22, posted a 5.29 ERA over 25 starts and 132.2 innings for Double-A New Hampshire. In 42 starts in Double-A, Greene has a 4.89 ERA over 226.1 innings. Scouting reports indicate that he has a high-90s fastball though seemingly like all pitchers with a great fastball, he struggles with control, walking 5.6 per nine innings last season. But the strikeouts have not really come for Greene’s fastball, posting just a 6.8 K/9 in his minor league career. He was rated the #100 prospect by Baseball Prospectus before the 2016 season.

The impact. 8/10. This is one of those baseball trades that makes a great deal of sense to both sides immediately, but not without it’s own set of question marks. The Blue Jays had a number of solid relievers last season and were in desperate need for offensive pieces to help that lineup that they intend to contend with in 2018. Enter the Cardinals who had an extra starting outfielder and needed bullpen help.

In Grichuk the Blue Jays will add one of the league’s best extra base hitters. In each of the past two seasons Grichuk reached 20 home runs without being a qualified hitter. Playing every day in the AL East where he can play 81 games in the Rogers Centre and then a handful of others in Camden Yards, I’ve said before that I think Grichuk is a 40 HR player if he plays everyday in the AL East. It seems like he could get that opportunity now. He needs to take that next step in his development, but its not beyond the realm of possibility.

For the Cardinals, this trade reveals that their approach to the 2018 bullpen seems to be throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Dominic Leone is coming off a great season, but can the Blue Jays’ seventh inning man turn into a late inning guy? And for Greene, a move to the bullpen could be just what the doctor ordered to resurrect his career, but even still at 22 time is on his side.

The question for the Cardinals following this trade is where they expect to see Leone slotting in at this point. Is he the closer? Is he the eighth inning guy? Do they like Luke Gregerson over Leone?

Leone was dominant last season and had a good rookie campaign in 2014 with Seattle, but in between he struggled mightily with his command, posting a 7+ ERA in 2015 and 2016 combined. At 26 and entering his fifth season since debuting in the big leagues he’s also on his fourth big league club. That’s more typical of the resume of a reliever that’s about to wash out rather than one who is poised to be a late inning option for a team intending to contend for a division.

News: Cardinals agree to terms with Ozuna, Wacha, and Lyons

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals agreed to terms with their remaining salary arbitration eligible players. OF Marcell Ozuna will get $9 million per Jon Heyman, RHP Michael Wacha will get $5.3 million per Derrick Goold, and LHP Tyler Lyons will get $1.2 million on their one year deals to avoid arbitration.

The story. This afternoon was the deadline for teams and players to exchange their salary information. For the Cardinals, they told players last winter that their intent was to operate under a “file-and-trial” system, meaning once salary numbers were exchanged, they would be done negotiating a settlement offer and would see them in the arbitration hearing. The Cardinals took Wacha to hearing last year.

The numbers. Marcell Ozuna, 27, had a breakout year for the Marlins last year hitting .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and 124 RBI in his fourth full season in the big leagues. His 142 wRC+ was 13th among qualified hitters in the Majors last season. He also took home the Gold Glove Award for his work in left field.  He was acquired from the Marlins for four prospects in December.

Michael Wacha, 26, was the unlucky soul that got to be made an example of when the club took him to arbitration and won last February. He answered with a 4.13 ERA over 165.2 innings and 30 starts. He saw a fair amount of improvement over 2016 and posted a better fielding independent season than his All Star campaign in 2015. The biggest thing may have been taking the ball 30 times last year and posting his first career complete game shutout.

Tyler Lyons, 29, pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for St. Louis last season and responded with a 2.83 ERA over 54 innings of work, including a 1.57 ERA over 28.2 innings after July 7th.  By the end of the season he had worked his way in as one of the bullpen’s most important relievers.

The impact. 5/10. Same as yesterday. Nothing here was utterly ground shaking. All the players involved were already under contract for 2018, the only part left to determine was how much the players would be paid. We’re still waiting on that information, but it has been reported that all three have signed one year deals.

After going through arbitration last season, I was a little surprised that Wacha and his representation cut it so close to experiencing it again. Unless, perhaps he decided that it wasn’t too bad and why not give it another shot. But they did not, and as a result Wacha will earn $5.3 million in 2018 after being projected to make $5.9 million.

