Pitchers Hit Eighth

UCB Preseason Roundtable Day 1

Baseball is back! Hope everyone survived the long Winter and like me are expecting great things from the Birds on the Bat. If you happen to be lucky enough to catch Spring Training games, the Cardinals open exhibition season against their roommates in just over an hour.

One other rite of Spring for us at the UCB happens to begin one of my favorite events. Our humble group of St. Louis fans rarely get together in person so we use the interwebs to debate any and all things related to the Redbirds.

This year is an even more special occasion given the significance of both 1967 as well as who the Cards open the campaign against. Yup, we all get to hear about the Cubs at least until May or maybe June. Then the attention will turn towards the All-Star break and on to the dog days so my wife gets to become a baseball widow very soon.

It was my turn to hit lead-off and opened the Roundtable with a spirited look at the 3rd base debate. Here was my question and enjoy the responses!

PH8: With Carpenter moving across the diamond, all eyes are on how the hot corner will be decided. It honestly doesn’t matter who wins the job by April 1st, because I want to know who has it by August 1st.

Who if you had a pick would be running out next to Diaz over the last two months of the season. If the player joins the Cardinals via trade, the deal has to make baseball sense no matter how far ahead in the standings St. Louis is (optimism rules).

Mark (RetroSimba):

Jhonny Peralta likely will be the starting third baseman in August and September. That was the plan all along when they first signed him: solidify shortstop for a couple of years, then move to third. The Cardinals will give first priority to Peralta to see that plan and investment play out. At workouts in Jupiter this week, Peralta has looked fit and focused. He seems motivated to finish his Cards career on an upswing and help his cause in attracting one last lucrative contract offer in free agency.
Diane (Women Who Love Cardinal Baseball)
This may be a bold prediction, but I think Jhonny Peralta will be injured once again and Jedd Gyorko will take over the hot corner.  I don’t see any players available for a trade unless the Cards give up some of their young pitching talent.  Another scenario would be if Matt Adams returns to form, Carpenter could then be moved back over to third.
Tom (CardinalsGM)
I believe it is Peralta’s for the most part but many, many times Matheny will be tempted to have as many lefties in the line-up as he can. On those occasions I see Carp moving back to third and Adams at first. Could be GGaria at third and Carpenter at first. I see Jhonny only about 100-110 games starting.
Easton (Redbird Daily)
As much as I would like to say it will be someone else, I believe Jhonny  Peralta will be the starting third baseman throughout the season. I am sure that he has come into spring training with a positive attitude, of improving and staying it better shape, and that should help him out quite a bit.
If Matt Adams continues to impress in spring training, after shaping up this offseason, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cardinals start Adams at first and move Carpenter back to third. Then, Peralta could be packaged with a few prospects in a trade deal, even though the return wouldn’t be much.
Bill (I70 Baseball)
Let’s answer this one two ways: what I want to see and what we will see. It seems the consensus is what I assume we will see: Peralta will step up in his walk year and prove that he has the versatility to play the position. He provides the “stop gap” that the team is looking for going into the offseason, where they figure to be big players in free agency for the first time in a long time.
What I want is something a bit “Jocketty-esque”. I want to see the Cardinals identify the third baseman they will pursue in free agency this coming year (Mike Moustakas is real interesting) and make a deal at the deadline. Bring the player in, let him fall in love with the city, sign him long term. If Peralta/Gyorko are a stop gap fix anyway, you sacrifice very little to try and make that happen.
Daniel (C70 At The Bat)
I continue to hope/believe/daydream that the Cardinals, flush with a new TV contract, not burdened with any significant deals, and needing to revitalize the core, make a run at Manny Machado after the 2018 season.
If that actually is their plan, they can’t bring in anyone that’s a long-term option to play third.  Which probably means that Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko will see almost all the time at third this year, including down the stretch.  There’s nobody in the system that’s even close enough to replace them on a temporary basis and I can’t see John Mozeliak making a big deal.
That being said, if they aren’t going to make such a big splash, I like Bill’s idea of the McGwire/Holliday-like deal.
Kevin (STL Cards ‘N Stuff)
Wow, this is a tough one right off the bat, and the key there is August 1st not July 1st. In other words, after the trade deadline.
For me, it comes down to what the Cardinals have and what they’ll need. They have reliable on-base ability. With Fowler, Piscotty, Carpenter, Diaz, and potentially Wong, the Cardinals are going to be a team that gets on base a lot. However, their power potential ranges from questionable to mediocre and even unreliable. MAYBE Adams rebounds and provides power. MAYBE Peralta can stay healthy and contribute slightly better than average power. MAYBE Grichuk can finally be the Grichuk we all believe he can be.
But none of that is even “likely” – it’s just a good bet.
When it comes down to it, the Cardinals didn’t acquire the masher they needed over the offseason. Now, they’re left with a slew of 20 home run threats but no real bomber. Again, Grichuk has the power, but can he consistently make contact? I may believe he can, but I’ve learned not to bet on so many maybe’s.
And then there’s Peralta’s aging body at a new position.
I just have a hard time believing Peralta will stay healthy enough and productive enough to stick at third base when things get hairy around August and September. And I’m not sure the organization believes he will either. Think about it this way…
The Cardinals have committed to Carpenter at first base. They’ve committed to Diaz at shortstop. They’ve committed to Wong at second base. But they have specifically allowed Gyorko to float, the man who hit 30 home runs in part time duty last season. I believe they think Gyorko is going to be playing either second base or third base in August.
The problem is, by the time they get to that point, they are going to need power – reliable power – and the expectation of playing Gyorko (still somewhat of an unknown quantity in everyday duty) may not be enough to appease them…and that means trade acquisition.
So, here’s where I think the Cards could be on August 1st
Kolten Wong will finally blend well with an on-base team that allows him to contribute in a more balanced, less extreme role. In other words, he won’t be expected to be a top-tier OBP guy or a power-hitting second baseman or even a speedy/flashy kickstarter. He’ll be a little bit of all those things at a better than average level, and that will make him a well-balanced, productive player. He’ll stick at 2B. That opens up Gyorko for third.
