November 03, 2013

#Cardinals: #HotStove2014 initial thoughts

I've already blogged about how the St. Louis Cardinals should give Carlos Beltran a tender offer, and blogged about how they're not a good base running team and need to address that, and also discussed how the postseason handling of Shelby Miller reflects badly on both manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak.

It's time to look at broader offseason issues, having done a sneak peak in August. Much of them are going to focus on base running, because I see this as relating to other Cardinal batting order needs. And, without addressing these and related issues, while the Cardinals will have ongoing potential to be very good, it will be nowhere in the bag.

After all, they may regress to the mean next year on batting with runners in scoring position. We just saw them do no better on RISP batting than their overall average against the Red Sox, and we just saw how that ended. Without multiple errors in Game 2, and a mix of errors and a historic finish in Game 3, the Cards get swept. Also, per this reflecting on Matheny as manager, the team's Pythagorean W-L should have been 101-61

And, Joe Strauss at the Post-Dispatch is right with me, apparently. As is ESPN's NL Central analysis, at least in part.

The upgrades on both base running and batting start at shortstop, where it's more than time to move beyond Pete Kozma, while also stating for the record that Ryan Jackson is not the answer, either. (The fact that Memphis told him to try out an outfielder's glove by the end of the season indicates that Mo doesn't think he's the answer, either.)

The Cards have a few options at upgrading at shortstop. If they think Kolten Wong is ready for the bigs on a full-time basis at second base (an iffy deal to start 2014 going by his September cup of coffee), then they can move Matt Carpenter to third and look to trade David Freese, looking for a shortstop in return. But, per my parenthetical note, I don't think Wong's ready yet, and I don't think the team thinks he's ready yet, so I'm not going to discuss possible trade acquisitions at this time. Call me back in March 2014. And, if rumors of trade ideas are true, I do NOT want Starlin Castro. He's a defensive liability who greatly regressed on offense this year.

But, other trade ideas without calling up Wong and moving Carpenter? Joe Strauss hints that the reason Miller was AWOL from the World Series was to keep him protected for a trade that was already lining up, for a shortstop. Jurickson Profar, perhaps? I would consider that trade on a straight-up deal. I would NOT, per the blog that linked me to Strauss, add another player, like Freese, to the mix as a 2-for-1 to land Profar. That's an overpay, and proposing that is crack smoking.

Per the guy, Ray DeRousse, who came up with this idea?
OK, so, if trading a good rookie MLB pitcher plus a so-so infielder for a prospect is soooooooooooo smart? Then the Dodgers should resign Mark Ellis and trade him plus Ryu for Kolten Wong, right? Heh heh. Because that's the exact equivalent of what Rousse is proposing. And, if I were the Cardinals, I'd take that Dodgers offer in a New York minute.
But, Ray? That ain't never happening.

Free agency is the other route here. The Cards just bought out Jake Westbrook's option, so that's $9.5 million free. Chris Carpenter's presumed retirement frees another $12.5M. So, that's $22M to be spent on a free agent, in part, and "banked" in part. Carpenter has officially filed for free agency, but that's likely just a formality.

Stephen Drew is one option. I wouldn't pay more than 3/$36M myself, but we'll see. Another is a short-term deal with previous shortstop Rafael Furcal, which, assuming Drew's marquee from being on a world champion leads to him being overpriced would likely be a better option.

That said, as of Nov. 16, Christina Karhl, in her weigh-in, thinks Drew is available for less than $10M/year. I kind of doubt that, but ... if he is, I'd take him over Aybar for sure. Because then, we're near a salary wash versus my ideas about Erick Aybar without trading anybody. Sign me up.

Other free agents? Yunel Escobar would also be cheaper than Drew, and Tampa is likely to let him walk. Jhonny Peralta would be more of an offensive upgrade over Kozma. Detroit played him in the outfield when he came back from his PED suspension, but they're probably not that wedded to that as a longer term idea. He'd be more pricey than Escobar or Furcal, but less than Drew, in all likelihood. Furcal, for his age, is still the best base running option.

