All posts by Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.

Jack Flaherty is The Cardinal Nation’s Projected Arbitration Winner

photo: Jack Flaherty via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

If you arrived here hoping to read an article unrealistically imploring the St. Louis Cardinals to lock up ace starting pitcher Jack Flaherty with a long-term contract, you are going to be disappointed. I don’t see that even being put on the table until after the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is fully negotiated and ratified.

Even then, there is no guarantee Flaherty would bite. It might take a record-setting kind of contract, and let’s be honest, making such a lucrative offer would not be typical behavior of the Cardinals, even in the best of financial times.

Jack Flaherty

Instead, today’s focus is very much short-term. The 25-year old and his employer are heading toward a hearing in the next few weeks. At that time, Flaherty’s salary for his first year of arbitration eligibility will be set.

There are only two possible outcomes – either the pitcher’s request of $3.9 million or the team’s submission of $3 million will be chosen. (Note that because the Cardinals are a “File and Trial” team, negotiations with Flaherty have ended, making a hearing almost certain.)

Both sides are surely busy preparing their cases to present. We have done the same here at The Cardinal Nation. Specifically, one of the leaders of our message board community, jj-cf-stl, prepared a competitive analysis of Flaherty versus several of his pitching peers considering experience, service time, results and recognition.

Based on the following, Flaherty is our projected winner of his hearing – admittedly with zero percent of the vote having been counted.

The detail follows.

The three peers selected for our analysis are Brad Keller of the Kansas City Royals, Lucas Giolito of the Chicago White Sox and Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds. Of them, Keller may be least advantaged in certain areas due to his playing for a consistently losing team.

Our three comps are all starting pitchers in their first year of arbitration eligibility, and were chosen because they have all settled on their 2021 contracts, and as such appear to be strong comps for Flaherty.

Service time: best match Keller
3.000 Keller
3.006 Flaherty
3.080 Giolito
3.101 Castillo

Career IP: best match Keller
360 Keller
409 Flaherty
489 Giolito
519 Castillo

Career ERA: best match Keller
3.37 Flaherty
3.50 Keller
3.62 Castillo
4.44 Giolito

Note: Here is where the American League designated hitter difference comes into play for Keller and Giolito. If the arbitrator is presented with ERA+, and is willing to acknowledge it….

Career ERA+: best match Castillo
131 Keller
124 Castillo
122 Flaherty
099 Giolito

Win/Loss %: best match Giolito (I know, but arbitrators likely understand wins and losses more than saber stats)
.517 Giolito
.511 Flaherty
.492 Castillo
.477 Keller

Career WHIP: best match Castillo (DH influence again)
1.073 Flaherty
1.168 Castillo
1.227 Giolito
1.285 Keller

2021 salary:
$3.00 MM Flaherty (if team wins)
$3.35 MM Keller (avoided hearing)
$3.90 MM Flaherty (if player wins)
$4.15 MM Giolito (avoided hearing)
$4.20 MM Castillo (avoided hearing)

Flaherty’s service time, innings pitched and ERA all best match Keller. Giolito and Castillo have more service time and substantially more IP, leading to higher salaries than Keller.

Flaherty has the lowest ERA and WHIP, but the deciding factor in his favor is his strong placement in prior league award votes, where the numbers below indicate the player’s place in the various results.

Career awards:
Keller – none
Castillo – ROY-8, AS
Giolito – AS, CYA-6, CYA-7
Flaherty – ROY-5, CYA-4, MVP-13

ROY = Rookie of the Year
AS = League All-Star
CYA = Cy Young Award
MVP = Most Valuable Player

Flaherty had the best Rookie of the Year showing, top Cy Young Award result and is the only one of the four to have received MVP votes. The only area of the four in which he is lacking is NL All-Star selections.

Brian Walton’s conclusions

With a decision in his favor, Flaherty’s $3.9 million salary would still be $300,000 less than Castillo and $250,000 below that of his friend Giolito. It would be second-lowest in the group, $550,000 more than Keller.

On the other hand, the Cardinals’ submission would make him the lowest-paid of the four by at least $350,000, and a whopping $1.2 million below Castillo. This simply does not pass the sunshine test. In this market-based comparison, the Cardinals’ offer appears to be too low.

The Cardinal Nation’s decision: Flaherty’s submission of $3.9 million is accepted.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

How May the Cardinals Minor League Season Play Out?


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Considering Yadier Molina’s Value through Jason Castro’s Contract

photo: Yadier Molina (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

A current theme across St. Louis Cardinals-related social media, sports columns and radio talk shows is the potential return of free agent catcher Yadier Molina to the club for 2021.

A common message is that the Cardinals should get the deal done with the 38-year-old.

Molina’s market

The demand for Molina’s services across the game, outside of St. Louis, remains unclear. Some suggest teams are not as focused on Molina until J.T. Realmuto, the undisputed top free agent catcher in the market, gets his expected long-term, big-money deal. Some teams initially rumored to be interested in Molina have since satisfied their needs.

Others suspect that interest is soft because clubs may assume Molina will be returning to Busch Stadium for 2021. What good is it to be used as leverage for the catcher to squeeze more money from the Cardinals?

However, anyone assuming the latter should take heed of the words of Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. as stated this past weekend during his Winter Warm-Up presentation.

Bill DeWitt Jr. (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

After recognizing Molina and his long-time battery mate and fellow free agent Adam Wainwright as “iconic” Cardinals and praising them as exemplary teammates and leaders, DeWitt closed with a warning.

“We have made both offers (for 2021 contracts),” the chairman said. “If others offer more, they may choose to take it.”

The public has no idea of the details of that offer as presented to the catcher. All we have an earlier report that the Molina camp labeled it “ridiculous”.

Coming from the perspective of the catcher’s prior $20 million salary in each of the last three years, I get it. On the other hand, that was then and this is now. So, let’s look at some current realities.

Free agents moving

The aforementioned market factors are not affecting other free agent catchers in the tier below Realmuto.

On Wednesday, Jason Castro was the latest free agent backstop to come to terms. The 33-year-old is signing with Houston Astros on a two-year, $7 million contract, plus incentives.

The veteran could have been a player to whom the Cardinals might pivot to man the position in 2021 alongside Andrew Knizner if Molina signs elsewhere. That is no longer an option.

The matter of money

For Molina and the Cardinals, it is one thing for the public, columnists and radio hosts to call for the two sides to come to terms. In generic terms, few would disagree.

However, as they say, the devil is in the details. It is quite another matter to set a financial target, or even more specifically, a limit.

Jason Castro (USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s use the Castro contract to consider what a comparable Molina offer might look like.

Fangraphs cites three different projection systems for WAR for 2021 – ZiPS, Steamer and Depth Charts. Averaging the three for Castro yields an expected WAR of 0.8. Molina’s comparable projections average 1.1 WAR. (As readers hopefully know, WAR encompasses both offensive and defensive contributions.)

Extending Castro’s $3.5 MM 2021 salary to Molina would suggest a $4.8 MM market-based value for the 38-year-old.

‘But wait!’ – Cardinals fans exclaim.

‘Molina is a legitimate box office draw as a future Hall of Famer,’ they say.

While I accept this, I highly question whether it will be significant to team revenues during a 2021 season in which Busch Stadium is expected to be restricted to 28% of capacity for at least half the schedule – and perhaps longer.

In terms of his legacy, no matter what happens in the future, Molina will don a red jacket five years after he retires and will wear it for the remainder of his life. That is certain, as would be a Cardinals logo on his cap when inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A mournful, but relevant example to consider…

‘On the field, Molina has incremental value that cannot be measured. His handling of the pitching staff, years of experience behind the plate and clutch hitting set him apart,’ we are reminded.

Granted, but of those advantages, only the first is a benefit specific to St. Louis. Molina would be just as experienced and essentially the same hitter no matter where he plays.

Yadier Molina

So, how much legacy value should be assigned to Molina as a Cardinal only?

I posed this question to members of The Cardinal Nation’s free forum. One respected poster, stlcard25, replied that he would “easily” give Molina two years, $16 million.

Let’s analyze what an $8 MM per year offer would mean.

Using the Castro WAR comp, $4.8 MM of Molina’s salary would be value-based. The other $3.2 MM would be his Cardinals-only legacy adder. In other words, 40% of his 2021 salary would be simply because he is Yadier Molina.

How’s that for respect?

Year two of any deal for Molina presents both a potential differentiator for St. Louis and increased risk. During the 2022 season, Molina will celebrate his 40th birthday, and the miles on his body can be measured by a projected 2,200 games caught by then.

If one was proposing a two-year contract, would it not make more sense to offer less for the second season? Wouldn’t an ideal 2022 scenario be for Molina’s successor to transition into more regular playing time?

For example, holding the $16 MM proposed total, what if the offer is structured to be $10 MM in 2021 and $6 MM in 2022?

In that case, over 50% of Molina’s salary for the upcoming season would be above and beyond his comparable market value to Castro – $4.8 MM base plus $5.2 MM additional.

Is that ridiculous? If you think so, in which direction?

What is your take? What would be a fair offer to Molina, encompassing all factors? Stop by The Cardinal Nation’s free forum to join the ongoing discussion.

January 26 updates

Realmuto came to terms to return to the Phillies on a five-year, $115.5 MM contact. His $23.1 MM average annual value (AAV) is the highest of any catcher in history.

It also provides another data point for the Molina negotiations.

Message board community member jj-cf-stl broadens the aperture and comes to a similar value conclusion for Molina. The data below includes Realmuto.

“Seven catchers have signed and their AAV’s total $44.6 million for 2021, a $6.37 MM average value. The same seven catchers’ projected avg fWAR is 1.13, using the average of Fangraphs’  three projections,” he wrote.

As a reminder, Molina’s average projected fWAR is 1.1.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

How May the Cardinals Minor League Season Play Out?


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Settle with Three of Four Arbitration-Eligible Players

photo: Harrison Bader (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today (Friday, January 15) that they have reached agreements on one-year contracts for the upcoming 2021 season with outfielder Harrison Bader and pitchers Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes, avoiding salary arbitration.  Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

The team will exchange salary arbitration figures with pitcher Jack Flaherty following today’s 12 noon CST deadline.

Bader, 26, batted .226 with 4 HR & 11 RBI in 50 games in 2020, including a .360 mark vs. left-handed pitchers.  The right-handed hitting outfielder is considered among the game’s top defensive centerfielders.

