Fowler activated as Martinez is optioned

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have activated outfielder Dexter Fowler from the 10 day disabled list today and optioned outfielder Jose Martinez to Memphis to make room for him on the active roster. Fowler is in tonight’s lineup against the New York Mets playing center field and batting third.

Fowler has missed 12 games while on the disabled list for a right heel spur. It disrupted his season just as he appeared to be getting on track. After a slow start that included a few hot streaks, Fowler had finally gotten sustained success, batting .286/.390/.600 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI in 21 games in June before his injury. He was the hottest hitter on the roster when he hit the disabled list.

Because of the play of Tommy Pham in center field while Fowler was out, there had been talk about Fowler playing left field upon his return from a foot injury.

Meanwhile Martinez is heading back to Memphis. Martinez is batting .280/.321/.464 with 5 home runs over 50 games this season as a bench player for the Cardinals. Of the four outfielders on the roster during Fowler’s absence, Martinez has been the best hitting of the four. He has hit .275/.320/.507 since June 1st and had started the past two games, going 3-for-8 with 3 runs scored.

Martinez had options remaining, meaning the club can send him back to Memphis without risk. Greg Garcia, who is hitting .172/.324/.224, does not have any options remaining and therefore stays for now. It creates an interesting roster situation for the Cardinals when Kolten Wong is ready to return potentially later this month.

 

Rumor Check: Josh Donaldson

A couple days ago it was reported by FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi that the St. Louis Cardinals have an interest in Toronto Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson, though the two parties have yet to hold any formal trade discussions. This is really an extension on something that the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold has been talking about for a few months now, that the Cardinals had always intended to pursue a third baseman this year and Donaldson was one of the key players on their list that could be available.

Donaldson checks a lot of the boxes of the kind of hitter the Cardinals would like to bring in. Over the past four seasons he’s batting .284/.375/.518 and averaged 33 home runs, 103 RBI, and 7.8 WAR. He’s been the only guy in baseball able to consistently hold a candle to Mike Trout. He’s also been a neutral to slightly above average third baseman defensively.

He is in the final year of a 2 year, $28.65 million deal, but still has one year of arbitration remaining before he will hit free agency after the 2018 season.

There are a few question marks around Donaldson that need to be addressed.

First, he has had a couple injuries this season. He missed time on the disabled list for a right calf injury and then he injured his knee while stretching just a couple weeks ago and since then his performance has dropped off tremendously.

Until the knee injury he had been batting .286/.389/.554, right on par with his recent success. Since it he has hit .140/.275/.209 in 12 games. How long will that take him to come out of?

Second, he is also 31 years old and is a free agent at the end of next season. He will also likely be the highest paid Cardinal in 2018 unless the team ends up bringing back Lance Lynn (which I also support). This can work in the Cardinals’ favor as the return will likely be less than if he was locked up long-term. He should not get an Adam Eaton-esque return.

He will turn 33 years old the winter he hits free agency, so if the Cardinals intended to consider bringing him back at that point, what does that contract look like? How deep are you willing to go to lock him up or are you okay taking the draft pick and pursuing another franchise bat that offseason, which looks like it will feature Manny Machado and Bryce Harper as well.

And third, it will really depend on what the Blue Jays intend to do this season. They are currently 40-45, 8.5 games out of first place and tied for last in the American League East. But they also have some good young pieces and may be more interested in retooling their lineup using their largest trade piece rather than a committed rebuild, much like I’ve suggested the Cardinals should try with Matt Carpenter. So guys at the higher levels of the minors who can have an impact sooner may hold more interest to them.

Another factor to consider is that the Cardinals recently named Michael Girsch their new GM. It remains to be seen just how much leash he has been given out of the gate, but the organization expects to be active at the deadline and I think when we look at how John Mozeliak handled his first couple months in the GM’s office after the 2007 season, we see he quickly set the tone for his tenure. His first two moves were to ship out Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen as he set about turning an underperforming roster into a playoff contender.

Girsch has the same job, will he be given a similar opportunity? It wouldn’t surprise me.

Something that might also play a role is that the Blue Jays have Mark Shapiro as their President and CEO. He was previously with the Indians while Mozeliak and Indians GM Chris Antonetti traded often over the past several years. That could create some comfort as the two franchises discuss a deal.

The bottom line is always what the Blue Jays might be asking for. I expect that it would take two top level prospects as the core of a deal to get Donaldson. I think that as long as you can keep one of them from being Alex Reyes, I’m okay with that deal. Donaldson would be a game changing bat in the lineup that is mostly devoid of that ability. And I’m not content for the Cardinals to sit on their hands for a year and a half until the 2018-19 offseason.