Peralta will get injured. Or at least be achy enough that he won’t be producing. And I think that’s going to contribute to pressure to acquire a true power hitter in July. With the pieces on the board, I think the easiest piece to get with power is going to be a first baseman.
And that’s going to mean Carpenter at third base again.
I know the Cardinals have “committed” to Carpenter at 1B, but that commitment is only as good as their standings in August. A year ago, before the Cubs won, I would say the Cards would just let Gyorko play 3B and possibly pick up a replacement utility bench guy. Now, the stakes are higher. They can’t afford to take a gamble. They’ll trade for a sure thing – a “known quantity” – and it seems to be easier to find a first baseman on the market than it would be a third baseman.
So my answer is: Matt Carpenter…again…at third base.
For those worried about whether Mozeliak is willing to give up enough to make a trade, remember this: Sure, there’s the standard stuff (Cards need to identify a core player, need to respond to the Cubs last year, etc.), but one landscape changer behind the scenes is Alex Reyes. One of the roadblocks to putting together a deal last year and this offseason was clubs starting negotiations by demanding Reyes. That was, of course, a no-go that tended to stall negotiations early. But this year, Reyes’ surgery means he’s off the table. That could lead to more deals gaining enough traction and momentum to come together with other, more available prospects. Watch Alcantara’s progress in Springfield and possibly Memphis this year. He’s got the subtle media buzz and high end fastball that gets front offices talking, but he’s still raw enough and trying to harness enough control to be an enticing and moveable piece in a deal. And that prospect currency could mean the ability to grab a power hitter at first base and send Carpenter back across the diamond.
Bill,
Imagine KC trading Eric Hosmer to the Cardinals in that scenario…mmmmm….
They would have to get a haul to move him in state, but the World Series title has softened some of the Cardinal-hate among their fan base recently.
Jon (Redbird Dugout)
It will be interesting to see how Matheny uses the infield and how committed he truly is to keeping Carpenter at one position. I believe Carpenter is willing to play everywhere, but would really like to stay in one place and not be bouncing all over the infield on a nightly basis.
Adams and Gyorko will start the season on the bench. Both had intriguing seasons last year, but Gyorko’s is far more likely to be an outlier. I don’t think Gyorko will get anywhere near 30 home runs again. When it comes to Adams, I wish the Cardinals were committing to him at first base and using Carpenter at third this season. I think he’s got something to show, but I’m not sure that Adams will get enough of an opportunity to elbow his way into playing time except through injury.
The Cardinals are not going to make any trades for substantial improvements, so don’t hold your breath. They just don’t have the prospect firepower to do it, and what little they have is going to be needed over the next few years to ensure the Cardinals retain some form of relevance. Losing their picks to the Astros and being under an international signing penalty after blowing through the cap last year puts Mo in a box where the only real way to improve the team is free agency.
That said, I expect Peralta to remain relatively healthy and I expect him to have a good season with the bat. It would surprise me if he’s not still the regular third baseman on August 1st and throughout the season.
Unless the season just goes sideways in June, and then all bets are off.
Carly (KMOV)
As much as I would like to think that Mozeliak will make a big move at the trade deadline, we all know that it’s not likely to happen. If it does, then color me surprised.
With that being said, we have to look at those good ol’ internal options. Keep an eye on those minor league guys and just hope that they can stay consistent. Hope that they produce. Hope that they learn.
As far as our major leaguers go, I believe Carpenter will be back at third once August 1st hits. Peralta is a ticking injury time bomb right now – and he will most likely be hurt come August.
This is something that Mozeliak has to take into serious consideration. I asked him at the Warm-Up what his hopes were for Peralta. He said that his hopes where that he’s 100% and ready to perform. I’m sure most of us have those same hopes. Although, it is critical to take reality into consideration. Pick up a power-hitting third baseman that will be able to take the spot. If the Cardinals do this, then we don’t have to worry about moving Carpenter back over to third.
But keep an eye on Carpenter’s performance at first. Look at the details, see if he’s really performing to his full ability at first, and go from there. If he’s better off at third, then seek out a first baseman that will fill that roll at the trade deadline. I say this because I’m one of the people who think that Adams could potentially be traded.
I’m worried about Adams’ consistency and if he’s able to bounce back from last season. Sure, he lost a lot of weight and he’s in the best shape of his life (just like the rest of the players are……). Although, I believe it’s going to take a lot more than that.
Clearly this is a sensitive situation for the Cards right now. It’s going to be a very interesting season when it comes to seeing what Mozeliak does and how this team is managed.
Colin (Redbird Daily)
Who plays third base could depend on Matt Adams more than anything else. In the past, there have been stretches in which Adams has been very, very good. If the sleeker Adams can produce consistently, they’ll move Carpenter back to third. I don’t think Adams will hit at an All-Star level, but he doesn’t have to. If he’s better than Peralta and Gyorko, Carpenter should play third.
If it’s truly a binary choice between Gyorko and Peralta, my guess is they start the season with the best defender. After that, it will be decided by offensive need. I think Peralta is the best defender, and will hit well enough to hold onto the job. Gyorko will get enough at-bats around the infield to remain useful, but Peralta will be the every day third baseman on August 1st.
(Ed. Note – at this point we jump into more of the second part of the question and look at who may be brought in from outside the organization)
Josh (PH8)

Carly – I believe all of us will be surprised but maybe not in the way we expect. This question was worded in a way that left it open-ended come July. By the All-Star break, the pressure will be on the M&M’s (Mo and Matheny) to find a way back to October.

With that in mind, the Cards do look at options and find a willing team and a player familiar with the NL Central to hold down the clean-up spot. The follow-up question back to the group is would you only trade for Todd Frazier to keep the prospect haul lighter or go all-in for Jose Quintana as well?

