As the Cardinals Winter Warmup came and went over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend and club President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak, manager Mike Matheny and Chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. spoke to the media prior to heading to Spring Training, a negative thought crept into the heads of many fans.
Are the Cardinals all-in for 2018, or thinking more long-term? For those that were patient and weren’t already disillusioned by what’s transpired this off-season, the news wasn’t good. Mozeliak confirmed that Luke Gregerson will start the spring as the closer, Matheny said he’s going to try Matt Carpenter as his third-place hitter again, and Chairman Bill DeWitt said the Cardinals were done with big transactions this off-season.
To recap, the Cardinals had Lance Lynn as a starting pitcher in 2017, and he’s been replaced by retread Miles Mikolas. Trevor Rosenthal was the Cardinals primary closer, ultimately replaced by Juan Nicasio, and the closer spot has been filled at the moment by Gregerson. And while the Cardinals did add an apparent impact bat in Marcell Ozuna, the lefthanded, middle of the order force they need hasn’t come from the outside, and at the moment is a guy who’s proven his preference is the leadoff spot.
Lynn gave the Cards 186.1 innings and a 3.43 ERA last season. Mikolas had a nice run in Japan, posting a 2.18 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with 378 strikeouts in 424 2/3 innings over three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. Last year, he had 187 strikeouts in 188 innings and had a 2.25 ERA. In 37 career MLB games, Mikolas has a 5.72 ERA. Right now, he’s the Cardinals fifth starter, behind Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Luke Weaver. He doesn’t inspire the type of confidence that a Lynn or a Jake Arrieta does.
Apparently, the Cardinals are going to count on their system for a sixth starter, from among Jack Flaherty or Mike Mayers. While the Cubs added Jose Quintana last year and free agent Tyler Chatwood this off-season to join Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, the Cardinals are leaning on a group that, with Lynn, was sixth in the NL in starters ERA, behind playoff teams L.A., Washington, Arizona and the Cubs, in addition to division rival Milwaukee.
It would seem from their actions that the organization is preparing for Weaver, Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson, Flaherty, Junior Fernandez and Austin Gomber to ripen this season in the hopes that they’re ready for 2019.
When Gregerson signed just before December’s winter meetings, most observers figured he’d fill a role similar to what he had with the World Champion Astros. Gregerson put together a 4.57 ERA, a WHIP of 1.344, and allowed thirteen homers in 61 innings last season. Forty of his 65 appearances came in the eighth inning, with thirteen more coming in the seventh. The year before, when he had fifteen saves, Gregerson came on in the ninth inning 27 times and the eighth inning 25 times. He’s never been a particularly hard thrower, and even when the Cardinals made the signing in December, they didn’t anoint Gregerson as their closer when spring training starts. Mozeliak did anoint him the closer to start spring training at the Winter Warmup. He doesn’t seem to have what it takes anymore to be a top-flight closer.
Over the weekend, the Twins signed former White Sox closer Addison Reed, who has had seasons of 29, 40 and 32 saves, and compiled nineteen saves last year with the Mets and Red Sox, to a two-year deal worth almost $17 million. The Cardinals have determined that a group comprised of Gregerson, Matt Bowman, John Brebbia, Sam Tuivailala, Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons doesn’t need any more veteran reinforcement. Mozeliak brought up Alex Reyes, coming off Tommy John surgery, as a bullpen possibility. John Gant, Josh Lucas and, as Mozeliak mentioned…prospects Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley will be given opportunities to join the bullpen as well.
With the comments of DeWitt on Monday at the Warmup, it doesn’t seem the Cardinals are in the market for that necessary left-handed bat for 2018, either. Former Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are still on the market, but DeWitt made it sound as if the club is finished with its off-season moves. So, Matheny will try to approximate lefty middle-of-the-order presences Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs, Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy of the Nationals and Jake Lamb of Arizona with Carpenter. In addition to being a superb on-base guy as a leadoff hitter, Marp has hit .221 with a .752 OPS as a number three hitter.
As Albert Einstein is alleged to have written, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It certainly would appear that the Cardinals are partially in for 2018, but are still looking to the future to compete with the Cubs for the division and the Dodgers for the National League. Ozuna, Carlos Martinez, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Carpenter (as a leadoff man), Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong and even Jose Martinez are all, at the very least, serviceable players. The Cardinals love their young players, and with the way they’ve protected them, they must believe these players can do special things in the future.
But to count on the group of players they project for their major league roster for a playoff spot this year is somewhat disingenuous. The Cardinals certainly haven’t improved themselves with established players. They’ve added youth and unknown, and a dash of hope.
Perhaps in the future this young group the Cardinals want to look at in 2018 will coalesce into a championship quality team. They’ve improved with Ozuna, but regressed in their rotation and bullpen and remain mediocre offensively at third base. The Cardinals aren’t tanking…they aren’t taking a year off. But they don’t seem to be all in for 2018, either.