The Cardinals offseason started out pretty damn sad, with the bitterness of losing to the Giants in the NLCS getting quickly eclipsed by the unexpected and deeply untimely death of rookie and bright shining star of the future Oscar Taveras.
The Cardinals had plans for Taveras — including a probable starting position in right field in 2015, and then also, you know, a forever of winning. Their quickly formulated backup plan involved a trade for Braves outfielder Jason Heyward.
After roaring through 2013 with some of the highest offensive numbers in the league (heyyy, runs batted in!), the Cardinals were more than lackluster with the bats in 2014. So in 2015, both the team and Heyward, who is entering his 6th major league season at the ripe old age of 25, will be looking for some renewed fire. They just may each be the spark the other needs.
In the Heyward trade, the Cardinals said goodbye to Shelby Miller. Which, whatever. Shelby had a lot of promise but bro knew he had a lot of promise, and that kind of dickishness doesn’t fly with the Redbirds (haa, a bird joke!). The trade also involved giving the Braves Tyrell Jenkins for Jordan Walden — a move to shore up a Pat Neshek-less bullpen. How much the Cardinals will miss Neshek is up for debate – toward the end of 2014 he gave up some key hits/runs in big spots that made his earlier lights-out-ness seem like a fluke.
In some other sad offseason news, Daniel Descalso was released into free agency and picked up by the Colorado Rockies, which means that he and his best friend, center fielder Jon Jay, are no longer dugout BFFs. But at least they took a trip to Italy with each other, their wives, and a selfie stick in the offseason to commemorate their same-team bromance. When the Cardinals head to Coors Field in early June, there will be HUGS (and maybe an ass grab or two — it’s the Cardinal Way).
Giants fans and… Angels fans? will disagree, but Yadier Molina is the best catcher/most valuable player currently in baseball (you can have your Posey and your Trout!). You can read a million articles about this – his game-calling, his nearly impeccable defense, his better-than-solid offensive contributions (which suffered slightly in 2014, like all the players’ numbers). On the less tangible side, the guidance and support Yadi provides for pitchers, especially young pitchers, is priceless. He could bat under the Mendoza line and still be considered an asset to this team, but he doesn’t – last year he batted .282, and in the three years before that he was consistently batting over .300 (.319 in 2013). The question marks surrounding Molina this year are health-related. In 2014, he missed significant playing time after injuring his thumb sliding into third base, necessitating the (thankfully) brief addition of one (total garbage monster) A.J. Pierzynski to the clubhouse for the latter half of the season. If Yadi can stay uninjured, he’s a hell of a force on this team. If he gets a little injured, he’s still a force (one with a neck tattoo).
Considering who the Cardinals first baseman was a short four opening days ago, Matt Adams has made himself quite at home with the Cardinals. Big City is a young guy with a lot of power (that has hardly shown up in games) whose defense is not the worst. Also, during the 2014 NLDS clincher, he came up to bat against Clayton Kershaw with two men on base and I yelled, “If Madams hits a home run here, I’m buying everyone shots!” and then I had to buy everyone shots. I’ll take it. Injuries (and platoon issues) are a concern, and in the long run, Adams is almost certainly on a designated hitter track, but for the foreseeable future, he’s a firm and important part of the “young Cardinals”, who are powerful and full of promise. Also he went to Slippery Rock University, which announcers who don’t regularly cover the Cardinals CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF.
Wong came in third in Rookie of the Year voting in last September, after hitting 12 home runs stealing 20 bases after being called back to the majors in the latter portion of the season. In the 2014 postseason, he proved himself to be a viable bat in high pressure situations (2 home runs, 4 RBIs, and a .278 BA in 5 NLCS games, (Sasha says: which is so many games compared to the 162 game grind of the regular season!)). The Cardinals should be looking forward to his power developing even more this season and a lot of terrible “Wong ball” puns in the headlines.
Peralta’s first year with the Cardinals was a success. Regardless of the negative talk surrounding his acquisition, Jhonny proved to provide solid defense and much-improved offense at shortstop (sorry, Pete Kozma) (Sasha says: Nobody is sorry about Pete Kozma except everyone who had to watch him play baseball.). His average dipped quite a bit from 2013 to 2014 (.303 to .263 — seriously, what was going on with the Cardinals’ offense last year?), but even if he stays at around his line from 2014, he’s giving the Cardinals what they need.
