To keep our up-to-date baseball conversations flowing in what has been a quiet offseason (for the Cardinals, anyway) thus far, a handful of the Viva El Birdos writers participated in a roundtable discussion. The topics we discussed were provided by the readers, who gave us a great deal of feedback for our first time doing this.
Several folks mentioned Miles Mikolas. Who might be the ‘Miles Mikolas’ of 2019 (for any team in general), and do you think the Cardinals will try to extend him? If so, what kind of deal do you foresee?
Ben Clemens (BC): I think it’s a little reductive to say that Yusei Kikuchi will be the next Mikolas- he’s also coming over from Japan, but he’s got better stuff and worse command and is just generally a different kind of pitcher than Mikolas. If he gets 4/52, the current Fangraphs community projection, I’m not really into that. Instead, I think there’s value to be had in Charlie Morton. If he is really available for 2 years at $8 million a year, that’s pretty interesting to me. He’s nothing flashy, but since joining the Astros he’s been an above average pitcher, and not in a fluky way either. He’s 35, so some decline is reasonable, but with pitchers I’m okay with signing older guys to short contracts and hoping they don’t break.
As for Mikolas, surely the Cardinals would like to extend him, but I think he’ll hit free agency. He seems pretty comparable to Dallas Keuchel, and I’m not sure the Cardinals will pay 4/80 (the current crowd-sourced projection) for him. I hope I’m proven wrong and they sign a mutually agreeable deal that makes him rich and the Cardinals good. We’ll see.
Gabe Simonds (GS): There will not be another Miles Mikolas of 2019, at least in terms of how unexpectedly good he was and how cheap he came. There will of course be players who are as cheap as he was and players who will be as good as he was, but I don’t think the combination will be matched in a free agent starting pitcher. Yusei Kikuchi will not have the same effect as Mikolas. People expect him to be good, partially due to Mikolas! And I think he’ll come more expensive anyway.
I think the Cardinals will try to extend him, but it more or less depends on Mikolas more than the Cardinals. If Mikolas wants to stay with the Cardinals long-term and is willing to forego free agency in order to do it, the Cardinals will get it done. If he makes it to free agency, I don’t think we’ll end up resigning him. I can’t even guess as to what his deal might be.
Josey Curtis (JC): I’m high on the Nathan Eovaldi train. He won’t be as ‘sneaky’ as Mikolas was, in that Eovaldi has hinted at what he can do stateside, whereas the Mikolas signing was based on his success in Japan. Traded from the Rays to the eventual-World Series-champion Red Sox in late July, Eovaldi worked to a 3.33 ERA in 12 games (11 starts) down the stretch for Boston. On top of that - the real icing on the cake - Eovaldi was a pure weapon in October. In six appearances, including four out of the bullpen, Eovaldi allowed only four earned runs in 22 1⁄3 innings, limiting batters to a .185 average. Not too shabby for a guy working in his first postseason, huh?
On Mikolas himself, I would very much like to see St. Louis extend him. Nonetheless, considering how valuable quality starting pitching is on the open market, I think Mikolas will test free agency. I don’t blame him.
If you were the general manager of the Cardinals, what signings or trades would you make this winter to maximize the offseason?
BC: Bryce Harper. Basically just that. If the Mariners are really tearing it down to the studs, I could see Jean Segura if the Cardinals are trading Gyorko and miss on other third-base options (I’d keep DeJong at short). [Note: Ben answered this question over the past weekend - before Segura was traded to the Phillies on Monday.] Paul Goldschmidt at a reasonable price is fine if the Cards miss on Harper- I think I’m okay pushing the window next year a bit with no Harper, but no point in mortgaging the future if the team has an enforced 5-year window of contention by signing a star. Lastly, we could call up the Rays and see if we could ship them Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera, and Roel Ramirez in exchange for Tommy Pham. A versatile outfielder who has totaled 10 WAR over the last two years and is only now hitting arbitration? That’s a valuable commodity!
GS: Harper. I’m struggling to think of another move the Cards would make if they got Harper. I don’t necessarily think Goldschmidt is off the table, but I definitely think he becomes less “necessary” if the Cards get Harper. Maybe they’ll trade for a pitcher too or sign Kikuchi.
Greg Ratliff (GR): Craig Kimbrel or Matt Barnes of Boston, as either would be able to close for you and were two of the better relief pitchers in baseball last year. If you have the chance to improve the offense by hurting the defense some, go get Paul Goldschmidt.
John LaRue (JL): I know it’s unimaginative, but Bryce Harper is so painfully obvious as the best fit. They need lefty thump, they can gain a lot by upgrading in right field, they need a star, they need a good young core piece to add for 2020 and beyond, and they need to energize the fans. Bryce Harper checks every single one of those boxes. Personally, I prefer Manny Machado to Bryce, but Harper is simply a better fit and makes more sense.
