1) As you’ve heard by now, the Phillies signed Kyle Schwarber to a four-year contract that has an average annual salary of just under $20 million. For the life of me, I never understood why any St. Louis media person or fan believed the Cardinals would be in play for Schwarber. It wasn’t going to happen. There was zero chance of it happening. But people continued to talk, write and whine about this as if Schwarber-to-STL was a real possibility.
2) Why? The Cardinals have been consistent in signaling the plan to handle the DH position, spreading the at-bats around a number of hitters including Lars Nootbaar, rookie Juan Yepez, rookie Nolan Gorman (eventually) and veteran starters who can get a break from playing defense. (Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Paul DeJong, etc.) The Cardinals may also sign a bench guy who can be part of the DH delegation – presuming, of course, that such a hitter can be signed very, very cheaply. But when three young hitters are ready to graduate from the minors or take on an expanded role with the big club, they’ll need at-bats or there’s no point to having them in St. Louis. And given that set of circumstances, signing a hitter to a long-term deal wouldn’t be feasible if the Cardinals are serious about their desire to get the young bats going.
3) Now, if you want to say that the plan is wrong, the young hitters are unproven, and the Cardinals should have made a move for a sure thing at the DH spot … well, fine. That opinion has merit. But that still doesn’t change the obvious reality: the Cards weren’t going to be with the gaggle of teams eager to sign Schwarber to a long-term deal. So why bang your head against the wall and start bleeding over it? I said that Schwarber would get three years and a lot of money from some team. I was wrong. It was four years and a lot of money.
4) We expect the Cardinals to get out of their comfort zone simply because we want them to get out of their comfort zone. The Cardinals don’t like to do that. Not under the current regime. The front office remains haunted by Randy Arozarena. He was blocked, Mike Shildt wouldn’t play him, and the Cardinals’ baseball bosses never had the chance to understand what they truly had in Arozarena. So he was traded to Tampa Bay. The fear of doing something like that again was paramount in the team’s decision to commit a full 2021 season to the outfield of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson. That call was the right one. But the Arozarena trade is a factor in the team’s decision to create opportunities for Yepez, Gorman and Nootbaar … with Jordan Walker and Alec Burleson and Joshua Baez coming along in the future. Whether we like it or not, the Cardinals will remain in this position because it’s been their position for a long time: build a contending team, a winning team, a consistently successful team — but also hold back to protect the future. We should know this by now; it’s hardly something that should catch anyone off guard. They’re not an all-in management team. And that sure can be frustrating.
5) Is there a chance that the Cards will look at Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Michael Conforto, Colin Moran – and others? They’ll look at the cost, which leads us back to where all of this started: I’d be really surprised if St. Louis ponied up the money for any hitter that requires an investment above the discount-coupon level. Or, for that matter, an investment that goes beyond a one-year deal. And that’s what this will come down to if it happens at all: a hitter on a one-year deal. Maybe I’ll be wrong about this, but I’m just following the team’s track record. Sure: the Cardinals made huge moves – financially and otherwise – in trading for Goldschmidt and Arenado. But those transactions have nothing to do with a potential bench/DH signing for 2022.
6) But of course, if the Cardinals use their DH vehicle for an ineffective Paul DeJong … well, gosh … they wouldn’t do that, right? Never mind. I can answer that with two words: Matt Carpenter. Sure, they’ll do that with DeJong because they did it with Carpenter. If you are under contract, you play for pay even if you can’t hit. If DeJong improves and provides a good dose of offense, then the playing time is warranted. But they’ll play him … hit or no hit.
7) Since we’re on the topic, let’s take another look at the shortstop situation: DeJong, Edmundo Sosa, and maybe some Tommy Edman mixed in. Last season Cardinal shortstops combined for 15 defensive runs saved, best in the league. That’s notable considering the emphasis the team puts on defense as a performance-enhancer for their pitchers. And defense must be a vital consideration. If you disagree with that, then you probably didn’t pay enough attention to the Cardinals in 2021.