The question is whether the Cardinals are okay with that cost? The organization has been reluctant over the past few years to part with multiple prospects for a single Major League player or dig deep to do what is required to make a franchise altering acquisition. Are they willing now?

That remains to be seen.

Five things about the Marlins Series

The Cardinals’ four game series against the Marlins started out well, with them winning the opener 14-2, but quickly fell off the rails as they were able to come away with only a split of the series. They find themselves 41-44 with three games remaining before the All Star break and 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

They will welcome the Mets to town in the hopes of completing a three game sweep to head into the break with a .500 record.

Voit mashes

Luke Voit continued the hot start to his big league career as he had two hits in each of the Cardinals’ wins in the series. Those two hits in each were a home run and a double. He had 7 RBI total in the series and is hitting well enough that it should create a difficult decision for the Cardinals when it comes to the return of Kolten Wong which is expected later this month. There would seem to be no room at the inn for one of Voit, Wong, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Jedd Gyorko.

Gyorko continues to have traction

I keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight on Jedd Gyorko’s season. By all accounts, I expected it months ago. In fact, when the organization elected to release Jhonny Peralta, I was convinced that it had already started. And then he rebounded. He started just two of the four games against the Marlins after having problems with leg cramps but went 4-for-6 with 2 walks.

In fact, in the 28 games since Peralta was released, Gyorko has played in 27 of them and hit .310/.404/.560 with 5 home runs.

Garcia coming out of his slump?

Greg Garcia got three starts in this series due to Gyorko’s cramping issues, and went 3-for-10 with a home run in Tuesday’s game. Over the past 10 games he is slashing .308/.419/.423. He had been hitting .167 in May and June and saw his batting average on the season dip below .200 as recently as June 28th.

Cecil turns it around

When Brett Cecil signed a 4 year, $30 million deal in free agency and then got off to a bad start this season, it was easy to panic. He looked lost on the mound, whether that was over use or struggling mechanics or both, the numbers weren’t pretty. But he allowed three hits over 1.2 scoreless innings in Thursday’s game and it was the first time he had allowed a hit in 7 appearances.

That means that since his appearance on May 19th, Cecil has a 1.77 ERA and 0.69 WHIP in 21 appearances.

2012 was a good year

This series saw four of the Cardinals’ draft picks from the 2012 draft make appearances. Michael Wacha was taken with the Cardinals’ first pick of that draft and allowed 2 runs over 5.2 innings and picked up his sixth win of the season in the series finale. Fellow first rounder Stephen Piscotty went 3-for-14. Fourth round pick Alex Mejia appeared as a sub in all four games, going 1-for-4.

And seventh round pick Kyle Barraclough pitched two scoreless appearances in relief for the Marlins, and has easily been one of their best relief pitchers. Barraclough was traded to Miami for Steve Cishek in 2015 and made his MLB debut later that season. In three years in the big leagues, he has a 2.84 ERA over 139 appearances.

Second round pick Carson Kelly could be on his way to the big league club at some point in the second half after John Mozeliak indicated that his time is coming. And we’ve all seen what third round pick Tim Cooney did before getting injured last year and claimed off waivers by the Indians last winter.

Not a bad haul at all.

Weaver returns as Mayers gets optioned

The St. Louis Cardinals have optioned right handed pitcher Mike Mayers to Memphis and recalled right handed pitcher Luke Weaver for the first time this season.

Mayers will return to Memphis having once again struggled to keep the opposing team off the scoreboard in the Majors. He allowed two earned runs over 4 innings of work between two appearances, allowing an earned run in each. Though it should be noted that in his most recent appearance, he made it through two scoreless innings before allowing a run in his third inning of work.

Weaver, a former first round pick of the Cardinals, is expected to make his 2017 big league debut out of the bullpen. He holds a 1.93 ERA and a 7-1 record in 11 starts for Memphis this season.

He had recently been named to the Pacific Coast League All Star team and was the PCL’s Pitcher of the Month in May.

During his debut with the Cardinals last year he made eight starts for the big league Cardinals with a 4.54 ERA but averaged just 4.5 innings per start. He made one relief appearance, allowing 5 earned runs over 0.2 innings of work.

I campaigned heavily for Weaver’s call up last year, because I liked that he was dominating at every level he hit. But I’ve been uncertain about his promotion this year since he demonstrated he still had developing to do. But he has improved and should likely be able to be a good piece for the St. Louis bullpen.

