Top five free agents since 2010: St. Louis Cardinals

The MLB offseason has been eventful for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Trading for slugger Paul Goldschmidt and signing bullpen presence Andrew Miller. While the market is still full of impactful players the Cardinals made It well known that they are looking to be players during the 2018 offseason.  It got me thinking about the last time the Cardinals made a big move on the free agent market.  Here are my top five free agent pickups since 2010.

5.Jhonny Peralta, 2013

The Cardinals inked a freshly suspended Peralta in the offseason of 2013 to a 4-year $52 million deal. Peralta was signed to fill a long-time gap in the Cardinals lineup at shortstop and for a small time he was very effective. His first season was successful in St. Louis posting a career best WAR of 5.9 during the 2014 season.

Peralta tailed off in the 2015 season with his WAR dropping to an abysmal 1.9. Whoever Peralta’s raw statistics were credible enough to earn himself an All-Star game bid.  The decline continued in 2015 as injuries and poor play led to his eventual release in 2017.   Peralta’s production over two seasons still puts him on this list.

4. Pat Neshek, 2013

Pat Neshek signed in the 2013 offseason along with Peralta.  Neshek however was not nearly at the same cost.  Neshek signed a 1-year minor league deal with incentives, he paid that off beyond the Cardinals highest beliefs. Looked at as a right-handed specialist Neshek developed into a lights out middle inning pitcher for the National League champs. 

A career high in wins with 7 and a 1.87 earned-run average, a 2.37 fielding-independent ERA, and $13.7 million in surplus value. Neshek earned himself his first ever All-Star game appearance, Neshek was able to turn his 2013 success into a bigger contract with the Astros the next season.  While it was only one year his success over that season at such a low cost was a huge asset.

3. Seunghwan Oh, 2015

The Korean Buddha was a quiet signing in the 2015 offseason.  The former NPB closer signed a one-year deal with a team option for the 2017 season.  Oh had a stellar 2016 season, eventually forcing himself into the closers role.  His 1.92 ERA, 103 strikeouts and 19 saves were amassed over 76 games. 

Oh filled a need for the Cardinals in 2016, the club of course picked up his option for the 2017 season.  Unfortunately, Oh was not able to perform at the same level as the previous season forcing the Cardinals to let him walk after the season.  His slider has regained its effectiveness in 2018 making him a valuable asset for the wildcard winning Colorado Rockies.

2. Carlos Beltran, 2011

Looking for a veteran beat before the 2012 season the Cardinals signed multi-time all-star Carlos Beltran to their World Series roster.  At two-years, $26 million the Cardinals were looking to solidify their lineup after losing superstar Albert Pujols.

Beltran paid off the Cardinals investment, hitting 32 homers with a .842 OPS.  Beltran earned himself another all-star appearance in his storied career. His 3.9 WAR was the highest he had over the last four seasons.

Beltran followed up 2012 with another solid season, but injuries down the stretch of 2013 hurt the final playoff run.  Going into his age 37 season the Cardinals let Beltran walk, signing with the New York Yankees. 

1. Lance Berkman, 2010

Primarily a first baseman his entire career.  Most thought it was a bit of a stretch to sign the 35-year old Berkman.  He had come off the worst season of his career while splitting time with the Yankees and Astros.  Moving Berkman to the outfield the Cardinals got a rejuvenated player that was worth every bit of his 1-year, $8 million he signed for.  He posted a 163 wRC+, his highest mark since 2001, and was among the team’s best hitters in the postseason, where he had one of the most important hits in Cardinals baseball history.

Berkman’s second season with the Cardinals was plagued by injury.  But he had the biggest impact of any player signed over the last ten years.

Thoughts?

St. Louis Cardinals- New Year’s Resolutions

Marcel Ozuna- Get myself paid.

Contract years are always a great way to inspire a player to be his best.  He is not only playing for his team but he is playing for himself and his future. Ozuna wasn’t the player the Cardinals traded for in the winter of 2018. He wasn’t the power hitting impact bat that would make the Cardinals lineup a force to be reckoned with.

Ozuna spent most of the season injured, putting together a respectable season but not one that is going to get him the contract he will be looking for. Fans won’t be excited to see a player that will clearly be inspired by the all mighty dollar, but that will be the story for Ozuna in 2019.  I expect Marcel to return to MVP level performance, 35 homers will be a guarantee.

Paul DeJong- Play 150 games

Paul DeJong will enter the 2019 season as one of the most intriguing candidates for a breakout season. At just 25 years old, DeJong is still developing a major league shortstop.  A broken hand on a wild pitch as well as a few different prolonged slumps caused his stats to take a bit of a dive.  Still finishing with an impressive 3.8 WAR DeJong will now have the luxury of a stronger lineup around him. 

