Rounding up hot topics from columnist Ben Frederickson's live chat with St. Louis sports fans.
IS NEXT BLUES CAPTAIN OBVIOUS?
QUESTION: Who's your pick for next Blues captain? Could Alexander Steen get it as a one-year sendoff?
BENFRED: It sounds like there is a decent chance Steen might not be healthy to start the season, and at least some chance that he could retire, based on the kind of vague but telling comments Doug Armstrong made the night of the Torey Krug signing.
I think it will be Ryan O'Reilly who wears the C. Colton Parayko would be by second guess. I would pick O'Reilly.
QUESTION: Now that the dust has settled, what are your final thoughts on how the Alex Pietrangelo free agency played out?
BENFRED: As someone who wanted Pietrangelo back and hoped something could be worked out to keep him here, I've got no problem with the way Blues general manager Doug Armstrong handled this situation. I'm surprised Pietrangelo did not take eight years at eight million dollars per year — especially after the Blues made it clear they would drop their unofficial team rule and add a signing bonus and a partial no-movement clause.
The Blues did stretch. Pietrangelo didn't take their best offer at the time it was given, and Armstrong is not the type to wait around. Torey Krug might not have been there for the taking if he did.
I wish Pietrangelo the best, and I will always wonder how this would have played out if it would have been a negotiation between Pietrangelo and Armstrong instead of Pietrangelo, Pietrangelo's agents and Armstrong. But, I've got no criticism of Armstrong here. I think he did try, and was willing to clear out the space for Pietrangelo if Pietrangelo took the Blues' best offer, which was more overall money than he got in Las Vegas because of the extra year the Blues were allowed to offer according to the CBA.
I guess the full no-movement clause and the rock-solid protection against any sort of a buyout was that important to Pietrangelo. I think Krug was really well-played pivot for the Blues.
GEORGE SPRINGER FEVER
QUESTION: Get real on the idea of the Cardinals signing free-agent outfielder George Springer. They're not spending like that this offseason, right?
BENFRED: I don't and can't spend the Cardinals money for them.They often remind me of that.
I'm just pointing out Springer is a fit who would help, and he's not going to demand the monster contracts the Cardinals have convinced themselves they can't ever give. Yes, he will be expensive. Yes, his free agency will be affected by the pandemic just like Alex Pietrangelo's was. Why couldn't the Cardinals be the team that capitalizes?
I'm not sure fans should let the Cardinals' recent swings and misses in free agency convince them their team should never compete for a decent free agent again — especially when this lineup needs help.
Springer would add power to the outfield and the leadoff spot, two areas that were below-average for the Cardinals this season. He is not just a slugger, but a strong hitter who had a career-low strikeout rate this season. He would make the lineup better, and his numbers in 2019 and 20 eliminated questions about if he was too reliant on whatever the trash-can-bangers were doing to steal signs in 2017. He's going to get paid, but not on a contract that demands 10 years like some in-their-prime players, because he's 31 and not 27 like Machado and Harper as free agents.
MIZZOU'S WALLOPING WIN
QUESTION: How much of Mizzou's big win against LSU was about LSU only returning five starters and having a down year?
BENFRED:There's some truth to the LSU-is-overrated angle.
But let's also mention Mizzou was without three of its top receivers — although it might have found new top receivers — and more than one key defensive lineman.
Mizzou beat the defending national champions. That's no small thing.
LATEST ON NFL RELOCATION LAWSUIT
QUESTION: Any updates on the NFL relocation lawsuit?
BENFRED:Nothing major, but I can share a few developments.
The deposition list was approved, I was told. The request to make those who will be deposed travel to St. Louis for in-person depositions was not. That's a COVID-related issue. NFL owners can apparently travel to watch their teams play, but not travel to STL for a deposition. (Go figure.) But, the good news is all of this can be done virtually.
I know there is speculation swirling about a settlement, but I've heard nothing on that from anyone I trust completely regarding news about the case. Somehow a $200 million number was floating around, but I think that would be comically low for Team STL to not continue to march this thing toward court.
NOT KIDDING 'BOUT CARDINALS PITCHING
QUESTION: After watching the Padres-Dodgers series, is it safe to say the Cardinals' pitching everyone talks about might be a bit overrated?
