Bird Banter: Winter Warmup News

With all the news that came out of the Winter Warmup this weekend, I got the guys (Twitter users StlCardsCards, KeeneMLB, and johnrabe) back together to talk about arbitration, player usage, and anything else that might come up.  You probably won’t be surprised where our track leads.

C70: We had a lot of things come out of Winter Warmup.  Let’s start with the big one–the club says that they are going to arbitration with Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha.  Exactly what are they thinking?

Keene: I can see it with Wacha, who has underperformed. It makes no sense at all with Martinez. I can only assume Mo is trying to build up that war chest. As you guys probably already know, he’s going to have payroll muscle soon and he will definitely flex it.

Rabe: It’s very strange to me that this organization, which hadn’t taken anyone to arbitration in 17 years, suddenly has decided to do so with Carlos Martinez. I don’t follow arbitration much, since….who would? BORING. But when I saw the initial numbers submitted by each side, which were only a few hundred thousand dollars apart, I thought it would be resolved by nightfall. For this organization, a couple of hundred thousand dollars is what five bucks is to you and me. In a year where the team’s profits have once again grown while their payroll has essentially remained flat, I can’t quite understand the penny-pinching. The concern, of course, is that it will create bad blood when it comes time for contract extension negotiations. Someone yesterday on Twitter–I believe it was Justin Streibel–pointed out a number of cases where going to arbitration didn’t seem to hurt a player’s relationship with a team (e.g. Ryan Howard, Mariano Rivera). That may be, but why even risk it over a few hundred thousand? In an arbitration hearing, the Cardinals’ side will literally come in and argue strenuously why Carlos Martinez isn’t worth an extra $325,000. Carlos Martinez, who’s 24 years old and had an ERA+ of 135 last year. Sure, maybe he won’t take offense, and maybe he’ll fulfill his stated desire of remaining a Cardinal for life. But he hasn’t seen the Cardinals’ representative walk into the room yet and argue a case for why he doesn’t deserve an extra nickel. Will they bring up maturity issues? Will they attack his hairstyle(s)? Will they put together a video montage of dugout cup-pyramid-building? Will they show screen shots of his Twitter porn “likes”? There’s just nothing good that can come out of this.

Oh, and I guess they’re going to arbitration with Michael Wacha too. Whatever, I guess.

C70: And, obviously, if the money was a larger difference, it makes some sense.  Sticking to your guns for $350K and risk some bad feelings seems unwise.  Wacha definitely is a lesser issue, but even there you’d think you’d just try to settle for the midpoint instead of doing all the work to prepare a case.  I mean, they’ll probably spend $200K on time and materials to get ready for the case.

Rabe: Yeah, if the two sides were a million dollars apart, then go for it. Arbitration would make sense. But we couldn’t just split the difference here? Mo spends more than $325K per year on hipster socks. Incidentally, I do believe the Cardinals will lose the Martinez arbitration case. The Cardinals should’ve considered themselves lucky he asked for such a relatively modest amount. The eighth best pitcher in baseball (by bWAR) last year would earn many times what he asked for on the open market.

C70: I don’t think there is any chance the Cardinals don’t lose the Martinez case, actually.  They can argue injury and unknowns with Wacha and might get a win there, but what can you say about Martinez, that he should have made everyone else on the staff pitch better?

Keene: Martinez would be able to make Matheny manage better, if he were a good pitcher. He could have also stopped the Cubs from becoming good. Quit being so soft on him.

CardsCards: Wacha doesn’t even make sense with how close his figures are.

Save arbitration for when a situation warrants it. How hard is that?

But the upside is, what:

1. We have a chance to see how good we are arguing against our own players?
2. We might save enough money off of the midpoint to pay for 2 innings of Adam Wainwright. Seriously.

