The Cards have called another press conference for 1 PM this afternoon. Unlike yesterday’s, nobody has any idea what this one is about. Stay tuned to Twitter and we’ll come up with 1000 goofy reasons before finding out the real one.
The Cards have called another press conference for 1 PM this afternoon. Unlike yesterday’s, nobody has any idea what this one is about. Stay tuned to Twitter and we’ll come up with 1000 goofy reasons before finding out the real one.
Before we get too far on discussing last night’s game, let’s take a moment and look at a beautiful piece of art.
For one night, the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and sanity, so lacking over the last few months, has returned to our world. There’s no guarantee on how long this will last (past Tuesday night, at least) so enjoy the moment.
Baseball returned to us last night and it did so in thrilling, but somewhat familiar fashion. After all, the Cardinals didn’t get their first hit with a runner in scoring position until the ninth. We’ve been there. Carlos Martinez was dominant and completely worthy of this opening start. Been there as well. And Mike Matheny made some hugely questionable decisions regarding his bullpen. It’s like we never left.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way before we break down what I think were the key moments when things could have been different last night. For much of the game, it looked like it was obvious who the Hero and Goat were going to be. (By the way, if you are just joining the blog this season, a quick explanation: every game I pick one player as the Hero and one player as the Goat. Usually it’s who had the best or worst game, but key moments can produce either one as well. You can find a running total plus who got the overall award for the last nine season below the links over here.) Martinez was amazing, holding down a very powerful Cubs lineup to just six hits, two of which came in the first frame and two of which came after he probably should have been pulled (more on that soon). He struck out 10 and seemed in command all night. Ask Kris Bryant about how well Martinez was going. Bryant, the reigning MVP, didn’t put a ball in play until after Martinez had left the ballgame.
On the flip side, Jhonny Peralta was installed in the cleanup spot and looked pretty rough, striking out in his first three plate appearances. Peralta’s antics were particularly painful because The Three Amigos (Dexter Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, Matt Carpenter) were doing what they are supposed to do, which is get on base. Peralta had at least one runner on in each of those times up but couldn’t do anything with it, twice ending the inning with a K. Until the ninth, everything was fine and dandy.
The ninth upset the apple cart. Seung-hwan Oh gets the first Goat tag of the year, but there are mitigating circumstances that we’ll get into in a bit. Oh threw 38 pitches, which was more than he threw in any game in 2016 (he threw 36 against the Reds on April 16). Only four times did he throw over 30 pitches last season and three of them, interestingly enough, were against the Cubs. Two of those three were in August, which makes you think that Matheny is focused on beating the Cubs more than some other teams. That’s a defensible position, but you have to make sure your judgement isn’t clouded when you do that. You could argue, at least based on last night, that it has been. (Then again, some would snark, Matheny’s bullpen judgement has never really been clear.)
You could also give a share of the Goat (if we did such things) to Matt Carpenter. Most of his first night as official first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals was uneventful, but with a runner on first in the ninth inning, old friend Jason Heyward hit a little chopper to first. Instead of taking the out in a 3-0 game, leaving the Cubs just one out to get, Carpenter first looked to second to see if they had a force there, then lost the handle on the ball in his glove, allowing Heyward to beat it out. One batter later, Wilson Contreras took Oh deep, tying the game. If you get the out there, at worst the Cards are still up by one if Contreras still goes yard. At best, with two outs, Oh focuses and gets the grounder and everyone goes home happy.
Thank goodness for Randal Grichuk getting hit on the hand. That’s a strange sentence to type, but if Grichuk hadn’t been plunked at the end of spring training, it seems very unlikely that he’d have been hitting eighth and it’s possible he wouldn’t have been the Hero of our story last night. Grichuk smashed a two-run homer in the eighth inning against Pedro Strop and then walked it off in the ninth against Mike Montgomery. Grichuk also put together some good at bats early in the game, even though they didn’t wind up with great results. If you want to base it on one game, it really looks like Grichuk has stepped up his game and perhaps figured out the contact thing a little more. Not saying he’s going to hit .300 or anything, but his overall night was encouraging.
Speaking of encouraging, the person that batted before Grichuk in the ninth was Kolten Wong, who had come in as a pinch-hitter for starter Jedd Gyorko when Jon Lester left the game and it was safe for a lefty to enter. Montgomery is a lefty, which meant Wong was at the handedness disadvantage there in the ninth with two on and a chance to win the game. Unlike some times when feels like he has to be the hero, Wong stayed disciplined and worked the walk, setting it up for Grichuk’s heroics. The rest of his outing wasn’t overwhelming, but you take the good where you can find it.
Kudos to Diaz as well for continuing his strong spring and getting a good start at alleviating one-hit-wonder worries. Not only did Diaz get two hits, including the team’s first extra-base knock of the year, he stole two bases against Lester, one of the few that was able to take full advantage of Lester’s issues with base runners. Wong and Stephen Piscotty had seven steals to lead the team last year. Maybe this new focus on baserunning is actually going to happen!
