Sierra returns as Gyorko goes on paternity leave

The St. Louis Cardinals called up outfielder Magneuris Sierra today before their game against the Chicago Cubs. Third baseman Jedd Gyorko remained in St. Louis with his family after his wife had a baby earlier in the week. He is planning to return to the team on Sunday.

Sierra returns for his second cup of coffee with the club, having hit .367/.406/.367 over 7 games with the Cardinals in his first cup. When he went back down, he was promoted to Springfield where he has played 10 games and hit .263/.268/.368.

He joins the Cardinals with a 7 game hitting streak to open up his Major League career, which is tied for a franchise record. A hit on Friday will set the record and he is in the lineup, batting 8th and playing left field.

I don’t see a scenario where he sticks around after these two games, but it’s obvious that he made an impression while he was up before and gets another opportunity. I’m sure he doesn’t mind the nice bump in paycheck for a few days either.

As far as the Gyorkos, welcome to the world, Brooklyn!

Cardinals release Broxton, call up John Gant

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have given RHP Jonathan Broxton his unconditional release and called up RHP John Gant from Memphis.

The Cardinals acquired Gant, not to be confused with John Gast, from the Atlanta Braves in the offseason deal that sent Jaime Garcia to Atlanta. After starting the season on the disabled list with a groin strain, Gant returned to the mound in mid-May and in three starts for the Redbirds has a 2.19 ERA over 12.1 innings of work.

He will join a bullpen in St. Louis that is slowly being remodeled, adding Gant and John Brebbia over the past few days.

Gant spent time in the Majors with Atlanta last season and posted a 4.95 ERA in 20 innings of relief work over 13 appearances.

After coming to St. Louis by trade in 2015, Broxton posted a 2.66 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 23.2 innings of work to finish up the season. The Cardinals declined his option, but would later sign him to a 2 year, $7.5 million deal in free agency. He posted a 4.30 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 60.2 innings of work last season and had stretches where he was one of the most reliable relievers out of the bullpen. Unfortunately, he also had bouts of being the opposite.

So far this season Broxton has struggled, posting a 6.89 ERA and 2.17 WHIP over 15.2 innings. With Miguel Socolovich gone in the move for Brebbia, that left Broxton as clearly the worst pitcher in the Cardinals’ bullpen and John Mozeliak pulled the trigger today to make the move.

Cardinals option Grichuk to minors, activate Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals optioned outfielder Randal Grichuk to Single-A Palm Beach in a corresponding move to activating Jose Martinez off the disabled list. Martinez played three games in a rehab stint in Palm Beach, hitting .333 with a home run and 4 RBI.

Martinez was hitting .313/.353/.458 with a home run and 4 RBI over 20 games for the Cardinals before the groin injury sent him to the disabled list.

Grichuk has been mired in a slump, batting .205/.244/.356 with just one home run over the team’s past 20 games, so perhaps a change was coming, especially with Martinez back and Tommy Pham hitting well.

The move is notable because the club isn’t just demoting Grichuk a level to Memphis like they did last summer, but all the way down to Class A Palm Beach. Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak mentioned it was to let him work with another hitting coach, get him into a lower stress environment and that they have already seen him hit in Memphis so they wanted to try something new.

Which is great, but the trip to Memphis worked for him last year.

After the June demotion, Grichuk returned in July to hit .269/.300/.544 with 16 home runs over the team’s final 80 games.

But with this demotion, I can’t help but wonder where his head is at right now. In the past six months he went from starting center fielder to the team signing his replacement and moving him to left field. Then giving the other outfielder a six year extension on a team with a glut of quality outfield talent on it’s way. And then he found himself in an early season time share in left field with a career first baseman. If he wasn’t already spinning, now he’ll be playing in A ball, a level he hasn’t seen since 2012.

The move is particularly frustrating as Stephen Piscotty is away from the team for personal reasons and rather than make a roster move to play with a full 25 man roster, the team is willingly playing short, while already playing with a short squad of position players. They could have promoted Martinez, moved Piscotty to the Inactive list and waited until Piscotty was ready to return to send Grichuk out.

