BERNIE BITS

I had a chance to talk with Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. on my Tuesday KFNS radio show, and I’ll be sharing parts of the conversation as we move ahead this week. (You can listen to the podcast of the show at 590thefan.com)

One of the more interesting comments made by DeWitt was his blunt opinion on the team’s decision to trade outfielder Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay back on Jan. 9 in a move that delivered a coveted pitching prospect, Matthew Liberatore, to St, Louis.

The Cardinals were willing to trade Arozarena even though he’d ripped through Triple A pitching in 2019, batted and batted .300 with an .891 OPS in limited late-season action after the Cards promoted him to the bigs. The Cardinals even included Arozarena on their 2019 postseason roster. 

Arozarena, of course, became an instant star for the American League champion Rays in 2020. In 23 regular-season games he slugged .641 with a 1.022 OPS. And Arozarena had a blast — and blasted off — in a postseason to remember. In 20 games the rookie batted .377, slugged .831, cranked out a 1.273 OPS, and smoked an MLB record 10 home runs. Combing the regular season with the postseason, Arozarena walloped 17 homers, five doubles, drove in 25 runs and scored 25. All of that damage … in only 43 games. 

I asked DeWitt if he regretted the trade made by Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch

 “You know it’s amazing what he did this year,” DeWitt said. “I mean, we certainly didn’t see that coming or we would not have traded him. But as ‘Mo’ said, that was kind of on us. Arozarena coming through the system was like some of these other guys (we have.) Young players who put up good numbers, and no one was sure how good he would be. 

“Here he comes in, and is a star immediately (for Tampa Bay), and I don’t think anyone saw that (coming.) He was not a good player to have traded, that’s for sure. He looks like he’s totally legit too. He’s not hitting ground balls finding holes. He does damage.” 

I’m not trying to force any optimism here. The trade looks bad now, but could work out well for the Cardinals over time. The Cardinals really wanted Liberatore, and were lined up to draft him in the 2018 June draft. But Tampa Bay chose the tall lefty with the 16th pick of the first round. The Cardinals were disappointed, but they quickly pivoted to another exciting prospect with the 19th overall pick: power-hitting high school third baseman Nolan Gorman

In the minors, Gorman has done nothing to dull the enthusiasm over his immense power and mature approach to playing the game. He’s in position to become a lineup fixture … and perhaps a franchise-caliber player. 

Liberatore is 21. Gorman is 20. If they become the players the Cardinals believe they will be, the trade will look much better in a few years — if not sooner. If the Cardinals were able to draft Liberatore with the 19th pick in 2018, they almost certainly would have missed their chance to draft Gorman. He would have vanished quickly on the draft board. 

If Liberatore and Gorman turn into franchise pieces, the pain of trading Arozarena will ease over time. Arozarena also has some things left to prove. Small samples can be tricky. I was sorry to see him go. I fumed on the radio and in my writing when Arozarena stayed on the Cardinals’ bench despite a glaring need for offense late in 2019.

And let me say this: the Arozarena trade wouldn’t be so regrettable if so many of the other Cardinals’ young outfielders hadn’t been so disappointing. But that’s just another reason why Cards fans are frustrated. Give up Arozarena instead of one of the other guys? 

Right now, Tampa Bay won the trade. But this is also true, at least among reasonable people: it will take a while to reach a final verdict on this trade. Much depends on Liberatore and Gorman. 

DeWitt on Liberatore: “I got a pretty good download from the guys who were in Springfield this year, and they love Matthew Liberatore. He’s a big talent. A big, rangy lefthanded pitcher with everything you need to be an effective starting pitcher. We could very well see him this year, as a matter of fact. He’s a very quick mover. He was a high school pick. I remember I was in the draft room, and as the board was developing we were hoping we’d get to us, but he didn’t. And when he became available we were excited to have him. He’s a big talent.” 

