Peter Gammons: Cardinal decisions, Cubs camp, and the Orioles’ offense

Cardinals

John Mozeliak is thoughtful, modest and he is patient, because the Cardinals organization is a greenhouse of annuals. So when he lost Jhonny Peralta in a spring following his team’s playoff loss to their archival Cubs, then saw John Lackey and Jason Heyward roll upstate to Chicago, he simply said, “I’d like to look at what we have.”

Which he can do. He doesn’t know if Cuban Aledmys Diaz can hone his tools and play half a season at short. Or whether Greg Garcia can hit enough. Or if Jedd Gyorko can cut it defensively.

But the Braves know that even if Mozeliak doesn’t feel what they now have is enough for half a season, unless Peralta is a longer term issue, they are not going to trade Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver or Junior Fernandez for Erick Aybar with any hope the all star Peralta comes back during the season.

They lost Lackey and Lance Lynn. They get back one of the best pitchers and leaders in the game in Adam Wainwright. They signed Mike Leake.

They lost Heyward. But Mike Matheny adamantly feels this can be another deep running Cardinal team. “We get back the best catcher in the game (Yadier Molina), who means as much to us as any player means to any team. Matt Holliday is in the best shape of his life, an MVP candidate. Randal Grichuk can be a star. Matt Carpenter is a great player. Stephen Piscotty is blossoming into one. Our bullpen is deep, and very good.”

In other words, there will be no rash trade for Aybar. Oh, maybe they take a look at a premier defender like Oriole backup Paul Janish. Maybe Eduardo Escobar if the Twins think Jorge Polanco is close. Nick Ahmed’s price is likely too high for a defensive-oriented Diamondbacks team to deal for anything less than a Weaver.

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Of course, the Cubs are now ever in the Cardinals’ view. Here are two observations from my first day in what must be the most fun spring training on earth:

Lackey looks no different than he did closing out the world series in 2002 or 2013, although he may be in better shape. His arm works like he’s 28, his command and competitiveness remain. “He will turn out to be one of the three best free agent signings,” says Joe Maddon.

No place have I been this spring where any player has caused as much of a burn as Addison Russell. Even though at 21 he hit at a .242/.307/.389 line 142 games, everyone around the team from the clubhouse to front office believes this is his breakout season. When Russell was a high school junior, he was considered somewhat heavy, soft. He changed his body before It’s unbelievable what he’s becoming,” says David Ross. “His first step quickness is as good as you’ll see,” says Davey Martinez. “That first step,” says GM Jed Hoyer, “is so incredibly quick he has to be close to the best shortstop in the league defensively. And he’s going hit.” If, as his peers anticipate, Russell blossoms into a 20 home run guy, the Cubs will have one of the deepest lineups in the league, especially when one sees the kind of depth they have, especially in the outfield.

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One of the stranger revelations of the spring came Friday when Dexter Fowler explained what happened in his reported signing with the Orioles, which was falsely leaked to the media. “We never really were close,” says Fowler. “They wanted me to pay them what they said the draft choice I was costing them was valued at. They wanted me to pay them for the pick. So we said, OK, then give me an opt-out after one year, and they said that’s something they won’t do.”

So Fowler moved on to the Cubs for what amounts to one year and $13M, and he can stay in center field.

So the Orioles signed Pedro Alvarez, who has led the National League in homers, but at this stage in his career is essentially a designated hitter because of throwing issues. Camden Yards should be a boom to Alvarez’s career. With Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Jonathan Schoop and Alvarez, the Orioles could hit more than 250 homers.

Here are the problems: They are projected to have one starting player with an on base percentage over .320. They have three of the top nine career strikeouts-per-at-bat players in the game; Alvarez has a career .236 average, with 809 strikeouts in 2500 at-bats, David struck out 31% of the time last season, Trumbo 24.2%. Trumbo is best suited for first base.

And if Machado has to bat leadoff, will their middle of the order strikeouts cause problems for them after the sixth inning in divisional games? The Yankees have three of the top five relievers in lifetime strikeout percentage. The Red Sox have two of the top 12, when you factor out two pitchers who have undergone Tommy John Surgery. The division boasts half of the top dozen.

The Orioles have won the most games in the AL East over the last four seasons, and they’re bullpen—especially Britton and Darren O’Day at the end—has been arguably as good as those in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. But New York, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto are all constructing pens that are heavy on strikeouts, and in Boston’s case, depth, left-right flexibility and several different looks.

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Career active strikeouts per 9 innings for relievers. (min. 75 IP)

1. Aroldis Chapman, NYY: 15.4

2. Craig Kimbrel, BOS: 14.5

3. Kenley Jansen, LAD: 14.0

4. Dellin Betances, NYY: 13.8

5. Andrew Miller, NYY: 13.1

6. Carlos Marmol, BOS: 12.3

7. Will Smith, MIL: 12.2

8. Greg Holland, KC: 12.1*

9. Jim Henderson, NYM: 12.1

10. David Robertson, CWS: 12.0

11. Brad Boxberger, TB: 11 .9

12. Carter Capps, MIA: 11.8*

13. Ken Giles, HOU 11.7

14. Carson Smith, BOS: 11.7

*Out for the 2016 season

Comments

  1. Eric Johnson says:

    I’m not buying Fowler’s story one bit. What does “pay them” for the draft pick mean – take less money? It looks like Fowler did that three times this offseason only to settle for what will amount for a one-year deal and hope to get more next year. The O’s offer was very competitive and it’s not like he was being had for a huge discount at $33 million over three years. It is widely known that Baltimore does not give opt-out clauses in contracts, so that should have knowingly been a non-starter for Fowler’s camp. And what about the comments from Adam Jones that suggested he had spoken with Dexter Fowler who said he was excited to join the team?! That surely doesn’t sound like someone who was “never really close” to a deal. From what I read, Orioles officials expected him to be in camp to take his physical on the same day he surprisingly showed up in Arizona. Why did Fowler or his agent not deny the universally reported deal for several days, especially if nothing was ever close. Then his agent blasts the Orioles and the media as the Fowler camp did nothing to refute the reports and pulled a reverse-LeBron James “The Decision” move, which they should have known would have been bad PR for any non-Cubs fan. Yes, I’m an Orioles fan and we needed a Fowler-type more than another low-OBP, high-strikeout, defensive liability power hitter. I’m rooting for Fowler to bat .200 and Pedro to hit 40 bombs and bat at least .250 in the new lineup.

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