DeJong does not have any logical replacements on the bench outside of the versatile Yairo Munoz, who would be a preferred utility player.  DeJong will not only need to continue his progression as a player but he must also find his way into the lineup on a daily basis.  The more he plays the better the Cardinals will be.

Carlos Martinez- Become the Ace I think I am

The time for development is done for Carlos Martinez.  As he enters 2019 he will be looking to take over the role of rotation leader. Adam Wainwright has signed on for another season but it is time for Carlos to be the best pitcher in the rotation or if needed in the bullpen. 

Martinez is entering his 7th season for the Cardinals, he is still just 27 years old!  The attitude he brings out to the mound is one of dominance.  He believes that he is the best player on the field and now it is time for him to prove it. Two straight season Carlos has been the opening day starter for the Cardinals, it would be safe to assume that he and Miles Mikolas will be dueling for that honor in spring training. 

Martinez’s mediocore season accompanied with him now history of injuries has put him in a place where he has to prove himself.  That will be his goal in 2019, he will prove he is an ace.

Harrison Bader- Win the Gold Glove

Asking a second-year player to go out and win a prestigious award is not like asking your coworker to make sure they up their sales.  Bader showed the ability to take over games defensively.  He will now have the chance to play every day and showed the world that he is that good.

Bader finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year Ballot in 2018 and should have won a Gold Glove. In 2019 Bader will take his next step forcing the baseball world to take notice and give him the award. 

Jordan Hicks- Establish my slider

Since his first pitch in the majors Jordan Hicks has been a force in the league.  Hick’s first pitched was 100.8 MPH sinker that immediately grabbed the attention of players, media and fans.  While Hicks was showing he could throw the hardest fastballs in the league, he was still not getting the strikeout numbers that a player of his caliber should be.

Averaging just an 8.1 so/9 in 2018. Hicks has a rocket for an arm, but has still now established a secondary pitch that is effective enough to make him an elite level reliever. In April, 175 pitchers threw at least 50 sliders, and only four got fewer swings than Hicks’ 28.6 percent. It was worse outside the zone, which is where you really want sliders to induce swings and misses. Only two pitchers got fewer chases then Hicks did.

 Then all of a sudden in June, Hicks began to establish his slider. Hicks was able to go from a 30% swing and miss rate to a 60% swing and miss rate, doubling his strikeouts from the month before in three less innings.  When Hicks has a slider working he is a pitching that can be a potential closer.  Start the season dominating with a slider.

Mike Schildt- Don’t be Mike Matheny

This one is easy.  Don’t be Mike Matheny.  Trust your young players and make changes when you need to. Don’t be like Matheny.

Dexter Fowler- 2019’s Most Important Player?

The saga of Dexter Fowler is sickening to pretty much all Cardinals fans.  His 2018 regression was historically awful, his perceived love of the Chicago Cubs is inexcusable.  Nevertheless, entering into the 2019 season, he may be the most important piece to a team that seems primed to get back to the playoffs. 

Fowler is not what Cardinals fans want, he’s not Bryce Harper. It’s time to accept the fact that most likely the Cardinals will enter the season with Fowler as the projected starting right fielder. He will play the role of either #2 hitter setting up for offseason pickup Paul Goldschmidt or he will be batting in the 6th spot protecting the bigger bats.  .180/.278/.298 are numbers you expect to see from a Starting Pitcher rather than your $16.5 million per year starting outfielder.  But to say that he repeats those numbers is almost unfathomable. In Fowler’s worst season outside of 2018 the lowest OBP he recorded was .364 in 2015, his lowest OPS .757 also in 2015. Whether it was the reported depression, injury or who knows what else, regression of that level is unheard of in major league history. 

While the Cardinals may never have the man to live up the contract that was signed in the offseason of 2016 realistically they don’t need the Fowler that posted an .840 and .851 OPS in 2016 and 2017.  They need a Fowler that can be at his career average at best to be successful. Despite his dreadful 2018 Fowler still has a career OPS of .780 nearly 60 points higher than the MLB average was in 2018.  Looking at the 2018 playoff teams worst OPS player you can see that all the Cardinals would need is a below average season from Fowler to get what they need.

Rockies, Ian Desmond, 160 games, .729 OPS

Brewers, Ryan Braun, 125 games, .782 OPS

Dodgers, Chris Taylor, 155 games, .775 OPS

Braves, Ender Inciarte, 156 games, .705 OPS

Combined average = .747 OPS

Fowler would need to be at just a .747 OPS to be where the Cardinals would need him to be. As previously stated only one time in his career has he posted an OPS below that mark (last season). While they were small, Fowler did show signs of life before his foot injury raising his OPS to .659 when compared to his June .412.  He added three homeruns in 64 at-bats in July compared to the zero he had in 55 at-bats in June.  Signs of life were there but quickly faded after getting hit by a pitch in early August. 

