Pitchers Hit Eighth

When someone gets traded for a bucket of baseballs and proceeds to blow up bigger than Cee-Lo Green on The Voice, it raises a few eyebrows.  With no consideration for circumstance, it’s hard to blame the Cardinals for handing Matt Adams to the Braves for a player whose name probably escapes you.  But after you consider the sequence of events, it may be really hard NOT to blame the Cardinals for the long game domino effect that got them to this point.

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My favorite day of the season is finally upon us, and it could not come at a better time. No, it is not the doubleheader that intrigues or even seeing Marco Gonzales back with the big club. To steal a line from a football movie I watch way too much — “It’s Draft Day!”

Most years there would have been months of discussions on Twitter and posts about who might fall to the Cardinals at the end of the first round. There is no reason to go into great detail about all the factors that contributed to not having any picks yesterday which was technically the first day. Although my interest hasn’t peaked nearly as early as in the past few years, bringing new talent into a crowded St. Louis system only makes the competition that much greater.

For those curious on options heading into the Round #3, check out both this post as well as another great source. One key factor that simply can not be stated enough centers around money, as most things seem to these days in baseball. That’s not to say ‘for love of the game’ is dead and gone but try to temper your enthusiasm about snagging a top prospect this afternoon. The front office has a plan in place, and it will be fascinating to watch unfold over the next two days.

Basically, just about any player with a strong college commitment or any leverage should be all but ignored as the Cards can only afford sure things at this point. They are working with the smallest budget imaginable so any miss will handcuff them that much more. Yes, that would seem to limit the excitement a bit although I feel the opposite could end up being true three years from now. This will end up being a historic draft for so many reasons, however, with two story lines concerning the Birds on the Bat coming full circle.

The biggest reason to watch how scouting director Randy Flores navigates the deep waters today has zero to do with anything in this draft or the next. It is possible St. Louis finds another free agent worth getting this winter, but the smart money is on the monster class of 2018. That means next year a decent first round pick (and more pool money) could be possible with a return to budgeting for 2019. Why worry about something so far away?

As most of us have witnessed, the farm system can only take you so far with the trade market unpredictable at best. As even Mo alluded to the fact over the weekend with my UCB brethren, if you can’t produce em, better to buy em (my words). This year is a solid test run to see how a draft can be built on a budget while allocating money elsewhere. The Cardinals used up their international leverage as well for the next two years, so today is just step one of the 3-point plan. How different the team looks on August 1st as well as January 1st of next year will complete the cycle in the biggest game of chicken to be seen in any professional sport.

The three loyal readers still with me might be thinking this is about the Chicago team who flourished by tanking but in fact Houston has more similarities than previously discussed. Yes the Astros are run by a former St. Louis exec and turned it around by embracing the tank-system. They also were given the two extra picks by MLB to end the scandal so those comparisons in a few years are sure to be discussed. But none of that matters nearly as much as the fact that there will be a time in the near future when both playoff-hunting squads are fighting over the same free agent.

While any trade talk between the two clubs surely is minimal, I am curious how free agents will view both destinations in the next couple of seasons. Lance Lynn is a guy who Houston would love to have and might be available this winter so the first test could come sooner than expected. Grab your popcorn and beverage of choice and settle in for a long day in front of the computer or TV as draft day (plus a doubleheader) may never happen again!

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Mo:  “Mike?  It’s Mo.  Saw that Volquez no-hitter the other night.  Looked like a good time.  We haven’t had one of those since Bud Smith.  Haven’t even seen one recently.  The stat nerds tell me the last one against us was some pudgy guy for the Dodgers back in 1990.  Heck, I didn’t even know Lasorda was a pitcher!”

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Dex In A Box

When the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to 5 year / $82.5M deal, he was presented as a lasting solution to a myriad of deficiencies.  In theory, he checked several boxes for a team that needed a CF, a lead-off man, and a big name free agent signing to silence the Ballpark Village People clamoring for upgrades.  Thus far, he’s failed to perform up to expectations, and I’m beginning to wonder if those expectations were misaligned from the start.