Five things about the Rockies Series

The Cardinals dropped two out of three to the Rockies as they fall to 24-23 and 1.5 games back in the NL Central. They head home to face the Dodgers who took two out of three in LA last week. The Cardinals generally have felt listless this season with a losing record at home.

Pham continues to ride hot streak

Tommy Pham continues to ride his hot streak. He entered the Rockies series batting .309/.385/.545 with 3 home runs in 16 games for the Cardinals. He exits it hitting .333/.410/.621 with 5 home runs in 19 games since his May 5th call up.

Those numbers are so good that he is currently ranked in the top-26 in baseball in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+ since his arrival in the Majors this season.

Here’s hoping that he can continue to see and continue his strong hitting performance. The team needs it as he has clearly been by far the Cardinals’ best hitter in May.

Fowler starting to turn the corner?

In the three game series with the Rockies, Dexter Fowler went 6-for-12 in the series and even led off two games with hits, getting a single on Friday night and a double on Sunday to open up the game. That brings his batting average leading off a game up to .216.

The .500 series brought his season average up to .228, but he is still pretty push to where he began the month. He hit .234/.305/.415 in April and is hitting .219/.338/.453 in May. A little more power, a little better on base, but still struggling to find any consistency at the plate.

Hopefully this series is a sign of things to come. The team could use him to start putting it together.

Rocky Mountain high?

On Saturday Mike Matheny gave Matt Carpenter a day off and decided to stick Yadier Molina in the third spot because, what’s the worst that could happen?

I get changing up the system a bit, by Molina is by no means anything close to a #3 hitter anymore. I get that you don’t have a ton of options when Carpenter isn’t going to play and it makes for an incredibly thin lineup, but really?

The best worst part might be that the team won. On an RBI single by Molina. Which is pretty much how Matheny’s craziest ideas work out. Twitter gets lathered up and it works. Unfortunately, that typically empowers Matheny to keep doing it even when it fails the next 9 times.

“DeJong ball”… get it, like “the long ball?”

The Cardinals promoted infielder Paul DeJong to the Majors on Sunday and Mike Matheny wasted no time in getting him into the action as he would pinch hit in the 9th inning. He would go deep for his first Major League home run in his first Major League at bat. Welcome to the Show.

DeJong is in an interesting position. I think that if he can hit and prove he belongs in the big leagues, he’ll make a play to stay after Kolten Wong returns which most likely means the exit of Jhonny Peralta. Over the offseason, I figured that if Peralta failed to hit this year that DeJong was the guy who dictated his future this season.

They were adding positional flexibility late last season for him so that he could find more at bats in the big leagues when he finally made it. Now we’re getting the opportunity to see that.

Cardinals put Wong on DL, call up DeJong

The St. Louis Cardinals announced before today’s game that they have placed second baseman Kolten Wong on the 10-day disabled list with a left elbow strain, retroactive to May 27th. In his place, the team has called up infielder Paul DeJong from Memphis. He will be assigned #11.

Wong, who had been lifted from the game against the Giants on May 20th with the injury, had been limited by it over the past games before it flared up again before the game yesterday. Wong is hitting .278/.378/.414 this season, including .299/.392/.373 in May.  With Jedd Gyorko solidifying his hold on the third base job, Wong has been left to control second base and has responded.

DeJong, 23, was drafted in the 4th round by the Cardinals in the 2015 draft out of Illinois State University. He hit .260/.324/.460 with 22 home runs in a full season last year in Springfield and has hit .294/.331/.541 with 11 home runs over 46 games so far this season in Memphis.

Drafted as a third baseman, he has played primarily shortstop this season at Memphis while also getting limited reps at second base.

Their desire to add positional flexibility for him around the infield clearly indicated to me that the organization was looking for a way to get him onto the Major League roster at some point this season if Jhonny Peralta was not able to carve out a role with the club.

This might not be the exact scenario envisioned, but if DeJong can establish that he belongs, he could give the club a difficult decision to make when Wong is ready to come back.