Given that, that's my preference, as the free agent market at shortstop is thin after the players mentiod above. And, per my caveat on Wong, I'm not expecting him to come up and move Carpenter to third to start the season. So, if Furcal will take a 1-year deal for $6M, with options taking it to $8M, with a second option year for that price, let's make a deal. (And, given Nick Punto just signed a 1-year, $3M contract on Nov. 13, I may have overpriced Furcal by a fair chunk.)

Let's assume he hits half the targets and costs $7M. That's $15M in money left to spend. If Beltran gets the tender offer and accepts, that's $14M left. We should move that up to $17.2M if the Cards are smart and let Edward Mujica walk.

Next come other people who were not the smartest base runners, and who also showed some regression in 2013.

Freese is in his second arbitration year. Jon Jay is going into his first. So is Daniel Descalso. Given Jay's partial regression this year, as well as that of Freese, the Cards should, in my opinion, be a bit hard-nosed in negotiations with both. Let's put Freese at $5.1M, Jay at $2.5M and Descalso at $1.5M and that's $5M of the free money gone and $12.2M left. If the team can't come to a deal with Furcal, that leaves $5M or so above that $7M I suggested there for a free agent shortstop of not too much pay, with $7M of the free money left, or $8M extra to spend for a $15M/yr shortstop and $4M still to bank for the future.

And (Nov. 7) MLB Trade Rumors says I was about on the money on my estimates. It puts Freese a bit lower, at $4.4M, moves Jay higher at $3.4M, and cuts Descalso just a bit at $1.2M. Total, though, of $9M is right in my ballpark of $9.1M. (Sidebar: It estimates John Axford at $5.7; that means he's a likely non-tenure, especially if Cards have some more Motte news by Dec. 2, the deadline to offer contracts.)

Among other things, speed kills, and so does lack of it, in baseball.

Not that I totally disagree, or totally agree, with Earl Weaver's ideas about small ball in general, but the Cards have only about 30 stolen bases on the year, last in the league, and that may be part of what hurt them  against the Pirates. They're horrible on double plays. Of course, not all of those are due to lack of speed. There's been a couple of DPs on bad baserunning ideas on fly balls, just as there's been a lot of poor baserunning outs on the bases after outfield hits. Hello again, Matheny; that's your baby. Baseball-Reference doesn't have a rank on GIDPs, but the total of 104 ain't great.

And, as ESPN notes, the (lack of) speed kills elsewhere:
That team speed spread shows up in the defensive numbers as well. The Pirates are third in the majors with 48 Defensive Runs Saved (entering Wednesday's action) while the Cardinals rank 26th at minus-33. (Matt) Holliday, who botched a fly ball into a home run on Tuesday, has been the biggest liability at -11 runs, but center fielder Jon Jay also grades poorly at -10. 
And, with Beltran both getting older, and a free-agent to be, the Birds could be facing a major OF overhaul sooner rather than later. It may be time to trade Holliday in the offseason, presumably to an AL team. And some Birds fans will probably need to stop the love affair with Jay and Freese.

Sooner or later, then, and hopefully sooner, they need to look at Oscar Taveras as a replacement for Jay, rather than a departing Beltran. (Craig is your replacement for Beltran, if Carlos leaves this year, opening 1B for Matt Adams, of course.) Already last year, I wasn't overjoyed with Jay, and he regressed this year, even with a late-season surge.

Problem is, Matheny still may have some fixation on Jay, though the World Series seems to have diminished that.

Anyway, back to what to do with that money from Chris Carpenter's contract.

Second year upgrades to Miller and Trevor Rosenthal plus full rookie year deals for Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are payable out of that, too, with money still left over.

