Beware The Dusk of July

Open your ears, for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
—-Henry IV, Part 2

 

People like to pretend they are baseball GMs this time of year.  I guess they consider it fun.  It’s not my thing, because I am not arrogant enough to believe that I know what players are worth on the trade market.  So I won’t propose my own trades, but I do believe I know when someone else proposes a stinker, or a trade that is just unrealistic.  The thing about trades is that you can’t use the trade market to get rid of the players you don’t want, unless you are willing to get mostly nothing back for them.  If you want to get value, you have to give up value.

Want to get Giancarlo Stanton, Troy Tulowitzki or David Price?  Be prepared to give up Oscar Taveras, just for starters.  Unproven prospects, no matter how much they are hyped, are not worth as much as elite, proven major leaguers.  So you start with Taveras, and add on.

Now if you are going for something less than the Stantons and Tulowitzkis of the world, then you don’t have to give up your best prospect.  So if you are not willing to part with Taveras, better set your sights lower.  Pitchers like Cliff Lee or Ian Kennedy can be had for lesser prospects than Taveras.  You could get Ben Zobrist without Taveras in the mix as well.  There are a number of other targets that are more realistic, while keeping Taveras.

While I wouldn’t completely rule out Mozeliak going for broke in a trade, I think it is highly unlikely Taveras gets moved.  I could see Mozeliak going after Ian Kennedy, for instance, if starting pitching is his goal.  The Padres are essentially in rebuilding mode, so any number of the Cardinals’ B or C prospects could be attractive to them.

As for current major leaguers in the trade mix, that would more likely occur with a team that is on the edges of contending, and are looking for someone to give them a boost.  Players like Daniel Descalso, and Mark Ellis aren’t going to be sought after by these clubs.  Peter Bourjos has some trade value for defensive purposes, but not a whole lot, and is not likely to garner a worthwhile return.  Allen Craig has low trade value right now, but a team that believes he still has something left in the tank might be interested.  The contract is pretty team friendly, but selling low on Craig is not something I see Mozeliak doing.  Jon Jay has trade value, but only to a team that is looking for a bat and doesn’t care about power coming with it.  Matt Holliday has a no trade clause, and a waiver by him is not likely.  That leaves Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta with the highest trade value, and I don’t see Mozeliak trading any of them, without a strong option to replace them.  Infield prospect pickings in the minors are pretty slim.

So what, if any deal do I see Mozeliak doing?  I don’t know, quite frankly.  There have been rumors and speculations abound, but none with any kind of substance to them.  It may depend on whether Mozeliak is looking for starting pitching, or offense.  If it’s starting pitching, again, I think Ian Kennedy is a target to look at.  I am not particularly sold on the idea of Cliff Lee.  Lee is 35 years old and is starting to show signs of decline, not to mention the contract the Cardinals would be taking on if they can’t get the Phillies to eat a portion of it.  I would be interested in Cole Hamels, but the word is the Phillies are not interested in trading him.

I plan to just wait and see what happens.  There may be circumstances at play that we are not aware of.  Without knowing what Mozeliak is looking for, I can only speculate, and as I said, that is not something I care to do.  I do know that getting worked up about unsubstantiated rumors is a waste of time.  GMs say and do all kind of things during trade time that need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Posturing during trade season is as common as breathing, so don’t be so easily fooled.  Do not fall for the unsubstantiated rumors that abound at this time of year.

What happens, happens, and when it does, we can all opine about it to our heart’s content.

 

Thank you for reading.

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On Love and Sorrow Baseball Style

I missed the game last night because I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner.  There was barbecue.  This was a weird wedding rehearsal dinner because all of the wedding guests were invited, not just the wedding party.  It was also weird because I knew no one there other than the friend I was with and the groom’s parents.  I had never even met the groom before.   The wedding is this afternoon, so I may miss the last part of the game, depending on how long it goes.