DeWitt on Gorman:  “He’s pretty far along. Had we played a full season last year — it’s tough because the minor leagues didn’t play at all — I think he would have started at Double A last year, which would have been a similar progression as Dylan Carlson. High school players usually take a little longer to get to the big leagues than college players. But I’ve really been impressed with our drafts. I think (scouting director) Randy Flores has done a terrific job in seeking out talent. We haven’t picked high in the draft forever. So we’re not going to get the guaranteed college player that we might get in the top five (overall) picks or something. And I think we’ve done a good job in identifying big-upside high school players, and over the years college pitchers, and some college position players as well. Which has really supplemented our system. And Nolan Gorman is right in there. He sure made an impression when he showed up on Day One, and everybody raves about him. He’s a hard worker, a big talent, he’s got terrific bat speed, and really does damage when he hits the ball. He’s developing as a hitter, and everyone thinks he’ll be a good third baseman. But we’re not going to rush him. He’s got to go run the gauntlet there at Double A, Triple A, and see how it plays out.” 

READING TIME FIVE MINUTES:

Free Vladimir Tarasenko

Will his problematic shoulder ever be the same? Here’s hoping. 

Bob Nightengale (USA Today) reported on potential trouble on the MLB horizon. “Major League Baseball executives and owners, wanting players to be vaccinated before arriving to spring training, would like the 2021 season to be delayed until May, even if it means shortening the season to 140 or fewer games,” Nightingale wrote. 

I asked DeWitt if he’s confident that there will be a 162-game schedule. “I just think there’s uncertainty, and when there’s uncertainty, it’s hard to make a prediction,” he said. “When you listen to the health experts, they say the vaccines are terrific. The question is, how many people will be administered it, how long will it take, and what comfort will that give sp we can have fans back in the stands. There’s a lot of that. Of course, they’re predicting the current surge to continue for a while. It’s just too early to tell what the outcome is going to be. But we’re making plans to play a full season. That’s the idea. Whether that actually occurs or not I think is to be determined.” 

In a related opinion, DeWitt said this: “It’s not easy for the clubs, that’s for sure. And I sympathize with the players as well. They’re used to one thing and now they’re hearing something else. Everyone is aware of what’s happening with the country with the pandemic. And the trickle down effect to professional sports. You know, we played 60 games last year, not 162. We didn’t draw 3.3 million fans. We drew zero fans. But we’re doing the best we can, we’ll have a competitive club, but it’s going to take a while to sort everything out. Let’s just hope these vaccines do the job and we can get to normal sooner than later.”

It’s not as if I have to convince anyone that Andy Reid is a very special football coach. But goodness, the man is rolling up some all-time numbers in his NFL coaching career. Yeah, yeah, I know… he’s won only one Super Bowl. But there could be more on the way. And even without more rings, Reid already rates among the best coaches in league history. 

In 14 years with Philadelphia his teams competed in five NFC Championship games over an eight-season stretch including a streak of four straight. He took over a rebuild and eventually won 130 games, six division titles, 10 postseason games, an NFC title and posted a regular-season winning percentage of .583. In Kansas City. Reid just won his fifth consecutive AFC West title, and the Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champs. Reid’s regular-season winning percentage in KC is an astonishing.712. Going into the weekend, Reid’s team has won 21 of its last 22 games (including the postseason. 

In his 22nd year as an NFL head coach, Reid, 62, ranks sixth all-time in league history with 219 regular-season wins with 219. Next season he’ll likely go by Curly Lambeau and into fifth place on the list. At that point only Don Shula (328), George Halas (318), Bill Belichick (279) and Tom Landry (250) will be ahead of Reid. The big guy is one of only seven NFL coaches to lead two different franchises to a spot in the Super Bowl. And with 11 more wins in Kansas City, Reid will become the only head coach in NFL history to have at least 100 victories for two franchises. 

