Who Are These Cardinals?

It’s early in the season, and yet things with the Cardinals are not looking particularly good.  It happens.  It’s baseball.  The sample sizes are small so the numbers will tell you very little if anything useful about the future.

Invariably every season, however, if things are bad for any length of time, the amateur general managing begins.  It is as predictable as sunrise and sunset.  Something is wrong and someone or multiple someones are to blame.  Finger pointing begins.  Moves that are made are criticized and alleged to be the cause.  On and on, yada, yada.

Hey, we as fans really become emotional about these things.  We want to believe we know how to do better if the Cardinals would just listen to us.  I can’t say how many fans actually believe this, or just act like they do because it’s fun or their bored or whatever.  Having something to analyze and discuss with other fans is part of the experience, with the internet even more so than it used to be because the avenues for discussion are widespread.  It’s a good time be a sports fan.

I am no different than any other fan.  I have a blog, so that reinforces that I have opinions and I am not hesitant to express them to anyone who is willing to listen.  Maybe not so many people are willing to listen, but I can live with that.  It won’t stop me from expressing said opinions as often and as forcefully as I choose.

Okay, so get to the point you are saying to yourself.  As much as I have strong opinions and am willing to exclaim them to the entire universe, I don’t for one millisecond think I have the answers or know more than those in the Cardinals organization who are paid to make the decisions.   Not that they are always right, they are human just like me and make mistakes.  At the end of the day, however, in the aggregate those folks are going to make better decisions than I would likely make if I were in their shoes.

Nevertheless, here is what I think.  The 2016 Cardinals are a less talented team than the 2012-2015 versions were.  I believed at the start of the season that this was not a division winning team and I continue to stand by that assessment.  The “core” players like Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are aging and will never be the players they once were.  The young players are finding their way, and the jury is still out as to whether any of them will reach their potential.  Players like Carpenter are peaking, still have good years left and I suspect will continue to be the stalwarts for a couple of years.  Wong has room to improve, and Matt Adams is, well, an enigma.  I don’t see much improvement in his future, though I could be wrong.  Maybe call this a transition year if you will.  This team is going to be overshadowed by the Cubs, and perhaps the Pirates if they can get their starting rotation to work.

I am a fan of John Mozeliak. I think he has done great things for this organization.  He is fallible, however, as even he, I imagine, would admit.  I think he whiffed on some things in the offseason, to be frank.  The Heyward situation is somewhat murky, as there is some evidence, if you believe what Heyward says, that he was bound and determined to be a Cub, and nothing Mozeliak did was going to change that.

On the David Price matter, however, I think Mozeliak could have done better.  Yes, it is a lot of money to pay for a pitcher, and maybe the Red Sox were going to  be insane and keep bidding until they got what they wanted.  It wouldn’t surprise me, the Red Sox have done many stupid things with their money.  But I think the Cardinals could have, and should have offered more.  Sometimes I think they are a little too conservative for their own good.

I also think the outfield situation could have been handled better.  Once Heyward was a thing of the past, resorting to the “do nothing further” approach didn’t sit well with me.  I think Piscotty, Grichuk and Pham are fine players, Piscotty I like better than the other two, but all are still fine players.  Grichuk and Pham are injury prone, and Grichuk is a weird player who one cannot really count on to be consistent, in my opinion.  I am not saying that keeping Jay and/or Bourjos was the answer either.  I have never  considered Jay to be more than an average player at best, and Bourjos, though I think he was mishandled and undervalued, as he is a better player than most give him credit for, he was not going to work out, as it was clear that Mike Matheny had no use for him.  In an organization that appears to value offense over defense and speed, Bourjos was not a good fit.

As for Matheny, well, he makes bad decisions.  I think he will keep making bad decisions, because I think he is too stubborn and set in his philosophy to take direction from others and change his approach.  Having said that, I don’t think his bad decisions in the aggregate  have a large effect on the performance of the team.  In individual games the bad decisions can make a difference; over the long haul, not so much.  The organization, however, seems satisfied with him and that is what matters.  It is the overall talent of the team that will make a bigger difference, and as I said, I think this is a less talented team.

I am coming to a conclusion, I promise.  My conclusion is that this is not a talented enough team to win the division, perhaps not talented enough to even make the postseason.  I don’t see this as the end of the world, however.  These things tend to come and go in cycles; no team, not even the Yankees, have been able to keep a run of success forever, it just doesn’t happen.  The down times were coming, and as one who lived through the Cardinals of the 1970s, that is not something that I am going to freak out about.  Others can do as they please.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Goodnight, Sweet Friend

It’s over.

It has taken me some days to get past the fact that the Cardinals made a too early exit from the playoffs in 2015.  For me, writing when the pain is new is a recipe for disaster.  Things are said that I will later regret, my thought processes jumbled by emotion.  I am an emotional person on the best of days, so one can only imagine a post-loss next day would be armageddon with a keyboard.  I am mostly blessed with self-awareness, thank goodness.

Now that I have had time to settle down and process, I have accepted all postseason occurrences, one way or the other.  There were some bright spots, not many, but some.  I have moved on in the most important ways from the bad.  That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about it, just that I won’t talk about it like a shrew on steroids.

Why did we lose?  If you want a clever and humorous look at the possible reasons, here is a tool for that.  But seriously, what are the reasons why the Cardinals lost three games in a row for the fourth season in a row?  We all have our ideas and theories, some more valid than others.  For me, it is a combination of things.

