A couple final thoughts as Spring Training 2017 comes to a close.
Matt Adams has been a tease his entire Cardinal career. A big guy, capable of generating substantial power, Matt has shown all this talent and ability only in short bursts. After an uninspiring April, Adams was one of baseball’s best hitters in May. He hit .364 that month (24 for 66) and slugged .652. This was part of an even longer stretch that began with 2 hits – including a home run – against Stephen Strasburg on April 29 and ran through a pinch-single against Cincinnati on June 9. He was 37 for 95 (.389) with 7 home runs, 28 runs-batted-in (this was only 31 games of which he’d started just 25) and a .684 slugging percentage.
And then, abruptly, it all went away and never came back. Over the last 164 at bats of his season, Adams hit .177 (29 of 164) – albeit with 8 more home runs. This is not the first time that Adams had done this.
Matt Adams 2017 has come to camp 30 pounds lighter, significantly more athletic, and hitting with the relaxed confidence that characterized his May spree. Understandably, many Cardinal fans are hesitant to buy into it – and I confess that I have reservations, too. A lot of them are hoping that Matt’s strong spring catches the eye of some other team leading to a trade of Adams elsewhere – and that may well happen.
But before that happens, pause and consider. The Cards are opening the season with Jhonny Peralta at third base. Jhonny will turn 35 at the end of May. Like Adams, Peralta looks more athletic and seems stronger than last year. But Peralta is still turning 35. He may have a strong season left in him, but he is not the future. The Birds do have a couple of promising third-basemen working their way through the minors – but neither are quite major-league ready yet.
Because Peralta is playing third, Matt Carpenter is pushed to first base. It may become necessary – either this year or next – to move Carpenter back to third (depending on what Peralta has left in the tank).
What all this means is that Matt Adams may be a more important part of the team’s future than otherwise thought. I don’t preach endless patience with Adams, but I think there have been enough flashes of potential in the past to warrant another long look. Between now and the time that Patrick Wisdom and Paul DeJong arrive, the Cards will need to know what they have (or don’t have) in Adams.
Trevor Rosenthal burst on the scene in 2014 and took over as the Cardinal closer. Featuring his 100-mph signature fastball, Trevor proceeded to save 93 games over the next two seasons with a 2.65 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 139 innings. In addition, Trevor has 7 postseason saves and a 0.69 ERA in post-season play over 4 different seasons.
Rosenthal staggered to a disappointing 4.46 ERA in an injury marred 2016 and lost his closer’s responsibility. It has now been announced that Trevor will begin this season on the disabled list – courtesy of the lat strain that interrupted his spring.
So things seem to be low-ebbing for the talented Mr. Rosenthal. Again, though, pause and consider. Trevor won’t turn 27 until the end of May. Assuming his injury is no more serious than it seems, there are a lot of fastballs still left in that arm. The talent that made him an elite closer is still there.
Seung-hwan Oh, on the other hand, turns 35 in July. I don’t question Oh’s designation as closer. He more than earned that with a great season last year. But, again, he is not the future.
Rosenthal – once he’s healthy – is. It would behoove the Cardinal organization to keep Trevor very invested in the season. If not the closer, they should at least carve him out a prominent bullpen role. Trevor is arbitration eligible next year and free-agent eligible the year after that. If the Cards allow Trevor to become disaffected and filter his way out of the organization, they will come to regret it.
There are a lot of good things that came out of the Cardinal spring training. I believe that the best thing that could happen for the organization is the return of Michael Wacha.
It’s been so long since Wacha was really good that it’s almost impossible to remember the kid who – 16 starts into his 2015 season – stood at 10-3 with a 2.66 ERA. Through his first 101.1 innings, he had allowed just 7 home runs and was holding batters to a .228 average. When healthy, Wacha is a special pitcher.
Now, spring training is not September, and, as the song says, it’s a long long time from May to December. Michael has a long way to go and many innings for his strengthened shoulder to bear – so this is all far from a done deal. But this becomes one of the most important storylines of the season.
Spring Training in Review
So, Spring training ends with 20 wins and a lot of enthusiasm. It’s a little hard not to get carried away. Again, pause and remember. Spring Training is just Spring Training. The tortuous 162-game marathon lies before us.
That being said, the hot spring was – in an important sense – just what the doctor ordered. After a disappointing season, an uncertain off-season, and the early loss of wunderkind Alex Reyes for the season, this is a team that kind of needed to feel good about itself. Especially as the teams spring strengths (starting pitching and defense) were areas of weakness last year.
I don’t usually put a lot of stock in hot Aprils. Too often I have seen teams bolt out of the gate only to fade in the heat of August. But this is one year that a fast start could go a long way toward healing the angst of 2016 – which began with three straight losses and never really got on track after that.
A good April – especially if it includes a couple of wins against the Cubs in the season opening season. The psyche of the team and the fans took a significant hit last year when they were never a factor in the division race and ended up out of the playoffs. A good start will go a long way toward washing the bad taste of one of the worst years in recent US history out of our collective mouths.
With the regular season now on deck, we will be dark in this space for a couple of weeks. That sounds a little counter-intuitive, I know, but since the concept here is the numbers and the stories they tell we have to let a few games pass to get enough numbers collected to mean anything.
So, while I will be watching intently these next few weeks, it’ll be about mid-April before we sit back and start sifting through the early numbers.
We will see you back here then.