Column: Reaction to Fowler’s comments overblown

Yesterday ESPN’s Mark Saxon, who covers the Cardinals, reported that their new outfielder Dexter Fowler was “not thrilled” with the recent executive order that President Trump issued regarding immigration from seven primarily Muslim countires. This is what Saxon reported:

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler is among the people not thrilled with President Donald Trump’s attempts to institute a travel ban. Fowler’s wife, the former Darya Aliya Baghbani, was born in Iran. Her sister, Fowler said, recently delayed her return from a business trip to Qatar because she did not want to be detained. Also, the Fowlers have discussed traveling with their young daughter to visit his wife’s relatives in Iran, but they feel this is not the right time. “It’s huge. Especially any time you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunately,” said Fowler. President Trump said last week he plans to issue a new executive order after his first banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries was blocked by the courts.

Of course, the reaction was swift. Any athlete or anyone with any sort of celebrity speaking up on politics creates a negative reaction in general. “Stay out of politics,” and “Stick to baseball,” or something to that effect was a common response on Twitter. Some responses dipping into racist epithets. But what I think is important to note here is that nothing Fowler said was a political stance.

He didn’t criticize President Trump. He didn’t rail against it as bad policy. He didn’t advocate for immigration or Muslims or refugees. He didn’t do any of that. He didn’t even advocate for it to change. He simply shared how President Trump’s executive order impacted him and his family directly and decisions they’ve made a result of it. The day we aren’t willing to listen to the real life experiences of people who are impacted by policy is the day that America is lost.

In my opinion, the majority of the reaction is a projection from poorly written headlines. After all, up to 60% of people admit to only reading headlines, so even seemingly innocuous headlines like “Cardinals outfielder Fowler disappointed with Trump travel ban” like the one at STLtoday.com drives conclusions based on the reader’s own bias. For one, they’re likely expecting a much deeper discussion than one direct quote. I certainly was when I went to see what the fuss was about.

But for all the innocuous headlines, trust that there are many more out there that are driven to incite clicks and sway opinion to make Fowler’s comments out to be much more than they are.

I find the hypocritical nature of responses to Fowler’s statement intriguing.

We want our athletes to “stay in their lane” and only talk about their given profession. We don’t want them to express their opinions on anything else, mainly because sports is an escape from reality in many ways for many people. But we don’t place those same restrictions on ourselves.

The people telling Fowler to stay out of politics aren’t politicians. And they aren’t professional athletes either, but I’m sure they still voice opinions on professional sports.

Just like any of us, Fowler has thoughts and opinions, especially about things that have impacted his world directly, as that executive order has. Given Fowler’s follow up comments today, it’s safe to assume that he was asked about the immigration ban specifically because his wife is from Iran, one of the seven countries on the list. But even if he took the conversation there, I have no problem with him speaking up and speaking out.

First, when most of us are discussing a policy like this, we’re talking about it in a conceptual sense. Most of us does not have a direct link to anyone who has or will be affected by such a ban. But Fowler does.

When he says the ban is unfortunate, he is literally talking about his little girl not being able to go see their extended family—great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—because of the issues surrounding this executive order. Whether or not you agree with the immigration ban, if you don’t agree with Dexter that the situation is ‘unfortunate” then the nicest thing I can say to you is, you need to take a deep look at yourself because you’re the problem.

Second, if an athlete can articulately discuss politics on an authentic level, he or she is free to speak out in my book. I don’t care what your day job is. We live in a world of too many inarticulate comments on politics already, we don’t have to scroll very far on Facebook or Twitter to find them. Thoughtful discussion on politics left the building years ago. Just look at the reaction his comments got for evidence.

But for Dexter, this wasn’t politics. This was his life.

Keep talking Dexter.

Column: Taking a look at the fifth starter competition

I’m reading a lot this morning about “who will take Alex Reyes’ spot as the Cardinals’ fifth starter” this season. A lot of that is predicated on the question of whether Reyes actually had a shot at being the fifth starter. Sure, you have GM John Mozeliak saying Reyes was in the fifth starter competition. He said the same in 2014 about Carlos Martinez as well, but despite Martinez posting a 2.81 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, the spot went to Joe Kelly who posted a 6.28 ERA on a 1.60 WHIP.

Spring training and opening day roster decisions are mostly driven by one thing: the path of least resistance.

