Offseason Outlook: My Game Plan

Over this week I’ve discussed the Cardinals’ pending free agents, their salary arbitration cases, and the needs that the roster faces next season. To finish out my offseason outlook series, I’m going to discuss how I would approach this winter if I were the chief decision maker in the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals were closer to the Cubs than you think they were. If you take away the head-to-head games both teams went 78-65 last year. But the Cardinals went 5-14 against the Cubs and that is where the division champions made up their entire 9 game lead. And seven of those losses to the Cubs came by just one run.

I think it’s interesting to note how many fans think that those 9 games are the equivalent of being light years behind the Cubs, but just ask yourself: How many games do you think the Cardinals lost because Mike Matheny made the wrong bullpen decision? If the club, with their hiring of Mike Maddux, reduces that number, that’s an improvement.

The Cubs have their own remodeling to do this winter as well, so the gulf between the two organizations is not that wide and could stand to flux quite a bit this winter. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, instead of just needing to add a bat, they need to find a way to deal with the losses of Trevor Rosenthal and Lance Lynn. This winter can’t just be another step in the right direction, it will require a series of steps.

Trim the fat. I argued last winter that the Cardinals needed to  “trim the fat” from their roster. Guys like Jhonny Peralta and Jonathan Broxton didn’t need to be brought back. The odds of either playing a large role in the team’s successes in 2017 was always exceptionally slim. In Peralta’s case, his playing early in the season kept either Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong out of the lineup. Both players had career years in 2017.

If they had trimmed the fat from their roster last winter, they would have created opportunities for players to step in and contribute. If the club wants to go young, creating those opportunities is the team’s biggest thing to keep in mind and it should inform all their decisions.

This requires that the front office take a hard look at what they have and make some bets and then hedge them. The biggest part of trimming the fat this winter is trading Stephen Piscotty and probably Jedd Gyorko as well.

As far as Piscotty, the Cardinals have a glut of outfielders who are ready or near ready. Having Dexter Fowler and Piscotty on long-term deals takes away the opportunities of these young players. My starting outfield next season with be Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Randal Grichuk with guys like Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and others getting their opportunities as the team’s fourth outfielder.

For Voit, like Adams before him, his future here in St. Louis is non-existent as long as Matt Carpenter is St. Louis. There’s also Jose Martinez who is looking to improve his abilities at first base, a position I think he is far more suited for that the outfield.

And then Gyorko, my plan is to bring in a starting infielder, which would mean that playing time for Gyorko would disappear and beyond that Wong has shown what he can do when he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. With Gyorko on the bench, Wong would be.

Go big or go home. For the Cardinals this winter, they need to add a big bat in the middle of their lineup, a closer, and a starting pitcher. But they need to add all three. Adding one, or even just two, leaves the team exposed and really reduces the benefit of going after what you added. After all, what’s the point in adding a guy like J.D. Martinez if your pitching staff can’t hold up it’s end of the deal?

Personally, I don’t pursue Martinez and the main reason why is that the Cardinals already have a half dozen outfielders who profile as starting outfielders. Perhaps if the front office thins the outfield pool to bring in other needs, but I don’t see that happening. Another reason is that Martinez has never been a feature hitter in a lineup. In Detroit, he hit behind Miguel Cabrera. In Arizona, he hit behind Paul Goldschmidt. Pardon my pitching parlance, but I would be reluctant to give ace money to a guy who may just be a very good #2. We’ve already got that problem with Matt Carpenter.

However, the Blue Jays may be interested in trading Josh Donaldson and they need outfielders. Donaldson is a rental, but he is also the only player over the last few years who has been able to consistently hold a candle to Mike Trout for the discussion of the most valuable player in baseball. You acquire him and he bridges the gap until next winter when there is a stellar free agent class and then you react to your needs then.

In the trade with the Blue Jays, you may also be able to get them to send you J.A. Happ, who would provide the Cardinals with a rental starter who can bridge the gap through to Alex Reyes being ready to join the rotation in 2018.

In the bullpen, the Cardinals are searching for a closer. Here, I would make re-signing Juan Nicasio a priority. I would also engage the Rays in trade talks about Alex Colome. Colome will be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and has 84 saves over the past two seasons. He and Nicasio at the back end of the bullpen with Tyler Lyons, Matthew Bowman, John Brebbia, and Sam Tuivailala along with Sandy Alcantara and eventually Alex Reyes, should be enough back there.

