Recent free agent signings clear up trade possibilities for Brett Gardner

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the last week, the two best unsigned free agent outfielders came off the board when Justin Upton signed with the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes agreed to return to the Mets. Others like Alex Gordon and Denard Span signed a few weeks back, so, with Spring Training a little less than a month away, Dexter Fowler (tied to draft pick compensation) and Austin Jackson are the top available free agent outfielders.

The Upton and Cespedes signings took away two potential trade partners for Brett Gardner, though a trade with the Mets was never all that likely. I think Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson would do a deal if they felt it improved their teams, but a crosstown trade might make the ownership groups a little queasy. No one wants to lose a trade to their geographic rival.

Anyway, with Upton and Cespedes (and Gordon and Span) off the board, the trade market for Gardner has become a little more clear. Gardner has been on the market all winter as the Yankees look for ways to land a young pitcher, though the crowded free agent outfield class complicated things. Now the free agent market isn’t so crowded. Here are the teams that could be in play for Gardner.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles did bring back Chris Davis recently, yet their outfield situation remains Adam Jones and some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, and Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard. And I guess Mark Trumbo too. There’s a clear fit for Gardner in Baltimore — the O’s could bat him leadoff and drop Manny Machado into a run-producing lineup spot — but the chances of a major Yankees-Orioles trade are tiny.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have been after Gardner for a while — they originally wanted Gardner in the Starlin Castro trade — and they could still use a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. Chicago does have a full outfield at the moment (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler), though Soler’s name has popped up trade rumors, so a Gardner deal could rekindle those efforts. But, again, the problem with a Cubs trade all winter has been their lack of young pitching to offer. I’d argue the Yankees should focus on getting the best possible talent for Gardner regardless of position, but they’re focused on arms.

Chicago White Sox
Reports indicate the White Sox were in on both Upton and Cespedes in recent weeks, though they were not willing to extend their offer beyond three years. The ChiSox have added both Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason in an effort to fix one of MLB’s least productive infields, and they shouldn’t stop there. They’re not good enough to be AL Central favorites and not bad enough to rebuild. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu in their primes, the White Sox should continue adding in an effort to contend, and Gardner would be a massive upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Gardner isn’t happening, but could Erik Johnson? That’s the extent of Chicago’s pitching depth.

Cleveland Indians
The Indians, again. They talked to the Yankees about an outfielder for pitcher trade earlier this winter, though obviously nothing came of it. Cleveland has plenty of pitching to spare and they need outfield help — Michael Brantley will be out until at least May following shoulder surgery, so their outfield mix right now is Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Collin Cowgill — so it seems like there should be a match. The problem? The Indians operate with a very strict budget and don’t have room for a $13M a year outfielder. The Yankees would have to pay down some of Gardner’s salary, which of course means they should expect more in return. The Tribe likely have their eyes on cheaper outfield options.

Los Angeles Angels
It never seemed like the Angels were going to make a serious run at Cespedes or Upton. They have a clear need for a left fielder — the currently have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon planned, and yikes — and some pitching depth to spare, namely Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Some are more available than others, obviously. (Heaney’s close to untouchable, I think.)

Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

I think there’s a real possibility for an Angels trade right now. Angels GM Billy Eppler is said to be a big Gardner fan and the Halos really need both a leadoff hitter and another lefty bat. Gardner would push Kole Calhoun into a middle of the lineup spot. He’s a great fit for them, assuming it works financially. (The Angels want to stay under the luxury tax threshold and have about $12M in wiggle room.) I don’t think I would call a trade likely, but I do think if Gardner is dealt, the Angels are the favorite to land him.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of outfielders (Matt Holliday, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss) but no true center fielder. Grichuk’s the most athletic of the group so he has the center field job by default. St. Louis doesn’t strike me as the kind of organization to make a knee-jerk reactionary move, but it’s tough to ignore all the improvements the Cubs made this winter, so the Cardinals could feel some pressure to keep pace. Gardner would solve a clear roster problem and the Cards have some young pitching to offer (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney). Money is no issue either — St. Louis bid big for Heyward and David Price, and were in the market for Chris Davis, yet they’ve only walked away with Mike Leake this offseason.

