St. Louis Cardinals MLB Notebook – Week of January 11-17

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

Three arbitration eligible Cardinals settle

On Friday, January 15, the Cardinals announced agreement have been reached with three of their arbitration eligible players for one-year contracts for 2021.  The deadline for submitting salary figures for arbitration was 12 noon CT on Friday.

The three players are RHPs Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks, and CF Harrison Bader.  Reyes settled for a salary of $900,000 for the 2021 season, while Hicks agreed to a salary of $862,500.  Bader will be paid $2 million for the upcoming season.

The final amouns for the two pitchers was slightly lower than the projections from MLB Trade Rumors.  The average projection for Reyes was $1.1 million and the average projection for Hicks was $900,000.

Bader’s agreement was higher than projected.  His average projection was $1.4 million, $600,000 lower than he received.  Much of Bader’s value comes from his elite defense, though the center fielder ended the 2020 season with the third highest OPS on the team, behind 1B Paul Goldschmidt and utility player Brad Miller.

Jack Flaherty

The Cardinals failed to reach agreement with RHP Jack Flaherty.  An agreement could still be reached by the parties prior to the hearing, which will likely occur sometime in February, however, by policy, the Cardinals will stop negotiating and go to hearing.  Flaherty has a history of being outspoken about his displeasure with salaries for players.  He refused to accept the Cardinals prior salary offers, which were then assigned to him as a pre-arbitration player.  Flaherty was penalized $10,000 for this refusal both years.  The parties submitted salary figures on Friday, with Flaherty submitting for $3.9 million and the Cardinals submitting an even $3 million.  An arbitration panel must choose between the two figures in a hearing.

The Cardinals reached an agreement with RHP John Gant on December 3 for $2.1 million.  RHP John Brebbia was also arbitration eligible, but the Cardinals non-tendered him and he subsequently signed a major league contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Cardinals minor league coaches announced

On Saturday, January 16, the Cardinals announced the coaching staffs for the 2021 minor league season.  The group underwent significant changes due to the elimination of two affiliate teams in State College and Johnson City.  The moves were part of an MLB wide reorganization that reduced the total number of affiliated teams to 120.

The Cardinals retain their top four full season clubs in Memphis, Springfield, Peoria and Palm Beach.  Peoria and Palm Beach have switched classes with Peoria becoming the Class-A Advanced affiliate and Palm Beach switched to Low-A.  Memphis and Springfield remain the Triple-A and Double-A clubs.

Ben Johnson has been retained as the manager of the Memphis Redbirds.  Joe Kruzel was not retained as the Springfield manager and has been replaced by Jose Leger.  Leger spent eight years managing in the New York Mets organization and joined the Cardinals organization in 2018.

Chris Swauger will be the manager of the Peoria Chiefs in 2021.  Swauger previously managed the Johnson City Cardinals and the Chiefs in 2017-2018.

The Low-A Palm Beach Cardinals will be managed by Jose Leon.  Leon managed the State College Spikes in 2020.  Dann Bilardello, who managed in Palm Beach previously, was not retained.

The Cardinals retained their Gulf Coast League affiliate, now labeled as Extended Spring Training (EST).  The team will be managed by Roberto Espinoza, who managed Johnson City to the 2019 Appalachian League title.

Two managers, Joe Hawkins and Erick Almonte, were retained in hitting coach roles for 2021.

The two teams in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) keep their 2020 managers for 2021.

Jose Oquendo, who temporarily returned as third base coach for the 2020 Cardinals, remain an infield instructor in the system.

The details of remaining staff changes can be found here for TCN members.

Major Changes in Cardinals Player Development for 2021

Cardinals sign 15 international free agents

On the first day of the 2021 international signing period, the Cardinals announced the signings of 15 players from four different countries.  By far the most were from the Dominican Republic but the group includes two players from Venezuela and one each from Panama and the Bahamas.

The Bahamian player, Adari Grant, is a middle infielder with offensive upside.  From Panama, the Cardinals signed catcher Leonardo Bernal, a switch hitter who was part of his home country’s 2018 US World Cup Silver Medal team.

A full list of the 15 signees and their details can be found here for TCN members.

Cardinals Announce 15 First-Day International Signings

Trade and Acquisition Rumors

Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch stated in his weekly chat that the Cardinals are not actively pursuing starting pitching.  Interest in a reunion with RHP Adam Wainwright remains, but outside a signing of Wainwright there is no indication as of yet that the Cardinals will seek a low cost starting pitcher should Wainwright sign elsewhere.  Goold reports that all signs point to the Cardinals seeking to reduce payroll for 2021.

Yadier Molina

In an interview with Cardinals Spanish language broadcaster Polo Ascencio, former Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said that he is prepared to retire should no acceptable offer be made to him by the Cardinals or another MLB team.  The details of the interview were reported by Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.  While the Cardinals maintain an interest in a reunion with Molina, the only offer made to Molina was deemed “ridiculously low” by Molina’s camp, according to sources.

