The Cardinals beat writer also discusses Winter Warm Up surprises, free agents and more in his weekly chat with readers.
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Full chat: Read the complete transcript.
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Q: Are any teams interested in Adam Wainwright other than the Cardinals and Royals?
A: The Royals reached out. That could be due diligence, but it also could be gauging his interest in whether they're a fit. (Royals owner) Dayton Moore is a huge fan of Wainwright's -- scouted him, drafted him, signed him with Atlanta. And has admired him from afar. Atlanta stood out with interest, and it's possible that hasn't been extinguished with the signings/moves they've made. Keep in mind the Braves have really done well with the one-year deals in recent years (Donaldson, Ozuna), and that they also may be looking at a minor-league addition that comes to camp off the roster but is all about a shoo-in for a spot once the roster gains clarity, or the 60-day IL is available.
At last check, Wainwright was fielding interest, and now it's time for there to be offers. And at that point the Cardinals know what it will take to sign him, as well.
Free agent movement
Q: You tweeted that this week will force some action/movement from the Cardinals. What do you mean by that?
A: There are deadlines this week. On Friday, arbitration-eligible players and teams must have swapped salaries. The Cardinals have been in contact with their arb-eligible players, like Jack Flaherty, and starting around Tuesday will engage with urgency to negotiate deals with those players to avoid exchanging salaries on Friday and going to an arbitration hearing next month. Any time there is a deadline, there is movement.
Q: What substances besides resin are permitted to use by pitchers? If pitchers used resin with pine tar or another banned substance would you consider that cheating?
A: Count me in the camp that would like pitchers to have a better grip on a baseball. I imagine this question stems from the lawsuit in Orange County, and it's an interesting one. In recent years, the seams on the baseball have gotten lower, and you've seen the blisters and issues that have potentially sprouted as a result of that (see: Lynn, Lance). In cold weather, hitters and pitchers both benefit from the pitcher having a grip on the pearl. There are rules about foreign substances -- beyond rosin -- but teams look the other way for the benefit/safety of the hitter when it's cold, when the pitcher isn't getting funky movement, isn't flaunting the rules, etc.
The concoction that's at the center of the lawsuit in Orange County was a mixture of rosin, pine tar, and the Manny Mota Stick substance. As you probably know, pitchers have used other recipes that include Bullfrog sunscreen, and you'll see that on their forearm, for example, and that got a lot of attention when the memo went out about the crackdown on foreign substances.
Baseball should do better to clarify this gray area, but that lawsuit is going to make it less likely at the moment.
Q: We have heard a lot about (hitting coach) Jeff Albert and all the technology he brings to hitting with monitors, widgets on the end of bats, etc. Does he also work on the mental side of hitting or does someone else handle that? All the technology in the world is useless when a two-strike fastball down the middle is taken.
A: Interesting question. An important part of it, for sure. The short answer is yes -- that is an area of interest for Albert, judging from the conversations I've had with him, from the conversations with him hitters have told me about, and even from the books/studies that he's looked into. Just from my own observation, this was clearly an area where Mark Budaska excelled, and did so at the Class AAA level before being a trusted source for hitters in the majors. And you of course know how much of a priority it was with Mark McGwire. John Mabry, by rule, was less forthcoming about anything when he was hitting coach.
Albert is definitely a student of hitting -- from tech to philosophy. That comes across even when a reporter talks to him. Now, there's only so much time in the day, and this past year there was so little time in the cage, especially after the outbreak, and the emphasis has been on Albert expanding and modernizing and harmonizing the use of tech for hitters across the organization.
The Cardinals did have a mental coach on site a year ago at spring training, and hitters have also turned to former players or personal confidants for that as well.
Q: Any more information about the rumor that the Cardinals are interested in DJ LeMahieu? Surely, there is no way they would spend that kind of money....or is there?
A: The Cardinals did what they do -- they reached out early in the winter to agents for a multitude of free agents. They did this in part to get a sense of what the marketplace was going to look like by researching the asking price on players. If they could understand, for example, what LeMahieu was going to try and command, then they could also have a general sense for Kolten Wong, Tommey LaStella, etc. They also owe it to themselves to check on whether a player is interested in what they could do – like if he really wanted to be a Cardinal, or whatever. They don't know unless they call. But by keeping in touch they can see if the market bends their way -- and also the outlines of what it will take, again, to sign another player in that same area.
How aggressive were the Cardinals? That's the question. Before New Year's I heard over and over from sources how the Cardinals were asking for patience, or were saying they didn't yet know what they could spend. Some of that was tied to Yadier Molina, less of that was tied to Adam Wainwright, and a lot of that was tied to the unknown length of the season ahead and if, when, how many tickets will be sold. They were not described as aggressive, not even when it came to pushing for an agreement with Molina.
The market has waited for them, in a way. And it makes sense for them to circle back and see where things stand with the leading player at a position of interest for them. At worst, they get info that helps them frame offers for others. At best, they find they have more to offer than originally believed. At last check, they don't expect to win an auction, and they have continued to position themselves as a team that will reduce payroll.
2022 free agents
Q: Are there any 2022 free agents the Cardinals could and would target when bad contracts are off the books? The class is shortstop heavy, which is not a need unless you move Paul DeJong to third.
A: There are so, so many. Trevor Story could be there. Cory Seager will likely be there, as a free agent represented by Scott Boras. There will be discussions on whether that means moving DeJong to third base, where Matt Carpenter may not be as his contract expires and the Cardinals have options, or if DeJong goes to second base because that spot is left uncertain coming out of 2021. Plenty of moving parts for a team with that option.
Q: You've said in that JT Realmuto's movement/market will set the tone for Yadi Molina’s. Are you surprised that he has not signed anywhere yet? And can you envision the Cardinals signing a DH-type player even before that decision is made, if only to not get left without a good option later?
