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TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #3: Coming in Second (for Free Agents)

No, this article is not about the St. Louis Cardinals coming in second in the 2015 National League Division Series. That story remains to be told in this countdown.

This is about the team just missing out on three of their top free agent targets during this 2015-2016 off-season.

The first was least understood.

The second was most surprising.

The third was most painful.

Needing more thump in the lineup with first base a likely source of improvement, the Cardinals made a push in late October and early November for slugging Korean first sacker Byung-ho Park.

St. Louis submitted a bid for the right to negotiate with Park’s Korean Baseball Organization team, the Nexen Heroes, but fell short. It was announced on November 9 that the Minnesota Twins had the top bid of $12.85 million, with the Cardinals reportedly coming in second. Once their bid was accepted by the Heroes, the Twins quickly signed Park to a four-year, $12 million contract plus a fifth-year option.

Next up was what appeared to be the organization’s master strike for the winter, a move that could help define the direction of the franchise for many years to come.

Instead, the Cardinals were outbid at the last moment by the Boston Red Sox for the services of star left-handed pitcher David Price. After the Cardinals offered a reported $190 million that they and Price both thought would be the winner, the 30-year-old ended up signing with the Red Sox on November 30 for seven years, $217 million dollars, a record deal for a pitcher.

Finally, the team’s main acquisition target from the winter before, who cost the Cardinals a young, inexpensive front-line pitcher in Shelby Miller, not only spurned St. Louis, but signed with their biggest rival for what he asserted was less money.

Outfielder Jason Heyward did not want to negotiate with the Cardinals during the 2015 season and once a free agent, the 26-year-old decided to become a Chicago Cub instead. St. Louis reportedly offered more total money, $200 million, but the Cubs’ deal gives Heyward more money up front and greater flexibility. It is an eight-year contract worth $184 million, and gives him the choice of becoming a free agent again after years three and four.

Upon his introduction in Chicago on December 15, Heyward rubbed further salt in the Cardinals wound by stating a factor in his decision to leave was St. Louis’ aging core of Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday.

Responding to Heyward’s remarks, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said, “I don’t think it’s going to ring too well with our club.” Wainwright fired the final volley, stating that Heyward was apparently not the right fit to carry on the Cardinals tradition as they were “looking for that guy who wants to be the man.”

As if the rivalry wasn’t already hot between the Cardinals, who won the Central Division, and the Cubs, who prevailed in the NLDS, Heyward added more heat, likely to remain for years to come.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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31 Responses to “TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #3: Coming in Second (for Free Agents)”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Eh, I was somewhat perturbed at first, but I have since gotten over The Heyward Incident. He wanted to play for the Cubs, he wanted to be a part of history potentially, I don’t blame him. Whatever happened, if anything significant, behind the scenes and in the clubhouse between Heyward and the rest of the gang, is going to remain secret and speculating about it is just adding fuel to the fire. It’s possible nothing of significance happened, he just preferred the Cubs. Despite what many Cardinals’ fans think, St. Louis is not any more Baseball Heaven than other places, and not every player is dying to play for the Cardinals.

    I think people make too much of what baseball people say. They are all trained to be careful in talking to the media, and almost never reveal what they really think/feel. Guys like Lance Berkman and Zach Greinke are exceptions to the rule. I doubt Wainwright was taking shots at Heyward, and I doubt Matheny was doing anything more than pumping up his players and trying to motivate them.

    As for coming in second, well that is just practice for the regular season. I actually believe third is more likely, but I am willing to be optimistic.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I get why some folks are conceding the division to Chicago (though I am not among you). However, I don’t get the love for the Pirates. They have done almost nothing this off-season to improve.

      P.S. Regarding your idea of trading Rosenthal, I read where the Bucs are shopping their closer, Mark Melancon, who is heading into his final arbitration year.

      • crdswmn says:

        They did almost nothing last offseason as well and yet they came within a hair’s breath of overtaking us.

        I don’t have the optimism that Mozeliak has that the offense will improve on its own (if he really believes that it’s a pipe dream). It is more likely to get worse than better. Grichuk and Piscotty are both going to regress some from last season’s numbers and I think Holliday, Peralta and Molina have long passed their best years offensively.

        I get being optimistic and thinking the best of your team. I am too much of realist though, sorry. I hope for good things, but don’t expect them.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Labels like “optimism” and “realism” simply represent points of view.

          Personally, I am waiting until the off-season is complete to make any predictions. Too many good free agents still unsigned.

