Rounding up the hot topics from baseball writer Derrick Goold's weekly chat with Cardinals fans.
WHY WON'T CARDS AT LEAST TRY TO TRADE FOWLER?
QUESTION: The fact that the Cards are not trying to trade Fowler is discouraging. Not saying they'd be successful in finding a trade partner, but the fact that they're not trying seems like it's destined for him to be starting in right field again next year. ... Doesn't it make sense to see if you can find a trade partner, even if you don't get a right-field upgrade?
GOOLD: The Cardinals are going to need someone to play right field in 2019. This much we know. Trying to get any return on Fowler now only puts them in a position without any sort of leverage. Teams will know THEY MUST ADD a right fielder at that point. How's that positioning them better for a deal? Any deal? If the Cardinals go out and add a right fielder there can still be room on the roster for the new right fielder and Fowler. That is not only possible, it actually makes some sense because trading Fowler is difficult and certain to bring little return and a lot of cost at this point.
It makes zero sense to trade Fowler at this point because of his no-trade clause, because of his injury, because of the remainder of his contract, and because it would put the Cardinals in a worse position for negotiations. That's a rare lose-lose-lose-lose-lose-lose move. Did I count up the "loses" right?
Follow-up: Could the Cardinals put Dexter Fowler on waivers and if so, what could happen besides really upsetting the player?
GOOLD: A player can be placed on waivers, yes. Any player can. That happens to a lot of players in August, even the stars and some of the highly talented players. If a team claims him, the Cardinals can pull him back and armed with this knowledge of who is interested attempt to work out a trade and get his approval for it. That's necessary. He has a no-trade clause. So, yes, there would be the element of just irritating him, and no guaranteed movement.
GOLDSCHMIDT AND GREINKE RUMORS LEGIT?
QUESTION: How viable are the Goldschmidt/Greinke rumors?
GOOLD: Rumors are made of smoke. The Goldschmidt possibility is legit, and the Cardinals have had some conversations with Arizona. The substance of those talks -- well, neither side is eager to reveal, but we're all savvy enough to know that seeing where Goldschmidt fits in would be discussed.
The Greinke element seems to be a lot of connecting-dots. That's what is going on a lot these days around the Twitterverse and beyond: dot-connecting. It can help generate conversation, but it's not a substitute for reporting.
ARE KEUCHEL AND CORBIN THE LEFTY TARGETS?
QUESTION: Are the Cardinals looking into adding a lefthanded starter such as Dallas Keuchel (above) or Patrick Corbin, or are they only interested in adding a lefthanded reliever?
GOOLD: Yes. They'll have conversations about both of those pitchers. Keuchel has been pitched to them as a possible fit. The market for him should really take shape once Corbin's suitors are clear and the price he'll be able to command surfaces. They're linked in that way, and it's no coincidence that currently Keuchel is being positioned as more reliable and thus more valuable than Corbin, while Corbin has all the new age metrics and age going for him -- the kind of things that now drive salaries up.
WOULD DONALDSON AND BRITTON PUT CARDS OVER THE TOP?
QUESTION: Is an offseason of signing Donaldson and Britton enough to win the division? The wild card?
GOOLD: Interesting question. Truly. I'm going to say ... hmm ... yes. But with one significant caveat. Those two players alone don't turn the current roster into a division champion. Those two additions with Fowler being more like himself and DeJong being healthy -- that does do it. Or help.
The caveat: The Cardinals have to make moves through the season then to fortify the roster. Sure, some can be in house. But going through the deadline without significantly augmenting the roster hasn't worked well the past few seasons, and that's something to watch as this season plays out regardless of the additions the Cardinals make. They can catch up in the division, sure. To stay ahead they have to move later, too.
Follow-up: Seems safe to assume the Cards' only free-agent signing will be Josh Donaldson. With Carp at first, Donaldson at third and a left fielder who can't throw, how can we be optimistic that the Cards won't lead the league in errors again?
GOOLD: It’s Nov. 19. It’s not safe to assume anything at this point. Especially about the market. Even the agents don’t know where it’s going at this point. A few things we do know:
• Errors are a lousy way to judge a defense.
• That said, leading the league in errors is always a bad look and the Cardinals were not a good defensive club this past season. Inarguably.
• They’re going to shift more in 2019, and that should, logically, help improve the defense some, as will DeJong at shortstop and healthy.
