In our weekly chat we talk about the franchise icons as well as some new faces for the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues.
A run for the Blues?
Q: Blues season is here! Where do you see The Note finishing in the West? Can they make another run at The Cup?
A: The Blues should challenge to win the West. I know sportsbooks like the Knights and Avalanche quite a bit more, but I'll need to believe that before I see it. If Jordan Binnington proves the bubble edition of the goalie is long gone, I think the Blues can and should be in the mix for Cup contention once more. Jordan Kyrou needs to be a surprise in a good way. The Blues are clearing out time for him and his offensive upside. He has to do what is required of him defensively to stay on Berube's good side.
I recently received updated odds from one of the popular online sportsbooks about the NHL season. Here's how Vegas sees things now, if you're interested.
- Colorado Avalanche 6/1
- Vegas Golden Knights 7/1
- Tampa Bay Lightning 8/1
- Toronto Maple Leafs 11/1
- Boston Bruins 12/1
- Philadelphia Flyers 14/1
- Pittsburgh Penguins 16/1
- Dallas Stars 17/1
- Carolina Hurricanes 18/1
- Washington Capitals 18/1
- St. Louis Blues 18/1
- Edmonton Oilers 18/1
- New York Rangers 18/1
- New York Islanders 22/1
- Montreal Canadiens 22/1
- Nashville Predators 22/1
- Vancouver Canucks 28/1
- Calgary Flames 30/1
- Winnipeg Jets 30/1
- Columbus Blue Jackets 35/1
- Florida Panthers 40/1
- Arizona Coyotes 50/1
- San Jose Sharks 50/1
- Minnesota Wild 55/1
- Buffalo Sabres 60/1
- New Jersey Devils 60/1
- Chicago Blackhawks 66/1
- Anaheim Ducks 70/1
- Los Angeles Kings 75/1
- Ottawa Senators 150/1
- Detroit Red Wings 200/1
Valdi or Yadi: whose return?
Q: Vladi, or Yadi? Whose return is more important to his respective team in 2021?
A: Good one! In terms of championship significance, I think it's Vladimir Tarasenko. I don't think the Cardinals are a Yadier Molina away from being a World Series champion. The Blues might be a Tarasenko away from being a Stanley Cup champion. In terms of having a good season in general, I'd go Molina. The Blues have proven they can win without Tarasenko. The Cardinals don't know life without Molina, and their pitchers will most likely not pitch as well when and if that time comes.
Q: Who is the most important Blues player this season, and is it possible that Robert Thomas could be a top-five point producer for the team?
A: Most important player, by far, is goalie Jordan Binnington. He said the bubble talk of his letdown is old news. OK, go prove it. If he does, Blues are legit champ contenders. Pretty simple.
I'll go with a yes on Thomas. He's going to serve up a ton of goals to newly added sniper Mike Hoffman. That should be a good connection.
Tarasenko and the draft?
Q: Hypothetical question. If Vladimir Tarasenko does not return this season, and the Blues make a deep run without him, would the Blues potentially leave him up for grabs in the expansion draft?
A: Surely he will be back before then, right?
OK, I'll play along.
If Tarasenko doesn't play all season and they get to the Finals, you have to think about leaving him unprotected, considering the future need to protect players who emerged in Tarasenko's absence.
Still, I do not like the idea of giving up a 30-goal guy to the expansion draft.
I'd want to see what Tarasenko can do on that repaired shoulder before I commit to being OK seeing him another team's sweater.
Maybe he can still be a 30-goal type guy.
And please share this answer with everyone who thinks I'm a big meanie for pointing out it was in poor taste for Vlad to say what he said after O'Reilly was named captain.
Q: Should the Cardinals place an emphasis on adding players who are more exciting? Players with more personality?
A: Yadier Molina? Anyone?
Molina always seems pretty interesting and full of personality to me.
He's been around a while, too.
He makes the team better in 2021.
And wants to come back.
The last move the Cardinals made that incorporated something other than performance into the equation, at least admittedly, was the free-agent addition of Dexter Fowler. We heard as much about what he was supposed to do in the clubhouse as we did on the field. Fowler has not been as bad as some of his critics insist, but the deal was far from a home run.
I don't think the Cardinals need to make moves based on personality.
I think they need to make a move or two based off having an offense that can't score enough runs.
I think they should moves that help them win.
Winning is rarely bland.
Grading the ownership
Q: Big-picture view, what grade would you give the Cardinals front office and ownership from the start of the 2014 season to now?
A: We can crunch some numbers for a better read.
The Cardinals are fourth in the National League in wins during that span (568), but second in their own division, trailing the Cubs (578).
They have made more postseasons (four) than they have missed (three) and have continued their streak of 13 consecutive winning seasons.
They have reached the National League Championship Series just twice during that span, and looked overmatched both times.
The span includes a three-year gap of missed postseasons, the longest the team had experienced since 1997-99.
