What will Mozeliak do about pitching depth?

Coming into spring training this year there really wasn’t much of a question about the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff. There were five healthy starting pitchers in Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez ready to contribute. There was Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales likely starting in Memphis waiting for an opportunity. Plus Tyler Lyons in the St. Louis bullpen who could always be stretched out if needed.

Here we are mid-April and that supposed starting pitching depth has disappeared. Lyons is indeed in the St. Louis bullpen, but Cooney and Gonzales both find themselves on the disabled list. The latter electing for Tommy John surgery this week, putting him out for the season and potentially part of 2017 as well.

So while the offense has soared so far in 2016 (second in MLB in runs per game through April 14th), the other side of the ball has not gone according to plan.

With the departure of Gonzales for the year, it will be interesting to see if John Mozeliak does anything address the starting pitching depth problem that may be developing.

Historically, this is a situation where the Cardinals’ “internal options” would be leaned on. Cooney and Gonzales represented the best of those.

Top prospect Alex Reyes is currently serving a suspension after testing positive for marijuana for the second time over the winter. He isn’t eligible to return until May 18th.

Their #2 prospect Jack Flaherty is pitching in High A ball in Palm Beach. That ascension would be pretty rapid for the 2014 first round pick out of high school.

Luke Weaver, the team’s #3 prospect, is on the disabled list after injuring his wrist in spring training. He had been slated to begin the season with Double-A Springfield, which would have made him an option depending on performance. Instead, he still has a week or so until the cast will be removed from his non throwing hand.

So starting pitching-wise, the Cardinals’ cupboard is pretty bare.

The best option in the minors for the Cardinals right now is right hander Jeremy Hefner. Hefner, 30, is simply the most experienced. He threw 224 innings for the Mets in 2012 and 2013 before having Tommy John surgery. He would return to the mound late in 2014, pitching just 14 innings before announcing he would need a second Tommy John surgery.

He wouldn’t pitch in 2015, except for 15 innings in the Dominican Winter League. He signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals over the winter and pitched five scoreless innings in his debut for Memphis.

The team could also opt to piggyback Lyons and Rule 5 Draft pick Matthew Bowman to stretch one of the two out. They’re both generally accepted as long reliever types in the Cardinals’ bullpen and both have been starters for most of their careers.

Those are the current options for the Cardinals. None are as confidence inspiring as Cooney or Gonzales would have been in the same situation.

What’s the big deal with it though? In each of the past three seasons, a Cardinals’ starting pitcher has ended up on the disabled list in late-April or May.

In 2015, Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles and landed on the DL on April 16th. He didn’t start again, though he did make it back as a reliever in late September.

In 2014, following a blowout where he allowed 9 earned runs to the Cubs, Tyler Lyons hit the DL on May 13th. He was out for almost a month and didn’t return to St. Louis until July.

The 2013 season was particularly bad. First it was Jake Westbrook being placed on the DL on May 12th and was out for a month. Jaime Garcia joined him on May 18th and was done for the year. Then, not wanting to be left out, John Gast–who was called up to replace Westbrook earlier in the month–was placed on the DL himself on May 26th. Gast never pitched in the Majors again and recently announced his retirement from baseball.

So the recent history isn’t very attractive in this regard for the Cardinals. The odds are good that the Cardinals will lose a starting pitcher for a little while. And the organization may be as unprepared as they have been for it in a very long time.

Pinch Hit Home Runs

We’ve all heard about the other night when the Cardinals launched three pinch hit home runs, courtesy of Jeremy Hazelbaker, Aledmys Diaz, and Greg Garcia. Brandon Moss added one of his own in tonight’s game to give the Cardinals four pinch hit home runs on the season. There have only been seven hit in all of baseball this year (Detroit has 2, Colorado has 1).

But here’s a couple quick stats on pinch hit home runs:

  • The most pinch hit home runs by a team in a season is 14, set in 2001 by both San Francisco and Arizona.
  • The Cardinals’ franchise record for pinch hit home runs in a season is 10, set in 1998. I was surprised to learn that only one was supplied by Mark McGwire on his way to 70.
  • Four pinch hit home runs is the most by the Cardinals in a season since 2009, when they hit 8. The team also hit four pinch hit home runs in 2010 and 2015.
  • The Cardinals all time leader in pinch hit home runs is George Crowe, who played for the team from 1959 to 1961, with 8.
  • Matt Adams is the team’s current leader in pinch hit home runs with 4. Garcia and Randal Grichuk have two a piece and are the only other Cardinals with more than one.

