Where’s Jason headed?

Last week I went through all the reasons why giving Jason Heyward $200 million is not the same as giving $200 million to Albert Pujols 4 years ago.  It’s interesting that, 4 years ago, there weren’t that many teams in the market for Pujols.  It appeared to be between the Cardinals and the Marlins (was he really going to Miami?) until the Angels got involved.  Part of that, probably, is that it seemed to be somewhat of a forgone conclusion that he wasn’t going to be leaving St. Louis, but a lot of it also had to be all the things we discussed last week — his age, his history of injuries, the fact that he was basically only going to be able to provide value with his bat and, of course, his contract.  I imagine that Heyward, on the other hand, will have many suitors.

This week I want to explore which teams will be attempting to compete with the Cardinals for the honor of paying him roughly $200 million over the next 10 years — the contract Jeff Todd at mlbtraderumors expects Heyward to receive.  (For my part, I’m going with 9/$190 + an opt-out clause after 4 or 5 years.)

After the Cubs’ series ended, Jennifer Langosch reported that “re-signing Heyward tops the Cards’ to-do list.”  Heyward, in that same article, is quoted as saying of the Cardinals, “This is definitely an ideal situation.”  It’s clear that there’s mutual interest in Heyward making St. Louis his home for the next several years.  The question, then, is about the money.  Can we make it work?

The Cardinals don’t really have a history of spending on the biggest free agent out there. It’s not really our style.  The last time the team did that, however, was a situation very similar to this one.  The team traded for an outfielder on the verge of becoming a free agent, let him play for a while with the birds on his bat, and then signed him that offseason.  That player, of course, was Matt Holliday and this was two years prior to Pujols becoming a free agent.  It’s clear that the team signed Holliday with the intention of him becoming the team’s leader and star player if/when Pujols left.

So here we are, 6 years later, one year before Holliday’s contract ends, and the team is trying to decide how much to offer Heyward.  Like Pujols then, Holliday is the team’s highest paid player (at least in total contract value; Wainwright earns more per year) and he’ll be a free agent at the end of 2016 though the team does hold a $17 million option on 2017.  It’s clear that Holliday won’t sign another long-term contract, though there’s been some discussion on both sides of a shorter extension with the team.  Holliday is no longer the team’s star player and, after his contract expires, won’t be the team’s highest paid player even if he does sign an extension.  It’s time to pass the torch.

Though the team has never gone higher than $120 million in total value on a contract for any player, it did offer Pujols more than $200 million when he left for the Angels so it’s not like the team is unwilling to put this much money on the table.  They just know that it has to be for the right player.  The team also, as Derrick Goold has pointed out, has never included an opt-out in any contract that they’ve signed.  But, according to Goold, they’re “open to the possibility.”  It will certainly take one in order to get Heyward to return.  They’ve done no-trade clauses before, as well.  Holliday has one.  So though all of this is rare for the team, none of it seems to be unworkable.

The team also, as I pointed out last week, should expect a huge increase in revenues when the new TV deal kicks in in a couple of years.  Playoff revenue also helps, of course. Moreover, though several of their younger players will see big increases in their salaries as they become eligible for arbitration and the team extends some, Holliday’s big salary comes off the books in 2016 (’17 if the option is picked up), Molina’s comes off the books in 2017 (’18 if his option is picked up), Peralta’s comes off the books in 2017, and Wainwright’s comes off the books in 2018.  So while a big increase to Heyward’s salary will tighten the team’s budget for a couple of years (he made $7.8 million last year), that won’t cripple the team’s long-term future at all.

Still, there will be many suitors for Heyward due to his youth and potential, and his ability to help his team in so many ways.  There are several big-budget teams  who could be interested and might out-bid the Cardinals if they want to.  All in all, I’d put the team’s chance to re-sign Heyward at around 20%.

So let’s look at some of the others.