A lot of this winning took place before quarterback Patrick Mahomes arrived in KC. And don’t forget it was Reid who made an aggressive push for a trade to move up to 10th in the 2017 draft to take Mahomes. There was plenty of differing opinions on Mahomes at the time, but Reid took the 2017 season to refine Mahomes’ footwork and other rough fundamentals. He’s a helluva coach. Not bad for a dude who was a rather unknown offensive line coach for Bob Stull at Mizzou from 1989 through ‘91.

THINGS THAT ARE ON MY DAMN NERVES:

1-The unoriginal, insipid and exhausted sports cliche that’s used by writers and broadcasters when a team wins a game in dramatic and stunning fashion, and when an athlete makes a “miracle” play for a victory or otherwise prevails against seemingly impossible odds. You know, this one: “If you wrote a script about this and tried to sell it in Hollywood to make a movie, they’d never believe it, and laugh and kick you out of the office.”  Old, old, old. And besides, isn’t someone making a film about Kurt Warner’s life? Wasn’t that a “script” that no one in Hollywood would ever believe?

2-The folks on Twitter who want to get into a debate with you and begin the argument by repeating something that you’ve already said, often many times — only to have the troll take ownership of the same opinion …you know, taking your opinion and throwing it in your face as his opinion. Example: Bernie writes “The Cardinals better get a lefthanded hitter who can bash righthanded pitching and there’s no excuse for failing to address the problem.”  Troll: “The Cardinals really need a lefthanded hitter with power and have to make it happen, so Bernie when are you and the soft St. Louis media gonna call them out on it?” 

Or Bernie writes this: “Missouri has a really good basketball team. I’m excited.”  Troll writes this: “You obviously haven’t noticed, but Mizzou basketball is off to a great start, so when are you gonna talk about it? You hate Missouri.” 

Sigh. 

3-The incessant diaper-baby whining over the Los Angeles Rams. Hey, I don’t like the guy who owns the team, OK? But if you don’t want to watch Rams games, don’t watch Rams games. But here’s a question: if you want to completely ignore the LA Rams, then why do you obsess over the team’s owner? If you can turn off the TV or change the channel when the Rams are playing, then why do you allow Stan Kroenke to live inside of your head and slowly drive you nuts? Why not ignore him too, and change the bleeping Kroenke channel that remains on the air inside of your skull for 24 hours a day? Makes no sense. Y’all realize that if you let Kroenke eat your brain cells then he wins again. Right? I’m just trying to help. 

CHARGE ME WITH AN ERROR: In the Tuesday Bits, when I offered a brief rundown of free-agent outfielders and infielders who could help the Cardinals improve their results against RH pitchers, I neglected to mention OF Brett Gardner and infielder Jurickson Profar. My friend Craig Edwards of FanGraphs was courteous to offer those suggestions. Thank you, Craig. And Tuesday in my rundown of “This Day in STL Sports History” I screwed up by failing to include a significant event: on Dec. 15, 1974 the St. Louis football Cardinals defeated the NY Giants to clinch the NFC East title with a 10-4 record. Until then, the Big Red hadn’t made the playoffs (or won a division since moving here from Chicago before the 1960 season. 

TRACKING THE RIVALS:  Will the Cubs trade Kris Bryant, or will the 2016 National League MVP be back in Chicago for 2021? Bryant can become a free agent after the ‘21 season. The Cubs could attempt to cash him in now, via trade. But Bryant’s agent Scott Boras is pushing back on the speculation. “The Cubs obviously know KB very well,” Boras said during a conference call with reporters this week. “And (Cubs President) Jed Hoyer knows him very well. They have great plans for him. We’ve talked to him about what his role will be in a very important role going forward in 2021.”

