QUESTION: Your starting lineup on opening day as it now stands?
GOOLD: Assuming everyone gets through spring healthy ... Rick Hummel, Benjamin Hochman, and myself. That will be the starting lineup for the Post-Dispatch in Cincinnati on opening day.
Oh, you meant the Cardinals?
That's a trickier question because they have so, so many questions. But let's go with where things would be today if Shildt wrote his lineup, given the history he has and the current spot the players are in. We also have to assume health and some best-case-scenario production for a few players, OK?
1. Dexter Fowler, RF
2. Kolten Wong, 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Paul DeJong, SS
5. Matt Carpenter, 3B
6. Tyler O'Neill, LF
7. Yadier Molina, C
8. Harrison Bader, CF
9. Jack Flaherty, P
Could see Carpenter at cleanup, but that wouldn't bring as much left-right balance to the lineup as if DeJong was cleanup today and Carpenter was right after him. Fowler will have the chance to compete for leadoff this spring. Carpenter could be re-cast as a middle-order hitter, though if they see the complete look from him then maybe he ascended to leadoff.
And also don't discount Lane Thomas as someone who could push his way tomorrow into the lineup. I'm sure there will be questions about Dylan Carlson, too, and there's an avenue for him to be in the starting lineup on opening day, but as of right now, given the info available and the position of players, and assuming health, this is where they'd go.
QUESTION: Tyler O’Neill seems to be mentioned enough to apparently be first in line for the left-field job. But, Lane Thomas tore up AAA last season better than did Randy Arozarena. Where would you place Thomas in the pecking order of outfielders, and if he and, O'Neill have similar springs, who’d have an edge?
GOOLD: I get why you would put Tyler O'Neill first on the depth chart, and the Cardinals comments have put him there. I'd suggest he's only a smidge ahead of Lane Thomas, and in some corners of the Cardinals' office it's Thomas who's ahead, maybe even ahead of any other contender.
Thomas was about to get increased playing time in 2019 when he broke his hand. Also, Shildt has said a few times this offseason that he probably should have given Thomas an early chance to play some -- that his production had earned it, and the team as a whole would have liked to see how far he could have run with more starts.
I agree with you: Of the outfielders who are in camp, Thomas (above) stands out as the one who has had the most intriguing blend of success in Class AAA. He might not have the stand-out talent that, say, O'Neill does with power, but Thomas did lead the organization in homers in 2018 and he's got that look of a power-by-way-of-doubles hitter that the lineup could use. He's competing for playing time at all three outfield positions, too.
COMMENT: Hard to understand your proposed opening day lineup which excludes arguably the best hitter on the team last year, Tommy Edman. He doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves for the year he had last year. While they are positioning him as utility, if the bat is real it has to play, right?
GOOLD: He can be utility and play -- a lot. There are 450-500 plate appearances out there for a complement at every position. Look at this way. He could be the righthanded-hitting complement to Carpenter at third, the lefthanded-hitting complement to DeJong, the righthanded-hitting complement to Wong, and a sub for LF and RF, and all of sudden Edman has started five games out of every seven and the other players have started six out of every seven, and they're all everyday players, Edman included.
That's what the Cardinals have in mind. Half a season does not a hitter define -- unless, that is, you're down on the hitter and want to selectively pick a time period to make your point or support or dislike for the player.
QUESTION: Can Harrison Bader actually be a viable component for the offense? I relate him to Kolten Wong a few years ago -- someone who thinks he's a home-run hitter and tries to pull everything.
GOOLD: Bader could definitely learn from Wong's growth as a hitter and what Wong did when batting eighth, and all he took from that spot in the lineup. For sure. Bader's approach has to change at the plate, and he's got to show the aptitude and ability to make that change. If he does, then he's got the speed to be viable on offense and build production in ways that power won't always be there for him. Eager to see what he does with all the work he's put in this winter to adjust.
QUESTION: Can the Cardinals replace Ozuna's production with some combination of the young outfielders and/or Edman being used out there?
