Hello again. I hope you’re doing swell on this Wednesday afternoon.
Me? I need more coffee.
Best random song I’ve listened to today: Pancho & Lefty, by the late-great Townes Van Zandt.
Let’s get to The Bits …
The Cardinals spend money and don’t have to apologize for maintaining a Top 10 payroll average for the last 22 years, never ranking lower than 14th in the majors in a season.
And that’s an important distinction because 14 of the 22 teams to win the World Series since 2000 were ranked in the top 10 in payroll. And according to The Athletic, all but three of the 22 champions were no lower than 13th in spending. The Cardinals have ranked among the top 13 in payroll in 20 of the last 22 seasons.
So it’s factually incorrect to state that chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. is cheap and doesn’t put enough cash into the product. That’s absolutely absurd. If anything, the Cards’ problem in recent seasons is wasting money on payroll decisions that flunked. And now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me say this: while I’ll defend them from false accusations concerning payroll, the Cardinals can afford to push it, and I wish they would.
Push it? What does that mean? Well, as we sit here today, the Cardinals are $52.281 million under the competitive-balance tax cap. They have the room to make an impact signing or two, and I’d like to see them be more aggressive. They don’t have to reach the MLB tax cap for 2022 ($210 million) or even get close to that.
But at this point I’m wondering what the Cardinals plan to do beyond signing starting pitcher Steven Matz (4 years, $44 million) and a couple of sturdy relievers. What about the bench? What about the lefthanded bat?
I like the Matz move, and the good fit that he represents with his ability to induce ground balls. But he’s a No. 3 starter that doesn’t pitch deep into games. And the Cardinals still don’t have enough starting pitching. They insist that they’ve learned their lesson in 2021 – having reliable rotation depth is essential and vital. But unless something changes, I don’t see the awakening.
I see adding Steven Matz to a rotation that includes 40-year-old starter Adam Wainwright and three dudes coming back from injuries. Perhaps Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson are overdue for better luck and pitching health and an uninterrupted 2022 season. But … what if there’s more chaos and stints on the Injured List?
As of today I see Jake Woodford as a decent sixth starter and swingman. I won’t see prospect Matthew Liberatore until actually graduates to the majors, and even then I’ll have to see if he’s as good as his hype. We’ll see if Johan Oviedo has figured out how to throw a strike. Alex Reyes, Jordan Hicks and questions questions, questions. But if the plan is to put Reyes in the rotation, then what about the bullpen? Questions, questions, questions.
In 2021 the Cardinals wouldn’t have recovered from the 2021 injury blitz without adding three starting pitchers during the season – Wade LeBlanc in June, then J.A. Happ and Jon Lester at the end of July. None are under contract for 2022. The same goes for Kwang Hyun Kim, who appeared in 27 games last season (21 starts) and pitched to a 3.46 ERA.
In June and July the St. Louis rotation had a 4.63 ERA, 16th in the majors over that time. And that’s when they lost the chance to win the NL Central. They were 21st in starter innings during those difficult two months, and that burned up the bullpen. But after scrambling to add low-price reinforcements, the Cardinals had MLB’s sixth-best rotation ERA (3.73) over the final two months and ranked eighth in starter innings.
With that in mind, I’m sorry, and someone will have to tell me again: how did the Cardinals improve their starting-pitching depth so far this offseason after subtracting four starters and adding one? That’s voodoo math.
I’d be happy to rescind my skepticism should the Cardinals make an unexpected and successful bid on free-agent Marcus Stroman. They passed on previous opportunities to jump in on higher–caliber starting pitching, and there isn’t much left in the marketplace. Stroman, yes. But I won’t hold my breath or lose sleep while waiting for a Cardinals-Stroman longshot ticket to come in.
UPDATE: Stroman agreed to a lucrative contract with the Cubs on Wednesday evening. We might have to reassess the Cubs’ status as a rebuilding team — but they are building a good rotation, having claimed Wade Miley on waivers after the tanking Reds inexplicably cut ties with the lefty who went 12-7 with a 3.37 ERA last season. And now here comes Stroman, who will team with Kyle Hendricks and Miley for a strong top three. Not to worry; the Cardinals are so very happy with their Matz signing.
Oh, and the Cardinals lost effective RH reliever Luis Garcia, who agreed to a two-year, $7 million deal with the Padres on Wednesday. You can laugh if you want to. I did.
Here’s what I don’t understand: if Cardinals management decided to go for only one established starting pitcher this offseason, then why not pursue a more elite talent? Why not go for one of the best available guys? Why not cut a reasonable deal with Garcia, who was a key piece in your late-season bullpen? The money is there to go bold instead of opting for another round of cautious calibration. The money is there to make budget-conscious moves as well.