Harrison Bader

Hicks, 24, opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID health concerns, as he continued his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  The fire-balling reliever has recorded 20 career saves, including 14 prior to his elbow injury in 2019.

Jordan Hicks

Reyes, 26, appeared in single-season high 15 games for the Cardinals in 2020, striking out 27 batters in 19.2 innings pitched, and he gained a save in the team’s Game 1 playoff win at San Diego with 3.1 innings of work to close out the 7-4 victory.

Alex Reyes

Brian Walton’s take

The arbitration process is working as intended. Once the two sides had to declare their respective final pre-hearing financial positions, which were due today, it likely enabled them to quickly settle on a middle ground – in three of the four cases.

The Cardinals further the resolution process via an organization policy (which many other teams follow as well) set several years ago generically called “File and Trial.” Essentially, the team cuts off negotiations from today forward, instead intending to take the player to hearing next month because there was no agreement by now, rather than continuing to negotiate in the interim.

The last Cardinal to go to hearing was Michael Wacha three years ago, and he lost. In 2019, all three eligible players came to terms on the January due date. Same with John Gant, the team’s only eligible player one year ago.

Flaherty continues to make a point

2021 is different in one case, however. As an outspoken advocate for player rights, Flaherty’s stance to go to hearing is not a surprise.

Even in his final two pre-arbitration years, during which he had virtually no leverage, Flaherty protested against the system. He took a $10,000 penalty from the Cardinals in both 2019 and 2020 for refusing to accept their “offer” to renew his contract. In reality, he had no choice but to accept – if he wanted to play professional baseball.

Jack Flaherty

Now that he has reached three years of service time, Flaherty and his agent have the right to plead his case for the higher of the two submitted amounts for his 2021 salary. Those two figures, as developed by the team and player, respectively, will be added to this story in the table below when made public.

In all fairness, this is the system which the players and owners established jointly to cover the years of 2017 through 2021. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2022 forward will be negotiated later this year and it is expected to be a rocky road to resolution. Arbitration could be a major battleground.

Update

While the midpoint mentioned is mathematically accurate, it is irrelevant to Flaherty’s situation. The result of the arbitration hearing will be a decision either in favor of the team or player – with no compromise.

Revisiting the estimates

Here are the preliminary estimates for the four from MLB Trade Rumors, which used three different estimation processes as the off-season began:

Arb eligible Pos Class Ctrl thru Method 1 Method 2 Method 3 Average Contract Team Player
Jack Flaherty RHS Arb 1 2023  $2.2MM  $3.0MM  $2.2MM $2.5MM TBD $3.9MM $3 MM
Harrison Bader OF Arb 1 2023  $1.2MM  $1.7MM  $1.2MM $1.4MM $2.0MM
Alex Reyes RHR Arb 1 2023  $1.0MM  $1.2MM  $1.0MM $1.1MM $900K
Jordan Hicks RHR Arb 1 2023  $900K  $900K  $900K  $900K $862.5K

According to national media reports, Bader came to terms for an even $2 million in salary for 2021. Reyes settled right at $900,000, with Hicks closely behind at $862,500.

The MLBTR estimates averaged about 50% too low for Bader, while their expected amounts for both pitchers were slightly too high. The source readily admits that the unusual and truncated 2020 season injected greater uncertainty into the process.

Earlier, the resolution of two other Cardinals arbitration-eligible players for 2021 was made. In his second year of eligibility, reliever John Gant came to terms on a one-year, $2.1 million contract back on December 3 and reliever John Brebbia was non-tendered and subsequently signed with San Francisco.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – January 12


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2021 The Cardinal Nation Cardinals All-Prospect Team

photo: Nolan Gorman and Dylan Carlson

The next subject in our Top 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021 series is the organization’s best minor league prospects, sorted by position. At the end, all Top 50 members are shown by position groupings in an organizational prospect depth chart.

The selection process is very straightforward. We have already unveiled our Top 50 prospects in the system via the “50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Prospects” series. Putting together this year’s All-Prospect Team is as simple as culling the top-ranked player at each position from that Top 50.

The annual The Cardinal Nation St. Louis Cardinals All-Prospect Team includes 11 players – eight position players, including two corner outfielders, plus three pitchers – left and right-handed starters and a reliever.

Listed are each player’s overall ranking in the top 50, age and highest level played in 2019.

The Cardinal Nation St. Louis Cardinals 2021 All-Prospect Team

All-Prospect Team 2021 Player Rank Age 2019 Lvl
Catcher Ivan Herrera * 4 20 A+
First Base Luken Baker 23 23 A+
Second Base Chandler Redmond * 44 23 Rk
Shortstop Masyn Winn * 8 18 NA
Third Base Nolan Gorman 2 20 A+
Corner Outfield Jhon Torres 13 20 A
Corner Outfield Dylan Carlson C 1 22 MLB
Center field Trejyn Fletcher 12 20 Rk
LH Starter Matthew Liberatore 3 21 A
RH Starter Johan Oviedo * 9 22 MLB
LH Reliever none
RH Reliever Junior Fernandez 15 23 MLB
* new members avg age 21.1
C = unofficial captain
Ages as of 1/1/21

In the last two years, the All-Prospect Team had high turnover, with seven and nine, respectively, in 2019 and 2020 having been new. However, for 2021, the total count of new members dropped to just four. (Newbies are denoted by an asterisk * above).

With one spot open this year, left-handed reliever, that means seven of the 11 are holdovers. Three of them made the team for the third consecutive year – first baseman Luken Baker, third baseman Nolan Gorman and outfielder Dylan Carlson. The latter, as the top-ranked prospect of the three (and for the entire system), is our unofficial team captain. It is doubly appropriate for Carlson’s final winter as a prospect.

Dylan Carlson

The four back for a second year at their respective positions are outfielders Jhon Torres and Trejyn Fletcher, left-handed starting pitcher Matthew Liberatore and reliever Junior Fernandez.

The four new members of the team come from two different sources. Two were international signees – catcher Ivan Herrera (signed 2018) and right-handed starter Johan Oviedo (2016). The others were Cardinals draftees – second baseman Chandler Redmond (2019 draft) and shortstop Masyn Winn (2020).

Masyn Winn

The 18-year-old Winn holds a very unusual distinction. With his number eight ranking for 2021, the team’s second player taken in last June’s draft (54th overall) could be both our top shortstop and our top right-handed pitcher.

The reason the two-way player is placed at short here is that the gap to the next shortstop is considerable – 13 spots (Edmundo Sosa at no. 21) – while two other right-handed starting pitchers are immediately after him (Oviedo at no. 9 and Angel Rondon at no. 10).

In other words, the prospect team is a better quality group with Winn at short and Oviedo as the right-handed starter. However, which way the talented teen will actually go eventually in his career remains to be seen.

TCN St. Louis Cardinals All-Prospect Teams – 2017 through 2020

All-Prospect Team members from the previous four seasons are included for comparison purposes.

All-Prospects 2020 2019 2018 2017
Catcher Andrew Knizner Andrew Knizner Carson Kelly Carson Kelly
First Base Luken Baker Luken Baker Luke Voit Luke Voit
Second Base Ramon Urias Max Schrock Max Schrock Eliezer Alvarez
Shortstop Edmundo Sosa Tommy Edman Yairo Munoz Delvin Perez
Third Base Nolan Gorman Nolan Gorman Evan Mendoza Paul DeJong
Corner OF Jhon Torres Tyler O’Neill Tyler O’Neill Harrison Bader
Corner OF Dylan Carlson Dylan Carlson Adolis Garcia Randy Arozarena
Center field Trejyn Fletcher Lane Thomas Harrison Bader Magneuris Sierra
LH Starter Matthew Liberatore Evan Kruczynski Austin Gomber Austin Gomber
RH Starter Jake Woodford Alex Reyes Alex Reyes Alex Reyes
LH Reliever Genesis Cabrera Genesis Cabrera Ryan Sherriff Corey Littrell
RH Reliever Junior Fernandez Seth Elledge Josh Lucas Sam Tuivailala

Here is how the four players who left the 2020 All-Prospect Team departed. Two graduated to the majors – catcher Andrew Knizner and right-handed starter Jake Woodford.

Shortstop Edmundo Sosa was passed by another prospect – the aforementioned Winn – while second baseman Ramon Urias was waived by the Cardinals and claimed by the Orioles.

Herrera and Oviedo replaced graduates Knizner and Woodford and Urias’ replacement is Redmond.

Age and experience

All-Prospect Team 21 20 19 18 17
Average age 21.1 22.3 22.2 23.8 22.1
Average experience A+ AAA AA AAA AA

The 2021 All-Prospect Team includes a very unusual development. Youth has been served unlike any year since at least 2007 (when I first recognized his team).

After the then-25-year old Urias and 24-year old Knizner departed, the new 2021 group has no prospect older than 23.

Further, the average age of the team in 2021 is barely more than 21. Aided by the 18-year-old Winn, this the lowest overall average since 2007.

The level of play reached by the average player is High-A, two levels lower than last year. Again, this a low-water mark over time – but remember that these levels are from two seasons ago, given that there was no minor league season in 2020. So, do not attach too much significance to this.

After four consecutive years without a short-season representative, two All-Prospect Team played in Rookie ball in 2019 – second baseman Redmond and outfielder Fletcher. And for tallying purposes, Winn was also included as a Rookie-ball player.

Depth Chart (name/overall ranking)

I will close with the 2021 Top 50 Prospect List oriented by position. Remember that the members of the All-Prospect Team are listed first in each position grouping. This provides a quick visual snapshot of system-wide balance at all positions across the system.

