Bernie Bits: Bryce Harper Isn’t a Litmus Test For the Cardinals

Our baseball market is wonderful, passionate, eccentric, funny and rich with history and tradition. Those qualities are among the reasons why St. Louis really is the best baseball town in America.

We love the game and the Cardinals so much, we lose our collective minds on a daily basis. The latest case of the vapors is running hot right now. Normal, level-headed and intelligent people are unmoored.

Why?

From what I can tell by slipping into the fever swamps on social media, the last eight days or so have gone like this:

1.  We acquired Paul Goldschmidt! Gave up very little in return. He’s one of the best players in baseball. Offense, defense, base-running, tremendous work ethic, exceptional teammate, the perfect fit, the perfect Cardinal. Face of the franchise! Foundation of the franchise! Everyone in major-league baseball REVERES Paul Goldschmidt, and he’s a Cardinal! Joy!

2. This ecstasy was soon followed — oh, maybe 38 seconds later — by the realization that the trade for Goldschmidt would pretty much end the possibility of an aggressive free-agent pursuit of best-in-show outfielder Bryce Harper.

3. Anger and frustration settle in.  Even though (A) Harper has never said he wanted to play here; (B) No one knows what Harper’s demands are; (C) No one knows how long his agent, Scott Boras, will slow-play his client’s negotiations; (D) No one knows how many teams are interested in Harper; (E) No one in a position of authority from the Cardinals has ever stated or confirmed that the team is out, and will not chase Harper; (F) No one on the Twitter machine has taken as much as 0.8 seconds to consider the possibility that the Cardinals are just one of seven or eight teams that have an interest in monitoring Harper’s contract process, and are choosing to lay low, and stay underground, because there is absolutely nothing to be gained by rushing in and panting before Boras to give him the gift of leverage that he can use against other less disciplined, less intelligent teams that are willing, drooling saps.

4. GOTTA GO GET HARPER …. DEWITT CAN AFFORD HARPER … CAN’T BELIEVE THEY’RE JUST GOING TO TRADE FOR GOLDSCHMIDT … AND THAT’S ALL?

5. DeWitt is cheap!

6. DeWitt doesn’t want to win.

Pardon my intervention: Um, why in the world would the Cardinals make a big public proclamation of their determination to land Harper no matter what it takes? How the hell does that benefit them? Because after getting everyone worked up and having fainting spells — only to have this end with Harper signing elsewhere — it would go down as an epic public-relations blunder and “proof” of DeWitt’s refusal to do what it takes to win … even though his team ranks among the top five in MLB in postseason wins and regular season wins during his ownership. No, if the Cardinals are keeping the door open on this, it’s better do go stealth. This is otherwise known as “common sense.”

Pardon my intervention again … How many teams have declared their everlasting love for Harper? The Phillies have pledged to be “stupid” in their spending. The White Sox have let it be known that they still exist — didn’t fold or anything — and are prepared to invest in payroll. The Nationals certainly would reopen discussions with Harper because the two sides had a seven-year relationship and he likes D.C. The Dodgers and Yankees have tamped down on speculation that they’re breathlessly crawling before Boras and Harper? So how many teams have PUBLICLY confirmed actionable interest in Bryce? Two, maybe three? That’s why Agent Boras was out there under the Christmas tree in a Las Vegas casino the other day, refreshing his marketing pitch for Harper … he needs to get more teams to the table … and even Boras said that baseball owners are the kind of guys who like to keep things private. That’s why Team Boras set up a alternate meeting space in Las Vegas — away from the lights — that he referred to as his black ops room … because there were meetings taking place that no one knows about except the agent, the player, and the front-office execs and owners who slipped into these meetings, undetected. 

7. This is one of my faves from the web pit: DeWitt won’t pay Goldschmidt.

Pardon my intervention: Do we know this? How do we know this?  Facts? Quotes? How much money is Goldy  asking for? Considering that he was traded about 21 minutes ago, is he asking for anything other than some recommendations on places to live at spring training in Jupiter? Did Goldy turn down an offer? Did the Cardinals low-ball him? Have there been any negotiations between the two sides? Evidence? Facts? Dorect statements? Anything? Or is this just another symptom of rabies?  Kind of like the faux outrage over Harper.  Because everyone on the Twitter gadget obviously knows what the Cardinals have offered Harper … except that they’re absolutely clueless as to knowing if ANYTHING has been offered, and if so, for how much. 

Then … it was onto the next phase … Goldschmidt bashing.

Yep. The ultimate Cardinal. The perfect Cardinal.

