C70 At The Bat

It was a real treat to get to sit down with Chase Woodruff of Double Birds for this edition of Conversations. I’ve always found Chase’s posts insightful and enjoy listening to him and Maq on the podcast. We talk about some of those posts, how he became a Cardinal fan, and then get into some of the questions and possibilities around the 2017 Cardinals. Give it a listen!

0 comments

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Chicago Cubs
103-58, first in NL Central, won World Series
Last year’s Pepper

This truly is the darkest timeline.  A timeline where the Cubs–the CUBS–are World Series Champions.

Somehow the world stayed on its axis and we didn’t go hurtling toward the abyss (though your opinion of how things have gone the last few months might make you wish we had), so we have to come to terms with what this means and how good this team might be again.  Unsurprisingly, we’ve got a few folks that are very, VERY happy to talk about this phenomenon.  Check them out on their sites and Twitter and then read on if you are able to handle this.  (I’m not sure I am.)

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
David Miniel Cubbies Crib DavidAMiniel
Josh Timmers Bleed Cubbie Blue Cubsminorswrap
Rob Harris Blue Batting Helmet rlincolnharris
Neil Finnell ChicagoCubsOnline.com TheCCO
Ryan Maloney Prose and Ivy proseandivy

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

CC: I’d say it was another successful offseason for this front-office. Considering the fact that they lost both their leadoff man (Dexter Fowler) and rental closer (Aroldis Chapman) to other teams, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer filled the gaps pretty well. And again, addressing the bullpen by claiming a few men off waivers and flipping Jorge Soler to Kansas City for Wade Davis was a huge move in our eyes. Soler never really blossomed under the Cubs organization and Chicago was obviously in the market for finding another man who can close games consistently. Not to take anything away from Hector Rondon. Rondon will likely continue his set-up role for Joe Maddon in 2017. And the obvious choice would be Fowler. Fowler set the tone for nearly every game he played in. But with Chicago having their eye on the future, I had a feeling Dexter was going to find a home elsewhere. We’re still thankful for what he has done for this organization and he’s still loved even though he’s in a Cardinal uniform for the next five years. 

BCB: The Cubs really didn’t have a lot to do over the winter, so it was a good offseason. They picked up the closer they needed in Wade Davis and did it by trading Jorge Soler, thus freeing up the outfield logjam a bit. They need more pitching depth and signing Koji Uehara and Brett Anderson is a good start, but I’d still like to see them get one more pitcher who could start. It would be nice to see Travis Wood return, but it sounds like he wants to go somewhere he is guaranteed to start.

BBH: The W flag remained flying over the centerfield scoreboard all winter long, and the red marquee still says “World Series champions” so yes, it was a beautiful offseason. I was sorry to see Jorge Soler get traded, but they got a pretty good return for him. And Dexter Fowler was a loss, but he’ll always be a hero in this town. If Brett Anderson can stay healthy–and I don’t like the chances of that–it will be a nice boost to the rotation. 

CCO: The Cubs had a very good off-season. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer addressed the team’s biggest need, pitching. The additions of Wade Davis and Koji Uehara should work extremely well in the backend of the pen with Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop. If Davis is healthy, as he says he is, the Cubs upgraded the bullpen. I really like the addition of Eddie Butler and if Brett Anderson can give them at least 15 starts, the rotation has a chance to be as good as last season.

The addition of Jon Jay to pair with Albert Almora Jr. was and is a very good move. The Cubs will miss Dexter Fowler, to a certain extent especially at the top of the lineup. Defensively, the Cubs upgraded in center field. Fowler was pivotal to the Cubs winning The Series. He will not be able to match the same success away from the Cubs. But the team has more than enough talent to make up for his loss.

I would have liked for the front office to add a young, controllable starter, like Chris Archer. The cost was prohibitive but if there is a move I wished the Cubs would have made it would have been trading for Archer. With the Cubs, Archer would be a superstar instead of a very good starting pitcher on a second division team.

The Cubs were the best team in baseball last year and that has not changed. All in all, the team is better on paper going into Spring Training than they were a year ago.

PI: It was a great off-season for the team. How could it have gone otherwise? And yes, they did what they needed to do. They needed to throw a World Series Championship parade. They threw a World Series Championship parade. They needed to send the World Series Championship Trophy on a World Series Championship Trophy tour. They sent the World Series Championship Trophy on a World Series Championship Tour. They needed to celebrate their first World Championship in 108 years. They celebrated their first World Championship in 108 years with me and thousands of other Cubs fans at the greatest fan convention in sports – the Cubs Convention this past January. Oh – and they needed to replace Chapman which they did with Davis and they needed to replace Fowler which they’ve done with a stable of young talent potentially Schwarbomb leading off. Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo – how’s that for a first three to face for opposing pitchers every game? I like the sound of it, too.

C70: So, um, that World Series thing happened. Has it sunk in? What can this season do to not be some sort of letdown or does that even matter?

CC: Honestly, it still feels like a dream to me. Growing up and watching this team hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do, watching your friends celebrate their team winning a World Series title. I’ve personally gone over multiple scenarios in my head of what I would do if or when that day came. When it was time, I couldn’t help but cry my eyes out in my Father’s arms. His Dad handed down his love for this club down to me and I kept the legacy alive. When it comes to the future, we all know this team is built to contend year-after-year. They are so deep when it comes to talent. Not only on their 25-man roster with Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, Heyward, Baez, Rizzo, etc., but they still have a top notch farm system that possesses some of the best minor league players in the game. There’s no way this club will ever let us fans down after what they did last year. 

BCB: It seems like nothing has changed and everything has changed. For the most part, my offseason has been the same—worrying about signings, trades, prospects, etc. for 2017. But every once in a while I’m like “Wow,” like when I look at my bobblehead of Kyle Schwarber holding the World Series trophy. Our relationship with other fans has changed too, as I no longer hear “1908” and “The Cubs will never win.” That part is nice. Cardinals fans are much quieter and don’t bring up baseball much. 

BBH: I frankly don’t care if the Cubs ever win again. I’m probably in the minority of Cubs fans on this, but a second one couldn’t be any sweeter than the first one was. I waited for 40 years to see it happen, and so many others never got to see it at all. The chalk mural on the outer walls at Wrigley Field in the days after they won was such a tremendous experience. And seeing the Commissioner’s trophy with my own eyes was pretty special, too. I visited Jack Brickhouse’s and Ernie Banks‘s graves, to share a moment with them and think about how much baseball and the Cubs mean to us all. How could it ever get better than that?

CCO: It will never get old to say, or in this case type, the Chicago Cubs are The World Series Champions. It is still a bit surreal but it has sunk in. This season does matter and anything less than a repeat of a NL Central title and a third straight trip to the postseason would be a disappointment. It is different now. No more wondering what it would feel like for the Cubs to win The World Series. Now it’s about building the legacy and this Cubs team going down in history as one of the best of all-time.

PI: That World Series championship ‘thing’ did happen and man – what a trip that was. Down 3-1 and we come back to tie 3-3, then nearly blow it – then use a rain delay of all things to collect ourselves with a speech from – of all people Jason Heyward – to put the team in the lead for good and close it out with two guys NOT named Aroldis Chapman. I mean – what?! It was a trip. I loved every minute of it. I woke my oldest kid up to watch the final outs and it was just perfect. So great. So great. It has sunk in but I didn’t expect it to go down like that. I don’t think anyone could have pictured the Cubs’ first championship in 108 years to finally happen in that fashion. This season – it’s so hard to repeat but we have so much of the team still and anything is possible. I love this team – they’re so fun to watch and root for. I’m hoping for a repeat and not some horrible movie sequel version like Major League 2 where success has gone to everyone’s heads and they aren’t they same lovable team they were in 2016. I’m not concerned that it will happen after listening to the team speak at the Convention, it would just be a shame if it did. This team gave fans the one thing they’ve been waiting to see from their Cubs so it’s too soon for a letdown – but who doesn’t want to see their team win again? I’d love to see it and maybe this time I’ll wake up my youngest child too.

C70: Who is most likely to repeat his year, Kris Bryant or Kyle Hendricks?

CC: This question is tough. Real quick, take Jake Arrieta for example. He dominated the 2015 campaign, hurled a no-hitter and flirted with history a few times along the way. We all had expectations that he was going to have a solid shot at repeating as a Cy Young winner. That was until he ran into a consistency issue after a fantastic start to the previous campaign. So, it’s hit or miss for Chicago’s young right-hander. There’s still a lot of faith in Kyle because of the fact that he has shown signs of improvement since he debuted in 2014. I’d have to say Bryant has the best shot at repeating when it comes down to the two. He’ll hit a little over 40 homers and drive in another 100 plus RBI this year. 

BCB: Bryant. Bryant is a once-in-a-generational talent who will be one of the first names you mention in 50 years when talking about baseball in the Teens. (After Mike Trout, of course.) Hendricks is a good story. He’s a smart pitcher who locates his pitches well and relies on his defense. But guys like that have no margin for error. If he slips just a little, he’ll be just an OK pitcher. 

BBH: Kris Bryant, for sure. He’s talented on a level that I’ve never seen before. We think of him as a slugger, and his home run in Game 5 of the WS rescued the Cubs’ season. But his baserunning led to two crucial runs in Game 7. They won by one run, so every run was crucial. But without either of those runs, the Cubs aren’t parading down Addison Street like they did in November.

CCO: Kris Bryant. For as good as the NL MVP was last season, an argument could be made that Anthony Rizzo was the Cubs most-important player. Bryant is still learning and has shown the ability to adjust quickly. If he is able to go back to hitting to all fields, and stay healthy, he will easily repeat the numbers he put up last year. I think Bryant is just getting started … which should scare the rest of the NL Central and all of baseball.

PI: Easily Kris Bryant. Winning the MVP isn’t even what I’m talking about. I just expect him to deliver with similar numbers. Feels to me there is more you can do to succeed as a batter than you can as a pitcher. Once you’ve let go of the ball as a pitcher, it is out of your hands. However, every pitch Bryant faces will be another opportunity to cash in on a pitcher’s mistake and put runs on the board. I would choose Bryant between the two.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

CC: One player people should look out for is Albert Almora. All eyes are going to be on center field and what he is going to be able to do in order to fill in Fowler’s shoes. Which are pretty big. Like I said before, Dexter had a huge impact on this team over the past two years, setting the tone and practically the outcome of every game. Almora hasn’t shown much power yet but he can make solid contact and he’s fast around the bases. Also, he’s smart. Look back at Game 7 of the World Series when he entered the game as a pinch-runner for Kyle Schwarber in extras. A routine fly ball that would force a runner to retreat and stay at first turned into a huge momentum shift when he read the fielder, tagged up, and took off for second base. That is something Joe Maddon is looking for. A young man who has the mindset of a veteran. And you can’t forget his diving play out in right field during the NLDS in San Francisco. 

BCB: I’m a huge fan of Albert Almora Jr., who may not hit much in his upcoming rookie year but showed in the playoffs last year what an incredible glove he has in the outfield. It will very difficult for any player to hit a double into the gap in right-center between Almora and Heyward in 2017. He’s also got terrific baseball intelligence. Almora taking second base in the tenth inning of game 7 on the Bryant fly out may just have been the play that won the Cubs the World Series. Other than that, I think every player on the Cubs is pretty “heralded” after last October. Being overrated is more of a problem. I think they’re singing folk songs in Indiana and southern Ohio about Schwarber. 

BBH: I don’t know that for sure. I’ve read good things about Eloy Jimenez, so I hope he turns out to be good. But I also called Brett Jackson‘s name out a few years ago, so what do I know?

CCO: When it comes to the Cubs it is hard to pick a player. The Cubs are so incredibly popular. Coming off a World Series title, the team now has more fans it did a year ago. Unheralded? Let’s go to the backend of the rotation and Mike Montgomery. I really like what I saw from him after he was acquired from the Mariners. If he listens to Chris Bosio, he has the stuff to be a big part of the Cubs rotation this season … and for a long time.

PI: I would say CJ Edwards. He contributed some great moments throughout 2016 and a defining moment in Game 7 so people will be expecting him to be one of the guys to keep the bullpen strong, especially without the crutch in Chapman. Davis will need to prove to be valuable in replacing Chapman, but without CJ doing his job, our bullpen will not sustain like it did in 2016. So I would keep an eye on CJ Edwards keeping his foot on the gas and having another strong campaign in 2017.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

CC: Could you imagine their win total had Kyle Schwarber avoided that season-ending injury? Without Schwarber, they managed to win 103 games. On paper, they are still the best team in the National League Central. With all due respect to the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago still has the better lineup even with Fowler on the opposite end of the rivalry from here on out. Could they win over 100 games again? It’s possible. That all comes down to them wanting to prove to the rest of the league that they are, indeed, for real and not a flash in the pan. Their starting rotation is solid and may end up being better than what they had in 2015 and 2016. Epstein, again, went out and found another closer who can close games, and the slogan, “We Never Quit” is still alive and well. Just because they won the World Series doesn’t mean this club is going to stop fighting late in the game. I’m expecting another first place finish for the Cubs. Yet I’m still on the fence when it comes to the record. 

BCB: They’ll win the division easily again. I hate to predict 100 wins again because you should never count on 100 wins, so I’ll say 99 wins. 

BBH: 95-67, winning the division by 2 or 3 games. And I don’t know who’s in second or third place, either.