Five things about the Nationals Series

The Cardinals marked their second straight series victory against a division contending team, which provides some opportunity for excitement. They took the first two against the Nationals before being shut down by Max Scherzer while Carlos Martinez had an off night. But either way there were some pluses to take away from this series.

The Cardinals are now 39-42 and find themselves 2.5 games back in the division at the official halfway mark of the season. They will play seven games against the Marlins and the Mets before the All Star Break and seem to have a good opportunity to enter the break as a .500 ballclub.

Mejia powers Saturday’s victory

Alex Mejia hadn’t had a stellar debut on Thursday night, but he made up for that by providing all the Cardinals’ offense on Saturday. First he drove in Luke Voit with a single to center field. Then with a 1-0 lead and hearing Trevor Rosenthal was due to enter the game in the 9th, he hit a solo shot to open up the 8th inning to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

That run proved necessary as Rosenthal allowed a run, but was able to hold the lead as the Cardinals won.

The case for Grichuk

Including Saturday’s win, the Cardinals are now 11-0 when Randal Grichuk bats 4th or higher in the batting order this season. On the flip side, they are 15-23 when he starts in the back half of the lineup. That seems to even bear out in his hitting statistics.

Batting 4th or higher in the order, Grichuk is hitting .291/.314/.563 with 3 home runs, 11 RBI, and a 27.4% K rate over 11 games.

Batting 5th or lower in the order, Grichuk is hitting .201/.263/.357 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI with a 31.1% K rate over 43 games.

It’s not really new either. Cardinals were 16-7 when Grichuk started and batted 4th or higher last year, 46-42 when he batted 5th or lower.

Maybe we see a different Grichuk when he has the protection of better hitters? It’s something worth considering, I would think.

Pinch hitting Voit

Luke Voit has only started two games, but he’s still made his presence felt on this Cardinals’ squad in the week he’s been here. Since his call up on June 25th, he has made four pinch hitting appearances and gone 3-for-3 with a HBP. In two of those pinch hit appearances he scored runs.

Leake rebounds

Mike Leake threw 8 innings and allowed just a single run as he posted his best start since May 24th. Following that May 24th start, Leake’s ERA this season was 1.91, and in the six starts in between he posted a 5.15 ERA and he posted an 0-4 record in decisions. His season ERA now stands at 2.97 with one more start remaining before the All Star break. One could argue that he was deserving of an All Star nod this season, given his start and where he currently stands even after a rough June.

Molina’s hitting streak ends

Yadier Molina‘s 16 game hitting streak came to an end on Sunday night as he went 0-for-4 in the series finale. Over the course of the 16 games he hit .333/.354/.492. On the season, Molina is still struggling with a .268/.303/.412 batting line.

Cardinals option Diaz, call up Mejia

The St. Louis Cardinals have optioned shortstop Aledmys Diaz to Memphis and purchased the contract of infielder Alex Mejia. In a related move, they also moved right handed pitcher Alex Reyes to the 60 day disabled list.

After a strong offensive rookie season last year, Diaz has experienced a sophomore slump posting just a .260/.293/.396 batting line with 7 home runs and an 81 OPS+ in 71 games. Last season he was second on the Cardinals with a 134 OPS+.

He is also struggling on defense, having posted a -3 defensive runs saved at shortstop last season, but already has a -9 defensive runs saved there this season in about 400 fewer innings.

And with the strong showing of Paul DeJong, hitting .319/.327/.617 with 4 home runs since returning to the big leagues, to go along with a +1 defensive runs saved at shortstop, Diaz’s playing time was at risk. So Diaz will be the latest Cardinal to get a mid-season trip to the minors to get his head, and bat, straight.

The infielder taking his place will be Alex Mejia. A former fourth round pick of the Cardinals in 2012, he becomes the sixth member of that Cardinals’ draft class to reach the Majors. He has hit .253/.309/.355 with 3 home runs and 18 doubles in 74 games this season between Memphis and Springfield and was recently named a Texas League All Star at shortstop, where he has played 68 of his 74 games.

Five things about the Pirates Series

The Cardinals dropped two out of three against the Pirates, winning on Sunday night to avoid a sweep. However, they still haven’t won a series against anyone except the Phillies in over a month. Thanks to the Brewers doing their part, the Cardinals remain just five games back in the NL Central at 34-40, but are now in fourth place behind the Pirates.

