A couple of days ago I read this article from Derrick Goold where Matt Carpenter was quoted as saying that “he’s done selling his soul for home runs.” I found the article especially strange because in the article Carpenter talks about completely changing his approach at the plate…AGAIN! It was just a couple of years ago when Carp turned himself into a home run hitter by changing his swing and approach at the plate.
This is especially unusual because so many hitters have become well-known for improving their careers by doing exactly what Carpenter did a couple of years ago. Players like Daniel Murphy, Josh Donaldson, and Justin Turner have become stars by trying to hit more home runs and have encouraged many others to attempt the same thing. And now Carpenter wants to do the opposite?
Well, not exactly. With Carpenter’s homers have also come an increase in his strike outs. In 2013 and 2014, Carpenter’s K rate averaged 14.7 %. From 2015-2017, his K rate has averaged 20.7%. Over a 600 PA season, that an increase in 36 strikeouts per season. Now, the sabermetric community has developed many a hand cramp telling people that strikeouts usually aren’t that much worse than every other type of out and, in fact, are actually better than double plays. Nevertheless, 36 additional strikeouts means 36 additional balls NOT in play some of which would inevitably end up in time Carpenter would have reached base.
Carpenter is particularly upset about his .241 batting average last season — look at all the good it’s done that the sabermetric community has begun convincing people that batting average is way overrated! — and wants to increase his batting average and reduce his strikeouts and doing those 2 things would mean sacrificing some homers. The question is then, do we really want Carpenter trading home runs for a higher batting average?
At first, I thought the question was pretty stupid but now I’m starting to come around the idea that the answer is yes.
In the article, Carpenter is quoted as saying that he would be content to hit 15 home runs and 50 doubles instead of the 23 home runs and 31 doubles he had last season, if it also meant reducing the strikeouts. Now, 50 doubles is really difficult to get and would pretty obviously make him a better hitter since it would increase his number of extra base hits while also reducing the strikeouts. What if he gives up those 8 home runs, though, and only gets more singles? How many singles would he have to gain in order to make it worth giving up the 8 home runs?
Last year, Carpenter had a .361 wOBA so, clearly, for this experiment to be worthwhile, he’s going to have to end up with at least the same wOBA this season. Let’s say that this season Carpenter had the same number of everything as last season except for home runs, outs, and singles. He would lose the 8 home run by dropping from 23 to 15 and, in order to keep a .361 wOBA would need to go from 64 singles to 78. He would only need to trade his 8 home runs for 14 singles in order to just break even.
How hard would that be? Last season he had 622 PA’s so if he lowers his K rate by 6% that would reduce his number of strikeouts by 37. Take away those 8 home runs and that’s an additional 45 balls in play. Last year his BABIP was just .274 but a different approach that isn’t so fly ball heavy might increase it to the league average of ~.300 so let’s assume a BABIP around .300. A .300 BABIP on an additional 45 balls in play means an additional 13.5 hits. How about that! Even if we assume all 13 – 14 of those additional hits are singles then his wOBA would exactly be equal this year to what it was last season.
This obviously assumes he can reduce the strikeouts by a lot so that he’s back at his pre-2015 K rate. I don’t honestly know if that’s reasonable. Can he do it simply by changing his approach over the offseason? I don’t know that either but I think that we’ve shown that it’s conceivable that he could trade homers for balls in play and end up at least as good an offensive player as he was in 2017.
Obviously that means that if he turns some of those homers into doubles, presumably his wOBA could actually increase. Carp’s best season came in 2013 when he had 11 HR’s, 55 2B’s, and a 13.7% K rate. His BB rate that year was 10% and last year his walk rate was 17.5% so a lot of those assumptions rely on the fact that this increase in the number of balls in play doesn’t force him to sacrifice any walks.
It’s rare that we hear any baseball player, coach, or analytics guy suggesting a player should try to hit fewer home runs so my first inclination when hearing what Carp wanted to do was to think this had no chance of actually making him a better hitter. But maybe I was wrong. Hopefully I was. The numbers, I think, show that this is doable IF he can actually lower the K rate to his 2013 levels.
