As the Cardinals left the field late Thursday night, with their dreams of a Game 6 sailing into the right field stands at AT&T Park, there was a part of me that breathed a sigh of relief. Sure, I wanted the Cards to win and come back to St. Louis tonight and send Lance Lynn to the mound, but there was also a part of me that was tired after 171 games of breakneck, up and down, corner to corner, emotional and high winded action. If it was time for the Cards to assume the position of third best team in the league in 2014, this was it. We all know the ending…
Michael Wacha comes into the game in the bottom of the ninth with a wick burning from the top of his arm down to his pitching hand. A timebomb on the mound. It was only a matter of time. Instead of using Wacha in Game 4 or better yet, leaving him off the playoff roster and putting a more healthy bullpen sharpened arm in Nick Greenwood or Sam Freeman there. Anyway, Wacha put two on, served up a bomb and the rest is history. Bags have been packed. Comments have been made. The Cards have dispersed for the winter. What happens now?
Everybody is excited for the Royals-Giants World Series. I am not. With all due respect to the upstart American League team up I-70, I am exhausted and can’t take too much more baseball. It is a slow deliberate and calculating game that can throw diehard passionate fans into the corner of a boxing ring and fire wicked shots to the body at various times. I’ll wish the Royals good luck and take a break from the sport that consumes my life for half a year.
Before we give it a rest until November-December trade action heats up, let’s jump on 5 decisions the Cards will have to make. Sure, there are more but I like to keep it to five because, well, it sounds official and solid.
1.) What do you do with Pat Neshek?
It’s not a crazy question. The reliever may have spun a horrible slider that Michael Morse cranked for a Game 5 tying home run, but his season was brilliant. A comeback. A resurgence for a good guy who caught a break and made the most of a golden opportunity. He had been a serviceable reliever up until 2014, but turned in a season that was shocking and odd at the same time. His velocity was high and his pitches were sharp. He was an All Star and a setup man. However, he self destructed a bit in September and got dinged in the playoffs for two vital home runs. Do you jump out and offer Pat a big multi-year contract after ONE great season? Teams are going to be lining up to pay him very good money and possibly closer cash. Do the Cards and John Mozeliak get in on that or trust their deep farm system to and starter filled staff with a late inning bullpen spot? If Carlos Martinez isn’t a starter in 2015, is he the setup man? He will be a lot cheaper than Neshek. This is not discounting Pat’s season yet simply keeping things in perspective. He had a great season but can he do it again for a lot more money? Interesting.
2.) Bring Back Jon Jay.
Yeah, just do it. Unless Jay asks for a big raise, you bring him back. He’s too reliable, versatile and an important teammate. The Cards have ZERO clue what they have in Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras, Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty, so bring back the reliable Jay. He is a poor man’s Matt Holliday. Consistent and always where you need him. He started out 2014 as a backup and earned a starting job. Jay can’t be a free agent until 2017 and is arbitration eligible in 2015. He made 3.2 million in 2014 and was a bargain at that. If he the salary goes up to 5 million, I am fine with it. He earned it. He hit .303 and had an on base percentage of .372. He went 14-29(.482) in the postseason, including big hits off Madison Bumgarner in the NLCS. There’s nothing Jay can’t do for such a low cost and he is a player any manager needs on the roster. A selfless cost effective producer.
3.) Bring Back Jason Motte or Let Him Go?
Tough question, because I love the guy and what he did in 2011-12. After Tommy John Surgery, Motte wasn’t the same and this was expected. He was going to need a season to get his velocity and tempo back. 2015 should feature more of the old Motte. Do the Cards take a chance on that? His 2 year, 12 million dollar contract is expired. If he were to return, it would be on an incentive laden one year deal, which I think Motte would welcome to prove to the Cards and other teams that he can still dominate. Also, the Rosenthal critics will be glad to know Motte doesn’t walk many people. When he is on, he is a strike throwing machine. In 2012, he was 42-49 in saves with only 17 walks in 72 innings pitched. I never said he wouldn’t get his job back. He wouldn’t be a bad pick.
4.) Oscar or Randal?
Too soon to completely answer because I don’t think both start the 2015 season on the roster. Call me nuts but Mozeliak is going to make a major move(not that he has to) this offseason that may send one of these fine gents out of town. I don’t think Peter Bourjos is coming back. Randal Grichuk is Bourjos with more power and a better arm. Oscar has the power and full season potential to be something dynamic but there is no telling what his projections are after a troubling first showing in the big leagues. Taveras can swing it and has a power bat. There’s no way to see if he is good enough after 200+ at bats. Him and Grichuk both need more at bats and I don’t see them both here, unless Jay and Bourjos depart. Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham are on the doorstep as well. Lots of options and little certainty, especially with Matt Holliday’s inevitable power decline in left field. I could sit on a rosy true branch and demand Giancarlo Stanton, but we all know that Answer To All the Cardinals Outfield Questions will not happen. Too sweet to digest. The Taveras/Grichuk platoon worked well until the playoffs, when Grichuk got all the starts and his bat dried up.
5.) Rotational Foreplay.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the Cardinals have 8 men ready to be starters in 2015. Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, John Lackey, Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales, Carlos Martinez, and possibly a returning Jaime Garcia. Add in the usual suspects in John Gast, Tyler Lyons and possibly Tim Cooney and its very crowded. Who stays and who goes? Barring a trade, they are set with the first five I listed. Marco could relieve and Carlos could further stunt his true growth by staying put in relief, but there are options. Shelby Miller showed a newfound ability to mix pitches and go deep until games, until he got lit up in the NLCS start against the Giants. He showed improvement but could be a fine trade piece because his ceiling is none higher than Lynn. With the arsenal of young arms continuing, putting Miller on the trade block wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Well, nibble on those. There is more. Daniel Descalso SHOULD NOT be back under any circumstances. Mark Ellis can retire somewhere else. Lance Lynn deserves a big extension after his transition in 2014. Jhonny Peralta proved to be a good risk at shortstop while Matt Carpenter was solid at third and the ceiling is high for Kolten Wong at second. Matt Adams could use a RH partner at first base, but showed a little improvement against lefties in the postseason. Keep Trevor Rosenthal at closer but let a couple others stay warm behind him(Carlos or Motte?).
There is more to discuss but this should do for now. Thanks for reading and happy relaxing Cardinal fans. The Nerve Center may be trimming its hours of operation but I will still be open this winter.