First off, it is not a state secret that I am not a fan of Mike Matheny.  This post is not going to be a War Crimes Trial for Matheny.  As a matter of fact, I think this year’s devastating loss is less of an indictment of Matheny than past postseason losses have been.  There were some screw ups, like leaving Wacha in too long in Game 3 and pinch hitting Greg Garcia for Randal Grichuk in Game 4 because of Garcia’s small sample size success against Pedro Strop (Really, Mike?).  Those mistakes were costly, especially the Wacha one, but they had less of an effect on the overall picture than other factors.

Primarily, I think injury and fatigue were the culprits this time.  This team was playing on borrowed time, and I think deep down we all knew it.  The Cardinals won 100 games with a team chock full of the Walking Wounded, and that fact in and of itself was amazing.  However, what goes up must come down, and the laws of physics, probabilities, and just plain common sense tells us the good times weren’t going to last.  Unfortunately, it all came down in the postseason, but who among us didn’t honestly think that was a distinct possibility?  Come on, don’t lie to yourself.

These guys were hurt and tired.  We can certainly admit that the injuries were not Matheny’s responsibility, not in the most direct sense.  Sure, many of us have issues with Matheny’s roster usage, myself for sure, and overwork can lead to injuries.  Players like Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina should have had more rest, but consider the alternatives that were before Matheny.  Pete Kozma and Tony Cruz are replacement level players or worse.  Peralta wasn’t injured and Molina has to take some of the blame for not being more responsible for his own health.  How many times have we heard stories of Molina talking himself back into the lineup after the initial idea was to rest him that day?  Should Matheny have put his foot down?  I would say yes, but I am not the one having to deal with Molina on a daily basis.  All I am saying is that there is blame to share.

I could spend 1000 words talking about each injury and what may or may not have helped to prevent it.  I am not going to do that because it is in my view irrelevant, and speculative at best.  I think we can all agree that we don’t have all the information available from which to draw any conclusions, and let’s just leave it at that.

I will say that roster issues were a concern from the very start.  This is an area that needs to be evaluated and worked on.  Players are going to need more rest from here on out and there needs to be back ups at those positions that are adequate and that Matheny will use.  The latter is a sticky subject, and one that I have, shall we say, bombastically expressed my opinion on in the past?  Mozeliak intervenes but rarely in how Matheny uses his roster (the Allen Craig trade is an example of where I think he did).  He no doubt has reasons that I don’t understand or appreciate, but that doesn’t stop me from expressing frustration about it nonetheless.  If Mozeliak has firm and unwavering views on not getting involved with Matheny’s roster usage, then he needs to be more proactive in putting together a roster that is in line with Matheny’s views and usage patterns, as much as it pains me to say that (I don’t think Matheny is particularly skillful at player evaluation).  For instance, Mozeliak should try very hard not to put a player on the roster that Matheny is just going to waste (Peter Bourjos is a painful example).  Just Matheny-proof the roster as much as possible, please.  No more wasted roster spots.  Mozeliak has to know Matheny’s tendencies by now.

I am not going to expound on what players should or should not be acquired for the 2016 season.  That will be another post.  I will, however, pause here to say, SIGN JASON HEYWARD.

Okay, now that that is off my chest, I will conclude by saying that I look forward to 2016 and another chance at the [World Series] ring.  Until then, may we have a productive Hot Stove season.

And please God, don’t let the Cubs win the World Series, I am begging you.

 

Over and out.

 

 

The Brotherhood of Baseball

I have not posted here for a while.  I haven’t abandoned the blog, I have been both dealing with some personal health issues and have been doing some writing for another site that has taken my concentration away from the blog.  I haven’t had much to say lately anyway, most of my thoughts these days about the Cardinals are repetitious of many of the thoughts I have had all season.  But last night’s events have provoked me to speak up.  This will be a short post, I don’t want to bloviate about this topic but I do want to say something.

What I am talking about is last night’s horrible collision between Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the seventh inning.  Like everyone else I watched in horror as Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the ground, after colliding with Peter Bourjos on a fly ball to the left center field gap.  Bourjos made a spectacular catch there, but the greatness of it was lost in the horrible events that followed.  It was right that the catch was not noticed, the well being of Stephen Piscotty had to be paramount.  Peter Bourjos knew that, it was clear that his first thought was to go to his teammate and summon help immediately.   As we all watched silently, one could not help but be concerned about the mental state of Piscotty’s teammates as well.

Baseball players are paid a lot of money, more money than many of us will ever see in a lifetime, to play a kid’s game for six months out of the year.  The hugeness of the salaries often leads to fans taking cynical views about players.  Many see them as overpaid divas, men who are pampered and spoiled, who think of no one and nothing but all the dollars in their bank accounts.  What gets lost in all this cynicism, I believe, is the notion that these men are like brothers to each other, like soldiers on a battlefield who protect and fight for each other.   These men spend months with each other, in clubhouses and hotels, long plane rides together, day after day.  They spend more time with their teammates than they do with their own families for half a year.  When one of them gets hurt, they all hurt with him.  They have to, the humanness of them mandates it.  It could just as easily be them, each of them, lying motionless on the grass, and they know it as profoundly as it is possible to know it.  There can be nothing more terrifying than that.

Matt Carpenter sat kneeling on the ground, as did Tony Cruz, and Kevin Siegrist.  The bullpen stood staring, wondering whether their teammate was going to get up, or even move.  Kolten Wong looked ready to burst into tears at any moment.  Jason Heyward comforted Peter Bourjos as he roamed, no doubt agonizing over what his tumbling body had done to his teammate.  Can any of us imagine what it must have been like to these men as they waited, hoping and praying that their brother was going to be alright?

