Tag Archive | "Adam Wainwright"

Adam Wainwright vs. Context: An Appreciation

The season of Adam Wainwright has taken some interesting parallels to what his complete body of work has displayed. The Cardinal ace joined the ranks of the 20-win club for the second time in his eight year career on Monday night, and in the process put a cap on what has been a great, yet assorted 2014 campaign for him. It is the type of season that speaks to the legacy that Wainwright is in route to crafting: brilliant, yet underestimated.

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Years from now, when someone logs into Baseball Reference to get a grasp on what Wainwright’s career reflected will look at 2014 and see it as his tour de force. It will show that he tied his personal high in victories, while setting career-bests in earned run average and shutouts as well. Depending on where the season goes from here and if he takes his next start or not, he would also stand to finish with career lows in hits and walks surrendered, while crossing over 220 innings pitched for the fourth time in his last five years.

Yet in the context of real-time, it has been a more strenuous year than he has ever faced. After coming out of the gates pitching perhaps the best he ever did in his career in the first half of the year (12-4, 1.83 ERA, .201 average against), yet it was not one that was unmarred either. The alarming forearm injury that caused him a start in June was the starting point, and then the dead arm issue that rose amid a second half slide that saw the worse month of his career in August.

There was a point that he reached that it was even questionable about how to deploy him going ahead down the stretch. But in many ways, that dip in his production threw the validity of his entire body of work far too deep into question, despite the fact that it has easily been the second best effort in the National League this year.

On raw numbers, Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto has been outstanding. He has pitched to nearly identical seasonal totals as Wainwright, falling just behind him in wins, but surpassing him in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, hits surrendered and batting average against. Yet it can be said that Wainwright has pitched in more high leverage games for the division battling Cardinals, and has competed at the same comparable rate as Cueto. Wainwright’s 12 outings of at least seven innings and zero earned runs is five greater than both Cueto and Kershaw on the year. Again, context does matter in assessing impact, and this is nothing new for Wainwright—both looking forward and backwards.

The perception of Wainwright’s career could end up paralleling what this season has in many ways, whereas its impact is underrated in the big picture. At 33, he will not have the grand numbers that make him appear to be Cooperstown ready. 200 wins is a debated qualifying mark for many, and Wainwright at age 33 is at only 119. Likewise, it will be difficult for him to lean on the prestige that being an award winner brings to long-term perception as well, due to the fact that his run has been just a notch below that of a few particularly impressive contemporaries.

These shadows were initially cast by Tim Lincecum’s early career reign, as well as the brilliance of his rotation mate in Chris Carpenter. Now in his mid-prime years he is victim to the excellence of Kershaw’s run, which has for the second consecutive year superseded one of Wainwright’s strongest efforts to make it just a matter of time before taking home this year’s Cy Young nod, his second in three years’ time. It is a situation that is that is reminiscent of the situation that faced Albert Pujols’ accent to recognizable glory early in his career, as he was blocked from at least two legitimate MVP claims by Barry Bonds’ historically good seasons.

In many ways, he has been handcuffed by association when it comes to the prestige claim that awards can bring. His greatest accomplishments have been team related—mainly the two World Series championships he been associated with. However, the first one he achieved as a closer and the second he was injured for. So outside of the brilliant series closing effort he had in last season’s National League Division Series, he is short on memorable moments in the starting capacity that he is famous for. There is not “that” moment or season that jumps of the page, such as Justin Verlander’s 2011 or even Clayton Kershaw’s 2014, as it should be etched in stone down the road. Wainwright has operated excellently, yet slightly in the shadows.

Yet for Wainwright, he is catching just the beginning of Kershaw’s run, so there stands to be a good chance that even his best effort could not be enough to get him that fleeting honor that is given the league’s top annual arm. His destiny could be that of being this generation’s Dave Stewart, Curt Schilling or Jack Morris: a great and annually pivotal arm, but one whom the appreciation of is limited due to the context it comes in.

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Is The Price Right….or Wrong?

The rumor mill regarding the Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price is spinning at a nearly 24 hour a day pace now as the trade deadline approaches. And has always with potential blockbuster deals, the true reality and details regarding them are always tough to gauge at face value. However, one thing is for certain: the team has not had a clearer and more present need to swing a major move than it does now in several years.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays

More so than any other team that is in the ‘Price Sweepstakes’, the Cardinals have the ability to deal from the top of the deck of their prospect pool, with little impact to their long-term Major League forecast. While any such trade would certainly require them to move some portion of their everyday talent, such a move could feasibly be made without blowing too many crucial bricks out their considerable foundation and still remaining an immediately competitive Major League team.

Yet that is what John Mozeliak and company has to negotiate internally (and have shown resistance too in the past): is it finally time to move potential for a quick, impact return? And is this the year where there is no other option to create needed distance, regardless of how promised the future is with that acquisition…yet again?

For months now, the relationship between any potential Price/Cardinals match has simply been a game of connect the basic dots. Small-market team with big money player has to make move to get value for soon-to-be untenable asset. The Rays value prospect value in return, and all of the low-budget control years such properties bring.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, there is a team with expectation that is only met by winning its recently elusive, yet within grasp, World Series ring. It is an organization stocked with the type of young, yet ready to contribute talent that is the hallmark of the Rays’ organization and can afford expenditure without gutting itself in the process. All things considered, it is a reasonable and realistic match that is the simple type of situation that can get even the most one-sided fan stirring (and even banking upon).

Yet it was not until this past weekend that it seemed to really gain momentum to the point where the word around both clubs from officials, columnists, beat writers and even Price himself began to match what fan bases have been rumbling about for months. Along with the Dodgers, Mariners and Giants, the Cardinals have been placed firmly in the midst of the potential acquisition buzz for the biggest in-season pitcher swap since the Cliff Lee deal of nearly five years ago.