After that, I’d flip Jose Martinez to the AL for relief help. Granted, just one reliever is an undersell on Cafecito, but it could be evened out with a decent prospect coming back to St. Louis. Then, I’d complete my bullpen renovation by signing Adam Ottavino and either Aaron Loup or Tony Sipp.
My bullpen next year would be Ottavino, John Brebbia, Jordan Hicks, Dominic Leone, Dakota Hudson, with Brett Cecil and Loup (or whatever you get for Cafecito) from the left side and Luke Gregerson... somewhere in there. You can mix in for depth with whoever doesn’t make the rotation. That would mean John Gant, Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon, Luke Weaver, and Mike Mayers are your safety net. Giovanny Gallegos and Seth Elledge would get a LOT of chances to contribute as well. I like both of them and I think they’ll contribute somewhere along the line. You just hope it’s not mandatory in 2019.
JC: The short, easy answer: sign Bryce Harper. That locks up right field and plugs in a powerful left-handed bat. Fans will be excited: not only to have a star like Harper, but that their team made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason for the first time in... some time.
The bullpen presents several glaring needs, but there are many relievers available this winter. They are overshadowed in the majority of the public eye by Harper and Machado and the drama surrounding where they will end up and when. Personally, I’d love a reunion with Joe Kelly. Adam Ottavino, A.J. Ramos, and Brad Boxberger are intriguing options as well.
Examining the trade market, is there any relief pitcher that you feel might be on St. Louis’s radar?
BC: I mocked him recently in an article, but how about Anthony Swarzak? The Mariners will probably be shipping him out post-haste, and if he can be had for a song and his salary I’d take a shot.
GS: Hard to answer. Probably someone like Dominic Leone for Jose Martinez. Maybe Taylor Rogers? He might have been too good last year though. But I assume they’ll be roughly aiming for a Grichuk-like return for Martinez, possibly better, because more years.
GR: Matt Barnes, Red Sox. He was the setup guy for the most part for the Red Sox in 2018, and put up similar or better numbers to what Kimbrel did as the closer. His WAR of 1.3 is just behind Kimbrel’s 1.5 and his HR per 9 innings is .71 compared to over 1 for Kimbrel. His 53% round ball percentage was behind only one Cardinal, Jordan Hicks, who was 8th in all of baseball with 60.7%. Barnes would be a good fill in until Hicks is ready to take over the role himself.
JL: The O’s just brought in a contingent of former Cardinals front office folks- Mike Elias is running the show, along with Sig Mejdal handling analytics. I have no clue if there are still hard feelings from the Correa shenanigans, but the O’s front office is obviously intimately familiar with the Cardinals system. I’d love to see if a deal could be made for Tanner Scott, and I wouldn’t mind Mychal Givens either.
Way back at the trade deadline, I looked at potential lefties and found Taylor Rogers as a great fit from the left side. That’s still true if the Twins are willing to deal. He’s done well enough that I’m not sure he’s under the radar, really, but he’d be a great fit.
AS: Priority 1 has to be Bryce Harper. Bringing in Harper makes the most sense from a roster construction and fan base appeasement perspective, cost be damned. These last few seasons the club has been stuck in a malaise despite objectively successful results. The floor is high and begging for a serious ceiling upgrade somewhere on the diamond. Right field was a black hole in 2018, so plugging in a lefty with an MVP-level ceiling this offseason is a no-brainer. Talk about a way to energize the fan base.
Priority 2 is a headache: figuring out what to do with Dexter Fowler. I prefer not to hold onto the contract, if at all possible. I want a team entering a rebuild, looking to offload a still-productive player with a big contract. The Harper payday makes swapping Fowler’s contract for Zack Greinke’s a non-starter - and Fowler’s negative valuation makes the prospect cost to acquire Goldschmidt prohibitively high. Let’s turn to Seattle. Kyle Seager appears to be the next shoe to drop for the M’s, and his contract doesn’t provide much surplus value. The difference between Fowler and Seager’s valuation is something like a 50 FV prospect, say one of Andrew Knizner or Carson Kelly. Pull the trigger, swap a bad contract for a less-bad contract with more upside potential.
Everything else is just window dressing. My preferred course of action includes a host of more subtle moves. I’d strike while the iron is hot on Jose Martinez, moving him to an AL club in need of a DH while his value is high. Make a run at Yusei Kikuchi if you can. I’m still comfortable throwing a bunch of options at the wall to cobble together a bullpen.
Do you see Marcell Ozuna as a long-term asset?
BC: It really depends on whether Ozuna wants to stick around, I think. If he’d take something like 5 years at $20 million a year, or maybe four years for a bit more annually, I wouldn’t mind signing up for that. I think that’s a reasonable offer to make right now given the uncertainty around Ozuna- it’s more than Lorenzo Cain got, but still not a superstar level contract, which fits Ozuna about right at the moment I think. If he’s planning on going into free agency no matter what (and I wouldn’t blame him given the ridiculous games the Marlins played with his service time), a lot will depend on this year’s performance. I’d be happy to sign him now and take the uncertainty, it’s just up to Ozuna whether he’s interested in betting on himself or hedging a bit now.