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I Blame Brett Cecil

I blame Brett Cecil for pretty much everything now.  Stub my toe?  Blame Cecil.  Accidentally trip the house alarm?  Stupid reliever.  Diaz strikes out?  It’s somehow Cecil’s fault.  Yet another long Tim McCarver tale about Tim McCarver?  Yeah, that’s Cecil too.  The bullpen seems to be in shambles, and Cecil deserves no less than 104% of the blame.

Cecil is the face of a Cardinal bullpen that owns a record of 5-10 record (blame Cecil), and that tidbit does not get nearly the same attention as the underwhelming offense, atrocious baserunning, or subpar defensive play.  It should.  Better relief work could cover up a multitude of sins.  Push just 3 of those 15 decisions to the other side of the ledger, and we’re talking about an 8-7 bullpen record and a 29-24 overall record.  That’s good enough to lead a rather sad looking NL Central division even with Cecil.

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So surely this is just the match-up that ESPN envisioned for Sunday night to go up against some basketball game. Cubs and Cardinals riding high on their way to October, Wrigley as the perfect place to showcase the best in the Senior Circuit. And all kidding aside, didn’t we feel the same way? Nothing has worked out as planned, but the last couple of games at least give a glimpse of hope that the puzzle may only need a tweak or two.

St. Louis has wisely made some notable transactions this week that limit some of the options for Matheny, and that must continue over what has the makings of being a monumental stretch going forward. The Cards have to decide if they are ‘all-in’ this season which could impact the future much more than the present. I am typically against dealing prospects unless the return is crazy good, but this year may have to be the exception to the rule.

This trip up the I-55 will be very telling as Chicago also finds itself with more questions than answers, so the price of doing business this summer can not be a deterrent. Both NL Central clubs will be making many of the same calls looking for that missing piece soon so the time is right to look at just how stacked the Cardinal cupboard might be. Multiple sites offer up prospect info, but I will be utilizing MLB’s chosen home for at least today.

With the draft right around the corner, two things have become very clear to me already in 2017. The past few Junes have produced many that would be considered fast-risers and thus, the upper levels are thinning themselves out in a good way. No matter how you look at it, St. Louis won’t be left behind because both Memphis and Springfield are absolutely stacked. There has already been more turnover than in years past, and the overall strength of the system puts the Cards’ front office in an enviable position.

Not counting Alex Reyes who most likely would have seen some time for the Redbirds, five of the top prospects in the system have called Memphis home now that Jack Flaherty has been promoted. The timing makes sense as Flaherty destroyed the Texas League, and he will now be on display as one of the youngest weapons in the PCL. Along with Carson Kelly and Harrison Bader, the trio form likely targets this summer for opposing GM’s.

In the search for a big bat, tough decisions will need to be made about what is best for the Birds on the Bat going forward. Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales also offer controllable starting pitching, and that is just from one team! Palm Beach has a couple of hurlers due for a promotion but only so many innings to go around, and it makes sense to package a few arms to make way for the next crop. The same can be said for the glut of outfielders that seem redundant to the point that at least three could be dealt as others are ready to step up to the challenge.

The NL Central race currently resembles a bunch or snails but is due for a change of pace. One team is surely about to break out, and the Cardinals are well positioned to make a run or turn it over to the kids. That would certainly be different but not necessarily wrong depending on just how expensive it will be on the trade market. All St. Louis faithful are becoming increasingly curious with every Paul DeJong and Mags Sierra that shows up ready to make a difference. I still feel an experienced power bat can get the Cards back to the postseason, but the acquisition cost must be a factor.

Enjoy the friendly confines this weekend and remember one thing – it could always be worse, just ask the Royals.

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This one is going to be short and sweet because that is basically the best way to sum up the first two months of the 2017 baseball calendar. And as bad as things have looked, the National League Central has produced some rather bizarre standings to say the least as we prepare for June. Milwaukee and Cincy were not the two teams anyone outside of those fan bases (and maybe in) would have predicted to lead most of the way thus far but that’s why we continue to follow the great game.