Thanks for reading.
In the wake of the realization that there are nearly no more decent free agent relievers on the market, and Mo’s declaration that, as of right now, Luke Gregerson is the team’s closer, a lot of the team’s fans are upset. After 2 frustrating years without watching October baseball under the Gateway Arch, a lot of fans had high hopes for what the offseason would bring. As I alluded to the other day, Mo stated that acquiring a middle of the order hitter was priority 1 and finding a closer would be priority 1A. Lots of good relievers entered and exited the free agent market and, when the music stopped, Luke Gregerson was sitting in the Cardinals’ seat. It’s like being promised a great Italian meal and ending up at Olive Garden.
And the howls from Cardinal nation are loud and vigorous. No one wants to end up at Olive Garden, after all. The most common complaint is that the team is cheap, that management won’t spend the money it has, and within every Twitter comment thread someone’s going to use the pejorative “DeWallet” to refer to Bill DeWitt, Jr.
To me, it’s reasonable to not understand what’s going on with the pursuit of a closer. I questioned the process in my post a couple of days ago. It’s not like Addison Reed, Juan Nicasio, or most of the other free agent relievers signed for inordinate sums of money. So why was the team unwilling to spend $17 million on Reed? Is the team really unable to come up with $17 million to fix its closer situation?
I don’t buy the notion that Cards’ management is cheap. After all, just a few weeks ago, the team was willing to give Giancarlo Stanton $250 million. The Oakland A’s weren’t willing to do that. The Tampa Bay Rays weren’t willing to do that. In fact, not one other team in baseball was willing to do that. Even the vaunted New York Yankees — the team most recognized for its prolific spending — when they ultimately acquired Stanton received $30 million from the Marlins and passed Starlin Castro and his roughly $23 million on to the Marlins.
Just 2 offseasons ago, the team offered nearly $200 million to David Price and another $200 million or so to Jason Heyward. Some fans complain about the team “always finishing 2nd” in these negotiations but it’s pretty well established that the Cards’ offer to Heyward included more guaranteed money than the Cubs’ did and the team’s offer to the Marlins for Stanton was better than the Giants’ and the Yankees’. Cheap teams don’t do these sorts of things.
So, $250 million for Stanton but they can’t even go to $18 million to add a closer? How can that be?
The team seems to believe it’s got lots of potential relievers and lots of candidates for the closer’s role. Tyler Lyons is really good. Sam Tuivailala has great stuff. There’s Brebbia, Cecil, and the young guys — Hicks, Hudson, Helsley and, of course, Alex Reyes. But none of them fit the category of “proven closer.” Nevertheless, it’s pretty obvious that the team feels like it has internal candidates who are close to being as good as Reed and Nicasio. The team’s attitude seems to be that it will be willing to pay lots of money for players it doesn’t have in its system (including stars like Price, Heyward, and Stanton) but will not be willing to pay lots of money for a guy when we’ve got someone just as good ready and waiting in our system? In the team’s bullpen, there are several candidates and they’re not just depending on one.
(*as for the “Heyward is a star” argument, it appeared that way while he was a Cardinal and appeared he was going to be a star in the future. His most recent 2 years as a Cub have shown that’s not really the case. This pleases me.)
To me, this is a defensible position. I’m not saying that I’m convinced that Hicks (or whoever) is as good as Reed because I’m not but there is merit to the argument that the team should give its young guys a chance to play and should save that money for when it is needed as long as there is money available for the team to add or keep one of its stars.
I still don’t understand why Mo didn’t just come out at the beginning of the offseason and say, with regard to the bullpen, “we’re going to give the kids a chance; we think they’re as good as any of the relievers out there.” Some of us wouldn’t have bought it but at least it wouldn’t have seemed as if management pulled the ol’ switcheroo later on. I would not have understood, however, if the team had not done everything within its capacity to trade for Stanton.
