Offseason Outlook: Payroll

It seems like every time there’s a question about the St. Louis Cardinals making a big signing or a big trade that inevitably it gets asked whether the club can afford to make it. Call it having a small market mindset. While the Cardinals are a small market, they get incredible fan support. And because of that fan support, the club is generally able to spend like a top level team according to Team President Bill DeWitt III.

So here we are talking about the potential acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton and his potential 10 year, $295 million commitment coming to town and someone always chimes in asking, “Can the Cardinals afford it?” If you want the tl/dr (too long/didn’t read) summary, yes. In fact, a whole-hearted, yes.

Assuming that the Cardinals were to make no changes to their roster and fill all their needs from within, the Cardinals can expect to have an Opening Day 25 roster plus other money of just a tick over $125 million. And that’s without a single change from the roster today.

How does this compare to previous seasons? Last year at the beginning of Spring Training, using the same methodology, the Cardinals had a projected Opening Day payroll of $143 million. Which was the same as it was before the 2016 season as well. So the Cardinals could add $18 million in payroll for next season without spending more than they did the past two seasons.

With three major needs to fill the question then becomes just how far are the Cardinals willing to push their payroll?

One of the places I look is that 2015-16 MLB offseason. The Cardinals were prepared to sign both David Price and Jason Heyward. Those deals combined would have cost roughly $50 million in average annual value. Figure that they would not have signed Mike Leake in that scenario ($16 million AAV), and you have a club that seemed prepared to handle a payroll around $175 million.

Beyond that, the club recently signed a new television rights deal with FOX Sports Midwest that is expected to pay them $50 million this season and up to $86 million a season over the next 20 years. From 2017 to 2018, the payout is expected be a roughly $20 million increase.

Now, you can make the case that perhaps the club was comfortable going beyond their limits for a year or two until that new television deal kicked in and they’d recoup that investment on the back end. But I think it’s fair to say that a payroll of about $185 million is not out of the realm of possibility.

That would suggest that the Cardinals could add $60 million of commitments to the payroll. That leaves plenty of space for Giancarlo Stanton’s $29.5 million AAV contract, bullpen help, and a starting pitcher.

Edit: I was asked on Twitter by @C70 about how the luxury tax might play a factor in how much the club is willing to spend. For 2018, the luxury tax threshold will be $197 million.

Now, I assume there will be differing methodologies between how I compute payroll and how MLB does for luxury tax considerations, but it is far enough away from where I believe the Cardinals can maintain their payroll that I don’t think it will play a factor.

However, they certainly will have no interest in going above the luxury tax threshold at all. Or putting themselves in a situation where they may want to exceed it going forward.

The Cardinals do have Adam Wainwright‘s $19.5 million coming off the books at the end of the year and then Yadier Molina‘s $20 million off the books after 2020 as Stanton’s contract begins to increase. So there is some flexibility with big contracts coming off the books to absorb payroll growth due to Stanton’s deal and arbitration.

News: Cardinals lose 8 to minor league free agency

What happened. Eight minor league players for the St. Louis Cardinals became minor league free agents yesterday. They are right handed pitchers Mark Montgomery, Miguel Socolovich, and Josh Zeid, catchers Gabriel Lino and Albert Rosario and outfielders Anthony Garcia, Nick Martini and C.J. McElroy. Baseball America has the list of all 572 players who became minor league free agents on Monday evening.

The story. Teams can renew a minor league player’s contract six times before the player can become eligible for minor league free agency and become eligible to sign with any other team. Players in this minor league free agency class would have been drafted in 2011 or earlier.

The numbers. Mark Montgomery, 27, joined the Cardinals organization this year on a minor league deal. The right hander posted a 2.43 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in 66.2 relief innings for Triple-A Memphis, which left many surprised that he didn’t get an opportunity with all the bullpen shuffles the team made near the end of the season.

Miguel Socolovich, 31, joined the Cardinals in 2015 on a minor league deal and has spent time with the big league club. This past season he had a 4.15 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 39 innings for Triple-A Memphis. He was designated for assignment in May after posting an 8.68 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over 18.2 innings with the big league club. Over three years with the Cardinals he had a 3.80 ERA over 66.1 innings.

Josh Zeid, 30, joined the Cardinals this year and posted a 5.19 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in 102.1 innings for Triple-A Memphis. He began the season in the rotation for Memphis, making 12 starts and 21 relief appearances.