A: I am not surprised. Going into this winter, any team official or agent or player that I talked to was clear to send up the notice that it was going to be a long, sluggish winter. And that was going to be true with the top of the market players, too. And check it out. How many have signed? George Springer, nope. Realmuto, nope. DJ LeMahieu, nope.
The Cardinals are reluctant to commit big dollars to an ideal DH candidate without knowing that he has a place in their lineup. It's more likely they make a move like they did last year for Brad Miller than to bet on the universal DH at this moment and get one of the high-dollar candidates for the role.
Q: Do you think the Cardinals may be waiting to announce Yadier Molina and/or Adam Wainwright’s re-signings at the Winter Warm-Up?
A: Nope. John Mozeliak does like his theater, for sure. But he would have to move fast to get those deals completed and announced and stay ahead of folks like all of us asking. Clubs do have to file such things with the union and MLB, and the more people who know -- because it takes a lot of people to know -- the less likely they can stage something like that. Still, this week will provide some added pressure to make moves.
Q: Reading Rick Hummel's recent story on Matt Carpenter felt like I was ... reading a duplicate of your interview one year ago with him. 1) He's traveling three hours to do intensive workouts. 2) He’s tinkering with his swing. 3) Different excuse this time – COVID -- but again making excuses for his declining performance over now multiple years. He's a aging player who this team with its offensive woes cannot afford to carry. Your thoughts?
A: If you don't give someone a chance to improve, then for sure they won't, not in your eyes. Given. … It's always better to try something, anything, everything. No?
Carpenter is chasing ways to improve, and it is clear that this past year, the shortened 2020 with its COVID-19 interruptions, did not offer much of a referendum on the work he did. The hitter that Carpenter was in spring training 2020 was visibly different than the one that was getting limited playing time toward the end of 2019. Lance Berkman said he would be (a different hitter) in my interview with him a year ago, and he was right. You could see it in the way that Carpenter went about his prep for games and how he approached those exhibition at-bats in Grapefruit League play -- and then everything stopped. Everything. And when it started, he had 60 games to figure it out and 11 doubleheaders, and all of it.
So many hitters didn't start hot and never got hot (see: Yelich, Christian), and it's not like 2020 had any forgiveness. The schedule just wasn't long enough. I'm not sure any of us could say what kind of hitter anyone was in 2020 -- and that goes for Marcell Ozuna to Carpenter to Harrison Bader to Paul DeJong to Cody Bellinger. We know what they were in a snapshot, and we would be doing the numbers a disservice not to also include the previous year in the evaluation. Carpenter complicates things because he was working to change things.
Which brings us back to the answer: Would you rather he surrender and not try? That's not really the route of a professional, let alone a professional competitor, and it's certainly not what the Cardinals want from him as he enters the final guaranteed year of his contact.
Q: Is baseball partnering with a gambling origination? If so, is that really a good idea for baseball? Remember they banned Pete Rose from the Hall of Fame and baseball for gambling on baseball. What has changed?
A: They HAVE partnered with a gambling establishment. A few years ago the winter meetings were held in Las Vegas at the MGM because baseball has a business relationship with MGM, and this past year and years to come the GM meetings were going to relocate to Las Vegas because of that relationship with MGM. What's changed?
Well, society, mostly. A Supreme Court ruling has opened the way for gambling on sports around the country, and let's not kid ourselves that sports are going to ignore the possibility of that windfall. Heck, NFL has catered to Fantasy Football, and for years now baseball has had advertising for DraftKings, etc. Picking DraftKings rosters are part of some shows that are tied to MLB.
This isn't a recent revelation. This has been an evolving embrace of the gambling industry. And with all the money that fans put into it, you can bet that teams and leagues are all going to look into ways to pull revenue from it.
We're a long way from Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Q: Do you think the Cardinals have considered adding another established pitcher (i.e. Trevor Bauer) to cover some of the innings shortages of the younger pitching staff? I know it’s probably cost prohibitive, at this point, but it seems like good insurance.
A: Good question. There's a good argument to be had that the Cardinals should double-down on what they're good at an suffocate opposing teams' lineups to get their way to a division title. At last check, with several agents and sources around the Cardinals, they have not been "active" on pitchers. The one exception has been Adam Wainwright. There was a word going around that they had made a play for a pitcher and might actually sign him -- but that was erroneous, and there was the repeated description as the Cardinals not "active" on pitchers. The Cardinals have been at the periphery of many things in this market. Hard to see them in the Bauer market, but if some of the other starters seek one-year deals then the Cardinals could rethink and move in, especially if Wainwright has moved on.
Q: Why is it that Cardinals fans think that ownership owes them to put out a championship caliber team? All that is owed is a product on the field. Nothing more, nothing less.
A: I disagree. The brand, the history, and the way the Cardinals market themselves is a contract with the fans, especially when it comes from a public trust. The Cardinals have manufactured a reputation on being a crown jewel of the National League, and the NL leader in World Series trophies. They can't now turn to the fan base they have nurtured with that notion for generations and say: "Kidding."
That's a breach of trust. That's a breach of the public trust. That's a breach of branding.
As featured on
Cardinals are the only team in their division yet to make a trade this winter, but they haven't lost the most talent, and what really stands out is the absence of an addition to upset the standings.
Veteran catcher's agent talks weekly with Cardinals and an offer could yield quick resolution while Molina tells La Vida Baseball if acceptable deal isn't there he'll 'retire happy.'
Righthander agrees to a one-year, $900,000 deal right before deadline, per source. Three other players have until noon St. Louis to agree, or they will swap salary figures with the Cardinals and await an arbitration hearing.
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