His defense has been the subject of criticism as well last season, but he was never touted as a Gold Glover before being signed.  With the addition of Paul Goldschmidt the Cardinals now have at least four potential Gold Glove winners, Bader, Wong, Yadi, Goldy and a past winner in Marcell Ozuna.  Any issues Fowler has in the field should be covered by the play of those around him.  He isn’t worse than Jose Martinez and the Cardinals were fine with risking their defense for the bigger bat. 

I want Bryce Harper, I want Tyler O’Neil to get more at bats.  But seemingly that is not going to be a guaranteed option unless the Cardinals are willing to eat $41 million over the next two seasons.  The Cardinals are not going to do that, they are going to ride with Fowler until they are forced to realize that he has nothing left.  This team now has its cornerstone bat in the middle of the order, they have the pitching staff that can give them a chance to win every night. All they need is a small piece of the player they believed they had signed to be successful.  It’s there, hopefully we see it.

@italksportsti

Cardinals struck Gold! Whats next?

An impact bat, someone that can strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers, a player to build your lineup around.  These were the comments most associated with the St. Louis Cardinals heading into the offseason. A team that has the ancillary pieces to win but lacked the true star that can change an organization. Enter Paul Goldschmidt, the silent assassin that has been hidden in the desert. St. Louis was able to make a deal for the perrennial MVP for a catcher that was not going to play for two years, a pitcher that was 9th on the depth chart and player that feels like the last resort throw in Brad Pitt and Jonah hill were looking for in Moneyball.  Now that the power bat has been added its time to move on to the next step.  Cardinals fans don’t want Mo and Girsch to settle.  Let’s look at some different scenarios that could happen. 

Dream Scenario-Sign Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel and find a suitor for Dexter Fowler.  

The Cardinals still have a need for a left-handed swinging outfielder that they can rely on for the upcoming season. Currently the projected bench consists of Yairo Munoz, Jedd Gyroko, Jose Martinez, Dexter Fowler/Tyler O’neil and whomever the backup catcher will be.  That is a litany of right handed bats to go along with the switching hitting Fowler.  The need for a left-handed swinging outfielder is obvious.  Enter Bryce Harper, the most decorated of potential free agent signings could fit right into a lineup in need of left-handed depth.  The endless ways that this lineup could be constructed with bats like Goldy, Carp, Harper and Ozuna would be a murderers row of potential OPS. dominance.

Lets be realistic in the idea that after the season someone will have to walk.  Try and lock up Harper for 10year/$350,000 deal with a player option after four years.  You then proceed to let Marcell Ozuna walk after the 2019 season and take more of your finances to lock up Goldschmidt for 3-4 years at about $25 million a year.  While that is a lot of money attributed to two players, you have to take into account that Yadier Molina’s $20 million a year will be coming off the books in 2020. 

Next you get Craig Kimbrel, the model of consistency over the last decade to be your close, eat the money for Dexter Fowler and hopefully find a suitor willing to take him on just to cut him loose. All of a sudden you have filled every hole your team has with the premium player that those positions. 

Nightmare Scenario- Cards do nothing to build on their momentum.

This is a simple answer, if the Cardinals front office decides that the bullpen is complete, the struggles to finish off games will continue.  The great offense that Goldschmidt will provide could be negated because Jordan Hicks has been overused for the week.  While bringing in an accomplished closer is not a walk in the park, the Cardinals may still be burned by their most recent moves in free agency to bolster their bullpen. Memories of the Brett Cecil and Greg Holland contract are still haunting Mozeliak, so Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel may be to much for him. 

If Dexter Fowler is still in the plans for the Cardinals they are banking on a player that had a historically bad season entering his age 33 season. 

Realistic Scenario- Extend Mikolas, add reliever and lefty bench player.

Miles Mikolas doesn’t bring the flash of a high-level starter.  He doesn’t have the Carlos Martinez stuff or the youth of Jack Flaherty.  What he brings is a vital ability to todays game that has gotten lost in the emergence of the bullpen era.  Mikolas is an innings eater that relies on pitching to contact and being efficient.  He will lead the team in innings pitched next year (barring injury) and will save innings for your core bullpen arms. Lock him up and throw away the key.  

Signing Tony Sipp should be the next move that completes the bullpen.  Allow your relievers to work out who the closer will be going into next season and solidify the left side. Sipp not only held lefties to a .191BA last season but also held a 0.90ERA in Minute Maid Park!  With Anthony Rizzo and Christian Yelich being the premiere players on your opposition Sipp would be the perfect addition to a staff that is unproven to say the least from the left side. 

Bryce Harper makes a lot of sense, but the addition of Goldschmidt will be the move that Mozeliak will justify over spending more for Harper.  Adding Micheal Brantley would be ideal after the pickup of Goldy, but to live more realistic I could see a reclamation project like Matt Joyce or a proven bench player like Gerardo Parra.  While these are sexy options they could fit the need of a lefty handed bat in the outfield.  Sadly though I see a platoon of Fowler/O’Neil coming into the season.  