8) Anyway … offensively St. Louis shortstops ranked 11th in the majors last season with 23 home runs, were 17th in OPS, and 16th in park-and-league adjusted runs created. Or to just put it another way: offensively they performed two percent below the MLB average. So if you have the best shortstop defense in the NL, and your shortstops are just a tick below average offensively – well, is this really a problem? Does this justify the constant raging? Last season St. Louis shortstops produced 3.2 WAR, tied for 15th in the majors. (By the way, the Cardinal shortstops were tied with Colorado’s shortstops in WAR… you know, Trevor Story.) I get it that many of you hate on DeJong. But even with Pauly at his worst offensively, the Cardinals’ put up a respectable all-around performance in 2021. That point gets lost … it always gets lost.
9) Three related questions: Can DeJong generate a revived bat? Can the Cardinals count on Sosa to perform six percent above the league average offensively in 2022? And are the Cardinals willing to sacrifice defense by turning to Nolan Gorman to play second and moving Edman to shortstop? I don’t know the hardcore answers to any of that. But as I sit here now, I just don’t think the shortstop situation is as bad as many others believe.
10) A circle-back to Philly and Schwarber. He’ll help them, especially when facing all of those RH starting pitchers in the NL East. A group that includes Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassist, Charlie Morton, Sandy Alcantara, Stephen Strasburg, Taijuan Walker, Pablo Lopez and Carlos Carrasco. During his career, the LH-swinging Schwarber has boomed RH pitches with a .532 slugging percentage with a homer every 12.6 at-bats. But with the signing, the Phillies’ 2022 payroll jumped to nearly $200 million. The franchise hasn’t won more than 82 games in a season since 2011, and the payroll keeps growing. The Phils have made some big-ticket acquisitions, but when are they going to win?
11) How about the Chicago Cubs? They outbid other notable teams including the moneybags Dodgers to sign Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki to a five-year, $85 million deal. But the total cost of the move is $99.625 million; this includes the posting fee paid to Hiroshima, Suzuki’s team in Japan. He’s 27, bats right-handed and has a strong arm. Last season Suzuki batted .317 with a .1072 OPS and 38 home runs. Since beginning his NPB career in 2016, Suzuki had a career average of .309 with a .943 OPS and swatted 25+ homers in all six seasons. He made the NPB All-Star team five times in six years. Other heralded sluggers from Japan have flopped in MLB, but scouts have said Suzuki is more athletic and has much better plate discipline than others that were overhyped based on their stats in Japan. Suzuki was a right fielder in Japan and could bump the light-hitting Jason Heyward from a full-time starting role in RF. Or the Cubs can still play Heyward in right, put Suzuki in left, and go with Ian Happ or Rafael Ortega in center. But in that arrangement the center-field defense would be less than average.
12) Former Cubs first baseman and Cardinals rival Anthony Rizzo, 32, signed a two-year deal for $32 million to stay with the Yankees. Rizzo was sent to New York last July as part of Chicago’s sweeping salary dump. After a torrid start with the Yankees, Rizzo slumped to a .232 average and .695 OPS in his final 190 plate appearances. Around a year ago, the Cubs tried to entice Rizzo into staying by offering a five-year contract extension worth $70 million. But Rizzo turned it down, believing that he’d do significantly better by testing the free-agent market. He was wrong, and settled for the two-year deal to continue with the Yankees. By rejecting the Cubs’ deal, Rizzo cost himself $48 million in guaranteed money. Age is a factor for Rizzo now. From 2014 through 2019, he had a .284 average, .512 slugging percentage and .901 OPS. But since the start of the 2020 season Rizzo has batted .240 with a .432 slug and .775 OPS,
13) How will Andrew McCutchen help the division-rival Milwaukee Brewers? The respected “Cutch” is 35 years old. After two seasons with Philadelphia, the former Pirates’ star and 2012 National League MVP agreed to a one-year deal worth $8.5 to join the Brewers. At least for now we should expect McCutchen to handle DH duties for the Crew. But that comes with a warning label: he does not hit RH pitching as well as he used to. Over the last two seasons, in 550 plate appearances vs. RH, Cutch hit .204 with a .661 OPS and performed 22 percent below league average offensively. He definitely can mash left-handed pitching, posting a .290 average and 1.005 OPS in 266 plate appearances over the last two seasons.
