Highlights from this week's chat with sports columnist Ben Frederickson . . .
Q: Could Rockies closer Daniel Bard be a fit for the Cardinals? He's 37 with a 1.88 ERA. Could be attainable if Rockies decide to move him?
A: He's a name worth noting, sure. I'll add another one. A familiar one. Trevor Rosenthal. He’s 32. He's waiting for someone to sign him. He's healthy. He's throwing hard. Some in the organization would love to see him back, and think he could help. Would cost nothing in prospects. Just cash. The kind of cash the Cardinals made by bringing back Pujols for Pujolspalooza. How many times has Marmol said the bullpen needs a right-hander who can get strikeouts? Rosenthal could get this team some strikeouts, and would cost no prospects. The Cardinals, outside of Pujols, have been somewhat reluctant about reunions. I like this idea more and more the more I think about it. Just one potential problem, really. Rosenthal is repped by Scott Boras, king of trying to get the best offer even if means waiting and waiting and waiting.
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Q: Does it seem strange that Yadier Molina is rehabbing in Puerto Rico? It’s his final season with the team. He has great influence on the pitchers, catchers and clubhouse. Shouldn’t he be around the team? What's going on here?
A: He hasn't disclosed the personal reasons that were attributed to his late arrival in camp but it was clear when he got there that he was not in his usual physical shape, and he was pretty candid about that. He was going to have to play himself into shape, he said, and he was also not going to play nearly as much as he had in the past. That was the news straight from Yadi at spring training. I didn't take it lightly then. He was saying a lot with a little. I think he is frustrated with how he feels, how he hurts and how he is performing after an offseason that was not normal for him. He's had treatment to address knee pain and is taking some more time now to attempt to come back stronger and in improved shape. The team is in contact with him and is up to date on where things stand. The end of careers are not always very pretty. Rarely are they pretty, actually. I don't think he has bailed. I do think he'll be back. Then we will see if the time at home helped.
As for being in Puerto Rico, he got to camp late because of personal reasons that kept him in Puerto Rico. He went to Puerto Rico during the season when he was placed on the bereavement list. So, no, it doesn't surprise me much that he's back there now during what is an undetermined amount of time off. Yes, his situation is being handled differently than another player's would be. Consider the player. Molina is working daily, per Mozeliak, but is apparently not yet ready for baseball activities. The team is not putting a timetable on it. He has received anti-inflammatory treatment for his knee issues and now it's a wait-and-see until he can start baseball activities again.
Q: So, what is going to happen with Flaherty? Is he going to pitch again this season? Is he going to be with the Cardinals in 2024?
A: Flaherty and Mozeliak didn't agree on how they looked back at the altering of his initial rehab plan, but they both did agree that Flaherty should be back at some point this season. As for his long-term future after he reaches free agency, I think it's safe to say there will have to be some sort of a breakthrough in the pitcher's relationship with the front office for that to be very realistic. Monday felt like that spring training day all over again, when Flaherty and Mozeliak bumped heads over how his injury was described and the SLAP tear information being shared. There's a pretty trackable history of what happens to players who seem to get sideways with the front office for various reasons — a common one being how injuries are treated and/or rehabbed from — and those can be signs of two sides going their different ways down the line. Monday was just unnecessary, more than anything. It's clear there is not a lot of solid communication going on between Flaherty and Mozeliak, and it probably took the contrasting quotes to make that communication happen. They should have talked beforehand, not after. And they did talk after. Also, I thought Flaherty should have taken some more ownership of the situation. He did push to return sooner than the initial plan presented. The team signed off on that, but he was the one emphasizing he was ready. He then had two bad starts and left his teammates stranded after two innings of a big game that turned into probably the worst lost of the season. I'm not suggesting he should have pitched through the dead arm, but acknowledging that the plan he pushed for did not work very well might have been good. In his defense, though, there was no way of guaranteeing this same thing would not have happened in a big spot if he stuck with the original rehab plan. Marmol pointed that out in addition to Flaherty. Marmol often comes across like the middle man here, trying to be the neutral voice between the pitcher and the president of baseball operations. Flaherty is in prove-it mode now. He wants to be an ace. He has to be on the mound and pitching well deep into games to earn that title.