 

Cardinals DFA Socolovich, call up Brebbia

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have purchased the contract of RHP John Brebbia and have added him to the active roster. To make room, the organization has designed Miguel Socolovich for assignment.

Socolovich, 30, joined the Cardinals’ organization in 2015 as a minor league free agent. He would pitch well enough to earn a call up in May. He would spend three cups of coffee with the big league club that year, posting a 1.82 ERA over 28 appearances. He started 2016 in the minors, but was called up in July and then back up again in August posting a 2.00 ERA over appearances.

With no options, Socolovich made the Cardinals’ bullpen this season on Opening Day and has struggled this season. He has an 8.68 ERA over 18.2 innings of work this season, capped off by allowing 4 earned runs over a third of an inning last night in Denver.

In his place the Cardinals add Brebbia to the roster.

Brebbia is the main figure in one of my favorite baseball transaction stories. In 2015 he pitched in the independent American Association and posted a 0.98 ERA with 19 saves in 51 appearances. He was considered to be the #2 independent leagues free agent at that point and signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in September. Less than two months later, the Cardinals selected him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.

His first season in St. Louis, a 5.03 ERA in 43 appearances between Springfield and Memphis, was forgettable, but so far this season he has posted a 1.69 ERA in 26.2 innings over 15 appearances. He’s had a 0.79 WHIP.

The scouting report on him says he’s got a mid-90s fastball and used a slider for his outpitch. He has a good changeup and recently added a sinker into the mix.

Socolovich’s future is a little less certain. The DFA gives them a roster spot immediately while they decide what to do with him. They could trade him, put him on waivers, or outright him. I expect that they will place him on waivers and, if he clears, he’ll be optioned to Memphis and retain his spot on the 40 man roster.

In other news, Jonathan Broxton is still here.

Column: Carpenter doubles down on mistakes

On last Saturday night the Cardinals and the Giants played a tight game. Carlos Martinez dominated, throwing 9 shutout innings and posting an 87 game score. When the Cardinals would go on to lose the game in extra innings, they became the first team since June of 2015 to lose a game where their starting pitcher had at least an 86 game score. In that span, teams who got at least an 86 game score from their starting pitcher had gone 85-0.

That streak would end, but it may not have had to if not for a base running blunder in the 9th inning. The Cardinals were given a golden opportunity score a run in the bottom of the 9th, and then Matt Carpenter squandered it.

Leading off the bottom of the ninth for St. Louis was Carpenter. He ripped a ball to the wall that was initially misplayed by Giants left fielder Eduardo Nunez. The ball caromed off the wall back towards the infield. Carpenter saw it and decided he would try to stretch a double into a triple and was thrown out for his troubles. The problem here was that, because of how the ball game off the wall, Nunez had plenty of momentum towards the infield for his throw.

But rather than admitting his mistake, Carpenter decided to double down on the decision offering a number of things that he says factored into his decision to try to take the extra base.

“I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think I couldn’t make it, first and foremost,” said Carpenter to the Post-Dispatch. “Secondly, we’re talking about a game where offense was at a premium and getting to third the percentage of scoring that run goes up way higher than if I was just at second. We’re not going to bunt Jedd (Gyorko) behind me. We’re going to have to require a base hit. If I can get to third base then a sac fly wins the game, a wild pitch wins the game, a base hit wins the game, a groundball, an error — a lot of different things. My whole thought when I saw the ball hit the wall was I’m getting to third. It just didn’t work.”

First and foremost, I hope that Carpenter wouldn’t try to go to third if he didn’t think he could make it. I’m actually more than a little concerned that he felt like he had to make this point.

Secondly, offense is at a premium and you ran into an out. It’s one of the oldest baseball adages. Don’t make the first out of an inning at third base. Apparently Carpenter doesn’t believe in that.

“The old golden rule is that you don’t want to make the first or last out at third base, but you cannot win the game from third if you’re not on third. That’s my mindset,” he said.

And it is literally true what Carpenter says there, you can’t win the game from third base if you aren’t on third base. But you can’t win the game from third base if you’re sitting in the dugout either. And you can win games from second base.

