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The Cardinals Add a Patch. And a Starter Candidate for 2024?

A disjointed look at the moves the Cardinals did and did not make yesterday.

It’s May.

The Cardinals finished April with a 10-19 record.

They are in last place in the NL Central.

They have the second-worst record in the NL.

The club is coming home battered and bleeding from a brutal road trip out west and entering a stretch where they have 1 off day between May 1 and May 31.

Tuesday afternoon seemed like the perfect time to make a shift in the roster. Bring in some new blood, some fresh arms. Shake things up. Try something new. Give the kids a chance. You know all the phrases people throw around. Like that famous meme, most of us sat around the internet today poking the Cardinals’ Front Office with a stick and saying “C’mon, do something.”

So, the Cardinals did something.

At a 4 pm CST press conference featuring the DeWitts, the Cardinals announced that they are adding an advertising patch to their uniform.

Here’s the official promo video…


Ok, then.

Look, I was all set to be perfectly fine with this who advertising thing. The Stifel logo on the sleeve isn’t obtrusive or obnoxious. I’m a soccer fan, so, frankly, I’m pretty used to advertising being a component of kits. (That’s soccer speak for a uniform.) STL City SC has “Purina” as its primary textual feature.

It could be worse, friends.

But that video kind of rubbed me the wrong way. “Stitching … (dramatic pause by Joe Buck) … brings things together.” All of that laid over the tense, rhythmic chords of the backing track.

It’s just so dramatic. Unnecessarily so.

Don’t dramatically appeal to tradition and excellence when you’re choosing to deface the classic Cardinals’ uniform with a money-making venture. There’s nothing nostalgic, traditional, or excellent about dropping a Stifel patch next to the Birds on the Black.

Is it a big deal?

Not really.

So don’t make it a big deal by making it a big deal.

Ok. End of rant.

The patch is fine. It’s subtle. It’s just the normal Stifel logo text set on a white background. That background will become cream on the alternates. And blue on the babies.

We’ll barely see it. It won’t impact our enjoyment of the game. It won’t impact our viewing experience.

We can hope that it will impact the Cardinals’ payroll.

I have some differences with Fangraphs in terms of Opening Day payroll figures, but they have the Cardinals listed at 15th in baseball in spending for 2023. Spotrac has them 16th. Cot’s is 14th.

Any way you slice it, the Cardinals have trickled down from established and stated norms in Opening Day payroll over the last few seasons and it’s hard to see this as anything but intentional. The club’s payroll figure has climbed in recent seasons but that figure has not kept pace with the rest of the league, particularly the bigger market clubs in the East and the West. The Cardinals were 10th in the league as recently as 2020.

With the team struggling and the clearance aisle rotation in shambles, many fans on the internet were chirping about the optics and timing of the patch announcement. I can see that.

The message, intended or not, was “See how we’re trying to make more money? Isn’t it great!” Fans right now are way more interested in “See how we’re trying to improve the team? Isn’t it great!”

Optics, timing, language… whatever. It’s a patch. It will be fine.

The Cardinals did make a roster move yesterday and it was not necessarily a move designed to improve the roster. At least not for this year.

The Cardinals announced Tuesday that they have sent bullpen stalwart Zack Thompson down to Memphis and activated right-handed reliever Guillermo Zuñiga.

Zack Thompson was one of the better relievers the Cardinals had last season, working his way into a late-inning lefty-relief role after Genesis Cabrera scuffled. This year, Thompson has had three consecutive outings allowing 2 runs, but those are the only runs he’s allowed on the season. His K rate is among the best on the staff. His walk rate isn’t, but most of those came in the last few appearances.

It’s hard to see Thompson as part of the problem with the Cardinals. Instead, he seems like a necessary part of the solution.

The move is somewhat reminiscent of what happened to fellow bullpen stalwart Andre Pallante. Pallante had a similar hiccup – two bad outings in 8 – and was also relegated to Memphis in favor of lefty JoJo Romero. In Memphis, Pallante has made AAA batters look like tee ballers. He has a 40% K rate for Memphis with 0 walks in 5 innings.

That’s production the Cardinals could have used the last few weeks.

In truth, I expected Pallante to return from Memphis as one of what could have been a series of moves from the club to reposition themselves for the homestand yesterday.

The timing for Pallante isn’t right, however. MLB rules dictate that a pitcher must remain in the minors for 15 days before they can be recalled. By my count, that’s Wednesday. Tomorrow for me. Today as you read this.

So, that move could still happen. I’m not expecting it will.

Pallante has three outings for Memphis. He has gone 2 innings, 1 1/3 innings, and 2 innings in those outings. Are they stretching him out? Preparing him for the long relief role that the Cardinals have lacked this season? Do they, perhaps, want him to return to starting?

That is, after all, the plan for Zack Thompson.

After digging through the Tweets and info it appears the Cardinals plan on Thompson remaining at Memphis for most of the rest of the season to stretch out and prepare to contend for the starting rotation next season.

This is a very confusing move for the Cardinals to make at a very confusing time. Especially when coupled with Pallante’s absence and apparent stretching.