I still think that the team needs to add some star talent. The Cards still aren’t where they need to be in order to be successful this postseason. The team still needs a talent upgrade but I can see the argument that Addison Reed doesn’t really offer the upgrade the team needs. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I can see a world in which Reyes is a dominant closer the likes of which Addison Reed wouldn’t have been. I can see one of the H’s combining with Lyons, Cecil, Gregerson, and Brebbia to get the team through the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. And, finally, while some of these guys won’t work out, I can see the kind of depth that will allow for some of them to get injured or pitch poorly and the team ends up just fine. It’s a risky strategy, and I would have preferred signing at least one of those relievers, but I’m starting to see what the team’s plan is.
I don’t get it.
When the offseason began, the Cardinals announced that they had 2 offseason goals. Priority 1 was to add a middle of the order hitter and the addition of a closer was called “Priority 1A.” Six weeks ago the team was willing to spend $250 million on Giancarlo Stanton. Two days ago, the team wasn’t willing to spend $17 million on Addison Reed. I don’t get it.
To a degree, the Cards’ bullpen problems in 2017 were overblown. The pen wasn’t awful; their FIP was 8th in the majors and 2nd in the NL. By ERA, it was 7th in the majors and 4th in the NL. A lot was made throughout the season about the team’s number of blown saves but they had the 6th fewest blown saves in the majors, 4th fewest in the NL. On the other hand, the Cards’ pen’s record was 22-29 and they had 90 (yes, count ’em…90!) meltdowns (most in the NL and 4th most in the majors).
Last season the team went through 3 closers, all of whom left the team at the end of the season as free agents. The Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold wrote earlier today about many of the pen’s struggles in 2017. He wrote that the team, “blew 41 leads, 20 more than the LA Dodgers. The Cardinals had 101 games decided by three or fewer runs, and they went 48-53 in those games. The only teams with a worse record were retched (sic): Philadelphia and San Francisco. The Cardinals had more one-run games (53) than any winning team, and they lost 29 of them.”
It just makes no sense that, with only Reed and the questionable Greg Holland left on the free agent market, a team that was willing and able to give Stanton $250 million would be unwilling to beat the Twins’ $17 million offer to Reed.
It sort of made sense that the team allowed Wade Davis to sign with the Rockies — $52 million over 3 years for a 32 year old reliever who’s had some arm troubles in the past is a little rich. I also understood when Juan Nicasio, the best of the team’s 3 closers last year, chose the Mariners over the Cardinals (for another $17 million) because, with Davis still on the market at the time and the team apparently attempting to trade for Alex Colome (though in the same article, Goold basically shot that down as well), I could see that the team might not be able to guarantee Nicasio a shot at the closer’s role. But with the very obvious need for a closer and ostensibly only Reed and Holland left, the team allowed Reed to be banished to the Land of 1000 Lakes for just $17 million.
When the offseason began, there were a lot of solid free agent relievers out there and it was my contention that the team needed to add 2. Over the last month or so, we’ve seen them sign with other teams, one by one, and the Cardinals ended up with Luke Gregerson. Now, Gregerson’s ok — though Zach Gifford raised some legitimate concerns about his ability to consistently get hitters out — but he’s still a fastball-slider guy who has been outstanding against righties but struggled against lefties throughout his career. Despite being a really solid closer for the Astros in 2015, he doesn’t really have the requisite profile for a closer.
Still, I’m not that appalled by Mozliak’s declaration that Gregerson would be the team’s closer if the season ended today. I’m more interested in who the team’s closer will be in August and September and, despite all the mystery about the closer’s role and the team’s refusal to add one this offseason, I think there are reasons to be optimistic about the pen.
First, I’ve long been a fan of Tyler Lyons and think he has the ability to be an outstanding reliever. He could probably close but might even be more effective in sort of an Andrew Miller-type role. He’s always destroyed lefties and was nearly equally potent versus righties out of the pen last year. John Brebbia performed very well for the team in 2017 and Brett Cecil was much better than a lot of fans recognize in his first year in St. Louis. A lot of people are very high on Sam Tuivailala, even though I’ve struggled to see what so many others have seen in him. Matt Bowman is a useful, if overused, piece as well.