The downside, of course, is that Carlos wins, thus giving him a higher base for the next round of negotiations. Carlos might also get insulted, and yes, as Strebel points out, it would be a long bet to have Carlos hellbent on leaving St. Louis, but of course if he feels disrespected it might cost more in the future to make him feel respected. I mean, Striebel’s examples didn’t exactly make chump change after their arbitration hearings. And when you start adding it together with all of the nit picky things the Cardinals seem to object to about Carlos while he’s out there being the best pitcher on the team, I have to wonder how much an equivalent deal from another team might end up looking more attractive than his favorite twitter porn.

The point isn’t that the risk chances are low. The point is that the downside is potentially organization shifting and the upside is almost nonexistent.

Sure, the chances of you getting the 45 year old hooker pregnant might seem pretty slim, but considering the downside vs the upside, “non zero” is enough for me to eschew her and instead spend my night, alone, scrolling through Buffa’s workout pics.

On the other hand, next time I’m in a minor fender bender, if the other driver says we don’t need to get insurance companies involved, I’m going to say “nah, I want to see how go through this hassle just to see how I do for the next car accident that might not ever come”.

Makes sense.

C70: While not to end this conversation, I want to go ahead and toss another topic for you to juggle.  Mike Matheny says there are no actual plans to rest Yadier Molina this year, that as long as he can help them win each day he will be out there.  I guess we should give them some credit for dropping the ruse of rest for Yadi, huh?

Keene: To the extent that the charade of rest is gone, I don’t have a problem with him saying it. Of course, if the Cards had a sane manager who would rest a struggling player, this would go down a lot smoother. My fear is that Yadi starts 160 games next year and endures a Moss-like hitting slump, which Matheny responds to by plopping some more sunflower seeds in his mouth.

CardsCards: Right, I’m not even mad at Mike for saying it. It’s kind of refreshing.

I picture the off-season conversation to be something like:

Mo – We have this young prospect, people are going crazy for him. It could be the perfect time to get him a start or two a week and be able to both learn from Yadi, and provide him the rest that a catcher that age obviously needs.

Mike – Bleep. You.

Mo – Sorry, Mike. I’ll put Carson back in AAA and we’ll go ahead and sign Eric Fryer. He was great at never playing.

C70: It’s amazing how many moves and transactions are made to shore up the manager.  I feel this is different that when TLR was here–then they made moves because Tony wanted moves made.  Now they make moves because they hope to find that sweet spot where Matheny can shine.

Keene: Daniel is right. The problem is Mo is looking for the shiny side of a crap log. The sweet spot is when you flush.

C70: I did like Chase Woodruff’s post showing how the team has gone from stability to flexibility and back again trying to figure out his style of managing.

CardsCards: Mike’s job is to win games. And we want Mike to play when Yadi is going well.

In April, Yadi was going REALLY well. .877 OPS. He had one full game off. (April 29th) Of course, April is usually stacked with days off. the same can’t be said for…
May, Yadi was still riding his hot streak! then, poof. it was gone. The 2nd half of May is OPS was .345. That’s pitcher territory. In May he also had 1 full game off (May 29)

June? Terrible. .542 OPS. Zero power. Dying on the vine. Mike saw this and gave him TWO full games off. June 20, and June 27.
July started off pretty meh, and then Yadi got 5 DAYS OFF AROUND THE ALL STAR BREAK, and as noted by @c70, came back a different man.I don’t know how much rest and fatigue had to do with it, but when Yadi is going well, he plays every day. When Yadi isn’t going well, he plays every day. When Yadi doesn’t have a thumb and needs a specially built mitt to catch the ball and cannot even start to hit, he plays every day. The good news is, in 2 years he’s going to be able to afford a kick-butt wheelchair.Rabe: As I’d hoped, it has again turned into a Matheny-bashing thread. As all proper discussions of the Cardinals ought to.

The thing I enjoyed was Matheny pairing his surprising candor about Yadi with needless self-pity. He was like, “Oh great, now I have to hear about Yadi’s playing time again. What is it with you guys?” He literally “you guys”-ed them for asking him if his 34-year old potential-Hall-of-Fame catcher, who caught his career high in innings last year after having two thumb surgeries, would finally get a much-promised rest. And Matheny used it as another opportunity to blame others for his failures.