That’s why the job is Michael Wacha’s to lose. It always has been. In fact, I’m pretty comfortable saying that, unless Wacha or another starting pitcher ahead of him on the depth chart is injured over the next month and a half, Wacha will head to St. Louis to open the season as the Cardinals’ fifth starter. And that’s okay.

Wacha, 25, is just a year removed from a season where he posted a 3.38 ERA, won 17 games, and was an All Star. His results dropped heavily last season while he struggled with a recurrence of his stress injury, but he didn’t fall that far off the mark he set in 2015.

In 2015, Wacha allowed 8.0 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 7.6 K/9. In 2016, the only number that substantively changed was H/9, it jumped to 10.4 H/9.

Last season I wrote a column about how one or two plays not being made in the field during a game was the difference for Mike Leake between putting together a career year and one of the worst of his career. So there seems to be a hint that Wacha’s struggles on the mound can be partially attributed to a struggling defense as well.

His fielding independent pitching metrics seem to back that up. His FIP went from 3.87 in 2015 to 3.91 in 2016. His xFIP went from 3.88 to 4.05. His SIERA went from 4.02 to 4.31. So while his performance did fall off from 2015, it was not nearly as marked as his results would suggest.

He induced more ground balls last year than ever before, but that was offset by an increase in line drives. Opponents pulled his pitches more than ever, by quite a large margin. And he had a harder time getting soft contact, most of which only moved to medium contact, but that can still explain at least some of the H/9 increase Wacha saw.

For Wacha, the only real question is whether he can stay healthy and be a threat to throw 200 innings.
Outside of Wacha, if you want to entertain the concept that this is actually a competition, the most “legitimate” candidate is Trevor Rosenthal.

I still consider Rosenthal to be an exceptionally long shot to end up in the rotation. He was once a starter, posting a 2.78 ERA over 17 starts in Double-A Springfield in 2012. But the Cardinals ended up moving him to the bullpen, where he eventually became the team’s closer. However, after losing his closing job to Seung-hwan Oh last season, Rosenthal has been preparing for another shot at starting and the club appears to be humoring him.

The list of guys who established themselves in the bullpen and then transitioned to successful starter is exceptionally short. Braden Looper did it in 2007, posting a 4.94 ERA over 30 starts. Looper would stick, but only played two more seasons before retiring at 35. Kyle McClellan tried it in 2011, posting a 4.15 ERA over 18 games as a starter before being replaced by Edwin Jackson. McClellan returned to the bullpen the next year and then was injured. Neither were likely what you would call successful.

For Rosenthal there are a number of questions, not the least of which is what kind of innings limitations he would need to be on and what that would mean for the rest of the roster. Are his secondary pitches polished enough to handle starting? Is he going to be able to throw strikes? Is it worth the injury risk to transition him?

After Rosenthal, you have prospects. Guys like Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber, and Marco Gonzales. And while we call them depth, their usefulness is pretty limited right now while they either need more refinement or, in Gonzales case, time to return from injury.

Weaver, 23, dominated Double-A Springfield before receiving a late season promotion to the big leagues. He struggled upon arrival though, posting a 5.70 ERA over 36 innings of work, including 8 starts. He still needs more experience before he’s ready to contribute regularly in the big leagues.

Gomber, 23, has been a dominant force in the minors over the last few years, holding a 2.62 ERA over 54 starts, topping out in Springfield at the end of last season. So Gomber still has a ways to go, with the jump from Single-A to Double-A being considered the hardest in the minors, but Mozeliak speaks highly of him and called him the top guy on the depth chart as far as left handed pitchers in the Cardinals’ minor league system. That said, Gomber doesn’t get much love from prospect raters. MLB.com has him #18 in the Cardinals’ system, just the ninth highest pitcher.

Gonzales, 25 (and Happy Birthday), like Wacha, made a quick rise through the Cardinals’ system and made his debut less than a year after he was drafted. His results were steady, but not great, and seemed to be ticketed for a bullpen spot last spring according to Mozeliak. However, an injury and eventual Tommy John surgery would derail his season. He is just 10 months out from his surgery, so he still has some time before he’s truly ready to see game action.

But none of that matters. Because Michael Wacha is and was already the Cardinals’ fifth starter.

Alex Reyes to undergo Tommy John surgery; miss 2017 season

I was hoping to start the spring off with a hopeful missive. But Cardinal fans received fateful news yesterday afternoon. Alex Reyes had felt discomfort during a side session at home last week and told the team. Then during his physical on Tuesday, the team medical staff decided to have an MRI done. Today the fears were realized when the team confirmed that he would undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively ending his 2017 season on just the second official day of spring training.