First of all, who can we eliminate?  Some teams just have no shot either because they don’t have $200 million to throw at one player, they have so many needs that they’re not going to be willing to put it all into a right fielder, or they’re not likely to have $200 million worth of appreciation for a position player whose value comes largely from getting on base, playing defense, and running the bases and doesn’t hit 25-30 HR or more per year.  I’ll put the Blue Jays, Royals, D’backs, Pirates, Mets, Indians, Tigers, Rays, Reds, Marlins, A’s, Padres, Braves, Twins, Brewers, Rockies, and Phillies in that category.  Some of these teams are quite good, of course, but they have needs other than a RF so Heyward’s not a fit.  The Mets, I imagine, will go all-out to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes and, if they can’t do that, they’ll go another route.  They could use another outfielder if Cespedes leaves, but their money issues and holes at SS and 2B (if David Murphy leaves, as expected) will probably preclude them from spending a huge chunk on Heyward.

So who’s left?  The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, Angels, Mariners, Astros, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Orioles, and White Sox.  First, Orioles — 1%, about equal to the Mets.  They have a lot of revenue but many needs and have never shown any desire to spend $200 million on anyone.  Moreover, they seem to regret letting Nelson Cruz leave as a free agent.  Heyward is like the anti-Nelson Cruz.

Red Sox — 1%.  I don’t want to say “no chance” because they’re the Red Sox but they have plenty of outfielders (well, plenty minus 1 with Hanley Ramirez moving to 1B) and are woefully short of pitching.  They’ll spend their $200 million on David Price.

Nationals — 1%.  The Nats are going to need quite a bit of help with Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman becoming free agents, Stephen Strasburg becoming a free agent after next season, and Bryce Harper becoming a free agent the year after.  They’re long shots, at best, here.

Rangers — 2%.  They’ve got Choo and Fielder locked up and have a pretty desperate need for pitching even with Yu Darvish returning next year but they’re paying Josh Hamilton nothing, don’t need to play him at all, and have a pretty good revenue stream.  Adrian Beltre’s not getting any younger so they could use a little youth and maybe no team in baseball is better equipped to take advantage of any power surge Heyward might have as he gets into his prime.  I’d be surprised, but not shocked.

White Sox — 2%.  The White Sox have holes everywhere, the financial ability to make a big splash, and could really use a star like Heyward in their lineup and in the field (by UZR they were the worst defensive team in the majors last year).  On the other hand, they’re terrible.  They have holes everywhere and, while Heyward could help them a ton, he alone won’t make this team a playoff team.  A 76 win team who finished 19 games out of first in 2015 with Jeff Samardzija, they’re going to have to blow every other team’s offer out of the water in order to get Heyward to sign with them and I just don’t see that happening.

Angels — 2%.  Who knows?  They’ve got the financial wherewithal, but they’re already paying Pujols $25 million per year, they’re paying Mike Trout nearly $25 million per year, and they’re paying Josh Hamilton nearly $25 million per year to play for the Rangers.  Still, they were 18th in the majors in position player WAR and 19th in pitcher WAR so they could definitely use a guy like Heyward.  Even so, I see them having too many holes and too much money tied up in single players to see them wanting to do it again with Heyward.

Giants — 5%.  They’ve never done anything like this before and they’re also not likely the team that’s going to appreciate Heyward’s skill set but they’ve got holes.  Hunter Pence is in RF but he could be moved to LF, leaving Heyward to patrol RF and the very deep right-center while still enabling Heyward to use his power to take advantage of the right field wall that Bonds abused for so many years.  Posey makes a lot of money but he’s locked up until 2021.  Still, I see them more as players for pitching — Mike Leake or Jordan Zimmerman — than for Heyward.

Mariners — 10%.  This, I could see.  They have money and a huge outfield that needs to be patrolled by someone like Heyward.  New GM Jerry DiPoto is a guy I think appreciates the value that Heyward provides and has an edict from the front office to try to win.  He’s going to build around Cano, Kyle, Cruz, and King Felix.  Ultimately, I don’t see them wanting to have a 3rd $20 million player (Cano and Felix are the other 2) so I see them probably trying to fix multiple needs with several players but don’t be surprised if the M’s make a big push for Heyward.