Squeeze the lineup. One of the things that Mike Matheny has struggled to do over the past few seasons is optimize his lineup. It was telling last season that whenever there was an injury that forced Matheny to shuffle his lineup that the team flourished, but when everyone was healthy enough to return to the lineup he returned to his standard lineups and the team once again struggled.

One of the things I’ve realized while watching the playoffs this October is that while Matt Carpenter may be a great leadoff hitter, he is not a “spark plug” type of player that you want to have at the top of your lineup. The two guys the Cardinals have who could be that kind of player are Tommy Pham or Kolten Wong in my opinion. And I lean towards Pham more because of his attitude on the field.

That would make my Opening Day lineup look like this,

CF Tommy Pham
LF Dexter Fowler
3B Josh Donaldson
1B Matt Carpenter
SS Paul DeJong
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
RF Randal Grichuk

That lineup is deeper throughout. You have two speedy OBP guys in front of Donaldson who can mash them in. Carpenter can play both on base guy to move along the guys in front of him or to get on for DeJong’s power. Then you’ve got another OBP/SLG pair in Wong and Grichuk.

The Cardinals have an opportunity this winter. I am hopeful with the departure from their standard operating procedures that pursuing Mike Maddux seems to be, that it signals a departure when it comes to free agent pursuit as well.

If the Cardinals want to win the division and then set their eyes on a World Series, they need to make a series of changes. Just getting one or the other won’t be enough.

News: Cardinals name Mike Maddux pitching coach

What happenedOriginally reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the St. Louis Cardinals have officially named Mike Maddux as their new Pitching Coach. Bryan Eversgerd has been named Bullpen Coach.

The story. The Cardinals declined to renew the contracts of Pitching Coach Derek Lilliquist and Bullpen Coach Blaise Ilsley at the end of the season, opting to make an effort to redefine the pitching coach position. Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak indicated that the club wanted to change their approach to capitalize on analytics and take a more modern approach to managing a pitching staff.

The numbers. Mike Maddux, 56, was part of Dusty Baker’s staff in Washington for the past two years where the club won 95 games in 2016 and 97 games in 2017 with a pair of division titles. Maddux became available when the organization decided to part ways with Baker following the season.

Prior to that, Maddux spent seven seasons with the Texas Rangers and was pitching coach for the Rangers when the Cardinals faced them in the 2011 World Series. Before that, he was with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Bryan Eversgerd, 48, joined the Cardinals’ organization in 2001 and has served as pitching coach at almost all levels of the minors since then. For the past six seasons he has been the Pitching Coach for Triple-A Memphis.

The impact. 9/10. This is a significant coaching move for the Cardinals, especially with the way they seem to want to be positioning the Pitching Coach.

The Cardinals had interest in Jim Hickey, but according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, moved on to Maddux after he became available. Nightengale also added that Maddux had received five job offers since his departure from the Nationals, but that the Cardinals were his first choice.

The move might signal a change of pace for the Cardinals’ organization when it comes to their offseason approach. When Maddux was hired by the Nationals before the 2016 season, he was believed to be the highest paid pitching coach in baseball.

Maddux’s approach to attacking an opposing team’s lineup involves managing the lineup, attacking hitters inside to open up the plate, and focus more on late movement than pure velocity or overall movement. He is regarded as one of the best pitching coaches when it comes to pitching mechanics in the game.

I’m sure there are guys who are much more knowledgeable than me who could break this down more, but it’s an interesting hire for the Cardinals. He has been a managerial candidate with the Cubs, Red Sox, and Astros in the past, which might fit with an organization who is looking to give their Pitching Coach more responsibility for managing the pitching staff.

Offseason Outlook: Team Needs

On Monday I took a look at the Cardinals’ pending free agents and yesterday I looked at their pending salary arbitration cases. Today we’ll take a look at what I believe should be the Cardinals’ priorities this winter.

The Cardinals find themselves in a unique situation this winter. They have lots of quality players, but few star level players. Matt Carpenter might be the closest to a star player on offense that the Cardinals have, but he is not one. Which is why criticism of him is so strong. Carlos Martinez may be a star player in 2018 or 2019, but he was not in 2017. Nor were most pitchers at age 26 either.

But how do you talk about what a club has need for without feeling like you’re beating the proverbial deal horse once again?

