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.

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.

News: Cardinals call up Ryan Sherriff; end Trevor Rosenthal’s season

What happened. Today the Cardinals optioned RHP Josh Lucas to Memphis and purchased the contract of LHP Ryan Sherriff. To make room for Sherriff on the 40 man roster, RHP Trevor Rosenthal was moved to the 60 day disabled list.

The story. The Cardinals make yet another bullpen move, this time calling up Ryan Sherriff for the carousel of the last bullpen spot. The biggest news might be that the move to the 60 day DL means that the season is over for Trevor Rosenthal.

The numbers. Josh Lucas, who was called up on Saturday, made two appearances for the Cardinals and posted a 6.75 ERA over 4 innings of work. He pitched the 8th and 9th innings last night and allowed a two run home run to Yangervis Solarte in the 8th before pitching a 1-2-3 ninth. He will return to Memphis where he has a 3.34 ERA over 56.2 innings and has worked recently as their closer.

Ryan Sherriff, 27, was a 28th round pick of the Cardinals in 2011. He gained some attention to fans this spring when Adam Wainwright got a rental car for him after seeing him walking to the ballpark every day. This season in Memphis he has a 3.19 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched along with a dominant 0.99 WHIP. Left handed batters have hit .198/.225/.302 against him while right handed batters haven’t fared much better with a .215/.286/.271 line.

The impact. 10/10. The move alone is a 1/10 because I don’t think who the 8th guy in Mike Matheny‘s bullpen matters at all. However, the knowledge that the Cardinals have lost Trevor Rosenthal for the remainder of the season is big news.

After struggling a bit this summer, Rosenthal had gotten back on the horse in July and since July 4th (and not including the appearance where he got injured) he had a 0.52 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 15 appearances. He had been 7-for-7 in save situations and had reclaimed his hold on the closer’s role.

But now Rosenthal is done for the year and likely out for the entirety of 2018 after it was confirmed that he will undergo UCL replacement surgery. With his absence for 2018 expected, that also means that the odds are good that he will be a prime non-tender candidate for the Cardinals in November.

Rosenthal is making $6.2 million this year and has one more season of arbitration eligibility before he can elect for free agency after the 2018 season, however, the current CBA restricts how much a team can reduce the salary of a player under team control. For Rosenthal, it means the minimum he could earn next season without being non-tendered is roughly $5 million.

Last year with Seth Maness in a similar situation, he made just $1.4 million and was expected to be back early in the season after UCL reconstruction. However, they still non-tendered him.

That isn’t to mean that the two sides couldn’t get creative on a two year deal that would pay Rosenthal in 2018 and give him a reduced rate in 2019 on an incentive laden deal, but I would imagine that the target would be something similar to what Greg Holland got from the Rockies last winter. After missing a year, Holland got a 1 year, $7 million deal with incentives and an option. Those incentives have already been worth an additional $6 million this year and the option has vested into a $15 million player option.

I expect that Rosenthal and his agent, Scott Boras, would prefer free agency and hope to find a team willing to go further than the Cardinals.

Five things about the Reds Series

The Cardinals scored their first road series win since June and their first against a divisional opponent since April by taking two out of three from the Reds over the weekend. The Cardinals end the series 55-56 and 3.5 games out of the NL Central lead in third place. They’ve been 3.5 games back before, but haven’t been closer since June 13th when they finished the day 2.5 games behind.

Heading into the series against the Royals, the Cardinals have lost in their last five attempts to reach .500. So they’ll have to shake that bogeyman.

Wainwright just wins

Adam Wainwright struggled on Sunday as he allowed 4 hits and 5 walks over 3 innings of work as he earned the quick hook. But that didn’t stop the Cardinals who piled on some offense including a 9 run 4th innings.

The short outing left Wainwright’s season long ERA at 5.00, but the team is 13-9 in games started by him this season. That’s a .591 winning percentage, or in other terms, a 96 win pace.

The crazy part is that this is that Wainwright has just one season with a worse record. Over his career with the Cardinals, the team is 177-99 in games he starts, that’s a .641 win percentage, or in other terms, a 104 win pace. The team went 16-16 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, but every other season except his first in the rotation has seen the team post a greater than .600 winning percentage in games he starts.

He has the best team record among Cardinals’ starting pitchers, and with the Cards winning behind Lance Lynn on Saturday, he joined Wainwright as the only Cardinals pitchers with a winning team record in games they start.

The hottest hitter on this team is…

Jose Martinez. Since the All Star Break, Martinez is hitting .318/.500/.773 with 3 home runs in 12 games, six of them starts. His latest feat coming with a grand slam while batting cleanup against the Reds on Sunday afternoon. But if there’s a player swinging a hot bat and pushing for more playing time right now, it’s Martinez.