Yankees — 10%.  Never say never.  The Yankees have several needs, a short right-field porch, and would appreciate the defensive and base running value that Heyward provides.  They also, of course, have the financial ability to outbid everyone else.  If they want him, they’ll probably get him.  That said, the Yankees have tried to be pretty judicious with their spending over the last couple of years to avoid paying excessive luxury taxes.  They already have Ellsbury, Gardner, and Beltran in their outfield and have Aaron Judge on the way.  And with Bryce Harper a free agent in just a couple of year, my guess is that they’ll try to blow the budget on Harper after Beltran and C.C. Sabathia come off the books.

Astros — 10%.  The Astros are close to being really good, as anyone who watched them in the playoffs this year knows.  They have a lot of young players and a ton of payroll space and, with Rasmus becoming a free agent, a hole in the outfield.  Sure, George Springer is in RF but they could easily move him to LF to accommodate Heyward.  My guess is that they feel the need to spend more on pitching this offseason than position players so they ultimately go a different route, but don’t be surprised if I’m wrong.

Dodgers — 15%.  It wasn’t too long ago when all anyone could talk about was how crowded the Dodgers’ outfield was and how they needed to trade some players.  What a difference a year can make.  Joc Pederson showed some warts by really struggling in the 2nd half.  Carl Crawford missed much of the season with injuries and didn’t play very well when he was out there.  Andre Ethier still isn’t very good and Yasiel Puig was injured much of the year and has become such a pain the butt that most expect the Dodgers to trade him this offseason.  That outfield surplus is now shaky at best.  Most of the Dodgers’ additions since Andrew Friedman took over have been smaller names rather than huge splashes but, after losing to the Mets in the NLDS, they may decide to spend a lot this offseason.  I’d expect them to extend Zack Greinke for about $150 million.  Do they want to spend an extra $200 on Heyward?  This is the other team who can outbid everyone else if they want to.

Cubs — 20%.  This is the worst case scenario for the Cardinals.  Not only did we lose to the Cubs in the NLDS and not only are they looking really strong well into the future, but the Cubs signing Heyward would not only improve their team but would make us worse in the process.  Yes, the Cubs probably need to add pitching but they are going to have a hole in CF and could trade either Soler or Schwarber to add pitching.  Heyward then would improve their outfield defense and hit homers in Wrigley.  He is unquestionably Epstein’s kind of guy and the Cubs have the payroll space in order to make this happen.  Then, there’s this from Craig Edwards:

I think the Cards and Cubs probably have the greatest chance to land Heyward but, unlike the Holliday or Pujols negotiations, there will be multiple competitors.  We’re not getting any hometown discount and if the Dodgers, Yankees, or Cubs decide to spend $225 million or more, we’ll lose him.  But, as long as the price stays in the $180-200 million range, I think we have as good a chance as anyone…and I think he’ll be worth that kind of contract.

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One of these things is not like the other

It’s 2011.  Albert Pujols, the greatest Cardinal of my generation and the driving force behind 2 World Series titles, is about to become a free agent.  Pujols accumulated 81.3 fWAR in his 11 years in a Cardinal uniform and was well on his way to the Hall of Fame.  He had been the Rookie of the Year, won the MVP 3 times and finished 2nd 4 more (he’d have certainly won 3 more if not for Bonds and the fact that MVP voters love RBI).  He had won 2 Gold Gloves and been an All-Star 10 times.  He was, in every definition of the word, a Cardinal hero…and he was about to become a free agent.

Everyone knew the price for Pujols was going to be high; the obvious question was “how high would the team go in order to re-sign him?”  He had to be re-signed, though, right?  He was, after all, Albert Pujols.  We couldn’t let him get away.  Many were surprised, including Albert himself, when the team didn’t make more of a push to get him signed before his final year in a Cardinal uniform.  In January, 2011, the team offered Pujols a 9 year, $198 million offer which he rejected.  He became a free agent that November and in December, the team upped its offer to 10 years, $220 million.  We, of course, know what happened next. The Angels swooped in with a 10 year, $254 million offer and he was gone.