Washington Nationals
I’m not sure the Nationals are a possibility for Gardner following the Ben Revere trade. Yes, they made a run at Cespedes, so they’re still willing to add an outfielder, but Gardner and Cespedes are very different types of players. Washington might not want another left-handed hitting leadoff type with Revere on board. Never say never, but it appears the Nationals are no longer a match for Gardner following the Revere trade.

* * *

Keep in mind the Yankees are not the only team with a spare outfielder at the moment. The Dodgers would probably love to move Andre Ethier before he gains ten-and-five rights in April, plus the Rockies have four outfielders for three spots (Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Gerardo Parra). The outfield trade market is not limited solely to Gardner. Outfield needy teams have options.

Realistically, the Angels and Cardinals appear to be the best possible fits for Gardner. The White Sox, Cubs, and Indians are also potential suitors to a lesser extent. I still don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner before Spring Training, but at least now the trade market is a bit more clear with the big name free agents off the board. That also means there are fewer suitors, though there are still several clubs out there in need of outfield help.

Assessing possible trade partners for Brett Gardner

(Elsa/Getty
(Elsa/Getty

Things have slowed down of late, but Brett Gardner has been a popular name on the trade rumor circuit this offseason. He’s one of the few Yankee veterans with positive trade value, so it’s not a surprise the team is at least listening to offers as they aim to get younger. The Mariners and Cubs both checked in, possibly the Indians as well.

“I think it’d be more likely that we keep them than move them,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch at the Winter Meetings, referring to Gardner and Andrew Miller. “I say that recognizing that if somebody wants to ring a bell that I’ve put out there, then that could happen as early as tomorrow. But if I’m predicting anything, I’d predict that they would be here, not somewhere else.”

It’s easy to say clubs looking for outfield help can simply turn to the free agent market, where quality players like Adam Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton remain unsigned, but not every team can afford them. Gardner is owed $37.5M over the next three years. That might buy you a year and a half of Cespedes or Upton. Gardner also has the advantage of being a legitimate center fielder.

I don’t necessarily want the Yankees to move Gardner, but there are reasons to do so. There are still plenty of teams that need outfield help at this point of the offseason. Some teams are more realistic candidates than others — for example, no rebuilding club wants Gardner, so it’s contenders only — especially if the Yankees stick to their demand of a young starter under control beyond 2017. Let’s run down the possible suitors.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Outfielders? A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas.
Young Starters? Robbie Ray and Chase Anderson. I assume Archie Bradley is off-limits.
Cash? Lots, apparently. Their massive new television deal just kicked in, as Zack Greinke found out.

The D’Backs had enough outfield depth to include Ender Inciarte in the Shelby Miller trade, and it stands to reason they’re committed to Tomas after giving him $68.5M last offseason. If so, they’re not a fit for Gardner. Pollock and Peralta aren’t going anywhere. They’re way too good. Arizona may have a young starter to spare and chances are they can afford Gardner, but the outfield is currently too crowded. A Fit? No.

Baltimore Orioles
Outfielders? Adam Jones, Hyun-Soo Kim, and, uh, Nolan Reimold? Egads.
Young Starters? Outside of Kevin Gausman, no one worthwhile.
Cash? Yeah. They just offered Chris Davis $150M or so.

Man, is Gardner not a perfect fit for the O’s? He gives them a solid left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to put Manny Machado in the middle of the lineup. Gardner’s also affordable, he knows the ballpark, knows the division, and his lefty bat would help balance their righty heavy lineup. It’s such a great fit.

Of course, Orioles owner Peter Angelos would sooner play with a 24-man roster than make a significant trade with the Yankees. He had a contentious relationship with George Steinbrenner and he still holds the grudge to this day. Never say never, but it’s hard to see Angelos signing off on a significant trade with New York. That they lack a suitable non-Gausman young starter to send back also complicates things. A Fit? No.

Heyward. (David Banks/Getty)
Heyward. (David Banks/Getty)

Chicago Cubs
Outfielders? Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler. Kyle Schwarber plays an outfielder on TV.
Young Starters? Adam Warren! But seriously folks, no.
Cash? Oh indeed.

The Cubbies are no longer up-and-coming. They’re all-in. That much is clear. Right now the plan is to play Heyward in center field with Soler and Schwarber in the corners, though there’s talk they may move Soler for a young starter, which would push Heyward to right and free up center. Gardner would fill that center field hole perfectly. The problem? The Cubbies don’t have a young starter to send back to New York. That’s why they signed John Lackey and are open to flipping Soler for an arm. I mean, I guess Kyle Hendricks counts, but I’m not a fan. A Fit? Maybe.