BENFRED:No. The Cardinals were in the upper realms of starter and bullpen ERA in a season they lost Miles Mikolas at the start and Dakota Hudson in crunch time.
They didn't have John Brebbia or Jordan Hicks in the bullpen for the season, then lost John Gant in crunch time as well. The pitching is good, and deep. It's the offense that needs help.
PUJOLS VS. PIETRANGELO?
QUESTION: How similar or dissimilar do you see the Albert Pujols free agency versus the Alex Pietrangelo free agency now that both have ended with both moving on to new teams?
BENFRED: Pietrangelo was the star free agent of his class and the first Blues captain to lift the Cup, but he was not the caliber of player in his sport that Pujols was to baseball, a towering giant of the game when he decided to move on and move towns.
There were some similarities. The biggest one? I think both players will wind up wishing they would have stayed in St. Louis.
TRICKS OF CARDINALS TRADES
QUESTION: The Cardinals are great at draft and develop and terrible at trades. How is this so hard for people to see and say?
BENFRED: If you ignore the Paul Goldschmidt trade (that worked out pretty well so far) and only focus on recent years, you can make a case. But the Cardinals are not terrible at trade evaluation, historically. Quite the opposite, really.
It used to be, for years, that the players the Cardinals traded away did little if anything else at their new locations. The start of the shift seemed to be around 2017 when the Cardinals sent Marco Gonzales away for Tyler O'Neill. Gonzales has been a very valuable starter for the Mariners. O'Neill still looks like a 4-A hitter with the Cardinals. And then there are the more recent examples like Randy Arozarena and Luke Voit, some of which are still not able to be graded completely because of the prospects moved around in the trades.
It's a bigger conversation about player evaluation and projections and coaching. Why did the Cardinals feel the Matt Carpenter extension was a good idea? Why was O'Neill worth losing Gonzales, and prioritizing over a guy like Randy Arozarena? What projections were off in the string of regrettable signings of free-agent relievers. Why did Ozuna mash in Miami and Atlanta but not St. Louis?
The Cardinals missed on these kinds of calls so rarely in the past, it's the uptick of decisions that have not worked out that should lead to an audit.
QUESTION: Flaherty's much-discussed view of the current baseball model for young players suggests it might be hard to sign him to a long-term deal. Should the Cardinals, knowing that might be the case, shop him in trades as they pursue offense?
BENFRED: Flaherty has explained in the past how he views the Cardinals' decision to renew him because he disagrees with the system in place for assigning his contract, but he has never said he's determined to go through free agency, or unwilling to sign a long-term deal if he's offered one. It's fair to wonder how that will play out, but he hasn't said if he will or won't. And it's a lot easier to sound cold on the idea until the money is real, in front of you, a handshake away. He's one in a group of young players that have realized the system works against them — because it does.
Baseball is leaning more and more on younger talent, but the current CBA does not pay young talent accordingly. It's going to be one of the big topics in the upcoming CBA negotiations.
The Cardinals could trade Flaherty, and he would be one of their most appealing tradable players, considering his upside and what he did last season and against the Padres in his playoff start this season. I'm not sure how a team built around strong pitching would justify that being a wise move considering his bright future and also the recent injuries to Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson.
The Cardinals have a lot of pitchers, but you're making a mistake if you think they have a lot of pitchers as talented as Flaherty. If trading him brings Nolan Arenado to St. Louis, sign me up. If it's for just any decent bat, no thanks.
MOVE ON FROM MARTINEZ?
QUESTION: Is it time for the Cardinals to move on from both Carlos Martinez and Harrison Bader?
BENFRED: One of those names was fourth on the team in Wins Above Replacement this season, and it wasn't Martinez.
Martinez should be in the bullpen, or traded at whatever he can be traded for.
Bader can be a strong defensive center fielder and nine-hole hitter — if the other corner spots do more damage offensively than they have recently.
BOOST FOR BUDDING BLUES?
QUESTION: With injuries to Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko, seems like there's a job for the taking on the third line. I assume Jordan Kyrou will get the first shot at it, but from what you've heard about Klim Kostin and his development, does it seem like he'd get a look?
BENFRED: The addition of free-agent forward Kyle Clifford could help fill the Alexander Steen absence, but the Blues' lack of a push for more established scoring editions, per Armstrong, was because they are making a commitment to get more ice time for Robert Thomas and more chances for both Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin. So, yeah, I think this offseason has to be encouraging for all of those three young Blues. They can see a light at the end of the tunnel now.