For Ozuna, it was unlikely that the Cardinals wanted to take their prized offseason acquisition to arbitration as their first official act. It was expected that his agent, Scott Boras, might try to use that bit of leverage to their advantage, but Ozuna settled with the Cardinals for $9 million in salary after being projected to earn $10.9 million through arbitration and Khris Davis settling for $10.5 million yesterday while Ozuna is expected to be the more valuable player.

For Lyons, I wondered if the Cardinals with his performances in relief over his career and the escalating salaries of relief pitching if they might try to buy out some of his arbitration years this winter. That will not be the case with him agreeing to a $1.2 million salary in his first trip through arbitration after being projected to earn $1.3 million.

News: Cardinals agree to terms with Randal Grichuk

What happened. With the arbitration numbers being officially exchanged tomorrow, the St. Louis Cardinals and OF Randal Grichuk agreed to terms on a 1 year, $2.6 million deal.

The story. Tomorrow is the day where teams and players who are in their salary arbitration years are to exchange their salary numbers. In years past, this would create a framework conducive to coming to an agreement, but last season the Cardinals instituted a “file and trial” system where if they get to the exchange of salary numbers, they’ll carry on to the arbitration hearing. They took RHP Michael Wacha to arbitration last year, taking a case to arbitration for the first time since 1999, and won.

Grichuk had been projected to earn $2.8 million in arbitration based on Matt Shwartz’s projections at MLB Trade Rumors. LHP Tyler Lyons and RHP Michael Wacha are the Cardinals two other arbitration cases that remain unresolved as of yet as well as newly acquired OF Marcell Ozuna.

The numbers. Randal Grichuk, 26, was a first round pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 2009 draft. He was acquired by St. Louis after the 2013 season as part of the trade that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels.

Last season Grichuk hit .238/.285/.473 with 22 home runs in 122 games with the Cardinals. It was his second straight 20+ home run season, making him one of 67 players in Major League Baseball with back-to-back 20 home run seasons. His 11.3% extra base hit rate was 21st of the 216 players who had at least 400 plate appearances last season.

The impact. 5/10. There is no surprise with this deal as Grichuk has long been penciled in as the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder going into next season. It’s a role he should excel in as well. He can provide some punch off the bench while being able to give you good defense at all three outfield positions.

With the offseason going as slowly as it has, it’s very possible that Grichuk may yet find his way out of St. Louis, but for now he is still here and it is a good thing. I’m on record saying that trading Grichuk this winter would be a mistake for the Cardinals because I believe he will eventually put the tools together. In many ways he is already the kind of player you’d love to just plug in 8th in your lineup and let him play everyday. He’d put up some gaudy power numbers for sure.

It seems like Grichuk has been around forever because he first debuted for the Cardinals in 2014 and now has spent most of the last four seasons in St. Louis, but Grichuk was still the youngest position player on the team’s 2017 Opening Day roster. And only Carlos Martinez was younger on the complete 25 man last April.

He’s young enough that he still has time on his side and has the power tool in spades. He needs to figure out how to be more selective at the plate, though he did show me that he took strikes in that category as he bit far less on the down and away pitch that had plagued him thus far.

I think when we discuss Grichuk we often talk about how far he has to go, but really it’s not that far. Learning to be a little more selective at the plate and how he approaches that would make him a dramatically better player. And some of that should come naturally with experience.

Rumor Check: Jake Arrieta

Earlier this week there was a report from CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine that the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the two teams most interested, along with the Chicago Cubs, in signing free agent RHP Jake Arrieta.

On the surface, it sounds like a good move. I’ve been arguing for a year that the Cardinals have a big hole in their 2018 rotation and how they will fill innings. But the Cubs are also reported to be willing to offer a 4 year, $110 million deal to Arrieta to bring him back to the Windy City, and that’s more than I can stomach for him.

Arrieta, 31, is coming off a year where he posted a 3.53 ERA and 4.16 FIP in 168.1 innings over 30 starts for the Cubs last season. It was his worst season since joining the Cubs following a trade from the Orioles during the 2013 season. He did miss some time in September with a groin injury.

He hits free agency after posting a 2.73 ERA and 3.16 FIP over 191 starts for the Cubs over four and a half seasons.

Arrieta’s turnaround upon arrival in Chicago is well storied. A 2.53 ERA in 25 starts in 2014 and then a 1.77 ERA in 33 starts in 2015. But since then, Arrieta has seen his hit rate, home run, and walk rate jump while seeing a decline in his strikeout rate.

The question is whether this is just him coming back to earth or whether it’s decline. If it is him just coming back to earth, will he stop before he becomes the guy who posted a 5.46 ERA in 63 starts for the Orioles over three and a half years.

