Those dirty Cardinals, right?

So by now everyone has heard the big news, right? Donald Trump is running for President! Oh, not that? Uh, Dale Earnhardt Jr got engaged? Not that either, eh? Oh, you mean that the Cardinals “hacked” the Astros. Okay, so let’s talk about that a bit based on what we know.

Many major media sources are advertising this as the Cardinals’ organization hacking into the Astros’ system. That’s what the FBI is investigating, but there hasn’t been anything reported to that effect. Right now we have the actions of a couple employees. Given that they were employees that shared a residence, odds are that they are lower level ones.

Let’s also get something clear from the very beginning. There was no “hacking” going on. Unless these employees somehow got a list of passwords used by other GMs in baseball, they didn’t hack your team’s computers. The word hacking creates images of guys trying to access a system by forcing their way in without a username and password. That isn’t what happened.

These employees had a list of passwords that Jeff Luhnow and other former Cardinals employees who had left the organization for Houston used. Guess what? Someone re-used a password.

It’s like failing to re-key your locks after breaking up with a girlfriend who has a key to your apartment. Her using it to enter your apartment and dig through your stuff is still illegal, but she’s hardly a master burglar.

Even the Ground Control system the Astros have was easily found. Until the leak of a lot of information from the Astros internal system last summer, Ground Control was easily accessible via groundcontrol.astros.com. That link is now down, but the web.archive.org system has a few copies of the login page that it archived at different times through 2013.

That’s the situation based on the information that has been released and available so far. That is all we know. Anything else is wild conjecture at this point and while the results of the FBI investigation could run the gamut from the organization being criminally culpable to just a couple employees getting fired, we really don’t know and really lack enough information to generate even an educated guess at what really went down right now.

But there are a few things in the information that lead me to believe that this was just a handful of employees doing this on their own and not a sanctioned corporate decision to strike at the Astros or steal information from them.

First, this was done from the comfort of their own home. The New York Times report says that the access traced back to a home shared by Cardinals’ employees. Don’t they know that stuff like this is what your neighbor’s unsecured wifi network is for? It seems like a very amateur mistake. Anyone who has watched virtually any crime drama on TV over the last decade should know that what you do on the Internet can be traced back to you and your computer.

Knowing the intentional way that John Mozeliak goes about his business, weighing his options and ensuring that all the angles are covered, this doesn’t seem like a mistake the organization would make. They’d have researched how to do it so it couldn’t be traced or even hire a few guys in Ukraine to do it on the cheap.

This is a team that is reluctant to gamble on international signings because they don’t have enough data to provide a good projection yet. They don’t do things without thinking them through.

Perhaps these guys thought that nobody would notice a valid login attempt. After all, they were stupid enough to think they could get away with this.

Second, whoever logged into Ground Control leaked data. If the Cardinals were doing something to gain an advantage, why would they have basically waved a flag and told the world that there was a leak in the Astros computer system. This is counter-intuitive to the claim that the Cardinals were doing it to receive a competitive advantage. If you’re getting a competitive advantage, you keep it as long as you can.

So why is the FBI investigating the Cardinals? Considering the guys that their investigation led them to work for one of 29 competitors to the Astros, they need to determine whether it was just the employees acting alone or whether they were directed by higher level employees to do what they did for whatever reason. If the Cardinals did direct these employees to do it, then I think we can all agree that this is a very big deal and there will be a hefty price to pay for whoever had anything to do with it and rightfully so.

But based on the information that’s been revealed so far, we have nothing to indicate that the Cardinals sanctioned this. In my own wild conjecture, I imagine something like this happening while a couple employees kicked back watching TV with a couple beers, maybe even watching an Astros game…

Employee #1: “Man, that Luhnow guy was an idiot.”
Employee #2: “Yeah he was. Hey, I’ve got this list of passwords he used, want to see if he’s dumb enough to not change them?”
Employee #1: “Dude, it worked! He is an idiot!”
Employee #2: “LMAO, he thinks Bud Norris is worth that? Is he going to pitch against us every night or something?”

Still very illegal, but it is not the major corporate espionage that this is being made out to be by the media who are covering it and it certainly isn’t cheating. At least, not based on the information that the general public so far privy to.

The day may come where this story is worth that kind of attention, but the sad part is that if the Cardinals are found to be totally innocent in this situation, the stain of the cheating implication by the major media won’t wash out for quite some time.

Partly because nobody will cover it.

With Holliday out, what does the lineup look like?

So Matt Holliday is out with a quad strain. The good news for Cardinals fans is that it is only being advertised as a grade 2 strain, which is short of a complete tear as Matt Adams suffered. This means that the Cardinals can evaluate Holliday in a couple weeks and create a timetable to get him back on the field later this season. Optimistically, I believe that means in six to eight weeks the Cardinals could see him back in action.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for Mike Matheny between now and then will be to fill out the lineup card every night without Matt Holliday as the anchor point. Since Holliday’s early exit on Monday night, the offense has been flat, obviously missing the big bat. So how might Matheny fill out the lineup card?