GOOLD: Oh, sure they can do that. Ozuna has more name recognition than he has production. Don't believe me? Consider that no player in the majors since 2018 has more at-bats at the cleanup spot than Ozuna's 1,054, and yet fewer did less with them. Of the 56 players who have at least 250 at-bats in the cleanup spot since 2018 -- the season Ozuna joined the Cardinals and took out a long-term lease on cleanup -- Ozuna's OPS ranked 33rd. Yep. That's right. There were enough cleanup hitters more productive than him in that spot to fill all 30 teams, and have a spare.
He had a .774 OPS. They should be able to match that, yep. And if not, then the Cardinals are in even deeper trouble than Twitter suggests.
QUESTION: In the past three years, the Cardinals have sent six outfielders packing: J. Martinez, Garcia, Arozarena, Sierra, Mercado and Ozuna. All Latin American outfielders. Now there are none. Coincidence?
GOOLD: It's a fair question if asked fairly, though I see you did not go so far as to say what you're implying, only imply it -- and thus leave it to someone else to make the problematic charge. But, OK. You are suggesting that the Cardinals are purposefully trading away only Latin outfielders, and you're asking if the driving reason for this is because they are Latin or because of some sort of overarching team approach.
It's worth noting that the Cardinals also traded Randal Grichuk (traded January 2018) and Stephen Piscotty (traded December 2017) during that same time period. That doesn't really fit into your question, but it does help us understand what the trend tells us.
Consider, in recent years when they haven't had much success drafting and developing outfielders (Piscotty, Mercado being two that stand out as homegrown and major-league contributors) they have been able to acquire talented outfielders from the international market. Sierra, Jonatan Machado, Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, to name a few. So it was a conscious decision on where they would go for talent, and where they were most successful signing players in the international market was with pitchers and outfielders. Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna came from outside the organization, as did Jhon Torres, a rising prospect, so you're looking more at the availability of talent than where the Cardinals are specifically going to find that talent.
There are a few things driving this: There are naturally going to be more outfielders and more pitchers in an organization than, say, shortstops, and it also hints at where the Cardinals have had more success identifying and grooming talent. It also suggests that while the Cardinals have been able to gather quality and get contributions from these outfielders, they have yet to find the one that has stayed and starred.
That's what the trend really is. It's not where they're from. It's the Cardinals have had trouble finding the outfielder who will stick around and produce enough to take the team somewhere.
QUESTION: Have to admit I'm not very excited for the 2020 season. The offense will continue to struggle, the defense will still be good, but the back end of the rotation will regress. I understand it's easier to express concerns of the team via social media and chats like these, but do you get a sense that other fans feel the same lack of interest?
GOOLD: I don't know what to think, honestly. It shouldn't be a surprise that in a time of super-divisive politics, we also have super-divisive views just on anything. It has been difficult to compute some of the anger thrown at the Cardinals coming off a season when they did win the division, did reach the NLCS, and then went into an offensive vanishing act that left the lingering acrid smell of failure on their season, or something.
We know that Twitter veers to the negative, to the sensational, the anonymous. So does that speak for the fan base as a whole -- or just an angry cul-de-sac in the larger neighborhood? Does my inbox reflect the Cardinals Nation as a whole, or only those motivated to write because they're angry about something or critical of something. If you're content with something, rarely you are you motivated to write something. Anger motivates. On social media, getting attention motivates. Being a contrarian can be a goal. Social media has a high decibel level for sure, but is it representative?
And what to make of the growing anger and discontent with the Cardinals that does seem to be filling corners of Cardinals nation when other teams, scouts on other teams, and baseball experts around the game actually see them as the leader to repeat as division champs?
There is a huge disconnect. The largest I've seen. And it's possible some of that is my fault. Perhaps I could a better job of explaining things. I have spent a lot of time this offseason thinking about that -- about how to better articulate things to fans so that some of the messy, untrue, fictional storylines that persist are squashed before they can spread.
I've never seen anything like this, and I don't know what to make of it, honestly.
Follow-up: We attended Game 2 of the NLCS and were astonished by the empty seats. Has anyone on the inside expressed surprise?
GOOLD: Yep. It's a concern for ownership. They have said so when asked about it. When asked if they think a malaise or dissatisfaction has contributed, they are less specific with their answers. They cannot hang all the empty seats on weird times for games and the like. They are aware that it could speak to a larger apathy that impacts tickets sales, for sure.