In my opinion, there are four top free agent pitchers in this year’s class. Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb along with Arrieta. Arrieta’s advantage is that he hasn’t had Tommy John in the last three years. But all still have red flags.

Darvish, 31, struggled last year, his first full season post-Tommy John surgery. He is now three years removed and his numbers post-TJ are nowhere near his numbers before it. The same goes for Cobb and Lynn, both 30.

If I’m honest, the outlook on any of the four do not enthuse me.

However, I’ve been onboard the Lance Lynn reunion train for a year now and I still see him as the best of this group of four. I enjoy seeing people who point out Lynn’s peripherals while expressing support for signing one of these other three pitchers, all of whom exhibit the same issues to varying extents. I’ve dug into Lynn’s peripherals and they don’t scare me because of how everything is interconnected and what I believe is the root cause, but this is an article on Jake Arrieta.

The question on Arrieta is who you’re going to get. The Arrieta we saw in 2016 (3.10 ERA, 197.1 innings) is probably worth $27.5 million. The Arrieta we saw in 2017 (3.53 ERA, 168.1 innings) is not. And I think it’s far more likely we see something closer to the 2017 version for most of the next four years.

I will say that four years is far more attractive to me than the six years that his agent Scott Boras is believed to be looking for. And in that regard, I think I can convince myself that such a deal would be acceptable. You get out from underneath it before it becomes too much of an issue with Arrieta getting old.

But, I still see the best option for another starting pitcher to be Tampa’s Chris Archer. He is clearly the best starting pitcher that could find himself available and he is young and on a very nice contract. Accordingly, he will cost a lot of prospects, which is why he hasn’t moved yet. Not while guys like Arrieta and Darvish are still free agents.

Rumor Check: Eric Hosmer

There’s been plenty of rumblings over the past few weeks about the Cardinals’ interest in free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. Several reports have them interested in him as a fall back option if the Blue Jays will not relent on their decision to hold onto Josh Donaldson. This week we also have some suggested contract offer numbers. First came the Padres at 7 years, $140 million. Then came the Royals at 7 years, $147 million.

Hosmer, 28, reached free agency for the first time this winter after hitting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs and 135 wRC+ while playing in all 162 games, starting 155 of those at first base. Durability is a big factor for Hosmer, who has played at least 150 games in five of the last six seasons. But he has also lacked consistency, having yet to post positive WAR seasons in back-to-back years.

The Cardinals do need to bring in another hitter, and Hosmer could potentially reflect a guy who could be that hitter. His 135 wRC+ ranked 25th in baseball. Bringing him in would give the Cardinals three of the top-25 players in wRC+ from 2017, joining him with Tommy Pham (148, 8th) and new acquisition Marcell Ozuna (142, 13th). That would tie them with the Astros and the Nationals with three a piece.

But is Eric Hosmer the player we saw in 2017 and is he worth the $147 million plus gamble it would take to bring him in?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Much of the debate on social media has centered in on the comparisons between Hosmer and Matt Carpenter. What becomes very obvious as you observe these debates is that the main problem is that the difference is not great enough to be obvious, otherwise there would be no debate. For example, nobody is having a debate on whether Donaldson is better than Jedd Gyorko.

Carpenter has outperformed Hosmer head-to-head in each of their full time seasons, except for the most recent, which was also a year that Carpenter played through a shoulder injury. Is that Carpenter on the decline or the younger Hosmer finally reaching his potential as he enters the prime years of his late 20s?

If you’re asking me who I’d rather give $147 million to over the next seven years, I probably choose Hosmer and cite age and Carpenter’s shoulder injury as the primary factors. But the reality is that that isn’t the choice. Carpenter is already under contract for 2 years, $30 million plus an option right now. It changes the math.

I always get push back when I suggest that Hosmer isn’t needed because the Cardinals already have Carpenter, Jose Martinez, and Luke Voit on the roster at first base. And while Hosmer might be better than any of those guys independently, I don’t see him as a big enough improvement to warrant spending that kind of money. Not only that, acquiring him makes Carpenter less valuable with a move to third base.

According to most defensive metrics, Carpenter was a neutral defensive first baseman while Hosmer defied his negative metrics and took home his second gold glove. My hypothesis for this is that Carpenter is generally an above average first baseman who makes some glaring errors, while Hosmer doesn’t make the glaring errors, but is generally not as good defensively. It produces the cognitive bias that makes the eye test tell you that Hosmer is the better defender.