The first thing that sticks out to me when I look at the options for the lineup is that there may never be a better time to utilize a speed and defense based lineup. The Cardinals have the personnel to do it, so why not? Why not take the opportunity to run wild and see what happens? It’s not like our current method of scoring runs is being very successful.

Normally, I’d argue that Matt Carpenter is the guy to keep building the lineup around as I did in April when I talked about optimizing the Cardinals’ lineup, but Carpenter hasn’t been himself lately. Since he left the May 3rd game early due to dehydration, he has hit .231/.346/.380 with only 8 of his 25 hits going for extra bases. Entering play today, he has gone hitless in the last five games he’s started, the longest such slump of his career.

As long as he slumps, I think because the margin of error is so slim for this offense, that you need to consider dropping him in the lineup.

Right now Jhonny Peralta is far and away the Cardinals’ best hitter. Over the past 28 days his line is a robust .341/.417/.615 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI, all team highs. He is also the only Cardinals hitter hitting over .300, getting on base better than .400, and slugging better than .500. But his bat is far more suited for third in the lineup than second in the lineup.

Kolten Wong is the guy that I would identify to slide into the #2 spot in the lineup right now. He is the second best hitter on the team right now, hitting .293/.358/.455 over the last 28 days.

As I said earlier, I would make a shift towards a speed and defense lineup in an effort to maximize the results of my pitching staff. That means that Peter Bourjos gets to start regular in center field and would be leading off for me.

CF Bourjos
2B Wong
SS Peralta
LF Grichuk
3B Carpenter
1B Reynolds
C Molina
RF Heyward
Pitcher

I’m not the biggest fan of Grichuk in the cleanup spot, but I think he is our biggest power threat beyond Peralta.

After Grichuk I take a flip flop approach. A guy who can get on base and then a guy who can drive him in. Carpenter and Mark Reynolds make this first pairing while Yadier Molina and Jason Heyward make the second.

Ideally, Carpenter or Molina gets on and Reynolds or Heyward hits a home run.

It’s not perfect, but the Cardinals’ lineup has many holes right now with the absence of Holliday and Adams. Holes that are almost impossible to patch in any meaningful way. But the lineup still features six or seven hitters who should be above average hitters, which would still be among the league’s deepest lineups.

Now the Cardinals and their fans hope and pray that Holliday heals well over the next two weeks to give them some positive news.

What do the Cardinals do about first base now?

During Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the St. Louis Cardinals seem to have lost first baseman Matt Adams to a quadriceps injury that may cost Adams the remainder of the 2015 season. A torn quadriceps was the diagnosis Wednesday morning as the Cardinals placed Adams on the 15 day DL and recalled catcher Ed Easley up from Memphis.

Immediately taking his place as the team’s regular first baseman will be Mark Reynolds. It was this role, insurance for Matt Adams, that Reynolds was signed to fill. Though he’s going to be used a little differently than expected.

Off to a slow start this season, Adams was looking like he was going to take yet another step back from the promise he displayed in 2013 when he hit .315 with 8 home runs in September while filling in for Allen Craig. While Adams had picked it up in recent days, it still wasn’t enough to make his splits over the last week wort going crazy over.

The loss of Adams will hurt a little bit, but for me more because Reynolds will no longer be a regular fixture off the bench. Instead he will be in the starting lineup where he will be used whenever his spot comes up instead of in certain situations.

So far in 2015, Reynolds has outperformed Adams offensively. Adams has a slash line of .243/.281/.375 with 4 home runs in 43 games. Reynolds has exceeded that with his line of .250/.314/.406 with 3 home runs in 39 games. Even when you break down that performance to platoon situations against LHP and RHP, Reynolds still comes out on top in both categories.

You’re also probably improving the lineup and the offense by more than just putting Reynolds into it. Mike Matheny had been insistent on batting Adams in the cleanup spot as he did last year with Craig. Reynolds won’t be hitting fourth (he batted 7th tonight), so you’re improving the lineup flow by removing Adams’ struggling bat from the middle of our best hitting players.

With the return of Jon Jay on the horizon (expected this weekend), many have suggested that it will create a playing time squeeze in the outfield and force one of our outfielders to move to first base. The debate has raged on about which outfielder would be best to move to first base, but that’s the second question to ask. The first question, and most important, is whether you have four outfielders who are clearly better than Mark Reynolds. Early returns say no.

By OPS+, one of my favorite metrics for comparing hitters, Jay and Jason Heyward have not been better than Reynolds. At best, Peter Bourjos is a virtual tie. That leaves just Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk as having outperformed him this season. And given the numbers, tells us that if we’re taking someone out of the lineup, it probably should be Heyward if we’re trying to force any particular outfielder into the lineup.

Many have targeted Matt Holliday as the perfect guy to transition to first base. About the only reason I can figure for that is because he’s older, slow, and has a stocky build. First base is where those guys go to finish their careers right?