Base running and fundamentals continue to hamper this team. The talent was there this season. The Cubs and Cardinals had the same record against the rest of the league. The Cubs’ made up their 9 game difference in the division in head-to-head play and seven of those losses to the Cubs came in one run games. The results indicate the teams were closely matched. A tweak or two could have put them over the top.

Bullpen management is another problem altogether, but the Cardinals seem to have a plan to address that with their new pitching coach. I am eager to see whether that changes anything or whether it was just more rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Unfortunately, given what the Cardinals stand to lose this winter on their pitching staff, they are not in position to simply need to build on what they have. The Cardinals have needs and they’re going to need to pursue them more aggressively than they have in John Mozeliak’s tenure as the chief decision maker in the front office. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at yet another season of regression.

Closer is really the primary need that the organization outlined this winter. With Trevor Rosenthal‘s injury, and what I expect to be a non-tender in December, the Cardinals need to replace that. Juan Nicasio was acquired in September and filled the role well, but he is also a free agent.

While the Cardinals don’t have a clear heir in house that they feel confident handing the role to or they would have last season when Rosenthal went down. Both John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala turned in solid seasons last year and have closing experience, Brebbia in Independent League baseball and Tuivailala has been groomed as a closer in the minors. You’ve also got Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil out there as well as setup guys. Mix in Matthew Bowman, Ryan Sherriff, Sandy Alcantara, and potentially Alex Reyes in the second half and you have a good base to a bullpen that really just needs the exclamation point to put on the end.

The Cardinals have indicated that they’ll pursue a free agent closer and it’s believed they are interested in Greg Holland who is expected to opt out of his contract with the Rockies. But Holland’s option could be worth as much as $21 million to stay in Colorado. I find it hard to believe that he would opt out, only to get less than he could likely get if he stayed one more year in Colorado before hitting free agency.

After that, the offense needs a boost. It’s really difficult to put your finger on where the Cardinals need to improve on offense next season. Yes, they need a run producer in the middle of their lineup, but the Cardinals got above average production from every fielding position except catcher and shortstop last season. And since June 6th when Paul DeJong made his first start at shortstop, it has been just catcher and it’s unlikely that Yadier Molina and his new $60 million contract are going anywhere.

That leaves plenty of options. Perhaps too many. How do the Cardinals turn a glut of slightly above average players into one or two well above average ones? Hopefully the club does not experience paralysis by analysis with all the different directions they could take.

The key here will be to look at who the club expects to be everyday players. In my opinion, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Yadier Molina are probably the only guys that you can lock in. That leaves two outfield spots and a corner infield spot to look for your update.

According to Derrick Goold, the Cardinals have long had interest in Josh Donaldson. They have also talked with Miami about their outfielders, but Marcell Ozuna will be sold high, Christian Yelich is essentially Stephen Piscotty, and the Marlins have indicated that Giancarlo Stanton may not waive his no-trade clause for St. Louis. That creates some issues.

On the plus side, the Cardinals have four positions they could upgrade at. The downside is that they need to trim the fat on their roster as well. That will be difficult for the front office to justify when they’ll likely have to sell off at a reduced return since everyone knows the Cardinals need to do it. That alone makes me reluctant to bet on the organization pulling the trigger.

The final need is starting pitching. With the Cardinals on the verge of letting Lance Lynn walk into free agency, I believe that starting pitching might be one of the most pressing situations for the team next season and it’s gotten very little coverage. John Mozeliak has expressed his desire to “go young” with the staff which likely means that Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty being expected to break camp in the rotation with the big league club next season.

I don’t expect that Alex Reyes will be ready go until much closer to the summer, so I wouldn’t bet on him opening the season with St. Louis next year.

But who is your guy that will take the ball every five days? Flaherty and Weaver will both be rookies and on innings restrictions. Michael Wacha stayed healthy this season, but was on a controlled workload. If they increase that workload, how will his stress injury respond? Adam Wainwright still has some magic left in his arm, but his ability to stay healthy is a concern for me. And then Carlos Martinez started 32 games and threw over 200 innings for the first time in his career, so we need to see how he will respond.

The Cardinals could be planning to approach this as a situation where they start the season with Flaherty and Weaver and then mix in guys like Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber, and even Alex Reyes later in the season to help stretch those guys. But if you intend to be a playoff team next season, you’re placing an awful lot of confidence in those guys to be able to step in and do the job without skipping a beat. Further, if you’re going to invest in a centerpiece bat for your lineup, you owe it to that same lineup to make sure your rotation can put them in position to win games.