2016 Minor League Opening Day Rosters

The Cardinals’ full season minor league affiliates start their seasons tonight and ahead of that comes the roster announcements. Here’s the way the rosters stack up for the full season affiliates

Memphis Redbirds (AAA)

Pitchers (14): John Church, Juan Gonzalez, Jeremy Hefner, Dean Kiekhefer*, Thomas Lee, Deck McGuire, Arturo Reyes, Ryan Sherriff, Miguel Socolovich*, J.C. Sulbaran, Sam Tuivailala*, Justin Wright, Heath Wyatt

Catchers (2): Mike Ohlman*, Alberto Rosario

Infielders (6): Dean Anna*, Alex Mejia, Jonathan Rodriguez, Matt Williams, Jacob Wilson, Patrick Wisdom

Outfielders (4): Anthony Garcia*, Nick Martini, Carlos Peguero, Charlie Tilson*

Disabled List: Tim Cooney*, Marco Gonzales*, Tyler Waldron

Restricted List: Alex Reyes

Springfield Cardinals (AA)

Pitchers (15): Corey Baker, John Brebbia, Joey Donofrio, Kurt Heyer, Corey Littrell, Josh Lucas, Mike Mayers, Andrew Morales, Trey Nielsen, Chris Perry, Daniel Poncedeleon, Jimmy Reed, Robby Rowland, Ronnie Shaban, Chris Thomas

Catchers (2): Luis Cruz, Carson Kelly

Infielders (5): Paul DeJong, Chris Jacobs, Andrew Sohn, Breyvic Valera, Luke Voit

Outfielders (4): Harrison Bader, C.J. McElroy, Collin Radack, David Washington

Designated Hitter (1): Bruce Caldwell

Palm Beach Cardinals (High A)

Pitchers (13): Pedro Echemendia, Jacob Evans, Jack Flaherty, Silfredo Garcia, Austin Gomber, Kyle Grana, Michael Heesch, Kevin Herget, Ian McKinney, Blake McKnight, Matt Pearce, Cody Schumacher, Rowan Wick

Catchers (2): Steve Bean, Jesse Jenner

Infielders (6): Andrew Brodbeck, Danny Diekroeger, Casey Grayson, Oscar Mercado, Mike Reynolds, Allen Staton

Outfielders (4): Blake Drake, Orlando Olivera, Michael Pritchard, Nick Thompson

Peoria Chiefs (A)

Pitchers (13): Sandy Alcantara, Landon Beck, Tyler Bray, Steven De La Cruz, Junior Fernandez, Steven Gallardo, Derian Gonzalez, Luke Harrison, Chandler Hawkins, Ryan Helsley, Sasha Keubel, Brennan Leitao, Jake Woodford

Catchers (4): Chris Chinea, Jose Godoy, Ryan McCarvel, Brian O’Keefe

Infielders (5): Eliezer Alvarez, R.J. Dennard, Leobaldo Pina, Edmundo Sosa, Casey Turgeon

Outfielders (4): Craig Aikin, Vaughn Bryan, Magneuris Sierra, Thomas Spitz

*- Indicates a player on the Cardinals’ 40 man roster

Mozeliak’s trade history with the Indians

Today the Cleveland Indians designated former Cardinals first round pick James Ramsey for assignment. Ramsey, 26, was dealt to the Indians in exchange for starting pitcher Justin Masterson back in July 2014 in a trade that caused a minor uproar. At the time, Ramsey was playing for Double-A Springfield and hitting .300/.389/.527 with 13 homers in 67 games for the Cardinals. While Masterson had a 5.51 ERA over 19 starts for the Indians.

I got thinking about how the Cardinals and Indians have been pretty regular trade partners since John Mozeliak became the team’s General Manager. Which is also interesting because the Indians’ Chris Antonetti was one of the finalists for the Cardinals’ GM job at the time.

But let’s take a look at the trades they’ve made.

2009: Chris Perez and Jess Todd for Mark DeRosa

There was some hope for this trade. However, Mark DeRosa hurt his wrist shortly after showing up in St. Louis and was never the player the Cardinals thought they were getting. Meanwhile Chris Perez was a two-time All Star closer for the Indians, but those teams finished 15 and 20 games out. Jess Todd never amounted to much in the Majors, posting a 7.62 ERA in 25 Major League games.

