A Look at the Cardinals’ Roster Decisions

A few weeks ago, Derrick Goold posted a great breakdown of what the Cardinals’ roster contained.  He listed out who was under contract, who was a free agent, who was up for arbitration.  Given that it’s the winter and there’s much less to write about, I thought I’d go through those and talk about what I saw for those players.  We’ll reference some of this during the Exit Interview series, but here it is all in one place.  Gotta give you something to read, right?

Free Agents

Matt Belisle–Belisle’s injury makes this an interesting case.  On the one hand, he was reasonably effective on the season, but he basically didn’t play the second half of the season.  When he did return in September, he only got 3.2 innings in and was left off the postseason roster, but those 3.2 innings were scoreless outings.  A majority of his outings were in low leverage situations, but he threw enough pressure innings to not be considered a throw-away guy.  He also seemed to be really excited about becoming a Cardinal over the past offseason.  If it were me: I’d resign him, probably to a one-year deal.

Jason Heyward–The only person on this list with his own hashtag.  We know how great Heyward was for the Cardinals and how much he could be one of the core guys going forward.  Some folks will say that St. Louis doesn’t have to break the bank for Heyward, given the outfield depth that they have, but to pass up on a guy like this, who fits so well into this system and is young enough to provide that solid production for the next 10 years, would be crazy.  With the new FOX Sports Midwest deal kicking off in a couple of years, the money will be there.  If it were me: I’d get him locked up to a significant contract.

Randy Choate–It was fairly crazy to give a guy like Choate a three-year deal in the first place and that’s likely the last multi-year contract he’ll ever receive.  Choate’s talked about pitching well into his 40s, but to do that, he’ll probably have to bounce from team to team, perhaps taking some minor league invites to spring training along the way.  Wherever he plies his trade next year, it’s not going to be under the Arch.  Even as the only real LOOGY on the staff, he wasn’t added to the postseason roster after a season where he allowed roughly a third of lefties he faced to reach base.  Seems like a great guy and I wish him well–somewhere else.  If it were me: I’d tell his agent thanks but no thanks.

Mark Reynolds–Reynolds did pretty much what everyone expected out of him, except hit as many home runs as he has in the past.  Some would argue that’s a function of John Mabry, since he hit nine more homers last year in pretty much the same number of plate appearances.  Be that as it may, first base is going to be pretty full next season with Matt Adams and perhaps Brandon Moss vying with Stephen Piscotty for playing time.  If the Cards could get Reynolds to be that bench bat that they thought he was going to be this year before Adams went down, there could be an argument for bringing him back at the right price.  I just don’t know that there will be a roster spot for him in St. Louis, though.  If it were me: I’d chat with his agent, see if he wanted to come back cheaply, but not put him real high on the priority list.

Carlos Villanueva–Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition and nobody expected Villanueva to turn out to be one of the real pleasant surprises of 2015.  His long relief abilities weren’t needed for stretches, but when they were he usually came in and performed.  He struggled down the stretch, though, putting up a 6.23 ERA over the last two months of the season, an ERA inflated by two different four-run, one-inning outings.  It was nice to know that, if a game went into extras, there was a guy like Villanueva available to go multiple innings without being so bad that he’d give up any chance of winning.  Does that translate to next year?  I don’t know.  The late season slump worries me and his overall ERA is significantly better than any he’s had in his career.  If it were me: I’d thank him for his service, but I don’t think I’d bring him back.

John Lackey–There’s no doubt that Lackey was one of the best bargains in baseball this season.  The Cardinals buttressed that $500K base salary with some bonuses, but even so his production was on a level with some of the top pitchers in the game.  Most likely, he’s going to want to rectify that injustice, as it were, with a large contract this offseason.  Lackey is turning 37 today (assuming I can get this posted Friday morning) and that’s a concern.  Could he have 2-3 more solid years in him?  He could.  He could also start declining.  Most likely he’ll be overpaid given what he’ll produce going forward.  I’ve seen a lot of people campaigning for him to come back, but I’m not so sure.  If it were me: I’d extend the qualifying offer (which is probably about $15.8 million this year, I believe).  If he takes it, one year of Lackey at that price isn’t bad.  He likely wouldn’t, though, and the Cards would get an extra draft pick out of the deal.  Even with the threat of him going to Chicago, I think that’s the wisest move.

I won’t worry much about the long-term deals section as those guys are likely coming back, unless they can be dealt off.  There are only two, in my mind, that might not return next season.

