Piscotty signs six year extension with Cardinals

John Mozeliak should have began his press conference this afternoon doing his best Oprah impression. “You get an extension! And you get an extension! EVERYONE GETS AN EXTENSION!” Because that’s what it feels like, right?

The Cardinals announced today that they have signed a 6 year, $33.75 million deal with outfielder Stephen Piscotty. The deal will begin this year and run through the 2022 season and includes a $15 million option for the 2023 season. Piscotty asked his agent in February to engage the Cardinals to see if a long-term contract was a possibility, and it came to a quick resolution.

“This was a pretty easy decision for me,” said Piscotty in this afternoon’s press conference. “It came down to the fact that, one, I love this organization, and two, this deal gives myself and my future family financial security. The fact that now I can not worry about the business side for the next six years is an extremely relieving feeling. I think it’s going to make me a better player. To have that relief is very valuable to me.”

Piscotty had a solid season in 2016, his first full one in the big leagues, hitting .273/.343/.457 with 22 home runs and 85 RBI. He posted a 112 OPS+ and a 2.9 WAR.

That 2.9 WAR was the fourth highest among right fielders in baseball last year.

He went 1-for-3 with two walks in last night’s season opener against the Cubs after a rough spring training.

On long-term planning, Piscotty becomes the third Cardinal who has a guaranteed contract through at least the 2021 season. The other two signed their deals this winter as well, Carlos Martinez and Dexter Fowler. Of course, that doesn’t count players like Aledmys Diaz or Alex Reyes who would be in their arbitration years at that point.

That creates an interesting situation now too, considering both Fowler and Piscotty are each signed for at least another five seasons. Where does that leave top prospects Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra and recent Cuban signee Adolis Garcia?

Piscotty has experimented at first base in the past couple years after playing it some in college. But Matt Carpenter is also signed through 2020. Could it mean they’re potentially available for a mid-season trade? Time will tell.

Molina signs a three year extension through 2020

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have signed catcher Yadier Molina to a 3 year, $60 million extension that will keep him in their uniform through the 2020 season. The new deal will replace his option year next season. While rumors of the deal being finalized spread on Thursday night, both sides maintained that the deal was not yet done prompting quite a bit of hand-wringing as the weekend played out and the Opening Day deadline loomed.

It was a good move for the Cardinals who get to lock up one of their franchise icons and likely enable him to finish his career having spent the entirety of it with the Cardinals.

“I can’t be more happy than I am right now,” said Molina in the press conference on Sunday afternoon. “This is a dream come true. I have always wanted to be here.”

The deal had many moving parts to consider.

At 34 years old, Molina will now be 38 when his contract comes to an end, well past the traditional useful life for a catcher. But Molina has proven anything but traditional at catcher.

The organization also seems to have his heir apparent in Carson Kelly, a consensus top-100 prospect and the best catching prospect in baseball. Kelly will start the season in Triple-A and his advancement is closely tied to Molina’s future.

But the organization has also talked about it’s desire to keep some of it’s core players so that they can finish their careers in St. Louis. It didn’t happen with Albert Pujols. It didn’t happen with Matt Holliday. It seems like it will happen for Yadier Molina. And if I had to choose one of the three, I think the Cardinals got it right.

The deal makes Molina not just the highest paid catcher in baseball, with his $20 million average annual value, but the highest paid Cardinal ever, surpassing Adam Wainwright’s $19.5 million mark from his extension signed before the 2014 season.

As I’ve said while discussing the potential of this deal before, I like the extension even if Molina fails to maintain his offensive production because of the other skills he brings to table that won’t decline. His work ethic, his drive, his ability to read batters and create a game plan. With those, he has a good chance of providing a solid value to the organization through those years.

And if he struggles or succumbs to injury, they have Kelly waiting for an opportunity. Hopefully Molina is pragmatic enough to understand when his backup playing, may be better for the team. I thought it was telling that Mike Matheny mentioned during the press conference a disabled list trip he took in 2004 while Molina was serving as his backup catcher and realized that he opened the door and there was no going back.

