WHY PAY SO MUCH FOR MIKOLAS?
QUESTION: Why give so much money to Miles Mikolas? He had one good season.
BENFRED: This is inaccurate, though. Just because Mikolas was not pitching in MLB before last season, it does not mean he was not pitching well in Japan. If he wasn’t, the Cardinals and other teams would not have had interest in signing him in the first place. I would argue it makes more sense to compare Mikolas’ great 2018 with the Cardinals to the previous success he had in Japan, not the numbers he put up in the MLB (2012-14) before his Japan makeover.
As for the extension, here’s why you do it. He was a beast last season, one of the best pitchers in the NL. He’s got the build and durability that should help keep him on the mound. He’s a strike-zone pounder with a versatile pitch selection, all of which work. That profile tends to age well.
And he’s grown into a leadership role on the staff. Young guys love him and look up to him. This was a no-brainer. Could he get hurt? Sure. But that’s a risk with every addition and/or extension. I love this move.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR CARLOS AND THE CARDS?
QUESTION: What is next for Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals?
BENFRED: Tack another week on to his shutdown period. That’s all we know, for sure, right now. Shifting into speculation mode, I think this makes it more likely that he winds up coming out of the bullpen, and I think that was a higher-percentage chance than most realized from the jump.
There were already influential people — like Mike Maddux — who liked what they saw from Carlos as closer late last season, and the search for proof that Martinez can be a reliable starter in 2019 is getting harder and harder to find.
Biggest picture? Maybe they trade him. That’s been an increasingly realistic scenario, but his value is as low now as it has been in some time. A fresh start might do Martinez well, but the Cardinals are not going to take a loss to provide it.
ROTATION THE RIGHT PLACE FOR REYES?
QUESTION: There have been positive reports about Alex Reyes trending toward the rotation, but there have also been comments about his innings limit being between 100-150 innings. Isn’t it better to save some of those innings for October? How can he be in the rotation with that projected limit?
BENFRED: Yes, I think there is a good chance Alex Reyes pitches out of the rotation this season. It’s actually the easiest way to manage his innings. He can have off days and skip turns and things of that nature to keep him on the right path to be ready for the postseason. That’s no big deal. If he’s healthy and pitching like he is now, I would want him in the rotation as early as possible. Those games count as much as the later regular-season ones.
Another thing: Only one Cardinals starter pitched more than 151 innings in the majors last season. That was Miles Mikolas. Jack Flaherty came in second at 151. No one else pitched more than 136.1, and that was Luke Weaver.
The game has changed. 200 innings are no longer the norm.
LOOK OUTSIDE FOR STARTERS, OR KEEP IT IN-HOUSE?
QUESTION: With the latest Carlos Martinez health-related delay, might the Cardinals look outside the organization for quality starting depth?
BENFRED: I can’t imagine the team’s stance changing based off the news of an additional week’s worth of rest for C-Mart. The answer last week was, no. Alex Reyes has been as encouraging so far this spring as Martinez has been disappointing. And Dakota Hudson is pushing as well. John Gant’s numbers were better than people realize.
I know it’s not sexy, but it’s going to take more than Martinez being Martinez for the team to fear its rotational depth.
Follow-up: Why won’t the Cardinals sign Gio Gonzalez to a one- or two-year deal? He would add experienced depth.
BENFRED: If you’re going to go that route, go get Dallas Keuchel. A case can be made that the Cardinals could use another top-end rotation piece. I hear that argument. What they absolutely don’t need is another guy who can make OK starts. They’ve got those guys falling out of their ears, and the guys they have are younger and cheaper.
If you are going to go outside, go get someone who slots in with Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty as top-of-the-rotation guys, not another option hanging out around in that 3-5 range. The Cardinals have so many guys who can be that guy. They don’t need another one.
WHY WOULD CARDS COMMIT TO OZUNA?
QUESTION: Safe to say the Cardinals are not thrilled with Marcell Ozuna’s offseason and start to spring?
