We've had our first big (or big-ish, I suppose), free agent signing of the offseason; the Philadelphia Phillies are in the process of inking Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal as we speak. To which I say, good riddance, Marlon. I'll be looking forward to not seeing you in either a Cubs or Pirates jersey next season. Take your 1.088 OPS against the Cardinals in 2013 and just go away.
It's an interesting signing, though one I'm not sure tells us anything we don't already know about the free agent market this offseason. To wit, there's a lot of money going to be thrown around. The two-year, $16 million deal isn't a blockbuster, by any means, and Byrd's 4.1 WAR season in 2013 would seem to make it a huge bargain, but remember, this is also a player who was worth 1.8 and -1.0 wins the two previous seasons, and also happens to be 36 years old. There's a pretty decent chance of bust here. Then again, if 2012 was the fluke (extremely low BABIP), rather than 2013, it could be a pretty fantastic signing.
We've also had our first report of a trade not going down, as Jon Heyman reports the Cardinals have spurned the Orioles' attempts to deal J.J. Hardy to the Redbirds for Shelby Miller. To which I say, whew. Thank god our GM isn't dumb enough to trade one of the most valuable assets in the game for one season of J.J. Hardy. Much as I would love to see Hardy playing for the Cardinals, you don't deal Shelby Miller for a one-year fix, period. Does make you kind of wish the Cards had just signed Hardy back before the 2011 season, though, doesn't it? Oh, well. I suppose that particular dead horse has been beaten enough.
Stephen Drew still seems to be the name on many people's lips as far as the Cards' rather gaping hole at shortstop; as likely the best free agent on the market at his position, Drew would certainly appear to be an excellent fit. As I've mentioned before, though, I'm not sure I see the Cardinals going down the road of signing any player who costs them a draft pick. The organisation has made it a core value over the past decade to hoard as many picks as possible, and while I think they might be willing to deviate from that course for the right player, I'm not sure Drew is that player.
Remember, it isn't only the pick (which is obviously not an extremely high one, due to the team's unfortunate proclivity toward winning a whole bunch of games), but under the new system, the bonus money going along with it the Cardinals would lose. Under the old CBA, the loss of a draft pick meant losing that slot in the draft; since the new system went into effect, a team's available pool of money they can spend on draft picks is directly tied to the number of picks the team has. Maybe it shouldn't matter that much, but there's an extra bit of opportunity cost there in signing a free agent tied to draft pick compensation. I don't know the exact amount, but the loss of flexibility to work some more draft magic in 2014, however the club might want to spread around their bonus pool, is not something I think the organisation takes lightly.
Speaking of the draft and minor league players in general, the Cardinals have another star on the rise at the moment, as Stephen Piscotty, the right field prospect the club snatched up as the other compensatory pick for the loss of Albert Pujols was one of the breakout stars of the Arizona Fall League this year, slashing .346/.407/.494 in what is often thought of as prospect finishing school, especially for hitters.
In his first full season as a pro, Piscotty played at two levels in the regular season, plus the AFL. He accumulated 562 total plate appearances and reached base at a .377 clip with 16 home runs and 26 doubles. He also showed pretty remarkable contact ability, striking out in just 10.4% of his plate appearances on the season. Allen Craig is the easier comp for Piscotty as a right-handed college bat drafted as a third baseman who had to move, but his actual offensive profile for 2013 really reminds me more of Matt Carpenter, only from the other side of the plate.
The downside? Piscotty is an outfielder, and a corner one at that. As good as he looks, and as excited as I am about his future, I don't see him taking the title of long-term solution in right field away from Oscar Taveras any time soon. I wish one of the two of them could play center field, but I have to admit I'm in the camp of skeptic when it comes to Oscar's ability to handle it, and while Piscotty does seem to have some wheels (17 stolen bases in 2013), I have to believe he would be playing center already if the Cardinals thought he had any chance to do so. Then again, he does kind of remind me of Jayson Werth, so take that for what it's...werth. (Puts on sunglasses)
Speaking further of the draft, I thought now would be a good time, actually, to do a postseason postmortem on my shadow drafted players this year. Barring any real movement on the hot stove front, next week I am in fact going to roll out my first batch of scouting reports for the 2014 draft (I had planned on doing so this week but simply ran out of time), and now seems like as good a time as any to check back and see if I actually know anything about anything.
Here's the original post listing my own drafted players versus the Cardinals' real-world picks; let's see how I did, shall we?
First round, Cardinals pick (19 overall): Marco Gonzales, LHP, Gonzaga -- 1.55 FIP in 6.2 innings in short-season ball, followed by 16.2 innings of 3.32 FIP ball in High A Palm Beach to finish out the season. Much too small a sample size to draw any firm conclusions, but the returns are still plenty encouraging. I still see Gonzales as a fast-moving Mark Buerhle clone, who should be ready for a shot at the big leagues by September of 2014. He isn't going to be an ace, but I think there's a very durable, very solid starting pitcher just waiting to happen here.