Cardinals problems are first-world problems compared to many other teams, meaning a lot of teams would love to have the years you cited mentioned as a period of frustration, but the Cardinals set a high bar and their fans reward them for pursuing it. That doesn't disappear during the down years.
I'd say C-minus, and tell you the Cardinals would call it convenient you picked the season after their last World Series appearance to start your clock.
Q: What do you make of baseball right now? A handful of teams trying to get better. Everyone else slashing payroll.
A: It's pretty confusing to hear about 85 percent of owners telling fans baseball teams are in a terrible financial position while a handful of other teams -- Padres, White Sox, Mets, Dodgers -- seem to be taking full advantage of the great selloff by building better teams. Something like 90 percent of free agents are unsigned, and spring training is supposed to start in a month. I guess the opportunistic teams will look shortsighted if the bottom drops out on the 2021 season or the 2022 season, considering the collective bargaining agreement fight that looms, but is there not a chance that the buy-low teams are going to come out of this thing smelling like a rose when they're stocked with talented players acquired at bargain rates and baseball is back up and running again?
Q: We keep hearing about third base prospect Nolan Gorman. Could he be the starter to begin the season, and when could he be relied upon to be a key middle of the order hitter?
A: Some patience would be wise. He's 20 years old, and targeted more for a 2022 arrival than 2021. He might debut this upcoming season, but it won't be to start the season. That would be a real shock. Expecting him to be a starter by 2023 is one thing. Expecting him to be the No. 4 or No. 5 hitter at the exact same time seems to be asking a lot. Then again, Dylan Carlson was hitting cleanup in the postseason, so who knows. Some guys respond to being thrown into the deep end. Others come out gasping for air.
Q: Would you be up for a Jose Martinez reunion with the Cardinals?
A: I love J-Mart, but he's not the answer for this lineup anymore.
Let's look at his adjusted OPS since he made his major league debut with the Cardinals.
Remember, an adjusted OPS (known as OPS+) calibrates an individual's offensive performance to a number that can easily be compared to a league-average hitter during that season. League average is more or less a 100 OPS+
Here's Martinez . . .
2016: 171 OPS+
There are better options out there, even on the super affordable end of the spectrum. Especially if the NL does not have the DH this season.
Q: What does the future look like for Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner?
A: It was interesting to hear Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak say during one of his recent Zoom interviews that he thinks the Cardinals -- if they don't figure out a way to bring back Yadier Molina -- would probably need to make some sort of addition at catcher, instead of saying the plan would be to play Knizner every day. This is a tough spot for Knizner to be in because he's at risk of becoming the prospect who needs to play but yet isn't ready to play every day in the majors. If Yadier Molina returns, it might be wise for the Cardinals to package Knizner in a deal that bolsters a weakness, because at some point he's nearing declining asset territory.
Q: What do you think about the pseudo-bubble the NCAA is attempting for the tournament? Is it going to work?
A: The more controlled the environment, the better, and this seems to be about as controlled as a tournament of this size can get. A few locations for games. Hotels with teams assigned to separate floors. No airplanes or airports once everybody arrives. It's not perfect, but I think it has a better chance than the alternative of producing a tournament that can be finished, and that's the No. 1 goal for the NCAA. Recent postponements and pauses have raised questions about if the college basketball season will get to the tournament. It will. It might be a mangled mess getting there, but it's going to get there one way or another, even if it means dropping the 13-game requirement for NCAA tournament eligibility. As the Big Ten football team taught us, there are no rules this season.
Q: Is there a Cardinals minor leaguer who could benefit from the potential arrival of the designated hitter in the National League in future seasons, if it arrives?
A: I'd put Luken Baker in that camp. Power bat. Big frame. Not all that fast and not all that graceful at first base. But if the power he shows in college continues to come on line as a pro, and there have been recent signs it is, then he could be a DH in the future.
Q: Shouldn't the Cardinals grab some pitching? The current staff lacks sure things.
A: When the Cardinals are making it clear they only have so much money to go around this offseason, I would rather see them using it on ways that can help them score runs. If a member of the starting rotation falters, check out the depth. Ponce, Gomber, Oviedo, Reyes, Cabrera, Woodford, Liberatore and more. All are capable of being in the mix as starters or key relievers this season.
Few teams have that kind of backup.
Mizzou hoops outlook
Q: What is a realistic goal for Mizzou basketball after the Mississippi State collapse?
A: Right now it's to clear quarantine before rust starts to set in.
The Tigers should be an NCAA Tournament team.
Where they go from there will come down to if they can all get on the same page.
If Mark Smith and Dru Smith are still in a collective funk, they won't last long in March.
If those guys snap out of it and Jeremiah Tilmon and Xavier Pinson are playing well, Tigers could be tough out.
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I sat down to write this pre-holidays column, but before I did, I went through my emails one last time before I entered writing mode. It doesn’t pay to get too far behind when it comes to email. Anyway, one of the emails was about a recently released book that promises to explain “how to thr…