The Cardinals will play a make up game tonight in St. Louis against the Reds before heading out to Arizona for a three game set against the Diamondbacks.

Seeking an energy change

John Mozeliak told the Post Dispatch that he was seeking an energy change on Sunday and with the callups of Randal Grichuk and Luke Voit is hoping to have done that. Grichuk went 2-for-5 on Sunday night with a home run to open up the inning that the Cardinals tied up the game and Voit took seven pitches during a pinch hit appearance before being hit.

Time will tell if that’s what happened, but the Cardinals played one of their most complete games of the season offensively on Sunday. Every player who came to the plate last nigh reached base at least once.

Voit gets historic HBP

As I noted, Luke Voit was hit by a pitch in his first MLB plate appearance. With that he joins Xavier Scruggs, Dmitri Young, Jerry Buchek, and Austin McHenry as the fifth Cardinal to be hit by pitch in their MLB debuts.

But Voit is probably the first Cardinals player to ever be hit by pitch in his first MLB plate appearance.

Only McHenry remains a possibility, but there is not play-by-play data for 1918, so all we know is that he went 0-for-2 with a HBP in his debut.

Cecil back on the horse?

Brett Cecil struggled mightily to open up the season, but in the Pirates series he made two appearances and allowed zero baserunners over the 1.1 innings he pitched. He has now not allowed a run in 15 of his last 16 outings and has a 0.68 WHIP.

Over his last 8 appearances since he allowed four runs to the Reds, Cecil has thrown 8 innings and allowed just three hits and no walks.

His season ERA is down to 4.08 and with another scoreless inning, will drop below four for just the second time all season.

Waino is bueno… at home?

Adam Wainwright started the season opener on Friday night and pitched seven strong innings, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. In the midst of the worst season of his career there is a statistical oddity. In 8 home starts this season, Wainwright is 5-1 and has a 2.64 ERA. Compared to his performances on the road where he is 2-4 with a 9.48 ERA in 7 starts, that’s a radical difference.

Yadi’s streak continues

Yadier Molina‘s hitting streak was extended to 11 games as he’s battled some nagging injuries and only played in one game of the Pirates series. He extended it in authoritative fashion though, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and scoring all three times he reached base. He is now batting .333/.333/.556 with 3 home runs over his 11 game streak.

Grichuk and Voit up as Cardinals make flurry of moves

The St. Louis Cardinals had an active Sunday afternoon as they recalled outfielder Randal Grichuk and right handed pitcher Mike Mayers, as well as purchased the contract of first baseman Luke Voit from Memphis. The corresponding moves were Chad Huffman being optioned while outfielder Dexter Fowler and left handed pitcher Kevin Siegrist went to the disabled list.

Fowler suffered a quad injury on June 21st against the Phillies during “Star Wars Night” in Philadelphia and there was fear that it might result in him hitting the disabled list. He played in just one game since, but officially he is being placed on the DL for a right heel spur. The loss of Fowler is a blow to a stagnant offense as he has been one of the Cardinals’ hottest hitters over the past two weeks, batting .324/.405/.676 with 4 home runs.

Siegrist has been diagnosed with a cervical spine strain as the reason for his disabled list stint. He has struggled this season, posting a 4.28 ERA and 1.57 WHIP over 27.1 innings, but has had a mostly successful June. His last appearance was on Thursday where he allowed two unearned runs on a walk and a hit in an inning of work.

Huffman returns to the minors more because he happens to have options rather than being performance related. In 12 games for the Cardinals he has hit .286/.333/.429 with a triple, including 3-for-10 as a pinch hitter. He has a 100 OPS+ which is good for league average on a team that doesn’t have a ton of league average bench pieces.

Leading the return is Randal Grichuk, who is in the lineup and batting cleanup tonight. Grichuk was demoted earlier in the month in an effort to get his bat back on track. His homework was to get a better handle on the strike zone, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

In the first two months of the season in the Majors he had a 29.8% strikeout rate and 6.6% walk rate. During his stint in the minors, he had a 29.9% strikeout rate and 4.5% walk rate. He did mash though, batting .270/.313/.603 with 6 home runs in 14 games with Memphis.

It’s possible that his return to the Majors has more to do with Fowler’s DL trip and needing another outfielder than anything else.

The Cardinals also purchased the contract of Luke Voit who is now set to make his MLB debut. Voit has hit .322/.406/.561 with 23 doubles and 12 home runs this season with Memphis.

