2016 Minor League Opening Day Rosters

The Cardinals’ full season minor league affiliates start their seasons tonight and ahead of that comes the roster announcements. Here’s the way the rosters stack up for the full season affiliates


Memphis Redbirds (AAA)

Pitchers (14): John Church, Juan Gonzalez, Jeremy Hefner, Dean Kiekhefer*, Thomas Lee, Deck McGuire, Arturo Reyes, Ryan Sherriff, Miguel Socolovich*, J.C. Sulbaran, Sam Tuivailala*, Justin Wright, Heath Wyatt

Catchers (2): Mike Ohlman*, Alberto Rosario

Infielders (6): Dean Anna*, Alex Mejia, Jonathan Rodriguez, Matt Williams, Jacob Wilson, Patrick Wisdom

Outfielders (4): Anthony Garcia*, Nick Martini, Carlos Peguero, Charlie Tilson*

Disabled List: Tim Cooney*, Marco Gonzales*, Tyler Waldron

Restricted List: Alex Reyes


Springfield Cardinals (AA)

Pitchers (15): Corey Baker, John Brebbia, Joey Donofrio, Kurt Heyer, Corey Littrell, Josh Lucas, Mike Mayers, Andrew Morales, Trey Nielsen, Chris Perry, Daniel Poncedeleon, Jimmy Reed, Robby Rowland, Ronnie Shaban, Chris Thomas

Catchers (2): Luis Cruz, Carson Kelly

Infielders (5): Paul DeJong, Chris Jacobs, Andrew Sohn, Breyvic Valera, Luke Voit

Outfielders (4): Harrison Bader, C.J. McElroy, Collin Radack, David Washington

Designated Hitter (1): Bruce Caldwell


Palm Beach Cardinals (High A)

Pitchers (13): Pedro Echemendia, Jacob Evans, Jack Flaherty, Silfredo Garcia, Austin Gomber, Kyle Grana, Michael Heesch, Kevin Herget, Ian McKinney, Blake McKnight, Matt Pearce, Cody Schumacher, Rowan Wick

Catchers (2): Steve Bean, Jesse Jenner

Infielders (6): Andrew Brodbeck, Danny Diekroeger, Casey Grayson, Oscar Mercado, Mike Reynolds, Allen Staton

Outfielders (4): Blake Drake, Orlando Olivera, Michael Pritchard, Nick Thompson


Peoria Chiefs (A)

Pitchers (13): Sandy Alcantara, Landon Beck, Tyler Bray, Steven De La Cruz, Junior Fernandez, Steven Gallardo, Derian Gonzalez, Luke Harrison, Chandler Hawkins, Ryan Helsley, Sasha Keubel, Brennan Leitao, Jake Woodford

Catchers (4): Chris Chinea, Jose Godoy, Ryan McCarvel, Brian O’Keefe

Infielders (5): Eliezer Alvarez, R.J. Dennard, Leobaldo Pina, Edmundo Sosa, Casey Turgeon

Outfielders (4): Craig Aikin, Vaughn Bryan, Magneuris Sierra, Thomas Spitz

*- Indicates a player on the Cardinals’ 40 man roster

Mozeliak’s trade history with the Indians

Today the Cleveland Indians designated former Cardinals first round pick James Ramsey for assignment. Ramsey, 26, was dealt to the Indians in exchange for starting pitcher Justin Masterson back in July 2014 in a trade that caused a minor uproar. At the time, Ramsey was playing for Double-A Springfield and hitting .300/.389/.527 with 13 homers in 67 games for the Cardinals. While Masterson had a 5.51 ERA over 19 starts for the Indians.

I got thinking about how the Cardinals and Indians have been pretty regular trade partners since John Mozeliak became the team’s General Manager. Which is also interesting because the Indians’ Chris Antonetti was one of the finalists for the Cardinals’ GM job at the time.

But let’s take a look at the trades they’ve made.

2009: Chris Perez and Jess Todd for Mark DeRosa

There was some hope for this trade. However, Mark DeRosa hurt his wrist shortly after showing up in St. Louis and was never the player the Cardinals thought they were getting. Meanwhile Chris Perez was a two-time All Star closer for the Indians, but those teams finished 15 and 20 games out. Jess Todd never amounted to much in the Majors, posting a 7.62 ERA in 25 Major League games.

2010: Ryan Ludwick (to San Diego) for Jake Westbrook and Nick Greenwood

Jake Westbrook played a major role in the rotation for the Cardinals for a few seasons, but never really found the groove the franchise was hoping for. Nick Greenwood had his moments but was never a regular contributor to the big league club. Meanwhile Ryan Ludwick would leave the Cardinals and, aside from one season with the Reds, never posted an above average season again.

Cleveland did manage to pull Corey Kluber from San Diego in this deal, so I think they win this one.

2013: Marc Rzepczynski for Juan Herrera

Juan Herrera, a minor league shortstop who hangs his hat on defense, has never really been able to hit regularly in the minors. He hit .265 last season with no home runs at High-A Peoria. Marc Rzepczynski had one good season with the Indians before being flipped to the Padres last year for center fielder Abraham Almonte who played pretty well in the second half.