Do we ever even consider the human side of these men we watch play this kid’s game?  Or do we just see them as a means to entertain us?  We praise or we condemn them based on what they do on the field, but do we think for even one second that they may be as vulnerable and emotional as the rest of us?  Do we even consider the possibility that the amount of money they make doesn’t define who they are?  These are a lot of questions, but I believe they are questions worth asking ourselves, especially before we make assumptions or say things about players that might be hurtful.

Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the outfield grass last night and we all collectively held our breath.  When things like this happen, I like to think it is a good time to reflect on what it means to be a fan and what responsibilities we bear.  It’s a self reflection worth doing.

My thoughts and prayers are with Stephen Piscotty, his loved ones, his friends, and his teammates.

 

Peace.

The Invincible Jon Jay

It’s a magical time to be a Cardinals fan.  This team just can’t lose.  Adam Wainwright, Jordan Walden, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, all down.  Injuries, sminjuries.  The Cardinals are like a Timex watch—takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.  51 wins before July 1st.  What is there to complain about?

Nothing, really.  Though that doesn’t stop folks from complaining anyway, because no team is perfect and that’s what fans do.  The team may be the best in baseball right now, but there are always ways to make it even better.  The current complaint making the rounds is one that I find a delicious irony in.  Fans are complaining, get this, because Jon Jay is starting in center field instead of Peter Bourjos.  The complaint is based on the fact that Jay is struggling at the plate, as of last night his batting line is .224/.312/.267/.  Yeah, that’s bad.  That’s worse than Allen Craig at this time last year, albeit with less PAs.

The delicious irony in this is that this particular complaint is one that I made consistently all last season, and was basically told to shut up.  Jay was hitting and Bourjos wasn’t.  My complaint was based on overall play and talent, not just hitting, but the hitting was all anyone cared about.  Well this season Jay isn’t hitting, but Bourjos is, and guess what?  He’s still starting over Bourjos.  Ain’t that a kick in the head? (Any Cardinals fan paying attention should get that pun).  Jay starts when he hits, Jay starts when he doesn’t hit.  It must be so great to be Jon Jay.  There is no way to screw up and lose his job.  What employee in America wouldn’t want to be him?

Yeah, it’s ironic as hell.  It also has to be frustrating for Bourjos, because there is apparently nothing he can do to start on the Cardinals.  Even the “grittiness” of being clobbered across the face with a catcher’s leg in a shin guard and then playing the next day was only good for one start.  Maybe the next step is getting butt implants and changing his name to Jon.  Going to have to learn to bat lefty for that maneuver though.

In the words of the esteemed Ryan Theriot (cough), “It is what it is”.  I don’t have anything more to add to the subject, because I pretty much shot all my bullets last season, and I had my temper tantrum about it earlier this month.  Matheny is going to do what he is going to do and John Mozeliak is going to let him, because the team is winning and why rock the boat?  Makes sense.

It is damn funny, though.  It’s all come full circle in a way that only the Universe could create.

The situation will probably change in a few weeks when Matt Holliday comes off the DL and takes his left field spot back.  Then, it won’t be so great to be Jon Jay, because Matheny’s new man-crush, Randal Grichuk, will probably supplant Jay in center field.  I’m not going to open that can in this post, though.  Maybe later.  Grichuk is an interesting topic and one that would use up an entire post.

For right now it’s Jon Jay all the way.  What do you say, the Cardinals are going to win today.

The Cubs still suck and life is good.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

The Upside of Anger

Believe it or not, I promised myself before the season started that I was going to take a different approach with my blogging this year.  I was going to blog less about my frustrations with Mike Matheny and most especially his handling of his outfield situation.  Well folks, it’s June 4, so you can mark this day as the day I lost the battle with myself.

GGGAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Okay, that felt good.

Here is what I am SO MAD about.  Jon Jay went on the DL and so did Randal Grichuk.  Peter Bourjos FINALLY saw some consistent playing time.  He was hitting, hitting better than he did last season.  His swing was better, he was making more contact, striking out less.  Bourjos has never been a .3oo hitter nor will he ever be, but with his defense and speed, a league average hitter is all he needs to be to be the best option in CF.  He was doing it too.

Then Randal Grichuk came back from the DL, and the hyperbole that set your teeth on edge started.  Grichuk started playing more, and Bourjos less, even though Bourjos was still hitting.  Then Jay came off the DL, and that was the end of that.  Bourjos has been relegated to the role of street urchin that everyone takes pity on and slips him a few crumbs of bread here and there.  And he did NOTHING to deserve such treatment.

So now we have Randal Grichuk as the favored child  based on 3, count them, 3 weeks of playing.  Yes, he looks good, but looks are deceiving.  Grichuk has a BABIP of .353.  He also has a line drive rate of 17%.  That means he should have a BABIP of around .290.  So that extra 60 points of BABIP means he is hitting into a large amount of luck, and his current batting line is a mirage.  Ground balls and fly balls that he is hitting are finding holes and not getting caught at a rate beyond what they should be normally.  When that happens, regression is the inevitable result.  Grichuk is not going to continue hitting this way, not unless he starts hitting a lot more line drives and less ground balls and fly balls.

