The start of the new year usually comes in concert with an effort to better yourself in some way. This comes from New Years resolutions. There’s no reason you can’t start this another date, but new year, new you, and all those cliches. We are in the midst of a baseball offseason, and as such, every and all goals are to make the team better.
But... we’re baseball fans, not baseball general managers. There’s really not much we, as fans, can do to help the Cardinals field a better team. We pretty much do our part during the season, and while I’m sure the players appreciate a good crowd, I’m not exactly sure how much the fans play in the performance.
So, instead of doing resolutions for this post, I am going to list 11 questions that I am really curious to know the answer to, that will be answered at some point in 2019. Some will be answered before the offseason is over, some won’t be answered until the end of the season. But all of them are what I would consider important questions about the season and the franchise as a whole.
Will the Cardinals sign Bryce Harper?
It may seem like I’m a glutton for punishment for even asking this question. Of course, they aren’t going to, why are you even asking this? Fair enough point. But here’s the thing: Someone is going to sign this guy. If you believe rumors, the Dodgers still have to shed like $20 million, the Nationals have never been considered a serious contender, the Phillies seem more interested in Manny Machado, and well you get the point by now. Everyone is denying interest, someone is lying.
Or everyone is telling the truth and the Cards could swoop in with a deal below expected. Honestly, the biggest reason to not believe in the Cardinals is their reported and loud interest in Dexter Fowler getting a chance, and really, the Cardinals have every reason in the world to lie about that. Now, they may be serious about that, but they may have also said these statements with the understanding that Harper was getting 10 years, over $300 million. There is probably a price that Harper can fall to where the Cardinals will say “Sorry Dex, really didn’t think he was within our grasp, buuuut...”
What is Going to Happen with Fowler?
I wanted to be more specific with this question but there is a very wide range of outcomes for Fowler. If Harper improbably signs with the Cardinals, Fowler is either released (unlikely), salary dumped (maybe), or turned into the 4th/5th OFer (also maybe). If the Cardinals go into the season with the same OF as they do now, his range of outcomes narrow, but still run the gamut in potential performance.
So, how will Fowler play? Will he return to pre-2018 level? Will he struggle? How long of a leash will the Cardinals give him? Will his performance prove he needs no leash? Will it not matter how he performs because Tyler O’Neill hits 10 homers in the first two months? It’s really going to feel like every single game is very important for Fowler, because he currently has two outfielders behind him, both of which might already be better hitters than he is even if he does return to form.
Will Jose Martinez get traded?
What complicates the Harper signing is that the Cardinals have roughly five starter caliber outfielders on their roster who either can’t or shouldn’t be sent to AAA. A Harper signing necessitates a trade of one and potentially two. Even without a Harper signing, if an opportunity presents itself, you need to trade one of them. It’s easy to make good playing time for four outfielders, not so much for five. All five are too good to get Shane Robinson playing time.
Martinez is just the obvious choice. Fowler and O’Neill are both just about untradeable, for very different reasons. Fowler has been announced as the starter, and if he falters, O’Neill should get a chance before Martinez. Thus, why a trade of Jose Martinez makes sense.
How much playing time will Tyler O’Neill get?
The unquestioned upset of the year for me will be if O’Neill gets traded. I’m so confident he won’t get traded that I’m not even asking that question. I want to know how much playing time he will get this year. As I said above, Fowler is the announced starter. Martinez, as of now, comes into play. Something’s got to to give in playing time here. If the Cardinals don’t trade Martinez or sign Harper, I am curious what O’Neill’s playing time looks like. I am utterly unconcerned about his playing time if he’s the 4th OFer, and he might be right now, but Jose Martinez is such a good hitter, that I can see O’Neill getting left behind.
Will Jedd Gyorko get traded?
It’s not unusual for Gyorko to go into a season without a starting role. Nonetheless, he’s behind four guys who you probably want starting 150+ games. He also can’t really play SS, although that is pretty much true of every alternative option to Paul DeJong. Nonetheless I think the Cardinals go into the season with Gyorko. Unless...
Look, I hate to be asking every question based off Bryce Harper, but part of the reason Harper makes so much sense is that trading Gyorko and signing Harper still leaves your payroll in a very reasonable spot. We can all pretend that the Cards are willing to go near the luxury tax, but they’re not. Those two moves will not put them anywhere near the luxury tax.
Will we see a healthy Alex Reyes?
This one is pretty self-explanatory. In all likelihood, we will not see a complete, fully healthy season. He’s not expected to be ready at the beginning of the year. But once he comes back, will he stay healthy and be the Alex Reyes we think he can be for the rest of the year?
Will Cards be willing to move Adam Wainwright to the bullpen?
There is a scenario where this question doesn’t need to be answered. Wainwright is good and the natural injury problems that come with a modern day rotation never even present a scenario where he should be moved to the bullpen. But if everyone stays healthy and Reyes is ready to start when he comes back, Wainwright really should be moved to the bullpen, even if Wainwright is not that bad.
Will the Cardinals sign another starter?
You could argue this question is related to every other question I’ve asked already. The excess of OFers the Cardinals currently have could in theory be converted into another starter, not signing Harper leaves money for a starter, and the Cardinals confidence in Reyes and Wainwright will directly impact how much they think they need a starter. From where I’m standing, I think they need a starter. I’m a Wainwright believer, but the Cards usually have at least one spring training injury to a planned starter and if the worst that happens is Wainwright moves to the bullpen, that’s not a bad outcome. Cards signed him to a contract specifically for that reason.
Will Andrew Miller become Andrew Miller again?
Miller had an injury-plagued down year and he still have been one of the best relievers on the team last year. But the Cardinals didn’t sign him to be the Andrew Miller of last year. They signed him to be Andrew Miller of 2014-2017, a genuine 2+ WAR reliever. Whether he’s back to his old self, or now just pitches like he’s old is going to significantly impact the Cardinals bullpen of the next few years.
Will Jordan Hicks’ results match his stuff?
I could talk myself into Jordan Hicks very easily. He skipped two levels. He was 21. He started the season with 16 walks and 9 strikeouts, and ended the season with 7 walks and 3 strikeouts in his last four appearances. In between, he had 58 strikeouts, 22 walks, 2 homers allowed and a 59 GB% in 52 IP (2.93 FIP). It took time adjusting to the jump in competition to start the year, and he was worn out by the end of the year. Like I said, very easy.
Will Carlos Martinez be back to normal?
Another question that is very important to the Cardinals 2019 fortunes. Now, on the surface, Martinez did not have a bad 2018, just an injury-plagued one. 3.11 ERA and 2.2 WAR in 118 innings. I’m more concerned if the underlying advanced stats indicate a pitcher in decline. He had a 4.42 xFIP and a 4.45 SIERA. He walked a career high and by far, he struck out less than last year and his GB% sank to a career low. He struck out a little more than 2016, but 2016 came with a 56.4 GB% and last year came with a 49.1 GB%. Injuries might have been to blame. Let’s hope it was just injuries and he’s not getting worse.
Those are my 11 questions. I could have asked more, but most of the other questions I could have asked I either didn’t really need an answer or felt confident in the answer. These? I’m not that confident what will happen. All seem to have a decent range of outcomes. Here’s to 2019 bringing answers to these questions and the 12th question being answered with a 12th ring.