There are guys the Cardinals could sign to fill innings, but that’s how you get a guy like Mike Leake. It’s one of the reasons why I support bringing Lynn back so heavily. But perhaps they piggy-back a rental starter like a J.A. Happ into a potential deal with Toronto or go trade some of their lower level talent for a guy like Jake Odorizzi from the Rays who are set to have a record high in payroll next season unless they make some changes.

There’s options here, but I don’t see a team entering 2018 with those five guys penciled into the rotation as a playoff team.

Offseason Outlook: Arbitration

Yesterday we discussed the pending free agents the Cardinals have and today we’ll take a look at their salary arbitration eligible players.

A quick recap on what salary arbitration is. A player needs six years of MLB service time to elect for free agency and players who have yet to accumulate that is in their “team control” years. The first three years of this is where the team has the most control, they can unilaterally decide what the players will make. The second three years they qualify for salary arbitration. Players and teams negotiate a salary and if an agreement can’t be reached, they go to an arbitration hearing where an arbiter decides which side is correct.

There are some special situations, one which the Cardinals are facing and I’ll talk about at the end, but in general that is how this works.

Players who are under team control must be tendered a contract by their team by December 2nd or they will be what we consider to be “non-tendered.” When a player is non-tendered, they become a free agent.

LHP Tyler Lyons. Over the past few years I’ve really grown to love Tyler Lyons and have become quite enamored with his potential as a top level relief pitcher. It’s not just those dreamy eyes, though they certainly don’t hurt. I’ve argued for the last couple years that Lyons could be an elite setup guy if he was ever given the opportunity to be one.

This year he got his first taste of that action. He made the move to the bullpen full time and posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.09 over 54 innings. His second half was even more incredible as he posted a 1.61 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 28 innings. That 1.61 ERA was the 13th best ERA among relief pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in the second half.

Lyons will be arbitration eligible for the first time and is projected to get $1.3 million by MLB Trade Rumors and he is totally worth that. In my opinion, Lyons is the kind of reliever that you’re going to want to buy out his arbitration years. Lyons has a 2.74 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 144 innings as a relief pitcher in his MLB career. What he did this year as a full time reliever should not have been a surprise to anyone.

OF Randal Grichuk. Randal Grichuk will also be arbitration eligible for the first time and he may be one of the toughest players to value. On one hand, he strikes out a lot, but he has power. Power so impressive that as I wrote earlier this year, only Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado have hit extra base hits at a greater rate than him since his arrival in the big leagues.

Yes, he doesn’t walk. But for all the talk about how bad his 2017 was supposed to have been, his rate numbers were virtually identical to the 2016 season we praised. That those rate numbers have remained steady makes me think that we now know what Grichuk is. And so I have to ask myself. Am I happy with a guy who, in a 600 plate appearance season, projects to hit .240 with 38 doubles, 6 triples, and 29 home runs? Yes, yes I am.

With the outfield logjam, it’s very possible that Grichuk is traded, but I still firmly believe that that would be a mistake. He’s the kind of guy you put at the back of a lineup and let him loose. Plus defender, plus power. And for a projected $2.8 million next year? A steal.

RHP Michael Wacha. Michael Wacha will be the club’s only second year arbitration eligible player. Last winter Wacha made a little bit of history after the club initiated their new “file and trial” policy where, once arbitration numbers are filed, they intend to take the player to the arbitration hearing. The Cardinals filed at $2.775 million, Wacha filed at $3.2 million, and the Cardinals won. It was the first time the organization had taken a player to arbitration since 1999.

Most important for Wacha this season was to prove that he was able to stay healthy for an entire season. He did that with 30 starts, however is performance left something lacking. His 103 ERA+ demonstrates that he was just slightly above league average. His overall numbers were a 4.13 ERA, 12-9 record, over 165.2 innings.

With the Cardinals’ moves in the rotation, Wacha aims to be leaned on more heavily in 2018. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Wacha will get $5.9 million in arbitration this winter, which I feel is high given his injury history and average performance. I also question Wacha’s place in St. Louis beyond 2019 when he becomes eligible for free agency. With two years of team control remaining coming off a season where he stayed healthy, his trade value may never be higher.