Jon Jay, on the other hand, is starting to look a lot like 2014 Allen Craig.  He may just be in a slump, or his wrist injury could be affecting his hitting.  Either way, he does not look good at the plate.  Without his high average bat, Jay contributes nothing that Bourjos doesn’t.

Despite all this, I am not really angry that Grichuk is playing.  It makes some sense that the organization wants to see what they have in Grichuk.  There is no certainty that Heyward will sign with the Cardinals after this season, and Grichuk could be the insurance policy in RF if he doesn’t.  He has to play, and play enough so that the Cardinals can judge if he is the real thing.  The test will come when opposing teams get enough video on him to recognize his weaknesses; will Grichuk be able to adjust to being pitched differently?  Will his defense in CF hold up?  Scouting reports on him have said he doesn’t have the tools to stick in CF as a starter.  Are those reports wrong?  These are all questions that need to be answered.

No, what is making me angry is that Jay is getting starts in CF over Bourjos.  I don’t want to hear that crap about past performance means he’s earned it, blah, blah, blah.  How many times has John Mozeliak said that baseball is a performance based business?  If you don’t perform you don’t play; that was certainly used against Bourjos all last year as the reason he didn’t play over Jay.  So is there a double standard?    Do we have to have Allen Craig, the Sequel?

Matheny talks out of both sides of his mouth.  With one breath he praises Bourjos for his improved hitting, but then his actions don’t match his words.  According to reports in the Post Dispatch, Matheny said he would use the “hot hand” approach to help determine lineups.  Okay, then why is Jon Jay starting in place of Peter Bourjos?  As of this writing, Jay, with a batting line approaching Mendoza territory, does not have a “hot hand”.  His hand isn’t even lukewarm.  Yet he has started in CF in 3 of the last 4 games.  What that tells me is that Matheny’s words cannot be trusted.  Yes, I will say it, Matheny is a liar.

Am I angry?  You bet your ass.

I can do nothing to assuage my anger, however.  I am powerless to do anything except write these words in a blog.  I don’t like being angry.  So these words get written in this cathartic way, and then I must put it away, for my own good.

To use a baseball term, there is no “upside” to anger.  Except in the movies.

Thank you for reading.

In Search of First

Good morning, good afternoon, good night, gentle readers (I want to be apropos to my readers in whatever time zone they may be).  I haven’t been posting as often as I have in the past, partly because I have been somewhat busy, but more so because I have found myself searching for something new to talk about.  It’s not that I don’t have concerns or frustrations with this year’s Cardinals team, I do. It’s that those concerns and frustrations are virtually the same as I have always had.  After a while, even I get tired of listening to myself.

So, the one clear difference so far this season from last season, is the changes at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup.  Last season, no matter what lineup shenanigans were pulled by Mike Matheny, the one thing Cardinal Nation COULD count on was the comforting presence of Matt Carpenter in the first place spot.  Well, no longer.  Carpenter has been moved down one spot to number 2.  That change was welcomed by some, not so welcomed by others.  For myself, I don’t have an issue with Carpenter batting second, it’s a good spot for him, but moving him leaves the important spot of lead off bereft of a natural occupant.  Matheny has played musical chairs with the top spot ever since, and the last one standing each time has left much to be desired.

There have been as many difference of opinion as to who should be in that spot, as there have been bodies in that spot.  We have had Jon Jay, Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and Jason Heyward.  Jon Jay is now on the DL and the rest have not cemented themselves in that spot.  The differences in opinion have been differences in approach more than anything else.  There is the old school thought that speed should be at the top of the lineup; 4 of the 5 aforementioned occupants fit that mold.  There are those who view OBP as the deciding factor.  Others want a combination of both speed and OBP.  Still others look at the offensive profile of the hitter; the top spot gets the most PAs of any other spot in the lineup, so it follows that that post should be occupied by one of your best hitters.

For myself, I see speed as the least important factor of these to consider.  Speed is nice to have and it certainly makes a big difference in scoring runs.   But speed only matters once that speed is on base.  If it doesn’t get on base at a healthy clip, it’s wasted.

I see the ideal lead off candidate as a hybrid of getting on base and getting on base with a vengeance.  That means consistency, for one, and getting into scoring position as quickly as possible, for another.  It’s one thing to get on base, but you have to get on the right base to score runs.  This is where speed can be helpful, if you can stretch a hit into extra bases, or steal a base.  Doing this has its dangers, however, as we have so painfully seen with our bunch of base runners.  The other way to do it is to hit for extra bases, meaning hit the ball hard and far.  So my criteria is two fold: OBP and hitting profile.

Matt Carpenter fits my ideal lead off candidate better than anyone else on the squad.  He both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  He is also the most consistent hitter on the team.  Prolonged slumps are very rare for Carpenter.  Unfortunately, Carpenter no longer occupies that spot.  I would like for him to move back there, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Therefore, another candidate must be found.  So let’s look at who we have.

I am going to start by addressing those who have been occupying that spot in Carpenter’s stead.  Jon Jay is currently on the DL, but is expected back soon.  I don’t like Jay in the lead off spot for one clear reason, he doesn’t get on base with a vengeance.  He gets on base with a whimper.  When Jay gets an extra base hit, it is cause for a National Day of Thanks.  Jay has the distinction of having the least amount of power of pretty much anyone in major league baseball who qualifies as an everyday player.  Jon Jay has an ISO (Isolated power) of .020.  There isn’t a word in the English language for how awful that is.  Jay’s ISO has steadily declined for several seasons, and with the issues he has with his wrist, the likelihood of it getting any better is pretty slim.  So, NIX on Jay as a lead off hitter.

Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk all have the same problem; they don’t get on base enough.  Career OBP for each:  Wong .297, Bourjos .306, Grichuk .282.  Is it possible for their OBP to improve?  Sure, it’s possible, more so for Wong and Grichuk because they are young.  Is it likely?  I wouldn’t count on it.  I give Wong a better shot than Grichuk, because Grichuk, though he has plenty of raw power,  has very poor contact skills.  He is basically a mistake hitter, throw him a juicy fastball and he is going to hit the crap out of it.  Otherwise, he is going to strike out, or hit a weak grounder.

Jason Heyward is an intriguing possibility, he has a career OBP of.349, good speed, and the ability to hit for extra bases.  The issues with Heyward are that he is currently struggling quite badly, and he has demonstrated an aversion to hitting lead off.   Neither of those things are immutable, so he remains an option, if not now, perhaps at a later time.

So who does that leave?  Well, someone who doesn’t seem at all like a lead off hitter, and one who is probably not going to get that spot as long as Mike Matheny is the manager.  That person is Matt Holliday.  Yes, Matt Holliday.  Matt Holliday both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  Blessed with a career OBP of a whopping .386, and enough power to hit for extra bases, Matt Holliday is my candidate for lead off hitter in the place of Matt Carpenter.  Holliday’s  power has declined somewhat, but he still has enough to fill the role.

I imagine a lot of people think I’m crazy, but a lot of people are mired in the past ways of thinking about baseball.  IT FITS, people.  Get with the program.  You want to win lots of baseball games?  Then stop thinking like you can’t wait to drive your Edsel to the General Store.

My work is done here.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Of Mice and Men and Beating the Reds

So I have some thoughts about the weekend series against the Reds that I want to jot down.  These are mostly random and in no particular order, but I hope they come together in some coherent, readable fashion.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike Matheny be proactive with his bullpen usage.  Rather than leave pitchers in situations where they were not suited, he mixed and matched them quite well.  No unnecessary double switches, no leaving Randy Choate in to face a succession of right handed hitters.  Perhaps he has learned something, (or perhaps he was given offseason marching orders by Mozeliak?).  I hope to see this continue.  No backsliding, please.

As for the aforementioned Choate, I imagine his early season failures have gotten the fan base quite riled up.  Memories are short, though, as many are not recalling how poorly Seth Maness pitched at the beginning of last season.  He turned it around, and I suspect Choate will as well.  If he doesn’t, then Mozeliak will probably take care of it.

One area where Matheny hasn’t shown improvement is his penchant for bunting too much and in the wrong situations.  What in the world was he thinking having Yadier Molina bunt in the 8th with two men on and no outs?  Matheny’s love affair with giving up outs has got to stop.  It has become pathological.

As it is early in the season, I will refrain from making judgments about the Cardinal offense.  There are enough Chicken Little fans on this subject as it is.  Offense has been declining for some time, and that trend is likely to continue.  Fans looking for big offense are just going to be disappointed.  This is not something that is particular to the Cardinals.   Better use of what speed the Cardinals possess would help in the run scoring department.  I am going to be careful here because I don’t want this post to become another rant about Matheny’s use of Peter Bourjos. I think my opinion on this subject is quite clear.  I will only say this; making playing time decisions based on Spring Training numbers is one of the most imbecilic things a manager could do.

However, I will segue that into something else of note.  Quite a few have been making a big deal about the catch Jon Jay made in yesterday’s game.  Make no mistake, Jay is not a bad center fielder; I have never said that he was.  He is about average, which isn’t a bad thing.  On many teams he would be quite an asset.  On teams that have well above average defenders, however, he sticks out like a sore thumb.  As for the catch, it was a good catch, no doubt about it.  Kudos to him.  What is the but, you say?  It is this.  Great American Ball Park has one of the smallest outfields amongst all of the major league ball parks.   Did anyone notice that even Matt Holliday was making catches that he doesn’t normally make?  Let me just end by saying this.  If a ball to the wall had been hit in say, Coors Field, or ATT &T Park, it would have been so far over Jay’s head it would have required a separate zip code.  GABP makes a lot of outfielders look good.

Okay, I have stepped into the Centerfield Wars as far as I am going to.

Pitching.  I thought Carlos Martinez did a very good job yesterday.  He did give up a couple of long balls, but referencing my previous statement about the size of GABP, that isn’t as big of a deal as it normally would be.  I thought his stuff was very good.  He has a ways to go with efficiency and durability, but I think that will come.  His stuff is filthy nasty.

Reds manager Bryan Price was quoted as saying he thought Jason Heyward’s slide into third base was “dirty”.  I think Price needs to stop channeling Dusty Baker before it’s too late.

The Cardinals meet up with the Reds again this weekend at Busch Stadium.  The Reds don’t have a great track record at Busch.  It must be the Clydesdales.  Or maybe it’s that Arch looming over centerfield.  Whatever it is, the Cardinals need to take advantage of Busch’s voodoo magic over the Reds.  I really, really like beating the Reds.  Almost as much as beating the Cubs.