Pos # Name (Top 50 rank)
C 4 Ivan Herrera (4) Julio Rodriguez (25) Edgardo Rodriguez (34)
Pedro Pages (35)
1B 2 Luken Baker (23) John Nogowski (33)
2B 2 Chandler Redmond (44) Brendan Donovan (50)
SS 5 Masyn Winn (8) (also RHS) Edmundo Sosa (21) Mateo Gil (22)
Kramer Robertson (37) Delvin Perez (42)
3B 5 Nolan Gorman (2) Jordan Walker (6) Elehuris Montero (7)
Malcom Nunez (14) Evan Mendoza (46)
COF 8 Dylan Carlson (1) Jhon Torres (13) Justin Williams (17)
Alec Burleson (27) Patrick Romeri (29) L.J. Jones IV (38)
Justin Toerner (40) Juan Yepez (41)
CF 2 Trejyn Fletcher (12) Conner Capel (48)
LHS 4 Matthew Liberatore (3) Zack Thompson (5) Levi Prater (31)
Evan Kruczynski (47)
RHS 13 Johan Oviedo (9) Angel Rondon (10) Tink Hence (11)
Griffin Roberts (20) Edwin Nunez (24) Ian Bedell (26)
Andre Pallante (28) Tommy Parsons (32) Alvaro Seijas (36)
Jack Ralston (39) Alex FaGalde (43) Ludwin Jimenez (45)
Edgar Escobar (49)
LHR 0 none
RHR 5 Junior Fernandez (15) Kodi Whitley (16) Seth Elledge (18)
Tony Locey (19) Logan Gragg (30)
total 50

I know it may be surprising to readers, but I have few issues with this Top 50 positional distribution. On first blush, the right side of the infield may appear a bit underrepresented, but outfielders can become first basemen and shortstops can slide over to second.

OK, maybe I am a bit concerned about center field. Harrison Bader has yet to prove himself with St. Louis and Fletcher is long way away. The only other center fielder, Conner Capel has slid down in the prospect rankings in each of this three years in the system. Totaling 10 overall, the outfield contingent has the numbers, but after Carlson, there are a lot of questions.

Behind the plate, things are looking good, even with Knizner graduated. Two catchers are close to St. Louis (Herrera and Julio Rodriguez) and two are further back in the pipeline (Edgardo Rodriguez and Pedro Pages).

Luken Baker

Luken Baker may be ranked ahead of John Nogowski at first on paper, but the big man is going to have to realize his power potential to pass Nogowski, who is ahead of him in terms of projected level assignments in the system for 2021 (Memphis vs. Springfield).

Though just one (-half) of a shortstop is in the new Top 50, the position offers considerable depth. The riches at third are substantially greater, buoyed by 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Walker.

Jordan Walker

On the starting pitching side, right-handed supply is as high as ever at 13, including three in the top 11 in the system. The middle tier offers plenty of less experienced pitchers with uncertain ceilings.

The quantity of left-handed starters is slightly up at four, with Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson head and shoulders over the others.

Zack Thompson

As starters pitch less deeply into games, the increased importance of relievers continues to be reflected in the Top 50. Right-handed relievers are at five, same as in 2019 and one fewer than 2020. What is different is that three of the new five already have experience with St. Louis.

There are no left-handed relievers in the Top 50 for 2021, which is not a major concern.


Next up

Among the upcoming articles in this series, we take two different looks at the Top 50 – based on potential only and by tiers. Detailed tools-based analysis is coming, too.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

Also, join the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s message boards.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – January 12


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

What if the Cardinals Want Wainwright and Molina to Leave?

photo: Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

Note to readers: Because some have trouble differentiating between ideas served up by writers and real rumors – especially during a very, very cold hot stove season for the St. Louis Cardinals – I want to be crystal clear right up front that what follows is a sharing my thinking in print.  It is not a reflection of anything more than that.


Many of us know from personal experience in a long-term relationship that you know is ending, it can be a relief if your partner is the one who actually finalizes the break up.

So it may be with the St. Louis Cardinals and their two free agent stars, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.

The Cardinals, like the majority of their MLB brethren, are playing the four corners stall game with regard to the market during this long and quiet off-season. In fact, costly turnovers have been the only major headlines, with Kolten Wong and John Brebbia among the victims of the financial belt-tightening.

The stated priorities of the club this winter are two-fold:

  1. Re-sign Molina and Wainwright.
  2. Operate in 2021 with a reduced payroll compared to 2020.

Any roster enhancements beyond the above would be only speculation. And the possibility of any such addition being an impact player seems quite low.

Further, other than the disclosure that the player payroll will be down from 2020, no 2021 budget has been outlined publicly. In other words, there is no assurance that the money earmarked to pay the aforementioned veteran battery would be fully redeployed elsewhere to improve the 2021 team if they leave.

Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals)

Sure, some of the money would have to be used. But how much and where?

For example, one could reasonably assume that if Molina does not return, a veteran catcher would be signed to pair with inexperienced Andrew Knizner. But that expenditure would almost certainly not be in Molina’s price range. (For reference, Matt Wieters signed for $2 million per year in both 2019 and 2020, a rate that was 1/10th of Molina’s prior salary.)

Despite the depth of the current pitching staff being the apparent strength of the 2021 Cardinals, the club could also go out and sign another veteran pitcher to compete for the rotation. But again, that could potentially be accomplished for less money than Wainwright may require. And this seems far less of a necessity than a proven second catcher.

But if the Cardinals want both Wainwright and Molina back for 2021, isn’t it only a matter of “when”?

While that certainly seems to be the prevailing thinking, let’s step back and consider the factors that could lead to one or both of the two team icons leaving.

And what if this is what the Cardinals actually hope will occur?

In other words, what if assumption number 1 above is just window-dressing?

I know what they are saying. That is what they need to say. But given the continuing uncertain financial environment, what if there is more going on behind the scenes?

A partial salary for Waino?

Here is such a twist offered up by Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold in his chat this Monday:

“It is entirely possible that Adam Wainwright is not with the Cardinals on opening day, but Adam Wainwright is a Cardinal by season’s end.”

This is a reference to a veteran signing a mid-season contract to pitch only in the second half of the year. In the past, Roger Clemens did it and so did Pedro Martinez as their celebrated careers were winding down. In this scenario, the Cardinals would save multiple millions by paying Wainwright for only a partial season.

Of course, Adam would have to buy in to such a plan. Considering his legendary competitiveness – not to mention his 2020 mound success and good health in recent seasons – it might take some real selling to convince him. And if “mystery team X” offers a full-season deal with full-season compensation… well, he might be gone.

Adam Wainwright

Then again, Goold seemed to imply Wainwright would be amenable to the partial year deal. I am not nearly so sure about that, but I am just guessing.

It wouldn’t be the first time or last that a team (or an agent) used the media to float an idea without having to personally bring it to the negotiating table and have to deal directly with any negative reaction.

Strategic implications

What might all this mean in the bigger picture?

Could this actually be a strategy employed by the Cardinals to force Wainwright to either take much less money to stay – or even leave entirely – without it appearing to be the team’s fault?

If your primary goal is to save money, but not disrespect your two beloved team icons, you go out of your way to reassure the public that you want them back. This will keep fans happy. But at the same time, you execute a plan under the covers in which the players end up making the decision to leave themselves.

A potential win-win – if cash conservation is your true decision driver.

Molina moves possible

In Molina’s case, there are multiple levers the Cardinals could potentially pull to quietly push him away – other than the obvious time delay tactic already being deployed and the sheer dollar amount of his contract offer. As free agency remains tepid and other catchers fill existing openings, Molina’s market and perhaps dollar value seem to be shrinking, which play into the hands of the Cardinals stalling.

Yadier Molina

What else might they do?

For example, there is considerable speculation that a second year may be important to Molina. Making 2022 a team option in their bargaining would keep the Cardinals in control, not the catcher. It might provide the desired window-dressing to the public, but could leave a negative perception with Molina.

Another tactic could be to force the matter of playing time. As everyone reading this already knows, Molina essentially holds the power to dictate when he plays – and he expects to be in the lineup every day. Requiring Molina to accept a lesser role by making this explicit during contract discussions could turn the catcher off.

However, many Cardinals fans would actually support the concept of some type of job share. They adore Molina but also want to see an orderly transition begin at the catching position. The rub is that there is no indication that Molina would agree to such an approach.

And only he knows if that would that make him angry/disrespected enough to leave.

We should not forget that any bumps in the Molina negotiations ahead are going to be exposed to the public by the catcher himself and/or those in his camp. That could lead to considerable dirty laundry being aired. No one wins in that case, but other than the Cardinals buckling and signing him under his desired terms, it seems inevitable.

The bottom line impact

By carefully avoiding showing their hand on the size of their budget, the Cardinals could easily cut another $10 million or more from their 2021 spend by replacing the two free agents with lower-cost alternatives – a bargain second catcher ala Wieters and a back end rotation veteran – or save millions more by just adding the former.

The negative PR from the two walking away is lessened by the team making it clear they tried to re-sign them, but it just did not work out.

2021 ticket sales to be allowed are almost certainly going to be well under full capacity due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Would the loss of the two materially impact team revenues this coming season? It is certainly debatable.

When all is said and done and the smoke has long cleared, I believe the career legacies of Molina and Wainwright as future Cardinals Hall of Famers would not be severely impacted – no matter what happens in 2021. There is no doubt that both will be soon wearing red jackets for the remainder of their lives.

Could any of what has been outlined above happen? Perhaps.

Will it happen? Who knows what is ahead?

Again, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting this approach has a factual basis, but I have been thinking a lot about the possibilities, so I decided to share.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – January 12


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If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Projected Top St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2021

To begin our annual year-end series, we counted down the top five stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020. Not surprisingly, the list was dominated by the many challenges presented by COVID followed by the resilience of the team that culminated in their appearance in the Wild Card Series.

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown

Now it is time for my annual predictions for the top story lines that may grab the headlines during this New Year.

The top story is customarily the easiest and most logical entry – the results of the team on the field during the upcoming season. However, that does not mean considerable twists and turns are not ahead, just as the huge impact of COVID was unexpected a year ago at this time. Well, hopefully not as significant as a pandemic, but I hope you get what I mean!

As I compiled the list and set the rankings, I considered the staying power of the story – how long it might remain in the headlines – as well as its potential short- and long-term impact – both on the 2021 Cardinals and the organization’s future.

Without further ado, here are my projected top St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2021. As always, your comments are encouraged at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.

  1. Is 2021 the new 2019?

A year ago, there was considerable optimism surrounding the Cardinals. In manager Mike Shildt’s first full season, the club had retaken the National League Central Division and a host of young players – pitchers and position players alike – were poised to step up and make major contributions.

However, as everyone well knows, nothing about 2020 – and I mean nothing – went according to plan. The Cardinals still made a very credible showing under extremely trying circumstances.

An often overlooked side benefit is experience gained, in some cases by players who may not have reached the majors at all in a “normal” season. That experience may help the 2021 club.

So when I made the above joke, it was to say that perhaps the 2021 Cardinals can pick up where the 2019 team left off – starting with the division championship. No one wants a repeat of 2020!

  1. Yadi and Waino’s swan song?

Not long ago, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright were the highest-paid Cardinals, at $20 million and $19.5 million per season, respectively.

