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?

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.

Jack Flaherty

Jack Flaherty to was very vocal in his displeasure with starting the 2018 season in Memphis.  The Cardinals decided to go with an ailing veteran Adam Wainwright instead of their top prospect.  Despite his disagreement with the decision Flaherty went down to Memphis an continued his dominance, going 4-1, 2.27ERA over 5 starts. The injury bug hit the Cardinals allowing them to call up the 2014 first round pick, he took no time at all in becoming the proverbial “Ace” of a potential playoff team.

Miles Mikolas has been the surprise of the 2018 season leading the team in wins and ERA.  He took home the only true All-Star birth for the Cardinals (Yadi in after Posey injury) and has established himself as the regular season MVP of the rotation.  As the playoffs get closer Mikolas has not stood out as the dominant force that Flaherty has.  Flaherty has shown the swing and miss stuff that you see from elite level starting pitching.  Only Max Scherzer (12.09) has a higher K/9 then Jack Flaherty (11.24).  Flaherty also through 5 less starts than Miles Mikolas has 32 more strikeouts.  That’s nearly double the K/9 rate as the pitcher most Cardinal fans would assume would be the starting pitcher of a potential Wild Card game.

The debate from most fans would be that Mikolas is a different kind of pitcher then Flaherty.  He pitches to contact more, throwing more strikes, going longer then Flaherty.  While those attributes are useful int he regular season it’s Flaherty’s ability to make hitters miss that can be beneficial in the big moments.  Similarly the Houston Astros would rather see Justin Verlander then Dallas Keuchel in a make or break moment of the playoffs.  Verlander brings the ability to get out of a tough situation by missing bats rather then hoping for perfect placement.  Flaherty has that ability along with a bulldog demeanor on the mound.  He has the confidence that he can strikeout any hitter in a lineup in any given situation.

The youth movement in the bullpen and in the field has seen great results in the month of August but it has been Flaherty that has taken on the role of staff leader.  Over his last seven starts he is 4-2 with a 2.45ERA, striking out 57 over 40.1 innings.  He has taken control of teams from the very start.  He has forced himself into the conversation for team ace purely by going out and taking it.

With the injuries to Michael Wacha and aCarlos Martinez and the current placement of the Cardinals at leading the Wild Card the question has come up on who would start the potential Wild Card game.  A young team can be motivated by presence and dominance.  A presence on the mound can be a determining factor for a young team.  Flaherty brings that Cris Carpenter intensity along with a dominant repertoire of pitches. He can be the pitcher that this team has been looking for.  The replacement for the great Adam Wainwright at the top of the rotation.  If the wild card game was tomorrow and you had everyone available to pitch the clear choice should be the pitcher that was an afterthought to begin the season.  The answer to the question of who is the Cardinals “Ace” is Jack Flaherty.

Each teams most important player down the stretch!

As the MLB season winds down it is time to find out which teams are prepared for a playoff push or just to get pushed.  There are five teams on the outside of the National League playoffs that will need contributions from players that can give them that push.  Who are they?

St. Louis Cardinals- Paul DeJong

The St. Louis Cardinals have lacked a power bat in their lineup since the departure of Albert Pujols.  Marcell Ozuna was supposed to be that player but has not shown the power of his previous season in Miami.  DeJong’s productions can be a huge contribution to a St. Louis order that tends to struggle to put runs on the board. During the month of August his contributions have been minimal despite the Cardinals beginning to show life winning nine straight games at one point.

As the Cardinals continue to fight their way to a potential wildcard they will need the productions from one of their most powerful forces in the lineup.  Being a player that put his name on the map in 2017 with a ridiculous .333 ISO he has the potential to make a serious impact in the middle of the St. Louis order.   If he can’t pickup the power statistics St. Louis will have a problem scoring runs down the stretch, especially if MVP candidate eventually comes back down to earth.

Milwaukee Brewers- Cory Knebel

The Milwaukee Brewers added a lot of power during the trade deadline.  They didn’t however address one of the needs many thought they would, their starting rotation.  Instead the Brewers will look to get what they can from the rotation and have their strong bullpen figure out the backend.  All-Stars Josh Hader and the reborn Jeremy Jefferess have done their part to keep the Brewers in the race.

2017 breakout Corey Knebel has not found his form during the second half of the season.  He currently holds a second half ERA of 6.75 and has become a liability on the mound.  Knebel has not only had issues with walks but players are have been hitting him hard with a hard hit percentage 11% higher then 2017.  For the Brewers to find their way into the playoffs they will have to rely on their bullpen for 3+ inning most nights.  Knebel returning to his All Star form is the key to their success.

