We’re just a couple of days from the calendar flipping over. Since the end of the season, I’ve written the Exit Interviews and done the Top Cards on Twitter. While, in all honesty, both are a good bit of work, I’ve not written anything else in part because the motivation has been severely lacking. It’s not uncommon for me to ponder what the future holds for the blog about this time of year but I’m having more and more trouble shaking off the fact that maybe 15 years is long enough.
I mean, we had almost a wholesale change of the coaching staff and I didn’t get a post done. We now actually have the heir (not the heir apparent or, as Rusty likes to say, the heir presumptive) to Yadier Molina in Willson Contreras and I’ve not weighed in. Some of my writing efforts have been spent in a non-baseball fashion but that’s not the entire reason I’ve not put keyboard to cloud-based site.
Much like many of the other folks that started blogging in my time, Twitter (when it isn’t melting down) is a place to quickly dash off a thought or amplify someone else’s instead of plugging through writing 1000 words. (Because, you know me, if it’s not close to 1000 words, what are we even doing here?) The podcasts are still going well, with Meet Me at Musial and Gateway to Baseball Heaven letting me deal with the issues of the day in a manner that means I can sleep in and not get up early to write a post. (A new Musial this weekend, BTW, and Gateway will be back soon as well.) So even if I stopped writing on the regular, you’re still not going to be done with my thoughts on the Cardinals and other related topics.
There’s also the fact that I just realized I was spending about $100/month for DirecTV Stream and the only thing that I watch on there is the Cards. I love my baseball, but that seems a little extreme. So that’s going by the wayside in the new year. Hopefully Bally Sports gets that monthly package that will let me stream them even here in blackout country up and running. If not, maybe I can figure out the VPN thing or watch the condensed games on MLB.tv at some point. I figure I can keep up with everything on Twitter and the various media sites and it’s not like my opinions have ever been that informed anyway.
So we’ll see. Perhaps when we get to the Winter Warm-Up and some of the blood starts flowing again, when I get to work on the Playing Pepper questions, maybe I’ll feel differently. I think it’s likely, though, that the 2023 season will be the first without the Heroes and Goats. I’ve taken pride in having at least something written about every game since Opening Day 2008 but you know what Ecclesiastes said about time.
Enough about all that, though. Let’s hit some of the high points about the Cardinals. If you’ve listened to the podcasts, most of this is old hat. If you haven’t, you probably haven’t read this far anyway. But let’s put it down on paper.
–I had no problems with Jeff Albert and would have liked him back, but I hope that his departure for the Mets does what he wanted it to do and let the results speak for themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that the Cardinals were churning out pitching prospect after pitching prospect, which is why the Paul Goldschmidt (and, on the other end, Marcell Ozuna) trades could be made. There were few if any hitting prospects, though. Now, bats are stockpiled so that it’s hard to see how Alec Burleson gets a lot of playing time with Lars Nootbaar in front of him and Jordan Walker coming up quickly behind. It’s a remarkable turn of events, somewhat due to Randy Flores and who he drafted but also due to the system that Albert put into place during his time with St. Louis.
–I don’t expect Turner Ward is going to change many things. He might have a little better method of communicating or a different way of suggesting adjustments, but I would expect that the overhaul that Albert put into place will continue going forward, just with fewer people complaining about the hitting coach.
–The idea of Molina or Albert Pujols joining the coaching staff never made sense, but adding Matt Holliday had a little more believability. I didn’t expect him to take the bench coach job because of wanting to be around his family, but it obviously was intriguing to him. I don’t worry about Holliday’s lack of analytical background–though I’m sure he’ll get familiar with the numbers–because the rest of the staff, including Oli Marmol, are much more fluent in it. Holliday brings years of experience playing at the highest level, something nobody on the staff really has except Ward (unless you count Stubby Clapp‘s cup of coffee). Holliday is familiar with the game (and has plenty of experience coaching), is familiar with Marmol, and is familiar with the organization. A bench coach is more of a sounding board than anything and all of the knowledge and instincts that Holliday has will be a huge benefit in that regard.