While there are no obvious, well-recognized big-name relievers among that group, it has the makings of a deep and decent core. What is really intriguing, however, is the prospect of prospects like Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, and Ryan Helsley joining the pen this season. They are all hard-throwers with potentially dominant stuff that could add some real horses to the bullpen this season. Add to that the fact that Alex Reyes will likely become a member of the pen when he gets back on the mound in May and there may be reason for some excitement.
Still, of those 4, right now only Reyes is on the 40 man roster so, in order for those guys to help the team, some players will have to be removed from the 40-man. Moreover, despite their talent and stuff, it’s unrealistic to think that all of them will succeed in their first opportunity to get major league hitters out. As Goold pointed out in the article above, Hicks has never pitched in a game above the class-A level and Helsley only has experience in 7 games above that level.
There’s clearly a lot of talent and the potential for a very good bullpen in 2018 but any honest assessment also has to acknowledge that there’s a great deal of uncertainty as well. While this may work, and I certainly understand the desire to see what all these good arms can bring to the pen, it’s really difficult to maintain that the team approached the closer’s role or the bullpen this offseason as “Priority 1A.” They’ve added Luke Gregerson…and no one else.
And it’s not like the free agents who signed with other teams signed for outrageous salaries that couldn’t be predicted. If you look at the free agent predictions from both MLB Trade Rumors and Fangraphs, most of the actual signings are either in the same neighborhood as predicted or were actually a little lower. It’s not like the reliever market exploded and the team just decided it was more prudent to go with the team’s prospects instead.
So I don’t get it. It’s not that I don’t get the team’s decision to go with the young guys. I can see why they’re interesting and potentially exciting. What I don’t get is the “Priority 1A” stuff. I don’t get that the team seemed to create the expectation that they were going to go after some big fish (or 2 medium-sized fish) and instead decided to go after Luke Gregerson and some guys from Springfield. Why tell the fans that the closer’s role is a priority instead of telling everyone, “we’ve got a bunch of great, young, hard-throwing pitchers and we’re going to go with them.”
It should be clear from this that I still think the team should have signed someone like Tommy Hunter or Nicasio or Bryan Shaw. There were good pitchers on the market who signed for contracts that weren’t prohibitively expensive and would have provided some insurance if those young guys showed that they’re not quite ready. That said, this strategy could work and, while I would have preferred at least something better than Gregerson in the pen, I can see wanting to find out if Hicks, Helsley, or Hudson can help. I, too, am excited about the prospect of seeing what Reyes can do out of the pen. But I don’t understand what appears to be the change in strategy since the offseason began.
There’s no doubt that a lot of fans will react to the Cards’ decision here as though the team is being cheap and there will be howls of “DeWallet” all over the internet. I sincerely don’t think this decision was a financial one. Those relievers haven’t signed for that much money — in baseball, $17 million just isn’t that much — and the team was willing to take on more of Stanton’s contract than any other team was, including the Yankees. They gave Gregerson $11 million so why not add just $6 million more and add some like Nicasio or Reed who is objectively better than Gregerson? I don’t know. I don’t understand much of this. I just don’t get it.
Thanks for reading.
Last week I went through all the reasons why giving Jason Heyward $200 million is not the same as giving $200 million to Albert Pujols 4 years ago. It’s interesting that, 4 years ago, there weren’t that many teams in the market for Pujols. It appeared to be between the Cardinals and the Marlins (was he really going to Miami?) until the Angels got involved. Part of that, probably, is that it seemed to be somewhat of a forgone conclusion that he wasn’t going to be leaving St. Louis, but a lot of it also had to be all the things we discussed last week — his age, his history of injuries, the fact that he was basically only going to be able to provide value with his bat and, of course, his contract. I imagine that Heyward, on the other hand, will have many suitors.
