Winter Warm-Up Wrap-Up

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Thanks to the many of you who stopped me in the halls of the Hyatt Regency this weekend to say hello. I hope those of you who attended the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up had an enjoyable time. For others who might have been unplugged over the holiday weekend, here is a rundown of links to the news that came out of the event:

  • New outfielder Jason Heyward meets Cardinal nation for the first time and officially receives his uniform no. 22 (link here).
  • Cardinals announce the eight modern ballot candidates up for selection to the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Voting to begin in early March (link here).
  • Matt Belisle and Mark Reynolds discuss their decisions to bypass other offers and sign with St. Louis (link here).
  • Nearly three months after hip surgery, Peter Bourjos is cleared to begin swinging (link here).
  • General manager John Mozeliak reiterates that the Cardinals are not actively shopping for a front-line starter (link here).
  • The Cardinals begin courting Heyward, who is open to talking about a long-term deal during the season (link here).
  • Kevin Siegrist has resumed throwing and feels much improved after an injury-plagued 2014 (link here).
  • The lineup may not yet be set, but the Cardinals are already expecting a more complete 2015 offense (link here).
  • Cardinals announce the organization’s plans to honor Oscar Taveras this season (link here).
  • Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha are both bullish about their good health heading into Spring Training (link here).
  • Kolten Wong looks to ride the coattails of his breakout postseason (link here).
  • As Trevor Rosenthal prepares for his second year as Cardinals closer, he’s seeking improved efficiency (link here).
  • Carlos Martinez is ready to compete for a rotation job and honor his lost friend (link here).

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Arbitration agreements for Lynn, Cruz

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

This is annually a busy week for transactions, as arbitration-eligible players and teams often prefer to settle negotiations before the two sides exchange figures (coming on Friday) and it becomes publicly known what each party is seeking. So it’s no surprise that the Cardinals cut their arbitration cases in half on Thursday by reaching agreements with Lance Lynn and Tony Cruz.

Both were first-time arbitration-eligible players, but that’s about the end of the similarities in their cases. Lynn, who was poised to become the highest paid first-time arbitration-eligible starting pitcher in history had he signed a one-year contract, instead inked a three-year deal guaranteeing him at least $22 million through 2017. After that, he’ll become a free agent.

Click here for more details on the deal and to read what general manager John Mozeliak said when asked about Lynn’s arbitration case and whether the organization sought to extend the contract to also cover Lynn’s first year(s) of free agency.

As for Cruz, he signs a one-year contract that, according to CBSSports.com, is worth $775,000. It’s nevertheless a nice raise for the backup catcher, who started more games in 2014 (35) than he had in any previous Major League season. For a full story on Cruz’s deal, click here.

This leaves Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos as the team’s two unsigned arbitration-eligible players. Mozeliak, speaking early this afternoon, said he did not anticipate the club reaching an agreement with either player before the end of the day. But conversations with the representatives of both players continue.

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Only six more weeks…

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

As St. Louis continues to deal with (sub) freezing temperatures, I hope it comes as a comfort to you that six weeks from today, the Cardinals will be holding their first official workout of 2015. I know that will do little to adjust the thermometer here, but consider it the first sign of a coming spring.

It has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Cardinals since mid-November, when the club made its biggest move (to date, at least) in dealing for outfielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden. Publically, the organization said that the move addressed the club’s biggest deficiencies. But could there be another big move ahead? That was something I explored yesterday in this story on cardinals.com.

As you debate whether the cost (dollars and talent) is worth the gain (top-end starting pitching), here is reminder of some other key dates ahead between now and Spring Training:

  • January 16: Unsigned arbitration-eligible players will exchange salary figures with the Cardinals. As of this moment, the Cardinals have four such players — Lance Lynn, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos and Tony Cruz
  • January 16: Cardinals to host Hot Stove LIVE! (featuring Kolten Wong, Heyward, Mike Matheny and others) at Ballpark Village (6 pm CT) — more info here
  • January 16-19: Cardinals Caravan travels to six states — more info here
  • January 17-19: Cardinals Winter Warm-Up at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch hotel — more info here
  • January 18: St. Louis Baseball Writers dinner at the Renaissance hotel — more info here
  • February 1-21: Arbitration hearings for still unsigned players
  • February 19: Final date for pitchers/catchers to report to Spring Training

Also, if you’re interested in following winter ball activity that is still ongoing, all those statistics are just one click away at this page.

Another reminder, too, that this blog will be used to bring you daily news once Spring Training kicks off. In the meantime, for news, visit cardinals.com, where there are new stories posted daily.You can also find regular updates on Facebook (here) and Twitter (here).

Cards ink reliever Matt Belisle

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Right-handed reliever Matt Belisle, an 11-year Major League veteran, has agreed to a one-year contract with the Cardinals, the organization announced on Tuesday. The addition further fortifies the Cardinals’ bullpen, which is expected to lose 2014 contributors Pat Neshek and Jason Motte to free agency.

Belisle is the second reliever added to the Cardinals’ Major League roster this offseason. Right-hander Jordan Walden came over to the organization in the team’s four-player November trade with Atlanta. FOXSports.com reported that Belisle’s deal includes $3.5 million in guaranteed money with the ability to increase that salary to $4 million through appearance incentives.