As it turned out, the team didn’t miss a beat.  The Cardinals installed Lance Berkman and Allen Craig at first base, won 88 games, and was 1 win away from playing in the World Series.  The Angels had a good season themselves, winning 89 games, but finished 3rd in the tough AL West.  Pujols played well, accumulating 3.6 fWAR but it was the lowest total of his career.  And he hasn’t been even that good since.  In his 4 years in Southern California, Pujols has accumulated a total of 9.1 fWAR — less than 2.3 per season.  In 2003 as a Cardinal, Pujols accumulated 9.5 fWAR in that season alone.  Now he’s basically a league average player.

In the 2012 amateur draft, the Cardinals had 2 compensation picks for losing Pujols to the Angels.  They used those 2 picks to select Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty.  Craig became a hero for the Cardinals and, when he started to slip, we traded him to the Red Sox for John Lackey.  Now, does anyone think that the Cardinals would trade Wacha and Piscotty for Pujols?  Would any team be so stupid as to make that deal?  I guarantee that the Angels would rather have Wacha and Piscotty than Pujols.

Dave Cameron from Fangraphs does a trade value series each July where he ranks the top 50 players in baseball in terms of the trade value and then he concludes the series with the 5 players in baseball with the lowest trade value.  In other words — the 5 worst contracts in baseball.  In 2013 and 2014, Pujols ranked first — the worst contract in the game.  This year, Pujols made it up to 5th with Cameron estimating that Pujols’s contract had $70 million in dead weight.  Whether or not we agree that Pujols’s contract is the worst, or the 5th worst, or the 10th worst in baseball, it is inarguably a bad contract, one to which we should all be ecstatic the Cardinals never agreed.

This offseason the Cardinals are back in that boat, trying to decide how much to offer Jason Heyward, another free agent who will be seeking somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.  Many Cardinals’ fans, with full knowledge of how well the team has done since Pujols left and of how burdensome the contract is to the Angels, will follow the Heyward negotiations with trepidation.  “$200 million for guy who hit 13 home runs last year?  That’s preposterous!”  But is it?

First of all, it’s not 2011.  Salaries have escalated by about 7% per year in baseball over the last 4 years.  So, $200 million today is equivalent to about $153 million in 2011.  Second, when Pujols left for the Angels, he was already 31 years old and his last season was his worst (though still very good).  He had dealt with multiple injuries to his arm and his feet and was basically relegated to first base.  It was pretty obvious that he was not going to age particularly well.  He would soon, undoubtedly, become a DH at least part-time and with the Cards in the NL, it didn’t make a ton of sense to carry a part-time DH on the roster.  As it turns out, Pujols was only in year 4 of his 10 year deal and only played 1B 95 times last year.  Down the stretch for the Angels, Chris Cron played 1B and Pujols was the DH.  Formerly a very good base runner, at least for someone without blazing speed, now Pujols is frequently pinch run for.  And he still has 6 years left on his deal.

Jason Heyward is a very different character.  First, he just turned 26 — 5 years younger than Pujols was when he began his first season in LA.  He’s an outstanding defensive outfielder and base runner.  He’s easily the best defensive right fielder in the game by both UZR and DRS and the team even felt comfortable enough with Heyward in the outfield to put him in CF 10 times.  Fangraphs has Heyward as the 5th best base runner in the game, adding 7 runs to the team just by stealing bases and taking the extra base on singles and doubles.  So even though Heyward doesn’t hit with the power that one would like from a superstar, $200 million player — averaging just under 13 homers per year over the previous 3 seasons — he still accumulates a lot of value other ways.  Once Pujols started to break down, he became basically just a slugger.