For the pitcher, this changed in 2019 when he began a string of one-year, incentive-based contracts.

The future Hall of Fame catcher’s three-year, $60 million contract expired following the 2020 season, so he is facing the reality of this huge, late-career salary drop two years later than his long-time battery mate.

Molina made his MLB debut in 2004 with Wainwright following a year later. Undoubtedly, they would like to finish their long careers as Cardinals, but that is not entirely in their hands.

Yadier Molina

At this juncture, it is unclear whether the two will return to St. Louis for 2021, but many observers believe their new deals will eventually get done.

Assuming they do, odds seem high that Wainwright will be on another one-year contract. Molina is rumored to want two years, but the team may or may not be willing to make that commitment ahead of time, perhaps offering an option, instead.

Adam Wainwright

Even if both are back, the same questions could return in the fall of 2021. Are they done or do they want to continue for 2022?

Instead, if for any reason, either one or both decide to complete their respective careers on another team rather than return to St. Louis in 2021, it might make this an even bigger story than had they stayed. On this list, though, it is difficult to rank higher than number two.

  1. Sorting out the outfield (still)

Stop me if you’ve heard this tune before.

The Cardinals have a gaggle of promising outfielders who need nothing more than additional playing time to stake out major league jobs and realize their considerable potential.

This was a huge matter heading into 2020, and with the exception of the emergence of Dylan Carlson perhaps, it remains at least as big of a question mark for 2021.

With Carlson scheduled to play every day in one outfield spot and Dexter Fowler playing out the final year of his contract in another, it would leave just one position open for the others to jostle for playing time.

Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader remains the incumbent in center thanks to his superior defense. Also not to be overlooked is his solid offense in the mess that is also known as 2020. Yet his offensive success has always been skewed toward left-handed pitching, so could Bader become a platoon player?

Another answer could be to bench Fowler, but until he shows he isn’t one of the top three outfielders – which he was for most of 2020 before going on the injured list – the veteran is going to start. Yet, if the Cardinals were playing for the future, instead of aiming for a return to the playoffs, Fowler would probably be traded or at least made a bench regular.

Otherwise, how do NL Gold Glove Award winner Tyler O’Neill, COVID-struck Lane Thomas, Austin Dean and Justin Williams (out of minor league options) get their respective chances?

Like I said, the answers are no clearer now than they were a year ago.

But this needs to be sorted out in 2021 so the club knows before diving into the deep free agent waters expected in the fall if they will be in the market for a veteran fly chaser – or they can direct their spending elsewhere. Like third base perhaps?

  1. Third base transition?

There seems no doubt that the primary beneficiary of the Cardinals non-tendering second baseman Kolten Wong is Matt Carpenter. With Tommy Edman slated to slide over to second, third base is opened up for the return of the disappointing Carpenter.

Matt Carpenter

Like Fowler, Carpenter is in the final year of a contract that will pay him far more than the value he is expected to return to the team. Without a major unexpected renaissance in 2021 at the age of 35, it seems unlikely that Carpenter will be back in 2022.

That would shift the primary focus to his heir apparent, The Cardinal Nation number two prospect Nolan Gorman.

Loaded with talent, headlined by a power-laden bat, the 20-year-old will almost certainly become St. Louis’ starter at the hot corner one day. The unanswered question is how much longer will it take for Gorman to be ready?

Nolan Gorman

Gorman split his 2019 between two levels of Class-A ball and played well, but not spectacularly. 2020 would have been his Double-A season, with hopes for a breakout stint in the Texas League. Unfortunately, the left-handed hitter was destined to play in just scrimmages in the alternate camp at Hammons Field last summer.

Recently, Mike Shildt shared his belief that Gorman has the talent to play in the majors already. Further, the Cardinals manager said that he thinks Gorman can move ahead more quickly than other prospects.

So, how soon will Gorman be challenged with Triple-A? Will it be out of the (potentially delayed) gates in 2021, or will he be given time back in Springfield first? If all goes well, could he get his feet wet with St. Louis, as Carlson did in 2020?

The rate and pace of Gorman’s progress in 2021 will have a major bearing on St. Louis’ plans for third base in 2022. It should be fun to watch!

  1. The lefties are coming!

Though Austin Gomber has filled in admirably when needed as a spot starter, St. Louis’ last left-handed pitcher in the ongoing starting rotation was Jaime Garcia, who departed after the 2016 season.

As a result of the Cardinals using their first-round pick in the 2019 draft on one lefty and making a controversial trade in January 2020 for another, the organization now has two very promising left-handers aiming toward the majors.

Zack Thompson is a college-draftee from the University of Kentucky. The Cardinal Nation’s fifth-ranked prospect for 2021 has advanced the furthest on paper, making 11 relief appearances at High-A Palm Beach to close 2019.

Zack Thompson

Matthew Liberatore was Tampa Bay’s first-rounder in 2018 as a high school star from Arizona. In his last professional action, the now-21-year old pitched the entire 2019 schedule in the Low Class-A Midwest League.

Matthew Liberatore

Both were in St. Louis’ two 2020 camps and spent last summer in the Springfield alternate camp getting in as much work as possible. Yet the fact remains that neither has pitched an inning at either Double-A or Triple-A.

Thompson, 23, received good reports from Springfield, but was slowed early by shoulder soreness that later subsided. Liberatore, our number three prospect, was given the most glowing alternate camp reports by Cardinals officials from top to bottom.

For that reason – granted before a pitch has been thrown in 2021 – Liberatore seems to be ahead in the race to St. Louis. General belief is that one or perhaps even both could break into MLB via the bullpen this coming season and lay the groundwork to compete for the rotation in 2022 and beyond.


The Cardinal Nation’s top five stories of the year countdown

This article concludes our annual series for another year, but we will be back in 12 months to see how we did and start the process all over again. Please join us!

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 29


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Revisiting TCN’s Top Cardinals Stories of 2020 Predictions

photo: Team photo, September 27, 2020 (St. Louis Cardinals)

Pretty much everyone issues predictions these days, but how many of them come back after the fact to self-assess the quality of the guesses?

Of course, one answer is that we do here at The Cardinal Nation. It is usually a good exercise to undertake to remain humble!

Last year at this time, as in each January, I published my predictions of the topics I felt could evolve into the top five stories across the St. Louis Cardinals organization for the then-New Year of 2020.

Projected Top St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2020

Now with the benefit of full hindsight, including the top five stories of 2020 countdown now on the books, it is time to return to my initial forecast.

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown

The original top five projections follow, along with where the stories actually ended up, including links to the appropriate articles. I won’t be repeating my 2020 summaries here, so click on the hot links if you’d like to read those detailed five stories.

I characterize my predictive powers as having been just middle of the road this year. I was on target with three of my top guesses from one year ago – with not too much stretching. However, two others did not make it, but as I will explain, I think it is justifiable.

Almost always, how the season ends up becomes my number one story of the year. That did not change in 2020. In fact, the gap between stories numbers 1 and 2 was as wide as I can ever recall it.

Here is the scoreboard.

Prediction Actual
Pre-2020 prediction story  rank  rank  Post-2020 actual story
Back to Back? 1 1 From COVID to Wild Card
Molina’s Contract 2 not ranked
Cleaning Up 3 4 Power Outage Intensifies
Wainwright’s Swan Song? 4 not ranked
Carlson is Coming 5 2 Carlson Cleans Up

Revisiting my predicted top St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2020.

  1. Back to Back?

The return of the Cardinals to the 2019 post-season, concluding Mike Shildt’s first full season in the managerial chair, broke three years of frustration for the team and its fans. In fact, the club exceeded expectations, reaching the National League Championship Series before bowing out.

My number one question coming into 2020 was whether it was going to be “one and done” or the first in what was hoped to be a string of regular returns to the playoffs. The team built such a streak for five consecutive seasons – from 2011 through 2015.

What was totally not understood last January was the brewing pandemic, with its strength and staying power causing major disruptions to almost everyone and every endeavor on the planet.

Mike Shildt via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

To observe that the 2020 Cardinals were challenged at literally every turn is not an understatement. Despite positive test cases, injuries, opt outs and a revolving door roster, the remaining players stepped up, particularly the pitching and defense.

The result was not back-to-back division titles as once hoped. Yet the team registered a very credible 30-28 record and a second-place finish in the Central Division, three games behind the Cubs. That the Cardinals fell to San Diego in the Wild Card Series should take nothing away from their considerable accomplishments.

  1. Molina’s Contract

Over a year ago, when iconic catcher Yadier Molina still had a season remaining on his three-year, $60 million contract, his agent expressed interest in negotiating a two-year contract extension for his client.

While the two sides agreed to discuss the matter in the spring of 2020, the pandemic interrupted any momentum that could have been established.

Yadier Molina

It seems highly likely that the Cardinals were relieved by the delay. The reason is that club would have been required under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to offer Molina at least 80% of his prior salary for any extension.

Needless to say, $16 million is not reflective of the 38-year-old’s current value, despite what his older brother and head cheerleader Bengie publicly suggests about money or respect.

Delaying any decision until Molina reached free agency following the season meant that the Cardinals were no longer encumbered in the terms of their offer. In a normal offseason, the two sides might have come to an agreement long before the New Year, but the financial concerns of the owners have slowed the free agent market to a crawl.

It is generally believed that the Cardinals remain the front-runner to sign Molina. The second year, whether a guarantee or an option, perhaps is one key edge. It is unclear which other teams are interested enough in him to make a firm offer, however.

Another important issue is playing time, which I suspect is highly important to the future Hall of Famer. St. Louis likely holds an advantage here, as well.

But when all is said and done, it seems that money equals respect.

Because the situation remains fluid as 2020 moves into 2021, it did not register as a top story – yet.

  1. Cleaning Up

The most important power-production spot in any lineup is the number four hitter. For the St. Louis Cardinals of 2018 and 2019, veteran Marcell Ozuna played that role.

However, the club chose to let the outfielder walk for 2020, with no clear replacement to fill this important lineup spot.

Brad Miller

In half of their 58 games played in 2020, the Cardinals started bargain $2 million free agent signing Brad Miller in the number four spot. Others to take turns there were Paul DeJong and Matt Carpenter at 10 each, Tyler O’Neill at seven and Rangel Ravelo and Dylan Carlson at one each. The latter’s lone game in the role was no. 58, and he remained there during the Wild Card Series. Miller’s late season slump put him on the playoff bench.

