“The actions we take
The choices we make
Moments, both big and small
Shape us into forces of destiny.”–Maz Kanata
For a number of reasons, I’ve not been able to sit down and do much writing over the last few days, days that have seen a lot of activity and things that need to be discussed. Moves that not only will shape this September but the seasons to come. It’s still a little early to tell, but it may be that, to Tara’s delight, the Cardinals have finally picked a direction. Let’s take a look at the moves here and we’ll go over the games–from the end of the Brewers series through the trip to AT&T Park to whatever games take place against the Padres before I write–in another post.
It is quite representative of the hold-your-cards-close (and there’s perhaps more than one meaning of that phrase applicable) mentality of the John Mozeliak front office–and let’s be clear, that’s what this is right now no matter what the titles say. Perhaps during the offseason the lines will be drawn more starkly and Michael Girsch will come out of the shadows more, but it’s possible that never really will happen. After all, I heard San Francisco’s GM’s name on the broadcast today and realized that Brian Sabaen hadn’t had the job since 2014, but he’s still the guy you think of when it comes to the Giants–that the first small hint of Mike Leake being shopped came less than an hour before the deal with Seattle was completed. I’m not terribly surprised that Mo has been able to silence leaks from his side of things, but I never can figure out how the teams he’s talking to always can keep it quiet as well.
Anyway, Jerry DiPoto saw something in Leake that at least got him interested and, given his free-wheeling nature, it’s not too surprising that a deal came together quickly. It didn’t hurt that the Cardinals sorta treated Leake like the piece of furniture you put out on the side of the road with the “you haul it, it’s yours” sign, then you chip in for the guy’s gas and truck rental. The $750,000 in international cap money literally meant nothing to the Cardinals since they couldn’t use it anyway due to their overspending last year. The $17 million….that left more of a mark. However, apparently you can put a price on flexibility and it’s $17 million.
Whenever the conversation on Meet Me at Musial turned to Lance Lynn and potentially bringing him back, something that Allen was strongly in favor of, my main hangup was the fact that no matter what you might think of the quality of the pitching that was coming back, the realities of contracts and baseball in general meant that the rotation was almost completely full. Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Leake, and Michael Wacha (assuming that he wasn’t moved to the bullpen, which was and is an option but not a given) were taking up four-fifths of the rotation. If you signed Lynn, that meant that there again was no room for Jack Flaherty, Luke Weaver, or, after the All-Star Break, Alex Reyes to take regular starting turns in 2018. With Wainwright’s contract ending after that season, there would be a little extra room for ’19, but not a lot given all the arms that were marching toward the gates of Busch Stadium.
Apparently that fact wound up being one that Mozeliak and Girsch were cognizant of as well and they did what they had to do to un-nail down spots for next season and beyond. If nothing else, the creativity and the will to move Leake in this situation has to be applauded. They did what no Cardinal fan actually expected they could do and not only added roster flexibility but payroll flexibility as well.
Leake wasn’t the only person being shown the door this week, though. On Thursday, the Cardinals activated Kevin Siegrist from the disabled list and then designated him for assignment, ending his time with St. Louis. It was a bit of an odd move, but the Cardinals felt that was the best way to free up a spot on the 40-man roster for Sandy Alcantara. Why they are keeping Mike Mayers on there is still a bit of a question mark. Perhaps they wanted Mayers to be able to help Memphis’s push for a title. Rusty Groppel and Adam Butler had just spoken about how Siegrist could be non-tendered this winter on their most recent Bird Law podcast (another excellent show you should subscribe to) and perhaps the Cardinals felt like there was no reason to wait when they were going to need to add folks in order to promote them. Maybe they thought Siegrist was more likely to find a job now and have a chance to impress his new employers than to scramble this winter.
Whatever the case, it was a bit surprising and, if you wanted to look at it this way, a little cavalier to treat Siegrist in this manner. After all, he’d been an effective weapon for the Cardinals for a number of years and very possibly gave his left arm to the team. He had 81 appearances in 2015, another 67 last year, and watched his ERA balloon to almost 5.00 this year with arm troubles. There’s a strong possibility Siegrist will never be that effective ever again. If sentiment was involved, he’d have had a chance to make another few appearances with the Cardinals before going their separate ways this winter.