Like the rest of the team, Matt Carpenter’s offensive numbers dropped noticeably from 2013 to 2014. However, Marp has never been the big power guy – in 2013, he hit a career-best .318 with 78 RBIs, but only had 11 home runs. What matters about Marp is that his OBP stayed high last year, and his walks actually went up. He’s devoted to getting on base, as a good lead-off hitter should be, and he provides some unexpected pop at times. He’s a defensive strength at third base, and he’s a Cardinal to the core – gritty and full of hustle and heart. Cue the eye rolls (Sasha says: CONSIDER THEM CUED).
Matt Holliday is one of the oldest Cardinals on the current roster, and he’s also eligible for free agency at the end of this year. What this means for his slowly declining (but still decent) offensive numbers remains to be seen. Holliday is a workhorse who puts a lot of time and energy into regular workouts and a healthy diet. Even if his 100 RBI days are over (and they probably are), he seems plenty capable of providing steady, if not spectacular, numbers.
JON JAY, center fielder.
It will be (sort of) interesting to see how many starts Jon Jay gets in 2015 – Peter Bourjos is a better bet defensively but Jay gets the offensive edge. Jay doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, but he was one of the few Cardinals to bat over .300 last year (just barely, at .303, and it should be noted that he played fewer games than the rest of the starting lineup because of Bourjos). His 2014 OBP was .372, so Jay is getting the ball in play and getting on base. <nods head approvingly at Jon Jay>
Heyward is the headline of the Cardinals’ offseason and the most exciting thing thus far about 2015. He hit a 3-run home run in his first major league at-bat in 2010, and he’s still only 25. There are big possibilities here. Everyone will be watching to see if Heyward performs, how well he performs, and what, if any, moves the Cardinals make to secure him beyond this season. Heyward’s age, raw talent, and seemingly unlimited potential make him look like a great fit for this team, and it will be fascinating to see if he can live up to the high hopes. While there is obviously no way to know how Heyward compares to the potential he is replacing in Oscar Taveras, he is most certainly an upgrade from last year’s starter in right field, Allen Craig, who experienced a rapid decline after the holy-shit-ness of 2011 to which he contributed.
What Heyward provides is a point of interest this season, which the Cardinals don’t have a lot of. Yes, any of the previously mentioned players could over- or under-perform, but the most overused word so far in this breakdown has probably been “solid”. Heyward is someone who could make huge offensive waves, but also has some down years that can’t be explained. And he’s so young. All eyes will be on J-Hey what he could possibly do in 2015.
If the Cardinals have a weakness, it’s the bench. There’s no one here that they can send up as a pinch-hitter in late innings in a close game that makes fans says, “Yesssss.” They picked up Mark Reynolds, who is probably the best hitter on a list that includes Tony Cruz, Pete Kozma, Ty Kelly, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and Tommy Pham. The bench is heavily right-handed, and by “heavily”, I mean that everyone is right-handed. Given the long absence of Yadier Molina last year, it’s worrying that the Cardinals didn’t try to pick up a more veteran back-up catcher, as it doesn’t seem they see Tony Cruz filling that role reliably.
Kozma gets a lot of hate from the fans and is hardly impressive offensively, but it’s hard to forget what he did to the Nationals in the final game of the 2012 NLDS. Kozma is also in that family of David Eckstein/Bo Hart scrappiness that the Cardinals love and get ridiculed for loving. Who knows? Maybe it’s his time to shine. (Probably not.)
As mentioned above, expect Bourjos and Grichuk to get a fair amount of time in center field, especially if Jon Jay has a slow start with his bat. Bourjos is a serious defensive asset out there, making some catches that are reminiscent of one Jim Edmonds. Grichuk got some big hits after being called up last year, and people are excited to see what he and Ty Kelly (acquired in the early offseason) can do. Tommy Pham was drafted by the Cardinals in 2006, but may be sidelined at the beginning of the season by a quad injury sustained in spring training.
Adam Wainwright, like Chris Carpenter before him, is more than the ace of this staff – he’s the soul. (Yes, I know people also hate the Cardinals and their fans because people like me write things about them like “he’s the soul”.) Also like Carp before him, Waino has some health issues that make people nervous about how effective he can be as the ace. After a super strong start to 2014 (12-4 with a 1.83 ERA at the All-Star Break), he struggled through the latter half of the season, seemed to regain his stride in September, and then put in some seriously subpar performances in the postseason. Wainwright underwent minor elbow surgery immediately following the Cardinals exit from the playoffs, and he looked sharp in spring training, but question marks are there. If he does what we know he’s capable of, he’s a formidable force in a formidable pitching staff. If he’s hurt or declining in skills for some other reason… <grimace face emoji>.
