One year ago today, the St. Louis Cardinals made a trade that would have an enormous impact on the history of the franchise. General Manager John Mozeliak remade the bullpen and fortified the rotation and bench by acquiring relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, starter Edwin Jackson, and outfielder Corey Patterson from the Toronto Blue Jays. Shipped up to Canada were pitchers PJ Walters, Brian Tallet, and Trever Miller along with centerfielder and former organizational “untouchable” Colby Rasmus.
Personality and hustle issues aside, Rasmus was a young and talented cost-controlled player and three of the four players the Cards received from Toronto would be free agents at the end of 2011. This was a win-now move by Mozeliak, and win the Cardinals did. But both franchises involved in this deal felt immediate impact. In case you need reminding, this trade largely led directly to the following for the Cardinals:
And, not to be outdone, this trade led directly to the following for the Blue Jays:
Well played, Mo…well played.
Breaking News from Spring Training: St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak today announced that Adam Wainwright has been sent back to St. Louis for evaluation after feeling a pop in his elbow while throwing a pitch yesterday.
Mozeliak characterized the situation as “not encouraging.”
And the Cards now have a really big problem on their hands.
Injuries happen, we all know that. Kevin Millwood is still a free agent, Ian Snell is still in the Cards’ camp, Kyle McClellan has been groomed to be a possible starter for the last couple seasons, and Lance Lynn has looked close to ready in AAA for a while now. So the team has options to explore to make them competitive for 2011…though everyone knows none of those pitchers can fill Wainwright’s shoes on the mound.
But this is potentially a franchise-changer going forward. First, if Wainwright needs Tommy John surgery, he is done for this year and some of 2012. But the options on his contract that became guaranteed when he finished in the Top 5 in the Cy Young race in 2010 and 2011 are now not guaranteed because a clause in those options says they only kick in if he does not finish 2011 on the disabled list. It now looks all but inevitable that Wainwright WILL be on the DL for the whole year. So do the Cards pick up those options? Do they decline them and try to extend him while his stock is diminished, like they did with Chris Carpenter? Or will Wainwright also be a free agent in the 2011/2012 offseason?
Speaking of free agents, how will this affect the Albert Pujols contract situation? The Cards may find themselves in comlpete franchise overhaul because of this. It would likely make the team fall completely out of contention in the revamped NL Central for 2011. With that in mind, the Cards could conceivably ask Pujols to re-visit his stance on promising to veto any trade. This is also Chris Carpenter’s final guaranteed year; could he be on the trading block?
Imagine the St. Louis Cardinals losing Pujols, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Jim Edmonds all in the same season. A month ago that seemed like a crazy, never-in-a-million-years thought. But today I’m not so optimistic.
As the world already knows, Albert Pujols did not sign a contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals by the deadline he and his agent imposed. Amazingly enough, the sun still rose this morning.
Many in Cardinal Nation were taking sides long before yesterday; the passing of the deadline with no deal added fuel to that fire. Some are again calling ownership cheap while others seem to think Pujols is money-hungry. And as paranoid or untrue as those accusations may be, they aren’t going away for the majority anytime soon.
Last weekend I wrote about the media and the “work” they did leading up to Pujols’ deadline. I will admit I have no proof of anything…but when Pujols says they’re all “way off” when talking about the number of years and dollars being reported, I believe him. And not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I’m glad I was right. The so-called reporting over the last few weeks was nothing more than speculation, and the mini-hysteria it caused was unnecessary. While it’s true that Pujols didn’t sign, no one–and I mean NO ONE–outside of Albert, his agent Dan Lozano, and a very small handful of people in the Cards’ front office know for certain why. No one really knows how far apart the team and the player are.
Now I get that Pujols would not offer anything today we didn’t already know either. Sure he is trying to say all the right things, but what reason would he have to lie? If the offer was low-ball and Pujols felt insulted, I have a feeling he would just shut up about it. I don’t think he would be as happy and jovial today; he may not show anger outwardly but he’s no actor. He reiterated that he wants to be a Cardinal for life. He wants to win, and he wants to win here. He does not sound like he is hell-bent on leaving St. Louis for free agency.