None of this is really relevant other than as a prelude to my comments on last night’s game.  My comments are that I missed the game and I am not in the least bit sorry.  Not even sorry that I missed the triple play.  I haven’t seen a triple play in years.  My friend who I was with last night was incredibly shocked that I was not in the least bit sorry.  He knows me well and knows that baseball is a passion of mine.

It’s really sad that I wasn’t sorry.  That is how little fun I am having watching the Cardinals play.  I had more fun at a wedding rehearsal dinner where I knew three people.  That is a new low for me.   Even when the Cardinals win, I am always angry about something that happened in the game.  Usually it involves something Mike Matheny did or didn’t do, but sometimes it is just anger that the Cardinals seem to have to fight and claw for every win.  That wins don’t come easy like they use to.  That once good hitters come to the plate and flail around and look lost.  That I can never feel comfortable that Allen Craig will hit with runners in scoring position, or that Yadier Molina will come through with that winning RBI.  That Adam Wainwright will pitch 7 or 8 scoreless innings and still lose.  That the bullpen will give up a tenuous lead in the 8th or 9th inning.

I have never, not once during this entire season so far, have said to myself that I love this team.  I don’t love it at all.  I don’t even recognize it.  I once thought General Manager John Mozeliak could do no wrong, that he was a wizard.  Now all I can think about him is that he doesn’t have the balls to do something about this.  Like, is there some general manager edict that says you can’t do something about an awful team until July?  Perhaps I am being too harsh, maybe there is just not anything that can be done without making a panicky move that will backfire.  At least that is how I console myself these days.

I think this team does not gel because there are too many moving parts.  Too many outfielders in the broth, not the right seasoning on the bench to use a cooking analogy.  A cook who doesn’t know the recipe and is just throwing stuff in the pot.  It all makes for a very bad meal.

So, I am going to a wedding this afternoon, and if I miss some of the game I won’t be sorry.  I never thought I would ever say or think such a thing.

That is the saddest part of all.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Cardinals Have Many Ailments

As I sit here on June 2, 2014, and look back on the first two months of the Cardinals’ season, one word comes to mind:  survival.  Despite a struggling offense for all of the month of April and into May, a defense that was at times shaky, and a bullpen that was inconsistent at best, the  Cardinals have managed to claw their way into a tenuous hold on second place in the NL Central Division.  After a grueling series of road trips, the Cardinals came back for a long stretch of games at home, hoping to get their bearings, and regroup for a recovery.  At first that seemed to be the case.  After a brutal beatdown by the Cubs in the first game of the home stand, the Cardinals came back to win 7 of the next 8 games.  A quick trip to Cincinnati yielded a series win against the Reds, and then the Cardinals returned home to face the Yankees.  That is when the wheels came off the bus.  The Cardinals dropped 2 of 3 to the Yanks, and then proceeded to drop 3 of 4 to the Giants, a series that included a uncharacteristic bad outing by ace of the staff Adam Wainwright, and a 9-0 drubbing yesterday.  The Giants series was marked also by the long awaited arrival of number one prospect Oscar Taveras, who signaled his arrival in his second AB by launching a hanging curveball into the center field stands.

Having gotten as close as 1.5 games back of the first place Brewers at one point, the Cardinals now stand 4 games back in the Division.  The road is not going to get any better, as the Cardinals now begin 9 games of interleague play.  Four games against the last place Royals may seem like a welcome relief, but then 3 games against first place Toronto and 2 games against the always tough Tampa Bay Rays follow.  To make matters worse, 7 of these 9 games are on the road.

It’s been a painful road for a team that was projected by most prior to the season as being the best team on paper in major league baseball.  Perhaps those projections were overly optimistic, or perhaps the Cardinals found living up to those expectations to be too daunting.  In any event, the team finds itself treading water to begin the third month of the season.