Q: What was the end game on Mozeliak bringing up the altered rehab plan as something that could be second-guessed? Did that surprise you?
A: The natural question after Flaherty got lifted from Sunday's start was, hey, was this a result of changing the rehab plan? It was known and reported that Flaherty pushed to make his return sooner than originally scheduled, and the team and the pitcher worked that out. So, when it does not work, there are going to be questions. Should Flaherty have stuck with the team's original plan? Did the Cardinals rush him back to soon? And so on. The two had pretty different versions of answers. Mozeliak suggested, yes, you have to wonder about what could have been different if the original plan had been used. Flaherty didn't want to entertain that suggestion. Mozeliak described Flaherty being the one who steered the process this way. Flaherty made it sound like more of a collectively decided call. The track record is relatively established of the Cardinals reminding players who go against the team grain in preferred injury treatment and/or recovery/rehab that things might have been different if the team's plan had been followed. There are other players — Tyler O'Neill being one of them — who have been vocal about wanting to avoid rehab stints this season. That played a part in this too, I think. I’d bet on guys going on rehab stints moving forward.
Q: Would the Cardinals be willing to promote Michael McGreevy or Gordon Graceffo this season because of the need and their encouraging minor league success?
A: I think Graceffo's stuff could play at this level right now out of the bullpen. It would not surprise me if he gets a shot at some point.
Q: When will Cardinals reliever Jake Woodford get a real shot at a bigger role?
A: Great question. His performance should present him more chances to continue to prove the numbers wrong. Drew VerHagen's "stuff" is great on paper but he can rarely get the job done on the mound. That's why you play the game. Woodford gets results. If he continues to the Cardinals should factor that into their study of his apparently unimpressive advanced pitching metrics.
Q: Do you see T.J. McFarland and Nick Wittgren making it through the season on the roster?
A: I like Wittgren’s chances more than McFarland’s.
Q: Who are some players that would make sense for the Cardinals to consider trading?
A: Start with guys who appear to be blocked or somewhat repetitive on the roster. Paul DeJong. Is there a team that likes his defense, thinks it can help his offense better than the Cardinals did, and see a fit? If the Cardinals don't want to move Alec Burleson without seeing what he can do at the major league level, would they consider moving Lars Nootbaar? At some point there is some repetition there, and only so many spots. Jake Woodford does not seem destined for a role on this team but can help someone and would probably be starting for other teams. All of these guys but Burleson I mentioned have had some chances to show what they can and cannot do at the major league level, meaning the Cardinals might be more willing to feel OK sending them off for a need. Remember, the Cardinals got pretty effective (for them) Jon Lester for blocked outfielder Lane Thomas. Not all effective deals require top prospects in the transaction.
Q: The hypothetical trade packages for Matthew Tkachuk are pretty massive, and include Kyrou, additional players and draft picks. That’s too much, right?
A: I'd be tempted to wait it out on Matthew Tkachuk. If he gets to unrestricted free agency, figure out how to make a compelling pitch if there's still a fit. He's close enough now to not want to pay the trade price on top of paying him the extension that would follow. If he gets a deal before then, maybe see if you can deal him later in his career. I would not feel very great about shipping out Kyrou at this point, and as you mentioned that alone would not be enough. I’m not sure how the Blues would squeeze Tkachuk and Vladimir Tarasenko under the cap. If Armstrong moves Tarasenko, maybe there’s a way.
Q: Where does Jordan Walker play when he gets called up in the future?
A: The DH solves any worrying, because he can always just go there. The Cardinals are increasingly cool with using guys who prove they have solid versatility in different spots. See Edman, Donovan, Yepez as examples. I don't think it would have to be any different with Walker, especially early on. Corner infield and corner outfield could be on his list in addition to DH. For as much complaining about the DH as there was, it's going to be really good for the Cardinals as they welcome this wave of young hitters. It creates more opportunity and buys time for defense to evolve on the fly.