Even though he only hit 13 homers in 2015, he was still the 6th best outfielder in the game by fWAR and was the team’s most valuable player as well.  Most importantly, however, many players don’t reach their peaks until they are somewhere between 27 and 30.  Heyward has already hit 27 HR in the big leagues once and with his frame, 6’5″ & 245 pounds, there are a lot of reasons people think that power may return.  In other words, there are a lot of reasons to believe the best is yet to come with Heyward.  That simply was not realistic with the Pujols contract.

Yesterday, Craig Edwards of vivaelbirdos and fangraphs shared this via twitter:

Sure, Holliday had more homers than Heyward at his age but Heyward was still arguably a better hitter at his age than Holliday was (121 wRC+ > 116 wRC+).  And Holliday didn’t provide anywhere near the defensive and base running value that Heyward provides.

So, here’s the point, the Cardinals can’t afford to hand out $200 million contracts to anyone who wants one.  They must be offered judiciously.  Thus, the team should offer a huge mega-contract only to players who:

  • are obviously great
  • are young and can provide value for a long time
  • have the ability to help the team at the plate, in the field, and on the bases
  • may not have yet reached their peak
  • have a good injury history
  • can help the team win when they’re not hitting homers

Jason Heyward meets all of those criteria.  If the team is ever going to bid on the top free agent position player on the market, this is the guy to bid on.  We won’t be able to go after Bryce Harper in a couple of years but we do have as good a chance as anyone of landing Heyward and should push all our chips in to get him.  We have room in the budget and the team is going to get a lot more money when its big contract with Fox Sports Midwest kicks in.  The dollars may be similar, in that they may both start with a 2, but this is not the Pujols contract.

The power of wasted PA’s

Since the season ended, there’s been a ton of hand-wringing about the problems the Cardinals’ offense encountered during the 2015 season.  A few examples:

  • The team was 11th in the NL in home runs and runs scored
  • The Cardinals were 8th in the NL in wOBA
  • The Cards’ position players were tied for 10th in baseball in wOBA
  • The team’s offensive runs above average was 7th in the NL.

These, of course, aren’t indicators of a below-average offense but, when we’re playing in a division against 2 of the best teams in baseball, a mediocre offense going forward just isn’t going to cut it.  Add to that the fact that players like Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, and Yadi are already past their offensive primes and aren’t going to get any younger.

We know that several players just didn’t perform to expectations this year but the real problem is the number of times these underperformers were forced or allowed to come to the plate this season.  Every team has underperformers.  But it creates real problems for a team when those players get too many plate appearances.

Below are the numbers in 2015 for the team’s biggest underperformers.

 PA ISO  AVG  OBP  SLG  wOBA  wRC+
 Jay  245 .048  .210  .306  .257  .253 57
 Adams 186  .137  .240  .280  .377 .284 78
 Reynolds 432 .168  .230  .315  .398 .311 97
 Cruz  151  .106  .204  .235  .310 .237 46
 Bourjos    225  .133  .200 .290 .333 .271 70
 Kozma  111  0 .152 .236 .152 .180 7
 Totals  1350  .115 .213 .289 .329 .271 70

141 batters qualified for the batting title in major league baseball in 2015.  Only 5 of them had a wRC+ less than 70.  These 6 Cardinals combined for an offensive performance 30% worse than league average and the team gave them 1350 PAs.  Just for reference, 23% of the team’s plate appearances went to players who hit worse than Padres’ pitcher Tyson Ross.  That’s 1 out of every 4 plate appearances — not counting the 353 PAs we gave to our pitchers.  So 3 times out of every time through the order we either let a pitcher bat or someone who hit worse than Tyson Ross.  Jay and Bourjos, who were horrible in 2015, got 120 more plate appearances than Randall Grichuk did.  No wonder we had trouble scoring runs!

