Great question, and thanks for the compliment on the story. It was one I wanted to tell -- and was just trying to find the best way I could to humanize it, relate it, and have it be about people, not dollars and laws and labor agreements. There has been some discussion about slashing the years of control that teams have over players so that it's not four in the minors, the three more possible, six in the majors, and the first 10+ years of their professional life. That's the Tommy Pham Dilemma, right? The idea would be to create a free market for players earlier in their playing careers and thus offset the low wages of the minors by giving them a chance, even at that level, to command higher salaries through what's now called the six-year free agent process. It's a longshot, though, for many reasons. First, the union represents the players on the 40-man roster and that's why they're higher paid. The union does not represent all of the professional players. Second, MLB and the owners are now emboldened by the protection they've received in the omnibus spending bill and the ability they have to wield millions in lobbying to save millions in spending.
Say you have to give up Jack Flaherty and/or Jordan Hicks to get Manny Machado -- now you're really talking about some interesting roster construction. Does Alex Reyes have to start? Does Bud Norris get his first multi-year deal to be the longterm reliever Hicks could be? Goodness. Now there's a question.
Umpires. I still believe they can have a bigger role in improving pace of play and limiting strikeouts, absolutely. Call a bigger strike zone, get the game going. One element of the strikeout binge that probably should get more conversation is the role shifts play in it. I'm not one who thinks that shifts should be outlawed. Let the NBA keep its iso-offense and their illegal defenses. What I think should get a hearing is how hitters who mash into shifts are suddenly more accepting of a strikeout rather then constantly beating the ball into the shift. That to me is interesting. It would seem that a correction would start with hitters being more deft at handling the pitch the other way -- and umpires calling that zone would -- and this is just my bet -- hasten the arrival of that approach.
It also speaks to how Hicks may not be used in games because he's warmed up to get in a game that never sees him. This is something that the Cardinals have tried to bake into their approach, honestly. It hasn't been a mandate yet -- if he warms, he pitches -- but it's come close. Matheny has suggested that there are times when a pitcher is hot and has to be used even if the game goes upside down on them or (as was the case Sunday) the Cardinals get a bigger lead than they had when the pitcher started warming up. They're going to be cautious with Hicks and we've already see this with the time he gets to recover from multi-inning appearances, and it wouldn't be a shock if we start seeing that drift into how he's treated when he warms and doesn't pitch, or the rules regarding how often he warms before he has to appear in that game, no matter what.
Excellent question. This is sort of the next evolution of his game, and it's something that the he and the Cardinals talked about before the start of spring training, and certainly before that. Hicks has a power sinker that goes 99-102 and has movement. It's going to get weak contact -- and some swings and misses. But lots of weak contact as hitters gear up to hit heat -- and then it moves. That's to be expected with his pitch. What the Cardinals and Hicks want to see him do is start elevating and finding those strikeouts up in the zone. Ryan Helsley, for example, has that high spin rate fastball that pops as it arrives and that works well in the upper registers of the strike zone. Hicks may not need the high spin rate because he has such velocity, but it would help get that pitch up just above the strike zone -- really, like the one he threw Votto, honestly. Instead of Hicks doing this in the minors and arriving with that pitch, he's able to get that work in the majors, so it's a bit of a pinch right: He needs to get outs where it counts, and hitters here are going to be able to hit that velocity, but not his movement. The strikeouts will come. He's just going to learn how to get them on the job.
Gotcha. They certainly analyzed his work in Japan. This was a video/analytics find for the Cardinals. They did not dispatch a scout to see Mikolas actually pitch.
He's in extended spring training, playing away. There aren't box scores for those games, and the Cardinals keep stats, but don't often reveal them, or not in their entirety. The games are unofficial, the rules often malleable, and the purpose is entirely to get the players reps, reps, reps are game speed. Brett Cecil, for example, will be with the extended teams starting Tuesday to get some innings in and do so under controlled conditions. He can throw six outs an inning, if he wants. They can put a lineup of five consecutive lefties against him, if he wants. Same goes for Perez. If the Cardinals want him to get all the reps one day in the field, he can just play the field at game speed and do his hitting in the cage. This is where he is. They want him to work as much off the field to improve his strength and his approach at the plate as he works on the field. This is a big year for him, sure, but it's not a big April for him. The bigger tell will be August. Does he get to a full-season club, does he play in Peoria before the season's end. He's still just 19. Won't be 20 until November. So it's not like he's lagging behind his peers.
I would imagine it has something to do with the defense behind him and the comfort he has in the clubhouse. In so, so many ways Mike Leake came to feel like he was an odd fit for the Cardinals -- you'll recall he wanted to sign with Arizona, San Francisco, and then was convinced to come to the Cardinals -- and eventually the Cardinals had to agree.
That would be entirely out of character and not at all like the Adam Wainwright who I have covered from the day he arrived in the majors. It wouldn't fit the personality he's proven to have at all.
Huh? I will give you this -- it is a good day for soup, man. Chilly. Rainy. Perfect day for a little grilled cheese, tomato soup, and good baseball talk about warped urban legends that flourish in only the darkest corners of message boards and yet grow because they don't see the light.
I don't think so. That's not the modern game, and there's reason for that. We're not seeing the 162-player anymore, and the roster the Cardinals have really only has two fixed-position infielders, DeJong and Wong. That's because DeJong is the only true shortstop on the team, and Wong's single position is second. This is the toolbox the Cardinals have.
Edmundo Sosa. Alex Mejia. Max Schrock. Those are some of the infielders available.
I don't think it's all that unusual that there hasn't been a shift. And I'm glad you brought this up because I can expand on point the way I should have earlier in the chat. The game is always going to go where the money is, right? Velocity pays. Saves pay. Power pays. And strikeouts don't hurt. When it comes to beating the shift, are players rewarded for feathering the ball the other way and improving their batting average or are they rewarded for hitting the ball where the shift cannot get it -- over the fence, or off it. Salaries tell us the answer. So there does need to be a correction there, too. We're seeing it with middle-relief. The Andrew Millers of the world and elsewhere are showing that high-dollar relievers don't need saves to show their worth. They can change games whether they ever see the ninth inning of a three-run game against the 7-8-PH and get the same. There's got to be a direction that the game goes with the position players as well. Jason Heyward showed a WAR player with defense creating that WAR can get big dollars. Perhaps we'll see A.J. Pollock rewrite how players are viewed for their ability to not ... make ... outs ... and not just when they drive the ball through the wall or over a shift, etc.
They are on their way to a rehab assignment with Memphis, at last check. Rick Hummel will have an updated on their work in Tuesday's newspaper.
Trying something new. Maybe give the chat a little levity.
Actually, it's interesting. I do have some almonds here to snack on and I still have some coffee, so while there is no Soup, there is actually Soup to Nuts, if you will.