Yet again the injury bug bites the Cardinals before the season even begins. Over the last decade that list has included Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, and that’s just off the top of my head. Now the list also includes Reyes.

Reyes, 22, struggled in the minors this year, but posted a 1.57 ERA over 46 innings of work in St. Louis last season, becoming one of the bright spots of a lost season. He is currently ranked #1 on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101, #4 on Baseball America’s Top 100, and #6 on MLB.com Pipeline’s Top 100.

Going into the 2017 season, Reyes was a wild card. There was perhaps no player who could shuffle the deck for the Cardinals’ pitching staff more than Reyes. He was supposed to be in a battle for the fifth rotation spot with Michael Wacha and a long shot Trevor Rosenthal, even though it was likely Wacha’s spot to lose all the way.

It was much more likely that Reyes would be penciled into a relief role for the Cardinals to begin the season, following in the footsteps of Carlos Martinez. Instead, he’ll spent the season on the disabled list.

The loss of Reyes impacts not only 2017, but conceivably the following seasons as well.

The injury will push his development back at least a season, maybe two. Not only will he miss the 2017 season, but the 2018 season will be hampered as well. While pitchers are usually healed and physically ready to pitch within 12 months after Tommy John, it usually takes them much closer to 18 months to get back the feel for their pitches and their velocity.

Beyond that, he threw just 111 innings last season and has floated around that number over the past three seasons. He will likely be in salary arbitration well before he can be expected to throw 200+ innings in a season as a starting pitcher. That means a much more limited window for him to demonstrate his value to the Cardinals.

And of course, he will accrue service time.

If you’re a procedure nut like myself, you were wondering if there is a loophole that the Cardinals could use to option him to the minors and keep him from accruing Major League service time this year, thus giving the team another year of team control on the back end. If you’re injured in spring training, the answer is obvious. But if you essentially showed up to spring training injured?

In short? The answer is no.

Article XIX, Section C of the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement covers assignment of players on the disabled list. Paragraph 1 is very straight forward when it says, “Players who are injured and not able to play may not be assigned to a Minor League club.”

However, Paragraph 2 does provide some exceptions for when a player can be sent to the minors while injured. The first exception is following the conclusion of the regular season and the filing of the Major League Reserves List, or 40 man roster (which was November 20th this offseason). The second is from the filing of the Major League Reserves List until 15 days before the next season begins.

Reyes’ injury would fall into that second exception, which leaves a four part test, laid out in the CBA, as to whether the Cardinals could option Reyes to the minors before placing him on the disabled list.

  1. The Player has less than three years of Major League service; (Yes)
  2. the contemplated assignment would not be the the Player’s second (or subsequent) career outright assignment since March 19, 1990; (Yes)
  3. the Player had no Major League service prior to the championship season; and (No)
  4. the Player was not selected by the assignor Major League Club in the immediately preceding Rule 5 Draft. (Yes)

As you can see, Reyes fails on the third test since he has 55 days of MLB service time from last season. That means Reyes will accrue a full year of MLB service time while on the disabled list next season.

The rule is basically designed so that a player’s MLB service clock is not started by a trip on the disabled list. But once you make it to the Majors and your clock has already started, the same concerns are no longer applicable. 2016: The gift that keeps on giving.

The team will have do 2017 without one of it’s top prospects and then make a decision for what they intend to do with the starting rotation for 2018. There will be an open spot with Lance Lynn destined for free agency. Will it go to Reyes or will it go to someone who established this year that they deserve that opportunity?

Cardinals win arbitration case with Wacha

The Cardinals may not have been in an arbitration hearing since 1999, but Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak is now 1-0 in arbitration cases. During today’s arbitration hearing, the arbiter decided to award pitcher Michael Wacha the $2.775 million salary figure submitted by the Cardinals.

Back in January the organization agreed to terms with three of their arbitration eligible players right before salary figures were exchanged. And then we heard all about “trial-and-file” during Winter Warmup as the club spoke of their intentions to take all players to an arbitration hearing if they were unable to reach an agreement before the exchange.

The club signed Carlos Martinez to a record setting five year deal almost two weeks ago, but there was no deal for Wacha who struggled last season and saw a return of the stress reaction in his shoulder.