This week I want to explore which teams will be attempting to compete with the Cardinals for the honor of paying him roughly $200 million over the next 10 years — the contract Jeff Todd at mlbtraderumors expects Heyward to receive. (For my part, I’m going with 9/$190 + an opt-out clause after 4 or 5 years.)
After the Cubs’ series ended, Jennifer Langosch reported that “re-signing Heyward tops the Cards’ to-do list.” Heyward, in that same article, is quoted as saying of the Cardinals, “This is definitely an ideal situation.” It’s clear that there’s mutual interest in Heyward making St. Louis his home for the next several years. The question, then, is about the money. Can we make it work?
The Cardinals don’t really have a history of spending on the biggest free agent out there. It’s not really our style. The last time the team did that, however, was a situation very similar to this one. The team traded for an outfielder on the verge of becoming a free agent, let him play for a while with the birds on his bat, and then signed him that offseason. That player, of course, was Matt Holliday and this was two years prior to Pujols becoming a free agent. It’s clear that the team signed Holliday with the intention of him becoming the team’s leader and star player if/when Pujols left.
So here we are, 6 years later, one year before Holliday’s contract ends, and the team is trying to decide how much to offer Heyward. Like Pujols then, Holliday is the team’s highest paid player (at least in total contract value; Wainwright earns more per year) and he’ll be a free agent at the end of 2016 though the team does hold a $17 million option on 2017. It’s clear that Holliday won’t sign another long-term contract, though there’s been some discussion on both sides of a shorter extension with the team. Holliday is no longer the team’s star player and, after his contract expires, won’t be the team’s highest paid player even if he does sign an extension. It’s time to pass the torch.
Though the team has never gone higher than $120 million in total value on a contract for any player, it did offer Pujols more than $200 million when he left for the Angels so it’s not like the team is unwilling to put this much money on the table. They just know that it has to be for the right player. The team also, as Derrick Goold has pointed out, has never included an opt-out in any contract that they’ve signed. But, according to Goold, they’re “open to the possibility.” It will certainly take one in order to get Heyward to return. They’ve done no-trade clauses before, as well. Holliday has one. So though all of this is rare for the team, none of it seems to be unworkable.
The team also, as I pointed out last week, should expect a huge increase in revenues when the new TV deal kicks in in a couple of years. Playoff revenue also helps, of course. Moreover, though several of their younger players will see big increases in their salaries as they become eligible for arbitration and the team extends some, Holliday’s big salary comes off the books in 2016 (’17 if the option is picked up), Molina’s comes off the books in 2017 (’18 if his option is picked up), Peralta’s comes off the books in 2017, and Wainwright’s comes off the books in 2018. So while a big increase to Heyward’s salary will tighten the team’s budget for a couple of years (he made $7.8 million last year), that won’t cripple the team’s long-term future at all.
Still, there will be many suitors for Heyward due to his youth and potential, and his ability to help his team in so many ways. There are several big-budget teams who could be interested and might out-bid the Cardinals if they want to. All in all, I’d put the team’s chance to re-sign Heyward at around 20%.
So let’s look at some of the others.
First of all, who can we eliminate? Some teams just have no shot either because they don’t have $200 million to throw at one player, they have so many needs that they’re not going to be willing to put it all into a right fielder, or they’re not likely to have $200 million worth of appreciation for a position player whose value comes largely from getting on base, playing defense, and running the bases and doesn’t hit 25-30 HR or more per year. I’ll put the Blue Jays, Royals, D’backs, Pirates, Mets, Indians, Tigers, Rays, Reds, Marlins, A’s, Padres, Braves, Twins, Brewers, Rockies, and Phillies in that category. Some of these teams are quite good, of course, but they have needs other than a RF so Heyward’s not a fit. The Mets, I imagine, will go all-out to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes and, if they can’t do that, they’ll go another route. They could use another outfielder if Cespedes leaves, but their money issues and holes at SS and 2B (if David Murphy leaves, as expected) will probably preclude them from spending a huge chunk on Heyward.
