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Home » Bernie Miklasz » The Bernie List: 10 Cardinals On the Spot Going Into the 2017 Season

The Bernie List: 10 Cardinals On the Spot Going Into the 2017 Season

Not that anyone needs to be reminded, but the 2016 Cardinals won only 86 games and failed to extend the franchise streak of making the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. The 2017 Cardinals are facing a season of atonement. In our baseball-obsessed village, it’s unacceptable to be an also-ran. To climb back onto the October stage, this team must spruce up several areas. But some individuals on a 25-man roster have more influence than others.

Here’s my rundown of 10 Cardinals that must come through in 2017:

1. Second baseman Kolten Wong: Critics point to Kolten’s unimpressive career MLB batting line of .248 / .309 / .370 and wonder why his supporters believe he’s anything more than average at best.

Wong had a .240 batting average with a .327 OBP in 313 at bats in 2016.

Wong’s fans portray him as a victim, unappreciated by impatient manager Mike Matheny. They see above-average defense, speed to burn, a quick bat that produces power volleys.

Here’s the deal: BOTH sides have a point. GM John Mozeliak is all but twisting Matheny’s arm to get Wong into the daily lineup. If Wong becomes a full-time player again, this season will likely define his value, once and for all.

2. Third baseman Jhonny Peralta: He turns 35 on May 28. He’s coming off a poor 2015 season truncated by a broken thumb in spring training. He was a defensive liability at third base in ’16.

The downward trend is obvious.

In his first season and a half as a Cardinal, Peralta thundered a .454 slugging percentage and .797 OPS. In his last season as a half, Peralta has slugged a faint .370 with a .677 OPS. He’s entering the final season of a four-year contract. The Cards need Peralta to restore his power and provide solid defense. Can Jhonny be good again?

3. Center fielder Dexter Fowler: The former Cubs’ leadoff man, a key part of last season’s historic World Series championship, signed a five-year deal worth $82.5 million to switch sides in the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry. And much is expected from Fowler: a high onbase percentage from the No. 1 spot, speed that can give the lineup an added dimension, athleticism that will add a range to the outfield defense, and the ability to bust up clubhouse cliques and uptight environment with his effervescent personality. It’s a lot to ask of one man.

4. Starting pitcher Michael Wacha: There’s a lot of happy talk about Wacha in camp Jupiter. He built muscle to strengthen the shoulder area around his fragile scapula. He’s throwing free and easy and snapping pitches. He’s poised for a strong comeback after being pulled down by the rare shoulder-stress condition that has befuddled sports-injury experts. The Cardinals’ rotation fell apart late in the 2016 season, and that can’t happen again. If he’s physically sound, Wacha can make a significant difference. But: in his first 35 games as a Cardinal, Wacha had a 2.76 ERA and delivered a quality start in 72 percent of his assignments. Since the scapula problem surfaced, Wacha has a 4.31 ERA in 63 games and supplied a quality start only 54 percent of the time.

5. Starting pitcher Lance Lynn: He missed all of 2016 after undergoing elbow surgery. Because of the timing of the injury, Lynn has had extra time to rehab and sharpen. A rotation that cracked in ’16 — with a 5.10 ERA over the final 66 games — obviously could use a robust return from one of the majors’ most underrated starters between 2012 and 2015.

Wainwright posted a 13-9 record with a 4.62 ERA in 2016.

6. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright: Though respectable, Waino’s performance declined in 2016. Was it age? Was it the lingering effect of missing most of 2015 (only four starts) with a torn Achilles? Was it a combo of bad luck, bad defense? (Ask Mike Leake about that.) Waino, 35, will celebrate his 36th birthday on Aug. 30. Question: will we be celebrating his ace-caliber pitching? Or will 2017 look a lot like 2016?

Imagine the benefits of having Wainwright come through with a flashback season reminiscent of his glory-days peak.

7. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz: I don’t think his rookie season was a fluke. But it was very impressive, and an unexpected delight, with Diaz using the first 460 plate appearances of his big-league career to bat .300 with a .369 OBP and a .510 slug with 48 extra-base hits including 17 homers. The only negative was shaky defense over the first two or three months, but Diaz made gradual improvement. He was one of the top rookies in the majors until getting drilled on the hand by a runaway pitch on July 31. The fractured right thumb put him on the DL for nearly six weeks.

The excitement over Diaz’ potent offensive performance puts him in an interesting situation: he’s viewed as a catalyst, a fixture, a key component in the lineup. But Diaz has only 111 MLB games to his name, and the 2017 projections have him receding offensively. Can Diaz come close to replicating his rookie-year .797 OPS? Will his defense become more confident and consistent?