For his part, Wacha has come to camp in better shape, having worked to strengthen his body and the shoulder to hopefully reduce the load on his shoulder to reduce the odds of having yet another recurrence.

It was an interesting measure of potential gamesmanship that the news of Alex Reyes‘ MRI exam came after Wacha’s hearing. Perhaps to ensure that Wacha could not use that to his advantage?

Cardinals ink Martinez to a record 5 year extension

Just when you were thinking John Mozeliak was really planning to take Carlos Martinez to an arbitration hearing, he once again proves himself a liar. Near the end of the Winter Meetings he says he doesn’t expect anything to happen for awhile, and then Dexter Fowler agrees to terms later that night. He says they’re taking Carlos Martinez to arbitration to prove a point, and only a week until the hearing locks him into an extension.

I’m joking about Mo being a liar, but really! Taking Martinez to arbitration was a bad idea and it seemed like everyone knew it. Except Mozeliak.

Martinez, 25, appears to be a pitcher on the verge of becoming a staff ace. He threw 195 innings, won 16 games and posted a 3.04 ERA as he carried the starting rotation last season. He was the only Cardinals’ pitcher to post a positive ERA+ and start more than 5 games.

Potential contract extension numbers for Martinez has been a hot topic this winter, and I had suggested that I saw Martinez going for a 4 year, $50 million deal. So the Cardinals getting him locked up for $51 million over 5 years and then having two option years on the end of that is a great deal for the club. That same deal is the largest contract ever for a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher.

I’ve said it plenty of times before, but I have high hopes for Martinez. There were times last season where I felt like he just chose not to use his best stuff and still dominated the opponent anyway. The only thing standing between Martinez and being considered a true ace and sliding himself into the conversation as one of the best pitchers in the league is establishing consistency. It’s time for him to make that happen and I’m excited that I get to watch it.

Cardinals lose first two picks in 2017 draft and $2 million for Astros hacking scandal

For the most part, I am just happy that the Cardinals can finally put “hackgate” or whatever you want to call it behind them and begin planning for the future. The Cardinals will forfeit their first two picks in the 2017 draft to the Astros as well as pay them a $2 million fine. That penalty ends up right about the middle of what baseball fans wanted to see. Some wanted more, some wanted less.

I wonder how the Astros’ AL West opponents feel with a club in their division receiving two free draft picks. Especially when there was not any real damage to the Astros’ organization. After all, it’s not like the Cardinals used the information to swoop in and steal a deal the Astros were working on. The balance of power in the AL West will be worth watching in three or four years.

It sets up an interesting box for the Cardinals. They are already under penalty for exceeding their international spending cap last year and now they lose their two highest draft picks this summer. With the trade costs we saw this winter, trading out of the prospect pool that the organization will need to rely on to produce talent and absorb the loss of those picks is very unlikely. That leaves the only feasible way to improve the club as free agency.

The organization talks about having money to spend, but it is always careful, perhaps overly so, about how they spend it.

Part of me has wondered if they were waiting to know exactly what the penalty was going to be before opening the checkbook since that money is the only way John Mozeliak can really improve the team for the next few seasons. Now we know, and now this winter will be interesting to watch and see how Mozeliak adapts to it being his only option.

But I did get thinking about the penalty in light of the penalty that the San Diego Padres got in September for intentionally withholding medical treatment information from the central database that all the teams use. The reported reason was to gain an advantage in trade negotiations. All the Padres’ GM got for orchestrating this scheme was a one month suspension during the quietest month of the year for an MLB GM. The organization received no other penalties.

So in San Diego, you have a proven and orchestrated effort by management of the club to potentially defraud the other 29 clubs.

But in St. Louis, even if John Mozeliak personally sanctioned the hacking and used that information in his day-to-day decision making, still only one club was placed at a disadvantage.

The Padres got slapped on the wrist. The Cardinals got punched in the mouth.

Granted, no federal laws were broken when the Padres failed to report the medical information, but that would seem to be why it’s even more important that Major League Baseball step in and do something to penalize it. As Mozeliak said when asked whether MLB’s penalties against the Cardinals establish a strong enough deterrent for clubs not to hack each other, he replied that four years in prison for Chris Correa would seem like a pretty good deterrent.

The penalties do not have any equivalency, especially when the Astros did not have to demonstrate that they were harmed by Correa’s access to their system nor did they have to defend charges that they possessed the Cardinals’ intellectual property.