QUESTION: Thoughts on Carlos Martinez coming into camp this year?
GOOLD: He looks stronger and more fit than in recent years. Seems to be in good spirits, too. Driving a slick Lamborghini, and moments before I was walking over here and past it -- he had stopped to sign autographs for fans outside the complex.
Eager to get some clarification on his throwing schedule and what that's going to look like. He was not with the group that was out playing catch Monday.
Shildt is stumping for all Martinez has done this winter and what he could be as a starter. They're clearly trying to reward his work this winter with their comments entering spring.
QUESTION: I wonder how the hype of Dylan Carlson compares to that of Albert Pujols and Oscar Taveras prior to their Cardinal debuts. How did the Cardinals evaluate Albert compared to how they later viewed Oscar and now view Dylan? Hard to imagine that they knew Albert would be a generational player.
GOOLD: I don't recall much hype of Albert Pujols' as a prospect. That is more reflective of the time -- no Twitter, few blogs, Baseball America dominated the prospect game, he was a 13th-rounder -- than his talent. Dylan Carlson does compare to Oscar Taveras -- in terms of hype, but that's also because he compares in terms of production and his place with the organization. He is the best hitting prospect they've produced since Taveras. He's their highest-rated position prospect since Taveras, and he won the Texas League's equivalent of the MVP like Taveras did, and he did it with some numbers that rank well alongside Taveras as a complete hitter. The comparison fits, so the hype matches.
The Cardinals called Taveras their best hitting prospect since Pujols, and they've acknowledged that Carlson has the highest upside since Taveras. I don't think that means they're suggesting that Taveras was going to win three MVPs or that Carlson is a perennial All-Star. What that does mean is they project Carlson, like Taveras and like Pujols before him, to be a middle/top-order hitter and impact player on a contending team. That's the measuring stick used.
Follow-up: Does Carlson has a plus glove in the corners? Would he be better defensively than Ozuna was?
GOOLD: Yep. He's capable of playing center, too. Shildt has made it clear that he wants to see at some point how capable, just to have a feel for Carlson's versatility. He performed in the corners, and the big-league staff has seen that in person and received positive scouting reports on Carlson's defense.
QUESTION: Edmundo Sosa or Yairo Munoz — who makes the Opening Day roster?
GOOLD: Sosa has the edge today, if you're picking between the two. Some fans may not want to hear it -- and I've heard from some personally -- but the Cardinals, internally, wonder if playing time for Munoz at Class AAA on an everyday basis might be best for his development and his future with the club. They feel the limited playing time the past two seasons may have been a setback in tapping into his talent, and they have a chance to see if that theory works by getting him regular work at a bunch of different positions at Class AAA Memphis.
Plus, Sosa has performed well, and a backup shortstop would be needed if by the end of spring it appears they won't use Edman there.
Photo: (From left) Cardinals infielders Yairo Munoz, Edmundo Sosa and Tommy Edman prepare for a sprimng training drill. (Post-Dispatch photo by Chris Lee)
QUESTION: Which teams will realistically be competing for the NL Central title this season? And how do you rank the strength of each of the three NL divisions?
GOOLD: The Reds. The Cubs. The Cardinals. Those teams stand out as contenders at this point. I'd put the Cardinals and Reds ahead of the Cubs, and maybe put the Brewers closer to the Cubs than the other two at this point. Follow the pitching. That's my rule of thumb at this time of year.
The NL East is the strongest. The NL West is the most confusing and could have the most surprises (enter San Diego). The NL Central might be the most competitive, one through four.
Follow-up: Chances that a wild card comes out of the Central this year?
GOOLD: I have no clue at this point, but I will suggest to you that the Pirates offer a good chance for the wild card to come out of the NL Central -- not because they'll be good, but because they'll be so poor that a few teams can fatten their record on the Pirates and that sweetens their chances of being the wild card. It's like how the Astros skewed the AL race all those years ago by tanking and giving the AL West teams access to wins that the AL East and Central teams didn't have that much. The Pirates make that possible for the NL Central. What thoughtful folks.