8. Catcher Yadier Molina: He’ll be 35 in July. After this season, either Molina or Cardinals’ management can opt out of a mutual option for 2018. This can’t be the end, right? It’s incomprehensible to think of Molina wearing another team’s laundry in 2018 and beyond. So this is a very big year for him, and the team, in many ways. Molina had a wonderful revival with the bat last season, batting .307 with a .360 OBP and .427 slug. From July 1 through the end of the season, he turned back the clock with a .392 OBP and .515 slug. After all of the talk about Molina being on the downside offensively, he put up a loud counterpoint. But can he sustain the alive-again offense in 2017? Defensively, Molina had the poorest caught-stealing rate (20.2%) of his career. He was charged with eight passed balls, which equaled his previous career high in 2005. For the first time since 2007 the NL Gold Glove award was handed to another catcher, Buster Posey, as Molina lost his eight-season grip on the honor. Like you, I’m curious to see how Molina handles all of this in ’17. He very much remains an essential part of this team.

9. Left fielder Randal Grichuk: After cranking a .548 slugging percentage in 2015, Grichuk’s slugging dipped to .480 in a 2016 season that ups and downs — namely, two demotions to Triple A Memphis after Matheny benchings. But from July 5 through the end of the season, Grichuk slugged .554 and had 19 doubles and 16 homers in 242 at-bats. This team, at least right now, doesn’t have much outfield depth. Grichuk’s has to advance from the trial-and-error phase of his career. I’m a believer in the “Let Grichuk be Grichuk” philosophy — abundant power, and lots of swings and misses and strikeouts. But it would be great to see this talented player settle into a more consistent groove in 2017. With Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss long gone, Grichuk’s presence takes on added importance.

10. Pitcher Trevor Rosenthal: I could have gone in some other directions here… maybe reliever Brett Cecil, or first baseman Matt Carpenter, or starting pitcher Carlos Martinez. But I’m going with Rosenthal for two reasons: one way or another, he needs to return to form after an erratic, injury-related 2016. Should one of the Cardinals’ starting pitchers suffer an injury this spring, Rosenthal could claim a rotation spot. But with the young power arm Alex Reyes stricken from the 2017 season following elbow surgery, Rosenthal could easily be placed in the key eighth-inning relief role, which usually comes with plenty of high-leverage situations. Before his injury, Reyes was probably going to open the season in the Cardinals’ bullpen — poised to overwhelm hitters with his fastball-changeup combination. Unless Rosenthal is called on to start, the Cardinals will need him to be that eighth-inning enforcer … the replacement muscle for Reyes … and that’s a huge role.

Thanks for reading … have a great weekend.

–Bernie 

Miklasz: Cardinals Can Survive the Loss Of Alex Reyes In 2017, But What About the Future?

About Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz hosts “The Bernie Miklasz Show” weekdays from 7am-10am on 101ESPN. Bernie spent 26 years as the lead sports columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has won multiple national writing awards, and has worked in sports radio since 1983. Bernie votes on several prominent awards, including the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Baseball Hall of Fame, Heisman Trophy, and NL Cy Young.
  • M W

    “Though respectable, Waino’s performance declined in 2016”

    Really? The guy lead the league in hits and earned runs allowed. Hardly respectable.

    • JeremyR

      In the wonderful world of sabremetrics, pitchers are not actually judged by the results in the real world, but by an arcane formula known as FIP

      In that fantasy world, Wainwright pitched fairly well, as did Mike Leake. Meanwhile, Carlos Martinez pitched only slightly better than those two.

      But because somehow Martinez had a much better ERA than FIP, he was blessed by the mystical forces known as “luck”, while Wainwright and Leake apparently angered the gods of baseball and were “unlucky”.

      ,

  • Here are some alternatives to “it’s unacceptable to be an also-ran.” It’s depressing to be an also-ran. It’s upsetting to be an also-ran. It’s not exciting to be an also-ran. It makes me lose a certain level of interest in the Cardinals to be an also-ran.

    The problem with the thinking “it’s unacceptable to be an also-ran” is that it makes us out to be entitled to winning. And that, my friends, constitutes a very good reason for other teams’ fans hating Cardinals fans. We are not entitled to a stinking thing. Twenty-nine other major league baseball teams want the same thing we do. Constant winning breeds arrogance in fans. Poor play isn’t the issue. Bad managing isn’t the issue. Sure, we can gripe and moan about these things, and I have done a lot of both. But not because the Cards are entitled to win. We are not entitled to win a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.

