Pick-Six: Gauging Wacha’s Future and Pondering Cardinals Trade Options

Anthony Stalter’s stream of consciousness on both local and national sports stories…

  1. Michael Wacha struggled Sunday night in Chicago, but not…

…for the reasons I thought he would. After throwing 119 pitches in a complete game shutout against the Mets on Tuesday, I thought he would show significant signs of fatigue against the Cubs. Wacha was coming off 11 days of rest when he made that start in New York. Given his injury history and the fact that the 119 pitches were a career-high for him in a single game, it wouldn’t have been shocking if he didn’t have command early. But his cutter failed him, not his stamina. The monster home run he served Kyle Schwarber in the bottom of the fourth was on a 90 mph cutter and the two-run shot he allowed to Contreras was a cutter as well, at least according to Wacha (MLB.com indicated it was a 93.2 mph four-seamer, but Wacha would know what he threw). In his final batter of the game, Wacha touched 97.1 mph with a four-seamer on the first pitch to Ian Happ. If he was fatigued from going the distance on Tuesday, I doubt he would have registered 97 on the gun. In that sense, his start was encouraging, even though his overall performance was not. The deeper we get into the season, we’ll see if Wacha can remain strong. In previous seasons, he has not, which is what has led to speculation that he’d be more effective out of the pen.

  1. John Mozeliak was as candid as he possibly could have been…

…when discussing Lance Lynn’s future over the weekend. Derrick Goold of the Post Dispatch delivered the key quote: “The thing for the Cardinals and my role with the Cardinals is to try and look at what is best for us short-term and also long-term,” Mozeliak said. “Where Lance plays into that – it can be a little muddy. He knows where we stand, and if nothing else has the peace of mind with that knowledge…” I could be way off, but this is the way I interrupted Mo’s comments: ‘Lance knows we’re open for business and teams are calling about his services. If another team offers us a deal that makes us better either now and/or in the future, he’ll be in another uniform by the end of the month.’ If the Cards don’t trade Lynn at the deadline, they’ll receive a compensatory pick for next year’s draft, assuming he signs a free agent contract for more than $50 million (which is bound to happen unless Lynn upsets the applecart and signs a short-term deal). That compensatory pick creates leverage for Mo and Michael Girsch, who aren’t forced to trade Lynn. It’s not like the position Doug Armstrong was in with Kevin Shattenkirk, who wasn’t going to re-sign with the Blues following the 2016-17 season. It was the trade deadline or nothing for Armstrong. That said, contending teams are always desperate for pitching. The Yankees, Dodgers and Astros are just three teams that could be in the market for starting pitching this week. Of course, with Sonny Gray, Justin Verlander, Jaime Garcia and even Yu Darvish on the trade market as well, perhaps teams will low-ball the Cardinals in an offer for Lynn, who is a rental. Still, based on Mo’s comments over the weekend, the odds seem to be in favor of Lynn being dealt.

  1. Have the Cardinals found their future shortstop in Paul DeJong? It sure…

…looks like it after his impressive showing at Wrigley. Then again, DeJong has proven he can hit at the big-league level since the middle of June. Since June 15 through Sunday night’s game in Chicago, DeJong has a wRC+ of 139 and is slugging .633. Granted, he doesn’t draw many walks and his .299 OBP leaves a lot to be desired. But his 12 home runs are only two shy of the 14 apiece hit by Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko and Dexter Fowler, not to mention DeJong accomplished that feat in just 174 plate appearances. (For comparison, Carpenter has 400 PAs, Gyorko has 347, and Fowler has 329.) The debate, however, isn’t whether or not DeJong’s bat plays. That’s obvious. The question is whether or not he can stick at shortstop long-term. The answer right now is yes, especially when there are no better options. This season, in essence, is an audition for DeJong, who has already displayed more range than Diaz (the play he made on Saturday to rob Willson Contreras of a hit was Derek Jeter-esque), a quicker first step, and a stronger arm. Granted, DeJong had one go right through the wickets on Friday that led to a Cubs’ run and couldn’t come up with a hot-shot grounder in the ninth inning of the series finale against Pittsburgh (the result was the Cards blowing the game that same inning). Then again, every team that starts youth has to take the good with the bad. There might not be a better option this offseason either. Zack Cosart is having an outstanding walk year in Cincinnati, but he turns 32 next month and will bank in free agency. The young, cost-controlled DeJong is the best-case scenario for the Cards at short, so hopefully he continues to rake and play stellar defense. The latter is key. Everyone can see he rakes. If he can at least play average to above-average defense, then yes, the Cards have their shortstop. Time will tell.