Cleveland Indians
Outfielders?
Michael Brantley will be out until May following shoulder surgery, leaving only Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Collin Cowgill, and Lonnie Chisenhall. (Chisenhall’s an outfielder now.)
Young Starters? Plenty. Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar would be ideal, Cody Anderson or Josh Tomlin are more likely.
Cash? Unlikely. Payroll has hovered around $85M for a few years now, and they have $64.5M on the books plus another $15.1M in projected arbitration salaries.

The payroll situation is a significant obstacle. The Yankees could always eat salary to facilitate a trade, but I can’t imagine they’d pay Gardner to play for another team, especially another AL contender. The Indians just went on a mini-spending spree (Davis, Mike Napoli) and the front office indicated they won’t be spending any more money. The Yankees have an outfielder to spare and the Indians appear to have a starter to spare. The finances are messing things up. A Fit? Maybe.

Detroit Tigers
Outfielders? Anthony Gose, Cameron Maybin, J.D. Martinez.
Young Starters? I assume Daniel Norris is off-limits, leaving Shane Greene and Matt Boyd.
Cash? For shizzle.

The Tigers are going for it next season. They’ve added Maybin, Justin Wilson, Jordan Zimmermann, and Francisco Rodriguez so far this offseason. There’s an obvious opening in left field — Gose and Maybin would platoon in center, ideally — and Gardner would fill that spot well. He plays strong defense for spacious Comerica Park and gives them a nice leadoff option.

As for the young starters Detroit has to offer … eh. Boyd is an extreme fly ball guy who is as generic as generic lefties get. Greene? I know more than a few people out there would be cool with the idea of bringing him back, except I’m sure no one would think that if he wasn’t an ex-Yankee. If Greene came up and debuted with any team other than the Yankees, no one would love the idea of acquiring him after the season he just had. A Fit? Maybe.

Kansas City Royals
Outfielders? Lorenzo Cain is currently flanked by Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando. Yeah.
Young Starters? Yordano Ventura is presumably off-limits. Danny Duffy might not be. That’s it.
Cash? Seems likely. They had a $113M payroll last year and are currently at $108M for 2016, including arbitration projections. They just won the World Series and I assume payroll will increase. Payroll increased $10M following their 2014 postseason run, after all.

The Royals have a clear need for outfield help. They wisely let the unproductive Alex Rios walk as a free agent and will likely lose Alex Gordon to a club with a larger payroll. GM Dayton Moore has said they’re willing to give Dyson a chance as a starting outfielder, but Orlando? He was a nice story as a 29-year-old rookie in 2015, but he didn’t hit at all. Starting him should be a non-option.

Assuming the money works out, the only really issue is finding a suitable return. Duffy is interesting, though the Yankees are looking for guys they can control beyond 2017, and he doesn’t fit. He’ll be a free agent after 2017. That’s pretty much all the young pitching the Royals have to offer. They’re been scouring the market for an extra arm this offseason just like New York. A Fit? Maybe.

Los Angeles Angels
Outfielders? Woo Mike Trout! Kole Calhoun’s good too. Then there’s Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry.
Young Starters? Andrew Heaney ain’t happening. Nick Tropeano and the not-so-young Matt Shoemaker might.
Cash? Indubitably.

GM Billy Eppler told reporters he’s ready to roll with the Nava/Gentry platoon in left field, which sounds so unappealing. That would have been a good idea from, like, 2012-13. In 2015? Nah. The Angels also could use a left-handed bat to balance their lineup. Gardner would slot right in as the leadoff hitter and allow them to use Calhoun in a run-producing spot.

Furthermore, the Angels have some young pitching to offer, specifically Tropeano. I wrote about him in last week’s mailbag. Heaney would be ideal but it’s just not going to happen. It’s not realistic. The Gardner for Tropeano framework could make sense for both clubs. Eppler and Cashman certainly have a good relationship, which could help expedite things. A Fit? Yes.

St. Louis Cardinals
Outfielders? Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham.
Young Starters? Yes. Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha ain’t happening. Think Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, or maybe personal fave Marco Gonzales instead.
Cash? Yeah. They offered Heyward $200M and David Price $180M, reportedly.

