The highlights from last night’s Cardinals-Brewers game are probably focusing on the Yadier Molina argument and ejection, but there was something far more interesting going on here.
Albert Pujols was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning. Runners were on first and third at the time, it was a close game and Pujols leads all of baseball in grounding into double plays. Clearly in that situation Takashi Saito is not trying to throw at Pujols, right? Hell, even Tony La Russa said after the game that he didn’t think it was intentional.
Nevertheless, in the bottom of the inning La Russa had Jason Motte hit Ryan Braun. He admitted it too, saying after the game that he was “sending a message.” He stood on the top step of the dugout and watched it happen. He did it via two inside pitches and then the plunking.
Setting aside the fact that someone could get hurt, what in the hell was Tony La Russa thinking? How do you, out of your silly sense of “sending a message” justice, put a leadoff hitter on base ahead of Prince Fielder in a tie game in a pennant race? How does one’s fealty to the unwritten rules or playing the game the right way or whatever the hell La Russa cares most about trump the clear strategic decision not to put a key game at risk like that?
It ended up working out. Braun didn’t score. The Cardinals ended up winning. But just because a good outcome was achieved doesn’t mean a good decision was made. And that was a monumentally stupid tactical decision by La Russa. A man purported to be the smartest guy in the room.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.