Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cards Shuffle the Deck

Jhonny Peralta Shortstop, Jhonny Peralta #27 of the Detroit Tigers is late on the tag as Peter Bourjos  #25 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim steals second base during a MLB game at Comerica Park on July 30, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.
                   New Cardinals Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos

The Cardinals won a NL best 97 games this past season and came up short against the Red Sox in the World Series. It was a bitter defeat and it exposed some of the Cardinals weaknesses. Mainly, some defensive issues and the lack of offense from a few different positions. Still, this club is set up to be even better next season with it's wealth of great young pitching. In the past couple of days, GM John Mozeliak has made some moves to improve the club for next season. On Friday, Mozeliak traded 2011 World Series MVP David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas to the Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos and prospect Randal Gruchuk. On Sunday, the Cardinals agreed to a four year deal with shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

What does all this mean for the Cardinals? This impacts several different positions for the team. Matt Carpenter will move from second base to third base to replace Freese. Kolten Wong is the leading contender for the second base job, although he will be challenged by Daniel Descalso in spring training. Pete Kozma started a majority of games at shortstop last year, but will either be on the bench or minors next season. Bourjos is a elite defender and this likely spells the end of Jon Jay's days as the Card's center fielder. Jay could start in right field, or be relegated to a 4th outfielder role. The acquisition of Bourjos likely means that Carlos Beltran isn't coming back. The Cardinals would receive a compensation pick in next year's draft if Beltran signs elsewhere. He will likely receive several multi-year offers and probably will be with an American League team next year.

Freese has fallen off from his moment of greatness during the 2011 postseason. He did go on to have his best season in 2012, making the 2011 All Star team. However, Freese's performance dramatically fell during 2013. His power dropped and his defense suffered as well. Freese is also injury prone and will be 31 next season. Perhaps, a change of scenery could help him and he will be re-united with Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Infield defense improves quite a bit by Carpenter moving to his natural position at third base and Wong taking over second. Bourjos started in center field over Mike Trout, which says something. Bourjos runs like a deer and has a cannon for a arm. Jay's defense fell off in 2013, as he often took bad routes to balls and has a below average arm. Jay could excel in a fourth outfielder role. He did very well in that role before the Colby Rasmus trade opened up the center field job for Jay.

Bourjos isn't risk free. Like Freese, Bourjos has a injury history. He missed much of last season after breaking his wrist after getting hit by a pitch. Bourjos will be 27 next year and still has time to develop. Some baseball people feel like Bourjos wasn't given a good opportunity with the Angels, and could benefit from a change in scenery. In 2011, Bourjos played his only full season as a starter. He led the AL in triples, hit 12 homers, stole 22 bases, and hit .271. Gruchuk was one of the Angels top prospects and is a power hitting corner outfielder. He will likely start the season in Triple A. The Cardinals got the better end of this deal. Salas didn't make the postseason roster and didn't figure to be in the club's future plans. If Wong develops into a good player, the team won't miss Freese.

Shortstop was the biggest weak spot on the Cardinals last year. Rafael Furcal was unable to play last year, leaving Kozma and Descalso to hold down short. Offensively, the Cardinals were among the worst teams in the majors at the shortstop position. Mozeliak explored trades for JJ Hardy and Erick Aybar, but the asking price of Shelby Miller was way too high. There were some rumors about Troy Tulowitzki, but the asking price and his future salary was too steep. The Rangers traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, meaning that Jurickson Profar would take over at second base; ruling out a trade for Profar or Elvis Andrus. The team then looked to the free agent market. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta were the top two options available.

The Cardinals ended up choosing Peralta. Peralta's first choice was the Cardinals and he was willing to take less to sign with them. Drew would of cost the Cardinals their first round pick to Boston. Drew is a little better defensively than Peralta, but Peralta has a big advantage offensively. St. Louis ended up signing Peralta to a four year, $ 52 million contract. Peralta is 31 years old and is capable of playing other positions than short. For shortstops, Peralta ranks among the best offensive shorstops after Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes. However, Peralta served a 50 game suspension for PED's in 2013 for his connection in 2012 to Biogenesis. Peralta said he made a mistake and was sorry. His teammates in Detroit considered him to be a good clubhouse guy, though, and accepted him back for the postseason. Peralta hit .333 for the Tigers in 10 postseason games.

I think the Cardinals will be a better team next season. Their defense should be much improved at second, third, and center field. Kozma is a better defender than Peralta, but Peralta's bat makes up for that difference. The potential loss of Beltran will hurt, but Oscar Taveras will be ready soon. Taveras would have to have a really good spring to make the opening day roster, but will certainly be up at some point. Taveras missed the second half of the season due to injury. In right field, the Cardinals could shift Allen Craig there and play Matt Adams at first. They also have Jay and Shane Robinson as options. The Cardinals led the NL in runs last year, despite not hitting a lot of home runs or stealing bases. I'm not sure if the power will improve, but the team's base running has improved with Bourjos and Wong.

As with last season, the club's young pitching should carry this team. Miller won 15 games as a rookie and barely was used in the postseason. Adam Wainwright finished 2nd in the Cy Young balloting and is the leader of the staff. Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Tyler Lyons, and Carlos Martinez will all return next year since they weren't used as trade bait for a shortstop. Jaime Garcia will also be back from a shoulder injury, giving the team another option in the rotation. For the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal has taken over the role as the team's closer last September. Edward Mujica will not be back next year. However, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness will return, and some of the arms that don't make the rotation could be used in the bullpen. Jason Motte will also return from Tommy John surgery. An improved defense should help out the Cardinals pitching next year.

The last time the Cardinals made a deal with the Angels for an injury prone extra outfielder they acquired Jim Edmonds. The Cards only gave up Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield to get the best center fielder in team history. Edmonds would win several Gold Gloves, make 3 All Star teams, and help the Cards to two World Series, winning the 2006 World Series. A year later, Edmonds was traded to the Padres for an A ball prospect named David Freese, who grew up a Cardinals fan. Freese debuted in the majors in 2009, but injuries kept him off the field much of the next couple of seasons. Freese would then have the month of his life, winning the NLCS MVP, the World Series MVP, and setting a single postseason record of 24 RBI's. Now it comes full circle with Freese being traded with fellow 2011 champion Salas for Bourjos and Gruchuk. Time will tell how this deal will work out, but many baseball commentators are saying this is a win for the Cardinals.

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