Column: The status quo reigns in St. Louis

“We have a busy July coming,” said John Mozeliak said a month ago when discussing the timing of the Cardinals’ promotion of himself to President of Baseball Operations and his assistant GM Michael Girsch to General Manager. Through the month he remained optimistic that the Cardinals would be making deals as the deadline loomed. And the deadline came and went and the Cardinals did not make a move. Not even a sniff of anything on deadline day. The closest they got to a trade today was when USA Today’s Bob Nightengale put Dexter Fowler’s name in a tweet instead of Dustin Fowler.

While other contenders made deals to shore up their clubs, the Cardinals, at 52-53 and 4.5 games out of the NL Central, chose to stand pat and ride it out. As Mozeliak put it, “As today unfolded unfortunately we weren’t able to get anything across the finish line.”

Yet another wasted opportunity for this club to choose a direction. Instead, they will maintain the status quo, as I suggested they would a week ago. They were too close to become sellers and too far away to be serious buyers. By all accounts this is a club that hasn’t shown they deserve to be invested in.

I get it.

But if the team won’t tell you which way to go, you have to look at the big picture and decide. The Cardinals could have chosen to make a push in Lance Lynn’s final year on his current contract because you don’t know what the rookie you replace him with next year is going to be able to put together. Alternatively, the Cardinals could have seen the group of highly talented prospects coming through the minors, the tip of the spear we’re seeing this year, and doubled down on that group by selling the valuable pieces we have that won’t be around then.

But they didn’t.

When I look at what it would probably cost to get a guy like Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays, I understand why a team would be reluctant to spend the talent required to bring him in. But what the Cardinals were once really good was finding value in low hanging fruit in free agency and the trade markets. And there were several members of that club out there and available that the organization chose to pass on. Guys like shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and reliever Joe Smith who were both traded this season for proverbial pennies when we talk about prospect costs and would have improved the team. It wouldn’t have closed the gap on paper, but they would represent steps in the right direction.

But they didn’t.

Instead the organization apparently decided that holding onto their prospects and not exceeding their “model” was more important to them than improving the team’s odds of winning the field either now or in the future. The model got them here. And the franchise that has plenty of both money and prospects couldn’t be bothered to part with either.

But it’s more than just adding players. The Cardinals have a real problem with too many players in their outfield.

They have two guys in Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty signed long-term. They have Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, and Jose Martinez all playing well on the big league roster. You have Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra who have shown flashes in their first opportunities in the big leagues. You have Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena in the high levels of the minors on the top prospects list. And then they added Tyler O’Neill, yet another high level outfielder, a week ago.

All in all ten players on that list for three starting spots. That doesn’t work. Those guys can be dealt, preferably before their stock falls, for real players who can help this team win games.

At every turn over the last several years this organization has told us, from the top to the bottom, that they want to win. They tell us they have money to spend and intend to be aggressive in free agency, only to lose out because they weren’t aggressive at all. They tell us they expect to be busy on the trade markets, only to lose out because they weren’t comfortable with the price the market made.

When it comes time for Bill DeWitt Jr’s Cardinals to put their money where their mouth is, they choke.

And I say that because the more I watch this team, the more I’m convinced that it’s not John Mozeliak or Michael Girsch or anyone in leadership positions in the front office that can’t make the decision to part with prospects, it’s the owner. So it’s not going to change unless he does.

Somewhere between Walt Jocketty’s “Sell all the prospects to help the Major League club” and the “Keep all the prospects and build from within” is a strategy that creates a stable and consistent winner.

I feel like that is the strategy that the organization wanted to use when they let Jocketty go and made Mozeliak the team’s GM ten years ago. And yet here we are 10 years later and they’ve swung a complete 180 in the other direction.

Two years ago the Cardinals were coming off a 100 game season and facing their first real challenge in a decade with both the Cubs and the Pirates built to contend over multiple years. They talked tough about free agency and struck out looking.

Two years later they are listing, a game under .500, in third place and lacking both an identity and a star player.

As Mozeliak once said, “St. Louis is a tough place… There’s high expectations and winning is demanded.”

We demand winning, Mr. DeWitt.

It’s time to do what it takes.

Column: It’s time to finish the job

The Cardinals lost yet another winnable series this weekend, this time against the Chicago Cubs who have now entered a tie for first place in the division. The Cardinals have gone 4-6 since on a 10 game road trip since the All Star Break. Winning just four games despite leading in 9 of the 10 games.

Through the road trip, they have demonstrated every conceivable way you can lose a game. Sloppy play, defensive miscues, lack of fundamentals, bullpen struggles, bad luck, and on and on.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these games were winnable.

The sloppy play, poor defense, and lack of fundamentals has been a constant issue over the past couple seasons. When we discuss them, I always think back to a UCB Podcast episode last summer where Kevin Reynolds asked me how many games I felt the Cardinals had given away to that point in the season. I suggested you could make the case that the number was in the double digits.

At the time that would have put the Cardinals neck-and-neck with the Cubs for first place in the division and that would have completely changed the narrative for the season. But even when the season came to a close, all it would have taken was for them to have held onto two of those games to secure a Wild Card spot.

The bottom line is that the Cardinals beat themselves last season. This wasn’t a situation where the team was just outmatched in every aspect of the game on the field. They just kept finding ways to beat themselves. With failures in the fundamentals of the game that the franchise has historically been lauded for.

The front office noticed it and everyone from Bill DeWitt Jr on down gave us the standard lip service about cleaning up the play on the field over the winter. Mike Matheny spoke at Winter Warm Up about how they were going to focus on it in Spring Training. The organization went as far to create a new position, Quality Control Coach, to help the team sort through the issues.

But six months later and those same issues are still costing this team victories on a regular basis.