The Red Sox and Marlins both discovered that the players they acquired from the Padres had more medical issues than they believed because they were not reported to the central database.

Of course, the Astros officially deny that they used any Cardinals’ intellectual property in the development of their “Ground Control” analytics system. However, regardless of what you want to believe, I suggest that it would be impossible for Jeff Luhnow and Sig Mejdal to play key roles in the development of the Cardinals’ analytics system and not reuse some of that knowledge and the lessons learned as they developed the AStros’ analytics system.

They did not go to Houston and reinvent the wheel and magically forget what they did for years in St. Louis. No, they would have built off the idea using what they already knew and learned while building the Cardinals’ system. That knowledge, whether or not it “belongs” to the Cardinals, is what made them worth hiring.

So the penalty does seem out of line with what was deserved. Now I know a little bit about how Patriots fans feel about “deflategate.”

Regardless, I’m glad the organization has it behind them.

Column: Matheny (maybe) throws his team under the bus and how to steal more bases

Over the past few seasons, Mike Matheny has made it a point to talk about wanting to be more aggressive on the basepaths. Each spring, the Cardinals steal a bunch of bases (they stole 28 bases last spring over a month of play) and every season they continue to be near the bottom (they stole 35 bases over six months of the season). That’s a stark contrast to be sure, but when asked about it this weekend, Matheny gave us an interesting answer that worries me just a little.

“I think everybody in this room would be completely shocked and surprised to know how many times we had the green light in the last several years. More often than not … I’ll tell you that.”

Guys, it’s not my fault, he’s telling us. I’ve been giving them the green light. He goes on.

“Part of it is the mindset. Yeah, there are some physical skills that we need to improve on, but it is just part of the mentality and part of the messaging that we take a lot of pride in as a staff. But also, the players have to buy in. We can tell them until we’re blue in the face that, ‘Hey, you guys have speed, athleticism. We should be taking first to third. We should be taking that extra base. We should be tagging up from first base on a deep fly ball.’ Those sorts of things we can tell them all day long, but until they get that drive in their own mind, I think you’re going to get less of a production.”

This left me scratching my head.

On one hand, you can definitely make the argument that he’s just talking in general about getting players to buy into your managerial philosophy. On the other hand, there’s definitely the feeling that he might have just thrown his team under the bus. Look guys, I want to steal more bases. I give these guys the green light to steal almost all the time, but they just won’t do it.

Now, setting aside the implications if he was actually throwing his team under the bus since I’m sure he’d disagree with me, let’s focus on the premise.

When I think about the Cardinals’ baserunning last season, a lack of aggression is not how I would describe it. If there is a fine line between being aggressive and being a nincompoop (TOOTBLAN reference for the uninitiated), I’d say that the team leaned much more to nincompoop than aggressive. How many times did baserunners get thrown out trying to go for the extra base? How many times did we see Chris Maloney wave a runner home only to see them thrown out by five feet?

Aggression doesn’t seem to be the problem.

A big picture question is that if Matheny wants the team to feel free to steal bases and take the extra base why aren’t they? Why aren’t the players buying into the concept of creating havoc on the bases? It seems like an easy buy in to me. I feel like it should be relatively easy to convince someone that stealing bases and taking the extra base create problems for defenses and can benefit you greatly. So maybe it’s not the message. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence.

Which would explain why the Cardinals run wild in a month of spring training (stealing 28 bases in a month), but only steal roughly the same number of bases over a six month season (stealing 35 bases). It’s much easier to risk stealing a base in spring training when the games don’t count than it is during the season.

I think the obvious question then is, if this is a part of the game that the Cardinals want to improve in, why haven’t the Cardinals taken steps to be proactive about helping players become more confident on the bases?

Vince Coleman, who played for the Cardinals from 1985 to 1990 and led the league in stolen bases all six seasons, talked to the Cardinals’ organization before the 2015 season about creating a baserunning instructor position inside the organization for him. At the time, the Cardinals decided against it and Coleman would go on to join the Chicago White Sox as a baserunning coach. The Cardinals still today do not have a dedicated baserunning instructor in their system.

Logic would dictate if you want players to be better baserunners, it would start with coaching. You want hitters to improve at hitting? You give them hitting coaches. You want pitchers to improve at pitching? You give them pitching coaches. You want defenders to improve at defending? You give them defensive position coaches. So why no baserunning coach?