2010: Ryan Ludwick (to San Diego) for Jake Westbrook and Nick Greenwood

Jake Westbrook played a major role in the rotation for the Cardinals for a few seasons, but never really found the groove the franchise was hoping for. Nick Greenwood had his moments but was never a regular contributor to the big league club. Meanwhile Ryan Ludwick would leave the Cardinals and, aside from one season with the Reds, never posted an above average season again.

Cleveland did manage to pull Corey Kluber from San Diego in this deal, so I think they win this one.

2013: Marc Rzepczynski for Juan Herrera

Juan Herrera, a minor league shortstop who hangs his hat on defense, has never really been able to hit regularly in the minors. He hit .265 last season with no home runs at High-A Peoria. Marc Rzepczynski had one good season with the Indians before being flipped to the Padres last year for center fielder Abraham Almonte who played pretty well in the second half.

2014: James Ramsey for Justin Masterson

As the trade that prompted this discussion, it looks to have failed all around. Masterson struggled in St. Louis, but it was his help that may have turned Shelby Miller into the pitcher everyone thought he could be. Ramsey hit .243/.327/.382 for the Indians’ Triple-A team last season and failed to get an opportunity in the big leagues for an organization that needed outfield help last year.

2015: Rob Kaminsky for Brandon Moss

The jury is still out on this trade, but most of the early discussion of it centers mostly around Rob Kaminsky‘s prospect status. He was probably the Cardinals’ #3 pitching prospect at the time of the trade and was dominating in Palm Beach. He had a little trouble in two starts for the Indians’ High-A team.

Brandon Moss meanwhile was brought back on a pricey deal to be a first base option for the Cardinals this season. The organization struggled to get any production out of first base and what Moss provided late last year was a big improvement, even if it was just a 104 OPS+.

The Cardinals and the Padres have made their fair share of trades over the years as well, but they’ve had quite a bit of turnover in the front offices. Cleveland’s front office is still led by Antonetti while St. Louis’ is still led by Mozeliak.

Is Mozeliak a good GM?

Today on Twitter, a conversation began about whether John Mozeliak was a good General Manager. Outside of John Mabry, there may not be an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization that brings more mixed feelings from fans than John Mozeliak. Some see Mozeliak as an overrated GM who has ridden the coat tails of those before him. Others see him as a genius at team building. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For full disclosure, I’ve been a John Mozeliak apologist for quite some time. I usually find myself defending him and the decisions being made by the organization. I’ve enjoyed watching him work and the way he takes an even-keeled approach to managing the team. With the way he calculates his moves and hedges against risks, he is exactly the kind of person I would want overseeing my billion dollar investment.

My favorite characteristic of his decision making though may be that he doesn’t just look at the current year with blinders on. He is always looking down the road to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. That’s good because if you spend all your chips trying to win now, you’ll eventually run out and lose, like the Cardinals did in 2007 and 2008. And I prefer winning.

He has been great at building and maintaining a strong foundation. He might be the best foundation builder in the business. Part of that is the way the Cardinals run their scouting and analytics department. The other part of it is a team owner that allows Mozeliak to operate this way. Many owners shoot themselves in the foot when they place pressure on their GM to make big moves rather than the right moves.

However, when it comes time to elbow up at the big boy table and gamble, Mozeliak has come up short to other teams who have been willing to go further and take more risk than he has. Part of that is necessity, they don’t have the same minor league infrastructure the Cardinals do. Part of that is ability, they have more money than the Cardinals do. Part of that is willingness, other organizations and absorb big failure in ways the Cardinals can’t.

This offseason, the Cardinals circled two names on their wish list: David Price and Jason Heyward. Mozeliak pursued and lost out on both, reportedly finishing second both times.

When it comes to managing his team, Mozeliak’s style might best be described as a poker player who entered the World Series of Poker. But he’s just slow playing in the hopes of sneaking into the money. Though once you get there, you find out that you still need to gamble to win.

That he hasn’t been willing to take that extra risk in an effort to bring in talent to help the team has baffled me a little bit. He has made some gambles during his tenure as GM of the Cardinals and has historically came out ahead.

He traded Jim Edmonds to San Diego for David Freese as his second official move. Freese would become a postseason hero four years later.

He traded for Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday in 2009. DeRosa got injured within days of arriving. Holliday, meanwhile, would go on to sign the richest contract in frachise history and be a key cog in the lineup.