Think of a package with Kelly, Bader, Alcantara, etc – does that move the needle enough? Frazier can thrive with so many on base and getting Quintana allows for other pitching pieces to be moved as well. What say you UCB?

Kevin (STL Cards ‘N Stuff)

I have an answer, but I don’t want to risk stepping on someone else’s question any more than my epicly long answer already did.  (Ed. Note – If we stole your question sorry but told Kevin to keep going!)
Daniel (C70 At The Bat)
As much as I’d love Quintana, the White Sox would be smart to wait and trade him after the season, if at all.  (I honestly don’t know why you trade a good, young, under contract pitcher, but that’s just me.) If the staff is struggling and that solves two problems, maybe Mo goes after it.  You’d probably have to add a couple of more names–Weaver, maybe, among others–to be in the ballpark of both guys, though.  Frazier, though, as a free agent at the end of ’17, would definitely be on the market and depending on his year and interest wouldn’t cost as much since he was a rental.
Kevin (STL Cards ‘N Stuff)
I just have to believe the only way Carson Kelly gets traded in any deal is if the Cardinals believe Yadi will be Yadi for the next five years…and I don’t see that happening. Kelly isn’t just valuable…he’s way to valuable to this specific organization to trade.
I like Frazier…but I have to believe a rental would not be the type of deal the Cards will want to go after considering the cost efficiency involved. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I believe now is the time to strike on a big trade, while Reyes is off the board.
Zach (Redbird Daily)
I don’t like any of the incumbent options at third base. I think Peralta has a chance to bounce back, but his contact quality last year was basically average or worse. While an offseason to heal his thumb injury might help, advancing in age another year will not.
That said, there are positive signs that Peralta is aging well. As players age, you might expect to see them start to cheat in the box. The result is more whiffs and more swings at balls outside the zone, which results in a lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate.
His swinging strike (or whiff) rate of 8.3% was below his career average of 10.4%, and his O-Swing%, of 27.2% was within 0.2% of his career average. Consequently, his K% was 17.9%, just below his career average. His BB% of 6.4% was down from his career rate of 8.3%, and has dropped every year since 2014. Additionally, while his O-Swing% was fine last year, it had been trending the wrong direction over the previous three seasons.
I’m not a fan of Gyorko as an everyday player. I don’t think he’s much more than an average hitter (his low OBP drags down his wRC+ despite his power), and I think he loses value if he isn’t used as a utility backup at potentially every infield spot. He’s an OK option, but he’s not the answer.
I’m with C70 in thinking the Cardinals will pursue Manny Machado (or Josh Donaldson), and covered how they can afford that move here. So, I think if they are in contention, they’ll look to the trade market for a guy under control through 2018.
I see Jean Segura of the Diamondbacks as an option, though he would move Aledmys Diaz to third base. That probably wouldn’t be a bad thing. Segura had a career offensive season in 2016. He would add speed and was an average defender at shortstop for the Brewers from 2013-15. If Diaz throwing arm holds up, he’d be a better third baseman than Peralta or Gyorko. I don’t think Diaz sticks at shortstop long term (I think he eventually ends up at 2B), especially if Delvin Perez develops, so this would just be a step in that direction.
Brian Dozier is also an option. I don’t see him replicating his 2016 power success – he went nuts in the second half, but in the first half he was the same hitter he’s always been. That’s not a knock: Dozier has been a pretty good hitter for a while. I think his performance slides a little bit, the Twins look to sell more aggressively, and the Cardinals are an obvious fit.
My prediction? Dozier. Segura would require too much creativity from Matheny, and pushing Diaz to a new position midseason might be a mistake.
(Ed. Note: Segura was traded to the Mariners this off season but is a guy who checks plenty of boxes for STL)
Josh (PH8)
We all realize how valuable it is to have Yadi’s eventual replacement in place, but I am curious the extension details once they are are released. Balancing the present and future is mighty difficult with Molina almost a 1st ballot HOF, especially with another 3-4 years.If that is the case, you risk prospect fatigue with Kelly and also have him on the 40-man wasting option years. Good problem to have, sure but best way to improve 3B for the future – get the best return for Bader, Kelly, and company now.
Adam (Redbird Daily)
The fan in me, like most of you, wants to see a trade to bring in someone like Dozier. The realist in me, however, say it will be Jhonny Peralta.
When looking at Peralta’s 2016 the most obvious thing that stands out is the thumb injury. I hear that mentioned often when talking about it but I do think it’s still being overlooked a bit. Essentially every example of a player I can find that had a ligament injury to the thumb struggled upon their return from the disabled list.
Maybe he is just aging poorly. Maybe he doesn’t have the ability to handle third base anymore. Both are reasonable concerns. But until we see either of those actually being the case I think we need to believe that a return to the 2015 version of Peralta is the most likely scenario.
If he fails the you could do a lot worse than Jedd Gyorko as his replacement.
I don’t believe Carpenter moving back to third will be a realistic option unless they trade for a first baseman which I don’t see happening. I’ve never believed that Matt Adams can be a consistent hitter and him getting in shape won’t change my mind on that. Until he can lay off the 55 foot breaking ball I will always have that mindset about him.
Josey (Viva El Birdos)
As much as I’d love to say Evan Longoria or Nolan Arenado, I’ll more reasonably state that Jhonny Peralta will be at third base come August.

I feel like Matt Adams will take on his 2013-type role, with a little more pinch-hitting and insertion in later innings. Assuming Kolten Wong is given his chances (and lives up to them), he’ll play second, to the right of Matt Carpenter at first base & left of Aledmys Diaz at shortstop.

Despite his unorthodoxly glorious 30 homers last year as he adopted a starting role down the stretch, I still feel Jedd Gyorko is better suited for more of a utility role. On top of that, Greg Garcia is the only other infield option.