CCO: I predicted 95 wins a year ago and was eight short. I still believe it will take 95 victories to win the NL Central. So I will stick with a prediction of 95-67 for the Cubs and a second straight National League Central Division title. 

PI: 95-67 – first in the NL Central

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Cub and why?

CC: As far as my favorite Cub is concerned, that would be Ron Santo, hands down. The fact that he played a professional sport while battling diabetes just earned my respect right away. Admittedly, I was born in the late 80’s so I was unable to watch him play the game itself. But I grew up listening to stories of how great of a ballplayer he was despite his struggles with diabetes. I tip my hat to anyone who can or has done it. Another example, Jay Cutler. Not too many people like him because of his “attitude” but if you’re able to put on a uniform and step out onto a field game-after-game, year-after-year, in front of thousands of fans, putting your own health aside for a brief period of time? That’s the definition of a warrior. And hearing how much he loved this club by the way he did play-by-play with Pat Hughes for all those years up until he passed away. He was just an amazing human being. 

BCB: I grew up as a huge Ryne Sandberg fan—he was the superstar of my youth. I was very glad to see him at the White House along with the current players. 

BBH: If you had asked that a year ago, I would have said Andre Dawson. Watching him play in person was a sight to behold. And he was much loved in his six seasons in Chicago, too. But now I would put just about anyone on the 2016 team on a higher level, because they were the ones who got it done. But Kyle Schwarber is probably my favorite one on this team. When the word was out that he was ready to come back for the World Series–after missing the entire regular season–I was incredibly pumped up. Some were saying he wouldn’t have the timing he needed to hit effectively, but I knew he was up to it. The guy’s a hitter, first, last, and always. Never forget that he started the Series-winning rally with a single leading off the tenth inning of Game 7. That’s what he delivered to the team last year.

CCO: Ryne Sandberg. The ’84 Cubs were my favorite team before last season and Sandberg was the best player on that team. Sandberg was everything that was right with the game and still is. Sandberg worked extremely hard to be the player that he was. He respected the game and played it the right way his entire career. I came along after Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. Sandberg was the first great Cubs player of my generation. I’m so glad he is back with the team. He will always be the first player I think of when I’m asked why I became a Cubs fan.

PI: Ryne Sandberg. Love the current team but like I told Ryne and other members of the 1984 team at one of the Q&A panel sessions back in January, there is just something about the guys you watched when you were a kid. When they were all just heroes running around on the field trying to win for you and all the other Cubs fans. Before money and contracts and all the business side of baseball became something you knew existed. Whenever I played a pickup game of baseball with friends as a kid I would play second base and pretend to be Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg was the guy that made me a Cubs fan and for that he will always be my favorite.

My thanks to all the guys that came over here and talked about the Cubs.  It was a long time coming and I know they enjoyed it.  I’m just hoping we don’t do it again next season!

0 comments

Escaping the Ordinary

Yesterday morning, the Cardinals’ camp was enlivened by the fact half the team got on a bus and took off and the manager wouldn’t say where they were going.  That’s not quite what we’re used to out of the Redbirds, is it?  I mean, if this was Arizona and we were watching Joe Maddon work a team, sure, anything goes, but the routine-based Cardinals?  And a mystery?

While there were plenty of guesses going on (my most well-received stab was this one), it turns out that the “team-building” exercise was one of the local escape rooms, where you have a time limit to solve a mystery or figure out how to get out of the room.  Which explained why they split the teams in half, because there just wasn’t room for everyone at the time.

Of course, news about this came out throughout the day and it quickly was noted that this was Adam Wainwright‘s idea, which led to a couple of lines of thinking.  The pro-Mike Matheny camp would say that the manager has fostered an atmosphere where players can come up with things like this, whereas the less-than-charitable would say that it’s the manager’s job–especially one that is supposed to be a strong leader–to figure these kind of things out.

Through Derrick Goold’s reporting, we see that Matheny actually had been trying to come up with something like this and took Wainwright’s idea and made it happen.  Credit has to be given where credit is due.  Matheny made the teams up with the idea of putting people together that normally weren’t interacting, which is the mark of some good thinking as well.  (Why it had to be such a mystery, I don’t know.  I’m sure there was some sort of benefit–maybe the players didn’t know where they were going until they were on the way, so it would have spoiled the surprise for the second half that went in the afternoon–but on the face of it it seems irrelevant.)

Which really blunted the post that I was planning to write this morning, which was based on some comments by the ace coupled with the mystery room being his idea.  Wainwright, speaking to Mark Saxon of ESPN, said the following:

“Last year, we just weren’t on the same page.  I think everyone would say that.  We’re just doing so much of a better job to just check in on everybody this year.”

Give credit to Matheny for trying to fix the issue this season, though we’ll have to wait and see if this is something that sticks throughout the year or if there is some more unrest, especially if the team struggles for consistent winning again.  I tried to point out on Twitter yesterday (though the limitations of 140 characters didn’t help) that Matheny doesn’t have anything to fall back on if he winds up losing the clubhouse.  Some managers can at least claim to have some in-game skills as well as personnel management.  While I think Matheny is improving in that regard, the entire reason he’s manager is because he’s supposed to be a strong leader.  As we saw last year in the Kolten Wong interview, that has shown some cracks.  Perhaps activities like this–and more importantly, a little different approach–can seal those cracks up.  Of course, it’s probably not a coincidence that the first time we hear much about any clubhouse dissention is the same season they miss the playoffs.  Winning papers over a lot.

I do wonder just how much the leadership of the clubhouse comes from Matheny and how much it comes from players like Wainwright and Yadier Molina (and, before he left, Matt Holliday).  If those guys weren’t there as a buffer or as a guide, how would things go?  Maybe the same.  Probably similar.  Still, so many things like this seem to have Waino’s fingerprints on them.

Quick thoughts about some other things on the Post-Dispatch‘s site:

  • Sandy Alcantara is making a name for himself so far in camp.  Not that he was unknown before, but with the Alex Reyes spotlight shifted due to his Tommy John surgery, there’s always a desire to find the “next big thing” and Alcantara might be it.  While he’s been a starter in his young career and could well continue to develop that way, there’s also a path that sees him in the big league bullpen by the end of the season.  And that’s not just me saying that, or even folks you should respect in these matters like John Nagel.  That’s John Mozeliak talking.  When you’ve got a fireballer like that, who reaches 102 with his fastball, it wouldn’t take much for him to be able to be effective in the big leagues.  I think the Cards would hope that they won’t need him, but if the bullpen needs strengthening in August or September, he might get a look.
  • Unsurprisingly, Matt Adams‘s physical transformation is still being remarked upon (though Jose de Jesus Ortiz seems to spend more time on Adams’s new tattoo to start this story than much else).  Ortiz also tossed out the idea that Adams could play left field, which seems fairly ridiculous for a team that is supposed to be improving its defense.  Adams plays a very good first, I think.  Even significantly slimmed down, though, moving him to the outfield is unlikely to have the same impact.  If Adams can show this spring that he can hit consistently–and so far, there’s been no indications that Adams’s decrease in body mass has sapped him of any power–you’d like to think that Matt Carpenter to third could be back on the table.
  • Marco Gonzales is still working his way back from his Tommy John surgery, running just a little behind the fully healthy pitchers in his work.  It’s interesting that Goold ranks Gonzalez behind Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons and Austin Gomber when it comes to lefties closest to pitching in the majors.  Lyons makes sense, of course–he’s ahead of Gonzales when it comes to health and he’s already proven a valuable part of the big league team–but for Gonzales to have slipped behind Gomber probably says more about how Gomber has risen than how far away Gonzales is.  I’d still probably expect to see Marco in the big leagues first, somewhere around mid-season after he’s gotten some work in at Memphis–but you never know.

Games start tomorrow!  The Cardinals and the Marlins match up at noon Central in the first of many spring meetings between the clubs.  You can find it on KMOX and on FSM, so it’ll really give you that taste of baseball you’ve needed since October.  There’s basically a game every day between now and the end of the season.  It’s a beautiful thing!

0 comments

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Boston Red Sox
93-69, first in AL East, lost in the ALDS
Last year’s Pepper

As has become tradition for the Red Sox, they followed up a disappointing 2015 by adding pieces and tearing through the division to again wind up on top.  In the last five season, the Sox have either finished first or last in the division and this team doesn’t look like a cellar-dweller this season.  How far they can get in October, though, is a different story.

To tell that story, we’ve got a lot of great Boston bloggers to talk about the club.  All of these folks (save Nate Brown, a welcome addition to the mix) are veteran Pepper players, but if you aren’t at least following them on Twitter, you probably should get on that.

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

SH: The Red Sox made a huge splash when they traded top prospect Yoan Moncada (and others) to the Chicago White Sox for left-handed ace Chris Sale, which clearly gives them one of the top rotations in baseball. Rick Porcello is coming off a Cy Young year, Sale has four straight top five finishes in Cy Young voting, and David Price has a Cy Young Award and twice was a runner-up. That leaves the back end to All-Stars Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz, and/or up-and-comer Eduardo Rodriguez. The team also solidified the bullpen with the acquisition of power arm Tyler Thornburg who was excellent for the Brewers last year, posting a 2.15 ERA and striking out 90 batters in 67 innings.

With the trades of incumbent third baseman Travis Shaw to Milwaukee and possible superstar third baseman Moncada to Chicago it looks like the Sox are giving Pablo Sandoval a second chance. He’s slimmed down considerably and seems to be taking his job seriously for a change, but I was hoping for an upgrade at the position. And, of course, I have to wonder who’s going to step in and try to fill the void left by David Ortiz. Free agent signee Mitch Moreland will contribute some pop but his .315 career on-base average doesn’t give me much confidence.

Part of me also hoped they’d sign Edward Encarnacion to replace Big Papi at DH but I don’t mind that they didn’t cough up $20 million a year for him like Cleveland did.

MQM: I thought it was an excellent offseason for the Red Sox. They filled a huge hole in the rotation with the trade for Chris Sale. It now gives the Sox an amazing 1-2-3 at the top of their rotation. They gave up two of their best prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, but they have a deep system, and Sale is still of MLB’s best left handers. I am also very glad the neither Andrew Benintendi nor Jackie Bradley was sent in the trade. The trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg gives the Sox another power arm at the end of the game, and it offsets the losses of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa. I also like the free agent signing of Mitch Moreland, as he is the current Gold Glove winner at first base, and allows the Sox to give Hanley Ramirez more time at DH.

LB: The Red Sox, as soon as the off-season began, were put in a hole, losing David Ortiz. However, they answered the call by replacing what they lost in their lineup with a dominant ace in their rotation. With Chris Sale, the Red Sox now have potentially one of the most dominant rotations in the league. Then they strengthened their bullpen by acquiring Tyler Thornburg. They also sought a defensive need at first base by signing Mitch Moreland. The Red Sox did depart some big names other than David Ortiz, such as Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Travis Shaw, and Clay Buchholz. But, I do believe with the newly added pieces to the team, the Red Sox in fact did make themselves better. 

BR: No, sort of and maybe.

It’s very difficult for any offseason that involves the retirement of a legend to be considered good. The only way it could have been, is if at some point David Ortiz said “j/k, I’m coming back!” Unfortunately, that did not happen.

There was no way for the Red Sox to be able to replace what David Ortiz meant to this team. Rather than spending a lot of resources to try the impossible task of replacing the hole left in the lineup by his retirement, they improved in other areas. Most notably was the trade for Chris Sale. Our starting rotation now boasts three perennial Cy Young award contenders plus two 2016 all-stars. The acquisition of Tyler Thornburg was an under-the-radar move that will shore up the bullpen, and signing Mitch Moreland to play first base will make Hanley Ramirez the everyday DH. Losing Yoan Moncada for Sale may hurt in the long run, but I am glad they made that move now. Moncada may become a perennial all-star headed towards a Hall of Fame career, but the Red Sox are contenders in the immediate future, and the acquisition of Sale will help them reach the World Series more than having a top prospect with a high ceiling would.

The only major question mark on the team is 3rd base. A lot of hope is being placed on Pablo Sandoval coming back from injury and returning to his previous playing level. But if he falters, our hot corner options are limited. It would have been nice to sign someone as an insurance policy, but realistically it would be a waste of resources if Sandoval bounces back, or if it was someone acquired cheaply probably not much better than the in house options. So, signing a star third baseman or trading for Todd Frazier probably wasn’t realistic. You can’t have a backup above average player at every position in case your starter doesn’t pan out, so overall I’m happy with the moves they did make.

BRT: While the Sox did make it to the dance, they did not get very far, being swept by Cleveland in the ALDS. Dave Dombrowski identified the needs of the ball club, then went out and acquired players to fill those holes. The Sox needed a starter, and he got one of the best in the game: Chris Sale. Unfortunately, he comes with a lot of baggage, so my concern is it will prove to be a distraction. I think if he comes out strong, and the Sox win right off the bat, it will help, as winning covers many ills. However, if he or this team struggles to find their way, I am hoping his penchant for drama does not rear its ugly head…

Mitch Moreland is a Gold Glove first baseman who hit 22 homers last year, so while I think he will see most of the first base work, he can also DH or pinch hit. And if things get really bad, he can always jump in and pitch an inning, just like he did for the Rangers in 2014…

Overall, I think it was a very good off-season for the Red Sox. We’ll see when the games begin…

C70: 2017 starts the post-David Ortiz era. How different will that be for you and for the team?