Miller then followed Ozuna out of town, keeping the clean-up spot open heading into 2021.

Our no. 4 story of the 2020 was closely related as it focused on the more general problem of a lack of power by the Cardinals as a team. The club’s slugging percentage fell 44 points from 2019 to 2020 and their MLB ranking dropped from 23rd to 27th of 30.

This remains an unresolved problem now at least as much as it did one year ago.

  1. Wainwright’s Swan Song?

For the second consecutive year, 16-year MLB veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright returned to the Cardinals on a one-year contract. In 2020, the 39-year old was productive, with his 3.15 ERA his lowest mark in five seasons.

Adam Wainwright

Unlike Molina’s free ageny circus, Wainwright has simply said he wants to return to St. Louis for 2021 and left it at that. Along with his catcher, the Cardinals say a new contract is their top offseason priority.

Yet, as with everything in 2020, the current situation is different. Unlike the last two offseasons, Wainwright’s new deal was not announced immediately after he re-entered free agency. The Cardinals continue to play the four-corners game as they evaluate the ice-cold hot stove market.

Many fans want Wainwright and Molina to return for 2021, but they also want to see the team make moves to improve itself, especially on offense. Team officials have not painted an very optimistic case that they will accomplish both.

There have been no specific rumors linking Wainwright to another team at this point. Because his situation remains unresolved heading into 2021, this did not register among my top five stories of the year.

  1. Carlson is Coming

The most anticipated arrival of a prospect in St. Louis in recent years finally occurred on August 15, when top prospect Dylan Carlson made his Major League debut. After several weeks of struggles against his first taste of MLB pitching, the then-21-year-old rebooted in the team’s alternate camp.

Dylan Carlson

Upon his return, Carlson was so productive (and the rest of the offense so shaky) that the rookie was placed in the cleanup spot heading into the Wild Card Series.

There is much more to read in the story linked-to above, but suffice it to say that Carlson has arrived and is going to remain.

While I did nail this one, I readily admit that it was the “low-hanging fruit” of predictions for 2020!


Next up

In the final article of this annual series, I will outline my predictions for the top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2021.

Links to all stories in this series can be found here.

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 29


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Former Cardinals Pitching Prospect Derian Gonzalez Passes

photo: Derian Gonzalez (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

2020 left behind one more terrible event, as on Thursday, former St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Derian Gonzalez died in a motorcycle accident in his native Venezuela. He was 25 years old.

The right-hander had been pitching in winter ball for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League and reportedly agreed to terms on a new contract for 2021 with the Atlanta Braves in recent days. Gonzalez, who first signed with St. Louis in 2012, had become a minor league free agent this past fall.

News of the tragedy was first disclosed by Venezuelan journalist Marcos Grunfeld on Thursday.

Peaking as the 33rd-ranked prospect in the system according to The Cardinal Nation, Gonzalez’ once-promising career stalled in 2018, when the right-hander was able to throw just 33 1/3 innings due to shoulder problems that continued to dog him since.

In 2018, he posted a solid 2.76 ERA at Springfield, but in his first eight games with Memphis, delivered a 5.91 mark. To be protected from the 2017 Rule 5 draft, Gonzalez had been added to the 40-man roster in November 2017, but was outrighted off one year later, going unclaimed.

Derian Gonzalez

Gonzalez missed the 2019 season entirely and was not selected to join the alternate camp in Springfield this past summer, likely due to his ongoing shoulder problems.

He finished his career with a 3.51 ERA to go with 361 strikeouts and 155 walks in 366 2/3 professional innings.

May he rest in peace…


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 29


Not yet a member?

Please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Top Story #1: From COVID to Wild Card

The perseverance shown by the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals – coming back from numerous COVID cases and negotiating through an unprecedentedly compressed make up schedule to reach the post-season is The Cardinal Nation’s choice as the top story of the year.

And nothing else was even close.

COVID-19 was in the background from moment the New Year began, but the reality first hit baseball directly on March 12, when spring training camps across the game were abruptly closed.

At that time, MLB announced an overly-optimistic two-week delay to the start of the regular season. Just four days later, they broadened their view, adopting CDC guidelines to not assemble groups of 50 people or more for at least eight weeks.

In doing so, Opening Day could be no sooner than May 10, but was left indefinite. The Minor League Baseball season was also put in limbo (and later cancelled). Still in mid-March, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed optimism that all 162 games could be played.

At the end of March, owners and the MLB Players Association thought they agreed on a plan to compensate players in the disrupted season. However, it soon became clear that there was a major misunderstanding about the level of player pay if stadiums could not be full.

In May, MLB offered an 80-game schedule to the MLBPA, but with the players receiving a percentage of revenue. Players believed the March agreement entitled them to full salaries prorated to the number of games played, with their proposal being 114 games.

This core dispute ultimately led to weeks of proposals and counterproposals that were doomed to failure. Essentially, the owners stalled until the commissioner unilaterally set a 60-game season at full prorated salaries. This was announced on June 23, with the season to start a month later.

Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)

As July opened, players returned to work across the game in three-week camps to prepare for the delayed opening day. A total of 45 Cardinals were invited to Summer Camp in St. Louis. 15 more reported to the alternate camp in Springfield, which opened mid-month,

There were disruptions from the start. A number of Cardinals players, primarily pitchers, were not in camp, either because they had positive tests before arriving or when they reached St. Louis. The group included pitchers Giovanny Gallegos, Genesis Cabrera, Ricardo Sanchez, Carlos Martinez and Junior Fernandez plus third baseman Elehuris Montero.

On July 13, after having reported to camp, rehabbing Type 1 diabetic relief pitcher Jordan Hicks opted out of the season as was his right as a high-risk case.

As the regular season began, almost immediately, the Miami Marlins suffered 19 positive cases. The Cardinals were next to be hit with their first positive test results disclosed on July 31. The team was in Milwaukee, having played just five games in the regular season to date.

On August 3, a total of 13 positives (seven players and six staff) among the Cardinals traveling party were announced. The team sent them home individually, with the other 44 remaining in quarantine in Milwaukee. The players affected were catcher Yadier Molina, infielders Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa and Rangel Ravelo, and pitchers Martinez, Fernandez and Kodi Whitley.

Two days later, the Cardinals were allowed to leave Milwaukee on a charter flight home. That proved to be a mistake, as three more Cardinals – a staff member plus pitcher Ryan Helsley, and first baseman-outfielder Austin Dean – were exposed and tested positive on August 7. Outfielder Lane Thomas soon joined them and pitcher Austin Gomber was quarantined due to contract tracing, rather than a positive test. Coach Willie McGee opted out rather than return.

After being out 16 days, since July 30, the Cardinals resumed play on August 15 – after driving individually from St. Louis to Chicago. The revised and highly-condensed schedule required them to play 11 doubleheaders as part of 53 games in 44 days on their way to 58 games in total.

Of the 10 Cardinals players to test positive, Molina was the first to be activated, on August 20. The other nine returned at different rates and varied levels of effectiveness.

Yadier Molina via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

In early September, Dexter Fowler was the second player to use the COVID-related injured list despite not being exposed. The outfielder was prescribed a new medicine for a long-term stomach ailment (ulcerative colitis) that weakened his immune system. Fowler would be out for almost three weeks.

Upon his return to the active roster, Martinez disclosed that he had been hospitalized three or four times due to complications from the virus. The right-hander did not pitch in game action between July 28 and September 8 and was relatively ineffective upon his return before suffering a season-ending oblique injury.

The Cardinals were able to remain on schedule, completing their final 53 games in 44 days from August 15 to September 27 – with only two off-days. The grind included 11 double-headers, during which they posted a 13-9 record, including three sweeps.

Even with the twin-bill games being just seven innings in duration, the roster pressure just to field enough healthy players, especially pitchers, was intense. Specifically, the Cardinals made 151 player transactions during the regular season.

In those 58 games, 44 different players appeared – 19 position players and 25 pitchers. 21 different players spent time on the injured list. 13 Cardinals made their MLB debuts, including four in the same game and seven over a crazy two-day span as the team returned to action for the final stretch (August 15-16).

In the final weekend of the season, the Cardinals captured second place in the National League Central Division. The 30-28 Cardinals edged Cincinnati via the 6-4 head-to-head results tiebreaker, with both clubs finishing three games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs. As the fifth seed of eight, the Cardinals drew the 37-23 San Diego Padres in the new NL Wild Card Series.

The exhausted, underdog Cardinals took Game 1 and held the lead through the middle of the sixth inning in Game 2 before the pitching sprung a leak. Though the club had ace Jack Flaherty starting in the deciding Game 3, the offense could not score against nine Padres relievers to end the season with a disappointing thud.

Still, when considering everything (of which the above is just a subset), the St. Louis Cardinals had an incredible and admirable 2020.


For further information

If you would like to revisit the various elements of how COVID affected the 2020 season in detailed timeline fashion, please read the following article.

St. Louis Cardinals COVID-19 Time Line


The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of the Year countdown

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 29


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In Memory of Former St. Louis Cardinals – 2020

The closing days of every year are painful when reviewing those former St. Louis Cardinals who left us during the prior 12 months, but 2020 was worse than most. The team lost beloved stars Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, among seven MLB Hall of Famers who passed during the year.

Among a dozen other Cardinals to have passed away during 2020 are one-time teen pitching star Lindy McDaniel and slugger Dick Allen. Off-field notables include Dr. Stan London and scout Charles Peterson.

Those Cardinals still with us include 1954 pitcher Bill Greason, the oldest living former Cardinals player. The right-hander celebrated his 96th birthday on September 3rd.

A short remembrance of each of the 14 follows along with one 2019 leftover. We conclude with a brief look at the St. Louis Browns, as is our annual custom.

2020 Cardinals deaths

Dick Bokelmann

December 27, 2019, Dick Bokelmann, age 93

I learned of the passing of Bokelmann after last year’s article was published, so he will be recognized now.

Over the three seasons of 1951-1953, the right-handed pitcher appeared in 34 games for the Cardinals, all but one in relief. That was his only big league action, as the former Northwestern University hurler logged a 4.90 career ERA.

Bokelmann’s contract was sold to the Reds, but after another year in the minors, he retired at age 28 and returned to his Chicago-area home.

Further details

January 10, Ed Sprague, age 74

Sprague was an original member of the Oakland A’s in 1968 and went on to pitch for four clubs in his eight-year MLB career. During his three-team 1973, the right-hander appeared in eight games for St. Louis, registering a 2.25 ERA.

