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Eenie meenie miney moe…

Last week, Danny Knobler of CBSsports.com wrote a great article about the St. Louis Cardinals and their decision process for letting Albert Pujols sign elsewhere while eventually re-signing Yadier Molina and how that was the right move for the future of the franchise. I have no dispute with any part of the article, so there’s no need to go through it here—but I highly recommend reading it if you’re a fan of the Cardinals, interested in how to build and maintain a culture of winning, or just love the business of baseball in general.

But on a personal note, the piece struck a chord with me and somewhat related decision I had to make a few years back.

In 2009, Busch Stadium hosted the All Star Game. It was the first time the Midsummer Classic was held in St. Louis in 40+ years, and anticipation was high. The 09 All Star Molinaonce-in-a-lifetime aspect of the festivities was the catalyst for us to get partial season tickets, knowing that was our best shot at securing tickets for the All Star festivities as well. We were correct; as soon as they were available, we purchased tickets to the game, the Home Run Derby, the Fan Fest, all of it. As All Star Weekend drew near, I was surprised with one more All Star-centric proposition: as an early birthday present, I could select an All Star batting practice jersey for my gift. The jerseys were red, of course, with the great All Star logo featuring the Gateway Arch, and just a hint of the powder blue beloved by so many Cards fans—including myself. Though they weren’t the only players selected from that ‘09 team to represent the Cardinals on the National League squad, for me there were really only two choices: Pujols or Molina.

I have written about this kind of decision before; in fact, it was earlier in 2009. But that was just off-the-cuff thinking out loud, before I was faced with actually making the decision. And it was one I had a LOT of trouble making. At that time, Pujols was still peaking as the best hitter in the game. His importance to the Cardinals’ lineup was never higher, especially since former fellow “MV3” members Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen were now with other teams. Based on that and the words from his own mouth, it seemed unfathomable that Pujols would ever wear a different uniform. On the flipside, Molina was quickly coming into his own as an elite player. His defense was never in question, but his light offensive numbers and clunky base running usually relegated him to the bottom of the order. Then, in 2008, he topped a .300 batting average and 50 RBI for the first time. He was getting on base much more often and striking out very little. His importance to the franchise was high before, but if his offense kept coming around he too would be harder and harder for the Cardinals to let walk. It was a decision I put off until the very last second; even as we pulled up to the Cardinals Team Store I was still mentally flipping the coin. On the one hand, the 2009 All Star Game would be an event that could never be taken away from either player regardless of whether they left for free agency someday. On the other, I couldn’t imagine wearing any jersey or shirt of a former Cardinal while he was playing for a different team. You know…root for the name on the front, not the one on the back…

09 All Star Pujols

And then I made the decision.

To this day, the jersey I chose still hangs in my closet—which is probably where it will stay, at least until Pujols’ contract with the Angels expires. The Cardinals have much better foresight than I do.

–Chris

The Nooner #23: Albert Pujols is No Longer a Cardinal

Surreal.

Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals via free agency was always a possibility, however unlikely it seemed. I thought the Cards would be in on the dollars side, but would balk at the years. Turns out the opposite was true. But before 2011 I was hoping for 7 years guaranteed +2 or 3 option years. In the NL, it is really, really hard to justify paying a 40+ player $20 million or more when he has to play in the field every day. But there are so many unknown details here, starting with AAV. If the Cards said they’d signed him for 10 years, $250 million starting with $30 million next year, a declining AAV, and the last two were $15 million options, I think I’d be on board. He’d still get the same amount of money; they wouldn’t be paying him as much in his last few years. Apparently the Marlins had the highest bid, which means that no trade clause was a really big deal. I can get behind that, too. Security is important. But that’s not all it was.

I think what really stings is the smoke he blew up all our asses: “I have money; it’s not about the money”…“Why would I want to play anywhere else?”…“I want to be like Stan Musial and be a Cardinal for life.” When you invoke the name of Stan Musial and phrases like “it’s not about the money” and “Cardinal for life” you’d better mean it. Clearly he didn’t. Today does not erase the last 11 seasons, either for his individual accomplishments or the team’s success. But some of that integrity and persona has been diminished with this news. He really was about the money. That in itself isn’t terrible; just be honest about it. Maybe the Marlins offered the most zeroes in front of the decimal, but if we’re comparing apples to apples, the Angels and Cards offered the same contract terms. The Angels’ trump card was more cash. The Cardinals’ trump card was baseball legacy/immortality. He took the bread.