The latest example came last week when Trevor Rosenthal failed to cover on a ball hit towards first base. By the time he realized what had happened and reacted to it, it was too late and Jose Reyes beat the play out and the Mets scored to win the game in a walk off.

I suggested that everyone should be on the field the next morning for pitcher’s fielding practice. If they want to play like Little Leaguers, they can be treated like Little Leaguers.

Back on June 9th, the Cardinals made some changes on the coaching staff, headlined by the reassignment of third base coach Chris Maloney. Since then, the Cardinals are 21-19 and still find themselves exactly where they were 40 games ago. In fourth place, 4.5 games out. And that’s with five wins against the Phillies and there are no games against them remaining.

It’s been a quarter of a season since those changes were made and the rest of the NL Central has given the Cardinals every opportunity make a move in the division, but their own sloppy play has prevented that from happening. It’s time to finish the job that John Mozeliak began on June 9th.

Let’s look at the facts in evidence. The Cardinals have struggled with sloppy play and bad fundamentals over the past two years, but this has really just been a culmination of the degradation in it over the last several years. As Jose Ortiz suggested when he wrote about it, note that “The Cardinal Way” was lost on Mike Matheny’s watch.

With the priority that Matheny told us that he was going to make improving fundamentals this spring and the complete lack of improvement that has been made in that direction suggests one of two things.

First, Matheny hasn’t actually tried to correct the issue. This could be for multiple reasons ranging from he doesn’t see it as an issue or he doesn’t know how.

Second, he has made an effort to correct it and the players haven’t. Those reasons would be that the message is either not sticking with them or they are willfully ignoring it.

Either is a sign of trouble in an organization. Both are indications that it’s time to move on and put a new voice in the manager’s office.

I’ve spoken a few times over the past couple years of how it seems that communication is one of Matheny’s biggest issues. Not just, “Hey, you good to go today?” but actually communicating his approach and philosophy to players so that they don’t just understand it, but buy in.

We saw that with Randal Grichuk last winter who was not told that the organization wanted to replace him in center field. We saw that this spring when he said that Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko were going to start the season out in a platoon after the organization had told Wong he was going to start.

And back at Winter Warm Up, Matheny spoke about solving some of those fundamental problems and aggressiveness on the base paths and he spoke about the difficulty of getting players to buy into his message. That was a big red flag to me. It felt like he was throwing his team under the bus.

The Cardinals may wait until the end of the season and let Matheny go as John Mozeliak has talked about not liking to fire guys in the middle of the season. He’s talked about how players don’t like to feel like they got someone fired.

But this team still has a chance. It’s time to finish the job and send that warning shot at the clubhouse. They need to feel like they got someone fired. Matheny has been given his opportunity to turn this club around and they are as bad as ever.

Mozeliak talked this weekend about being unhappy with the attitude and culture around the club. The quickest fix for that is to remove the guy who is paid to set that tone.

Column: Diagnosing Randal Grichuk

This has to have been a frustrating season for Randal Grichuk on many levels. He gets demoted last year to work on his swing and then comes up and hits .269/.300/.554 with 16 home runs in 70 games and seems to solidify his hold on center field with fielding metrics that allow you to make the case that he is one of the top-10 center fielders in baseball.

Then you find out two months later that your team has signed Dexter Fowler to play center field and move you to left field. And then late in spring training you hear to this crazy idea to try out Matt Adams in left field and that crazy idea turns into a fairly regular thing to open up the season, at least for a little while.

You run into a snag again in May and slump hard and find out the team’s going to send you to the minors to work on your approach and pitch recognition. All the way down to single-A.

So in the span of about six months you’ve been moved from center field by a player you can make the case is worse defensively, you lost your starting left field job to a career first baseman, and then got busted back down to single-A. Ouch.

Yes, I’m aware that Grichuk was sent there specifically to work with Palm Beach’s hitting coach, but the point remains. Single-A still hurts.

Grichuk returned triumphantly on June 25th, batting cleanup against the Pirates where he went 2-for-5 with a home run in the win. And the next night, he batted second against the Reds and went 2-for-5 again, adding another home run. He batted sixth the next two nights against the Diamondbacks and went 0-for-8. Then was back in the second spot for the series finale where he went 3-for-5 with 5 RBI as the Cardinals romped to a 10-4 victory.

That victory would make the Cardinals 11-0 this season when Grichuk starts and bats in the front half of the lineup (4th or higher). Dating back to last season, the Cardinals are 27-7 when Grichuk starts and bats in the front half of the lineup.

This season, we see a completely different Grichuk in the front half of the lineup. He has hit .291/.314/.563 with 3 home runs in those 11 games in the front half this season and just .198/.266/.346 with 4 home runs in 46 games in the back half of the lineup (5th or lower). That’s a stark difference, even for the small sample size.

Common baseball strategy suggests that you see better pitches when you bat higher in the lineup because you have better hitters around you. The last thing a pitcher wants to do is walk you with a good batter coming to the plate. But if you’re in the back half and the next batter is Greg Garcia or Eric Fryer, there is little fear, so there is no need to go after you with the same directness. They can try to make you chase.

And after about a week of compiling data, I’m about as frustrated as he has to be because I can’t find an obvious reason why Grichuk struggles so much.

Sixty percent of the pitches Randal Grichuk has seen this season have been balls, and 37% of those have been down and away. But when I look at some other players, this does not seem to be a ridiculously high figure. In fact, it’s slightly lower than the percentage of balls that Matt Carpenter sees.

But there doesn’t seem to be an enormous difference over the whole season sample as far as how he much opposing pitchers ask him to chase based on lineup position.

So on to pitch mix. And Grichuk actually sees more breaking pitches when hitting in the front of the lineup versus the back. Not what I expected to find. In the back of the lineup he sees more fourseam fastballs, in the front he sees more sinkers. Those are his biggest differences in pitch mix.

