To reign in the upcoming Brewers/Cardinals series, Viva El Birdos contributor Aaron Finkel and I each exchanged a few questions. Here are Aaron's answers to mine. You can see mine over at VEB.
1. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but it seems like the Cardinals 2013 pitching results are unsustainable moving forward, though it's hard to bank against St. Louis with their reputation of developing pitchers. How do you expect young starters like Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly to perform in 2014 and beyond?
Great question. This is a key to he Cardinals' season. To start with, there absolutely were some unsustainable performances last year. I like Joe Kelly, and I think he's probably a little better than his 4ish FIP, but last year's 2.69 ERA is very unlikely to be matched. Michael Wacha threw 65 absolute ace innings last season. Unless he gets better command of his curve, I think he's far more likely to be merely good than an ace. And Shelby Miller certainly has some question marks following his second-half swoon. Finally, Kevin Siegrist's incredible performance out of the bullpen is likely to slip quite a lot. All of that said, I think the Cardinals have a strong chance of allowing fewer runs than last year's strong 3.68/game number.
In 2013, the Cardinals received 30 mostly crummy starts from Jake Westbrook, Tyler Lyons, and John Gast. This year, should Kelly or Miller falter or anyone else get injured, Carlos Martinez will be ready. The front-office reportedly wanted him to start over Kelly to open the season, but Mike Matheny wanted Martinez for the bullpen. After just over a week of play, I think it was a defensible move, especially if it allows Carlos to bank innings to start later in the season. Regardless, he will eventually start, and when he does I don't think it will take long to become clear he's the best pitcher on the Cardinals after Adam Wainwright. Let me be clear on this: Carlos Martinez is exothermic. He gives off heat. His arsenal is exactly equivalent to Stella's spicy cheese bread right off the truck, and not one of those crappy ones with not enough pepper or cheese.
Beyond that, while Kozma to Peralta is a drop in defense at shortstop, the Redbird defense will be much improved at 3rd, 2nd, and center. The bullpen is a bit of a mess right now, but it sounds like Jason Motte will be ready soon, and I don't think GM John Mozeliak will hesitate to ship off a secondary prospect for a bullpen arm mid-season like he did to acquire Edward Mujica 2 years ago or John Axford last season. (he's just the best, by the way. I wish the Cardinals had kept him, and I'm jealous of the good times you had together.)
2. Piggybacking off that a bit, is Trevor Rosenthal just a closer until further notice or will he be a relief pitcher so long as he remains in a Cardinals uniform? Do fans in St. Louis feel strongly one way or another?
I'll try to be briefer here. Given what the organization looks like right now, I'd be very surprised if Rosie ever gets a shot starting with the Cardinals. Some of us will always wonder what might have been, but it's hard to complain too much watching him dominate out of the pen.
3. What are your feelings on Matt Carpenter's extension? It came as a bit of a surprise to me given the Cardinals already had him under team control until he would be, I believe, 32 years old.
I like it pretty well. It buys out his arbitration years, two years of free-agency (ages 32 & 33), and includes an option for his age 34 year in 2020. There's obviously a degree of risk paying a guy in advance for four years of arbitration, but Carpenter is about as good a bet as you can find for a guy his age. He's good because he has an elite approach and understanding of the zone, two things that should allow him to adjust as his skills change. The payoff for the Cardinals is that this contract will be very reasonable should he continue to rack up doubles with an OBP near .400. He did a decent job at 2nd last year, but he looks terrific so far at his native 3rd.
4. The Cardinals optioned Oscar Taveras to the minors before he could even face major league competition in spring training after he went through some nagging injuries. As a former #3 overall prospect, where does he stand in the organization? Is he an almost surefire mid-season call-up or is there just no room for him right now barring injury?
I expect him up sooner than later. As exciting as guys like Buxton and Baez are, Oscar still owns the best pure hit tool in the minors, and he's going to be a factor soon. There isn't a spot exactly, but there was room for Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran, and Matt Adams last season. There will be room for Oscar to join Adams and Craig this year. Stephen Piscotty appears very polished and is another part of the upcoming roster crunch. As an aside, Allen Craig looks rough right now, and last season's ISO drop is concerning. No, we don't believe his career .999 BA with RISP is sustainable.
5. Another former top prospect, Kolten Wong, has not looked great in 39 major league games so far. He did have a nice spring, though. Are expectations for him as high as ever, or have they been tempered a bit?
Expectations seem to be reasonable for Kolten. 39 rough major league games or a dozen good spring games don't change anything. He has a good eye, a compact swing with enough power that pitchers can't just groove it, good defense and good speed. I don't expect him to be a star, but he seems like a solid bet to be a league average 2B. He is a heavy groundball hitter, so moving him to leadoff would be nice if he can get on base at a high enough clip. It's unclear whether he will at this point.
6.What has been the overall reaction in St. Louis to the signings of Jhonny Peralta and Aledmys Diaz as the Cardinals looked to shore up shortstop?
For the most part, people are just glad to have an actual shortstop wearing the birds on the bat. The position has been a revolving door of mediocrity for years, which is especially tough when Ozzie Smith is a team legacy. Peralta won't be as good as Pete Kozma was defensively, but his bat will be a huge improvement and he appears solid enough with the glove. The miniscule contract Diaz received is both a positive and a negative. I'm thrilled the Cardinals acquired another potential piece for so low a sum (4 years, $8M), but that number also means no other teams thought particularly highly of him. If he can replace Daniel Descalso as a utility infielder, I'll be happy. If he can be a decent starting shortstop, it'd be a coup.
7. Are Cardinals fans as confident in their team winning the NL Central in 2014 as most analysts seem to be? Is there any one player on the team who the Cardinals could not afford to lose as they hope for another playoff appearance?
Short version: Yes. Yes: Yadi.
Long version: I think it's foolish if any fan of any team thinks a playoff appearance is a lock. Other than the Cubs, any team in the NL Central could make a run at the division. The Pirates are similar to last year's excellent squad, the Reds have terrific pitching, and your team's pitching appears really deep if not spectacular, and Braun, Lucroy, Gomez, Ramirez, Segura, is a terrific offensive core. All of that said, I think the Cardinals are probably a bit better in 2014 than they were in 2013, the Pirates and especially the Reds slipped a bit, and you all have 20 games to makeup from last year, which is a tough road.
Losing Yadi for an extended time would be a devastating blow. The drop-off to Cruz would be drastic, and Yadi contributes strongly in all facets of the game. Losing Waino would be tough, of course, but if that's not coupled with another injury, Carlos Martinez is ready to go. Matt Carpenter would be next on that list. There's no such thing as too much depth. Why are we talking about this? It frightens me.
I love talking baseball with fans of other teams. I won't be around the afternoon or evening this gets posted, but if any of you all have any other questions, leave them in the comments here and I'll check back in on Tuesday. Good luck this season! A true four-team division race would be a lot of fun.
Thanks, Aaron, for taking the time out of your day to answer some questions. Like he said, feel free to ask any other questions about the Cardinals you may have in the comments and he'll try to answer some when he can! Try to keep it civil -- The Cardinals may be the worst, but Aaron and the other VEB guys are good people!