Rounding up hot topics from columnist Ben Frederickson's live chat with St. Louis sports fans.
WORLD SERIES PREDICTION
QUESTION: What's your prediction for the World Series?
BENFRED: Dodgers in six. The big stars will shine brightest, and the Dodgers have a constellation of them. Los Angeles gets another title it can't celebrate with a parade, and Dodgers haters can say it was tainted by the shortened pandemic season. It's perfect, really.
IS MOLINA THE REASON FOR THE NEXT TWO SEASONS?
QUESTION: How much is too much to bring back Yadier Molina?
BENFRED: Let's table the numbers for a second and talk about optics. The Cardinals gave Matt Carpenter an unnecessary extension because, as they repeated time and time again that day, they did not want to see him end his career in another team's uniform. Does anyone think the Cardinals are prepared to follow that up with allowing Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to . . . finish their careers in another team's uniform? I don't.
Molina wants a two-year deal. He knows he will have to take a pay cut from the $20 million he makes now. Things could get interesting because he has to be a free agent due to the pay cut.
The Yankees, as mentioned by P-D colleague Derrick Goold, are an interesting what-if. If Tony La Russa really is going to manage again, I would have to think that might be appealing — although the White Sox seem to have an answer at catcher. But I don't see how this ends any other way than Molina and the Cardinals coming to an agreement that makes sense for both. Wainwright as well.
If Molina is determined to get the two-year deal, he should be willing to be flexible by accepting less guaranteed money per year and more performance-based incentives. He will make that money if he's healthy, just like Wainwright has in his series of one-year deals with incentives.
If Molina wants to be here, something will get worked out. I find it very hard to believe the Cardinals are going to alter their approach to legacy players — non Pujols legacy players — with Molina and Wainwright. Even during pandemic times. Maybe Wainwright and Molina become the end of the Cardinals' approach to legacy contracts, but the line won't be drawn before them, and it won't be drawn between them and Carpenter. Unless something very surprising happens.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD ... OFFENSE
QUESTION: The Cards outfield has great defense, but there's a lot of talk about how they need to improve offensively, and I agree. But can't the same be said for second base, shortstop, third base and catcher? Each spot had an OPS of less than .700 in 2020.
BENFRED: Let's look at those positions' OPS and their National League ranks from start of the 2019 season. That helps us iron out the oddness of the 2020 season without ignoring it entirely.
Catcher: .687 OPS, 11th out of 15 NL teams
Shortstop: .743 OPS, 9th
Second: .781 OPS, 4th
Third: .733 OPS, 12th
Three of these positions are critical to that defense-plus identity.
The catcher is a future Hall of Famer and team leader who helps the Cardinals manage pitchers, set defenses, sell tickets, everything, really.
The shortstop is a 27-year-old who was signed to an early contract, has had ups and downs but has presented reasons better results should be ahead, in addition to improving defensively every season.
The second baseman's offense speaks for itself, though it's rarely viewed in comparison with his position for reasons I don't quite understand; he's also a Gold Glover.
As for third? There's no shortage of discussion about Carpenter, or his contract. An upgrade there would be complicated for contract reasons, but there is an ample amount of evidence that suggests it's needed.
COULD CARDINALS FANS SCRAM?
QUESTION: If the Cardinals don't make a meaningful attempt to improve the offense, do you really think fans might stay away in 2020 — if they are allowed in in the first place?
BENFRED:I can't answer that for people. People have different motives for going to games. But if the Cardinals make no meaningful upgrades to a lineup that has lagged for two seasons now, I don't know how or why they can expect fans who have been paying attention to get fired up about venturing out to the ballpark.
Fans deserve to see an offense that can produce a National League average amount of runs. Period. Combine that with this defense and this pitching, and this team is very appealing to watch and support.
CAN MIZZOU TCOB VS. UK?
QUESTION: Mizzou hired Eli Drinkwitz so the Tigers would take care of business against teams like Kentucky. What has to happen Saturday to flip Mizzou's losing streak to UK?
BENFRED: Control the run game. Kentucky will be harder to score on than LSU, and Mizzou can't put its offense in a place where it needs to average 40-plus every Saturday to win. UK QB Terry Wilson is as much of a threat if not more on the ground than through the air. UK, unlike LSU, will make a point to establish the run early. Stop that, and make Wilson beat you through the air.
LA RUSSA'S REINCARNATION
QUESTION: Do you think Tony La Russa would be able to replicate his past success with players from a modern era.
BENFRED: I think a TLR reintroduction to today's players as a manager would go one of two ways: It would be a hit — or it would be very bad. No middle ground.