However compared to last year, he is seeing more sliders compared to previous seasons. He saw sliders 20.2% of the time in 2015, 20.4% of the time in 2016 and now 21.8% of the time this season. And based on Fangraphs’ Pitch Type Linear Weights, he’s struggling against the slider worse than ever. And the curveball too.

Maybe now we’re getting somewhere, so this is about where I suggest something as simple as he just needs to stop swinging at balls. But he’s actually swinging at fewer pitches than ever before. His overall swing rate is down from 53.9% last year to a career low 50.4% this year. And last year he swung at 39.7% of pitches out of the zone compared to 37.2% this year.

He’s not even fooled by those sliders down and away we all talk about him being a sucker for. Last year he swung and missed on sliders down and away 31% of the time. This year it’s just 25%.

So all this to say that I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe the Cardinals should just tell him to swing away and bet on his talent. It is what got him here and is what put together incredible stretches the past couple seasons.

With the way he has hit in the front half of the lineup this season and the Cardinals’ lack of reliable bats in those lineup spots, I’d think really hard about slotting him in third and betting on his power to make a difference more often than not. Mainly because, even while I can’t find any evidence of it, I think the lineup protection is doing him some good.

Grichuk is one of many players the Cardinals have that needs to develop his plate approach. And that’s not going to change in a day or a month regardless of whether he’s working with Mark Budaska, George Greer or John Mabry.  Aledmys Diaz is in this same boat right now and I expect Paul DeJong will join him at some point. Behind them, Harrison Bader looks like the same kind of player. Enough talent to tantalize in short spurts, but ultimately lacks a plate approach for sustained success.

When I wrote on Tuesday about how the Cardinals should approach Kolten Wong‘s return, I never mentioned Grichuk and suggested Stephen Piscotty as the team’s fourth outfielder. It was intentional.

If the Cardinals are unwilling to let Grichuk bat where he has demonstrated the ability to be successful, they need to send him to Memphis to complete his development. And not call him back up until he’s proven himself ready.

Column: Wong’s pending return brings questions

The Cardinals expect that Kolten Wong will be ready to return to the big leagues on Friday after the All Star break concludes and the team heads to Pittsburgh to begin the second half. That return will bring about some changes to the lineup and undoubtedly scrutiny on how manager Mike Matheny fills out the lineup card.

Too many good players. John Mozeliak might tell you that it’s a “good problem to have,” but it simply creates a number of problems for the Cardinals in the immediate future because the best player is not always playing. Perhaps it would be a good problem to have if decisions were being made purely on performance.

When Wong went on the disabled list for the second time on June 15th he let the team with a .301 batting average and a .393 on base percentage. Before the injury he had certainly done everything he needed to do to have the opportunity to keep his starting job upon his return. But Wong’s injury also set some positional moves in motion.

When he went on the disabled list, Paul DeJong returned after about three days in the minors. He came back talking about how he felt overwhelmed in his first taste and had gotten a good opportunity to catch his breath. He performance demonstrated that it wasn’t just talk. Since June 15th, DeJong has hit .345/.370/.701 with 8 home runs and over the last two weeks has become the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.

With second base now vacated, the Cardinals have slid Matt Carpenter over to open up first base. Since June 15th, Carpenter has hit .230/.422/.405 with 2 home runs in 23 games. He isn’t getting hits, but a walk is almost as good as a single. He has a 24.3% walk rate since June 15th, and his season long 17.5% is tied for second in baseball with Mike Trout. As a lead off guy, that’ll work.

Moving Carpenter has allowed Luke Voit to play regularly at first base and he too has responded by hitting .315/.366/.684 with 3 home runs in 14 games so far this season.

And moving Carpenter to third isn’t a possibility as Jedd Gyorko is batting .311/.407/.581 with 5 home runs since June 15th.

So in Wong’s absence, their four primary infielders have hit a combined .300/.396/.586 while Wong has been gone. It’s hard to say any deserve to take a back seat, but it’s hard to say that to Wong who was hitting .301/.393/.444 when he hit the disabled list.

So who plays where?

Well, DeJong has demonstrated himself to be a satisfactory shortstop. Perhaps it’s just small sample size illusions, but he has a +1 defensive runs saved, +3 saved runs above average, and also a +1.6 UZR. He’s demonstrated more range and a better glove than Aledmys Diaz, but still has work to do on the double play. That’s not too surprising considering he just started playing the position less than a year ago.

Gyorko is a +11 defensive runs saved and a +0.7 UZR.  Both numbers I never would have bet he’d have achieved and I never expected him to duplicate last year’s defensive results, let along better them. With the season he’s had, he would appear to have third base secured at the moment.

Voit has hit well and has enough potential that he has earned an opportunity to play more often than being Carpenter’s backup would allow.

And then there is Carpenter who is the best lead off type hitter the Cardinals have and arguably one of the best lead off hitters in baseball. He has the ability to play multiple positions, which could come in handy. But I’ll get there in a bit.

Yesterday I posted a graphic to Twitter that shows the Cardinals’ wRC+ (weighted Runs Created plus, which is normalized, league-adjusted and park-adjusted and 100 is league average) by position this season. It’s broken down showing both the first half and the last 30 days so we can judge which way it’s trending.

It’s fairly obvious that Yadier Molina isn’t going anywhere, though Mozeliak opened the door on Carson Kelly getting a promotion to share some time with Molina down the stretch, but I have a hard time believing that we will see Kelly in St. Louis before September unless Molina goes into a deep slump.

Shortstop is the next worst position on the list and DeJong is currently outperforming that with a 138 wRC+ in the Majors this season. So I expect they will ride with him there.