    • JeremyR

      “Entitled” is really one of the most infuriating terms used on the internet

      Cardinals fans turn out in droves, giving a mid market team a large market revenue. DeWitt and company are not “entitled” to the piles of money he’s been blessed with (not to mention, he was essentially gifted the team by AB)., they have to earn it by providing a compelling product.

      Last year, they failed to do so. This year, it looks like it will be even worse.

  • LawrenceKScardsfan

    Like the laundry list Bernie.

    That said, it’s troubling to realize the battle is for 2nd place in the NL Central. Still I’m looking forward to seeing a resolution of all the issues you mention above. If I had to prioritize my early season indicators it would be:

    1) Adam Wainwright – will he at least get back to a place where batters aren’t teeing off on his pitches?
    2) Trevor Rosenthal – will he be the fifth starter (my choice)?
    3) Michael Wacha – can he contribute?
    4) Who is the cleanup hitter and will he succeed?
    5) Can Matt Carpenter be the Matt Carpenter of 2013 or is that Matt Carpenter gone?
    6) Who is the real Stephen Piscotty? Hitter for average? Power hitter? Both?

    Regards Peralta, Cardinal management in acquiring him implied that he might not stay all four years with the Cardinals. Well, here we are, and in year 4 we need him. But I just am not optimistic that he’ll be up to the ability required to contribute at 3rd like we need. It’s a shame that Carp doesn’t play a better 3rd cuz that would put Adams at 1B. I like that alignment better.

    • Dennis

      I like the Carp 3rd / Adams 1st alignment as well, if only Adams could learn to bunt against the shift and hit a left-handed breaking ball. Why he hasn’t gotten better in those two areas is one of the great mysteries of the universe.

  • Zeman2112

    I am not opptomistic going into the season. A LOT has to fall in place for this team to be a contender. 3rd place at best and will be out of the race by June…I hope I wrong.

  • JeremyR

    I think the GM also has to be on that list. Now that the star players he inherited have fled the coop or are about to retire, he’s assembled a very mediocre (and frankly, dull to watch save for Cmart) team with little hope of improvement in the future.

    He’s also shackled the team with a remarkably incompetent manager.

    St. Louis might be described as a baseball town, but the reality is they like a winner. A couple more seasons like last and there won’t be 3 million people attending games. As it is, if they are out of it by July, I can see a lot of empty seats. This team wasn’t fun to watch last year. None of the additions have changed that and you no longer have someone like Holliday to root for.

    • Dan

      Oh for crying out loud. Sigh. What is it with you people?

      We have changed our focus from HR’s to OBP. We’ve greatly improved our OF defense.

      Our future? Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes (top pitching prospect in baseball), Luke Weaver (top 70 prospect in multiple oublications), Sandy Alcantara, Delvin Perez, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Kolten Wong, Aledmys Diaz, etc…

      If you dont know enough about those names, which are all 26 or under, that is your fault. It’s is completely your fault for not educating yourself on what the Cardinals have done with the limited ability in drafting that they have.

      We didn’t tank for 5 years like the Cubs, Astros, etc..

      We won. We went to 4 straight NLCS’s.

      You don’t get the #3, 4 and 9 overall picks the Cubs did to get Bryant, Schwarbers and Baez by winning.

      Educate yourself. Don’t just rant and rave over things that make you look foolish.

      • Christopher Toth

        Exactly.

  • flood21

    I guess I’m in the minority because I feel like they did well in the FA market and will be an improved team. +10 last year was one game short and they should be at least 3 games better. 90 wins and they will be in the playoffs. Once you are in you can win!

  • Rick Lapin

    The benching of young players with significant holes in their game may in many cases be considered a sort of “nuclear option” teaching tool — particularly if the player in question is paid so much money as to be relatively immune from The Power Of The Fine.

    Francona in Cleveland (sorry for the repeated Tribe references; the Cards were so boring this year I adopted the Indians as my “closely follow” team; living there for ten years in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t hurt, either) comes under fire regularly for benching exciting-but-flawed almost-stars like Chisenhall and Naquin — Chisenhall once when he was in the midst of a near-.400 tear through American League pitching staffs.

    Funny thing, though: As unwarranted as those sit-downs appeared, both guys would unfailing come back as at least slightly — but noticeably — improved overall ball-players; and you could pretty much count on them to make a return to the line-up count big time. Both guys are sort-of go-their-own-way “rebels” to whom loss of playing time is, apparently, significant motivation.