In his later years, Sprague owned the minor league Stockton Ports. Ed Sprague Jr. followed in his Dad’s footsteps, playing in MLB for 10 years before working in several team front offices.

Further details

March 20, Bob Stephenson, age 91

The Oklahoma native’s MLB career lasted one season, 1955, following two years in the Army. With the Cardinals, the infielder played in 67 games, batting .243. Back in Triple-A in 1956, Stephenson was traded to the Giants. He retired following the season and worked as a geologist in the oil industry. In his later years, Stephenson was a benefactor to the University of Oklahoma’s sports programs.

Further details

Rich Hacker

April 22, Rich Hacker, age 72

The Belleville, IL native had the briefest of MLB careers, just 16 games with the 1971 Expos after having been traded from his original organization, the Mets. Back in the minors, he then transitioned to a junior college coach to scout to coach back to minor league player before ending his playing career in 1979.

Hacker then scouted and managed for the Jays before spending four seasons managing in the Cardinals system. Hired by Whitey Herzog, Hacker managed the Johnson City Cardinals for three seasons and Erie for another. Whitey then promoted Hacker to his big league staff and he remained as first, then third base coach, from 1986 until a year after Herzog resigned in 1989.

Hacker moved on to Toronto as third base coach and later scouted for the Twins and Padres. He passed away due to leukemia.

Further details

May 1, Matt Keough, age 64

The right-hander pitched for five teams over nine big-league seasons, including four games for the 1985 Cardinals (4.50 ERA). His standout year had been with the Oakland A’s of 1980, when he won 16 games with a 2.92 ERA.

After his playing career concluded in Japan, Matt worked as an executive for the A’s. He and his family later became reality television subjects. He died from a pulmonary embolism.

His father, Marty Keough, and uncle, Joe Keough, were big-league outfielders. Marty (now 86 years of age) was a long-time scout with the Cardinals.

Further details

June 4, Bobby Locke, age 86

After three years with the Cleveland Indians, the right-handed pitcher from Pennsylvania appeared in just one game for the 1962 Cardinals, tossing two scoreless frames. Three weeks after he had been acquired in trade that April, he was dealt away again.

Locke played a total of 18 seasons of professional ball, including parts of nine campaigns in the majors, going 16-15 with a 4.02 ERA.

Further details

Dr. Stan London (St. Louis Cardinals)

June 8, Dr. Stan London, age 94

Dr. London was a member of the Cardinals medical staff for over 40 years, starting in 1956, and served as head team physician from 1968-1997. The Springfield, IL native had earned his M.D. degree from Washington University in 1949.

For the 11 years the St. Louis Hawks competed in the NBA (1956-57 through 1966-67), Dr. London was that club’s team physician, as well.

Further details

June 24, Eddie Kasko, age 88

Later known as the manager of the Boston Red Sox, the infielder played in the minors starting in 1949 (minus two years for military service) until he was acquired by the Cardinals following the 1955 season.

After a Triple-A All-Star berth in 1956, Kasko made his MLB debut with the 1957 Cardinals. After two seasons, he was dealt to the Reds, with whom he spent five years before finishing in Houston and Boston (in 1965).

Kasko became the Red Sox’ Triple-A manager in 1966 and by 1970, took over the big-league club, a job he held for four seasons. He then led Boston’s scouting department and remained with the club until 1994. In 2010, Kasko was named a Red Sox Hall of Famer.

Further details

Lou Brock (USA TODAY Sports Images)

September 6, Lou Brock, age 81

Brock played 19 seasons in the majors, including parts of 16 years with the Cardinals from 1964-1979. The Louisiana native had been acquired from the Chicago Cubs on June 15, 1964, generally believed to be the greatest trade in franchise history.

The fan-favorite still holds the National League record with 938 career stolen bases and the big league record of 12 seasons with 50 or more steals. Brock was a career .293 batter with 3,023 hits. Eight times he batted .300 or better in a season.

Brock was at his best in postseason play. The outfielder’s .391 career batting average (34-for-87) is the seventh-best in World Series history, while his 14 stolen bases are tied for the most ever in Fall Classics.

Among Cardinals hitters all-time, Brock ranks first in stolen bases (888); second in games played (2,289), at-bats (9,125), runs (1,427) and hits (2,713), third in doubles (434) and total bases (3,776), fourth in triples (121), sixth in walks (681) and 11th in RBI (814). His 21 career leadoff home runs are the second-most in club annals.

Brock’s uniform no. 20 was retired by the Cardinals in 1979. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1985 and therefore was part of the inaugural class of the Cardinals Hall in 2014.

Further details

Charles Peterson (St. Louis Cardinals)

September 13, Charles Peterson, age 46

COVID claimed the life of a valued member of the Cardinals scouting staff. In addition to his amateur scouting duties, Peterson had served as a volunteer football coach in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina.

As a player, Peterson was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993, but never reached the majors. He loved the game, playing in independent ball in the US and Canada, as well as in Mexico and China.

Peterson’s last major signing for the Cardinals was 2020 first-rounder Jordan Walker.

Further details

Bob Gibson (AP photo)

October 2, Bob Gibson, age 84

Less than two months after the death of his long-time teammate Lou Brock, Gibson followed his friend in passing.

Simply put, Gibson holds the undisputed title of greatest pitcher in Cardinals history.

Gibson, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, ranks first all-time among Cardinals pitchers in wins (251), games started (482), complete games (255), shutouts (56), innings pitched (3,884.1) and strikeouts (3,117) along with a 2.91 ERA.

Gibson, the National League Most Valuable Player in 1968, was a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glove Award winner, and won the NL Cy Young Award in both 1968 and 1970. The Omaha, Nebraska native was a member of three (1964, 1967, 1968) Cardinals World Series teams, with his club winning the title in both 1964 and 1967.

His signature year was 1968, when Gibson authored the greatest season by a pitcher in modern history. His 1.12 ERA established an all-time record for 300 or more innings.

Gibson’s uniform number 45 was retired by the Cardinals in 1975, the year he retired as a player. He was a first-ballot National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 1981 and an inaugural member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014.

Further details

J.W. Porter (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

October 11, J.W. Porter, age 87

The Oklahoma-born catcher and utility man first reached the majors with the 1952 Browns and concluded his big-league career with the 1959 Cardinals. The reserve batted .212 in 23 games. In doing so, Porter became the last player to don the uniform of both St. Louis clubs.

In between, Porter spent two years in the service and played for the Tigers, Indians and Senators. He retired to Jupiter, Florida and often attended spring training games until his later years.

Further details

October 29, Jim Hicks, age 80

After seeing brief action with the 1964-1966 White Sox, the outfielder-first baseman was purchased by the Cardinals following the 1967 season. Following a year in Triple-A in which he was named Pacific Coast League MVP, Hicks appeared in 19 games for St. Louis early in the 1969 season. He batted just .182 before being traded to the Angels for Vic Davalillo that May.

After closing his career in Japan, Hicks spent over 30 years working for Continental Airlines in Houston.

Further details

Lindy McDaniel in 1957

November 14, Lindy McDaniel, age 84

COVID-19 claimed the life of another former Cardinal. As a 19-year old, McDaniel debuted with the 1955 Cardinals later in the same season he signed and pitched for St. Louis for eight seasons. The right-hander led the Major Leagues in saves in back-to-back seasons with the Cardinals in 1959 and 1960, and he earned All-Star honors in 1960.

To conclude his 21-year MLB career consisting of 987 games, McDaniel later played for the Yankees, Cubs, Giants and Royals.

Further details

December 7, Dick Allen, age 78

The long-time Phillies slugger and 1964 NL Rookie of the Year was traded to St. Louis in 1970, but remained a Cardinal for just one year. With St. Louis, he slammed 34 home runs and plated 101.

Over his 15-year career from 1963-1977, Allen slashed .292/.378/.534/.912 with 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI. The seven-time All-Star was also with the Dodgers, White Sox and A’s, including an MVP 1972 season for the Pale Hose.

Further details

Derian Gonzalez (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Update

December 31, Derian Gonzalez, age 25

Unfortunately, this recap of 2020 losses to the Cardinals extended family grew to 15 with the passing of former prospect pitcher Derian Gonzalez. He died in a motorcycle accident in his native Venezuela. The right-hander had become a free agent last fall and was set to join the Atlanta Braves in 2021.

Further details


Remembering the Browns

The ranks of former St. Louis Browns players still living got off on a rough note with the passing of Don Larsen on New Year’s Day 2020. The aforementioned J.W. Porter followed in October and Billy Demars died on December 10.

The three losses during 2020 reduced the count of living Browns to just six – from the 764 men who once played for the team.

The former Brownies still with us are George Elder, Frank Saucier, Johnny Groth, Ed Mickelson, Al Naples and Billy Hunter. The eldest is appropriately Elder at 99 years of age, per the St. Louis Browns Historical Society and Fan Club.


Last year’s article

In Memory of Former St. Louis Cardinals – 2019


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TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #2 – Nolan Gorman


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TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Top Story #2: Carlson Cleans Up

photo: Dylan Carlson via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

One of the biggest positives during a difficult 2020 season in so many ways for the St. Louis Cardinals was the long-awaited arrival of their top minor league position player and top 25 prospect nationally, 21-year old Dylan Carlson.

However, his adjustment to the major leagues did not go smoothly initially. But after a reset in the minors, less than a month later, the switch-hitting outfielder became his club’s number four hitter in the Wild Card Series.

Dylan Carlson

With less than three weeks of Triple-A experience coming into 2020 and the major league staff trying to sort through their other young outfield options, Carlson was not expected to make the big-league club out of summer camp – and did not.

But as the regular season lurched ahead in fits and spurts, the conditions changed. Outfielders ahead of him in the pecking order began to go down and it was clear that the Cardinals listless offense clearly needed a spark, so the door opened.

On August 15, after the team’s extended outage caused by the loss of 10 players and eight staffers to COVID-19, Carlson received “the call” as the Cardinals prepared to resume play in Chicago.

Carlson was already in the 60-man player pool but at that point, required a 40-man roster spot as well. He picked up his rental car and drove from Springfield to the Windy City to join his new teammates.

After playing almost every day since his arrival, Carlson’s situation changed in early September. Sabermetric measures suggested he had encountered significant bad luck at the plate, but his modest results were declining with particular troubles against breaking pitches. As a result, his playing time diminished until he was optioned out on September 8.