There was a lot going on in this game, but let’s start talking about three different Matheny decisions. If the Cardinals had started out with a loss last night, any one of these could have been the reason.
Sixth inning, two outs, bases loaded. As noted, Martinez was cruising along in this game, but the offense wasn’t getting the hit he needed. The Cardinals continued to put runners in scoring position but they continued to leave them there. The one run that did score, like the first run they scored in the spring, was Fowler scoring on a Carpenter sacrifice fly. In the sixth, though, Yadier Molina singled and Piscotty walked. After Wong grounded into a force out, Grichuk walked to fill the bags and bring up Martinez to hit.
Martinez was at about 85 pitches right then, so there’s the question: do you hit for Martinez and let the bullpen cover the last three frames or do you let Martinez bat because he’s going well and you want another inning out of him? I mean, you do have Matt Adams on the bench, who had a strong spring. The Cubs might have gone to a lefty reliever, but they had just brought Carl Edwards Jr. into the game and I don’t think that they had anyone warming up. They may not have had a chance to counter.
My initial feeling was to leave Martinez in the game, but I understand and don’t really disagree with the idea of hitting for him there. Martinez actually put together a good AB–probably too good, as his sharp grounder turned into a double play. Some argued that Martinez should have just taken strike three and let Fowler hit with two outs and the bases loaded, but I don’t know. Fowler was a better shot at getting a hit, of course, but two outs limits the options. Then again, Edwards didn’t look good at all–without the stroke of luck that his wild pitch immediately caromed right back to home plate, one run would have scored anyway–and maybe that would have been the better option. Flip side, if Martinez actually gets a flare to drop, which isn’t unthinkable, two runs score and the Cubs are on the ropes. It didn’t work out, but I think this is the most defensible of Matheny’s moments.
Eighth inning, nobody out, nobody on. Martinez ran through the seventh without much of an issue, though when Addison Russell singled Brett Cecil got up in the bullpen. At 97 pitches, it seemed like Martinez’s night was through. Seven scoreless frames is about as much as you can expect from a starter these days and there’s a fully rested pen out there that should be able to get six outs.
Instead, Matheny sends Martinez back out there. I can understand perhaps not sending Cecil out since there were a lot of right-handed bats coming up (not that Cecil can’t face righties, just that you’d want him to face a majority of lefties to be most effective) but literally everyone down there was available. Kevin Siegrist is supposed to be the eighth inning guy, right? Why not use him, especially since he’s been better against righties than lefties in his career anyway? I can see not wanting to toss Jonathan Broxton or Sam Tuivailala in that situation, but Matt Bowman’s done a fine job in those situations before. I’d even not squawked if Miguel Socolovich had come into the game there, though that’d have been pretty surprising.
There was only the tiniest of chances that Martinez makes it through the eighth. He doesn’t need to be out there for 110 pitches in the first game of the year. Unsurprisingly, Martinez’s effectiveness was not quite there.
Eighth inning, two on, one out. Martinez allowed a leadoff single, got a popout, then gave up a single. Matheny finally realized that he had a bullpen and went to get Martinez. Did he bring in Siegrist? Did he go to Cecil, given that Kyle Schwarber was up next and Anthony Rizzo was looming?
Oh no he didn’t. Perhaps being confused with all the pomp and circumstance and thinking it was the playoffs, Matheny went to his closer. There are times that bringing Oh out for a multi-inning save makes sense, but I’m not sure that this was one of those times. It wasn’t him facing the bottom of the lineup in either frame. This was Oh going through the heart of the Cubs power. Again, this one makes some sense if it wasn’t for the fact that you signed Cecil for just these situations. If the Cubs counter by removing Schwarber from the game, that’s fine. Cecil’s not limited to lefties, as we’ve noted, and that removes a big bat from the late innings.
Oh got through the eighth, but as we’ve seen didn’t manage the same luck in the ninth (though Mr. Grichuk make sure he got a win for his efforts, because baseball). I know nobody would have done it, but it would have been interesting if Oh had pitched there and Cecil the ninth, given that Ben Zobrist (a switch hitter) and Jason Heyward were coming up.
Right now, if you were to take away one thing from last night, it’s that Mike Matheny doesn’t trust his bullpen. That may not be the case, but it sure looked like it from his decisions. It’s very possible that Matheny got caught up in the moment and put undo emphasis on winning the first game of 162 more. It’s possible that we’ll see better moves going forward. Matheny’s bullpen management has always been one of those things that worries Cardinal fans, though, and last night didn’t relieve those worries one bit. It’s one game, though. Let’s hope the rest of the week and the rest of the season works out better.