So, the good news…First, there’s no way Jay can hit this badly in 2016.  He’s had wRC+’s of 116, 115, 115, 103, and 115 in his first 5 seasons with the team and had an injured wrist all season.  He’ll be better and, if by some chance he isn’t, Grichuk or Tommy Pham or Jason Heyward will be able to step in take some of those PA’s away.  There’s no way he’ll be allowed to come to the plate 245 times if he’s hitting as horrendously as he did in 2015.

Adams started slow and dealt with a hamstring injury for most of the season.  He may have a bad stretch where he hits as badly as he did in 2015, but he’s unlikely to repeat this performance over 350-400 PAs.  Reynolds didn’t really underperform so much as that he had to take on too many PAs due to Adams’s injury.  Regardless, I wouldn’t bet money on Reynolds returning in 2016.

Similarly, it’s unlikely that Bourjos will return.  I suspect that the emergence of Pham has made Bourjos expendable.  He’ll be tendered a contract and traded.

Cruz and Kozma are tough.  The only reason they were on the roster is that we need a backup catcher and someone who could play shortstop in the event of an injury to Peralta.  The team, therefore, may be forced to sacrifice some offense in order to get this sort of defensive protection.  But the team has to do better than what these 2 can bring to the table.  We’ll discuss this in more detail another time but, suffice to say, we can’t afford to give 260+ PAs to players who hit worse than many pitchers.

A lot of Cards’ fans are looking for a better #3 hitter or more homers than Heyward provided (13) from our cleanup hitter.  Our starters, for the most part, performed pretty well offensively so probably what we need most, is more depth.  We need our reserves to perform better when there are injuries to Holliday, Peralta, or Molina or when our aging starters need days off.  If we get more from our 9th through 13th position players, we can afford to give our starters more rest and we’ll score more runs doing it.

What Might Have Been

Like other Cards’ fans, I’ve spent a good chunk of the last couple of days thinking about what might have been with this season.  In so many ways it was such a great season — 100 wins, 1st place in the toughest division in baseball — and, yet, I’ve found myself wondering how the season would have played out if things had finished a little bit differently.  As Cards’ fans, we’re tremendously spoiled.  This is the first year in the last 5, for example, that the Cardinals haven’t made it to the NLCS.  We’re in it every year.  Not many teams can say that.  If I was a fan of the Astros, Rangers or even Yankees, I could imagine that I would be able to look back on this season and realize how much my team accomplished.  For all of these fans, their teams ended up pretty close to their best case scenarios.  It’s disappointing for the season to end, to be sure — especially with the Astros’ collapse in game 4 of their series and the 7th inning meltdown by the Rangers’ defense in game 5 of theirs — but almost everyone has to acknowledge how great those teams’ seasons were.  And the Cardinals won 100 games and it just doesn’t feel like a great season.  Some of that is because we’re spoiled.  And some is because it seems as though we could have accomplished much more.  For example:

  • What if Wainwright hadn’t gotten injured?  Would the NLDS against the Cubs have turned out differently if Wainwright could’ve started game 1?  We could’ve pushed Lackey to game 2 against Hendricks and then Garcia starts game 3 when he’s probably rested and not nursing a stomach virus.  It’s a whole different series.
  • What if Matt Holliday was healthy?  He just wasn’t himself down the stretch or in the postseason.  Our #3 hitter really couldn’t hit, at least not like a #3 hitter, and we were playing shorthanded as a result.
  • What if Carlos Martinez hadn’t gotten hurt?  Put him and Wainwright in the rotation and it’s deadly.  Now, Martinez pitches game 3 and Garcia goes in 4.  There’s a good argument to be made that we just didn’t have our 2 best starting pitchers in the postseason.
  • What if Matt Adams was healthy?  I’m not the biggest Adams fan in the world but he can certainly mash against righties and he wasn’t healthy enough to even beat out Brandon Moss or Jon Jay for the postseason roster.  (Maybe it could’ve prevented Mozeliak from shipping Rob Kaminsky to Cleveland in exchange for Moss.)
  • What if Randall Grichuk hadn’t kept getting hurt?  Not only would he have been in contention for the Rookie of the Year, but he would have been a deadly hitter in the middle of the lineup in October.  For a team that struggled to score so often this season — and again in the postseason — how much would we have been helped with a healthy Holliday, Adams, and Grichuk avaialble?
  • What if Jordan Walden had been healthy?  Matheny wore out Siegrist, and maybe Maness and Rosenthal, and part of the reason was that we were counting on Walden to pitch the 8th inning and get the game to Rosenthal.  We certainly could have used him rather than Broxton and Cishek down the stretch and could have saved some wear-and-tear on Siegrist.