But ultimately, that’s not the only part of the equation. Last season Jedd Gyorko was a +16 defensive runs saved at third base. In his last full season at third base, Carpenter was a -10 defensive runs saved. That’s a -26 run swing. Factor in the change at first base where Carpenter was a +1 and Hosmer was a -7, that’s a total -34 run swing on defense by bringing Hosmer in and moving Carpenter to third.

Offensively, the Carpenter-Gyorko combination had a total of 165 wRC (weighted Runs Created, not normalized) while a Hosmer-Carpenter combo would have produced 210, a swing of +45 runs created on offense.

So if you want to do a quick and ugly wouldn’t bank my house on it comparison the Cardinals would spend at least $147 million to bring in Hosmer and gain maybe a total of 11 runs.

And that’s while being somewhat optimistic that Hosmer can reproduce what he did last year on a regular basis. That brings me to my biggest flashing red light.

He played 131 games in 2014 with a 0 WAR and played 158 games in 2016 with a -0.1 WAR. He surrounded those years with 3+ WAR years, topping out last year with a career best 4.1 WAR. Are you going to get the 3+ WAR player or are you going to get the guy who plays everyday at a replacement level for $20+ million a year? As I said before, he has yet to post positive WAR seasons in back-to-back years. The Cardinals have plenty of guys capable of being replacement level players who would earn far less.

As a result, first base isn’t a viable option for upgrade when the best option is Eric Hosmer. Now, if Paul Goldschmidt or Joey Votto were a free agent, I’m onboard because they are elite bats who would clearly be an upgrade over what already exists on the roster.

Third base and shortstop still remain the Cardinals’ best opportunity for improvement in their everyday lineup. If the Cardinals were going to use Carpenter in a trade to land Donaldson (which I’ve been suggesting for almost a year now), I could support bringing in Hosmer.

But I don’t see how Hosmer not only fits with the Cardinals but makes them better off than they were before they signed him.

Common sense would dictate that you try to play your players where they are most valuable to you. For Carpenter, he is most valuable at first base. And Hosmer does not bring enough additional value to the table to make it worth moving him somewhere else.

Column: Just past the halfway point, Cardinals only halfway done

New year, who ‘dis?

As the calendar turns to 2018, there are now just 43 days remaining until the first official workout for Pitchers & Catchers of 2018 Spring Training. That means the clock is ticking for teams and free agents alike to get some deals done. This has been an exceptionally slow winter. Last winter, 9 of ESPN’s top-10 free agents had been signed by New Years. This year, just two find themselves under contract.

The Cardinals had three needs that John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch outlined at the end of the 2017 season and while they’ve made signings in each department, there is still work to be done. Let’s take a look.

The lineup

There were no free agency losses on the offensive side of the ball. The club traded Aledmys Diaz to Toronto and Stephen Piscotty to Oakland and then acquired Marcell Ozuna from Miami to upgrade the team’s lineup that was already the 9th best offense in baseball in 2017. With the addition of Ozuna, who was the 13th best offensive player in baseball last year, that should be a plus.

Let’s take a look at what I think we can expect the 2018 Opening Day lineup to look like, with their 2017 wRC+ next to their names in parenthesis.

1B Matt Carpenter (123)
CF Tommy Pham (148)
RF Dexter Fowler (121)
LF Marcell Ozuna (142)
SS Paul DeJong (122)
C Yadier Molina (94)
3B Jedd Gyorko (112)
2B Kolten Wong (107)
Pitcher

With wRC+, it is a normalized statistic, so 100 is a league average run creator and can essentially be read as Matt Carpenter being 23% better than average in 2017. And you can see that seven of the eight players in the club’s likely everyday lineup were above average offensive players last season. And even then, Yadier Molina was close.

By no means do I think the Cardinals should be done, but this lineup is satisfactory and it alleviates a couple of the main problems. First being the cleanup spot and second being bats like DeJong and Gyorko hitting too high in the lineup. Putting them 5th and 7th is much more attractive than 3rd and 4th.

The most obvious position for improvement is the corner infield spots. The Cardinals have tried to get Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays, but they don’t seem to be willing to move him. They’ve talked to the Rays about Evan Longoria, who has now been traded to the Rays. And they’ve checked in Manny Machado in Baltimore, but the Orioles want someone to get stupid. As a result, the answer may not be out there for the Cardinals this winter as I don’t see any of the bats in free agency as clear improvements over what the club already has.