The shortstop position is another area that presented an upgrade opportunity for the STL offense. Over the last two seasons the Cards’ shortstop position has produced a .696 OPS that ranks 12th in the NL and 20th overall.
Primo free-agent shortstops have signed elsewhere, and Carlos Correa and Trevor Story will go next. (Heck, maybe even before I can finish this column.) Defense is important to this team, and Cardinals Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa play it well.
That’s why the Redbirds led the National League with 15 defensive runs saved at shortstop last season. But Correa was the best shortstop in the majors last season with 20 defensive runs saved. And Correa and Story are tied for second at the position with 36 defensive runs saved over the last three seasons.
No, I don’t think the Cardinals will chase either player. I’m just making a point here: help is out there if you have the nerve and desire to go for it. Especially Correa. I feel stupid for even mentioning Cardinals-Correa as a vaguely real-world possibility instead of the fantasy that it is. Hopefully the Cardinals will look to another area to upgrade the lineup. Unless, of course, they view Lars Nootbaar as the second coming of Enos Slaughter, or something like that.
I’m sure the Cardinals will find other pieces for their roster. I’d just like to see the front office ramp it up in a way that takes this team from 90 wins to 95+ … dare we say “100?” They aren’t far from that. But after losing several bad contracts from the payroll and having some space to maneuver, the Cardinals seem to be in the usual calibration mode again.
It goes something like this:
Let’s see … Milwaukee’s offense will be even worse next season, and the Brewers aren’t big spenders, and they’re stuck with what appears to be a burdensome long–term contract for Christian Yelich … the Reds are disengaging and trying to sell off good starting pitchers to lower the payroll … the Cubs are entering a moderate rebuild and aren’t in the go-for-it position … Stroman? Good for the Cubs, but we really like our rotation … the Pirates are in yet another period of reconstruction and will be terrible again. Hey! Even with the roster we have right now we can win 88 or 89 games and make the playoffs!
The Cardinals have the money. And we’ve seen them have the stomach to spend the money and add big salaries to the payroll. Paul Goldschmidt. Nolan Arenado.
Goldy will be entering his age-33 season, and Nado turns 31 in April. The Cardinals will play ball in 2022 knowing that this will be Yadier Molina’s final season behind the plate – and probably Waino’s final year on the mound. And Cardinals’ farm system is thin on quality starting-pitching reserves.
This is the right time for DeWitt and president of baseball operations to leave their comfort zone. Be daring. Making the playoffs is an important first step, and the Cardinals have reached the postseason in eight of the last 11 seasons. But you get there, then what? They’ve won just one round in their last four postseason appearances, haven’t won a NL Championship Series game since 2014, and are 5-15 in their last 20 playoff games.
As I’ve said and written many times, there is plenty of randomness in October baseball – surprises, upsets, teams playing better than expected, teams playing worse than we could have imagined. Regular-season form becomes less relevant once you take the postseason stage and try to make it through the turbulence, the mini-slumps, and the anxiety. Or maybe you’re the underdog team that suddenly zooms through October in an epic run to the title. The Cardinals’ 2006 and 2011 postseasons proved that point many times over.
The Cardinals need to put more of their ambition and planning into building a better team. A team that will not only make the playoffs, but have a more substantial chance of going deep into the postseason once they get there. The calibratin’ Cardinals need to adjust and start calibratin’ for a trip to the World Series instead of squeaking into a wild-card game.
And if not now … then when?
Final note on this subject: nothing can happen, signings or trades, until there’s peace on the labor front. The lockout almost certainly will begin late Wednesday night so we’ll have to continue this discussion at a later time. I assume the STL baseball operation department will get a wakeup call at the end of the lockout.
READING TIME FIVE MINUTES
1) The Blues have scored only 45 percent of the goals in games this season when defenseman Colton Parayko is on duty at five on five. And their expected goals percentage is 43.75% with Parayko on the sheet at five on five. Last season, when Parayko had limited effectiveness because of an injury, the Blues scored 44.4% of the goal at five on five with Parayko in service, and their expected goals percentage was 46.4% with him out there. So despite him being healthier this season, Parayko’s impact is similar to what we saw last season.
2) The NL Central rival Reds have had exploratory trade talks with multiple teams that have interest in starting pitchers Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo, reports MLB.com’s Jon Morosi.