RHP Trevor Rosenthal. Trevor Rosenthal will be eligible for arbitration for the third time this winter, which means he will be a free agent following the 2018 season. Rosenthal made $6.4 million this past season and posted a 3.40 ERA over 47.2 innings before his season was ended by Tommy John surgery in late August. The standard timetable without any setbacks could put him back on the mound in August, the question is whether the Cardinals would want to pay the price to hope for that.

That’s where it gets complicated. By the CBA, players under team control cannot have their salaries drop by more than 80% without entering free agency. For Rosenthal, that means his minimum salary next year is $5.12 million. And even if they could get Rosenthal and his agent Scott Boras to agree to terms at that price, I imagine it is unlikely.

MLB Trade Rumors projects that Rosenthal will command $7.9 million in arbitration and that’s a lot of money to drop on a player for a month or two of pitching. Because of that, I do not expect the club to tender him a contract and make him a free agent.

INF Aledmys Diaz. The last player I’ll talk about isn’t arbitration eligible, but he’s in a weird situation. His initial four year contract ends at the end of the 2017 season, but he does not yet have enough service time to be arbitration eligible. That means that the Cardinals are in position to set his salary for 2018. The same 80% reduction limit applies, so Diaz’s minimum salary for next year would be $2 million unless the team non-tenders him into free agency.

Last year I suggested that the Cardinals would avoid this by buying out an arbitration year or two and include this pre-arbitration season in it, but given what we saw in 2017, things have changed.

Diaz hit .250/.290/.392 with 7 home runs in 79 games with the Cardinals and scored himself a mid-season demotion to the minors after losing his starting job at shortstop to Paul DeJong. Diaz diversified his defensive positions to include third base and second base during his time in the minors, but his future with the team is anything but certain. There is barely a niche for him on the roster now, but if the Cardinals acquire a starting infielder, I expect that there is no place for him on their roster.

For that reason, I expect that the club will either trade him before the deadline or non-tender him this winter. I think he’s shown enough that there will be a team willing to take a chance on him, but I don’t believe it will be the Cardinals.

News: Shildt, Oquendo, and McGee headline Cardinals coaching moves

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that Jose Oquendo will return as third base coach for the Cardinals this season. In addition to those moves, the Cardinals have named Mike Shildt the Bench Coach and Willie McGee will join the Major League coaching staff.

The story. Following the departure of David Bell last week to take a front office job with the San Francisco Giants, the Cardinals moved quickly to sort out the newly opened position. It was widely expected that Shildt would be the top internal pick for Bench Coach, but who would fill the opening at third base was unknown.

The numbers. Since a knee surgery took him off the Major League staff after the 2015 season, Jose Oquendo, 54, has worked in Florida with the minor league infielders. He had previously spent 16 seasons as the Cardinals’ third base coach following a stint at the team’s bench coach in 1999. Many have attributed his departure as one of the key reasons for the club’s lack of defensive fundamentals over the past two seasons.

Mike Shildt, 48, joined the Cardinals in 2004 as a scout and became a manager in 2009, winning three minor league championships along the way. He joined the big league staff before the 2017 season as Quality Control Coach before being assigned as Third Base Coach following the reassignment of Chris Maloney.

Willie McGee, 58, joins a Major League coaching staff for the first time. He has most recently served in the front office as a roving instructor. McGee played 13 seasons with the Cardinals as a player, hitting .294/.329/.400 in 1,661 games. He won the 1982 World Series with the franchise and won the 1985 Most Valuable Player Award. He won a pair of batting titles with the Cardinals and led the league in triples in 1985 as well.

The impact. 8/10. The return of Jose Oquendo to the big league coaching staff is a big development, as I did not expect him to return to the staff since he was suggested to have long desired a post in Florida working with the organization’s young players. But his willingness to return shows that the rumored divide between he and Mike Matheny may not be as wide as has been suggested.

The move of Shildt to become the bench coach was expected. It’s been suggested that Shildt has been positioned on the Major League staff to be the guy who would step in as interim manager should a decision to relieve Matheny of his duties be made. Shildt has won one of the Cardinals’ George Kissell Awards in player development and is viewed as perhaps the strongest “Kissell disciple” in the organization.

It would seem to be the hope that with Shildt running spring training and the return of Oquendo that the tools are all there and available for the players to improve their fundamentals.