Keep in mind Peralta’s a free agent at the end of the year. For a guy who, though he likely won’t re-sign, has done nothing but help this team, the least the Cardinals could do as a, say, parting gift, is allow Peralta to play daily to establish that he can still handle a full-time role. And as long as injuries remain at a minimum and if people can live up to their expectations (a big ‘if’, I’m aware) Peralta’s your guy at third base on April 2nd and August 1st.

Doug (Baseball Geek in Galveston)

I’m an off the wall guy, so I have an answer that makes no sense (that’s what makes baseball fun at times!) 😉

Keep Peralta where he is for now, but give Harrison Bader some reps at 3rd in AAA.
Grichuk, if he hits, is our LF (if he doesn’t, toss this answer out the window) we just spent a ton on Fowler for a while, and Piscotty is our RF for years to come, so where does that leave Bader? I think he has the talent to be more than a 4th OF, and at the very least, this’d increase his versatility.
Laura and Holly (STL CardGals)
I’m also somewhat concerned that Peralta will land on the DL again at some point this season. Unfortunately, even if these guys keep themselves in pristine condition through diet/training, etc., their age will eventually catch up with them, spawning increasing injury towards the end of their careers (i.e. Matt Holliday, 2016). If that does happen to Jhonny, I agree that placing Carpenter back at 3rd and Adams at 1st (in his case, the aggressive diet might be very effective, considering it’s tagged with his youth) makes the most sense to me.
And last but never least…
Kevin (STL Cards ‘N Stuff)
Just a side note: I wouldn’t put TOO much stock in Adams’ new physique. He comes into Winter Warm-Up every year to gasps and surprise at how much weight he’s lost. Seems to gain it back during the season.
Not saying he won’t keep it off this year, or that this weight loss is more dramatic than previous years, but just saying that he’s aggressively changed his body type multiple times before over the offseason.
Over 4200 words later this way by far the most fun Roundtable yet and just goes to show how much we have put 2016 in our rear view!

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Quintana Questions

Just when you think January will end without much to talk about, one article flips the script for all the wrong reasons. Granted any ‘news’ about the Cardinals helps get us closer to actual baseball, but it is true the silly season has turned into the wacky world after Chicago dominated both parts of the 2016 hardball calendar. I fully expected more from Cubs fans who may just be savoring the shiny new shirts that can finally replace the ones from the 80’s. This is not a slight on the Baby Bears either, as they are built to run towards another October in a steamroll fashion.

On the other side of the Windy City, however, much of the long winter was dominated by a White Sox club that retooled in the most glorious fashion. After months of speculation, both Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded to no one’s surprise. The real shock was in the return package on each and what that might signal going forward in the new CBA. Bill Ivie and I chatted yesterday and both feel St. Louis is primed to be very active on the trade front as well as in free agency the next two years.

That coincidence was before I had even heard about the story linked above, since Jose Quintana checks plenty of boxes for every contending team in the sport. It is only natural to speculate given that Chicago hardly has put to rest any of the discussion about their southpaw ace but the timing just seems off at least for the Birds on the Bat. Not only do the Cardinals have a full rotation at present, but they need the WBC just to find innings for a couple of other options. Acquiring a lefty starter to replace Garcia last month would have also required another move with Lance Lynn needing a spot, but that isn’t even the most head-scratching part of this.

Alex Reyes may be pushed back to start the season, and that in no way means he did anything to deserve a trip to Memphis. Carlos Martinez and Reyes form a dynamic duo that St. Louis can ride to the postseason for the next decade, but if Michael Wacha returns to form in March there is every reason to showcase him in April. The rookie phenom won’t be traded for Quintana or anyone else in 2017 or 2018, not when you are trying to catch the Cubs. Does taking Reyes out of the equation mean a deal between the two clubs is dead? That is the million(s) of dollars and years of control question that will have to be answered in any trade the next few years.

While the front office made the right move in sacrificing a first round pick to get Dexter Fowler, they can’t be in a hurry to clear up the 40-man roster crunch with one swift move. Because let’s be honest here, Quintana or any other game-changing target is going to cost much more in prospects than what the Cards should be willing to sacrifice in January. If this becomes a late June and into July question, though, feel free to mention how much the cost has risen between now and then. Giving up potentially 30+ years of control for even a top starting pitcher before any games have happened only adds to the concerns that one or more pitchers is not healthy.

Yes, the future is very bright in St. Louis but as many of us learned from the Brian Dozier non-news, other teams are going to continually try and use the Cardinals for leverage. Quintana may still end wearing the Birds on the Bat but personally, I am very much looking forward to this campaign and how some of that younger talent performs. There is always time to make moves during the dog days, and In Mo We Trust has never been needed more.

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Shopping Spring Sales

With most of the winter weather hopefully in the rear-view, it is officially time to start the baseball countdown. Pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter in less than a month with workouts in full gear before the WBC makes things interesting for the Cardinals more than most teams.  Before jumping into what might occur the next three weeks, read this Winter Warmup review for the latest happenings plus some chuckles.

St. Louis clearly has improved overall with returning healthy players in the pitching staff as well as the new Redbirds. That doesn’t mean the additions are finished, as Mo has already called for at least a lefty-hitting spare outfielder among other pieces. Bullpen arms are always a last-minute addition but those moves rarely move the needle unless you are talking a big trade which is unlikely. The biggest remaining pieces on the market closely resemble what everyone hopes Matt Adams could be, and that is one player who figures to get plenty of at-bats this March.

For anyone searching the clearance bin to find a Kyle Lohse Special, keep digging as the Cardinals still have a full 40-man roster. That does limit the possibilities unless a deal comes together quickly for the just the right piece but bargains have become harder to find. The pillow-contract angle actually would make sense if a first baseman was needed, so that can be scratched off the list as well. With all that being said, just what may be on the St. Louis shopping list t-minus 30 days and counting before the 2017 campaign begins.