Gabriel Lino, 24, also joined the Cardinals this season and began the season with Springfield, posting a .267/.339/.419 batting line over 58 games before moving to Memphis following the promotion of Carson Kelly in July. There Lino hit .236/.317/.347 over 22 games.

Alberto Rosario, 30, joined the Cardinals organization in 2015 as a minor league free agent and has served as catcher for most of that time with Triple-A Memphis. This season in Memphis he hit .247/.291/.279 over 50 games. He’s also served at times as the backup catcher for the big league club hitting .171/.209/.220 in 23 games over two years.

Anthony Garcia, 25, was drafted by the Cardinals in the 18th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After a strong 2015 season where Garcia hit .285/.400/.476 with 11 home runs for Springfield, Garcia was added to the club’s 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He would struggle to find any traction in Triple-A, however, hitting .232/.299/.397 in 102 games with Memphis. He was outrighted off the 40 man roster in April 2017.

Nick Martini, 27, was drafted by the Cardinals in the 7th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. In a system packed with outfielder talent, Martini had somewhat of a breakout season this year, hitting .303/.394/.436 over 98 games for Triple-A Memphis.

C.J. McElroy, 24, was drafted by the Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Twice named the Fastest Baserunner in the Cardinals’ system by Baseball America, he never quite reached the promise of a third round pick. It wasn’t until 2015, his fifth year in the organization that he hit his first home run. Over six seasons he hit .256/.325/.308 across four levels. He missed the 2017 season due to injury.

The impact. 1/10. These are guys that the organization doesn’t think can cut it at the big league level or they would have been protected. It’s also possible that they expect they can bring some of these guys back. I would expect Rosario to return to Memphis where he’ll get an opportunity to be the next catcher up for the organization, a role he’s had for the last few seasons.

I also hope that the club can bring back Mark Montgomery. With the numbers he had, it was a surprise to me that he didn’t get a shot this summer through all the bullpen turmoil that the club had.

News: Paul DeJong named finalist for NL Rookie of the Year Award

What happened. St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong has been named a finalist for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

The story. A fourth round pick out of the 2015 MLB Draft as a Senior from Illinois State University, Paul DeJong, 24, made his MLB debut on May 28th by taking the second pitch he saw from Rockies closer Greg Holland deep for a pinch hit home run. He would fill in for the injured Kolten Wong initially, but a month after his debut, DeJong successfully pushed last season’s rookie standout Aledmys Diaz out of the starting job at shortstop.

The numbers. After that pinch hit home run in his debut, DeJong would hit 24 more big league homers in 2017 to finish the season with 25 home runs. His final slash line would be a very respectable .285/.325/.552 with 25 home runs.

He led the team in home runs, becoming the first Cardinals’ rookie to do that since Albert Pujols in 2001. He also led the team in slugging percentage. His 26 doubles led National League rookies.

Slugging is something he did well. Between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis, he hit a total of 38 home runs in 2017.

The impact. 1/10. It’s hard to give this much impact seeing as it’s a solo award and Cody Bellinger is the favorite to win it, but it is a nice feather in DeJong’s cap. He becomes the first Cardinals player to be in the top-3 since Kolten Wong was in 2014.

DeJong’s next step will be finding a way to avoid a sophomore slump like the guy he replaced at shortstop. In 2016 Aledmys Diaz broke onto the scene hitting .300/.369/.510 with 17 home runs for the big league club, but stumbled this season, hitting just .259/.290/.392 and received a mid-season demotion to Memphis.

On the plus side, DeJong plays better defense than Diaz did.

News: Cardinals make Lance Lynn a qualifying offer, make roster moves

What happened. The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have made a qualifying offer to free agent pitcher RHP Lance Lynn. In addition, the club has given RHP Trevor Rosenthal his unconditional release and outrighted IF Alex Mejia and C Alberto Rosario off the 40 man roster. Their 40 man roster now stands at 35 players.

The story. Today was the deadline for the club to make qualifying offers to their pending free agents and Lance Lynn was an obvious choice as he is looking for a long-term deal this winter.

On the roster moves end, Trevor Rosenthal was going to be spending most of the 2018 season rehabilitating from his August Tommy John surgery. This will free up his roster spot immediately instead of on December 1st non-tender deadline. In additional roster moves, Alex Mejia and Albert Rosario were outrighted to free up 40 man roster space.