Now, getting to third base does give the team a better opportunity score, so I understand the desire to get there. But like Carpenter said, offense was hard to come by in that game, so the answer in that situation is to not give away outs.

If only there were some statistic or metric to get a grasp on what the scoring opportunities would be if he had just held up at second so we could objectively judge this.

Oh wait, this is baseball, so of course there is. Run Expectations.

Simply put if you haven’t heard of it before, Run Expectations is simply a measure of how many runs a team scores on average after finding themselves in a particular situation, given the position of men on base and how many outs you have.

And when we look at the Run Expectation table for 2017 to date we find that if a team has a runner on third base with none out that they score an average of 1.36 runs. So the odds are really good that the Cardinals would have been able to drive home at least one run in that situation.

But that’s not the only thing we need to consider. We need to be weighing the risk versus the reward.

For example, if Carpenter had stopped at second base with none out, teams in that situation have gone on to score an average of 1.09 runs in that inning. That’s still a very good opportunity and on average is going to net you, that go-ahead run.

But neither of that is what happened. What happens to the Run Expectation when Carpenter tries for third and gets thrown out? A team with no one on and one out goes on to score 0.28 runs in that inning.

So in an effort to advance those extra 90 feet and gain 0.27 runs in Run Expectation, Carpenter ended up getting out and costing his team 0.81 runs of Run Expectation compared to if he’d just stayed on second base. That risk versus reward doesn’t work.

Not with Jedd Gyorko, Yadier Molina and Greg Garcia coming to the plate and were a combined 4-for-8 in the game at that point. Not to mention that Gyorko is hitting a team leading .357 with runners in scoring position this season.

Ultimately it was a bad decision and you can objectively demonstrate that the thought process behind it was bad. This wasn’t just a bad outcome as Carpenter argued.

It’s a radically different approach to Kolten Wong making a critical error and costing the team and taking ownership of his defensive misplays and publicly taking blame for the loss. And that was in the middle of a stretch where Wong was pretty much the guy on the offense driving the team to wins.

As Kevin Reynolds and I discussed on the UCB Podcast last night. This is where the manager needs to step in and say something. That is, unless he feels getting thrown out by three feet at third base in the bottom of the 9th of a tie ballgame is acceptable.

Matheny says he doesn’t need to address it with Carpenter because he knows. But sometimes after a string of mistakes, which Carpenter has on the base paths this season, the employee needs to be told by his boss that you are aware he made a mistake.

I’ve often talked about how I feel there is a severe lack of communication from the manager’s office in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. He hinted at Winter Warm Up in January that he has struggled to get guys to buy into his philosophy and there are generally two reasons for a lack of buy in. Players don’t understand the plan because you haven’t adequately communicated it or they think you or the plan is stupid.

I do not see much evidence of the latter, but I definitely have seen many instances of the former that lead me to believe there are communication problems.

Matheny needs to make the point to Carpenter that aggressive is good, but you have to be smart and you can’t be giving away outs. This was a bad decision and he needs to trust his teammates to do their job. It sends a message, not just to Carpenter, but to the rest of the club when you start defining the line between what is aggressive and what is stupid.

And we’ve seen a lot more stupid base running than than aggressive base running.

The worst thing any team can do in baseball is to give away outs. It doesn’t matter if it’s on defense with errors or on offense by running into outs, the Cardinals have have done far too much of it the past two seasons. And it’s the absolute worst in the 9th inning of a tie ballgame where offense is at a premium.

Instead of doubling down on his decision to try for third, Carpenter should have acknowledged the mistake. But not just that, learned from it and adjusted his mental equation that he runs in his head when he’s running the bases so he doesn’t make it again. And until he does that, nothing will change.

Column: Cardinals miss on Luis Robert

Saturday was the first day that 19-year-old Cuban phenom Luis Robert was officially cleared to sign a deal with a Major League club and the action moved quickly. Several clubs made bids on the young player who one anonymous American League executive hyperbolized as “the best player on the planet.” The last couple weeks it had been reported that it was going to come down to the Cardinals or the White Sox. And then on Saturday it became apparent that the White Sox were the chosen team.