On the positive side, just look at how amazing the starting pitching has been and well, we should probably end there. Jedd has been a revelation although he still is the nomad of the Cardinals and most likely to get bumped when the big trade happens. If forced to come up with a third positive with one day left in May, I would cautiously say the Memphis depth has been put on notice and results so far say they are ready to contribute.

Nothing has so far gone as planned in St. Louis, however, and there just will not be nearly enough time to go into all the details. Let’s just say the Birds on the Bat are damn lucky to still be close enough to even consider making a move or two with the postseason in mind. The biggest issue with trades has always been finding the right dance partner, and that encouraging depth at the AAA will surely be tested as very little on the big league roster is tempting.

And that’s where we stand now except for one very important element that Derrick Goold just happened to toss in at the tail end of his chat here. Lost in the shuffle of all the bad with other pitchers getting more publicity on the good side is one Lance Lynn. To be completely honest, I did a triple-take after reading that DG’s sources have Lynn wanting a deal that starts in the 100 million range. No, that’s not a typo and the 31 year old who is all the way back from surgery has said all the right things.

Please take a minute to read that last paragraph again and then promptly click this link while I wait. Having money to spend is one thing but unless Lynn learned to hit clean-up while injured, the Cards need to take a pass. The hope has to be a realistic middle ground but where and why to be honest? Lynn may very well be the trade chip needed this year before he gets his payday outside the NL Central. Even if he does strike a deal with a divisional rival, am I crazy to think the comps are wrong?

Mike Leake, if you want to go the comparison route, had youth on his side and a clean bill of health. Some argued against that deal which is now positioned to be one of the better under-the-radar moves especially with the way pitchers are becoming more fragile by the minute. Lynn has always been a team guy and one who deserves more credit in my opinion, but June just got more interesting as far as I am concerned.

Alex Reyes will be back in 2018 and plenty of others are there to fill in the 6th spot once Lynn is gone. If a deal does get ironed out, though, that puts the Luke Weavers of the organization on notice to have their bags packed well in advance of August first. On the other hand, it is much more realistic for St. Louis to float Lynn’s name out there to see what the return may be before losing him. The new qualifying offer rules may impact the decision as well, but the Cardinals need offense in the worst way.

If getting the power bat desperately needed takes Lynn to do it, I can think of $100 million reasons to pull the trigger on that deal. And with no draft to keep me occupied, I will be paying much more attention each time Lance’s spot in the rotation comes up as the clock is ticking. No one knows who will blink first, but it will be fascinating to watch unfold.

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Many times I feel compelled to vent my frustration and decide it would be better to wait and see as baseball has the longest season of any of the professional sports. This campaign has started not unlike many in recent years, but the waiting game in St. Louis has expired. If the Cardinals are content with putting a mediocre product on the field, something tells me it will be an extremely long summer under the Arch.

Two things can change this opinion in a hurry and luckily, both happen to be close enough to Colorado to help this weekend before things truly get out of hand. The easiest ‘fix’ for an offense that is scuffling involves bringing someone up to provide a jolt much in the way that Sierra did the last road trip. Memphis, as luck would have it, also is playing on the West Coast this week which provides something of a built-in save approach.

Before I get ahead of myself, the headline was done for a reason, and there might not be a bigger fan of the job Mo has done the last decade. In Mo We Trust still rings true, but much of that good currency is in danger of suffering fatigue much in the same way we value prospects. The time is now to shake things up and not wait to see how the standings look at the All-Star break. It would be different had the Dodgers not exposed all of the fatal flaws, but the Rockies must be confident going into tonight.

Any number of Redbirds could step in and make a difference, but the one who makes the most sense is a younger version of the only consistent hitter currently in the St. Louis lineup. It is time to see if two Jedd’s are better than one and give Paul DeJong a long look at a number of different positions. Time off next month will be at a premium with so few days off, and DeJong can play all over the infield. There has not been a need for the extra pitcher and to be fair, a couple of the arms in the bullpen probably are not long for the Cards roster.

