As my past few posts have indicated, I tend to get a bit retrospective around this time of year. In this season’s case, the baseball is exciting and meaningful. The Cardinals are entrenched in a playoff race, playing the two teams ahead of them in the division to finish the year. But it’s also fun to look back over the games already played, at the decisions made over the offseason and before the trade deadline and see what could’ve been—or could’ve not been.
Let’s look at the players the Cardinals skipped over and the players they targeted to see the impact they’ve had on the season—in St. Louis or elsewhere. As you’ll see, there’s a much larger emphasis on the “elsewhere” portion; as many players as a team picks up, rumors will swirl about plenty more. There were tons of names thrown out as possible targets for the Cardinals in particular this past offseason, given how active the organization was expected to be. I’m going to divide this into two parts, one looking at the acquisitions and one looking at the Cardinals that could’ve been. Let’s start with the acquisitions. We’ll only be looking at players who were consistent major leaguers at the time they were acquired (sorry, Muñoz).
To get it out of the way quickly, Ozuna has not been what the Cardinals expected. A five-win player last season, he nearly hit 40 bombs in the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park and won a Gold Glove in left field. Put plainly, Marcell Ozuna has not been the thumper the Cardinals expected to fill the cleanup spot in 2018.
But honestly, he’s been pretty good.
Ozuna has accrued 2.6 WAR over 595 PA for St. Louis. His bat is now above average, at 106 wRC+ on the season, thanks mainly to a strong stretch since August 1 where he’s put up a .322/.366/.557 line. He’s eclipsed 20 homers and could potentially end with at least 25. He’s also reportedly done all of this with a really troubled shoulder.
We’ve seen the shoulder in action over the course of the season. Throws have been weak. Ozuna received a cortisone shot and sat out the last bit of August to gain some strength for a potential playoff push. Still, by DRS (7) and UZR (4), Ozuna hasn’t been too bad in left. He’s made some spectacular catches.
More importantly, the pieces given up to acquire Ozuna haven’t been exceptional for the Marlins. Sandy Alcantara has been the best of all of them, posting a 2.35 ERA in four starts, but his peripherals have looked pretty rough, walking nearly six batters per nine and carrying a FIP of 4.58. Magneuris Sierra’s wRC+ through 128 PA is 5. Yes, 5. He’s had some frustrating moments in the outfield, as well. Zac Gallen has had a solid year as a starter at Triple-A, with a 3.65 ERA through 133.1 innings, but no one has really been spectacular. For what the Cardinals gave up, and what they still have in their farm system, it wasn’t a bad move.
Miles Mikolas has been a treasure. NEIFI Analytics tweeted this message after the Mikolas signing:
Congrats, Cardinals. Per NEIFI, Mikolas handily outperforms Jake Arrieta over next three seasons. Massive bargain, fantastic bet to be the most underrated FA of 2017 class.— NEIFI Analytics (@NEIFIco) December 5, 2017
So far, they’ve been right. Mikolas is 15th on FanGraphs’ pitchers leaderboard with 3.8 fWAR. He’s thrown 185.2 innings over 30 starts, walking 1.4 batters per nine. His 3.36 FIP indicates that his 3.01 ERA is no fluke. If you’d said at the beginning of the year that Mikolas would be the only qualified starter in terms of innings in the Cardinals’ rotation at this point in the season, it would’ve been a shock. But here we are, and Mikolas was an All-Star. For the contract, he looks like one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
Gregerson has been one of the more frustrating signings of this past winter. Signing a two-year, $11 million contract, the former Astro was supposed to provide some veteran stability for a bullpen in flux. Instead, he’s held down the DL with multiple stints, eventually resulting in the season-ending injury he’s now battling. Gregerson will have next year to demonstrate some worth, but his fastball was already losing significant velocity before 2018. He’s a pitcher who relies heavily on his slider. One would hope he can make a big impact in 2019, but for now this deal looks to be a loss for the Cardinals.