Gonzales. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Gonzales. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

This has been a tough offseason for the Cardinals. By bWAR, they lost their best pitcher (John Lackey) and position player (Heyward) to the rival Cubs. They made runs at Price and Heyward but fell short. Yesterday they added Mike Leake, who will probably end up throwing 230 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA in 2015 because of Cardinals Devil Magic™.

Even with all those outfield bodies, the Cardinals lack a true center fielder. Grichuk is the center fielder by default and he’s no better than average out there. Gardner would give them a real center fielder and allow Matt Carpenter to move into a run-producing lineup spot — did you know Carpenter hit 28 homers in 2015 after hitting 25 total from 2011-14? Like I said, Cardinals Devil Magic™ — plus they have some young arms to spare. Gardner for Cooney or Gonzales could be a thing. A Fit? Yes.

San Francisco Giants
Outfielders? Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco.
Young Starters? No. That’s why they had to sign Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
Cash? Yes. They had a $173.2M payroll in 2015 and are currently at $160M right now, counting arbitration projections.

The Giants do have some young outfielders they could try in left field, specifically Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker, but I can’t imagine they’d commit $220M to Cueto and Samardzija only to cheap out on the outfield. Pagan is declining and has missed a lot of time to injuries in recent years. They can’t count on him to contribute much.

Gardner fits their roster perfectly as the everyday left fielder, part-time center fielder, and leadoff hitter. They can also afford his salary, it appears. (They’re shedding Pagan’s contract next offseason too.) They just don’t have any young pitching to offer, and no, Chris Heston doesn’t count. I explained why in last week’s mailbag. The Giants didn’t sign Cueto and Samardzija because they had nothing better to do. They needed pitching in a big way. A Fit? Maybe.

Washington Nationals
Outfielders? Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor.
Young Starters? A few. Joe Ross and A.J. Cole are the most notable.
Cash? Yep. They reportedly offered Heyward $200M.

The Nationals are in a weird place. They had a very disappointing 2015 season, then lost several key players to free agency, yet they’re still in position to contend in 2016. Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Max Scherzer is a pretty strong core. They do need help though, especially with Werth and Ryan Zimmerman showing their age.

Gardner would step in to replace Denard Span as the center fielder and leadoff hitter, two obvious needs for Washington. The Nationals also have some young pitching to offer — Ross and Cole are the most notable (here’s my Scouting The Market post on Ross), but I guess Tanner Roark counts too — money to spend and incentive to win. Last year’s performance was embarrassing and they want to turn things around in a hurry. These two teams seem to match up awfully well for a trade. Whether they can agree to the particulars is another matter, but the puzzle pieces fit. A Fit? Yes.

* * *

So after all of that, I count three yeses (Angels, Cardinals, Nationals), two nos (D’Backs, Orioles), and five maybes (Cubs, Indians, Tigers, Royals, Giants). In the case of the Cubs, I think it’s worth noting Cashman and Theo Epstein are both pretty smart dudes with a willingness to be creative, so I wouldn’t rule out a three-team trade that sends Gardner to the Cubs and a young pitcher from the third team to the Yankees.

For now, it appears there are several possible suitors for Gardner, though I’m not really sure whether time is on the Yankees’ side. On one hand, if they hang onto him until after the top free agent outfielders sign, teams won’t have anywhere else to turn for outfield help. On the other hand, once the top free agents are off the board, there might not be any teams looking for outfield help. Quite the pickle, that is. The Yankees say they’re not shopping Gardner, but my guess is they would move him quickly if the right offer comes along. These ten teams stood out as the best possible suitors.

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Thursday

The return of MFIKY? (Presswire)
The return of MFIKY? (Presswire)

The final day of the 2015 Winter Meetings is upon us, thankfully. I’m really for them to be over. The Rule 5 Draft will take place at 10am ET this morning and the Yankees will lose outfielder Jake Cave, in all likelihood. Maybe some others. There are some rumblings New York will make a pick of their own. They do have two open 40-man roster spots.

Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s open threads. Thursday is typically the slowest day of the Winter Meetings — most folks head home after the Rule 5 Draft — but I’m sure there will still be plenty of news and rumors out of Nashville. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:00am: Following yesterday’s trade, Brian Cashman told reporters he’s not done making moves yet. “I’m also not done. I’ve got a lot of other conversations in play and we’ll see where that takes me,” said the GM. I mean, duh. It’s December 10th. Of course he’s not done. [Peter Caldera]
  • 10:00am: The Yankees are among the teams to check in on Rafael Soriano. Soriano, 35, threw 5.2 ineffective innings for the Cubs this year and was released at midseason. At this point of his career, Soriano’s a non-roster invite guy, not someone you guarantee a roster spot. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:00am: The Yankees have their eyes on Astros lefty Reymin Guduan, Astros righty Chris Devenski, and Cardinals righty Luis Perdomo in the Rule 5 Draft. Guduan is a lock to be selected today because he’s a southpaw who throws 100 mph on the regular. [George King]
  • 10:26am: The Dodgers have moved on from Aroldis Chapman, understandably so, and they’re now “weighing” a run at Andrew Miller. With Ken Giles traded and Chapman persona non grata, Miller is by far the best available reliever on the market. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:31am: The Twins were one of the other teams after Justin Wilson prior to yesterday’s trade. If they’re looking a lefty reliever, the Yankees still have plenty to offer. [LaVelle Neal]
  • 12:18pm: Cashman said he considers the bullpen and the roster in general “incomplete.” I’d say. “I’m intending to do more,” he added. [Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty]
  • 12:45pm: The Astros worked “extensively” on an Andrew Miller trade with the Yankees before turning to Giles. They gave up a pretty nice package of players for Giles. The Yankees really seem to be asking a ton for Miller. [Buster Olney]
  • 2:45pm: Talks between the Yankees and Dodgers about Andrew Miller have “no legs.” The Yankees continue to see a good young starter in return and Los Angeles doesn’t have one of those to offer. [Jon Heyman]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Report: FBI investigating Cardinals for hacking Astros database

Well this is something. According to Michael Schmidt, the FBI and Justice Department are investigating the Cardinals for hacking into the Astros’ proprietary database to steal information about their player evaluation and statistical analysis methods. You may remember that last year some trade information was leaked from Houston’s database.

Here’s more on the Cardinals story from Schmidt:

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

Investigators believe Cardinals officials, concerned that Mr. Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information to the Astros, examined a master list of passwords used by Mr. Luhnow and the other officials who had joined the Astros when they worked for the Cardinals. The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

Obviously this is very bad for the Cardinals, who have been a model organization (on the field, anyway) for about two decades now. Schmidt says this is the first known case of corporate espionage involving sports teams, though rival companies hacking into each other’s databases is hardly uncommon. It’s usually done through a third party in a foreign country, however. Schmidt makes it sound like a bunch of Cardinals folks just tried a bunch of Luhnow’s old passwords from home.

Luhnow was a very successful yet polarizing scouting executive with the Cardinals before taking over as the Astros GM a few years ago. MLB has not yet handed down any discipline but it is surely coming. Firings, suspensions, heavy fines … I imagine everything is in play at this point, not to mention legal ramifications. No, this doesn’t involve the Yankees, but gosh, what a story.

A Haiku for the Rest of MLB [2015 Season Preview]

Does Donnie like Haikus? Of course. (Presswire)
Does Donnie like haikus? Of course. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only three days away. We’ve spent the last four weeks previewing the Yankees and the upcoming season, and yesterday we broke down the rest of the AL East. Today we’re going to wrap up our 2015 Season Preview series with a quick preview of the other 25 teams in baseball. After all, the Yankees are going to have to try to beat those teams this season too.

If you’ve come here looking for a serious preview post, you’re not going to get it. It’s Friday afternoon, Opening Day is right around the corner, and this year’s preview series is over. Instead, we’re going to have some fun and preview those other 25 teams in Haiku form. I encourage you to tell me how much my haikus suck and to make some of your own — pro tip: use the Haiku Counter to make sure you have the right number of syllables — and leave ’em in the comments. Enjoy.

Atlanta Braves
Traded their best bats
For a whole bunch of pitchers
They know scoring’s down?

Arizona Diamondbacks
Is Nuno their ace?
The answer just might be yes
Payback for ’01!

Chicago Cubs
Bleachers aren’t ready?
No prob, Bryant won’t notice
He’s in Iowa

Chicago White Sox
D-Rob and Melky
Back together in ChiTown
Growing ugly beards

Cincinnati Reds
Good enough to win?
Nah, not in that division
Can we have Cueto?