But it is no surprise that the Cardinals would find themselves here. They approach the deadline with a talented, but uncertain rotation. Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn are mainstays; they are the lone safe bets in stock. Joe Kelly is returning from injury, while Shelby Miller has struggled and is currently on an R&R stint in the bullpen. Carlos Martinez has been up and down in the returns he has given since joining the rotation and Michael Wacha will not be cleared to attempt to comeback from a bone spur issue in his shoulder for another two weeks. All things considered, if the Cardinals want to pull themselves away from the pack in the NL Central, a power move that adds to the rotation is becoming increasingly clear as the only way to do so.

It was not too long ago that the club found itself in a similar place as well. In August of 2009, with a talented, yet top heavy, lineup in need of a boost to pull away from the pack, the club swung a 3-for-1 deal to bring the year’s top free agent to be bat to town in the form of Matt Holliday. Holliday responded by turning in a .355 average for the club down the stretch and helping them win the NL Central by nine games. A gamble for sure, yet goal was to do what it took to win then, which they achieved concisely.

The situation this summer mirrors that one. The team is solid, yet not much more than any other team within their own division. There is a clear area to upgrade in and to gain an upper hand. Price is without a question the best player on the market, and a member of a team that is running out of time to get a return on him before he is forced out of their expense range. Unlike in 2009, the Cardinals stash of minor league-to-young Major League talent is a treasure trove that they can deal from without the worries of leaving themselves completely bare down the line. Sure, they would lose some of the precious cost-controlled assets that this team has been smartly constructed around, but they have all of their impact players either under long-term deals or within arbitration control range as is, so the risk is not as severe of being left exposed, even if they fail to resign Price long-term if a deal is able to be reached.

Yet the economics of making a potential win-now move have to be respected, as does the concern about if he is worth it as well. It seems asinine to consider the chance to pair together two of the game’s top arms in Price and Wainwright as a bad thing, caution should be observed, because as there is with everything, every action has a cause and ripple effect.

Price’s next deal will certainly be greater than any deal that the Cardinals have ever underwritten before. Currently, Adam Wainwright’s $97.5 million extension pays him at a rate of $19 million per season, which is a steal on the pitching market today, yet is still the largest deal in club history. Holliday’s seven year, $130 million deal that he took to return to St. Louis was a mind numbing deal at the time, and stood as significantly the largest deal in club history. And as was the case, it essentially made the team pick make some very tough choices down the road (Pujols, Lohse). This time around, a $150 million deal over six or so years is completely reasonable for Price, but that would impact the ability to retain some combination of Wacha, Miller, Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal or Matt Adams over time. The last time the club by passed on a massive deal that was before them, the rewards down the road included extensions for Wainwright, Molina, Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig—essentially, a bulk of the core of the team was enabled to be retained.

There is a decision to make—which sum is greater?

The Holliday pact came after a period where the team rolled the dice and won in the open market—which seems to be something the club wants to avoid this time around. It has been said that the team would want certain financial assurances that Price would agree to an extension as a contingency of any deal, which seems to be both an awkward request and potentially a stopping gap in a deal being reached while time is ticking down towards the deadline.

The Dodgers and Mariners both especially would seem less inclined on such a safety belt arrangement. Because money is power at all times, whether it is in the moment or down the road. And both clubs have more spending power than the Cardinals do to potentially retain the star that should command a very substantial deal that comes in the wake of the Clayton Kershaw landmark deal, as well as the forthcoming contract that will find Max Scherzer, another former 20-game winning, Cy Young winner like Price.

Yet on the same accord, there comes a time where living in the moment also overrules living for an uncertain future. Basically, a calculated risk that pushes the limit and changes the face of the team is taken. That is certainly what the Cardinals have the ability to do in a swap for Price, which would give them one of the most intimidating starting rotations in baseball, regardless of the status of Wacha, Miller or Martinez going ahead. And that is certainly an alluring scenario.

But the reality of the other edge of the sword is there as well too. If 2014 has shown anything, it is that nothing is forever. The slump of Craig, the slow start of Oscar Taveras, the less-than desirable returns from Peter Bourjos, the injuries to Molina and Wacha and even the unpredictable nature of Rosenthal, all of these issues have dawned at different times throughout the season and due to the depth of talents of all sorts the club has at its expense, it has been able to take the scenic route back towards the top of the NL this year.

So the simple science of it all is what’s worth it? If winning the 2014 World Series is the absolute goal, and the idea is that paramount over everything else, go all in and worry about the rest later. But the great strength of the team has been its practiced patience over the years with its assets. All things considered, this season needs a booster shot and Price certainly is a perfect fit with the team, but there are plenty of other elements to consider as well. Too large an asking price is possible, and while it can be met if decided, could it all be for nil if his reward for his talent too large a ransom for the team to meet later…or within a comfortable timeline.

As it always, blockbuster are far from hastily, or small magnitude developments.

 

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Time To Cut Shelby Miller Some Slack

2014 has been a start of varied returns for Shelby Miller. The 23-year-old righty entered the season fresh off of a very debated—and seemingly premature—end to his rookie season, but set out to prove that it was behind him. However in recent weeks, the regularity of the quality of his returns has turned downwards in an untimely and detrimental fashion during the team’s continual pot hole of a first half. It has begun to create some questionable lines of perception on what Miller’s place is on the team, despite there being nothing that should be of any less concern for the team at this given point.

