Black Roses For Valentine’s Day

We had waited for four months.  With no October baseball last year, the wait for pitchers and catchers was longer than ever and anticipation had that much longer to build up.  With everyone reporting yesterday, the excitement had reached a high and we exulted that baseball was back.

That didn’t last an hour.

Cardinal fans have been through this before, so while the initial tweets from the reporters were mild…

…folks started to grab for paper bags to help their breathing as the anxiety level went through the roof. Things didn’t calm down when the next batch of details came out either.

So it didn’t take long until the rumors were running rampant that Alex Reyes was going to have to have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire season, rumors that seem only to be waiting for a second opinion on Reyes’s elbow to become fact.  No one in the organization has come out and fully put the brakes on the situation–Mike Matheny even said there must be a “significant reason to do this”–which only leads to the likelihood that we won’t be seeing the young phenom pitching for the Cardinals this season.

Let’s assume the worst here.  I know, there are some less-drastic alternatives that might come out of this story and I’m hopeful that will be the case, though it feels like a number of Cardinals have tried rest/rehab in the past with less than stellar results.  Anyway, even though it could be better than Tommy John, it feels like that’s at least an 80% chance right now, so let’s look at how that affects both Reyes and the team going forward.

I don’t think that Reyes’s injury spells doom for the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals.  Kyle Reis wrote about some of these reasons over at The Redbird Daily yesterday (as I told him, it kinda reminded me of this post about Adam Wainwright about this time in 2011) and he’s got some good points.  Last year, I didn’t think the loss of Kyle Schwarber was that big of a blow to the Cubs, mainly because they had a ton of hitting.  If they’d lost someone like Jake Arrieta or even Kyle Hendricks for the season, that would have been a problem because their pitching depth wasn’t there like their offensive talent was.  That’s similar to how I feel about Reyes and this year’s club.

Yes, Reyes is probably more talented than anyone else that could take his place, but the dropoff isn’t from the majors to Double-A.  If Michael Wacha is healthy, there’s a strong chance he’d have been in the rotation anyway and we know that there is talent like Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales waiting in the wings.  There’s even a chance Trevor Rosenthal finally gets to be a real boy–er, I mean starter (sorry, my daughter is in a play based on Pinocchio)–and takes over the fifth spot.  Again, no matter who it is they won’t have the electric talent Reyes has, but they aren’t going to cost the team much in the way of wins, if anything.

That being said, to win the division the Cardinals needed basically everything to break right and a lot of things to go wrong in Chicago.  These early results don’t help that out at all.  The club had a limited margin for error.  It feels like the ceiling on this squad has just dropped by a little bit and they were barely standing up straight as it was.

The worst part for me, selfishly, is losing the opportunity to watch Reyes on a daily basis.  That promised to be one of the great thrills of the summer, getting to see that easy delivery and those astounding pitches.  Instead, we are probably denied that for 2017 and likely won’t even get to see it in 2018 or perhaps ever again.  While Tommy John surgery is more routine now, you wonder how much he’ll lose not only from the surgery but from the down time when he should be honing his craft.  Will he ever reach that potential we saw for him last year?  Will he be able to come back like nothing has happened?  We don’t know.  It’s tough to lose someone before you really get to know them.  We’ve been waiting so long for Alex Reyes.  We’ll have to wait some more and hope that what we are waiting for matches what we eventually get.

It’s obviously not great for Reyes and his career earnings, either.  I caught a glimpse of a debate last night on Twitter about whether the Cards could option him down before putting him on the disabled list, thereby not letting his service clock run while he’s out for a season.  I don’t know if that’s possible (given what happened with Seth Maness, who got sent down, then asked for a medical eval and was put on the major league DL), I would say not, but either way it’s not great for the pitcher.  He’ll not really have time to show much before he comes available for arbitration, which means he’ll probably settle the first year for a lesser amount.  The club will want to sign him to a long-term deal, assuming he comes back healthy and effective, but they’ll have the upper hand to start with.  Reyes will still get a lot of money, again assuming a full recovery, but he’ll lag behind what Carlos Martinez did to get his deal.

There was other news out of the first day in camp, though none of it could come close to the Reyes news.  The club won their arbitration case against Michael Wacha, saving $400K this season.  (Odds are, it cost at least half that to prepare the case and go to the hearing, but that’s probably in a different pot of money.)  While Wacha, who was actually at the meeting, says he doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the organization, he did have the following quote:

And they also say some stuff. They go in there saying nothing’s personal, but they say some stuff, for sure.

There’s no reason to doubt that Wacha is truthful when he says that he’s not irked at the club, but there’s also a 0% chance that he’d say anything different even if he was.  The Cardinals hired folks to make their case–never mind, they obviously spent more than $400K on this–and John Mozeliak wasn’t in the room, so it probably helped insulate the arguments against Wacha from the front office and not make that an obvious tie, but I still am very hesitant to believe that this was the best course of action.  Even Mo acknowledged that “there’s a history where it can be contentious, where it has an adverse effect on relationships” even as he doesn’t believe that will be the case with Wacha.  It probably won’t be.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wacha wasn’t hoping to fill Reyes’s spot in the rotation and do so in a way that makes sure if they try this arbitration thing again, he was going to win it.  Maybe some motivation is a good thing.

Mike Matheny says that a lot of the running game issues–well, the opposing running game issues; I’ve not seen him acknowledge that his aggressive tendencies for the Cardinal runners might not have been a great thing–were on him, in part because he’s relied so much on the greatness of Yadier Molina for all these years.  There’s no doubt that Mike has had his hands full with a lot of learning over the past five years, so it’s not surprising he left the running game in Molina’s hands and dropped that down on his priority list.  We’ll see if this renewed focus on trying to keep people from stealing will work out.  Hopefully he can do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the pitchers as well, but that may be a fine line to walk.

It wasn’t the first day of baseball that many of us wanted, but baseball is back and that’s some consolation.  We’ll hope for the best and prepare for the worst when it comes to Reyes’s MRI results today and try to build back up that excitement about the 2017 season regardless of the outcome.  Any baseball is better than no baseball, right?

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