That leaves the two corner outfield positions in need of improvement. With Dexter Fowler back in center field, he has a 119 wRC+ this season before his injury, that will slide Tommy Pham and his 136 wRC+ to one of the corner outfield spots. I expect both Fowler and Pham to settle in between 120 and 130 wRC+ this year on the whole.That leaves one of the corner outfield spots open for improvement.

I suggest Carpenter. Unfortunately, the organization is unlikely to ever truly consider it because of Stephen Piscotty‘s extension. Though in my opinion, I feel like that extension actually makes it easier for the Cardinals to tell Piscotty that he’s going to lose some playing time right now because the commitment you’ve made to him guarantees him an opportunity to get it back either next year or once an infielder cools off.

Carpenter has played outfield before, so this isn’t a Matt Adams situation. He played 26 games there over his first few seasons in the Majors. Now, he wasn’t great defensively there in his small sample size, but left field is the least important defensive position and since he’s the lead off man, the opportunity will come often to get his bat out of the game early for a better defensive alignment and still get him four plate appearances in a game.

That would make your defensive alignment as follows,

  • C Yadier Molina
  • 1B Luke Voit
  • 2B Kolten Wong
  • SS Paul DeJong
  • 3B Jedd Gyorko
  • LF Matt Carpenter
  • CF Dexter Fowler
  • RF Tommy Pham

Those are the eight best hitters the Cardinals can put on the field right now and is relatively solid defensively (even if it can be improved by swapping Fowler and Pham).

But the Cardinals could use this lineup and if they can’t find traction over the next two weeks, there’s no point in buying at the deadline because this team will need more help than one or two moves will bring.

Column: Is it time to get a look at Luke Voit?

It doesn’t seem like a season goes by any more without Twitter clamoring for a slugging first baseman from Memphis. The names have changed over the years from Mark Hamilton to Xavier Scruggs to Brock Peterson. The current fixture of this obsession is Luke Voit.

The 26 year old Voit is a local product. Born in Wildwood, Missouri, attended Lafayette High School, and then attended Missouri State University. He was even drafted out of high school by the Royals in 2009 before going to college and drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft by the Cardinals. Best of all, Luke is a nickname. His legal first name is Louis.

So if there is a person for whom the stars have aligned better to be the savior of a Cardinals’ season, I haven’t found one.

In 2016, Voit had his first real head turning season in the minor leagues. Over 134 games for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, he put up a batting line of .297/.382/.477 with 19 home runs and 74 RBI to go along with 20 doubles and 5 triples. That .297 batting average even won the Texas League batting title.

That got him a promotion this season to Triple-A Memphis where he, through 63 games so far this season, is batting .326/.402/.583 with 12 home runs to go along with 21 doubles and 1 triple.

I’m not some super knowledgeable prospect guy who talks like a scout, but there are things I like to see from players as the progress through the minors. I like seeing doubles. I like players who walk. I like players who perform at every level. I like players who aren’t too old for their level. Voit seems to check all my boxes.

For the terms of this article though, let’s take a look at Voit and compare him with another Cardinals’ minor leaguer who made his debut this season and has played much of the past two seasons with Voit and likely provides us the most apples-to-apples comparison of what we could reasonably expect. That’s Paul DeJong.

DeJong was a fourth round pick by the Cardinals in the 2015 draft as a senior out of Illinois State Unviersity. Last season in Springfield as Voit’s teammate, he hit .260/.324/.460 with 22 home runs and 73 RBI over 132 games along with 29 doubles and 2 triples.

This season while he’s been in Memphis, he has hit .299/.339/.571 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI over 48 games along with 9 doubles.

The on base percentage is the most obvious and striking thing I notice right away. And then the 144 strikeouts for DeJong last season in Springfield while Voit struck out just 83 times in just six fewer plate appearances.

So DeJong strikes out. A lot. And doesn’t really walk either. That has continued into the Majors where, through 45 at bats, he has yet to walk. And has struck out 33.3% of the time.

Comparing their seasons in Memphis, DeJong has a 24.2% strikeout rate, a 4.7% walk rate and a 11.6% extra base hit rate. On the other side, Voit has a 18.0% strikeout rate, a 8.4% walk rate, and a 13.0% extra base hit rate.

So Voit strikes out less, walks almost twice as often, and has more power than DeJong. I already like what I’m seeing.

Steamer’s projections for Voit in the Majors this season show the expectation for a .263/.324/.410 line with a 97 wRC+. That’s pretty average, but for a team with vast underperformance up and down the lineup, average would be a sight for sore eyes.

DeJong’s Steamer projection entering this season was .242/.286/.392 which seems to be about where he’s trending at .244/.244/.378 right now. And I mostly refuse to consider DeJong as a potential everyday player until he takes at least one walk.

Unfortunately for Voit, much like Adams, the lack of positional flexiblity is his biggest stumbling block in the Cardinals’ organization. Any promotion for him would mean a move back across the diamond for Matt Carpenter and, while I’m bullish on Carpenter’s defensive abilities at third base compared to many other fans, it’s clear that the organization prefers to keep him at first base.

However, now would seem to be as good a time as ever as it looks like Jedd Gyorko is fading fast. After a hot start that has him hitting .295 on the season, he has cooled off significantly over the past month, hitting .244 over the last 28 days, .195 over the last 14, and .118 over the last week. And if Gyorko’s bat heats up again, yet another reason to try him in left field as I suggested yesterday.

Meanwhile Carpenter is heating up in the leadoff spot and the Cardinals are desperate for a guy who can pack a consistent punch in the middle of the lineup. Voit is likely the Cardinals’ best internal option at being that guy.

Another option would potentially be to play him in left field (*ducks*) where he played 12 games for Springfield last season, but from what I’ve read a Matt Holliday level left fielder may be his ceiling out there and even that may require more experience to get to. His best position will always be first base, but if he were producing offensively, I don’t think too many people would complain right now.