Another player pushing for time is…

Greg Garcia. Since the All Star Break, Garcia is hitting .320/.433/.480 in 17 games, six of them starts. His emergence has come at a welcome time as Cardinals’ third baseman Jedd Gyorko has struggled since the calendar turned to July. Since the break Gyorko is hitting just .176/.241/.243 for the Cardinals.

It’s amazing what happens when you don’t abuse relievers

Before Sunday’s game, Mike Matheny spoke to the media about Trevor Rosenthal and how not pushing him and watching how they use him has really helped. It’s amazing what happens when you don’t run your relievers ragged. I wrote a couple years ago about the difference in the Cardinals’ relievers when they pitch with no rest versus a day or more of rest. Most relievers become no better than the rest of your bullpen on back-to-back days.

And it’s not like Matheny hasn’t had a deep bullpen to give these guys proper rest either.

Brett Cecil: Long Reliever

The last two times that Matheny chose to quick hook his starter, he has turned to Brett Cecil to bridge the gap. Most recently on Sunday, he came in in the fourth inning and pitched three shutout innings for the Cardinals. After a rough start, Cecil has rebounded quite nicely, posting a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP since May 19th, allowing the opponent to score in just four of his 32 appearances.

Column: Taking a look at the fifth starter competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosenthal and Siegrist avoid arbitration too

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

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

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

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

Column: Cardinals will need better pitching to win in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals non-tender Seth Maness; bring back Adams and others

Today was Major League Baseball’s non-tender deadline. In case you’re not sure what that means, basically there are two classes of players under team control. There are players in their first three years of service who have their salaries set by the team, usually around the league minimum. Then there are players in their next three years of service who have their salaries set by arbitration. Now, there are more nuances than that, but that’s the basics. For those arbitration eligible players, today was the deadline to offer them their one-year contract for next season or to “non-tender” them and make them a free agent.

There were six Cardinals eligible for salary arbitration for 2017, first baseman Matt Adams and pitchers Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Seth Maness.

The Cardinals have confirmed that they have tendered contracts to Adams, Martinez, Wacha, Rosenthal, and Siegrist. So those five players are now under contract with the Cardinals for 2017. Those players and the team have until the arbitration hearing in February to agree on the player’s salary for 2017. If they can’t come to an agreement before the hearing, both sides submit a figure to the arbiter of what they believe the player should be paid and the arbiter decides who is right. The Cardinals haven’t had a case go to arbitration since the 1990s.

But there is one player that wasn’t tendered a contract, that was Seth Maness.

Maness, 28, has a career 3.19 ERA over 4 seasons with the Cardinals. He struggled this past season, but managed to put together a strong stretch through the summer, even while pitching injured. His season came to an end in August with what was said to have been Tommy John surgery. But he ended up only needing a UCL reconstruction, which gave the hope that he’d be back on the mound in 6–8 months instead of the 12–18 month recovery for Tommy John.

If you followed me on Twitter this afternoon, you know how surprised I was that Maness was let go. I figured Adams was on the fence, but argued that Maness was likely safe.

I argued that the quicker recovery time plus his relatively low salary, and him still having multiple seasons of team control ahead of him — even if he didn’t pitching 2017 — worked in his favor that they would hold onto him. I guess I was wrong.

In fact, I’m even more surprised that they let Maness go and did not perform a hard core culling of the roster that included Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal is projected to make $6.3 million — four times more than Maness — and was arguably the worst pitcher in the Majors last year. His 1.91 WHIP was just 0.002 from being the worst in the Majors among relievers who threw at least 40 innings, only former Cardinal Michael Blazek saving him from that honor. But Blazek would not have pitched the same high leverage situations that Rosenthal did.

For the guys who were kept, the roles of Siegrist and Martinez are pretty set and while the roles for Rosenthal and Wacha aren’t public, the team has discussed that they are bouncing around some ideas for what their roles would be. The question that today brings up is what the future holds for Matt Adams.

Adams, 28, hit .249/.309/.371 with 16 home runs last season for the Cardinals. Long considered a platoon candidate, Adams had his best season ever against left handed pitching, batting .283 with 3 home runs against them. There was even a point in May where Adams was the team’s leading offensive threat.

But the Cardinals recently committed to Matt Carpenter as their everyday first baseman for 2017, which means that Adams doesn’t have a pathway to a starting role for the team next year, something he’s always been given in St. Louis.

Some have suggested that he could be used off of the bench, and it does make sense as he’s hit .330 with 7 home runs as a pinch hitter in his career. However, he’s only ever played first base. Carpenter has played 154+ games three times in the past four years, so that leaves, at most, 10 starts for Adams. Even if he made 60 pinch hit appearances, that’s not even 100 plate appearances.

Adams’ best value to this team should be by trade. Either in a package to acquire something the team needs or prospects. But unlike with Jaime Garcia, where he wanted to unload a $12.5 million hot potato, I don’t think Mozeliak has a problem being left with Adams in the spring because carrying an extra first baseman is a lot easier than an extra starting pitcher.