COMMENT: Some team owners, perhaps with very deep pockets and large egos, seem willing to underperform from a business standpoint in order to win and embellish thei rlegacy. Others, including the DeWitt family, seem more committed to consistent business viability. Would you say this amounts to a competitive disadvantage in most years for the Cardinals?
GOOLD: I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the Cardinals have had a winning record for 12 consecutive years and yet this approach that has gotten them there is viewed as a "competitive disadvantage." Huh? The Cardinals and the Yankees are the only teams in this era that have had this long of a stretch of success, and the Yankees, it should be noted, haven't always done it by pulling out their pocketbook, which is thicker than any other in baseball. Also, the Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2009, and it's not like they haven't made some big moves to try to hasten that next title.
Yes, the Cardinals are conservative. Yes, they avoid risks a lot of times, and they've talked themselves out of deals that would have helped them. Yes, they have nearly talked their way into expensive deals they likely would have regretted. Yes, the Cardinals run themselves like a business -- like a vast majority of the teams do. Don't believe me? Check out Boston. There's a lesson there for all to see. Henry ain't hurting for revenue. He's not going broke. The Red Sox are doing just fine. And, yet, some recent decisions have forced them -- they say -- to trade one of the best players in baseball because they .... cannot afford what's coming? Huh? They can afford. They don't want to afford it. It's a choice.
Most teams are committed to "consistent business viability" and the teams that chase "vanity" championships are fewer and fewer, and I don't remember there being all that many at all in the past few decades. Owners envy the DeWitt approach, and they'll say as much in their meetings. They might even call it a competitive advantage, because the team is competitive and it has the advantage of also making money. Owners do like both things.
I can understand why that's frustrating when a fan feels a team is so. so, so tantalizingly close to a title -- or seems to be -- and won't spend that extra $20 million on 2020 to make it happen. Mozeliak's favorite thing to remind us of is that the $20 million for 2020 comes with added cost in 2021 and beyond. That's how teams view things.
Since Molina already said that he has no interest in playing for a team other than the Cardinals, why would the FO give him an extension at his age? Why not simply go year-to-year like they're doing with Wainwright?
GOOLD: That would still be an extension, though. It's actually the kind of thing that they would talk about doing, for both sides. A year extension, with a vesting option or an option. Wainwright, you'll recall, did have an injury that he was coming back from, so keep that in mind.
But year to year would be the idea, the preferred approach for the team, and still be considered an extension.
QUESTION: During this offseason, do you think that the Cardinals have chosen the right players to trade and the right players to keep?
GOOLD: They don't have an answer for the hole in their lineup, so no they did not. Having an answer -- a proven, surefire, unquestioned answer -- should be the goal. They did not land that player. They have candidates. They kept compelling candidates for that spot. But they did not acquire an answer.
COMMENT: In my opinion, Cardinal fans are spoiled. In your opinion, how much of this negativity makes it back to the players and what impact, if any, does it have? I know they are professionals, but to simply expect them to win the World Series every year is ridiculous.
GOOLD: It makes it back to the players. Look at some of the poison that Dexter Fowler has had to deal with on social media. Or some of the things written on Carpenter's Instagram sometime. Sure, it makes it back.
What impact? Sometimes they get mad. I've never seen a player take it out on a fan in person. I've also never seen a fan in person say the same things they do behind the anonymity of social media. Go figure.
QUESTION: What is the projection for Miles Mikolas? No one is talking about him, but I think he is better this year than last. The league knows him now but he will make adjustments.
GOOLD: He will be fine. This past year wasn't as bad as people are portraying it. He'll be the bulwark for the rotation. A strength. He'll be the reason why they'll go into series with a pitching edge because he'll be a quality-start beast.
Photo: Miles Mikolas warms up at a Cardinals workout Monday in Jupiter, Fla. (Post-Dispatch photo by Laurie Skrivan)
QUESTION: Which Cardinals players currently generate the most interest from other general managers?
GOOLD: Flaherty is at the top of the list. And Carlson. From there, basically it's a rundown of the prospects. Liberatore is on there. Arozarena was on there, of course, because other teams saw a blocked talent. Daniel Ponce de Leon is going to start getting into those talks more, I bet, especially if he has a good spring while the scouts are watching. Outfielder Justin Williams has some fans out there that ask about him. Infielder Montero for some teams.
