Normally Scooter has news and notes covered with her own special brand of witticism and obsession with cheaply priced drinks. I’m brazenly infringing on her territory with some stream of consciousness thoughts on a few news and notes that came out post-All-Star Game.
No reason to beat around the bush. On to the rambling!
Starters Returning Soon: Flaherty and Mikolas Both Face Batters
Cardinals President of Baseball Operations confirmed that both Flaherty and Mikolas are making progress in their recovery. Mikolas, who has been battling elbow discomfort after some shoulder weakness that followed forearm surgery that resulted from persistent arm fatigue caused by nerve damage (whew!), faced live batters for the first time. He appears to be a little ahead of Jack Flaherty, who also threw a bullpen session. If Mikolas remains on track, he could be in line for rehab starts by the end of the month. Here’s the report:
Miles Mikolas on working his way back and throwing again: "I feel pretty good. ... Just kind of taking it step by step, getting ready to come back so I can help the team win any way I can."#STLFLY pic.twitter.com/zt7jItX16Y— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) July 16, 2021
Before Friday’s broadcast, Mozeliak acknowledged that the club faces a decision with both players on how quickly to return them to action. The question lies in whether the club will wait for each pitcher to climb back up to a 100-pitch limit or allow them to work their pitch counts upward at the major league level.
Both options create stress for the MLB roster. Not having them at all means the club has to rely on Wade LeBlanc and Jake Woodford for starts for another 2-4 weeks. Installing them into the rotation at less than 100% capability, though, stresses already volatile bullpen depth.
Here’s my suggestion: Let Mikolas work his way back to full strength in the rotation. Hold Flaherty out until he is close to 100%. Both choices are more about 2022 than they are 2021. Mikolas is on the books for 2022. The club needs to have a body of work against major league hitters to assess his viability for the rotation next season. The more batters he faces now, the more informed decision the club can make in the offseason. (Admittedly, his salary likely makes that point moot… they’re paying him to start so the club is likely to count on him as a starter regardless of what he does this season.)
For Flaherty, there’s just no reason to push him back early and risk him re-injuring himself. Yes, his presence in the rotation could have a stabilizing impact on this entire pitching staff, but I would rather make sure he is 100% and at full strength before he jumps into the stress of a club trying to claw back into a division race.
(And yes, I know, I’m blatantly typing the name “Mikolas” despite promising not to. My powers over him seem to be confined to days he pitches. Since he’s already pitched today, I can’t really bring him harm, can I? I must test the limits of my glorious abilities. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here.)
Molina has Initiated Talk of an Extension
Late this week Twitter found a report from a news outlet in Puerto Rico that said Molina was in conversation with the Cardinals about a contract extension for 2022 and possibly 2023.
Here’s the Tweet in reference:
According to @ElNuevoDia in Puerto Rico, the @Cardinals and Yadier Molina kicked the tires on a contract extension for 2022, possibly 2023, and expect it to be finalized before THIS season is over. #STLFLY #STLCards pic.twitter.com/4Q4YtEkZD4— Tito (@triveratops) July 15, 2021
And the corresponding article, which translates pretty well in Google.
By my reading, Molina’s agent Melvin Roman has initiated contact with the Cardinals about a contract extension for Molina before the end of the season. Molina calls this (if Google Translate is accurate) a “first coffee” conversation between agent and club. I’m sure some of our Spanish-capable readers can provide a more accurate translation for that phrase in the comments. That extension would be for 2022 and possibly 2023.
I’m certainly not surprised by this news. Molina has been consistent in his desire to play beyond this season. He wanted a two-year extension before this season, but despite making noise about exploring deals with other clubs, nothing materialized for him. He was left accepting the Cardinals’ discounted, one-year deal late in the winter.
There is no indication in the report that the Cardinals are anxious to get a deal done before the end of the season or that they are willing to add a second year. This report focuses exclusively on Molina’s side.
I expect the Cardinals to play this situation just as they have with Wainwright the last few years. They’ll give him a one-year offer in the $8M range.
Is Molina worth that at this point in his career? He just recently turned 39. He has battled injuries this season and played through pain that kept him out of the All-Star game. He started hot this season at the plate but has been in an offensive tailspin since. Yet, he still plays nearly every day.
Then again, Knizner has done little to force Shildt’s hand.
Molina’s return seems inevitable and it’s likely he’ll be worth the relatively small contract he will receive. At the same time, retaining those two pretty much guarantees that the catching position won’t be much above replacement level in 2022. Neither Molina nor Knizner provides real defensive value. Molina’s defensive reputation remains strong but there are no stats that support it.
Sentiment seems to be the main reason why fans and the club want Molina back. But how much is that sentiment actually worth? On a Friday night in mid-July against the division-leading Giants, the crowd at Busch stadium is woefully light. Molina is in the bottom third in baseball among catchers in offense and WAR. Yadi isn’t one of the main reasons why this team is struggling or the offense is so weak, but he’s also no longer one of the solutions.
Sentiment or not, the Cardinals need more production from the catcher spot.
Mozeliak: The Cards are Buyers… for Now
The trade deadline is coming up in just two weeks. The Cardinals have been desperate for outside help for months but Mozeliak has failed to do anything except pillage the waiver wire. The club has floundered to two games below .500 entering Friday’s game. As of the top of the 6th on Friday night, it looks like they are heading to 3 games under, which would tie their season low. With starts coming this week for Wade LeBlanc, Jake Woodford, and Johan Oviedo, it’s hard to imagine them not sliding even further.
Despite that, Mozeliak still envisions the club as buyers and gave little indication that they would consider selling.
This is exactly what I would expect. It’s also not a very good decision. Because of the way the NL is aligning, the Cardinals have no chance at a Wild Card spot. Their only hope of making the division is catching the Brewers. According to Fangraphs, they only have a 1.8% chance of accomplishing that, a percentage that will drop with every additional loss. (The Brewers are winning tonight…)
It seems beyond foolish to use future resources to improve a team that simply won’t and can’t make the playoffs. Maybe if Flaherty and Mikolas were returning immediately I might feel differently, but they aren’t.
On Friday morning news broke that the Cubs were moving Joc Pederson to the Braves. They got some solid prospects in return for the slugger. The Cardinals don’t have a Pederson. They do have tradable assets, though. Baseball is desperate for pitchers. Kwang-Hyun Kim is set to be a free agent. Andrew Miller is as well. They have arbitration and pre-arb players who could bring a significant return if the Cardinals wanted to restock their system. That includes Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Paul DeJong, and Alex Reyes. Wainwright and Molina could bring talent back.
I realize that most of those trades are non-starters, but if the club is building for 2022 – and they are whether they admit it or not – then they should build for 2022. With teams throughout the league searching for pitching help, demand for someone a quality lefty starter like Kim has to be high. There’s no reason to hang on to Andrew Miller if he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender.
Ugh… and the Giants just broke this one open against someone named McFarland for the Cardinals. Look, as this game – a Wainwright start no less – proves, this team is not a contender. It’s FAR from being a contender. It’s going to take everything it has to claw back to .500.
Sell, Mozeliak! It’s ok to admit defeat sometimes. We fans can take it. Plus, no one is showing up to games anyway. Take your prospects. Get that high draft pick you haven’t had in a generation. Test players and prospects for 2022. That’s the best use of the season’s final 70 games.