2014: James Ramsey for Justin Masterson

As the trade that prompted this discussion, it looks to have failed all around. Masterson struggled in St. Louis, but it was his help that may have turned Shelby Miller into the pitcher everyone thought he could be. Ramsey hit .243/.327/.382 for the Indians’ Triple-A team last season and failed to get an opportunity in the big leagues for an organization that needed outfield help last year.

2015: Rob Kaminsky for Brandon Moss

The jury is still out on this trade, but most of the early discussion of it centers mostly around Rob Kaminsky‘s prospect status. He was probably the Cardinals’ #3 pitching prospect at the time of the trade and was dominating in Palm Beach. He had a little trouble in two starts for the Indians’ High-A team.

Brandon Moss meanwhile was brought back on a pricey deal to be a first base option for the Cardinals this season. The organization struggled to get any production out of first base and what Moss provided late last year was a big improvement, even if it was just a 104 OPS+.

The Cardinals and the Padres have made their fair share of trades over the years as well, but they’ve had quite a bit of turnover in the front offices. Cleveland’s front office is still led by Antonetti while St. Louis’ is still led by Mozeliak.

Is Mozeliak a good GM?

Today on Twitter, a conversation began about whether John Mozeliak was a good General Manager. Outside of John Mabry, there may not be an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization that brings more mixed feelings from fans than John Mozeliak. Some see Mozeliak as an overrated GM who has ridden the coat tails of those before him. Others see him as a genius at team building. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For full disclosure, I’ve been a John Mozeliak apologist for quite some time. I usually find myself defending him and the decisions being made by the organization. I’ve enjoyed watching him work and the way he takes an even-keeled approach to managing the team. With the way he calculates his moves and hedges against risks, he is exactly the kind of person I would want overseeing my billion dollar investment.

My favorite characteristic of his decision making though may be that he doesn’t just look at the current year with blinders on. He is always looking down the road to see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. That’s good because if you spend all your chips trying to win now, you’ll eventually run out and lose, like the Cardinals did in 2007 and 2008. And I prefer winning.

He has been great at building and maintaining a strong foundation. He might be the best foundation builder in the business. Part of that is the way the Cardinals run their scouting and analytics department. The other part of it is a team owner that allows Mozeliak to operate this way. Many owners shoot themselves in the foot when they place pressure on their GM to make big moves rather than the right moves.

However, when it comes time to elbow up at the big boy table and gamble, Mozeliak has come up short to other teams who have been willing to go further and take more risk than he has. Part of that is necessity, they don’t have the same minor league infrastructure the Cardinals do. Part of that is ability, they have more money than the Cardinals do. Part of that is willingness, other organizations and absorb big failure in ways the Cardinals can’t.

This offseason, the Cardinals circled two names on their wish list: David Price and Jason Heyward. Mozeliak pursued and lost out on both, reportedly finishing second both times.

When it comes to managing his team, Mozeliak’s style might best be described as a poker player who entered the World Series of Poker. But he’s just slow playing in the hopes of sneaking into the money. Though once you get there, you find out that you still need to gamble to win.

That he hasn’t been willing to take that extra risk in an effort to bring in talent to help the team has baffled me a little bit. He has made some gambles during his tenure as GM of the Cardinals and has historically came out ahead.

He traded Jim Edmonds to San Diego for David Freese as his second official move. Freese would become a postseason hero four years later.

He traded for Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday in 2009. DeRosa got injured within days of arriving. Holliday, meanwhile, would go on to sign the richest contract in frachise history and be a key cog in the lineup.

He dealt former top prospect Colby Rasmus in a deal that patched all the team’s holes. It became the year of the “Happy Flight” as the Cardinals won the World Series.

They let Albert Pujols walk. And got better. Stephen Piscotty and Michael Wacha, who are key pieces of today’s Cardinals team, were drafted with the compensatory picks the organization received by letting Pujols walk.

He dealt former first round pick Zack Cox for a little known reliever Edward Mujica at the deadline in 2012. Mujica would go on to be an All Star closer for the Cardinals in 2013.

Following the 2013 season, Mozeliak dealt Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Grichuk appears to be on the verge of a breakout season after hitting 17 home runs in 353 plate appearances last year.

His latest gamble might be the only one that didn’t pay off. Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jordan Walden and Jason Heyward. Mozeliak hoped he could bring Heyward back, just as he had done with Holliday and like Walt Jocketty had done with Mark McGwire, Edmonds, and Rolen before him. Heyward would leave for the Cubs in October. Miller would go on to put up a career year before being dealt to Arizona. And Jenkins stayed healthy.

The irony with that deal is that Walden was probably the least risky part of the deal for either side. He hasn’t seen a Major League mound during the regular season since last May and is still on the disabled list.

So when we’ve seen Mozeliak push, he has had a great track record. Part of that is that he has an organization with a great foundation that lets him make some gambles. I would honestly like to see a little more.

But maybe the problem is the explosion of analytics in baseball over the last five years is making it more difficult to find opportunities to gamble. With the massive amounts of data these teams are now playing with, it’s harder to find a good value. Big data always informs big decisions in business these days.