As I considered this deal and what it will mean to have Molina potentially finish his career as a Cardinal, I often thought back to five years ago and the negotiations around Albert Pujols’ departure. Because I never legitimately thought that Molina was going to leave. Not just because I feel like Molina is more legacy minded and that his and the Cardinals’ contract wants lined up better, but because the organization is on much steadier footing than it was five years ago. Molina’s deal is a testament that the organization believes that too.

Consider that after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, Pujols was headed for free agency and a Hall of Fame manager was riding off into retirement. Their top-3 offensive contributors were Lance Berkman (35), Matt Holliday (31), and Albert Pujols (Also 31). Their two best starting pitchers were Kyle Lohse (32) and Chris Carpenter (36) and their closer was Jason Motte (29). All told, that’s an average age of 32 for those key contributors.

Their top-20 prospects list included a number of Cardinals who would go on to provide contributions at the big league level. Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, and Oscar Taveras were all on that list, but they weren’t due for a couple more years. Over the short-term, you could say that the future and the odds of the Cardinals’ returning to the playoffs was bleak.

Compare that to where the Cardinals stand now. Las year their top-3 offensive contributors were Matt Carpenter (30), Aledmys Diaz (25), and Stephen Piscotty (also 25). Their top-2 starting pitchers were Carlos Martinez (24) and Adam Wainwright (33). Their closer was Seung-hwan Oh (33). That’s an average age of 28 for those players.

Their top-20 prospects list is also littered with guys with big league potential. And while you can’t bet on particular prospects, you can bet on depth as there would have to be a lot to go wrong for this current crop of prospects to come up empty in big league contributions.

The future has much more hope in 2017 than it did going into 2012.

After the 2011 World Series, Mozeliak faced a roster and organization in flux. Unlike the Cubs this winter whose offseason strategy was basically: “Don’t break it.”

I think if Mozeliak was honest, the 2012 and the years that followed worked out better than expected. The last thing the organization needed to do was give a franchise record $250 million contract to a 32 year old player coming off three seasons of decline and the worst season of his career. Many owners would have give Pujols whatever he wanted simply out of fear. But they stuck to their guns and in the end, someone else paid up.

In hindsight, that Pujols deal ended up being good for the Cardinals. Many of the nagging injuries that he has struggled with have taken their toll and he can no longer play the field every day like he would have needed to in St. Louis. He is still a contributor on offense, but not in the same way he once was. In a way, both sides have benefited from it.

The fear with this deal is that we will see that same fate with Molina as we watch him get old right in front of our eyes. And while that may be, I’m glad to know the team feels like they have stable footing to offer a deal like that to a player like Molina. (And that they aren’t afraid to spend some cash.)

Cardinals confirm Opening Day roster

Though most of their 25 man Opening Day roster has been assumed, as Matheny notified players last week who would be making the roster, the St. Louis Cardinals confirmed it today. The 25 man active roster for tonight’s season opener will include 14 players who were developed inside the organization.

Rotation (5)
RHP Carlos Martinez
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Lance Lynn
RHP Mike Leake
RHP Michael Wacha

Bullpen (7)
RHP Seung-hwan Oh
LHP Kevin Siegrist
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Matt Bowman
RHP Jonathan Broxton
RHP Miguel Socolovich
RHP Sam Tuivailala

Catchers (2)
C Yadier Molina
C Eric Fryer

Infielders (7)
1B Matt Carpenter
2B Kolten Wong
SS Aledmys Diaz
3B Jhonny Peralta
1B Matt Adams
2B/3B Jedd Gyorko
IF Greg Garcia

Outfielders (4)
LF Randal Grichuk
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Stephen Piscotty
OF Jose Martinez

The MLB Disabled List will feature five players on Opening Day, all pitchers. Those are LHP Zach Duke (60 day DL), RHP John Gant (10 day DL), LHP Tyler Lyons (10 day DL), RHP Trevor Rosenthal (10 day DL), and RHP Alex Reyes (10 day DL).

