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BenFred: Grading (probably unfairly) the Cardinals’ free-agent additions as April nears its end

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Check out the highlights from sports columnist Ben Frederickson’s weekly chat with readers.

Q: Since this is your last chat of the month, would you mind grading the following Cardinals free agent additions: Steven Matz, Drew VerHagen, Aaron Brooks, Nick Wittgren, Albert Pujols and Corey Dickerson?

A: The only fair grade is incomplete, for all.

It’s still April, and there are five more games left in it.

But sure, I’ll play along for the sake of the exercise. Here goes, as of pregame Tuesday night . . . 

Matz: B

VerHagen: D-

Brooks: D+

Wittgren: B+

Pujols: A

Dickerson: C-

Q: Is there any question about who the Blues should start Game 1 against Minnesota?

A: The expected starter is Ville Husso, who wrestled the job away from Jordan Binnington this season and continued to play well, even as Binnington seems to have found his groove late. That said, it's Binnington who has the contract, the playoff experience and the ring. Those are not things to simply dismiss, especially when looking at the only thing that really matters to this question — who can give the Blues the best chance to beat the Wild? You worry about the rest later, including contract and free-agent drama. Husso has a 3.92 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage against the Wild. The Blues won both of those games but did so in overtime. Binnington in one game against the Wild allowed four goals in a Blues win. I'd probably go with Husso. I bet we will see both in the series, though.

Q: The only bright spot really from Monday night’s loss was Oli Marmol’s postgame comments when he called out Giovanny Gallegos’ mistake. Would we have heard that from his predecessor, and will the Cardinals be better because of this candid approach?

A: I wrote a column for the season opener that said Marmol is going to be more of a straight shooter in his comments about the team to the media, especially compared to Shildt, who could venture too far into positive spin. Though, to be fair to Shildt, the bizarre Zoom era didn’t help that very much. Anyway, Marmol is more likely to tell the media — at least in a situation like that one Monday — the same thing he tells a player. That was a play Gallegos has to make. Gallegos knows that. Why not say that after the game? No harm done. Problem addressed. Page turned. And everyone survived just fine.

I’ll also add that players are not sitting around waiting to hear what their manager says to the media after the game. If there’s something said that needs their attention, they find out. Marmol has not given any reason for players to think he’s throwing them under the bus or anything like that. He’s just saying the same thing he told them. Will that always be the case? No, probably not. Should it be the case most of the time? Yes. And fans do appreciate it.

Q: Did Tennessee pull back its offer to SLU point guard Yuri Collins? What went down to make him re-pledge to the Billikens?

A: Tennessee did not pull its offer. If that is out there, it's sour grapes from Rocky Top. The Volunteers thought they had Collins until they didn't. There was an effort by SLU to get an NIL package together to make the decision harder. I don't know what the end result of that effort was, but something clearly changed the equation. There also were some conversations between SLU and Tennessee about the talks Tennessee engaged in with Collins before he was officially in the transfer portal. SLU was not pleased with how that process went down.

In the end, it's a big win for the Billikens. Retaining talent is a huge challenge for an A-10 team right now, especially one with a talented player like Collins when Power 5 programs are point-guard shopping. Wagons were circled in Midtown. Travis Ford's team should be very good next season. I'm excited about SLU.

Q: Is securing home ice a big deal for the Blues-Wild playoff meeting?

A: I think it matters for Minnesota. The Blues are pretty balanced home and away but the Wild are clearly better at home, and securing the chance to host four in a seven-game series would be viewed as a pre-series win for Minnesota. The Wild have the NHL’s third-best point percentage at home (.789) and the league’s 13th-best point percentage .598 on the road. The Blues did not play their “away” game against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. That one was the Winter Classic game at Target Field.

Q: Is anyone else concerned about Yadier Molina’s production this season?

A: Entering Tuesday’s game — it was another Andrew Knizner start — Molina had a hit in three of his last four games. Just three strikeouts in those 13 at-bats. There have been some encouraging signs after a slow start. Molina admitted to anyone who would listen that he showed up for spring training not in his normal shape and that this season was going to be different for him, with Knizner playing a lot more than he has in the past. It's playing out like that. No surprise to me. If the sample size grows and Knizner is an overwhelmingly better player than Molina, then the playing time can continue to tilt in that direction. Except for when Adam Wainwright is on the mound, of course. Determining Molina’s season on April 26 is something I'll pass on. I know better.