What is it exactly that ails the Cardinals?  Well, in my opinion, it is several things.  The first thing is the manager.  When a team struggles, the first place anyone looks is to the manager, so this at first blush appears to be the easy target for me.  There are those who insist that the players must bear the brunt of the blame for poor execution.  In most cases that is true.  Most.  However, there is an old saying that I am paraphrasing that basically says the best manager is the one that puts his best players out on the field, and then stays out of the way.  If that is the case, then Mike Matheny has been the antithesis of that strategy.

Mike Matheny has done everything in his power to put his team in the worst position to succeed.  He cannot stop tinkering and interfering with his team.  Constant and incessant lineup tinkering.  A bullpen management that overuses some arms to their detriment.  Putting bullpen arms in situations where they continue to fail.  Carlos Martinez‘s awful success rate against left handed hitters was a mystery?  Everyone, including my neighbor’s 10 year old grandson, had that one figured out, but apparently Matheny was clueless.  Pitching Randy Choate against right handed hitters, who are batting. 409 against him is another example.  Matheny will follow small sample size batting match ups to ridiculous extremes when putting together a lineup (it has never been shown statistically that these match ups have any predictive value, even in larger sample sizes ).  When it comes to pitcher splits, which are far more predictive, he is oblivious.

Then there are the maddening double switches, which have served no purpose the way he has been doing them, other than to take the best hitters out of the game in close contests and making his team far worse in the process.   I won’t even talk about the favoritism and double standards towards certain players, which he has been accused of by both national media and to some extent the local media as well.  I will just stick to the things that can actually be seen.

I don’t blame Matheny entirely for his team’s struggles.  That would be too easy and dead wrong. I do, however, blame him for making the struggles that already existed more difficult to overcome.

Another ailment that the Cardinals suffer from is an unbalanced roster construction.  There are too many outfielders fighting for playing time, and the ensuing battle is hurting the team.  The center field position is the prime example of this.  Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and even Oscar Taveras are candidates for playing time in that position.  Taveras is ensconced in right field for the time being because of the injury to Matt Adams necessitating putting Allen Craig at first base.  Mozeliak is reluctant to have Taveras in center field, largely because defensively he is the worst option there.  That position has become the musical chairs position, see-sawing between Jay and Bourjos, dependent on small sample size “hot hand” nonsense and the whims of a manager who appears to favor Jay over all others.  Add Grichuk, who has played center field in Memphis very credibly, but whose best position is right field (he won a minor league gold glove in right field in 2013), and possibly Taveras in some situations, and you have a 4 man race for who will play center field on any given day.  This merry go round puts unneeded stress on the corner outfielders, having to adjust to various levels of defensive competence, depending on who is starting that day.  Defense there could be anywhere from elite (Bourjos) to slightly below average (Taveras).  The decreased playing time also affects the players offensively in some cases (Jay being the exception, who seems to thrive from the bench and yet he is the one getting the most playing time).

Then there is the infield, where the starters are pretty much set, but the backups fall quite short of being acceptable.  Mark Ellis is currently the primary back up for second base, and while defensively he is more than adequate, offensively he is struggling.  I don’t consider this the worse case problem though.  That problem is the primary back up for both shortstop (in that case the only back up) and third base, which is Daniel Descalso.  Daniel Descalso is currently batting .173/.232/.231, with a wRC+ of 31, which ranks him 355th out of 374 in MLB for players with a minimum of 50 PAs.  Defensively Descalso is below average at 3B (career UZR/150 -4.8) to way below average at SS (career UZR/150 -18.8).  Let me just state this plainly.  Daniel Descalso does not belong on the Cardinals’ roster.  There are better options available.  Greg Garcia deserves a chance to show what he can do long term and he can play all the positions Descalso plays.  Even Pete Kozma, for all his offensive woes, has more value as a back up shortstop because he at least can play the position at an above average level defensively.

Something is going to have to change soon for this team to succeed, in my opinion.  What that something (or somethings) is, I think, up to General Manager John Mozeliak.  He has the power to affect the needed change.  What he is waiting for is a mystery to me.