Jon Jay–We all know there’s an outfield glut.  Assuming the Cards bring back Heyward, you have him, Randal Grichuk, and Matt Holliday regularly out there, Stephen Piscotty available when he’s not playing first, and Tommy Pham as the backup.  Where does Jay fit into all of that?  If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s signed next year to a deal over $6 million, I think it’d be a no-brainer that he’d be on his way out.  However, it’s difficult to imagine that the Cards would pay him that much to do nothing at home and there aren’t many teams that’d take him on unless he’s the throw-in on a bigger deal.  If it were me: I’d grudgingly bring him back.  If nothing else, he does help with clubhouse chemistry, translations, things like that.

Lance Lynn–Even though Lynn faded late and got to the point where Mike Matheny didn’t trust him in the postseason against a good fastball hitting team like Chicago, there’s still plenty of talent there.  An ERA a shade over 3, a fairly durable profile, and a strikeout almost every inning is a player that you would want to have on your team.  If he could develop another pitch that he feels confident in, it would probably help.  He does have value and, depending on other moves, the Cardinals could look to trade him to solve some offensive issues.  I don’t think that’ll be a focus, though.  If it were me: I’d probably rather him later in the rotation (maybe third or fourth), but he’d still be on the roster.

Options

Jonathan Broxton–There’s no way Broxton is getting his option renewed.  As Goold says in his piece, the cash that came from Milwaukee was to pay for that buyout of $1 million, so the Cards can do that and be free and clear.  Broxton was never looked at as a long-term solution, so while it’s possible that John Mozeliak might want to bring him back at a much lower rate, it doesn’t seem remarkably likely.  If it were me: I’d decline the option and probably move on unless some sort of need arose.

Jaime Garcia–At the beginning of the year, this was a slam dunk.  There was no way that Garcia’s option would get exercised.  The injury issues were just too great, the pitching depth was solid, and what could he really bring to the table anyway?

Then we got a refresher in just why the Cardinals have put up with all the frustrations that come along with Garcia for so long.  20 starts, with the missed ones coming from leg issues more than arm and shoulder problems.  A K/BB rate over 3.00.  An ERA under 2.50.  As the season wound down, there was a legitimate case to be made for Garcia to start the first game of the playoffs.

So, just when the pendulum swung the other way to a slam dunk pick-up-the-option, Game 2 happens.  Another short postseason outing, another communication breakdown, another piece of evidence for those that believe Garcia may be a head case.  Did all that influence the front office?  Right now, the latest word is that they are leaning toward picking up the option.  That said, even if they do that, they could trade him as he’d be a very valuable piece on the trade market, especially with another option for 2017 in the contract.  If it were me: I’d pick up the option and then see if I couldn’t swap him, sending him perhaps to the American League.

Arbitration Eligible

Matt Adams–Some of the same issues with Reynolds go along with Adams as well, save for the fact that the Cards have him under control for the next few years.  The first base jumble will need to be sorted out (and there’s no ruling out some sort of trades to clear the picture) but it seems like Adams will be a part of that.  The Cards haven’t actually gone to an arbitration hearing since 1999.  Adams isn’t going to break that string.  If it were me: Sign him to a one year deal with an option, perhaps, though I’m terrible at contracts.

Peter Bourjos–Remember when Bourjos was the focus of that David Freese deal?  Grichuk was a nice addition, but Bourjos seemed to be the guy that would lock down center field for a while.  Not so much, but we’ll talk more about that in his Exit Interview in a couple of weeks.  Right now, we have an arbitration-eligible outfielder that didn’t make the postseason roster.  Mozeliak might have spoken some noncommittal words last week, but everyone knows how this is going to go down.  If it were me: A quick non-tender, though I might call a few other GMs and put in a good word for him.

Steve Cishek–We like to talk about #InMoWeTrust, but that mantra took a bit of a hit this season as it’s extremely possible none of the three players acquired at the trade deadline will be brought back for another go-around.  That includes Cishek, who was left off the postseason roster when Adam Wainwright was deemed healthy enough (though he might have missed it anyway).  Cishek had some good outings with the Cards and actually dropped his ERA by a run while in St. Louis, but it didn’t feel like they wanted to use him in high-leverage situations.  Which, since he’s getting $6 million already, would be what his salary would call for if he won an arbitration hearing.  If it were me: Non-tendered, especially since I believe that there’s a limit to how much of a cut in pay you can offer someone. Probably would keep in touch, though, in case no one else was interested and you could resign him off the open market for much less.