The bullpen

This might stand as the club’s biggest need now following the acquisition of Ozuna. Three of the Cardinals’ four free agents were relievers and the club also released Trevor Rosenthal after his surgery. That’s 136.1 relief innings that the Cardinals need to fill and 105.1 of those innings came in the 8th or 9th. That’s a lot of turnover.

The club added Luke Gregerson to a 2 year, $11 million deal and has discussed him being a potential setup guy. But Gregerson isn’t a sure thing. He struggled in 2017 with a 4.57 ERA, 4.62 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP over 61 innings with Houston last season. And as the Astros bullpen struggled in October, Gregerson couldn’t find anything more than mop up innings out of the bullpen. Zach Gifford over at Birds on the Black broke down what he sees as the main reason Gregerson’s effectiveness has slipped. He previously threw three different sliders and over the past couple years, they’ve all merged into one less than dominant slider. Perhaps it’s mechanical, perhaps it’s not, but either way it’s not inspiring.

The bullpen currently stacks up like this with their 2017 WHIP in parenthesis next to them.

RHP Luke Gregerson (1.34)
RHP Matthew Bowman (1.19)
RHP John Brebbia (0.93)
RHP Sam Tuivailala (1.09)
RHP John Gant (1.56)
LHP Tyler Lyons (1.09)
LHP Brett Cecil (1.23)
LHP Ryan Sherriff (1.19)

At some point in time Alex Reyes will join this part as well, but this is still a bullpen that needs help. The club has been kicking tires on closers this winter.

As the season wrapped up, they were linked with interest in Greg Holland. Holland was due to return to Colorado until they agreed to terms with Wade Davis last week. The Cardinals were also reportedly closing on a deal with Addison Reed earlier this winter, but that died off. They’ve also talked to Tampa about acquiring their closer, Alex Colome who has three years of team control remaining, and such a deal seemed so close to completion during the winter meetings, but has gone cold since.

One more top level arm here is a must and two more would be for the best. If you can bring in two more relievers, Reyes can slide into the bullpen midseason as an addition rather than an expected savior. And there are still plenty of competent names left on the free agent market who would be a real plus to this bullpen.

The rotation

Perhaps the biggest loss this winter was Lance Lynn‘s departure to free agency. Yes, I understand that his peripheral numbers weren’t great, but he led the Cardinals in starts and ERA. And while the peripherals may indicate that the results are unsustainable, he was still the best Cardinals starting pitcher in 2017 when it came to keeping the other team off the scoreboard and that’s what matters most.

They made a quick move this winter to add Miles Mikolas on a 2 year, $15.5 million deal. Mikolas has pitched in the Majors before, but spent the last three years pitching in Japan where he was dominant. Last season he led the Japanese leagues in games started and innings pitched and was second in WHIP among the starting pitchers, but while he should be a quality addition, expecting pencil him in to replace Lynn is a mistake as he still has to establish that he can pitch in the Majors.

Here’s how the rotation looks right now, with games started and innings pitched.

RHP Carlos Martinez (205 IP, 32 GS)
RHP Michael Wacha (166 IP, 30 GS)
RHP Adam Wainwright (123 IP, 23 GS)
RHP Miles Mikolas (188 IP, 27 GS in Japan)
RHP Luke Weaver (138 IP, 27 GS between Majors and AAA)

The biggest question is where you get your innings and do you have anyone other than Martinez that you can lean on and hand the ball to 30+ times?

Why do I talk about innings so much? It’s because the teams who get the most out of their starting pitchers are usually the teams you’re talking about in October.

Carlos Martinez’s maturation into an ace was so close that you could taste it after the 2016 season, but he took a step back in 2017. Once you cut through the hyperbole around his hair and his inconsistency (which has no basis in results), he’s 26 years old and very few pitchers are even pitching at the level he is at age 26. And there’s no reason to think that things can’t click for Martinez this year to take that next step.

Behind Martinez are the Cardinals’ two  veteranish arms in Wainwright and Wacha.

Wainwright missed time last season with back and shoulder issues. Last season he barely averaged 5 innings per start. But I am optimistic about what Wainwright can bring to the table next year. Let’s take out when Wainwright tried to pitch through his shoulder issue and he had 20 starts at a 4.89 ERA. Twice he got blown out hard. Take those out and he made 18 starts with a 3.60 ERA. If Wainwright can take the ball 30 times and have a 3.60 ERA in 90% of his starts, that’ll play but his health at age 36 has become a question mark, so he’s not a guy you can really push.