The impact. 2/10. This isn’t a completely meaningless day due to the release of Trevor Rosenthal. Many, myself included, were hoping that the Cardinals and Rosenthal could come to terms on a two year deal that would pay him while he rehabs for a lower rate with incentives in 2019. However, I imagine any phone call to Rosenthal’s agent Scott Boras would have been met with a, “We’d love to discuss a two year deal with you… in free agency.”

There was absolutely zero incentive for Rosenthal to sign a deal before the non-tender deadline. Either the Cardinals tender him and he doesn’t need to sign anything more than the one year tender or they don’t and he gets 29 additional teams offering for his services. It was a no-brainer on Rosenthal’s side of the table. Yes, there is the risk that he has to rehab next year without a contract, but that probably doesn’t scare a guy who made $11 million the last two years as much as it does you and me.

For Lance Lynn, this is no surprise. With his pursuit of a long-term deal, a one year deal has little interest to him and he is expected to decline the qualifying offer. From what I’ve understood the Cardinals should receive a compensatory pick after the second round for Lynn next summer.

The decision to outright Alex Mejia is a little bit of a surprise to me, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Mejia’s value is as a utility infielder and they already have a number of players capable of playing that role and there are a number of players with a higher ceiling than Mejia to protect.

The outrighting of Alberto Rosario is more a procedural thing to remove him from the 40 man roster. He is eligible to elect for minor league free agency, as he has been the past few seasons, but has remained with the team.

Rumor Mill: Giancarlo Stanton

We weren’t even out of the exclusivity period after the end of the World Series when Major League Baseball hot stove started sizzling. Peter Gammons got us started this weekend with a tidbit that the St. Louis Cardinals had indicated to the Miami Marlins that they would be willing to part with one of their high end pitching prospects in a trade for Giancarlo Stanton.

While I still question how much faith I should place in a national baseball writer drumming up trade rumors (remember those years of Tulowitzki trade rumors?) or the Cardinals’ front office when it comes to sealing big deals, this would seem to be a positive indication that there might be a chance for a deal.

This is a tough situation because it’s so hard for us to value Giancarlo Stanton for a few reasons.

First, he’s owed $295 million over the next 10 years. That’s a lot of coin, even for a transformative player like Stanton. But if you were to get 4 WAR out of Stanton on average over those 10 years (in 8 seasons so far he’s averaged 4.4 WAR including injury shortened seasons), he’ll easily be worth that contract. If Stanton were a free agent this winter, he would get far more than $29.5 million in average annual value. That’s all I would really need to know when it comes to whether the contract is worthwhile.

Second, he has an opt out after the 2020 season. Logic would suggest that if he has three productive seasons that he will exercise that opt out to become a free agent at 30 years old. That would be opting out of what is essentially a 7 year, $218 million deal and there are many who think he won’t be opting out, but depending on what guys like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado bring home after next season, there could easily be a market for $30-40 million more dollars.

Third, how much money do the Marlins want to send to St. Louis. The math here is pretty clear. The more of Stanton’s salary they’re willing to cover, the better prospects they can expect to receive in return. But the Marlins are hemorrhaging cash and one of the main reasons they’re trading Stanton away is because he is the biggest move they can make towards profitability. We might be looking at one of the last true contract dumps.

The result, I think, is a player who will likely be traded for far less than anyone expects.

And this is where the Cardinals have an edge. The other major suitor for Stanton is expected to be the San Francisco Giants, who struggled this season and have very few pitching prospects in their system. They have just one MLB.com Top-100 prospect and just one pitcher in their organizational top-10.

Enter the Cardinals with five MLB.com Top-100 prospects, two of which are pitchers, and five pitchers in their organizational top-10.

I wrote last winter about how the Marlins and the Cardinals were natural trade partners. The Cardinals needed a hitter following the death of Oscar Taveras and the Marlins needed a pitcher following the death of Jose Fernandez.

Of course, as I wrote that, it was about Marcell Ozuna, who went and put together the best year of his career in 2017. But Stanton would fit the bill too.

I think there’s enough to indicate that the Cardinals have a real interest in Stanton. But when it comes to the Cardinals’ front office, I always question their willingness to spend money and trade prospects.