GETTING AHEAD OF THE MARKET ON BRANTLEY?
QUESTION: What are the odds a team tries to get ahead of the market on Michael Brantley before Harper comes off the board? Or is it almost certain that Brantley will be awaiting that domino to fall?
GOOLD: At this point, they seem to be pretty low. Let's take the Cardinals as an example. Brantley bats lefthanded. He's a free-agent. And the Cardinals are known to be looking for a lefthanded bat and a free agent. Now, they've stated that their preference is to shoot for a infield corner bat, though they aren't closed off to a transformative hitter.
The Cardinals' interest in Harper is far less complex than, say, Brantley. For the Cardinals it's about price and length of commitment. Interest in Brantley is far more complex. It's not just his cost and commitment, it would also be a series of moves that the Cardinals would make (or have to make) to make room for him that made sense to add him. If the Cardinals aren't alone in that view of Brantley, then it offers up two possible outcomes here. A team sees him as their answer and makes the move ahead of the market (like Cardinals did for Peralta a few years ago) or more teams see a series of things that have to happen first and thus Brantley's interest is going to grow if he's patient for those things to happen.
FANTASIZING ABOUT A TRADE FOR ... MOOKIE BETTS?
QUESTION: Word on the web is that Mookie Betts has turned down repeated offers from the Red Sox on a long-term extension. If the Red Sox put him on the trade block, it's safe to assume that 29 teams would at least make a phone call. What kind of offer from the Cardinals would at least make Dave Dombrowski think about trading the MVP to St. Louis? Contractually, he's in the same boat that Ozuna was last winter (two seasons until free agency).
GOOLD: There are reports of Betts doing that, from reporters. I can't even process this possibility you outline. Not without first getting my balance. He's one of the three best players in the game and he plays for one of the three richest organizations in the game as their core, signature player. A trade like that would be confounding.
It would have to start with the best under-control players the Cardinals have — and since those are all pitchers, I'm not sure how they could pull that deal off with Boston. A healthy Reyes, Flaherty, Hicks — does that do it?
I was asked today who would make more as a free agent, right this moment, Betts or Harper, and it's hard not to say Betts, right? He's going to command a mammoth contract, and of course he wants to wait to see what Harper gets and of course Boston wants to sign him before the world sees what Harper gets. This is all part of the dance that still puts him in Fenway.
OTHER OFFSEASON TARGETS?
QUESTION: Trading for Kluber, signing Moustakas, signing Sipp, adding another bullpen arm through trade — that would seem to make for a meaningful offseason. Any of these moves likely?
GOOLD: Sipp makes sense. Moustakas shouldn't be dismissed as easily as he was last winter in these very chats. Kluber doesn't seem to be all that likely.
Follow-up: When discussing options for Craig Kimbrel (above), national media always list the Cardinals among the possibilities. That's just wrong, correct? I hope Mo wouldn't drop $70-plus million on one guy for the bullpen.
GOOLD: It would be so completely out of character and against everything the Cardinals have done the past three years. The Cardinals signed Holland to a one-year, $14-million deal because they expressly said they did not want a longterm commitment at closer because Jordan Hicks was coming. Well, Hicks is here. Mozeliak sees him as their future closer. The Cardinals do not like paying sticker-price for closers. Holland reinforced that internal belief. It makes a lot of sense for someone to include the Cardinals in those names to give off the perception of a big-spending team in the mix for the starter, but it makes little sense not to vet that statement by taking a look at the Cardinals' approach to closers in recent years or picking up the phone and asking them about it.
WOULD TRADING CARLOS BRING WINDFALL OF TALENT?
QUESTION: Is Carlos Martinez really on the trading block? What would the Cardinals seek to get from him?
GOOLD: Yes, the Cardinals have explored what return they could get for Carlos Martinez. They have to do that to see if it's a windfall. They have seen other pitchers with similar contracts draw significant talent in return, and the Cardinals are talking from an area of depth -- starting pitching. They'd listen. They'd engage. They'd have to get return they would think is beyond fair, for sure. They'd want a return that they have been unable to develop.
WHO FITS WHERE IN THE BATTING ORDER?
QUESTIONS: Is 2019 the year that Matt Carpenter is moved down in the batting order? Is 2019 the year the back-up catcher gets 50 starts?