Colorado Rockies- Wade Davis

Positive, Wade Davis has 35 saves in 2018.  Negative, Wade Davis has a 4.99ERA.  The biggest off season signing for the Rockies has had an up and down first season with Colorado but his playoff experience is going to be huge for the young club over the final few weeks of the season.

Davis has seemed to find his way over his last five appearances picking up 3 saves and not giving up a single run in that span.  Those appearances brought his August ERA down to 9.82.  He has to build off of those games as the Rockies have little to no room for late inning blow ups down the stretch.  Davis and the other Rockies bullpen arms have to hold on to leads in order to make them a real threat in the both the wild card and the division hunt.

Los Angeles Dodgers- Walker Buehler

With the lose of Kenley Jansen for an unknown amount of time the Dodgers will have need someone to step up at the backend of the bullpen.  They will also need their starters to step up for more innings down the stretch.  With four veterans Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood in the rotation the one guy that will need to give them a little more length is star prospect Walker Buehler.

Over his last three August starts Buehler has shown the promise that Dodgers brass have banked on coming into the season going 2-0 with a 1.47ERA.  He has also given six innings per start which is all you can ask of a young pitcher down the stretch.  If Buehler can continue to produce solid outings the Dodgers could be in a great spot to overtake the unproven Arizona Diamondbacks in the West.

Philadelphia Phillies- Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana was a surprise offseason signing from the young and thought to be rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies.  His defense and power seemed like a perfect fit for a time on the rise in the NL East.  To the surprise of many in the baseball world the Phillies have been in the thick of the race the entire season.

Santana will have to be the force in the order that the fighting Phils thought they had signed in order to make the playoff push.  With Rhys Hoskins taking on the role of offensive leader, it will be up to Santana to produce enough to force pitchers to throw to Hoskins or pay the consequences.  While Santana has provided some power with 18 homers on the season, the Phillies need to have more consistency day to day.  A .218 average from your four hole hitter will not scare teams enough to pitch to the hotter bats in the lineup.  If Santana can’t find a way to produce the lineup depth for the Phillies ends very quickly.

 

 

Matt Carpenter the best at the top.

Matt Carpenter has entered himself into the National League MVP race over the last two months of the 2018 season after many wrote him off, including yours truly.   I went so far as to write an article about the Cardinals moving Tommy Pham into the leadoff position was what was best for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Just like Carpenter and his salsa I am ready to eat my words.  Carpenter has found himself in this situation while being primarily in the lead off role. His potential MVP status has opened my eyes to the evolution of the lead off hitter as a force in MLB lineups.

Traditionalist have a predetermined idea that a leadoff hitter should be someone with speed. A player that can turn a single into a double or even triple by being on the move. But today’s MLB doesn’t work that way anymore.  Baseball is a game of statistics as well as ever changing dynamics.  Players like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon can change the game with their speed, but they are the leadoff hitters of the past.   The new form of leadoff hitters are players that force a pitcher to be on their game right away or be down by one run.

Today’s leadoff hitters focus more about getting on base and provide much more power.  Look at the impact that George Springer had for the World Champion Astros during their great 2017 run in the playoffs.  Springer was able to jump on get me over fastballs to start the game and put an immediate run on the board.  Lead off hitters now rely on patience and launch angles to beat up on the opposition rather than using their speed.

Look at a list of impactful leadoff men in today’s game and see that there is a new trend in the game.  Joining George Springer are star caliber players like Charlie Blackmon, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rizzo, Corey Dickerson, and even Bryce Harper have spent time in the leadoff spot for their respective teams.  Managers are beginning to understand that their best hitters will not only be getting more at bats but they will also be in a position to see a few get me over fastballs that can be deposited in the seats.  Instead of pitchers trying to pitch around these players they are forced to pitch to them at least once rather than start a game with a runner on base.

Matt Carpenter is currently leading the National League in homeruns. While a large portion of those homeruns are solo shots he is still making an impact from the lead off position.  What is overlooked is that he has the protection of the middle of the order forcing pitchers to throw to him.  The worst thing a pitcher can do is to put a man on in front of the middle of the order.  Carpenter has to see strikes, he has to be challenged and he more you challenge him the better he has been.  This is the new idea of lead off hitters.  In a way its like a slow pitch softball approach, why not get your best player as many at bats as you possibly can?

Time to sell. Is that a bad thing?

The Cardinals stepped into the second half taking a glass is half full approach.  By moving on from Mike Matheny all their problems would magically dissapear.  The bullpen would pitch better, Ozuna and Fowler would start hitting, the defense would play error free.  After just six games they realized that not only was the glass half empty but it has been thrown to the ground and shattered.