Baseball likes to tease us, and after waiting six months for real baseball and getting one game last night, we have to wait until tomorrow for another one. There’s lots of games to watch, to be sure, but it’s not quite the same. Tomorrow, Adam Wainwright will go up against Jake Arrieta. I’m sure it was different for Waino to be sitting and watching yesterday, but at least he got to ride in on a truck. (Actually, that probably wasn’t a rare treat–the last time the Cards started at home, Chris Carpenter got the nod, so I don’t think Waino’s had the home opener as well as Opening Day very often.) I think we are all holding our breath with every Wainwright start this year, not exactly sure what we are going to get. A solid outing against a strong team like the Cubs would help us feel a lot better.
|Tommy La Stella||2||2||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.500||.500||.500||1.000||0||0||0||0||0|
As for Arrieta, we know that’s going to be a tough matchup for St. Louis. The Cardinals have gotten to him a little bit more than some teams as of late, but for his career he’s 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 13 games against the Cards. Last year he was 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA, so he’s trending the wrong way? Maybe?
We’ve gone this long and didn’t even mention Molina’s contract extension, but it was right in line with what most of us expected. Three years after this one, $60 million total. That was exactly what I thought and, with the TV money kicking in next year, I don’t see that being an issue. We’ll see how things between him and Carson Kelly work out over the next couple of years, but I think it’s a very good thing that Molina should end his career wearing the birds on the bat. Molina also made history last night, becoming the first player to walk on no pitches. I still think this new intentional walk thing is silly.
Enjoy the day off and the fact that the Cardinals are in first. It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?
Last month, the United Cardinal Bloggers did their annual preseason roundtable. There were lots of questions asked and, as is my tradition, I went last with the group, which meant that most of the good stuff was taken. I did get one out there though and the answers came in. Good answers. Solid answers.
And then I forgot to post them.
In my defense, I’ve been getting Playing Pepper posts ready as well as juggling some other spring things, but I really should have gotten this post and that last John Mozeliak trade post written and published. So here, on the eve of the 2017 season, the final question:
For each of the following, give me one person who:1) Will be a major reason the Cardinals win or lose2) Won’t be in the organization come August 13) Will frustrate the fanbase the most this season
Carlos Martinez will be a major reason why 2017 Cardinals win or lose. Without him, or if he is subpar, they lose.
Jordan Schafer won’t be with the organization come Aug. 1. Cardinals won’t have a place for him and someone else will give the two-way player a chance. (Editor’s note: this was before Schafer went down with season-ending surgery.)
What will frustrate the fan base the most in 2017 will be the inconsistency of Trevor Rosenthal.
I would also have to agree that Carlos Martinez will probably be a big enough deal this year that if he lands on the DL for any extended period of time, the Cardinals could risk overall loss this season.
This is a tough one. I think for the past few summers we’ve been a little concerned that Matt Adams will be traded, which I think could be another possibility this year, particularly if he can’t get off the bench much the first half of the season.
Again, hoping this isn’t the case, but I’m thinking Kolten Wong might fall into this category again. The guy’s got all the heart in the world, but the fanbase already seems to be somewhat on the fence about his future here, at least playing 2nd.
Michael Wacha‘s performance will dictate whether or not this team competes in the division or simply for a wild card berth.
Fans will continue to be frustrated by Kolten Wong. I think he’ll have good enough numbers to warrant being in the lineup, but he won’t play at an all-star level. Fans have seen the tools, and will want more.
Dexter Fowler. It’s pretty simple, but scoring in the first inning is huge for win probability. Can he repeat his OBP skill from last year, or does he regress back to his career average (which is still pretty strong). Health has also been a little bit of an issue for him the last few years, and I think the Cardinals need him to play 150 games.
Luke Weaver? He’s the most obvious trade chip if the Cardinals are buying in June or July. I think they should trade Lance Lynn even if in contention, but that’s another story, and I don’t think its a move Mozeliak would make.
Matheny is the obvious answer here. It will be interesting to see how he handles the bullpen, would should be on of the best in the MLB. I’m not confident he’ll put those guys in their best positions to succeed. Kolten Wong is another strong candidate. I think both of them disappoint in 2017.
I truly hope this is the season where we finally get to pick on the players instead of the manager. It will be a clean sweep of Adam(s) for my answers, as Wainwright has that look again. If he is the co-ace again, the Cards go into October happy.
On the other hand, if Waino isn’t bueno then he won’t get a mostly free pass again from the vocal BFIB. I do think Matt Adams is auditioning for other teams and will be used to fetch another arm or possibly the answer to the 3B riddle by the end of July. Peralta becomes the honorary Adam in the equation for possibly all three questions, especially if he isn’t moved and breaks down in September.
The major reason the Cards win or lose will be the skipper himself, Mike Matheny. The manager has to figure out how to “let the boys play” a bit and get their footing under them. He’s been given a fairly steady lineup at this point, let’s see how much he tries to tweak it in the early months.
Who won’t be in the organization August 1? I think Matt Adams or Kolten Wong. Adams, I think, has a chance to be somewhere else before opening day (paging Colorado, I hear they need a first baseman right now). Wong will depend on his development and if Matheny pulls him early.