I like to keep an ear to the ground in spring for these things because it helps inform me some around the trade deadline but it also is important when evaluating prospects. The players other teams want are usually the players that are the best.
QUESTION: Mike Shildt gives his players a chance, but when they do not live up to expectations, he does the right thing (example: benching Carpenter last year). When Shildt is making a change, what information is he using to make the decisions? How much does salary play into those decisions? How do you compare La Russa, Matheny and Shildt?
GOOLD: Salary plays into all the decisions because, remember, salary is somewhat based on expected performance. The Cardinals aren't going to pay a player $18 million who they expect to get $2 million of production from. No, they're going to expect to get value play on that salary, and so Carpenter is going to get playing time because of what he makes and because what he makes is already a bet on how he'll perform.
Shildt has been able to make some tough calls on playing time, and he's got some coming his way this season, for sure. Always will. He has the ability to do that because he's worked today to have the trust of the players tomorrow and a month from now and next season and whenever that tough conversation happens. He's banking that trust, not asking for it in the moment. By then it's too late.
He's really savvy at doing that, and maybe more so than other managers I've seen. Matheny made some decisions based on veteran status over potential production because that was his area of trust. La Russa was more of a blend, and by August he was pretty clear that whoever played best played most, and whether people in the chat remember it or not or like it or not that was one of the reasons why you saw Jon Jay emerge as a starter by the end of some seasons.
Allen Craig is a good case study for how La Russa and Matheny handled those spots. Craig played well -- and then played a lot for La Russa. Craig played well for La Russa and had a strong, strong, strong year for Matheny -- and then played a lot even when there were better, healthier options.
QUESTION: You mentioned Justin Williams, Austin Dean and Evan Mendoza as players who might be spring surprises. Why no talk about John Nogowski? Great minor league stats -- even better than Carlson. He can play LF, which is an open position at this point.
GOOLD: He's here in camp. He's already working out with the players, and he's been doing infield work with Wong, DeJong, and Mendoza all week that I've been here. Nogowski is in his first big-league camp. He'll get some time in the OF and at first base; probably more time at first base because of the set up of the roster.
He hasn't been mentioned as part of the competition by the Cardinals, if that's what you're asking. But neither has Austin Dean all that much. They could change that with how they swing the bat.
Photo: John Nogowski takes a pickoff throw at first base during a Florida State game in the 2014 NCAA baseball tournament. (AP Photo)
QUESTION: How about getting Dave Duncan on the ballot for the Cardinals HOF? There has to be a place for him in the Hall given what he did during his tenure as pitching coach.
GOOLD: Several of us have lobbied for Dave Duncan to be inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. By the team's policy that would be an ownership selection, not one made by the Red Ribbon Committee or the fans. Now, we have asked if the Red Ribbon Committee could make a pitch for him to be our selection, and that may be considered. He should be in the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Period. I'd like to see that.
Follow-up: Which two would you vote on the Cardinals Hall of Fame ballot?
GOOLD: Interesting question. I hadn't given it much thought, honestly, because my role in it is only voting on who should be on the ballot for fans to have their say, and I think it's important in some cases for fans to get that say.
To me, Hernandez stands out as a candidate, above any of the others on there. I think Matt Morris is too often overlooked for what he did in that era before Carpenter and Wainwright took over as surefire Cardinals Hall of Famers. I also don't understand why Carlton doesn't get more support.
COMMENT: As a fan for 50+ years, I admit losing confidence in the direction of the team. My doubt is if they know how to put an exciting team on the field. I know they've been successful overall but it's the "brand" of offense this team plays that is frustrating and most of the time boring. Do you think they plan to stay on this course?
GOOLD: I think this is a product of the larger game and how the Cardinals have found their way to compete consistently within it.
I adore baseball. And there are games that I watch and wonder how could anyone enjoy this style of play. It's long. It lacks tension. It lacks fundamentals. It's not a game I recognize at times, and it's certainly not good for TV or for the fans.
I don't think that's isolated around the Cardinals, not at all. I worry that this is the game that analytics has given us and that the new rules meant to speed up the game won't do anything for what really matters -- the pace and style of the game -- and will only reinforce the game we have now. Which can, at times, lack appeal.