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It is hard to arrive with high expectations in St. Louis. And there has been no pitcher since Rick Ankiel that arrived with more long-term buzz than Miller did. He was a gift in the draft to be available with the 17th pick, and he immediately set to work justifying why he was such a catch. As always in today’s prospect tracking culture, minor league success equality immediate Major League expectation. As he rose, his presence was demanded in St. Louis as early as 2011 and was at a fever pitch by 2012. Upon arrival, he delivered on promise pushing for a no-hitter in his first Major League start and then offering some quality innings in his first postseason.

Everything was primed for him to make the full-time jump to the Cardinal rotation in 2013, which he did with impressive result, albeit some rollercoaster stretches along the way. The final result was beyond solid: 17 wins, a top 10 ERA in the National League, a near Perfect Game and top three finish in the NL Rookie of the Year race.

However, this tells the high spots, but there were the frustrations of the lower moments as well. There were the constant struggles he had with pitch counts and command, which lead to 13 starts where he could not reach the sixth inning. There were the June and August slumps, where his ERA spiked up over 4.00 for the month.

Basically, there were times where the receipts did not match what the perceived return was, and then when it was compounded by him being mysteriously buried in the postseason bullpen, it created a new perception of Miller has a special case of a different kind: one that did not have the trust of his manager. Despite this conundrum (that even Miller himself confessed he does not completely understand), his place in the 2014 rotation was never in doubt. For everything that he struggled with, his talent and promise are too unique to deny….right?

Well, that was until May of this season, when once again he had a dip consistency. After roaring through the start of his season, including picking up victories in six out of seven of his starts from April 15th through May 17th, it seemed as if everything hit a screeching 180 degree turn and suddenly the perception of Miller had yet again been reversed as well. Where he had previously been the captain of the “Untouchables”: the guys that were completely untradeable and not to be discussed as so, even in the most informal of decision making circles (i.e. the stands at Busch Stadium and Twitter). Here is the former heir apparent to Adam Wainwright as the future of the Cardinal staff, and it was being asked (even by pros such as Bernie Miklasz and Derrick Goold) if he would even survive the return of a completely healthy bevy of options for the starting staff and if he could be potentially a candidate for more seasoning down in Memphis potentially?

Really? How it could it be possible that a pitcher in his sophomore campaign and a winner of 24 major league campaigns in under two professional years is seen this way? Well, the answer to that is simple: there is too much, too soon that has been expected of him and any periodic step outside of the direct path towards the hallowed ranks of Wainwright, Gibson, Carpenter and Dean causes both pause and ruin of hope for what he is expected to represent.

The reality of the situation is two-fold. Are there times where Miller’s struggles with work rate, control and perhaps a too bullheaded approach to working pitch counts in his favor? Absolutely. Should there be a more developed arsenal that features a regularly available compliment pitch to work off of his fastball? Sure, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or more importantly, him.

Hanging on these points to the point of dismissing the affirmative parts of his result is an exercise in practiced hysteria. At his age/experience level, he should not be expected to be regularly impressive or completely polished. Understanding Miller’s growing career arch requires spoonful of context to go along with the perception of his outcome.

There are several factors that go into understanding where he is, starting with company that is around him. The combination of the quick rise of Michael Wacha and his more regularly encouraging results, despite joining the system after Miller and seeing his star eclipse his. Wacha pitches with the polish that a college career provides, despite being a talent that is on a similar par as Miller’s and just under a year younger. There is also the far more extreme swings of outcome from Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia as well. The sweet and/or sour outings that they provide have created a culture of all or nothing in accessing Cardinal pitching.

Miller is not as prone to meltdowns as either of that duo; rather he is subject to the big moment, i.e. the home run. His reliance on his fastball and hit or miss availability of an off-speed pitch to balance against it has been a reason for why he has given up 30 home runs in his first 255 career innings. It is a concerning trend, but it is one that he will likely find a way to work through. He’s simply developed too much as a pitcher—in flashes—to not. Because he is 23-years old and won’t even hit 50 career starts until next month in his young career.

The moral of the story is that baseball by nature is a marathon, as is the careers of its players. While expectation for immediate returns have never been higher, remember this when watching Miller go through the motions (and even stretches of them): when Gibson was 23, he was stuck in the bullpen mostly and had a WHIP of 1.53. When Wainwright was 23, we carried an ERA of 13.50. Dizzy? He won 20 games, but lost 18 too. Carpenter? He gave up 18 home runs in 175 innings, a mark that nearly matches what Shelby did last year.

In the end, good things are worth waiting for and even though nobody likes a waiting room, the payout at the end can definitely be worth the time it takes to get there.

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The Past Meets The Future—Matheny Extended, Carp Retires

It was a day of coming and going for the Cardinals. In the first major personnel announcements of the offseason, General Manager John Mozeliak announced that the organization was furthering its leadership on the bench with Mike Matheny, while also making official the retirement of Chris Carpenter.

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In the current, the decision to continue on further with manager Matheny was affirmed over the long-term—not that there was ever any question regarding it. In his second year, the Cardinals finished with a National League-best 96 wins, going to win its first National League Championship under his guide, before reaching Game 6 of the World Series. For these efforts, he finished fourth the voting for NL Manager of the Year and saw it come to a head today with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. Before the 2013 season, his third year option that covers the 2014 season was previously picked up.

Matheny has played a pivotal role in keeping the organization afloat after future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired two years ago. In a time where the team could have slipped into a minor rebuilding phase, under his watch it has instead returned it to the NLCS two consecutive years and won its first NL Central in four years. In his first two seasons on the bench, Matheny has a record of 185-139, which is the third best two-season start to managerial career in Cardinal history.

             HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Matheny has quietly climbed into elite company in Cardinal history in his first two years as manager. His 185 wins bring him in a third all-time in team history for manager wins over the first two seasons:

Billy Southworth (1941-42): 203-104

Frankie Frisch (1934-35): 191-116

Mike Matheny (2012-13): 185-139

Johnny Keane (1961-62): 177-147

Joe Torre (1991-1992): 167-157

Perhaps what has been most impressive has been the handling of the young guard of Cardinal prospects that Matheny has embraced. They have become an important foundation of the team, both now and in years to come. Armed with a ready to win, yet continually developing roster, the move to secure Matheny over the long-term is yet another strong early investment in continued Cardinal success.

 

Yet, while the club was securing its future, it also announced the newest part of its past. The biggest announcement of the afternoon was Mozeliak confirming what was long assumed to be coming: the retirement of Carpenter. Injuries curtailed the last two seasons for the 38-year-old pitcher, and he mustered only three starts since 2011. After mounting a final comeback attempt in mid-June, only to see it derailed in Memphis after the same nerve issues that ended his 2012 in Spring Training returned. Ultimately, it became clear there was nothing left to pursue in regards to continued attempts to return, and as his contract also expired with the club at the end of the season as well, it became clear that it was time to move on.

Injuries often kept Carpenter from being the regularly dominant presence at the front of the Cardinal rotation, but when he was there, he was among the best hurlers to ever wear the Birds on Bat. After beginning his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, but missed his first season in St. Louis with an elbow injury.

But from the time he made his Cardinal debut in 2004, on through 2006, he was as good a pitcher as the National League had. Over that time span, he posted a record of 51-18, including winning the first Cardinal Cy Young in 2005 since Bob Gibson hoisted the award 35 years before. In 2006, he anchored a Cardinal staff that salvaged a failing season to win the team’s first World Series since 1982.

While he missed all but five games in 2007 and 2008 due to a second elbow surgery, he played an important role as mentor to the young Adam Wainwright, becoming a critical part of launching a career that has seen him join Carp among the elite Cardinal hurlers all-time. He returned to the top of his game in 2009, joining Wainwright in the top three of the NL Cy Young vote, a third such finish for Carp.

His final great hurrah was in the 2011 postseason, when he authored one of the great postseason games in history, winning a 1-0 dual with Roy Halladay. Overall, he posted a 4-0 record that October, including two World Series wins over the Rangers, including the decisive game seven victory.

Overall, he finished with a career record of 144-95, and a 10-4 postseason record, the seventh most wins in playoff history. With the Cardinals, his career record finishes at 95-44 with a 3.04 ERA and finished in the top ten in strikeouts, winning percentage, WHIP and postseason wins. He fought through a litany of injuries during his career: a torn shoulder labrum, torn ulnar-collateral ligament, and finally thoracic outlet syndrome, that led to the nerve and circulatory problems that ultimately brought his career to a close.

Due to time lost, Carpenter will not reach Cooperstown, but will loom large in the lore of his era. He is likely to be a quick inductee into the forthcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame when the Ballpark Village-based Cardinal museum is completed. Nobody will ever wearing his number 29 again most likely, despite the fact it is not eligible to be “officially” retired under current team rules. As for his future in the game, there has been continued dialogue between him and Mozeliak on finding a place for him with the club, most likely in a coaching capacity. Because, for one of the game’s great warriors, a suit-and-tie front office gig will not do. Rather, keeping him close to the dirt and the players that continue the legacy that he so intensely embraced is the only way.

As it has always been, its only goodbye for now for Carp.

 

Matt Whitener is a staff writer for i70 Baseball. He can also be found at The Sports Fan Journal and Cheap.Seats.Please, as well as on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and WhitenerCSP@gmail.com

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Cardinals Create Own Misfortune In Game One

In many regards, the Cardinals have been a max effort team throughout their playoff run. From a string of uncanny, timely pitching performances, to just the right hits to get by, they have found a seamless way to survive. However, on Wednesday night in Boston, those seams popped and the Cardinal chances quickly followed suit.

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There is not a postseason series that is devoid of “the moment”. Whether it be a critical defensive play, pitch placement or a hit find the right opening in the field, it is the turn of these plays that more often than not decides the turn of a series. Murphy’s Law was firmly rooted against the Cardinals in each and every one of these instances from onset of the Game One of the World Series, and they paid an instant price. Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester owned the corners in the top of the first inning, while Adam Wainwright uncharacteristically missed them. Boston made the best of the mini-slump from the Cardinal Ace, and the substandard Cardinal defense made sure they stuck.

The most notable play of the night will remain the first of this series of unfortunate events, where shortstop Pete Kozma’s moves without out the ball were executed more flawlessly than his ones with it. On a quick attempt at an inning-salvaging double play was initiated by Matt Carpenter, Kozma uncharacteristically missed the exchange at the base, a play that had its biggest impact to come after its completion. After the play was overturned by a rare umpire tribunal, it was made that even the runner coming into second was safe after Kozma never had control of the ball to record an out.

As such things always seem to unfold; this error was followed immediately by a definitive hit in the game by first baseman Mike Napoli in the next at-bat. He cleared the bases on a hanging Wainwright delivery and cleared the bases, putting the Red Sox ahead permanently.

Yet that moment was far from the only miscue of the day for the sloppy Cardinal defense. An inning that began with a miscue between Wainwright and Yadier Molina on a routine infield pop fly, it was Kozma’s second error in as many innings which blew things open yet again, which led the second time the bases were loaded in the young game. On the following play, Dustin Pedroia chopped a routine ball within range of both Kozma and David Freese at third, yet got past both and drove in the fourth run of the game, as well as kept the base loaded and the game alive.

