Morning, all. I hope you’ll forgive the abbreviated column today; I’m currently writing this Tuesday morning, trying to get a piece done before I head out of town the next couple days. So apologies for this being a series of quick hits rather than my usual in-depth exploration of whatever.
Big moves are good. Medium-sized moves are good too. But you know what else can be good? Small moves. Small moves are never all that satisfying, but they’re still important. You have to hit on the big moves, sure, but it’s a big deal to be able to hit on a couple small moves, turning a two WAR profit on two small signings to complement the other big things you’re doing, that sort of thing.
So here are a few smallish upgrades that could be made to the Cards’ roster this offseason.
Jarrod Dyson, OF
There was certainly a decent amount of discussion last offseason about potentially bringing Dyson in when it became clear the Kansas City Royals were shopping him. Ultimately, it was the Seattle Mariners who nabbed the speedster, bringing him in as part of an outfield revamp that actually went surprisingly well, not to mention unnoticedly well given the abysmal state of the M’s pitching basically destroyed every other narrative last year.
Dyson ended the 2017 season on the disabled list with a sports hernia, but he nonetheless had a very productive season. He put up just an 85 wRC+ in the terrifying expanse of Safeco Field, but was still worth 2.1 wins due to his typically astounding defense and baserunning. Two wins in just under 400 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at, and yet it looks like Dyson will probably end up a few teams’ backup plan again this year as a free agent. Such is the nature of life when you don’t bring a big established bat to the party.
Dyson at 33 is still one of the fastest players in the game, still one of the best defenders in the outfield, and has actually done a decent job of getting on base the last few years. It’s unclear how much the Cardinals will prioritise a fifth outfielder this offseason, given they look likely to stick with thirteen pitchers, but let’s treat Jose Martinez as both an infielder and outfielder at this point. If we were to pretend the Cards really did end up trading for Giancarlo Stanton to man right, plugged Tommy Pham into center, and slid Dexter Fowler and his heel over to left, that’s the best outfield in baseball most likely. At that point, if we further assume Martinez rotates between right, left, and first base, attempting to get 450 plate appearances or so, how much weight should we put on having another outfielder on the roster, particularly one who isn’t going to play much? (Side note: I wonder if the Cards handed Martinez a third baseman’s glove on the way out the door this season with the instruction to practice and see if he could be good enough to play there even just once a week.)
Dyson will probably be looking for his one and only payday, so he won’t be a bargain bin pickup or anything, but as center field insurance for Pham/Fowler he would be an exquisite addition. I will say I would think bringing Dyson in becomes much more likely if the Cards are moved to include Magneuris Sierra in a trade of some sort this offseason, since they have fairly similar skillsets, with Dyson just being a more polished version of what Sierra brings to the table.
Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP
You probably don’t recognise the name, but Hirano is a longtime reliever in Japan’s NPB, and it’s already been bandied about here and there that the Cardinals have some interest in him this offseason.
Hirano has been the closer for the Orix Buffaloes the last several seasons, and has mostly been outstanding. I personally admit to being concerned he’s on the downside of his career at 33, seeing as how his strikeout rate has fallen off markedly the last couple years, but he’s still managed to maintain very solid ERA numbers even so.
The repertoire consists of a fastball around 93-94, an outstanding forkball or splitter (not sure which the pitch is classified as), and a slider you don’t see very often. He’s got the standard Japanese delivery, usually including the pause at the top of the leg kick, and he seems tough to time up from what little I’ve seen him pitch.
Hirano in his late 20s was one of the best relievers in the NPB; his 2012 season is one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen, including an 80:5 strikeout to walk ratio. Hirano at 33 is much, much less of a sure thing, and a little scary. All the same, he’s a free agent who won’t need to be posted, so you’d only be paying whatever his contract costs, and he presents a chance to outright purchase some bullpen help. Probably worth checking into, at least.
via fun club. baseball:
Kazuhisa Makita, RHP
The second Japanese reliever on this list, and my personal hobbyhorse, is an extreme submariner who tops out in the mid-80s with his fastball and is just, to be frank, incredibly fun to watch. I admit to being a sucker for a sidearmer at pretty much any point in my life, having fallen in love with Dan Quisenberry in his very brief Cardinal tenure, but Makita has also been one of the toughest pitchers to square up in the NPB the past couple seasons, since converting to relief full time.
Makita is not as obviously in the market to come to MLB this offseason as is Hirano, but he is as far as I can tell a free agent at 32 and available without the posting process. He was a starter for the Seibu Lions his first five seasons, then converted to the bullpen full time prior to the 2016 campaign. Since then he’s posted ERAs of 1.60 and 2.30 and has become an extreme control pitcher. This past season he walked only five hitters in 62.2 innings, and while he’s run high hit batsman numbers in the past this year it was only three. I don’t know how or where to get batted-ball data on Japanese pitchers (it may not exist in English, so far as I know), but he appears to be an extreme groundball guy as well.