The biggest priority has to be figuring who fits the outfield puzzle, and that is where the most attention will be down in Florida. It isn’t out of the question to say the only true roster spot up for grabs is who becomes the spare outfielder who hits from the left side. Adams even slimmed down will not be the answer, so that means another new Redbird should be joining Opening Day given the need. One intriguing name has to be Jordan Schafer if you look at the roster just the right way. Schafer could become Matheny’s swiss-army tool able to pitch or hit but how ready is the southpaw at the Major League level.

Schafer is a familiar name from his time with the Braves as an outfield prospect who was in the Texas League last year as a LOOGY. He has the inside track currently just because it doesn’t cost anything to see if he can make the club. How he is actually deployed around the beginning of March will be even more important because that will let everyone know if another move might be needed. Sam Fuld and a few of the other names out there have question marks as do nearly all the players still looking for teams. Personal favorite Brandon Moss won’t be back, but that was clearly part of the plan to get more athletic.

The 2017 season is right around the corner and honestly, I find myself looking forward to April more than any other season in recent memory. Enjoy the rest of Winter as we thaw out and get ready for Spring.

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Cardinals Changing Their Stripes

A few years back, the biggest shock in any off-season I can recall was the announcement that there was now going to be more than just the Birds on the Bat for the front of the jersey. And while the St. Louis for Saturday home games might feel gimmicky to some, the reality is the Cardinals no longer have an advantage over the rest of baseball. Today’s announcement (nothing official just yet) puts the team under the Arch squarely in the middle of an arms’ race with more than a few bats thrown in for good measure.

Gone are the days of ‘hometown discounts’ and wanting to perform in front of a packed house every night. Baseball prints money now so it makes perfect sense for David Price and Jason Heyward to follow the dollar signs to bigger markets. Today the entire management team for the Cards should be applauded for getting Dexter Fowler because going forward everyone is on a level playing field. That’s not to say Carlos Martinez will sign a deal in the next few months that is perceived to be team-friendly but if he does, good on the player and team for having mutual interest.

What I hope beyond hope happens going forward, though, are that the two most recent signings put St. Louis in a better place going into the NEXT two Winters. Everyone agreed that this free agent class may have been the weakest in recent memory which also coincided with some of the wildest trade scenarios possible. Whether or not a play for Tara’s pick (see Blackmon, Charlie) was truly an option is a post for another day as one thing is for certain – the Cardinals were tired of being used as leverage and finishing second.

Celebrate today for what it means moving forward, especially as the build-up left a bitter taste after watching the Cubs and Nats get stronger. They chose to deal away prospects and will have to make more moves to counter the dreaded luxury tax that someday might even come into play for the DeWitt family. Yes I will have less to do come May and June since today also marks the biggest change in strategy to date. Mo sacrificed a first-round pick to make the big league club stronger, and that should be applauded in my opinion.

We have been spoiled the past two decades with some amazing teams and more importantly, future Cardinal Hall-of-Famers. Instead of worrying about a prospect who may or may not matter in five years, let’s give Molina and Wainwright the proper send off to their historic careers. Fowler was the right fit at the right time but make no mistake about it – the price will be higher than anyone predicted. Starting with the Mike Leake contract last December, St. Louis found out that history is great but the present requires more than red jackets or Ballpark Village.

For those of us who anxiously await the start of the season from the final out, the future is brighter today than it was yesterday. And no matter how you feel about the player, that is a cause to be happy this brisk Winter morning.

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Matching Up For the Millers

Welcome to the Silly Season! Now that my favorite part of the season has passed (Draft) followed by an extremely eventful July 2nd (International Signing) period, it only makes sense to dive right in for my first post of 2016. The timing is right to re-introduce myself just as the craziest part of the calendar takes place over the entire weekend.

As far as those in St. Louis are concerned, the annual Trade Deadline should just be changed to Relievers ‘R Us until the middle of August. It has turned into a yearly tradition for the Cardinals that will continue sometime in the next 72 hours. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, however, the safest method is to go with what has worked in the past.

Let the Cubs get all press for making the splashy moves while the Dodgers and Nationals fight for the scraps. History has proven that while some trades (Holliday) pay off immediately, the cost of those deals can set an organization back years in the depth department. Look down the I-70 if you need proof at what may be happening very soon in Kansas City. The Royals went all-in last July with a couple of high profile deals that certainly paid off in the short-term.

Fast forward 12 months, though, and the defending champs are mired in next-to-last place nearly ten games back of the surging Indians. While no pitchers from Cleveland or KC figure to make the trek towards the Arch this summer, the lack of depth for the Royals has turned them into potential sellers. That is eye-opening given the talent on their big league roster but not very shocking when you factor in how much top-level depth matters in today’s game.

What all of that means in the NL Central race should be fairly obvious at this point. The St. Louis front office won’t mortgage the farm unless Mike Trout suddenly wants to be a Cardinal. As great as that would be, it isn’t happening this summer or any other one for that matter because the prospect cost would cripple what has quietly become a strength again. Don’t look now but all the new additions this summer have changed the dynamic of just how stacked the prospects are from Memphis down to Johnson City.

MLB recently released their updated Top 30 lists and one familiar name hasn’t changed. Alex Reyes won’t be trading in his Redbirds uniform just yet, but when he does it will be for the Birds on the Bat and not anything else such as pinstripes. Andrew Miller has become the latest can’t-miss closer with rumors spreading to any team with a winning record. Just for the sake of speculation, St. Louis has been grouped in most likely due to the fact that Reyes has positioned himself as one of the finest prospects in all of baseball.

Listen, my fandom has never been questioned but under no circumstances should Reyes or Luke Weaver be sent to another organization for a relief pitcher. As important as it is to get the bullpen figured out, the future rotation trumps all other needs. Way back in March, the lack of depth behind the starters was a hot topic that has all but disappeared thanks to health and more than a little luck. Instead of stressing about which new hurler will be joining the Cardinals in the near future, it is time to think about adding one from the recent past.