BENFRED: Well, when the president of baseball operations mentions he wishes a player would have had more contact with the team during his offseason recovery/rehab from shoulder surgery, yeah, I think it’s safe to say there is some tension. The Cardinals are still going to give Ozuna a chance to mash. If he can do that, they will likely live with the arm issues, and hope they are improved from last season.
But this is another reason I pushed back against the assumption there should be a push to extend Ozuna. Best-case scenario for both sides might be that he has a good season, then becomes a desirable free agent who gets the money he wants elsewhere. I don’t see the Cardinals committing long-term to him. If that doesn’t happen, who knows. He can be traded. He was traded here. The Cardinals have extended Jose Martinez and are quietly very optimistic about Tyler O’Neill’s upside. With question marks in both corner outfield spots, the question about Harper looms. The Cardinals took a pass with concerns on both sides of Harrison Bader, and even Harrison is somewhat of an unproven starter at the moment.
All of this talk about needing Keuchel. I think the bigger risk is in left and right field. Especially after we found out Ozuna’s weight is up, and his arm is a work in progress.
NO MOVES A GOOD MOVE BY BLUES
COMMENT: No significant moves at the deadline by Armstrong and the Blues made sense. The team is playing great. Making a major move would have sent the wrong message to the remaining players remaining. Plus, they didn’t have the draft picks to make a major move and, as much as I like Mark Stone, an 8-year deal is a long, long time.
BENFRED: I agree with you. The biggest moves for this team will be getting Perron and Schenn back, and walking the fine line of getting the best out of them without (a) over-exposing them after concussions, and (b) messing up what is a rocking chemistry without them. That’s a challenge. Finding some sort of boost for the power play would be another winning move that has nothing to do with the trade deadline.
MOVING ON FROM THE ARENADO WATCH
QUESTION: So much for the dream of Nolan Arenado playing for the Redbirds. He’s extending with the Rockies. Now what?
BENFRED: Extend Paul Goldschmidt. Pick up the Matt Carpenter team extension. Cross your fingers that the pipeline produces a third baseman of the future. Good chance that it will, considering the names moving toward the majors: Elehuris Montero, Nolan Gorman, Malcolm Nunez.
And besides, what evidence is there to suggest the Cardinals would have been comfortable spending big enough to land Arenado if he did reach free agency?
STATUS OF A GOLDSCHMIDT EXTENSION
QUESTION: Considering the current state of free agency, it was smart for Nolan Arenado to accept an extension. Could that affect the Cardinals’ wish to extend Paul Goldschmidt?
BENFRED: Absolutely. Players can be frustrated by the current state of free agency and still not want to wind up in Bryce Harper’s dilemma. They can sign extensions, then work to change the CBA to make free agency a more profitable path for others. You have to think Arenado’s playbook was influenced by this offseason, and last. You have to think Goldschmidt’s could be as well.
P-D colleague Derrick Goold has suggested a five-year, $150 million range might get it done for Goldschmidt to stick with the Cards. The Cardinals can and should do that, if that’s what it takes. They have wanted to extend Goldschmidt since they traded for him. They would not have made that trade if they didn’t have that plan. Doesn’t mean it will happen. But the recruiting was on from the start. And the market, as Arenado showed, encourages jumping on a meaty extension when it’s offered.
COUNTING ON THE CARDINALS TO CONTEND
QUESTION: If the Cardinals can’t extend Goldschmidt, they are going to be terrible in 2020. Why won’t the front office fill the long-term holes on this team?
BENFRED: When is the last time you thought, honestly, that the Cardinals were going to enter a season with a team that was going to be terrible? And I’m using terrible in the real term, not the terrible in context of what it’s like to be a Cardinals fan. Truly terrible. The Cardinals live, eat, sleep, breathe sustained success. It’s their bailiwick. If anything, it can be argued that their focus should be shifted to more all-in on certain seasons instead of this sustained success model.