I’ve always preferred the shotgun approach to bullpen construction, and bringing in a Japanese submariner with outstanding run-prevention numbers and an incredibly deceptive delivery, who might still be able to work a two-inning stint here and there if previous innings totals are accurate in portraying him as a true rubber arm, very much fits that paradigm.
Also, he seriously is just fun to watch.
via Ace Kuroda:
John Jaso, OF/1B
It’s possible that John Jaso is actually going to retire this offseason, if his comments are to be believed. Then again, maybe he won’t, and despite a disappointing 2017 with the bat where he posted just a 94 wRC+ due in large part to a rough .243 BABIP (without any huge change in his batted-ball profile), Jaso remains one of the better on-base guys on the market this offseason. To wit, his career walk rate is over 12% and his on-base percentage is .356, with him putting up a .380 OBP as recently as 2015.
As the Cards’ roster is currently constructed, they really wouldn’t have room for Jaso. Unlike Jarrod Dyson, who would fit by way of his ability to play an elite center field, Jaso is limited to the corners and first base, and isn’t a great defender in the outfield. He really doesn’t fit with Jose Martinez already on the roster. However, if the Cards’ battery of moves this offseason somehow came together in such a way that they ended up moving Matt Carpenter (which I’m not advocating, just saying it could be on the table depending upon how things come together), then Jaso could be a fit as a lefty bat capable of playing three positions and getting on base. Still doesn’t seem a likely fit, but if things broke a certain way I think it’s possible he could fill a need.
Jaso is also really interesting in that he’s a guy who increased his fly ball percentage hugely this past season (27.1% FB in 2016, 47% in 2017), but actually saw worse results. That could partly be due to playing in PNC Park, which is very tough on left-handed hitters I believe.
Tyler Chatwood, RHP
Chatwood might actually be slightly too high-profile to really fit in here, as he’s been a solid, if unspectacular, starter the past few years in Colorado, which is nothing to sneeze at. He’s become a fairly strong groundball pitcher over the past two seasons, probably a necessity just to survive at Coors Field, and has mostly been bitten by elevated home run rates throughout his career. Again, occupational hazard of pitching for the Rockies.
A team signing Chatwood would likely be betting on his results getting better to match his stuff with a move away from Colorado, as there’s really nothing in the numbers to suggest he’s anything more than a serviceable number four. The stuff, though, has always been very solid, and perhaps he’s impacted negatively by the environment in Colorado even more than some others.
He hasn’t been bad enough to warrant a one-year pillow contract or anything, but also not good enough to require more than a two- to three-year deal for fairly reasonable money, I would think. As it stands now, the Cardinals are going forward with a risky plan of using their own high-upside arms to build a rotation almost entirely from within. Chatwood hasn’t exactly been a 200 inning workhorse in his career, but if the club decided to try and bring in a relatively affordable option to soak up some innings who also has a little upside still surrounding his name (also, he’s only 28), then Chatwood could be an interesting consideration, I think.
Alex Cobb, RHP
Finally, we have a slightly more risky/rewardy version of Chatwood in Alex Cobb, the former Tampa Bay wunderkind who missed almost two full years following elbow surgery in early 2015. He threw almost 180 innings this year, but while the velocity looked roughly the same as it had pre-Tommy John, the overall crispness of his stuff didn’t seem as good, and Cobb saw his strikeout rate drop fairly significantly from where it had been in the past.
In contrast to Chatwood, Cobb might actually be a one-year contract pitcher, probably the sort with an option or two tacked on to the end in case he pitches well and the signing club wants to keep him around. Once upon a time, Cobb had one of the most devastating changeups in the game, but last season he seemed to deemphasise the pitch in favour of his curveball. I don’t know if it was a situation where he maybe didn’t have great feel for the change, or if it was a conscious switch he thought would produce better results, but I personally think he was a lesser pitcher going to the curve more often.
Again, as the Cardinals try to transition to an entirely internal, entirely young rotation this coming season, there’s good reason to believe they may have an innings shortfall. Cobb’s injury history could make him affordable, and if he would be interested in a one-year deal to reestablish his value, he would seem like an ideal fit for a club that could really use 160-180 innings for just this coming season.
If I had my druthers, the Cardinals this offseason would bring in Dyson, Cobb, and one of the two Japanese relievers. I’m on record as believing Mags Sierra is about a 50/50 shot to be traded this offseason, and Dyson would fill a need the Cardinals could have depending on how much playing time Jose Martinez requires. Cobb would seem like the ideal fit to bring in on a short-term deal while the Jack Flaherty/Sandy Alcantara wave of pitching matures. And we know the Cards could use some help in the ‘pen.
Obviously, none of those moves would be seen as really moving the needle all that much, and even all three wouldn’t constitute the sort of move where you dust your hands off comically and call it a day on the offseason. But a few small moves like this, combined with one hopefully large move that really does change the equation, could make a huge difference in the fortunes of the 2018 Cardinals.