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)

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.

Where the Cardinals stand entering the winter meetings

Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings start today as front office executives, agents, and players descend on Orlando, Florida, for four days of meetings that will culminate in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Not only is this where the MLB offseason typically heats up, but nearly the entire league has been standing still, waiting while Giancarlo Stanton decided where he would play in 2018. With his trade to the Yankees complete, look for things to be pretty active as teams should look to quickly move to fill their needs.

For the Cardinals, there were two main priorities that John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch laid out earlier this offseason. Here is where they stand in those pursuits and what to look for this week. And as I did during the GM Meetings last month, look for my daily notebook with links to all the Cardinals related reports worth reading.

Closer and additional relief help. The Cardinals agreed to terms with RHP Luke Gregerson last night in a deal that was hopefully just the first step towards filling this need. According to GM Michael Girsch, the Cardinals were hoping to bring in multiple relievers this season, beginning with an established reliever and there are a few at the top of the market in Wade Davis and Greg Holland. The Cardinals were linked with interest in Holland shortly after the season ended, but since then we’ve heard little to support that connection. There’s been little talk or action in the relief market period.

It appears like the Tampa Bay Rays will be active sellers this week and the Cardinals and Rays have discussed closer Alex Colome since the summer and have touched base a few times. Those talks will likely intensify, especially if the rumored interest of the Chicago Cubs is true. Colome is the most obvious trade target, in my opinion as Baltimore seems to think they’ve got a chance in the AL East this year.

On the free agent market, Derrick Goold is reporting that there seemed to be momentum towards a deal with Addison Reed at one point this winter, but the slow relief pitching market seems to have shelved it. Reed could wait to see what guys like Holland and Davis pull in before pulling the trigger on a deal.

Middle of the order hitter. With Giancarlo Stanton officially off the market after he declined a trade to St. Louis and joined the New York Yankees, the pickings here are pretty slim. The Blue Jays are reportedly not planning to trade Josh Donaldson, nor are the Orioles expected to consider dealing Manny Machado. Either would be an obvious target for the Cardinals. Outside of them, there is really no obvious answer here. Only lesser options.

The Cardinals could always leverage their existing talks with the Marlins to pursue another of their outfielders. Christian Yelich will likely get kept, but Marcell Ozuna is very much available and the Cardinals’ interest in him has been reported.

Another intriguing Marlin may be Justin Bour. He’s more of a platoon style first baseman, but he’s hit 63 home runs in 327 games over the past three seasons while hitting .272/.344/.498. He’d pair nicely with Jose Martinez at first base.

There was a suggestion made that the Diamondbacks, who are in a tight financial situation, may have interest in trading A.J. Pollock who is projected to make over $8 million in arbitration. It’s been an injury plagued career for Pollock, but in his last full season he was an All Star, won a Gold Glove in center field, and posted a 131 wRC+.

In free agency, there has been interest in Eric Hosmer reported. The national baseball media will inevitably link the Cardinals with JD Martinez, though I expect he will get a deal he has no ability to live up to.

It was also reported around the GM Meetings last month that the club had made an offer to Logan Morrison, though Morrison remains a free agent.

Starting pitching. Conveniently enough, Mozeliak indicated this the third priority that they’d look at after addressing the first two. But it was the first move they made, signing RHP Miles Mikolas to a two year deal out of Japan. That signing gives them a projected rotation of Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Luke Weaver, and Mikolas. That rotation still has questions and finding more innings is a concern.

There’s really only one guy in that rotation you can reasonably expect to throw 180+ innings this season without a problem, and that’s Martinez. There’s the health of Wacha and Wainwright that present big questions as well as the need to build Weaver up to the demands of a MLB starting pitcher. I think having another guy you can bank on having throw 180+ innings is a must if this team intends to make a run this year.

With the Rays selling, Chris Archer will be the name on everyone’s lips this week. With three straight 200 inning seasons, he could benefit greatly from a step out of the American League East. I also like Jake Odorizzi from the Rays as a good value pickup here, but even he has questions.