Who will frustrate the fans? Possibly Wong but more likely some inconsistency in the bullpen. I’m going to call this one a draw between Trevor Rosenthal and Brett Cecil. Both are going to be looked to for some high pressure innings and both have shown in the past that they can’t always be the one to handle that.
I’m completely impressed with Dexter Fowler. I think he’s a winning player and changed the atmosphere on club that had grown stale. His ability as a lead off hitter changes the complexion of the ball club.
This may be easy after the news over the weekend, but I don’t think Schaefer will be with the team in Aug. I will almost be surprised if Adams and Pham are still with the team after the deadline.
The most frustrating issue to me is the fact that we still have blacked out games in 2017.
The great thing about asking questions is, of course, that you can tidy up, get everyone’s answer, and then move along when nobody’s watching….oh, I just gave that away. I guess I better come up with some answers as well, then.
–There are so many ways to go with the first one. Yadier Molina has to stay healthy, I think. If he’s down for any length of time, this could get ugly. Also, Adam Wainwright really needs to be better than last year. Lance Lynn and a resurgent Michael Wacha can pick up some slack, but not all of it.
–I’m starting to think that Harrison Bader might not be around, given the logjam in front of him and the players coming behind. I feel like even with Yadi’s extension (if it happens) Carson Kelly has value to this organization and won’t be terribly buried. Bader, though, could be part of a mid-season deal to bring in a quality solution to a problem.
–The frustration has already started with Kolten Wong and I can’t think of anyone that will be more polarizing to the fanbase. That said, if Matt Adams plays much in the outfield, it could be him or the manager that put him there.
It’s always great interacting with my fellow bloggers and podcasters. I look forward to doing it all season long!
The Cardinals did a little walking in Memphis last night, taking on their affiliate in the first part of their tour of checking out their territory, but even though there was a lot of fun on the field, it was the news off the field that had everyone buzzing. Multiple reports had Yadier Molina very close to an extension, apparently a three-year deal worth between $55-$65 million.
Continual cautions that this is not a completed deal have typically fallen on deaf ears. With reporting like this, it’s a fairly strong indication that something will get done in time. It feels like the Cardinals have done enough that if they need an extra day or two, Molina might grant it. So, with all the caveats that things might not actually get done, let’s talk about this deal as if it was already put to paper.
We talked just earlier this week about a similar deal and why the Cardinals should make it. With their financial resources, paying Yadi $20 million a year really isn’t going to keep them from doing other things to make the team better if they come up. I don’t think this rules them out of getting their next franchise player in free agency in a couple of years, for instance. With the young (and, more importantly for this discussion, cost-controlled) players that are on their way, having Yadi on the books for a couple of years at a high price isn’t going to do anything terrible for the team no matter what happens.
Hopefully the idea on this deal is that they’ll start the transition to Carson Kelly like I outlined in December. With the news of this extension and the news that the Cardinals were quietly in on Jose Quintana, it seemed to spell trouble for Kelly if he wanted to become the next Cardinal catcher. However, I’m not sure that’s the case. Kelly will be 23 in the middle of this season. That means, at worst, he could start the 2021 season (the first year after Yadi) just a little shy of 27. That’s not just terribly old for a catcher. You’d like to probably have him active before then, but again, he spends all this year in Memphis and then most of next year as the backup, then you can see what 2019 and 2020 bring in regards to needing to pass the torch.
That’s not ruling out a Kelly trade, of course. If you can get someone like Quintana for him and others, you have to take a hard look at it. I’m just saying you don’t HAVE to trade Kelly because Yadi reupped. It’s not like there are other strong catching prospects in the system that will pass Kelly by in the span of this extension. It’s not like Harrison Bader, who has folks like Magneuris Sierra on his tail. Kelly’s pretty comfortable where he’s at and I don’t think the Cardinals are going to look for a way to move him. (If you wanted to be a hopeless dreamer, you could say John Mozeliak was close enough to a Quintana deal that he had to re-up Yadi to make sure they had a catcher next year, but I don’t think that’s quite the case.)
It wouldn’t be surprising to me if the contract wasn’t announced on Sunday morning so as to make sure Yadi got a huge ovation during the Opening Day ceremonies. I mean, larger than he was already going to get.
In other news, the 25-man roster has already gone through its first change, as Trevor Rosenthal will start the year on the (now 10-day) disabled list and Sam Tuivailala will take his place in St. Louis. Tuivailala played with the Cardinals last night and wound up giving up an unearned run in two innings, with one walk and one hit but zero strikeouts. We know what Tui brings, both strengths and weaknesses, and it seems unlikely that he’ll figure it out in his limited time in St. Louis. If Rosenthal gets healed up quickly, Tui will go to Memphis for him. If not, Tuivailala will probably get sent down when Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons gets activated in a few weeks. Either way, Sam doesn’t have much time to make a good impression, but we can always hope something will click.
