At first glance, the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason may seem a bit underwhelming. However, there is reason for optimism once you look into things.
In possibly the slowest moving free agent market in history, big names were (and still are) on the board and the Redbirds passed on all of them. What began as a Cardinals’ offseason where they were expected to be one of the biggest players has materialized into the same ole Cardinals’ offseason.
To make matters worse, the two biggest rivals to a division crown only got better. Milwaukee fortified it’s already solid bullpen and made a big move by prying away Christian Yelich from the Marlins.
The Cubs made the free agent splash of the offseason thus far by signing Yu Darvish to a six-year $126 million deal. Not to mention that they inked Brandon Morrow to close out games and further solidified their bullpen.
It seems that another division crown will not be in the cards for the Redbirds. Not so fast though. Mozeliak and Co. made plenty of moves of their own. Here is a look at five moves the Cardinals made this offseason that should give their fans a reason to smile.
1. The Ozuna Trade
The move for Marcell Ozuna was a costly one. Three of the Cardinals top 15 prospects plus one to be exact. This move brought a high impact player that will have a positive effect on all aspects of the team.
While his real breakout came last year, Ozuna has shown signs of greatness for several years. He is the real deal and 2017 was the year it all finally came together. He absolutely should have no problem keeping this production up moving forward, and site owner Steven McNeil gives the reasons here.
Ozuna is a Gold Glove defender in the outfield, something desperately needed for a team looking to upgrade defensively. On the flip side, Ozuna’s stat line of .312 batting average, 37 HR, and 124 RBI would have easily led all Cardinals hitters in every one of those categories.
Perhaps the one thing that The Big Bear adds more than anything is that his presence provides protection for Tommy Pham and Matt Carpenter. Ozuna’s presence allows the rest of the lineup to play to their strengths.
2) The Mikolas Signing
I have to be honest with this one. I was completely underwhelmed by the signing of Miles Mikolas. My first thought was,”Why are we spending money on a guy with a career ERA north of 5.00 and a 1.42 WHIP?” That was before I looked deeper at his numbers from across the ocean.
In Japan in 2017, Mikolas was outstanding. He was great all three years there, but exceptional last year. Mikolas pitched to a 22% K-BB% and a 58% ground ball rate in 2017. Questions persist about how that will translate stateside. To give context though, only Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish bested Mikolas’ K-BB% when considering Japanese aces who have made the jump to MLB in recent years.
If you really want to delve into the comparisons I recommend reading Jeff Sullivan and Alex Chamberlain’s articles over at FanGraphs. Mikolas is a control pitcher whose ceiling has been compared to Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks.
That might be a little optimistic, but I’m buying this move as a great fit. Pencil Mikolas in as a solid number three SP with the potential to be a number two if his success overseas translates well.
After blowing more than 20 games with leads of at least two runs last season, the bullpen was in need of retooling. If the Cardinals won even half of those games it would have meant a division crown.
With Oh, Rosenthal, and Nicasio all going elsewhere, the hope in Cardinal Nation was that Mo and Co. would go out and get a shutdown closer. Rumors of a trade with the Rays for Alex Colome never grew into anything of real substance. The big addition would have to come from the free agent market. And the big splash came in the form of…Luke Gregerson and Bud Norris?
Another seemingly disappointing couple of moves. In fairness though, how do you top Marcell Ozuna? The truth is, the front office just might have with these signings. Norris and Gregerson both have closing experience. They both also have history proving that their 2017 performances are likely outliers.
If Gregerson’s name sounds familiar it’s because the Cardinals drafted him in the 28th round of the 2006 amateur draft. 2017 aside, Gregerson saved 46 games for the Astros from 2015-2016. His three-year averages are a 3.61 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. That’s including last year’s 4.57 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. However, his xFIP was more than a run better at 3.45. Short story, Gregerson is a lot better than his 2017 numbers suggest.
Norris might as well be the poor man’s Greg Holland. Give him a pass for the knee inflammation that no doubt affected him during his disastrous second half. Chew on this though when considering the 2017 first half of these two players:
Player A: K%-32%, BB%-10%, K-BB%-23%
Player B: K%-33%, BB%-12%, K-BB%-21%
Who is “Player A” you might ask? That would be Bud Norris. Player B? You guessed it: Greg Holland. Kudos again to Jeff Sullivan for providing the breakdown. The short story here is that a healthy Norris quite possibly outperforms Holland and at a fraction of the cost. Well played Mr. Mozeliak. Well played indeed.
4)Coaching Staff Changes
These are the moves that excited me the most. After being one of the best defensive teams during their postseason runs from 2011-2015 something began to change. What was the big difference? Jose Oquendo was no longer on the big league coaching staff. Oquendo is back and the expectation is that team defense will be as well.
Willie McGee also joins the Major League staff and will coach base running and the outfield. The former MVP and Cardinal great is another voice to help not only the defense but also the offense as he passes on his knowledge of the art of stealing bases and being smart on the base paths.
The third big addition to Mike Matheny's staff is Mike Maddux as the pitching coach. Maddux is another reason I am high on Mikolas, Gregerson, and Norris. His work speaks for itself. The pitching staff is in great hands and should perform above expectations with Maddux in the fold.
5)Not So Minor Trades
Okay, so maybe these moves don't affect the team for 2018, but they very well could and may be the reason for excitement in the coming years. Shipping Randal Grichuk to Toronto brought RHP Dominic Leone and minor leaguer Conner Greene to STL. Leone helps the bullpen immediately. More importantly, the move helps create playing time for a strong crop of young outfielders waiting in the minors who are ready to show what they can do.
Trading Stephen Piscotty to Oakland was a savvy move. The deal netted a return of infield prospects Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock. Remember Schrock's name. The kid can flat out hit. He's a second baseman who hits for a high average and doesn't strike out much.
He isn't a guy with a lot of power, but he has 10-15 HR/year potential and possibly more if he figures out his power stroke. He may even challenge for a batting title in the years to come. If the club continues to be frustrated by Kolten Wong's lack of offensive development we may be hearing Schrock's name sooner rather than later in 2018.
So there you go Cardinals Nation. Five reasons for Cardinals fans to be optimistic about the offseason as we head into this season. Sure, outside of the Ozuna deal everything else seems lackluster. Did the front office do enough to pass the Cubs? Probably not. Should we be better than the Brewers? Absolutely.
Could things break right and the Cardinals find themselves playing in October again? You bet they could. At the very least, this is a club that will be very competitive in the NL Central. I still think the Cardinals are looking at a second place finish in the division with a Wild Card berth in the postseason. However, if things go right they might actually find themselves on top of the division when the dust settles and the last outs are recorded.