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Cardinals offseason preview: A former site manager roundtable (Part II)

Continuing the conversation with Larry Borowsky, Ben Humphrey and Craig Edwards, focusing on pitching and defense.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’m thrilled to continue the conversation with VEB Founder Larry Borowsky and Site Managers Emeritus Ben Humphrey and Craig Edwards. If you missed Part I, focusing primarily on the offense, you can check it out here.

In Part II, we will focus more on the defensive and pitching side of the ledger.

Larry Borowsky: they head into the winter with their best defensive backbone since the early aughts, when matheny, renteria and edmonds were piling up gold gloves. It’s pretty jarring to say that about a team that committed 133 errors, the franchise’s highest one-season total since 1998. to put this in context, there have been just 19 130-error seasons in this century, and the median record of those 19 teams is 66-96. only one team besides the 2018 cards finished above .500 --- the ‘02 expos, at 83-79.

so either the cards’ W-L record was a fluke, or their error total was --- the two just don’t line up. i’m betting the errors were the outlier. if i’m right, then simple regression to the mean will likely shave 30ish errors and 20ish runs off their 2018 totals. the recommitment to defense --- more bader and wong, less fowler and jmart --- that started in july may net another 10 runs or more over 162 games. problem solved; no further roster moves necessary.

the same is nearly true of the bullpen, where the incumbent collection of arms ranges from largely competent (brebbia, leone, mayers, gregerson, gant, hudson, poncedeleon) to potentially dominant (hicks, gallegos), with some lottery tickets (reyes, weaver, wainwright, helsley, cabrera) tossed in. they do need a left-hander, and the in-house options are either untrustworthy (cecil, shreve, webb), underripe (cabrera, kuczynski), or ticketed for the rotation (gomber). but imho there’s no need to throw money at an FA lefty like andrew miller or zach britton --- a dog-eared volume from the remainders bin (oliver perez, zach duke) would fit their needs better.

Ben Humphrey: We all know that the Cardinals did not have a good bullpen last year. In fact, the bullpen probably cost the team a postseason berth. One could argue that Greg Holland, with his poor performance and abetted by Matheny, managed that.

Craig Edwards: Some of what I want the Cardinals to do is based on what I don’t want them to do. Don’t keep wasting money on relievers. I expect them to sign a reliever to a contract I’m not really comfortable with.

Larry: If there are stray arms to scoop up on the cheap next february (a la bud norris), have at it. ditto if they can convert jmart, gyorko, or another superfluous position player into a useful arm (a la grichuk/leone). but I really wouldn’t care if they stay out of the RP market entirely until next summer, then fit their acquisitions to whatever midseason leaks the bullpen has sprung. i might suggest, instead, that they focus on discount SPs this winter and declare gomber the main lefty out of the bullpen. he didn’t exactly suffocate LHB last year, but better BABIP luck and a full year with mike maddux might improve his results. this year’s class of FA starting pitchers is deep and well-rounded, almost certain to cough up some bargains. if a cost-controlled hurler like danny duffy or michael fulmer were to become available on attractive terms, i could be tempted.

and if nothing appealing turns up, i think the team can get away with standing pat --- keep gant in the rotation, make gomber a full-time reliever, and use wainwright, hudson, and poncedeleon as all-purpose out-getters --- midgame relievers, 3- to 4-inning spot-starters, full-time SPs if a long-term hole opens up. if you prefer to swap hudson for gant in the rotation, be my guest. fluid mound deployment seems to be the emerging paradigm, and these guys all seem well suited to it. if shilddux decided to shuttle all four of those guys between the bullpen and the rump end of the rotation all year long, it’d probably work out no worse than the SP4/5 time-shares employed by nearly half this year’s playoff teams (viz. brewers, rockies, yankees, athletics).

i guess I’m ending up here vis-a-vis the bullpen: scrounge for small-bore improvements in winter. supplement next summer as needed via the trade market. pop corks in october. sell more merch.

Ben: The Cardinals’ rotation was largely righthanded in 2018 until Austin Gomber shifted to starting from the bullpen. The problem for the Cardinals after Gomber made the transition was that it left the team without much in the way of lefthanded reliever options. Few Cardinals relievers did much to instill confidence in the St. Louis manager or fans.

[In Part I] we talked more about finding batters with good platoon splits. Getting a lefty bat or two with pop who can mash righthanded pitching to give the manager more weapons and flexibility. Another way to do this is to get a pitcher capable of wiping out all of the opposition, whether they be lefthanded or righthanded.

That’s why I think that the Cardinals [should have targeted] Trevor Rosenthal. Installing a pitcher like Rosenthal alongside Jordan Hicks would give the Cards a powerful one-two punch of righties who can lefthanded and righthanded competition out.

There is also the need for a lefthanded reliever to give the manager, well, someone to bring in late in games to face tough opposing lefthanded hitters. The club can fill in around those two with pieces already in the organization. John Brebbia, Mike Mayers, and Dominic Leone are good places to start. The organization ought to more be able to use the Memphis shuttle more liberally to keep fresh arms at the ready.

Craig: I expect them to sign a reliever to a contract I’m not really comfortable with. After that, who knows. The bidding on Machado and Harper is likely to be pretty fierce and the Yankees are supposedly targeting Corbin. Donaldson does seem somewhat likely at this point compared to other options. We might see trades of Jose Martinez and Jedd Gyorko. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the team in on a mid-level starter like Keuchel given that the need for rotation depth is greater now than it has been in past seasons. Or maybe, they’ll just sign Harper and surprise us all.


Again, my sincere thanks to Larry, Ben and Craig for taking the time to chat about the Cardinals offseason. Let the Hot Stove begin!