I’m not really sure how to describe my feelings beyond the above. Maybe it will set in once I see Pujols 5 on the back of a LA Angels jersey. Maybe it will set in during the Winter Warm up or Spring Training when, for the first time in over a decade, Albert Pujols is nowhere to be found. But I didn’t really go into convulsions when Tony LaRussa retired, either. At the time I chalked it up to World Series Hangover. But that was over a month ago. An era has truly ended in St. Louis. Let’s hope the Cardinals don’t lapse into another odd-decade Dark Age. Looking at the rest of the roster, though, I really think they’re going to be OK. We all are.

–Chris

REVIEW: The 2011 World Series Film DVD

Less than a month ago, the St. Louis Cardinals capped off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history by defeating the Texas Rangers in an epic World Series. In this day and age, finding video and audio replays of any baseball game is as easy as pulling up an internet browser on the nearest online device. But for an expertly assembled package of storytelling, highlights, interviews and emotion, the only true option is Major League Baseball Productions’ presentation of The 2011 World Series Film, which is now available in a two-DVD set (the Blu-Ray version is available December 6).

Disc one features the official film, narrated by actor and St. Louisan John Hamm. The film starts on the St. Louis Riverfront, with the iconic Gateway Arch making an immediate appearance as the stage is set for the telling of the ups and downs of the Cardinals’ 2011 season. Obviously, early in the year, there were more downs than ups as Hamm guides the viewer through the Adam Wainwright injury and Albert Pujols contract drama that overshadowed the team from the beginning of Spring Training. Next is footage of Ryan Franklin giving up a late-game home run and Colby Rasmus bobbling a fly ball that turns out to be the game-winning hit for the opposition. Seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?

But these nasty memories are merely part of the set up. The film briefly covers the big trade with Toronto, the Rafael Furcal acquisition, and the sweep by the Dodgers—the last low point of the season. From there, the chasing down of the Atlanta Braves over the regular season’s final five weeks culminates in the Cards celebrating their NL Wild Card clincher after Chris Carpenter’s gem in Houston and the Braves’ loss in Philadelphia while the Cardinal players watched in the Minute Maid Park visitor’s clubhouse.

From there, the film summarizes the Cards’ NLDS win over the Philadelphia Phillies and NLCS win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Throughout the show, broadcasts from TV and radio are seamlessly merged with Hamm’s narration so the story feels like it’s told from multiple angles. When significant records were tied or broken throughout the year and the postseason, a graphic appears illustrating the feat. The editing and production on this film is nothing short of superb, and it adds an element of dramatic flair not found in straight highlights and replays from the games themselves.

imageBut the real story here is the World Series, and not surprisingly, that’s where the detail in the story explodes. Each of the series’ seven games gets a long segment, and each game’s story is built up with a relevant introduction. For instance, after the segment featuring the Cards’ Game 1 win, the footage shifts to Jason Motte enjoying some pre-Game 2 BBQ at Pappy’s in St. Louis with his family and, obviously, a room full of restaurant customers who happen to be Cardinals fans. Before Game 3 and Game 6, the footage shows the perspective of rolling into the home team’s city as the series shifted to a new ballpark.

This series had so many side stories and subtexts, and each was covered brilliantly in this film. The on-paper match-ups and how similar the Cardinals and Rangers were…the Allen Craig-Alexei Ogando battles…the offensive powerhouses and their pitchers duels in the first two games…The Albert Pujols Game…The Derek Holland Game…Game 5 shenanigans, including the Pujols-Craig hit and run fiascos and “Phonegate”…it’s all here. And it’s all great.

Then there’s Game 6, perhaps one of the greatest in World Series history. From the start, with the Rangers putting up early runs, to the errors and misplays on both sides, the game unfolds as one of the sloppiest anyone has ever seen. And then the Cardinals mount their comeback. David Freese’s game-tying triple in the 9th, Lance Berkman’s game-tying single in the 10th, and the game-winning homer by Freese in the 11th are all highlighted in their amazing baseball glory. “We will see you tomorrow night.” Smiles, chills, and tears are included free of charge.

