Here are the highlights from our Monday chat with Post-Dispatch readers.
Q: What free-agent pitchers might the Cardinals be considering? Or are they thinking trade in lieu of free agency?
A: At last check, the Cardinals did not find the trade market for starters to their liking. This was largely because of the asking price. According to sources within the front office, they engaged some teams in talk of potential trades only to have the teams ask about Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, Jordan Walker and the prospects the Cardinals have zero interest in trading. Unable at this point to talk teams down from that ask — it's not uncommon that the asking price is high in the winter — the Cardinals remained convinced that free agency is the way to go.
Well, consider this: The Cardinals have some interest in re-signing J.A. Happ, but they are out in the market to see if they can find a younger free agent, one of the pitchers from a tier or two above the free-agent lefty (Happ). The interest in Max Scherzer is mutual, so it becomes a question of cost, length of commitment and whether the Cardinals can outbid other suitors. The Cardinals also are interested in Steven Matz, and they have explored what it would take to sign Marcus Stroman. The Cardinals are shopping in that aisle at the moment, and internally they feel like there are six or seven possibilities that would be the upgrade for the rotation that they seek.
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On their mind is not only the improvement for 2022 but what that rotation could look like for 2023 if Wainwright retires. They’d welcome a third starter to be there with Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson at the top of the rotation.
Q: Jake Woodford had great numbers in the stretch run for the Cardinals. Why spend $90 million (on a free agent) when you have this guy?
A: Woodford is done with Memphis. That's the sentiment within the Cardinals' front office and clubhouse. He has nothing left to prove at Class AAA, as they say. … John Mozeliak has long been an advocate of Woodford — going back years, candidly. And he was again at the GM Meetings, suggesting that Woodford has earned a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation.
The Cardinals see real value in the coming season for pitchers they think can fill multiple roles — out of the bullpen or to slide into the rotation as sixth man. This is part of the idea with Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes ... and Woodford, too. The elasticity of being able to start, relieve, and also provide middle relief/length is going to be a valuable part of how the front office approaches pitching for 2022.
Q: In 2022, will Yadier Molina play in more than 100 games behind the plate? Will Andrew Knizner be on the roster next year or be traded? Will Ivan Herrera be up to learn behind Molina?
A: There is no plan to trade Andrew Knizner. There is no need to trade him at the moment. I'm never sure why “trade” is the default question. There is nothing wrong with keeping good players who have roles. Knizner is going to get a larger share of the playing time in 2022 if he and Molina stay healthy because there was an appealing setup for both of them in the second half of this past season. There was, routinely, about 1 ½ games a week for Knizner, and sometimes he was linked to a starter to assure a start every fifth day, and more if there was a day/night combo.
You can count on Molina starting with Adam Wainwright as they go for the MLB battery record, but otherwise there have been internal discussions about how that schedule worked for Knizner and Molina's buy-in that his production will be more with less playing time, more of a break. Obviously, a losing streak or a hot streak could change that calculus for the catcher and the team, but the idea going in is to continue a lot of what the team did for that final month.
Herrera will get time with Molina in spring, and there will be times during the season that Herrera is in the majors, either as a third catcher or as a replacement because of some ache or pain.
Q: If the designated hitter comes to the NL, is there a chance the Cardinals would bring Albert Pujols back for a final season?
A: Regarding the DH, it’s not so much an “if” as it is a when.
There's really not a spot for Pujols on the roster even with a DH, unless that spot is purely for nostalgia. The Cardinals have a righthanded-hitting first baseman that they expect to play almost every day. They don't need another righthanded-hitting option that plays only one position and doesn't allow them to rotate regulars through the DH spot to get them that “half day off” that Tony La Russa used to talk about. If the Cardinals are going for nostalgia, they'll install Pujols at DH. If they are going for contention, they'll seek a lefthanded-hitting option for the DH, count on Juan Yepez being that righthanded-hitting corner infielder on the bench, and use the DH like a modern team should.
The question might become relevant in September, when/if Pujols is available later in the season they might let nostalgia guide them and make the move.
Q: Since Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson solidified their spots in the outfield, are the Cardinals shopping for a one-year deal with a player like Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, etc., or would they rather have Lars Nootbaar fill that spot?
A: They would like Nootbaar to fill that role, and they are intrigued by the possibility of him as the left-handed hitter who gets some time in the outfield when, say, O'Neill DHs, or that Nootbaar could play some at DH during the season. He has impressed. And he's asserted his place in their plans with a strong Arizona Fall League.
Q: Do you sense the Cardinals would make an offer to Max Scherzer in the range of what Justin Verlander got (one year, $25 million)? Are they saying they are interested but have no intention of making an offer?