So the next question becomes: what will it take to sign Pujols to an extension, and when will it happen? Yesterday Bill Dewitt and John Mozeliak said they are always open for business if Pujols and his agent want to talk; Pujols and Lozano say they will not reopen talks until after the conclusion of the Cards’ 2011 season. This will be on the minds of Cardinals fans and the fans of teams perceived to have the resources to sign Pujols should he actually hit free agency. But that can’t start until five days after the end of the World Series. Even if the Cards and Pujols’ representation maintain radio silence until the season ends, they’ll have a lot of exclusive negotiation time. And no one has ever said that if Pujols does hit free agency he wouldn’t take any potential offers back to the Cards and say, “Can you match this?” Again, we just don’t know…and when you don’t know something, anything is possible.
The drama is over for now. Pitchers and catchers have been working out for some time, and the mandatory reporting date for the rest of the team is Saturday. Most of the players are already in camp. So what Pujols isn’t signed for the next 8-10 years; he is still a Cardinal this year. It’s time to play ball. Nothing else matters.
No, I’m not happy Cliff Lee spurned both the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers this offseason. No, I’m not happy Lee joins a rotation that will include him, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, and that rotation is one the Cardinals will have to face at least twice a year. And no, I’m not happy that a starting pitcher in his mid-30s will be making $20 million per year, though I am thankful Adam Wainwright is locked up for a couple more seasons.
What I am happy about is the overall meaning of Lee’s signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. He left seven figures and another season or two on the table to return to a team he loved playing for. Even though it’s still ridiculous money, Lee demonstrated through his actions, not just his words, that money isn’t the only thing in this game. The precedent has been set.
And the Cardinals have to be jumping for joy today, because they still have to sign Albert Pujols this offseason.
Now I’m not delusional. I don’t believe Pujols will look at Lee’s deal and say, “$20 million for five years? I can live with that.” Pujols is still extremely likely to be the highest paid player in baseball history when it’s all said and done. But maybe, just maybe, some of this $280 million over 10 years talk can die down a bit. Pujols has said, on numerous occasions, that he wants to be a Cardinal for life. He’s also said he’s not all about the money, and he wants to play on a team that has a chance to win every year. Well, Albert, here’s the deal: the Phillies are all in. The Cardinals want you just as bad as you want them, but they don’t have the ability to jack their payroll up to $150 million per season. You want to have the chance to beat those Phillies every year? It’s time to sign a deal. And you may not necessarily have to take a “discount,” because you’re easily going to make more money than any Cardinal ever has. But don’t balk (pun intended) if John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt try to get creative with the numbers. This team can’t compete if they can’t afford to surround you with great talent, and that doesn’t come cheap either. We, as Cardinal fans, are taking you at your word. And now we have an example to point to in Cliff Lee: money, in fact, isn’t everything.
I never in a million years thought I’d get sick of going to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, but this week may just be the death of me. I already had tickets to the games vs. the Padres tonight and Saturday, then I found out that my girlfriend Sarah’s company was doing their yearly office outing to a game and it was scheduled for Friday. I thought this was OK; I can do three games in a row with no problems. Yes it’s expensive to park & eat & drink but there’s ways around that: take public transportation, eat before the game, bring in a bottle of water and re-fill it at the water fountains, etc.
Then a bleacher friend (to whom I will dedicate a full post in the coming weeks) had a health issue that prevented her from going to any of the games this week. She gave–that’s right, gave–us her two tickets to each of the three games against the Chicago Cubs! So before I knew it, I was slated to go to every game Mon-Sat of this week. That’s…a lot. I honestly don’t know how full season ticket holders do it. So much for going to the gym I guess…maybe next week.
But in the spirit of the generosity shown to us, we decided we weren’t going to hold on to all of these Cubs tickets. So a very good friend who is home from his job overseas got the tickets to Monday’s game (sorry about that loss, Jim). Sarah and I went last night (crap, another loss!), and I took Scott the Cub Fan last night (ugh). Yes, he got to see his Cubbies complete the sweep of the Cards. Now he may not realize it, but that was a pretty historic win: the Cubs had not swept a three game series in St. Louis since 1988. But it may have also been the final nail in the coffin holding the rotting remains of the Cards’ 2010 playoff hopes, which he also loved…and I loathed.
In spite of the terrible outcome of the game (and the series, and pretty much the whole damn season), I had a pretty good night. So here’s Big Teaser #1: I was down on the field watching batting practice before last night’s game, and I’ve got a ton of pictures and stories to share…which you’ll get to read about VERY SOON! Ha.
