Q: I would be fine with players, coaches, staff, etc. being near the top of the vaccine line to get spring training and the season going on time. At least watching, listening to and reading about games would bring some normalcy to our lives until they actually are.
A: I don't agree, but you give me a chance to bring up something that will be in the conversations going forward -- and that is requiring vaccines. The clubhouse is like any place of work, and that means there are different views and opinions there, and MLB and the players' union are going to have to discuss what they can and cannot mandate, where civil liberties end and professional need/safety begin as far as mandating a vaccine. This comes at a time when the union is already hyper-aware of the medical/private data being collected by teams about the players. Just keep all of that in mind as baseball tries to create its next return to play plan.
Q: Were the moves for Max Moroff and Jose Rondon the only moves John Mozeliak will make to make up for the hole created by (the release of) Kolten Wong? If so, the Cards are weaker by letting Wong go.
A: The Cardinals needed infield depth for the minors, too. They've had some departures there, and some of the younger players -- like, say, Mateo Gil -- aren't ready to leap into Class AAA at the moment. That's also true of Delvin Perez, who should be at that level given how long he's been in the organization. So this is about filling that gap as much as it is addressing the Wong absence. The Cardinals would like to add a player from outside to the major-league roster -- and that player could be an infielder or an outfielder. If they have the designated hitter in the NL, that would be the addition the Cardinals would look to make. Still, they have their eye out for infield depth that would bring certainty to the major-league level. At the moment, Edmundo Sosa is the backup shortstop.
And, yes, the Cardinals are weaker for having let Wong go.
Q: Do you know which of the Cardinals players make their offseason homes in St. Louis?
A: We recently were going through the list and couldn't come up with one that now does. That's a change from a few years ago, when there were a handful of players that spent the winter in St. Louis. I can't think of one, honestly. Some may spend a few weeks here. Miles Mikolas recently spent November here. But living full time ... At a recent charity event, the reporters present couldn't come up with one.
Q: What percentage of votes does Scott Rolen get on the Hall of Fame ballot this year?
A: He got 35 percent this past year. I'd like to see him close the gap on Omar Vizquel's 52 percent and even surpass the shortstop. That seems reasonable, if a touch optimistic. He's deserving of 75 percent, so here's hoping he makes significant stride in the next two years so that by year six or seven on the ballot he's Cooperstown-bound.
Q: I don’t understand the wait on Yadier Molina. Why wait until the market plays out, to save a couple of million dollars? And then you have an angry Molina who feels disrespected. Is the budget that tight?
A: Why would Molina jump at an offer now when he can see what J.T. Realmuto gets and also have one fewer team on the board looking for a catcher? This isn't a one-way street when it comes to negotiations. It's two sides setting the pace. And don't assume that it's a "couple of million dollars." It's about a second guaranteed year, too. That's significant.
Q: Have you heard any rumors about Kolten Wong signing anywhere?
A: Not so much rumors. Mostly only things that I can report and have. Teams that have expressed some interest in Wong include Boston and the Angels, who have had longstanding interest. There were between six and 10 teams that initially reached out to check in with Wong, and as you've seen there hasn't been much movement since. The biggest reason for that -- D.J. LeMahieu. He's the top second baseman available in the market, and Wong is considered the next. So it's wise for Wong's group to see what LeMahieu gets and who is left after he signs to create better offers.
Q: Do you get any sense from the Cardinals that if they acquire an outfield bat, then one of the current outfielders would need to be traded?
A: I do not get that sense. The Cardinals have not indicated that adding one outfielder would mean subtracting one. Now, they have explored trades where that would be the case, of course, but as far as the direct connect between add an OF and then have to remove/trade/drop one, no. That is one of the big indicators that the Cardinals are looking at more of a platoon addition, a complement add, than a straight everyday player add.
Q: What kind of year would Carlos Martinez have to have for the Cardinals to want to pick up his $17 million option?
A: A Cy Young Votes-type year? Yeah, that would do it. Maybe a year like a number two starter has? That might do it. Might. That also might mean he's traded at the deadline.
Q: Why won't MLB make a decision on the designated hitter for 2021 already?
A: The universal DH is a significant bargaining chip for the coming CBA, and that makes it valuable to both sides. They agree on the benefit of the universal DH, and they each draw some value from it -- but neither side wants to give it up without getting something in return. That's where we're at.