That’s all for now.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Show Me The Money

As the time for Spring Training to begin comes closer, the first steps toward getting that new season roster in place began this week.  For those players who have 3 years of service time (less than three but more than two for a small minority) but have not yet reached the 6 years needed for free agency, their salaries will be determined by arbitration.  Yesterday at noon CT was the deadline for players and teams to submit salary numbers for the purpose of a possible arbitration of those players’ 2015 salaries.   For most, this process ends with a mutually agreeable deal being worked out between the parties before any arbitration takes place. For a few, an adversarial hearing before an arbitrator will determine what that player will be paid.  Most teams and players prefer to avoid this part of the process, because it can be unpleasant and contentious.  In a few rare cases it has resulted in hard feelings between player and club.  This is why both sides work very diligently in trying to avoid this outcome.

Leading into this week, the Cardinals had four players who were eligible for arbitration.  Those players were Lance Lynn, Tony Cruz, Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay.  Lynn and Cruz were first time arbitration eligible; Bourjos and Jay are in their second year of this process.  By the deadline yesterday, all but Jon Jay had worked out a deal to avoid the hearing.  As of this writing, Jay does not have a deal, but salary numbers have been submitted.  The passing of the deadline does not mean that a deal cannot still be accomplished; the sides can reach a mutually acceptable deal anytime before the arbitration hearing occurs.  The Cardinals have not had a case go to the arbitrator since 1999, so it is very unlikely that a deal for Jay will not be reached.

The following is a synopsis of the status of the four players:

 

Lance Lynn—Starting pitcher, 3.119 years of service time.

On Thursday, the Cardinals and Lynn reached an agreement for a 3 year, 22 million dollar deal (23.5 M with incentives).  This deal covers all 3 of Lynn’s arbitration years.  There was some surprise that the deal did not go beyond 3 years, it was expected that at least one of Lynn’s free agent years would be bought as well, perhaps with an option.  That did not happen, but the deal is still reasonable and team friendly.  Extending Lynn was a wise move for the Cardinals, given the uncertainty of the future for the rotation.  Lynn has been a solid, durable starter for the Cardinals, so far virtually injury free, and providing plenty of innings for the club.  This deal will insure cost certainty for the Cardinals, something that is welcome in a time of fluctuating payroll. I like the deal very much for the Cardinals.

Tony Cruz—-Catcher, 3.105 years of service time.

Cruz is the Cardinals back up catcher.  Being the back up to Yadier Molina is like being the Maytag Repairman.  Kudos to Cruz for being the sacrificial lamb.  Cruz doesn’t get much love from the Cardinal faithful, but from all accounts he is much liked and respected by his teammates and his manager.  Cruz won’t wow you; he can’t hit much and his defense, though above league average, pales in the blinding light of Molina’s stardom.  Many fans wish the Cardinals had a better back up than Cruz (admittedly I have professed those sentiments myself).  The team is sticking with Cruz, however, for the time being.  Cruz and the Cardinals settled on a salary of $775,000, a modest increase for Cruz over last season.

Peter Bourjos—Center field, 4.062 years of service time.

Similarly to Tony Cruz, Bourjos, in his second year with the Cardinals, spent last season as Jon Jay’s unloved stepbrother, playing around 650 innings in center field.  Bourjos got much more playing time than Cruz,  and unlike Cruz, is talented enough to deserve more.  Whether he will get it remains to be seen, as Jon Jay is again slated to be the starting center fielder.  Bourjos could be a starter on almost any other team, but his position with the Cardinals is murky. Both a better defender and a better base runner than Jay,  Bourjos’ year with the bat was limited by playing time and a nagging hip injury that was corrected this off season with surgery.  Now that he enters 2015 healthy, Bourjos has an opportunity to show what he can do at the plate.

Bourjos and the Cardinals agreed on Thursday to a salary of 1.65 million for 2015.  This is a bargain for someone with Bourjos’ talent; a good 2015 season will help him for next season.

Jon Jay—Center field, 4.134 years of service time.

Jay had a good year with the bat in 2014, though it is a bat with no power.  Jay hit .303/.372/.378, with 16 doubles, 3 triples and 3 HRs.  Jay is an average defender at center field, but he is limited by a very poor arm. Jay also played some time in both left field and right field last season.  Jay is a high OBP, high BABIP offensive player; though he hits 80% singles, he gets on base at a high rate, which is very valuable.  Jay also has a propensity to get hit by pitches, a career high 20 times in 2014, leading the NL  last season in HBP.

The Cardinals and Jay were unable to reach agreement by the deadline.  The Cardinals submitted a salary figure of 4.1 million, an increase of $850,000 over his 2014 salary of 3.25 million.  Jay submitted a salary figure of 5 million.  It is likely that the parties will reach agreement somewhere near the midpoint at 4.5 million.  In the unlikely event that the matter reaches an arbitration hearing, that will take place sometime in February.

 

That is your recap of this week’s arbitration news.   Nothing earth shattering or melodramatic, just business as usual for the Cardinals.

It is 32 days until pitchers and catchers report.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

My Winter Wishes: Hot Stove 2014-2015

In my last post I stated that I would write another post regarding possible off season transactions (or non-transactions) that the Cardinals should make.  This is that post.  I am just a fan, not any sort of expert, so my suggestions are nothing more than an amateur opinion.  I confess right now to not having much insight into the trade value of any player, major or minor league, or any idea of what the market is going to be.  These are all just shots in the dark.  They are also, admittedly, tinged with some personal bias on my part.  I will do this by naming a current Cardinal player first and then stating what I think should be done with that player.  I will talk about arb-eligible players as well as free agents and even some not yet arb-eligible players.