Yet, it was the next at-bat that was the most ironic of the game, and could have the most resonating impact of the game. David Ortiz came within inches of his second grand slam of the postseason if not for a world-beating grab by Carlos Beltran at the right field fence. But in the course of making the grab, Beltran banged is open rib cage on the outfield wall, an outcome that forced him from the game at the close of the inning. While Beltran’s hospital returns were X-Rays and cat scans which showed no serious reasons for concern, in the same way that they benefitted from the injury to Hanley Ramirez in the NLCS, they could be forced to battle through for themselves now with a sore Beltran.

After this early string of misfortunes, the Cardinal momentum was sufficiently deadened. While they mounted a brief threat in the fifth inning, as well as broke up the team shutout bid in the ninth inning on a long Matt Holliday home run, their fate was long since decided, and largely by their own doing. The 8-1 loss gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the series, an edge that has resulted in a win in the last 24 World Series contest.

The Cardinals have been a team that has played at best when performing in concert, as Game Six of the National League Championship Series displayed. Yesterday’s game was a study in what happens when that same display happens in the contrary. Boston did the three things well that win baseball games on Wednesday: pitched well, played well at home and capitalized on mistakes. For the Cardinals to return to St. Louis tomorrow night with the series under control, they must do their part to assure there are fewer chances for the Sox to make good on the latter scenario.

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What Does The Future Hold – Cardinals Contracts and Scenarios

As the St. Louis Cardinals face the final weekend of the National League Championship Series, and the baseball year as a whole rolls into its final go around shortly, the show still goes on, regardless of outcome. Sooner or later, the tone of the year quickly turns to the personnel part and the future becomes the present. Free agency, retirements, trades and rumors will rule the roost for the next three months, and the Cardinals will be far from on the outside looking in.

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While the team has the rare pleasure of having the vast majority its entire core and active roster under team control for not only 2013, but 2014 as well, the business is safe to continue as is for the near future. But exactly how is the design of the team set up entering the winter? Here is the entire breakdown of the Cardinal roster, including what’s to come, what will cost what and how contract status works into the personnel decisions that could loom.

(Contract figures per Cots Contracts & Baseball Reference)

Guaranteed Contracts—$71.5M guaranteed in 2014

Adam Wainwright (32, $97.5M through 2018)

Matt Holliday (34, $51M through 2017 w/ $17M team option in 2018)

Yadier Molina (31, $44M through 2017, w/ $15M team option in 2018)

Allen Craig (30, $28.5M through 2017, w/ $13M team option in 2018)

Jaime Garcia (27, $17M through 2015, w/ $23.5M total in separate team options in ’16-’17)

Jason Motte (32, $7.5M through 2014)

Randy Choate (38, $6M through 2015)

The vast majority of the Cardinal veteran core is not only signed, but is contracted through the next four seasons at minimum. Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are likely on career carrying deals, while the team locked up young, quickly proven players such as Craig and Garcia early in their careers, and have control through their best years underway. Motte is the lone pending free agent on the 2014 team, and will have a show-and-prove year as he returns to the ninth inning from Tommy John surgery early in the season.

Arbitration Eligibles

John Axford (31, Stage 2, $5M in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

David Freese (31, Stage 2, $3.15M in 2013)

Jon Jay (29, Stage 1, $524,000 in 2013)

Daniel Descalso (26, Stage 1, $511,000 in 2013)

Fernando Salas (29, Stage 1, $512,000 in 2013; Non-Tender Candidate)

While Craig and Motte are locked up, the remainder of the formerly young Cardinal cast is in the midst of their arbitration years. At maximum, Freese, Jay and Descalso are under team control through 2015, but there will be a few tough calls in this tier of the team, and none harder to predict than Freese, who is due for a raise into the $5M range, but had his worst year of his career. Axford’s case will be the most interesting case, as he is a high-ceiling talent, but will carry a difficult price tag for what is likely a seventh inning bridge pitcher to carry.

Pre-Arbitration

Lance Lynn (27, Stage 3)

Matt Carpenter (28, Stage 3; Buy-out Candidate)

Tony Cruz (27, Stage 3)

Shane Robinson (29, Stage 3)

Shelby Miller (23, Stage 2)

Michael Wacha (23, Stage 2)

Carlos Martinez (22, Stage 2)

Pete Kozma (26, Stage 2)

Trevor Rosenthal (24, Stage 2)

Kevin Siegrist (24, Stage 2)

Seth Maness (25, Stage 2)

Matt Adams (25, Stage 2)

Joe Kelly (26, Stage 2)

Keith Butler (25, Stage 2)

Sam Freeman (26, Stage 2)

Tyler Lyons (26, Stage 2)

John Gast (25, Stage 2)

Kolten Wong (22, Stage 2)

Adron Chambers (27, Stage 2)

The core of the Cardinal team is its youth, as the group that was heralded as the top organization in all of baseball before the season has seen many of its jewels hit the big leagues. Of the 19 players in this section, no less than 12 are virtual locks to be on the Opening Day roster, and none will come in at cost of more than $525,000. This is where the cost control of youth, performing youth at that, shows it’s most advantageous asset. And with only Lynn, Carpenter, Cruz and Robinson on pace to reach arbitration status over the next two years, unless the team decides to up the ante on an early long-term deal to buy out any of this group’s arbitration seasons, this will be a strong asset on the side of the team’s purchasing power, if needed.

Free Agents

Carlos Beltran ($13M)

Jake Westbrook ($8.75M, $9.5M team option will be declined)

Chris Carpenter ($10.5M, will likely retire)

Rafael Furcal ($7M)

Edward Mujica ($3.2M)

Rob Johnson ($750,000)

There are a few ifs and a few certainties here. The certainties start with Jake Westbrook, who’s 2014 option is all but certain to be declined. Furcal and Carpenter will not return as well, with retirement on the horizon for Carpenter and Furcal missing all of the season with Tommy John surgery, and the team having moved on from him before spring training commenced. Mujica is due for a raise, despite his late season struggles, and will likely price himself out of returning for the capacity he would be needed in.