Finally, they need to trade Jose Martinez to an American League club.  He brings limited power and basically zero defense from your bench.  He was great in 2018 but there is no where for him to go from here.  

Thanks and let me hear your opinions.

Lee Smith- True Hall of Famer

Lee Smith established himself as one of MLB’s most dominating closers over his 18-year, 8-team career. Smith converted an astonishing 478 saves (3rd all time), had 7 All-Star game appearances, and was the all time saves leader in major league baseball history until dethroned by Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman in 2006.  Smith will not make it to the Hall of Fame but his legacy should not be tarnished for that fact.  Despite the opinions of the voters Smith was worthy of the honor. Smith is the perfect indication of a flawed system when rating what a relievers true impact can be.  

A native of Jamestown, La., Smith was discovered by Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neil, who spent decades as a scout for the Cubs. While dealing with control issues early on in his career Smith was converted into a reliever by the Cubbies and found immediate success. Making his debut in 1980 Smith had fixed his control issues and become a cornerstone in the bullpen.  When Closer Bruce Sutter was traded to the Cardinals in December of 1980 Smith assumed the role of closer after the strike shortened season of 1981. Now in the closers role Smith showed that he had what it took to be a dominant reliever earning his first All- Star appearance in 83′, leading the national league with 29 saves and pitching to a 1.65 ERA in 103 1/3 innings—the type of performance that would unfortunately become nearly obsolete by the end of the decade with the Eckersley-driven move to the one-inning closer (A point that will come up later). Smith continued his model of consistency placing top five in the national league in saves as well as ERA over the next four seasons. A trade to the Boston Red Sox in 1987 was a blip his career, most notably taking the loss in Game 2 of the ALCS  against the Athletics.  It was a trade to the St. Louis Cardinals at the beginning of the 1990 season that put his career back on track. 

The Cardinals gave Smith a stellar opportunity to close, allowing him to cement himself in closer allure.  Raking up saves like dirt on Craig Biggio’s helmet, Smith put together three of the most impressive seasons any reliever has ever put on, breaking Bruce Sutter’s NL saves record with 47 in 1991, followed by three straight 40+ save seasons.  Smith was so great during the 91′ season he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting behind Tom Glavine.  Smith took over the career saves record in 1993 passing then leader Jeff Reardon. Smith spent the rest of his career as a bit of a journey men, moving around from team to team.  His effectiveness didn’t end though as he collected 33 saves with Baltimore in 1994 and 37 saves with California in 1995.  Smith spent his final years in a setup role before calling it quits in 1997, retiring as the all time saves leader in professional baseball, but at the time only two career relievers, Hoyt Whilhelm ’85 and Rollie Fingers ’92 had gotten the call of immortality into the baseball Hall of Fame.  Smith had a tough hill to climb.

There were multiple reasons why he should have been a Hall of Famer:

 1.)Third All-Time in MLB saves behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera. 

2.)7-time All Star

3.)Smith’s 169 long saves (four outs or more) ranks fourth behind Rollie Fingers (201), Goose Gossage (193) and Bruce Sutter (188), all of whom began their major league careers several years earlier. Smith’s 1,022 total appearances ranked ranked third when he retired, behind only Wilhelm and Kent Tekluve, but he is now tied for 12th.

4.)First pitcher in history to 400 career saves.

5.) Four straight 40 save seasons

The biggest reason why Smith should be in the Hall of Fame cannot be broken down by sabermetrics. Smith was the model of consistency at a position that at the time was not a one inning relief role.  For ten years Smith was the standard of what to look for in a relief pitcher.  While the late 90’s and early 2000’s Rivera and Hoffman became the highest ceiling of a reliever, they were both looking up to the standards that were set by Lee Smith.  He consistency and bulldog approach were the things that made him great sadly those are not the standards we vote by anymore.  Smith never lead a team to the World Series, he was constantly on the move during his career.  He was not a dominant WAR player, he was just the best of his time for 5+ years.  It’s a shame he is not in the Hall of Fame.  

3 trades the Cardinals could make if Harper says no.

The St. Louis Cardinals are at the forefront of almost all offseason talks.  Bryce Harper,  Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Brantley and basically anyone that has a pulse have been referenced as potential pickups.  The Cardinals have also been linked as a potential trade candidate for Diamondbacks Star Paul Goldschimdt.  If any of these scenarios were not to play out there are a few options that would make a lot of sense for Mo and Girsch to look into.

Kirby Yates, RP, San Diego Padres

The Cardinals have made it apparent that they are in need of a swing and miss pitcher at the backend of their bullpen.  Yates has quietly been one of the most consistent relievers for a bullpen that has been widely underrated. Yates has posted a staggering 29.% K-BB ranking him 7th among all pitchers that have pitched 40 innings or more. He has two pitches that cause above average swing and miss rates, his split-change (45.9%) and slider (44%).

