The 2018 baseball season is still in its infancy with nearly five and a half months yet to go. But in the small sample that has been the season’s first couple weeks, the Cardinals haven’t gotten off to the kind of start they were hoping for. With a 5-7 record heading into a four-game series in Cincinnati Thursday, it’s been a mixed bag for St. Louis.
The offense, revamped by Marcell Ozuna’s bat in the middle of the order, is still trying to catch its stride. St. Louis ranks 15th in MLB in runs scored, 47 across 12 games, equating to just under four runs per contest (3.917). That’s down a touch from last year’s mark of 4.698, which ranked 13th in MLB. But again, there’s not enough of a sample size yet to determine that this Cardinals team won’t be as capable of producing runs as last year’s. It stands to reason, looking at this team on paper, that this Cardinal offense will eventually prove better than its predecessor.
And that’s important, not just because more runs typically means more wins, but also because of the level of consideration that went into the moves this team has made in reshaping its lineup over the past year. At least a handful of noteworthy position players have departed the organization within the past year. Matt Adams, Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk, were all traded away for varying returns.
Adams and Diaz were given away, yielding humans named Juan Yepez and JB Woodman, respectively. You’ll probably never hear much from those guys, but the Cardinals won’t mind that; the decisions to move on from these players weren’t dependent on getting something of value in return.
For Piscotty and Grichuk, the Cardinals landed two members of their active roster in Yairo Munoz and Dominic Leone, which is great, but the specific return wasn’t the primary motivator in either move.
These trades required decisiveness; no longer would the Cardinals be teased by the raw power of Grichuk, and they were willing to live with the chance his career blossomed elsewhere. To a lesser degree, struggles for Piscotty in 2017 coupled with his mother’s battle with ALS on the west coast made his move to Oakland sensible for all sides. The Cardinals couldn’t afford to gamble another year on a maybe. It was time. They pruned the outfield, and they went out and upgraded with Ozuna. Decision made.
The benefit of hindsight, though, makes those personnel decisions look easier. Though the samples remain small, we’ve had a couple weeks to look at some of these former Cardinals in their new environments. Let’s take a look at some of those recent castoffs and decide: Do they miss him?
Let’s begin with position players, with all stats as of entering play Thursday:
Randal Grichuk: 3 for 39, .077/.140/.179, 1 HR, 3 BB, 14 K
Grichuk has been terrible in his early opportunities with Toronto. He’s got the raw athleticism and personality to be a star, but if it happens for him this year, it’ll require a considerable improvement from here.
Do they miss him? Nope. There was no room at the inn, and Grichuk has clearly struggled so far this year.
Matt Adams: 4 for 19, .211/.400/.632, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 5 BB, 8 K
Adams is sporting some Joey Gallo-looking stats, as pointed out by JJ Bailey on Twitter Wednesday. The walks in addition to some power would make Adams a quality everyday guy, but he’s running into the same issue in Washington that he had in St. Louis: they aren’t playing him every day. It’s tough to find those chances when you can only play one position and aren’t the main starter at that spot. Thursday, he's starting in left field.
Do they miss him? He’d be nice to have around for a bench looking kind of thin in Jedd Gyorko’s absence, but Adams’ presence would further complicate the corner infield situation, likely at Jose Martinez’s expense. So while I’m still an Adams guy, no, they don’t really miss him.
Stephen Piscotty: 9 for 43, .209/.271/.233, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 9 K
Here’s a stat line a genuinely hope turns around more so than any of the other struggling former Cardinals on this list. Piscotty has yet to display in Oakland the power he possessed in his first couple years for St. Louis.
Do they miss him? On a personal level, I’m sure they do. On the field, no. Pulling the trigger on a bopper like Ozuna was the right move for the Cardinals, and there wasn’t going to be playing time for Piscotty in St. Louis. But I won’t stop wishing the best for him.
Aledmys Diaz: 7 for 34, .206/.229/.529, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 0 BB, 6 K
Diaz has better power numbers right now than what he did last year, but everything else looks similar to where he was before the Cards demoted him last summer. No plate discipline leads to a paltry OBP. If he keeps this power stroke, though, he has some value because of his flexibility defensively.
Do they miss him? If they don’t, I kind of think they should, yeah. I haven’t been too impressed with Yairo Munoz’s readiness for this level, and I feel the team would be better with Diaz in his role. In my mind, Diaz would’ve been worth the salary and spot on the 40-man for this club.
Now, a glance at a few pitchers from last year’s club:
Lance Lynn: 0-1, 5.00 ERA, 9 IP, 12 K, 10 BB in 2 starts
Lynn’s first start was terrible, but he didn’t give up a run in his second start. He’ll probably be fine, but 10 walks in 9 innings isn’t a great start.
Do they miss him? The media probably misses his snipes during interviews, but Jack Flaherty has showed in an MLB start and a AAA start why the Cardinals felt comfortable letting Lynn walk. They’re transitioning in the rotation, and Lynn wasn’t a part of it. They don’t miss him, not at the moment.
Mike Leake: 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 12 IP, 4 K, 7 BB in 2 starts
Leake was traded last August after a lengthy stretch of struggles. The Cardinals paid him to go away. He’s been better than serviceable so far this year, and if he remains so, that decision could go down as a bad one. But…
Do they miss him? Not really. For the same reasons as listed for Lynn, the Cardinals are ready to trust the next generation in their rotation. It’ll be even more evident when they get Alex Reyes back. I will add that if he continues to look strong on the mound for Seattle, the Leake departure could be viewed in more of a negative context due to the monetary considerations attached.
Seung-Hwan Oh: 1-0. 3.00 ERA, 6 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 SV in 7 appearances
Oh looks good so far! He really fell off in his second season in St. Louis, so it’s good to see him be effective in the early going for Toronto.
Do they miss him? Nah. Even if he sustains this level for the whole year, it’s hard to place much blame on the Cards for letting him walk. They couldn’t trust him for much of last season, and a return didn’t make much sense, even if it meant getting to see more of Eugene Koo.
Juan Nicasio: 0-0, 4.76 ERA, 5.2 IP, 5 K, 1 BB
Other pitchers departed in addition to the ones listed, as Zach Duke is now with Minnesota and Marco Gonzales is with Leake in Seattle, but Nicasio is really the only other name for whom there was much of an argument over his departure. He seemed to fit the bill for the kind of relievers the Cardinals were said to be in the market for over the winter, and he signed for a reasonable price. He’s off to a mediocre start.
Do they miss him? No. In my mind, the Cardinals needed to spend some actual money on one reliever this offseason. They spent nickels on Bud Norris and dimes on Luke Gregerson, but Greg Holland is good enough for me to indicate that they were at least willing to spend to address the issue, even if that signing did have to wait until Opening Day. Even if Nicasio has a better year than Holland, the bullpen should be in competitive shape as it stands.