          • crdswmn says:

            Yes, and my point of view is that this team as it stands now with no additional improvements is a third place team.

            As always, if I am wrong I will be quite happy about that.

            • Bw52 says:

              Who in the hell do you think is the 2nd place team? Pirates barely have a functioning pitching staff,missing key infielders ,no bench and looking to trade their closer.The Reds are crumbling and trying like hell to dump Phillips,They have no closer,very young raw starting staff and a semi-indifferent fanbase,Milwaukee just plain sucks except for Braun,Khris Davis and Lucroy.I see it asa 2 team race between Cards and scrubs.Since you seem so sure that several Cards will regress in 2016 why won`t many of the scrubbies? Plus the scrubbies were very very lucky injury wise last season……………………..

              • crdswmn says:

                The Pirates are no worse than they were in 2015 and in 2015 they came very close to taking the division away from the Cardinals. So yes, I think the Pirates are the second place team.

                The Cardinals have lost Heyward, and Holliday, Peralta and Molina are another year older and probably worse both offensively and defensively. Matt Adams is what he is and Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter are probably about the same, Wong could improve a little over 2015 but not by a lot. Grichuk and Piscotty are more than likely going to be worse, but how much worse is the question. The bench is a little better than last year, but a bench managed by Mike Matheny is not going to make things markedly better. The starting pitching staff, every one except Leake, is a health risk, some more than others. Pair that with not much of substance waiting in Memphis, and you have a third place team.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  Games played, 2015 Cardinals:

                  Moss 51
                  Adams 60
                  Piscotty 63
                  Holliday 73
                  Grichuk 103

                  Don’t you think if they play anywhere near a full season that they are going to be “better”? They are sure to drive in more runs and score more.

                  I guess looking at WAR projection by player for 2016 compared to actual 2015 would be more scientific. Only good as the projections, though.

                  • crdswmn says:

                    Do you believe Grichuk and Piscotty are going to sustain BABIPs of .365 and .372?

                    I don’t.

                    Sure, more PAs will likely increase counting stats but will not necessarily increase the rate stats.

                    If there is regression in the BABIPs, then then there will be regression in other numbers as well. The extent of the regression is the question mark.

                    As for the others, Holliday will be 36 years old in 2 weeks, so expecting him to get “better” is pretty farfetched. Moss could be better, assuming he is fully recovered from his injury. Adams I have doubts will ever be much better. He can’t hit LHP for one thing.

                    The only “better” I see is in the bench, which isn’t going to have a significant impact on the overall team.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      I am keeping it simple. It only stands to reason that if the Cardinals have more of their better hitters available for considerably more games than last year, then they should score more runs.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      Well, I don’t think it necessarily works that way, but I admire the optimism.

                      I never intended to get into a long winded argument about this. I don’t see where the improved offense is coming from. I guess if Wong, Moss and Adams perform better, Carpenter stays his usual self, Grichuk and Piscotty don’t regress a great deal, the bench players contribute more than I think Matheny is going to let them, Holliday, Peralta and Molina don’t decline much, and everyone stays relatively healthy, then there is hope. That is asking for a heck of whole lot to go the Cardinals’ way though.

                      We’ll see.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  I relooked at the changes in Pittsburgh. I think their team was better before.

                  Pirates adds:
                  Ryan Vogelsong
                  John Jaso
                  Jon Niese
                  Juan Nicasio

                  Pirates losses:
                  A.J. Burnett
                  Pedro Alvarez
                  Aramis Ramirez
                  Neil Walker
                  J.A. Happ
                  Joakim Soria
                  Corey Hart
                  Joe Blanton

                  Free agent unsigned:
                  Antonio Bastardo

                  • crdswmn says:

                    Pedro Alvarez was a train wreck and Ramirez wasn’t much better. Neil Walker is probably the only position player they might miss.

                    As for pitching, none of those pitchers, except maybe Burnett, are a big loss. Moreover, the Pirates have a terrific pitching coach in Ray Searage, who somehow always manages to get career years out of many of his pitchers.

                    I remember this time last season many people were criticizing the Pirates for not improving their team, yet there they were hard and fast on the Cardinals’ tails.

                    Never underestimate the Pirates.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      I am not underestimating the Pirates any more than you are underestimating the Cardinals.

                      Happ got $36 million from the Jays. Soria got $25 million from KC. They lost more talent than you seem willing to admit.