Yates can fit right into the Cardinals bullpen as a late inning reliever and potential closer.  His contract is also very team friendly as he is controlled until the 2020 season. The Padres have an asset that they can move for more young talent that can help continue their rebuild .  Yates at 31 years old is not a player that the Padres are looking to build anything around.  Take advantage of the situation and get your self a swing and miss pitcher.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays

Like the Padres, the Blue Jays are looking at a rebuild.  Rowdy Tellez showed that he is ready for the majors.  That means Smoak will be on his way out. Cardinals fans will have their issues with the Smoak pick up.  Known more for his inconsistency after being a highly touted prospect, Smoak followed up a breakout 2017 season with a respectable 2018 season. Smoak also brings a switching hitting aspect to his game, more effectively from the left side (A need for the Cardinals), from the left side Smoak excelled with a .867 OPS, hitting 20 of his 25 homers.

Smoak doesn’t bring much with the glove sitting at about league average over the last four seasons in defensive runs saved. A team in need of offense, however, could be willing to overlook these drawbacks for a switch-hitter who has created 28 percent more runs (128 wRC+) than the average big league hitter over the last two seasons.The 31-year-old has an .854 OPS and 62 homers over the last two seasons. Good stuff for a guy whose 2019 club option will only pay out $8 million.

David Peralta, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have a litany of great players up for grabs.  The most underrated of them all could be Outfielder David Peralta.  Peralta has seen a jump in power statistics in 2018.

  ISO SLG wOBA wRC+
2017 150 444 342 104
2018 223 516 368 130

The increases led to the most productive season of Peralta’s career.  Peralta has his issues most notably with left-handed pitching, hitting only .237 against southpaws.  It got to the point that Peralta had become a platoon player for the D-Backs.  With a $7.7MM arb projection and two years of club control left for a D-backs team that has looked at some degree of rebuild this winter Peralta is a relatively expensive but reliable piece that the Cardinals can make work.

If the Cardinals are committed to moving on from Dexter Fowler in they can look at a platoon of Tyler O’Neil and David Peralta to compliment Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader. While a platoon is not ideal Peralta will be able to cover the inefficiencies of Tyler O’Neil.

Adding these three players will not make most fans happy.  Cardinal nation is screaming for a big time star.  While we wait and see the outcome of  MLB’s version of “The Decision”, fans have to understand that maybe the big star the fanbase seeks is not in this years class.  Next year Nolan Arenado will be a free agent…..just sayin.

Cardinals 2019 Offseason: Continue the Youth Movement

The dreams of Cardinal’s fans are always big.  We dream of signing the next Albert Pujols, a player that will revolutionize the game and take our team to the championship level that we all assume is so close. Like any dream though we have to wake up.  We have to live in the real world where great players don’t just appear.  As the offseason commences fans want to see an aggressive approach from the front office.  We want to see our teams name in the running for superstars like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.  While I admittedly would love to see either with the Birds on the Bat across their chest I am not going to allow myself to think that this is anything more then just a dream.  The reality is that the Cardinals will not realistically be in the running for either.  So what do we do? The answer:  Build around the youth!

Last season  we saw the progression of the young pitching staff that we had been hearing about for years.  Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber and Dakota Hudson emerged as key pieces in a rotation and bullpen that needed the boost.   Going into 2019 where does this leave the state of the rotation?  I look at it like this

Starters Flaherty, Mikolas, Martinez, Gant, Gomber/Poncedeleon/Hudson

Relievers: Reyes, Hicks, Shreve, Leone, Wainwright, Cecil, Brebbia, Mayers

The Cardinals one addition should be a lock down leftie reliever.  Cash in on one that had a terrible 2018.  Andrew Miller makes a lot of sense for the team. A disappointing 2018 season will leave Miller vulnerable on the free agent market.  A 4.24 ERA in a walk year is a not ideal for someone looking to make it big.  Despite his struggles Miller was still effective against lefties holding them to just a .556 OPS.  Miller also has playoff experience to help out a cast of young relievers.  He can be an assist to a guy like Chasen Shreve whom brings potential but flexibility to move to the minors.  The Brett Cecil deal lingers in the minds of most fans but with Miller in the fold you will be able to utilize Cecil in a lot of less stressful moments.  Not listing Adam Wainwright in the rotation will be tough but this team has to move on and give their young arms a chance. John Gant proved himself to be more reliable in the rotation and a three way fight between Hudson, Gomber and Poncedeleon will give you three guys that have been more effective in the pen if they don’t win the final spot. Put Brebbia in the closer role to start the season, but don’t be locked into it.  Play the matchups and the hot hand.  If Hicks develops a strikeout pitch use him in the ninth.  Trust the young arms.

*Luke Weaver has to prove he can trust his fastball command or he has no place on this team.