The downside for Voit is that, like Matt Adams, he is a first baseman only. So to get him into the lineup on a regular basis means moving Matt Carpenter back across the diamond to third base. That’s something I’m okay with as I think he’s better than most make him out to be, but I wrote a week ago that they should call Voit up.

And finally, Mike Mayers will return to the Majors for a second chance after a disastrous cup of coffee last season. In his debut for the Cardinals, he started the game and didn’t make it through two innings before he had allowed nine runs. He made three relief appearances following that start, but only kept the opponents off the board in one of them.

He has, however, once again pitched well for Memphis, posting a 5-6 record with a 3.74 ERA. Over his last five starts, Mayers has a 0.87 ERA. It’s not entirely clear what role Mayers will have for the Cardinals. He was called up to replace a reliever, but there has been rumblings that the team is considering pulling Michael Wacha from the rotation, at least temporarily. Having Mayers up would give them that option.

Rumor Check: Adeiny Hechavarria

Yesterday the news broke that the Miami Marlins were shopping shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported that MLB executives expect that Hechavarria could be traded in the coming days. The Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer reported that the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, and St. Louis Cardinals have asked about acquiring the shortstop.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hechavarria, he is 28 years old and was once a highly regarded Cuban signing. He is earning $4.35 million this year and has one more year of arbitration in 2018 before hitting free agency.

He is a career .255/.291/.337 hitter with a 74 OPS+. His best season came in 2015 when he hit .281/.315/.374 with a 92 OPS+, which was essentially league average compared to other shortstops.

While the bat has never come around he is widely considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the league. Over the past two seasons he has +18 defensive runs saved along with a +17.7 UZR/150 in 2015 and +8.5 UZR/150 in 2016.

Knowing what it would take to get Hechavarria isn’t very easy to figure out, so I’m not comfortable throwing out names but trading Andrelton Simmons netted the Braves a top-100 pitching prospect as the focal point of his return a year and a half ago. However, Simmons is better on both sides of the ball and had five years remaining on his contract.

Hechavarria is also on the disabled list with a left oblique strain though he is currently on a rehab assignment.

The Cardinals’ interest would be that it reinforces John Mozeliak’s stated goal of improving the roster’s defense and athleticism. Hechevarria is a rangy shortstop with a great glove.

The Cardinals do currently have Aledmys Diaz at shortstop, and if Diaz were hitting like he did last season this might end the conversation right there. However, he is batting .262/.296/.404 with an 82 OPS+ this season so Hechavarria would not represent a marked downgrade offensively except maybe in potential.

And on defense, Hechevarria has been 20 defensive runs saved better than Diaz since the beginning of the 2016 season.

So what happens to Diaz if this trade is made? The Cardinals have toyed with the idea of moving him to left field, but you could also see him picking up time at third base where he played some in Cuba with Gyorko returning to normal off from his early season hot streak. He might also have some interest to the Marlins as he is under team control through the 2021 season.

It’s also been pointed out by fans that the Cardinals have Delvin Perez, who they drafted 23rd last season and was a consensus top-100 prospect this spring, coming through the system. But Perez was drafted just last season, is 18 years old, and is playing short season rookie league in Johnson City this season. He is still multiple years away from even being considered an option at the Major League level, so there is no reason to consider him as a reason to not acquire a shortstop like Hechevarria.

For a team that needs offensive help more than anything, it’s a little puzzling at first as to why the Cardinals would be asking about Hechavarria, but according to Derrick Goold it’s not the first time they’ve asked about him. And historically Mozeliak likes to ask about anyone who hits the trade market which makes it difficult to gauge interest.

But when you consider who he’d be replacing at shortstop, he isn’t a big downgrade offensively and is far superior defensively so I think you can still consider an upgrade for the team.

I think the interest in Hechavarria from the Cardinals is real, however, I don’t see them as motivated as other teams in the pursuit may be, especially Baltimore who is without J.J. Hardy until mid-August.

The move fits with the direction Mozeliak wants to take the Cardinals in, but it all depends on what it costs to acquire him.

It would also create the opportunity to use Hechavarria’s range to help cover for a move of Matt Carpenter back across the diamond to third base, which would let them call up Luke Voit for an opportunity at first base.

For years I’ve been talking about how difficult it is for Mozeliak to get a good value on a player in the trade market and I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t be the time to go big to get the best level of value. It would be a lot of talent swapping sides, but perhaps you could find a deal that would bring Marcell Ozuna (who the Cardinals have asked about before) or Christian Yelich to St. Louis in addition to Hechavarria.

I guess we’ll see what happens, but I don’t expect this one to go anywhere.