The addition of McGee to the coaching staff is only the second biggest surprise of the day. It is still not confirmed what role he will play on the coaching staff. McGee is one of the two players that the organization has had as a roving base running instructor in the minor leagues, and I suggested in January that the Cardinals should consider investing in a base running coach. It’s possible we could see that fall under his list of responsibilities.

The organization still needs to sort out the pitching and bullpen coaches. It was reported that John Mozeliak went to meet with former Rays’ pitching coach Jim Hickey about the job last week, however the Cubs are also in the market for a pitching coach and they are also planning to interview Hickey for the job which would reunite him with Joe Maddon. In my opinion, Hickey is the right guy for the job and it would be a shame if he ended up in Chicago, but I almost expect it at this point.

Offseason Outlook: Pending Free Agents

With the World Series about to start getting underway, it’s time to start the offseason series’ here at Redbird Dugout. And the first step in that will be to take a look at the Cardinals’ outgoing free agents.

And when you look at this list, you might see a pattern. They’re all pitchers. With no free agent position players, that creates an interesting situation for a team who has a glut of position players that they need to not only thin out, but upgrade. But we’ll look at that going forward.

RHP Juan Nicasio. Juan Nicasio came late to the Cardinals this season, acquired in a September trade with the Phillies. At 31, Nicasio made the transition to full time reliever this season and responded with a career year as Pittsburgh’s 8th inning setup guy. Upon arriving in St. Louis, Nicasio slid into the closer’s role that had been left vacant by Trevor Rosenthal’s injury and posted a 1.64 ERA over 11 innings and was a perfect 4-for-4 in save opportunities.

Both the Cardinals and Nicasio have indicated that they’d like to be together in 2018 and I think the odds are good that something could be worked out. The hitch in the plans seems to be that the Cardinals claim to be looking at pursuing a top name closer. For Nicasio, I think the opportunity to close for the Cardinals is the most valuable thing the organization could give him. Without that, I think he’ll look for a closing opportunity elsewhere. Overall, I think a 2 year, $8-10 million deal would get the job done.

LHP Zach Duke. Yet another free agent reliever, but the fact that Zach Duke, 34, saw the mound at all this season was a pretty incredible feat. After being acquired last summer for Charlie Tilson, Duke finished his 2016 season with a 1.93 ERA in 23.1 innings with the Cardinals. However, after the season he needed to have elbow ligament replacement surgery and missed the first half of 2017. He managed to return in late July and posted a 3.93 ERA last season.

While that may not seem particularly impressive, five of the eight earned runs he allowed last season came in just two of his 27 appearances. He also had a 1.41 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over his final 14 appearances.

The future for Duke is less clear. With Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons in the bullpen next season and Ryan Sherriff fighting for a spot of his own, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals would need yet another left handed reliever. That’s why, despite Duke recently telling Cardinals.com that he would be interested in returning, I don’t see it happening. I’ll be the first to suggest that I don’t have a good feel for what Duke could command on the free agent market, but he is coming off a 3 year, $15 million deal. I would expect him to command $4-5 million on a one year deal.

RHP Seung-hwan Oh. After a stellar rookie campaign in 2016 where he assumed the closer’s role, Seung-hwan Oh had what can only be termed an incredibly disappointing 2017 season. In 62 appearances, Oh posted just a 4.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP and lost his closer’s job mid-summer.

The future is cloudy for Oh as well. Getting to free agency was something that Oh had been aiming for since arriving in St. Louis after signing his 2 year, $5.25 million deal before the 2016 season. He’ll have the option of signing here in the U.S. or returning to Korea or Japan to close out his career.

With his past closing experience and how effective he was in 2016, I’m sure there will be a team willing to take a chance on him, but it’s hard to know just how much that would be worth. In a reliever heavy free agent market, that could depress his value to a smaller deal with incentives. Which I think is where you could see him electing to return to Asia.

RHP Lance Lynn. Despite his multiple public expressions of interest in discussing an extension to remain in St. Louis, the Cardinals never got in touch with Lance Lynn‘s agent to put the feelers out. That, combined with statements that the club wants to “go young” with their rotation, seem to close the door on Lynn’s return. Which I wrote in April is a mistake and I still agree with that.