 

Post-2014 Free Agent Candidates

Motte, Axford, Freese

Post 2015 Free Agent Candidates

Garcia, Choate

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Seven Point Preview For Cardinals/Dodgers NLCS

Tonight, the National League Championship Series kicks off at Busch Stadium, in an ironic scenario. It pits the best team, by record, in the St. Louis Cardinals versus the best team, in the view of the odds makers, in the Los Angeles Dodgers. This could be seen as a slight to a Cardinal team that not only finished with the best record in the NL, but tied for the best in all of the baseball, but the Dodgers are a bit more than just their record.

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After a desperately terrible start, the Dodgers played insane baseball over the second half of the season, finishing with a winning percentage of .665 after June. They pulled from the bottom of the NL West to winning their division by 11 games, the largest margin of any in baseball. Yet, they find themselves facing four games on the road against the best October franchise in baseball over the last three seasons, and it is the type of series where intangibles and talent collide, to make for a narrow decision.

So who has the edge: the hottest team in baseball or the most proven team in it? Here’s how it shakes out:

Starting Lineup: The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored this season, owed mostly to the new high mark they set hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, they hit .330 on the year, and had five batters drive in over 75 runs on the season. Save for the injured Allen Craig, four everyday Cardinals hit over .296, with high marks of .319 and .318 from Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter.

For the Dodgers, the production was spread around. Hanley Ramirez hit .345 in 304 at-bats between a series of injuries, while Yasiel Puig hit .319 on the year after debuting in June, adding in 19 home runs, 21 doubles and 11 stolen bases. From the Opening Day Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez led the team in the Triple Crown categories, with a .293/22/100 split on the year.

The Cardinals have the best everyday ensemble left in the game, as well as a knack for finding hits when they are needed. LA conversely has more talent in the everyday lineup, but without Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp healthy, it simply isn’t a more threatening lineup as a whole. Advantage: Cardinals.

Starting Pitching: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw are the best back-to-back duo of starting arms in the game, and are the greatest advantage the Dodgers have on their side. Throughout the year, they combined to go 31-13, with a 2.17 ERA and 380 strikeouts. But depth is also the Dodgers ally, as Ricky Nolasco, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Chris Capuano all providing an intriguing matchup options as well.

Everything is based around Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals, but this time it won’t be able to start with him. There is a chance that he will be surrounded by three rookies in Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller in the Cardinals NLCS rotation. They are not average, but well-tested youngsters that won’t be intimidated in the moment, but will carry a heavy burden.

St. Louis is high on talent, but clearly outmatched against the two former Cy Young winners, which are slated to start four of the seven potential games in the series. Their best hope is to spring an upset against one, ride Wainwright’s opportunities and win the swing game that pits starter four vs. four. Advantage: Dodgers.

Bullpen: St. Louis relies most heavily on its young arms out of its bullpen, where no less than four can factor into any game, including the ninth inning, which has been inherited by Trevor Rosenthal (108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings, 29 holds). The presence of former closers-turned-fill in arms Edward Mujica (37 2013 saves) and John Axford give the Cardinals a solid group of mid-to-late game options, albeit with some risk.

The Dodgers rely on mix of proven specialists, closers and pure flame throwers. Kenley Jenson threw the second most pitches over 100 mph in the MLB this year after Aroldis Chapman, and closed out 28 of 32 save opportunities after moving to the ninth inning in early June. Joined by a resurgent Brian Wilson (0.66 ERA) and JP Howell (.164 average against by lefties) and they have a tough crew to crack.

The Cardinals pen has been solid throughout the year, but somewhat unnerving of late in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a bevy of options that miss bats easily, and instant outs are huge in the playoffs. Advantage: Dodgers.

Defense: Despite some notably limited players in Matt Holliday and David Freese in the starting lineup, the Cardinals can field. They tied of the least amount of team errors and the best fielding percentage in the National League this season. This is due in part to a strong quad up the middle of Molina, Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma.

The Dodgers conversely were not a good defensive team. Puig’s insertion in the outfield provided some much needed range, and AJ Ellis is a plus backstop, but they finished with the second most errors in the NL and wait more for strikeouts than created ones. Advantage: Cardinals.

Bench: Andre Ethier’s availability to play in the field is in question, but he can swing the bat still and is joined by Michael Young, who was acquired to add needed depth to the bench. These veteran presences loom huge in the Dodgers ability to create mismatches on-demand. Dee Gordon is instant speed boost, while Nick Punto is a defensive plus at three infield spots.

The Cardinals bench is not an offensive stock hold, after Matt Adams was forced into everyday action after the injury to Allen Craig deemed it necessary. However, Daniel Descalso and Shane Robinson are defensive bonuses that are an important part of the late game strategy for the offense-heavy Cardinal attack.

Despite the versatility of the Cardinal approach, LA’s ability to continue to create offense late in the game is major advantage that will be a factor throughout the series. Advantage: Dodgers

Manager: Mike Matheny’s major contribution in his second season leading the Cardinals has been to install the crucial team identity, as well as strategically groom the rookie base that much of the team is built around. However, he has grown as a strategist as well and uses his full roster to his advantage.

Don Mattingly has come a long way in just this season. He was one week away from losing his job when the Dodgers took off, and has become an essential part of holding together the big money, multi-personality team together.