The bigger question may be if there was any truth to the rumor from the trade deadline that the Marlins told the Cardinals that they believed Stanton would not waive his no trade clause to join the Cardinals. Though it was later clarified this was more of a midwest thing than a St. Louis thing.

I do believe, for a number of reasons, that if a Stanton to St. Louis trade is going to happen, it’ll happen in the next two weeks. November 20th is the deadline for clubs to protect players from the Rule 5 draft, and a team acquiring prospects will want to protect them if they’re in that situation. Additionally, the club will also want to have completed some trades to thin out the 40 man roster by this point as well. But they won’t want to trade anyone in those deals that might interest Miami. So I do expect a Stanton trade to happen relatively quickly or not at all.

2017-18 MLB Offseason Calendar

Here’s a complete list of all the dates you need to know for the 2017-18 MLB offseason.

November 2, 2017 – Free Agency Begins. At the conclusion of the World Series, all players with expiring contracts and enough service time will become free agents. Teams will then have an exclusive five day negotiation period with their pending free agents. For the Cardinals, Lance Lynn, Seung-hwan Oh, Zach Duke, and Juan Nicasio are pending free agents.

November 6, 2017 – Exclusive negotiation period ends, Qualifying offers due. After the conclusion of the five day exclusive negotiation period, players are eligible to negotiate with all teams. If teams intend to make a qualifying offer, expected to be a 1 year, $17.4 million offer this year, they must make it by 5 p.m. Eastern.

November 7, 2017 – Gold Glove winners announced. For the Cardinals, Yadier Molina a finalist for the Gold Glove Award at catcher.

November 8, 2017 – Silver Slugger winners announced.

November 13, 2017 – Qualifying offer decisions due. Players who were offered a qualifying offer by their former team must accept the offer by today. Teams who sign players who rejected their qualifying offers will give up a compensatory draft pick to the player’s previous team.

November 13-16, 2017 – General Managers’ Meetings in Orlando, FL.

November 13, 2017 – Rookie of the Year winners announced.

November 14, 2017 – Manager of the Year winners announced.

November 15, 2017 – Cy Young Award winners announced.

November 16, 2017 – MVP Award winners announced.

November 20, 2017 – Rule 5 protection deadline. Any Rule 5 Draft eligible players that the team wishes to protect must be added to their 40 man roster by this deadline. In general, players who were signed out of high school or international free agency in 2013 or earlier and out of college in 2014 or earlier are Rule 5 Draft eligible.

December 1, 2017 – Non-tender deadline. Teams must tender contracts to their players under team control. Players who are ineligible for salary arbitration will have their salary determined by the team during spring training. Players who are eligible for salary arbitration have more power to negotiate their salary prior to arbitration hearings in February. Potential players who could be non-tender candidates for the Cardinals would include Trevor Rosenthal and Aledmys Diaz.

December 10-14, 2017 – Winter Meetings in Orlando, FL.

December 14, 2017 – The Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft is one of the last things that takes place during the MLB Winter Meetings. The idea is that players who may be blocked or who have hit a ceiling in one organization can be picked up by another and given an opportunity. More information on who may be eligible is above with the November 20, 2017, description. The Cardinals took Matthew Bowman from the Mets in the Rule 5 Draft two years ago.

January 13, 2018 – Salary arbitration filing deadline. Players and teams will officially file their salary arbitration requests. The Cardinals last season followed through of a threat of “file-and-trial”  with Michael Wacha. The idea being that if a player had not come to terms with the team by the filing deadline, that they would go to the arbitration hearing. Carlos Martinez filed as well, however agreed to terms on a 5 year extension soon after.

January 29 – February 16, 2018 – Salary arbitration hearings.  If the team and the player remain unable to reach an agreement on salary for 2018, the two sides will each present their cases to an arbiter who will then decide which number the player will be paid. Last season the Cardinals took Michael Wacha to arbitration and won. Before that, they had not taken a player to arbitration since 1999.

February 13, 2018 – Pitchers & Catchers report.

February 18, 2018 – Position Players report.

February 23, 2018 – Spring Training games begin. The Cardinals open the 2018 Grapefruit League as the visiting team against the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.

March 26 & 27, 2018 – Exhibition in Montreal. After breaking camp on March 25, the Cardinals will head to Montreal, Canada, to play a pair of exhibition games against the Toronto Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium.