    I don’t pretend to know what was in Francona’s mind when he benched them, any more than I can pretend to know Matheny’s motivations.

    And I certainly wouldn’t say that Mike’s benchings worked out long-term as well as “Tito’s”; thing like that obviously requires a technique and skill-set not so easily acquired, and a basic faith by the ball-club that the manager is gonna Do The Right Thing for the long-term health of the team.

    I do think, though, that the general term “impatience” strongly suggests that Wong (or Naquin, or Chisenhall) is benched for not immediately raising his batting average 20 points, or cutting his errors in half, when the reality could be a simple “impatient” disciplinary action for any one of a number of repeated basic infractions from attitude to approach-to-the-game and beyond that impede Wong’s ability to improve his somewhat erratic performance.

    This is not an”I Like Mike” defense of the guy — he’s no Terry Francona, and I don’t think he ever will be.

    I bring it up only to reinforce Mr. Miklasz’s point about seeing both sides of the Wong/Matheny contretemps — each guy could very well be as flawed as the other seems to think.

  • wileyvet

    # 11 – Mike Leake – This overpaid, overblown # 5 starter needs to step up his game to prove to Cardinal fans that he indeed is worthy of being in our rotation, not to mention being paid better then the rest.
    #12 – John Mozeliak – Giving ‘No-Trade contracts’ to non-stars is idiotic in principle and in practice. Baseball people all over North America can’t understand the 4 year, no-trade contract for Brett Cecil, who will be a 6th or 7th inning guy for us. Not to mention coming off of the worst season of his career as a reliever. And what moron gives a ‘No-Trade’ contract to a # 5 starter in Leake. Seriously!!! That blocks the way for legitimate prospects coming up to make the rotation. Has he ever been better then Wainwright, Martinez, Wacha and Lynn? No! no! and no! Dexter Fowler is a very good player. An excellent on-base guy with okay speed, with only a 69% career base-stealing record. The most he has in one season is 27 (2009) and has only broken the 20 steals per season twice. Now he’s on the downside of 30. He’ll get on base, but he won’t be running folks! His defence is centerfield has always been mediocre. Although the Cubs moved him deeper last year because he wasn’t quick enough to get back on balls over his head. Maddon knows what he’s doing! What I’m saying is that Fowler is not going to magically improve over his career norms. So you have a slighty above average talent with a ‘No-trade’ contract until the age of 36. Lord Jesus how does Mozeliak keep his job!

  • ken

    do writers get paid bonuses for constantly pointing out how old a player WILL be on his NEXT birthday instead of occasionally mentioning how old that player IS CURRENTLY? methinks they must.

  • ken

    i predict that the cardinals will continue to fritter away trevor rosenthal’s potential future as a starting pitcher…and almost certainly, to their own detriment. because trevor is a team player first and does what is asked of him without digging in his heels in protest, they’ll continue to simply let him play out his cardinal (and possibly entire) career as a reliever as the path of least resistance wins out again. any talk of seriously allowing him to change to a starter is simply an attempt by management to humor him along.

  • Christopher Toth

    The chicken littles are h-ll bent on going after-burner to try and catch up to the Cubs who were 5 years in the making with a ton of losing in between.

    The problem with the after-burner approach is while you may catch up, it doesn’t leave you a lot of fuel to fight the final fights.

    In fairness to Mo – even though I strongly disagreed with his initial decision to go with an unproven manager who thus far keeps coming up short – this year was a difficult one to navigate between the then unknown of the hacking penalty, the aging core, and whether missing the playoffs by 2 games last year had more to do with Matheny’s less than stellar in-game managing and/or his proclivity to favor veterans over prospects.

    It may not be sexy, but IMO Mo made the best choice given the difficult hand he was dealt.

    Clearly he’s betting on Matheny’s over-reliance on veterans was one of the main culprits and he cashiered as many as he could.

    Now, Matheny has no choice but to stick with the younger players Mo wants to see getting consistent playing time.

    Sure, if they remain a middling team – a real possibility – in 2017, then you can go into a mini-rebuilding mode through trades.

    But to have done so in the off-season would not only have been premature, but foolish (and all the more so since piling up number one picks through trades stood a high likelihood of ending up in the Astros’ pocket).

  • #11 Bill DeWitt, MLB’s highest profits, while carrying the 14th highest payroll, which is inexcusable. http://www.spotrac.com/mlb/payroll/