He dealt former top prospect Colby Rasmus in a deal that patched all the team’s holes. It became the year of the “Happy Flight” as the Cardinals won the World Series.

They let Albert Pujols walk. And got better. Stephen Piscotty and Michael Wacha, who are key pieces of today’s Cardinals team, were drafted with the compensatory picks the organization received by letting Pujols walk.

He dealt former first round pick Zack Cox for a little known reliever Edward Mujica at the deadline in 2012. Mujica would go on to be an All Star closer for the Cardinals in 2013.

Following the 2013 season, Mozeliak dealt Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Grichuk appears to be on the verge of a breakout season after hitting 17 home runs in 353 plate appearances last year.

His latest gamble might be the only one that didn’t pay off. Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jordan Walden and Jason Heyward. Mozeliak hoped he could bring Heyward back, just as he had done with Holliday and like Walt Jocketty had done with Mark McGwire, Edmonds, and Rolen before him. Heyward would leave for the Cubs in October. Miller would go on to put up a career year before being dealt to Arizona. And Jenkins stayed healthy.

The irony with that deal is that Walden was probably the least risky part of the deal for either side. He hasn’t seen a Major League mound during the regular season since last May and is still on the disabled list.

So when we’ve seen Mozeliak push, he has had a great track record. Part of that is that he has an organization with a great foundation that lets him make some gambles. I would honestly like to see a little more.

But maybe the problem is the explosion of analytics in baseball over the last five years is making it more difficult to find opportunities to gamble. With the massive amounts of data these teams are now playing with, it’s harder to find a good value. Big data always informs big decisions in business these days.

I still believe that this team is a good hitter away from being able to be a legitimate World Series threat. I’d like to see Mozeliak go after someone this summer that can be the game changing talent we need.

I like having prospects It’s nice to hope that they will all pan out and become the stars of tomorrow, but we know that they won’t all turn out. The only reason that prospects are heavily coveted by teams is because they’re low-risk, high-reward.

My fear has been that the window is closing on this team. It would be nice to get another World Series run, but I don’t see this team, as constructed, getting there.

Why does the Cardinals’ offense suck so bad?

By all accounts, the St. Louis Cardinals have talented hitters. A quick glance down their everyday lineup, even when you consider new shortstop Ruben Tejada in at short for Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals have a lineup that seems to be capable of providing above average production at every position. Yet two weeks until the season starts and the Cardinals sit 28th of 30 teams in run production.

It isn’t a question of lack of talent. So it really does beg the question: Why does the Cardinals’ offense suck so bad?

The first answer to the question applies specifically to this spring, but it isn’t a particularly satisfying answer. It’s the ballpark. Roger Dean Stadium is typically played with the winds blowing in, so powering a home run out of the park should probably count as two on the stat sheet. Its just hard to hit the ball out.

We can confirm that by looking at the other team that calls Roger Dean Stadium home. The Miami Marlins have sucked on offense too. They rank 30th of 30 teams. So for Cardinals fans, it could really be worse.

We are given the ballpark argument back at Busch Stadium too. The addition of Ballpark Village has reportedly changed some of the wind patters that make it even more difficult than it already was to muscle a ball out. But the Cardinals are still just average on the road.

So while I understand that the Cardinals shouldn’t be ripping the ball out of the park all day long, the Cardinals’ offense isn’t focused on that ability. They’re about the other forms of power. Getting extra base hits and taking advantage of scoring opportunities. But if the team was capable of scoring runs without the home run, there isn’t really much stopping them from doing it now.

The second answer has been hammered by many fans over the last couple years. Complaints about the offense really began in earnest in 2014. During the 2013 season, they put up historic production with runners in scoring position and that led to the team scoring the third most runs in baseball. But they overachieved. In 2014, they plummeted to 23rd in the league and last year they fell one more notch to 24th.

Injuries and fatigue played a factor in the offense last year, so it makes it difficult to really know just would have happened had everyone stayed healthy. So while I do believe they would have been better than 24th, I still don’t have much confidence going into 2016.

So the answer here is John Mabry. The hitting coach has been under fire for quite some time for the offense.

While I’ve been a fairly big defender of Mabry, mostly just in relation to others, things did immediately start to go south on the offensive side of the ball when he was named hitting coach. During Mark McGwire’s first year, he received some criticism for an underperforming offense and Tony La Russa defended him by saying that it can take a season for players to truly adapt to a hitting coach’s philosophy. Even still, none of the three years under McGwire have been as bad as the last two years have been under Mabry.