Do you really think they would enter a season with a team that was set up to be truly terrible? I don’t. Not under this regime. The potentially “terrible” organization you are talking about ranks third in wins (632) among 30 MLB teams since the Cardinals won their last World Series. Only the Dodgers and Nationals have more wins than the Cardinals during that span, from 2012-2018. The Dodgers have not won a World Series during that span. The Nationals have not won a World Series during that span. “Terrible” can’t be used when having a logical conversation about the Cardinals. Words have to matter.
If they don’t extend Goldschmidt, they will do something else. They will put a team on the field that makes it interesting, like they always do.
TIME TO MOVE ON TO YOUNGER, HUNGRIER CARDINALS?
QUESTION: With the uncertainty surrounding Carlos Martinez, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler, how long will it take management to move on from these guys and let Tyler O’Neill and the younger, hungrier players play?
BENFRED: A Cardinals team that has moved on from Carlos Martinez, Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler — without adding anything to the equation — is probably not going to be a very good Cardinals team. And you are not going to punt on your two starting corner outfielders this soon into spring, if they are remotely healthy.
It’s about results with Fowler. Not the spring stats, but how he looks, swings, moves on the bases, etc. We can talk all we want about his positive attitude, his great relationship with Mike Shildt, and so on, but the results need to speak for themselves. He’s going to get that chance.
As for Ozuna, as I said last week, the focus is going to be on the bat. If it pops, like it did not last year, he’s gonna play. His arm was bad last year, and he was still one of the team’s most reliable hitters, even though the power was not there. If the power is there, he plays. He’s been mashing balls this spring. The arm remains a work in progress. So does his overall conditioning, it seems. He got mad about people questioning his offseason workouts, but the truth is he showed up heavy and with an arm that needs work. Instagram videos of his offseason workouts don’t change that.
As for Martinez, the Cardinals are more prepared than I think most realize to roll without him in the rotation. Alex Reyes and Dakota Hudson make that notion not as scary as it might seem. The team’s patience with Martinez has thinned for some time now, dating back to last spring. He’s been shopped, but there were no takers at the asking price. If he can contribute, but can’t stay healthy enough to make starts, the Cardinals will have no problems putting him in the bullpen. He’s pitched well there and he’s going to get his money no matter what. Anyone who thought Carlos would be the opening day starter, even if healthy, was missing the signs.
BADER’S BAT A BIG QUESTION?
QUESTION: Everyone talks about Ozuna and Fowler, but what if Bader doesn’t hit? Why does it seem his ability to hit is never in question?
BENFRED: Bader’s offensive uncertainty is often a topic in the chats. It’s a valid concern. He just hasn’t been a hot topic among the projected starting outfielders recently because, he did not show up to spring heavier than the team hoped and after not being in as much contact during the offseason as the team hoped (that would be Ozuna) and is not coming off the worst season of his career (that would be Fowler.)
Follow-up: Do you see Bader and O’Neill as cornerstones in the OF for the long haul?
BENFRED: The Cardinals hope so. It’s too early to feel super confident in either one, and that’s not a knock. We just don’t know. O’Neill has had a hard time staying healthy. His strikeouts are insanely high, and they are going to need to be paired with an insanely-high home run total to make him a viable everyday starter. Bader’s bat is the big question, and his hard-charging style makes him more injury-prone.
THE CARDINAL WAY ON FREE AGENTS
COMMENT: I don’t understand why everyone is getting their shorts in a knot for the Cardinals not signing Harper or Machado. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, is worth $300 for 10 years. Just because you run out and spend a lot of money on a free agent doesn’t mean they are going to take you to the promised land (See Fowler, Dexter). You think the Angels can’t wait to be done with Albert? Look where that deal got them.
BENFRED: Let’s not compare Dexter Fowler with Harper and Machado. Different players. Different contracts. Different upsides. Different risks.