I still believe that this team is a good hitter away from being able to be a legitimate World Series threat. I’d like to see Mozeliak go after someone this summer that can be the game changing talent we need.

I like having prospects It’s nice to hope that they will all pan out and become the stars of tomorrow, but we know that they won’t all turn out. The only reason that prospects are heavily coveted by teams is because they’re low-risk, high-reward.

My fear has been that the window is closing on this team. It would be nice to get another World Series run, but I don’t see this team, as constructed, getting there.

Why does the Cardinals’ offense suck so bad?

By all accounts, the St. Louis Cardinals have talented hitters. A quick glance down their everyday lineup, even when you consider new shortstop Ruben Tejada in at short for Jhonny Peralta, the Cardinals have a lineup that seems to be capable of providing above average production at every position. Yet two weeks until the season starts and the Cardinals sit 28th of 30 teams in run production.

It isn’t a question of lack of talent. So it really does beg the question: Why does the Cardinals’ offense suck so bad?

The first answer to the question applies specifically to this spring, but it isn’t a particularly satisfying answer. It’s the ballpark. Roger Dean Stadium is typically played with the winds blowing in, so powering a home run out of the park should probably count as two on the stat sheet. Its just hard to hit the ball out.

We can confirm that by looking at the other team that calls Roger Dean Stadium home. The Miami Marlins have sucked on offense too. They rank 30th of 30 teams. So for Cardinals fans, it could really be worse.

We are given the ballpark argument back at Busch Stadium too. The addition of Ballpark Village has reportedly changed some of the wind patters that make it even more difficult than it already was to muscle a ball out. But the Cardinals are still just average on the road.

So while I understand that the Cardinals shouldn’t be ripping the ball out of the park all day long, the Cardinals’ offense isn’t focused on that ability. They’re about the other forms of power. Getting extra base hits and taking advantage of scoring opportunities. But if the team was capable of scoring runs without the home run, there isn’t really much stopping them from doing it now.

The second answer has been hammered by many fans over the last couple years. Complaints about the offense really began in earnest in 2014. During the 2013 season, they put up historic production with runners in scoring position and that led to the team scoring the third most runs in baseball. But they overachieved. In 2014, they plummeted to 23rd in the league and last year they fell one more notch to 24th.

Injuries and fatigue played a factor in the offense last year, so it makes it difficult to really know just would have happened had everyone stayed healthy. So while I do believe they would have been better than 24th, I still don’t have much confidence going into 2016.

So the answer here is John Mabry. The hitting coach has been under fire for quite some time for the offense.

While I’ve been a fairly big defender of Mabry, mostly just in relation to others, things did immediately start to go south on the offensive side of the ball when he was named hitting coach. During Mark McGwire’s first year, he received some criticism for an underperforming offense and Tony La Russa defended him by saying that it can take a season for players to truly adapt to a hitting coach’s philosophy. Even still, none of the three years under McGwire have been as bad as the last two years have been under Mabry.

My main defense of Mabry is that there is no quantifiable way to determine just how much credit or blame he deserves for the offense. Some players don’t use the team’s coaches. Some turn themselves over completely. So it makes it hard for most to point the finger at him with any credibility.

The best way I know to measure the potential impact of a hitting coach is with the suggestion that the team’s rank in runs scored should fall somewhere between their rank in on base percentage and slugging percentage. By that measure, the Cardinals were 13th in OBP last year, 23rd in slugging and 24th in runs scored. No wonder fans feel frustrated by the team’s offense. They have to claw for every run they get.

I’m not on (or joining) the “Fire Mabry” bandwagon, but I do believe that if this team doesn’t figure out how to score runs this season that it’s time to replace him and see what happens. Because at the very least, he isn’t helping.

The third suggestion is a lack of focus in spring training. The Cardinals under Mike Matheny have always taken a laid back approach to spring training. More focus is placed on letting players get their reps and not so much about making sure you’re sharp for the season. They take the idea of slowing a player’s workload in March in the hope that you can push them harder in September.

Of course, that assumes they’ll be there to push in September.

The 2016 offense should be better than last year’s. While Jason Heyward did leave and Mozeliak’s only meaningful addition to the offense was Jedd Gyorko, the offense was addressed by inaction. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty played a combined 166 games and hit .287 with 24 home runs between them. Grichuk will also be putting his team runner-up 133 OPS+ into center field where the Cardinals received just 89 OPS+ worth of production last season.

The other trouble spot for the offense last year was first base. The Cardinals got just 78 OPS+ out of their first baseman, leaving the most room for improvement of any position. It will be a season of transition at first base too. There are three players expected to see major time at first base and all three could be free agents at the end of the season.

Matt Adams is the incumbent. Last year was probably a make or break season, but the quad injury he sustained that took away most of his season bought him another year.

Adams declared to the Post-Dispatch that he has his power back after showing some video tape of the changes he’s made to his swing for this season. Adams is 27 years old and has two arbitration years remaining after the year, but the team could still cut ties with him without costing them anything.

