The Cards played a couple of games against the Twins this weekend. Both of them were on FOX Sports Midwest, which was great for fans that don’t get to watch many middle-of-the-afternoon games during the week (i.e., most fans with a job). While nothing came out of the games that cemented a job or eliminated a person from contention, there were still data points that should impact things or, at the very least, be in the mix for consideration.
The most focused “battle” is on that fifth starter spot for the Redbirds and Carlos Martinez added a little intrigue to that with a rough start Sunday. While almost everyone, including the management of the Cards, has penciled in Martinez to take that spot, allowing five runs in 3.1 innings doesn’t do much on solidifying that, especially with Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia pitching well. I thought it was interesting that the article on official site said he’s “still in the mix” after that outing. I don’t think anyone expected differently, but that sort of phrasing may mean that he’s less of a frontrunner than he was before.
We’ve said before that perhaps using spring training as the be-all and end-all for roster decision making isn’t the best thing. Pitchers might throw just 25-30 innings and one bad one could ruin the stats for the whole spring. Even if they look sharp for those five starts, does that tell you enough to be confident going with them for 30? The only time that Jupiter stats and outings should really matter is deciding between even players or when someone does significantly better or worse than you expect.
Right now, the race for the fifth starter does look about even. Mike Matheny wasn’t writing off Sunday’s outing nor was he blaming it on Martinez not having the stamina to go deep into games. It’s true that Martinez did have some moments, like a very sharp first inning, and you always have to wonder about spring training home runs, whether they are a factor of a smaller park or a windy day. Matheny didn’t think Brian Dozier‘s home run was really hit that well. It seemed pretty good to me watching on TV, but I’ll admit they had a better and more informed view. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been a home run in Busch Stadium, but it’s hard to tell.
As I’ve said pretty much all spring, it’s going to come down to how Garcia looks. While Gonzales might have been the most successful pitcher in camp, his lack of experience and his surplus of options pretty much means he’d have to be as good as he is and have some terrible outings by the other two to get the job. It’s not going to hurt him at all to go pitch in Memphis and be ready for when the Cardinals need him–because given the health issues on this staff and the idea of resting some of these starters, they are going to need him. With the bullpen looking full, I really don’t see how Gonzales can do anything else than that, though I’ve been wrong before.
Garcia’s the one that’s going to make things tough on Martinez. He’s got some impressive tiebreakers, most notably that large contract, and probably wouldn’t work that well in the bullpen either, unlike Martinez. I’m not saying that he’s going to win the spot, but he’s got a lot going for him and Martinez didn’t need a misstep like yesterday if he’s going to fend him off. Garcia should go in the next day or so–John Lackey takes his first turn off the mound today, so I’m not sure what the rotation will look like or if they’ll use some of these fifth starter folks in relief of Lackey and, when he’s ready, Adam Wainwright–and another strong outing by him would seem to put a bit more pressure on Martinez.
Assuming this is a real competition, of course. If the Cards have their thumb on the scale like they have in past years, all of this is pretty much moot. I don’t think it is, though. If it was Martinez vs. Gonzales, I’d say we were seeing a repeat of Joe Kelly/Martinez last year and Garcia/Kelly the year before. With Garcia, though, I think they have to make the tough decisions and this should be more of a battle with consequences than it has been before.
Tara and I talked about Peter Bourjos‘s spring struggles on Gateway to Baseball Heaven last night and this morning there’s an article up about his work on his swing. Reading the article, it sounds like the process is better now than it was last spring but he’s not seeing the results just yet. (A minor understatement, since he’s 1-20.) His timing has been off not only at the plate but in his chances to make an impression before the return of Jon Jay, which is expected later this week. Obviously Matheny is seeing what Bourjos is doing differently and that’s going to factor in how he uses Bourjos, but at some point in time the results need to be there. Hopefully we’ll see those soon and perhaps we’ll have more of a platoon in center than we did last year. If Jay finds his stroke pretty quickly, though, Bourjos may have ruined his chance to grab center while it was open.
Also this weekend, Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons had a rough outing against the Twins, his second tough appearance in a row. Lyons’s first inning of work was marked by some tough luck, but the second, well, there were fewer excuses available there. It was encouraging to read that John Mozeliak still likes what they have in Lyons, especially for pitching depth, but the way most of those bullpen arms have been going this spring, he could be the odd man out and spend the beginning of the season at Memphis. I imagine he’ll get some time in St. Louis one way or another, but you know I’m rooting for him to be able to experience Opening Day under the Arch.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Cardinals’ television contract, one that doesn’t pay them the riches that a lot of other teams receive. The Cards are working to rectify that as they’ve started discussions for the next contract which would start in 2018. Given that the Cards are a huge part of FOX Sports Midwest’s programming and a very successful part at that, there’s no doubt that FSM is going to be willing to pay a lot to keep them. That said, the Cardinals wouldn’t seem to have all the leverage here. After all, where else are they going to go? I think they learned their lesson moving from KMOX to KTRS. Sometimes there’s a reason you’ve been doing something for so long–because it works and it reaches more of your fanbase. While a lot of us have speculated what a Cardinal version of the YES network would look like (who wouldn’t love to watch biographies of former Cardinals or watch replays of old games), there’s a lot of work in getting that off the ground and making sure it is available to as many people as possible. FSM already has that infrastructure in place and it’s been a successful partnership for both sides.
A payroll bump would likely come out of the new deal, but as Tara said last night, don’t expect them to become the Los Angeles Dodgers of St. Louis. A bump would be just in time to help keep some of these young stars like Michael Wacha instead of having to make some tough decisions on who stays and who goes. There might be a splash or two every once in a while–I think the club might have been more likely to go deeper with Max Scherzer if they knew what kind of money was coming–but for the most part, they’ll keep doing what they are doing. Which might get some fans grumbling, but when you’ve had success, why mess with it?
Lackey goes against the Tigers this afternoon, a game that’ll be on FSM (if you are able to sneak a peek at work or are home this afternoon). We’re talking Brewers in the Playing Pepper this afternoon, so be sure to check that out as well!