In free agency, I am not in support of pursuing Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. Both have seen their numbers decline year-to-year the past few seasons. Arrieta is on the wrong side of 30 and Darvish had a rough year in his first full season back from Tommy John. Basically here, Lance Lynn outperformed both of these guys last year, though he had the worst peripherals of them all. So I don’t see the point in bringing any of them in. Tyler Chatwood, who the Cubs signed, would have been a good solution here as well.


Column: If Cardinals miss on Stanton, what’s next?

It’s been over a month now since I wrote my initial “Rumor Mill” post on Giancarlo Stanton and the odds that he might come to St. Louis. And we’re still waiting on Stanton to decide what he’s going to do.

The latest reports are that the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have both made offers that the Miami Marlins have accepted. Those offers now rest in the hands of Giancarlo Stanton as to whether to take either one and head out of town or stay in Miami or hope that another team, such as his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers, get involved. And if some reports are to be believed, they’re still in contact with the Marlins.

The Giants expect resolution by the end of the week while the Cardinals have declined to talk about it but are preaching patience. And now it seems that when Stanton gave the Marlins his list of teams he’d approve a trade to, that neither the Giants nor the Cardinals were on it. Which would certainly explain quite a lot of what’s gone on over the last month because there were a number of things that weren’t adding up.

But if Stanton does decide to go elsewhere, what do I think the Cardinals should do next?

First, trade for Alex Colome. The Cardinals have already checked in on Alex Colome this winter and have been interested in him for awhile now. If Stanton falls through, it will be time to complete this deal.

Over the past two seasons as Tampa’s closer, Colome has a 2.63 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and 84 saves. For comparison, Trevor Rosenthal‘s best two year stretch as St. Louis’ closer featured a 2.65 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and 93 saves from 2014 to 2015.

The negatives on Colome would be that his ERA did jump from 1.91 in 2016 to 3.24 last season. Looking at the numbers, he got hit harder on his four seam fastball in 2017 than he did the year before, which saw him feature his cutter much more often. The result was a drop in strikeout rates. But his HR/9 also dropped too. In an era where most pitchers are seeing that increase and in a division that features two of the more home run happy ball parks in baseball, I find that promising.

Colome is first year arbitration eligible this season, so he has three years of control remaining.

I know there’s been a lot of speculation about bringing in Chris Archer as well, but if I were the Rays, there is no way I’d trade those two players together. Archer and Colome likely represent two of their most valuable trade pieces and would net them a larger overall return if traded separately. I place the need for a closer slightly ahead of starter right now, so I go with Colome.

Then go horsetrading for Marcell Ozuna. With much of the groundwork already laid in the discussions for Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals could and should work towards acquiring another of the Marlins’ outfielders. Splitting from what seems to be most of Cardinals nation, I prefer Marcell Ozuna to Christian Yelich.

This isn’t new for me. If you read last winter, I had Ozuna on my list of five players that the Cardinals should acquire last winter. He fulfilled his promise with a career year in 2017, slashing .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and a 142 wRC+. He also added a gold glove to boot. The question on Ozuna is whether that’s what we’ll see going forward or if it’ll be closer to the .265/.316/.433 and average 22 home runs we saw over the last three years.

There are some things that give me hope. Primarily that his 2017 season was exceptionally consistent. His worst month last year was in June where he hit .297/.349/.525. He also mirrored his performance in the first and second halves really well. A season is an incredibly long time to maintain that level of performance which has me leaning towards the explanation that he just put all the tools together at 26.

As far as Yelich, my main complaint is that he is a stereotypical Cardinal. He is a high floor player who is good enough to be good, but not good enough to be great. And too many players you can describe like that is the Cardinals’ problem. Outside of 2016, Yelich has settled in around a 118 wRC+ player overall. The confounding factor may be that he’s been a much better hitter on the road in his career. The argument many make is that this is more representative of the player he would be in St. Louis.