He would need a spot on the 40 man roster, but I don’t think that would stand in the way of a move. Ideally the Cardinals could have called him up today where you have three games in an American League ballpark with the DH to get a taste of what he could provide the big league club.

Of all those slugging first basemen, Voit seems to be the first worth a chance. And right now, they probably should give him one.

Column: Gyorko should be in the mix in left field

Brian Stull over at STL Baseball Weekly wrote an article yesterday about Jedd Gyorko playing in left field for the Cardinals on Tuesday against the Brewers. The best part about it may have been the tweet promoting the article and the way everyone quoted it and then projected their expectations based on the tweet without having read the article.

In the article, Mike Matheny was asked if Gyorko in left field was going to become a more regular thing. He basically said probably not and that he only appeared there for two innings on Tuesday night because of their short bench.

But in all honesty, I really like the idea of Gyorko adding left field to his repertoire. I believe I talked about it on one of the UCB Podcasts earlier this season when discussing the Matt Adams in left field experiment. I always felt that Gyorko should have been the one learning in left field.

Now in the first part of the season, Gyorko has gotten off to a tremendous start. He has a career best batting line of .296/.346/.495 with 8 home runs through the Cardinals’ first 64 games.

But entering this season he has a career batting line of .238/.296/.418. I wouldn’t be relying on a player with a career OBP of .296 suddenly becoming a guy capable of reliably hitting .296. No, we’ll probably see a player much more on par with his career averages through the final four months of the season.

In fact, he’s already showing signs of that performance slipping. He’s batting .244 over the last four weeks, .189 over the last two, and .176 over the last seven days. Regression is a wicked mistress.

I expressed some concern when the Cardinals made the decision to designate Jhonny Peralta for assignment that he had a better batting average than Gyorko did between when he returned off the disabled list on May 19th and when he was DFA’d on June 9th.

Courtesy of that hot start, he’s also batting fourth in the Cardinals’ lineup. His career numbers are not the guy you want batting cleanup in your lineup.

Ultimately though, Gyorko was never penciled in to be anything more than a utility player for the Cardinals the past two years. He was supposed to get 450 to 500 plate appearances, bounce between infield positions, and go on a hot streak or two where he supplanted a starting player for a week or two, but ultimately be a utility player.

He’s played all four infield positions in his career, so why not add more utility?

The Cardinals need to add at least one more bat to this lineup and preferably two, and third base is one of the easiest positions for them to upgrade. With Matt Carpenter at first, Kolten Wong having a career year at second, and Gyorko not being good enough defensively to stick at shortstop, where do you play him?

Enter left field.

I don’t see this like the Adams experiment in left field, though I don’t think that went as badly as most do. When I watched him, what I saw was inexperience far more than just simply being incapable of playing the position. I felt like with enough time he could become a passable option in left field.

A key part of playing outfield is ball tracking and that’s not something that first baseman have to do with any regularity. The vast majority of what first basemen do is stand still and catch the ball. They aren’t tracking balls. That’s something that the rest of the infield does quite often, so it is a skill that Gyorko should have far more refined than Adams did.

It’s a move that makes sense for the Cardinals in many ways, but perhaps the most important is that it gives John Mozeliak more flexibility if he elects to add an offensive player this summer.

Column: Carpenter doubles down on mistakes

On last Saturday night the Cardinals and the Giants played a tight game. Carlos Martinez dominated, throwing 9 shutout innings and posting an 87 game score. When the Cardinals would go on to lose the game in extra innings, they became the first team since June of 2015 to lose a game where their starting pitcher had at least an 86 game score. In that span, teams who got at least an 86 game score from their starting pitcher had gone 85-0.

That streak would end, but it may not have had to if not for a base running blunder in the 9th inning. The Cardinals were given a golden opportunity score a run in the bottom of the 9th, and then Matt Carpenter squandered it.

Leading off the bottom of the ninth for St. Louis was Carpenter. He ripped a ball to the wall that was initially misplayed by Giants left fielder Eduardo Nunez. The ball caromed off the wall back towards the infield. Carpenter saw it and decided he would try to stretch a double into a triple and was thrown out for his troubles. The problem here was that, because of how the ball game off the wall, Nunez had plenty of momentum towards the infield for his throw.

But rather than admitting his mistake, Carpenter decided to double down on the decision offering a number of things that he says factored into his decision to try to take the extra base.

“I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think I couldn’t make it, first and foremost,” said Carpenter to the Post-Dispatch. “Secondly, we’re talking about a game where offense was at a premium and getting to third the percentage of scoring that run goes up way higher than if I was just at second. We’re not going to bunt Jedd (Gyorko) behind me. We’re going to have to require a base hit. If I can get to third base then a sac fly wins the game, a wild pitch wins the game, a base hit wins the game, a groundball, an error — a lot of different things. My whole thought when I saw the ball hit the wall was I’m getting to third. It just didn’t work.”

First and foremost, I hope that Carpenter wouldn’t try to go to third if he didn’t think he could make it. I’m actually more than a little concerned that he felt like he had to make this point.

Secondly, offense is at a premium and you ran into an out. It’s one of the oldest baseball adages. Don’t make the first out of an inning at third base. Apparently Carpenter doesn’t believe in that.

“The old golden rule is that you don’t want to make the first or last out at third base, but you cannot win the game from third if you’re not on third. That’s my mindset,” he said.

And it is literally true what Carpenter says there, you can’t win the game from third base if you aren’t on third base. But you can’t win the game from third base if you’re sitting in the dugout either. And you can win games from second base.

Now, getting to third base does give the team a better opportunity score, so I understand the desire to get there. But like Carpenter said, offense was hard to come by in that game, so the answer in that situation is to not give away outs.