Struggling to adapt to his surroundings would be the ultimate cop-out for Shelby Miller, who is just as likely to change teams as Andrew for much different reasons. As much as Reyes has become the next great St. Louis starter, it wasn’t long ago that Shelby had fulfilled some of that same promise. Everyone knows about the deal that sent him to Atlanta, but the Braves maximized his value by shipping him out West. Arizona was familiar with Miller thanks to Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa, but they never could have expected the struggles that have caused a demotion and questions about his future.

The interesting part then becomes how do you value Shelby moving forward. Daniel and I had a discussion earlier today about fit so I wanted to see how Miller has reacted in his return to the PCL. And to put it mildly, I see a number of ways that Shelby could help the Cardinals not only this year but for many more seasons. His stuff is still overpowering, so why not see if Shelby could help bridge the gap to Oh. He also could help release Tyler Lyons for more regular work by taking over the long-man role.

Would it be a risk? Honestly you can say that about any deal made the next two days or two years. As far as this pitcher is concerned, however, St. Louis already knows what they are getting and with many years of control at the same time. I still wouldn’t deal Reyes, Weaver, or Harrison Bader given the fact that Miller no longer appears to be a number one or two starter. But instead of selling the future for a 31-year old reliever, how about a hurler who doesn’t turn 26 until October.

Chances are both Andrew and Shelby won’t have to forward their mail until at least 2017 but anything can happen as the Wacky Weekend is about to commence!

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Garcia Gets a Look

To make room on the active roster for newcomer Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday has been put on the 15-day DL. Greg Garcia was also recalled to add depth as Dan Johnson’s tenure with the Cardinals appears to be over. The veteran 1B was DFA to open up a spot on the St. Louis 40-man roster.

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Reports late last night had St. Louis and Cleveland close to making a deal for the third consecutive summer, and now Brandon Moss will don uniform No. 21 for the Cardinals. The 1B/OF has 15 HR and 50 RBI in 2015, both that would be team highs for St. Louis.

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Playing the Roster Lottery

All teams compete with pretty much the same roster configuration, no matter which level of professional baseball is in the discussion. A 25-man roster typically has 12-14 pitchers to go with two catchers and then a mix of fielders to make the math work. With the final 2015 visit to American League parks, the Cardinals get the added bonus of the Designated Hitter that can help keep most of the regulars healthy. The issue at hand isn’t whether or not Stephen Piscotty belongs on the roster, as the bat will stick with opportunity.

Now the questions about playing time in St. Louis for the top prospect will begin but as Daniel pointed out earlier today, a bigger clock is the priority. The Cards do not have another day off until August 3rd, setting up the yearly roller coaster to again have a possible impact on the active clubhouse. Where as some teams look for a change to bring a spark, that’s not normally how the Birds on the Bat view the trade deadline.

When you are leading the sport with basically a 23-man roster, however, and 22 on days when the long reliever is off-limits news that Ty Kelly will most likely never get to St. Louis become a side note. More changes will have to be made to the 40-man in the very near future as Jordan Walden should be back before July 31st, but that also isn’t the concern. Where the fun starts is looking at how the Cardinals will accommodate the trio of Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia as well as Walden on the active lineup.

Mike Matheny and company are geared for October pretty much with every move, and that makes playing with a short bench all the more frustrating especially after 18 innings of fun. Never mind that Tony Cruz was MIA Sunday or that he was drafted as a 3B, because the back-up catcher under the Arch is largely an afterthought. It also needs to be mentioned that there are currently five catchers residing on the 40-man but having a third backstop on the St. Louis roster hardly would make a difference.

The lack of confidence in Greg Garcia would maybe be a bigger story on a different club, especially as Pete Kozma continues to anchor the bench with his .381 OPS. But with all that in consideration and more injured players closer to contributing, let’s turn to how the roster should look when the calendar turns to August. The dog days are compromised slightly more than usual  given that two All-Star hurlers may have an unknown innings cap getting closer with each start. Only the Cardinals’ front office knows exactly when Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez will be given breaks, but the innings crunch is a real thing.

Instead of looking at all the players who are locks to maintain their spots, it really comes down to three or four spots left up for grabs. Obviously a trade would shake things up, but that unknown is a post for another day. As it stands now, Garcia or Gonzales would slide into the fifth spot in the rotation, most likely pushing Cooney back to Memphis. There could be a modified six-man rotation as well, but off days as well as pushing back the young arms will open up plenty of opportunity for innings. That all but assures Socolovich is the odd-man out as the last guy remaining in the bullpen.

Where things get less obvious is what to do when Walden comes back, on both roster fronts. If Piscotty has taken over first base in a time share of sorts, that makes Dan Johnson an easy DFA candidate plus keeps hard-throwing Tui on the active roster. If he hasn’t been used regularly, though, a stint in Memphis would make sense before rosters expand in September. The Johnson spot could then be used for an incoming option from the left-side if a deal is struck this month or next.

One under-the-radar name in the system to keep an eye on is Jeremy Hazelbaker, who offers speed as well as left-handed pop off the bench. Sporting a cool 1.433 OPS over 15 games with Memphis, Hazelbaker provides good insurance if Mo can flip an outfielder relatively soon. Unless the wheels fall off the bullpen or an injury ‘creeps’ up, the St. Louis postseason chances will be determined by pitching. It appears to be coming right down to the wire again and oh man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to listen in on the war room ten days from now.

No matter what does or doesn’t happen between now and then, it will be fascinating to see if the Cardinals can keep playing short and winning or if anyone can find Cruz!

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Godspeed, Oscar Yadier Taveras.

I did not cry Sunday night when I read the news of Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo’s unfortunate fatal car accident. I felt all of the emotions usually associated with and preceding crying, but the tears didn’t come.

I chatted with Daniel on the Gateway to Baseball Heaven podcast Sunday night, mere minutes after the world was learning that Oscar and Edilia were gone. We stumbled and bumbled through it, it was cathartic in a way, if premature for truly having a reaction other than “this sucks.” Shock, disbelief, wanting to wish it away – that was all there, but no tears.