My main defense of Mabry is that there is no quantifiable way to determine just how much credit or blame he deserves for the offense. Some players don’t use the team’s coaches. Some turn themselves over completely. So it makes it hard for most to point the finger at him with any credibility.

The best way I know to measure the potential impact of a hitting coach is with the suggestion that the team’s rank in runs scored should fall somewhere between their rank in on base percentage and slugging percentage. By that measure, the Cardinals were 13th in OBP last year, 23rd in slugging and 24th in runs scored. No wonder fans feel frustrated by the team’s offense. They have to claw for every run they get.

I’m not on (or joining) the “Fire Mabry” bandwagon, but I do believe that if this team doesn’t figure out how to score runs this season that it’s time to replace him and see what happens. Because at the very least, he isn’t helping.

The third suggestion is a lack of focus in spring training. The Cardinals under Mike Matheny have always taken a laid back approach to spring training. More focus is placed on letting players get their reps and not so much about making sure you’re sharp for the season. They take the idea of slowing a player’s workload in March in the hope that you can push them harder in September.

Of course, that assumes they’ll be there to push in September.

The 2016 offense should be better than last year’s. While Jason Heyward did leave and Mozeliak’s only meaningful addition to the offense was Jedd Gyorko, the offense was addressed by inaction. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty played a combined 166 games and hit .287 with 24 home runs between them. Grichuk will also be putting his team runner-up 133 OPS+ into center field where the Cardinals received just 89 OPS+ worth of production last season.

The other trouble spot for the offense last year was first base. The Cardinals got just 78 OPS+ out of their first baseman, leaving the most room for improvement of any position. It will be a season of transition at first base too. There are three players expected to see major time at first base and all three could be free agents at the end of the season.

Matt Adams is the incumbent. Last year was probably a make or break season, but the quad injury he sustained that took away most of his season bought him another year.

Adams declared to the Post-Dispatch that he has his power back after showing some video tape of the changes he’s made to his swing for this season. Adams is 27 years old and has two arbitration years remaining after the year, but the team could still cut ties with him without costing them anything.

Brandon Moss has hit at least 19 home runs in each of the past four seasons. He is in his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He was a deadline acquisition for Mozeliak last summer and hit .250 with 4 home runs over his two months with the Cardinals. His 104 OPS+ was still a big improvement over what they had gotten from first basemen so far last year.

Another season away from hip surgery will help Moss. He can hopefully get closer to the 119 OPS+ player he was in 2014 while he played in Oakland.

Finally we have Matt Holliday. After years of fan discussion about moving him to first base, it has finally happened. But there may not be a lot of depth in the outfield if the Cardinals have to resort to Holliday at first. But there is hope that Tommy Pham or Jeremy Hazelbaker can play well enough to push Holliday to first base. His newfound positional flexibility increases the potential that his 2017 option gets picked up. Otherwise, he will be a free agent at the end of the season.

There is hope that the Cardinals’ offense will improve this year, and I believe that they will. But even if Piscotty and Grichuk turn into the players we expect them to be, I still think the Cardinals need one more game changing offensive threat to be a true World Series contender.

The possibility is there that they already have it. I hope they do.

Adam LaRoche makes the decision most Dads wish they could

Adam LaRoche just made the decision that most Dads wish they could. You see, for the last few years, Adam LaRoche has brought his son Drake to the ballpark with him pretty much every day. The team’s he’s been on (the Washington Nationals from 2011 to 2014 and the Chicago White Sox last year) pretty much accepted the young man as their “26th man.”

After the Nationals won the NL East in 2012, the team celebrated with beer and champagne while Drake and 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper sat in the corner with some sparkling grape juice. That’s just one of a number of stories that have come out since the decision was made in the wake of this story about how Drake was accepted by his father’s teams.

So by all accounts, Drake was beloved by a majority of the guys on the team, was well behaved, and helped out around the clubhouse cleaning cleats, picking up baseballs, and doing laundry like the other teenagers in the clubhouse would. He had a locker next to his father complete with a uniform and everything. Several players who have been on teams with Adam have spoken positively about Darke’s presense, so it seems pretty obvious that this wasn’t a kid causing problems. He’d been around a Major League clubhouse for years and knew what was expected of him.

