Check out the highlights from Derrick Goold’s Cardinals chat with readers. The full transcript of the chat can be found here.
Q: If the Cardinals make a trade for a catcher, what position do they pivot to in order to add to the payroll?
Derrick Goold: They've said they'll go looking for a left-handed bat preferably, and if not that then they'll try to find a bat that changes the look of the lineup and provides "protection" — their words — for the two MVP finalists. They are also shopping for an additional pitcher. They are looking at the relievers/swingman with high strikeout rates, and they have been exploring both the free-agent market here but also some players who may be returning from one of the professional leagues in Asia. So they have other places they're already looking to spend, and that's baked-into the pursuit of a catcher.
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Q: In your opinion is Wilson Contreras a good enough hitter to protect Goldy and Nolan A. as a catcher and DH type? Also what type of contract will it take to sign him?
DG: Willson Contreras is a talented hitter, for sure, and he's a well above average hitter as a catcher. Seriously. One of the best hitters in the game for that position. That looks a lot differently when he's not a catcher, and his production at DH is only slightly better than average for that position. Now, for the Cardinals — maybe that's enough. Maybe they want to be slightly above average at DH. But they should be cautious there because that would be a steep dip for them.
Thanks in large part to the second-half production from Albert Pujols and the cameo appearances from Arenado and Goldschmidt at DH, the Cardinals led the majors with a 150 wRC+ from the DH spot. They also had the highest OPS from that new NL position, at .895.
The Cardinals DH group's slash line was .270/.345/.550.
The average DH in MLB had a slash line of .245/.319/.413 for a .732 OPS.
The Cardinals were getting damage far far far far behind the average from the DH spot. It sure would see like if they're going to go for Contreras at catcher that does increase one of the least productive lineup spots in baseball, but it does not cover all of the offense lost by the DH retiring.
Q: How long before good prospect Ivan Herrera be ready to catch full time for the Cardinals?
DG: The Cardinals want that to happen in 2024. They want to see that stride for the young catcher in the coming months. That said, the math is about to change for the Cardinals and how they approach the catcher position. They're going to redefine what they mean by "full time." That's not going to be Molina with his leading the league in innings and the 110+ starts. They're going to go modern on that position and carve it up more, so that maybe there's a 100/60 split or 90/70 split, and that's how they look at catcher, especially in the coming years as they could make a trade or a signing and then ease Herrera in by being the time share, the split time, and then the leader as performance dictates.
Q: Can you clarify what the Cardinals thinking is when they hang on the outskirts of a market like this year with starting pitching and shortstop. What are they looking for to get engaged fully outside due diligence checking in.
DG: To see if there's a value play. Shorter years. Maybe a higher average salary. A shortstop who hasn't found the market he expected and all of those seats are filled. Last year, you might recall that Carlos Correa signed a deal with Minnesota. The Cardinals would like to be in the same position Minnesota was to make a move like that — though Correa had the opt-out, etc., which shortened his deal. But that's why. They've done that before. They'll do it again. It's one of the things the Cardinals and several handful of other teams do — stay in tune with a market, see what talent is left with the big spending settles, and see if there's a shorter deal to be had for top talent that is mutually beneficial.
Q: DG, I always felt the value of Yadi was not at the plate, but behind it. I am often surprised at the disdain at the concept of "calling a game" and knowing the pitchers. Of the top three catching trade candidates for the Cardinals, can you provide some insight as to how they rank on that front?
DG: Christian Vazquez has an excellent reputation for calling games, and obviously got a lot of attention/credit with the no-hitter in the World Series. He's shepherded young pitchers and established pitchers through postseason. Murphy has a solid rep for a young catcher, and he's only going to improve with experience, that's the consensus. Zunino, Narvaez have solid reps for calling games, and Narvaez is appealing to multiple teams looking for catchers/game-calling catchers. Contreras is less heralded for how he manages a game.
Q: If the league is moving towards Robo umps in just a few short years, how much does it shift the defensive focus on framing metrics vs pop time and throw velocity for catchers? With the changes to encourage more base stealing, won't the Robo umps wipe out any gains made if the catchers don't have to worry about framing and can just sell out to make throws to nab runners?
DG: Quite a bit — it definitely shifts for teams to prioritize arm strength and the bat when it comes to catcher and not factor in the new-age metrics of pitch framing, etc. If the automated strike zone is going to call the games, then the elasticity of the strike one created by a gifted catcher is going to be ... nonexistent. That is on the mind of some teams, and I recently talked to the Cardinals about this, and they still said that calling games, controlling running game, and other defense-first skills will be prominent with catchers, so the shift won't be tectonic. Just one less facet that has to be sharp, so a few more catchers to consider.
Q: Derrick, have the Cardinals ever fully explained their preference for acquiring players through a trade vs free agency when options are available for both? It's seems they regret the Ozuna trade more than a bad contract like Fowler.
DG: They have. Many times. It's been a whole thing, honestly. They got a lot of attention at one point because DeWitt made the point — and Mozeliak echoed it later — that they don't win bidding wars, they don't do well in auctions, and they do do well trading for a player and then selling that player on sticking around/returning. That is their sweet spot, and they know it. But they don't feel they have the best track record of bidding the highest for players, and that was reinforced with David Price, for example, and a few times when even in blind bidding process for players coming over from Asia the Cardinals finished second to larger bids. They feel like their conservative, data-driven approach does better when they aren't pushed to outbid or overbid on a free-agent. They point to Cecil and Fowler as another couple of examples.
Q: How can the Cardinals possibly compete anymore without spending big? Times have changed. We are now behind the dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Padres, and Braves. Middle-tier signings alone won't get you to the top anymore
DG: There is a growing argument that they cannot. Which is part of why the deal for Arenado was such a coup for them. They got a high salary that they may not have been able to win in a free-agent auction. They get some immediate cash help from the Rockies to make that deal possible for 2021, and then they a player who is eager to make a trade happen and is willing to defer some money in the coming years. So they got the high dollar signing via trade with some ways to fit into their finances.