Notebook: November 28, 2011

The second edition of the offseason notebook comes to you with three stories. I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving break. I know mine was quite swamped trying to accomplish things, seeing family, and a couple of my good friends getting married.

Cardinals offer arbitration to Pujols and Jackson

The Cardinals announced on Wednesday that they had offered arbitration to Albert Pujols and Edwin Jackson while declining to offer the same to Rafael Furcal and Arthur Rhodes.

Both Pujols and Jackson are expected to decline arbitration. Pujols is expected to sign an extension with the Cardinals in the coming weeks. Jackson is likely looking for the opportunity to be in someone’s rotation next season after being the second-best Cardinals pitcher down the stretch. The interesting wrinkle is that the Cardinals continue to be linked to rumors of guys like Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt who are starting pitchers, despite the fact that the Cardinals have five starting pitchers already signed for next season and the two most likely to be dealt have no-trade clauses.

Declining to offer arbitration to Furcal and Rhodes is interesting, but expected. The Cardinals have been interested in Furcal, but GM John Mozeliak has said that he’s okay letting Tyler Greene get an extended look going into next season. Furcal is also said to be looking for a 2-3 year contract, which he’s unlikely to get from the Cardinals. The longer this goes on, the more I expect that Furcal is not in the Cardinals’ plans or are a part of their Plan B if they do not bring back Albert Pujols.

The fifth Cardinals player eligible for arbitration, Octavio Dotel, won’t be offered arbitration either. However, because Dotel was one of the players changed from a Type A to Type B free agent as a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Cardinals will get guaranteed compensation for him if he signs with another team that isn’t dependent on the arbitration offer.

Spring Training Schedule announced

The Cardinals announced their Spring Training schedule on Wednesday now. They will once again be in Jupiter, Florida, sharing the Roger Dean Stadium complex with the Miami Marlins, with whom the Cardinals will debut the Marlins’ new stadium with on April 4th.

The important date is February 18th, 2012, when the Pitchers & Catchers are scheduled to report. Then on February 23rd position players are due to report. Their 30 game schedule will begin on March 5th against the Miami Marlins.

Cardinals increase ticket prices for 2012

Following a winning year, teams increase ticket prices. Following a losing year, teams increase beer prices. Or so the saying goes.

The Cardinals revealed that they have slightly increased ticket prices an average of 3 percent per ticket. At $31.17 per ticket, the Cardinals had the 8th highest average ticket price in the major leagues, according to ticketnews.com.

The Cardinals had an attendance of nearly 3.1 million people this season. With an average price of $31.17 per ticket and an average of a 3% increase, that means an extra 94 cents per ticket. If they match their 2011 attendance figures that works out to be roughly an extra $2.9 million in revenue for the Cardinals. Many fans have expressed a willingness to pay more for a ticket if it meant bringing back Albert Pujols.

Notebook: November 21, 2011

Something I’m going to try to do every Monday morning through the offseason is come through and just recap what I think the top Cardinals stories, rumors, and notes of the previous week were and a quick take on them. There were some interesting things said in the last week that I’ve been itching to address but they aren’t juicy enough to give a full fledged take on them. And with that we will get going.

Pujols to re-sign with Cardinals on Friday?

Well, Friday came and went and the tweet by St. Louis radio personality J.C. Corcoran was proven to be false. But this is a guy that has inside connections and called the LaRussa retirement from his sources. I have also heard that things are really close to happening. Corcoran speculated Saturday that he will likely sign soon after returning from his two week vacation in Hawaii.

The day it came out, Wednesday, I’d just said that I doubted by previous assessment of Pujols re-signing with the Cardinals sometime after New Years. With the lack of a market developing for his services, delay was only going to frustrate Cardinals fans more. Miami made a lackluster offer that proved to be a simple PR move, leaving the Cardinals as the only viable offer on the table. I felt with this new information, Albert would make a quick decision to get it out of the way. The first week of December makes a lot of sense. I certainly think it will be well before Christmas now.