THIS DAY IN ST. LOUIS SPORTS HISTORY:

On this day in 1984, I was covering the Washington football team for the Baltimore News American and had the chance to watch a thrilling game at RFK Stadium. Fans of the football Cardinals will remember it as much as I do, and then some. Despite 468 passing yards from Neil Lomax, eight catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns by Roy Green, the Big Red lost 29-27 in a moment of heart-sinking sadness when kicker Neil O’Donoghue badly missed a hurried 50-yard field goal attempt as time expired. A win would have clinched the NFC East title for St. Louis and coach Jim Hanifan. But after flying back from a 23-7 deficit to take the lead, the Cardinals couldn’t pull off the victory. They finished 9-7 and missed making the playoffs. (By the way, I want to mention that my guy, running back Ottis Anderson, had 12 catches for 124 yards in that game.) Little did I know at the time, in a few months I would accept a job offer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to become the football Cards’ beatwriter. I covered the Big Red for their final three seasons (1985-87) in St. Louis. 

Also on this day: in 1988 the Cardinals signed free-agent pitcher Bob Tewksbury, who hadn’t done much with the Yankees and then Cubs before coming to St. Louis. But this turned out to be a very good signing; Tewksbury went 75-53 with a 3.61 ERA in five-plus seasons for the Cardinals. In his five full seasons (1990-94) “Tewks” went 66-46 and peaked in 1992 with a 16-5 record, 2.16 ERA, and a spot on the National League All-Star team. He followed with a 17-10 record in ‘93. Just a great guy … on the same day in 1988 the Cardinals traded outfielder Curt Ford and catcher Steve Lake to Philadelphia for outfielder Milt Thompson. In his four St. Louis seasons (1989-92) Thompson batted .274 with a .721 OPS and averaged 22 stolen bases … in 2003 the Cardinals traded first baseman Tino Martinez to Tampa Bay for two marginal prospects. Tino wasn’t very happy in his two seasons here; this move was a blatant salary dump just to get rid of him. Martinez averaged 18 homers and 72 RBIs in two seasons with the Cards … from the outstanding STLBlueshistory account on Twitter: on this day in 2017, Carter Hutton set a Blues record for most saves in a shutout (48) in a 2-0 win over Winnipeg … on this day in 2013 the Cardinals signed aging free-agent second baseman Mark Ellis, who batted .180 in 2014. Manager Mike Matheny tried to give the starting job at 2B to Ellis over the young Kolten Wong, but Ellis was substantially diminished by injuries and did little in 73 games for the ‘14 Cardinals. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU:  Former Cardinals’ outfield prospect Oscar Mercado is 26. Traded to Cleveland at the July 31 deadline in 2018, Mercado got off to a quick start for the Indians but overall has struggled to a .246 average and .693 OPS in 151 games. 

AS OTHERS SEE US 

In a lengthy analysis at CBS Sports, Mike Axisa wondered if it makes sense for the Washington Nationals to trade St. Louisan Max Scherzer (Parkway Central HS and Mizzou.) That would be a bold move. Scherzer has won three Cy Young awards, is a seven-time All-Star, has won 175 games, is a strikeout machine, has avoided serious injury and is a lock to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Axisa’s reasoning:  The Nationals need a corner outfielder, a first baseman, a catcher, a second or third baseman, a back-end starter, and bullpen reinforcement. Scherzer will turn 37 in July. He’s entering the final season of a seven-year, $191.4 million contract. And looking at Scherzer’s stats in 2020, there are signs of a decline in Max’s performance.

“And while an extension seems likely,” Axisa wrote, “it is not a given. Maybe the Nationals will have another poor season in 2021, pushing Scherzer to sign elsewhere so he can win again before he retires. Who’s to say he won’t decline and the club will want to walk away?” 

Axisa goes on to make the “For” and “Against” case for trading Max. One big reason for a “no” to this. It’s complicated, and I suggest that you read Axisa’s piece for a full explanation, but Scherzer’s contract — with a bonus due, plus a large 2021 salary, plus deferments — will be difficult to move. 

It’s a good read, so check it out.

Thanks for reading The Bits, my labor of love to you. 

-Bernie 

You can listen to Bernie’s sports-talk show at 590-AM The Fan, KFNS, weekdays from 3-6 p.m.