GOOLD: We both want to say yes to these things, but we both know better by now.
Follow-up: If Jose Martinez is traded and Fowler is the RF, but they do pick up one bat to hit third (like a Donaldson), who bats second?
GOOLD: Shildt likes Yadier Molina there, honestly. Fowler, circa 2017, would also be strong there.
Follow-up: Why not do a La Russa and bat the pitcher 8th and Bader 9th? Hopefully, Carpenter can drive in more runs as the speedy Bader (above) steals a few bases in front of him. Cards need a good No. 3 hitter to make this work better.
GOOLD: Why not indeed? The new manager will consider this and has talked to La Russa about doing it. Shildt has been trying to wrap his head around the benefits and how to make it work, and then what personnel it would take to make it work. Matheny dismissed the notion because of the message it sent to the No. 9 hitter, he said, and he often reminded us that he would have been that nine-hole hitter in some situations and can empathize in a way others could not. That was his rationale.
BEST SPOT FOR CARP: LEADOFF OR LOWER?
COMMENT: To be fair, the Cardinals have moved Carpenter down in the order three years in a row and it hasn't worked out yet. Not saying it can't work, but as much as many people don't want to admit it, Cards don't have a better option for the leadoff spot at this point.
GOOLD: To be fair, that is Small Sample Size Theater when we're talking about the bulk of his career. In the past three seasons, he's had 1,422 plate appearances as the leadoff hitter and 443 at any other position in the lineup, including pinch-hit appearances. That's more than 75 percent of his plate appearances coming at leadoff -- three there, to every one elsewhere.
In his first 445 plate appearances in the majors he hit .282/.357/.450 for a .806 OPS. That's good. He also had eight homers, 81 strikeouts, and 45 walks in that stretch. Does that reflect the hitter he is now? Should he be judged on those 445 plate appearances and forever pigeon-holed into being that type of hitter? Seems arbitrary to me when we have a body of work to suggest that he's a far better hitter and more powerful as a hitter than those 445 plate appearances suggest.
We can carve up the stats a lot of different ways, but we have to recognize the context. The context here would be that he was just starting out his career, new to the majors, and still developing as a hitter. Why can't the context for where he hit in the order be considered the same -- that he did so for awhile without the benefit of any other hitter to protect him? That he did so in short bursts for a manager eager to move him out of another spot at the first hint of trouble? That it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and, yes, maybe it's too late to change, but it still seems silly. Hitters hit.
DEVELOP KNIZNER AS A FIRST BASEMAN?
QUESTION: Is catching prospect Andrew Knizner a good-enough hitter to play first base in the future or is he strictly a catching prospect?
GOOLD: He's a catching prospect. The bat plays up at that position, and that's something the Cardinals are going to want to keep nurturing. He'd have to be exceptional defensively at first base or see a growth in offensive performance to be a real fit at the corner infield position.
Follow-up: With so many teams needing a good catcher, why are we not hearing Carson Kelly's name in any trade rumors?
GOOLD: Mostly because the Cardinals have been advertising him as their backup. It's worth noting that I did bring up the Cardinals checking out the return they'd get on him because there was a lot of action/conversation on catchers during the GM meetings and the Cardinals did get a feel for his market. Whether you saw that or not, I'm not sure. Why that report didn't leap into rumors I cannot be sure. I'm not in the manufacturing rumors business.
WHY IS THE FOCUS ON LEFTHANDED HITTERS?
QUESTION: Can you explain in more detail the emphasis on adding a lefthanded hitter (such as Mike Moustakas, above)? Is it simply because there are more righthanded pitchers and the team wants as many favorable matchups as possible?
GOOLD: It's because the Cardinals lineup at this point lacks that balance and there isn't really that stand-out lefty coming up in the organization. The Cardinals have talked about it for a few years, honestly. Look at their Rule 5 questions. If Lane Thomas hit lefthanded, he would probably already be on the 40-man roster.
The Cardinals made a trade last season just to add a lefthanded bat to the outfield depth. The depth! The see that side of the plate lacking in their organization, and when they looked at the middle of the lineup they saw that side of the plate lacking as a look to throw at opponents.
TRADE PARTNERS: CARDINALS AND YANKEES?
QUESTION: Cards have surplus of starters, on paper at least. Yankees have hitters, need starters. Is there a fit for a trade?