March 29, 2018 – Season opener. Cardinals open up the 2018 MLB season against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Offseason Outlook: My Game Plan

Over this week I’ve discussed the Cardinals’ pending free agents, their salary arbitration cases, and the needs that the roster faces next season. To finish out my offseason outlook series, I’m going to discuss how I would approach this winter if I were the chief decision maker in the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals were closer to the Cubs than you think they were. If you take away the head-to-head games both teams went 78-65 last year. But the Cardinals went 5-14 against the Cubs and that is where the division champions made up their entire 9 game lead. And seven of those losses to the Cubs came by just one run.

I think it’s interesting to note how many fans think that those 9 games are the equivalent of being light years behind the Cubs, but just ask yourself: How many games do you think the Cardinals lost because Mike Matheny made the wrong bullpen decision? If the club, with their hiring of Mike Maddux, reduces that number, that’s an improvement.

The Cubs have their own remodeling to do this winter as well, so the gulf between the two organizations is not that wide and could stand to flux quite a bit this winter. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, instead of just needing to add a bat, they need to find a way to deal with the losses of Trevor Rosenthal and Lance Lynn. This winter can’t just be another step in the right direction, it will require a series of steps.

Trim the fat. I argued last winter that the Cardinals needed to  “trim the fat” from their roster. Guys like Jhonny Peralta and Jonathan Broxton didn’t need to be brought back. The odds of either playing a large role in the team’s successes in 2017 was always exceptionally slim. In Peralta’s case, his playing early in the season kept either Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong out of the lineup. Both players had career years in 2017.

If they had trimmed the fat from their roster last winter, they would have created opportunities for players to step in and contribute. If the club wants to go young, creating those opportunities is the team’s biggest thing to keep in mind and it should inform all their decisions.

This requires that the front office take a hard look at what they have and make some bets and then hedge them. The biggest part of trimming the fat this winter is trading Stephen Piscotty and probably Jedd Gyorko as well.

As far as Piscotty, the Cardinals have a glut of outfielders who are ready or near ready. Having Dexter Fowler and Piscotty on long-term deals takes away the opportunities of these young players. My starting outfield next season with be Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Randal Grichuk with guys like Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and others getting their opportunities as the team’s fourth outfielder.

For Voit, like Adams before him, his future here in St. Louis is non-existent as long as Matt Carpenter is St. Louis. There’s also Jose Martinez who is looking to improve his abilities at first base, a position I think he is far more suited for that the outfield.

And then Gyorko, my plan is to bring in a starting infielder, which would mean that playing time for Gyorko would disappear and beyond that Wong has shown what he can do when he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. With Gyorko on the bench, Wong would be.

Go big or go home. For the Cardinals this winter, they need to add a big bat in the middle of their lineup, a closer, and a starting pitcher. But they need to add all three. Adding one, or even just two, leaves the team exposed and really reduces the benefit of going after what you added. After all, what’s the point in adding a guy like J.D. Martinez if your pitching staff can’t hold up it’s end of the deal?

Personally, I don’t pursue Martinez and the main reason why is that the Cardinals already have a half dozen outfielders who profile as starting outfielders. Perhaps if the front office thins the outfield pool to bring in other needs, but I don’t see that happening. Another reason is that Martinez has never been a feature hitter in a lineup. In Detroit, he hit behind Miguel Cabrera. In Arizona, he hit behind Paul Goldschmidt. Pardon my pitching parlance, but I would be reluctant to give ace money to a guy who may just be a very good #2. We’ve already got that problem with Matt Carpenter.

However, the Blue Jays may be interested in trading Josh Donaldson and they need outfielders. Donaldson is a rental, but he is also the only player over the last few years who has been able to consistently hold a candle to Mike Trout for the discussion of the most valuable player in baseball. You acquire him and he bridges the gap until next winter when there is a stellar free agent class and then you react to your needs then.

In the trade with the Blue Jays, you may also be able to get them to send you J.A. Happ, who would provide the Cardinals with a rental starter who can bridge the gap through to Alex Reyes being ready to join the rotation in 2018.

In the bullpen, the Cardinals are searching for a closer. Here, I would make re-signing Juan Nicasio a priority. I would also engage the Rays in trade talks about Alex Colome. Colome will be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and has 84 saves over the past two seasons. He and Nicasio at the back end of the bullpen with Tyler Lyons, Matthew Bowman, John Brebbia, and Sam Tuivailala along with Sandy Alcantara and eventually Alex Reyes, should be enough back there.

