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At What Point Do the Cardinals Need to Change Their Course?

This is a question that’s been going through my mind for the last few days after the team’s slow start. Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting NOW is the time to be changing course, I’m just wondering out loud when that time might be.

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak

So far 2017 looks a whole lot like 2016 and I can’t see any logical reason why the team would just sit back and watch last year happen all over again. If we get deeper into the season I would expect John Mozeliak to shake this team up, maybe even dramatically, as he’s done at times in the past.

Okay, so I’ve established two things here (and these are opinions, not facts):

1. We’re not at the point where dramatic change is necessary.

2. Another year like 2016 can’t be seen as acceptable by the front office.

So what does a “change of course” look like if we reach that point? Let’s take a look…

Fixing the infield for a couple of years

The infield is one of the team’s biggest problems in the early going – and it was last year as well – so if we get to June and things are still as murky as they appear to be now this will be the team’s most obvious area to target.

Matt Carpenter – Gotta leave him alone. He’s the team’s best hitter and his best position is first base.

Kolten Wong – He’s got to figure out how to be more consistent, and soon, otherwise the team will have to move on. That could mean dealing him, demoting him or benching him. He has physical tools but those don’t mean much without production. I don’t see the Cards targeting a 2B in a trade because they have plenty of options. If they decide they’ve had enough of Wong at some point I’d advocate for a Greg Garcia-Jedd Gyorko combo for the short-term. Eliezer Alvarez may be an option some time in 2018 so long term they should be okay. Honestly, if we’re making significant changes it might be a good idea to see if 2B is the best place for Aledmys Diaz…but that would require trading for a SS.

Jhonny Peralta – If they’re changing course, Jhonny is headed for a permanent spot on the bench or may even be on the path to be Designated For Assignment. If he’s not a part of the now then it’s time to cut ties because he’s not a part of what is next. If we’re talking about staying in-house then I’d like to see Paul DeJong get some run. He’s got 20 HR power and is playing SS at Memphis this year as well.

Aledmys Diaz – Assuming some kind of re-tooling process, that’s probably the time to see if 2B or 3B are better defensive homes for one of your best hitters. Unless he’s cleaned up the defense by the time these changes have come up, that is.

Matt Adams – Might need to cut the cord here and move on, giving him a shot to play more somewhere else. There is no long-term spot for Adams in STL’s IF and seeing more of the big fella in LF is…not great.

Outside SS targets

It’s a tough position to fill but there may be some short-term options available to the Cards as the season goes on. I think this is a position that needs a 2-year fix if you’re moving off Diaz (which, again, may not be necessary).

Here are a few names to keep an eye on in the event the Cards look for outside SS help:

Nick Ahmed, ARZ – Great glove, no bat. I’d prefer the Cards just stick with what they have. Too much like Pete Kozma.

Zack Cozart, CIN – Tough to deal within the division but it would be in both teams’ interest. Cozart is a strong defender, he’s a FA at the end of the season and the Reds have a ready replacement in Jose Peraza (with Dilson Herrera taking over at 2B). The Cards have the prospects and they might even be able to look at re-signing him. He’s not a great hitter but does have a little pop and would be just fine as a #8 hitter.

Alcides Escobar, KC – He’s a FA at the end of the season and the Royals will likely look to move him if they’re not in contention. He’s not a good hitter at all but he’s a strong defender and he brings some speed to the table. Might not be able to re-sign him since he’d likely want to see what’s out there in free agency.

Freddy Galvis, PHI – He can pick it, he’s got some power and speed (20 HR, 17 SB in 2016) and he’s just 27 years-old and under team control through 2019. He strikes out a TON (136 K w/ just 25 BB last year) but Philly might be willing to move him for a good return because they have hot shot SS prospect J.P. Crawford knocking on the door to the big leagues.

Adeiny Hechevarria, MIA – He’s a terrible hitter so this wouldn’t really appeal to me but he can pick it and if the Marlins fall out of contention he could be available.

That’s about it. I don’t see many others being available…so you can see why it might just be best to keep Diaz there until one of the team’s in-house SS prospects is ready to bump him to another spot.

Trade from OF depth to fill other holes

In the event of a re-tool, I’d look to trade Randal Grichuk. They have a ready replacement at Memphis in Harrison Bader plus they have their eventual CF Magneuris Sierra coming on fast and possibly ready to compete for playing time next Spring. Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty are locked up long term and are much more stable players than Grichuk so that’s the direction that might make the most sense.

There would certainly be demand for a young, cheap power bat that can play all three OF positions. I don’t think you get elite prospects for him but he could be part of a package for a defensive upgrade at SS or he could get you a really nice bullpen arm for both the short and long term.

Trade Lance Lynn

If you’re floundering and looking to shake things up, dealing the FA to be might be a wise move. If he’s healthy and pitching well he’d be a valuable commodity to contenders and might bring a nice prospect return. I wouldn’t expect a deal like the ones made for Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman last year but I think you could get a couple of good prospects for him. To do this you’d need stability from the other four guys in the rotation plus positive developments for your depth guys (Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber, Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara, etc.).