Now, that’s not to say that coaching baserunning doesn’t fall into someone’s job description as both Willie McGee and Kerry Robinson both do some level of it, but McGee works only part time and it’s not the same as having someone whose sole job is to focus on helping guys improve on the bases.

Coleman talks about how he feels that stealing bases is a lost art in today’s game and I completely agree with him.

More than ever played are better trained than they were 30 years ago, so you can’t tell me that they’re simply slower than they were 30 years ago when guys like Coleman and Rickey Henderson were stealing 100+ bases a year. The league has fast guys who are capable of putting up those kind of numbers and it’s more than organizations not wanting to risk it.

Whenever I think about fast guys who can’t steal bases my mind goes to Peter Bourjos. Bourjos, to me, was always the perfect image of a guy who had always been so fast that he never had to learn how to actually steal bases. So he seems completely awkward when he does it to the point it looks like he’s going to miss second base completely most of the time. A little instruction and perhaps Bourjos could be that kind of baserunner who could steal 100 bases.

This isn’t something they’re instilling in the minor leagues either. Charlie Tilson, who is now also with the White Sox, played for Springfield in 2015 and led the Texas League with 46 stolen bases. In 2016, Springfield only had 57 stolen bases, down from 114 the year before with Tilson on the roster. So either players have great speed and know how to use it, or they don’t.

So the answer for the Cardinals perhaps isn’t so much to simply be more aggressive or steal more often, but to be smarter and to train for it. Not everyone is capable of understanding the mechanics of opportunities to take the extra base or seeing that tell in a pitcher’s mechanics that gives them a bigger window to steal a base on their own. For many it requires consistent teaching and coaching and work.

The organization says that they want to be “more athletic” and add speed this season. That requires taking the time to work with the players so that they understand those things. It’s more than telling players they should steal; it requires empowering those who can steal bases to steal those bases (Kolten Wong was 7-for-7 last year stealing bases).

The Cardinals struggled defensively last season and the organization took steps to shore it up. They promoted Mike Shildt to be Quality Control Coach and shortstop Aledmys Diaz will go work one-on-one with Jose Oquendo for two weeks before spring training begins.

If Matheny is serious about being better on the bases, the team will need to work on it.

And if the organization is serious about their efforts to become more athletic and be able to use it to their advantage, they’d be wise to focus on coaching baserunning as those players are developed through the system.

Rosenthal and Siegrist avoid arbitration too

The Cardinals have officially avoided arbitration with Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist as well as Matt Adams as all three agreed to terms on one-year deals today. Today was the deadline for teams and players to exchange salary numbers for arbitration.

Siegrist will earn about $1.6 million in his first year of arbitration. The 27 year old former 41st round pick posted a 2.77 ERA over 62 innings of work for the Cardinals last season. He has proven himself to be a reliable setup man for Mike Matheny as he has a 2.44 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP over the past two seasons. In 2015 he led the league in appearances with 81.

Rosenthal will make $6.4 million in his second year of arbitration, a raise from the $5.6 million he made last season. The 26 year old Rosenthal is coming off a disastrous season that saw him post a 4.46 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP over 40 innings of work. When you factor in the importance of the innings he pitched early in the season, Rosenthal was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball last season. Those struggles were carried by a 6.5 BB/9 rate.

The big news may be that the Cardinals did not come to terms with their two other arbitration eligible players, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. It’s believed that the club could be working on an extension for Martinez, but Wacha will likely soon come to terms with the club.

Adams agrees to deal as arbitration figures are due to be exchanged

The St. Louis Cardinals and first baseman Matt Adams agreed to a one year deal yesterday that avoids the arbitration process for the second year eligible player. Jon Heyman reports that the deal is for 1 year and worth $2.8 million. That represents a raise from the $1.65 million he earned last year and equal to the $2.8 million salary he was projected to earn this season by MLB Trade Rumors.

Adams, 28, hit .249/.309/.471 last season with 16 home runs in 118 games for the Cardinals. With the organization verbally committing to Matt Carpenter at first base, Adams looks to be the left handed power bat off the bench. Adams excelled as a pinch hitter last season, going 12-for-37 (.324) with 3 HR and 13 RBI.

This is Adams’ second year of arbitration eligibility, so while the team is not committed to him past the 2017 season, they hold one more year of team control on him if they choose to exercise it.