The Cardinals need Lynn or a pitcher of his caliber in their rotation next season and going forward. As the season went on, the need to bring Lynn back only seemed more obvious to me. Until he ran into the wall in September, he was on track for a career year. He ended it with a rotation-best 3.43 and a league-best 33 starts. With the team looking to get better next season, how do you keep a straight face when saying that at the same time you let your top performing starting pitcher walk?

That’s the question that needs answering. I get the arguments that Lynn was lucky because his fielding independent pitching numbers weren’t attractive. His HR/9 was up, his BB/9 was up, his K/9 was down, but his H/9 was also down and he still posted a career-best WHIP of 1.23.

I suggested back in April that Lynn would command a 5 year, $125 million deal in free agency and I continue to stand by that. Some have suggested that Lynn will end up getting Mike Leake money (5 years, $80 million), which I find laughable. I think nine figures are a slam dunk for him and I consider Jordan Zimmermann‘s deal with the Tigers from two winters ago (5 years, $110 million) as his free agency floor. He’ll also get a qualifying offer, which he’ll decline.

News: David Bell takes front office job with Giants

What happened. Cardinals’ bench coach David Bell has taken a front office job overseeing minor league player development for the San Francisco Giants.

The story. At the end of the season when the team confirmed that pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley weren’t returning next season, John Mozeliak said that he did not expect there to be any changes on the other team’s coaching staff. However it seems there will be more staff turnover than previously expected.

The numbers. David Bell joined the Cardinals’ organization in 2014 as the team’s assistant hitting coach. A year later he was promoted to bench coach, where he has served since. He has said before that his goal is to be a manager. He has now served as a minor league manager, base coach, and bench coach in his career. Now he’ll add a major front office role to his resume.

The impact. 8/10. This really depends on how you view the impact of the coaching staff, but I see it as a big development for the Cardinals. In my opinion, the bench coach and the pitching coach are the two most important coaches in the dugout when it comes to helping the manager formulate game strategy and both will be replaced.

This can be good or bad. Most see Matheny’s in game management as his biggest issue, but I do feel like it improved when Bell was promoted to replace Mike Aldrete.

My wish list for a bench coach, especially for Matheny, is someone who has plenty of his own managing experience so that they have encountered many of these same game situations before and aren’t learning managerial strategy on the fly.

The club will obviously look at all their options, but one internal option that has to be an early favorite for the role would seem to be Mike Shildt.

Shildt joined the Cardinals in 2004 as a scout and has eight years of managing experience, including championships in 2010 and 2011 at Johnson City and 2012 in Springfield. He joined the big league staff before this season as Quality Control Coach before stepping in as third base coach when Chris Maloney was reassigned.

The bench coach is generally responsible for scheduling and managing the work during spring training. As a proclaimed George Kissel disciple, Shildt would seem to be the right guy to help correct some of the fundamental lapses and perhaps a promotion would help him do that.

 

News: Tony La Russa to leave Diamondbacks

What happened. Tony La Russa will leave his front office position with the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of the month.

The story. La Russa joined the Diamondbacks as Chief Baseball Officer during the 2014 season and served in that role through 2016 when a front office shakeup took place. He became the Chief Baseball Analyst this season and has elected to step down.

The numbers. When La Russa took over the Diamondbacks baseball operations, they were on their way to a 64-98 season where they finished last in the NL West. They won 79 games in 2015 and regressed to 69 games in 2016. This season they won 93 games on their way to a Wild Card nod.

The impact. 0/10. Well, for the Cardinals anyway. There’s always the possibility that La Russa could once again become involved with the Cardinals’ front office again, and I think that could be beneficial for the club. However, expecting La Russa to step into any kind of major position like replacing John Mozeliak as President of Baseball Operations or returning to manage the club seems like a pipe dream. In his statement, 73-year-old La Russa described his job with the Diamondbacks as “more demanding than I realized.” Not exactly the words of a guy ready to hop back into a top level front office or managerial job.

News: Cardinals part ways with Derek Lilliquist and Blaise Ilsley

What happened. The Cardinals announced today that they will not renew the contracts of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley. The team expects that the remainder of the coaching staff will be returning for 2018.

The story. As part of the decision to not offer contract renewals to Lilliquist and Ilsley, Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has said that the organization wants to rethink the strategy of pitching use with the implementation of new analytical data and more modern views of bullpen usage.