Brandon Moss has hit at least 19 home runs in each of the past four seasons. He is in his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He was a deadline acquisition for Mozeliak last summer and hit .250 with 4 home runs over his two months with the Cardinals. His 104 OPS+ was still a big improvement over what they had gotten from first basemen so far last year.

Another season away from hip surgery will help Moss. He can hopefully get closer to the 119 OPS+ player he was in 2014 while he played in Oakland.

Finally we have Matt Holliday. After years of fan discussion about moving him to first base, it has finally happened. But there may not be a lot of depth in the outfield if the Cardinals have to resort to Holliday at first. But there is hope that Tommy Pham or Jeremy Hazelbaker can play well enough to push Holliday to first base. His newfound positional flexibility increases the potential that his 2017 option gets picked up. Otherwise, he will be a free agent at the end of the season.

There is hope that the Cardinals’ offense will improve this year, and I believe that they will. But even if Piscotty and Grichuk turn into the players we expect them to be, I still think the Cardinals need one more game changing offensive threat to be a true World Series contender.

The possibility is there that they already have it. I hope they do.

Adam LaRoche makes the decision most Dads wish they could

Adam LaRoche just made the decision that most Dads wish they could. You see, for the last few years, Adam LaRoche has brought his son Drake to the ballpark with him pretty much every day. The team’s he’s been on (the Washington Nationals from 2011 to 2014 and the Chicago White Sox last year) pretty much accepted the young man as their “26th man.”

After the Nationals won the NL East in 2012, the team celebrated with beer and champagne while Drake and 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper sat in the corner with some sparkling grape juice. That’s just one of a number of stories that have come out since the decision was made in the wake of this story about how Drake was accepted by his father’s teams.

So by all accounts, Drake was beloved by a majority of the guys on the team, was well behaved, and helped out around the clubhouse cleaning cleats, picking up baseballs, and doing laundry like the other teenagers in the clubhouse would. He had a locker next to his father complete with a uniform and everything. Several players who have been on teams with Adam have spoken positively about Darke’s presense, so it seems pretty obvious that this wasn’t a kid causing problems. He’d been around a Major League clubhouse for years and knew what was expected of him.

This spring however, White Sox President Kenny Williams had a couple conversations with LaRoche about bringing his son to the ballpark less often so that the team could focus on baseball. As Williams phrases it, “one of the things we said coming into this seasonis ‘let’s check all the columns’ with regards to our preparation, our focus to give us every chance to win.”

Williams must have pushed the issue in the second conversation with LaRoche because the decision to retire came very soon after. LaRoche decided to step away from the game, likely forfeiting his $13 million salary for 2016.

The White Sox players had a contentious meeting with Williams, which included a profanity-laced verbal tirade from the White Sox’s best player, Chris Sale, directed at Williams. There was even talk of boycotting yesterday’s game before the manager finally convinced them to take the field.

Since then, there has been a lot written wondering why LaRoche would let this decision cause him to retire. But I believe that if you are thinking like that, you’re looking at the situation backwards. When you flip it up, I think everything makes much more sense.

Last season, LaRoche endured the worst season of his career. He hit .207/.293/.340 with 12 home runs in 127 games for the White Sox. The 78 OPS+ was just the second time in his career that he’d posted below average results. The other, 2011 when he missed a chunk of the season with injury. He considered retiring, but ultimately made the decision to return for 2016. I believe his decision was based on the idea of getting to share the Major League experience with his son one last time.

Adam grew up around a Major League clubhouse himself. His father Dave pitched in the Majors for 14 seasons. Adam remembers hanging around the clubhouse with his brother Andy fondly. It was obviously a special experience for him and one that he enjoyed the opportunity to give his son.

Much has been said about the way that the LaRoche’s handle Drake’s schooling to allow him to spend this kind of time with his Dad, and while it might seem strange to regular people, it really isn’t that strange for the child of a professional athlete.

But after Adam has spent the last few seasons of his career with Drake by his side, I can imagine him not wanting to do it any other way.

So Adam made the decision that most parents wish they could make. He decided that spending a bunch of time with his son was more important to him than making $13 million. If only we were all so lucky.

Since LaRoche’s decision and the reasoning behind it became public yesterday, there has been quite a bit written defending the White Sox’s decision. Some say that the White Sox didn’t say that he couldn’t bring Drake sometimes (something disputed by LaRoche’s statement on the second conversation with Williams), just not all the time. But the way this entire discussion has been framed by White Sox upper management—even if they’re saying the opposite—is that they viewed Drake as a distraction.

Some say LaRoche is being selfish by walking away and robbing his son of the experience even part of the time. Some say Drake will now blame himself as the reason his father isn’t playing baseball anymore and he should have been more flexible. Some have even called LaRoche a quitter for retiring. After all, doesn’t LaRoche know that trying to win a World Series is more important than spending time with his son? #sarcasm

All of that might all have a little bit of truth, but when you look at it the way I suggest, things make much more sense and many of those defenses of the White Sox and attacks on LaRoche fail to stick.