Comparing Albert Pujols to Harper and Machado? Fair game. The Cardinals are glad they are not on the hook for that contract.
If they can be glad about not winning that one, they are not going to convince themselves their future hinges on the mega star they did not develop within their own system. The Cardinals’ succeeding without Pujols is the biggest indication their model will allow them to be competitive with or without mega free-agent stars.
BENFRED’S BOTTOM LINE ON FANS’ FRUSTRATION
COMMENTS: Cards front office usually just talks big, so I don’t see them signing Goldschmidt. … If they aren’t willing to spend money now, I don’t see them ever doing it. Look at the teams that made the playoffs last year — almost all of them were big spenders. We’re tired of talk and want action! Can’t stand to see the Cubs make us Cards fans look like idiots again.
BENFRED: Your team just locked down last year’s best starter, a guy who was one of the best in baseball, for four years and $68 million. That extension, the one that will be announced for Mikolas today, was one we all saw coming, one we talked about happening at spring.
Your team just traded for Paul Goldschmidt, and it’s been reported here time and time again that they are determined to extend him. There’s a sense of what it might take. It’s pretty similar to the Mikolas playbook.
Why assume it won’t get done? Especially when one of the most desirable free agents to be, Nolan Arenado, just said no thanks to free agency and accepted an extension from a team he has a much better feel for. Guys might not be as determined to hit FA after this Harper situation.
I’m not saying the Cardinals will succeed in their quest to extend Goldschmidt, but I’m not seeing the reason you assume it won’t happen? And you would probably not be thrilled if the Cardinals extended Ozuna, Wacha or Wainwright at the moment. Can’t play that one both ways.
I get it. The Cardinals didn’t go for Harper. I hoped they would, and I called for them to do that. And if a corner outfield spot blows a tire, that’s going to come up a lot this season, and potentially beyond. But the Cardinals are going to be one of 29 teams that don’t sign Harper. Check out what the Cubs did (and by did I mean didn’t do) this offseason. So, the theatrics are a bit much.
What is interesting, to me, is that the Cardinals are showing more interest in offering bigg-ish contracts to players older than 30, when the analytics they increasingly cite show that’s a big risk. It bit them with Fowler so far. It’s the plan with Mikolas, and Goldschmidt.
There’s a fair, and interesting, conversation to be had there.
The Cardinals see significantly less risk in paying Goldschmidt big money for five years than they do Harper for 10, even when Harper’s 10-year contract would end at about the same time (in terms of age) as Goldschmidt’s five.
The Cardinals are determined to have sustained success, and their actions suggest they feel the best way to do it is in shorter-term deals — while banking on the prospect pipeline to keep producing.
XFL IN THE STL: WILL FOOTBALL FANS CARE?
QUESTION: Do you think the casual fan will be interested in the XFL in St. Louis?
BENFRED: I think it will boil down to the hires that are made on the sideline and on the field. If you miss on an interest-creating coach and don’t move the needle with your QB, I could see it being a flop. The best thing would be inserting coaches and players who have are interesting to St. Louis football fans. Give them names they can root for, some names they know. I’m not sure the average sports fan is going to come down to see mystery players and coaches.
That’s why I think Isaac Bruce as coach is such a no-brainer. Fans would come. And I think he would be good. Another name that would stir interest? Ricky Proehl.
MARK SMITH INJURY CONCERNS
QUESTION: Reports have noted that Mark Smith’s injury has been an issue in the past. Does shutting him down seem like the right call by Mizzou?
BENFRED: Agreed. Get him healthy. Last time I talked to Coach Martin, he said the injury was similar to one Smith had when he was younger. That’s why the team was being so cautious about it. The hope would be surgery settles it.
My concern? Smith’s injury history is long for a young man. A shoulder injury contributed toward the end of his baseball career. He had a hard time staying healthy and on the court at Illinois. He seems to have an old body for someone his age. That’s somewhat concerning, because he’s supposed to be a big part of this team moving forward.