The numbers. Derek Lilliquist has been one of the organization’s longest tenured coaches, joining the Cardinals’ in 2002 as pitching coach for the Rookie league Johnson City Cardinals. He served at multiple levels before spending 2008 to 2010 as the team’s pitching coordinator in Jupiter where he worked with rehabbing pitchers. He joined the big league club after the 2010 season as the bullpen coach, but was promoted to interim pitching coach in August 2011 when Dave Duncan took a leave of absence. That move was made permanent after the 2012 season.

Blaise Ilsley became the bullpen coach for the Cardinals following the 2012 season after spending five seasons as pitching coach for the Triple-A Memphis Rebirds. Before that he spent six seasons as pitching coach of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. He was the Cardinals’ 2004 winner of the George Kissell Award, presented annually for excellence in player development.

The impact. 9/10. Someone on the coaching staff was going to lose their job this winter, it was just a matter of who. I did expect Ilsley to lose his job. Obviously the optics of the video of him standing next to an obviously uncomfortable Trevor Rosenthal trying to warm up in the bullpen without a word, where later we found Rosenthal needed to have Tommy John surgery, didn’t help.

Perhaps it was most surprising that it ended up being Derek Lilliquist, who has generally been well regarded during his time with the team, was the man on the way out.

My first reaction was a laugh that John Mabry was able to hold onto his job for another winter, but the more I think about the firing of Lilliquist, the more I think it actually does make logical sense.

One of the reasons the Cardinals pointed out was that they wanted a change in how the pitching staff was handled. The idea there is that Lilliquist has a voice in how the bullpen has been managed. Considering that Matheny and Lilliquist have been together since the beginning, that’s something I’m willing to consider.

So at that point there are three options. First, either Matheny is following Lilliquist’s advice on how to manage the bullpen. Second, Lilliquist agrees with the way Matheny manages the bullpen. Or third, Matheny was ignoring Lilliquist’s advice on how to manage the bullpen. If it’s been established that Matheny is sticking around, all three are reasons to find a new pitching coach in the hopes that you find someone who will either give Matheny better advice or that he is more likely to listen to.

Regardless, we will find out.

Lilliquist is also the last hold over from Tony La Russa’s coaching staff from the 2011 season. So going forward this entire staff will have been chosen under Mike Matheny’s management. There will be no excuses for him next season. Perhaps this is the organizational equivalent of giving Matheny enough rope to hang himself.

It will be interesting to see who is hired to take Lilliquist’s place and ultimately I’ll reserve my judgement for whether it is a good move until we know the corresponding one.

Personally, my hope remains the same as it was when the Cardinals needed to find a new bench coach when Mike Aldrete left for Oakland. Bring in someone with experience from outside the organization who brings their own ideas to mesh into the way this team is managed.

News: Wainwright to undergo surgery

What happened. It was confirmed that RHP Adam Wainwright will have surgery to remove a cartilage flag from his right elbow today.

The story. Wainwright struggled down the stretch with pain in his elbow that he called similar to an issue he had after the 2014 season. Unlike in 2014, Wainwright was not able to pitch through it and he believes it contributed to a bone bruise and his diminished velocity this season. He admitted that it had bothered him since a July 22nd start against the Cubs. Following that game he went to the disabled list with a back injury.

The numbers. Despite Wainwright’s 12-5 record and the team posting a second-best 15-8 record in his starts (behind Luke Weaver‘s 8-2 team record), Wainwright endured the worst season of his career. His 5.11 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 10.2 H/9, 1.0 HR/9, and 3.3 BB/9  all career highs numbers.

The impact. 1/10. The impact here is negligible since we already knew that he was probably going to need surgery to remedy the problem. The real key will be whether this will actually help improve his performance next season. With his performance this year and the fact that it demonstrably had an effect, it certainly can’t hurt.

At 36, Wainwright is the old dog in this rotation. If the Cardinals’ plans to “go young” remain in tact, he looks like he will have ten years over the next oldest pitcher in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha are both 26, Luke Weaver is 24, and Jack Flaherty, who is the odds on favorite to be the fifth starter next year, will be 22 in a couple weeks.

Wainwright will be in his “age 36” season next year, as defined by Baseball-Reference. There was only one starting pitcher in 2017 who was in their age 36 season and made over 10 starts. That was CC Sabathia who posted a 3.69 ERA and 14-5 record in 27 starts for the Yankees. Hopefully that comparison bodes well for Wainwright, since Sabathia too has had to overcome his own struggles in recent years and managed to put together a good year.