Kelly among cuts as Cardinals further trim spring roster

The Cardinals announced today that they have optioned catcher Carson Kelly and pitcher Mike Mayers to minor league camp, as well as assigned infielder Patrick Wisdom and outfielder Adolis Garcia. The moves leave 37 players remaining in major league camp including 9 non-roster invitees.

Kelly, 22, is at the center of everyone’s attention these days as the organization nears a potential extension with Yadier Molina. Kelly, the #1 catching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is considered to be Molina’s eventual replacement with his path to the Majors being complicated by such an extension.

Kelly hit .286/.387/.455 between Springfield and Memphis last season and was 2-for-13 in a brief appearance in St. Louis last September.

With Molina playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, Kelly got an opportunity to see more time working with the big league club in spring training. Unfortunately, he struggled at the plate, hitting just .182/.300/.182 over 16 games. He will be the everyday starter in Memphis as he waits for an opportunity behind Molina.

Mayers, 24, got his first opportunity in St. Louis last season as he was called up to make a start for the Cardinals. But over one start and four relief appearances, Mayers was hammered, allowing 16 earned runs over just 5 innings. Otherwise, he pitched well in the minors, posting a 3.19 ERA over 25 starts and 144 innings between Memphis and Springfield.

It was going to be difficult for Mayers to do any worse that he had last season with the big league club, but he rebounded nicely. Over 11 innings of work in 7 apperances, Mayers had a 1.64 ERA on a 1.00 WHIP. He is likely headed for what is shaping up to be a stacked rotation in Memphis.

Wisdom, 25, hit .233/.303/.374 with 5 home runs last season with Memphis in a disappointing season. He had hit 43 home runs over the previous three seasons. He hit .300/.405/.667 with 3 home runs this spring with the big league club. It was an impressive start to a player who should be knocking on the door and is about to get some pressure from behind in the organization. He heads into 2017 as Memphis’ third baseman.

Garcia, 24, was just signed by the Cardinals and has only been in camp and eligible to play in Grapefruit League games for a little over a week now. He went 2-for-13 with a walk and three stolen bases in his brief time with the big league club. He is expected to begin the season in the Memphis outfield.

Pham optioned out, likely settles roster battles

The Cardinals announced this morning that they have optioned outfielder Tommy Pham to Memphis. The move leaves them with 41 players in major league camp and likely ends the battle for the final bench spot on their Opening Day roster.

Pham, 29, hit .250/.359/.403 with 4 home runs last season in 37 games between Springfield and Memphis. He also spent most of the season in the big leagues, hitting .226/.324/.440 with 9 home runs in 78 games. He ended the season with a 39% strikeout rate which kept him from seeing the field down the stretch.

He has put together some very good stretches in the big leagues, hitting .303/.379/.532 with 4 home runs and 5 triples over the final month and a half of the 2015 season and hitting .244/.353/.479 with 7 home runs in July and August last year. Leaving some clamoring each time for a larger role on the club.

But has also struggled, as evidenced by a 40.5% strikeout rate in the second half last year. He finished out 2016 going 3-for-18 in September with 10 strikeouts.

Pham admitted this spring that he had had some vision issues last season, which would help explain the strikeouts, perhaps related to his keratoconus diagnosis, but those are corrected now.

Regardless, Pham struggled to find traction this spring, hitting .209/.320/.379 over 21 games. His option to Memphis means he will join a talented and crowded Memphis outfield picture that is expected to include top prospects Harrison Bader and Adolis Garcia.

At 29 and injuries getting in the way each time he has an opportunity to stick in the Majors, his time with the Cardinals is seemingly approaching it’s end.

The move leaves Jose Martinez as unchallenged for the final bench spot now. He has told media that he will be on the big league roster to open up the season. Martinez hit .367 this spring while playing both outfield and first base. He will likely join Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams, Greg Garcia, and Eric Fryer as bench players on the team’s Opening Day 25 man roster.