Sitting five games back in the Wild Card is an illusion of potential for a team that has lost its way.  While they only sit five games back they have to jump two teams in their own division just to make case for the second spot. It is time to open their eyes and see that this is a team that has to find a new direction.  I wrote a piece earlier in the month talking about the potential of trading “ace” Carlos Martinez in hopes to have a return that can set them up for future success.  While it is unlikely that they move on from Martinez they have to see that it is time move the pieces that are not going to be a part of the future.   Players like Jedd Gyroko, Jose Martinez, Kolten Wong,  Tommy Pham and Bud Norris have to be put on the trade block.  Each one of these players have friendly contracts and assets that can intrigue true contending teams.

Players like Jedd, Jose and Kolten may not bring you high valued prospects in return, but  they can allow the team to open up spots for young talent. Players that are ready in the minors like Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neil need to be called up and put into bench roles while Yairo Munoz and Harrison Bader should be given the chance to play everyday to see what they can bring to the table on a day to day basis.  The players that can bring you the most value on the market like Bud Norris and Tommy Pham should be moved in order to restock your system with top 15 potential players.

So why not move your hottest hitter Matt Carpenter or your bad contract Dexter Fowler or your “big” offseason pickup Marcell Ozuna?

Carpenter is the player you have to build around, moving him full time to first base is your best option and can bring you stability to work around for your infield.

Fowler’s contract will most surely be impossible to move.  The reality is that you have to put him on the bench and try and find a suitor in the offseason that will help you take on some of his salary (Very Unlikely).

Ozuna is injured.  He has little to no value at the moment unless you want to sell low.  Shut him down and let him go fix his shoulder injury.  If you would like to move him next season before he becomes a free agent then look into it then.  He has to much potential as a great trade piece when he is fully healthy.

It’s hard for a front office to admit that the season is a bust.  I am not admitting that it is a bust yet, but what the organization is putting on the field is not one that can make it to the playoffs let alone compete in an extremely competitive 2018 National League Central.  Let the young kids come up and see what kind of impact they bring.  Being a seller at the deadline does not admit defeat it can show a better understanding of your personal.  This team needs a change, they need fresh faces beyond Mike Shildt.  Let the young guys play and see if it can turn things around.  Use Poncdeleon, Gomber and eventually Dakota Hudson in the bullpen if their is not a spot in the rotation.  Let Bader get as many at bats as he can and see if he changes your team dynamic.  Cardinals fans may not like the idea of “selling” but they will have to understand that sometimes selling just means admitting your mistakes.   Everyone can accept that.

Paul DeJong, changing Cardinals needs

The St. Louis Cardinals currently sit four games out of the Central Division.  A team riding the proverbial roller coaster all season has kept themselves relevant despite having to make adjustments to the lineup all season.  The early struggles of lineup mainstays like Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter had fans voicing their displeasure with management.  They shouted from the rooftops about trading away the young arms for a rental slugger like Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson.  As the Cardinals prepare to enter July they may end up receiving a power upgrade that will cost them no prospects.

Paul DeJong has targeted a return to the lineup around the All-Star break.  DeJong will instantly bring more power into a lineup that has begun to produce at more levels.  DeJong’s development as a hitter cannot be ignored.  While strikeouts are still a problem that is impossible to ignore, DeJong has increased his walk rate.  Through 108 games last season DeJong walked just 21 times. Before his injury in just 41 games he has walked 16 times raising his walk percentage by almost 5%. DeJong’s injury also allowed more at bats for Yairo Munoz, allowing him to establish himself as a major league player.

When comparing DeJong to both Machado and Donaldsons advanced analytics the differences are not what you may think. Donaldson’s numbers are nearly identical to DeJong, while  Manny Machado’s are not earth shattering in comparison, in fact they are very comparable if played out over a full season of the season.

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Machado Advanced Stats

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DeJong Advanced Stats

Machado’s advanced numbers with nearly double the at bats compare favorably to DeJong’s with no clear advantage.  Machado brings with him the intrigue of a marquee name, but does not bring the clear offensive advantages. The Cardinals also do not have to deal with the distraction of what to do with Machado at the end of the season.  They can focus on their current needs.

That brings me to what the Cardinals need to have their focus on, the bullpen.  Bud Norris and Jordan Hicks have cemented themselves in the backend of the pen but the need for help is still relevant. Padres closer Brad Hand sits at the top of the list for most contending teams, the price for him will be very high for the Cardinals.  They will most likely look at the second left handed reliever option Zach Britton.  Britton’s 2018 has not been great but he brings late inning experience as well as experience against high level opponents while playing in the American League East.