Specifically, Carlson only started two of seven games to open September, extending his then-current skid to 1-for-19 (.053) with no walks. His aggregate slash line over his first 79 MLB plate appearances was .162/.215/.243/.458.  Further, Carlson’s strikeout rate of 29.1% was only exceeded among team regulars by another struggler, veteran Matt Carpenter at 29.4%.

Recalled from Springfield 10 days later, Carlson began to put his game together. To conclude the regular season, he batted .278 (10-for-36), including four doubles, a triple, two home runs and a .936 OPS. His 11 RBI during that season-concluding period was the most among MLB rookies and fourth among all National League hitters.

In the final regular season game, Carlson was installed as the cleanup hitter and he continued there for all three games of the Wild Card Series against San Diego. The regular in left field (as Tyler O’Neill was reduced to reserve duties), was a standout. Carlson went 3-for-9, including a double, drew four walks and stole a base. His slash line was .333/.571/.444/1.016.

As the Cardinals head into 2021, the main question surrounding Carlson is not going to be whether he will be in the lineup every day. That is a given.

Based on the breadth of his skills and the team’s glaring needs, one could build a case that Carlson could settle in as the leadoff hitter or the number two batter. And of course, we’ve already seen him pressed into duty in the number four spot.

No matter what happens in the future, the arrival of Carlson in St. Louis was clearly one of the biggest stories for the 2020 Cardinals.


For further information

TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #1 – Dylan Carlson


The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of the Year countdown

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


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2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 29


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TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Top Story #3: Wong Gone

photo: Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong (Joe Puetz/Imagn)

In 2020, second baseman Kolten Wong seemed to solidify his importance to the St. Louis Cardinals lineup.

In the prime of his career at age 29, Wong settled in as his club’s leadoff hitter, filling a long-standing need. The left-handed batter logged a .350 on-base percentage, with only sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Brad Miller better.

For a team that features a strong defense which enhances the effectiveness of its pitching, home-grown Cardinal Wong was the glue up the middle alongside shortstop Paul DeJong and stationed between other defensive stalwarts Yadier Molina behind the plate and Harrison Bader in center.

Following the 2020 season, Wong earned his second consecutive National League Gold Glove Award and is generally recognized as the best defender in the game at his position.

In the end, none of that mattered.

Kolten Wong

Wong is a free agent today primarily because COVID-19 negatively impacted the game’s financial structure, and specifically that of the Cardinals.

Coming off a normal baseball season, Wong’s team option of $12.5 million for 2021 would have been exercised without question. But this past year has been anything but normal.

The Cardinals have stated their intent to cut payroll year to year and Wong was one of the few outlets that could to enable them to do so. However, they had to pay him a $1 million buyout fee when they declined the option on October 28.

John Mozeliak via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak defended the jettisoning of Wong, calling it “the conservative, safer play.”

If fact, that statement could have been broadened to be the general slogan of the team’s entire approach for the 2020-2021 offseason.

When he officially dons another team’s uniform, Wong will complete his transformation to the poster child of what the 2021 Cardinals could have been instead of the new, more austere version that will next take the field at Busch Stadium.

Wong is now a free agent and is expected to fetch at least a two-year commitment from another team, though the average annual value of his new contract may be less than $12.5 million. He is the second-most appealing second baseman on the free agent market after offensive force D.J. LeMahieu.

For their part, the Cardinals assert that they have not closed the door on Wong returning for 2021, but no one seems to believe it has much of a chance of happening – probably not even them.

In fact, Wong’s designated successor at second base has already been announced as Tommy Edman, a competent defender, but not of the same skill level as Wong. More importantly, Edman will make almost $12 million less in 2021 than the man he is replacing would have received.

For a St. Louis team that relies on its defense to be its backbone, the loss of Wong coupled with the promise of Molina not returning could negate a significant part of that advantage. In the worst case, the pitching staff may feel the negative impact of a less stout defense behind them, as well.

On the other hand, no matter which team signs Wong, their 2021 defense will improve due to his presence, while the Cardinals continue their long, cold winter of being conservative and safe.

For further information

Cardinals Drop Kolten Wong on “the Conservative, Safer Play”


The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of the Year countdown

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


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2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 29


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TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Top Story #4: Power Outage Intensifies

photo: Paul Goldschmidt (Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports)

Just about anyone who follows the St. Louis Cardinals would readily agree that the team is oriented around its pitching and defense. That is the polite, politically correct way of noting the offense is subpar without having to say so directly.

Boiling that down further, in a review of the key components of the offense, slugging stood out as the softest spot of the team’s soft spot in 2020. In fact, it is a continuation of a problem that was evident in 2019, as well.

Here is St. Louis’ results and ranking among 30 Major League Baseball teams in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging in each of the two most recent seasons.

Cardinals team 2019 MLB rank 2020 MLB rank Playoff teams
Slugging 0.415 23rd 0.371 27th 16th of 16
Batting average 0.245 23rd 0.234 22nd 13th of 16
On-base 0.322 17th 0.323 14th 10th of 16

While one could squint at the above table and find a way to say something positive about the 2020 batting average and on-base marks compared to 2019, there is no such positive spin possible with regard to slugging.

The aggregate SLG for the team plummeted 44 points year to year, dropping St. Louis’ relative MLB ranking by four spots to 27th, resting precariously close to the game’s cellar.

It is accurate to observe that the 2020 Cardinals landed their Wild Card playoff berth in spite of their slugging.

Among the expanded 2020 playoff pool of 16 teams, the Cardinals offense placed in the bottom half in all three key offensive categories. But in slugging, St. Louis was the weakest power-hitting team to make the 2020 post-season field.

Of course, team stats are nothing more than the reflection of the aggregate of its individual players. For the Cardinals, forget about any of them being among MLB or even National League leaders.

In 2020, only three St. Louis qualifiers slugged higher than the average MLB player, down from just four the year before.

StL leaders 2019 SLG StL leaders 2020 SLG
Tommy Edman 0.500 Paul Goldschmidt 0.466
Paul Goldschmidt 0.476 Brad Miller 0.451
Marcell Ozuna 0.472 Harrison Bader 0.443
Paul DeJong 0.444 MLB average 0.418
MLB average 0.435

2019’s total of four above-MLB average sluggers was buoyed by the totally unexpected and non-sustainable power surge shown by then-rookie Tommy Edman.

Harrison Bader (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

The major loss for 2020 among sluggers was that of Marcell Ozuna, who departed as a free agent. And none of the in-house growth options touted by the club were able to fill the gap during the COVID-interrupted 2020 campaign.

A new addition for 2020, Brad Miller, stepped in as the designated hitter to provide a major supply of power – before a late-season drought parked him on the bench in the Wild Card Series, that is. Miller is again a free agent heading into 2021.

In fact, during the shortened 58-game campaign, the Cardinals’ only other above-average slugging (besides steady star Paul Goldschmidt) came from quite a surprising source – center fielder Harrison Bader.

Contributing factors

While the players themselves are the ones standing at the plate with the lumber in their hands, the staff member directly responsible for the offense is hitting coach Jeff Albert. Heading into his third season in the job in 2021, Albert has already been feeling the heat from a growing segment of frustrated fans.

Randy Arozarena (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

Criticism of St. Louis’ offense – and the front office specifically – was intensified by the major powered-up successes of a trio of former Cardinals – Ozuna of Atlanta, Luke Voit from the Yankees and post-season breakout star Randy Arozarena of Tampa Bay.

During the regular season, Voit led the American League with 22 home runs and was second with his .610 slugging percentage. Ozuna was the National League home run champ with 18 and finished third in SLG at .636, 170 points higher than St. Louis leader Goldschmidt.

In the playoffs, just 10 months after having been traded away, Arozarena was a sensation, crushing 10 long balls in 20 post-season contests while slugging .871. The latter was second-best among all players who appeared in at least three October games.

Not surprisingly, Randy was named the AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player and shortly after the World Series, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak delivered a rare public mea culpa for his club having let the 25-year-old get away.

What’s next?

Jeff Albert (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

Given the Cardinals lineup is unlikely to be significantly different in 2021 from the 2020 edition, improvement must come from within. If Albert cannot find the combination to unlock his hitters’ power potential during what is hoped to be a more normal season ahead, it is difficult to envision him remaining for year four.

As they say, when results consistently fall short of expectations, you cannot replace the entire team… you seek a different message.

Heading into 2021, however, the most important questions remain the same:

  • Will anyone step up to help fill the slugging void?
  • Will the Cardinals again be able to pitch and defend their way into the post-season despite their subpar slugging?

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of the Year countdown

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


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2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – December 23


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TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Top Story #5: Minor League Contraction

photo: Williams Rojas

This story is a huge matter if you care about Minor League Baseball as well as the cultivation of future fans for Major League Baseball. Instead, if you are only focused on the majors today, the impact will only be felt in immeasurable ways in the future. Out of sight, out of mind.

The related headlines actually began in the fourth quarter of 2019, started by the excellent and ongoing reporting of Baseball America. That November, the New York Times made the rumor much more real by publishing a tentative list of almost four dozen minor league teams that were on the block to lose their affiliation with Major League Baseball clubs prior to the 2021 season.

This early list included two St. Louis Cardinals affiliates – short-season clubs which ended up being among the final 43 cut, as well. They are the State College Spikes and the Johnson City Cardinals. In fact, their entire respective leagues are gone as we knew them. The short-season Class-A New York-Penn League is no more and the rookie-advanced level Appalachian League lost its professional designation.

In the interim 12 months, old-fashioned backroom horse trading led to some changes in the list that was ultimately made official, but the end result was essentially the same – 43 communities across the country lost their affiliated minor league baseball team.

Received in return was a promise for a place in new amateur college summer leagues, pushed into the space already occupied by other such leagues. Inherent with the change is the shifting of all operational expense to local owners and the player salaries eliminated. It is something rather than nothing for these towns, but a major step downward for the teams and their local fans.

Making matters even worse is that COVID-19 forced the entire 2020 minor league season to be canceled. The force of the pandemic was unknown when the contraction initiative began, but became an unexpected ally of MLB to force its way on the minor league owners, whose collective bargaining posture had been significantly weakened by the loss of their entire 2020 revenue streams.

While saber-rattling opposition to MLB’s initiative popped up both on the local levels and in the halls of Congress, they ultimately had no power to stop the changes – or at least chose not to use it.