Williams defended the decision to the media by asking how many workplaces allow you to bring your kid to work today. That defense rings hollow to me though for one simple fact. A Major League clubhouse isn’t your typical workplace. It isn’t an office job. It isn’t your kid tagging along while you wait tables. That’s an important decision to make. Plus, Adam did have a workplace where he was allowed to bring his son. It was an important part of the discussion before LaRoche signed his contract with the White Sox.

Out of one side of his mouth, Williams says that the decision wasn’t made because Drake was a distraction, but out of the other side he adds that he wanted to make sure they “checked all the boxes” when it came to focus and preparation. So if Drake wasn’t a distraction, why was limiting his access part of checking the boxes of focus and preparation?

LaRoche understood the implication of Williams’ decision.

There is also the argument that Williams was just being the bad guy for a teammate that was uncomfortable going directly to LaRoche with the issue. But if that is the case, I feel like that speaks to a much larger clubhouse issue than a 14 year old coming to work with his Dad. If you can go talk to the team’s President, but not your teammate, that’s a big problem!

Maybe I’m biased though. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were tagging along with my Dad to work. Getting to play on his computer. Getting to draw on his whiteboards (they were the greatest thing ever!). In later years, I came in and did some grunt work and helped out.

I feel like a very important part of my development as a person was getting an opportunity to see my Dad in the workplace setting. There he was more than just my Dad. He was a boss, he was co-worker, he was an employee. Seeing my Dad in those situations shaped many of the principles by which I treat people now.

Those are experiences that I want to share with my son too. My son was at my office yesterday, coincidentally, just after the story broke. He was walking around the office, giving everyone high fives, and playing with a co-worker’s stuffed panda. He and I sat at my desk for a bit and he was asking what everything was.

So I get it. In many ways I get LaRoche’s thought process and decision here. If Drake had been a problem or a distraction, I can understand the organization wanting to restrict his access. But I think the response from the team would have been very different. By all accounts so far, he wasn’t. And furthermore, when LaRoche signed his deal with the White Sox, they assured him he could have his kid around.

Some have called Drake the loser in this situation. I call him the winner. His Dad just told the world that he was more important than $13 million or a World Series ring. And what kid wouldn’t want that.

I hope some day that I can find myself in a situation where I can turn down $13 million to go spend time with my kid.

Shortstop situation shouldn’t worry Cards

After the 2015 season saw five of the St. Louis Cardinals’ nine Opening Day starters spend significant time on the disabled list, the team got bad news again. Jhonny Peralta, injured over the weekend, is expected to miss two to three months with a torn tendon in his left thumb. And so begins the team’s 2016 disabled list adventures.

Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak discussed that the Cardinals want to evaluate their internal options before making a decision whether to pursue players outside of the organization. Of course, the media still loves a good trade rumor story, so they have already begun discussing all of the potential options available or potentially available. I doubt that will happen though.

Losing Peralta hurts. Lets not lie. Peralta was one of the players that carried the offense in the first half of 2015 while Matt Holliday was on the disabled list and Matt Carpenter was slumping.

In Peralta’s stead, Jedd Gyorko will likely get the first crack at this year’s starting shortstop job. Gyorko, 27, hit .262 with 14 home runs in 82 games last season for the Padres after he spent a three week stint in the minors in June. While he’s only played 220 professional innings at shortstop, having played mostly second and third bases, he did play shortstop in college. Mike Matheny even spoke today about how much they like Gyorko’s glove and arm, which leads one ot believe that range will be the issue.

There is also Greg Garcia, who was already expected to be Peralta’s primary backup during the season. The 26-year-old Garcia has never been a top prospect or viewed as capable of sticking at shortstop at the Major League level. However, through the minors, he has been one of those players who has flown under the radar and yet still produced at every level. Can I use the term “sneaky good?”

He hit .240 with 2 home runs for the big league club and did that with a 97 OPS+. That’s good for just shy of league average offensively. Defensively, he may not be the right guy, but he should be good enough to spell your starter.

The most interesting situation of all might be that of Aledmys Diaz. Diaz was signed out of Cuba before the 2014 season when he hadn’t played pro baseball for almost two years. His first season in the U.S. was marred by injury as he struggled to stay on the field. But his 2015 season ended up showing the reason the Cardinals were interested. And he could have been had by any team in baseball too.

In July, the Cardinals needed a 40 man roster spot, so they designated Diaz for assignment. The move took him off the 40 man roster, but it also placed him on waivers. The Cardinals took a chance that with $5 million remaining on his deal, that nobody would assume the risk. They were right. He passed through waivers and stayed with the Cardinals.

Since July 1, 2015, Diaz hit .322/.387/.570 with 12 home runs over 69 games between Double-A Springfield, Triple-A Memphis, and the Arizona Fall League. Add to that some glowing reviews of his defensive abilities, and I think you have the guy that the Cardinals would like to have playing shortstop in Peralta’s stead.

Diaz is the most immediate to benefit from Peralta’s absense in spring training. While he was positioned to be an early cut from Major League camp with Peralta there, all of those at bats open up with Peralta gone. Given his salary and option situation, Diaz may get a legitimate opportunity to take this job.