GOOLD: And Brian Cashman and John Mozeliak get along well. There has to be a fit somewhere. I have not yet found exactly where it is. Greg Bird (above) bats lefthanded, plays first base and there are some dots to connect, and Clint Frazier has an appeal, but injuries have limited him and he's a righthanded batter, who the Cardinals probably already have a handful of. It's like the faint outline of a deal is obviously there, but when you get to looking for the details it remains out of focus.
QUESTION: Seems like in past years the Cards have made a move (Bourjos, Heyward, Cecil) before Thanksgiving. Do you think there could be an addition here before the end of November?
GOOLD: Brett Cecil and Jhonny Peralta are the two examples of Thanksgiving-time deals that are interesting because in both cases the Cardinals made offers to try and jump ahead of the market. Bourjos was a trade, you'll recall, and it involved David Freese and was part of moving Freese elsewhere — something both parties knew was inevitable — and getting return on him while addressing the 40-man roster. Heyward — that was another case of a team trying to move on a market before the 40-man deadline, and the Cardinals were motivated to trade quickly because, as you'll recall, their planned right fielder had just been killed a few weeks earlier in an automobile accident that also killed his girlfriend.
On Monday,John Mozeliak, the Cardinals' president of baseball operations, referred to the market as "slow" and downplayed the idea anything would happen during Thanksgiving week — outside of addressing the 40-man roster by Tuesday's deadline.
UNDERSTANDING FOWLER'S ISSUES
QUESTION: Fowler blamed "mental health" for his poor 2018. Have you gained any further understanding of that? I assume he is talking about unhappiness. Was it unhappiness with Matheny? The organization? Other players? Moving to RF? Something not baseball-related?
GOOLD: He spoke to me about what he meant, in somewhat general but obvious terms. I asked him if he felt the organization doubted him and if he started to doubt himself, and he said there was doubt coming from one direction -- the manager's office.
A few years ago it seemed fans could really relate to a young player like Kolten Wong going through the same uncertainty or doubt, or when Randal Grichuk had a similar experience of not really knowing when or if he was going to be in the lineup and for how long, but when a veteran with a massive contract goes through a similar thing then it seems harder to relate. I get that. But there are similarities. Fowler had a slow start. And things cratered from there. He didn't know whether he would be in the lineup or where. He didn't know where he stood with the manager, and thus had to wonder sometimes where he stood with his teammates or how he was going to produce. We all saw the hole he was falling into because we've seen that before, and it was clear that he wanted a Maddon-like commitment and wasn't going to get it, and wasn't comfortable with or receving the full explanation why.
That week around the San Francisco series was the nadir. He had the president and owner apologizing to him, sought out conversations with the manager, and still wasn't sure where he stood -- when a public show of support would have been so easy to have happen. The Cardinals are eager to let Fowler start from scratch, anew, healthy, refreshed.
NEW SYSTEM FOR AVOIDING STRIKEOUTS?
QUESTION: The Cardinals' new hitting coach, Jeff Albert, has a system for helping players avoid striking out. Does this system have an element to it that the players can work on during the offseason? Is it something mainly for players who strike out a lot, or is it something that other players will benefit from also?
GOOLD: Excellent question. From my understanding — and I hope to ask more about this through this winter — this is part of what the Cardinals are doing this offseason. They sent out PDFs and emails to players throughout the 40-man roster with data about what worked, what didn't work, and what could be worked on. For some, this was like heat maps about where a pitch was most successful, or for hitters where they did the most damage. (Keep in mind teams usually use heat maps now for damage, not average. They're pointing out where extra-base hits happen, slugging happens, not guys hitting .300.)
So, the Cardinals are using analytics now to open up conversations with players that will take place with coaches, trainers, nutritionists, and so on throughout the winter. Jeff Albert will be a part of that, and the goal will be to get a head start on what he's going to work with them on so that, yes, some of this work can be done during the winter. Swing prep can take place before Florida.
Also: Privately, Matt Carpenter has been telling anyone who asks or anyone who he can get to listen that Albert is one of the best hitting coaches he's had and one of the best he thinks there is in the game.
OUTLOOK FOR O'NEILL?
QUESTION: Under Shildt, we saw a move toward a more contact-oriented offensive approach, and we’re seeing that reinforced with the hiring of Jeff Albert. Does this trend increase the likelihood that Tyler O’Neill could be traded as roster construction begins to shift toward the style of the new managerial regime? Or do you think O’Neill stands to benefit from alterations they could bring to his approach?