3) The Cubs made an interesting pickup earlier this week, singing former Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier to a one-year, $5 million contract. The heralded prospect in Cleveland and then NY hasn’t fulfilled expectations, and he was awful in 2021. But Frazier is only 27. And in the 2019 and 2020 seasons (combined) he had a .347 onbase percentage and .497 slug in 406 plate appearances. Over the two seasons he mashed RH pitching for a .502 slug and .863 OPS.
4) Will Notre Dame miss out on the CFB Playoff just because coach Brian Kelly defected to LSU? It’s possible. The Fighting Irish, ranked No. 6, will need at least two – and maybe three – high-ranked teams to lose this weekend to set up a chance at a playoff spot. Notre Dame fans will be rooting hard for No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Cincinnati and No. 5 Oklahoma State to fall. And if two lose, Notre Dame has a shot. If three of those teams lose, Notre Dame should be included in the four-team bracket.
And then there’s this little matter from the ironically titled “principles” section of the committee protocol. The selection committee will consider “other relevant factors such as unavailability of key players and coaches that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”
5) Committee chairman Gary Barta elaborated after the latest Top 25 unveiling Tuesday night when speaking to the media on a conference call.
“There might be one committee [member] who thinks, ‘Hey, this team might be more motivated with their new coach,'” Barta said. “Or I’ve seen games where a quarterback who starts or running back that starts, they put in the next person and the team actually plays better. So it’s a piece of information that the management group has said the committee is able to use, but all 13 members may end up using it slightly differently when they place their vote. That’s the beauty of the way the committee works. We all have this criteria that we need to use, we’re responsible for using. How each committee member uses that in their vote might be a little different for all 13.”
That’s a mighty huge word salad right there.
6) Notre Dame is 11-1. That’s impressive. And they do not play this weekend. So the 11-1 record must stand. At least the Irish are not at risk of losing a second game, which would certainly knock them out of playoff contention. But wait … what’s this I’m hearing?
A great line from CBS Sports smart aleck Tom Fornelli: “You can say in a way that Brian Kelly leaving is Notre Dame’s second loss.”
7) If Cincinnati is taken down by Houston in the AAC Championship game, Irish eyes won’t be crying. Irish eyes will be smiling. Because if Cincy loses, coach Luke Fickell can move into Kelly’s old office at Notre Dame and get started in his new coaching job.
8) Have you noticed this in sports? There are too many dudes named Isiah Thomas who aren’t, you know, the Isiah Thomas who made the name famous.
9) I’m tired of every dang receiver in college football and the NFL doing the throw-the-flag-for-a-penalty gesture by repeatedly jerking an arm in the air whenever (A) a defender is within 5 yards (B) and the pass goes incomplete. It’s much worse in college ball. Is there a pre-NFL masters class for being a wide receiver diva? Go huddle up.
10) So, why didn’t anyone tell me that Mizzou basketball has returned to the Kim Anderson era? The Tigers are ranked No. 128 at KenPom today. Since joining the SEC, Mizzou basketball is 58-102 in conference play. That’s a .362 winning percentage.
11) Do you think my favorite Michigan Man, Dan Dierdorf, will be fired up on Saturday night, watching his Wolverines and his friend Jim Harbaugh battle Iowa for the Big Ten championship? If Michigan wins, they’re in the playoff. And it would be great to see the pride of Eureka High School, Hassan Haskins, lead the charge with another dynamic rushing performance. Haskins, who trampled Ohio State for five touchdowns on the ground last week, was named first team All Big Ten on Wednesday. In addition to his rushing grade that ranks 10th among all FBS halfbacks, Pro Football Focus grades Haskins as the top run-blocking back in the nation.
12) What a game by E.J. Liddell (Belleville West HS) on Tuesday night. He carried unranked Ohio State back from a 13-point halftime deficit to upset No. 1 Duke. This was the first time in 10 seasons that Duke lost a game after leading by 10 or more points at the half. The 6-foot-7 Liddell had 14 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks. And according to the Big Ten Network, Liddell became the first player to have 10+ points, 10+ rebounds, 5+ assists and 3+ blocks against the AP No. 1 team since Marquette’s Dwyane Wade got all of that done against Kentucky in the 2003 NCAA Tournament. By the way: Ohio State has won eight of its last 11 games against the teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Liddell is off to a strong start this season, averaging 21.3 points and pulling seven rebounds per game while shooting .553 from the floor. He’s scored 23+ points in four of the Buckeyes’ seven games.
13) Picture a huge snowstorm. A warm pub in England, high above the ground. An Oasis Tribute band providing the music. Drinking, eating, and song. And all of this has gone on for three days, with the Oasis Tribute band and pub dwellers snowed in, huddled together, and unable to get out. I suppose the band should change its name to Snoasis?
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.