 

FREE AGENTS:

1.  Jason Motte—-This will be Motte’s first foray into free agency.  Motte is one season removed from Tommy John surgery, a season where predictably he was not very effective.  Motte has always been a pitcher who relies primarily on his fastball velocity and that velocity was down this season.  At 98-99 mphs Motte is effective.  At 95-96 mph not so much, because he has no secondary pitch of any substance to offset that.  Yes, he has a cutter, but it is too much like his fastball to make a difference.  Now, whether Motte’s fastball velocity will return to his pre TJ numbers is anybody’s guess.  However, I don’t think it matters, because the Cardinals already have hard throwers Rosenthal and Martinez on the roster, with several others waiting in the wings, such as Sam Tuivailala.  Relievers are very fungible, so I would expect Motte has pitched his last as a Cardinal.  Good luck to him.

2.  Pat Neshek—Part of me would like to see Neshek return to the Cardinals on a one year deal.  The bigger part of me realizes that:  (a) Neshek can probably get a better deal somewhere else; and (b) because relievers are fungible and there is no guarantee that Neshek can replicate his 2014 success, the Cardinals should let him move on.

3.  Mark Ellis—I thought this was a good deal when it was made.  Ellis is an above-average defender at second base and it was worth a shot.  It didn’t work out.  I wish him well in his future endeavors.

4. Justin Masterson—It was worth a shot to see if Masterson could bring some short term value.  It didn’t happen.  I still don’t think the trade was a bad idea, because I was not that high on James Ramsey to begin with (we have better outfield prospects) and we traded from depth.  You win some, you lose some.  Masterson taught Shelby Miller to throw a sinker, so he had some value after all.  Bye Bye.

5.  A.J. Pierzynski.  I was not a big fan of this acquisition when it first happened, but he grew on me.  He is the other free agent, along with Neshek, that I have a moderate amount of angst about losing.  Not so much for his baseball skills, but just because of his personality.  I think we need someone like A.J in that milquetoast atmosphere the Cardinals call a clubhouse.  A little too much buttoned up sanctimony and inbreeding for my taste.  Having John Lackey back may help, but A.J. would be ideal.  Alas, we could really use a decent back up catcher and A.J. just isn’t that guy.  Neither is Tony Cruz, but that is covered below.  See ya, A.J.

 

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE PLAYERS:

1.  Daniel Descalso—This guy is on the top of my list of players who have to go.  It’s not personal, but he has little to no value on the roster.  Can’t hit, can’t field.  He is also one of Mike Matheny’s favorites, which is reason enough to let him go.   If no one will take him in a trade, then he should be non-tendered.  Do it Mo.

2.  Tony Cruz—I actually like Tony Cruz, but my liking him doesn’t mean he should remain on the team.  We need a new back up catcher, one that can hit some.  I realize that Mike Matheny has this thing for never pinch hitting the back up catcher, but that needs to change.  It’s really stupid.  The Cardinals have a history of valuing defense more than offense in their catchers, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, if you can find a good defensive catcher who can also hit, he is probably a starter.  A hitting catcher on the bench would be a nice change of pace.  So, I suggest the Cardinals look for one, and Tony Cruz be either traded or non-tendered.

3.  Shane Robinson—Good ole Shane is not without value (he is a pretty good outfield defender and has some speed), but not enough value to keep him with all the outfield depth the Cardinals have.  We have other options for a 4th OFer, which is all he has ever been.  Trade or non-tender.

4.  Lance Lynn—Can you spell extension?  Like the Cardinals should really give him one.  If not, obviously he should be tendered a contract.  He is going to get a substantial raise in arbitration, and he deserves one.  Right now I see him as the Cardinals #2 starter.  This is a no-brainer.

5.  Jon JayThis one and the next one are going to get some folks’ dander up.  I don’t care.  Trade him.  Jay’s value is never going to be as high as it is now and his arbitration salary is going to approach 6M, which in my opinion is too much for a 2nd year arb player whose only really good skill is hitting a lot of singles and getting on base.  He’s also going to be 30 years old in March.  Can you spell decline?  His defense was better this year,(it was terrible last year), but how many people have in the back of their mind that only happened because he had some very stiff competition named Peter Bourjos?  A player worth paying 6M to shouldn’t have to be motivated by outside forces to play his best.  Moreover, that throwing arm is a train wreck and he is the worst base runner on the team in terms of making outs on the basepaths.  Get something of value for him before his value goes down.  My suggestion?  See: Tony Cruz, above—a hitting back up catcher.  How about Evan Gattis?  The Braves are likely to trade him, Gattis can really hit, and the Braves could use a center fielder who isn’t B.J. Upton.

6.  Peter Bourjos—What you saw this year in terms of offense is not the real Peter Bourjos.  Trust me, this is my 4th season of watching him play.  Is he a .300 hitter?  No.  But he has the ability to be a .270ish hitter with regular playing time, and with his defense and speed that makes him better than Jon Jay.  He also has a little pop in his bat.  The only reservation I have about keeping him on the team is that he has to play for Mike Matheny.  As we have seen with Oscar Taveras, if Matheny has taken a dislike to Bourjos, he will find any excuse he can to not play him.  That means Randal Grichuk as the every day center fielder (assuming Jay is traded).  Randal Grichuk is not the defensive center fielder that Bourjos is, he isn’t as fast, he strikes out more than Bourjos does, and he can’t hit RHP consistently.  He is an inferior CFer to Bourjos in every way,  which means that Matheny will play him and not Bourjos.  Without some intervention from Mozeliak it will be 2014 all over again.  Which isn’t fair to an elite CFer who deserves to play every day.  So, keep him if Mozeliak can some how force Matheny to play him.  If not, then give him the opportunity to play every day somewhere else.