Trying not to turn this into an Ozuna versus Yelich column, I take Ozuna because 1) his ceiling is higher, 2) he would cost less, and 3) you’re only attached to him for two years instead of four if he busts because we know what neither of these two are capable of doing once they don’t have Stanton around them in the lineup.

We’ll still need a setup guy, so show Juan Nicasio the money. When the season wrapped up it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Nicasio was going to return to St. Louis. Then the Cardinals made it clear they were going to look at acquiring a proven closer and Nicasio’s interest waned. I think he wants to close and would like to go somewhere and prove that he can. He thought that was going to be St. Louis, but then learned that it would not be.

I’m not sure what he’s looking for dollar-wise, but it’s time to give it to him. The Rangers set the market when they gave LHP MIke Minor a 3 year, $28 million deal this week. Minor, while a better starting pitcher than Nicasio was, is a similar story. Started for his first five years in the Majors and then reinvented himself as a reliever, posting a 2.55 ERA over 65 appearances.

Nicasio started and relieved for a few years before posting a 2.61 ERA over 76 appearances last year exclusively out of the bullpen, including a dominating stint as the Cardinals’ closer last September.

You can’t make him the closer, but you can show him the money. I’ve suggested 2 years, $12 million for him since September, but understandably the cost could go higher as relief pitching is being more highly valued than ever before.

For the last piece, I go get Zack Cozart. At 32, Zack Cozart hits free agency for the first time coming off a tremendous career year as he slashed .297/.385/.548 with 24 home runs and a 141 wRC+ for the Reds and once again played plus defense at shortstop.

Such a move would allow the club to move Paul DeJong back to his primary position, third base. While DeJong impressed me with his ability to play shortstop last season, signing a plus shortstop would arguably give the Cardinals plus defense all the way around the infield.

I always hate acquiring guys off career years, but I think this one could be okay. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Cozart would find a 3 year, $42 million deal this winter. That’s an AAV of $14 million, which I think is fair. If Cozart can continue to play plus defense and give you average offensive production relative to his position, which he has managed to do so far, I think this could be a good move.

And there’s always the possibility that he produces somewhere between what he’s done the last two years, slashing .274/.346/.484, it could turn out to be a very good move indeed.

The focus of these moves is really not to focus all in on 2018. I think if you miss out on Stanton and adding an elite bat like his becomes unlikely, I think the best strategy is to acquire what you need while you can to position the team towards 2019 and beyond.

The deals I’ve laid out, assuming that they don’t find ways to trim additional salary for guys like Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, or Jedd Gyorko would put them around $170 million in payroll. That, combined with the contracts they have hitting free agency after next year, leave themselves with plenty of room to pursue free agents or add a big contract.

It’s not so much about keeping “dry powder” at the ready, but so that a club without a feature hitter has the ability to add one should one become available.

Column: Pressure builds towards Stanton decision

There are a few natural deadlines built into the MLB offseason as teams discuss trades and other moves. The first is the Rule 5 Draft protection deadline that came and went on November 20th. The next, the non-tender deadline will come on December 1st, Friday night, and would seem to be the next natural deadline. Meanwhile, the baseball world waits for the Miami Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton to decide what they are going to do this winter.

Yesterday a report from Clark Spencer reiterated that back in October that the Marlins told Giancarlo Stanton that he can either accept a trade this winter or he can remain in Miami while they trade everyone else to get payroll down to their desired level. That it comes up again now could just be happenchance or it could be someone asking for it to be brought up again to put the pressure on Stanton.

It’s been pretty apparent since day one that the Marlins wanted to trade Stanton. And it makes sense.

At 10 years, $295 million remaining on his contract, Stanton is their highest paid player. So highly paid that I pointed out when he signed this contract three years ago that the Marlins committed more money to him than they’d spent on payroll from 2009 to 2013 combined. So when the new ownership of the Marlins talks about reducing payroll, trading Stanton is the biggest single move they could make towards that goal.