WHAT'S IN THE CARDS?
QUESTIONS: Have the Cardinals seen enough of outfielder Tyler O'Neill now. What about Lane Thomas? Bader?
BENFRED: I think O'Neill has had enough opportunities. More than enough.
Thomas was sidelined by the hand last season and the COVID this season. The Cardinals felt they needed more time to evaluate Thomas after he had 38 at-bats in 2019 and he only got 36 in 2020. I'm not quite ready to give up on him yet, because I think his swing can do damage -- although he needs to fix whatever was going on defensively at times this season out in the outfield.
Bader actually took a step forward offensively this season, showing some more pop without chasing it as much, but the same problem remains -- he can be a defense-plus outfielder and nine-hole hitter but not if your other outfielders are hitting seventh and eighth.
QUESTION: Why do you and some others seem to think the Cardinals valued Tyler O'Neill over Randy Arozarena, when the truth is the trade showed they valued pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore over Arozarena.
BENFED: I agree that that the Arozarena deal can't truly be graded until we find out what Liberatore is or isn't, but let's not overlook why the Cardinals were willing to trade Arozarena.
If the Cardinals would have liked Arozarena's upside more than O'Neill's, Arozarena, not O'Neill, would have been starting in left field this season. And he would have received more at-bats as a result of his strong but very limited play in 2019. Liberatore could turn out to be great. But the Cardinals entered 2020 with big outfield holes and big bets on the players they hoped to see fill them. Arozarena was not one of those players. O'Neill was.
We're still talking about a relatively small sample size here with Arozarena, but he sure seems to be a better big league hitter than O'Neill.
THE TROUBLE WITH TREVOR
QUESTION: You have suggested you would not see a likely match between free-agent starter Trevor Bauer and the Cardinals? Why not?
BENFRED: One, the Cardinals have pitching. A lot of it. They can send a bunch of arms to spring training and see who secures rotation spots, then fill the bullpen from there.
Bauer is great. Don't get me wrong. I just don't see the Cardinals being up for his non-pitching antics. They don't bother me. I imagine they would bother the Cardinals. And probably many Cardinals fans.
The Cardinals — and many of their fans — were uncomfortable with Marcell Ozuna wearing a neon yellow arm sleeve.
I don't think they would feel comfortable signing a pitcher who goes on YouTube to rip into MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, a close friend of the Cardinals owner.
Certain things that fly elsewhere don't fly here.
Some celebrate that.
Others see it as a stuffiness that could limit an ability certain players' fit here.
YADI/BRYANT KUMBAYA SESSION, ANYONE?
QUESTION: Would Kris Bryant be a fit for the Cardinals?
BENFRED: Who's going to lead the Kumbaya session between Bryant and Yadi?
Can Randy Arozarena live-steam it?
Bryant isn't a free agent until after the 2021 season.
If he's moved via trade before then, I doubt it will be to an NL Central team, let alone the rival Cardinals.
Everyone is afraid of being on the wrong end of the next Brock-for-Broglio.
BETTING ON BINNINGTON
QUESTION: So much talk about Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug, but isn't the biggest key to the upcoming season how well Jordan Binnington plays without the Jake Allen safety net?
BENFRED: The Blues are indeed making a bet on Binnington and perhaps a more quiet bet on Ville Husso.
A common trend among most teams this offseason is going to be trimming back the money paid to goalies, especially backup goalies, and taking a little more risk there. Armstrong was a big fan of the two-goalie setup until the pandemic pinch arrived. Gotta cut somewhere when the salary cap stalls.
If Binnington struggles and Husso isn't as ready as the Blues hope he is, Blues could be in trouble.
CARDINALS' BEST-CASE SCENARIO?
QUESTION: What is the best case scenario for the 2021 Cardinals?
BENFRED: That they are honest and critical about the state of their offense and the instruction of it, and make changes that reflect what needs to improve there. Upgrade the power potential in some meaningful way. Perhaps a new voice contributing to or leading to the offensive approach.
This team does not need to be run-scoring monster to be a postseason threat. It does need to not be the least powerful offense in the postseason when it gets in.
Don't detract from the current strengths (pitching, defense) to add power. But don't ignore the need for more power. Is that too much to ask?