Reporting over the weekend initially indicated that the Cardinals had the best offer on the table, but that the White Sox wowed Robert with their presentation that included a Spanish-speaking manager and fellow Cuban stars (both of which the Cardinals have as well). But later reporting by MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosh indicated that they may not have even been on par with the White Sox’s offer.

So once again it appears that the Cardinals stuck to a proven broken model and missed out on the player they wanted.

“What I know is that we didn’t sign him. All negotiations have different nuances. All negotiations have different risks. All negotiations have different upside. This was certainly a unique opportunity for us because historically we are not playing or trying to sign these types of players. I don’t second-guess our strategy or second-guess our approach,” said Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak to the Post Dispatch on Sunday after the team had been informed that their bid was not the winning one.

It’s okay, Mo, I’ll take it from here and do some second-guessing on the strategy and approach.

Under the tenure of Mozeliak, the Cardinals have routinely come up short when it comes time to sign players on the open market. Overall, those decisions have worked out for them, though I’m not sure how much credit you can give the Cardinals simply because another team got more aggressive than they did.

The Cardinals have been missing a franchise altering talent in their lineup since the departure of Albert Pujols following the 2011 season. Oscar Taveras was supposed to be the next one and Mozeliak responded to his potential by paving his road to the Majors. As we all know, Taveras never got the opportunity to realize that potential and the organization is still lacking a player of his caliber.

By all accounts, Robert is a potential franchise altering talent. Even if you don’t buy all the hype, the odds that he becomes a consistent contributor are still very good.

He was the best player available in this international signing period. He was routinely the best player in international tournaments playing against players older than him. Most scouts even consider him to be better than any player available in this summer’s draft, where the Cardinals’ first pick will be #94.

Simply put, of all the talent he has ever faced or been stacked up against to this point in his career, he has been the best.

If the Cardinals believed that Luis Robert was a potential franchise altering talent, and it would appear that the answer to that question was yes, then there is only one question to be asked. If not Robert, then who?

If not Luis Robert, who is going to be the franchise altering talent for the Cardinals?

The Cardinals’ minor league system has plenty of quality talent that projects to contribute at the Major League level, but it has no singular position player that has the potential that Robert has.

In a little over a month, the Cardinals will be locked out of making a play for a player like Robert in the next two international signing periods, but there doesn’t appear to be another one coming that soon anyway.

The odds that that player will be selected in this year’s draft are slim as well thanks to the signing of Dexter Fowler and the penalties for Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros. Furthermore, they aren’t a franchise that is generally bad enough to earn high picks in future drafts and hoping a Delvin Perez caliber talent drops to you in the late first round or that you stumble upon the next Albert Pujols in the 13th is not a sound franchise building strategy.

For those reasons, there was no better time for the Cardinals to put the model aside, step beyond their comfort level and do what it took to ensure that Robert would one day be playing in St. Louis.

Because of the salary structure in baseball and how players in the first six years of their career are generally underpaid, even if they went beyond their comfort zone, the odds are still very good that Robert will give you a return on your investment unlike any veteran free agent would.

Instead, the Cardinals played it cheap, stuck to the model and once again came up short. And for the Cardinals, that question still remains.

If not Robert, then who?

And I don’t see an answer to that question.

The Cardinals could act by trade, but the prospect cost to acquire a franchise altering talent is incredibly high and rightly so. But that kind of trade would require far too much talent leaving the franchise to make sense.

That leaves free agency where we will see a number of potential franchise altering hitters available over the next couple years at much greater costs and similar, if in different ways, levels of risk. And given the Cardinals’ track record in free agency, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mozeliak said on Sunday that they will redeploy the money not spent on Robert elsewhere, but that’s what they have always said after coming up short. For two years now we’ve heard about how the organization has cash and is willing to spend it, but we have yet to see it make a difference in their approach to free agency.

This team is a player short. Robert was a golden opportunity to get a potential franchise centerpiece player. The stars were aligned, but when it came time to score, the Cardinals’ choked.

It’s a familiar story. But at some point, actions speak louder than words.