Rosenthal pitched in five games this spring and did well, but obviously this lat strain has been an issue. I don’t know how much he pitched after his start–he wasn’t a name I heard come up very often. I’m no doctor so I’m not sure how connected or related lat strains are to oblique injuries, but if they are anything similar this could be an issue Rosie deals with for a while. Even if he comes back from the disabled list, there’s no telling how long it might be before he injures it again. Hopefully that’s not the case and a little more rest will do it, but given the Cards had already announced him as a part of the roster, it’s obvious you never know when it is going to flare up again.
Cardinals play in Springfield tonight, then get a day off at home before starting their season Sunday night at Busch Stadium. I’ve railed before about how the tradition of Opening Day has been completely mutilated throughout baseball. I’m old enough to remember when every season started in Cincinnati, home of the oldest franchise. This year, the Reds are one of the last teams to get started, with a 4:10 EDT first pitch.
I could understand the Sunday night spotlight game, though it was still a little iffy. (Some may remember the Cardinals and Reds played in the first one of these things.) But now there are games on Sunday afternoon before Sunday Night Baseball. Where’s the specialness of that? I wouldn’t mind if MLB took a page from their own playbook and start every game on Monday at the same time, like they do with Game 162. Get everyone off to a rousing start.
They don’t, though, and they aren’t likely to listen to me anytime soon. It is nice to not have to worry about missing work on Monday to catch the game on TV and it should be a game worth catching. Carlos Martinez, with his new contract and his new ace status–because, really, an opening start was all he was lacking–takes on the *pauses, swallows bile* World Champion Chicago Cubs. Remember, all the pregame festivities, the stuff that makes Opening Day in St. Louis so very special, will be on FOX Sports Midwest starting at 6:30 PM. With the return of real games, it marks the return of our pitcher vs. batter looks, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Well, it would, but I think since the season hasn’t started rosters aren’t loaded on BR yet, so I’m getting an error trying to run the report. I do see that Carlos has 30 PA against Anthony Rizzo and the first baseman has a 1.064 OPS against the hurler, so maybe he should be careful there. On the flip side, Kris Bryant has a .491 OPS in 24 PA against Martinez, which is good to see. Carlos has a 3-3 mark with a 4.97 ERA against the Chicago club. He struggled against them last year (1-3, 4.80 ERA in five games).
Jon Lester goes for the Cubs, which probably means we don’t see Kolten Wong at second and that whole discussion can get started again. We know how good Lester can be, as he is 3-3 with a 1.97 ERA against the club in his career. He’s been even better at Busch, with a 2-0, 0.82 mark. The Cardinal with the most plate appearances against him is Molina, who has a .711 OPS against him (three doubles are the only extra-base hits) in 34 PA.
Baseball is here, folks! Enjoy your weekend and let’s talk about the game Monday morning, all right?
I’ll admit, I’m a bit hesitant to tackle the Kolten Wong situation. Not because I don’t have opinions on the matter, of course, but because Tara did such a thorough job of going through it all Sunday night on Gateway. Some of this may be a retread for those that listened, but given the fact that this is one that is polarizing a lot of Cardinals fans, I thought I’d go through it again anyway. (Plus, after I thought up the post title, there was no way I was going to not use it.)
I don’t figure anyone needs background, but just for a refresher, on Sunday John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny stated that it was likely Wong would start the year as a platoon second baseman instead of the overall starter that had seemed to be the plan most of the winter. It touched a nerve with Wong, who apparently learned of this idea from media members, and he had some honest and candid comments about his place on this team. Wong walked those back a little bit (or at least couched them in softer terms), but the damage was done.
Unsurprisingly, this has created two camps. There’s a side that thinks Wong doesn’t have any reason to complain, what with his .184 spring average along with a career that has been more frustrating than outstanding. There’s a side that thinks Wong has a point, that he’s never gotten the full faith and trust of his manager and that he’s right to be upset when the rug is pulled out from underneath him. There’s a lot of truth in both positions.
We like to mock Matheny’s comments about “adversity” with Wong and say that some of that adversity was manager-created, but the simple fact is that everyone in the big leagues has to overcome some obstacles to have a successful career. Whether it’s health, whether it’s being the newcomer trying to unseat a veteran, whether it’s a down year, players have to be able to come through those situations, learn from them, and be better. So far, Wong hasn’t completely done that. Whether there are extenuating circumstances or not probably depends on your point of view, as Obi-Wan used to say.
There comes a time where Wong has to produce on the field. Honestly, he pretty much did in 2015. Maybe not to the level of everyone’s expectations, but a .707 OPS with 11 home runs is not terrible from your second baseman. Some of that is probably overshadowed by the fact that his second half was weaker (.238 BA, just 2 HR) but still, the entire package wasn’t that bad, especially from a young player. As Tara noted Sunday, 2015 was also the only year they just ran him out there to play. There was no Mark Ellis, there was no Jedd Gyorko, there were no trips to Memphis, he got 613 plate appearances and had a solid, if unremarkable, year.
