News: Cardinals name Mike Maddux pitching coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News: David Bell takes front office job with Giants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

News: Cardinals part ways with Derek Lilliquist and Blaise Ilsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless, we will find out.

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

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

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

News: Wainwright to undergo surgery

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

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

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

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

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

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

News: Cardinals recall Breyvic Valera

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals recalled infielder Breyvic Valera from Memphis before tonight’s game.

The story. This is Valera’s second stint of the season with the Cardinals. He made his debut earlier this month, but was returned to Memphis for the end of the Pacific Coast League playoffs. With their season ending Tuesday, Valera joins Aledmys Diaz and Josh Lucas as Redbirds to return to the big league club after the minor league seasons have ended.

The numbers. Breyvic Valera hit .314/.368/.450 with 22 doubles, 6 triples, and 8 home runs for Memphis this season in a breakout year. He hit .250/.308/.333 in the Pacific Coast League playoffs and Triple-A Championship game. During his brief stint with the Cardinals he went 1-for-5 with a walk in 3 games.

The impact. 1/10. I don’t see this bringing much of an impact and he will likely see most of his action as a defensive replacement. With his performance this year, he is likely safe from any offseason roster moves. This is further insurance against Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko at third base while both have dealt with injuries down the stretch.

News: Cardinals recall Aledmys Diaz and Josh Lucas

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals recalled infielder Aledmys Diaz and RHP Josh Lucas today.

The story. With Memphis’ season coming to an end following last night’s loss to the Durham Bulls in the Triple-A Championship Game, the Cardinals added a couple players to their roster for the final 12 games of the season.

The numbers. Aledmys Diaz struggled this season in St. Louis both offensively and defensively and ultimately lost his starting shortstop job to Paul DeJong. Diaz hit .260/.293/.396 with seven home runs over 71 games for the Cardinals this season and had a -10 defensive runs saved in 589 innings at shortstop.

That led to a mid-season demotion for Diaz who hit .253/.305/.388 with four home runs for Memphis and he also picked up playing time at second base and third base in an effort to make himself more versatile for the eventual return trip.

For Josh Lucas, this will be his second trip to St. Louis. He allowed three earned runs over two appearances in his previous stint with the club. He finished out his season in Memphis with a 3.15 ERA over 60 innings including 17 saves and 32 games finished.

The impact. 4/10. The season is effectively over at this point, but it is still important for both of these guys.

For Diaz, after the struggles this season and his high price tag, he is a prime non-tender candidate in November since he made $2.5 million this year and is limited by how much of a pay cut he could take to stay. He needs to come up and put together a strong two weeks whenever he gets an opportunity to find the field to make the Cardinals’ decision more difficult or to showcase himself for his next team.

For Lucas, the Cardinals’ bullpen has a lot of questions for next year and putting together a strong couple weeks to finish out the season could go a long way towards laying the groundwork to take a spot next spring.

News: Cardinals recall Magneuris Sierra

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals recalled outfielder Magneuris Sierra from Triple-A Memphis and optioned infielder Breyvic Valera to Memphis.

The story. With the returns of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong to the Cardinals’ lineup this weekend there was a reducing need to have Valera on the roster in St. Louis, but there was still the potential that he could get playing time and help the Redbirds pursue the Pacific Coast League title. But with the knee injury to Dexter Fowler this weekend, the Cardinals elected to add some outfield depth in the form of Sierra.

The numbers. Breyvic Valera made his big league debut last week for the Cardinals as a veteran of 800 minor league games. Overall in three games for the big league Cardinals, he went 1-for-5 at the plate with a walk while playing nine innings at second base.

On his way up is 21-year-old Magneuris Sierra who returns for his fourth stint with the Cardinals this season. After starting the season in single A, he had been on Triple-A Memphis’ playoff roster but had yet to appear for them. Sierra has hit .365/.400/.365 in 13 Major League games this season. He holds the franchise records for the most consecutive games with a hit to open up a big league career at nine games.

The impact. 4/10. With Tommy Pham, Harrison Bader, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk in the St. Louis outfield, there just isn’t much opportunity for Sierra to elbow his way into some playing time here. Where he stands to see the most utility for the Cardinals and Mike Matheny is as a late game defensive replacement and pinch runner. Matheny has previously used guys like Pete Kozma and Adron Chambers very effectively in that role and Sierra is an even better option than them.

News: Cardinals acquire Juan Nicasio from Phillies

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals have acquired RHP Juan Nicasio from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for infielder Eliezer Alvarez.

The story. It’s an interesting story there actually. The Pirates had Juan Nicasio just a week ago and after placing him on waivers to trade him earlier and being blocked by another team (reading between the lines of Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington’s quotes on the move leads me to believe it was another NL Central team, perhaps the Cardinals) and the blocking team low-balled them on their trade offer. So they pulled him back.

Then, late in August the Pirates tried to slip Nicasio through again, this time on “irrevocable” waivers since once you’ve been pulled back from waivers once you can’t be pulled back again. Their gamble was that either someone would claim him and they would save $600,000 or he would go unclaimed and they could then trade him to an American League club.