I would actually appreciate his candor and his win-at-all-costs attitude if it weren’t such obvious nonsense.

“Until my job description changes and it’s not about winning games, then at that point maybe we’ll have a different conversation. But the conversation stays the same. We’re going to put the best team out there each particular day.”

This is an actual thing that Mike Matheny said. This actually came out of his mouth. The guy who relentlessly started Pete Kozma. Who ran Allen Craig out there day after day when the guy couldn’t hit .120. The one who insisted that Jon Jay was better than Tommy Pham, every single day. The guy who thinks that Jonathan Broxton is a clutch reliever. I guess “we’re going to put the best team out there each particular day” means Kolten Wong never enters into Mike Matheny’s conception of the Cardinals’ “best team…each particular day.”

And now I’m ranting. Thanks a lot, guys.

C70: Basically the only reason we do these is to see how long it takes before the rants start.

CardsCards: When your best team has Kolten Wong in left field, or Daniel Descalso at 1B, uh oh.

Keene: I guess he was putting the best team on the field when he started Moss in a 0 for career slump.

C70: ​The best bro-hug team, what with him and Gyorko.​  Finally, the catch-all spot (and again, feel free to revisit any of the other topics): Randal Grichuk had knee surgery, Kolten Wong coming in with the idea he’s not the starting second baseman, Yadi and C-Mart saying they want to be Cardinals for life, and anything else that struck your eye this weekend.

CardsCards: oh, now I can comment on Grichuk and Wong too? I’ll do so in just a few minutes. Let me start my car with the garage door closed first.

Rabe: Back when I was a young sports radio pup in the early 90’s, and the Cardinals were still owned by Anheuser-Busch, Kevin Slaten used to call the Cardinals “The Kremlin.” I’ve been out of town for 22 years now, so I don’t know if he still does that, but it’s apt again, especially when it comes to the team’s medical issues. Is there any greater combination of medical incompetence and secrecy in all of baseball? So now, Randal Grichuk has had a heretofore unknown knee surgery. I pray that it was done outside the organization, or else he already has a bar of Irish Springs as a kneecap, held together by tendons fabricated from used AstroTurf. Who knows when it happened? Or if he’s fully recovered? All we know is that when he goes on the DL, Kolten Wong will play in his outfield spot ahead of Tommy Pham.

On a rare positive note, I’ll say this though. I’ve really been enjoying Dexter Fowler. The dude just seems to get it. I think he’ll bring some much needed fun and personality to the public persona of this team, whereas we’ve only previously had Lance Lynn’s smirking postgame sarcasm as any supposed “proof” that there was actual fun taking place on this team.

C70: I’d add Wainwright’s dances to that mix, but otherwise the point is well taken.

I’d like to think that the Cards kept Grichuk’s surgery quiet to keep any possible leverage away from the center fielders they were negotiating with.  That may be generous, though, I realize.

CardsCards: Look, when you get through the middle of January, and only Grichuk is the only secret surgery you’ve heard about, you can either decide you’ve had a good and lucky off-season, or there’s a lot more we’re going to hear about when we get to Jupiter.

All I ask is that players are forthcoming about their injuries when they happen, and that the teams handle them in a responsible manner. Hiding the injuries from idiots like me has no bearing on the product on the field. Finding out Lance Lynn has only had one arm for the last 3 months but has been playing anyway, does.

As for Kolten, I have no idea how to handle him to get the most out of him. Clearly Mike doesn’t either, or we’d have seen better results. But at the is point I wouldn’t blame Kolten if he is unsure about his starting status the day after he breaks Cal’s consecutive games streak. The team often doesn’t act in the matter it declares it’s going to act in public, and we have heard players groan about communication in private. If I were Kolten, I wouldn’t bother fully unpacking my new house yet.

And yes, Dexter Fowler, personality wise, has to be the Cardinal you’d most want to spend a day with, right? Especially if his new contract means he is buying.

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