Marcell Ozuna didn’t have the year most Cardinal fans had hoped for, but it wasn’t as bad as many perceived.  23 homers and 88 RBI’s was actually more accurate to his career averages.  The Cardinals traded for a player based a 2017 season where he broke out.  His regression had a lot to do with his lingering shoulder injury, but it also had to do with being protected in the lineup by Jedd Gyorko rather then Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. His production drop off hurt but is still on par with what the Cardinals would have gotten from the departed Stephen Piscotty or Randall Grichuk.  Ozuna needs protection, but I don’t believe it should be a free agent outfielder.  There are three targets the Cardinals should consider:

1. Josh Donaldson 2. Steve Pearce 3. Eduardo Escobar

Each of these players has a flaw.  Donaldson is injury prone, Pearce is has been inconsistent, Escobar is unpredictable. But each has what the Cardinals need, power. Adding Escobar and Pearce will give you two player that can play multiple positions and provide late game matchup advantages.  Donaldson should be the clear frontrunner for the Cardinals.  Give him a two year deal and while you let Nolan Gorman develop.  This will give you the MVP bat that you can have until your young star is ready for the majors. This lineup with the pitching they possess could be a huge addition.

Option A Option B
Matt Carpenter, 1B Carpenter 3B
Yadier Molina, C Eduardo Escobar, 2B
Marcell Ozuna, LF Marcell Ozuna, LF
Josh Donaldson, 3B Steve Pearce, 1B
Tyler O’Neil, RF Tyler O’Neil, RF
Paul Dejong, SS Yadier Molina, C
Kolten Wong, 2B Paul DeJong, SS
Harrison Bader, CF Harrison Bader, CF

Let O’Neil get the at bats this season and see what you have.  He strikes out a lot, but no more then players like Kris Bryant did in their first full seasons.  The one asset you have in the minors is young outfielders, it’ time to see what they can bring in a full season.  The Dexter Fowler experience is over.  Put him on the bench and eat the money if you have to. The Cardinals didn’t have a great season, I would love to add a premier bat but to think the they can outbid a bigger market team and convince them to be here is unrealistic.  Build around your youth, add veterans that make sense as you wait for your young bats.

The Cardinals are not far away from being a force.  The depth is there in the pitching staff and the young players are on the way.  Let me know what you think.

ALCS Preview and Pick

It’s not often in sports that the two best teams actually have a chance to meet.  We are lucky enough to have our baseball dreams come true as the defending World Champions the Houston Astros will meet the best team in baseball in 2018 the Boston Red Sox.  No matter who wins this the victor will come out as the favorite in the fall classic.  Let’s break it down.

Starting Pitching- Advantage Houston Astros

The Boston Red Sox are no slouches when it comes to the starting rotation.  Sporting a stud like Chris Sale, former Cy Young winner David Price as well as proven winner Rick Porcello can make any team formidable.  Assuming Porcello stays in the bullpen the Sox can also trot out the talented but inconsistent Nathan Eovaldi or strikeout stud Eduardo Rodriguez.  All are formidable starters for any contending team sporting a combined 3.42 ERA in one of the most offensively gifted divisions in baseball.  In most cases this rotation would be an advantage for any team. But they aren’t playing just any team, they are playing the Houston Astros.

The Astros feature a rotation of All Stars Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton.  Each of them could be a candidate to start Game 1 or Game 4.  Both Verlander and Cole went through the season with sub three ERA’s while Charlie Morton was just on the other side at 3.13, in a time of offense Astros starting pitching has been as dominant as any we have seen in the game.

Both teams have their strengths in the rotation especially with the strikeouts per nine innings ranking first and third.  Houston will look for more from their starters and most likely get more.  The Stros don’t have as many question marks behind their ace as the Red Sox do, that’ why we have to give the rotation advantage to the defending world champs.

Bullpen- Advantage Houston Astros

The Houston Astros will rely more on the ability of their starters.  But the bullpen is no push over Colin McHugh, Tony Sipp, mid season addition Roberto Osuna all have proven themselves as reliable pitchers to say the least.  New weapon Ryan Pressly was a force in the ALDS, establishing himself as a stopper in the middle innings.  The Astros have multiple option to finish games, look for someone to establish themselves as this series goes on.  My money would be on Osuna but it wouldn’t shock me to see Colin McHugh get a few chances to finish off games.

The Red Sox have a few more question marks in their bullpen outside of Closer Craig Kimbrel. To their advantage they sport a bullpen of mostly righties against a lineup that is heavier on the right side.  Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier will play big roles in transitioning the starters to Kimbrel in the 9th.

Both bullpens have strikeout pitchers but the Astros seem more versatile.  They also will mostly likely not ask for nearly as much out of there bullpen, that’s why you have to give the slight advantage to the Astros.

Lineup- Advantage Boston Red Sox

When you have the two best lineups in baseball going against each other it’s pretty hard to pick the best.  Both have speed, power and clutch from the top to the bottom.