That was eight days ago … But now?

8. Goldy is breaking down! He’s aging! He’s like Pujols!  I can’t believe the Cardinals are losing sight of the future by trying to win right now! Why isn’t this team worried about the future?  Goldschmidt will be OLD after the 2019 season. He’ll be REALLY OLD. (Ancient at age 32.) Why does DeWitt think it’s smarter to give a long-term contract to a 32-year-old Goldschmidt but not Harper, who is technically 26 years old, but we all know that Bryce is really 16. Can’t believe DeWitt thinks we’d be happy with Goldschmidt when we could have had Harper!

Pardon my intervention: The Cardinals won’t be offering Goldy a 10-year contract, so this is a ridiculous thing to say, and those who frame the discussion in such a way are embarrassing themselves, their families, the teachers who tried and failed to educate them … Again … We don’t know what Goldschmidt wants … wants as in “that’s my bottom line.” I doubt that his goal is to set an all-time MLB record for biggest contract… which happens to be the Boras-Harper mission. So the chances of retaining Goldy beyond 2019 are more feasible. At least right now. 

Pardon my intervention, again: Beginning with Goldschmidt’s first full season (2012) he ranks 10th among MLB players for most games played, 9th for most plate appearances, and 4th for most innings played defensively. He hasn’t missed much time except for 2014, when he suffered a broken hand on a hit by pitch. Since the start of the 2015 season Goldschmidt ranks 6th in the majors in games, 2nd in plate appearances, and 3rd for most innings played defensively. His exit velocity, sprint speed, and barrel percentage remain intact. He’s one of the five best position players in the majors. And his measurable skills are intact. 

Pardon my intervention, again+ again: The same people caterwauling about the Cardinals not being more cautious about their future were the same people mewling a while back about their anger over the Cardinals always being so careful and scared and worried about 2022, 2023 and beyond instead of trying to WIN NOW and not having URGENCY. The same people. Attack the Cards for fretting over the future. Attack the the Cards for NOT fretting enough over the future. For the love of Floyd Rayford , make up your mind. 

For the record … again … I’m 100% in favor of the Cardinals signing Harper. But as a I wrote for The Athletic a few weeks back — while playing the role of Devil’s advocate — it’s easy to build a case that displays the considerable risk of signing Harper (even at 26 years old) to a 10-year deal (or longer.)

If DeWitt wants to go for it, great. If he passes, then I don’t thinks this makes him Mephistopheles. It makes him Bill DeWitt Jr, who isn’t thrilled about dishing 10-year contracts.

I guess the difference between me and some of the kooks could be described this way:

  • I’m really happy that the Cardinals acquired Goldschmidt. It was a brilliant, low-cost move. Now we have no choice but to see how it plays out. Because pretending to know how it will play out from the Cardinals’ side, and from Goldy’s side … well, that’s an exercise in stupidity and futility. And Goldschmidt made it clear — politely so — that he wants to wait. So what’s up with the goofs who are ripping the Cardinals for not having him signed already?
  • I think that people who disparage Goldschmidt while having a tantrum over Harper are really dumb.
  • While I believe the Cardinals are a long shot in the Harper recruitment, they aren’t out if it … because there’s always a chance of the market for Harper shifting in a way that could inspire a genuine STL bid at a more reasonable cost. Repeat: Long shot. A deep long shot. But this game is still going on, and Boras is pulling many strings in this upscale puppet show.
  • I don’t see Bryce Harper as some sort of litmus test. I’ll leave that to the phonies who would fail a pop quiz on Harper’s career; based on their comments they really have no idea about the plusses and minuses of his game. (Harper would have a bad two-week stretch here and this would be the reaction from the folks who now view him as the savior of Cardinals’ baseball: “This guy sucks! I didn’t know he struck out so much, and that he stinks defensively! What was DeWitt thinking?”)
  • See, they just lust for Harper because he’s the shiniest and most sensitive toy in the store,  and they want Papa DeWitt to buy them the toy, and if they don’t get the toy, they’re gonna stomp their little feet and go Cubs-blue in the face, and take their Fredbird doll and repeatedly stab it through the beak.
  • And the kooks don’t seem to realize — even now — that Bryce Harper is a free agent and GETS TO CHOOSE WHERE HE PLAYS.
  • And the kooks don’t seem to realize — here I go again — that this team could have Harper, Goldschmidt, the 1948 version of Stan Musial, and the 1987 version of Ozzie Smith — and they wouldn’t make it to the postseason without a major overhaul of the current bullpen.
  • Here’s my litmus test: Can the Cardinals put together a team that not only can steamroll into the postseason but have a helluva chance to win the pennant or a World Series? The record shows that they’ve gone 0-for-3 since 2015. They have to fix this. I don’t care how. Just win about 10 more games than they did last season (88), get back to the tournament, and take your best shot. I’m fine with the makeup of any Cardinals team that can win 95+ games and be a serious postseason threat.