The Cardinals have ailments, and the cure is standing silent.  Speak up Mr. Mozeliak.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

The Best Case For Jon Jay

Peter Bourjos was supposed to start in center field last night against the lefty Cingrani.  Because of a stomach virus, Bourjos was scratched and Jon Jay started instead.  Jay had a good night at the plate, going 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs.  The Cardinals won the game and everyone was happy.

However, I noticed something during the game as I was following on Twitter.  Folks were saying that Jay doing so well was proving the “haters” wrong.  Well, first of all, the results in one game hardly prove anything of significance about Jay except that he had a good night.  Secondly, I wondered who were the “haters” exactly?  I didn’t see any overt expressions of hate on my Twitter timeline last night toward Jay or for that matter any other night in recent memory.  There are certainly people such as myself that are quite vocal in our preference for Peter Bourjos as the starting center fielder, for what should be some pretty obvious reasons.  I don’t see preferring one player to play over another as an expression of  “hate” for the unchosen player.  I want Bourjos to play simply because I think he is the better player, but I have no hate for Jon Jay.

Jon Jay is a fine extra outfielder who I think plays better off the bench and with an occasional start under the right circumstances.  Jay has a history of being a streaky hitter who can go on prolonged slumps.  Moreover, Bourjos is clearly the superior defensive player;  Jay takes bad jumps and routes to balls and has a limited amount of range.  He also has a very poor throwing arm.  When Jay is overexposed, in my opinion, his hitting slumps.

Let’s look at some numbers for clarity.  At the beginning of this season, almost the entire team was not hitting.  Bourjos didn’t get a hit in his first 5 starts, but when he started to hit, at the home opener against the Reds, he hit at a .348 clip in his next 6 starts, raising his BA from .111 to .222.  Jay on the other hand was hitting .188 during this same time period. Then Matheny benched Bourjos to play Jay, who went on a hot streak, hitting at a .400 clip for a 9 game period, raising his BA from .188 to .326.  Then, the slump began and Jay’s BA plummeted from .326 to .267 in the next 10 games.  It was at this point, at the beginning of the series in Atlanta, that Bourjos began playing everyday and Jay went back to the bench.  Since that time, Bourjos has hit at a .311 clip, raising his BA from .179 to .227.

The interesting part is that while Bourjos was playing everyday and getting better at the plate, Jay, hitting off the bench, has maintained a stable BA, hitting .294 from May 5 to now.  The book on Bourjos is that the more he plays, the better he gets.  Playing off the bench or in a platoon situation is death to Bourjos.  Jay, however, seems to thrive hitting off the bench, as his performance at the plate since returning to that role appears to indicate.

Now, this is just a cursory evaluation using small sample sizes, so there can be no hard conclusions drawn from any of this.  What I do know from watching both Bourjos and Jay play for the last 3 seasons, is that Bourjos hits better when he gets regular playing time, and Jay is a streaky hitter who can have brutal slumps.  Given this knowledge, is it a stretch for me to say that the best utilization of talent here is to play Bourjos everyday, and use Jay off the bench and as a spot starter?  Well, if you are a big Jay fan, you might disagree.  I can understand that.

Let me put it another way then.  John Mozeliak traded for Peter Bourjos because he wanted to improve the defense in center field.  He has said this many times publicly.  He also has a log jam in the outfield, with several good outfield prospects in the minor leagues vying for playing time.  In the not too distant future, decisions will have to be made as to who can be brought up and where they will play.  Mozeliak already knows what he has in Jay, but not so for Bourjos, who has only had one season where he played regularly, due to the emergence of Mike Trout and time down due to injury.  Mozeliak needs to see what he has in Bourjos, and the only way he can do that and be fair to Bourjos, is for him to play as much as possible.

Mozeliak has some hard decisions to make regarding the outfield situation, and he needs all the information he can get to make those decisions.  That’s why it doesn’t make sense to play Jay over Bourjos because that would not aid Mozeliak’s decision making in the slightest.