And the Game 7 segment puts an exclamation point on a tale that wouldn’t be believed if it wasn’t captured on film. After the teams exchanged two run frames in the 1st inning, the Cards took charge of the game. But one of the most poignant moments of the film was when Motte came out of the bullpen in the 9th–in his interview, he said he took a couple of slow steps down the ramp to look around and take in the scene at Busch Stadium. It was yet another moment of profound reality, like David Freese becoming the hero for the team he grew up rooting for or Chris Carpenter re-assuming the role of Ace after Wainwright went down. The only thing missing from the film—curiously—is Joe Buck’s “What a team…what a ride” call as Craig caught the final out. The omission is probably only noticeable by those with the St. Louis bias, and it doesn’t ruin the film. But it is somewhat conspicuous.

The film also captures some of the parade through Downtown St. Louis as well as the announcement the next day of Tony La Russa’s retirement. This comprehensive look at the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals covers all the bases and does so beautifully. It should be enough to get even the most die-hard fan through the cold winter until the next Spring Training.

2011 World Series Film DVD Bonus Features

This Week in Baseball: Lance Berkman

Prime 9: Tony La Russa

Cardinals Clinch Wild Card (team watching PHI beat ATL from visitor’s clubhouse in HOU)

NLDS Game 5: Last Out and Celebration

NLCS Game 6:  Last Out and Celebration

World Series Game 3: Albert Pujols 3 Home Runs

World Series Game 6: David Freese Triple to Tie

World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman Single to Tie

World Series Game 6: David Freese Walk-Off Home Run

World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman/David Freese Presser (funny exchange between the two as Freese recalls Jim Edmonds’ 2004 NLCS walk-off)

World Series Game 7: David Freese Double to Tie

World Series Game 7: Last Out and Celebration

WS Parade (brief ride-along with Freese)

Want More? (Nick Punto mic’ed for final play of World Series; MLB Productions Social Media links)

Disc Two contains the complete Game 5 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, with a menu to start the game from any half-inning or the pre-game show on TBS. Overall, both discs comprise about four hours of video. Order your copy here or check your local retailer.

–Chris

The Nooner #21: Odds and Ends

I haven’t posted a Nooner in a while, so it’s about time this little feature reappears.

–Interesting tidbit from last night’s Cardinals game: We were chatting with a couple of the ushers afterward, waiting for the crowd at Busch Stadium to clear out. It was a beautiful night–about 70 degrees throughout most of the game–so we were in no hurry. We sit very close to the visitors’ bullpen, and while we talked I noticed one of the bat boys from the Milwaukee Brewers cleaning up the equipment they were taking with them. He picked up a big metal beverage dispenser and dumped it out near the floor drain…OK, nothing unusual there. Except the thing was full of hot coffee. That’s right…a bunch of professional athletes preparing to go into a game being played in comfortable weather at 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night were drinking coffee. Weird.

–It was a pretty big win for the Cards last night. Being four games out in mid-August is not ideal, but it sounds a lot better than being six games out. I believe this Cardinals team has what it takes to make a run and catch/pass the Brewers in the standings. Whether or not they will actually execute is another matter…so far, they really haven’t. Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter looked really good last night. It was kind of like old times. Here’s to hoping they have a lot more of those games in them this season.

–Tonight’s game against the Colorado Rockies is big, too. Not because it’s the Rockies; they aren’t really playing for anything right now. But with the Brewers heading home to Miller Park–where they’re damn near unbeatable–to play the floundering Pittsburgh Pirates, every win is important. And the Cards really need a good start from Kyle Lohse. I mean at least six innings and less than four runs allowed. He has pitched awful of late, and doubts about his health are starting to resurface.

–Someone pointed me to this link, and while I always hoped I would make some ink on MLB Trade Rumors, I never expected it to be for that.

And no, that’s not really me. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish it was.

–Chris

An Interesting Monday Night Lineup

The St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup for tonight’s game against Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies has been posted. The batting order looks normal, but pay attention to the positions:

  1. Theriot – SS
  2. Jay – CF
  3. Pujols – 3B
  4. Holliday – LF
  5. Berkman – 1B
  6. Craig – RF
  7. Molina – C
  8. Punto – 2B
  9. Westbrook – P

That’s right…Albert Pujols starts at third tonight. Lance Berkman takes his place at first, and Allen Craig—who originally was slated to play second base, for some reason—has been bumped to right field. Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the reasoning and timeline for the switcheroo. On 101.1 ESPN radio in St. Louis, Bob Ramsey asked where this has been all year if Pujols is capable of playing third?

I would like to take it a step further: Where was this last year, when the Cards were running out butt-asses like Pedro Feliz and Felipe Lopez for two thirds of the season? The Hot corner was a major hole for the Cards in 2010, and though it wasn’t the only reason they finished second, the dearth there certainly was a factor. So what changed? I always thought Pujols playing at third base wouldn’t work because of his elbow and the risk of injury. I guess he’s better now. Or maybe the Cards aren’t concerned about that risk anymore.

 The other moves I’m on board with, although obviously Pujols is a better defensive first baseman than Berkman. But Berkman’s bat needs to be in the lineup…so why isn’t Daniel Descalso playing third, Punto second, Pujols first, and Berkman right? Can LaRussa simply not bear having Descalso face the left handed Lee? Is that worth the risks associated with the current lineup’s positioning? Maybe this is as much an indictment of Berkman’s play in the outfield and the Phillies’ lefty- and switch-heavy lineup.

Should be an interesting game…maybe an interesting series.

–Chris

The Opening Day Running Blog II

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It’s Opening Day…Christmas in March. I find myself without a
ticket to the game. But several of my friends have again taken the day off of
work and gathered at by buddy Ken’s house for food, drink, and baseball. We
have two televised games to watch: The Detroit Tigers vs. the New York Yankees,
and of course the San Diego Padres vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of the
Tigers-Yankees game has been spent playing cards, prepping food, checking
fantasy lineups, and having drinks. But now that we’re just a few minutes from
first pitch at Busch Stadium, I’ve cracked open my computer and started a
running blog. Last year’s was a pretty good entry, but we had much better
weather and many more drop-in guests. This year, in addition to Ken, we also
have his brother Ed, other good friends Terry and Zac, and of course Scott the
Cubs Fan in attendance. Let’s play ball!

2:45 – The cavalcade of Cardinals Hall of Famers has begun,
and Stan Musial is in attendance wearing his new Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Red Schoendienst are in
attendance, too…each wearing their brilliant red blazers. Opening Day has
officially begun in Cardinal Nation. I have a glass full of ice and some kind
of aged rum I brought back from Mexico. You might be asking, “Rum and what?”
Just rum, friends…just rum. I have a couple of cigars at the ready, too. Could
be quite a day.

2:55 – The coaching staff and players are being introduced
after their parade around the field in huge pick-up trucks. This isn’t as
exciting on TV. All we’re doing now is hoping none of the trucks stops short,
injuring yet another Cardinal for the season.

2:59 – Speaking of injuries, Adam Wainwright was just
introduced. Pitch a good game today, Ad…wait. Crap.

3:00 – Colby “Boomhauer” Rasmus and Albert Pujols were just
introduced. No boos for Pujols, even without a contract. I didn’t expect boos,
but you never know.

Now that the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast has cut away to
Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, and Rick Horton, it’s probably a good time to
mention we have a pot of chili, grilled brats, two different taco dips, and
three boxes of Hostess desserts. We expect other people to stop by, trust me.
But it’s a good spread.

Here’s the Cards’ starting lineup, courtesy of the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch:

1. Theriot SS

2. Rasmus CF

3. Pujols 1B

4. Holliday LF

5. Berkman RF

6. Freese 3B

7. Molina C

8. Schumaker 2B

9. Carpenter P

The San Diego Padres are rolling out the following lineup:

1. Venable RF

2. Bartlett SS

3. Hudson 2B

4. Hawpe 1B

5. Ludwick LF

6. Headley 3B

7. Maybin CF

8. Hundley C

9. Stauffer P

3:20 – The first pitch of 2011 from Chris Carpenter is a
ball. It’s officially baseball season.

3:27 – Carpenter gets through an easy 1-2-3 top of the
first, and looks sharp. Cards coming up, no score.

3:29 – After Theriot is robbed of a base hit in centerfield,
Rasmus takes one to the wall in right and Will Venable can’t handle it. In
fact, he looked completely lost. Rasmus ends up on third with a triple and
Pujols is coming up with one out.

3:31 – Pujols pops out in foul territory, and my slightly
liquored friends and I start mock-razzing him, saying things like “Is that’s
what 30 million per year is going to be worth?!?!” We’re hilarious.

3:32 – Matt Holliday comes up and rips a single up the
middle, scoring Rasmus. Cards lead, 1-0. This is what I like to see.

3:34 – In his first at bat as a Cardinal, Lance Berkman
strikes out. Cardinals 1, Padres 0 after one inning.

3:41 – Carpenter’s first base runner allowed is a hit by
pitch of Ryan Ludwick. It wasn’t intentional, as far as I can tell. Ludwick is
quickly erased though on a 6-4-3 double play turned nicely by Theriot and
Schumaker.

3:42 – Scott the Cubs Fan just informed us his chicken
enchiladas are almost done. Good Lord, I didn’t realize we have even MORE food.
It’s like Thanksgiving. I wonder if I’ll fall asleep with gravy on my face?

3:43 – The sun has FINALLY poked its way through the clouds
here in Belleville IL. We’re sitting in Ken’s oversized garage and just raised
the big door. A quick breeze reminds us it’s still only about 50 degrees
outside, and we promptly close the door again. Smart guys, we are.

3:48 – Schumaker is up, and Terry keeps making fun of him
for adjusting his batting gloves after every pitch. I never really noticed it
before…but it is kind of annoying. Schumaker then reaches first on a dropped
third strike, but Carpenter grounds out weakly to end the inning. Cardinals 1,
Padres 0 after 2.

3:55 – Carpenter again makes quick work of the Padres, and
has faced the minimum through three innings. I love a great pitching
performance, but it doesn’t make for exciting blogging. What am I going to
write? “Hey, another strike! Boo ya!”

3:58 – Theriot knocks a base hit into left, and we give
Scott the Cubs Fan a hard time. “Remember that?” Ken says. “Yeah, and I
remember all the other games, too” Scott replies. Don’t worry, Cards fans…he’s
outnumbered.

4:01 – Albert Pujols comes up with runners on first and
second, no one out and grounds into a double play. “Trade him!” lament my sarcastic
friends. Something tells me this will be a theme throughout the year anytime
Pujols makes an out when he has a chance for an RBI, though. That will make
this season really irritating at times. Holliday follows with a groundout.
Cardinals 1, Padres 0 after three innings.

4:06 – As excited as we are for Opening Day, we’ve decided
to play a game of euchre while we watch the game. Maybe it’s a sign of the game
moving kind of slowly so far. Of course, as soon as we sit down at the table,
Will Venable rips a double down the left field line for the first Padres hit of
the day.

4:08 – David Freese makes a highlight reel catch on the
third base line and throws out Bartlett at first. Those ankles look pretty
sturdy early on. Freese is easily one of the most important components to the
Cards’ success this year. So far he looks good.

4:11 – After a sacrifice fly, Carp gets out of the inning. Still
tied 1-1.

4:17 – Three straight hits by Berkman, Freese, and Molina
quickly put the Cards back up 2-1. In perhaps a more important story, no one
got hurt and the speed on the basepaths was BLINDING.

4:18 – Venable makes a great diving catch on a Carpenter
bloop into foul territory to end the inning. Cards 2, Padres 1 after four
innings. Time for more rum.

4:29 -After Ludwick walks, he steals second when Schumaker
can’t hold onto the ball during the tag. Molina threw it perfectly; Schu just
dropped it (Ludwick might have gotten a hand up, but that’s still a ball that
has to be held). Nick Hundley then sends a rocket off the wall, scoring Ludwick
from second. Padres 2, Cardinals 2. We’ve got a barnburner on our hands!

4:35 – Albert Pujols just grounded into another double play.
In three at bats, Pujols has made five outs. He’s off to a great start. And
yes, I realize it’s only the first game of a 162 game season. But he’s on my
fantasy team, and he’s killing me right now.

5:03 – Took a break from the log to eat more food, finish
the euchre game, and refill my rum. In the meantime, Dan showed up. He
compliments my chili and enjoys a swig of my rum. Chris Carpenter has pitched 7
strong innings, a great start for this early in the season. He’s due up second
in the bottom of the 7th so he’s likely finished for the day.

5:08 – I’m right about Carp; after Schumaker led off the
inning with a single, Daniel Descalso pinch hit and bunted Schu over to second
base. But a Theriot groundout and Rasmus strikeout later, the inning is over.
We’re still tied 2-2.

5:23 – We just got into a lengthy discussion about baseball
salaries. Ed doesn’t seem to think Pujols is worth $25 million or more; he
thinks Pujols should do just play for $15 million. We’re fairly certain he’s
drunk or crazy. Even Scott the Cubs Fan laughed. I had a hard time convincing
Ed that the CBA doesn’t allow players to be paid based on their performance
year over year. I know what he’s trying to say. It’s easy to talk about what
would be “nice” or “right” but reality is harsher. I’ll need another drink to
finish this conversation.

5:42 – Matt Holliday just snuck a solo home run over the
wall to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. Scott the Cubs Fan said it would be
Pujols who was the hero after his awful day at the plate, but once again he was
wrong. Ed just asked how much Holliday makes, so I shook up a beer and opened
it in his face.

5:50 – Ryan Franklin is brought in to close the game out.
The first two outs were relatively easy, though Headley did give one a ride.
But Cameron Maybin spoiled the party at Busch by cranking a solo homer to dead
center. Franklin is on the hook for his first blown save of the year. Is that
Jason Motte I see warming up in the bullpen? This is not how today was supposed
to end.

5:57 – The Padres bring in Chad Qualls for the bottom of the
9th. Molina, Schumaker, and Jay (after a double-switch) are due up.
Yikes.

6:01 – Jay smokes one up the middle that Qualls gets a glove
on but can’t hold on to. Jay is on with two outs. Theriot is up….

….

…and lines out. Extra innings on opening day!

6:06 – Brian Tallet makes his Cardinal debut, and I do a
quick image search for some of his epic pics from when he was a Toronto Blue Jay.
Dan drops the first Goose Gossage reference of the day.

6:10 – Tallet mows down the Padres, and looks good doing it.
Due up for the Cards: Rasmus, Pujols, Holliday. Go Cards!

6:14 – Leadoff walk to Rasmus. Mike Shannon must be going
nuts in the radio booth right now.

6:15 – Pujols grounds into ANOTHER double play. That’s eight
outs for him on the day. That’s just awful. Has he ever had a day like this? Oh…ask
and you shall receive. They just flashed a graphic that states Pujols has never
grounded into three double plays in one game. Good thing we’re not keeping
track of GIDP in the fantasy league.

6:17 – Holliday walks. Up comes Allen Craig. Come on, kid…we
need a hero.

6:18 – Craig fouls out to Venable, who is having a heck of a
game. Time for the 11th inning…and more rum.

6:23 – Hundley gets a two out single off of newly promoted
Cardinal Brian Augenstein. Not good.

6:25 – Maybin also singles; Hundley to third. But Ryan Theriot
blows the relay and Hundley makes it home on his terrible throw to the plate. The
Padres take the lead 4-3.

6:28 – 5-3 Padres. FML. More rum.

6:31 – Ed asks Dan why he smokes Marlboro Reds instead of
lights. Then he asks Scott the Cubs Fan why he smokes Marlboro menthols. I then
ask Scott the Cubs Fan why he’s such a woman. All conclusions can be drawn from
his Cubs hat and shirt.

6:33 – The Cards now face one of the best closers in the
league, Heath Bell. Ugh.

6:36 – Schumaker lines out to end an uneventful bottom of
the 11th and the game.

What’s the bigger story today: Pujols 0 for 5 with three
GIDP, or Franklin’s blown save? I have a feeling we’ll see more of Franklin’s
performance than Pujols’ performance, especially when you realize that Pujols
has NEVER had that kind of a day. In fact, not many ever have…according to
ESPN, it’s the first time since 1920 anyone has grounded into three double
plays on Opening Day. Closers blow saves…it happens. But wasting a Carpenter
start as good as the one he put on is really tough to watch. Bottom line is, this
was game 1 of 162. The Cards got off on the wrong foot, but they have a chance
to right the ship Saturday.

Pop goes the elbow (and the season…and maybe more).

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.

adam-wainwright_1.jpgBut 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. 

He is still a Cardinal…

            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.

 


Pujols.jpg           
I, however, am not worried…especially after Pujols’ arrival at Spring Training and media interview today.

 

            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,pujols_spring_training.jpg 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.

January UCB Project: Top 5 Cardinal Headlines in 2011

It’s United Cardinal Bloggers project time again. This month, we put on our prognosticator hats and try to come up with what we believe will be the top five headlines Cardinal fans will see in 2011. I decided to play this one straight, because I think the Cards could be at a bit of a crossroads this season…Albert Pujols hasn’t been signed yet, David Freese is coming back from inury, Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman are new kids on the block, and Chris Carpenter is in the last guaranteed year of his contract. So without further ado…

1. St. Louis Cardinals Sign Albert Pujols to Record Contract – No, not a recording contract; we’re talking Guinness-type stuff here. I’m not sure if the total value of Pujols’ next deal will be the highest ever, but he will make more per season than any player ever has…and he will make it wearing the Birds on the Bat.

2. Punto Named Opening Day Starter; Freese to Report to Extended Spring Training – All this offseason, I have advocated the Cards signing a “true” third baseman to back up Freese in case he isn’t ready for Opening Day. Now that they have signed Nick Punto, I believe this is the ultimate sign that the Cards know they needed this insurance because Freese could need more time before he is 100%. I put Freese’s Cardinal debut sometime in the month of May.

3. Yankees Confirm Interest in Chris Carpenter – Carp still has an option for 2012 left on his current contract, but it is a pricey one: $15 million. If the Cards re-sign Pujols, I have no idea how they can afford that. Now if the team is in contention and Carp is pitching well, I can foresee the Cardinals declining that option and extending Carpenter for a couple more years at less per year. But if the Cards tank in the first half of 2011 for whatever reason, expect the Carpenter trade rumors to start flying. Regardless, the New York Yankees figure to be in the market for a big acquisition because they didn’t make one in the offseason and the Boston Red Sox made some serious upgrades this winter. Carpenter will almost certainly be one of their targets because of his contract situation. The Cards’ response will depend on if they are winning or not.

4. Albert Pujols Collects Hit #2000 – This one is a slam dunk, barring a catastrophic injury–Pujols currently sits on 1900. But it brings up a good point: Pujols will get his 2000th hit sometime in his 11th season in the big leagues. If his season hits totals continue to average somewhere in the mid 180s, he should get to 3000 in about six years, and he probably would still have at least three or four good seasons ahead of him. That puts Stan Musial’s 3630 within reach. And if that number really is that likely to be passed again, I want it to be done by another Cardinal.

5. Cardinals Clinch Playoff Berth – Notice I didn’t say “Division Crown.” The truth is, the NL Central will be a much better division overall this season. Everything hinges on player health, of course. But no team in the division has the 1-2 punch of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina is still the best catcher in the league in terms of defense and calling a game, and there’s only one Albert Pujols. That gives the Cardinals an edge, even if it is only a slight edge. But the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs cannot be counted out. Could the Wild Card team come from the Central? With all the pitching upgrades, why not? I see the Cards making the playoffs this year but I’m not ready to go all in with a division championship prediction. It could be a knock-down, drag-out year in the NL Central this year.

What do you think…how many of these headlines do you expect to see in 2011? Do you expect to see some I haven’t listed here? Comment away!

-Chris

The Nooner #20: Cardinals announce a signing…

Two, actually. The Cards have added pitchers Miguel Batista and Ian Snell on minor league deals with invites to Spring Training.

Curious. I figured, with the recent announcement that the Cards and Albert Pujols have opened contract extension talks, not much else would be happening until that whole deal–you know, the biggest and most important contract in the history of the franchise–is worked out (or not worked out). I wonder if this means those negotiations are finished? I think we should keep a close eye on the sports news outlets over the next couple of days.

Speaking of the next couple of days, the Winter Warm Up is this weekend. All the details can be found on the Cards’ website. I’ll be there tomorrow on assignment; if you see me feel free to say hello. It looks like Pujols will be on hand for autographs Sunday. Hopefully by then he has a lot more to smile about.

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