It’s the option sitation that changed my mind too. When the injury first happened, I didn’t expect that Diaz would see substantial playing time. Maybe he’d get an opportunity to make the team out of camp, but he wouldn’t see regular starting time unless he truly forced the organization’s hand with his performance.

Having been on the club’s 40 man roster since he signed his contract, the Cardinals have already exercised two option years to keep him in the minors. If they were to send him down to the minors this year, it would be his third and then he would have to make the big league club next year.

So as I see it stacking up, I don’t think there will be a better opportunity for the Cardinals to see what Aledmys Diaz has then right now. So why not see what he has?

I also believe that the Cardinals are very capable of navigating a few months without Jhonny Peralta without negatively impacting the team’s playoff chances. But I wish they didn’t have to.

Cardinals commit with Wong’s extension

When the St. Louis Cardinals announced earlier this week that they had agreed to terms on a $25.5 million, 5 year deal with second baseman Kolten Wong, it was more than just locking up a young player who had plenty of potential. The Cardinals committed at a position that they really haven’t shown much commitment at over the past thirty or so years.

To find a second baseman who had been the Cardinals’ regular second baseman for more than three years in a row, you need to go back to the 1980s. Tom Herr did the job from 1981 until he was traded in 1988. In the 28 seasons since, only three Cardinals even have three seasons in a row as the regular second baseman: Jose Oquendo (1989 to 1991), Fernando Vina (2000 to 2002), and Skip Schumaker (2009 to 2011).

If Kolten Wong plays through this new contract, Wong will have eight seasons under his belt as the Cardinals’ regular second baseman. That alone puts him into some rare air in St. Louis history.

Herr had seven seasons. Rogers Hornsby had seven seasons too. Red Schoendienst, who celebrated his 93rd birthday just over a month ago, had ten seasons as the team’s regular second baseman.

As far as I found in my research, the guy with the most is Julian Javier, who played for the Cardinals from 1960 to 1971. He was the team’s regular second baseman for 11 of those 12 seasons.

At the end of this contract, Wong will be 31 years old with plenty of baseball ahead of him, so the chance that he could go beyond the eight seasons is definitely real.

The contract represents a big commitment from the organization towards Wong, but there is still some question as to whether Wong will eventually blossom into the kind of player worth a long-term commitment. After all, the last player who earned a deal entering his final year of team controlled salary was Matt Carpenter. Carpenter, then 28, was coming off a season where he led baseball in runs, hits, and doubles and finished fourth in National League MVP voting.

Defenders of the deal, like myself, will undoubtedly point out Wong’s numbers. He was better overall in 2015 than he was in 2014. He also provided at least 2 WAR in each as well. With those kind of numbers, he is easily providing enough value on the field to be worth the money, even if he has already reached his ceiling.

But you can love the deal and still admit that Wong still has much to prove. Because he can show you the flashes of his immense talent and make a careless play. Often times in the same game.

Everyone talks about Wong’s 2015 season when suggesting that he still has a lot to prove.

In the first half of the season, Wong appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season. At the break he was hitting .280 with 9 home runs and had finished second in All Star balloting at second base. Many made the case that he’d been snubbed by not being selected as a reserve or placed in the final vote. I tend to agree with them.

The second half was a very different story for Wong. The breakout year ran off the tracks as he hit just .234 after the break. He failed to hit a home run over the final two months of the season. But for all of that, his second half wasn’t nearly as bad as the story gets told.

After the All Star Break through August 22nd, Kolten Wong played 33 consecutive games at second base for the Cardinals and hit .198. Why do I stop the sample on August 22nd? The Cardinals called up Greg Garcia on August 23rd and Wong finally got a day off. Actually, he got two off, and returned to the lineup on August 25th. He hit .287 the rest of the way.

The theory that his July and August struggles were due to fatigue and overuse have some support with the numbers, so that’s the theory that the Cardinals entered the offseason working with. Pete Kozma was the team’s primary backup in the middle infield for the team last year and with an already struggling offense, it made it difficult to bench a guy with Wong’s potential for the struggling Kozma.

That’s why the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko by trade with San Diego. The move should help keep Wong fresh at second base, boost the infield depth, and provide a right handed power bat for the bench. That’s a plus for the team on several fronts.

For 2016, Wong has said that he’d like an opportunity to bat leadoff, but he still has a long way to go until he is ready to take that role. Matt Carpenter has made it known that he intends to keep the job, so Wong will have to play well enough to wrestle it away. And to do that, he’ll have to take another step forward.

There is no doubt though, that if Wong could, that the team would be better for it.

2016 PECOTA Projections

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections are out. They have the Cardinals finishing 82-80 in third place in the NL Central and 10 games back of the division winning Cubs.

It’s not a glowing endorsement from PECOTA, though last year they projected the Pirates to go 81-81 and they won 97 games last year. So there’s that.

Part of the problem is that projection systems will find it difficult to project the Cardinals because of the injuries that plagued them last season. They won’t reflect full seasons from guys like Adam Wainwright or Matt Holliday or even new additions like Stephen Piscotty or Randal Grichuk.