The best case for Jay right now is for him to continue to play off the bench.  It will all get sorted out eventually.  My believing this to be the best use of Jay’s talent does not make me a hater.

 

Thank you for reading.

Please Mr. Mozeliak, Trade Peter Bourjos

Newly acquired center field whiz Peter Bourjos, doesn’t actually play for the Cardinals.  I mean, literally, he doesn’t play.  A mere two weeks into the season, at a time when Bourjos was just starting to put some wood on the ball at the plate, he disappeared.  I believe the exact moment that he ceased to play was after the Milwaukee series in Milwaukee.  It occurred after Jon Jay hit a home run that saved the game.  Jay (or who I also affectionately refer to as “Noodle Arm”), became the starting CFer at that point, and Bourjos was relegated to bench warming, with occasional appearances against lefties, which were few and far between.  Of course the sporadic play put a stop to any offensive surge for Bourjos, who couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm or timing at the plate.

Since that time Jay’s hot streak has seemingly ended, but never fear, Matheny was reinforced by GM John Mozeliak, who called up Memphis CFer Randal Grichuk to rescue Matheny from the appalling prospect of having to play a top 5 defensive center fielder in, you know, center field.  Grichuk has talent, no question about it, mostly of the offensive variety.  Grichuk has a pretty good arm, but has mostly been tagged throughout his career as a corner outfielder.    Here is what a recent profile of Grichuk by Baseball Prospectus had to say:

At the plate, Grichuk’s aggressiveness can get the better of him, as he swings early and often, and frequently chases breaking stuff out of the strike zone. When he remains patient, Grichuk can drive the ball to all fields and has the ability to hit the ball out of the park. He has enough bat speed to handle quality velocity and, over the last two years, his ability to hit breaking balls in the zone has improved. All told, his hit tool projects below-average, but it may still be enough for him to pop 10-12 home runs with regular playing time.

Though Grichuk has been playing mostly center field in Triple-A, he does not profile well at the position long term. His speed doesn’t play to an average level, even once underway, and while his instincts and effort can overcome some of that, he fits much better in right field than up the middle. His arm is above-average and accurate, and he can help prevent runners from taking an extra base.

Overall, Grichuk profiles as more of a second-division whose defense is inadequate for center field and who lacks the overall offensive profile to be a regular in a corner. He has the attitude, intensity, and tools to succeed in a part-time role, particularly one in which most of his at-bats come against left-handed pitching.

 

Saved by the guy who really doesn’t have the tools to play center field at a starting level.  Matheny must have been relieved.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Grichuk.  I say none of this to disparage him in any way.  I am excited to see what he can do offensively.  Bring it on.

So, now that Matheny has Grichuk, and he still has Jay, who could go on another one of his hot streaks sometime in the future, why does he need Bourjos?  I mean, no one really likes Bourjos anyway, because he hasn’t set the world on fire with his bat in those massive 55 plate appearances he has had.  I mean, who couldn’t hit like Babe Ruth in 55 PAs?  That’s a lot, right?

Okay, I am being snarky, but that’s what I do.  My mother was snarky, and I got it from her.

Seriously though, if the organization feels that Bourjos isn’t what they want, then I think it would be best for all concerned if he were traded.  Make some calls, find a team who could really use an elite defensive CFer, and get what you can for him.  That way he doesn’t clog up the roster, and he gets a chance to get some playing time with a team that actually wants him.

If he were traded, then the abuse he is getting for his lack of hitting would stop, and Fox Sports Midwest broadcaster Dan McLaughlin could get a respite from the disgust in his voice he imparts to the world whenever Bourjos comes to the plate to bat.  I won’t have to listen to all the disparaging remarks from other fans, and Bourjos can get on with his playing career for a team that wants him and with a manager who is not terrified of putting him in the lineup.