The Red Sox may have arguably the best all around player in baseball leading off in Mookie Betts.  His success though is predicated on the fact that you really can’t pitch around him.  Putting him on base is an automatic risk with his speed on the base paths.  Manager Alex Cora will give him the green light to run in almost any count.  Following Betts is a litany of heavy hitters headlined by offseason signing JD Martinez whom has proven himself to be worth every penny he was paid.  The bounce back season for shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been a huge boost to a lineup that already had great depth.  The key for the Reed Sox may be at first base in this series, Steve Pearce has been great since being picked up in the mid season but his specialty is against left handed pitching.  Veteran Mitch Moreland, known more for his glove work, quietly had a solid season.  Cora will be forced to utilize Moreland against the heavy right handed rotation of the Astros.  This lineup has role players that have played their parts to perfection during the regular season and I see no reason they won’t do the same in the ALCS.

The Astros are deep, Alex Bregman has emerged as the star of the team perhaps sooner than what was expected. Bregman lead the Astros in homers, RBI’s, hits and OBP during the regular season and has brought that success into the playoffs.  George Springer continued his post season heroics in the ALDS clubbing three homers off of Indians pitching.  The surprise of the division series was the bat of Marwin Gonzalez.  Gonzalez was a constant headache for the Indians hitting .538 in the series in 13 at bats.  If Gonzalez can continue to hit he will take pressure off of stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.  Until game three of the NLDS Correa had been on a cold streak that forced AJ Hinch to move him down to sixth in the order,  perhaps the three run homer he hit could be the jolt he needs to get back on track.  The Astros will have to go with defensive specialist Martin Maldonado in the lineup rather then the offensive minded veteran Brian McCann due to the speed and aggressive nature of the Boston lineup.

The Astros have a solid offense, especially against lefties were they mash to a team average of .270 and a .803 OPS.  The Red Sox would be smart to counter their efficiencies by moving up Eovaldi and Porcello in the rotation.  That would me having David Price potentially in the bullpen or just getting one start.  On the other hand the Red Sox were able to contain a the second best lineup against left handed pitching the New York Yankees.

Both offenses are good but the edge has to go to the Red Sox lineup because they have to true MVP candidates in the lineup along with great pieces all around them.  They have the ability to bring more speed and power off the bench in roles that they are comfortable with.  This one is close but gotta go with the Sox for a lineup advantage.

 

Who wins?

This series can go either way.  The Red Sox have been the best team in baseball all year but the Astros are built for the post season with dominant pitching and stellar defense at multiple positions.  My heart says Boston but my head says Astros.

Astros in 6.

AL Wildcard Preview

The definition of David versus Goliath takes places in the AL Wild Card Game.  The mighty New York Yankees full of high priced talent vs Money Ball 2.0.  Let’s break it down.

Starter- Advantage Yankees

The Yankees had three solid options going into the Wild Card game, Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ an Luis Severino.  Boone choose the young fireballer Luis Severino to match up with a powerful A’s lineup.  The choice was clear due to the power pithing ability of Severino, the hardest thrower of the bunch.  Against fastballs thrown 97 mph or harder, the A’s xwOBA was a feeble .260, the third-worst mark of any team, ahead of only the Giants (.225) and Rays (.245). Severino has an average fastball velocity of 97-mph.  Unlike Tanaka and Happ, Severino has the ability to miss bats within the strike zone.  The A’s are a team that’s success was based on not chasing out of the zone.  Severino will look to attack their hitters with hard 4-seamers in the zone.

The Athletics decided to take a different approach, relying on their biggest strength which is their bullpen depth. They have chosen to go with an “opener” with veteran Liam Hendricks. Hendriks will be the fourth pitcher to start a postseason game after a winless season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Virgil Trucks started twice for Detroit in the 1945 World Series after returning from World War II.  Don’t expect Hendricks to be in the game long.  Bob Melvin will look to use all of his bullpen assets to matchup with the power Yankees lineup.  With a right handed heavy Yankees lineup this matchup may be ideal for the As bullpen.

Lineup- Advantage Yankees

The Yankees are very right handed heavy with two projected lefties in the lineup, Did Gregorious and switch hitter Aaron Hicks.  Despite being right handed heavy they still have one of the top lineups in all of baseball.  They broke the record for homeruns in a season so… yea they have a little pop up and down the lineup.  The key to the game will be jumping on the A’s early.  McCutchen and Hicks will have to be table setters for Giancarlo Stanton and red hot Luke Voit.

The A’s lineup is no joke.  Khris Davis had a career year and veteran Jed Lowrie has good career numbers vs Severino.  The key to the lineup will be projected lead off man Nick Martini, Martini had an on-base percentage of .397 during the regular season and has performed extremely well in the leadoff spot. If the A’s are going to pull off the upset they will need Martini on base as much as possible disrupting Severino’s flow and forcing projected starting catcher Gary Sanchez to lose focus.  The A’s have the power to put up runs but it will be important to give Davis and Matt Olson a chance to drive in runs with more then just a solo shot.