If only there were some statistic or metric to get a grasp on what the scoring opportunities would be if he had just held up at second so we could objectively judge this.

Oh wait, this is baseball, so of course there is. Run Expectations.

Simply put if you haven’t heard of it before, Run Expectations is simply a measure of how many runs a team scores on average after finding themselves in a particular situation, given the position of men on base and how many outs you have.

And when we look at the Run Expectation table for 2017 to date we find that if a team has a runner on third base with none out that they score an average of 1.36 runs. So the odds are really good that the Cardinals would have been able to drive home at least one run in that situation.

But that’s not the only thing we need to consider. We need to be weighing the risk versus the reward.

For example, if Carpenter had stopped at second base with none out, teams in that situation have gone on to score an average of 1.09 runs in that inning. That’s still a very good opportunity and on average is going to net you, that go-ahead run.

But neither of that is what happened. What happens to the Run Expectation when Carpenter tries for third and gets thrown out? A team with no one on and one out goes on to score 0.28 runs in that inning.

So in an effort to advance those extra 90 feet and gain 0.27 runs in Run Expectation, Carpenter ended up getting out and costing his team 0.81 runs of Run Expectation compared to if he’d just stayed on second base. That risk versus reward doesn’t work.

Not with Jedd Gyorko, Yadier Molina and Greg Garcia coming to the plate and were a combined 4-for-8 in the game at that point. Not to mention that Gyorko is hitting a team leading .357 with runners in scoring position this season.

Ultimately it was a bad decision and you can objectively demonstrate that the thought process behind it was bad. This wasn’t just a bad outcome as Carpenter argued.

It’s a radically different approach to Kolten Wong making a critical error and costing the team and taking ownership of his defensive misplays and publicly taking blame for the loss. And that was in the middle of a stretch where Wong was pretty much the guy on the offense driving the team to wins.

As Kevin Reynolds and I discussed on the UCB Podcast last night. This is where the manager needs to step in and say something. That is, unless he feels getting thrown out by three feet at third base in the bottom of the 9th of a tie ballgame is acceptable.

Matheny says he doesn’t need to address it with Carpenter because he knows. But sometimes after a string of mistakes, which Carpenter has on the base paths this season, the employee needs to be told by his boss that you are aware he made a mistake.

I’ve often talked about how I feel there is a severe lack of communication from the manager’s office in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. He hinted at Winter Warm Up in January that he has struggled to get guys to buy into his philosophy and there are generally two reasons for a lack of buy in. Players don’t understand the plan because you haven’t adequately communicated it or they think you or the plan is stupid.

I do not see much evidence of the latter, but I definitely have seen many instances of the former that lead me to believe there are communication problems.

Matheny needs to make the point to Carpenter that aggressive is good, but you have to be smart and you can’t be giving away outs. This was a bad decision and he needs to trust his teammates to do their job. It sends a message, not just to Carpenter, but to the rest of the club when you start defining the line between what is aggressive and what is stupid.

And we’ve seen a lot more stupid base running than than aggressive base running.

The worst thing any team can do in baseball is to give away outs. It doesn’t matter if it’s on defense with errors or on offense by running into outs, the Cardinals have have done far too much of it the past two seasons. And it’s the absolute worst in the 9th inning of a tie ballgame where offense is at a premium.

Instead of doubling down on his decision to try for third, Carpenter should have acknowledged the mistake. But not just that, learned from it and adjusted his mental equation that he runs in his head when he’s running the bases so he doesn’t make it again. And until he does that, nothing will change.

Column: Cardinals miss on Luis Robert

Saturday was the first day that 19-year-old Cuban phenom Luis Robert was officially cleared to sign a deal with a Major League club and the action moved quickly. Several clubs made bids on the young player who one anonymous American League executive hyperbolized as “the best player on the planet.” The last couple weeks it had been reported that it was going to come down to the Cardinals or the White Sox. And then on Saturday it became apparent that the White Sox were the chosen team.

Reporting over the weekend initially indicated that the Cardinals had the best offer on the table, but that the White Sox wowed Robert with their presentation that included a Spanish-speaking manager and fellow Cuban stars (both of which the Cardinals have as well). But later reporting by MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosh indicated that they may not have even been on par with the White Sox’s offer.

So once again it appears that the Cardinals stuck to a proven broken model and missed out on the player they wanted.

“What I know is that we didn’t sign him. All negotiations have different nuances. All negotiations have different risks. All negotiations have different upside. This was certainly a unique opportunity for us because historically we are not playing or trying to sign these types of players. I don’t second-guess our strategy or second-guess our approach,” said Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak to the Post Dispatch on Sunday after the team had been informed that their bid was not the winning one.

It’s okay, Mo, I’ll take it from here and do some second-guessing on the strategy and approach.

Under the tenure of Mozeliak, the Cardinals have routinely come up short when it comes time to sign players on the open market. Overall, those decisions have worked out for them, though I’m not sure how much credit you can give the Cardinals simply because another team got more aggressive than they did.

The Cardinals have been missing a franchise altering talent in their lineup since the departure of Albert Pujols following the 2011 season. Oscar Taveras was supposed to be the next one and Mozeliak responded to his potential by paving his road to the Majors. As we all know, Taveras never got the opportunity to realize that potential and the organization is still lacking a player of his caliber.

By all accounts, Robert is a potential franchise altering talent. Even if you don’t buy all the hype, the odds that he becomes a consistent contributor are still very good.

He was the best player available in this international signing period. He was routinely the best player in international tournaments playing against players older than him. Most scouts even consider him to be better than any player available in this summer’s draft, where the Cardinals’ first pick will be #94.

Simply put, of all the talent he has ever faced or been stacked up against to this point in his career, he has been the best.

If the Cardinals believed that Luis Robert was a potential franchise altering talent, and it would appear that the answer to that question was yes, then there is only one question to be asked. If not Robert, then who?