I think it is a win-win for everyone.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Roster Retribution

Cardinal Nation got quite a shock last night when it was announced that Kolten Wong and Shane Robinson had been optioned to AAA Memphis and Randal Grichuk and Greg Garcia had been called up to St. Louis.  The shock was not so much about the call ups as it was about the send downs, or one send down at least.  Kolten Wong being sent down was rather disturbing to say the least.  Yes, he has struggled at the plate of late, but he still is hands down the best 2nd baseman in the Cardinal organization, and it seems as though he should be given the opportunity to continue to play through his struggles as some of his also struggling teammates have been allowed to do.

Wong is currently batting .225, which though not good, is not as bad as several of his teammates.  Jhonny Peralta, Allen Craig, Peter Bourjos, Daniel Descalso, and Mark Ellis are all hitting below .200.  Peralta has 6 home runs, and has enough service time accrued that he couldn’t be sent down anyway;  same for Mark Ellis.  The others all have option years remaining and could technically be sent down as well.  It wouldn’t make sense to send Craig down, and Bourjos has played so sporadically that sending him down wouldn’t help much, because he wouldn’t get much playing time in Memphis either, with Taveras, Piscotty, Butler, Pham and now Robinson all vying for playing time as well.

The truly head scratching thing about this is that Daniel Descalso still remains on the roster, while the much better hitting and fielding Wong is gone.  Daniel Descalso is hitting .100 and is a poor fielder to boot.  He has no skills, other than a decent throwing arm, to recommend him.  Yet he remains taking up a space on the roster that could be better utilized by someone with more talent.  Descalso also has all 3 of his option years remaining, so sending him down would not create a problem.  With 3 years of service time he would have to go on waivers, but they are revocable, and seriously, what team would take him?  It would have to be a team desperate for a utility infielder with no talent.  Even if some team did take him, the Cardinals would not be losing anything. He really is that bad.

So, the team that John Mozeliak claimed he had “improved defensively”, now has 2/3rds of that improvement either gone, in the case of Wong, or culturing penicillin on the bench, in the case of Bourjos.  There goes all the speed too.  What a waste.

I have to wonder where all this came from all of a sudden.  Just Friday, Mozeliak told Jim Hayes of Fox Sports Midwest that roster changes at this time were premature, and that the young players were better off playing every day in Memphis.  What changed?  The offense showed signs of life in Sunday’s game, so I fail to see the sense of urgency from Friday to Sunday.  If Mozeliak believed the offense needed the jolt this soon, what accounts for his comments in Friday’s interview?  I have a lot of respect for Mozeliak, but it seems like talking out of both sides of his mouth.  I now have to wonder about his credibility in the future.

It seems like unnecessary panic to me.  I get that Grichuk and Garcia are hitting in Memphis, but it has been less than a month, and big league pitching is a whole lot different than AAA pitching.  Maybe they will both do well, but then what?  How long will Wong have to stay down?  Will we continue to be subjected to Daniel Descalso?  Will CF playing time now be apportioned among three players or will Bourjos just be permanently cemented to the bench?  Is it a good thing for Grichuk to not play everyday?  I have many thoughts jumbling through my mind and most of them are not good.

Perhaps this is all just a temporary move to add some offense for the Milwaukee series and the tough road trip after that.  I hope that is the case and not an omen of a major roster shakeup so early in the season.  Making permanent roster decisions based on less than a month of play seems like a drastic overreaction; even more so because the young players at Memphis haven’t had a single AB at the major league level.

I have never been a fan of playing musical chairs with lineups, and lately Mike Matheny has been making me dizzy with all of his tinkering.  I think the tinkering might do more harm than good in the long run.   Expecting players to perform like trained monkeys in such small amounts of plate appearances, to me, is short sighted and wrong.  Hit .3oo in a couple dozen chances or you’re done seems to be the theme, at least for some players.  That’s a lot of pressure to put on guys.  I just don’t like it.

I am an unhappy fan right now.  Not that John Mozeliak or Mike Matheny need to be concerned about what I think, but I don’t like any of this.  Not one bit.  Panic tends not to end well.  We shall see.

 

Thank you for reading.

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