But of course they don’t just want to dump the contract, they need to get some prospects in return. Good ones who can help them build their foundation so they can pull off what the Cubs did in 2016 and the Astros did this year. Lose for a few years and then win big. It was actually the Marlins that first perfected this concept. Unfortunately, they never kept those teams around long enough to see if they could sustain that success.

So you have a team that wants to trade Stanton. And several teams lined up to take him. What’s the problem?

Well, the confounding factor in all of this is that Stanton possesses the only no trade clause that the previous Marlins ownership had ever given out. Not even in their pursuit of Albert Pujols back in 2011 did they slip a no trade clause into an offer.

This situation has also been rather opaque from all sides.

The Giants and the Cardinals seem to be the most aggressive in their pursuit of a trade for him. The Red Sox are probably next in line. The Dodgers, rumored to be Stanton’s preferred destination as they play in his home town, have kicked the tires, but don’t seem to be very motivated to make a big offer. Probably because they know they are Stanton’s preferred destination.

The Marlins find themselves in a difficult situation. Apply too much pressure and back Stanton into a corner on one trade offer and he might exercise his no trade clause and torpedo his trade value. That’s why I think this had dragged on. The Marlins want to give Stanton options to reduce the risk that he exercises that no trade and effectively puts an end to their ability to get anything of value for him on the trade market other than salary relief.

On the other hand, I am not convinced that Stanton actually wants to leave Miami. After all, you don’t sign a 13 year contract to play somewhere you don’t want to live.

In all of this we have not heard Stanton ever once say that he doesn’t want to be in Miami. That immediately signals to me that this is not a “trade me and get me out of town ASAP” kind of situation. What Stanton has said is that he does not want to take part in another rebuild because he’s tired of losing.

And if tired of losing is your criteria, it’s honestly hard to find a place that wants him that fits the bill.

The Giants have been reported to be the most aggressive in their pursuit of Stanton, but they have a severe lack of talent depth and the free agent contracts they’ve signed in recent years have not panned out. They finished last season 64-98 and tied for the worst record in baseball. If you want to win out of the gate, San Francisco is out.

The Cardinals want him, but let’s be honest here that there are more questions than answers right now in St. Louis. The team has missed the playoffs for two straight years now, something they’ve only done once since the turn of the century. And there is little to suggest that it won’t be three. They’ve effectively finished further from the World Series than they did the year before for the past four years. And they have three big holes they need to fill this winter in order to have a chance next season and no proven ability to make the big deal to fill them.

That’s not to deny that the Cardinals’ future does look bright and a player like Stanton is the missing piece to their long term success, but even with Stanton on the roster there are big questions about whether they can contend right away. So winning in St. Louis is not a slam dunk.

So as you can see, it’s not a guarantee that Stanton would accept a trade to the Giants or Cardinals and they’d win. Too many questions and that creates reluctance if winning really is his criteria.

So while he might be tired of losing, arguably the two most serious suitors for him don’t guarantee him a much better situation. And arguably, given what the Marlins could get for the other players on their roster, it might serve him better to stay in Miami, force them to rip up the roster and turn it around in a few years,

That’s what brings me back to the belief that the Marlins are more interested in trading Stanton than he is in being traded.

I think he is happy to remain in Miami, even if he has to endure losing for awhile longer, because there isn’t a team in serious pursuit who gives him a situation that’s guaranteed to be better and losing in Miami is better than losing most other places.

I said earlier this winter that he would be dealt by November 20th or not at all and I’ve seen nothing recently that changes my mind. It would not surprise me at all to see him starting in right field for the Marlins next season. Because I’ve seen nothing to indicate he actually wants to leave.

I think Stanton is very happy to wake up every morning overlooking the ocean and paying no state income taxes on his $325 million salary. Unless something better comes along. And I don’t see that happening either.

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.

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.

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 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.