The advantage for the Cardinals is that they are the only franchise for whom it makes sense to offer a long-term contract to a player who will be 32 when the season starts. I can’t be the only team to have run the statistical analyses that I have to determine that an All Star caliber player usually peaks at age 30 before beginning to decline. With Pujols already looking like he’s trending downward, that’s a concern for teams who don’t want to be on the hook for 9 years of him. That keeps many teams away.

Mozeliak envisions Descalso, Greene starting in middle infield

Talking about 2012, John Mozeliak said that he envisions Daniel Descalso starting at second base for the Cardinals and “would have no problem” with Tyler Greene starting at short stop.

Descalso made 343 of his 425 minor league appearances at second base, so you know he can handle the position. However, he’s played just 18 games there in the major leagues under Tony LaRussa. He ended the season hitting .264/.334/.353 which is very good on average. However, as a left handed hitter, he has a huge split as he hits just .190 against left handed pitchers and .280 against right handed pitchers. So the team might be looking to pick up a right handed second baseman to spell Descalso until he proves himself against left handed pitching.

Tyler Greene might break out underneath someone other than Tony LaRussa. But I have to think that this will be his final opportunity with the Cardinals. His 3 option years are up, meaning he’d be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the roster. In his major league career he has struggled to find his stroke, hitting .218/.307/.313 in 150 games over the last 3 years. Despite playing in just 58 games this season, he did lead the Cardinals with 11 stolen bases, making up 20% of the team’s total.

This provides me some hope that Rafael Furcal isn’t going to be returning to the Cardinals. Furcal has 8 teams in on him, 4 of them as a second baseman. He also wants a multi-year deal, so with that many potential suitors he is likely to find it. Furcal is an injury risk and hit very poorly down the stretch. I’d wager that if Greene was given a full year he could outperform Furcal’s .255/.316/.418 numbers next season. (Still, I’d like Clint Barmes, but he’s close to a deal with Pittsburgh)

Three players added to Cardinals’ 40 man roster

With the Rule 5 Draft approaching, the Cardinals protected three additional players and brought the total number of players on their 40 man roster to 36. On Saturday the Cardinals revealed that they had added Sam Freeman, Chuck Fick, and Adam Ottavino to the roster.

Freeman, 24, posted a 3.16 ERA over 68 1/3 relief innings between Palm Beach and Springfield this season and was a mid-season Texas League All Star, posting a 3.03 ERA in 59 innings in Springfield. Freeman missed the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is playing this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League and has posted a 0.82 ERA over 11 relief innings there. He has been a reliever all the way through the minor leagues and depending on what the Cardinals do with the bullpen, could be considered for the opportunity to be the big league club’s second left handed reliever.

Fick, 26, posted a 2.30 ERA over 70 1/3 relief innings for Memphis last season. I don’t know much about Fick, but from what I’ve read he’s supposed to be a better version of Brad Thompson, a name familiar to Cardinals fans over the last few years.

Ottavino, who will be 26 tomorrow, was a first round pick for the Cardinals in 2006. He was 7-8 with a 4.85 ERA for Memphis this season as a starter. He made his MLB debut last year for the Cardinals making 3 starts and 2 relief appearances and posting an 8.46 ERA. As a first round draft pick, Ottavino will be protected and should be given at least one more opportunity in St. Louis. However, will guys like Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez behind him and Lance Lynn ahead of him, his window of opportunity to claim a spot with the Cardinals is closing.

That leaves the team’s roster at 36 as they still need to sign Albert Pujols. They have left room to sign players or make a claim in December 8th’s Rule 5 draft if they need to. If they do claim a player in the major league portion of the draft, they will need to keep him on the team’s major league roster all season.

Happy Birthday, Stan Musial

And finally, a happy 91st birthday to Stan Musial.

Changes to Divisions, Wild Card coming

Major League Baseball announced the approval of the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane this morning along with division and wild card changes for the future.

According to the Associated Press, the MLB’s decision to move the Houston Astros to the American League beginning in 2013 saved Crane’s ownership group roughly $65 million. The move of the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West is designed to balance out the league’s divisions to give them 2 leagues with 3 divisions with 5 teams in division.

What that means for baseball is that beginning in 2013 you are looking at a scheduling model that includes interleague play from beginning to end as that is the only way to balance the schedule with an odd number of teams in each league.