Tonight is Social Media Night at Busch Stadium, and this blog plus my Monday columns over at InsideSTL have afforded me just enough notoriety to qualify for something really cool. So here’s Big Teaser #2: before tonight’s game, I will be joining some of my UCB brethren for discussion with the likes of GM John Mozeliak, Cards President Bill DeWitt III, MLB.com’s Matthew Leach, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold, plus many others…which you’ll also get to read about VERY SOON! Double Ha.
That’s all for now…this entry was purely to get you to tune back in later this week and next. I promise no more than one post per day, but keep checking back here and my Twitter account (follow me) if you want some really cool behind-the-scenes and up-close Cardinals stuff.
I’m participating in my first United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable discussion this year, and today is my day to post. Here’s how it works: Yesterday, I e-mailed a Cardinal question to all the members of UCB (check the home page for the full list of blogs). The bloggers who choose to participate e-mail me their answers back, and I post them for you to read. The list of UCB members is long and distinguished, and many are participating in this event. I will be e-mailed a number of questions to answer as well. It’s a good way to drive traffic to each others’ sites, and with Spring Training just now getting into full swing it gives us something to write about.
So I’ll post the question I posed to the UCB members and all their answers, along with a link to their individual blogs. Please pay them a visit, and pass along their websites to your friends!
Question: After all the moves the Cards made this offseason, as well as some of the possible internal promotions/jobs to be won this spring, what do you perceive to be the biggest remaining need for this team as we approach the regular season? Or do they have any holes at all?
The bench would seem to be the biggest need. There are a number of options for the fifth slot in the rotation and the leftovers can fill out the bullpen adequately, but there’s a lot of youth on the bench, which can be good, but also may not pan out the way we’d like. –Dan, C70 At The Bat
I perceive the biggest need to be our bench. I think the combination of young players (David Freese, Tyler Greene, Joe Mather, etc.) should suffice at third base. We certainly have plenty of young players who can play outfield, but I’m concerned about their ability to pinch hit. I think before we address anything else, we should find a veteran (not Felipe Lopez, someone with less of a price tag) who has a history of being a productive pinch hitter/bench player. –Jack, Thoughts About Cardinals
The biggest remaining need for the Cardinals in 2010 is flexibility. The team has a lot of young options for 3rd base and the 5th spot in the rotation. They have backups at shortstop and centerfield with some intriguing candidates for the bench bats. They have a 37 year old closer who was shaky at the end of last year, but was still an All-Star who pitched well overall.
The Cardinals don’t have a specific need yet, but when looking at all of the variables, they will. Though we don’t know which position will become a problem, injuries and ineffectiveness will become apparent soon enough. Having the dry powder to address needs after the positions have been evaluated is the most important need this team has. –Michael, Whiteyball
All in all this would appear to be a well-rounded club. Tony hasn’t had this many factions accounted for this early in a long time. In theory, of course.
The most glaring deficiency is a bench lacking pop. Especially from the left side. In games that the Cardinals are down late, opposing managers may be peering across the field at an uncomfortably predictable skipper. The flip side is that his “everyday” lineup looks pretty solid from top to bottom. Winner of the third base sweepstakes could perceivably hit 8th. Which given the upside of an intriguing list of candidates, says something about 1 through 7. Besides, if your biggest issue is the depth of your bench, the guys who take the field on Opening Day are likely legitimate starters.
Our closer is what concerns me the most. There is part of me that likes Ryan Franklin a lot. Pinpoint control, bulldog mentality, unabashed flaunting of a truly terrible beard…and every time I start on his age I hear Hell’s Bells in my head and can’t finish. But he is far from overpowering. His All-Star appearance was well deserved, but pitching to contact in the bottom of the ninth of 3-2 game gives me ulcers. There’s something to be said for the demoralizing effects of 98 mph gas and a filthy curve. He’s earned respect, but I don’t think Frankie is intimidating anybody out there. Rest assured that La Russa, who recognizes the psychological challenges of the job, will stand by his man. But for how long? –Justin, Intangiball
For me, the biggest perceived need is at the back of the bullpen. I’m sure Ryan “Shooter” Franklin is a nice person, but he’s not a capital-C Closer, just a guy with middling stuff given an opportunity to compile saves.