Column: Carlos Martinez is not an ace… yet

There’s been a lot of discussion this year about Carlos Martinez and whether he is the Cardinals’ “ace.” And it’s a difficult question because ace means different things to different people. The basics of the criteria are pretty similar though. They are looked at as the guy to “right the ship” every five days. They should consistently give their team a chance to win. And, in my opinion, this is not a year-to-year position. This is sustained success over a few years before you can truly take the mantle of “ace.”

Going into this season, I spoke often about how in 2016 Martinez showed us everything we would want to see to be able to call him a future ace. There were games where he blew it past hitters and there were games he made his opponent look silly with his offspeed stuff and he seemed to get a sick satisfaction from doing it.

The Cardinals agreed with that assessment and gave him a 5 year, $51 million contract during spring training that could end up being a 7 year, $85 million contract if they use both option years.

And so far in 2017 there has been more time spent discussing Martinez’s hair than his performance on the mound because for whatever reason, Martinez’s season seems to be flying under the radar. So in case you’ve missed it, here are some highlights of his season.

He has thrown nine innings with no runs allowed 3 times. Three times this season Martinez has taken the mound and thrown 9 innings and allowed no runs, which is tied for the most in baseball alongside Ervin Santana and Corey Kluber. No other pitchers in baseball have done it more than once.

And here’s a fun fact, the other two guys who have done it are 3-0 in those three starts. Martinez is just 2-0 because the offense couldn’t score in one of his and the team actually lost in extras.

Martinez has 20 quality starts. A quality start is going at least six innings while allowed three earned runs of less. That is tied for third in Major League Baseball. Chris Sale leads the Majors at 22 with Gio Gonzalez in second place with 21. The other guys Martinez is tied with? You know them. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, and Gerrit Cole.

Martinez has thrown 194.1 innings. His first 200 inning season seems like a slam dunk at this point. He is third in baseball here too. Only Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija have thrown more innings. Only three pitchers in the top-10 of innings pitched have a better ERA (Sale, Ervin Santana, and Zack Greinke). He also leads the league in games started.

So, for all the talk about how Martinez isn’t consistent enough, here are three numbers that are essentially the gold standard for consistency. He’s taking the ball every fifth day, he’s throwing more innings than almost anyone else, and he’s turning in a quality start at the end of the day as often as anyone else.

But let’s look at that consistency a little more.

Martinez has a 128 ERA+ since becoming a full time starter in 2015. That 128 ERA+ is good for 11th in baseball among starters who have thrown 500 innings since the start of 2015. The names ahead of Martinez on this list are pretty much all recognizable, but it’s not just about the names. Martinez is the youngest name on this list. Yes, at age 25, he is the youngest pitcher in baseball to have thrown 500 innings since 2015.

Let’s see how those ten guys ahead of Martinez on the list fared during their age 25 season.

And Martinez still has two to three starts remaining this season depending on how desperate the team is at the very end.

Looking at that list you have four guys who clearly outperformed Martinez at age 25 in Kershaw, Greinke, Sale, and Bumgarner. But those guys are special. And three of those four are also left handed. But the other six guys? Martinez is as good or clearly ahead of them at age 25.

This just drives home the point of “yet” to me. He is not an ace yet, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that he is still very, very good right now.

Will he be an ace some day? I think the odds are good. He’s shown you everything you need to see to reasonable believe he will be. But is he completely there yet? No. And that’s okay.

At 25, Adam Wainwright had a 3.70 ERA in his first full season in the rotation. At 25, Chris Carpenter had a 6.26 ERA and led the league in earned runs allowed in just 175 innings. At 25, Bob Gibson had a 3.24 ERA and led baseball in walks, but he turned out alright.

I have confidence that Martinez will get there.

Looking at the names I’ve mentioned in this article and knowing that Martinez is in the same breath as them is outstanding. I firmly believe that this is one of those situations where the quote, “the grass is always greener on the other side” comes into play.

In reality, the primary difference between Martinez and the rest of the pitchers in this article is that he’s the youngest and the others have had the benefit of time to grow into elite pitchers. We quickly forget that a guy like Max Scherzer wasn’t even an ace level talent until his age 28 season. The Diamondbacks gave up on him at age 24 for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson.

