5 takeaways for Cards on Winter Meetings Day 3

December 16th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The 2019 Winter Meetings have brought a flurry of action in the starting pitching market -- Stephen Strasburg signed Monday with the Nationals and Gerrit Cole signed Tuesday with the Yankees -- prompting a swift ripple effect for the next tier of pitchers available.

That's why the Cardinals have spent most of this week looking at the pitching available -- as opposed to the trade and free-agent market for signing a left-handed bat -- and are having internal debates on the ways they can improve and fill their rotation vacancy.

Despite all of the action, it's hard to see the Cardinals making a major move as the Winter Meetings wrap up on Thursday, or even over the next few weeks. They want to feel out the market, as well as explore trade possibilities. With pitching, they have the freedom to do that because of internal options they could use instead of adding from the outside.

"We've been told that some of this is moving quick and are we in or out," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Wednesday. "That's a decision we'll have to make at that moment.

"I think time is on our side. Having some fictitious or self-penalized deadline is not in our best interest. For us, we're OK being patient."

Here are four other takeaways from Wednesday at the Winter Meetings:

Reyes could provide impact arm in bullpen
Former top prospect is having a completely different offseason than in years past: a normal one. After a broken hand and pectoral strain cost him another season this year, Reyes is healthy and isn't spending his offseason rehabbing for the first time since 2017, when he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals think this, along with Reyes spending time in the Dominican Republic, will be beneficial in the right-hander finally unlocking the potential that the Cardinals hope for.

"I'm still pretty optimistic with him," Mozeliak said. "I can understand people's optimism starting to fade. I wouldn't argue that. What I would say, this offseason, we're trying to treat it very differently than the last two or three to try to normalize it. Allow him to trust his own instincts, show up and see what he can do."

Reyes is scheduled to check in at the Cardinals' complex in Jupiter, Fla., in early January. The 25-year-old is still projected as a starter, but it's realistic to see him in the bullpen in 2020 as his arm adjusts to the workload after three lost seasons and he continues to work on the command struggles that he dealt with early this past season. A healthy, power-throwing Reyes could help replace Carlos Martínez in the bullpen, if Martínez moves to the rotation.

"He needed something different," Mozeliak said. "Giving him his own space, giving him the freedom he felt like he needed to do with his body made the most sense. It's just a lot different. … I think he appreciated it. I think he felt like we were going to tell him to do something that he wasn't that interested in doing, and I think he felt relieved at this opportunity."

Wacha lands one-year deal with Mets
When Cardinals manager Mike Shildt met with reporters on Tuesday, he suggested that the team that signs Michael Wacha this offseason would "get a steal."

On Wednesday, it turned out that team was the Mets. Wacha and the Mets are in agreement on a one-year deal, with Wacha receiving $3 million guaranteed and $7 million possible in incentives. The Cardinals were not interested in bringing Wacha back to St. Louis.

"This guy was emotionally, physically, and competitively elite," Shildt said. "It was like, 'Whoa, this guy is different.' … Michael Wacha is an absolute gladiator. He's a manager's dream. The one thing, because he's in free agent, somebody is going to get a steal with this guy. This guy is a good pitcher."

The Cardinals drafted Wacha in 2012, and he was the 2013 National League Championship Series MVP. Shoulder, oblique and knee issues sidelined him recently, and he had a shoulder strain in September that ended his season -- and his time as a Cardinal -- early. Shildt said that Wacha was healthy enough to pitch in October, but the Cardinals decided to stick with the relievers they had instead of finding a role in the bullpen for Wacha.

Now, the 28-year-old has a chance to prove his health in the rotation with the Mets and enter the free agent market in 2020.

"I can't say enough about Michael," Shildt said. "I understand what the math looks like. Doesn't work in his favor likely for us [to get him back]. But this is a guy that has real value on and off the field and is a winning guy."

Albert contacted by MLB
Mozeliak confirmed Wednesday that hitting coach Jeff Albert was contacted by the Commissioner's Office in its investigation into the Astros' sign-stealing allegations in 2017. At that time, Albert was not in the Majors -- he was the Astros' Minor League coordinator in '17 and was promoted to the Major League team after the season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred called the investigation "the most thorough investigation that the Commissioner's Office has ever undertaken."

"I think we've interviewed already nearly 60 witnesses, 76,000 emails, a whole additional trove of instant messages," Manfred said. "That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some followup interviewing."

Mozeliak said that he talked to Albert about the investigation, and Albert assured Mozeliak that he isn't facing any allegations or punishments.

Expanded netting
Manfred also announced Wednesday that all 30 teams will have expanded, protective netting that will extend "substantially beyond the far end of the dugout."

The Cardinals haven't extended their netting yet, but the way that the foul ball territory is laid out down each line will be part of the equation in figuring out how to extend each net.

"In general, [clubs] are extending netting past the end of the dugout to the elbow in the outfield where the stands begin to angle away from the field of play," said Manfred. "Some of you have heard me talk about structural limitations in ballparks. This is one of them. It's very difficult -- with an elbow like I've described, it's very difficult to extend netting all the way to the foul pole because you need to run cables over what would be inside the field of play. The data does show that the risk of foul balls is less when you get out past these elbows. And, again, the stands begin to angle away from the field of play."