Cleveland Indians
Brantley is awesome
Kluber is really great
World Series pick? Eh

Colorado Rockies
Troy’s still a Rockie
Kyle Kendrick, OD SP?
Wait for ski season

Detroit Tigers
Miggy, Price, V-Mart
Lots of stars and real big names
Bullpen still a mess

Houston Astros
I don’t understand
You won “process World Series?”
That doesn’t exist

Kansas City Royals
Pennant last season
Volquez is replacing Shields?
For real? Yeah, for real

Los Angeles Angels
They have that Trout guy
I wish the Yankees had him
It’s Teixeira’s fault!

Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is the best
Donnie Baseball gets his ring?
If not, just blame Puig

Miami Marlins
Paid Giancarlo
They’re going for it again
When’s next fire sale?

Milwaukee Brewers
They all hate Ryan Braun
But not as much as A-Rod
This team is boring

Minnesota Twins
Phil’s still homer prone
Nunez’s helmet still falls off
Just like the old days

New York Mets
Take back New York, huh?
Orange and blue like the Knicks
But with fewer fans

Oakland Athletics
Ballpark is ugly
Beane traded everyone again
What’s a Stephen Vogt?

Philadelphia Phillies
Rebuild? Finally!
Cole will be traded real soon
Then skip to next year

Pittsburgh Pirates
Cervelli pumps fist
McCutchen cut his dreads
A World Series team?

St. Louis Cardinals
Contender again
Such a boringly good team
Gets boring haiku

San Diego Padres
Kemp, Upton, Myers, Shields
But what about Yangervis?
Solarte Partay!

San Francisco Giants
The World Series champs
But it’s an odd number year
So no repeat then

Seattle Mariners
You can have Robbie
You are still stuck with Jack Z.
Yankees win the trade

Texas Rangers
Could this be the year
That Elvis Andrus will hit?
Hah, made myself laugh

Washington Nationals
Awesome rotation!
Future Yankee Bryce Harper
Has nice ring to it

5/26-5/28 Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

After a one series reprieve, the Yankees are right back in an NL park for another interleague series. Thankfully this is their final visit to the so-called Senior Circuit this year, at least until the World Series, of course. The Yankees are visiting the new Busch Stadium for the first time this week for three games against the defending NL champion Cardinals. It is their first trip to St. Louis in general since 2005.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Cards are coming off two straight wins over the Reds and they’ve won nine of their last eleven games overall. They were scuffling a bit earlier in the season, but they’ve definitely turned it around of late. St. Louis is 28-22 with a +24 run differential overall, which is the second best record in the NL Central and fourth best record in the NL overall.

Offense
At 3.84 runs per game with a team 96 wRC+, the Cardinals are a bit below average offensively. Unsurprisingly, their historic success with runners in scoring position last year (.330/.402/.463 (!!!)) has not carried over to this year (.242/.324/.334). That’s just not something a team will do year after year. OF Peter Bourjos (87 wRC+) has been sidelined by a stomach bug the last few days, but otherwise the Cardinals are perfectly healthy on the position player side.

Craig. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Craig. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Manager Mike Matheny’s lineup is anchored by C Yadier Molina (133 wRC+), who also happens to be the best defensive catcher in all the land. Life will not be easy for the Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner led running game this week. SS Jhonny Peralta (123 wRC+) and 1B Matt Adams (124 wRC+) are having very strong years while 3B Matt Carpenter (110 wRC+) and OF Matt Holliday (111 wRC+) have been good but not great. Certainly not as good as they were last season. OF Jon Jay (101 wRC+) has been solid.

The lack of production from RF Allen Craig (89 wRC+) has really hurt the Cardinals these first few weeks. He was expected to be one of their top middle of the order guys. 2B Kolten Wong (83 wRC+) and 2B Mark Ellis (32 wRC+) have more or less shared time at second, though Wong is getting more of the at-bats of late. OF Shane Robinson (24 wRC+), IF Daniel Descalso (10 wRC+), and C Tony Cruz (115 wRC+) round out the bench, which is surprisingly weak for an NL team. It was especially noticeable in the World Series last fall.

