Whenever a longtime Cardinals player is traded, I see many fans who say things like “I wish him success on his new team.” Maybe these people are as magnanimous as they appear. I’ve probably said that to sound like a good person myself.
But the truth is, I NEVER want to see a player dealt away by the Cardinals flourish. It’s not like I’m hoping for them to get injured or lose their livelihood or anything. I just want the Cardinals to always make the right moves, always come out ahead.
The whole situation is really like a breakup. Of course you will say you wish your Ex well, but when you check their Facebook page drunk at 2am, do you really want to see them like, over-the-moon happy? With somebody better looking than you? Hitting 11 home runs in their first 30 games?
Okay, there may be limits to this metaphor. But you see where I’m going with this.
As you’ve probably seen, since being traded to the Braves, Matt Adams has reverted back to 2013 partial-season Matt Adams. As I write this, he’s currently sporting a 145 wRC+ as an Atlanta Baseballer, which is enough to pull his mark for the full season up to 130... exactly tied with the Cardinals leader, Matt Carpenter.
He also raised some eyebrows with a recent postgame interview where he said things like he was “having fun playing baseball again,” which could certainly be read as throwing some shade at the Cardinals. Similarly concerning was Braves Manager Brian Snitker’s postgame interview when he said he received texts from Adams’ former teammates saying he could hit lefties, after often being more of a platoon player in his later years in St. Louis.
All of this raises questions about how the Cardinals evaluated, coached and ultimately parted ways with Matt Adams. The short version of this is that I don’t really think we know the answer to any of these questions yet. But here’s the things I will continue to wonder about.
Is Matt Adams better than we thought?
This seems like the underlying question to a lot of the frustration on Cardinals Twitter. It seems like every night we see new tweets about Matt Adams home runs, like that proverbial Ex posting pics from Caribbean vacation with the new beau.
I don’t believe it.
Well, okay, I believe he hit those home runs. But I don’t believe Matt Adams has transformed into any more of a Matt Adams than he has always been.
When the Cardinals cut-bait on Adams, he had more than 1,500 MLB plate appearances. Since the start of the 2015 season, he had a 95 wRC+. That’s a long enough track record for me to be confident that he’s is just a league-averageish hitter. 100 very good plate appearances are not enough to convince me that has changed.
I’m also not convinced that Matt Adams can hit lefties, despite the secret texts from the Cardinals clubhouse. Even for this resurgent partial season, in all its small-sample-size glory, Adams has a 143 wRC+ against righties, 72 wRC+ against lefties.
So color me skeptic on the whole argument that Matt Adams is much better than we thought. Of course, the longer he keeps this up, the more I will wonder...
Has Matt Adams gotten better?
If Post-Cardinals Big Mayo sustains anything like his current production, it will beg the question, what has changed? I’m not aware of anything we could point to right now, though I’m sure there are folks who will analyze any small adjustment to his swing.
Zach Gifford took a look at some of Adams underlying skills on Twitter the other night, and he likewise came away with the conclusion that there was nothing especially new here, skill-wise.
The more likely thing here would be a change in approach - the grayest of all gray areas. But there is some history to the Matt Adams Approach Narrative. As you may recall, as teams began shifting on Adams, there were pervasive discussions of him trying to “beat the shift.” For a period of time, he seemed to be consciously trying to go the other way, and yes, even attempted a few bunts.
The result of this perceived change in approach was an absolute cratering of Adams power, with little or no improvement in any other kind of production. This was one of the prime exhibits in the case of Mabry Conspiracy Theorists about how the hitting coach was damaging the team’s offensive production. But Adams seemed to abandoned that perceived go-the-other-way approach last season, when his power numbers returned to something like they’d been previously.
Is anything I just typed true? Hell if I know. We’re talking about approach. But if any of it is, it leads to another question to come from this transaction, which is...
Does the Cardinals coaching staff suck?
If players underperform here, it’s natural to wonder if the coaching staff is to blame. If you’re like me, and you’ve been living in the Tent City of “Fire Matheny” protestors outside Busch Stadium for years, this is an easy conclusion to jump to.
And to be fair, this is one area where the evidence at hand - specifically the comments from Adams and Snitker - is fairly damning. It’s clear Adams was frustrated and unhappy in St. Louis. It also sounds like teammates thought he was mishandled by the coaching staff.
They might all be wrong. Players always believe they can do better, because like, that’s how they’re wired. But this is at least another data point that suggests distrust and frustration between players and coaching staff.
Is this enough on its own to be meaningful? Probably not. But when there are so many clear reasons to fire Matheny, and the argument to keep him and his staff has hinged so much on the behind-closed-doors, leader-of-men type stuff, this punches holes even in that.
But pinning all the blame on the coaching staff is so 2016. The new hotness is to point the finger at the front office as well, which begs the question...
Did the front office bungle the Adams trade?
I know we’re not supposed to talk about winning or losing trades, but one unimpeachable quality of the Mozeliak era has been absolutely destroying other teams in trade deals. This deal looks like it could be one of the rare exceptions.
To be fair, we can’t evaluate this until we know what (if anything) the Cardinals will get from Juan Yepez, the 19-year-old corner infielder they got in return for Adams. On the plus side, Yepez is more than two years younger than the average player at his level, which is always promising. He’s posted a career best 119 wRC+ in Peoria thus far this season. So it’s certainly possible Yepez will continue to develop and become a major leaguer at some point.
That said, the consensus on Yepez as a prospect seems pretty low. He did not appear on most Braves prospect lists. On one of the few he did, he ranked as the 63rd best in the system before this season (and you have to do some math to figure that out, as he’s technically in the unranked portion).
If Yepez ever makes any kind of impact in St. Louis, it will be a coup for the Cardinals Scouting Department. But the probability of that seems pretty low.
Instead, it seems like the 63rd best prospect in the Braves system was the best thing the Cardinals could get for Matt Adams at the time of his trade.
My frustration here is that the Cardinals traded Adams at what had to be the absolute low-ebb of his value. I don’t fault the team for giving Adams the playing time they did over the years, or the repeated shots at claiming the mantle of Everyday First Baseman.
That said, I feel like internally, the Cardinals could have been ahead of the industry on evaluating Adams and his limitations. That’s probably a pretty vague, dopey, outsider criticism, but I’d like to see my team know their players better than the industry does, and if they’re going to sell, to do so somewhere other than the absolute nadir of their value.
The Atlanta Barves, by comparison, have already come out ahead in terms of finding above average MLB production from a stopgap fill-in at 1st base. But reports are they are so enticed by Adams, they are planning to move Freeman to 3rd base.
If I were the Braves, what I would do is SELL HIGH on Matt Adams. He’s plugged the Freddie Freeman sized hole at first very nicely, and certainly raised his stock at least somewhat in doing so. They should easily be able to trade him for a player of higher value than Juan Yepez, and walk away from the whole transaction string well ahead.
It’s too early to say if the Cardinals will one day come out ahead on the Adams trade, but the early returns are not promising.