The same can be said for Wacha who made 30 starts and threw 166 innings, but how much further can you push him? Can you push him over 180 without a recurrence of the stress reaction in his shoulder? Wacha might be best kept on a leash, so you can’t push him much either.

And then there are a pair of wildcards in Mikolas and Weaver. I’ve talked about Mikolas and while I do have high hopes for him, he still needs to prove it.

For Weaver, he was much better in a recurring role in 2017 after a bumpy cameo appearance in 2016. But can he keep that up as a regular next season? How many innings is the club comfortable letting him pitch? What’s the game plan if he runs out of innings in August?

Some of the gap will be made up in the minors. There’s Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Austin Gomber who are all ready or on the verge of knocking on the door. I didn’t list Reyes because the organization has been pretty intent on using him in relief both last year before the injury and so far this season.

While the team likely could use them all to carry innings over the course of the season, I’m not sure that’s the wisest strategy for a team who talked about going big in the lineup and the bullpen. It doesn’t make sense to go big everywhere and leave an innings hole in your rotation.

The problem is, there’s not much here worth having. I’m still pretty lonely on the Lance Lynn bandwagon, and given the choice between him, Yu Darvish, and Jake Arrieta, I want Lynn. Beyond that it’s really a potential Chris Archer trade that offers the most upside for the Cardinals.

And with that there are 43 days remaining to make moves and solve the problems with this roster. Thankfully, the  market hasn’t really moved at all, so there is still time. But the clock is ticking.

News: Cardinals lose Wilson, add two in Rule 5 Draft

What happened. No St. Louis Cardinals players were chosen in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft this year. 2B Jacob Wilson was selected by the Washington Nationals in the Triple-A phase while the Cardinals chose OF Angel Moreno from the Tampa Bay Rays and OF Jean Selmo from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The story. The Rule 5 Draft is the final official event of the Winter Meetings every year.  In general, players who were signed out of high school or international free agency in 2013 or earlier and out of college in 2014 or earlier are Rule 5 Draft eligible. This is to help give young players who potentially stagnate in a team’s system or find themselves blocked to be given another opportunity earlier in their careers.

The numbers. Jacob Wilson, 27, was a 10th round pick of the Cardinals in the 2012 draft. After breaking through to Triple-A last season, Wilson found himself spending the entire 2017 season in Double-A Springfield where he hit .248/.337/.417 with 17 home runs in 129 games. Wilson was left exposed last winter and went unclaimed. That was not the case this year as he was chosen by the Washington Nationals.

Angel Moreno, 21, was an international signing by the Tampa Bay Rays out of the Dominican Republic. He has played professional baseball for five seasons in the Rays organization, moving to High-A Charlotte in 2017 where he hit .229/.290/.288 with no home runs over 71 games. His scouting report indicates a plus defensive outfielder with an average arm and good bat speed at the plate.

Jean Selmo, 17, was an international signing by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Dominican Republic. He debuted in the Dominican Summer League last season, hitting .232/.332/.372 with 3 home runs for the Diamondbacks. I was not able to find much by way of scouting report on him, but found a World Showcase report on him from a couple years ago that described him as having a strong physical build for his age with good bat speed who projects for big power.

The impact. 0/10. There’s not really any impact for the team right now. The minor league portions of the Rule 5 Draft, where all three players were claimed, have different rules than the Major League portion which require the player to stay on the big league roster for the entire season.

The additions of two more outfielders (after acquiring one in the Aledmys Diaz trade) likely gives us a hint that more outfielders are on their way out of the organization. These guys are likely intended primarily to back fill the system as the big league club trades away some of their upper level talent. But, especially in Selmo’s case, these guys are still young enough with enough potential that they’ve still got an opportunity to develop into productive players.

News: Cardinals trade Stephen Piscotty to Athletics

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to send OF Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for prospects utilityman Yairo Munoz and 2B Max Schrock.

The story. There were some hiccups to this deal as it was reported late last night that the deal was done and then nearly an hour later that there had been a snag and was still being worked out. Following the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna, which is expected to become official today, the club needed to make room and that meant moving Piscotty.

The numbers. Piscotty, 26, hit .234/.342/.367 with 9 home runs over 107 games with the Cardinals this season in the worst season of his career. Over two and a half seasons in the big leagues with the Cardinals, he hit .268/.346/.438 with 38 home runs and 66 doubles.

Munoz, 23, was an international free agent when he signed with the Athletics in 2012. This past season he hit .300/.330/.464 with 13 home runs between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville. He is viewed as a plus defensive player who is capable of playing every position on the field and split his time in 2017 between shortstop, third base, and ceer field. He was Oakland’s #13 prospect according to MLB.com.