For a minute there, it looked like Adam Wainwright was about to be overtaken as ace by his protégé, Michael Wacha, who weirdly also kind of looks like him. Wacha started the 2014 season nearly as strong as Waino, but then quickly dropped into inconsistency and in late June missed several starts due to a “stress reaction” in his scapula. After he returned, he was not spectacular. Wacha is part of this group of hot young pitchers (the now-departed Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and Carlos Martinez) who had the fanbase giddy a couple of years ago about how the Cardinals were in a position to be very good for a very long time. That’s still a scenario to be possibly be giddy about, but worries about Wacha’s shoulder/overall health are in sharp focus as the 2015 season commences. If Wacha is healthy and can perform at the high levels he’s exhibited in the past, it’s very exciting for the Cardinals. If he’s not and he cannot, there’s trouble for this year and beyond.
Lance Lynn boasted a career-best ERA of 2.74 last season, which is not awe-inspiring but is also not to be scoffed at. In 2014, it seemed like Lance would either go out there and give up no runs or 8 runs, leading fans to speculate before each start whether “Good Lance Lynn” or “Bad Lance Lynn” might show up. Overall, though, he’s been a 15-game winner the past two seasons. Lance has a chip on his shoulder and a tendency to get inside his own head. When and if he gets over these two things, he could be very good.
The Cardinals acquired Lackey in 2014 in a trade with the Red Sox that sent Joe Kelly and Allen Craig into the arms of the enemy. There were a lot of tears. In the remainder of the season with the Cards, Lackeya went 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA. Not great, but his combined numbers for the season ended up at 14-10 with a 3.82 ERA. He’s fine. His doppelganger is Monroe from the TV show Grimm.
Here’s an interesting chain of events: the tragic death of Oscar Taveras led to the trading of Shelby Miller, which led to Carlos Martinez, one of Taveras’ best friends, likely earning the 5th starter spot for the Cardinals in 2015. Carlos is so many things. He can throw a 100mph fastball and (sometimes) has a nasty slider. He struggles with command and against lefties. This is a kid with high potential if he can get some things in order and execute. A lot of it seems to have to do with maturity (let’s us all NEVER FORGET how he favorited a bunch of porn on his public Twitter account, unaware that everyone would be able to see this, causing Mike Matheny to have to sit down with him and be like, please don’t favorite porn on public Twitter – HOW EMBARRASSING). Carlos was deeply shaken by Taveras’ death, and he announced shortly afterward that he would be wearing Taveras’ number (18) going forward. Maybe he’s more serious and feels he has more to play for this year. Maybe he’s just ready to grow up. Either way, he’s going to be interesting to watch and it could be a very exciting year and future for him and the Cardinals organization as a whole.
The bullpen is pretty good. (Note to self: Learn better synonyms for “solid”.) Marco Gonzales has shown himself to be reasonably well equipped for long relief and may be in contention for the 5th starter’s spot. Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness are usable in a number of late inning situations; Maness in particular has been outstanding (2.91 ERA last year in 80 innings pitched; 11 holds and 3 saves) and has earned himself a reputation as one who can come in and get the double play when’s it desperately needed. Randy Choate seems to be a left-handed specialist who can’t reliably come in and get left-handers out, which is gross. Trevor Rosenthal will likely find himself in the closer role again, at least at the beginning of the season. Rosenthal developed a terrifying habit last year of loading the bases and giving up all the runs but the one needed for the win before recording a save… but most of the time, he did record the save. His walk rate in 2014 was basically a horror movie, so here’s hoping he’s fixed some things in the offseason.
SORRY I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO TALK ABOUT THIS RIGHT NOW.
Look, this is a spoiled team and a spoiled fan base and most people who are not fans hate the Cardinals. They are an organization that tends to draft well, groom well, and mostly trade well and sign well. They won the World Series after an 83-win season in 2011 and haven’t missed the NLCS since. It’s annoying. The team and the fans want that 12th championship ring, but the timing of Taveras’ death last year also put things into a weird sobering perspective.
That all being said, they have a good SOLID team that most experts are predicting will win the NL Central again this year. Does that mean anything? Nope. But if Heyward, Wacha, Wong, and Martinez meet or exceed expectations, it will be a hell of a season. Either way, it will be interesting to watch. Either either way, THANK GOD BASEBALL IS BACK.