With that said, Matheny holds an edge in the chemistry department, as well as the experience lane at this part of the calendar as well. He has already shown some positive adjustments from a year ago, and will take on a new personal distance mark in his career. Advantage: Cardinals

Injury Factor: There are two major injuries that holding both teams back from their full potential in the series. For the Dodgers, it is Matt Kemp, who only played only 73 games on the year. The team’s best player in name, but not much a part of the run the team took this season. Ethier’s foot injury is also compounding the Dodger situation, whereas he can’t be a part of the daily lineup, due to not being able to handle the demands of the field.

Conversely, the Cardinals are missing a major part of their success in Allen Craig. The run producing machine ran up 97 RBI and a hit a mind-blowing 59 for 130 on the year with runners in scoring position (.454). The absence of the All-Star first baseman has been padded by the presence of Adams, but he is an irreplaceable quantity in the steadiness of the Cardinal attack.

While the Cardinals are missing a major portion of their attack, the alternate option for the Cardinals is actually not as far of a step down as the Dodgers have faced without two-thirds of their best possible outfield. Advantage: Cardinals.

Intangibles: Momentum is everything in the postseason, and both teams come into the series with plenty. The Cardinals will be fresh off an inspiring effort from Wainwright to close out their NLDS series, and will be in front of the same home crowd buzz that it took place in. Conversely, the Dodgers will cross the country again after a similarly inspiring close out to their NLDS matchup, which concluded with Juan Uribe’s two-run, bottom of the 8th inning home run.

On the season, the Dodgers won the season’s seven game series, 4-3. Over the last month, including the playoffs, the Dodgers are 15-16, while the Cardinals are 22-10.

On the year, the Cardinals are 56-28 at Busch Stadium, and 44-39 elsewhere. At Dodger Stadium, LA is 49-34, while 45-37 on the road. Home games for the Cardinals are the biggest outstanding factor in the series for either side.

Summary: These are two teams with clear strengths, but close margins at the same time. Protecting home field advantage will be a task for the Cardinals, who will be confronted with Greinke and Kershaw in their own park, which is a powerful equalizer. Finding their groove in offense will be tough this way, for a team that has struggled to string together a consistent offering over the last week offensively, and they will need to get runs early in the game throughout the series to make it.

The Cardinals face an uphill battle from the start, but with two Dodger aces out of the way early, if they can split the first two games before sending Wainwright to the mound in game three, they have a chance to get a decisive advantage before the anything goes game four, and then the return of Greinke and Kershaw in games five and six. On paper it seems to be a long series ahead, but one with some very decisive pitfall chances early and often. The Cardinals take the edge in the head-to-head factors department 4-3, and have some important intangibles leaning in their favor as well. This bides well in their favor for a series that looks primed to go the full distance, and end in a Cardinal final advantage.

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Wainwright Joins Pinnacle of Cardinal Pitchers

It was no secret that the key to winning game five of the National League Division Series would require a strong performance from Adam Wainwright. However, what he ultimately delivered was far more than just that. It was an effort that removed any doubt about whether he belonged among the most exclusive class of Cardinal hurlers all-time, Waino delivered. And it is now clear that the Trinity of Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Chris Carpenter now needs be pulled to include #50 as well.

It is now a “Mt. Rushmore” of Cardinal pitching greats.

Waino_Game5

Throughout his whirlwind year, Wainwright has steadily affirmed himself as being among the best pitchers the team has ever had. It was a year where he reaffirmed his intent to be a part of the team throughout the remainder of his career, climbed the up the team’s leaderboards to a few rare levels and once again led his league in wins. It would be deemed yet another in a steady line of affirmations of him becoming one of the better pitchers of his era.

But there is always the sense that such achievements are only along a regular day’s work for him. Being a great Cardinal requires being great at the highest levels; and those only come in October. For Wainwright, the situation that found him the Division Series, being an anchor on both ends of it, fed exactly what he desires most. And that’s controlling the series in a way that only the head of a staff can; being the unavoidable punishment for opponents, and a pillar of confidence for his club.

With one half of that equation affirmed via his dominant Game One outing last week, he turned for a chance at rarified Cardinal immortality by picking up victory in a win or go home game. It was the one thing that eluded his resume to be a part of the aforementioned Cardinal greats of the bump, and it was also a chance to avenge the biggest let down of his career to date, which came in the same situation a year ago in Washington. But it was clear that the past would stay where it was early on, as Wainwright set the tone with an especially devastating curve. He pitched through the tough spots, while relishing in an inspired defense, as well as overcoming some blunders from that same unit. He made the runs stand up, and he authored a masterful complete game to close down the year for the Cardinals’ most persistent foe, and push his club to a third consecutive National League Championship Series

It echoed of the same fashion that he made his first bones in Cardinal lore, via his game-closing strikeout (via a buckling hopeless curveball) to a hitter that had destroyed the team all year, this time being Pedro Alvarez. Yet while Wainwright would always be remember for his relief heroics in seven years ago, last night was the stamp on his resume as a starter of legend with the club. It was his equivalent of Dean’s complete game, six-hit shutout of the Tigers to win the 1934 World Series, or Gibson’s record-setting 17 strikeout opener to the 1968 Series. More contemporarily, it was his match to his mentor’s masterful three-hit clinching performance over Philadelphia to close out 2011’s NLDS.

Wainwright’s postseason big game confidence was already in place, but last night, the pedigree was set. As well as affirmation that a living legend, one of the vein that tosses the first pitch out years down the road, is now set in the midst of the Cardinal faithful, for how thoroughly he delivered the last one of yesterday evening.

 

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In Pirates, Cardinals Face Path of Proven Resistance

There is no doubt about the task that lies ahead for the Cardinals in starting their playoff push with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The margin of a difference between the two teams was rarely much further apart than three games at any point in the season, and for much of it, it felt as if the Pirates owned the Cardinals head-to-head. The numbers are what the numbers are, and while the playoffs do reset the standings, they do not reset the match up; a series which has turned 10-9 in Pittsburgh’s favor thus far.