Use the open roster spots now instead of waiting for the perfect storm to happen, as the Cubs are getting hot at the worst time possible. Peralta should be retained unless Mo gets an offer for his services or until the offense stops turning every pitcher into Cy Young. DeJong also would provide a no-lose option given he can be sent back to continue dominating the PCL at any time. On the other hand, Mo may look to literally shake things up the same way he did with the Lackey deal. If that is the chosen path, one avenue is to call up the Marlins who are positioned for another fire sale.

If Miami is not ready to part with one of their starting outfielders, Destin Hood would be the under-the-radar move that costs very little in terms of prospects. Hood has been on fire for New Orleans and you guessed it, he is currently on the road enjoying the hitting conditions in Colorado. With four home runs in three games and six over his last ten, the Cardinals could definitely use the thump from left field. He is also already using a spot on the Marlins’ 40-man roster, so a trip to Memphis once he cools off won’t hurt the overall depth.

I realize that St. Louis is not hurting for outfield depth, but no one projects to provide instant offense the way Hood has shown over his career. It is time to catch lightning in a bottle and see what the Birds on the Bat are made of before it is too late.

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K.I.S.S. for the Cardinals

For the longest time, trying to figure out the Cardinals has become one part mystery theater and two parts choose your own adventure. Yes, there have been many more ups over the last decade since my final deployment but in the past calendar year, the downs have begun to creep into the spotlight. Baseball in general goes in cycles, though, so it really should come as no surprise that St. Louis finds itself without a true identity for the first time in a very long time.

The argument made by my wife and many others that Yadier Molina remains the face of the franchise does hold some weight, but he can’t carry the load all by himself. As this is the first season without either Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday, the true leadership test has pushed to the front burner of many who follow the Cards religiously. No one discounts the on-field strengths that No. 4 brings on a daily basis, but Dexter Fowler was targeted for a reason.

In my attempts to figure out what kind of team the 2017 edition is under the Arch, one factor simply can’t be ignored. Mike Matheny bridged the gap well after TLR, maybe better than anyone could have given the circumstances. But after the rain delay last night and Fowler’s homer put St. Louis back in the lead, how is it that Tui gets the call in the 8th inning after two off days this week? We won’t even discuss Broxton’s outing or that Cecil momentarily saved the day because honestly, it just doesn’t matter at this point.

Matheny and his staff continue to take the color-by-numbers approach to the bullpen, and that will lead to only one conclusion in my opinion. But have no fear, this won’t be another doom and gloom post that matches the weather in most of Cardinal country! If you are not familiar with the acronym in the above headline, it normally stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. I am not ready to concede anything, however, and offer my own positive outlook in that St. Louis replaces the stupid. I know what you are thinking and if removing Matheny was truly the answer – that would have been done already, right?

For your Saturday offerings, I will give three views that have caught my attention and hope you chime in via the comments or any other social media avenue that is your preference. PH8 has always been one site that looks at how the Cardinals have pushed the envelope so let’s start with what everyone has to be thinking this morning – where in the world is Trevor Rosenthal?

There will be no conspiracy theories here, so I have to take this article for what it says. Or if you prefer another look, check out here before continuing. Now remember that St. Louis is about to play just about every day until the All-Star break and had two off days this week. If the team was already monitoring the workload for Rosie before this, raise your hand if that worries you as much as it does me. Having faith in the medical staff when dealing with professional athletes has never been a realistic hope anyway, especially with the wear and tear hurlers have on a regular basis.

It would benefit everyone if Mo was already taking calls looking at adding another arm or three to plug the existing holes, but how messy will the back end of pen look in a month.

On to much better topics we go, starting with how confident the organization must feel in the outfield depth now compared to even a week ago. Magneuris Sierra didn’t deserve a demotion, but he does need to be an everyday player. Sierra goes to an interesting situation already in Springfield but talent plays especially when you are the designated next man up for three positions. The 40-man roster shortage for once benefited a player that normally would not have gotten the call, and he exceeded all expectations.