SH: One of the great joys of being a Red Sox fan was watching Ortiz day in and day out, and not just on the field but off. He put up Hall of Fame numbers in Boston for 14 years and his clutch hits are legendary. I thought Carl Yastrzemski was the best clutch hitter in Red Sox history, but Big Papi was the most amazing clutch hitter I’ve ever seen. One of my fondest memories was my first game at Fenway Park after I moved back to Boston in 2014. It was April 9 against the Rangers and Ortiz blasted a go-ahead three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to lead the Sox to a 4-2 win. But that’s nothing compared to what he did in the postseason during his career.

As for the team, they’re obviously going to miss his bat in the middle of the order, but they’re going to miss him in the clubhouse as well. He knew how to keep the team loose and he knew when to get serious and get on his teammates if they weren’t playing well. I still think Dustin Pedroia is the heart, soul and sparkplug, but Papi brought those same qualities to the table.

MQM: There is simply no replacing David Ortiz. He is the greatest clutch hitter in team history and a sure Hall of Famer. He went out in 2016 on his own terms, and I have great respect for him for that. Big Papi’s departure will be felt by everyone, but it will be up to the guys in the middle of the order, Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts to pick up the slack. The Sox have put together a very good young team that will just get better. We will also see if Pablo Sandoval can return from the shoulder surgery and return to form. He’s lost a lot of weight and so far management is happy with his progress. Dustin Pedroia now becomes the “grand old man” on the Sox, and I’d love to see him officially become the team captain.

LB: I grew up watching David Ortiz. I will never forget what he meant to the franchise and the intensity he brought to big moments. I will never forget David Ortiz’s 2004 ALCS Game 4’s homerun. But then there are a handful of unforgettable home runs Ortiz has hit. That is just the type of player he is. He is irreplaceable. I think the Red Sox organization realizes that, which is why I admire what they did this off-season. They could have replaced the DH with several power hitting free agents this offseason like Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, or even Mike Napoli, however they settled with re-establishing their pitching and focusing on improving in other areas besides going all in on offensive production. The team has lost a huge part of who they have been for years, and lost a great mentor for youth. It is going to take some time for the team to grow without him. However, with how this offseason turned out and the team the Red Sox now have, I feel like they will be able to make that quick adjustment. The biggest adjustment may be with the fans.

BR: The last time Boston entered a season without David Ortiz was 2002, when the nation was still reeling from 9/11, and the Yankees had been to five World Series in the previous six seasons. Meanwhile the Red Sox had been to four in the past 84 years – losing them all. Since then, Big Papi has led Boston to three Championships (their only ones since 1918) and it would be an understatement to say that has changed what it’s like to a Boston Red Sox fan.

For me, it will be different not being able to think that no matter how far down the team is, if we can just get Ortiz an at bat we still have a chance of winning the game. The team will obviously miss his offense as well as his leadership. I expect Dustin Pedroia (amazingly at only 32 he’s now the oldest player on the 40 man roster) will do his best to fill that leadership role.

BRT: It’s certainly going to be weird! Big Papi was such a force for the Red Sox, and contributed so much to the team’s identity for so long, there is no way that won’t be missed. I can’t even count how many times he put this team on his back and carried them, with not only his big bat and clutch hitting, but with his leadership. I think the Sox will be OK, but I think the DH spot will be filled by more than one player, at least for now, as they are pretty big shoes to fill, and there is really no one that I can think of that can (or should) step into a full-time DH role. I think Hanley could get there some day, but right now, I think he needs more to do, at least some of the time, so he doesn’t fall into some of his bad habits again. And having a couple 1st basemen who hit well is always on the wish list. 

C70: What’s the thinking on Craig Kimbrel? A bit of an off year or the beginning of a decline?

SH: I think people have been too hard on Kimbrel. Yes, he posted a career-worst 3.40 ERA and yes he was booed off the field in his first Fenway appearance when he gave up a three-run BOMB in the top of the ninth to Baltimore’s Chris Davis on April 11 (I was there and it was ugly), but his ERA is inflated by five unacceptable appearances (two or more runs allowed in an inning or less). In those five abominations he allowed 15 earned runs in only 2 2/3 innings (50.56 ERA), including two games where he surrendered four runs without recording an out. Obviously we’re not allowed to subtract those from his record, but in his other 51 appearances he pitched to a 0.89 ERA. So, yeah, it was five terrible outings that inflated his ERA.

His 14.1 K/9 was his best since 2012, he held batters to a .152 average, which is below his career mark of .157, his 94% save percentage was a career high, and most of his other numbers were in line with the rest of his career. There are things he could have done better—fewer walks, for example—but I don’t think he’s in a decline at all and I expect his ERA to rebound with fewer self-destructions in 2017.

MQM: It’s hard to say if this is the beginning of a decline for Craig Kimbrel. It may have just been a year of adjustment to Boston for him. He was very good after he had knee surgery in July, but there were games when he simply couldn’t find the plate, and his walk totals just exploded. The Sox made a wise move bringing in Tyler Thornburg, who has experience as a closer in the past. If Kimbrel struggles early in 2017, I’m sure the wolves will be howling at his door.

LB: I think Craig Kimbrel should remain the closer to begin the 2017 season. He is still one of the better closers in baseball with a superior 14.1 K/9 rate. His main issue was his control. We have seen pitchers come to Boston in their first years and struggle, then pick it back up their following season, like Rick Porcello. It is very likely that Kimbrel can loosen his nerves and return to his old self. It would be one thing if his velocity has decreased, as speed is not something you can necessarily fix. However, control is something you very much can work with and improve. Nevertheless, if he is truly on the decline, the Red Sox have plenty of options to remedy his potential struggles with Joe Kelly, Carson Smith (when he is back from injury), Robbie Ross, and Matt Barnes.

BR: I might be one of the few Red Sox fans who doesn’t think Craig Kimbrel had an off year at all last year. I think he had two bad appearances that made his numbers look bad. One of them was against the Yankees when, protecting a 3-0 lead, he loaded up the bases, walked in a run and then got pulled before his replacement gave up a walk-off grand slam. Kimbrel has a reputation for not pitching well in non-save situations. The game above, however, was a save opportunity. The other bad outing he had was on July 5th against the Rangers, when he came in down 3-2 and again gave up 4 runs without recording an out. Maybe that was where his reputation for not being dependable in non-save situations came from, but I think that’s just a small-sample-size / confirmation bias conclusion. Anyhow, other than those two outings, his season was in line with his career expectations.

I think he’s every bit as good as a pitcher as he’s always been, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to go an entire season without giving up a run or blowing a save, which is why the Boston media soured on him early on.

BRT: It is rare when a player, especially a pitcher, doesn’t have a learning curve of some kind to overcome when he switches leagues.  Sometimes it’s a small impact, and others, not so much.  I think Kimbrel’s struggles FELT worse than they actually were—he only had 2 blown saves in 33 tries, batters were limited to a .152 BA against him. and he did make the All-Star team for the 5th time.  Yes, the uncharacteristic walks (30) and the wild pitches (6) were concerning, but he is only going to be 29 in May, and chose not to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, opting to take advantage of the full 6 weeks of Spring Training with the Sox.  I think he has the right attitude, and wants to work through any of the issues that may be keeping him from being the dominant closer he was in the National League, and I think we will see an improvement in 2017, rather than a further decline.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

SH: I’m not sure how “unheralded” he is considering he’s one of the top prospects in baseball, but I don’t know how many people are aware of Andrew Benintendi and how impressive he is. He had a cup of coffee with the Sox last year and reminded a lot of us of Fred Lynn, both at the plate and in the field. I told my buddy Chad Finn of the Boston Globe that Benintendi has “batting title written all over him” (yes, that was a name drop) and he agrees. In two minor league seasons at A and AA he put together a full season’s worth of stats—570 AB, 106 R, 178 H, 38 2B, 16 3B, 20 HR, 107 RBI, 26 SB, and more walks than strikeouts. His minor league slash line is .312/.392/.540.

More important, though, is that in his 34-game MLB audition he hit .295/.359/.476 and those numbers were even better before he suffered a knee injury while running the bases. Fortunately it wasn’t serious and he returned to the lineup after a three-week hiatus, but he was wearing a knee brace and wasn’t as productive in his last 37 at-bats. Still, he looks like the real deal at the plate and his glove in left field is already major league worthy. With him, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts in the outfield a ball might never hit the grass again.

MQM: Reliever Carson Smith returns from Tommy John surgery by mid-season, and it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back quickly. He put up excellent numbers as a setup man in Seattle, and most Red Sox fans don’t know much about him. He could be an excellent addition around the trade deadline. It was also be interesting to see what the Red Sox do with their catching situation. Is this the year Blake Swihart goes back behind the plate and has a breakout season? 

LB: Most people are going to say that the player to watch is Pablo Sandoval and see if his offseason workouts and weight loss will translate into our everyday third baseman. However, the player I am keeping my eye on this season is Christian Vazquez. He may only be hitting a career .233/ .293/ .308, however his defensive talents behind the dish are legit. Known for buying his pitchers strikes and his career 44% caught stealing rate is extremely valuable and something you can trade for the lack of offensive production, especially with the plenty of offense the team has without him. He is behind Sandy Leon at the moment and the team has announced they will be returning Blake Swihart back to catching (another player to watch). Vazquez does not have a guaranteed spot on the squad, but it will be fun to keep an eye on him during spring training and the remainder of the year.

BR: While the obvious answer here might be Andrew Benintendi, I don’t think he can be considered unheralded anymore, after what he showed at the end of last season, and being ranked the #1 overall prospect by MLB.com and ESPN’s Keith Law among others. I think Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith can both make huge improvements to our bullpen this season. Also, Joe Kelly might have found his niche, and that will give us a solid three-headed monster to fill the gap between the starters and Kimbrel in the fall. With all the talk about the strength at the top of the rotation, and the offense our youngsters provide, a shutdown bullpen may be the difference maker in the fall. 

BRT: (Editor’s note: Christine skipped this question due to time constraints.)

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

SH: Despite the loss of Big Papi I’m going to predict a 95-67 season and first place finish. Adding Sale to the rotation, having a healthy Eduardo Rodriguez (knock on wood), and a full season of Andrew Benintendi should make up for the void.

MQM: The Sox won 93 games and the division in 2016, and I expect them to top that in 2017. They’ll take the East this year with 95 wins. The Blue Jays will give them the most problems, but Toronto has slightly regressed. The Orioles and Yankees will fight it out for third, and the Rays are still the bottom team of the division.

LB: My prediction for the 2017 Red Sox is a record of 94-68. I also believe they will win the AL East again with the Blue Jays finishing right behind them.

BR: Injuries and other unexpected events always make this a challenging question to answer with any level of confidence. However, for the first time in about ten seasons, I am confident in predicting a division championship this year. Not necessarily because they have improved, but I don’t see any other team in the division that can seriously challenge. If everything breaks right for the Red Sox, they could potentially win 100 games for the first time in my lifetime, but that is not likely. However, it would take a lot of things to go wrong simultaneously for this team to fall much short of 90 victories, and I believe that will be more than enough to take the division. If I need to pin down a specific number, I’ll take 93 wins and winning the division by six games. 

BRT: I think they will win the division again, especially due to the upgrades that were made in the off-season.  I believe the Sox will win 97 games, and make it to the World Series.  My prognostication skills are pretty bad, so that is about as far as I will go in terms of predicting.  However, we all know that baseball is a fickle mistress and anything could happen (and usually does), but I do like their chances going into the season.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Red Sox and why?

SH: Carl Yastrzemski. He was mostly past his prime when I first started rooting for him, but he was my dad’s favorite player so he became my favorite player. He epitomized everything I appreciate about certain athletes in that he was talented, but worked hard at his craft and was more about winning games than personal accomplishments. He always said he’d trade his MVP Award for a World Series title. Whether that’s true or not he was a monster in the postseason and played his ass off in an effort to win a championship.

MQM: I became a Red Sox fan in my youth because I was a Carl Yastzemski fan and he will always be my favorite. He will be closely followed by David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia from this generation. They both were heavily responsible for bringing championships to Red Sox Nation, and they made my life in New York City so much more bearable!

LB: My favorite Red Sox player of all time was an eight time All-Star, Cy Young Award winner three times, Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. I grew up watching Martinez dominate the game from the mound during the steroid era. Every time you look back on names that meant the most to the Red Sox franchise, I think it’s safe to say that Pedro’s name definitely comes up. I’ll never forget his antics and the dominance he brought to the franchise.

BR: Jim Rice, Jim Rice, Jim Rice. I could write a whole website on this (actually, I already did). Short version is that as a youngster I saw him play for the Red Sox and thought that despite him winning an MVP and getting constant all-star recognition he was underrated. He was a good baserunner and had a good outfield arm, but had an unwarranted reputation as a slow and poor fielder. I helped lobby him to get elected into the Hall of Fame, and glad I was at Cooperstown when he finally got inducted.

BRT: I discovered my love of the Red Sox rather late in life, if you can consider the early-teen years late. I was never really interested in baseball before then, and living in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a team that was 6 hours away was probably not a super logical leap. However, my parents were big baseball fans (my Dad has a life-long love of the Cleveland Indians; my mom was a “scream-at-the-television” Yankee fan.), so they took me and my sister to Fenway Park when we were young, and I was hooked. I loved a number of players from that era: Jim Ed, Freddie Lynn, and of course, Yaz, but the player who will always be my favorite is Carlton Fisk. I don’t know why, but my admiration for him has never wavered, to the point where I will never call Ivan Rodriquez “Pudge”, there will only ever be one, as far as I am concerned…

Appreciate all the insight from these Boston faithful.  It would seem a good year to be a Red Sox fan!

