With 2014 coming to a close, here are the top 5 Cardinal stories of the year. Some are good stories, some are stories that we wish were not real; all impacted 2014 or will impact 2015.
1. The Rise and Fall of Oscar Taveras: Coming into 2015, everyone expected Taveras to be on the team in April; he was the #3 overall prospect in baseball. He struggled to establish himself and was sent back to minor league camp before spring training broke; he looked as if he was hesitant to go 100% after ankle surgery the previous season.
Taveras was on fire to start the season in Memphis and made his debut on May 31. In his first start, Taveras was 1 for 4 with a homer in his second at bat. That at bat probably set some unreal expectations with fans; while Taveras was a rare talent, many players need an adjustment period to hit their potential. Fans started to expect that every game and it didn’t happen. After a demotion and another call up, he found his niche as a bench option.
He appeared to be the future right fielder for the team starting in 2015. That future didn’t come; Taveras lost control of his car in the Dominican Republic and was killed in a 1-car accident with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, he was drunk at the time of the accident.
While the events were unfortunate, it should remind young players that they are not invincible. The team plan on using the tragedy to educate player in the system.
2. The Cardinals make the post-season, again: Very few teams can boast that they have been to the post-season for 4 consecutive years and 7 times in the last 10 seasons. It’s part of the hate against the Cardinals; non-Cardinal fans want to see other teams playing in October.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s Playoff Hateability Index, the Cardinals were #1 mainly due to their success: “The Cardinals prevailed in large part because of one of the primary measures of repulsiveness: recent success. Teams received points for league titles won in the past 10 years, and the Cardinals, a constant presence this time of year, have four.”
While the team came up short in their quest for their 12 World Series, making the post-season again is definitely a positive.
3. Injuries Slow the Team: The team was considered an early favorite to win the division, primarily because of their pitching. The teams rotation was set with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly; they also had Jaime Garcia on the verge of returning from shoulder surgery.
Then they got hit with the injury bug. Kelly missed substantial time to a hamstring injury after a good start. Wacha had a stress reaction in his shoulder that kept him on the shelf for most of the year. Garcia was back on the DL almost as quickly as he was off it. Wainwright battled various smaller injuries that rendered him ineffective for a short time (so much so that he had off-season elbow cleanup surgery).
As a result, the Cardinals depth was tested. Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons got some starts. The team traded for Justin Masterson and John Lackey.
The bullpen also had a few health questions. Kevin Siegrist was not the same pitcher as his rookie season; he missed an extended period. Jason Motte was back from Tommy John surgery, but he wasn’t as effective as the team hoped.
On the offensive side of the game, the team lost Yadier Molina for an extended period. He tore a thumb ligament, which required surgery; the team struggled to replace him behind and at the plate. Backup Tony Cruz couldn’t handle the duty full time and the team claimed George Kottaras to help out. Kottaras was only with the team for about a week, when they brought in free agent A.J. Pierzynski.
After Molina, the offense was pretty healthy. Matt Adams and Kolten Wong both had stints on the DL.
4. Scouting Director Dan Kantrovich leaves the Cardinals: One reason the Cardinals continue to be successful has been their great drafts. Many people were worried after Jeff Luhnow left to be the GM of the Houston Astros, the Cardinals would take a step back in draft; they were wrong. Kantrovich was responsible for drafts of 2012, 2013, and 2014 which saw us take Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, and Marco Gonzales, among others.
Kantrovich left the team in November to be the Assistant GM of the Oakland Athletics, where he worked from 2009 through 2011.
While it’s a significant loss, Cardinal Nation should not worry. Like when Luhnow left, the structure of the organization is the same and the philosophy will not change. Chris Correa, like Kantrovich, is the new Scouting Director after spending time in the organization as a player and in the front office.
5. Cardinals acquire Jason Heyward: While we can’t say if this is a good move or not, it’s still a major story. The team decided to hit the trade market to fill the void left by Taveras’ death and did it in style. The team traded starting pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden.
The addition of Heyward will be important; he’s considered a slugger that has struggled to find consistency. He’s got speed and power, but the power has been down for the last few seasons. He’s also in the walk year of his contract, so he’s going to play incredibly and get a big contract or he’ll play poorly and make the deal look bad.
Walden will step in to Pat Neshek’s role of 8 inning set up man. He’s had experience closing, so he could step into the role if Trevor Rosenthal struggles.
Losing Miller is huge, since he put things together at the end of the 2014 season. He’s a potential #2 pitcher when he’s on and it’s quite the cost of a potential rental in Heyward.
Jenkins is the true wild card of the deal. Prior to 2014, he struggled to stay healthy; in 2014, he pitched just about the full season (which started late as he recovered from 2013 lat surgery) and into the Arizona Fall League. He could be the “Adam Wainwright” of this deal; a future ace that was thrown into a bigger deal.