Now briefly going back to the question about relievers, under no circumstance should Sierra be traded unless it is for an everyday star. Sierra is the exact type of player everyone covets and only should concern himself with getting better and making his way back up in September if not earlier.

Today marks another special date on the calendar but only because the Prospect Preacher is basically retired this season. Next month’s MLB Draft will not be a heavily covered topic here for obvious reasons, but that just means more print on the international market. So to recognize Happy Luis Robert Day – go right here for the latest. Part of me wants the Cuban sensation to take his time and let the drama build simply because it gives us more to talk about, but the other side of my brain just wants an answer.

Whether or not the Cardinals lock up the potential star, it is good to know how far the organization has grown the past decade. Adding talent to the St. Louis system any way possible has to be the goal, and money should not be the obstacle in my opinion. Robert might just be the most accomplished 19-year old the game has seen, but he is still a teenager. The room for error is great with any transaction, so I can’t wait to see how this one unfolds.

As rough a week as this has been for the Birds on the Bat, a positive ending is still very possible. The starting rotation has been nails, so let’s end there for the week. Enjoy the final couple of games before the blur begins, as the ride gets bumpy from here on out.

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Sierra Has Peaked

Like most of you, I’m absolutely enamored with watching Magneuris Sierra do pretty much anything on a baseball field.  He’s dynamic, exciting and possibly the only player on the team faster than Mike Leake.  He represents the future of Cardinals baseball.  That’s why he’s nearly out of time.

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Rarely has there been a time that I can remember bringing up my own playing days from Little League when thinking about a post. At the same time, however, the Cardinals have resembled a bad beer league team on more than a few occasions lately so maybe the correlation is due. It was also in early May many moons ago when my team faced adversity with a number of rain-outs early in the schedule. Not only did that make practicing a hassle but it caused a few issues in finding enough pitching to get thru the summer grind.

The one main difference between that championship-winning club and the St. Louis squad this season was pretty much everything was a home game when you have one playable park. I am not advocating something happening to keep the Cards on the road, but the home cooking at Busch just hasn’t been the same for the last year. That will not be changing anytime soon, though, given a pair of rain-outs next month are either going to make or break the campaign when you consider one other very important fact.

As much as I hate to say it, the defense in 2017 may actually be worse and will make it that much harder on the staff who needs to be prepared to phone a friend or five in Memphis as the schedule only gets more insane following a travel day on May 22nd. Twenty straight days of games will not allow for much practice so here’s hoping the defense just doesn’t need a day off or plenty of rest. The day of rest in June will be the 12th, as this next stretch truly is the murderer’s row of schedules.

The make-up with the second-place Brewers begins 27 games in yup, 27 days. I guess maybe the travel day between Baltimore and Philly ‘counts’ as resting, but the truth is we will all know by the All-Star break whether or not any arms are left and if this edition of St. Louis baseball will make any noise in September. Four teams are separated by 2.5 games in the National League Central, but defense such as last night will find the Cards fighting for the cellar and missing out on October baseball except for a very sad finale. Winning teams can overcome poor hitting or pitching as the World Series banners prove from 2006 and 2011.

This is where the schedule actually benefits the Birds on the Bat. Playing the hot hand will not be an issue for the manager or GM when it comes to needing a fresh body. It may actually come down to survival of the fittest but defense has to be at a premium when every out and inning is vital to keeping the workload down on the starters and bullpen alike. So at least in the case of having too much time to think, the next month and a half will be a wild ride to watch unfold. The Cardinals still find themselves in first place and with no pressing draft news for the Preacher, many Memphis updates will become that much more important as the calendar hits June. Buckle up for what is sure to be an interesting summer under the Arch!

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Actual Bridge Disaster

If you’ve paid attention to John Mozeliak for any length of time, you’ve heard him say this line in one form or another.  It’s his fallback answer for questions about anything from anticipated roster moves to how he decides which argyle socks to wear with a certain bow tie on a given night.  He’ll change up the wording a bit and maybe throw in an occasional variation, but his message remains the same.

Don’t spend too much time focusing on a bridge that you may not have to cross.

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