Q: I don’t understand the promotion of Brendan Donovan instead of Nolan Gorman. What gives?

A: The Cardinals are not going to promote Gorman until he has a defined role in the majors. He’s also not on the 40-man roster, which means they have to be ready to offload someone to make it happen. He won’t be promoted to sit. Donovan is on the 40-man roster, and it was Donovan, not Gorman, who made the most compelling case at spring training to break camp with the team. Donovan (24 years old), unlike Gorman (21), can play pretty much anywhere and everywhere, and the Cardinals have a plan to use him to get some regulars some days at designated hitter and off their feet in the field.

Gorman is going to debut at some point this season. With the Cardinals lacking in middle infield production at shortstop so far, and the offense sagging against right-handed pitchers, including at DH, combined with how Gorman is tearing it up in Memphis, it could happen sooner than the Cardinals initially planned.

Q: Is Oliver Marmol already falling into the trap of being too reliant on one pitcher in save situations? That pitcher being Giovanny Gallegos, of course.

A: It's easy to talk about not having a traditional closer.

It's hard to not fall into the rhythm of using a guy you trust in the ninth, especially when he has not failed.

Gallegos was four-for-four this season before Monday's blown save.

Time to find out if Oli goes back to him for redemption, or reshuffles a bit.

More nuance at closer this season was the pledge. It's always better to see it before buying it wholesale.

Marmol likes that Gallegos is effective against both righties and lefties in a three-batter minimum world.

There are some times he’s going to use Gallegos earlier than the ninth, he insists, and at the same time it’s impossible to ignore that Gallegos is showing some signs of slippage here lately.

Ryan Helsley is going to get some save situations.

After Monday, that could happen soon.

Q: What do you think about Kofi Cockburn jumping to the NBA instead of returning for one final ride at Illinois?

A: I get it. Nothing left to prove in college ball for the big man. He's 22. He could have made some nice NIL money sticking around another year at Illinois, but he knows he's going to have to prove he can play a different game in the NBA, and he sounds up for that challenge. I liked his comments about declaring for the draft. He knows he needs to change his body a bit and be a role guy until/unless he can prove he can do more. That positive attitude should help him. There's a place for him in the league, even one that has changed away from the traditional big. He can be a rebounding, shot-altering, screen-setting force. If he can do those things, he can work on developing some range and a more diverse offensive game on the fly, with the help of NBA instruction.

Q: Where is the heat on Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert?

A: If you are going to fire a hitting coach 15 games into the season, you should not have entered the season with him.

I don't say that as a member of the Jeff Albert praise band, either.

He's very much in a prove-it season, in part because there's nowhere else the front office can point — except back at the front office — if this lineup does not produce over a more meaningful sample size.

Q: Do you think Florida quarterback transfer Emory Jones could be a potential fit for Mizzou?

A: Nothing would surprise me — and nothing should surprise you — when it comes to Eli Drinkwitz and quarterbacks. He has recruited (unsuccessfully) multiple potential transfers this offseason, and does not appear to be chasing a specific type. There's a big difference, for example, between Jayden Daniels (now at LSU) and JT Daniels (now at West Virginia). There doesn't seem to be a ton of hard evidence that Jones is for sure a better option than what the Tigers could have in Brady Cook, though, and Jones has two seasons of eligibility remaining instead of one, meaning that could be viewed as a threat to incoming freshman Sam Horn, who Drinkwitz keeps mentioning as a legitimate option to see playing time this season. So, it doesn't scream fit, but again, Drinkwitz can be unpredictable on this subject. Horn is having a good baseball season, by the way, and that has to be adding to Drinkwitz's heartburn at the moment.

Q: Nolan Arenado seldom if ever sets to make a throw to first base. While the throws he makes can be remarkable, and require much practice, the one Monday night was wild. If he would have come set, he would have increased his chance of getting the out, no?

A: I think he had some trouble finding his grip on the ball as he moved into foul territory. He seemed to double-clutch a bit, something that happens if you lose a grip while starting to throw. There were extra steps there, more than normal for him.

Brooks Robinson said Nolan Arenado plays third base as well as anyone.

The greats get to bend the rules once they have mastered them.

If everybody played basketball with their tongue hanging out, there would be a lot of basketball players with half tongues. But it worked for Michael Jordan, right?

Arenado is not mistake-proof. No one is. You're right about the practice. Arenado practices every one of the stunning plays he makes. He'll probably add some more practice after that throw he wishes he had back.

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