The plan is to maintain the DH for use when American League teams are playing at home and allowing the pitcher to hit when National League teams are playing at home. Which really makes the idea of having a guy like Allen Craig coming off your bench all that more important for a National League club. However, many feel that this is simply a precursor to the Designated Hitter being standardized throughout Major League Baseball and I hate that idea with all of my being. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of the DH?)

Major League Baseball also announced that they would be adding a second wild card in each league beginning at least by the 2013 season, though there is some speculation they will try to plug it in for next year.

Many remember this season how the final day of the season was quite possibly the most dramatic day in MLB history. All that drama wouldn’t have happened with two wild card spots. The final week of the MLB season would have looked and felt completely different. Instead of a dramatic rise to the playoffs, it would have been flat.

While many leagues have looked at changing their playoff format, I’m not a fan of letting more teams into the playoffs. The more teams you let into the playoffs, the more you devalue the regular season. At 162 games, the MLB season is nearly two times longer than the NBA and NHL seasons and over ten times longer than the NFL season. The NBA and NHL let 16 of their 32 teams into the playoffs, the NFL 12 of their 32. The MLB had been the toughest league to earn a playoff spot in, only letting 8 of their 30 teams achieve of a postseason berth.

If you’re going to let everyone in, why play a regular season? Let’s just start with a huge tournament with best of 7 series’ from April to October. Why not? I think if you’re going to expand the postseason, you have to shorten the regular season, but that’s not something they are willing to do.

The speculation by many writers today, while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says there are many things to be determined about how to implement it, is that the league will have a one-game playoff between the two Wild Card teams to get into the playoffs. I am not a fan of that idea.

First and foremost, it will need time before and after the game to make it happen. Teams will want to play their #1 pitcher in the game, which essentially burns them in the first round of the playoffs making it even more difficult for a team to overcome in the first round. During this time, the other teams are sitting on their couches and losing their edge.

Secondly, I’m a proponent of the idea that it should be hard to get into the playoffs. I think the MLB’s playoff system has been very well executed. I like it better than I like any other league’s playoff format. It’s difficult to get into, but it also allows that team that is still really good but gets stuck behind a juggernaut of a team to get a chance.

As always, we’re going to see how it works out, but for the most part, allowing two wild cards in each league to advance to the playoffs is going to simply shorten the season for a lot of teams. As with the NFL talking about going 18 games while complaining that teams rest players after they clinch a playoff spot, you are essentially making it easier for team’s to clinch and therefore rest players and prepare for the playoffs. Meanwhile, you eliminate some of that drama down the stretch.

Much like NASCAR’s decision to create their own playoff format, this is a gimmick. A gimmick that eliminates real drama and is meant to simply generate it’s own. I hate that.

Color this baseball fan disappointed with this news.

Cardinals set coaching staff

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting the Cardinals’ 2012 coaching staff has been set.

Just two days after introducing Mike Matheny as the organization’s newest manager after the retirement of Tony LaRussa, who had held the role for the last 16 seasons, the Cardinals have revealed their coaching staff.

The big news is that Dave Duncan and Mark McGwire will return to their positions as the team’s pitching and hitting coaches, respectively. Duncan will be entering his 17th season as the Cardinals’ pitching coach and the final year of his contract. McGwire will be entering his 3rd season as the Cardinals hitting coach. Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the National League in several offensive categories.

Derek Lilliquist will also be back in the bullpen as the team’s bullpen coach. No truth to the rumor that hearing aids were a requirement of his new contract.

In somewhat of a surprise, Jose Oquendo will return to the staff at his typical spot at third base. Oquendo was widely considered to be the manager-in-waiting in St. Louis and was the final interview for the manager’s seat. He was passed over for Matheny. My only concern is whether Oquendo buys in to Matheny as manager, which I’m assuming the organization would have checked on before announcing his return.

Mike Aldrete, who served as assistant hitting coach since 2008, will get a uniformed position as he takes over the role as bench coach from Joe Pettini. Aldrete was expected to be the leading candidate to take over the hitting coach position with the Oakland Athletics, but has apparently turned it down to return to the Cardinals.