Trade Seung-Hwan Oh

He’s a FA after the season and if he’s back to what he was last year he’d be an extremely valuable trade piece at the deadline. If you’re going to re-shape the team a bit then moving on from a 34 year-old FA to be would probably be a good idea. I’d bet on a strong return for him given how valuable bullpen pieces have been the last couple of years.

Now, I don’t anticipate anything this dramatic. I do think Mo will be EXTREMELY active if the team remains in a funk for the first half of the season but I seriously doubt they’d go as far as to do all of these things. Maybe a couple…maybe something else I haven’t thought of at this point.

One thing is sure from where I sit: there is no way this team should tolerate another year like 2016. The message should be “improve greatly or big-time change is coming.”

More: Miklasz – Warning Signs? Keep An Eye On The Velocity Drop In the Cardinals’ Bullpen

  • Gene

    I have no substantial disagreements with any of these points but one additional one must be made: We have a manager who apparently does not understand the strengths and weaknesses of his own players. That, of course, is Job One for any manager, but MM’s playing-time decisions and position decisions involving certain players (Adams, Wong, Jose Martinez, Socolovich, Siegrist, Broxton, Grichuk, Peralta, Greg Garcia, Allen Craig, etc.) are often bizarre and show a tendency toward tunnel vision and wishful thinking.

    If Mo comes around to looking at this the same way I do, I don’t think Matheny’s contract extension would be an obstacle to removing him, though I believe this year would have to be catastrophically bad before that would happen.

  • Jeremy Green

    Deal Kolten wong for a prospect or two move carpenter to second and Adams at first, then Matheny gets to play his guy, although you were right yesterday, Adams is a great pinch hitter, and that’s pretty much it. Maybe he’ll trade him like he did Allen Craig so Matheny can’t play him anymore. To me in the end the problem is Matheny he has no idea how to come up with a lineup and i question almost all of his bullpen decisions. I think he’s gotta go, but I don’t think he will unless they only win 60 games or something catastrophic like that.

    • Gene

      Carp is capable of playing second base, but his defensive skills there are the 4th-best (really probably the 5th best if you count Diaz as an option) on the team. Leave him alone and keep Adams on the bench (or trade him if you don’t trust your manager to keep him off the field).

    • JDinSTL

      Jeremy,

      You “should” question Matheny’s bullpen decisions. By any measurement available, he’s the worst in baseball at handling bullpens.

      http://grantland.com/the-triangle/2015-mlb-playoffs-bullpen-managers-mike-matheny-joe-girardi/

  • geoff

    I disagree about the best hitter comment there Wheels. Diaz is better. Outside of Carlos Martinez there is not one man on the big league roster whose contract I would consider sacred. I am a bit surprised that Mo hasn’t found a way to move Peralta. After Jhonny and Broxton, two that he would just about have to release to get rid of, I would be actively trying to trade Grichuk and Wong who, it looks to me, are the players that they will always be. If a real change of course is going to be made though, I think the first move would be to make Matheney and his entire coaching staff available to the rest of the industry. I started talking about what I saw as a discord between MM and Oquendo two years ago and last year was proof of my belief. This team is just sorta loose with their fundamentals. Worth mentioning here is that the other night on a broadcast Dan said that Mike Shildt is the heir apparent to Mr. Kissel and Jim Edmonds blurted out, “He’s got a long way to go” then, realizing what he had said, he tried to soften that a bit. It is a darn shame that they don’t feel that an astute baseball man fits as well as the handsome not so astute baseball man, as their front man. I would be willing to bet that if Oquendo were here this team would be ten to fifteen games better simply because of defensive positioning and base running. There is no way to prove my hypothesis other than to say the team was that much better in 2015 than 2016 and we haven’t seen a marked improvement this year. By the way, is anyone else wondering if Fowler has become Jason Heyward, the dude looks awful at the plate.

    • JeremyR

      Diaz has yet to take a walk this season. That’s not a good thing for any hitter, much less a #2 hitter.

  • JDinSTL

    Wheels – no chance Moe does any of the above. He’s far too conservative and cautious. Matheny’s extension doomed the team in the near and intermediate term. This is all on Mozeliak. He doesn’t have what it takes to fix it.

  • dn3524

    “Now, I don’t anticipate anything this dramatic”…..give it time. This could be the best thing for the organization, being forced to make changes. Being forced to force Matheny from his myopic “stay the course” with failing veterans. The changes mentioned here would make for a MUCH more interesting season IMO. If you are going to lose 90, do it with kids

  • jamborewe

    I’ve seen the Cardinals have bad teams in the 50’s, 70’s, and 90’s; but never quite this noncompetitive. Even in bad times, there were always 1 or 2 stars that made them worth watching.

    The current state of the roster may well be the consequence of an unusually long 20 or 25 years of highly competitive Cardinal teams. Eventually the cupboard goes bare, relative to the other major league teams.

    And Matheny may be the worst manager for a team whose aging veterans are no longer competitive and whose younger players are, at best, complimentary pieces to the puzzle. I doubt anyone could win big with this crew. But, who knows?