0 comments

Fans Invited to Submit Menu Ideas They Wish to See at Busch Stadium Using #CardsFoodie

Contest Winner to Receive Four 2017 Opening Day Tickets & Ultimate Bragging Rights

ST. LOUIS, Mo., February 22, 2017 – The St. Louis Cardinals announced the launch of the Fan Food Challenge, a fan engagement initiative to give fans a voice on what new food item they would like to see at Busch Stadium for the upcoming season.

“We’re always striving to improve the gameday experience at Busch Stadium,” said Vicki Bryant, Cardinals Vice President of Event Services & Merchandising.  “The Fan Food Challenge is a great way to engage with our fans and determine what kind of concession options our fans want at the ballpark.”

Fans are encouraged to submit a description of their proposed food menu item on Twitter using #CardsFoodie through March 3.  After the submission period has ended, chefs from Busch Stadium’s concessionaire, Delaware North Sportservice, will select and prepare five of the food ideas for a fan vote to determine the best new menu item.  Voting will run from March 9-12 at cardinals.com/fanchallenge.

“We can’t wait to see what our hungry fans come up with,” said Bryant.  “Not only will some lucky fan win a great prize, he or she will also earn bragging rights as an honorary member of the Cardinals culinary team.”

The winning food item will be announced on March 14 and be available for purchase at Busch Stadium throughout the 2017 season.  Additionally, the fan who submits the winning menu item, based on fan votes, will win four tickets to Opening Day on Sunday, April 2 vs. the Chicago Cubs.

The winning food item will also be added to the Cardinals Fan Food Guide, available at cardinals.com/food or through the free MLB.com Ballpark app, which the club launched late last year to help fans locate their favorite food and beverages available at Busch Stadium via their computer or mobile device.

For more information about the Fan Food Challenge, visit cardinals.com/fanchallenge.

0 comments

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Baltimore Orioles
89-73, tied for second in AL East, lost in Wild Card Game
Last year’s Pepper

As Cardinal fans, we’re kinda used to seeing a managerial decision we disagree with.  Mike Matheny does them all the time and we sometimes wish for a more experienced, more cerebral guy to be at the helm.  Then you see what Buck Showalter–one of the smartest, most experienced guys in the game–did last year in the Wild Card Game and you realize that no manager is perfect.

Shaking off not using Zach Britton in a tie game has to be difficult for Orioles fans, but they seem to have a squad that can again be in the playoff picture.  To talk about the American League orange and black, we’ve got some veterans of the Pepper series (plus a rookie in Tony Pente) to give us all the info we need.

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Domenic Vadala The Orange Crush DomenicVadala
Derek Arnold Eutaw Street Report BMoreBirdsNest
Tony Pente Orioles Hangout OriolesHangout
Jon Shepherd Camden Depot CamdenDepot

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

OC: It matters who you ask. I think they’ve done what they needed to do from an offensive perspective, although they could afford to run a higher OBP. What they need is more starting pitching. They’ll go as far as that will take them in 2017. Some people think that they should have traded power for OBP; I disagree. Winning in the AL East is all about power, and that’s where they compete.

ESR: I won’t say it was a good or bad offseason, but I’ll say that it was a very typical Dan Duquette offseason. Their big move was obviously re-signing Mark Trumbo. He comes at a fair price. Paying a guy after he has a career year is always risky, but I don’t feel they OVERpaid him, so I consider that a win. They traded Yovani Gallardo for Seth Smith, another move that I like but that doesn’t move the needle significantly. That move also looks a little more suspect now that we’re hearing about Chris Tillman‘s shoulder issues. For it to have been a “good” offseason in the eyes of many fans, it would have had to include a Manny Machado extension, which didn’t happen and seems unlikely to before he hits free agency – I very much wish they’d gotten that done. 

OH: The Orioles offseasons are rarely sexy and they usually come out of them looking a lot like the team before. Considering they have been in the playoffs three out of the last five years that might not be the worst thing. Dan Duquette’s goal was to improve the offense by adding more OBP into the lineup and improving the outfield defense. The acquisition of Seth Smith will help a little in both categories, at least against right-handers, but he doesn’t move the needle all that much. The Orioles resigned Mark Trumbo and will play him mainly at DH and signed Welington Castillo to replace Matt Wieters, which comes out to about a wash.

There was a rumor of the Orioles trading Brad Brach for Curtis Granderson. With the strength of the team in their bullpen, I would have made that trade as Granderson would have been a needed upgrade in both OBP and outfield defense. As good as Brach is, Mychal Givens is ready to take his spot and Oliver Drake and Jesus Liranzo (AA) are waiting in the wings.

CD: Dan Duquette and the Orioles get a passing grade this offseason. Nothing they did was remarkable, but they did not do anything all that catastrophic. The only real poor move they made was in choosing Welington Castillo as catcher. He is a decent hitter, but his defense is wretched. He is able to get low and frame two seamers, but clumsily stabs at pitches on the sides. Jason Castro would have made only a couple million more and would be worth perhaps two or three wins more with Caleb Joseph paired up with him. But, eh, that did not happen and, to me, that was the greatest missed opportunity.

C70: How does Zach Britton follow last season?

OC: By continuing to win, of course! Winning 47 in a row is a tough act to follow for sure – but that’s what he’ll be tasked with doing!

ESR: I think Britton will remain one of the most dominant closers in the game. He obviously won’t be perfect again, but I expect that when AC/DC starts blaring at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, O’s fans will again be able to rest easy. 

OH: When you don’t blow a save it’s hard top that season. Britton was about as good as any relief pitcher can be last season. His high 90s sinking fastball was just about unhittable and left many batters just shaking their heads as they went back into the dugouts. He’s one of the best in the business who can dominate with one pitch like Mariano Rivera did.

CD: Worse. How can it truly go any better?  He is a top five relief pitcher.  He succeeds largely by getting a great deal of movement out of his pitches.  This lets him throw only about 40% of his pitches in the strike zone as batters will swing at most any low offering.  If the club stumbles, he seems like a prime piece for the club to deal.  However, this club probably won’t stumble all that much.  I imagine any fire sale would happen after the season.

C70: What’s the general feeling about Buck Showalter?

OC: He’s taken them further than anyone else in a long time. He’s beloved in Baltimore.

ESR: Buck completely changed the culture in Baltimore, and for that, O’s fans are forever grateful. We would of course love for him to put that cherry on top of his career in Baltimore with a World Series ring, as much for him as for the team and for us fans – he deserves a championship on his resume. A small minority of fans will point to his decision to not use Britton in the Wild Card game as evidence of the “he can’t win the big one” theory. I don’t buy it. Even great managers make bad decisions. Buck is a great manager who made a bad decision. I hope he hangs around in Baltimore for the foreseeable future, and I think 90% of fans agree. 

OH: Buck is a very good manager who is great at keeping his bullpen fresh throughout the season. He’s a veteran player’s manager who sometimes rides his regulars too much and they tend to wear down by the end of the year. Last year he made one of the all-time worse managerial blunders when he did not pitch Zach Britton in the one game extra innings playoff game against the Blue Jays. Sometimes he’s a little too concerned over getting starters one more inning then they should and is a strict believer in the save rule. Saying all that, he’s an above average manager who is well liked by his team and has a deep affinity for the city of Baltimore and Baltimore Orioles history. He’s very popular among the fans.

CD: Everyone loves Showalter. Well, that is the case in the stands. I think within the organization there are more nuanced opinions of him. Showalter is a traditionalist, but has a great deal of common sense. The front office is more numbers based, but that dedication to data science appears often more as alchemy than any adherence to the scientific method. That introduces some conflict to the pairing as Buck is known to go his own way and openly defy the front office. Baltimore has a unique situation where he and Duquette have a slight power sharing relationship with both reporting to ownership.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

OC: Welington Castillo, the Orioles’ new starting catcher. He replaces longtime starter Matt Wieters, and it’ll be interesting to see how the pitching staff reacts.

ESR: Nobody immediately comes to mind, and that’s likely a problem. World Series teams have those types of guys. The Orioles have highly-paid stars, arbitration-years players who are either expected to live up to high expectations or who are already known commodities, but very few players who I am optimistic could pleasantly surprise. If I had to pick one, I’d say that Hyun-Soo Kim could have a very productive year if given a larger role. 

OH: Outfielder Joey Rickard was a rule five pick who not only made the team out of spring training last year, he was the starting left fielder for the first six weeks of the season. He ended up losing his every day job to a platoon with Hyun Soo Kim, but he slashed .313/.387/.494/.861 against lefties last year so with Kim and Smith needing to be platooned, he should get a lot of opportunities against southpaws.

CD: I would have to say it is a tossup between Caleb Joseph and Wade Miley. Joseph is a plus plus pitch framer and has a bat that should play much better than it did last year. His 0 RBI performance in 2016 led many a fan to write him off. Wade Miley is someone who peripheral metrics like a lot more than what we saw in person. Much of his poor performance seemed to be due to a momentary loss of mechanics and batters jumping successfully on those mistake pitches. Miley has the ability to be a two slot pitcher, but also has the ability to be a fringe waivers name.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

OC: I never make a prediction until just before Opening Day when the final roster is set. But they’ll be in the hunt for the postseason until the end.

ESR: Boston will win the AL East, I’m afraid. The Orioles will again be competing for a Wild Card spot though, and I think they finish second behind the Red Sox at 88-74. 

OH: All the pundits always pick the Orioles to finish 4th or last, but I see this team in the thick of it once again, especially if their two young starters in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy take another step forward. Right now I see them as an 87-90 win team and that should put them into the wild card race in the AL East. Boston remains the favorite though on paper.

CD: My 50th percentile projection probably will be around 84 or 85 wins, which would put them in a narrow pack but in second place. The Red Sox are likely five or six games ahead.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Oriole and why?

OC: I’m a child of the 1980’s, so it’s Cal Ripken Jr. Enough said!

ESR: Eddie Murray. I have great memories from the childhood years when I first fell in love with baseball of Memorial Stadium being filled with chants of EDD-IE EDD-IE. He was the one who made me challenge myself to learn how to switch hit, and every time the team needed a big hit, he came through (at least in my memory he did – don’t fact check me, nerds.) 

OH: Simple, Brooks Robinson. Not only was Brooks a life long Oriole who won two World Series, but he’s one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He’s the kind of guy who after five minute you feel like you’ve known him all your life and he acts like you are the most important person at the table. Add in being a Hall of Famer and Brooks is my favorite Oriole of all-time and it’s not really close.

CD: Let’s consider Orioles without their statue at the Yard. Chris Hoiles. He is probably the most underrated Oriole player in history. Hoiles was a plus defensive catcher, which was primarily due to his pitch framing. However, no one at the time seemed to realize that. Combine that with a bat that looks like an early 20s Manny Machado. Hoiles was quite remarkable. He became a regular at 26 and chronic injuries forced him out at 33. His greatest season was in 1993, when over the course of 503 PA he slashed 310/416/585 with a WAR of about 8 when you consider his framing skills. He usually sat between 370-420 PA, but brought in WARs of about 3-4. Few people knew that then and even fewer know that now. That sort of excellence toiling in obscurity makes him one of my most favorite Orioles of all time.

My thanks to everyone for letting us know what’s going on with a different type of bird.  Look forward to seeing how they tackle that tough AL East!

1 comment

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Atlanta Braves
68-93, fifth in the NL East
Last year’s Pepper

While the Braves weren’t able to make strides on the field toward regaining the glory of their past, there’s still a sense of optimism around the club.  Young talent, tradeable talent, and a new ballpark means that 2017 should have a lot of storylines as it unfolds.  To talk about some of those, we’ve got four folks that cover the Braves on a regular basis.  Alan Carpenter is new to the mix this year, but the others–Alex Remington, Carlos Collazo, and Kris Willis–have been through this process before.  Find all their info in the table below and check them out!

Name Blog Twitter Podcast
Alex Remington Braves Journal alexremington
Alan Carpenter Tomahawk Take carpengui
Carlos Collazo Talking Chop CarlosACollazo Talking Chop Podcast
Kris Willis Talking Chop Kris_Willis

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

BJ: I think it was a good offseason. I frankly loved the Colon, Dickey, and Garcia pickups, picking up somewhere around 60 league-average starts for just $30 million and a couple of C+ prospects, even allowing for inevitable injuries. Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz are pretty close to rotation locks at this point, and Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair will get a chance to prove themselves again whenever the injury bug strikes.

They made a couple of trades I liked to acquire farm depth, picking up a couple of former top prospects who needed a change of scenery in Luke Jackson and Alex Jackson, and recently got the hugely talented if flawed Luiz Gohara for a nice complimentary player who couldn’t break into the starting lineup, Mallex Smith. Smith could start on another team, but not on this one, not after Ender Inciarte signed a six-year extension. They shored up their iffy catching situation (Tyler Flowers, Anthony Recker, Tuffy Gosewisch) with Kurt Suzuki on a very modest deal.  Finally, when Sean Rodriguez was found to have suffered a potentially season-ending injury, they went out and got native Atlantan Brandon Phillips for a million dollars and two non-prospects. Phillips isn’t the All-Star he once was, but his bat and glove are comfortably above replacement level, and it’s possible that playing in his hometown will help him regain some of his former glory. Either way, he’s significantly above replacement level, and it isn’t often that a team is able to fill its greatest need for a nearly negligible price.