Local fans were stripped of their chance to say one last goodbye to their professionally-affiliated teams. For up to 70 Cardinals minor league players, their jobs are being lost. Same for managers, coaches, trainers and strength coaches previously assigned to these clubs. Cardinals player development personnel also took job cuts.

As a local example, fans in Johnson City, whose team first affiliated with the Cardinals in 1938 and has been continuously aligned since 1975, had come out to support their team in ever-growing numbers. In fact, with better management and facility improvements leading to a better fan experience, the JC Cardinals set a new attendance record in each of the club’s final four seasons.

In the end, none of this mattered.

Motivations

The only sure winners are the 30 Major League Baseball teams, who rallied around a proposal first brought forward by the Houston Astros. It was primarily intended to increase efficiency and remove expense, while taking total control over what had been a semi-autonomous – and therefore problematic – Minor League Baseball organization.

MLB clubs believe their minor leaguers are better conditioned, and with modern analytics, they can do a better job of pre-determining which of their young employees have the best chance of one day reaching the big leagues. All of the other players are there to provide full teams to assist the chosen few as they continue to develop. And with more amateur positions being created, those candidates who fall through the cracks can be picked up along the way, goes the logic.

The new structure of the affiliated minor leagues going forward will be four full-season teams per organization (120 total) plus rookie league teams which play in minor league complexes in Arizona, Florida and the Dominican Republic. MiLB headquarters and its mission have been eliminated, rolled into the MLB management structure.

To remain affiliated, each of the 120 surviving teams have to sign a waiver to not sue MLB. They must also commit to facility and operational changes at their own expense. Many teams and their towns are already struggling under debt load assumed to build and/or improve their stadiums.

Long before this idea to contract entire leagues was hatched, separate initiatives had been gaining momentum in both the courts of law and in the court of public opinion to force MLB teams to pay their minor leaguers minimum wage.

For some time, MLB used legislation as their primary weapon to fight back, gaining and strengthening exemptions secured via governmental lobbying efforts. But the handwriting was on the wall that these archaic practices would eventually be struck down. So if players were to be paid more in the future, the way to recoup the expense is to have fewer players.

I want to be clear that MLB did not present their initiatives in this manner. That would have been a PR nightmare. Instead, they chose to cloak their actions as that of a benevolent dictator, concerned only about reducing the long bus rides and poor working conditions experienced by their players (while as noted, pushing the expense for these improvements onto local team owners).

Many of us could see through this façade, however, especially those who had experienced corporate “downsizing”, “right-sizing” and other consultant-generated buzzwords coined to self-justify top-down-driven elimination of expense to improve the corporate bottom line.

The end result

For the Cardinals, the four full season teams remain – the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A), Springfield Cardinals (Double-A), Peoria Chiefs (High-A) and Palm Beach Cardinals (Class-A). The others are the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and the Dominican Summer League Red and Blue clubs. The Cardinals own outright five of the seven teams, and hold a minority stake in another (Memphis). Only the Chiefs of Peoria have independent ownership.

While there seemed little doubt that MLB and its owners would get their way, it is still sad to see them be so willing to disenfranchise millions of fans of the very game for which they are the ultimate caretakers.

From their end, MLB can and does assert that not a single community is losing baseball. In fact, they disagree with the term “contraction” for that reason. Too bad. It is what it is.

In three to five years, let’s look back and see how many of the 43 teams to have lost their affiliation are able to survive, and the level of erosion of fan support for the ones that can hang on.

The long term loss of growth to the game overall cannot be measured directly – but to assume there will be none is to ignore reality. But this is what happens when decisions are balance sheet-driven.

For those in doubt, please read my case study reviewing what the long slide from Triple-A to a college wood bat league over multiple decades has meant to baseball in Springfield, Illinois.

The Downward Slide Since Springfield, Illinois Lost Affiliated Baseball

Fangraphs is among those who have undertaken serious efforts to define the extent of possible damage to the game’s fan pipeline by the loss of the 43 teams – by trying to quantify those fans being left behind.

Even those who don’t care to read the details, just viewing the graphic should get the message across.

Fangraphs’ conclusion:

“5.2 million people across the U.S. will lose their access to close, in-person baseball. Nearly 23 million people who had minor league access will now have to go elsewhere — to different leagues, different pools of players and, perhaps, different price points…”

Even if you are not directly in these populations, if the future health of the game matters to you, you should care.

Wondering what you can do about it?

For that, I have no answer.


The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of the Year countdown

The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – December 23


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The Cardinal Nation’s Top Five Stories of 2020 Countdown

The Cardinal Nation’s annual review of the top stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals during this calendar year is back for an unlucky 13th year in 2020, with one selection unveiled per day.

Right up front, I have several admissions to make. In almost every way, 2020 became the kind of year that I would like to forget about as soon as possible – and I suspect I am not alone in my feelings about that.

Further, I’ve been known to vary the number of Top Stories of the Year based on my view of the importance of the key events during the prior 12 months.

With just 37% of the MLB schedule having been played in 2020 (and no minor league game action whatsoever), I have chosen to go with roughly that percentage of what would be in a normal year a robust 15-article series – the top five.

Per tradition, I will then wrap up the series with my prediction for the top five Cardinals stories of 2021 and audit how well I did in attempting to predict 2020’s biggest news items one year ago. Off the top of my head, I am guessing that self-assessment could be ugly. After all, who could possibly have foreseen what was coming 12 months ago?

This placeholder post will carry the links to all five stories (click on the titles below). A link to this as well as the top stories of each year from 2008 through 2019 and my start-of-year predictions for 2020 can always be found via “STORIES OF THE YEAR”, located on the red bar on the left side of the page, in the list directly underneath the site logo.

Also, join the discussion about this series at The Cardinal Nation’s free forum.

The Cardinal Nation’s Top 5 Stories of 2020

  1. Minor League Contraction
  2. Power Outage Intensifies
  3. Wong Gone
  4. Carlson Cleans Up
  5. From COVID to Wild Card

Follow on articles


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – December 23


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Liberatore and Gorman: Ability to Play in the Majors Now

photo: Matthew Liberatore (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Late Friday afternoon, Mike Shildt was one of the final group of Major League Baseball managers to meet with media members during a week in which they separately took questions and provided answers via Zoom. The Cardinals’ skipper connected from his winter vacation quarters on St. Simons Island in Georgia and graciously extended his scheduled 30 minutes to 50. As usual, his replies were thorough and thoughtful.

Mike Shildt via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

I had the opportunity to ask Shildt about the players who most impressed in the Springfield alternate camp, which turned out to be the major player development opportunity for the organization in 2020.

After he praised the staff who ran the activities – from Jose Oquendo to Tim Leveque, Russ Steinhorn, Roberto Espinoza, Chris Swauger, Joey Hawkins and the medical staff – the manager also thanked the players themselves for getting the most out of the somewhat restricted opportunities presented them.

After noting the feedback was “super-positive on all the guys.” Shildt singled out two standouts, beginning with left-handed pitcher Matthew Liberatore.

“There were a lot of real favorable reports on Matthew Liberatore from both sides of the ball,” the manager said. “Timmy (minor league pitching coordinator Leveque) was very complimentary. (Camp coordinator Jose) Oquendo also from a competitive standpoint – make up, how he went about it, how he pitched, throwing in. He was very complimentary also.”

Next up was Liberatore’s since-childhood friend, third baseman Nolan Gorman.

Nolan Gorman

“Nolan Gorman impressed people by the way he was going about it, improving defensively, taking at bats,” Shildt continued. “So those were two positives. I felt like those guys took advantage of their opportunities down there. Those are probably the two that at least initially come to mind.”

Not wanting to leave out others, the manager added a few more names before reinforcing that Liberatore and Gorman were the top two standouts.

“We had some up and down guys – Austin Dean and guys like that – that did well when they were there and went about their business,” Shildt said. “John Nogowski, guys like that. Zack Thompson also did a nice job as well.”

A number of observers, this writer among them, are keenly interested in when Liberatore and Gorman reach St. Louis. The implications for 2022 are huge if the two can establish a major league base this coming season.

It is quite possible. In fact, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak recently said he would not be surprised if the lefty pitches for the Cardinals at some point in 2021.

Matthew Liberatore

Before the session with almost four dozen media members closed, I was able to squeeze in a follow up question regarding what may be ahead for the duo in 2021. Given neither has played an official game at either Double-A and Triple-A, but did have the summer of 2020 in alternate camp, how might their readiness to contribute at the major league level in 2021 be assessed?

“You know, Brian, I will defer to our really good player development group – Mr. LaRocque (farm director Gary), Mo and the group – to weigh in on that,” Shildt replied.

The manager also acknowledged that he and his coaches will have the next major opportunity to evaluate the pair ahead.

“Those guys will clearly be in whatever version of big league camp we have again and have real opportunities again in that camp,” he said. “So we will have an evaluation from the big league staff as well. So it is really just about the body of work when they go back, and ultimately, it comes down to their consistency.”

“They are clearly two talented guys,” Shildt continued. “And they’ve got the ability to play in the big leagues now. We just don’t have the room and they are not quite ready. That determination will be made by people that are really good at what they do in the organization.”

Next, the manager praised how the duo go about their work and leverage their learnings, uttering the name of the Cardinals’ best young player, the staff ace.

“And they are both very dedicated to having good off-seasons and being good players,” Shildt said. “So similar to what I have expressed with a Jack Flaherty. I am not comparing anyone to Jack – only in how he got to the big leagues so quickly and was able to excel, as Jack took advantage of the experiences and he emotionally and work ethic matched his ability, which is pretty enormous.”

Jack Flaherty

For the record, at the age of 21, Flaherty entered 2017 spring training with not an inning pitched at Double-A or higher on his resume. He then shot through Springfield and Memphis before making his big league debut with St. Louis on September 1, 2017. The final month, he made six appearances. Including five starts for the Cardinals.

While it will not be his call, the manager believes that Liberatore and Gorman can accelerate their arrival in the majors as Flaherty did before them.

“I say all that… I think those guys could get there quicker than most. But it is really about how consistent they are with their games. That consistency level is what is going to lead them to be able to be at the big league level,” he concluded.

If it transpires that Liberatore and Gorman can drop their respective anchors in St. Louis before the 2021 season is out, two big questions heading into the 2022 season could have at least partial answers. But as Shildt made clear multiple times, it will ultimately be up to the players and how they perform in the season just ahead.


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