Belisle, 34, was most recently with Colorado, where he made at least 66 appearances in five of his six seasons. That included 66 in 2014, a season in which Belisle posted a 4.87 ERA and 1.438 WHIP in 64 2/3 innings. He struck out 43 and walked 19. Since transitioning to a relief role after the 2008 season, Belisle has never walked more than 20 batters in a season.

In 2012, Belisle made a National League-most 80 appearances. Over the last five years, he ranks second in the Majors with 367 appearances and 10th with 91 Holds. Belisle’s career splits against left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters are nearly the same.

Prior to signing with the Rockies, Belisle pitched five seasons for the Reds. He was a second-round pick by the Braves in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft and made his Major League debut against the Cardinals in 2003.

With Belisle now in the mix, the Cardinals have given themselves sufficient coverage in the bullpen as they look ahead to 2015. Before adding Walden and Belisle, the club already had Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Sam Freeman among those returning. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales would also slide into bullpen roles if not in the Opening Day rotation.

The addition of Belisle brings the Cardinals’ 40-man roster count to 38.

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Cardinals programming on FSM

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

For those craving some Cardinals programming, FOX Sports Midwest has plans for weekly Cardinals-related shows throughout the month of December. Here is the information:

  • December 3: Cardinals Legends: 1996 Roundtable (6:30 pm, 9 pm)
  • December 10: Cardinals Hot Stove (7 pm, 9:30 pm)
  • December 10: Replay of Pirates at Cardinals game from Sept. 1, 2014 (7:30 pm)
  • December 17: Cardinals Confidential: Winter Meetings (6:30 pm)
  • December 25: Marathon of best games from 2014
  • December 31: Cardinals Hot Stove Year in Review (6:30 pm, 9 pm)

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Cards acquire Heyward, Walden; deal Miller, Jenkins

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Needing to fill an unexpected hole in right field for 2015, the Cardinals went for a big splash, acquiring outfielder Jason Heyward from the Braves along with right-handed reliever Jordan Walden. The cost was heavy, however, as the Cardinals sent a pair of former first-round picks – right-handers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins – to Atlanta to complete the four-player trade on Monday.

The trade comes three weeks after the death of 22-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras, who, along with Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, was expected to cover the right-field position in 2015. Uncertain if Grichuk and Piscotty alone could provide the Cardinals with the offensive upgrade they sought, general manager John Mozeliak vowed to look elsewhere for help.

With the free-agent market thin on outfielders, he said early in the process that a trade might be necessary to sufficiently fill the outfield void. In the end, he was able to deal from an area of surplus, as the Cardinals clearly believe they have enough starting pitching depth to weather the departure of Miller, who had been a member of the rotation for the last two seasons.

In Heyward, the Cardinals get an elite defender with a career slash line of .262/.351/.429 in five seasons with the Braves. Heyward is due $7.8 million in 2015 as part of the second installment of a two-year, $13.3 million contract that he signed to cover his final two seasons of arbitration.

Heyward will be a free agent at the end of the season. Walden, a second-time arbitration eligible player, will enter free agency after the 2016 season. That means the Cardinals procured two players with a combined three years of team control in exchange for the 10 years of control Atlanta gets with Miller and Jenkins.

A short-term fit in right field was somewhat appealing to the Cardinals all along, however, as Mozeliak has said that he still believes Piscotty and Grichuk have the potential to become everyday Major League outfielders.

Heyward, 25, is coming off his second Gold Glove season, one in which he led all Major League players with 32 Defensive Runs Saved. His Ultimate Zone Rating (24.1) ranked second in baseball behind Kansas City’s Alex Gordon.

In the lineup, Heyward would be a natural fit to hit in one of the top two spots in the lineup, giving the Cardinals flexibility to move Matt Carpenter down in the batting order, if desired. Heyward hit 26 doubles and 11 homers while driving in 58 for Atlanta in 149 games in 2014.

(more…)

Fall League final numbers

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Arizona Fall League finished play on Saturday, with Salt River defeating Peoria in the championship game. Eight Cardinals minor leaguers participated in the AFL, which is commonly referred to as the “finishing league” since it requires an invite to participate and is oftentimes a jumping-off point toward the Majors.

In case you missed it Friday, I wrote at length about Tyrell Jenkins’ strong AFL showing and how his improved health allowed him to take some critical steps forward this year. You can read the story at this link. Keep his name on the radar as you look for breakout candidates among the Cardinals’ prospects in 2015.

I also suggest this piece from MLB.com’s Jim Callis on the top AFL performer/prospect from each organization. There, you’ll find Jenkins’ name again, along with that of Sam Tuivailala.