But Izzy’s heir apparent, Chris Perez, was traded, and without a second pitch (as well as some movement on his fastball) Jason Motte isn’t really a good fit, either. I am hoping beyond hope that Eduardo Sanchez sets the Grapefruit League on fire and makes the choice a no-brainer for TLR and Duncan. -Jeff, Five O’Clock Blogger
I think we need help off the bench. Love to see them sign Lopez. -Joseph, The McBrayer-Baseball Blog
I believe that the best thing the Cardinals can do right now is wait. If McClellan wins the 5th spot in the rotation, Mozeliak might feel like a bullpen arm like Kiko Calero or Russ Springer is the way to go. If Freese/Mather don’t look like a viable option at third, Felipe Lopez could make sense. With 5-7 million left, I would like Mozeliak to save some dry powder for the season. The Cardinals aren’t in a position to trade for impact players like they did in the summer of 2009, but saving a couple million to potentially add someone like John Smoltz in midseason is a good idea. -Ryan, Cardinals GM
I hadn’t considered our closer situation one to worry about. Yes Franklin appeared to burn out after the All-Star break last season (and for conspiracy buffs, right after he signed his extension if my memory is correct), but considering it was his first year as the ‘no question’ LaRussa closer I’m not too worried about it. LaRussa learned he needed to pace how he uses Franklin for 2010. Further I’m not worried about Franklin‘s stuff. Plenty of closers (Trevor Hoffman leaps to mind) have been great without having 95+ gas in the arsenal. Franklin is the LaRussa/Duncan philosophy distilled: locate your pitches.
This team’s glaring weakness is its bench. LaRue is the backup catcher only. In 114 PA as a ‘substitute’ he’s hitting a robust 212/305/433, all right-handed. Lugo has a career slugging percentage of .391 (right-handed). He only has 115 PA as a ‘substitute’ (302/395/344). Tyler Greene has 1 year of ML experience, and also hits right handed. They need a left handed bat badly. I also am concerned about their defensive weakness, especially Lugo, which will probably limit what LaRussa can do for match-ups in the late innings. Finally, there’s no one on this team that can spell Pujols at first if he needs a day off.
If I was Mozeliak, the bench is where I’d be looking to upgrade this team before Opening Day. -Mike, Stan Musial’s Stance
That’s a rundown of the answers I received, but Jeff from Five O’Clock Blogger wanted to reply to Mike’s take above:
While I do not share your optimism regarding Franklin*, you make very valid points about the bench.
*Funny you mention conspiracy theories; mine is that he went into the can not because of his contract but because he was looking over his shoulder after Smoltz arrived. </tinfoil hat>
I don’t see where Gotay fits in with this ballclub. One 100-walk season at Triple-A aside, he’s a low-rent version of Lugo. Also, all the bench candidates have major flaws: Lugo has a little plate discipline but no power and can’t (read: shouldn’t) play short; Greene has some power but no seeming plate discipline; I’m not sold on Mather hitting at all, etc.
At this point, I’d be more than happy to have FeLo back. –Jeff, Five O’Clock Blogger
And there you have it! Obviously this is a question that can’t have a wrong answer; I think even the best clubs can be improved here or there. And with several free agents still without jobs and minor leaguers looking to catch on with the Big Club, many options remain to fill out this team. Personally, I think the team needs some bench help. At this point, the team lacks what I like to call an “impact bat” off the bench. I think having a thumper lurking in the dugout for a possible late-inning pinch hit is a valuable weapon. I also have concerns that the typical defensive replacement for either the infield or the outfield currently does not exist on this team. Not that the starting 8 are a bunch of hacks that cannot be trusted in the field in the late innings…but I often wonder if things could have turned out different had Rick Ankiel been inserted into left field in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS against the Dodgers.
I want to write a quick word of thanks to everyone making the decisions at MLBlogs for having Bird Brained as the Featured Blog today. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my face on the MLBlogs home page. I shared my excitement with a lot of my friends and family and they all thought it was great too. The jump in my page views and comments was an awesome feeling, so thanks to all of you readers, too! Come back often, because I will write often!
I just finished watching MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” featuring the St. Louis Cardinals. This show covered all the bases, so to speak. Featuring an expert panel of former Major Leaguers Joe Magrane and Sean Casey, Special Advisor to the Texas Rangers John Hart, and hosted by St. Louisan Greg Amsinger, “30 in 30″ provided a ton of analysis and interviews. I really have yet to be disappointed by MLB Network and this show keeps that streak alive.
Most of what was said has been said or written before. The panel discussed what the Cards’ recipe for success in 2009 must have: player health, a strong rotation, and better bullpen pitching. Of course, this is true of every team. But the interviews were relevant and not necessarily biased. Featured in sit-down conversations are Tony LaRussa, Chris Carpenter, John Mozeliak, Albert Pujols, Ryan Ludwick, and Rick Ankiel. Video highlights included a lot of Spring Training footage and some 2008 footage.
The show concluded with a “Best Moments in Cardinal History” video compilation, followed by the panel’s predictions on where the Cardinals will finish this season. Casey, Magrane, and Hart each thought the Cards were a lock for 2nd in the National League Central. Let’s hope that, if these experts are right, it comes with a Wild Card berth.
The baseball chatter around St. Louis today is centering around the comments made by Albert Pujols regarding his pal Manny Ramirez still being unsigned. Pujols seems to think that the Cardinals should bring Ramirez into the fold, hopefully more for his offensive presence than his defensive liabilities. Cards GM John Mozeliak promptly (and publicly) shot down the idea, as expected. I first saw the story on mlbtraderumors.com on Wednesday; it wasn’t long before the story gained enough traction to get ink on both the Cardinals’ and St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s websites.
The idea that Ramirez would be a great bat to put behind Pujols isn’t lost on anyone. But I think the people calling for the GM’s head if the Cards don’t sign the free agent need to take a deep breath and consider a few things:
- The Cardinal outfield is more crowded now than ever. Last year’s regulars–Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick, and Rick Ankiel–all had great seasons in 2008 (minus Ankiel’s injury woes) and are all back for 2009. The Cards also got extended looks at Joe Mather and Brian Barton in 2008; both will be looking to parlay that Major League experience into a strong Spring Training. Remember Chris Duncan? Yeah, he’ll be back as well. And I’m pretty sure a guy named Colby Rasmus is pounding on the door of opportunity this year. So where do they put Ramirez? This isn’t beer league softball…only three outfielders allowed.
- Let’s just pretend the Cardinals did sign Ramirez. Let’s say it was a 3 year deal for $40 million for the sake of argument. Relatively speaking, that’s not an unreasonable amount of jack for a guy with Ramirez’ offensive output (when healthy and interested). Will Cardinal fans buy into the phenomenon of “Manny being Manny” for three years? Ramirez has a penchant for not being the greatest clubhouse guy, and apparently likes to give up near the end of his contract. Are we really willing to accept all of that considering it will probably cost the Cardinals at least 3 of the outfielders mentioned above?
- If the Cardinals did sign Ramirez, and were able to effectively figure out the logjam of outfielders, a question might still remain: Is it enough? Could that $10 million+ have been better spent on pitching, a clear pain point on the 2008 team and a lingering concern going into 2009?
With all these questions, I’m really not convinced that bringing Ramirez in would be worth the costs and risks. It would certainly be an about-face for the front office after all this talk about player development.
OK, fine. Let’s have a little fun here. I’ll go out on a limb and theorize how this deal could get done. I’m not saying I advocate it, and I’m not saying the Cards aren’t trying when these things don’t get done (because they won’t). So here goes:
- Sign Manny Ramirez for no more than 3 years, options included.
- Shop a package that includes 2-3 outfielders (Ankiel, Schumaker, maybe Barton?) and 1-2 young pitchers not named Chris Perez, Jason Motte, or Kyle McClellan, and acquire 2B Brian Roberts from the Orioles. Perhaps add Adam Kennedy to the deal and pay half his salary.
- Make every effort to extend Roberts and Khalil Greene through 2011, which is also when Pujols’ contract is up (Ramirez too, if this theory holds up).
- Rely on the development of young players just now emerging to enable the Cards to re-sign Pujols before he hits the open market after the 2011 season. This means that between now and then, the following players will be allowed to walk without being replaced: Joel Piniero, Todd Wellemeyer, Troy Glaus, Chris Duncan, Ryan Franklin, and maybe more.
So the lineup would look like this:
- Roberts (2B)
- Rasmus (RF-CF)
- Pujols (1B)
- Ramirez (LF)
- Ludwick (CF-RF)
- Freese/Wallace/Glaus (3B)
- Molina (C)
- Greene (SS)
…or some variation.
Maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea after all…