The outpouring of emotion and reactions from the Cardinal players, the news reports, the photos – oh, the incessant photos from the local press and citizenry, some things just should never be seen – these things brought more shock, more disbelief, increasing dismay and sympathy. Still no tears.

Yesterday I read about Taveras’ funeral and the stories of the townspeople who loved him, the children who loved him, the family who loved him and I was moved. There was one name that stuck out to me in the reports, one I’ll never forget. It read:

Oscar Yadier Taveras

Then came the tears. Oscar and Edilia’s one year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras, stopped me in my tracks. I think you can deduce from the gamut of emotion above that it was only a matter of time, and thinking of their young son left behind without truly knowing his mother and father finally put me over the edge.

That’s the differentiating factor of grief and mourning, it is obviously about those lost, but inherently it is also deeply personal to the person grieving, no? How that manifested itself in me, now the fortunate father of two healthy, happy children is that I now tend to see some things in the world the same way I see many of the things in my life – colored through the eyes of a parent. Sorrow and sympathy for the families, the parents of these two young lives lost. A parent should never have to bury their child. I know this is not a unique emotion to me or only to someone who is a parent. Nor is sympathy for a young child, his whole life in front of him. But I can say with relative confidence – and several years experience now – once that protective parental instinct kicks in, something like this hits deeper. It is more personal, more real. And brings more tears.

So on Sunday night and every night since, I’ve hugged my Cardinal-loving four-year-old son a little tighter when I put him to bed. I’ve stared at my four-month-old daughter asleep in her crib a little longer. They both got one extra kiss a day. Yesterday I read about little Oscar Yadier. More hugs, more kisses, more appreciation for the blessing of life.

I write this not to tell you my life, but to relate how I (and I imagine many others) cope. As Cole wrote eloquently, we all find our own ways to work through tragedies such as these. I did not know Oscar or Edilia, I do not know their son Oscar, I do not know their families or friends. I do know that no parent should have to bury a child, and no child should lose both of their parents in such tragic manner, especially while still clinging to the innocence of being a young child.

Today, I take comfort in knowing that Oscar Yadier has the support system of several thousands of beautiful Dominican people, family and friends. I take comfort in the hope that he grows up to share that wide, glowing smile of his father. I take comfort in the video he will be able to watch of his father achieving his life’s dreams, even in such a short life, and the stories that Cardinal fans will be willing to tell him for all of his life.

Mostly, I take comfort in knowing that Oscar Yadier has two new angels watching over him. Rest in peace Oscar and Edilia. Godspeed, Oscar Yadier.

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I have the distinct honor of being a voting member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, and this season my vote is being tallied for the Walter Johnson Award for the most outstanding pitcher in the National League.

As with many of these voting processes, BBA or other body of award-givers, there can be very few restrictions or qualifications for any given award, as is the case with this one. It makes it both fun and sometimes maddening distinguishing between several qualified candidates and then having to back up your position. It’s easy to TYPE IN ALL CAPS ON TWITTER BECAUSE YOU DISRESPECTED MY FAVORITE PLAYER, but it’s much different when you have to actually listen to or use reason yourself to deem one season-long performance superior to another.

With that said, here is my ballot:

  1. Clayton Kershaw – If you disagree with this, I will openly mock you. Ok, probably not, that would be rude because I don’t even know you, but it’s very difficult to argue with Kershaw as the winner of this award. Almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched helped result in an ERA and FIP under two, and xFIP just above it. Kershaw threw almost 200 innings and ranked in the top seven in the National League in FIP and xFIP among ALL pitchers. Those top seven lists include pitchers with fewer than ten innings pitched, to put that ranking in perspective. It’s really a shame Kershaw missed a handful of starts due to injury, for while this is already a phenominal season by any standard – we could be talking about a truly historic season.
  2. Jordan Zimmerman – I’ll admit, I almost used the voter crutch of “I’ve seen him more” to put Wainwright in this spot, but the statistics drove me toward Zimmerman. While not reaching the magical threshold of 200 innings pitched, likely due in part to a higher BABIP than his contemporaries on this ballot, Zimmerman did post a strong K/9 rate coupled with a low walk rate – always a recipe for success.
  3. Adam Wainwright – Always a bridesmaid, never the bride. Wainwright’s hiccup in the dog days of summer kept him from making this more of a contest, as he piled up wins (I know, I know), innings, and most importantly – outs. Wainwright posted a 2.38 ERA and 2.88 FIP, he was certainly helped by an improved Cardinals defense. [ED. Note: Please let the elbow be ok, please let the elbow be ok, please let the elbow be ok, please…]
  4. Jake Arrieta – I was surprised when this name showed up in my research. I guess that’s an indictment of my knowledge of what’s going on elsewhere in the league, or I just don’t pay any attention to the Cubs. (Probably a little of A, little of B.) Arrieta arrived with the big league Cubs in early May and proceeded to strike out almost ten per nine for the rest of 2014. He walked a lot too, but kept his pitches in the ballpark better than any other regular NL starter. If Arrieta can put together a full, healthy 2015 he will help buoy a staff looking for innings.
  5. Stephen Strasburg – Strasburg paired with Zimmerman to lead the Nationals to the best record in the National League, Strasburg’s performance predicated upon over 200 innings with lots of strikeouts. Unlike Arrieta, Strasburg struggled keeping the ball in the yard a little this season (what’s that old saying, faster it comes, faster it goes? – I’m dating myself…) but still posted a FIP just under 3 and xFIP of 2.56. The 14-11 record doesn’t scream dominance, but the peripherals do – a few more balls hit at fielders makes Strasburg’s season look much differently, I’d guess.

So there is my ballot. Agree or disagree? There’s a place for that below.

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Make no mistake, when John Mozeliak reached out this off-season and signed Jhonny Peralta to a multi-year contract to play shortstop (for now) for the Cardinals, it was about improving the offense at the position. While Peralta has been very good on defense this season (2nd in defensive runs saved with 14, according to Baseball Info Solutions – Zack Cozart is 1st with 15), it was always the bat.