This spring however, White Sox President Kenny Williams had a couple conversations with LaRoche about bringing his son to the ballpark less often so that the team could focus on baseball. As Williams phrases it, “one of the things we said coming into this seasonis ‘let’s check all the columns’ with regards to our preparation, our focus to give us every chance to win.”

Williams must have pushed the issue in the second conversation with LaRoche because the decision to retire came very soon after. LaRoche decided to step away from the game, likely forfeiting his $13 million salary for 2016.

The White Sox players had a contentious meeting with Williams, which included a profanity-laced verbal tirade from the White Sox’s best player, Chris Sale, directed at Williams. There was even talk of boycotting yesterday’s game before the manager finally convinced them to take the field.

Since then, there has been a lot written wondering why LaRoche would let this decision cause him to retire. But I believe that if you are thinking like that, you’re looking at the situation backwards. When you flip it up, I think everything makes much more sense.

Last season, LaRoche endured the worst season of his career. He hit .207/.293/.340 with 12 home runs in 127 games for the White Sox. The 78 OPS+ was just the second time in his career that he’d posted below average results. The other, 2011 when he missed a chunk of the season with injury. He considered retiring, but ultimately made the decision to return for 2016. I believe his decision was based on the idea of getting to share the Major League experience with his son one last time.

Adam grew up around a Major League clubhouse himself. His father Dave pitched in the Majors for 14 seasons. Adam remembers hanging around the clubhouse with his brother Andy fondly. It was obviously a special experience for him and one that he enjoyed the opportunity to give his son.

Much has been said about the way that the LaRoche’s handle Drake’s schooling to allow him to spend this kind of time with his Dad, and while it might seem strange to regular people, it really isn’t that strange for the child of a professional athlete.

But after Adam has spent the last few seasons of his career with Drake by his side, I can imagine him not wanting to do it any other way.

So Adam made the decision that most parents wish they could make. He decided that spending a bunch of time with his son was more important to him than making $13 million. If only we were all so lucky.

Since LaRoche’s decision and the reasoning behind it became public yesterday, there has been quite a bit written defending the White Sox’s decision. Some say that the White Sox didn’t say that he couldn’t bring Drake sometimes (something disputed by LaRoche’s statement on the second conversation with Williams), just not all the time. But the way this entire discussion has been framed by White Sox upper management—even if they’re saying the opposite—is that they viewed Drake as a distraction.

Some say LaRoche is being selfish by walking away and robbing his son of the experience even part of the time. Some say Drake will now blame himself as the reason his father isn’t playing baseball anymore and he should have been more flexible. Some have even called LaRoche a quitter for retiring. After all, doesn’t LaRoche know that trying to win a World Series is more important than spending time with his son? #sarcasm

All of that might all have a little bit of truth, but when you look at it the way I suggest, things make much more sense and many of those defenses of the White Sox and attacks on LaRoche fail to stick.

Williams defended the decision to the media by asking how many workplaces allow you to bring your kid to work today. That defense rings hollow to me though for one simple fact. A Major League clubhouse isn’t your typical workplace. It isn’t an office job. It isn’t your kid tagging along while you wait tables. That’s an important decision to make. Plus, Adam did have a workplace where he was allowed to bring his son. It was an important part of the discussion before LaRoche signed his contract with the White Sox.

Out of one side of his mouth, Williams says that the decision wasn’t made because Drake was a distraction, but out of the other side he adds that he wanted to make sure they “checked all the boxes” when it came to focus and preparation. So if Drake wasn’t a distraction, why was limiting his access part of checking the boxes of focus and preparation?

LaRoche understood the implication of Williams’ decision.

There is also the argument that Williams was just being the bad guy for a teammate that was uncomfortable going directly to LaRoche with the issue. But if that is the case, I feel like that speaks to a much larger clubhouse issue than a 14 year old coming to work with his Dad. If you can go talk to the team’s President, but not your teammate, that’s a big problem!

Maybe I’m biased though. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were tagging along with my Dad to work. Getting to play on his computer. Getting to draw on his whiteboards (they were the greatest thing ever!). In later years, I came in and did some grunt work and helped out.

I feel like a very important part of my development as a person was getting an opportunity to see my Dad in the workplace setting. There he was more than just my Dad. He was a boss, he was co-worker, he was an employee. Seeing my Dad in those situations shaped many of the principles by which I treat people now.

