Has Mozeliak Hit The Panic Button?

It is less than 48 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline is upon us, and so far the Cardinals have made two deals: 1) acquiring relief pitcher Steve Cishek from the Marlins for minor league relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough; and 2) acquiring OF/1B Brandon Moss from the Indians for lefty pitching prospect and 2013 first round draft choice Rob Kaminsky.  It is possible another deal could be made, but I find it highly unlikely.

I like the Cishek deal.  Chishek, though he struggled at the beginning of this year for the Marlins, has been pitching better since he returned from a stint at AAA.  He’s a reasonable risk and the pitcher we gave up for him, Barraclough, has had some control issues and was not likely headed to the majors anytime soon, if at all.  Cishek was a good reliever for the Marlins, and has a career FIP of 2.68 and xFIP of 3.22.  If Cishek can get back to that level of production, or something close to it, he would be a valuable reliever for the Cardinals, in the Pat Neshek mode.

The Brandon Moss for Rob Kaminsky deal, however, I do not like at all.  It is quite true that pitching prospects are highly volatile, more so than position player prospects.  Pitching prospects are more likely to flame out, are more likely to succumb to injury, and can break your heart.  There was no guarantee that Kaminsky would ever make it to the majors.  Having said that, Kaminsky was a highly touted prospect, unlike Barraclough, and was widely believed to be one of the top prospects in the Cardinals system.  Kaminsky was ranked as the Cardinals #5 prospect, and the #2 pitching prospect, behind Alex Reyes, by Baseball America.

Brandon Moss, on the other hand, was having a tough year with the Indians, batting .217/.288/.407 and had a wRC+ of 94.  Moss is striking out at a 28.3% rate and walking at a rate of 8.5%.  Compare these numbers to those of Mark Reynolds, .227/.309/.390, wRC+ of 96, K% 29.9, BB% 10.1, and it is difficult to see how Brandon Moss is an upgrade over Reynolds.  Moss has more home runs than Reynolds, 15 to Reynolds 9, but this is hardly enough of an advantage to justify giving up a top pitching prospect to get him.    Moss does have a .265 BABIP, which leaves room for some upward regression in his numbers, but even putting the most positive spin on Moss’s chances for improvement, the trade was a significant overpay in my opinion.

Even setting aside the questions about Moss’s bat, defensively Moss is a better OFer (much better) than he is a first baseman.  Will he be spending any significant time in the OF, a position the Cardinals don’t lack depth in?  Moss’s defense at 1B is pretty bad, much worse in fact than either Matt Adams or Mark Reynolds.  Worse even than the majority of first baseman in baseball.  If playing him the majority of the time at 1B is the plan, that plan brings his value down even more, even if he is platooned with Reynolds.

Perhaps this is a tough market, and even marginal players are pricier than usual.  If that is the case, then it seems to me no trade would have been better than this one.  With the addition of Stephen Piscotty into the mix, and with improvement in the performance of the Cardinals current starters, the offensive outlook for this team, in my opinion, is not as doomy as many Cardinals fans have made it out to be.  Offenses go through slumps, and there is no reason to believe that is not the case with this one.

The Matt Holliday injury does add another wrinkle, that is for sure, but it seems to me adding a marginal bat that may not add a lot of additional value to this offense is not the answer to this particular problem.  It smells of desperation, a trait that I don’t generally ascribe to John Mozeliak.  Mozeliak has typically been immune to the hues and cries of the fanbase (thankfully), so what made this move so needed?  More importantly, how does it affect Stephen Piscotty going forward?  Will the Piscotty to 1B experiment be terminated, or will Moss play more in the OF than 1B?  A lot of questions about an acquisition that doesn’t add much value to the mix.  Add in Mike Matheny’s often questionable use of his resources and this trade has the potential to make the situation worse instead of better.  It would seem to me a trade for a first base only player would have made more sense, and would have given Mike Matheny less rope with which to hang the team.

I don’t like this trade one bit.  I give it a grade of D.


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Carnage Reigned (Rained) at Miller Park

It is still a little less than a month into the new baseball season, and things have already turned sour for the St. Louis Cardinals.  A routine series in Milwaukee this past weekend will not long be forgotten for its incredible run of very bad luck.  By the time the team left Milwaukee to return to St. Louis, many in Cardinal Nation were thinking that Miller Park was possessed by evil spirits.

Injuries, one of them severe, have left Cardinal Nation stunned and shell shocked.  First of all, Yadier Molina has been sidelined for several days by an injury to his knee as a result of a foul tip during Friday’s game.  Unable to play for the remainder of the series, it is hoped Molina won’t be sidelined for long.  Tony Cruz filled in for the injured Molina in the last two games of the series.

Right fielder Jason Heyward suffered a groin strain in Sunday’s game chasing after a ball in the right field corner at Miller Park.  He is listed as day to day, his return to the lineup unknown.  During that same game, Mark Reynolds came face to face, literally, with the left center field wall while making a catch at the warning track.  Reynolds lay on the ground for a short time, but by the time the Cardinals’ trainer, sprinting to the rescue, got to him, Reynolds was at least on his feet.  After an initial evaluation, Reynolds remained in the game (knowing who he was and where he was at the time, we hope).

