Cardinal Baseball Is Back (Kinda)

This weekend, we got the glorious sight of baseball games that included the St. Louis Cardinals on our television screens.  Yes, it was the beginning of spring, meaning that only part of the regulars played in each game and they only got a couple of at bats before turning it over to folks that are on the way up, whether with a real shot or more organizational soldiers.  Still, it was Cardinal baseball and that’s got to count for something.  The winter is thawing and we’ve got new things to discuss rather than wondering for the 829th time what the deal is with Bryce Harper.

Before the action on Sunday, the Cardinals and Jose Martinez agreed on a two-year, $3.25 million deal.  It wasn’t an extension because the Cards had his rights for this year and the three seasons afterwards.  It didn’t even buy out much arbitration, leaving him two of those arb seasons after the deal has expired.  What it did do is (assuming an even split of the money) about triple his salary for this year and lock him into an amount for next season.  Given how up in the air his usage is going to be this year, it won’t hurt him to be a bench bat like it might have had he gone to an arbitration hearing.  Then again, the Cards have gone to a hearing once in the last twenty years so most likely they’d have settled with him anyway, but this means a strong season from Martinez (who does have some incentives in this deal) won’t put the club in a weaker negotiating position.

The Cardinals framed this (I’m not casting aspersions, because this probably was a large portion of their thinking) as a chance to do right by Martinez.  Apparently there were Japanese teams interested in him, but the Cardinals didn’t want to sell his rights and lose him over there.  That meant Martinez was losing out on some money and the club decided to make it up to him by offering this contract.  While the amount is chump change for the organization, they also did not have to do this.  I’m not saying that it should completely counteract the “club is cheap” narrative, but it is some supporting evidence for those that argue against that premise.  They could have kept him on at the minimum and squeezed a little more into the bottom line.  It also allowed Martinez the security to do something for his family, who are dealing with the political unrest in Venezuela.

It is interesting that the Cards have been a part of “doing right” for a while.  I’m sure other teams have similar issues at times, but you have this contract plus the Stephen Piscotty trade given the situation around his family.  (There was another example floating in my head last night, but I’m up too early this morning for it to come to mind.)  As Tara pointed out last night while we were doing Gateway to Baseball Heaven, there has been some negative connotations about coming to play in St. Louis.  Perhaps this is the front office’s way, in part, of doing a little bit to repair that reputation.

Also, if you want to be cynical, with this move Roster Resource notes that the estimated Opening Day payroll just ticks above the ending 2018 payroll, meaning that they have spent more than they saved this winter.  It’s statistically insignificant and a virtual wash, but it does give the front office just one more talking point should they want to go that route.

It’s good to see Martinez get a little stability and hopefully this will let him help his family, but that doesn’t necessarily lock him up into the future of the Cardinals.  (You may remember what deals to Allen Craig and Piscotty meant for their future.)  Having a year of arbitration out of the way could be an attractive thing for other teams come trade time.  While I do think the Cards are probably done shopping him from their end, they well might entertain some calls depending on how the season goes.  Again, I know the organization thinks highly of Martinez, as do his teammates, but even here, baseball is a business and we already know how tight those bench roles are going to be.

Speaking of, Jedd Gyorko might be the only real loser in this situation.  With Martinez not going anywhere (at least for a while), Gyorko could be the one that gets dealt to free up a spot on the 25-man (as well as the 40-man, which will need at least one person cleared to get Francisco Pena on the roster).  There’s not much you can take from this weekend’s games, given that they are the first two of the season, but it is worth noting that Drew Robinson went 2-4 with a double coming off the bench Saturday and then went 2-3 starting on Sunday.  Again, that doesn’t mean that Robinson is making the team or anything, but the club has been vocal about wanting a left-handed bat on the bench, which is why they traded for Robinson in the first place.  If the Cards go with 12 hitters (which is not guaranteed, but a shorter bullpen presents its own problems), that’s four bench spots.  One is Pena, one is Martinez, and if Robinson can lay sufficient claim to a spot for himself, that leaves Gyorko, Tyler O’Neill, and Yairo Munoz vying for that last chair.  The other two do have options so that’s the path of least resistance, but you can argue whether it gives you the best squad.

Possibly the topic that got the biggest buzz over the weekend was the spring debut of Ryan Helsley.  Trying to follow in Jordan Hicks‘s footsteps (though he’s already done almost as much as Hicks did last spring), Helsley flashed his power arsenal at the Marlins on Saturday, hitting triple digits while striking out three.  You’ll remember, of course, that at Winter Warmup last January John Mozeliak discussed three pitchers he thought could make an impact on 2018–Hicks, Dakota Hudson, and Helsley (who has too many Ls in his name for me to regularly spell it right).  Two of them did make the club eventually, but injuries held Helsley back.  Again, the bullpen is a situation where there are way too many arms for not enough spots, so it’s difficult to see how they could get Helsley on the roster.  If he keeps up like this, though, they well may find a way.

Other than that, you don’t really want to draw a lot of conclusions about the results this week–good or bad; even as we mention Robinson above, remember he could easily go 0-for-the-week and be back to a AAA ticket.  Yes, Dexter Fowler didn’t get off to the best of starts, going 0-2 with a strikeout.  You know who else did that yesterday?  Paul Goldschmidt, and I doubt–well, I at least sincerely hope no one is calling for that trade to be reversed.  Fowler did also misplay a ball, I hear (I didn’t get a chance to see it yesterday) and it would have been better for everyone’s piece of mind to see that improved Fowler we’ve hoped for all winter rather than something that looked a little like 2018.  That said, it’s one game, two at bats.  It’s hard to really take that sample and draw reasonable conclusions from it.  Let’s see where Fowler is two weeks from now before we really start to get concerned.

Mike Shildt also named Miles Mikolas as the Opening Day starter, which was really not a surprise.  They weren’t going to go with Jack Flaherty for that honor just yet and while you could make a case that Carlos Martinez should get it, his injury put that possibility out to pasture.  Mikolas also looked good Saturday (which, as the announcement was made before the game, obviously played no role in the decision) and hopefully we’ll see another solid year from the pitcher.  Nothing currently seems to be imminent on the extension front but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they got that done maybe by next week.

St. Louis takes on half of the Detroit Tigers today at home with the game on FOX Sports Midwest and, of course, through the MLB At Bat app.  You can also get in on the season version of The Cardinal Six until the first pitch in Milwaukee March 28.  The link is here, though you may want to wait until closer to the deadline to get your picks in.  It’s so good to have some baseball back, isn’t it?

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers127.632 -
Pirates106.6250.5
Cardinals108.5561.5
Cubs89.4713.0
Reds512.2946.0

Last updated: 04/18/2019

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