Despite not making any horrendously large splashes in the free agent market or taking part in any blockbuster trades, the Cardinals’ offseason has been moving in the right direction. November was a busy month, and December was no different. There’s still some to work to be done and things to be finished, but it’s not a long shot to say the Cardinals’ offseason is on the back nine.
The month of December is home to Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft is a player draft that occurs each year at the Winter Meetings, which are held in December. The Rule 5 Draft’s objective is to prevent teams from stocking too many young players on their Minor League teams when other teams would be willing for the player to play for them in the Majors. The Cardinals drafted three players total, all of them pitchers. In the Major League phase of the Draft, Matt Bowman was drafted out of the Mets’ organization and added to St. Louis’ 40-man roster. Bowman, 24, had a rough time in 2015 with the Triple-A affiliate of the Mets, the Las Vegas 51s. In 28 games (26 starts), the right-hander went 7-16 with an ERA of 5.53 and a 1.68 WHIP. He posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 77/51 in his 140 innings of work. He is required to stay on the team’s 40-man roster throughout the 2016 season or be offered back to the defending National League champion Mets for $25,000—half of what the Cardinals paid to acquire him. Though most of Bowman’s work came as a starting pitcher, he may be in contention for a long relief role in the big league ‘pen. The Rockies drafted Luis Perdomo from the Cards and later shifted him over to the San Diego Padres. Perdomo, who was once ranked as the Cardinals’ 11th-best prospect, went 6-12 in 2015 with a 3.98 earned run average. In the Triple-A portion of the draft, the Cardinals selected John Brebbia from the Diamondbacks and Michael Heesch from the Cubs for $25,000 each. There were six subtractions in this phase, including righty Fernando Baez (Tampa Bay), outfielder Mike O’Neill (Cubs), righty Cory Jones (Baltimore), shortstop Robelys Reyes (Arizona), righty Jhonny Polanco (Red Sox), and righty Kender Villegas (Milwaukee). The Cardinals did not obtain anyone in the Double-A phase, but they did lose right-hander Juan Caballero to the Miami Marlins.
The Cardinals claimed a left-handed pitcher by the name of Jayson Aquino from the Cleveland Indians off of waivers. Aquino is likely to start 2016 with the Springfield Cardinals. Jayson went 5-11 with an earned run average of 3.28 in 24 starts with the Pittsburgh, Toronto and Cleveland organizations. In his complete Minor League tenure, the 23-year-old is 32-37 in his 99 games (98 starts) with an ERA of 2.94. All but two of the 98 starts came below the Double-A level.
After Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million deal at the tail end of November, Tony Cruz’s spot on the roster had lost its purpose. Therefore, the Cardinals traded Cruz to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Minor League infielder Jose Martinez. Peter Bourjos was in a situation similar to the one that Cruz was in. With Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss, and Tommy Pham, a clarified role for the speedy outfielder just wasn’t there. So, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Cardinals tendered contracts to four of its arbitration-eligible players, including Brandon Moss, Seth Maness, Matt Adams, and Trevor Rosenthal. They elected not to do so with RP Steve Cishek, and he was eventually signed by the Seattle Mariners. A few of the team’s free agents were taken off the market, one by them themselves. Jonathan Broxton was signed to a two-year, $7.5 million deal that features a full no-trade clause. Mark Reynolds was snatched up by the Colorado Rockies. Any purpose Reynolds served to the roster was erased by the acquisitions of Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko. And, though they offered a hefty amount of dollars, outfielder Jason Heyward decided to sign with the Chicago Cubs instead of the Cardinals.
Perhaps the largest signing that the St. Louis Cardinals will make this offseason went down on December 22. The team agreed to terms with free agent right-hander Mike Leake on a five-year, $80 million contract. The contract features a full no-trade clause, keeping the 28-year-old with the Cardinals through the 2020 season. In 2015, a year in which he pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, Leake had an ERA of 3.70 in 192 innings of work. He struck out 119 batters and slated a WHIP of 1.16. He does a fine job of rounding out the St. Louis rotation, which looked pretty bare when it didn’t include him. He fits into the loop of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, and Carlos Martinez well and appears as if he’ll do a fine job of eating up some of the upcoming season’s innings. With the loss of Lance Lynn to ulnar collateral ligament repair surgery and John Lackey to free agency, someone who possesses the ability to munch up innings was needed.
Overall, a decent amount of the team’s offseason goals has been met. They added the utility infielder they were searching for in Jedd Gyorko, and he gives the team options. If Kolten Wong or Jhonny Peralta are in need of a breather, Jedd is capable of filling in for them. The subtractions of Jon Jay, Jason Heyward and Peter Bourjos give the young and talented duo of Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk a more clear-cut vision of their future roles. He can play first, but with Brandon Moss, Matt Adams, and Jedd Gyorko, a vast amount of Piscotty’s playing time will likely come in the outfield. Randal Grichuk can play right field, which was vacated by Heyward. Matt Holliday can still handle his duties, which will probably come from leftfield. There is still a need for power in the projected 2016 lineup. The Colorado Rockies and Cardinals have been linked to each other in trade conversation, but nothing has transpired as of yet. Colorado certainly has pieces to move, and they have made it be known that they are willing to move any one of their three outfielders– Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, or Carlos Gonzales. It’s a story to keep an eye on. The team added a backup catcher with a more bona fide bat than that of Tony Cruz in Brayan Pena. Such was important, especially with Yadier Molina and the fact that he has underwent two surgeries this offseason. Lastly, they added Mike Leake. Not only does Leake give the Cards that fifth starter they were looking for, but he also gives them more flexibility when it comes to their young pitchers. Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney could make a start if necessary, but yet a full-time starter’s role right out of 2016’s gates wasn’t something that the team wanted to give either one of them. Each are likely to contend for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen during Spring Training.
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PC: Fox Sports