That’s a lot of what-ifs.  This was a very good team that could have been an historically outstanding team and it fell short in October — when it counted most — largely due to injuries.  It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Instead, however, I want to look at a different set of what-ifs.  Most teams, if they had to deal with all those setbacks, would not have won 100 games or finished above the Pirates and Cubs.  How in the heck did that happen?

  • What if Randall Grichuk, for all his injuries, hadn’t emerged as a tremendous power hitter who could play center field?  Grichuk was in the Rookie of the Year race until his second injury (remember, he missed the beginning of the season with an injury as well).  Grichuk had a higher ISO this year than Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz and Paul Goldschmidt and hit the ball as hard as Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber.  Did I mention that he can play center field?  I don’t really know if he can stay healthy for 600+ plate appearances but, if he can, he might be a star.
  • What if Stephen Piscotty hadn’t emerged as a no-doubt offensive impact player for the Cardinals?  This is a guy who was always thought of as a pretty good prospect, but prospect analysts were always waiting on his power to emerge.  Prior to this season, he never hit more than 9 HR in the minor leagues.  He hit 11 in his first 87 games at Memphis this year but we’re still talking about the Pacific Coast League.  He was a good AAA hitter, but not a great one.  And then he was called up and very soon thereafter became a star.  He hit 7 HR and 15 doubles in just 63 games.  Granted, it was just half a season, but his wRC+ was 133.  So was Carlos Correa’s.  Manny Machado, who hit 35 HR this year, had a 134 wRC+.  He performed better offensively in his 256 PA than Curtis Granderson and Schwarber did this year.  And he showed he could play both outfield corners and first base.  One of our biggest concerns going in to last season is what to do about 1B when facing a lefty, considering Matt Adams’s profound issues facing lefties (one HR vs. Kershaw notwithstanding).  Those concerns have vanished.
  • What if Carlos Martinez hadn’t emerged as an outstanding starter?  There were many who were concerned that he’d never be anything more than a reliever.Those concerns aren’t there any more.
  • What if Jaime Garcia’s career had been ended by injuries?  I didn’t expect anything from Garcia this season or, honestly, ever.  Pitchers just rarely come back from multiple shoulder injuries.  And yet Garcia did, and emerged as one of the team’s best starters this year.  He’s gone from a guy who almost certainly would not have had his option for 2016 picked up, to a guy whose option will definitely be picked up.
  • What if Kevin Siegrist hadn’t re-emerged as a shutdown reliever?  Granted, his season didn’t end too well but he inarguably had a tremendous season.  He was injured most of 2014 and the team had to be unsure of whether or how much they could count on Siegrist for 2015 and he ended up becoming Matheny’s go-to guy out of the pen.
  • What if Tommy Pham hadn’t emerged as a legitimate contributor?  This is a guy the team always thought a lot of but he just couldn’t stay healthy.  When Grichuk got hurt, they called him up just to see what would happen and he showed himself to be fearless, to be a guy who can play center field, and to be a guy who can hit the ball hard.  His average exit velocity was basically the same as Goldschmidt’s.

The bottom line is that, though this season ended disappointingly, there’s a lot to look forward to next year and down the road.  What do all those guys in that last segment have in common?  Pham is the oldest, and he’s just 27 years old.  Is there any wonder why, after the game 4 loss to the Cubs, Adam Wainwright had this to say?

