Morning, all, and happy Sunday. More importantly, happy one week from Opening Day. That’s right; spring training is very nearly over now, and the opening night tilt against the defending champions will happen one week from today on the first Sunday Night Baseball of 2017.
That also means we are getting down to the nitty gritty here, as far as roster decisions go; the phrase ‘nut-cutting time’, oft repeated in my childhood, has always been a favourite of mine, though I’m not sure I’ve ever actually said it aloud. Decisions are being made on the construction of the 25 man roster, and the direction of the club is being finalised. To that end, the Langosches and Goolds of the world reported a whole host of moves made over the past two days, as the Cardinals finalised their regular season roster earlier than usual.
I had originally planned on writing the final part of the draft history piece I’ve been working through these past several weeks, and have approximately half of it done. However, given that we have actual, tangible news to talk about, I decided to switch course and discuss those new things that have just come up. In case anyone is wondering, the sixth and final draft history post will go up on Wednesday, followed next Sunday by my own version of a season preview post before baseball starts back up again for real.
So let’s go through the various moves and machinations, shall we?
Tommy Pham Optioned to Memphis; Jose Martinez to Open Season as Fourth Outfielder
This one is a disappointment to me personally, as I’ve been a Tommy Pham fan for a long time, always hoping this is the year he finally stays healthy long enough for the talent to play.
It’s also frustrating to see a player with a track record of making an impact when he’s been on the field passed over based on a small sampling of spring training results, when we have a decade of evidence to suggest Jose Martinez is probably not a major league caliber player.
On the other hand, I also can’t deny that it isn’t just that Pham was getting poor results this spring, he really and truly looks lost at the plate right now. What has to be the most concerning thing, of course, is the question of whether Pham is struggling because he made some supposed swing changes, or if his career-long eye issues are still causing him problems. We’ve heard about Pham trying out half a dozen different varieties of contact lenses to try and solve his vision problems, but it seems to continue to be a problem. What worries me most is if Pham is simply hitting a point where his eye issues are creating bigger contact problems than his power/speed combination package can overcome.
As for Martinez, I will admit to some cautious optimism. I was intrigued by Martinez even when the Cardinals acquired him from Kansas City, largely due to an above-average contact rate. The downside for Martinez has always been a marked lack of power despite a frame that would suggest there should be more power in there, but this spring he’s shown surprising pop. I haven’t heard of Martinez making any deliberate changes to his swing, but in watching him this spring I can’t help but wonder. The leg kick seems more pronounced than I remember from last season, and he seems to be loading his hands a little differently. There’s been a trend in baseball the last couple years for hitters to try and retool their swings to get the ball airborne more, and I wonder if Martinez has done something of the sort.
Miguel Socolovich Secures a Spot in the Bullpen
Thank fucking god. Socolovich has done nothing but perform anytime he’s been in a Cardinal uniform, and seeing him make the opening day roster as part of this relief corps is good news, I think.
Now, if we could just figure out some way to ‘accidentally’ lock Jonathan Broxton inside a Golden Corral or something....
Kolten Wong May be in a Platoon
This is an interesting bit of news, if only because the word ‘platoon’ is being thrown around, yet Greg Garcia is one of the prime names being mentioned in conjunction with Wong’s. I really wish writers would figure out that a time-share at a position and a platoon are not the same thing; ‘platoon’ by its nature suggests playing time broken out by handedness. You know, as in ‘platoon splits’.
The other player involved, of course, and the one that actually would represent a platoon, is Jedd Gyorko, who hits from the right side of the plate. Of the three players, Wong, Garcia, and Gyorko, Jedd is the one with the benefit of power. Garcia has the overall edge in on-base skills, and Wong is still the most dynamic defender and baserunner of the three. We spent much of the offseason hearing about how the organisation was renewing its commitment to Kolten as the everyday second baseman, as part of the plan to try and be more athletic, as well as better defensively. Now Wong comes out and lays an egg in spring training, and we’re hearing rumblings that his hold on the job may not be as strong as we were led to believe.
It would be easy to criticise this as just another example of small-sample thinking from Mike Matheny and the club as a whole, yanking Wong (heh), at the first sign of struggle. However, I’ve watched a whole lot of Kolten Wong plate appearances this spring — not to mention over the past couple years — and I’m having a hard time really coming down on Mike for this one. There’s a lot to like about what Wong brings to the table, but a consistent offensive approach seems to always be just out of reach for him, promised with every new swing modification or article about him regaining his confidence.
At some point last year, I know I wrote about hoping Greg Garcia would get a longer look in a more prominent role. I’m not backing off that.
Jhonny Peralta, Starting Third Baseman
I think we all saw this one coming, considering the noise we’ve heard coming from the front office about Jhonny this offseason. And there’s little enough time still separating us from a day when Jhonny Peralta was a top-flight shortstop to have some optimism there really is one more good bounceback type year in Peralta. All the same, I hope the leash is relatively short with Peralta; the Cards have Gyorko available to take over immediately, and while Jedd may not be a world beater, I have a feeling he would be at least as good as Jhonny in an everyday starting role at third right now.
Depending upon how things go in the minors this season, the Cardinals could also have Paul DeJong waiting in the wings for his chance sooner than later. DeJong’s spring training showing this year was up and down, and clearly showed he isn’t quite ready for the call yet, but he also showcased some very intriguing tools at times and certainly didn’t look overmatched at any point.
If Peralta comes out and is relatively good the first half of this season, I’m definitely hoping the organisation looks to move him for some value even if they’re in contention, considering how slight the dropoff likely is to the next guy in line. (And by slight I mean likely nonexistent.)
Matt Adams Really is Going to Play Some Outfield
Because sure, fuck it, we didn’t learn our collective lesson watching Chris Duncan flail around like a drunken yeti, so why not?
The fact Matt Adams is still on this team never fails to amaze me, and frankly feels like a failure on the part of the organisation to figure out some better solution. I guess the fact he spent his offseason drinking wheatgrass shakes and covering himself in religious tattoos counts for something.
I have to say, at this point the most interesting roster storyline for me to watch is going to be seeing what happens when Tyler Lyons is fully healthy again. Lyons has no options, but has proven himself to be a very capable major league reliever when he’s healthy. The few outings he’s been able to make this spring so far have been hit and miss in terms of control, completely expected for a player trying to get back into the rhythm of things after such a long layoff, but the stuff has looked 100% fine and in spite of what is unfortunately a career-long bout of homeritis at this point, Lyons represents both quality and remarkable versatility out of the ‘pen, a combination I don’t think the Cardinals can afford not to take advantage of once he’s available again.
The problem, of course, is a numbers crunch in the bullpen. Seung-Hwan Oh, Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, and Brett Cecil aren’t likely going anywhere, and Miguel Socolovich is out of options, which was part of the reason why it was important he make the opening day roster. Unfortunately, that really leaves only Matt Bowman as a good candidate for the Memphis Shuttle once Lyons comes back, and Bowman acquitted himself much better last year than a guy condemned to do the I-55 round trip all year. It’s bad news for Bowman, then, that I don’t see many other options.
Unless, of course, someone really did want to take me up on that Broxton/Golden Corral situation. Just saying.