But the Phillies, with the NL’s worst record and first crack at claiming Nicasio, put in a claim. So the Pirates saved their $600,000 and the Phillies traded him to the Cardinals.

The numbers. Juan Nicasio, 31, joined the Pirates before the 2016 season and posted a 4.50 ERA over 12 starts and 40 relief appearances. In 2017, he signed a 1 year, $3.65 million deal in his final year of arbitration and has worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the first time. He has responded with a 2.79 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 67 appearances and 61.1 innings of work between his two Philadelphia teams.

Eliezer Alvarez, 22, joined the Cardinals as an international free agent in 2012. This season, after being placed on the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, he has spent the bulk of his time with Double-A Springfield, posting a .247/.321/.382 slash line with 4 home runs in 54 Double-A games.

The impact. 6/10. This trade is typical John Mozeliak (will we ever call something typical Mike Girsch?) low hanging fruit. Nicasio, as a pending free agent, is a one month rental and he will not be eligible for the postseason with the Cardinals since he was not in the organization on August 31.

Nicasio’s 156 ERA+ puts him third in the Cardinals’ bullpen this season to Tyler Lyons (166 ERA+) and John Brebbia (191 ERA+) and gives manager Mike Matheny a proven late inning option as he has worked mostly in the 8th inning this season with a 1.87 ERA.

The fact that he will not be postseason eligible does made me scratch my head a bit, but he could still be an important part of this club getting to the postseason as they stand just three games out of a wild card spot.

As far as what the Cardinals gave up, I think it’s a fair cost. Alvarez is a good prospect, but still has plenty of questions too. Much of his early time in the Cardinals’ organization was spent injured or recovering from injury, so we very much don’t know what kind of player he could be.

He blew away A ball last year, batting .323 in 116 games in Peoria which got him protection from the Rule 5 Draft on the 40 man roster. But struggled on the promotion to Double-A and has missed significant time as well. He is generally considered a plus defender at second base with plus speed. The question, as it seems to be with most players, is will the bat develop into one that’s worth playing at the MLB level? He’s still young, so the Phillies have time to figure that out.

Also, with many 40 man questions to come for the Cardinals this winter, they needed roster space, so it’s probable that he was on their list of players they intended to remove in the winter, so why not get something for him now?

And in reality, the Cardinals minor league system is fairly deep right now, especially with the way Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong have played this season. Middle infield is not a massive need for the club right now.

The long game would have to be that they intend to resign Nicasio though, right? The Cardinals have been interested in him for awhile and he could be a good bullpen option for a club that has more questions than answers there when it comes to 2018. And generally much cheaper than a reliever with multiple years of setup or closing experience would be.

News: Cardinals call up Breyvic Valera

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals promoted IF Breyvic Valera from Triple-A Memphis.

The story. With the public admission last night that Matt Carpenter‘s shoulder has bothered him all season, the Cardinals looked to add some depth to help cover potential absences from the lineup.

The numbers. Valera, 25, was signed as an international free agent back in 2010 and has now played in 800 minor league games over 8 seasons with the club. He was added to the team’s 40 man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft and has put together his best minor league season this year with Memphis. He has hit .314/.368/.450 with 8 home runs over 117 games with Memphis. This season he has set or tied career highs in doubles, triples, and home runs.

Valera’s best tool might be his versatility. If you include the Arizona Fall League, Valera has appeared at every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher in his minor league career. This year he has starts at Memphis at second base, third base, left field, and right field.

The impact. 7/10. The impact is more in the admission that Carpenter has been dealing with an injury most of the season than the call up of Valera.

Carpenter told reporters after an unexplained early exit yesterday that he had been managing shoulder pain much of the season and that a recent flareup, suggested to be due to the recent decision to mix him in at third base with the absence of Jedd Gyorko, might keep him out of the lineup.

He added that the sensation is a sharp pain on pretty much every throw and on most swings. It might help explain why Carpenter has a career low .241 batting average and second-worst slugging percentage of his career. He has hit .188 since August 1st.

As I tweeted last night, for an established player to play through an injury to the potential detriment of his team is one of those selfish acts that I will never understand. If you’re fighting for a position, I get it a little more. But a guy like Carpenter is secure in his job and has a commitment from the organization.

Let’s just think about this. Rather than get the injury looked at and potentially dealt with earlier in the year, Carpenter played through it and forced the trade of Matt Adams. Since that trade, Adams has outplayed Carpenter, 117 wRC+ to 110 wRC+. Then later this season, Carpenter’s every day play forced the demotion of Luke Voit who has never gotten traction.

Also how different does this season look if Carpenter gets it treated earlier in the season and is healthy today and is the 130 wRC+ player he’s been in his career over the 100 wRC+ player he’s been since August 1? That’s why I think playing through and grinding through injuries is generally short sighted. Especially when you can’t perform up to your own personal standard while doing it.