Pitching Matchups (Pitcher GIFs is still down for whatever reason)

Monday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. STL) vs. RHP Michael Wacha (vs. NYY)
Wacha, 22, shot from college to (near) the front of the Cardinals rotation in less than two full years, which is damn impressive. He has a 2.54 ERA (2.77 FIP) in ten starts and 60.1 innings this season thanks to excellent strikeout (9.58 K/9 and 26.4 K%), walk (2.54 BB/9 and 6.8 BB%), and homer (0.60 HR/9 and 7.5% HR/FB) rates. His ground ball rate (43.0%) isn’t great and he has a tiny platoon split. Wacha’s performance this year is almost exactly the same as last year, and it’s kinda freaky. After relying on his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer and knockout mid-to-high-80s changeup almost exclusively last season, Wacha is using his upper-80s cutter and mid-70s curveball much more often this year. It’s very hard to believe he won’t turn 23 until later this summer.

Lynn. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Lynn. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP David Phelps (vs. STL) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (vs. NYY)
At 27 years and 14 days, Lynn will be the oldest starting pitcher the Yankees see in this series by more than three full years. He comes into the series with a 3.60 ERA (3.10 FIP) in ten starts and 60 innings, and his peripherals — 8.85 K/9 (22.6 K%), 3.00 BB/9 (7.7 BB%), 0.60 HR/9 (7.0% HR/FB), and 44.5% grounders — are career bests as a starter across the board. Lefties (.348 wOBA) are hitting him much harder than righties (.273 wOBA). Lynn is something of a 4.5-pitch pitcher. He uses his low-90s two and four-seam fastballs to set up his mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball, plus he’ll also throw a handful of mid-80s changeups per start. For whatever reason, Lynn has really scaled back his changeup usage the last two seasons. He’ll look like a legitimate ace on his best days.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out this will be a homecoming for Phelps, who was born and raised in the St. Louis suburbs. He told George King he was a die-hard Cardinals fan growing up. I’m sure he’s excited for this game.

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. STL) vs. RHP Shelby Miller (vs. NYY)
The Cardinals reportedly shopped the 23-year-old Miller heavily over the winter, which made me think his arm was about to explode. Especially after they avoided using him in the postseason (faced only four batters despite being on the roster all three rounds). You don’t try to trade former first round pick after he pitched to a 3.06 ERA (3.67 FIP) as a rookie. Sure enough, Miller has taken a big step back this year, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at his 3.18 ERA. His strikeout rate (7.15 K/9 and 18.7 K%) has dropped quite a bit, his walk rate (4.76 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) has nearly doubled, and he’s been far more homer prone (1.43 HR/9 and 15.0% HR/FB) despite a relatively static ground ball rate (41.8%). Lefties (.381 wOBA) have pounded him as well (.310 wOBA for righties). His 5.22 FIP is no accident. Miller sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and will mix in the occasional upper-80s cutter. A sharp upper-70s curveball is his top secondary pitch, though he also has a mid-80s changeup. Based on how he’s pitching this year compared to last year, I have to think something is very wrong with Miller. Either he’s hurt or his mechanics are a total mess. He went from budding ace to replacement level in an offseason.

Rosenthal. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Rosenthal. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The Cardinals recently welcomed RHP Jason Motte (8.19 FIP in limited time) back from Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him all of last year. He is currently being eased back into things while RHP Trevor Rosenthal (2.96 FIP) continues to handle closing duties. He’s had some walk (13.3 BB%) problems this year. RHP Carlos Martinez (3.88) handles setup work.

LHP Kevin Siegrist just landed on the disabled list with a forearm problem, leaving former Yankee LHP Randy Choate (2.90 FIP) as Matheny’s top southpaw. RHP Seth Maness (3.70 FIP), RHP Pat Neshek (1.99 FIP), and LHP Sam Freeman (2.05 FIP in one whole inning) fill out the rest of the bullpen. The Cardinals don’t really have a true long man, though I’m not sure that’s a flaw. It’s just different. Only Choate and Neshek pitched last night, and they threw a combined 17 pitches. Their ‘pen is fresh.

Our Bullpen Workload page has everything you need to know about the Yankees’ bullpen heading into the series. For the latest and greatest on the Cardinals, check out Viva El Birdos.

Cardinals agree to four-year deal with Aledmys Diaz

According to multiple reports, the Cardinals have agreed to a four-year contract with Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz. The deal is reportedly worth a little less than $20M. The Yankees had interest in Diaz and even had him in camp for a private workout a few weeks ago, but they ultimately decided not to make a contract offer. Oh well.