It's like ordering a pizza for your family. Say everyone wants pepperoni, but you want pepperoni and green peppers while someone else wants pepperoni and sausage, and then a third person wants pepperoni and mushroom. Rather than agree on pepperoni, you'll want to use that person's fondness for pepperoni against them to gain what you want -- the green peppers, because, hey, they're also getting pepperoni. And, so, no one gives up their leverage until necessary, and you sit with a cheese pizza for a while. It's an imperfect analogy, but I'm trying to come up with one on the fly here.
Basically it's this: The universal DH is leverage for both sides, and they want to use it as a crowbar to get agreement elsewhere, and that's where the two sides are different.
Q: Can't the Cardinals acquire a big bat via trade that doesn't negatively affect payroll? And if so, how likely are they to try to make a deal happen?
A: They have tried. They will try again. This is what I've been typing about -- the cash-neutral deal. They send pitching, they acquire hitting. Finding that deal has been tricky. And unearthing the possible deals has been tricky for me. The Mets don't seem real eager to part with any of their potential-fit outfielders, and ... Joey Gallo? Could be Mike Tauchman of the Yankees. Mitch Haniger? Is that a move that is appealing?
This is where the Cardinals spent time coming into December, and it's just not clear if they're running into little interest or just setting the stage for a deal. John Mozeliak recently told a group of us that the conversations of December have the feel of the GM meetings, and they usually use those to set up deals that happen in the next month. So there is definitely some ground-laying at the moment. But the answer? Well, the answers aren't as clear as when Miami had three outfields on the market, just as an example.
Q: I think I understand why very few free-agent signings have happened, but why aren't we seeing more trades in MLB by this point?
A: Same reason. The Cardinals have been on the phones/email/texts trying to conjure up trades -- that is something that had their attention, more than it seems they let on. But they're looking for cash-neutral deals. Those are tricky when everyone wants to shed cost -- as we've seen with the tender deadline and the options not exercised. The financial situation and the lack of clarity on when the season will start, how long the season will be, or whether there will be a DH in the NL has slowed everything the Cardinals would be involved in. Once those questions start getting answers, then some of the groundwork the Cardinals have done with these trade discussions can gather momentum.
Or, there is one school of thought internally that the Cardinals are positioning themselves for trade talks during the season as tickets are sold, as revenue resumes, and they can talk less about cash-neutral and more about adding salary. But, that would mean bucking the trend of recent trade deadline inactivity.
Q: Is there a reason why the Cardinals seem to be pretty good at evaluating and developing catchers, but not really with the other infield positions?
A: I'm not sure that's the case. Paul DeJong was a third baseman in the minors who became an All-Star shortstop in the majors. Kolten Wong has won two Gold Glove awards. Matt Carpenter has been an All-Star at three positions -- all of them in the infield. Tommy Edman is just arriving in the majors, and Nolan Gorman is on the way, along with Evan Mendoza. Luke Voit led the AL in home runs. Matt Adams has had a strong career in the majors, and Daniel Descalso put 10 years in the majors by moving around the infield. That's a pretty good list of infielders, and what's the list of catchers? ... Yadier Molina and Carson Kelly. And ... ? I guess I don't buy your premise.
Now, if you want to talk impact bats, we can have a different discussion, especially when it comes to the outfield.
Q: I used to really like listening to John Mozeliak back when he was assistant GM and his early days as general manager. Now he just seems to be condescending and likes to throw out meaningless word-salad answers. What are your observations of his evolution as the primary spokesman for the club?
A: That he's been thrust into a spot -- and that he's taken on that spot -- where it invites fatigue from the fan base. That's natural when the one voice on so many things is the same voice. The same phrases don't resonate like they once did. The same jokes don't play the 12th time you've heard them. Tony La Russa talked a lot about the 10-year limit on his message, and whether after 10 years the clubhouse tuned him out because they knew all his phrases, knew all his ways to motivate, and what once worked now was just tiresome.
Mozeliak wanted to move into a different role as president of baseball operations, but this past year has thrust him back into the spotlight as the spokesman in a year, had it been normal, when Michael Girsch likely would have been more front and center on the roster. That was the idea. Then a pandemic came. Then Mozeliak deputized himself as in charge of the COVID response, and then an outbreak happened, and Mozeliak was the forward face of the organization. A year ago, at the Winter Meetings, it was Girsch that spoke to the media more often than Mozeliak -- or at least as often. Not so in the past few months, and that has definitely added to what you're describing.
It's something that is true in other realms, too. As a writer who has covered the team since 2004, I have to be aware of reader fatigue, too. Same phrases. Same way to cover. Revisiting same themes, telling the same story, droning on and on and on about the same stuff -- that can tune readers out, just like it does fans.