 

NON ARB PLAYERS:

1.  Oscar Taveras—There are some Cardinals fans who think Oscar Taveras will or should be traded.  That is incredibly, monumentally dumb.  Oscar Taveras did not play enough in 2014 for ANY fair evaluation of his skills or future potential.  Those who make judgements about players based on small sample sizes just annoy the hell out of me.  Maybe he has some work ethic issues.  Maybe he has some conditioning issues.  Maybe he is only 22 years old and folks need to chill out.  Maybe Mike Matheny should spend less time criticizing Taveras and more time making sure he is getting the help that he needs to improve in these areas.  Oscar should still be a Cardinal in 2o15.

2.  Randal Grichuk—I want to like Randal Grichuk.  Until Mike Matheny decided he was the anti-Taveras, I actually did.  Not as a starting OFer, but as a 4th OFer to hit against LHP and be a defensive sub in the corners.  If Jon Jay is traded and Mozeliak makes Matheny play Peter Bourjos and Oscar Taveras every day then Randal Grichuk as a bench player is perfect.  Otherwise, he needs to go, either back to Memphis or to another team.  The bottom line is that we can’t have another repeat of 2014.  The Cardinals as managed by Mike Matheny cannot have Jay, Bourjos, Taveras and Grichuk all competing for playing time again.  Matheny can’t be trusted.

 

I am not going to address those players who are on the fringes of the big league club, like Tommy Pham, Greg Garcia, Pete Kozma and Xavier Scruggs.  How or if they are incorporated into next year’s team will depend on what moves Mozeliak makes in the offseason. It is entirely possible if Daniel Descalso is gone from the team, Kozma or Garcia will take his place.  Tommy Pham could be in the OF mix depending on offseason moves as well.  I just don’t have a good read on how they fit in so I am leaving them out. Assuming Motte and Neshek don’t return, there could be additions to the bullpen as well.

I am sure there are many who would like Mozeliak’s biggest offseason move to be firing Mike Matheny.  While that idea is not unpleasant to me, I believe it is extremely unlikely.  We are stuck with him.  I just want Mozeliak to minimize the damage he can inflict by making the roster as Matheny proof as possible.

Let’s hope 2015 begins and ends better.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Mathenaging: NLCS Edition

That was a fugly game.  No two ways around it.  I didn’t expect the Cardinals to walk all over Madison Bumgarner , but I did expect something approximating a playoff caliber team effort.   I didn’t get it.

Let’s start with a very poor start by Adam Wainwright.   Then add some bad defense, lackluster offense and then top it off with a sizeable dose of Mathenaging and you have a suck sandwich.   Not very appetizing I must say.

For starters,  Randal Grichuk should not be batting second;  he really shouldn’t be starting at all, at least not on a regular basis.  The lovers of small sample sizes are just never going to get it are they? Apparently 2012 Pete Kozma taught these folks nothing.  Mike Matheny I am talking to you too. Oscar Taveras may not have lit the world on fire in his small sample size time in the big leagues, but at least he has several years of minor league numbers and the opinions of a whole lot  of smart baseball people that say he is better than Randal Grichuk. Heck,  even if playing Oscar is not palatable,  Jon Jay in RF amd Peter Bourjos in CF is way better than Jay/Grichuk any day of the week.   At least Peter Bourjos can catch the damn balls and hold onto them.

It was clear in the 2nd inning that Waino was a bust.   But Matheny had to keep him in until he gave up 3 runs.  What were his other options you say?  Well there is this guy named Michael Wacha on the roster, and if he is on the roster shouldn’t he like, you know,  be available to pitch?  I know it’s a difficult concept and all, this roster thing, but work with me here.  And if he is not available to pitch in these kind of situations then WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING ON THE DAMN ROSTER?   Sorry for the screaming but my patience is being sorely tested.

Then, to put the cherry on top of the Mathenaging parfait,  he brings out Tony Cruz to pinch hit in the 7th inning with runners in scoring position and a chance to put some runs on the board.  Tony Freaking Cruz.  Um, was Peter Bourjos dead?  I don’t get what Matheny’s problem is with Bourjos. Did Peter spit in his Cheerios?    Even Oscar Taveras against the lefty  Bumgarner was a better option than Tony Cruz.  I swear I don’t know how John Mozeliak’s head doesn’t explode when Matheny pulls dumb stunts like that.

Matheny didn’t blow this game all by himself.  That would  be too easy.  In addition to poor pitching by Waino we had some defensive non-gems by the aforementioned Randal Grichuk, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter.  And in an encore of What Else Could Go Wrong delights, there was a Balk That Never Was that was missed by a grand total of 6 umpires who apparently were looking at the babes in the crowd at the time because it was so obvious even Helen Keller would have seen it.

Madison Bumgarner pitched a great game, there is no question about it.  You have to give credit where credit is due.  But with an offense that has consistently made Clayton Kershaw want to cry in the postseason, one would think a few runs could have been scored.  I think most people certainly expected a little better showing by the Cardinals.  This is the postseason after all, and even though the Giants have some Magic Postseason Pixie Dust of their own, the Cardinals are no slouch.

I certainly hope for better things in tonight’s game.  I don’t think losing pitifully to the Giants in another NLCS is something I want to experience again.  I have enough misery in my life to last me three lifetimes, thank you.

Ugh.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

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