Arbitration eligible players are scheduled to exchange figures with their teams today as they prepare for February hearings if agreements can’t be reached. The Cardinals have four players who are arbitration eligible and have yet to reach agreements: Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Kevin Siegrist.

Today those players and the Cardinals will exchange salary figures, the players indicating what they wish to be paid and the Cardinals indicating what they wish to pay them. Usually at this point an agreement can come quickly since all the cards are on the table. However, if the two sides are still unable to reach an agreement, an arbitration hearing will be scheduled in February. Both sides will present their cases as to why their salary number is correct and then the arbiter will decide which figure the player will be paid.

The Cardinals have not had a negotiation reach the arbitration hearing since 1999.

Column: Cardinals will need better pitching to win in 2017

It’s not shock statement. If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to make a run at the Cubs in 2016, they will need to get better pitching. Just a season removed from having the best pitching staff in baseball, the Cardinals stumbled to 12th in 2016 with an ERA over one run worse. That difference was a key factor in the Cardinals going from a 100 win division champion to an 86 win team that missed out on the playoffs for the first time in six years.

And it isn’t like 2015’s MLB best pitching staff had everything go their way either. The team’s ace Adam Wainwright made just four starts before an Achilles injury in April cost him most of the season. But John Lackey managed to have a career year, Jaime Garcia showed why he was worth keeping around, and everyone learned who Tim Cooney was.

The 2016 pitching staff ran into trouble before the offseason even got into gear with Lance Lynn out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Once the season started, Wainwright still wasn’t right, Garcia ran into a wall, and Michael Wacha’s stress fracture recurred.

And if that wasn’t enough, the defense struggled to consistently make outs. The Cardinals were 25th in defensive efficiency last season, a measure of how often players reach base when a ball is put into play. For reference, the Cubs were #1.

For some pitchers, like Mike Leake, that struggling defense cost him what was otherwise one of the finest seasons of his career. For others, it was just fuel on the fire of their struggles.

Improving that defense was one of John Mozeliak’s goals this winter and, for the most part, that has been accomplished.

Randal Grichuk, newcomer Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty should be a better outfield than what the Cardinals had this past season. Kolten Wong should improve the defense up the middle if he can prove himself worth playing everyday and Aledmys Diaz, who played much better once he settled in, should continue to improve. Justin Turner could have made it even better, but I digress.

The defense isn’t perfect though, the Cardinals will have either Jhonny Peralta or Jedd Gyorko at third base. Neither present a tried and true plus defender and I’m on record that I’d rather see Matt Carpenter at third everyday and Matt Adams at first base.

While the defense should shape up to be better, the pitching staff will now need to do their part in 2017 if the team intends to make a run at the playoffs, much less a World Series. There are questions in the rotation and, much like the offense last season, plenty of clutter that sets the stage for some difficult decisions. But here’s why I think positively about the rotation.

The fifth starter. The Cardinals have very much played coy with who the fifth starter will be in 2017. By all accounts it seems like it will be a three way competition for the spot, though it seems obvious who should get the opportunity.

Michael Wacha represents the path of least resistance. He struggled last year with a 5.09 ERA over 24 starts and 3 relief appearances. He would miss a month late in the season after his stress fracture returned. The organization seems uncertain what to do with Wacha as they were rumored to have included him in a trade offer early in the winter. Mozeliak indicated that they may need to reset the expectations of him being a 200 inning starter and has also hinted that they could use him in a role similar to how the Indians used Andrew Miller in the postseason. So at least the appearance of an opportunity for someone else is there.

Trevor Rosenthal has also been said to be coming to spring training preparing to start. The former closer lost his job last season due to ineffectiveness, but it was long assumed that guaranteeing him the closer’s job was part of convincing him to accept a move to the bullpen. Now removed from the role, it looks as if the organization is going to give him an opportunity to start.

Regardless of where Rosenthal pitches, his problem the last few seasons has been consistently throwing strikes. Now four seasons removed from his last start, I believe that taking him out of the bullpen, where his body has become conditioned to relief, will exponentially increase his injury risk. That transition from long-time reliever to start is what I believe effective resulted in the end of Kyle McClellan’s career.

As a result of coming from the bullpen, Rosenthal will likely need to be put on an innings limit in the rotation. And in my opinion, if you’re going to consider a pitcher with an innings limit on him, it’s clear that the guy should be Alex Reyes.