                      The guys they added other than Niese are scrap-heapers or in the case of Jaso, a platoon player.

          • crdswmn says:

            And if you believe what John Mozeliak keeps saying (I generally don’t, but who knows if he means it) then none of those free agents will be signed by him.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    tLR showed how to rope a free agent by spending big on Greinke. The Cards don’t like going way over pay scale and moving the salary bar higher for all veterans.
    Heyward got three strong offers. He chose one. He might make more money from endorsements in Chicago. No big deal that he left. They might want to fix the broken algorithm that justified surrendering Shelby for just one year of Haywood.

    It’s nice to see the cards dabbling in the Korean market, getting their toes damp.

  3. blingboy says:

    I’m not conceding jack$.

    The thing the Cubs have going for them that, say, the Reds don’t, is that if everything goes right for the Cubs, they could take the division. If everything goes right for the Cards, we will take it. But everything isn’t going to go right for anybody. Its going to be a cage fight. Last man standing takes it. We’ve got budding stars who will have their first chance to carry the torch. The Cubs better bring their A game.

  4. Brian Walton says:

    Crdswmn, please consider this illustration of the point I offered last night.

    Actual 2015 AB R H HR RBI BA
    Grichuk 323 49 89 17 47 0.276
    Jay 210 25 44 1 10 0.210
    Grichuk+Jay 533 74 133 18 57 0.250

    In the first graph are the offensive results from Grichuk and Jay in 2015. I then totaled them together. Think of that total this way in the context of 2016. If Grichuk would be the same player next year as he was this year for the same number of at-bats, but THEN turned into awful 2015 Jay for his final 40 percent of the 2016 season (210 at-bats), the total would be his overall 2016 result.

    While you think Grichuk will drop off some in 2016, wouldn’t you agree that this Jekyll and Hyde example would be too extreme?

    To help put this into further context, the next table would be Grichuk 2016 if he produced the exact same results as in 2015 but over more at-bats. This would be the high, extreme example. It is not one that I am suggesting, but showing it as a boundary case. (I personally think Grichuk could improve beyond his less-than-full health 2015, but I am giving you this point for this discussion based on your stated BABIP concern.)

    Best 2016 AB R H HR RBI BA
    Grichuk 533 81 147 28 78 0.276

    Probably you would agree that Grichuk 2016 might most likely fall between the two cases, right?

    That takes us to the third graph. These are the two projection systems I have seen to date for Grichuk in 2016. The at-bats are very close to our Grichuk+Jay example. Note the BA is comparable but the home runs and RBI are quite a bit higher than Grichuk+Jay, yet are less than our extreme case.

    Grichuk 2016 AB R H HR RBI BA
    Steamer 545 67 136 23 67 0.249
    Baseball HQ 529 74 134 25 68 0.253

    Why? Because the team would substitute 210 at-bats of a more productive hitter, Grichuk, for a less productive one in Jay. Even if Grichuk is less productive from a rate perspective in 2016 than in 2015, I submit that the team will score more runs as a result of Grichuk taking Jay’s at-bats (instead of Jay taking them again).

    Do the same thing for other changes to the lineup. At 1B, take Moss’ projected 2016 vs. Reynolds’ actual 2015. Even Piscotty 2016 vs. Heyward 2015 in RF would not be off much at all offensively.

    This is an example of why I believe that with more at-bats from these same players in 2016 that the Cardinals should have a better offense.

    P.S. One reason I have been thinking about this is that I posted the Baseball Forecaster 2016 projections (Baseball HQ above) for the Cardinals offense last night on the main site (for The Cardinal Nation members).

    • crdswmn says:

      I admire all the work you put in to convince me of something that neither of us can accurately predict (nor can the projection systems really ).

      Sure, maybe the offense scores more runs, but how many more? How many does the pitching and defense prevent? The pitching prevented runs at a historic rate in 2015, are they going to repeat that? Plus, the Cardinals lost their best defensive player.

      We both know that anything can happen. On paper, the Cubs are way ahead of the Cardinals in terms of wins. Like 10 wins. That is a lot to overcome. Though you disagree, the Pirates are no slouch either.

      I don’t see this team as it currently sits as a Division winning team, I just don’t. Doesn’t mean I am right, in fact, I wouldn’t bet a month’s salary that I am. I look at what we have, and I see a worse team than last season for a variety of reasons. Declining core players, a pitching staff that is a giant health risk, and rookie outfielders who played over their heads last season.

      Add another bat, and I will likely change my mind.

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