14) But McCutchen’s opportunities vs. lefties will be limited because of the preponderance of RH pitching in MLB. Last season LH pitchers handled only 29.8 percent of all MLB plate appearances by hitters. Can McCutchen play outfield? The Phillies used him for 1,400 innings in left field over the past two seasons, and he cost them 14 runs defensively according to the defensive runs saved metric. He hasn’t played center field since 2019, and last appeared in right field back in 2018. Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain is frequently sidelined with injuries, and McCutchen isn’t a realistic option to fill in for Cain.
15) Atlanta won the World Series last fall, but the triumph hasn’t left the front office in a complacent state of mind. The decision to let beloved first baseman Freddie Freeman walk as a free agent was unpopular in Atlanta, but the five-time All-Star and 2020 NL MVP will be 33 years old in September. And a while back he also rejected Atlanta’s five-year, $135 million contract offer. The Braves had another plan in mind: acquire first baseman Matt Olson from Oakland, and sign him to a long–term contract. The Braves gave up a bunch of prospects for Olson, but no one was complaining about that after ATL and Olson agreed to an eight-year, $168 million contract extension. Olson, who turns 28 later this month, is obviously younger than Freeman. And if you look at their careers, Freeman has a 138 OPS+ compared to Olson’s 134 OPS+. Not much difference offensively. Olson is superior to Freeman defensively; Olson with 31 defensive runs saved over his last four full seasons.
16) After taking care of the Olson business the Braves re-signed outfielder Eddie Rosario (two years, $18 million) and reeled in free-agent starter-reliever Collin McHugh on a two-year deal for $10 million. And here I was on Tuesday, talking on my radio show about McHugh being a terrific fit for the Cardinals – especially after the news of Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes and their sore shoulders. But the price for McHugh wasn’t cheap, so that eliminated the Cardinals.
17) Reyes will have a “therapeutic injection” to treat his shoulder. But even if that helps, Reyes won’t have time to be ready for the start of the regular season. And as I type this, the Cardinals are waiting for Flaherty’s test results. The impact of the lockout already has damaged the Cardinals; their sore-shouldered pitchers were barred from accessing team doctors or trainers as soon as the owners made the decision to slam the gates shut and cut off the players.
18) I apologize in advance for being skeptical. But about all of these plans being made for Jordan Hicks … we do know that he’s pitched only 10 major-league innings since June 29 of the 2019 season, right? I’d like to see Hicks stay on the mound to throw a month’s worth of big-league innings before I get excited about these super-weapon plans.
19) Let’s hope that lefty prospect Matthew Liberatore can polish up that changeup to keep RH batters off balance. The Cardinals may need him sooner rather than later. But I understand a patient approach. Before 2021, Liberatore had never pitched above the Class A level in the minors. And that was only 78 innings over two seasons, when Liberatore was 18-and-19 years old. There was no minor-league ball in 2020. The Cardinals were aggressive with Liberatore last season, bypassing Double A Springfield to put him at Triple A Memphis. And Liberatore got better as the season went on, pitching to a 2.67 ERA in his final 10 starts. He gained valuable experience by working 124 and ⅔ innings overall last season at age 21. He’s nearing graduation. But last year RH batters clubbed 17 homers off him and slugged .460. He’s still cultivating secondary pitches that will keep the RH batters from sitting on his fastball. The education continues. And that’s reasonable. It’s not like the dude has been toiling in the minors for five years and not making progress. He’s making great progress. But I wouldn’t object to having Liberatore wow everyone early in the season which would speed up his expected arrival time in St. Louis.
20) What the heck are the Cincinnati Reds doing? After offloading payroll like mad, they made a curious deal on Wednesday by trading volatile reliever Amir Garrett to Kansas City for lefty starting pitcher Mike Minor. Before the lockout the Reds waived LH starter Wade Miley to slash $10 million from their payroll. He was immediately claimed by the Cubs. And why not? Not counting the shortened 2020 season, Miley has a 3.45 ERA since the start of the 2018 season. But here’s the thing: the Reds will be paying Minor the same amount of money – $10 million – this season. And he’s bad, having pitched to a 5.18 ERA in his last 40 starts. So what’s the point of canceling Miley to add an awful pitcher at the same salary? Garrett is volatile, and he had a 6.04 ERA last season, and he’s in his second year of arbitration – but did the Reds really disdain him that much? Evidently.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
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.