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However, the Cardinals have had their usual late season swerve since much of the damage that was done to them by Pittsburgh. They were an NL-best 19-8 in September, which included a three-game sweep over Pittsburgh in St. Louis early in the month. Over the past two seasons, the Cardinals have played at their best the later the season has drawn, with a 42-27 mark in the months of September and October, including the postseason. Experience is their ally, and could be their greatest asset over the next (at max) five games.

Despite this, it would be fair to say that the general sentiment that the Pirates could be the arrow in the Cardinals Achilles is fair. They hold two pitchers that have been dominant against the St. Louis lineup all year. Nobody has had more success versus the Cardinals than Francisco Liriano, who in three starts is undefeated and carries a ridiculous 0.75 ERA and .127 average against. He is in line for the Game 3 start on Sunday in Pittsburgh, where they Pirates have won seven of ten games against the Cardinals this year. Another asset on their side takes to the mound today, in AJ Burnett, who also has three wins to only one loss on the year in the matchup, and carried a no-hitter into the seventh against the team early in the year.

Pitching has been a strength for the Bucs, and it is an upper hand that will have to be overcome by the Cardinals, who are countering with a less certain staff, but some definite strengths as well. Adam Wainwright is setup to be the alpha and omega of the series, throwing game one and in line to toss the decisive game five as well. Yet, outside of their ace, the Cardinals are primed to leave nothing off the table in taking down their most persistent foe.

Having the league-leader in wins for the season taking to the mound is an obvious strength, but there it is what is to follow him that has been the most debated element, but could be a smokescreen to much bigger strategy. The decision to start Lance Lynn in game two was rightfully questioned by both fans and media alike. Lynn is the most mercurial of all the Cardinal arms, and despite pitching much better down the stretch, with the club winning three of his final five starts and him posting a 2.12 ERA two of the victories for himself. Yet, the Pirates have hit him well, to the tone of 30 hits in 27 innings and a 5.60 ERA. However, he still carries two victories against the club this season, which is second to only Joe Kelly’s three victories against Pittsburgh.

Yet, winning in swarms is the Cardinals approach this year offensively, and it appears Matheny is looking to spread this approach the mound as well early in the Division Series. He is going all in with his arms, as he has made the decision to put his now-proven arsenal of young arms on full availability out of the bullpen. Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha will both join the mix of Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal in the bullpen early in the series. With Kelly primed to start game three on Sunday in Pittsburgh, one will move to the rotation later, but both of the prized rookies will be available to go if needed before that crucial, but as of now if necessary, date.

This decision proves one thing clearly: the Cardinals are going all-in and sparing no part of its depth to do so. While the Pirates are the most formidable opponent the team could face, the Cardinals have reached the summit of entering as the National League’s best team over the past six months by holding nothing back. An approach they are appearing to be willing to go into overdrive to keep their year moving.

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Best record important, but St. Louis Cardinals should have Adam Wainwright ready to start playoffs

The St. Louis Cardinals will be the National League Central Division champions as they enter the playoffs, but where they begin the postseason is still an important mystery.

Wainwright

The Cardinals took a one-half-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the National League into play Thursday when the Braves face the Philadelphia Phillies while the Cardinals wait to begin their final three-game series of the season at Busch Stadium against the Chicago Cubs.

As was the case in the Cardinals’ World Series championship season of 2011, they will face the worst team in the NL Central while the Braves play the Phillies. However, the Cardinals played the Houston Astros to close that season, and the Cardinals and Braves were fighting just to make the playoffs in 2011.

Now they are competing for the best record in the National League, which would guarantee them home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series.

The Cardinals don’t have Chris Carpenter to send to the mound in the final game of the season as they did two years ago, but they still have one of the best pitchers in the league ready to go in the final series, if necessary.

But here’s the thing. It is not necessary.

The Cardinals could pitch Adam Wainwright on Saturday, which would be his regularly scheduled day to start, or they could hold him back until Sunday if they need a win on the final day of the season to clinch the best record in the league.

However, if he pitches Sunday, that would put him on short rest to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, and the Cardinals would almost certainly push him back to Game 2.

A third option would be to shut Wainwright down until the playoffs regardless, but that opens up a problem of too much rest if he goes from Monday until next Thursday between starts.

He will instead probably pitch Saturday or Sunday, and at this point Saturday would be the much better option.

Sure, the Cardinals might lost home-field advantage in the NLCS if they don’t win enough games against the Cubs this weekend, but with a playoff spot already in hand, the Cardinals would be more prudent to maximize their strategic advantages for the first round of the playoffs because there is no guarantee they will even make it the next round and be able to use what would be their home-field advantage.

At this point, Wainwright in Game 1 of the division series is more important than Wainwright on Sunday against the Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny can still use Wainwright on Saturday and then use a pitcher such as rookie Michael Wacha on Sunday. That setup would still give the Cardinals a legitimate chance to win and gain home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs, but it would more importantly position Wainwright to pitch the first game of the playoffs.

Plus, a winning performance from Wainwright against the Cubs is far from certain. Wainwright has struggled against the Cubs more than any team throughout his career outside of the Atlanta Braves, which would arouse another whole set of questions for later in the playoffs.

Anyway, Wainwright as a career 4.44 earned-run average and a 7-6 record through the seven full seasons he has pitched in Major League Baseball.

So a win from Wainwright on Saturday and Sunday is not nearly as likely as one might first assume, even though the Cardinals are 28 games better than the Cubs heading into play Friday.

The Cardinals would be smart to let Wainwright pitch Saturday on normal rest and be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs instead of having him pitch Sunday and risk losing that game while also losing him until Game 2 of the division series.

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