Yes, Holliday was drafted as a third baseman, but he hasn’t played a single game on the infield in almost 16 years. Holliday has even expressed that he’s not that interested in a move, saying, “there’s a reason they moved me to the outfield.”

Other than Holliday, only one outfielder on our roster has ever played the infield. Lucky for us, it was at first base, right? Jon Jay appeared at first base in a game in 2009 for Memphis and then again in 2010.

I think that until we have four outfielders who can clearly give us more production than Reynolds is, there isn’t a cause for discussion about this idea and it really shouldn’t be looked at as an option.

If you are insistent about moving an outfielder to first base, I think it would make sense to move your most athletic guy. The thought being that his athleticism should help him make up for the lack of experience playing the position as well as make plays that the rest of the outfielders wouldn’t be able to on the infield. Seeing as the plays that happen at first base are generally more important than routine fly balls to left field, I’d look at putting the team in the best position there first. To me, that means Randal Grichuk.

But I don’t see the Cardinals shaking up the bag and forcing an outfielder into the lineup at first base. Particularly when none of them have ever put the ability to play multiple positions on their resume. Plus, there are a number of other players on the roster who are capable of filling those shoes if necessary.

Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and Jhonny Peralta are all guys who can take on that role. You could even dig into the minors for Xavier Scruggs (or with a little experience in the minors first, Stephen Piscotty).

I’d be really surprised if the Cardinals pursued a hitter outside the organization to take Adams’ place as long as Reynolds is healthy. It really isn’t because of the money, the Cardinals have it to spend if they want to. Rather it’s about the prospects you have to spend to bring someone in (note, same kind of prospects who have played a vital role in keeping this team competitive when we lose our high dollar players to injury) and the years you have to commit to them once they’re here.

Take the situation of a Ryan Howard. Howard has had an incredible last month. Since April 24th, Howard is hitting .291/.333/.624 with 10 home runs. Is that going to be Howard’s best month of the season? Given what he’s done the last few seasons, it’s probably a safe bet.

But Howard is signed through next season with a hefty buyout to get out of his option for 2017. What do you do with Adams and Howard on the roster next year and potentially the next two? It’s easy to dismiss that question now, but that is definitely something that a General Manager has to consider and answer to the owner for.

The irony of all if this discussion is that if Mark Reynolds was in another team’s uniform, he’d probably be near the top of most lists as a potential acquisition. The grass is always greener, I guess.

I expect the Cardinals to be on the lookout for someone to solidify the bench this summer. Someone who can play the role Reynolds played off the bench. With the expectation being that the Cardinals will need to add a starting pitcher this summer, that’s something you can probably get added to a deal without giving up much additional.

While we’re suggesting trades, why not Allen Craig?

Just kidding.

Sort of.

The tale of two days for Randal Grichuk

When yesterday’s game wrapped up Randal Grichuk’s box score line left many fans wondering whether there was such a thing as a platinum sombrero. If you don’t know why, a golden sombrero is when you strike out four times in the same game. After the 14 inning loss to the New York Mets, Grichuk’s line read 0-for-6 with 5 strikeouts.

It seems that Grichuk wasn’t ready for a return to the big leagues after his injury. He needed a rehab trip to the minors to get his timing back.

What a difference one night makes.

Grichuk once again got the nod last night against left handed starter Jon Niese. When he was placed second in the batting lineup there was some derision on Twitter, but Grichuk made Mike Matheny look like a genius.

Grichuk went off last night, going 3-for-5 with 3 RBI, a pair of doubles, and a triple.

For Grichuk, these last two nights have perfectly illustrated his potential and his problems. One night he can look like a transformative player and another night, he is prone to striking out and struggles.

With the strong performance last night, Grichuk saw his season batting average jump from .190 to .269, the blessing of only having 27 plate appearances on the season. Of his seven hits, six of them have been for extra bases.

His potential is obvious to anyone who watches him play a game like last night. The question is always whether he can adjust on the fly and start becoming a player worth playing against right handed pitching.

Grichuk is carrying a line of .308/.357/.615 against left handed pitchers while just a line of .231/.231/.615 against right handed pitchers. Obviously that’s tagged with a small sample size, but the trend continues when you peek at his splits from the minors.

Last season in Memphis, Grichuk hit .297/.337/.627 with 15 home runs against left handed pitching. Meanwhile he hit .235/.289/.396 with 13 home runs against right handed pitching.

It seems like Grichuk’s power plays both ways, but it’s his ability to hit for average that takes a big hit when facing right handed pitching. That’s the biggest hurdle that he will need to jump going forward if he wants to prove that the Cardinals don’t need to re-sign Jason Heyward and should instead turn that job over to him next season.

Of course, he could always take over center field too. I predicted in the offseason that Grichuk would earn the starting center fielder job by the end of the season. I still stand by that. And games like last night are why.