Leone, acquired from the Blue Jays in the Randal Grichuk trade, was absolutely dominant in 2017. He put up 1.5 fWAR in just 70.1 innings as one of the major late-inning guys for Toronto. Before that, though, he had been volatile. There was uncertainty which pitcher the Cardinals would get: the former Blue Jay, or the former Diamondback, where he was of negative value.
For the most part, the Cardinals have gotten the one that’s been injured.
Nerve issues kept Leone on the DL for the better part of the season. He’s had some good outings, particularly the inning against Atlanta on Tuesday in which he struck out two batters. He’s also looked pretty bad in some instances, like when he surrendered two earned runs, three runs total, agains the Dodgers last week. If Leone can return to dominance and hold down a consistent role in the bullpen as the Cards move into October, he’ll look a lot more appealing. At this point, he’s more in the Gregerson camp.
Norris looked like an absolute steal for St. Louis...until mid-August and early September. He’d been lights-out at the end of the bullpen, holding down the traditional closer role and offering some consistency in what was a volatile group of relievers. Since the rest of the bullpen has found solid ground, Norris seems to have floundered. Since August 13, Norris has a 6.75 ERA and an astronomical 9.36 FIP. He’s blown three saves in that time and ended a game on a walk-off wild pitch. In his most recent appearance against the Dodgers, he was brought in and faced just one batter, issuing a walk. Before the fall-off, Norris had been having a very solid season, one that made his $3 million contract look like robbery. He’s coming down to earth now, and he has very little time to get right before a potential run into the postseason.
Not sure we even need to go into this one. Holland looked terrible for most of his time in St. Louis, barring a few solid outings like his three-strikeout affair in Philadelphia. The question wasn’t if the Cardinals should cut ties with the former lights-out closer, but if they did so too late. Of course, he has a 0.98 ERA and 2.82 FIP through 18.1 innings with the Nationals, because baseball has a weird sense of humor. Good for Greg, but I for one am glad he’s far from St. Louis. His contract and the resulting struggle—as well as the pitching performances of Cardinal rookies—add to the long list of examples of why you shouldn’t pay multiple millions of dollars for relief pitching.
Shreve was picked up from the Yankees in the Luke Voit deal. With the Yankees, he was a LOOGY with high strikeout potential, a high walk rate, and a vulnerability to the long ball.
With the Cardinals, he’s been more of the same.
His 2.77 ERA is much better than the 4.26 he posted with New York, but his peripherals are largely the same, with an even higher FIP in St. Louis. Nearly every outing from Shreve has felt, to me, like the wheels could fall off at any moment. The more important piece in the Voit deal was Giovanny Gallegos, the Memphis Redbirds’ postseason hero. Shreve has maintained his spot for now, but I find it a bit scary to think of him in a playoff bullpen.
Tyson Ross was essentially a free pickup when claimed off of waivers from San Diego, but his subsequent starts were anything but. Ross has a clause in his contract where every start after his current number nets him an additional $100,000.
That’s probably why he’s made just one start since coming to the Cardinals.
Ross has pitched 23.1 innings over 7 appearances, averaging roughly 3.1 innings per outing. He’s a veteran pitcher with a history of putting up innings and he makes a lot of sense on a Cardinal pitching staff where starters have been constantly in flux. He’s been pretty consistent, too. Ross has a 2.31 ERA with a 3.88 FIP over his time in St. Louis. He’s looked like a good piece for St. Louis moving into late September.
St. Louis’ large adult son returns. Big City’s waiver claim was a spirit win for the Cardinals, seeing a player who provided so much joy in big moments return to the team. Adams still lived in St. Louis, and so did his now-fiancée. That’s where the feel-good stops, unfortunately. Aside from a big three-run home run, Adams’ bat has been quiet. He has just eight hits in 56 PA while returning to the Redbirds. Let’s hope he’s saving it for the postseason.