In this day and age of Free Agent contracts filled with opt outs, No Trade clauses and contract lengths going 7 years plus. Having your own players to sign becomes a puzzle. Since the end of the season some have talked about locking down our rising young stars such as Bader and Flaherty as well as new additions Mikolas and Ozuna. There is some validity in doing this but there is also risk. I would like to go over some names that have been brought up. starting with four players that made significant impact in terms of the Young guys. Harrison Bader, Jack Flaherty, John Gant and Jordan Hicks
Harrison Bader – Age: 24 Status: Pre-Arb eligible. Arbitration eligible in 2021. Free Agent in 2024
2018 stats: 138 games 427 PA, 379 ABs, .264/.334/.422/.756 12 HR, 37 RBI, 15 SB with a WAR of 3.8 Defensively, Rtot of 4 and an Rdrs of 19. Among OF he is RF/9 of 2.61 vs a LgRF /9 of 2.08. Narrow it to center fielders and his numbers are; Rtot of 5, Rdrs of 11 RF/9 2.82 vs a LgRF/9 2.45. He came in 6 in the RoY balloting. In the 2+ years he had in the Cardinals system he hit .283/.346/.470/.816 51HRs and 151 RBIs. I think there is a high ceiling for Harrison and given that he is 24 he could be good for a long time. His Pre-Arb status means we have 2 years before we HAVE to face that decision. If 2019 and 2020 are closer to his minor league success then I think getting ahead of arbitration and giving him a payday would be a prudent move.
Jack Flaherty – Age: 23 Status: Pre-Arb eligible. Arbitration eligible 2021. Free Agent 2024.
2018 stats 28G/28GS record 8-9 with a 3.34 ERA, 151 IP, 182 Ks and a 1.106 WHIP with a 2.6 WAR. He pitched much better than his record would indicate. Averaging over1strikeout per inning and 3.08 K/BB ratio. 5.1 IP per game. He came in 5th in RoY balloting. Flaherty has a commanding presence on the mound. He seems to possess a maturity beyond his years. I do believe he has a high ceiling whether it is Ace-like that remains to be seen. I think we need to see more progression in terms of Innings Pitched per game. I would like to see him in the 6+ consistently and work his way up to 180 IP per year. We have 3 years before he hits arbitration. So while it is not this year (2019), if Flaherty continues on track in the up direction. 2020 just might be the year they pull the trigger to avoid arbitration.
John Gant – Age: 26 Status: Pre-Arb eligible. Arbitration eligible in 2020. Free Agent in 2023.
2018 Stats 26 games (19 starts) 7-6 with a 3.47 ERA, 1.298 WHIP, 114 IP, 95 SO, 1.67 K/BB. 0.6 WAR
Gant was a versatile workhorse last year but, did suffer from inconsistency Used mostly as a starter in the minors, his ERA fluctuated between high 4s to high 2s. His WHIP was generally in the 1.1 to 1.3 area and his K/BB ratios were generally above 2. If he can get his K/BB rate up I think he can be a valuable starter. As far as locking him down Right now? I think letting him enter arbitration would be the right thing to do. Let's see him progress a bit before we write the big check.
Jordan Hicks – Age: 22 Status: Pre-Arb eligible. Arbitration eligible in 2021. and Free Agent in 2024
2018 stats 73 Games With a record of 3-4 with a 3.59 ERA and 6 saves in 77.2 IP with 70 Ks and only giving up 2 HRs, 0.3 WAR. 105 is the number that will forever be associated with Hicks. He has a tremendous upside but needs to gain more control IF he is going to become THE closer. He needs to cut down the walks his1.56 K/BB ratio not not what you want to see in a shutdown 9th inning guy. While he impressed many people he still needs to grow before the team thinks about a long term deal. I do think he has the potential to be the shutdown closer St. Louis needs. IF he can make strides needed in 2019, might give the Cardinals the nudge to ink him to 4 years plus in 2020.
Next the new additions last year in Miles Mikolas and Marcell Ozuna
Miles Mikolas – Age: 30 Status: Signed through 2019. Free Agency 2020
2018 stats 32 starts, 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.071 WHIP, 200.2 IP, 146 SO, 5.03 SO/BB. 4.3 WAR. He earned an All-Star appearance and was in the Cy Young discussion.
Mikolas was most notably the biggest surprise of the 2018 season. He came in a question mark and ended as the ACE. he became the man you wanted on the mound. However the question on many fan’s minds is can he repeat that or was this a career year. While his numbers prior to Japan were lackluster, it seems when went to Japan he found himself. He has excellent control and a velocity that rides in the mid 90s. In 2019 we will see if he can repeat or if he is a one hit wonder. If by mid season he is putting up similar numbers to 2018, I would offer at least 3 more years for $40 million and keep a stabilizing presence in the rotation.
Marcell Ozuna - Age: 28 Status: Arbitration eligible 2019. Free Agent in 2020
2018 stats 148 games 628 PA, 582 AB, .280/.325/.433/.758 23 HR, 88 RBI. 2.9 WAR. Now while 2018 paled in comparison to his 2017 campaign with Miami. Although compared to his 2014-2016 it was his best in terms of BA .280, OBP .325, RBI 88 tied his best 23 HR. From a team standpoint he lead the team in RBIs and Hits. 2nd in BA and HR. The majority of this with a sore shoulder. The shoulder did hamper his defensive numbers yet he still managed an Rtot of 9 and Rdrs of 8. He was below in RF/9 1.89 vs LgRF/9 of 2.08. fully healthy I can see him as a .290/.330/.490/.820 30/100 as well as improved defensive numbers. If he is on that track at mid season then the talks should begin at 5 years $90 million. (he made $9 million in 2018)
Now all of this is speculation and dependent on what happens this off season. An addition of say Cory Kubler, Patrick Corbin or a Zach Greinke could influence a rotation decision. Or picking up a Brad Brach, Cody Allen or top rated closer. Adding a Harper, or Pollack even a Donaldson could alter who is offered what. It could even alter the decision of those who are offered deals. If St Louis signs say Corbin, Allen and Donaldson. Would that give Ozuna the confidence to re-sign for 5 years? Also names such as Gant and Flaherty have been mentioned as trade topics. Whatever they do in the off season this year. I do believe that if performance goes as I suspect Mikolas could get at least a qualifying offer which would be over double his current salary. Ozuna will require a multi year possibly 5 - 7 years in the $18 - $20 million range.
As always thanks for reading and all comments are welcome
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