Those are experiences that I want to share with my son too. My son was at my office yesterday, coincidentally, just after the story broke. He was walking around the office, giving everyone high fives, and playing with a co-worker’s stuffed panda. He and I sat at my desk for a bit and he was asking what everything was.

So I get it. In many ways I get LaRoche’s thought process and decision here. If Drake had been a problem or a distraction, I can understand the organization wanting to restrict his access. But I think the response from the team would have been very different. By all accounts so far, he wasn’t. And furthermore, when LaRoche signed his deal with the White Sox, they assured him he could have his kid around.

Some have called Drake the loser in this situation. I call him the winner. His Dad just told the world that he was more important than $13 million or a World Series ring. And what kid wouldn’t want that.

I hope some day that I can find myself in a situation where I can turn down $13 million to go spend time with my kid.

Shortstop situation shouldn’t worry Cards

After the 2015 season saw five of the St. Louis Cardinals’ nine Opening Day starters spend significant time on the disabled list, the team got bad news again. Jhonny Peralta, injured over the weekend, is expected to miss two to three months with a torn tendon in his left thumb. And so begins the team’s 2016 disabled list adventures.

Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak discussed that the Cardinals want to evaluate their internal options before making a decision whether to pursue players outside of the organization. Of course, the media still loves a good trade rumor story, so they have already begun discussing all of the potential options available or potentially available. I doubt that will happen though.

Losing Peralta hurts. Lets not lie. Peralta was one of the players that carried the offense in the first half of 2015 while Matt Holliday was on the disabled list and Matt Carpenter was slumping.

In Peralta’s stead, Jedd Gyorko will likely get the first crack at this year’s starting shortstop job. Gyorko, 27, hit .262 with 14 home runs in 82 games last season for the Padres after he spent a three week stint in the minors in June. While he’s only played 220 professional innings at shortstop, having played mostly second and third bases, he did play shortstop in college. Mike Matheny even spoke today about how much they like Gyorko’s glove and arm, which leads one ot believe that range will be the issue.

There is also Greg Garcia, who was already expected to be Peralta’s primary backup during the season. The 26-year-old Garcia has never been a top prospect or viewed as capable of sticking at shortstop at the Major League level. However, through the minors, he has been one of those players who has flown under the radar and yet still produced at every level. Can I use the term “sneaky good?”

He hit .240 with 2 home runs for the big league club and did that with a 97 OPS+. That’s good for just shy of league average offensively. Defensively, he may not be the right guy, but he should be good enough to spell your starter.

The most interesting situation of all might be that of Aledmys Diaz. Diaz was signed out of Cuba before the 2014 season when he hadn’t played pro baseball for almost two years. His first season in the U.S. was marred by injury as he struggled to stay on the field. But his 2015 season ended up showing the reason the Cardinals were interested. And he could have been had by any team in baseball too.

In July, the Cardinals needed a 40 man roster spot, so they designated Diaz for assignment. The move took him off the 40 man roster, but it also placed him on waivers. The Cardinals took a chance that with $5 million remaining on his deal, that nobody would assume the risk. They were right. He passed through waivers and stayed with the Cardinals.

Since July 1, 2015, Diaz hit .322/.387/.570 with 12 home runs over 69 games between Double-A Springfield, Triple-A Memphis, and the Arizona Fall League. Add to that some glowing reviews of his defensive abilities, and I think you have the guy that the Cardinals would like to have playing shortstop in Peralta’s stead.

Diaz is the most immediate to benefit from Peralta’s absense in spring training. While he was positioned to be an early cut from Major League camp with Peralta there, all of those at bats open up with Peralta gone. Given his salary and option situation, Diaz may get a legitimate opportunity to take this job.

It’s the option sitation that changed my mind too. When the injury first happened, I didn’t expect that Diaz would see substantial playing time. Maybe he’d get an opportunity to make the team out of camp, but he wouldn’t see regular starting time unless he truly forced the organization’s hand with his performance.

Having been on the club’s 40 man roster since he signed his contract, the Cardinals have already exercised two option years to keep him in the minors. If they were to send him down to the minors this year, it would be his third and then he would have to make the big league club next year.

So as I see it stacking up, I don’t think there will be a better opportunity for the Cardinals to see what Aledmys Diaz has then right now. So why not see what he has?

I also believe that the Cardinals are very capable of navigating a few months without Jhonny Peralta without negatively impacting the team’s playoff chances. But I wish they didn’t have to.