The modus operandi for all of these deals has been fairly consistent: acquire boring but decent veteran players for cash, and acquire high-ceiling low-floor talent in the low minors for high-floor low-ceiling talent in the high minors or major league bench. Obviously, you can’t just keep trading away major leaguers for minor leaguers and claim with a straight face that eventually you’re going to move from rebuilding to contention. But with Gohara and the Jacksons on board, the Braves have what Keith Law recently named the top farm system in baseball. Step 1 of the rebuild is over, and that makes for a successful hot stove season. Now we’ll see what the farm system can manage to yield.

TT: Generally speaking, yes: being a thin free agent class, there will always be the debate about ‘sign vs. trade’, and the Braves did quite a bit of both this Winter, both for now and for the future.  Fans wanted more, but more is coming one way or another. 2018 should be the year we’re more-or-less back… 2017 will be a tease.

Here are the bigger add-ons:

Major League Additions: R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon, Josh Collmenter (re-sign), Jaime Garcia (trade), Kurt Suzuki, Sean Rodriguez, Micah Johnson.
Rule 5: Armando Rivera
Minor League Deals: Eric O’Flaherty, Jordan Walden
Extended: Ender Inciarte

These are mostly transition moves. Only a couple are for something beyond 2017, which sets up the team for a strong run at free agents for next year.  The big thing was getting Inciarte set up for 5 years. That’s our version of the Adam Eaton trade – and cost the Braves nothing in prospects.

Deals not made: Chris Sale would be the big one, though the Red Sox smoked everyone else on that. Chris Archer, but Atlanta obviously could not reach the point where the Rays would be happy. Jose Quintana: cannot be certain how hard this might have been attempted, but this would be a tier below the Sale trade, though it’s clear no one has yet met the ChiSox price…whatever that might be.

It appears that Atlanta is more-or-less satisfied with their offense and opted to concentrate on getting pitchers who could eat innings while awaiting a few (prospect) starting pitching candidates to step up and demand promotion via their performance.  One thing Coppy made absolutely clear to all is that social promotions to the majors would not happen. If you don’t earn the spot, you won’t get it. Everyone is on notice.  Given all of that, the market then dictated the terms: if you want a decent quality SP on a 1 year deal, then you’ve got to go “old”. They did… and John Coppolella got that done quickly.

As for the rest, the catching market was an area of obvious need, but it didn’t really set up for anyone’s liking, frankly. Apparently, the Braves were unable to made a trade deal for a young catcher (there are a few out there), and thus we got what we got. The signing of Sean Rodriguez was a potential boon for the offense; his loss could likewise have been huge. Somehow, John Coppolella came up smelling like a rose by replacing him with someone Cardinal fans are very familiar with: Atlanta native Brandon Phillips. And he did that for practically zero cost.

I am definitely looking forward to seeing Phillips play. He should upgrade the second base position both offensively and defensively while allowing Jace Peterson to fill a super utility role from the bench – one that he is well-suited to handle.

The Micah Johnson deal is still a bit puzzling, but could work out. I do think we’ll miss Mallex Smith, though he was pretty clearly blocked for a while, so good for him. Ditto for a couple of prospect pitchers traded away, though again – likely blocked.  I do think – especially given Washington’s relatively thin pitching depth – that a bigger push for a frontline pitcher (Sonny Gray, Quintana, Archer) would have payed dividends starting this season. But that hasn’t happened… yet.  By the way: I am honestly not sure that Atlanta is entirely done making deals before this season gets underway. Of note: Craig Kimbrel was traded literally hours before the 2015 season began.

TCC: This is more of a complicated question than it might seem on the surface, if only because there were two mentalities that most fans had this offseason. One group got really excited about the early rumors of the team acquiring an top-of-the-rotation arm (Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Jose Quintana) while the other group felt that going in for one of those guys was a bit more short-sighted considering where the team is at this point, competitively.

I was handily in that second group, as I still think the Braves are a year or more away from being competitive in the NL East, especially considering where the Nationals are right now. Most of our prospects are in the lower minors, and if they’re who this rebuild is going to be built around I think it would be awkward to try and deal from that depth for an ace this offseason, with the goal to compete in 2017.

That said, I suppose I’m happy that one of those trades didn’t happen, as I’d rather stick to the long-term approach. I’m excited about the Mallex Smith/Shea Simmons trade that netted the Braves Luiz Gohara (now the Braves No.12 prospect via MLB Pipeline/No. 77 prospect in baseball via Keith Law) and Thomas Burrows.

The Ender Inciarte extension was a nice Christmas present and Kurt Suzuki’s signing at catcher isn’t exciting, but it is better than signing Matt Wieters in my mind. So, solid offseason, but nothing crazy. Sticking to the script is just fine for now.

TCK: I think the offseason was a good one for the Atlanta Braves. In some respects I think some people were expecting a move to bring in a big name starter such as Chris Sale but I don’t think Atlanta’s rebuild is to the point where that is a necessary move. The team has spent a lot of resources restocking its minor league system and I’m skeptical that this was the time to cash in a large number of those prospects.

For the most part, it felt like the Braves flew under the radar with their offseason additions. They attempted to add stability to their starting rotation with the additions of Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia. I thought the addition of Sean Rodriguez was one of the more value signings of the entire offseason. Catcher still appears to be a problem area for the team and the addition of Kurt Suzuki doesn’t do much to change that.

I would have liked to have seen Atlanta be able to add a starter like Chris Archer but I think they were correct in standing pat with the price tag at what feels like an extreme high. I think Archer is a guy that they will continue to revisit and perhaps more common ground can be found between the Braves and the Rays in the future.

C70: That’s an interesting rotation the Braves have constructed. Which pitcher are you most excited to watch?

BJ: Bartolo Colon’s at-bats, obviously. And as a deep Tolkien nerd, I’m excited to watch R.A. Dickey wield Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver. (Nai hiruvalyë Valimar.) But obviously the key will be to see whether Mike Foltynewicz can consolidate the gains he made last year, and whether any of our other young pitchers can decisively make the leap, whether it’s Wisler or Blair, who both stumbled but showed flashes last year, or one of the fireballers on the farm, like Sean Newcomb or Patrick Weigel, whom I’ll mention below.

The Braves signed a couple 40-year-olds (and a third guy, Jaime Garcia, whose birth certificate is 30 years old but whose hamburger shoulder is more like 40 and counting) to give the kids another year to develop while ensuring that there will be no problem shunting them aside if one of the prospects proves his mettle. The future of this team depends wholly on whether its farm system — which is indisputably the best collection of pitching prospects in all of baseball — can actually turn its blue-chippers into major leaguers.

TT: I still don’t know how Bartolo Colon keeps getting people out, but I am glad to have him… he might be a July trade candidate, but that’s okay too. The overall idea of getting Dickey, Colon, and Garcia is clear: innings and consistency.

This group will give up a few runs here and there, but along with Julio Teheran and perhaps Mike Foltynewicz they should all keep the team close in most games, which will allow the offense to work. After 16 different starting pitchers in 2016, I am definitely looking forward to getting that number (hopefully) down to maybe 8 to 10. That would also help the bullpen.

I am actually most curious about Jaime Garcia and whether he can find the magic from 2010-13 that had him pitching in the 3-to-4 ERA range… or 2015 when he was better.  I admit being very surprised that St. Louis effectively gave up on him. Sure – his walks and homers were up, but velocity was actually up a tick and he’s still just a 30-year-old southpaw. He’s not going to blow anybody away, but he does get people out. He could be a steal.

TCC: It would be easy to jokingly go with Bartolo Colon, simply because he is baseball’s most exciting non-Mike Trout player at the moment — no small feat for a 43-year-old who topped out at 93.3-mph last year.

However, I’ll probably have to go with Mike Foltynewicz, as he had a nice 2016 and took a few much-needed steps forward. Of the arms who are expected to throw in the rotation in 2017, Folty probably has the highest ceiling thanks to fastball that averages 95-mph and gets up to 98-99 regularly.  His off-speed stuff was always the big question mark, along with the control, and if he can continue to make improvements in those areas the Braves could legitimately have another No. 2 guy on their hands.

Another guy I’m interested to watch is Matt Wisler as he took some big steps backward in 2016, but I’m still a believer that he can figure it out and be at least a solid rotational guy. His slider actually improved from his rookie season, but he really needs to improve the command of his entire arsenal or add a legitimate changeup, curve or cutter in my mind. He threw the fastball/slider about 90 percent of the time last year, and he doesn’t have the stuff to be a two-pitch starter. The adjustments he makes (or fails to make) this season could be decisive in his future with the Braves.

TCK: Among the new additions I think the easy answer is Bartolo Colon, but I am going to go with Mike Foltynewicz. Folty made a lot of strides on the mound last season. He will have to go earn a spot in the rotation at spring training but appears to have a leg up on most of the rest of the competition. His stuff is off the charts and it comes down to an issue of command. 2017 looks like a big year for him and one where he can cement himself as a part of the Braves rotation going forward. 

C70: What are the expectations for Dansby Swanson this year?

BJ: If anything, some may need to temper our expectations for him, after the man with the most gorgeously coiffed hair in baseball came up to hit .302 in 38 games at the end of the year. I don’t expect him to contend for batting titles regularly, but I’ve long thought that he could be a consistent Renteria type: double-digit homers, pretty good batting average, pretty good fielding, no real major holes in his game. Steamer sees him at .259/.322/.396 with good defense next year, which isn’t jaw-droppingly sexy, but would be a really solid year for a player who is still rookie-eligible. With the caveat that we don’t totally know how the new park will play, I think he could possibly be a little better than that.

Basically, I expect him to be a league-average shortstop effective immediately. It may take him a few years to realize his full potential, but the tools (including his all-world makeup) are still there for a couple of All-Star appearances in his prime.

TT: Depends a bit on how soon he’s put into the #2 spot in the lineup. He hit .300 in the brief start while hitting 7th or 8th, but I actually think he’ll be a bit lower than that average batting 2nd by choosing to move Inciarte over more than simply hitting for average.  So: I figure Swanson in the .270-.280 range with maybe a dozen homers, .350 OBP and reduced K’s (maybe 18% vs. 23% in 2016). With solid defense, that would play very well.

That’s the numbers guess. Aside from that, he seemed to be in the midst of a lot of action in his September stint, and I think that will characterize his play overall. He’s clearly got solid baseball savvy and knows where to be and when to be there. At the plate, he’ll be an excellent situational hitter. In the field, he’ll be making plays he has no business of making.  Between Swanson and Inciarte, there will be some fun highlights… and probably a real shot at the NL Rookie of the Year crown for the kid with the hair.

TCC: Everyone is pretty excited about Dansby Swanson entering the year, and there’s really no reason not to be. He excelled at every level in the minors last season before coming up to the Majors and hitting .302/.361/.442 with a 107 wRC+ in 38 games.  Keith Law recently named Swanson the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball, and while he’ll quickly move out of “prospect” status, there’s no real reason we shouldn’t expect more of the same from Swanson in 2017.

One thing that might be a bit concerning is Swanson’s .383 BABIP in his brief stint in the bigs last year. He has a good hit tool and is a solid runner, but I expecting a .380+ BABIP over a full season seems overly optimistic. With that said, ZiPS projections saw Dansby as the best prospect in baseball and projected to be a 3-win player.

His defense at short and solid hit tool should keep his floor fairly high, so I think that’s a pretty solid projection, but it will be interesting to see how pitchers adjust and what happens to the 23.4 K% he had during his time last season.  I’d be surprised if Swanson was worth less than 2.5 wins or more than 4 wins over the course of the season.

TCK: Swanson made it difficult to temper expectations when he put up a .302/.361/.442 line in 38 games at the end of last season. I’m not sure he can equal those numbers over a full season but I think the Braves will benefit having him in the lineup and at shortstop over the likes of Erick Aybar. He spent most of last season batting eighth but I think he will get an opportunity to show that he can handle the second spot in the lineup behind Ender Inciarte and ahead of Freddie Freeman. In many ways, Swanson is the face of the Braves rebuild and he is one of the big reasons that you should watch the 2017 Atlanta Braves. 

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

BJ: I’m not sure. The Braves’ top prospect still on the farm, Ozzie Albies, may be the biggest X-factor for the season: the speedy Curacaoan sparkplug suffered a fractured elbow at the end of the year, and while he’s expected to be fully recovered this year, it’s anybody’s guess as to when or whether he’ll live up to his full potential, which (if you want to dream) is Jose Altuve 2.0: a blisteringly fast second baseman who sprays line drives all over the field and has power belying his diminutive stature. He blazed through the minors, hitting .292/.358/.420 in Double-A and Triple-A last year at the age of 19, so if he comes up and holds his own at in the majors, this lineup will immediately have a solution at the keystone for the next six years. But he’s 20, and coming off an injury, so that’s an if. In any event, unless he’s hitting .400 or Brandon Phillips is hitting .200, the Braves are likely to give him another year to develop.