Squeeze the lineup. One of the things that Mike Matheny has struggled to do over the past few seasons is optimize his lineup. It was telling last season that whenever there was an injury that forced Matheny to shuffle his lineup that the team flourished, but when everyone was healthy enough to return to the lineup he returned to his standard lineups and the team once again struggled.

One of the things I’ve realized while watching the playoffs this October is that while Matt Carpenter may be a great leadoff hitter, he is not a “spark plug” type of player that you want to have at the top of your lineup. The two guys the Cardinals have who could be that kind of player are Tommy Pham or Kolten Wong in my opinion. And I lean towards Pham more because of his attitude on the field.

That would make my Opening Day lineup look like this,

CF Tommy Pham
LF Dexter Fowler
3B Josh Donaldson
1B Matt Carpenter
SS Paul DeJong
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
RF Randal Grichuk

That lineup is deeper throughout. You have two speedy OBP guys in front of Donaldson who can mash them in. Carpenter can play both on base guy to move along the guys in front of him or to get on for DeJong’s power. Then you’ve got another OBP/SLG pair in Wong and Grichuk.

The Cardinals have an opportunity this winter. I am hopeful with the departure from their standard operating procedures that pursuing Mike Maddux seems to be, that it signals a departure when it comes to free agent pursuit as well.

If the Cardinals want to win the division and then set their eyes on a World Series, they need to make a series of changes. Just getting one or the other won’t be enough.

News: Cardinals name Mike Maddux pitching coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Outlook: Team Needs

On Monday I took a look at the Cardinals’ pending free agents and yesterday I looked at their pending salary arbitration cases. Today we’ll take a look at what I believe should be the Cardinals’ priorities this winter.

The Cardinals find themselves in a unique situation this winter. They have lots of quality players, but few star level players. Matt Carpenter might be the closest to a star player on offense that the Cardinals have, but he is not one. Which is why criticism of him is so strong. Carlos Martinez may be a star player in 2018 or 2019, but he was not in 2017. Nor were most pitchers at age 26 either.

But how do you talk about what a club has need for without feeling like you’re beating the proverbial deal horse once again?

Base running and fundamentals continue to hamper this team. The talent was there this season. The Cubs and Cardinals had the same record against the rest of the league. The Cubs’ made up their 9 game difference in the division in head-to-head play and seven of those losses to the Cubs came in one run games. The results indicate the teams were closely matched. A tweak or two could have put them over the top.

Bullpen management is another problem altogether, but the Cardinals seem to have a plan to address that with their new pitching coach. I am eager to see whether that changes anything or whether it was just more rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Unfortunately, given what the Cardinals stand to lose this winter on their pitching staff, they are not in position to simply need to build on what they have. The Cardinals have needs and they’re going to need to pursue them more aggressively than they have in John Mozeliak’s tenure as the chief decision maker in the front office. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at yet another season of regression.

Closer is really the primary need that the organization outlined this winter. With Trevor Rosenthal‘s injury, and what I expect to be a non-tender in December, the Cardinals need to replace that. Juan Nicasio was acquired in September and filled the role well, but he is also a free agent.

While the Cardinals don’t have a clear heir in house that they feel confident handing the role to or they would have last season when Rosenthal went down. Both John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala turned in solid seasons last year and have closing experience, Brebbia in Independent League baseball and Tuivailala has been groomed as a closer in the minors. You’ve also got Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil out there as well as setup guys. Mix in Matthew Bowman, Ryan Sherriff, Sandy Alcantara, and potentially Alex Reyes in the second half and you have a good base to a bullpen that really just needs the exclamation point to put on the end.

The Cardinals have indicated that they’ll pursue a free agent closer and it’s believed they are interested in Greg Holland who is expected to opt out of his contract with the Rockies. But Holland’s option could be worth as much as $21 million to stay in Colorado. I find it hard to believe that he would opt out, only to get less than he could likely get if he stayed one more year in Colorado before hitting free agency.

After that, the offense needs a boost. It’s really difficult to put your finger on where the Cardinals need to improve on offense next season. Yes, they need a run producer in the middle of their lineup, but the Cardinals got above average production from every fielding position except catcher and shortstop last season. And since June 6th when Paul DeJong made his first start at shortstop, it has been just catcher and it’s unlikely that Yadier Molina and his new $60 million contract are going anywhere.