So who’s left? The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Orioles, and White Sox. First, Orioles — 1%, about equal to the Mets. They have a lot of revenue but many needs and have never shown any desire to spend $200 million on anyone. Moreover, they seem to regret letting Nelson Cruz leave as a free agent. Heyward is like the anti-Nelson Cruz.
Red Sox — 1%. I don’t want to say “no chance” because they’re the Red Sox but they have plenty of outfielders (well, plenty minus 1 with Hanley Ramirez moving to 1B) and are woefully short of pitching. They’ll spend their $200 million on David Price.
Nationals — 1%. The Nats are going to need quite a bit of help with Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman becoming free agents, Stephen Strasburg becoming a free agent after next season, and Bryce Harper becoming a free agent the year after. They’re long shots, at best, here.
Rangers — 2%. They’ve got Choo and Fielder locked up and have a pretty desperate need for pitching even with Yu Darvish returning next year but they’re paying Josh Hamilton nothing, don’t need to play him at all, and have a pretty good revenue stream. Adrian Beltre’s not getting any younger so they could use a little youth and maybe no team in baseball is better equipped to take advantage of any power surge Heyward might have as he gets into his prime. I’d be surprised, but not shocked.
White Sox — 2%. The White Sox have holes everywhere, the financial ability to make a big splash, and could really use a star like Heyward in their lineup and in the field (by UZR they were the worst defensive team in the majors last year). On the other hand, they’re terrible. They have holes everywhere and, while Heyward could help them a ton, he alone won’t make this team a playoff team. A 76 win team who finished 19 games out of first in 2015 with Jeff Samardzija, they’re going to have to blow every other team’s offer out of the water in order to get Heyward to sign with them and I just don’t see that happening.
Angels — 2%. Who knows? They’ve got the financial wherewithal, but they’re already paying Pujols $25 million per year, they’re paying Mike Trout nearly $25 million per year, and they’re paying Josh Hamilton nearly $25 million per year to play for the Rangers. Still, they were 18th in the majors in position player WAR and 19th in pitcher WAR so they could definitely use a guy like Heyward. Even so, I see them having too many holes and too much money tied up in single players to see them wanting to do it again with Heyward.
Giants — 5%. They’ve never done anything like this before and they’re also not likely the team that’s going to appreciate Heyward’s skill set but they’ve got holes. Hunter Pence is in RF but he could be moved to LF, leaving Heyward to patrol RF and the very deep right-center while still enabling Heyward to use his power to take advantage of the right field wall that Bonds abused for so many years. Posey makes a lot of money but he’s locked up until 2021. Still, I see them more as players for pitching — Mike Leake or Jordan Zimmerman — than for Heyward.
Mariners — 10%. This, I could see. They have money and a huge outfield that needs to be patrolled by someone like Heyward. New GM Jerry DiPoto is a guy I think appreciates the value that Heyward provides and has an edict from the front office to try to win. He’s going to build around Cano, Kyle, Cruz, and King Felix. Ultimately, I don’t see them wanting to have a 3rd $20 million player (Cano and Felix are the other 2) so I see them probably trying to fix multiple needs with several players but don’t be surprised if the M’s make a big push for Heyward.
Yankees — 10%. Never say never. The Yankees have several needs, a short right-field porch, and would appreciate the defensive and base running value that Heyward provides. They also, of course, have the financial ability to outbid everyone else. If they want him, they’ll probably get him. That said, the Yankees have tried to be pretty judicious with their spending over the last couple of years to avoid paying excessive luxury taxes. They already have Ellsbury, Gardner, and Beltran in their outfield and have Aaron Judge on the way. And with Bryce Harper a free agent in just a couple of year, my guess is that they’ll try to blow the budget on Harper after Beltran and C.C. Sabathia come off the books.
Astros — 10%. The Astros are close to being really good, as anyone who watched them in the playoffs this year knows. They have a lot of young players and a ton of payroll space and, with Rasmus becoming a free agent, a hole in the outfield. Sure, George Springer is in RF but they could easily move him to LF to accommodate Heyward. My guess is that they feel the need to spend more on pitching this offseason than position players so they ultimately go a different route, but don’t be surprised if I’m wrong.
