Bernie Bits: My First Draft on the Cardinals’ 2018 Roster Needs

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You didn’t ask, but here’s my list of the Cardinals’ five most urgent needs for enhancing the roster.

This is just my first draft. As more info comes in, and as MLB teams start shopping, I’ll adjust this list accordingly

1. Muscle. The four teams that remain in the 2018 postseason ranked first (Yankees), second (Astros), ninth (Cubs), and 11th (Dodgers) in homers per game this season. In a related note MLB Network baseball insider Jon Heyman, speaking on Friday’s Bernie Show, said the Cardinals, Giants and Phillies are the three favorites to land Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton in a trade. Stanton bashed  59 homers this season, and he has a no-trade clause … Heyman said Stanton prefers to play for a team on of the coasts, but also wants to land with a winner. Stanton has a massive, long-term contract … the kind that usually scares the Cardinals off … Heyman said that of the three teams, the Cardinals have a significant edge on the Giants and Phillies in having enough prospects to make a deal with the Marlins, who are expected to slash payroll as part of a franchise reboot under Derek Jeter.

2. More muscle. Secondary muscle. One impact bat isn’t enough. Let’s make it two. A lot of folks are touting Kansas City impending free agent Eric Hosmer, and he does everything well. Competes hard. Wants to win. You get the rich onbase skill, and good power that will pump out about 20+ homers and 35+ doubles, and a gold glove at first base. Hosmer ranked fourth among MLB first baseman with 4.1 WAR this season, and his overall offense came in at 35 percent above the league average. And Hosmer is relatively youthful at age 28. Oh, and this:  you also get Scott Boras as part of the deal … because he will be negotiating the deal. And according to the Kansas City Star, Boras is shopping for a $200 million deal for his client.

3. Calling 911 for bullpen help. Need a closer, setup relievers, middle men, etc. Anything that will give the Cardinals enough quality arms to fit the anticipated change in philosophy for the team’s bullpen usage. Basically, relievers being parachuted into the game much earlier. Much different than what we’ve seen from manager Mike Matheny in the past. There’s been some media buzz about the Cardinals making a free-agent run for Greg Holland, who bounced back to have a good season as the Rockies’ closer after missing all of 2017 to rehab from elbow-ligament surgery. Holland is 31. He is opting out of his option to pursue free agency. He saved 41 games in 45 opps this season. His strikeout rate, while down some from his peak years in Kansas City, is still 30 percent. His walk rate and home-run rate were up slightly from his career norms, but no red flags. Holland had a poor August this season, getting slapped for a 13.50 ERA. But his earned-run averages for the other months ranged between 1.50 and 2.25. Holland is represented by … Scott Boras … sigh … and I’d have to think Boras will be seeking (at least) a Mark Melancon deal for Holland. Last offseason the Giants have Melancon four years and $62 million. Injuries limited Melancon to 32 appearances in 2017.

4. A veteran starting pitcher who can provide innings and stability. I like the talent of the Baby Birds. The flock of young pitching prospects such as Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Jordan Hicks, Junior Fernandez. But young pitchers are vulnerable. Even when pitching under an innings cap, they break down. And some young pitchers need extra time at the MLB level to figure things out. The 2018 rotation could be youthful, and there are more young arms on the way. Adding experience to the rotation depth seems like a smart thing to do. And if the Cardinals trade for, or sign, a veteran starter it could create flexibility that makes it possible to move Michael Wacha to the bullpen. Because of his innings limitations, and his pattern of fading after going through the opposing lineup a second time, Wacha might be better off — and much better — as a reliever.

4a. At this time I have no reason to believe the Cardinals will make the effort to re-sign Lance Lynn. Why? A few things: Age (31 next season) … the likely cost, and length of the contract … a slight drop in strikeout rate, and a slight increase in walk rate this season that resulted in the worst strikeout/walk rate of Lynn’s career, by far, at 1.96. … opponents had a .244 batting average against Lynn on balls in play and that was an outlier. The MLB average on balls in play against starting pitchers this season was .299, and Lynn had the best batted-ball luck of any MLB starter this season. That .244 BIP was the lowest in the majors vs. a starter for 2017.  … and of course, batted-ball randomness can work the other way. In his last 10 starts of the season, the average on BIP against Lynn was a more realistic .296. Accordingly, his ERA over that stretch was 4.19 … in his first 23 starts the BIP average against Lynn was a preposterously low .221, which also goes a long way in explaining his 3.12 ERA over those 23 starts. When the luck changed, the ERA inflated by more than a run … Lynn’s fielding independent ERA for the season (FIP) was a more representative 4.82 compared to his misleading baseball-card ERA of 3.43 … conditioning/stamina is also a concern; for the first time in his career Lynn became extremely vulnerable when he went through the opponents’ lineup a third time in a game: 4.43 ERA, 5.43 FIP, a terrible 15 percent strikeout rate, a ballooning 13.4 percent walk rate, and an opponent OPS of .800 …

5. I agree with my friend Jen Langosch of MLB.com … and explore the cost of acquiring a shortstop who excels defensively. Rookie Paul DeJong played above-average defense at shortstop this season, and this is nothing against him. DeJong was an exciting part, and a big part, of the transitional roster in 2017. But DeJong can also play second base, or third base. His bat will travel. And installing a superb defensive shortstop would save this team a lot of runs.

Thanks as always for reading this…

Have a swell weekend.

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – The Cardinals Had a Big Problem in the Clubhouse: Not Enough Talent