That leaves plenty of options. Perhaps too many. How do the Cardinals turn a glut of slightly above average players into one or two well above average ones? Hopefully the club does not experience paralysis by analysis with all the different directions they could take.

The key here will be to look at who the club expects to be everyday players. In my opinion, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, and Yadier Molina are probably the only guys that you can lock in. That leaves two outfield spots and a corner infield spot to look for your update.

According to Derrick Goold, the Cardinals have long had interest in Josh Donaldson. They have also talked with Miami about their outfielders, but Marcell Ozuna will be sold high, Christian Yelich is essentially Stephen Piscotty, and the Marlins have indicated that Giancarlo Stanton may not waive his no-trade clause for St. Louis. That creates some issues.

On the plus side, the Cardinals have four positions they could upgrade at. The downside is that they need to trim the fat on their roster as well. That will be difficult for the front office to justify when they’ll likely have to sell off at a reduced return since everyone knows the Cardinals need to do it. That alone makes me reluctant to bet on the organization pulling the trigger.

The final need is starting pitching. With the Cardinals on the verge of letting Lance Lynn walk into free agency, I believe that starting pitching might be one of the most pressing situations for the team next season and it’s gotten very little coverage. John Mozeliak has expressed his desire to “go young” with the staff which likely means that Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty being expected to break camp in the rotation with the big league club next season.

I don’t expect that Alex Reyes will be ready go until much closer to the summer, so I wouldn’t bet on him opening the season with St. Louis next year.

But who is your guy that will take the ball every five days? Flaherty and Weaver will both be rookies and on innings restrictions. Michael Wacha stayed healthy this season, but was on a controlled workload. If they increase that workload, how will his stress injury respond? Adam Wainwright still has some magic left in his arm, but his ability to stay healthy is a concern for me. And then Carlos Martinez started 32 games and threw over 200 innings for the first time in his career, so we need to see how he will respond.

The Cardinals could be planning to approach this as a situation where they start the season with Flaherty and Weaver and then mix in guys like Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber, and even Alex Reyes later in the season to help stretch those guys. But if you intend to be a playoff team next season, you’re placing an awful lot of confidence in those guys to be able to step in and do the job without skipping a beat. Further, if you’re going to invest in a centerpiece bat for your lineup, you owe it to that same lineup to make sure your rotation can put them in position to win games.

There are guys the Cardinals could sign to fill innings, but that’s how you get a guy like Mike Leake. It’s one of the reasons why I support bringing Lynn back so heavily. But perhaps they piggy-back a rental starter like a J.A. Happ into a potential deal with Toronto or go trade some of their lower level talent for a guy like Jake Odorizzi from the Rays who are set to have a record high in payroll next season unless they make some changes.

There’s options here, but I don’t see a team entering 2018 with those five guys penciled into the rotation as a playoff team.

Offseason Outlook: Arbitration

Yesterday we discussed the pending free agents the Cardinals have and today we’ll take a look at their salary arbitration eligible players.

A quick recap on what salary arbitration is. A player needs six years of MLB service time to elect for free agency and players who have yet to accumulate that is in their “team control” years. The first three years of this is where the team has the most control, they can unilaterally decide what the players will make. The second three years they qualify for salary arbitration. Players and teams negotiate a salary and if an agreement can’t be reached, they go to an arbitration hearing where an arbiter decides which side is correct.

There are some special situations, one which the Cardinals are facing and I’ll talk about at the end, but in general that is how this works.

Players who are under team control must be tendered a contract by their team by December 2nd or they will be what we consider to be “non-tendered.” When a player is non-tendered, they become a free agent.

LHP Tyler Lyons. Over the past few years I’ve really grown to love Tyler Lyons and have become quite enamored with his potential as a top level relief pitcher. It’s not just those dreamy eyes, though they certainly don’t hurt. I’ve argued for the last couple years that Lyons could be an elite setup guy if he was ever given the opportunity to be one.

This year he got his first taste of that action. He made the move to the bullpen full time and posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.09 over 54 innings. His second half was even more incredible as he posted a 1.61 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 28 innings. That 1.61 ERA was the 13th best ERA among relief pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in the second half.