Obviously, he isn’t unheralded, so that isn’t really what you’re looking for. So I’ll say Patrick Weigel, who was probably the biggest helium guy on the Braves farm system last year. (Pretty much everyone agrees that he’s in the Braves’ top 10 prospects now, but a year ago he was pretty anonymous, so “previously unheralded” might be slightly more accurate.) He’s a 6’6″, 22-year-old former 7th round draft pick with a 99-mile an hour fastball, and firmly established himself as one of the Braves’ top pitching prospects with a terrific year in Single-A and Double-A. He’s knocking on the door, just like Newcomb, and if he earns his shot, the 40-year-olds in the rotation won’t stand in his way.

TT: Is Matt Kemp unheralded? I think he was having some fun after his trade and I expect he wants to build on that. If he’s at all a better fielder this year and maintains the hitting from 2016 (quietly pounded 35 homers – 19 of those in the 2nd half), then he and Freddie Freeman have the chance to be absolute beasts in the 3-and-4 spots of this lineup… particularly if Inciarte and Swanson are on base in front of them a lot.

Beyond Kemp, I want to see Sean Rodriguez. He could steal either the 2nd or 3rd base jobs. 18 homers in just 300 AB last year. Put him 5th and there’s serious thump in this lineup.

TCC: Braves fans have gotten pretty good at following the farm system and fringier players over the past few seasons of poor MLB play, so I’m not sure there’s one guy I could point out that they haven’t heard of.  For someone who’s more casually interested in the Braves, I do think Burrows is an interesting name to bring up. He was the second guy in that Gohara trade that I mentioned above, but he’s got an outside shot to make an impact on Atlanta’s bullpen this season.

He was a closer in college at Alabama and performed well in 24.2 innings last season with low-A Everett, striking out 13.5 batters per nine innings. He walked a few guys as well, but given his collegiate experience he figures to move through the system quickly.

The Braves acquired Brandon Phillips a few weeks after I originally submitted my answers, and while I think the deal was just fine for Atlanta — they are paying him just $1 million this season and sent two non-prospects to Cincinnati — it is disappointing that we likely won’t see Sean Rodriguez this season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Phillips seems to be a pretty polarizing player between traditionalists and more sabr-slanted baseball people, but he’s not the All-Star he used to be and his defense has been trending in the wrong direction. I think Rodriguez offered the Braves a bit more upside than Phillips because of his offensive breakout last year, but Phillips seems like a safer player simply because of his longevity in the league. Ho-hum, let’s get to Ozzie Albies.

TCK: I think the case could certainly be made for a guy like Sean Rodriguez who despite being a utility player, is going to find himself in the lineup a lot whether it is at second base, third base or even in one of the corner outfield spots. However, I’m going to go with Paco Rodriguez out of the Braves’ bullpen. Atlanta has a number of veteran options and the bullpen appears to be an area of strength entering spring training. One thing they are a little thin on is a left handed option to turn to late in games. Rodriguez missed all of the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but should be ready to go when spring training begins. Left handed hitters have hit just .174 against him in over 180 plate appearances in his career. If he can perform anywhere close to that level this season, then he will be a big piece for the Braves out of the bullpen. 

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

BJ: I think this is basically a 76-win team that will be in a dogfight for third place. (ZIPS says 75 wins. Call me an optimist!)

TT: This is tough since the 2017 NL East is going to be … weird.  Washington will likely coast to a win unless they lose Scherzer along the way.  Even then, they could probably outslug everyone else.  They can win 90 without effort and without a bullpen.  The Phillies and Marlins have severe flaws:  offense and some pitching for Philly; pitching, pitching, and more pitching for the Marlins.  Miami has assembled an excellent AAA staff for their major league club. The bullpen will be on speed dial.  But they will score a bunch of runs.

The Mets are the enigma.  Of course they can pitch… if they stay healthy.  I don’t think they can play defense and I don’t think they can score consistently… unless David Wright can actually play.  If teams consistently get into their bullpen – especially if Familia if out for 30-50 games – then they are in real trouble.

Given all of that, the Braves will pitch well enough and long enough to stay in most games and should score enough to win a bunch.  I had originally thought 75-85 wins, but am leaning toward narrowing that to 80-84.  That’s probably not quite enough for 2nd place (Mets); probably not quite enough for a Wild Card (Mets/Cards/Giants/Rockies?).  Call it 3rd place… just in front of Miami and Philly (70-80 wins each).  If the Mets health falters, Atlanta could grab 2nd.  Nonetheless – most likely not a playoff team.

TCC: I know I already made a prediction on the Talking Chop Podcast and I’m pretty sure I said the Braves would win around 75 games this season, so I’ll stick with that here. I do think the Braves will be better than their 68-win season last year, but I’m a bit more skeptical than a lot of people around Braves country.  Yes, the rotation should be better, but the only sure thing is still Julio Teheran. Mike Foltynewicz should be good, but does anyone really know what they’ll get out of Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia? I don’t.

The offense should be alright, but I’m not expecting Freddie Freeman to have another career year and I’m also less optimistic that Inciarte is going to be continue that 125 wRC+ second half that everyone was so excited about. If you’re more bullish on those two guys, it’s easier to see why I’m less sold on the offense.  Catcher, third base and second base are all weak positions, and I don’t see any reason why Nick Markakis wouldn’t continue to trend down in his age 33 season. Don’t get me started on Matt Kemp.

Braves fans shouldn’t forget that a 4th-place finish in the NL East would be an improvement on 2016, and that’s what I’m predicting for them in 2017.

TCK: I think the on field product for this Braves team is much improved over last year’s club when a 9-28 start basically doomed them from the beginning. I think .500 is a realistic goal but there will be some bumps in the road along the way. I will go with 78-84 which is a 10 game improvement and a fourth place finish in the division behind the Nationals, Mets and Marlins.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Brave and why?

BJ: Henry Aaron. Always and forever.

TT: I grew up watching the Braves on TBS in the 1970’s when they were awful. I obviously then saw the Run from 1991 into the 2000’s. It’s hard to select a particular player since there were at least 5 Hall of Famers on the field together at times. That counts Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones; I would also include Andruw Jones and Fred McGriff in HOF votes if I had one. Andruw was underrated – I believe – simply because he made everything look so easy.

Those were really good teams. Overall, my answer is probably Chipper Jones since he was there every day. On the pitching side, John Smoltz gets the nod by a hair due to his competitive spirit. Glavine and Maddux were close behind for sheer consistency. All three operated at a very high level for so long it was easy to take them for granted.

I also have a soft spot for Matt Diaz who did more with what he had available to give than anyone else I can recall.

TCC: This is kind of a sad answer, since he now plays for the Angels, but it’s easily Andrelton Simmons.

Simba was constantly the most exciting player on the field during his time with the Braves, and even if he made an annoying habit of spinning around and falling down in the batter’s box, he is still the best defensive player that I’ve ever watched in person.  I was fortunate enough to be able to cover the team as an Associate Reporter for MLB.com during the 2015 season and Simmons was always a super nice guy to talk to, regardless of the time or outcome of the game.

I’m constantly pulling for him, and I hope that he doesn’t get short-changed since he’s playing in what could easily be the golden age of shortstops and isn’t much of an offensive player. Defense is the most exciting part of the game in my opinion, and no one makes it more fun to watch than Andrelton Simmons.

Miss you, buddy.

TCK: Hands down it is Andruw Jones. He was the first Braves player that followed throughout the minor leagues all the way to the major league club. I still feel like he is criminally underrated given that he played during a time that there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on defense. While the end of his career was disappointing, I still think he is a Hall of Fame player and his two-homer game in the World Series is a moment that I will never forget.

I appreciate Alex, Alan, Carlos, and Kris giving us the scoop on the team down in Atlanta.  While they probably won’t be in the divisional race, they could be a team to make some noise one way or another!

0 comments

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Arizona Diamondbacks
69-93, fourth in the NL West
Last year’s Pepper

There was a lot of excitement out in the desert to start last season, with the team adding Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to a team that was almost .500 the year before.  What could go wrong?  As D-Back fans found out, plenty.  The team took a step back, losing 10 more games than they had in 2015 and eventually clearing house in a front office that was seen as a woeful throwback in this age of data-driven decisions.

Expectations will be severely tempered this year as the Diamondbacks look to dig out of the hole they have made.  Whether they will or not is, of course, still up in the air.  To tackle that, we’ve got Jeff Wiser and Jim McLennan, both long-time vets of this series, to cover the Pepper 6 this year.  All of their info is in the table below, though I’d also like to mention that Jeff contributed to the Arizona section of this year’s Baseball Prospectus Annual as well.

Name Blog Twitter Podcast
Jeff Wiser Inside the 'Zona OutfieldGrass24 The Pool Shot
Jim McLennan AZ Snake Pit AZSnakePit

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

IZ: It was a good offseason for the Diamondbacks given that the team addressed their weakest attribute: organizational leadership. The biggest move on the players side was shipping away Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. The team needed more impact pitching and Walker provides a chance for that, though the thin desert air won’t help his cause. Marte will look to use that climate to his advantage and get back on track after a disappointing sophomore campaign. There have been some small free agent deals, like signing Fernando Rodney and Jeff Mathis, but it all pales in comparison to to the front office shakeup. Speaking of which…

ASP: Given the team only escaped the cellar of division by sweeping the Padres over the final weekend, you might have expected more significant changes. But with the new front office, I think they felt the mostly young players deserved another shot before abandoning things entirely to a fire sale. It was a bit of a surprise to see virtually the new GM’s first move being to trade last year’s MVP, Jean Segura. But it was also nice to see the team actually sell high on a player. The loss of Segura and Welington Castillo will hurt the offense, there’s little doubt, and we’ll need Brandon Drury in particular to step up at second.

I do wonder why they didn’t do more to solidify the bullpen, which was terrible last year, especially after trading away Tyler Clippard and Brad Ziegler. They signed Fernando Rodney, but otherwise, the only new arrivals to this point are a bunch of non-roster invitees. I know reliever volatility is a real thing, but this feels more like slinging a bunch of mud at the wall and hoping some of it hangs around. But I guess this is line with the notion this is more likely to be an evaluation season, not one where there is much realistic hope of contention.

C70: There’s been a pretty noticeable shakeup in the front office. How is that going to affect things going forward and have those changes already been felt?

IZ: It was clear to everyone that Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa had a different way of doing business than the rest of baseball. Being different doesn’t mean being bad, necessarily, but in this case, it was just that: terribly bad. They made poor decisions on the international market (Yoan Lopez), traded top prospects (Dansby Swanson, Isan Diaz and others), and tied up a third of the team’s payroll in one player (Zack Greinke) in an attempt to win immediately. The drive to win made sense given Paul Goldschmidt‘s prime and the fact that many of their marquee supporting actors won’t be under team control much longer. But the way they went about it was reckless and misguided as they got fleeced routinely on the trade market and never seemed to understand two important things: player value and the team’s position on the win curve. Those are bad things to misunderstand.

A nearly-clean sweep of the front office saw Mike Hazen take over GM duties and he’s as well regarded as anyone in baseball. Hazen wasted little time filling holes in the structure of the organization with personnel from the Red Sox, Cubs, Indians and other well-run franchises. Better yet, ownership has let him build things his own way. That’s important as the D-backs have a lot of catching up to do to get on the same page as most other modern baseball teams. He’s emphasized pitch framing, defense and OBP through some low-key free agent and minor league moves. He’s added to the back end of the bullpen cheaply and added some controllable, upside starting pitching. What it all adds up to will probably seem underwhelming, but they’re the kinds of trends the previous regime neglected to their own detriment. Analytics and a smarter approach to baseball will pay dividends going forward for the club, even if there’s a mountain to climb at present. Cleaning up Dave Stewart’s mess won’t happen overnight, but one has to be encouraged with the new direction.

ASP: It’s certainly a sea-change for the franchise. GM Mike Hazen is certainly the most forward thinking occupant of the post in D-backs history, and stands in sharp contrast to the likes of predecesssors Kevin Towers and Dave Stewart. He has brought over a lot of similarly minded people, with whom he had worked before in Boston – most obviously, new manager Torey Lovullo. There was also a shake-up of the coaching, including the departure of former D-backs Matt Williams and Mark Grace, though many were surprised to see pitching coach Mike Butcher hang around.

As mentioned, the actual playing staff have not perhaps been changed as much as expected. But if the team struggles in the first half this year, we may well see Hazen move toward a bigger rebuild at that point. If the current window of opportunity is deemed unachievable, then the likes of Zack Grienke and A.J. Pollock could be moved to free up salary and restock the farm system. There’s even the potential nuclear option of trading Paul Goldschmidt, who has yet to be on the Opening Day roster for a D-backs side with a winning record. Wasting a talent like that is criminal.

C70: Can and will Archie Bradley start to live up to the hype in 2017?

IZ: This all depends on what we mean of “hype.” Will he be the top of the rotation arm that was once forecast? I don’t think so. His ability to command the baseball would have to jump two full grades to make that kind of progress and that seems aggressive at this point. Right now, he’s fighting just to stay in the rotation as the team has plenty of back-end starter candidates. There’s no denying that the stuff remains nasty. His fastball has some serious run and his hammer curve is a bastard of a pitch when he can use it as intended. His changeup has flashed at times, but it’s all a matter of consistency for Bradley. If he doesn’t find it before 2017 runs out, he’ll be looking more and more like a candidate for a high leverage relief job. It’s easy to forget how young he is (he’ll turn 25 next May), so the hype isn’t completely gone and perhaps he’s just going to take a little more seasoning, but the sand is passing through the hourglass. 