Cardinals commit with Wong’s extension

When the St. Louis Cardinals announced earlier this week that they had agreed to terms on a $25.5 million, 5 year deal with second baseman Kolten Wong, it was more than just locking up a young player who had plenty of potential. The Cardinals committed at a position that they really haven’t shown much commitment at over the past thirty or so years.

To find a second baseman who had been the Cardinals’ regular second baseman for more than three years in a row, you need to go back to the 1980s. Tom Herr did the job from 1981 until he was traded in 1988. In the 28 seasons since, only three Cardinals even have three seasons in a row as the regular second baseman: Jose Oquendo (1989 to 1991), Fernando Vina (2000 to 2002), and Skip Schumaker (2009 to 2011).

If Kolten Wong plays through this new contract, Wong will have eight seasons under his belt as the Cardinals’ regular second baseman. That alone puts him into some rare air in St. Louis history.

Herr had seven seasons. Rogers Hornsby had seven seasons too. Red Schoendienst, who celebrated his 93rd birthday just over a month ago, had ten seasons as the team’s regular second baseman.

As far as I found in my research, the guy with the most is Julian Javier, who played for the Cardinals from 1960 to 1971. He was the team’s regular second baseman for 11 of those 12 seasons.

At the end of this contract, Wong will be 31 years old with plenty of baseball ahead of him, so the chance that he could go beyond the eight seasons is definitely real.

The contract represents a big commitment from the organization towards Wong, but there is still some question as to whether Wong will eventually blossom into the kind of player worth a long-term commitment. After all, the last player who earned a deal entering his final year of team controlled salary was Matt Carpenter. Carpenter, then 28, was coming off a season where he led baseball in runs, hits, and doubles and finished fourth in National League MVP voting.

Defenders of the deal, like myself, will undoubtedly point out Wong’s numbers. He was better overall in 2015 than he was in 2014. He also provided at least 2 WAR in each as well. With those kind of numbers, he is easily providing enough value on the field to be worth the money, even if he has already reached his ceiling.

But you can love the deal and still admit that Wong still has much to prove. Because he can show you the flashes of his immense talent and make a careless play. Often times in the same game.

Everyone talks about Wong’s 2015 season when suggesting that he still has a lot to prove.

In the first half of the season, Wong appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season. At the break he was hitting .280 with 9 home runs and had finished second in All Star balloting at second base. Many made the case that he’d been snubbed by not being selected as a reserve or placed in the final vote. I tend to agree with them.

The second half was a very different story for Wong. The breakout year ran off the tracks as he hit just .234 after the break. He failed to hit a home run over the final two months of the season. But for all of that, his second half wasn’t nearly as bad as the story gets told.

After the All Star Break through August 22nd, Kolten Wong played 33 consecutive games at second base for the Cardinals and hit .198. Why do I stop the sample on August 22nd? The Cardinals called up Greg Garcia on August 23rd and Wong finally got a day off. Actually, he got two off, and returned to the lineup on August 25th. He hit .287 the rest of the way.

The theory that his July and August struggles were due to fatigue and overuse have some support with the numbers, so that’s the theory that the Cardinals entered the offseason working with. Pete Kozma was the team’s primary backup in the middle infield for the team last year and with an already struggling offense, it made it difficult to bench a guy with Wong’s potential for the struggling Kozma.

That’s why the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko by trade with San Diego. The move should help keep Wong fresh at second base, boost the infield depth, and provide a right handed power bat for the bench. That’s a plus for the team on several fronts.

For 2016, Wong has said that he’d like an opportunity to bat leadoff, but he still has a long way to go until he is ready to take that role. Matt Carpenter has made it known that he intends to keep the job, so Wong will have to play well enough to wrestle it away. And to do that, he’ll have to take another step forward.

There is no doubt though, that if Wong could, that the team would be better for it.

2016 PECOTA Projections

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections are out. They have the Cardinals finishing 82-80 in third place in the NL Central and 10 games back of the division winning Cubs.

It’s not a glowing endorsement from PECOTA, though last year they projected the Pirates to go 81-81 and they won 97 games last year. So there’s that.

Part of the problem is that projection systems will find it difficult to project the Cardinals because of the injuries that plagued them last season. They won’t reflect full seasons from guys like Adam Wainwright or Matt Holliday or even new additions like Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk.

So it is safe to say that if the Cardinals can manage to stay healthy, they’ll outperform that projection easily.