If not Luis Robert, who is going to be the franchise altering talent for the Cardinals?

The Cardinals’ minor league system has plenty of quality talent that projects to contribute at the Major League level, but it has no singular position player that has the potential that Robert has.

In a little over a month, the Cardinals will be locked out of making a play for a player like Robert in the next two international signing periods, but there doesn’t appear to be another one coming that soon anyway.

The odds that that player will be selected in this year’s draft are slim as well thanks to the signing of Dexter Fowler and the penalties for Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros. Furthermore, they aren’t a franchise that is generally bad enough to earn high picks in future drafts and hoping a Delvin Perez caliber talent drops to you in the late first round or that you stumble upon the next Albert Pujols in the 13th is not a sound franchise building strategy.

For those reasons, there was no better time for the Cardinals to put the model aside, step beyond their comfort level and do what it took to ensure that Robert would one day be playing in St. Louis.

Because of the salary structure in baseball and how players in the first six years of their career are generally underpaid, even if they went beyond their comfort zone, the odds are still very good that Robert will give you a return on your investment unlike any veteran free agent would.

Instead, the Cardinals played it cheap, stuck to the model and once again came up short. And for the Cardinals, that question still remains.

If not Robert, then who?

And I don’t see an answer to that question.

The Cardinals could act by trade, but the prospect cost to acquire a franchise altering talent is incredibly high and rightly so. But that kind of trade would require far too much talent leaving the franchise to make sense.

That leaves free agency where we will see a number of potential franchise altering hitters available over the next couple years at much greater costs and similar, if in different ways, levels of risk. And given the Cardinals’ track record in free agency, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mozeliak said on Sunday that they will redeploy the money not spent on Robert elsewhere, but that’s what they have always said after coming up short. For two years now we’ve heard about how the organization has cash and is willing to spend it, but we have yet to see it make a difference in their approach to free agency.

This team is a player short. Robert was a golden opportunity to get a potential franchise centerpiece player. The stars were aligned, but when it came time to score, the Cardinals’ choked.

It’s a familiar story. But at some point, actions speak louder than words.

Column: How can the Cardinals best use Jhonny Peralta?

St. Louis Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak has said that infielder Jhonny Peralta is expected to be activated this weekend as they play a three game set against the San Francisco Giants in St. Louis. The question then on everyone’s mind is how to use Peralta?

Peralta opened up the season penciled in as the starter at third base. It seems like the organization expected Jedd Gyorko to step in and take the job later in the season if he got hot and went on a power surge. However, Peralta struggled to open up the 2017 season and ended up on the disabled list after an adverse reaction to some cold medication.

In the mean time, Gyorko secured his hold on the everyday third base job. Through 37 games this season, Gyorko is hitting .330/.385/.607 with 7 home runs and has easily been the Cardinals’ most valuable position player. He’s even proving the doubters, like myself, wrong by continuing to play plus defense on the field.

There is also Greg Garcia on the roster who has hit .255/.367/.314 this season, but while Garcia is an on base machine, even last year Peralta provided more punch than that.

For his part, Peralta has admitted that he does not expect to come back as the starter at third base for the Cardinals. It seems like an obvious position for those of us who judge purely on performance, but it is a positive that he seemingly accepted what his opportunities are likely to look like going forward.

The benefit of the disabled list trip for Peralta was that he got an opportunity to take a rehab stint and hopefully find some of that long lost timing at the plate.

The answer to me for how you use Peralta is simple: You let him show you.

Be prepared, Peralta will likely draw a spot in the starting lineup a couple times over the first few days he’s up. I support this because you need to figure out what you have out of him sooner rather than later.

So to start, Peralta will most likely take most of the third base time away from Garcia and he will likely get some time at shortstop to spell Aledmys Diaz. I think, depending on how things shake out in the outfield, you could see him get some playing time in left field or even first base. Those are all positions he has played before in the Majors.

As I wrote last season, I don’t think his 2016 results were representative of the kind of player Peralta can be going forward. He had a hand injury last year and those are notorious for messing up swings and timing. It’s one of those situations where you’re “healed” but you aren’t actually back to 100%.

I still believe Peralta can be an average to slightly above average offensive threat. I don’t think we’ll see 2014 Peralta again, who hit .263/.336/.443 with 21 home runs, but I don’t think a Peralta who can hit .260/.330/.400 who can hit you 10+ home runs over the rest of the season is completely out of reach.

If you play him and he hits, you keep giving him opportunities. If he doesn’t hit, you limit his appearances.

The question at that point becomes what Mozeliak really meant when he said earlier this year that the organization was applying a short leash to Peralta. How long will they give him to find traction? If he can’t, will they release him? I think it’s a possibility, especially as Gyorko and Garcia continue to demonstrate that he may not be needed. And everyday that goes by, it gets cheaper to cut him.

Column: What does a Lance Lynn extension look like and should the Cardinals do it?

In recent weeks I’ve seen questions both in Derrick Goold’s weekly chat and Jenifer Langosch’s inbox feature about whether the Cardinals should entertain Lance Lynn’s interest in discussing an extension that would keep him in St. Louis beyond the 2017 season. In Goold’s chat, it was framed as whether, with all the young arms coming through the system, should they keep him? It’s a question that will likely consume John Mozeliak’s mind this summer as he considers how far he’s willing to go to bring Lynn back to St. Louis.

Derrick’s answer to that question was a resounding yes, because he can provide “known quantity innings.” His point primarily being that Lynn can go out there and throw 210 good innings in 2018 while you will most likely need an assortment of those young pitchers to fill those innings without him. There is a great deal of value in that, not just in having Lynn throw 200+ good innings, but being able to use those good young arms in other roles.

