I did a Q&A over in enemy territory, and like a true sporting gentleman, our colleagues over at VEB answered some questions for us too. I'm joined by their manager Joe Schwarz.
RR: Despite losing Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals look like a stronger team on paper this year with Peter Bourjos and Jhonny Peralta on offense. How do you think the Cardinals front office did this offseason?
VEB: The Cardinals front office did a terrific job over the offseason. In my opinion, this was one of the best offseasons by the Cardinals in my lifetime. Through just one trade (David Freese to the Angels), they were able to improve defensively at three positions. Matt Carpenter at third, Peter Bourjos in center, and Kolten Wong at second are all significant defensive upgrades compared to last season.
To be completely honest, I would have probably been pleased with the offseason if Mozeliak would have stopped after the Freese trade. But what about an improvement at shortstop, you ask? To be honest, I had grown accustomed to the Cardinals having at best a replacement-level player at the position, so it was a pleasant surprise when they inked Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal, improving at shortstop without surrendering a pitcher or draft pick. Is he a long-term fix? Probably not, but I feel a heck of a lot more comfortable with him at short over Pete Kozma.
I like the Mark Ellis signing as well because he is a good insurance plan if Wong ever finds himself in a prolonged slump. He is also a valuable reserve player and can be a leadership presence in the clubhouse.
RR: The Cards had no shortage of guys come out of nowhere to have huge seasons last year (Carpenter, Adams, Rosenthal, Martinez, etc.). Who should we be looking for to make the same impact in 2014?
VEB: I expect Kolten Wong (2B) to have a substantial impact this season. In my opinion, the absolute best case scenario is that he hits well enough to take over the leadoff spot by the end of the season. Matt Carpenter was awesome as a leadoff hitter last season, but his skills and approach are much better suited in the two-hole.
Stephen Piscotty (OF) may make the trip to St. Louis before the end of this season. He hasn't had a plate appearance above Double-A, but he impressed in the Arizona Fall League and has done well in Spring Training as well. Spring Training statistics aren't very predictive of future performance, but the kid can flat out rake. Will he make a Carpenter/Adams/Rosenthal/CMart impact? Probably not, but he's not too far away.
RR: How long would it take you to think of something nice to say about Yadier Molina?
VEB: Haha! Let's just say we are extremely happy to have Yadi on the Cardinals. We understand that most Reds fans hate him, but we love him - and his beautiful neck tattoos.
RR: We're two seasons into Mike Matheny's tenure as Cardinals manager. He has two playoff appearances. What do Cardinals fans think of him, and is he on his way to Tony La Russa territory in terms of undying adulation from fans?
VEB: Despite the Cardinals success, the way fans view Mike Matheny is actually quite diverse. Some fans love him, some fans are indifferent about him, and some fans really don't like him. The fans that love him were likely huge fans of him back when he was a player. The fans that are indifferent about him cannot complain because he has had solid results. The fans that really don't like him question his in-game managing skills.
Considering he never managed at any level prior to replacing a Hall-of-Famer, I am probably in theindifferent group. Though he was handed a very talented team, he has weathered quite a bit ofadversity as well. He is an intelligent guy, and I think he has the chance to develop into a solid MLB manager. Will he ever be on TLR's level, though? Nah.
RR: From a rival's perspective, how do you think the Reds did this offseason? Outside of the obvious, who on the Reds scares you as an opposing fan?
VEB: The loss of Choo to the Rangers is significant, but considering the price tag attached to him, I think the Reds are better off letting him go. His .423 on-base percentage last season is eye-popping, but I wouldn't want to pay $130 million for a player who has 26 HBPs in a season. One unfortunate pitch could lead to a broken bone and change the entire outlook of that deal.
Locking up Homer Bailey was crucial for the starting rotation, and I think he is primed to compete for the Cy Young Award for many years to come. Though I really like Skip Schumaker as a person, I wouldn't expect too much out of him this season or next, especially now that he is 34 years old. Signing another outfielder would have been a good idea because I don't necessarily trust the health of Ryan Ludwick, largely because returning to form after shoulder injuries is not an easy thing to do.
Getting rid of Dusty Baker was easily the best thing the Reds could have done this offseason. I don't think Dusty is a very good manager, and the team is much better off with Bryan Price at the helm.
I've only seen it twice, but Billy Hamilton's stealing ability scares me. I am going to talk with members of the pitching staff and advise them to simply keep Hamilton off the base paths all season. It's just that easy. Then again, Molina-Hamilton showdowns will be must-see TV for all baseball fans.
I want to thank Joe for taking the time to answer these for us and for being a good sport. Can't wait for the season to start and play these guys 18 times.