  1. My radio partner Chris Duncan nailed it with his recent evaluation…

…of Randal Grichuk. To paraphrase, Dunc said of Grichuk: ‘He is who he is. He’ll get hot for a week and hit four mammoth home runs, then cool off and get into a deep funk where he strikes out a ton and looks overmatched.’ Dunc is right, that is who Grichuk is. The question is, can the Cards live with that? Mozeliak’s game plan last offseason was seemingly to pack the lineup with a bunch of players that can get on base and keep the line moving. In essence, the Cards were abstaining from having the same offense they did in 2016, which was predicated on the long ball. When the Cards won 100 games in 2015, the offense only slugged .394 (23rd in baseball) but got on base at a .321 clip (13th). From the outside, it appeared that Mo was trying to recreate that type of offense, albeit one that was more athletic as a whole. If that’s the identity the Cardinals want to own, then Grichuk doesn’t fit that philosophy. Grichuk is who he is at this point (stretches of games where he looks like he’ll never get another hit again, followed by series like this past one in Chicago when he looks like a 30-home run player). Do the Cards know who they are?

  1. The Cards’ acquisition of former Mariners’ prospect Tyler O’Neill…

…was interesting for several reasons. For starters, they traded from depth (starting pitching) to acquire more depth at another position (outfield). Why? Why stockpile even more outfield depth when they’re already chockfull of it at nearly every level? My guess would be that a team the Cards have been communicating with liked O’Neill, but didn’t have the means (i.e. starting pitching) to acquire him from Seattle. So the Cards send Marco Gonzalez to the Mariners, acquire O’Neill, then flip him in a package that nets them something they need (a reliever, a middle-of-the-order bat…their 17th second basemen…who knows, the possibilities are endless). Either that, or they know they’re going to trade multiple outfield prospects at some point this year (at the trade deadline or in the offseason), have been intrigued with O’Neill for some time (he was the No. 29 overall prospect entering the 2017 season according to MLB.com), and plan on using him to supplement the depth they’re about to lose. Either way, there has to be more to this trade because in a vacuum, it doesn’t make sense for the Cards to embed yet another blocked outfielder into their system. I would think this move has to be a precursor to another trade.

  1. At this time of year, it’s hard to know which trade rumors have legs…

…and which ones are just fodder for talk radio and message boards. That said, if the Marlins are serious about trading at the deadline, the move that is most realistic is swapping Marcell Ozuna for prospects. Teams want Christian Yelich for the same reasons it makes sense for Miami to keep him: Because he’s a good, young, cost-controlled player. The Marlins are swimming in debt, but trading Yelich doesn’t offer them much salary relief. Meanwhile, moving Giancarlo Stanton provides Miami with a ton of financial relief, but what team wants to take on that contract? Ozuna is arbitration eligible for 2018 and 2019. Given the year he’s having, it’s unlikely the cash-strapped Marlins want to get into an arbitration war with the 26-year-old outfielder. Thus, moving him for prospects is more realistic than Yelich or Stanton. Ozuna creates the only win-win situation for a Miami team that wants to avoid future financial commitments and also replenish a devoid farm system. But perhaps any move involving the Marlins will have to wait until the offseason. By that time, one would think there will be more clarity with the sale of their franchise. Then again, we’re talking about Jeffrey Loria, so it’s anyone’s guess what the Marlins will do.

More: Karraker – A Week from Trade Deadline, Cardinals Need to Make Moves