So, the Cards can make the tender offer to Beltran and spend a fair bit to upgrade at shortstop and still have the same payroll as this year. Or, they can tender Beltran, re-sign Furcal, and save more than $10M, which they can then "bank" for longer-term contracts in 2015 and beyond for some of the young gun pitchers.

The Cards have one other arbitration-eligible player on whom they face a decision — John Axford. He partially rehabilitated himself after the trade from Milwaukee, but, if he's expecting the $5M he got this year, he's got to rethink. Somewhat related, what does the team do with 2012 saves leader Jason Motte? Rosenthal wants to start, but, even if Motte's 100 percent back from Tommy John, and quickly, I don't see that happening, because Rosenthal hasn't shown to me the pitch array needed to be a starter. Motte's a free agent after 2014, so the Cards may try to showcase him for a midseason trade.

Another thing on Matheny, that I noted in passing in the Where's Waldo blogging about Miller? He has to do better next year on managing Adam Wainwright's regular-season innings. His total this year of 241 2/3 brought him to an even 300 by the end of the World Series. This next year, Waino needs to be kept at 225.

That leads to the rest of the rotation for next year. Wainwright, Wacha and Miller seemingly nail down the top three spots, but where after that? Is Martinez the No. 4? Lance Lynn, whom I still distrust, at No. 5? Or Joe Kelly? And, what about oft-injured Jaime Garcia? He had a breakout year in 2010, but has been little better than average since. He is a lefty, which is a plus. And, under contract for two more years. I'd prefer to keep him, if he looks fully recovered from the shoulder surgery, and look to deal Lynn.

Lynn, for the second straight year, ran out of gas later in the season. I'd like to see him off to a strong start, then an in-season trade, perhaps. Besides, Kelly was just good enough, and enough younger, to be the No. 5 for less money. And, if not him, there's John Gast, if his post-surgical recover is at all OK. That's all we're asking any of these folks to be, is the No. 5, or maybe No. 4 if Martinez needs to be started more slowly. Plus, the depth here will allow the Cards to "spot" the starts of Wacha and Kelly, just like with Miller last year, to stretch their arms out slowly.

Or, there's Rosenthal, who's again made clear that he wants to start. He's got a pitching mix, but, are all of them starter-level? At the same time, with the hottest heat, and a dead-speed fastball first guy, he makes for a good closer, especially with Motte an open issue.

And, as of Nov. 4, Mo has said that Rosenthal comes to spring training as the closer, Martinez has a shot at the rotation, and Motte has a shot at doing what he can. But trading Miller, say as part of a deal for Erick Aybar, would have the side benefit of opening a slot for Miller.

Finally, DeRousse never addresses the issue of why this relates to the need to not pitch Miller more in the postseason for fear of ruining a potential trade, yet, Miller was kept on the postseason roster. Guess this Cardinals Expert(TM) is too naive, or too much a management suck-u, to ever be a skeptic.

This all said, I'm developing a new level of disliking for DeRousse with every exchange of comments I have with him.


Anonymous said...

I stopped reading at "Let's put Freese at $5.1M..."

Are you mental? This is not 2011. He's horrible. Not to mention he has a drinking problem that's almost as bad as his striking out problem.

Gadfly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gadfly said...

First, are YOU mental? This is MLB, and Freese's second arbitration year. The $5.1M is a very reasonable guess based on performance last year and the fact that 1 WAR is worth about $6.5M. The Cards could choose not to negotiate, and he'd get at least $5.1M from somebody else as a free agent.

Yes, he was a slight negative on WAR this year, but: 2010 - 0.7; 2011; 1.8; 2012 - 3.8. He'll get $5.1M, or in that ballpark.

Second, got some source on the "drinking problem" claim?

Gadfly said...

Oh, and per teh Google, the Nov. 2012 accident was not alcohol related. (Of course, you can always believe police were engaged in a cover-up.)

Here's a link for you:

Gadfly said...

I may have overestimated Freese a bit. MLB Trade Rumors guesstimates $4.4 million. Not a big diff, though.