A: They know better. Justin Verlander didn't pitch at all in 2021. Scherzer finished third in Cy Young voting. Verlander is older (by roughly 17 months). Scherzer has been more consistent and more accomplished in recent seasons. The Cardinals know going in — just as every other team does — that Scherzer will command a better offer than Verlander received. He's earned it. If teams don't meet that, they're not paying attention.
Q: If Nolan Gorman takes over a second base in the near future, what happens to the Gold Glover Tommy Edman? Does he shift to shortstop, where he played in the minors, or become a utility player? Or does he get traded?
A: Again with the traded! Goodness. There is nothing wrong with having multiple good players on a team. Yes, Edman would move into a super-utility role, and there are plenty of at-bats for that role, and plenty of time at second base for that role because Gorman can spell Nolan Arenado at third base when Arenado is at DH, and Gorman can play second when Edman plays shortstop as a left-handed option there, and Gorman can play first when Paul Goldschmidt is the DH, or Gorman can be the DH and voila! Edman is still at second base. Versatility rules these days. Edman has it. The Cardinals would really like to keep it and develop it.
Q: Do you think the Cardinals will attempt to go into 2022 with an excess of starting pitching options to avoid the same pitfalls of 2021? Clearly they have stated they are in the SP market, but I haven't heard them explicitly say they want to avoid the same mistakes as last year…
A: John Mozeliak has said at least twice, on the record, that they don't want to have the same shortfall as last season. He has called it a lesson from 2021, and he has come right up to the edge of the diving board of agreeing that I had a point when I asked over and over and over and over and over and over again during spring training if the Cardinals needed another starter, like say Jake Odorizzi. It's not Mozeliak’s style to acknowledge I had a point. So the coverage will speak for itself. But he has said, again on the record, that they went into last year thinking they had eight, nine starters and “that wasn't enough.”
An additional starter would really help. Dakota Hudson's return adds to it. A healthy Jack Flaherty does, too.
Q: Could the crescendo at season’s end have been fool’s gold? Looking back it seems the Cardinals overachieved. Should we expect them to take a step back next season?
A: The 17 consecutive wins? Yeah, that isn't likely to happen again.
The style of play, the superb defense, the execution, and just how they went about games — that was real. That's what the Cardinals are capable of, and that's what they showed. They won 17 in a row because some of the teams they played were just not that good. The Cubs were not good. The Padres were a mess at the time. The Mets were in disarray. The Cardinals got 17 consecutive wins in part because they were the more fundamentally sound team on the field. But they played each of those games so sharp and so well that it's what should be expected of them going into 2022. That's not pyrite. That's their potential.
Q: Is there any part of the collective-bargaining negotiation that could surprise the casual fan?
A: It's hard for me to answer these surprise questions because, by definition, they would be a surprise that we didn't think about or cover, or it would be suggesting that I've ignored something that I should have passed along to you, the fans.
If there's a rabbit hole that might be an area fans don't pay as much attention to as, say, writers do when trying to cover the league, it's the revenue streams and how the union will want to know just how many different pipelines of revenue the owners have due to the expansion of streaming, the MLB Network, MLB Advanced Media's huge windfall, and so on. The union may not have a claim to some of that, but it won't ignore the fact that the traditional definition of revenue, as both sides would have used back in the 1990s, doesn't apply. Getting a handle on that will be key for the union to expand the earning potential for young players and do so without the unintended consequences of past agreements that further squeezed out the mid-30s free agents.
I will also add that the union has real concerns about tanking. That seems to be a clash brewing as the union pushes for ways that don't reward tanking. Owners don't have the same motivation.
Q: I’m having a really hard time understanding why the team cut Nick Plummer loose while leaving four open spots on the 40-man roster. At minimum he seems like he could have fetched a return in players that do not need to be protected. Can you help me understand?
A: I'm not sure he could have gotten a return, like, say, the Cardinals did flipping Oscar Mercado a few years ago to acquire Jhon Torres and move the 40-man concerns back a few years. (Here they are!) That said, it is surprising.
The Cardinals believe they can re-sign Plummer and avoid the 40-man question by delaying it one year with him, and giving him that year to assert that the breakout this year was a sign of what's to come. What stands out to me is the money they've invested in him as a top pick, as a player they had to wait on, as a player they had to show patience toward, and then finally when that patience and investment starts to be rewarded they give him the chance to go elsewhere. That's an unusual move for a team that talks about maintaining assets.
It's a prelude and a small-scale example of what it will be like if the Cardinals don't give Alex Reyes a chance to start before he becomes a free agent and let him just go elsewhere to do it after all the years and money and time and patience and care they invested in him.