Cardinals option Tuivailala

The Cardinals announced today that they have optioned right handed pitcher Sam Tuivailala to Memphis. With 10 days until Opening Day, the move reduces the number of players in Major League camp to 42, including 11 non-roster invitees.

Tuivailala, 24, is one of the pitchers I identified in my most recent column as a contender for the final spot in the bullpen. The decision on him appears to be made, however.

Outside of one appearance, Tuivailala had a solid spring for the Cardinals. On March 12th against Miami, Tuivailala pitched 0.2 innings and allowed 4 runs on 2 hits, 2 walks, and a hit batter. He made five other appearances for the big league club this spring, pitching 6 scoreless innings with a 1.00 WHIP.

But on the bright side, he did strikeout 12 batters over those 6.2 innings of work. The only pitcher in camp with more is Michael Wacha with 15, who has also pitched 10 more innings.

That leaves Tuivailala in Memphis to start the season where he struggled last year with a 5.21 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 47 innings of work. He’s broken his curveball back out in and effort to add more weapons to his arsenal, but Tuivailala will be out of options next spring, so this is the year for him to show the Cardinals he deserves a spot in the 2018 bullpen.

With Tuivailala being optioned out and Tyler Lyons not likely to be ready for Opening Day, it looks like the final bullpen spot will likely go to Miguel Socolovich.

Cardinals send three more to minor league camp

The Cardinals continued paring down the roster, this time optioning infielder Breyvic Valera to Memphis and assigning catcher Gabriel Lino and outfielder Todd Cunningham to minor league camp following the Cardinals’ 12-6 victory against the Astros. The moves leave the Cardinals with 44 players in major league camp, including those playing the World Baseball Classic.

Valera, 25, had a solid season last year, hitting .304/.363/.362 between Springfield and Memphis. He has gained a reputation for being a good fielder wherever you put him, which has been reflected in the fact that over his 7 seasons in the Cardinals’ organization he’s played multiple games at every position on the field, except pitcher or catcher. His minor league statistics are an oddity, in that, he has hit well at every level except Double-A in the hitter friendly Texas League. But they still protected him from the Rule 5 Draft in November by adding him to the 40 man roster.

He continued that steady production this spring, hitting .304 with a walk and a triple in 15 games. He will likely start the 2017 season with Memphis.

Lino, 23, reached as high as Triple-A for the Phillies in 2015, but was shuffled back to High-A last season as he was passed by other prospects. He hit .236/.312/.357 with 5 home runs over 58 games between Clearwater and Reading. The Cardinals signed him to a minor league deal over the winter.

He appeared in five games for the big league club this spring, going 2-for-7 with an RBI and a walk. Added primarily as organizational depth, Lino could start the season at almost any level, as high as Carson Kelly‘s backup in Memphis or further down the chart.

Cunningham, 28, was signed to a minor league deal. He spent last season with the Angels, hitting .278/.378/.387 with 6 home runs for their Triple-A club and then .148/.179/.259 in a 20 game cup of coffee with the big league club. He’s spent time in three of the past four seasons with a big league club, batting .207 over those 67 games.

He appeared in 16 games for the Cardinals this spring, sporting the rare .182/.333/.227 batting line where his OBP is higher than his slugging. Given his age and experience, he is likely headed to Memphis this year.

 

Four more players trimmed from major league camp

The Cardinals optioned pitcher Rowan Wick and outfielder Anthony Garcia to minor league camp and assigned pitchers Josh Lucas and Zach Phillips there as well. That leaves 47 players in major league camp, including those playing the World Baseball Classic.

Wick, 24, is entering his second season since transitioning from position player to pitcher. He posted a 2.44 ERA over 44 innings between Palm Beach and Springfield last season. Over the winter he was added to the Cardinals’ 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but also means we could see him at some point on the big league roster.

This spring he made three appearances for the big league club, allowed 4 runs on four walks and one hit in just over 2 innings of work.

Garcia, 25, was an 18th round pick by the Cardinals in the 2009 draft and was added after a stellar 2015 years ago to the organization’s 40 man roster. But he struggled last season, hitting .238/.308/.388 between Springfield and Memphis.