Tony Cruz–There doesn’t seem like much you CAN do with Cruz.  There’s nobody in the system (depending on what you think of Michael Ohlman) that’s ready to step into the backup job next season.   I can’t find it for sure, but I believe arbitration is going to have to be offered before you get a chance to really get into the free agent market.  So even if you are planning to go out and get an upgrade to back up Yadier Molina, you still probably have to offer arbitration to Cruz to make sure you have someone if your trade/FA plans fall through.  If it were me: I’d try to sign Cruz to a low-cost one-year deal, which would give the flexibility of moving/waiving him if another catcher was obtained.

Seth Maness–Maness is a Super 2, which means he hits arbitration a bit earlier than most folks.  Given his usage and his relative success, he’d probably win his arbitration case if they got to a hearing.  Signing relievers to long-term deals is always a dicey situation–whether because the small sample size starts to lead to regression or you get injuries like Jordan Walden–but Maness probably deserves a little more security.  If it were me: I’d lock him into a two-year deal with an option for a third.

Brandon Moss–A return by Moss would keep Mozeliak’s trade deadline from being a total bust (at least for the long-term, though the short-term wasn’t just stellar either).  Moss earned $6.5 million last year, so it may again be where he’ll have to be non-tendered.  Then again, Moss’s power is pretty notable and there were times where he looked like he was getting it together.  Would he sign a reduced price deal knowing that some other clubs might be interested in giving him a full-time role?  I know he was excited to come to St. Louis, but that would seem to be pushing it.  I do like Moss’s power off the bench, though.  If it were me: I’d offer some sort of deal that wouldn’t cost quite as much while offering arbitration as well as a hedge.

Trevor Rosenthal–I don’t think there’s any question that Rosenthal is going to be signing some sort of long-term deal this offseason.  If you want to contain costs, you don’t let a guy that has saved 40 games two years in a row and is coming off the team’s save record to reach arbitration.  Rosenthal’s young, he made strides this year, and he’s been around enough that you can get a feel for what to expect going forward.  Closers seem to often have a short shelf life, but occasionally one comes along that can do the job for a while.  Hopefully Rosie’s one of those guys.  If it were me: Try to get him locked into a three-year deal.

The only other category is the 0-3 group, which don’t have enough service time to go to arbitration nor are they signed to any sort of long-term contract.  This is the kind of player that teams want, but also the kind of player that gets cut when there are 40-man roster moves to be made and this team is going to have a lot of those kind of moves.  So I won’t go through them all.  There’s a lot of pretty obvious cuts, like Dean Anna and both of the extra catchers (Ed Easley and Travis Tartamella).  Pete Kozma has to be gone, right?  Surely.  The only real question is Cody Stanley.  Stanley showed promise, but he also got busted for performance enhancers for the second time and will be suspended for the first half of next season.  Do you keep him on the roster?  Are you that high on him?  He might be the last guy that gets removed from the roster, but can be if the need arises.

The Cardinals are going to have a lot to do this offseason.  We’ll see how much of it is close to the above.  Probably very little!

  • stlCupofJoe

    Moving on from Lance Lynn makes legitimately zero sense. He has been one of the 20th most reliable/effective starting pitchers over the last four seasons. With question marks surrounding Wainwright (mainly because of his increasing age), Martinez (shoulder health), Wacha (zero fastball command), Gonzales (shoulder health), Lackey (moving on), Garcia (could get hurt again), why would it even cross anyone’s mind to move Lynn? The lukewarm opinions of him will always baffle me.

    • Cardinal70

      There’s always a whipping boy, Joe. It doesn’t matter if the stats show something that’s different from the perception. Ask JD Drew and Colby Rasmus. (Though, like with Pete Kozma, sometimes they don’t!)

      I think the dissatisfaction with Lynn boils down to a number of things. One, save for 2014, he’s often stumbled in the second half. In both 2012 and 2013 he was almost (or was) removed from the rotation and we know how 2015’s stretch run went. When your last impressions of a guy aren’t positive, it allows for a winter of discontent and it takes a lot to shake that off.

      Two, he’s not terribly flashy. I’m not saying that’s a necessity nor is it a good thing, but when you have electric stuff or apparent high-level potential, that buys you a lot more goodwill among some fans than a regular solid pitcher gets. And his fairly dry and sardonic personality doesn’t get him very far when things are rough.

      I don’t believe Lynn is ever going to be a headliner (which is what many people are looking for) but as I note above, I wouldn’t expect the Cardinals to be in a place where they’d move him. I wouldn’t rule it out because of the value that he actually brings, especially with that contract, but it’d be in a big deal, something like the Heyward deal from this past offseason.