ASP: That’s going to be one of the key questions for the D-backs. Right now, it’s not even certain if he’ll make the Opening Day rotation – it’s likely to come down to whether or not the team wants to move Patrick Corbin back from the bullpen. Bradley’s FIP was close to a run better than his actual ERA last year, so there is certainly hope for regression. It’s also worth remembering 2016 was still only his age-23 season: only four NL pitchers that age or younger, made more starts than Archie.

Certainly, he has to deliver on that promise. Before the 2014 season, he was rated a top 5 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com, and has not come anywhere close to showing that so far. He needs to walk fewer people, and develop a reliable third pitch he can use along with his fastball and curve. With Arizona’s pitching being so unreliable last year, it’s almost essential Bradley reaches the next level.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

IZ: Call me stubborn, but I can’t let people forget about Socrates Brito. He was unfairly pressed into action last year when A.J. Pollock busted his elbow in the spring and the team was caught without a viable back up. The tools remain unchanged, however, despite a debut to forget. He’s still adding polish to his game and there’s plus raw power potential, he’s a plus runner, is a plus fielder in a corner with a tremendous arm and can cover center easily enough. The hit tool will hold him back some, but he can be a big league contributor if he can be a bit more discerning at the plate, helping the team in a myriad of ways. In a post-hype world, he’s easily forgotten. True, he’s not going to be a star, but there’s a chance he eventually hits enough to let his athleticism play all over the place. He’s a physical specimen that’s taken some time to mature, but there’s still plenty of potential there.

ASP: The Arizona farm system is relatively bereft of high-level talent, but if there’s an unknown name who could break out, it’s perhaps reliever Jared Miller. He started off 2016 in A-ball, but finished it in AAA, fanning 80 batters over 61.1 innings across four levels. Miller then finished off with 18.1 shutout innings in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League, with another 30 strikeouts. As a yardstick, the last pitcher to throw 15+ shutout innings in the AFL was Jake Arrieta in 2007. The D-backs bullpen could certainly use the help!

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

IZ: This is a super tricky question to answer because the organization hasn’t yet defined their path. They’ve not added aggressively to the team’s core, but they also haven’t started selling players off. While just getting out from under Zack Greinke’s contract would be a feat unto itself, there are plenty of guys who’d fetch useful returns on the trade market, starting with Paul Goldschmidt, Pollock, Patrick Corbin, David Peralta, Jake Lamb, and others. If the team gets out the gate well, they could be a sneaky pick to add a piece at the deadline and remain competitive. More likely, however, they’ll fall off the Dodgers’ and Giants’ pace and have to really ponder blowing the whole thing up. If they played all year with their current crop, I think they could finish around .500, probably just short. If they decided to start selling, it’s anyone’s guess. They could be the next team to begin tanking to build for the future. Sorry for the non-answer, let’s check back on August 1st! 

ASP: I think they’ll be back towards .500, but I would not bet on them necessarily breaking past it. A full season of a healthy A.J. Pollock will be a big help, and I think there is a lot more upside for Greinke, Shelby Miller, Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker in the rotation, than there is downside from their 2016 performances. A lot will depend on how the bullpen holds up. If the young relievers can blossom, perhaps with the help of the crafty veterans, then we’d be in a better place at the end of 2017. Which is about all I want to see. I think it’ll be a three-way battle between Arizona, San Diego and Colorado for third through fifth place in the NL West. If forced to make a prediction, it’s 78-84 and fourth place for the Diamondbacks. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Diamondback and why?

IZ: My favorite Diamondback is also perhaps my favorite Mariner (my childhood team): Randy Johnson. The Big Unit was simply filthy with both franchises, though it did take Johnson some time to harness his stuff. By the time he reached Arizona, he was the “1” in perhaps baseball’s best modern 1-2 punch along with Curt Schilling. He threw gas, his slider was untouchable and he led the team to a World Series crown just three years after their inception. Perhaps better yet, Johnson has embraced his role within baseball since retirement as a mentor and all-around good guy. I listened to him speak about his proudest accomplishments and he shared that while it was exciting to rack up the strikeouts in his prime, he was most proud to be able to roll a double play ball on command late in his career when he was throwing 88. Johnson’s career had many stages and the Diamondbacks saw arguably his best years. I’m a sucker for the greats who age gracefully, even after the prime of their career. Randy Johnson is one of those guys.

ASP: Luis Gonzalez, because he’s why I’m married. To explain… I was watching Game 7 of the 2001 World Series with my then-girlfriend, and decided, “I’m going to propose – but only if the D-backs win, because if we lose, we’re both going to be too annoyed.” At that time, Arizona were 1-0 up, and I started wording the proposal speech in my mind. Then, the Yankees came back and had the lead going into the bottom of the ninth, so I’d screwed up and tossed away my mental notes.

Of course, then the Diamondbacks came back, capped off by Gonzo’s game-winning bloop. So I dropped to my knees and delivered this beautiful, eloquent proposal – to which my girlfriend replied, “Yes, wonderful, isn’t it?” There was so much noise, she hadn’t heard a single word of what I’d said. I had to redo it, but I’m certain the second time around wasn’t as good. Still, it must have done the trick, for she said yes! Thanks, Luis…

As always, my thanks to Jeff and Jim for filling us in on what’s going on out in the desert.  This definitely could be a team to keep an eye on, especially if they decide to sell around the deadline!

0 comments

I don’t care how long this post gets, we are finishing up looking at all of John Mozeliak’s trades in this post.  Last time we linked to all the former posts, so if you’ve missed any you can find them there.  Some of the trades in this post may be hard to grade, as they are pretty fresh and almost always involve players still producing one way or another.  We’ll give it our best, though!

Trade 29: Sam Freeman to Texas for PTBNL or cash

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
3/28/15 Sam Freeman 1.0 0.7*

*–Still active

Reaction Post: A Left-Handed Weekend

Sam Freeman and those like him are a seemingly endless resource in Major League Baseball, a homegrown reliever that can be effective enough until the service time becomes too much or, as it was in this case, there are just too many folks better than him.  Freeman had spent parts of three seasons with the club (I didn’t realize until the latest STL CardGals podcast that he made his debut in the Johan Santana no-hitter*) and had shown some interesting potential, especially for a left-handed reliever.  Freeman didn’t pitch in a lot of high-leverage spots and his walk total was always a bit too high for a guy like him, but there seemed to be a little value, at least.

However, when it came to the spring camp of ’14, there were just too many different options for the club and Sam, well, he was out of them.  Rather than outright releasing him, John Mozeliak (I assume) got some cash for him from the Rangers.  Texas wound up putting Freeman on waivers soon after they received him, but nobody bit and he started the season in the minors for them.  He did fine in AAA, but was pretty rough when he was called up in May.  He did eventually get his legs under him, though, and from July 1 on he had a 1.82 ERA and allowed just a .189 BAA.

His control issues were still there and, being that he was still out of options, Texas sold him to the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of the 2016 spring training.  He struggled with the Brewers, though, putting up a 12.91 ERA in April before again going on waivers, again clearing, and again heading to the minors.  He never returned to the big leagues (a 5.20 ERA at Colorado Springs didn’t help) and this offseason signed a minor league deal with the Braves.  The life of a left-hander with just enough intriguing talent.

Rating: I think I’ll give this one a toss-up.  Perhaps you could say it’s a loss because the club had to lose Freeman because they still had Randy Choate and he did have a fairly decent year in Texas, but overall it feels like he’s been pretty replaceable.

Trade 30: Kyle Barraclough to Miami for Steve Cishek

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
7/24/15 Kyle Barraclough 1.8^ 1.8* Steve Cishek 0.4 2.0*

*–Still active
^–Still active with same team

Reaction Post: Braving the Weekend

Hey, it’s a trade deadline Mozeliak prospect-for-reliever deal!  Man, who’d have guessed that was coming.

At the time, it really didn’t seem like much.  Cishek had a solid relieving portfolio and while he’d struggled some in 2015, he’d had an ERA under 1 since coming back from the DL in early June.  Barraclough was a fairly unknown prospect, at least to casual prospect followers (like myself) and it seemed like another one of those deals where Mo ships off someone that’s never heard from again while Cishek shored up the bullpen and helped the Cards into the playoffs.

Cishek did his part, putting up a 2.31 ERA during his time in St. Louis and striking out almost a batter an inning.  His control wasn’t quite what you’d want, but the Cardinals could have done worse than bringing him back.  Instead, they kept Jonathan Broxton and Cishek signed with the Mariners, where he had 25 saves and a 2.81 ERA in the Pacific Northwest.

Barraclough proved to be a little more than your typical deadline deal prospect, though.  He made his major league debut about a week after the deal and proceeded to go five outings before allowing a run.  Removing his final outing, when he allowed two runs in 1/3 of an inning, he posted an ERA under 2 and picked up a couple of wins and six holds.  2016 was more of the same (2.85 ERA) and so far in his career has limited both lefties and righties to less than a .190 average.  He’s seen more plate appearances in high-leverage situation than any other kind and seems to be developing into quite a late-inning weapon for the Fish.

Rating: Mo doesn’t lose many of these deals, but he definitely did here.  Perhaps if he’d ponied up for Cishek this would have been a little different, but even so it’d have been better to have a solid bullpen weapon at league minimum than a pricey former closer.

Trade 31: Malik Collymore to Milwaukee for Jonathan Broxton

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
7/31/15 Malik Collymore 0.0^ 0.0* Jonathan Broxton 0.5^ 0.5*

*–Still active
^–Still active with same team

Reaction Post: I Picked the Wrong Week to…..Go on Vacation

Jonathan Broxton’s never had a huge fan base in St. Louis since this trade went down, but he’s been marginally effective in his time in Cardinal red.  That’s probably more than we thought we’d see out of him when Mozeliak made this deal, as Broxton had been pretty rough in his time in Milwaukee.  He was on a good run as noted in the reaction post, which made folks think that maybe the GM saw something.

Perhaps he did, since Broxton had a 2.33 ERA that season after coming to the Cardinals.  For the most part, he was a steady if unspectacular reliever, best used in mid-leverage situations.  He did have more than a strikeout an inning and fanned about a quarter of the batters he faced, which was a nice weapon to have.  He might not have been the nicest looking guy out there, but overall he got the job done.

Even so, it was a bit of a surprise when Mozeliak pressed his luck and signed Broxton to a two-year deal after buying out his option at the end of that campaign.  Broxton was not as effective over the long haul, with his ERA creeping back over the 4 mark which had been its normal spot over the past few years.  While reliever ERA doesn’t necessarily tell you a lot, Broxton fell a little short of a K per inning, though his K/BB rate actually improved in 2016.  This was one of the rare two-year reliever contracts that DIDN’T see the reliever immediately get hurt and basically provide nothing over the course of the deal, though given the Cardinals and injuries, you can’t rule out that it won’t happen sometime in 2017.

As for Collymore, he played well in rookie ball after the trade, but seemed to struggle in 2016 when he moved up to High-A Brevard County.  Collymore hit just .167 in 59 games there and spent the winter playing ball in Australia.  Collymore isn’t necessarily considered one of the Brewers’ top prospects or anything, but there’s still plenty of time for him to adjust and become a solid ballplayer.

Rating: I’m going with a win on this right now, but it’s really still in flux.  Broxton has been a nice piece, but not so nice that it would take a lot from Collymore on the major league stage to tip the scales toward the Brew Crew.

Trade 32: Tony Cruz to Kansas City for Jose Martinez

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
12/2/15 Tony Cruz -0.1 -0.1* Jose Martinez 0.0^ 0.0*

*–Still active
^–Still active with same team

Backing up Yadier Molina isn’t a glamorous job, of course.  For much of the time, if you get into a game more than once a week, you are doing better than a lot of your compatriots.  I remember going to a Blogger Day at the end of April in 2013 (I believe) and he’d had a handful of at bats at that point in the season.  And not necessarily a big handful, either.

However, Cruz was supposed to be this guy that could start on most any other team.  His defense was lauded and the bat was reported to be fine if he got some regular playing time.  He was the best backup that the club had had in a long time, though that only included luminaries like Jason LaRue, Gary Bennett, and Gerald Laird.  Cruz was an upgrade, though.  That’s what we were told in various forms.

Until push came to shove, of course.  Molina got hurt in the July 9, 2015 game and Cruz then started nine of the next 11 games, hitting .176/.222/.235 in that span (and .175/.230/.246 the rest of the season).  The club didn’t hesitate to grab first George Kottaras and then A.J. Pierzynski when they came available on the waiver wire, pretty much indicating that they weren’t confident in Cruz’s ability to run the whole show.  Cruz didn’t do much more in 2015 and his swap to the Royals after being placed on waivers after that season barely elicited a raised eyebrow.

Going from backing up Molina to backing up Salvador Perez is like night and…..later that night.  Perez is another one that plays all the time and Cruz wasn’t going to change that, getting just three at-bats in June and two in September, spending the rest of the time at AAA.  The Royals set him free after that and he’s latched on with the Braves, again with a minor league contract.

Jose Martinez spent nine years in the minor leagues, winning a batting title at AAA in 2015, before being part of this deal.  If it wasn’t for Matt Holliday‘s injury and Brandon Moss‘s legendary slump, there’s a good chance that he’d have spent all of year 10 at Memphis as well.  Instead, he got the callup, got to be the feel-good story, and actually played fairly well in his limited time, getting seven hits in 16 at bats.  Still, he usually was hitting at the bottom of the order and had only one extra-base hit to show for his troubles.  Martinez is still on the Cards’ 40-man roster, however, so it’s possible that he’ll continue to add to his value here.