Finally, Memphis Redbirds’ manager Chris Maloney will move up to the big league club to take over as the first base coach from Dave McKay. Maloney also interviewed for the Cardinals’ managing position. He has been involved with the Cardinals organization 20 seasons as a minor league manager. This is his first major league posting. Ron “Pop” Warner, who managed the Double-A Springfield Cardinals is expected to take over Maloney’s old position in Memphis.

According to the P-D, Pettini and McKay will be reassigned elsewhere in the organization.

Matheny named manager

After an interview process that lasted roughly a week, Mike Matheny stood in front of the cameras and was announced as the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was a field of six candidates. Jose Oquendo, Chris Maloney, Ryne Sandberg, Joe McEwing, Terry Francona, and Matheny. According to the team, after each interview they ranked their board of potential candidates. After his interview, Matheny went to #1 and stayed there, despite his lack of experience.

Matheny, 41, has long been predicted by those around the game to make a good manager. He has recently served as an assistant to General Manager John Mozeliak and has been an instructor at spring training for the team as well. Since he retired at the end of the 2006 season due to concussion related problems, Matheny has been involved with the Cardinals organization, leading many to believe that he would one day be destined for the big chair. However, going into the interviews, he was likely the dark horse candidate that nobody gave a real shot to.

He will now be the youngest manager in the major leagues.

Matheny played five of his 13 year career with the Cardinals. He hit just .245 with a .304 OBP, but took home three of his four Gold Gloves while playing for the Cardinals. He was the catcher who tutored a young Yadier Molina before handing the starting job off to him in 2005. Molina has received four Gold Gloves of his own in the years since.

The management decision was rumored to have come down between Matheny and former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. In my opinion, Francona was only going to be a manager for a few years before we had to find someone else. Both in Philadelphia and Boston his end came when he could no longer reach and motivate his players. Matheny has the potential to be a much more longterm manager than Francona would.

Ultimately, I think the move will be good for the Cardinals.

First and foremost, he is already familiar with the team and has the respect of the players in the locker room. The Cardinals players who are on Twitter, like Jon Jay, David Freese, and Daniel Descalso made sure to applaud their new manager and let us know they were excited to play for him because they like and respect him. Two important keys for a manager.

Secondly, Matheny has worked with John Mozeliak on the front office side. He likely buys into the same philosophy that Mozeliak does as far as building the roster. I felt that since Mozeliak took over as the team’s General Manager that he and Tony LaRussa were oft times at odds about how they wanted to build the roster and what they wanted out of it. Now Mozeliak has his guy in the manager’s seat and those conflicts will likely be limited. But now Mozeliak can’t blame shortcomings on that relationship (not that he did, at least, not publicly).

Thirdly, even though he is inexperienced at this particular job, he is likely to be surrounded by experienced coaches and has a sharp baseball mind. Dave Duncan is under contract for 2012 and is expected to return to the organization as pitching coach. He and Matheny would have worked closely together over the five seasons Matheny spent as the Cardinals’ starting catcher. He also has a good relationship with hitting coach Mark McGwire.

Something Matheny will hopefully remember is that this is a championship team and while you do want to make your mark and make it your coaching staff, some consistency will be good for the team. No need to reinvent the wheel. But I see the desire for him to make it his coaching staff rather than LaRussa’s coaching staff.

At the same time, he needs to be his own manager. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s managerial style, be yourself.

The big question will be how we judge his success. He is being handed a World Series Champion. Is anything less a disappointment?

We as fans need to be careful how high we set that bar for him. It is his first year and he’ll be learning on the job. At the end of the year, I want a team that was in contention until late September and I want to see how Matheny handles games. Does he under manager or over manage? My biggest complaint about his predecessor was that I felt LaRussa could over-manage a game like nobody else and as a result managed us out of some games. There is a fine line to walk and I understand it could take him some time to find the right touch.

In the end, it’s a positive move for the Cardinals to begin the post-LaRussa era.

Oh, and for fun, Arthur Rhodes, who pitched last season for the Cardinals is 333 days older than Matheny.

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