      From what I hear (http://www.vivaelbirdos.com/2015/10/21/9582112/setting-a-baseline-for-2016-lance-lynn-st-louis-cardinals-secondary-offerings), if Lynn can start throwing a good changeup, the results should be much more significant. I wonder (and you can do the stat work to disprove me, because it’s only a guess and probably wrong at that) if his second half struggles are because he starts to wear down and the fastball goes a tick slower or moves a tick less, making it more hittable? A different pitch might help to offset that a little bit.

      TL;DR: Yep.

      • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

        I agree with both of you but (happily) wonder why Wacha isn’t getting the same unfair treatment. perception is such a mess sometimes

        • Cardinal70

          You never get a second chance to make a first impression. On the flip side, you make that first impression right, you get a lot of rope. Wacha’s lingering memory in most folks is that run in 2013’s postseason, plus another strong outing in 2014 before the injury. I think that gets him a lot of goodwill. Lynn has struggled in the postseason as well (I will never forget him throwing and hitting second base against the Giants) which gets people worked up.

  • Greg G

    Great article with a few exceptions. 1st – get rid of Jay. He’s worthless on every account – defense, offense, power, speed, etc. Easy call. Eat the contract or trade him for prospects. I’d try to re-sign Cishek as backup to Rosie (agree w/you here 100%). Get a 2-3 year deal done with Jaime Garcia with a chance to dump him if necessary. A REAL backup catcher would be nice (then Tony hits a clutch 2B in the playoffs, so it’s hard to say that again). I like Reynolds flexibility (1B, 3B, DH, PH) and would try to get a team-friendly 2 year deal. I have no confidence in Matt Adams & would shoot to trade him, maybe with Bourjos whom Matheny has destroyed as a player. Obviously offer a contract to Lackey to get the extra draft pick. Tommie Pham proved his worth and should be the 4th OF. If trading Holliday was possible, I’d do that too, but that may never fly. Finally, JHEY – YES! Sign him & use some of the money that will be coming in from the new TV deal. 8 years, $200-$225M. He brings experience, offense, defense, a cannon & he is still young & maybe, just maybe, the power will return. If not, I’d take this year from him every year for the next 8 years & be happy. Great job & thank you for your efforts.

    • Cardinal70

      I’m not sure I’d rework Garcia’s deal. After all, he has two years of team-friendly options left anyway. Maybe if he has another good season next year, then I approach him about a longer deal, but for right now, I think the contract works well for what the Cardinals are trying to do.

      As for Jay, I’m just not sure this team is going to eat all that salary. And finding someone else to take it on is a tough proposition. Maybe if he can go in a bigger deal, but that’d be about it.

      • Greg G

        You make good points and I can’t argue with either of them, just pray I may be right on JJ & pray that JG is healthy for 2-3 (5-6?) more years! Thanks.

        • Cardinal70

          Even if the Nationals would trade Strasburg (which, while not completely out of the picture like it would have been last year, is probably pretty far-fetched), it’d take much more than that. Jay, as noted, wouldn’t do a lot, Holliday is older (and given his no-trade clause, not moving).

          I’m no good at making up trade scenarios, but Garcia, Adams, Jay (if they could use a fourth outfielder, because he’s just a toss-in), and then probably someone like Alex Reyes would be a baseline and I’m not sure that’d even really get the conversation started.

          Given what the Cardinals have, I can’t see them trading for pitching. I wouldn’t rule out a David Price signing, mind you, but they probably don’t want to give up pitching when they don’t have to and the young hitters they have they’ll probably need.

          • Greg G

            You’re probably right. And after throwing away Kaminsky for Moss, my faith in Mo took a big hit. Signing Price? I like what we have, but Wacha must find another source of strength for the entire season & let’s hope C Martinez is & will be healthy for the entire season as well. Reyes, I’m hoping he’s MLB ready for 2016, even if July/August some time. I read good things about him. As far as MH is concerned, I actually called it prior to the season that he’d be “awful” and in reality, he was. Maybe he can bounce back for one more season. Otherwise, why would he not take a trade to an AL team to be a DH? He doesn’t field too well as evidenced by his 0 gold gloves. 🙂

          • Cardinal70

            It’s tough to do too many declarations about Mr. Holliday given the injuries that he had this year. While the power was (expectedly) in decline, he was hitting .300 before the injury in Colorado. After that, it was difficult to see him getting playing enough to get back to where he should be. I’ll talk more about this when he comes up in the Exit Interview series in the next week or so, but I think he’s still good for .270 and 12-15 home runs. Since the leader in non-Carpenter homers this season was 17, he’s not really out of place!

          • Greg G

            This one we’ll agree to disagree. For what he’s earning, Mr. Holliday MUST hit more than 12-15 HRs & 60 RBIs. I loved him while he was producing, but these long term contracts fizzle out for power hitters.

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