So it is safe to say that if the Cardinals can manage to stay healthy, they’ll outperform that projection easily.

Adding Leake shores up rotation

John Mozeliak finally got someone to take his money. And while Mike Leake certainly isn’t David Price, he will do the trick. With the deal happening quickly today, the Cardinals introduced their first Major League free agent acquisition in an afternoon press conference at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals and Leake agreed to a 5 year, $80 million deal that has a mutual option for 2021 that would make the contract worth as much as $94 million, according to reports. That deal makes the largest deal that the franchise has given out to a player who had never played for the franchise before.

Leake’s new deal will also give him full no trade protection, so he will be in St. Louis through at least the 2020 season. He also now has the longest contract on the Cardinals. If there is a downside to this deal for St. Louis, it is the no trade clause. However, it can be seen as a calculated signal from an organization that intends to compete over the life of the deal. After all, contending teams don’t trade away MLB talent anyway, and the Cardinals haven’t had a losing season while the four digit year has started with a two.

Leake turned 28 last month and posted a 3.70 ERA and 11-10 record over 30 starts and 192 innings between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants. After spending the previous five and a half years in Cincinnati, Leake was dealt in July to the Giants. Leake posted a 3.87 ERA with a 62-47 record over his time with the Cardinals’ NL Central rivals.

There are a number of reasons that this deal is good for the Cardinals.

First, Jason Heyward is 1-for-14 against him. Checkmate, Mr. Heyward.

Second, he had a 3.87 career ERA in Cincinnati while playing half of his games in the very hitter friendly Great American Ballpark. His numbers bear that out too, showing a 4.28 ERA in GABP and 3.48 ERA on the road, including a 2.91 ERA on the road last season. With my unscientific projection model, I think you can easily knock half a run off that career ERA to set your expectation. I believe he’ll win 13-15 games with a 3.30 ERA this year.

Third, he is a workhorse. Over the past four seasons, Leake has started at least 30 games in each and has thrown the 17th most innings of any pitcher in baseball. Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged just shy of 200 innings as well. When Lance Lynn’s 200 innings hit the disabled list in November, the Cardinals had to find a way to fill those effectively and Leake has shown he is more than capable of delivering them.

Fourth, I think about the kind of pitcher that Mike Leake is. He’s a guy who truly knows how to pitch and doesn’t rely on cruising a fastball by the batter to get outs. There’s a lot there that reminds me of Kyle Lohse who, when healthy, was excellent for St. Louis.

There are some differences though. Most notably that Leake does a better job of putting the ball on the ground. Plus, you can count on Busch Stadium turning some of those home runs into fly ball outs. They’ve both got some facial hair too.

Fifth, it’s a great price tag. Yeah, $16 million per year in average annual value does sound like a lot for someone who isn’t going to be an elite level pitcher, but considering Jeff Samardzija got $18 million per year from the Giants just a month or so ago, it’s a good deal. On the whole too, Leake has been better than Samardzija too. Generally, Samardzija may seem to have more upside, courtesy of his 2014 season, but he has been heavily inconsistent while Leake has been the model of consistency.

Sixth, Leake will be 28 for all of next season. He’ll be a free agent after the 2020 season and will turn 33 years old following that season. So the Cardinals are getting the widely perceived “peak years” from Leake in this deal. That’ll be great, especially with a pitcher who pitches rather than just throwing the ball as hard as possible (looking at you Lance Lynn).

Once you factor all those things together, I believe Leake will perform much better than people expect him to. I tweeted earlier this winter that Leake was probably going to be the best value addition on the market just because he was best positioned to outperform his contract.

The main objections I’ve seen today about the deal is that he isn’t an ace caliber pitcher like Price and that Tim Cooney could probably pitch just as well.

On the first point, I agree. Mike Leake is not and will probably never be a staff ace. But that’s not what the Cardinals need. In a rotation that features Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez, another ace is a luxury item. What the Cardinals really needed was someone who could go out there, be relied on to take the ball every five days, and be penciled in for 200 innings. He can do all of this. And for half the price of David Price.

To the second point, I also agree. Tim Cooney is probably capable of pitching just as well as Leake is. While I was never high on Cooney as a prospect, after seeing him pitch in St. Louis last summer and get better every time he took the mound, I’ve become a big fan. Unfortunately, you have to look at the bigger puzzle.

If Jaime Garcia could be depended on to make 32 starts, I believe you can take the risk on Cooney being your fifth starter because you’re more willing to gamble on the next man up role. But that isn’t the case and the Cardinals have a history of getting lots of use out of the next man up by having a starting rotation injury in April or May every year. You want Cooney in that next man up role.

Because if Cooney is pitching every five days in St. Louis and Garcia goes to the disabled list, who steps up? Who is the next man up? Is it Marco Gonzales who spent a great deal of time on the disabled list last year? Is it Alex Reyes (maybe if he didn’t get caught smoking marijuana again)? I think if those guys are healthy, it’s a very different decision for John Mozeliak.