Sometimes an old-school accountability can be refreshing to young players who want experience and direction, and the White Sox have players who fit that bill. But if a new generation of players did not understand or appreciate TLR's intensity, it could end poorly.
TLR knows how to read players and how to treat certain guys with different approaches. And he will protect his guys. We saw that in STL. I don't think he would be as out-of-touch as some who have scoffed at the idea think. He would not be a safe hire for the White Sox, but he would certainly be a fascinating one.
FEATHER IN THE SALARY CAP
QUESTION: How would you compare/contrast the styles of Blues GM Doug Armstrong and Cards front office members John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch? One (Blues) seems aggressive and prepared to shift to secondary moves if needed. The other (Cardinals) seems to slow-play things more and rely on a fill-from-within approach.
BENFRED: First off, the biggest difference has to be acknowledged.
Blues have a salary cap. Cardinals don't.
Blues are exempt from claims they could have spent more because there is a hard limit, and they spend to it.
No matter what Cardinals spend, there can always be a criticism they could have spent more, because they could have. So it goes in salary-cap-less league. (A better criticism of the Cardinals, especially lately, is not what they spent but how they spent it.)
Armstrong has made a point to steer away from some of the legacy-type moves the Cardinals have made. David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo being recent examples. Compare that to, say, the Carpenter extension and seemingly sentimental reasons behind it.
As for the trusting of internal options, both teams do that. That's probably their biggest similarity. What the Blues are poised to do with their young forwards -- Thomas, Kyrou and Koston -- is actually quite similar to what the Cardinals just did with their outfield in 2020. Hope offense comes from within.
BOTTOM OF THE NINTH IN MOZELIAK BLAME GAME
QUESTION: What is keeping president of baseball operations John Mozeliak's job safe? Why should it be safe? Why won't Post-Dispatch writers call for a change?
BENFRED: It seems you want Mozeliak to lose his job. Noted. I'll point out that what you want is not going to happen as long as Mozeliak is good with the one guy who can fire him: Bill DeWitt Jr. And right now, they're good.
Mozeliak is under contract through 2023. GM Michael Girsch is under contract through 2022.
Given what we know about DeWitt's support of the current front office and his distaste for paying people to not work -- buying out contracts -- I would imagine the most notable front office names are pretty safe.
I'd include manager Mike Shildt in that safe camp.
Could there be churn elsewhere in the front office and on the coaching staff? Sure. There has been and will continue to be.
I'm not calling for Mozeliak's job because I don't think he should lose it. Because as much as some obsess about Mozeliak moves that have not worked, there is another list of ones that have -- even when there have been more misses than hits in this most recent stretch. That's baseball. There are ups and downs. Mozeliak's long-term success is still quite strong.
We've been doing this chat for hours now, and it's mostly about Arozarena, Ozuna, Voit and all of these things that have not worked or look regrettable in hindsight. Fair. All good. Not mentioned? The Kim contract. The Goldschmidt trade. Patience with Wainwright paying off big in 2020. Gallegos being part of Voit trade. John Gant being part of Jaime Garcia trade. Dylan Carlson's future. Zoom out, and the Cardinals have an ownership that values above all sustained success, which is what Mozeliak has more or less delivered.
It's totally fair to pick at the mistakes, and expectations in St. Louis are as high as anywhere in the country. The Cardinals benefit from that, so they don't get to complain about it when things are not great. But ignoring the goods only to focus in on the bad is a good way to get a distorted view.
Sometimes, in these conversations, the Cardinals wind up sounding like the Bad News Bears. Or worse, the Tigers. I'll keep trying to add some proper perspective. If that makes me a shill, OK.
IS LINDOR LOOKING AT ALL LIKELY?
QUESTION: What if the Cardinals moved Paul DeJong to third base and traded for shortstop Francisco Lindor?
BENFRED: DeJong's been pretty good at shortstop and there's no real reason to move him, but Lindor would be a legitimate reason. He is a free agent in 2022.
The Cards have had success, as recently as Paul Goldschmidt, in trading for an established player in the final year of a deal and keeping him around on an extension.
Difference in this case, likely, would be that Lindor is 26, not closer to the end of his career, like Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt was a relatively safe bet that he would be willing to pass up the shot at free agency for certainty now.
Lindor is more likely to want to get the full bite of premier free agency, like similarly aged Bryce Harper and Manny Machado pursued and were rewarded for pursuing.
There's the rub. Would Cards be willing to pay the trade cost even if it meant losing Lindor a year later?