The season was an unquestioned success, though we would have all liked to have finished stronger.  And all signs point to the probability that next year will be even better.

Cards’ Starting Pitching Options for Game 4

They’re not great.  Fortunately, the Cubs are planning on going with Jason Hammel and he’s not great either, so we should expect to put a few runs on the board.  That said, there’s little doubt that Joe Maddon will be prepared to pull Hammel early and use his entire pen so we need to treat every Cubs base runner as the precious little gem that they are.  To that end, as I see it, the Cards have 3 options for taking the ball in the bottom of the first.

1. Lance Lynn — Lynn has been penciled in (emphasis on the word “penciled”) as the game 4 starter pretty much since the series began but that has never been confirmed definitively by Matheny. Lynn’s struggles down the stretch have been well documented but that’s hardly the only thing Lynn has working against him. The biggest drawback to using Lynn in game 4 is the fact that he has severe platoon splits and the Cubs have the ability to stack the lineup with left-handed hitters.  The table below shows Lynn’s splits for 2015 and for his career. Warning…it’s not pretty.

 Lynn  K%  BB%  HR/9  wOBA  FIP
 vs. RHB — 2015  26.9  6.7  0.27  .276  2.23
 vs. LHB — 2015  16.9  11.8  1.18  .350  5.02
 vs. RHB — career  26.6  5.6  0.48  .279  2.45
 vs. LHB — career  18.3  12.3  0.93  .341  4.58

The Cubs have the ability to put Rizzo, Schwarber, Montero, Fowler, Coghlan, and maybe even LaStella in the lineup to take advantage of Lynn (though they’d probably use the right-handed hitting Soler instead of Coghlan). They’ll load the lineup with every Chicago lefty except Leon Durham and Chris Sale.  In short, Lynn is a terrible match up for us and absolutely should not be an option for a full starting appearance against the Cubs. He would’ve been a much better option against the Pirates.

2.  John Lackey — Lackey would be going on just 3 days’ rest and starters’ struggles on short rest in the playoffs have also been well documented.  Lackey also has had some pretty severe platoon splits in 2015 but his career splits are not nearly so bad.  On the positive end is the fact that Lackey threw just 86 pitches in Game 1 and probably wouldn’t be asked to go much longer than 5 or 6 innings in game 4. All arms would be on deck in the bullpen so we wouldn’t need to expect too much out of Lackey.

3. Bullpen game — Here’s where it gets interesting.  We use Tyler Lyons as the designated starter with the idea that he is to get through the Cubs’ order 1 time.  When we reach his spot in the batting order, we’re pinch-hitting and switching to the other one.  The big advantage this offers us is that this would prevent any of the Cubs hitters from seeing a pitcher more than once, thus minimizing the problems with facing hitters multiple times through the order.  We would, of course, also get a 9th hitter into the order by pinch-hitting every 9 hitters as well.  We would go with Lyons for 2 innings, Lynn for 2-3 innings and then maybe matching up after that.  In fact, depending on Jaime Garcia’s health, he might be able to be counted on for an inning or 2 as well.  As potentially intriguing as this sounds, I don’t believe it’s the option Matheny will choose.

My guess is that Lackey takes the mound in game 4 with the idea of Garcia going on full rest at home in game 5 if we get there.  If we get Lackey through 5 innings, we can use Lyons and Lynn to match up against their lefties and righties and then count on Maness, Siegrist, Rosenthal, and maybe Wainwright the rest of the way.  Based on the fact that we had to go to the pen so early tonight, using Siegrist for 27 pitches and Wainwright for 24, the bullpen game is a bit risky.  We just don’t know how good those 2 who will be and we can’t count on Lynn seeing a healthy dose of righties either.  Using him for too many batters is just a non-starter so it really looks like Lackey is the team’s best option to get us back to St. Louis.

Edit:  Unsurprisingly, Derrick Goold says that the Cardinals have decided on Lackey for game 4.  It’s not a great option, but it’s probably the best one we have.