Cardinals Start Cleaning House…Four Things We Learned This Week About the Club’s Plans

The 2017 team already needed a shakeup – and it’s getting it – but a lot of what’s been happening has as much to do with 2018 as it does this September.

The Cardinals have moved on from one veteran starter, sound like they’re prepared to move on from another and they’ve begun re-shaping the 40-man roster with protecting several valued prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.

As a way of sorting through all of this I’m going to go through a series of things we learned in the past week or so…

The Cardinals were done with Mike Leake

The gave up $750,000 of their international signing pool, paid $17 million in cash and took a non-prospect prospect in return just to rid themselves of Leake and $38 million of the $55 million he was owed for the next three seasons. If that doesn’t tell you how seriously done with him they were I don’t know what would.

I’m not going to rehash my Leake critiques here, I’ve done that plenty. Let’s just put it this way: the team finally came to the conclusion I reached 2-3 weeks ago, that your young guys give you a better chance at winning games both now and in the future than Leake does.

To eat a big pile of money AND take nothing in return tells you how badly they wanted this to happen.

And it’s a good thing.

I also have a request – let’s stop Monday Morning Quarterbacking the decision to sign him. It turned out badly, no doubt, but the logic behind signing him was solid at the time the team had to pull the trigger. Here are the factors they were considering…

  1. Lance Lynn had just been lost for the year to Tommy John surgery.
  2. Adam Wainwright was entering his age 34 season having just missed damn near all of the 2015 season.
  3. Michael Wacha was still a question mark regarding workload because of his shoulder condition.
  4. Jaime Garcia had made just 36 starts in THREE YEARS from 2013-2105. So durability was a big question.
  5. Carlos Martinez was just coming off his first season as a Major League starter.
  6. The kids weren’t ready. Alex Reyes had made just 8 starts above Single-A, Luke Weaver hadn’t been above Single-A, Jack Flaherty hadn’t been above Low-A. None of the other young pitchers currently in the system were either ready or even in the system at the time.
  7. David Price turned you down for more money in Boston.
  8. At 28 years-old, Leake was the best bet of the remaining free agents to target because he hadn’t had an arm problem and he was young.

Still, it didn’t work out and they have to wear it. They also have to eat the deal.

The Cardinals appear to be done with Lance Lynn

Lynn says the team hasn’t approached him about contract talks. John Mozeliak talked about “going young” with the rotation in 2018. It sure sounds like Lynn will be heading elsewhere this offseason.

I can see both sides of the debate on Lynn. I understand the argument for keeping him, I understand the argument saying you’ve gotta let him walk.

The “You’ve Gotta Keep Him” bullet points go like this…

– He’s consistent and durable, we all know what to expect from him for at least the next couple of years.

– His leadership and grit are much needed elements in the clubhouse.

– The other questions in the pen make his durability that much more important.

The “You’ve Gotta Let Him Walk” bullet points go like this…

– He’ll be 31 years-old next year and if he’s getting a 5 year deal he’ll make something close to $100 million, money that could be better spent on a bat.

– He’s basically a fastball-only pitcher so what happens if/when he loses 3-4 MPH? He doesn’t have good secondary pitches so then what?

– You can’t block the kids forever and the guys pushing for his spot are all Top 100 Prospects.

The more I think about it the more I’m in the “You’ve Gotta Let Him Walk” camp. Weaver, Flaherty and Reyes are among the best pitching prospects in baseball and they’re not alone. Dakota Hudson, John Gant, Austin Gomber, Zac Gallen and Sandy Alcantara will all have a chance to be either in the Majors or at Triple-A next year. That’s 8 quality pitching prospects, more than enough coverage.

The Cardinals are done with Kevin Siegrist

This one surprised me a bit, I’m not gonna lie, but I understand it.

He’s broken down physically and he was about to get a nice payday in arbitration. Now, I know it’s the Cardinals fault that he’s broken down because Mike Matheny ran him into the ground over the past few years but this is a cold-hearted business and they have other options.

The emergence of Tyler Lyons is what made this decision palatable. Then you throw in the development of Ryan Sherriff, the presence of Brett Cecil (and his big fat contract) and the money you’ll save by not facing Siegrist in arbitration and this move makes sense. Plus it’ll clear a much-needed 40-man roster spot for September AND for the offseason.

I hope Siegrist gets healthy and finds success somewhere else but I can’t argue with the move.

The Cardinals believe in their young pitchers

This is obvious…but here’s why:

– Reyes will be back from Tommy John next year and he’s the #17 prospect in all of baseball per MLB.com despite the surgery.

– Weaver posted a 1.99 ERA in 53 career minor league starts. He has nothing more to prove in the minors and has looked good in the Majors.

– Flaherty just blew through Double-A and Triple-A (14-4, 2.18 ERA) at the age of 21. He’s the 53rd best prospect in baseball per MLB.com.

– Dakota Hudson has reached Triple-A in his first full season and has gone 10-5 with a 3.01 ERA combined between Double-A and Triple-A.

– Sandy Alcantara throws 100 MPH and just finished a season at Double-A at age 21. He posted a 2.64 ERA after June 1st.

– Zac Gallen climbed three levels in his first full pro season, reaching Triple-A, while going a combined 10-8 with a 2.90 ERA.

– Austin Gomber just went 10-7 with a 3.42 ERA at Double-A after lighting up the Arizona Fall League a year ago.

Those are just the guys who are right on the verge of reaching the Majors. That doesn’t even count highly regarded arms like Junior Fernandez, Connor Jones, Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks or Jake Woodford.

They’ve got all kinds of pitching depth. It’s time to use it.

So what’s next???

I think they’ll be fine when it comes to starting pitching in 2018 but they have two really big tasks ahead this offseason.

  1. Figure out who the closer is going to be.
  2. Find a legit middle of the order bat so the offense can be more consistent.

They could go the free agent route for a closer (Wade Davis, Addison Reed), they could look to make a trade or they could try internal options. None of the internal options are proven enough for me to be comfortable with that but if they did decide to try Wacha there I’d bet on it working.

When it comes to the bat, it’s going to have to be someone who plays 1B, 3B or OF.

I’m sold on the following starting position players for next year: Yadier Molina (with Carson Kelly working in), Tommy Pham, Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong, Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter. That leaves 3B (Jedd Gyorko) and RF (Stephen Piscotty) to work with. They’re both good players, in my opinion, but neither is the kind of 3-4 hole hitter the team needs. I’d be open to moving on from Carpenter if a really big 1B bat was available but I’m not sure I really see any out there. Eric Hosmer is a free agent but he’s going to be expensive and he’s not really THAT kind of hitter either – check it out, Carpenter’s numbers are much better over the last three years.

This offseason, when it comes to the bullpen and the lineup, it’s time to go big or go home.

Time for the Cardinals to stop being cautious and start getting aggressive with their farm system and their massive revenue streams.

More: Insider Thinks Lance Lynn’s Accepted He Won’t Be a Cardinal Next Season