What made them decide after one terrible month of losing that they needed to take their best lefty reliever out of the bullpen and move him back to Memphis for the season so he can be a starter next year maybe?

I have questions.

If this was the plan, then why didn’t they try to bring in more talent to the left side of their bullpen in the offseason? Packy Naughton was ok last year, but he hardly distinguished himself. The same thing can be said of JoJo Romero. Genesis Cabrera has had his moments for the Cardinals, but he completely fell apart last season and didn’t make the club out of Spring.

There was reason to believe that the Cards could cobble together a pretty decent left side of the pen with those guys but that all assumed Zack Thompson sat at the top of it. Without him? It’s a survivable but sketchy group. Especially since Naughton is on the IL. Especially without the righty-who-can-get-lefties-out security blanket Andre Pallante. If the front office intended on stretching Thompson out, it would have made sense for the Cardinals to invest some of their surplus payroll (and roster depth) into replacing him in the bullpen.

If this was the plan, then why are they just now getting around to executing it? Who constructed a plan to start a reliever out as a high-leverage arm in the MLB bullpen from February through April and then (amid a terrible slide where the team needs its best talent to have a shot at redeeming their playoff changes) move said player to the minor league rotation so he can maybe start next year? The opportune time to stretch out a reliever is in the Spring. And in the offseason. Not in May. In the midst of a losing streak.

Both of those questions lead me to what I feel is a pretty obvious conclusion.

Moving Thompson was NOT the plan. It’s some kind of reaction to something that has happened or is happening that they feel necessitated a pretty dramatic change for the future at the expense of the present.

What are they reacting to?

It could be that the Cardinals have a very high level of confidence in what they’re seeing from Genesis Cabrera and now view Thompson as superfluous. Brad Thompson implied this might be the case. But why wouldn’t they want two good lefties instead of just one good-as-of-now lefty and some replacement-level guys? I like what I’ve seen from Cabrera, but let’s be honest, even when he was on he was a little bit off. His control could disappear at any moment, as it frequently has in the past.

No, I think there’s more to it than that.

My guess is that the performance of the Cardinals’ starters this season has caused them to lose confidence in the starting pitchers that the team has under contract for next season. Miles Mikolas, who they recently locked into an extension, is still showing solid peripherals but he’s getting hit hard. That’s pretty much what happens to pitchers as they enter their mid-30s. Steven Matz, who is getting shelled in the first inning on Tuesday as I write this, has struggled to get batters out as a Cardinal. He also has a checkered history, with just 2 seasons in his career where he exceeded 2.0 fWAR and just 1 other over 1.0.

Maybe – I don’t know how – the Cardinals felt like they had the top of their rotation covered with those two arms and could backfill with more cheap free agents and prospects. They wouldn’t need Thompson to start if that was the case. Maybe now they’re recognizing that Mikolas and Matz will need to fill the back end of the rotation if they’re in it at all and they’re hunting for upside and numbers.

Doing the math, the Cardinals have Jake Woodford, who has been one of the worst starters in the majors this season and was demoted last year. He should never start again. They have Liberatore as an upside rotation piece. He looks Major League-ready but somehow can’t crack this roster. Then there is Graceffo, who has a lot to show before they can count on him as a starter next year and some “break in case of an emergency” options in Thomas and McGreevey.

Even with some numbers, that’s a thin group. With the way Mikolas and Matz look, I don’t see how they could field an even average rotation out of that group for 2024.

What if you added Thompson and maybe even Pallante back into the mix? The odds get a little better that the club can field a few more league-average starters without having to dig into that newfound Stifel patch money to buy them in free agency. Not much higher, since neither of those guys are going to be impact starters, but a little.

All at the expense of the MLB bullpen now.


It’s May.

The Cardinals finished April with a 10-19 record.

They are in last place in the NL Central.

They have the second-worst record in the NL.

The club is coming home battered and bleeding from a brutal road trip out west and entering a stretch where they have 1 off day between May 1 and May 31.

And they’re removing at least one key part of this year’s bullpen to add depth to next year’s rotation while also committing roster spots to Taylor Motter, JoJo Romero, and, now, Guillermo Zuñiga, who has interesting peripherals and a major homerun problem in the minors. He has a 5.40 ERA and a 5.48 FIP in Memphis. Andrew Knizner and his 8 wRC+ continue to get playing time and starts for the Cardinals. Matthew Liberatore is showing out. Juan Yepez is flashing his quality power in AAA. Ivan Herrera has a walk rate of over 16%. Andre Pallante is just down there beasting counting down the days.

I suspect that the longer the Cardinals’ struggles continue, the more likely we’ll see some of those “shake things up”, “get some new blood”, “try something different”, or “give the team a jolt” moves. The more likely that the club flip flops on their plan again and Thompson finds his way back to the majors. This move feels reactionary to me. And reactions have an equal and opposite reaction. Or something.

For now, the Cardinals continue to lose. But, hey, they have a patch! And that’s a win for Bill DeWitt.

As always, thanks for reading.