As Cardinals fans we should know better. We said many of the same things about Dan Haren back in 2004. He wasn’t good enough. Not consistent enough. And then he went on to throw 215+ innings in each of the next seven seasons at a 3.49 ERA.

Even Lance Lynn. At age 25 in his first full season in the rotation he was too inconsistent and an emotional head case who spun out of control when something went the wrong way. We all know what a “Lynning” is. But over his last three seasons from age 27 to 30, Lynn has a 2.92 ERA.

Let’s not make the same mistake by counting all the ways Martinez hasn’t lived up to the expectations we’ve projected in on him. Instead, let’s look at all the ways he is a very good pitcher with all the tools to grow into one of the best pitchers in baseball right in front of our eyes.

Column: Cardinals should just let Grichuk run

Randal Grichuk has long been a bit of an enigma for the Cardinals. So much potential, but can he ever reach the point where he makes enough contact that all that scout swooning power becomes worthwhile?

Yesterday, Grichuk hit his 20th home run of the season to give him back-to-back 20 home runs seasons. Perhaps the most impressive part of all this is that he has spent parts of those last two seasons in Triple-A, yet still accomplished the feat.

Despite Grichuk’s struggles that have sent him back to Memphis for midseason tune-ups, he still has been able to maintain his home run rate. Here’s a look at the percentage of his plate appearances that have ended in home runs over his first three seasons as a St. Louis regular.

2015: 4.86% of plate appearances
2016: 5.02%
2017: 4.95%

That’s pretty steady in the grand scheme of things. If you look at all of the baseball players who have had a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances since the beginning of the 2015 season, only 23 players hold a higher home run rate than Randal Grichuk.

Also among players with a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances since the beginning of 2015, Grichuk’s 12.18% extra base hit rate is the fourth highest in baseball. Only David Ortiz, Nolan Arenado, and Giancarlo Stanton have been better at turning plate appearances into extra base hits. And one of those guys is retired.

Imagine if the Cardinals left Grichuk alone in the 8 spot everyday this season. In 2016 the #8 spot in the Cardinals’ lineup had 636 plate appearances. For Grichuk that would translate into 40 doubles, 6 triples, and 31 home runs. Imagine that batting behind a Kolten Wong who is hitting .295/.386/.429 this season.

So imagine 40 doubles, 6 triples, and 31 home runs from a guy who also plays plus defense at all three outfield positions. You have to ask yourself why isn’t he playing more often?

Grichuk’s final numbers will end up within shouting distance of the numbers he put up last season, but will not have played nearly as much.

2016: .240/.289/.460, 5.0% HR rate, 11.7% XBH rate
2017: .235/.285/.474, 5.0% HR rate, 11.6% XBH rate

It’s the dark side of Grichuk. The strikeouts and the lack of walks. But even there, those numbers are in line with last year’s numbers. Identical even.

2016: 29.5% K rate, 5.9% BB rate
2017: 29.5% K rate, 5.9% BB rate

I do think it’s interesting that a guy like Grichuk, who I’ve suggested should bat third in the Cardinals lineup to bet on his power, has struggled to break the lineup while Paul DeJong strikes out just as often and walks less has gotten that job and found success there at least for now. They are essentially the same player, though Grichuk has more power.

If a team were to simply unleash Grichuk and let him play I think we would see him be able to take some development steps. The last two seasons the Cardinals have sent him down to work on his plate discipline and approach. As we can see, nothing has substantially changed when it comes down to the numbers.

In my view, that’s because pitchers in the minors pitch differently than pitchers in the Majors. We talk about it all the time with pitchers who ride one pitch through the minors, but get to the Majors to find that they really need two or three good pitches to continue to be effective. So you just see different pitching in the minors than you do in the Majors.

The Majors is where the polish should be applied and that only comes from exposure, learning, and adjusting. Something Grichuk has already proven he can do.

People call him the Stallion. And it’s time to just let him run.