Schrock, 23, was a 13th round pick of the Washington Nationals in the 2015 MLB Draft. They acquired him in August 2016 in exchange for former Cardinal LHP Marc Rzepczynski. Schrock hit .321/.379/.422 with 7 home runs in 106 games for Double-A Midland this season while playing second base. He was Oakland’s #17 prospect according to MLB.com.

The impact. 6/10. Piscotty still has a great deal left in the tank, in my opinion. He had moments where he showed the flashes of what gave us such home when he hit .273 and 22 home runs in 2016, but he had others where he just flat out struggled.

No player likes to make excuses, but it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do for a living or how much you make, it’s hard to focus when there’s things going on at home. Even more difficult when you’re half a country away. And this year has not been easy on Stephen or the Piscotty family personally or professionally.

Hopefully returning the Bay Area can help him get his feet back under him and back to the player the Cardinals expected they were getting when they signed him to a 6 year, $33 million extension before the 2017 season began.

In return the Cardinals picked up two minor league players who look to have had success at every level through the minors. Very reminiscent to me of a guy like Greg Garcia, who went mostly unheralded but worked his way up and has been a productive utility guy off the bench for the Cardinals.

As I read and did research on these guys, the thing that stuck out to me about each was that Munoz can pay every position on the field (he’s in the right place to get to work with Jose Oquendo now too) and that Schrock and flat out hit.

It was a bit of a non-baseball decision to move Piscotty to Oakland, but I do believe that the Cardinals got a fair return for him considering last season. This does not look to be a straight contract dump.

Notebook: Winter Meetings, Day 3

With Ozuna watch concluding this morning as it was confirmed that the Marlins and Cardinals had agreed to a trade, we still don’t have all the details of the trade. Beyond that, there are a couple moves reportedly still being worked on, reportedly Mozeliak cancelled an interview tonight due to “escalating situations,” so it will be interested to see where things go.

Tomorrow will mainly feature the Rule 5 Draft, the closing event of the official winter meetings, with most front offices having packed up and headed home by that time. Last year, Mozeliak told us Wednesday night that he didn’t expect to get anything done and then agreed to terms with Dexter Fowler later that night and was introduced in St. Louis on Friday. So things can turn around in a moment.

Nicasio agrees to deal with Mariners

In ex-Cardinals news, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Seattle Mariners and RHP Juan Nicasio have agreed to terms on a two year deal. Nicasio posted a 2.61 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 76 appearances last year, his first full season working exclusively out of the bullpen. Nicasio, 31, was acquired by the Cardinals last September to serve as closer. He posted a 1.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP and was 4-for-4 in saves over 9 appearances.

The Mariners and Cardinals were reportedly both in talks with him today in an effort to sign him, but it looks like the Cardinals lost out. The deal will be $17 million over 2 years.

Cardinals close to dealing Piscotty to the A’s

There were a few reports today that the Cardinals are close to finalizing a deal to send outfielder Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland A’s in exchange for potentially 2-3 prospects. One of the names consistently mentioned is utilityman Yairo Munoz. Munoz hit .300/.330/.464 last season with 13 home runs between AA and AAA while splitting time at shortstop, third base, and center field. He is rated their #13 prospect by MLB.com.

Rockies close to bringing Holland back

Jon Heyman is reporting that free agent closer Greg Holland is close to returning to the Colorado Rockies. Holland posted a 3.61 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with a league leading 41 saves for the Rockies last season. He declined a $15 million player’s option that could have paid him up to $21 million after incentives if he had duplicated his 2017 season.

The Cardinals were one of the teams reported as having interest in Holland earlier this offseason, but I believe they still prefer the Rays’ Alex Colome to any of the free agent options.

Cardinals still talking about additional relief options

Ken Rosenthal also reports that the Cardinals and the Rays are still in contact with the Tampa Bay Rays about Alex Colome. Prices of free agent relievers are soaring, so too is likely the trade price of an arbitration controlled option like Colome. Along with more teams becoming interested.

Orioles making progress on Machado trade

Brittany Ghiroli is reporting that the Orioles are making good progress on trading third baseman Manny Machado with more than five teams interested.

The Cardinals’ interest remains in the exploratory phase. GM Michael Girsch suggested that it wasn’t something they were likely to pursue, however Derrick Goold reported that Cardinals officials have met with the Orioles to determine what the asking price would be.