Rating: It’s gotta be a tossup, right?  I guess Martinez could change things but I’m not really sure why he’s still here on the 40-man when others were cut loose.  There could be a question of outfield depth, I guess, but again, it seems like he’d have been an easy cut somewhere along the line, especially when trying to free up spots for protecting Rule 5 eligible folks.  Neither player is likely to make much of an impact on their teams, I wouldn’t think, so we’ll call it a wash.

Trade 33: Jon Jay to San Diego for Jedd Gyorko

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
12/8/15 Jon Jay 1.1 1.1* Jedd Gyorko 2.9^ 2.9*

*–Still active
^–Still active with same team

We all know Jon Jay and all that went with him.  I’m pretty sure when Jay came up, fans wanted to see him in the lineup over some of the others in the outfield and he helped win the 2011 World Series.  Over time, though, Jay’s playing time became more and more of an issue as Mike Matheny would run him out there over other seemingly more qualified folks.  While the Allen Craig trade seemed to clear the way for Oscar Taveras, Jay still wound up seemingly keeping Oscar from significant playing time.  Even when Jay stopped hitting in 2015, Matheny kept writing him into the lineup even when it seemed clear others should get a shot.

Some would say this was another of Mo’s moves to take a player away from Matheny.  Maybe it was, maybe it was to open up more time for Randal Grichuk and get a strong bat into the outfield.  Whatever the case, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of value to Jay.  There were some that thought he might just be outright released, but I don’t think anyone thought he’d bring back an actual major league player.

Jedd Gyorko was a Padre through and through, having come up in their system.  He was somewhat burdened by the fact that he hit 23 home runs in his rookie season back in 2013, setting a bar that he was unable to clear in future seasons.  Gyorko never hit over .250 and never really got close to 23 homers again, which got Padres fans ready to send him out of town.  The Cardinals were happy to comply.

While there’s only been one season of data here since the deal happened, it’s a pretty stark one.  Jay did fine in San Diego, hitting .291/.339/.389 and playing his brand of average center field, but he wound up getting hurt and didn’t play from the middle of June to the beginning of September.  Jay also became a free agent, signing with the Cubs in the offseason and leaving San Diego with nothing really to show for the deal.

Gyorko, of course, wound up hitting 30 homers in St. Louis, playing all over the infield and bringing pop to all of them.  He again didn’t hit .250 (reaching .243, which is right in line with most years) and his glove was adequate if not stellar, but that kind of power can’t be understated.  Gyorko started a lot more during the season than expected, partly because of the power and partly because of the Kolten Wong situation, and he gave quite a good bit of value.  Gyorko is under contract through 2019 and that should continue to make this deal more and more lopsided.

Rating: A clear win for Mozeliak.  To get anything of value back for Jay was a testament to Mozeliak’s skill, but to have a guy that was a huge contributor right out of the gate puts this solidly in his W column.

Trade 34: Charlie Tilson to Chicago White Sox for Zach Duke

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
7/31/16 Charlie Tilson 0.0^ 0.0* Zach Duke 0.9^ 0.9*

*–Still active
^–Still active with same team

Reaction Post: 50 Ways to Leave Your Fanbase Crazy

This was a deal that was so obvious, I even partly called in on the Meet Me at Musial right before the deadline, noting that Tilson was exactly the kind of player that Mo would deal at this time of year.  Tilson was a solid outfield prospect for the Redbirds, hitting for a good average and stealing bases.  Before being sent off to Chicago, he was hitting .282 in Memphis with 15 steals after stealing 46 with Springfield the year before.  A lot of folks were intrigued by his speed, a facet of the game that St. Louis didn’t have a lot of.

However, with folks like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty already staking down outfield spots and Harrison Bader ahead of Tilson on the prospect charts, Tilson was expendable and the bullpen, as always, needed some shoring up.  Duke, the former Pittsburgh Pirate that the Cardinals had done pretty well against as a starter, had redefined himself as a left-handed bullpen option and was putting up some good numbers in the White Sox bullpen, striking out more than a batter an inning and actually doing a little better against righties than he was against lefties, but was very effective against both.

What also intrigued Mozeliak was the fact that Duke was under contract for 2017, meaning the club was getting more than just a few weeks out of him.  At least, that’s what they thought.  However, while Duke did a fine job for the rest of the 2016 season, he wound up having Tommy John surgery after the season.  While there is still a small chance, given the early surgery (in October) and the fact that he’s a reliever, that he could return to the Cardinals before the end of the year, it would seem that Mozeliak’s multi-year reliever jinx has fully struck again.

As for Tilson, he was immediately called up to the big leagues last year by the White Sox.  He singled in his first major league at bat, but then tore his hamstring later in the game and missed the rest of the season.  Unfortunately, as he’s made it to his first spring training with the Sox, he’s been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his foot (similar to the one Michael Wacha has in his shoulder).  The Sox are just going to have to wait and see whether he’ll be healthy to be that leadoff man they were expecting him to be this season.

Rating: Has to be a tossup right now.  Duke gave a lot to the 2016 Cardinals, but if he doesn’t return and Tilson becomes a solid player at the big league level, the scales will tip into the loss column.  If Tilson can’t overcome the injuries, it’s possible that this will be a slim win for Mo, but that would seem to be unlikely.

Trade 35: Jaime Garcia to Atlanta for John Gant, Chris Ellis, and Luke Dykstra

Date Outgoing bWAR w/New Total bWAR Incoming bWAR w/SL Total bWAR
12/1/16 Jaime Garcia 0.0^ 0.0* John Gant 0.0^ 0.0*
Chris Ellis 0.0^ 0.0*
Luke Dykstra 0.0^ 0.0*

*–Still active
^–Still active with same team

Reaction Post: From “Honkin’ For Jaime” to Gone Garcia

I’m not sure if there was a more frustrating or divisive pitcher in recent Cardinal history than Jaime Garcia.  He would tantalize with outstanding stuff, then wind up getting hurt or not coming through in some big moments.  That got a lot of folks worked up about him, but he was a left-handed starter with the ability to shut down a lineup, so people dealt with it.

Garcia had an interesting contract quirk (one that apparently has been added to Carlos Martinez‘s new contract) that he had two option years that the team could pick up at the end of his deal.  In 2015, it seemed almost a no-brainer that those options would be declined, but then Garcia stayed as healthy as he had been in a long time and posted a 10-6 record with a 2.43 ERA.  Suddenly, the no-brainer was to pick up that option and the expectation quickly became that the 2017 option would get exercised as well.

It was, but not because of another great year.  Garcia had 32 appearances (30 starts) which was the most he’d been out on the mound since 2011.  Unfortunately, whether it was fatigue or other issues, his effectiveness withered during the year, to the point that he wound up in the bullpen for a while.  Still, the option year for 2017 was cheap in relation to the market and the club went ahead and picked it up, figuring either they’d need pitching or they could trade him.

They did just that in December, sending him to Atlanta for three prospects.  John Gant just made The Redbird Daily’s Top 30, but Chris Ellis and Luke Dykstra are both seen as role players, if that, and Gant’s not expected to be a front end starter or anything.  These kind of players can fill a need, for sure, but they aren’t going to be players that people are just going to be overly excited about seeing, probably.  That always could change, of course.

Rating: Given neither side has seen their players perform in a competitive setting yet, it’s got to be a tossup.  Mo might be able to get a win out of this if Ellis or Gant contributes for a few years and Garcia doesn’t do much in Atlanta, but my bet is looking back on this in five years or so, we’re still saying it’s basically even.

That’s all the trades!  I will be back with a wrap-up post, including some of your thoughts on Mo’s dealing dexterity from Twitter, sometime soon.  Until then, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed these looks back!

0 comments

Every fanbase has their underbelly, as it were.  Those fans that root for the same team as you do, but do so in crude, entitled, arrogant, jerky fashion.  Again, there is that segment in every fanbase, I believe.  It’s just that the Cardinals segment tends to draw a bit more attention from the world at large, probably due to that Twitter account that tries to blow any misspoken word or bad apple into a huge deal.  (You know the one I’m talking about.  If you don’t, you are better off.  I rarely block Twitter accounts–I probably haven’t blocked more than five non-spam accounts in my eight-plus years on the service–but I’ve blocked that one.)

Dexter Fowler unfortunately found that underbelly yesterday, an uninformed section of Cardinal fans that couldn’t read past a semi-inflammatory headline before heaping criticism and abuse on the new centerfielder.  “Cardinal Outfielder Fowler Disappointed with Trump Travel Ban” is how the Post-Dispatch titled their story.  Seriously, that’s all it took for a portion of folks calling themselves Cardinal fans to tear into the newest Redbird.  The headline isn’t even that bad, but when you read the story, it’s even less of an issue.

Fowler’s wife is from Iran and they were wanting to take their young daughter there to meet his in-laws and others on that side of the family, but they decided to postpone it due to the uncertainty around the president’s recent action.  As far as I can tell, these are the only reported words from Fowler on this subject, as reported by Mark Saxon of ESPN:

“It’s huge.  Especially anytime you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunate.”

Bring out the pitchforks!

It’s ridiculous, as Tara and I talked about on Gateway last night, to go blaming Fowler for this.  He didn’t call a press conference and light into the president or his policy.  He didn’t advocate for change in this regard.  He merely answered a question about this affected him personally and did so in a fairly innocuous way.  What else is he supposed to do?  One of the great things about Fowler has been his openness and personality.  That openness extends to answering questions, even when they aren’t about baseball.

But let’s say for a minute that Fowler had been more outspoken in his comments.  Would that be wrong?  We tend to only argue that athletes should “stick to sports” when they express opinions we don’t agree with.  I would guess that a majority of those that came after Fowler yesterday have no problem when Adam Wainwright and others express their Christian faith from their pulpit as major league players.  Why should one person be able to talk about things that are important to them and another player shouldn’t?

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the political statements of athletes and celebrities, often because they are couched in unambiguous terms, brooking no argument or disagreement.  They aren’t put across like “this is my view, but that’s just me, and others may have a different approach” at times.  I would say that the athletes that have been more strident in their recent political opinions primed the pump, so to speak, for the reaction to Fowler.  People thought “here goes another athlete” and attacked without reading what he actually had to say.

Divisions are stark in this country right now, with neither side willing to accept that the other side has a point.  To see someone like Fowler express his opinion but do so in a non-inflammatory way should be celebrated, not attacked.  It feels like things are never going to get better if we can’t come together and talk about our differences and how things affect us in a way that leaves respect and understanding on the table, even when we disagree.

Let me tell you the best thing about this whole situation, though.  When hit with all these comments on social media, by keyboard warriors that would have likely asked for his autograph if he’d been in the room with them, how did Fowler respond?  With amazing class:

I don’t know if I’ve seen any comments about Fowler’s religious preference.  He may not have one, which is up to him of course.  However, that’s the kind of response that we often don’t see out of professed Christians, where the whole “turn the other cheek” thing originated.  When the Cardinals signed Fowler, I was glad but not overly enthused.  Seeing his press conference when he signed helped win me over.  Now?  Next time I’m in St. Louis, a Fowler T-shirt is coming home to be part of my rotation.

Enough of that.  There are players practicing and games start this weekend.  Why are we wasting time on negative things?  Let’s talk about a few other things that are happening in camp.

Such as Jhonny Peralta.  Peralta says that last year was a lot for him, with the thumb injury and then trying to re-acclimate himself to third base.  Put all that together and it’s not a surprise that he struggled figuring it all out.  He says now that he’s 100% healthy (which, to be fair, most everyone would say that right now.  If it wasn’t for the surgery, Alex Reyes would be saying it) and he did a lot more practicing at third in the offseason.  Could it be that Peralta will surprise some folks?  I would think it’s possible.  I still think Jedd Gyorko will wind up with a good bit of time over there and it might be that whoever gets on a hot streak will wind up with the job most of the time.  Writing off Peralta entirely is probably extreme, though tempering expectations is a pretty good idea as well.

It’s fun to read this story about the young catching prospects and how excited they get about spending time with Yadier Molina.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s quite understandable.  If you want to learn about your job, it’s great to learn from the best.  It’s also great to see they are trying to work as hard as they can because they don’t want to let Yadi down.  He’s put in some time with all of them, from the lowest on the ladder to Carson Kelly, and they want to live up to his standard.  That’s a testament to the career Molina has had and the impact he’s had as well.

A little bit of housekeeping.  Later this morning, we’ll look at the last few trades of John Mozeliak’s career, the ones he made in 2015 and 2016.  This afternoon, Playing Pepper kicks off and we’ll take a look at the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Then tonight, at 7 PM Central, I’m going to try out my first Facebook Live on the blog’s Facebook page (you can find and like it here).  We’re going to talk Cardinals, we’re going to talk Star Wars, we’re going to talk about whatever you want.  I already have some questions but I’ll be soliciting more throughout the day and, since it’s a live session, you can ask some if you join us tonight.  We can even talk more about this post if you like.  I hope it’ll be fun and you won’t be too scared off by this ugly mug!

1 comment

Reyes Diagnosis Confirmed

Per John Mozeliak’s press conference this morning, Alex Reyes will have Tommy John surgery as feared.  Dr. George Paletta will do the surgery there in Jupiter.  Sad but expected.

0 comments

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?

0 comments

 

Archives

Subscribe to The Conclave via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 85 other subscribers