St. Louis Cardinals

It’s early, but so far the Cardinals are losing the offseason

Stephen Piscotty, so far, is having a better year than the off-season’s top free agent prize, Jason Heyward. And he’s saving the Cardinals more than $21 million.
Stephen Piscotty, so far, is having a better year than the off-season’s top free agent prize, Jason Heyward. And he’s saving the Cardinals more than $21 million. Associated Press

My belief that the St. Louis Cardinals would continue to compete in the National League Central Division was predicated on the notion that they had succeeded in replacing lost players with equal parts.

Take pitcher John Lackey, for example. He took his league-leading 33 starts and 2.77 ERA to Chicago’s north side after a better-than-expected single season in St. Louis.

Then again, he has since turned 37 and Adam Wainwright was set to make his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon that held him to just seven games last year. It seemed at the time like that should have been a pretty fair upgrade to the Cardinals’ rotation, right?

Right?

Well, Lackey is 4-1 so far with the Cubs and Wainwright is struggling at 2-3 with an ERA of 6.30.

Advantage: Lackey

But, hey, we’re still just 30 games into the season.

Lackey’s record is propped up by some fantastic support from his offense, which has scored an average 9.5 runs per game in his four wins. His ERA so far is a pretty pedestrian 4.02.

Wainwright, meanwhile, shows signs of turning the corner, albeit slowly. He beat the Phillies last week by allowing three runs in six innings and had a no-decision Saturday in a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite leaving the game in the seventh with the lead.

In short, there is plenty of time for the tide to turn. It’s way too early to put a grade on the Cardinals’ offseason, but strictly in the interest of keeping tabs, let’s do it anyway.

Here’s a look at how the Cardinals are making out at some of their other roster moves:

Mike Leake vs. Lance Lynn

It was a big blow when the Cardinals learned they had lost Lance Lynn for 2016 to Tommy John surgery. The big right-hander has been a bit of an unsung hero during his time in the big leagues, having averaged 16 wins with a 3.37 ERA from 2012 to 2015. He won 12 last season before showing obvious wear during a 1-3 September.

It was a further disappointment when the Cardinals lost out on free agent David Price when the Red Sox came through with an 11th-hour bid.

Still, in terms of value, the Mike Leake signing had promise. He’s just 28 and had been a winner in Cincinnati despite some pretty poor teams and a comparative bandbox of a ballpark.

But he’s 0-3 with a 6.03 ERA so far and is averaging barely five innings across his six starts.

Advantage: It’s a wash. At least Leake is with the team, but he needs to win a game to be an improvement.

Randal Grichuk vs. Jon Jay

I’m already on record as being in favor of the Jon Jay for Jedd Gyorko trade, mostly because Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had a wealth of outfield options but was thin on infield depth last season. And that was before the injury to shortstop Jhonny Peralta and the maddening inconsistency of Kolten Wong at second.

Plus, Randal Grichuk, by virtue of his defense and 17 home runs over 103 games in 2015, earned his shot at center field.

But on a comparison basis, this is looking like another loss for the Redbirds.

Grichuk has been streaky and is hitting a robust .200 with an on-base percentage of .280. Jay, meanwhile, is doing what he can always be counted on to do — he’s hitting .276 with a .331 OBP and 15 runs scored.

Advantage: Jay

Stephen Piscotty vs. Jason Heyward

After all the acrimony about Heyward’s free agency, the Cardinals’ failure to bring him back and his subsequent signing with the dreaded Cubs, this is the one position where St. Louis can final show an upgrade (so far).

Piscotty crashed the lineup last season by hitting .305 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in just 63 games. He’s picked up where he’s left off, batting .303 with nine doubles, five homers and 21 RBIs mostly from the second spot in the lineup.

Heyward began Sunday hitting .202 and still looking for his first home run.

But that’s the easy comparison.

Remember, it was the wins-above-replacement (WAR) metric that made Heyward the top target on the free-agent market. But Heyward’s WAR is a barely break even at a plus .1.

Piscotty’s is plus 1.5.

And Piscotty, who has yet to commit an error, has provided defense in right field other advanced metrics say will save 35 runs this season. By the same measure, that’s 13 more than Heyward will save.

In fairness, Heyward started slow last season too, and will likely rebound before we get to the All-Star break.

Having said that, there’s no reason to expect Piscotty to fade. In the meantime, he costs the Cardinals $21 million less than Hewyard costs the Cubs.

Advantage: Piscotty

The comparison of former backup catcher Tony Cruz and his replacement, Brayan Pena, is a scratch since neither has played an innnig for their new teams. As disappointed as we’ve been with Gyorko and his 17 stikeouts, he’s still an upgrade over Pete Kozma, who’s back in the minors with the Yankees.

If you’ve not been keeping score, the Cardinals are getting better play in only one of four positions they’ve turned over.

But there still remains 130 games to be played. Stay tuned.

Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

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