This may be a scenario where the Cardinals complete a trade with Tampa for an Alex Colome and/or Chris Archer and then take stock of where their farm system stands to see whether it makes sense for them to take the risk of trading for one year of Machado.

News: Cardinals to acquire Marcell Ozuna

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to acquire outfield Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Sandy Alcantara, OF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Zac Gallen, and LHP Daniel Castano. The deal is pending physicals.

The story. The Cardinals have been on the market for a middle of the order hitter to add to their lineup and after trying to land Giancarlo Stanton, it looks like they’ve found their man in his former teammate Marcell Ozuna.

The numbers. Ozuna, 27, hit .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and a 142 wRC+ last season for the Miami Marlins.  He led the Marlins in batting average and on base percentage last season as well as being second in home runs and slugging percentage. Over four full time seasons in the Majors, Ozuna has hit .278/.333/.465 with 93 home runs in 583 games.

He has two arbitration years remaining and is projected to earn $10.9 million this season.

Alcantara, 21, posted a 4.31 ERA over 22 starts and 3 relief appearances for Double-A Springfield this season which earned him a September call up to the big league club. There he posted a 4.32 ERA over 8 relief appearances. He had a 4.20 ERA in 5 starts in the Arizona Fall League. He is the Cardinals’ #9 prospect according to MLB.com.

Sierra, also 21, hit .317/.359/.317 in 22 games in the big leagues this season as injury needs saw him make the job from High A ball to the Majors. Overall in the minors, Sierra hit .270/.318/.363 with 1 home run between Peoria and Springfield He is the Cardinals’ #6 prospect according to MLB.com.

Gallen, 22, is a former 3rd round pick of the Cardinals from the 2016 MLB Draft. He posted a 2.93 ERA over 26 starts between High A Palm Beach, Double-A Springfield, and Triple-A  Memphis.

Castano, 23, is a former 19th round pick of the Cardinals from the 2016 MLB Draft as well. He most recently posted a 2.57 ERA over 14 starts for Low-A State College.

The impact. 8/10. Acquiring Ozuna is not the model shattering move that acquiring Giancarlo Stanton would have been, but it’s a quality addition for the club that needed a potential difference maker in the lineup.

I’ve been in on the Cardinals acquiring Ozuna since last winter when I named him one of my five players the Cardinals should be interested in. He responded with a career year that put himself on the map as a potential impact bat. After the Cardinals came up empty on Stanton, he was my preferred outfielder if the Cardinals went back to Miami looking for help.

There is no magic number I can give you that will convince you of what I believe, that Ozuna is a better acquisition than Christian Yelich, and I understand that he isn’t the surefire difference maker in the same way that Stanton was going to be, but he can definitely help. His wRC+ last season ranked 13th in Major League Baseball among qualified hitters last season, just five spots behind his new outfield partner Tommy Pham.

It’s unclear exactly how the Cardinals will align their outfield, but in comparison to the other two positions last year, the Cardinals struggled in right field with a 101 wRC+. Of the three projected starting outfielders for the Cardinals, Dexter Fowler‘s 121 wRC+ last season is the lowest.

As far as the cost, the Cardinals just acquired the man who was the 13th best offensive player in baseball last season who is 27 years old and just won a gold glove award without surrendering a top-100 prospect. Beyond that, without surrendering one of their own top-5 prospects, leaving plenty of muscle for an additional move for another bat or a closer.

Alcantara is probably the one that hurts the most, but in my opinion, he is the kind of pitcher that prospect evaluators love because their pitches have so much potential but they never live up to that potential because players don’t generally improve their control as they rise up through the minors into the Majors. I have similar problems with Alex Reyes. The pure stuff is sexy, but once MLB hitters figure out what you can and can’t throw for strikes, the clock strikes midnight.

If we’re honest, Sierra is probably not an MLB starter, though his speed and defensive abilities will probably keep him around. Gallen put up solid numbers and will be interesting to watch. If I was a betting man, I’d suggest that he is most likely to have the best MLB career out of all of them. Castano is so low in the minors that anything could happen.

This is likely not the final move for the Cardinals this week. The club will still need to find a taker for Stephen Piscotty to help clear up the outfield situation and they’re deep into discussions with Tampa for at least a closer.

If the changes that Ozuna made at the plate for the 2017 season are for real, the Cardinals got a steal. If not, I think his floor is still high enough to be a productive member of the lineup. And if you don’t get what you expect, you’re not attached to him for the next five years.