Sentiment isn’t–or at least probably shouldn’t–be involved with front office decision making, though, and the fact is that no matter what they do and how hard they try to escape it, the Cardinals are staying in a playoff race. While Siegrist has contributed in the past and his high ERA is mainly a function of two four-run, one-out appearances this year, not only is he not as effective he’d also probably be the fifth lefty in the bullpen by pecking order. I guess there could be a toss-up between him and Brett Cecil, but Cecil’s contract and fairly good recent run would probably give him the nod. If the Cardinals were completely out of it, they might have brought Siegrist back up for a bit, but since they are still really in the wild card race at least, they couldn’t afford to do that. Best to make the break now and wish him the best in the future. Philadelphia did wind up claiming Siegrist and perhaps he’ll make enough impact to stay with them next year as well.
Aside from Sean Gilmartin, which made the Blogger Day move of Mo as irrelevant as we expected it was at the time, that was the extent of folks heading out. The only player heading in, Rayder Ascanio formerly of Seattle, doesn’t move the needle much. He’s a glove-first (or perhaps glove-only) shortstop that’s was assigned to Palm Beach. He’ll be 22 next year and hasn’t ever shown the ability to hit at the lowest levels. Derrick Goold puts a good spin on it, though noting that he’s a lottery ticket really at best, and I look forward to talking to Kyle about him this week for our Musial segment, but basically it feels like this is one of those guys that they got because trades work better when there are players on both sides. He’ll probably stay in the organization for a couple of years, but I doubt we ever talk much about him.
What was more interesting than who was coming in was who was moving up. With these moves and the expanded rosters, some new faces were headed to St. Louis with a couple of them added to the 40-man as well. Friday saw Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara, Alberto Rosario (all of which were fresh 40-man folks), Harrison Bader, and Alex Mejia meet the major league squad in San Francisco. Let’s tackle these in order of least interest.
Rosario, as you probably remember, made his debut last year in the great catching carousel that saw Eric Fryer get released when Brayan Pena got off the DL then went back on the DL days later, forcing Rosario’s ascension. He was waived off the 40-man after the season but there were no takers, so the Cards reassigned him to Memphis. September basically requires three catchers but you have to wonder in a season where Carson Kelly can barely find at bats how often we’ll actually see Rosario. Maybe 10 plate appearances this month? Maybe?
We’ve seen Mejia already this season and he seems a capable enough backup infielder. With Jedd Gyorko out, having him as an option to play third base could help Greg Garcia from being too exposed, though Matt Carpenter has also shifted over there a few times as of late. Mejia had a strong season with Memphis, slashing .335/.381/.466, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him if not often at least more than occasionally, even if it’s as a late inning replacement.
Bader we know as the Cardinals top offensive rookie coming into this season, though Paul DeJong has obviously supplanted him for this season. With an already crowded outfield you would wonder how often Bader would be able to get in there, but with Dexter Fowler now hobbling and neither Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty laying claim to significant time, Bader has a least the opportunity to show he should be out there. He’ll have to show that he’s made the adjustments that were needed after his first time up, when it felt like pitchers had figured him out, but if he can he might play quite a bit down the stretch.
Then we get to the guys that got everyone excited. Flaherty was announced as the starter very soon after the Leake trade was finalized, though he didn’t get the official call-up until rosters expanded. Everyone knows that Flaherty has moved quickly through the system and had an outstanding year at Memphis. How well that will translate to the big leagues is still up for debate, though. We’ll talk about his start when we do the games post, but Flaherty found out the bigs are a little different very quickly. Chalk it up to nerves or inexperience, though having a weak lineup get to you in a pitcher’s park isn’t the way you wanted to start things.
Alcantara was less expected but not any less desired. Anyone that can routinely hit the low 100s on his fastball is going to be someone fans want to see. The problem still with Alcantara is control and fooling folks. He finally got into a groove at Springfield but it took a while and he didn’t blow through the Texas League like many would have liked to see. Still, he’s got enough to make a guy like Buster Posey look bad when it all comes together, as we saw Sunday, even after he was touched for a homer by the first guy he faced. There’s plenty of potential here but there are a lot of rough edges as well. If Alcantara didn’t have to be on the 40-man this winter, I don’t think the Cards would have gone this way. Since he did, though, you might as well toss him out there and see if you can capture a little lightning.
There’s no doubt that the look of the Cardinals and perhaps even the feel of them has changed over the past few days. Of course, it helped to be playing the Giants so that any buzz relating to all the moves wasn’t dampened by losses. Still, it feels like a bit of a trajectory shift has occurred. Whether it’ll be noticeable this year or not is still debatable, but the offseason that was already looking to be interesting is even more wide open now. The 2018 Cardinals should look a lot different than the 2017 version but how they will get there is going to be fun to see. The joy is in the journey, right?