I agree with that and we’ll get into the why and what that looks like shortly. But I think Lynn is one of those players that’s easy to carry a biased opinion around on because of what you think about him from the start. Early in his career he was an emotional guy that was at risk of falling apart if things didn’t go his way. But more recently, he has matured into one of the best pitchers in the league.

The stats bear this out, since 2014, among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings, Lynn has been the 11th best pitcher in baseball by ERA+. He is tied right there with Madison Bumgarner.

Since he joined the Cardinals’ rotation in 2012, Lynn has 63 wins, good for 22nd most in baseball. Despite your opinions on pitcher wins, they are still a good thing to get. And that’s number is even with a missed season. Give him another 15 wins and Lynn is 6th. You give him 20 and he’s 2nd.

And through five starts this season, Lynn has a 2.45 ERA over 29.1 innings pitched along with a 1.09 WHIP. That’s his best start since 2012, his first full year in the rotation.

I feel like the fact he has come back as strong as ever following Tommy John is equal parts impressive and surprising. Even though he’s a few months further out than Adam Wainwright was in 2012, I still cringe when thinking about Wainwright’s start to that season. I cringe the same way thinking about Alex Reyes’ eventual return in 2018.

But I find it interesting that Lynn is even willing to talk extension with the Cardinals.

Before the 2015 season when he signed his current 3 year, $22 million deal, it seemed like a signal that he was going to go to free agency. At that point he had three arbitration years remaining and the deal only bought out those years. He left security and some guaranteed money on the table by not giving them any free agency years. Lynn was going to be 30 years old when he hit free agency and it was going to be one of his only chances to cash in with a big deal.

After Stephen Piscotty’s extension was announced, Lynn was asked about his contract situation. He said he hoped that the Cardinals would engage him in talks over the summer once he’s had a chance to prove himself healthy. It seemed like a change of heart. But perhaps not completely since free agent years when they start next year cost much more than free agent years when they start three years down the road.

In my opinion, Lynn has the numbers to be regarded as one of the top-15 pitchers in baseball. If he puts together a solid 2017 season and continues that, it should bring big money in a free agent period that sees himself and Jake Arrieta as the two main pitching targets.

To get an idea, we need to look at recent deals. Unfortunately, we have to go back to the 2015-16 offseason to find any kind of true comparisons because there just wasn’t anyone remotely close to Lynn’s age and abilities in last year’s free agency pool.

Jordan Zimmermann signed a 5 year, $110 million deal with the Tigers coming off a year where he went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA and threw 202 innings with a 108 ERA+. At 29 years old, he was three years away from being a 19 game winner and just a season removed from a career year.

Johnny Cueto signed a 6 year, $130 million deal with the Giants coming off a year where he went 11-13 with a 3.44 ERA and threw 212 innings with a 118 ERA+. At 29, he was a year removed from a season he won 20 games and threw 244 innings.

Zack Greinke, the other comparison I’m bringing in, signed the mother of all pitching deals, scoring a 6 year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks coming off an unfathomably good 2015 season where he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA and threw 223 innings with a league leading 222 ERA+.

Given the start we’ve gotten out of Lynn, I think it’s fair to consider that he will put up something on par with his best seasons. Let’s use an average of the 2014-15 seasons. That puts Lynn at 14-10 with a 2.87 ERA and throwing 190 innings at a 131 ERA+.

That’s better than Zimmermann. That’s better than Cueto. That’s on par with what Carlos Martinez has done the past two seasons and we’re ready to annoint him the Cardinals’ ace.

So I think something north of what Zimmermann and Cueto got is a good target for what he is likely to get, especially given that it’s been a couple years, the 2015-16 offseason was littered with quality pitcher and the 2016-17 offseason was not. I think 5 years, $125 million or 6 years, $140 million is a good market target for what Lynn should expect to be able to get on the open market.

Knowing that, should this be an investment that the Cardinals make? In my opinion, they can’t afford to let him walk.

Yes, it’s true the Cardinals have plenty of well regarded pitching prospects in their minor league system right now. Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber, Sandy Alcantara, and I’m sure more whose names I don’t have on the top of my head. Even Reyes will be back at some point next year, but the rotation is in a fragile position.

Lynn is a free agent after 2017, Wainwright is a free agent after 2018, Michael Wacha is a free agent after 2019, Mike Leake could be a free agent after 2020, and Martinez could be after 2021. It won’t happen, but the Cardinals could turnover their entire rotation in five years. That’s a big ask of any organization’s minor league system.

Consider that if you let Lynn walk and Wainwright continues to struggle into 2018, how do you fill those innings? Let’s consider that maybe Wacha can’t escape his recurring stress injury. That’s three starting pitchers the Cardinals would need to produce in three seasons.

Obviously you can pencil Alex Reyes into one of those spots eventually, but I think it’s premature to expect him to be ready to contribute in the big league rotation in 2018. Wainwright wasn’t ready in 13 months. Marco Gonzales is just about 13 months out now and is getting ready to return to the mound. And he’s more of a crafty lefty than a 100 mph power pitcher like Reyes.

So the question of who fills Lynn’s shoes is very much open next season. And you could bet on depth, but with the questions coming up going forward, I think you commit to Lynn and Martinez to anchor this Cardinals’ rotation long-term.

I know many who would argue that they should go to free agency with Lynn and pursue Arrieta instead. But once you get to free agency, there’s no guarantee you can get a deal done and you might end up with neither of them. And given Mozeliak’s history in free agency, that’s a possibility.

If you can get a deal done with Lynn before the season is over, I think you do it. How does the old saying go? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?

Lynn has proven himself to be a very capable pitcher and I imagine that every team in baseball would like to have him in their rotation. So lock him up this summer and move on filling your team’s other needs. Like third base, even though Jedd Gyorko is playing out of his mind right now.