Better have a good idea that you can keep him if you do.
QUESTION: How jealous should Cardinals fans be of the Rays' front office?
BENFRED: 2020 is a wild year, but Cardinals fans convincing themselves they should be envious of an approach of a team that has a bottom-five payroll, zero championships and two postseason appearances in the last seven seasons is really quite something.
QUESTION: Does Blues GM Armstrong owe fans a better explanation on why he was not able to find common ground with Alex Pietrangelo, and did the Justin Faulk extension keep the Blues from getting it done? And why wouldn't Armstrong just offer the full no movement clause knowing it's what the captain wanted?
BENFRED: Unless you think the Blues' offer of eight years and $8 million per year with a partial no trade and signing bonus was fake news, the Faulk extension doesn't have much to do with the Pietrangelo situation.
If Pietrangelo takes that deal, which was more money over the life of the contract than he got with Vegas, then the Blues would have had to go about making room for that contract.
Faulk might have even become one of the players who got shipped out.
If Pietrangelo let the Faulk extension happening before his offer distort his view of the Blues' offer to him, I think that's more on him than the Blues. The Blues didn't make some lowball offer here that was the result of the Faulk extension.
A good deal was offered that Pietrangelo could have accepted, causing a restructuring of the team as a result for payroll purposes. The full no movement clauses can turn into a mouse-and-cookie situation. Give one, and you're expected to give another. And another.
Armstrong was willing to compromise by offering a partial no-movement clause, a rare thing for the Blues. It wasn't enough to get Pietrangelo to jump on it. Both parties seemed to be interested in protection at the back end of the deal. The Blues were willing to offer some but not complete. Pietrangelo didn't agree until he had full protection from Vegas. That could speak to a lack of trust between Pietrangelo and Armstrong, and that's probably a wise move on Pietrangelo's part. If he did not play well toward the end of his contract, Armstrong might find a way to offload him or minimize the damage. The Knights can no longer do that. They gave up that flexibility, and could end up paying for it later. Big time.
STAN AIN'T THE MAN
QUESTION: Isn't St. Louis proving Stan Kroenke's criticism of the city as a lacking sports city to be correct if it does not pursue another NFL team?
BENFRED: So, Stan sticks it to St. Louis with the help of the NFL, and St. Louis is proving Stan and the NFL right by not . . . doing everything in its power to get another NFL team?
That thinking is a bit warped. Smart people leave relationships that are damaging and don't have their best interest in mind.
They don't keep returning, expecting different results.
BETTER THAN BRAD
QUESTION: Should the Cardinals bring back Brad Miller if the designated hitter is in play again?
BENFRED: He slashed .145/.253/.263 over his last 76 at-bats, basically the entire month of September.
Good guy, but surely there are better options available.
PEDERSON SERVES POWERFUL PURPOSE
QUESTION: Please no Joc Pederson. Do fans realize he averages a Mendoza-ish .230?
BENFRED: Not so fast. Mario Mendoza hit four home runs in his career.
Pederson has averaged 29 homers per 162 games for six seasons.
He would not be signed -- by the Cardinals or any other team -- for his average and on-base percentage, but most likely as a plus-power platoon outfielder and/or designated hitter. He would be signed for slug, something the Cardinals are lacking in.
And no one who sees the potential fit is claiming he is THE answer. Just a potential upgrade for an offense that struggles to go deep.
Pederson and Nelson Cruz would make sense for the Cardinals.
TIME TO PICK A LANE?
QUESTION: Are folks rushing to punt on Lane Thomas as a potential answer for the Cardinals outfield?
BENFRED: Perhaps. Hand injury last season. COVID this season. I still think it's too early to write off Thomas. I have hit my limit on Tyler O'Neill, though.
IS KAW STILL THE LAW?
QUESTION: Loved reading the news that there has been some communication between the XFL and The Dome about the relaunch. Do you think it happens?
BENFRED: I would have to imagine that the team Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and his business partner Dany Garcia are assembling will see pretty quickly based on their research that St. Louis would be a no-brainer for a team, considering the response via attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc.
The news that P-D colleague Jim Thomas had about The Dome being in preliminary talks with the revamped league is a good sign. But if the league balks at the cost The Dome charges, for example, that could perhaps lead to the league looking elsewhere.
Just too early to say.
There's no doubt that St. Louis proved it will support a non-NFL team, which is no surprise considering how it supported a terrible NFL team led by a man who was determined to steer the team out of town.
I hope the BattleHawks get another shot, and if the new leadership group was on top of its game, it would get Kurt Hunzeker back to lead the operation again.