GOOLD: At this point, the plan for the Cardinals veers more toward the latter. They would prefer that O'Neill, with his power, benefits from the approach and the tutelage and the thinking and not that he becomes the Grichuk that has to be traded at a lower return than ideal. That history is not something the Cardinals want to repeat.
O'Neill has shown that he can make adjustments and this past year was an interesting one for him as he embraced the contact notion of hitting the ball hard somewhere to see what happened. That definitely connects with the conversation the Cardinals are currently having.
DID CARDS BUILD THE WRONG KIND OF TEAM FOR BUSCH?
QUESTION: Do you think the Cardinals built the "wrong kind" of team to play in the pitcher's park that is Busch III? They've focused on power guys (who come with a lot of K's) and very little on contact, high OBP guys. Look at what Kansas City did during its championship run in their extreme pitcher's park -- they had very few power threats, but a ton of high OBP guys that "kept the line moving."
GOOLD: I am a big believer that Busch III is a pitcher's ballpark, but might I suggest an alternate argument to why the Cardinals could focus on defense and that style of team that you're describing: Pitching is their specialty. The Cardinals are really good at developing and deploying pitchers. They're they envy of the industry, honestly. Wouldn't it make sense to play to that strength then by outfitting that great pitching with the players who make the most of that pitching behind them. Hicks as a power sinker pitcher is all that much better if all those grounder he gives up are gobbled up by infielders and turned into outs. Just as an example.
The best team we've seen the Cardinals have in recent years was 2015, and that team was one of the best run-prevention teams we'll ever see. That worked. That accentuated the Cardinals' positives. That played to the park and their proficiency.
ANOTHER FREE-AGENT FREEZE-OUT?
QUESTION: With how the free agent market played out for not-elite and "older" free agents last year, there has been speculation of a similarly unkind market this year. Your thoughts on this? If it continues, do you envision a shift to paying players big when they are young vs. rewarding them when the are past their prime?
GOOLD: That shift is already happening. What we will see is a deeper chilling of the already chilly relationship between the union and the leagues and the threat of a work stoppage coming because both sides will look for an edge in a change to the market. Players will be leery of the direction it's going as players continue to debut younger, teams churn through those minimum-salary guys, and there has been a seizing of the riches paid to that third-tier veteran player.
At some point, some of this had to be expected as analytics took over, teams began running themselves on data -- not past practices -- and drug testing started seeing career lengths and production in the late 30s return to a more familiar level.
IMPACT OF THE MATHENY-TO-SHILDT TRANSITION
QUESTION: Strictly from a communication standpoint, was the Matheny-to-Shildt transition as much of a breath of fresh air for media members as it was for us fans? I really enjoy his transparency and insight into the game and his decision-making.
GOOLD: I enjoy talking about the game, about the strategy, and most of all learning about the thought process that goes into how the game is played -- from a player's perspective and a manager's and a coaches. I learned a lot about baseball just by having the chance to talk to Dave Duncan or, so many years ago, watching Bernie Miklasz, Joe Strauss, and Rick Hummel interact with Tony La Russa, and then later enjoyed the opportunity to talk with La Russa about his moves -- when they worked, when they didn't, and learn even more about the game. He invited that conversation. If not after the game, then certainly the next day.
Shildt does as well. He's in that mold. He will sometimes invite us into the thinking behind a move even before we ask -- and that is welcome. Some other managers don't take that same approach, and Matheny is not alone in that. There are other managers in the game that don't elaborate on their thinking, don't feel the media deserves those answers, and don't see media as the conduit to the fans or to ownership. If ownership wonders, ownership can ask and get an answer away from the public.
And, yes, there are managers that don't hide their disdain for the media, whether it's misplaced or not. We see that throughout the game, for sure. I was recently writing about the previous seven seasons and I think it's fair to say Matheny's distrust for the media -- which he talked openly about, and I appreciate that candor -- somewhere along the way became disdain in several instances. The second half of this past season was far more familiar to many of us because there were clear influences of La Russa in play, and it will be interesting for all parties to see how Shildt takes an approach with the clubhouse, with individual players, with fans, and yes with the media and makes it his own. He's already started.
He's sincere. That won't change.