“He’s got to hit to play” seems to be a popular mantra, but I’m not sure how much I buy into the fact that he’s had his chance and he’s not done anything with it. After that solid 2015, you’d think he’d built up some credibility that he could play at this level. That he’d be the guy they’d run out there day after day. Many say that he played his way out of the starting role last year, that he had plenty of chances. He didn’t have the strongest April (.226/.306/.226) but had just 62 plate appearances. For comparison, Matt Carpenter had 109 (and was hitting .230, though with more power), Matt Holliday 85, Stephen Piscotty 101, Yadier Molina 94. That’s what starter level is. He was 30 PA behind the catcher–granted, the Cardinals use their catcher much more than other teams, but still–and 40 behind every day starters. That’s basically 10 games worth of plate appearances, in a month where there were only 26-27 games.
So given the fact, as he’s stated recently, that Wong needs a rhythm and regular time to play, it is difficult to argue he got that coming out of the box last year. Which, after a solid 2015–again, I acknowledge that the second half was iffy, which does raise some questions–has to make a player wonder about his standing, especially one as emotional as Wong.
There’s also a faction of folks that have supported Wong in the past but turned on him with the latest comments. As Jon Doble said in his recent post about the situation (and I completely agree with the communication issue, something I’ve faulted this front office and management for a number of times in the past), we always say we want players to be authentic and honest. What we really mean is we want them to be funny or say things that we agree with. We saw with Dexter Fowler earlier in the year that it doesn’t take much out of those waters for folks to get irate. Wong may have spoken in the heat of the moment, may have said things that perhaps he shouldn’t have, but you can understand where he’s coming from. It’s more real than hearing the “whatever’s best for the team” cliche again, especially when there is real hurt there.
And I think that’s the major issue here. It’s not that Wong’s losing playing time, which definitely doesn’t sit well, but it’s the fact that the organization continues to not trust him to play that sits heaviest on the second baseman. Imagine you’d been told at work that you were going to be in charge of a project. You spent the time to start preparing for that. Maybe you worked on a few things that would make you better as a leader. Then, soon before the project was to start, they put someone else in charge with you. What would you think the company thought of your abilities? Some folks would take that as a challenge to work harder, which is fair, but even so you are still going to feel that your employer doesn’t actually trust you enough to lead, right?
It’s a similar situation with Wong. He dedicated himself this winter to the game. He spent the winter in St. Louis instead of his home in Hawaii (which, man, talk about sacrificing for your craft). Even as he said the right things at the Winter Warmup about going in to compete for a job in Jupiter, you have to figure that with Matheny and Mozeliak continuing to stress defense and baserunning and saying that he’s their second baseman because he can do both things, he had to at least have the mindset that he was in good shape when he got to spring. You can argue if he should have thought that, if he should have had more of an edge, but it would be reasonable to think that he was the starter going into camp.
What do we say about starters in the spring? That their results don’t matter, that they can focus on making adjustments, on working on things, and not care that their average is low. That’s what we are seeing with Piscotty this spring. He’s working on his swing and is hitting .157, but few are terribly concerned about him and there’s no talk of him not starting. Not saying there should be, don’t get me wrong, but if he hadn’t been anointed the starter, the conversation around him would be significantly different.
So Wong could have (I don’t know that he did, but it’s reasonable) felt that he could work on getting better in spring instead of worrying about being the best he could be so he’d have a job. From the outside looking in, it feels like Wong got dumped into a competition that he didn’t necessarily know he was in. When you lose such a competition, it’s not surprising that you’d explode a little bit. There’s a lot of frustration when the parameters shift without you being aware they did. There’s a strong argument, as Craig Edwards wrote over at Viva El Birdos yesterday, that Matheny’s not really that interested in improving defense and baserunning. It’s like going to put that final piece in the puzzle, only to find out the picture has completely changed. There’s got to be a feeling of helplessness there.
Now obviously Jedd Gyorko has to play some of the time. The man did have 30 home runs last year, though I want to point out that the team hit a lot of home runs and they missed the playoffs. I feel like people are grabbing hold of that number as a lifeline. Power is good, but that’s not usually the way the Cardinals win. Ask Mark McGwire how far 70 and 65 homers got him in the playoffs. Gyorko is a great asset to have, mainly because of his flexibility. He’s going to need to play third, he’s going to need to fill in at second, he’ll probably even do a little shortstop. So having him at second sometime is expected, not the end of the world.
And, honestly, I expected Wong to wind up sitting against lefties a lot of the time this season as well. No matter if the Cardinals had announced Wong as their everyday second sacker, I was pretty sure that he’d be on the bench for Opening Day against Jon Lester. I think at times handedness gets taken too far, but there was little chance that Wong (or Matt Adams, for that matter) would see a tough lefty. Which is fine–guys do need to sit at times and taking them out on a day when they aren’t likely to have a lot of success makes sense. There’s a difference between Lester and your back-end lefty, though, something that doesn’t always get acknowledged.