Being able to let Leake pitch without an innings limit will be a big positive for the Cardinals over a guy like Cooney or Tyler Lyons. The Cardinals needed to bring in a pitcher. David Price would have been nice, but Leake may be the best value on the market.

The only downside to this deal that I can see is that he’s going to wear the #8. A pitcher in a single-digit jersey? That’s just not right. It’s unnatural. If I were Mozeliak, I’d have voided the contract right then and there.

How the Cardinals turned a strength into a weakness in four easy steps

Step 1: Waive Peter Bourjos
Step 2: Trade Jon Jay
Step 3: Lose Jason Heyward in free agency
Step 4: Have Randal Grichuk undergo sports hernia surgery

Easy peasy, right?

When the 2015 season wrapped up a month and a half ago, the Cardinals had five players on the roster that you could be comfortable with playing center field everyday. Now a week before Christmas and the only one that could go out there and play center field today is Tommy Pham. Which is ironic, considering injuries have basically defined his minor league career.

For the Cardinals, that should probably mean that there is shopping to be done, but this really shouldn’t be a simple window shopping expedition. This is a 2 am trip to Walmart.

I’ve already mentioned Pham. In addition to him, the Cardinals have two other center fielders on their 40 man roster: Randal Grichuk and Charlie Tilson.

As we learned earlier this week, Grichuk had sports hernia surgery and should be ready for spring training. But let’s be honest here. We’ve heard that story before. “Oh, he had surgery, but he’ll be good to go for spring training,” means a delayed start to spring workouts which means still waiting to get approval to see game action three weeks into March. Then the player struggles into May because they’re a month behind everyone else in preparation for the season.

Insurance against that is what the club needs right now. And with Grichuk’s own injury history, perhaps it would be a wise move even if both he and Pham were healthy.

Pham is a dynamic talent and excelled last year when given opportunities. He amazed in spring training and was likely pushing Grichuk out of a roster spot until a quad injury dropped him on the DL for over two months.

He made it back for a great September run that ended with many calling for him to be the club’s regular center fielder in the playoff series against the Cubs. They didn’t get their wish, but he did hit a pinch hit home run in Game 1 of the NL Divisional Series.

Pham’s spring training injury wasn’t a one off. While his 2014 season was about the only season he’d been able to remain injury free, it gave him an opportunity to show off the type of talent he has. We got a glimpse, but staying healthy–perhaps a much overlooked sixth tool–has always been a question for him.

The “internal option,” is Charlie Tilson.

For those unfamiliar with Tilson, he is a 23-year-old former second round pick of the Cardinals from 2011. Viva el Birdos described him as a “veritable toolbox of talent” last spring during their top prospect series. He makes a lot of contact, has a lot of speed, plays good outfield defense, and is very capable of sticking in center field.

The question with him is that his bat probably isn’t ready for the big leagues. Last season he hit .295/.351/.388 with 4 home runs over 134 games in Double-A Springfield. Considering Hammons Field is generally hitter friendly, those power numbers are disappointing. But the things that I like to use to gauge a hitter’s development and abilities have improved season-to-season every year he’s spent in the minors, though he still has work to do.

And as we learned the past couple seasons, getting a prospect the right development time in the minors is really critical to them sticking in the Majors out of the gate. Both Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk struggled in their first trips to the Majors. Meanwhile Stephen Piscotty hit from the get go. The difference? Piscotty got that second year in Triple-A.

So the Cardinals’ center field situation includes the oft-injured Grichuk and Pham as well as a not quite yet ready Tilson. They need someone who can play center field should both options go down. And even you want another option just in case one goes down or you’ll be looking at a Kolten Wong-esque overuse situation.

The Cardinals have been linked to Carlos Gonzalez from Colorado. And though I’m not totally convinced that it isn’t just national sports writers looking to fill inches (like all those Troy Tulowitzki rumors were), it would still be a good fit.

There is a lot to like about Gonzalez. He did hit 40 home runs last season and 16 of them came in his 76 road games. But he also failed to post a .300 on base percentage. Like Matt Holliday before him, his home/road splits scare me, but I was wrong about Holliday. I’d like to be wrong about Gonzalez too.

He isn’t really a center fielder, but he could probably fill the job in a pinch.

More recently, the Cardinals have been linked to the Rays for starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi. They’ve also got a few solid outfielders pushing their Major League roster, which might make a guy like Kevin Kiermaier availabile. He is, at best, a league average bat, but his defense in center field would make St. Louis fans’ hearts sing.

Mozeliak does like all in one trades that fill all his needs too.

On the free agent market, a great candidate would have been Justin Ruggiano. I’ve liked Ruggiano ever since I saw him playing in Triple-A for the Durham Bulls. He has since put together a couple good seasons off the bench in a reserve outfielder role. But he just signed with the Texas Rangers.

You have Yoenis Cespedes and Denard Span out there too, but neither really fit what the Cardinals need.

As you can see, the options are few, especially for guys who can play center field. Mozeliak isn’t the kind of GM who likes to cross his fingers and hope for the best. He’s a risk manager. He hedges on young players and gets insurance for the oft injured. Hopefully Mozeliak can find a way to eliminate some of the team’s risk in center field.