However, by far the most devastating injury is the loss, probably for the remainder of the season, of staff pitching ace Adam Wainwright, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury in Saturday’s game while taking an at bat in the fifth inning.  Wainwright stumbled out of the batter’s box after hitting a pop up, and was helped off the field by the trainer and the Cardinals’ manager.  Preliminary reports during and since the game have indicated an injury to the Achilles tendon of the left foot.  An MRI is scheduled for today to confirm.  Achilles injuries are very serious, a full rupture of the tendon would require surgery and a long recovery and rehab period.  A partial tear of the tendon would require less, but significant, recovery time, but the hope for that outcome appears to be remote.

Out of all that carnage, the Cardinals managed to win the series, but took a loss in Sunday’s game 6-3.  The Cardinals have returned home to start a four game series against the Phillies, but the pall of the Wainwright disaster still hangs over the team and the fans.  John Mozeliak has expressed that a replacement for Wainwright in the rotation will be an internal one, though with the recent injury of Memphis starter Marco Gonzales, that replacement will likely be either Tyler Lyons, or Tim Cooney.  Perennially injured starter Jaime Garcia is not yet ready for prime time, though a return to the rotation at some point (however long that might last) has not been ruled out.  Gonzales should  be returning as an option at some point as well.

While Cardinal Nation waits for the confirmation of the bad news on Wainwright, the show must go on, as they say in circus parlance.  The return of Molina is imminent, and the fate of Jason Heyward is unknown, though he will likely miss some of the Phillies’ series, probably replaced by Jon Jay, with Peter Bourjos manning center.  Hopefully there will be no trip to the DL for Heyward.

It was both a good and a bad weekend, though the bad is likely to overshadow the good for the foreseeable future.  Continuing to win would be the best medicine for everyone involved, most especially Wainwright.  A return to Miller Park is thankfully not in the team’s immediate future; the next series there isn’t until August.  Maybe the evil will have dissipated by then.  If not, I suggest a truckload of bubble wrap be on hand.



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The Hot Stove Was Red Hot In Winter

Now that the Winter Meetings are completed, I have something of substance to blog about, though the Cardinals’ participation in the festivities was very limited.  One could almost say nonexistent, if it weren’t for the one small move that was made on the last day of the meetings.

Before I get to the lone Cardinals’ transaction, I want to say that this year’s meetings were more frustrating—and exciting—than any meetings since those in 2011 when we all said goodbye to Albert Pujols.  They were frustrating because the first two days were nothing more than a Jon Lester festival, filled with nothing more than waiting around for Mr. Lester to choose a suitor.  I think it’s a shame when one person can hold an entire process hostage, which is exactly what Lester did.  While I don’t know Lester, and all accounts are that he is a pretty good guy, I found it rather narcissistic of him to play the game that he played.  Be that as it may, once Lester did make his choice, the meetings took off with a flourish that was quite exciting to witness.  The Dodgers especially made their presence known.  One can only wonder how the absence next season of both Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez will affect the fortunes of the Dodgers.  The Cubs got the Lester grand prize, but the Red Sox made up for the loss of Lester with the additions of Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson.  The Reds traded away two from their 2014 rotation—Alfredo Simon to the Tigers, and Mat Latos to the Marlins.

All in all it was a busy 4 days for many MLB teams.  Not so for the Cardinals, however.  Nothing much was heard from the Cardinal contingent, other than meetings with the agents of Lance Lynn and John Lackey.  What comes from those meetings we will perhaps learn in the future.  On the last day of the meetings, the Cardinals made their sole move of the meetings, signing Mark Reynolds to a one year contract to be the right handed bat off the bench, and sometimes relief 1B for Matt Adams against LHP.

So what are the Cardinals getting in Reynolds?  In my opinion not much.  Reynolds has some power, though that power has come more against right handed pitching than against left handed pitching, especially in 2014, when he hit only 3 of his 22 home runs against left handed pitching.  Career wise his splits are a little better against LHP, and that tends to be more accurate for predictive purposes as a general rule.  However, after 8 seasons in the major leagues his offensive numbers have trended downward, which is not atypical for an aging player. Moreover, Reynolds strikes out at an alarming rate, something he has done his entire career.  Given that Reynolds is 31 years old, it is unlikely that his offensive numbers are going to rebound significantly.  Reynolds will likely be for the Cardinals just as he was for the Brewers, which isn’t very good, and could be even worse considering the amount of playing time he is going to receive will be significantly reduced over what he got with the Brewers.

If Reynolds is used sparingly, as a pinch hitter and as a spot starter at 1B against LHP, he could be useful, though nothing special.  However, given Mike Matheny’s propensity to misuse his players I cannot be hopeful that the Reynolds experiment can avoid being a disaster.  I can envision a scenario (because we have all seen it before) where Reynolds has some small sample size success, and Matheny can’t help himself but use him more than his talents warrant.  Matheny is the Emperor of Small Sample Sizes, and he has no restraint when it comes to the radiant beauty of the small sample size.  I am getting nauseous just thinking about it.

The bottom line for me is that I am not thrilled about the signing of Reynolds.  I think the Cardinals could get the same production from Xavier Scruggs for 1.5M less.  Mozeliak felt this was the correct course, however, so there it is.  Perhaps it will turn out better than I predict.  If not, then we have the Wigginton model to follow—release him and eat the salary.

For what it’s worth, some of the offseason has gone swimmingly.  The acquisition of Jason Heyward was all I could have wished for, and then my cup runneth over when Daniel Descalso was non-tendered.  At this stage I will take what I can get.

Pitchers and catchers report in 70 days.  It can’t come soon enough.



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