Dodgers — 15%. It wasn’t too long ago when all anyone could talk about was how crowded the Dodgers’ outfield was and how they needed to trade some players. What a difference a year can make. Joc Pederson showed some warts by really struggling in the 2nd half. Carl Crawford missed much of the season with injuries and didn’t play very well when he was out there. Andre Ethier still isn’t very good and Yasiel Puig was injured much of the year and has become such a pain the butt that most expect the Dodgers to trade him this offseason. That outfield surplus is now shaky at best. Most of the Dodgers’ additions since Andrew Friedman took over have been smaller names rather than huge splashes but, after losing to the Mets in the NLDS, they may decide to spend a lot this offseason. I’d expect them to extend Zack Greinke for about $150 million. Do they want to spend an extra $200 on Heyward? This is the other team who can outbid everyone else if they want to.
Cubs — 20%. This is the worst case scenario for the Cardinals. Not only did we lose to the Cubs in the NLDS and not only are they looking really strong well into the future, but the Cubs signing Heyward would not only improve their team but would make us worse in the process. Yes, the Cubs probably need to add pitching but they are going to have a hole in CF and could trade either Soler or Schwarber to add pitching. Heyward then would improve their outfield defense and hit homers in Wrigley. He is unquestionably Epstein’s kind of guy and the Cubs have the payroll space in order to make this happen. Then, there’s this from Craig Edwards:
I think the Cards and Cubs probably have the greatest chance to land Heyward but, unlike the Holliday or Pujols negotiations, there will be multiple competitors. We’re not getting any hometown discount and if the Dodgers, Yankees, or Cubs decide to spend $225 million or more, we’ll lose him. But, as long as the price stays in the $180-200 million range, I think we have as good a chance as anyone…and I think he’ll be worth that kind of contract.
Like other Cards’ fans, I’ve spent a good chunk of the last couple of days thinking about what might have been with this season. In so many ways it was such a great season — 100 wins, 1st place in the toughest division in baseball — and, yet, I’ve found myself wondering how the season would have played out if things had finished a little bit differently. As Cards’ fans, we’re tremendously spoiled. This is the first year in the last 5, for example, that the Cardinals haven’t made it to the NLCS. We’re in it every year. Not many teams can say that. If I was a fan of the Astros, Rangers or even Yankees, I could imagine that I would be able to look back on this season and realize how much my team accomplished. For all of these fans, their teams ended up pretty close to their best case scenarios. It’s disappointing for the season to end, to be sure — especially with the Astros’ collapse in game 4 of their series and the 7th inning meltdown by the Rangers’ defense in game 5 of theirs — but almost everyone has to acknowledge how great those teams’ seasons were. And the Cardinals won 100 games and it just doesn’t feel like a great season. Some of that is because we’re spoiled. And some is because it seems as though we could have accomplished much more. For example:
- What if Wainwright hadn’t gotten injured? Would the NLDS against the Cubs have turned out differently if Wainwright could’ve started game 1? We could’ve pushed Lackey to game 2 against Hendricks and then Garcia starts game 3 when he’s probably rested and not nursing a stomach virus. It’s a whole different series.
- What if Matt Holliday was healthy? He just wasn’t himself down the stretch or in the postseason. Our #3 hitter really couldn’t hit, at least not like a #3 hitter, and we were playing shorthanded as a result.
- What if Carlos Martinez hadn’t gotten hurt? Put him and Wainwright in the rotation and it’s deadly. Now, Martinez pitches game 3 and Garcia goes in 4. There’s a good argument to be made that we just didn’t have our 2 best starting pitchers in the postseason.
- What if Matt Adams was healthy? I’m not the biggest Adams fan in the world but he can certainly mash against righties and he wasn’t healthy enough to even beat out Brandon Moss or Jon Jay for the postseason roster. (Maybe it could’ve prevented Mozeliak from shipping Rob Kaminsky to Cleveland in exchange for Moss.)