Interest by other teams has been reported but recent acquisitions of other catchers by the Mets and the Padres and others have reduced the number of teams looking for catching help.  Catcher J.T. Realmuto remains unsigned and may be the hang-up in Molina’s market solidifying, but a recent report of a large offer made to Realmuto by the Phillies may provide clarity for Molina should Realmuto accept.

Transactions

There are no transactions to report.

Injury Report

Multiple reports from executives and coaches at Winter Warm-Up are that both reliever Jordan Hicks and starter Miles Mikolas are cleared to have a normal spring. The two are already in Jupiter preparing for spring training.

Looking Ahead

Listed below are dates for key offseason events:

  • Friday, January 15 was the deadline for submitting salary figures for arbitration eligible players. That day, the Cardinals reached agreement with three of the four remaining arbitration eligible players.  The three are CF Harrison Bader, RHP Alex Reyes and RHP Jordan Hicks. RHP Jack Flaherty is heading for an arbitration hearing.  John Brebbia was originally in this group as well, but was instead non-tendered and has since signed with San Francisco.  John Gant, in his second year of eligibility, reached an agreement with the Cardinals on December 3, 2020.
  • RHP Alex Reyes reached agreement for a $900,000 salary for 2021.  CF Harrison Bader and the Cardinals agreed to a 2021 salary of $2 million.  Also reaching agreement with the Cardinals was RHP Jordan Hicks for a one year salary of $862,500.
  • RHP Jack Flaherty remains the only arbitration eligible player to not reach agreement. The parties can continue to negotiate on a salary up to the time of the hearing, however the Cardinals say they will not negotiate further and will require the hearing. It will occur sometime in February.  The salary figure filed by Flaherty was $3.9 million.  The Cardinals submitted a figure of $3 million.  The arbitration panel is not permitted to grant a salary anywhere in between but must choose between the two salary figures submitted by the parties.
  • The annual Winter Warm-Up has gone virtual for 2021 with its final day on Monday, January 18. Details on the events and opportunities for autographed merchandise can be found at cardinals.com/wwu.
  • From a report in USA TODAY by Bob Nightengale, commissioner Rob Manfred has informed the 30 MLB teams that they should plan for 2021 Spring Training to begin on time and for a full 162 game season to be played. Cardinals spring training will begin with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 17.

Blast from the Past – Ozzie Smith:  1978-1981

Last week’s Blast covered the early years of Ozzie Smith’s life and the first years of his professional baseball career.  We ended with the only season Smith spent in the minor leagues.  This week we cover Ozzie’s first four years as a major leaguer, all with the San Diego Padres.

Ozzie Smith

Smith went to the Padres 1978 spring training camp as a non-roster invitee and played well enough at the Yuma, Arizona camp to earn a roster spot on the major league team.  He made his debut with the Padres on April 7, 1978, starting in the eighth spot in the lineup at shortstop against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  Ozzie made two plate appearances, grounding into a force out and walking.

Smith secured his first major league hit the next day, a single.  Smith dazzled at defense, making a spectacular bare-handed play in an April 20 game against the Braves.  He did his first back flip for the fans in the last home game of 1978.  The back flip became a trademark for Ozzie throughout his major league career.

Smith finished the 1978 season with a slash line of .258/.311/.312 in 159 games with the Padres.  He finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to Bob Horner of the Braves.

Ozzie suffered through a sophomore slump in 1979.  He began the season 0-for-32 before getting his first hit on April 13 against the Reds.  Smith’s batting average stayed below the Mendoza line for much of the season.  He climbed above .200 on August 4 and ended the season with a slash line of .211/.260/.262.

Smith’s fielding was his savior.  He led the league in assists in 1979, the first of eight times he accomplished this feat.  He ended his career with 8,375 assists, the most of any player at any position in major league history.

Smith’s 1980 season was somewhat better as he slashed .230/.312/.276.  Ozzie also won the first of his 13 consecutive Gold Glove Awards.  1980 was even better for Smith on the personal front, as he married Denise Jackson, who he met at the Astrodome in Houston where she worked as an usher.  They were married in November.  They would have three children, Nikko, Dustin, and Taryn before divorcing in 1996.

In the 1981 season, Smith was named to the NL All-Star team for the first time, the first of 14 career selections.  Ozzie hit .222/.294/.256 in the season split into two halves by a strike.  Smith led the NL that season in games played (110), plate appearances (507) and at-bats (450). He earned his second Gold Glove.

Garry Templeton and Ozzie Smith (Getty Images)

1981 was Smith’s last season in San Diego.  On December 10, he was traded to St. Louis in a six-player deal that sent Smith, Steve Mura and a player to be named later to the Cardinals for Garry Templeton, Sixto Lezcano and a player to be named later.  The PTBNL sent by San Diego was Al Olmstead and the Cardinals sent Luis DeLeon.  The trade was not completed until 62 days later as Ozzie had no trade protection in his contract and initially refused the deal.  Manager Whitey Herzog finally persuaded Smith to accept the trade and become a Cardinal.

Next week we will review Smith’s debut and early years with St. Louis.


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