I’ve been critical of Reyes in the past as I don’t see him as great a prospect as many others do mainly because of his control issues and lack of dominance in the minors. However, he got the call last season and proved me wrong. He’s still walking batters, but has managed to be effective enough. In 5 starts for the Cardinals down the stretch when the team needed him the most, Reyes was 2–0 with a 2.20 ERA.

If Reyes does end up being the pitcher that I expect he’ll be, the Cardinals should go ahead and squeeze every ounce of effectiveness out of him now before the batters figure him out.

Lance Lynn. Lance Lynn is returning after missing last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was reportedly ready to begin a rehab assignment in September if the option had been available to him, but the organization opted to shut him down and let him have a regular offseason to prepare for 2017. That is a positive sign for the team who will be relying on him to play a critical role in their rotation.

He has before, posting a 2.87 ERA over 379 innings of work in the two seasons prior to his surgery. Lynn will be almost 18 months removed from his surgery, which bodes well for hopes in Lynn’s performance next season. The only question will be whether he can push through a full season of work.

The guy that first comes to mind is Adam Wainwright, who had the surgery in February 2011 and returned a year later to the rotation. It took Wainwright into May and maybe even June before he looked to have a good, consistent feel for his pitches again and wasn’t a reliable starting option until the second half of the season, posting a 3.13 ERA over his final 12 starts. However, Lynn will be further removed from his surgery than Wainwright was and hopefully further along in his recovery.

Mike Leake. As I wrote last September, Mike Leake had an undercover career year last year. He posted near career bests in walks per nine, strikeouts per nine, home runs allowed per nine, line drive rates, and ground ball rates. All the fielding independent metrics represented a guy who was having one of the best seasons of his career. Instead, he had the worst.

He was probably the greatest victim of the shoddy defense behind him last season. Opponents had a .321 batting average on balls in play last season compared to a .263 just a season before and up from a .292 career average entering the year.

But because of those issues, he also stands to gain the greatest benefit from a better defense. That’s the key to Leake’s success. He’s not the kind of pitcher who will go out and dominate you, though he did a few times last season. He’s Dave Duncan’s kind of guy. A pitch to contact and let the defense make plays kind of guy. And if that defense is making the plays, Leake will have a good year.

Adam Wainwright. Adam Wainwright is perhaps the biggest enigma in the Cardinals rotation entering 2017. He will turn 36 in August and has two years remaining on his current contract. He is coming off the worst season of his career, posting a 4.62 ERA over 199 innings and an 89 ERA+. However, I think there is much to be said about the fact he missed most of the 2015 season while recovering from an Achilles injury.

Wainwright’s worst two seasons have both come the year after missing the most, if not all, of the previous season with injury. Those coming in 2012 after Tommy John and then this year. He spoke in May about discovering a large difference in his leg strength as a result of the injury and set about correcting it. After he mentioned that, he had a 2.84 ERA over his next 14 starts.

From 2013 to 2015, Wainwright posted a 2.61 ERA over almost 500 innings of work. His 142 ERA+ over that span was the fourth best in baseball among starting pitchers who threw at least 450 innings. The three pitchers ahead of him on the list are Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. That’s good company.

Even if you add 2016 to the sample, he still stays in the top-25. Lynn is 28th on that list. The next guy I’m about to talk about is 26th. Three of the top-30 pitchers in baseball? I like that.

Carlos Martinez. The only bright spot for the Cardinals’ rotation last season was Carlos Martinez. He was also the only pitcher who started more than 5 games for the big league club and provide above average results. His 3.04 ERA, 135 OPS+ and 5.4 WAR made him one of the top pitchers in baseball and the heir apparent to Wainwright for the title of “ace.”

By ERA+, Martinez was the 15th best pitcher in baseball last season. Over the previous two seasons, he’s 8th on that list, tied with David Price. And Martinez is six years younger.

Martinez may never have the outright dominance of a guy like Kershaw, but Martinez took big steps this past season to mature into the kind of pitcher you want on top of your rotation. He can beat you in multiple ways, even if he doesn’t have his best stuff. In fact, I felt there were games last season where he seemed to get some sort of sick satisfaction at intentionally not using his best stuff and still beating you. That’s a pitcher.

To me, the ace of your staff is more than just the guy who is pitching the best at any given moment or any given year. He’s the guy who is pitching well and has the track record of it too. In that fashion, the only thing standing between Martinez and being that ace — and perhaps even throwing his name into the conversation of the best pitchers in the game — is doing it again.