Many have criticized the move because of Peralta’s perceived lack of performance at the plate – after all, that .239 batting average isn’t even Brendan Ryan-esque, right?

But man, is he slugging. To wit:

Rk Player HR From To G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB IBB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jhonny Peralta 13 2014 2014 87 344 306 32 73 23 0 39 32 1 64 .239 .317 .441 .758
2 David Eckstein 13 2005 2007 398 1749 1564 216 465 67 8 115 113 0 107 .297 .357 .375 .732
3 Rafael Furcal 12 2011 2012 171 748 673 98 176 29 3 65 61 1 75 .262 .323 .367 .690
4 Brendan Ryan 9 2007 2010 415 1332 1206 165 312 56 10 95 88 8 166 .259 .314 .344 .658
5 Pete Kozma 3 2011 2014 189 555 502 57 117 26 3 50 45 9 114 .233 .293 .315 .608
6 Ryan Theriot 1 2011 2011 132 483 442 46 120 26 1 47 29 0 41 .271 .321 .342 .662
7 Cesar Izturis 1 2008 2008 135 454 414 50 109 10 3 24 29 1 26 .263 .319 .309 .628
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/8/2014.

What you’re reading there is that Peralta, in half of a season, has the most home runs IN TOTAL of any Cardinal shortstop since Edgar Renteria left after the 2004 season.

Peralta’s Cardinal “career” ranks as the highest slugging percentage of any Cardinal shortstop’s career. I’ll give you small sample size on that one, given that his “career” is only 344 plate appearances, but Peralta’s 2014 as a season would rank 11th best in Cardinal history as well. Heady company in either case.

I’ll certainly be beaten over the head with “yeah, but PEDs” and “he’s not good at defense” (yes, that actually happens) just as I have been on Twitter when pointing out *GASP* facts about Peralta’s performance and value relative to his contract. I’ve addressed the PED thing before. If you still believe he’s not been good this season defensively, I can’t help you.

Peralta’s season is good for 2.8 fWAR as I type this. Converting to dollars, he’s been “worth” $15.5 million SO FAR this season. How much is he making this year, again?

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Going Out With a Bang

What a ride it has been…the end.

Okay, so that sounds more like how the weekend series for the big club went, but the truth is this was much harder to do after an amazing run. It feels like there is so much to say in a short amount of space, and I’ll do my best to include everyone responsible. By no means is this a sad post, however, and I’ll always be around the Twitterverse as well as supporting the UCB in anything I can do.

The Conclave recently celebrated a year of bringing the best Birds on the Bat content to the masses, and it was at that point I was faced with a decision. Not THE decision like that one basketball guy but finding time to fit everything in finally reached a crossroads. Not everyone can be Shoptaw or Buffa after all!

I’ve been a sports writer for 20 years and never in my wildest dreams did I think getting to meet the GM of the Cardinals would happen, let alone multiple times. So it is fitting I provided the comedic relief this time around for my last installment of UCB weekend. Your faithful scrappy utility blogger has a higher calling (Graduate School) as well as a talented daughter to keep on her own college track that will now be my focus. I wouldn’t be here without Mrs. Scrappy-Utility-Blogger, and I know she is ready to not have to share me with St. Louis baseball.

But the trio of readers left at this point didn’t show up for reminiscing tales — this is still the Preacher’s last ride! And the only way to finish it off has to be a final bold prediction. It is trade season but this campaign has surely not turned out as anyone predicted. The club is missing something and no, it isn’t more cowbell. Another strong voice in the clubhouse would bring that competitive fire back, and it would just be icing on the cake if said voice also happens to be left-handed.

As I hinted at earlier, I’m going in a different direction even after David Price keeps mowing down the competition.

Yup, you read that right. I do want Mo to pull off a trade for an ace and even from the AL East but not for a bidding war. Let the Blue Jays, Giants, and Dodgers play Price is Right and give up half their top ten prospects. Unless the Rays come back to Earth, it makes no sense to deal unless Longoria suddenly ends up in the conversation and well, Tampa hasn’t suddenly been taken over by TLR as far as we know. It also hurts any possible deals now that the cellar belongs to the other surprise team of the division.

Boston fans can certainly understand the grumbling felt by the Cardinal backers, but they will also point out that St. Louis is still in playoff consideration. While the Red Sox continue to admire their hardware from last October, a possible big problem resides on the horizon. Depending on which reports you believe, contract negotiations with ace Jon Lester have stopped and not everyone is happy about it. Would that provide the necessary window for another Holliday-type deal in the making?

As Daniel has told me many times, In Mo We Trust, and I would support a deal for a rental in this case. Why when the cost would still be high and sending prospects to Boston seems like a really bad idea you smart people say? Trades on paper rarely ever make sense but look at what the Red Sox need. They lost one outfielder to free agency and have struggled to put talent on the field since beating the Cards. Obviously I’m not looking at Taveras or even Piscotty in this exercise, but Grichuk and even a healthy Ramsey certainly seem like a strong starting point.

For me, though, I honestly can see this deal getting done more than any other because Boston has very little to lose. The chances of locking up Lester may be slim, but I’m reminded of what Nick said about championships — players come and go but flags fly forever. Lester is exactly the type of ace needed to pair with Wainwright and throw in a Brock Holt type, shopping list complete. Of course this is easier said than done because surely even less than half a season of an ace would cost at least a pitcher too, right?

Well, would anyone miss a Cooney or Lyons (sorry Daniel) if it certainly brings the pedigree that Lester has to offer. And hey, he may truly like the National League and everything St. Louis has to offer as one of the other truly great cities to play in…okay pipe dream aside, they have to make a move so why not reach for the stars! I’ve been blessed to share a room with great people and will never forget the times shared over the years. To Nick and Daniel, thanks for bringing me along for the ride and bring home title No. 12 because odd numbers are no fun!

Till we meet again – Preacher

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