- What if Randall Grichuk hadn’t kept getting hurt? Not only would he have been in contention for the Rookie of the Year, but he would have been a deadly hitter in the middle of the lineup in October. For a team that struggled to score so often this season — and again in the postseason — how much would we have been helped with a healthy Holliday, Adams, and Grichuk avaialble?
- What if Jordan Walden had been healthy? Matheny wore out Siegrist, and maybe Maness and Rosenthal, and part of the reason was that we were counting on Walden to pitch the 8th inning and get the game to Rosenthal. We certainly could have used him rather than Broxton and Cishek down the stretch and could have saved some wear-and-tear on Siegrist.
That’s a lot of what-ifs. This was a very good team that could have been an historically outstanding team and it fell short in October — when it counted most — largely due to injuries. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Instead, however, I want to look at a different set of what-ifs. Most teams, if they had to deal with all those setbacks, would not have won 100 games or finished above the Pirates and Cubs. How in the heck did that happen?
- What if Randall Grichuk, for all his injuries, hadn’t emerged as a tremendous power hitter who could play center field? Grichuk was in the Rookie of the Year race until his second injury (remember, he missed the beginning of the season with an injury as well). Grichuk had a higher ISO this year than Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz and Paul Goldschmidt and hit the ball as hard as Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Did I mention that he can play center field? I don’t really know if he can stay healthy for 600+ plate appearances but, if he can, he might be a star.
- What if Stephen Piscotty hadn’t emerged as a no-doubt offensive impact player for the Cardinals? This is a guy who was always thought of as a pretty good prospect, but prospect analysts were always waiting on his power to emerge. Prior to this season, he never hit more than 9 HR in the minor leagues. He hit 11 in his first 87 games at Memphis this year but we’re still talking about the Pacific Coast League. He was a good AAA hitter, but not a great one. And then he was called up and very soon thereafter became a star. He hit 7 HR and 15 doubles in just 63 games. Granted, it was just half a season, but his wRC+ was 133. So was Carlos Correa’s. Manny Machado, who hit 35 HR this year, had a 134 wRC+. He performed better offensively in his 256 PA than Curtis Granderson and Schwarber did this year. And he showed he could play both outfield corners and first base. One of our biggest concerns going in to last season is what to do about 1B when facing a lefty, considering Matt Adams’s profound issues facing lefties (one HR vs. Kershaw notwithstanding). Those concerns have vanished.
- What if Carlos Martinez hadn’t emerged as an outstanding starter? There were many who were concerned that he’d never be anything more than a reliever.Those concerns aren’t there any more.
- What if Jaime Garcia’s career had been ended by injuries? I didn’t expect anything from Garcia this season or, honestly, ever. Pitchers just rarely come back from multiple shoulder injuries. And yet Garcia did, and emerged as one of the team’s best starters this year. He’s gone from a guy who almost certainly would not have had his option for 2016 picked up, to a guy whose option will definitely be picked up.
- What if Kevin Siegrist hadn’t re-emerged as a shutdown reliever? Granted, his season didn’t end too well but he inarguably had a tremendous season. He was injured most of 2014 and the team had to be unsure of whether or how much they could count on Siegrist for 2015 and he ended up becoming Matheny’s go-to guy out of the pen.
- What if Tommy Pham hadn’t emerged as a legitimate contributor? This is a guy the team always thought a lot of but he just couldn’t stay healthy. When Grichuk got hurt, they called him up just to see what would happen and he showed himself to be fearless, to be a guy who can play center field, and to be a guy who can hit the ball hard. His average exit velocity was basically the same as Goldschmidt’s.
The bottom line is that, though this season ended disappointingly, there’s a lot to look forward to next year and down the road. What do all those guys in that last segment have in common? Pham is the oldest, and he’s just 27 years old. Is there any wonder why, after the game 4 loss to the Cubs, Adam Wainwright had this to say?
The season was an unquestioned success, though we would have all liked to have finished stronger. And all signs point to the probability that next year will be even better.