And here are the final AFL numbers for each of the Cardinals’ representatives:

  • RHP Mitch Harris (11 games): 12.2 IP, 13 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 12 K
  • RHP Tyrell Jenkins (6 starts): 2-2, 2.22 ERA, 24.1 IP, 23 H, 6 ER, 10 BB, 18 K
  • RHP Chris Perry (9 games): 7.2 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 10 BB, 3 K
  • RHP Sam Tuivailala (12 games): 5 SV, 14 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 8 BB, 13 K
  • C Cody Stanley (21 games): .292/.363/.375, 9 R, 4 2B, 12 RBI
  • INF Breyvic Valera (12 games): .333/.400/.359, 5 R, 5 RBI, 3 SB
  • INF Jacob Wilson (24 games): .289/.347/.389, 12 R, 7 2B, 13 RBI
  • OF C.J. McElroy (16 games): .200/.347/.225, 4 R, 2 RBI, 7 SB

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Wrapping up this awards week

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

With today’s MVP announcement, MLB’s awards season (at least the bulk of it) has come to an end. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw took home NL MVP honors, becoming the first NL pitcher since St. Louis’ Bob Gibson in 1968 to win both the MVP and Cy Young awards. Three Cardinals players received votes on the 30 MVP ballots, which each list a first- through 10th-place finisher.

Adam Wainwright placed eighth, with 53 points. He was named on 14 ballots and was as high as fifth on one of them. Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta each received 17 points, tying them for 14th. Holliday appeared on four ballots, Peralta on seven.

For a full breakdown on the MVP voting, click here.

The Cardinals had no one place higher than third in the voting for any of the four major Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards. Kolten Wong finished third in the Rookie of the Year race, while Wainwright had the same placement in Cy Young voting. Mike Matheny was fourth for the Manager of the Year Award.

The lone postseason awards the Cardinals have collected both went to Yadier Molina, winner of his seventh Gold Glove and third Platinum Glove.

I should remind you that voting for the final set of 2014 MLB awards — the GIBBYS (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) — is still ongoing at MLB.com. Aside from the Platinum Glove award, this is the only one to incoporate fan voting in the results. You can find the GIBBYs ballot here.

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Bourjos undergoes hip surgery

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Outfielder Peter Bourjos underwent right hip surgery to address a previously undisclosed hip impingement that, according to general manager John Mozeliak, affected Bourjos throughout much of the second half of the season.

The surgery, which was performed by team orthopedist Dr. David King on Oct. 21, should not have Bourjos limited when Spring Training opens in February. The Cardinals are expected to tender Bourjos, a second-time arbitration-eligible player, a contract this winter to bring him back as an extra outfielder in 2015.

The Cardinals’ training staff conducted a study on Bourjos’ hip in August, Mozeliak said, after the 27-year-old outfielder noted some discomfort in that area. At that time, it was determined that Bourjos would need to undergo a clean-out procedure at season’s end to address a cartilage defect in his hip.

Bourjos continued to play through the injury and was not known to have cut back on his pregame workload.

“He just grinded it out,” Mozeliak said. “He could have probably stopped the year had we not needed him. … It was something that bothered him most of the second half of the season, to where I do think it affected him offensively. I spoke to him a couple days ago, and he’s already feeling better.”

Bourjos, in his first season with the Cardinals, actually had better offensive numbers in the second half than the first half, but his playing time was limited. In 103 plate appearances after the All-Star break, Bourjos hit .253/.313/.374 with four stolen bases. Late in the year, he was used primarily as a defensive replacement.

This marks the second straight offseason during which Bourjos will be recovering from surgery. In September 2013, he underwent surgery on his right wrist. That procedure delayed his start on an offseason workout program, as will this one.

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Arizona Fall League update

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

With the Cardinals’ run to the NLCS and the tragedy that followed, I haven’t offered much of an update on the happenings down at the Arizona Fall League. Let’s rectify that today.

The AFL, which began on Oct. 7 and continues for another two weeks, offers some of the better prospects in the game the opportunity to compete against their peers. The group of players representing the Cardinals are part of the Peoria Javelinas club, which is 7-11-2.

Here is some content that might be of interest as you follow along:

  • MLB.com’s Jim Callis, after his trip to Arizona, wrote about the participating Cardinals’ minor leaguers here. In particular, he highlights C.J. McElroy.
  • Video: MLB.com’s AFL report on the Cardinals.
  • Right-hander Sam Tuivailala to represent the Cardinals in Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, which will be televised on MLB Network (7 pm CT)
  • Story on how Cardinals infield prospect Justin Wilson helped Peoria to a 5-4 win on Wednesday.

And up-to-date results (current through Wednesday) on the Cardinals in the AFL:

  • RHP Mitch Harris (6 games): 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
  • RHP Tyrell Jenkins (4 starts): 0-2, 1.56 ERA, 17.1 IP, 14 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 13 K
  • RHP Chris Perry (6 games): 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 8 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Sam Tuivailala (7 games): 2 SV, 9 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 8 K
  • C Cody Stanley (10 games): .263/.282/.316, 2 R, 2 2B, 4 RBI
  • INF Breyvic Valera (7 games): .273/.370/.273, 2 R, 2 RBI, 3 SB
  • INF Jacob Wilson (15 games): .268/.328/.393, 5 R, 5 2B, 7 RBI
  • OF C.J. McElroy (9 games): .160/.344/.200, 3 R, 1 2B, 4 SB

For more stats, schedules and stories, you can visit the Arizona Fall League website.

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