GS: Right now, I do not at all. I’m operating under the assumption that Harper or not, the Cardinals will replace RF in some way. This solution will likely be a solution past 2019. So your 2020 starters are new guy plus Harrison Bader. Tyler O’Neill can replace Ozuna when he leaves plus the Cards have still got Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Justin Williams, Conner Capel, Dylan Carlson, Chase Pinder - lots of guys that might be ready in 2020 or 2021 which would make an Ozuna extension look unnecessary. But part of that is predicated on 1) O’Neill not being traded this offseason and 2) O’Neill showing something similar to what he did in 2018 but with less strikeouts and more walks. I don’t think either are huge assumptions.
JL: Generally speaking, yes. He’s still just 28, so most of his next contract will be played before age starts to take a significant bite out of his production.
There have been so many potential outcomes for Ozuna throughout his career, and we got to see all of those on display in our six month introduction to him last year. There’s the high-powered bat that can carry an offense for several games at a time, which we saw at the end of the season. There’s the worm-murdering guy launching missiles into the dirt for loud singles, which we saw in the first half. We saw him hurt, then we saw him healthier after the cortisone shot. He’s been both a good defender and a bad defender and we got glimpses of that, too. He’s been a good and bad baserunner, which we also saw.
Add it all up, and from year to year, you’re flipping a coin on whether or not you get a borderline All-Star or just a solid regular. Now... is that worth an extension to the Cardinals? I’m inclined to say no IF they make a big splash with an outfielder either this winter or before the trade deadline next year. He’s perfectly fine as a value guy. I just don’t know that I see that happening in St. Louis.
JC: I think he can be. A lot depends on what the Cardinals do this offseason (more specifically: if they ink Harper) and how Ozuna performs in 2019. The Cardinals would almost certainly act in a conservative manner in a contract proposal for Ozuna, considering his previous ailments. At this point, I think a five-year deal worth between $100 and $120 million sounds reasonable. A breakout 2019 makes that deal look small and likely pushes Ozuna to free agency. A weak season makes Ozuna a bit more open to a deal St. Louis may craft.
If the Cardinals are able to land slugger Paul Goldschmidt in a trade with the Diamondbacks or ink former-Orioles-turned-Dodgers star Manny Machado, do you think fellow infielder Matt Carpenter may get traded?
BC: Basically no. I don’t see the Cardinals going after Machado, but even if they did they could just move Carpenter to first. It’s the same in reverse with Goldschmidt- if you’re making the win-now move of trading for Goldschmidt, just move Carpenter to third.
GS: No. I don’t see how a Manny Machado signing leads to Carpenter getting traded since Carpenter would… still play 1B. Goldschmidt I at least theoretically see the logic, but the logic is that Carpenter is unplayable at 3B which he is not. Carpenter suffers from Jon Jay syndrome: all you see is the weak arm, which makes you think he’s awful there. He is not. He is below average, but he’s no Pedro Alvarez.
JL: I think it’s quite the opposite. Acquiring either Goldschmidt or Machado would indicate to me that they’re going all-in on 2019. And any iteration of an all-in 2019 Cardinals squad would include Matt Carpenter.
AS: This year will tell us, won’t it? How he feels as a long-term commitment is some function of his performance relative to Tyler O’Neill’s. The wider the spread between their two seasons on a rate basis, the harder this decision is to make next year. I lean O’Neill long term, personally, and think his upside is at least what we’ve seen from Ozuna so far. Some boom years, some bust years where he doesn’t light the world on fire but still isn’t a liability by any means.
JC: I can’t see a scenario where trading Carpenter makes sense, if this team is wanting to contend in 2019. Adding a Goldschmidt or Machado would make a huge difference in how the batting order feels, and this can’t be argued. However, trading Carpenter - the team leader in home runs and OPS in 2018 - would seem pretty counterintuitive.
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
BC: I’m structural rebel and ingredient neutral (https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1249778-is-a-hot-dog-a-sandwich), so I’d call a burrito a sandwich, but I’m not sure where that leaves me on hot dogs. I suppose it is, but I kind of put cookout food into its own category of ‘things that are delicious off the grill.’
GR: Under no circumstances is a hot dog a sandwich. I cannot stress this enough. While yes, the vehicle containing the hot dog is a bun or bread related item, it is not a sandwich. The bread delivery system for a hot dog is different in that the bread is not connected, whereas a sandwich features two sliced and not connected, pieces of bread. Therefore, it cannot be considered a sandwich.
JL: You’re a sandwich.
AS: It is a vehicle for mustard consumption.
JC: Ugh. Let’s be done with this.