Lyons will be arbitration eligible for the first time and is projected to get $1.3 million by MLB Trade Rumors and he is totally worth that. In my opinion, Lyons is the kind of reliever that you’re going to want to buy out his arbitration years. Lyons has a 2.74 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 144 innings as a relief pitcher in his MLB career. What he did this year as a full time reliever should not have been a surprise to anyone.

OF Randal Grichuk. Randal Grichuk will also be arbitration eligible for the first time and he may be one of the toughest players to value. On one hand, he strikes out a lot, but he has power. Power so impressive that as I wrote earlier this year, only Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado have hit extra base hits at a greater rate than him since his arrival in the big leagues.

Yes, he doesn’t walk. But for all the talk about how bad his 2017 was supposed to have been, his rate numbers were virtually identical to the 2016 season we praised. That those rate numbers have remained steady makes me think that we now know what Grichuk is. And so I have to ask myself. Am I happy with a guy who, in a 600 plate appearance season, projects to hit .240 with 38 doubles, 6 triples, and 29 home runs? Yes, yes I am.

With the outfield logjam, it’s very possible that Grichuk is traded, but I still firmly believe that that would be a mistake. He’s the kind of guy you put at the back of a lineup and let him loose. Plus defender, plus power. And for a projected $2.8 million next year? A steal.

RHP Michael Wacha. Michael Wacha will be the club’s only second year arbitration eligible player. Last winter Wacha made a little bit of history after the club initiated their new “file and trial” policy where, once arbitration numbers are filed, they intend to take the player to the arbitration hearing. The Cardinals filed at $2.775 million, Wacha filed at $3.2 million, and the Cardinals won. It was the first time the organization had taken a player to arbitration since 1999.

Most important for Wacha this season was to prove that he was able to stay healthy for an entire season. He did that with 30 starts, however is performance left something lacking. His 103 ERA+ demonstrates that he was just slightly above league average. His overall numbers were a 4.13 ERA, 12-9 record, over 165.2 innings.

With the Cardinals’ moves in the rotation, Wacha aims to be leaned on more heavily in 2018. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Wacha will get $5.9 million in arbitration this winter, which I feel is high given his injury history and average performance. I also question Wacha’s place in St. Louis beyond 2019 when he becomes eligible for free agency. With two years of team control remaining coming off a season where he stayed healthy, his trade value may never be higher.

RHP Trevor Rosenthal. Trevor Rosenthal will be eligible for arbitration for the third time this winter, which means he will be a free agent following the 2018 season. Rosenthal made $6.4 million this past season and posted a 3.40 ERA over 47.2 innings before his season was ended by Tommy John surgery in late August. The standard timetable without any setbacks could put him back on the mound in August, the question is whether the Cardinals would want to pay the price to hope for that.

That’s where it gets complicated. By the CBA, players under team control cannot have their salaries drop by more than 80% without entering free agency. For Rosenthal, that means his minimum salary next year is $5.12 million. And even if they could get Rosenthal and his agent Scott Boras to agree to terms at that price, I imagine it is unlikely.

MLB Trade Rumors projects that Rosenthal will command $7.9 million in arbitration and that’s a lot of money to drop on a player for a month or two of pitching. Because of that, I do not expect the club to tender him a contract and make him a free agent.

INF Aledmys Diaz. The last player I’ll talk about isn’t arbitration eligible, but he’s in a weird situation. His initial four year contract ends at the end of the 2017 season, but he does not yet have enough service time to be arbitration eligible. That means that the Cardinals are in position to set his salary for 2018. The same 80% reduction limit applies, so Diaz’s minimum salary for next year would be $2 million unless the team non-tenders him into free agency.

Last year I suggested that the Cardinals would avoid this by buying out an arbitration year or two and include this pre-arbitration season in it, but given what we saw in 2017, things have changed.

Diaz hit .250/.290/.392 with 7 home runs in 79 games with the Cardinals and scored himself a mid-season demotion to the minors after losing his starting job at shortstop to Paul DeJong. Diaz diversified his defensive positions to include third base and second base during his time in the minors, but his future with the team is anything but certain. There is barely a niche for him on the roster now, but if the Cardinals acquire a starting infielder, I expect that there is no place for him on their roster.

For that reason, I expect that the club will either trade him before the deadline or non-tender him this winter. I think he’s shown enough that there will be a team willing to take a chance on him, but I don’t believe it will be the Cardinals.