If the Orioles are being stubborn about the value of Britton, the Cardinals should take a look at a guy they let walk away in the offseason, Zack Duke.  The Minnesota Twins have not been able to put it together in 2018, they have a few assets on their roster that may be available when the trade deadline hits.  Duke has been extremely effective versus lefties in during the 2018 season allowing just a .184 average.  While it may seem crazy to “backtrack” on a reliever that they could have resigned in the offseason, Duke will be low cost both in trade value and contact cost.

If the Twins believe they are still in contention for some reason the next potential suitor would be Alex Claudio of the Texas Rangers.  The Rangers have a long rebuild ahead of them, a left-handed reliever will not help them long term.  Claudio has tons of value with his abilities to get out left handed hitters, similarly to Britton, Claudio has the experience in the late innings.

Cardinals fans want management to make a big move, but they have to understand that they have an impact player ready to make his return without costing the team any of their prospects.  Fill the needs that make sense, go out and get yourself the bullpen help that can cement you as a playoff team.  Fans have to see that it makes more sense to fill the bullpen need rather then bank on a big name for half a season.

 

 

Pham leading off makes sense

The St. Louis Cardinals lineup debate has been centered around the struggles of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler. Both players have spent time in the leadoff spot for the majority of their careers, because of this the casual fan has this predetermination that they have to be at the top of the lineup to be effective.  That isn’t what makes sense right now in the Cardinals lineup.  During the two game series with the Chicago White Sox, Mike Matheny decided to put Tommy Pham in the leadoff spot.  While the offense didn’t explode, it could be the move that ends up making the Cardinals better offensively the rest of the 2018 season.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler in December, 2016, they were wanting a player with speed who could get on base at the top of the lineup.  This would allow the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to a more RBI-producing role in the middle of lineup that they believed he was better suited for.  The Cardinals abandoned that approach early in 2017 more out of necessity than anything else.  Opening the 2018 campaign, Matheny decided that it was time to put Fowler back in that role in order to accommodate his new toy Marcell Ozuna in the number four spot in the order.  It did not hurt that the top four in the lineup would now feature switch hitter, right handed hitter, left handed hitter and right handed hitter 1-4 in the lineup.  The traditionalist that Mike Matheny is assumed this would cause problems for opposing managers late in games. Matheny’s plan made sense to start the season but with the struggles of Fowler much like 2017, Matheny has been forced to make a change to his lineup once again.

Matt Carpenter was not the leadoff batter for the Cardinals last season until June 7. Once June 7 hit, so did Carpenter. His xwOBA (Execpted Weighted On-base Average)was a solid .368 and his wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) was 20 points higher at .388, indicating Carpenter’s results might have been a bit lucky. In 2018, Carpenter has seen his luck change a bit even though most advanced statistics have stayed the same and some have improved according to baseballsavant.com. It took Carpenter awhile to find his groove in 2017, I look for him to turn it around as the season goes on.  If he continues to barrel the ball at at 17% rate he will eventually find the holes in the defense.  So the question is why not put Carpenter in the lead off spot?

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The answer is no, with Matt Carpenter in the two hole Tommy Pham can feel free to take off whenever he sees an advantage.  Carpenter famously likes to take pitches,  at times seems to prefer to hit with a few strikes on him.  Carpenter’s patience can be a virtue.  The more he takes the better read Pham can get on a pitcher which will allow him to utilize his speed.   With Pham on the move, it can move the defense out of their lefty shift opening up more hitting lanes for Carpenter.  The argument for Carpenter continues to be that he only hits while in the leadoff spot.  His stats do prove the historically he is a better hitter in that spot. Is is just that he can’t hit anywhere else or is it that he has never been given a chance to prove himself anywhere else for long enough?

The movement of Tommy Pham into the lead off spot will allow the Cardinals to put their most productive hitter in a position to get more at bats.  Pham’s .330 BA, .447 OBP both lead the club.  Pham will also be able to move on the base paths more freely while hitting in the lead off spot.  Matheny has to find a way to spark the offense. Tommy Pham is the spark that can light the offensive fire.  He can bring immediate energy to the team similar to the way he lead off the first game of the White Sox series.  Mike has to continue to let this play out.  Carpenter will adjust and Fowler will benefit from the move.  Fowler will be able to let his swing loose and utilize his power from both sides of the plate.  A free swinging Fowler at this point in his career is his best option.  Tommy Pham leading off makes sense for him and for the team as a whole.