First round, Aaron's pick: Phillip Ervin, OF, Samford University -- 200 plate appearances in the Reds' minor league system, spread between two levels, hit nine home runs, eleven doubles, and stole fourteen bases. Posted wRC+ numbers of 155 and 165 in short-season and Low A ball, respectively, with some extremely impressive walk rates, particularly the 14.7% he put up in A ball. I still kind of can't believe the Redbirds didn't draft this kid, considering the way he demolished the Cape Cod League last year, to be honest. The big question is still whether he's a center fielder or needs to be in a corner; put me down as a believer in his glove in center and a top-100 prospect vote this offseason.
First round, Cardinals and Aaron's pick (28th overall): Robert Kaminsky, LHP, St. Joseph High School -- Threw 22.0 innings of 2.61 FIP ball, striking out 11.45 batters per 9 innings. Will likely get a chance to start the 2014 season in Low A at just 19. He could be something special.
Second round, Cards' pick (57th overall): Oscar Mercado, SS, Vivian Gaither HS -- Hit just .209/.290/.307 in 186 plate appearances for the Cards' Gulf Coast League affiliate. I'm on record as saying I just don't believe Mercado is ever going to hit much, but I have to admit underneath those rather unfortunate numbers there are some encouraging signs. His BABIP was just .262, which could indicate he was a little unlucky on batted balls, although it could also indicate he just didn't hit the ball very hard. His walk rate was very solid at 9.1%, surprisingly good for a guy who struggled overall. He also stole twelve bases and knocked four triples, indicative of some pretty impressive speed. I'm still not a believer, but there are some things to hang your hat on if you're looking for a cause for optimism.
Second round, Aaron's pick: Jon Denney, C, Yukon HS -- Played for the Red Sox' GCL affiliate, same level as Mercado, and posted a 106 wRC+ in 86 plate appearances. Hit for zero power and struck out a ghastly 30.6% of the time, but also walked in 18.8%(!) of his trips to the plate. He didn't exactly light the world on fire, but it's hard to draw many conclusions from less than 100 plate appearances in a guy's first taste of pro ball. Still, with that walk rate I'm sure he'll fit right in with all the other Boston hitters.
Third round, Cards' pick (93rd overall): Mike Mayers, RHP, Ole Miss -- The big right-hander from Lance Lynn's alma mater made it all the way to Peoria in his first shot at pro ball, posting a 3.86 FIP in 24.1 innings. Didn't strike out many (5.18 K/9), but also didn't walk many (1.85 BB/9). I'm not a huge fan, but he certainly looks the part of a big innings eater type.
Third round, Aaron's pick: Stephen Tarpley, LHP, Scottsdale CC -- Threw just 21 innings for the Orioles' GCL affiliate, but was spectacular in those innings, putting up a 1.53 FIP with 25 strikeouts and just 3 walks. I think this kid is going to be a star.
Fourth round, Cards' pick (125th overall): Mason Katz, 2B/1B, LSU -- Went to State College, the Cards' higher of two short-season affiliates, and hit .249/.345/.355 there, good for a 117 wRC+. Not much power, decent but not great walk rate, a .318 BABIP (so neither lucky nor unlucky, probably), and little defensive value to speak of. If he's a second baseman he could still be useful, but I'm just not seeing it.
Fourth round, Aaron's pick: Zack Collins, C, American Heritage HS -- Collins, who lasted until the 825th pick, chose to attend Miami rather than sign with the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, that means I wasted a pick here. Boo me. Watch for him in 2016, though. Kid's going to be a beast.
Fifth round, Cards' pick (155th overall): Ian McKinney, LHP, William Boone HS -- Continuing the Redbirds' theme of undersized lefty pitchers in this draft, McKinney threw 30.1 innings for the GCL Cards, striking out 24 against 23 hits and 12 walks. Good to get his feet wet, and actually have some success.
Fifth round, Aaron's pick: Bobby Wahl, RHP, Ole Miss -- Reached the A's New York Penn league club in his first go, and struck out nearly 12 batters per 9 innings in doing so. The strikeouts were great, the walks were good (2.61 BB/9), but Wahl did give up a couple long balls, leading to a much more middling ERA and FIP than one would hope. I still think he's going to be great, and still can't figure out why in the world he lasted into the fifth round.
Anyway, it's still far too early to make any real calls about the success or failure of any of these players, but I thought a postseason update was at least in order. I'm pleased with my picks, even given Collins' decision to go to school. (I know it's against the rules, but I maintain my imaginary team would have signed him had we taken him in the fourth round instead of the twenty-somethingth the way the real-world Reds did.)
Bye, everybody. See you next week.