The problem is, as some folks pointed out on Twitter yesterday, Matheny doesn’t really platoon. Wong saw over 20% of his plate appearances come against lefties last year. It’s more that Matheny has two guys at a position and he plays who he wants or who has the “hot hand” or whatever rationale there might be, but it’s not at all a strict platoon where Gyorko faces lefties and Wong faces righties. That’s never really happened under Matheny and I don’t think many expect that it’ll happen now. Say Gyorko hits a home run opening night. Will Wong start against Jake Arrieta on Tuesday? Or will Matheny “reward” Gyorko for a good game? If he gets two hits on Tuesday, would he then be the “hot hand” and need to start Wednesday while he’s doing well? I don’t know, but it’s not an unreasonable scenario. It’s one a lot of folks would expect.
Credit where credit is due, though. They have given Wong a lot of spring at bats. I know we half-jokingly complained when Wong wasn’t in the first lineup of the year, but he’s put up 49 AB this spring, as many as Jose Martinez and only four shy of camp leader Randal Grichuk. Spring’s not the best place for a rhythm guy, given that you don’t play every day, there’s a lot of stops and starts to the at bats, but he has had opportunities. He has brought at least some of this on himself.
That’s the rub, of course. You can argue the reasons for the fact that he’s hitting .184, but if he’d hit .250 everyone would be a lot quieter. That said, we all lived through the Pete Kozma experience, where the argument was that the lineup was strong enough that you could carry a .217 hitter because he had a stellar glove. There’s no doubt that Wong’s glove at second base is stronger than anyone else’s. Gyorko is serviceable there, but Wong makes Mike Leake and company much better. So the question is, is this lineup strong enough to carry a glove-first man? If it is, then why isn’t Wong out there most of the time? If it’s not, why not? Where’s the problem?
It figures that I started this post hesitant to tackle the topic and I’m ending it over 2000 words later. Wong’s that kind of topic, one that seems to inspire/frustrate/aggravate a lot of fans. It’s starting to feel like we are heading toward a Wong-or-Matheny situation and while I know there would be a good chunk of Cardinal Nation that would take the former, odds are the latter wins that one. Maybe Kolten will come out of the gates hot and put a lot of this to rest. If not, expect to hear his name in trade rumors all summer long.
I hope Wong can figure it all out and I hope that Matheny can get to the point where he trusts him enough to run him out there regularly and see what the Cards have. I don’t have a lot of expectation that will happen, though.
After a weekend where plenty of characters and lots of air time (including some of my own) was used dissecting what the deadline for a contract extension laid down by Yadier Molina meant, yesterday Jon Heyman reported that significant progress had been made toward that extension, giving Cardinal fans hope that perhaps a deal could be reached by Opening Night after all. A topic that seemed to have stalled all winter long seems to have finally picked up steam. Whether that’s a correlation to the recent media press Yadi and his brother Bengie Molina have put on the Cardinals or just coincidental timing, I don’t know nor is it really important. The important thing is that the club and the catcher are talking about keeping him around.
When this news first hit the Internet yesterday afternoon, I had a good back and forth with Rum Bunter, the account for a Pirates blog. Their point of view, which is perfectly reasonable, is that no matter the situation, overpaying for a player is not a good thing. Our discussion culmunated with this Tweet from them:
@C70 And I’d argue the second a FO starts putting emotion over logic and catering to the fan base they’re not doing their job properly
— Rum Bunter (@rumbunter) March 27, 2017
Again, I get that completely. Almost every time, that’s what you want to see out of your front office. You don’t want to see them spending willy-nilly on everybody that’s played in your team’s uniform. You don’t want them just throwing around money like StlCardsCards throws around insults. You want a smart, disciplined front office to make sure your team is competitive year in and year out.
Which the Cardinals have! There’s a reason they’ve been the most successful National League team (and perhaps the most successful MLB team) over the past two decades. While they’ve offered some big contracts that haven’t been accepted, they’ve also not just given a blank check to players, whether it is folks they want to entice (David Price), folks they’d like to retain (Jason Heyward), or folks that are franchise icons (Albert Pujols). I’m not suggesting that they make a significant change in their operating procedure. Jhonny Peralta will have been here four years at the end of the season, but you don’t hear anybody saying that they should back up the vault truck to try to keep him.
To borrow some imagery from Cassie’s latest blog post on Kolten Wong (a post you should read and a topic I’ll try to get to in this space soon, though Tara did a pretty good job covering it on Gateway), Yadi sits the intersection of Iconic Drive, Available Money Lane, and Short-Term Deal Parkway. It’s an intersection that, frankly, nobody else has been at in a long while. Pujols was iconic, but his deal wasn’t going to be short-term and could have really bogged down the payroll for a long period of time. Nobody else has risen to that level. Perhaps the last player that you could say this about was Chris Carpenter, who signed a two-year extension worth $21 million in the afterglow of his amazing 2011 postseason. Obviously, that didn’t work out great for the Cardinals, but I have never heard anyone complain about the fact Carpenter ended his career with the Cardinals, even if the money would be technically deemed money ill spent.