With the depth at outfielder in the organization between the three big league starters, Harrison Bader, and Magneuris Sierra, Garcia may be the most vulnerable member of the 40 man roster. He hit .250 this spring with 2 home runs while appearing in 16 games for the big league club.

Lucas, 26, is a right handed pitcher drafted in the 21st round of the 2010 draft by the Cardinals. He posted a 3.25 ERA over 53 innings of work for Springfield last season. He also had some cups of coffee with Memphis where he struggled with a 9.39 ERA over 8 innings of work.

He took advantage of his opportunity this spring, throwing 5 scoreless innings of work, allowing 2 hits and a walk with 3 strikeouts.

Phillips, 30, is a left handed pitcher. He made 8 relief appearances for the Pirates last season, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 7 innings of work. Over 62 innings in Triple-A between the Pirates and the Orioles organizations, he had a 4.35 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.

He had some mixed results this spring, posting a 5.06 ERA and 1.69 WHIP over his 5 innings of work in 6 appearances.

Weaver and Harris optioned to minors

The Cardinals continued trimming their roster today, announcing that pitchers Luke Weaver and Mitch Harris have been optioned to minor league camp. That reduces the number of players in major league camp to 51.

Luke Weaver, 23, dominated the minors last season, posting a 1.30 ERA over 13 starts between Double-A Spingfield and Triple-A Memphis. However, he struggled to find traction in the Majors when called up to step into the Cardinals’ rotation last summer, posting a 5.70 ERA over 8 starts, 1 relief appearance, and 36 innings.

He was likely always going to be ticketed to open the season in Memphis and was more or less jockeying for a position on the depth chart for a midseason callup. But he will need to continue to work, as this spring he struggled in his 4 appearances for the big league club, posting a 12.60 ERA on a 3.00 WHIP in 5 innings.

Mitch Harris, 31, did not pitch last season for the Cardinals after undergoing UCL reconstruction surgery. In 2015, he had a 3.67 ERA on a 1.59 WHIP over 27 innings in St. Louis and a 3.38 ERA on a 1.50 WHIP over 27 innings in Memphis.

Harris made just two appearances for the big league club this year, posting a 9.00 ERA and 3.00 WHIP over 2 innings of work. He will likely start the season in Memphis again and be on the list for a midseason callup in the need of relief help.

Cardinals option Sierra as minor league games begin

Cardinals outfield prospect Magneuris Sierra was optioned to Single-A Palm Beach today as minor league spring training games begin. The move trims the Cardinals Major League spring training roster to 54 players, including those playing in the WBC. With about two weeks until Opening Day and minor league games starting, roster moves should pick up shortly.

The 20-year-old Sierra entered this spring as a player to watch. After struggling in 2015, he rebounded in 2016, hitting .307/.355/.395 for Single-A Peoria. MLB.com responded by putting him #7 on the Cardinals’ Top-30 prospects list. More importantly, the Cardinals responded by putting him on the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Most consider Sierra ready to play in the Majors from a defensive point of view. The speedy outfielder is capable of manning all three positions. But the bat still needs work.

The question for the organization is where Sierra will start. He was optioned to the Palm Beach roster, but that can change. With Harrison Bader (MLB.com’s #5 Cardinals prospect) and new signee Adolis Garcia expected to start the season with Memphis, there would seem to be an opportunity in Springfield and the Cardinals have had players skip Palm Beach before. However, being just 20 years old, Sierra has time on his side still when it comes to moving through the system. And the organization, with Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in the Majors for the foreseeable future as well as Bader and Garcia ahead of him, aren’t under pressure to produce him to the Majors.

But one thing is clear, the Cardinals love his skill set.

He, along with fellow outfield prospect Bader, have really been given an opportunity to play a lot early this spring with the big league club and have responded. It creates some interesting scenarios for the team going forward as to figuring out how Sierra, and really even Bader, fits on the big league team.