Bullpen- Advantage A’s?….Maybe

The A’s have enough trust in their bullpen to not name a traditional starter.  We saw in the NL Wildcard game the impact a good starter can have with great performances from both Kyle Freeland and Jon Lester.  But in the end it was the bullpens that may have been most impressive on both sides.

The Yankees have the names at the end, Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Dellin Betances can end the game in the 7th if they have a lead.  But it may be the A’s that truly have this season best reliever in Blake Treinen whom I fully expected to be in the game as soon as Bob Melvin can realistically make the move.  The A’s can match the big priced arms.

I see this game playing out similarly to last years AL Wild Card game.  The A’s may jump out to a lead early but the depth and power of the Yankees lineup will be to much.

Reluctantly I have the Goliath changing the historic fable on this night.

Yankees win 6-4.

NL Wildcard Game Preview

Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

The Colorado Rockies entered the 2018 NL Wildcard Game with a pretty large disadvantage.  Losing a tough game to division rival LA in the afternoon and having to jump on a plan and go half way around the country to face one of the best playoff pitchers of the last ten year in Jon Lester.  Not only are they facing Lester but they are facing a team that has found themselves in the NLCS the last three years.  Let’s look compare and pick the NL Wildcard Game.

Starting Pitcher- Advantage Cubs or maybe not.

Jon Lester stands out when you compare the two lefties, but is his experience really enough.  Lester has faced the Rockies hitters an astonishing 138 times in his career. The most being veteran Matt Holliday who has crushed Lester to a .467 career batting average.  I don’t know if Bud Black has the confidence to start the veteran in this do or die game but if he did it would make sense when looking at the numbers.  Playing Holiday would most likely mean red hot youngster David Dahl would be taking a seat.  If Holiday does get the start it would not be long before he is replaced for defense or base running.

Rockies starter Kyle Freeland has had a breakout season, the 25 year old lefty went 18-8 with a 2.85ERA.  Quietly establishing himself as a go to starter for Bud Black.  Surprsingly Freeland actually has better numbers at Coors Field then he does on the road sporting a prolific 2.40ERA in the historically hitter friendly park.  Freeland was no slouch on the road either posting just 3.23ERA.  Freeland’s most intriguing stat line is just giving up 6 homers in 103 innings on the road.  Against a powerful Cubs lineup he will need to make sure and limit the damage that can come in bunches.  Kris Bryant has the best numbers against Freeland but the sample size is to small to overreact.

I like the matchup of Freeland vs the Cubs lefties but you can’t ignore the experience of the veteran Lester.  Slight advantage in starting pitching to the Cubbies.  Very slight.

Batting Order- Advantage Rockies

Colorado has pop and speed from 1-7 in their order.  Tony Wolters (assuming he starts) may also quietly have an advantage over Lester, going 2-4 with a walk in 5 career AB’s versus the veteran.  Nolan Arenado is a better hitter the Javy Baez and the Rockies have multiple threats to deal with including a surging Trevor Story and an always dangerous Charlie Blackmon.  I think it is the potential of the bench bats like Gerardo Parra and Matt Holliday that set the Rockies a part from the Cubbies.

The Cubs are no slouches.  Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo are as good a middle of the order that you will have in the league but Baez can be inconsistent and over anxious at times. Bryant will be the key to this game, I can see him being in big spots and coming through against Freeland.  Albert Almora will also play a big factor if he gets the start.

Both lineup are potent but with the lefty on the mound I am giving a slight edge to the Rockies.  Their depth is just a little better, I can also see them trying to take advantage of Lester on the base paths.

Bullpen- Advantage, who knows.

The Rockies spent money in the off season trying to rebuild a bullpen that was not good to say the least.  Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw have not lived up to the money they were paid but they still have the experience in a big game atmosphere to be effective.  With all hands on deck for an elimination game I would not be surprised to see Jon Gray and Adam Ottavino very early in this game.

The Cubs have made it work with their bullpen despite injuries to Pedro Strop and Brandin Morrow.  With the season on the line we could see a quick trigger from Joe Maddon.  Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson will be assets that an be targeted at any point of the game.

Both of these teams have their issues in the bullpen but I have to lean to the Rockies in this situation.  Wade Davis has been bad this year, but he is the most sure thing in a closing roll that either team has.  So advantage Rockies.

Who will win?

This game is tough.  Everything points to the Cubs winning.  They are better rested, have the more proven starter and a veteran lineup.  So, I am going to go with the Rockies.  Colorado will make life hell for Lester on the basepaths and force mistakes.  Joe Maddon is the best hope for Chicago.  His history of making the right decisions in a pinch will make it a great game.

Rockies upset Cubs 6-3.