That gets us back to our friends at Rum Bunter. What does love have to do with it? Should emotion play any part in a front office’s approach to a player? Are they going against their “fiduciary duty” (as it were) when they aren’t completely analytical with how they spend their money?
I don’t think so. Again, you have to know the situation and you can’t be completely ruled by emotion, otherwise you turn into a Sith Lord and….oh, wait, wrong obsession of mine. No, baseball is a business and has to be treated as such. However, in the good businesses, long-time employees are rewarded. Yes, it might be a better practice to let the person that’s been with the company 30 years go because they are starting to be less productive as it relates to their salary, but it’s also terrible public relations. You hear about that from a friend or on the news and you don’t immediately clamor to do business with that company. Quite the opposite. (I’m not talking about economic downturn or anything, to be clear. Obviously situations like this happen more frequently when the company is struggling.)
The Cardinals are awash in cash and they’ve not even started the new $1 billion FOX Sports Midwest deal yet (that kicks in next year). Viva El Birdos looked at the upcoming salaries in December (before the Carlos Martinez extension) for the next five years. Zach Gifford of Redbird Rants and The Redbird Daily had a more up-to-date one for the next three seasons that he shared on Twitter and I’m shamelessly stealing to put in here.
Zach has some estimates built into this (obviously Yadi doesn’t have anything for 2019 yet, nor does Adam Wainwright) but it’s a good place to start. Right now the Cardinals (according to this site) rank right in the middle of the pack when it comes to payroll. Obviously you have to factor in some factors, such as market size and the like, but it’s not unreasonable to think they could support a payroll that was more like the fifth or sixth highest in the game with the devoted fanbase, the new television contract, and all their ancillary avenues of revenue such as their share of MLBAM, merchandising, etc.
When you are pinching pennies, of course you can’t let emotion flow into your decision making. You have to get the most out of your dollar that you can. As I’ve said, all front offices should do that, but there are rare times like this that when you have the extra money, you can afford to be a little sentimental. Front offices are made up of people, after all, and that’s what people do. It’s the whole entire reason that there’s a site like ThinkGeek. If you want to get the most out of your money and be completely practical, you aren’t buying the R2-D2 popcorn maker. If you love Star Wars and popcorn, though, and have the extra cash, you might splurge.
You can’t clean out the front offices and let a simulation game like OOTP18 take over. There are humans running a team for the benefit of other humans and that’s great. You have to be able to recognize the intangibles of what a player like Molina gives you, something that a spreadsheet can’t calculate. I don’t want this to seem a rehash of the old sabermetrics versus scouting/gut feeling battle, because it’s not, but what John Mozeliak has done a great job of is marrying the analytics to the human. Those thoughts, those emotions, have to play a role.
And it’s not like the Cardinals are trying to extend a broken-down has been just because he’s got ties to the organization. Yadier Molina, at least right now, can still play. Will he be able to do that for the next three years? That’s a gamble. But right now, given how he played in the second half of last year and his stellar performance in the World Baseball Classic, Molina still has the profile of a starting major league catcher. If a contract gets done, it’s not entirely a sop to the fanbase and a long-time employee.
Not only that, but there’s a value to having Molina around while a new generation of young pitchers is making its way to Busch Stadium. You can discount the legend of Yadier Molina, Pitcher Whisperer by 25% and you still have a remarkable teacher and player with insights on the game. The mind of Yadi has as much to do with the player that he is than any physical attributes. What price do you put on that? How do you include that variable into what you offer him?
Then factor in all the jerseys, shirts, and other memorabilia that you can sell forever if Molina ends his career as a Cardinal. Sure, you see Pujols and others around the ballpark, but when was the last time the clubhouse store sold a Pujols shirt? I can’t imagine they’ve stocked them since 2011. Yet you can find Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Stan Musial, and the like. If a player can end their career in St. Louis as a beloved figure, the club is going to be able to make money off of it over the long haul. There’s a financial benefit to locking up Yadi as well.
I don’t know if this is going to get done. The Cardinals are usually pretty secretive about their contract dealings, so having this leak out is a little strange. Perhaps it’s their way of putting it more on Molina if things don’t get done. Perhaps they did feel the fan heat–Yadi’s the rare player that I’ve heard sabermetricians and casual fans agree should be paid, whatever the deal requires–and they are letting folks know they are making a late push. All I know is that if the contract gets done, it might not be the most business-savvy move, it will likely be a deal Molina can’t live up to, and it will definitely have us discussing Carson Kelly‘s future. (I still hope for the graduated transition we talked about in December.) I do know that keeping Yadi in St. Louis is not going to torpedo the club and will allow the fans to enjoy the entire career of a legendary player, a player they love. I’m fine with that. Every once in a while, you have to do something at least somewhat illogical. Helps prove you’re human, I think.
It’s not logical that we love this game and these players like we do. Occasionally, it’s fine if the front office remembers that. This is one of those times.