By: Jim Tsapelas
With the reality of the New York Mets winning the NLCS, the season’s chapter has officially ended on the the NL Central Division teams who were in the post-season; the St. Louis Cardinals (100-63), Pittsburgh Pirates (98-64), and the Chicago Cubs (97-65).
The Pirates who finished second in the NL Central standings were eliminated by the Cubs in the NL Wild Card game. An one game, winner take all, one and done, does not seem to be the most efficient, effective, or appropriate way to set up a playoff scenario.
In its current form, the Wild Card may be better served as a short series, just like the NLDS; a best three out of five test. In its current form, both Wild Card teams must waste their best pitcher in the one and done game thus limiting their best pitcher’s use in the NLDS to just one appearance. With a best three out of five it would allow the winner of the NLDS a better opportunity to set their rotation for the NLDS and if needed, the NLCS.
As I have written all season long, it is my firm, and I strongly believe fair belief, the NL Central Division is the best Division not only in the NL-but is the best Division in all of MLB.
Three teams with more than ninety wins. Three teams advancing to post-season opportunities is unprecedented in baseball. The other five divisional winners in MLB the Toronto Blue Jays (93-69, the Kansas City Royals (95-67), the Texas Rangers (88-74), the New York Mets (90-72), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70), would have been, if playing in the NL Central, based on their individual records, would at best be in fourth place within the NL Central Division.
In 2016, I see the NL Central remaining strong if not getting even stronger and more competitive. With some off-season trades and/or the emergence of developing players from their respective farm systems, the Milwaukee Brewers (68-94) and the Cincinnati Reds (64-98) could make the Central Division even stronger, more competitive, and strengthen in parity.
As a beat writer for the St. Louis Cardinals, I wish to focus on the Redbirds for the rest of this article. The Cardinals had a remarkable one-hundred win season. This taken into context with the factual reality of the numerous injuries to key players throughout the season is quite simply amazing.
Currently, two Cardinals remain on the official MLB DL; Jordan Walden (right biceps inflammation), and Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain). Walden was placed on the DL on April 30th, and missed the majority of the 2015 season. He was slated to be used in relief as the Cardinals’ set-up man. Martinez was placed on the DL on September 30th, left his last regular season game quite early, and was unavailable to the postseason.
First and foremost, the Cardinals need to move heaven and earth to resign Jason Heyward. At just twenty-six years of age, J-Hey could be productive for the Cardinals for years to come.
Most likely the Cardinals shall loose John Lackey to free-agency. Lackey, honoring a contract he entered into with the Boston Red Sox, pitched for the Cards in 2015 for the league minimum. Additionally, Lackey earned another two million in bonuses from the Redbirds. With his 2015 success, Lackey could command ten million-plus in the free-agency market.
I believe the Cardinals’ need to continue to harvest their investment in the often injured Jamie Garcia. It would be wise for the Cardinals to exercise their option in Garcia.
In my opinion Tony Cruz is an excellent back-up catcher for Yadier Molina. As a former catcher, I know of the daily grind, wear and tear plaguing catchers. While Cruz is a good back-up, he is not the future of the St. Louis catching corps. This is a far different situation when a young Yadier Molina was brought up to learn from and assist the then starting catcher, Mike Matheny. It is time the Cardinals start to look into developing someone to eventually relieve Molina more during the season, and eventually stepping into the catcher’s role.
Most probably, it is in the teams’ better interests to part ways with Lance Lynn. Lynn has been a work horse for the Cardinals in the regular season the past four years. Lynn has also been a disappointment in the postseason the last two years.
Remember, it was the Cardinals’ pitching which carried them to their one hundred win season. It was their pitching which failed them in the postseason. A 2016 rotation including Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and Jaime Garcia, if healthy, will be formidable. A fifth starter, however, is of great need and importance.
The Cards need to say goodbye to Randy Choate and Pete Kozma. Hopefully, both may find better success with another team. Or, in Choate’s case-perhaps it time to consider retirement.
The Cardinals must find a utility-infielder to back up Jhonny Peralta, in particular, and the other infielders in general.
For all the Jon Jay haters in Cardinal Nation, the club should retain the services of Jay. He is a known and proven winner. With an outfield already too crowded, it may be time to try to trade Peter Bourjos. To be honest, Bourjos has not lived up to expectations.
In the past, Cardinals’ General Manager John Mozeliak has been rather cautions and conservative in the off season and in the MLB Winter Meeting. The Cardinals need to add another quality starter, an experienced and established utility infielder, and a feared bat coming off the bench.
Goodbye 2015! It was exciting and fun. Onward to Spring Training and the 2016 regular MLB Season!
Thanks for reading!