I don’t need toys. I want a team that wins big. That’s the only freaking test that matters. My demand going into the offseason was adamant but simple: One way or another, the Cardinals had to adjust their ways, their outlook, and be more aggressive … take some risks… make themselves uncomfortable. Any sane person realizes that getting Goldschmidt was an aggressive move, and a risky move, because he can walk as a free agent after the season. But they made the deal, and it was a fantastic trade that makes this team better in multiple areas. The offense was not a serious problem in 2018. The bullpen was the stinking problem. Why so many people seem to be oblivious to this … well, I have no idea. But I do know that the Cardinals need to stay aggressive and rebuild that bullpen, transforming it from a weakness to a strength.

BERNIE BITS

If I’m gonna go nuts, it would be while imploring the Cardinals to pursue a trade for Indians starter Corey Kluber. Why? (A)  Because this team has starting-pitching depth … (B) but no ace … and (C) Kluber is under contract control for 2019, 2020 and 2021 at a reasonable cost (an average of $17.5 million per season). Since 2014, Kluber leads MLB starting pitchers in WAR (31.0), is second in starts (164), innings (1,091) and wins (83.) And he’s fourth in ERA (2.85), fifth in FIP (2.84), and fifth in strikeout-walk ratio.

New Cardinals’ super-utility man Drew Robinson hasn’t had many MLB at-bats, so throw out his stats. Robinson bats left-handed. All I know is this: with a large body of work — over the last three seasons in Triple A — Robinson slugged .519 and had an .880 OPS against RH pitching. And in the minors he’s played 255 innings at first base, 1,633 innings at second base, 2,812 innings at third base, 643 innings in center field, 150 innings in left field, 909 innings in right field, and 341 innings at shortstop. Dude has played every position except catcher and pitcher. But I can’t say he’s the so-called answer, though the Cardinals’ analytics staff is positive about his profile.

The Rangers signed old friend Lance Lynn to a three-year deal worth $30 million. Lynn also considered the Giants. Lynn, who turns 32 in May, got off to a horrendous start in 2018 after signing a one-year deal with the Twins late in spring training. But from May 22 through the end of the season, Lynn had a 3.35 FIP and a 23 percent strikeout rate. Lynn’s return to form clicked in after a trade to the Yankees at the end of July. As a Yankee Lynn worked 54 innings, had a 2.17 FIP, and lowered his walk rate to 6 percent, and raised his strikeout rate to 26.4 percent. Another plus for Lynn as he moves into the home-run gallery in Arlington: he had a career-best 50 percent ground ball rate in 2018, and turned in his lowest fly ball rate. Lynn’s 27 percent fly rate was nine points down from 2017.

Former Cardinal Joe Kelly has landed, leaving the Red Sox to go home to Southern California to join the Dodgers. Kelly agreeing to a three-year deal for $25 million, which is a little surprising given his inconsistency. But Kelly was outstanding late last season, delivering six shutout innings over five World Series for the champion Red Sox.  Overall, Kelly gave up only one earned run in 11.1 innings against the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers last postseason. But during the 2018 regular season Kelly had a high ERA (4.39) and a mediocre strikeout-walk ratio. And at 11.7 percent, Kelly had one of the worst reliever walk rates in the majors over the past three seasons. Kelly’s velocity was down a bit last season but he still averaged 98 mph on his fastball.

Bullpen watch:  The Mets are bringing back their former closer, right-hander Jeurys Familia, who reportedly will sign a three-year deal for $30 million. Familia had been in the Mets organization for his entire professional career before being dealt to Oakland last July. Familia presumably will serve as the setup man to Edwin Diaz, the Mets new closer who came over in a trade with Seattle. With Kelly and Familia going off the board, we’re starting to see some of the higher-profile setup relievers getting good contracts from aggressive teams.

Nice pickup by the Brewers getting lefty reliever Alex Claudio, 26, from Texas for a competitive-balance draft choice. In five big-league seasons,  Claudio has crafted a GB rate of 62.5 percent, held opponents to 0.83 homers per nine IP, and has a walk rate of only 4.4% …

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie