Cardinals Offseason Preview

The Cardinals have a large handful of free agents this offseason, which instantly creates potential holes in both the lineup and starting rotation.  The Birds on the Bat have already started making minor changes to their roster, releasing spot starter Brad Thompson and sending backup Joe Thurston to Memphis.  With Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and Jason LaRue all potentially leaving as free agents, the Cardinals bench looks particuarly thin at this point.  From the starting lineup, Mark DeRosa could leave and many predict LF Matt Holliday to depart as well, perhaps seeking greener pastures on one of the coasts thanks to his merciless agent, Scott Boras.

Losing Matt Holliday would be a huge blow for the Cards, having traded 3 key prospects for him mid-season.  There are some other options if he departs, such as the sure to be expensive Jason Bay.  But to me, a very intriguing candidate to replace the slugging left fielder is defensive wiz/power bat, Mike Cameron.  Cameron, a free agent, is almost certainly not in the Brewers’ plans now that they’ve traded shortstop JJ Hardy for center fielder Carlos Gomez.  Gomez will be both a defensive and offenive downgrade from Cameron, and the Brewers’ loss could be the Cardinals gain.  Cameron has topped the 20 HR mark 8 times in his career, and his total from last year is equal to Holliday’s.  Sure, Matt hits for much better average but outside of Coors Field, will Holiday ever again top 30 or 35 homers?  If not, his power numbers are much more similar to Cameron’s.  Cameron’s defensive prowess would make him the strongest Cardinals outfielder since Jim Edmonds and despite being 36 years old, fans and management alike would never have to worry about the type of error Holliday made in the 2009 division series.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d very much like to see Matt Holliday return.  But if he doesn’t, Jason Bay could be a long term solution and if willing to play a corner outfield position, Cameron could be a 2-3 year solution. 

It’s been amazing and disappointing to see how the Cards fans have seemingly turned on Holliday, in part due to his key error but also because they assume he’s going to go to LA or NY or Boston.  Why is that assumed?  What has Matt said that makes everyone automatically think he’s headed for such “greener” pastures?  I’d like to think that the response he received when he came to bat in game 3 at Busch is far more indicative of how Cards fans love their players as opposed to the sports talk boards showing how fickle the fans may be.

Other options in the outfield include Xavier Nady, Vladimir Guerrero and Jermaine Dye but they all present age and/or injury concerns that surpass those Cards management may have about Cameron or Holliday.  Third base is also a question mark, should DeRosa and Glaus both leave and the Cards must secure John Smoltz if they want to starting pitching to come close to matching last season’s effectiveness.

In my next column, I’ll further address the Cards pitching staff as well as third base.  Hopefully the 2010 team will be slightly more in focus by my next column.

Thanks for reading.   

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Sounding off on Professional Sports

Hello, and thanks for reading again.  My new series of posts, having taken a long while off, will focus more on commentary of professional sports, particularly baseball, but will also offer more polemic pieces designed to get people really thinking about significant issues in the sports world.  So, here goes:

Yesterday the St. Louis Cardinals announced that Tony LaRussa would return as manager and that Mark McGwire would become the Cardinals hitting coach.  This is significant because McGwire, one of the most beloved former Cardinals of all time, has been much maligned since his testimony, or lack there of, before Congress during Congress’s investigation of steroids and performance enhancing drugs in professional sports. 

There are several issues that are brought to the forefront with Big Mac finally coming out of his self-imposed exile from the baseball world.  Did McGwire cheat in his past life as a baseball superstar?  Does his lack of candor before Congress make him a liar and leave too many questions about his use of steroids, etc.?  It seems that everyone, specifically the sports writers, think they are judge, jury and executioner.  The self righteousness that wafts from such sports columnists as Jeff Gordon and Bryan Burwell, each of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is almost as appalling as any of the unproven accusations against Mark McGwire.  McGwire admitted his use of “Andro” which at the time was specifically not banned by MLB.  Does that make him a cheater?  The plain answer is no.  The use of a supplement which is not banned by the sports league that one participates in is clearly not cheating. 

Oh, but everyone’s favorite “N.A.R.C.” or drug informant, Jose Cansceco says that McGwire cheated by using all kinds of steroids in his hey day with the Oakland Athletics.  One has to wonder about these cheaters themselves who wish to “out” all of their former teammates.  I think it is appalling.  But Burwell et al want their readers to believe that McGwire needs to “come clean” about his alleged steroid use or we cannot take him seriously as a hitting coach.  WRONG!  McGwire’s job is to make the St. Louis Cardinals a better hitting team, period.  And all of the self-righteous judging by these sports writers does nothing to change my mind about this issue. 

McGwire chose not to lie before Congress, unlike Samy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro who held their right hand up and made bold faced lies.  This was the smart and legal perogative of anyone under investigation by a legal body such as Congress.  I don’t blame Big Mac for this and I look forward to seeing him a Cardinals uniform again, once again making all of the Cardinals around him better players.

Dark Days for Cardinals Franchise

The Cardinals made a move to get younger and cheaper yesterday.  However, by trading Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres for a 3rd Base prospect, the 2008 Cardinals on-field product was not improved.  It looked like the classic salary dump.  The Padres received 2 million dollars and Edmonds for a St. Louis native, David Freese, who has never played above the single A level.  I have several issues with this trade and what it appears to signal:
    1. Cardinals management seems to be giving up on the 2008 season before it begins.
    2. New GM Jon Mozielak is rumored to be demoralized and this trade indicates that he may simply be a Dewitt pawn who has no real freedom to improve the team. and
    3. The Cardinals definitely cannot consider trading CF prospect Colby Rasmus for a front line pitcher.

Jim Edmonds arrival in St. Louis before the 2000 season coincided with the emergence of the Cardinals as perennial contenders.   Before he arrived the Cardinals last made the post season in 1996.  With Edmonds, The Cardinals made the playoffs in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.  Even beyond his prime in 2006, Edmonds played a key role in the Cards’ improbable 2006 World Series championship. 

I have been a Cardinals fan since my childhood, and this is the single most disappointing player personnel decision I have seen made.  While the NHL St. Louis Blues are making moves to improve, the Cardinals seem to take fans for granted, making this trade just a week after partial ticket packs went on sale. 

Will the the new gm acquire pitching with this extra 6 million dollars in "savings?"  Cardinal nation is skeptical, but hopeful to be proven wrong…

Cardinals Offseason Update

Cardinals Offseason Update


The Cardinals began their offseason in disarray, not knowing for sure who would
manage the club next year or who would lead the front office.  It turns out
that a familiar face will return as manager, in Tony LaRussa.  However, the GM
who hired him is not returning after a front office power struggle left Walt
Jocketty out of a job just one year after orchestrating an improbable World
Series title run in 2006.  By rehiring Tony LaRussa, former Jocketty protégé
turned General Manager inherited a heated dispute between former gold glove,
all star third baseman Scott Rolen and future Hall of Famer, Tony LaRussa.
Meanwhile, as the Cardinals waste time and energy trying to trade Scott Rolen,
a big whole at shortstop has opened while the Cards need to add at least two
solid, front of the rotation type starters in order to be competitive again.

The outfield is pretty much stocked with CF Edmonds, LF
Duncan, RF Ankiel, and spot starter Ryan Ludwick.

First base is of course set with Albert Pujols.  They have
three guys who can play second, in Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan and Aaron Miles.
The problem is that none of them are gold glove or silver slugger material.
Even before season-ending knee surgery, Kennedy appeared headed to one of his
worst seasons and was pretty much platooning.  Indeed he is the last vestige of
Walt Jocketty’s poor free agent signings a la Tino Martinez, Juan
Encarnacion, and Kip Wells.  Aaron Miles, despite having a strong season last
year, is better served as a super sub and Brendan Ryan is still unproven.  Ryan
also faces Tony LaRussa’s preference for a veteran player while Ryan is
young and inexperienced. 

With David Eckstein an unrestricted free agent, and the
Cardinals unable to reacquire Edgar Renteria and lacking the depth and financial
guts to trade for an elite SS such as Miguel Tejada, it seems possible that the
Cards will open 2008 with a starting SS such as Eckstein, FA Izturis, Brendan
Ryan.  If the Cards go really low budget/non-flashy they could even open with
Aaron Miles at SS after he filled in admirably there the last couple of years.

Yadier Molina and his should be golden glove will start at
catcher and names such as Paul Bako have been thrown around as a backup
option.  Yesterday, however, former Reds starting catcher and most recently a Royals backup Jason LaRue was signed for under a million to backup Molina.  Duncan and LaRussa like what he brings behind the plate including a plus arm.  However, he batted under .150 last season which indicates that Hal McRae has his work cut out for him if LaRue is going to contribute at all offensively.  The bullpen looks strong again with the Cardinals picking up Izzy’s
option and overpaying for Russ Springer to return.  Joel Pineiro will return
to rotation after a strong stretch run with the Cardinals.  Chris Carpenter is expected to
contribute by August but after Mulder’s disastrous 2007, please do not count
on it.

The rotation looks something like this right now:

Adam Wainwright

Joel Piniero

Mark Mulder?

Braden Looper

?

If the Cards have a good offseason you can look for that
question mark to be filled with front line starters who will plug in before
Wainwright.  The Cardinals are supposedly eyeing Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse
but it is unlikely that they can afford Silva and Lohse is not that much better
than what they have.  As I write this article I realize that the Cards should
be markedly improved simply by not throwing Kip Wells out there every fifth day
and the same is true for Anthony Reyes if he cannot regain what he had in
2006. 


I will have more on the Rolen saga as it continues to play out.

 

Ankiel Propels Cards but is Linked to HGH

The Cardinals newest slugger is Rick Ankiel.  Once a superstar rookie pitcher, Ankiel imploded in the 2000 playoffs and has now completed the conversion to power-hitting outfielder.  In about a month with the Big Club, the lefty rightfielder has nearly matched Jim Edmonds homerun output for the whole season.  He has also easily eclipsed injured slugger Scott Rolen’s homerun total as the third baseman is now out for the season.  Ankiel’s season totals read like this: .353 BA, 9 HRs, 29 RBIs, 30 Hits, and 6 doubles in just 85 at-bats.  However, this once feel-good story of redemption has recently been spoiled by a performance enhancing drugs controversy.  The New York Daily News reported that while living in Florida and recovering from ligament replacement surgery, Ankiel received 8 shipments of human growth hormone (HGH) between January and December, 2004.  Ankiel was an injured pitcher at the time and pitched in just 5 games for the Cardinals that season. 

Now Rick Ankiel has made a magnificent comeback to the majors.  The day before the HGH story broke, the rightfielder had his second 2 homerun game and a career-high 7 RBIs in a Cardinals 16-4 victory over the Pirates.  I awoke Friday morning, expecting to read all about this great hitting display by the newly converted slugger, only to read the Daily News story on the front page of STLtoday.com.  This story seems to take all of the feel-good out of Ankiel’s return and he has neither admitted  or denied receiving the shipments of the now banned substance.  Cardinals General Manager, Walt Jocketty now finds himself doing damage control once again as he did with the LaRussa DWI and Josh Hancock’s fatal drunk driving crash.  "We know that he was under the care of licensed physicians inFlorida…" Jocketty said. "All the medications and prescriptions he
received were legal (and prescribed) by licensed physicians. That’s all
we know at this point. There was no violation of Major League Baseball
rules. There was no violation of any laws."  The tricky aspect of this situation is that HGH was not banned by Baseball until 2005, reportedly after Ankiel stopped receiving the substance.  Cardinals fans, the media, and baseball fans in general wonder if we lump Ankiel into a Barry Bonds category and write him off as a cheater or do we treat this as we treated Mark McGwire’s admitted andro use.  That is to say, both Ankiel and McGwuire’s alleged use of now banned substances occurred  before MLB banned them.

This Cardinals season was finally fun to watch with Ankiel, and rookie Brendan Ryan leading the newly resurgent offense and Adam Wainwright leading the starting pitching staff.  However, despite the suspect timing of the story, a cloud is now over all that Ankiel is accomplishing.  Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to cheer for Rick as he continues his dominance of Major League Pitching.  Time will tell if he can continue to impress under this new cloud and avoid any punishment from MLB…

Cardinals Finally Gain Some Ground in Central

The 2007 Cardinals are finally playing like the October 2006 Cardinals.  After being below .500 and playing terrible baseball for the first 4 months or so the Cardinals are finally making a run at the NL title.  Once Carpenter was basically out for the season and then some after a single opening day start, the Cardinals have played without urgency and have only gotten consistent contribution from two starters, Pujols and Duncan.  The retreads that Jocketty brought in over and over proved to be bad moves.  Mike Maroth: terrible so far with the exception of his first NL start.  Tomo Ohka: did not even make it to the majors with the Cards. 

Then there’s Kip Wells who has been terrible up until his last few starts.  His resurgence, the acquisition of a seemingly solid starter, Joel Piniero and the recall of Rick Ankiel has coincided with the Cardinals surge to 3.5 games out after two victories over the Brew Crew.  Piniero has won his last two starts, including one against the Brewers, Ankiel hit 3 homers in his first three games as a Rightfielder, and Kip Wells has won his last two starts and allowed just two runs in a loss before starting his current winning streak.  In fact he is 3-2 since with a Cardinal-won no decision since July 18, which was the first  game after  he was nearly permanently dropped from the rotation.  Now in 6 games since being called up, Rick Ankiel is coming back to earth but is still batting .295 with 3 homers and 6 RBIs and is slugging .667.  So the Cardinals are 5-1 since Ankiel’s promotion and are only 3.5 games out with four games left against the now struggling first place Brewers and 8 games remaining with the second place Cubbies. 

The Cardinals also did a bit of addition by subtraction that coincided with this surge such as relegating the not-quite-ready for the DL Juan Encarnacion to the bench and struggling first year Cardinal Adam Kennedy, hitting in the low .200s all season out for the season with knee surgery.  Sure LaRussa’s public humiliation of Juan does not do much for team morale or public team image but Juan simply does not hustle and unless he has 25-30 HRs and 75 RBIs by this point he cannot be allowed to lolligag if this team is going to succeed. 

Within the next two weeks the Cards will get long injured formerly dominant starting pitcher Mark Mulder so the fact that they did not get Dontrelle Willis or even Joe Kennedy at the trade deadline does not hurt as much.  Plus they have until September 1, the waiver deadline to make a Woody Williams like pickup.  The Cardinals need someone to be there postseason Jeff Weaver (should they make it there). 

The fact that the Cards are still in contention is a testimony to the character of their players.  The Cardinals have had three drug or alcohol related incidents one of them involving manager Tony LaRussa and it is arguable that LaRussa is to blame for the Cards poor first half plus.  But if Tony can guide his team to yet another division title and beyond, he will deserve that elusive manager of the year award.

World Champion St. Louis Cardinals!

Amazingly it’s been over three months since my last post.  And since then the Cardinals became World Champions!  With clutch performances by Yadier Molina, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, Jim Edmonds, and Adam Wainwright, to name a few, the Cardinals easily defeated the San Diego Padres, squeaked by the New York Mets and obliterated the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  Now it is time for a report card on the key players from the St. Louis Cardinals championship run.

Albert Pujols: A
Albert finished as the runner up to Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard for the N.L. MVP but also one his first gold glove at first base.  He set career a career high in homeruns despite his first trip to the Disabled List in his career. 

Chris Carpenter: A
Chris finished third in Cy Young voting and if not for a rocky September caused in part by his manager’s insistence on pushing his pitch counts to get key outs late in games.  He was effective in the Playoffs as well though he was overshadowed by Weaver and Suppan.