–Contreras should be a fine addition to the staff. I wasn’t necessarily chomping at the bit to get him, in part because he was a Cub (and even though the situations are different and he had some better moments here than we remember, it still had a little Dexter Fowler feel) and in part because of the drop off in defense. I still am amazed how thoroughly the Cards threw Andrew Knizner under the bus this winter and I’m not really sure what this means for Ivan Herrera. All that said, Contreras is going to make a huge impact at the plate compared to what we’ve seen at the position the last couple of years. The defensive problems are probably a little overblown, though I do worry about him and Adam Wainwright (who, if he’s not getting the edges, is likely to have some serious problems). All that came out after his signing, about him trying on the Molina jersey he was sent from the GOAT and liking the look, about instructing his agent to get something done with the Cardinals even if he left money on the table, the fact that he started seriously thinking about the Cards when Pujols hit #695, all that is a real, real good way to get yourself accepted by this fan base, especially this blogger.
–The fact that the Cardinals have done absolutely nothing else, though, is troubling. While there are obviously a lot of arms available in the system, none of them are particularly dominant ones. I’m concerned about a pitch-to-contact staff when the shift is reduced, even with this defense. Having swing-and-miss in your rotation would seem to be something that is significantly needed, but John Mozeliak passed on the high dollar/short term solutions like Justin Verlander and on the less high dollar/longer term solutions like Carlos Rondon. Perhaps there’s a trade out there to make, but there doesn’t seem to be any urgency from the front office to upgrade a rotation that could be unkindly characterized as a bunch of #3s and #4s (depending on the health of Jack Flaherty and your thoughts on Miles Mikolas, I guess). While there is no doubt that with the five starters, Dakota Hudson (sigh), Matthew Liberatore, and Jake Woodford, you can cover innings, but it’s not exactly going to strike fear in anyone’s heart. The Cardinals are currently #21st on FanGraphs’ depth chart for rotations, which means it’s going to take a LOT of hitting and a really, really strong bullpen to push this team deep into October.
–With the Brewers treading water (at best), the Cubs marginally improving, and the Reds and Pirates being the Reds and Pirates, winning the division doesn’t seem like it’ll be that much of a problem for the Cardinals. You never know about injuries and someone else’s team might get career years out of everyone, but on paper the Cards are easily the divisional favorites. All that doesn’t mean much, though, when it’s likely they’d have to face either a Braves team that has all the young talent and will for years or a Phillies team that went to the World Series then added Trea Turner or a Padres team that has no fear bringing in major talent in a best of three to start their run. As we saw, even if you are the favored team, best of threes can go sideways quick. The Cardinals would not be favored against any of those, I don’t imagine.
–A lot of frustration about this offseason might have been relieved if Mo had not been so adamant that payroll was going up. That’s a true statement, but it has more to do with accounting tricks (not counting the Rockies’ money for Nolan this year because it applied a past year, counting all of Adam Wainwright’s new contract even though $10 million is deferred) than anything and the increase is marginal at best. Roster Resource indicates about a $1 million increase, though they are counting the Colorado money this year. Jason Hill shows where he’s got payroll, though I don’t know exactly how much his method shows them increasing (and it shows them significantly below what seemed to be their target for this offseason). I would imagine that we’ll see an extension for Mikolas and maybe Jordan Montgomery in spring, but unless the extension overwrites the last year of their current deal, it won’t affect this year’s payroll.
When you hear “payroll is going up” you don’t expect it to be 1) minimal and 2) because of simple (accounting) tricks and nonsense. If this was the plan, you would have expected Mo to do his normal “we’re going to be opportunistic, we’re going to use our resources wisely, etc., etc.,” He didn’t do that. He laid out an expectation that payroll was going to notably increase and that expectation would be that pieces were coming in. That’s not been the case. Heck, the new catcher is making as much as the old catcher did last year, since the club backloaded Contreras’s contract. Technically correct is one thing but it’s not exactly what you want to rely on when you’ve raised a fanbase’s hopes.
All right, let’s shut it down for the year. (Maybe that’ll be enough to spur Mo to make move before the ball drops!) We’ll be back at some point next year, but how often, I make no promises!