Spring Training – What To Be Looking For In 2012?

Your 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals are about to start their 2012 Spring Training games.  I’m not sure about you but just saying that gets me excited!  After winning the World Series you better believe every team will be looking to knock us off and put just a little more effort into doing it.  So what has happened since I was by the RF foul (or fair) pole for the last out of Game 7 of the WS?  Unless you have lived on a different planet for the past number of months you know the answer to that question is a TON!

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Molina signs 5-year extension

This afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals officially announced that their catcher, Yadier Molina, has finalized a 5-year extension with the team. The deal, which is worth $75 million from 2013-2017, includes a $15 million option for 2018 for a maximum value near $88 million according to sources. He is already under contract for 2012 on a $7 million option from his previous contract signed before the 2008 season.

Many fans questioned the team’s loyalty to the stars of their last two World Series’ runs after they failed to match the Angels’ $240 million, 10 year offer for Albert Pujols in the offseason. Since Pujols left, the team has spent money to bring in Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran and began their talks for an extension with Molina. It’s fair to say that if Pujols had stayed, none of this would have happened.

At 29, Molina enjoyed his most successful major league season to date in 2011, leading the team in batting average at .305. He also posted career highes in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. He was an All Star and picked up his fourth consecutive Gold Glove at catcher. He also enjoys the reputation of being the best defensive catcher in baseball with excellent pitching staff handling skills. His bat is just a bonus, though inconsistent.
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2012 Preview: Third Base

David Freese had a spectacular postseason. He then had an amazing offseason that included a stop by Jay Leno’s show and presenting at the CMA Awards with Erin Andrews. The question will now be, can he put it all together, have the season everyone thinks he can have, and then take his place as one of the league’s premiere third basemen?

Of course, that’s what we asked last spring and unfortunately it only half happened. After starting the season hitting around .320, but missed 51 games after being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his left hand. It was the only derailment in 2011 for Freese who had ankle injuries force him from the lineup in both 2009 and 2010.

Thankfully for Freese and the Cardinals, Freese didn’t sustain any ankle injuries in 2011. Something that has allowed him to come into this season saying that his ankles feel better than ever. Hopefully that’s something that can continue.

In the end, Freese finished the season with a .297/.350/.441 line with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in the 97 games he did play. For the 28-year-old third baseman, that was just the beginning of the story of his 2011. As has been covered and will be covered for years to come, Freese lit up the NLCS with a line of .545/.600/1.091 and added 3 home runs and 9 RBI on his way to scoring the NLCS MVP award. He wasn’t going to stop there though.
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2012 Preview: Shortstop

For the Cardinals, the Opening Day starter at shortstop is pretty well assured. That would be Rafael Furcal. A mid-season addition at the trade deadline for the Cardinals in 2011, Furcal provided a significant upgrade to the defense at shortstop for the Cardinals. It was a steadying glove when the Cardinals needed one most.

The oft-injured Furcal was in the final year of his previous deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Furcal had a $12 million club option on his contract for 2012 that could automatically vest with 600 plate appearances. Since he ended up with just 356 between the Dodgers and the Cardinals, the Cardinals’ declined the option and made him a free agent. Eventually, they brought him back as their first post-Pujols deal for 2 years at $7 million a piece.

This could be a very short preview post. You see, because of the injuries that Furcal has suffered over the last 4-5 years, it’s hard to get a good read on what kind of player the Cardinals’ can expect Furcal to be.
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2012 Preview: Second Base

Second base looks to be one of the more interesting positions in 2012. The perceived incumbent, Skip Schumaker, is looking at more of a utility role than in years past while both Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene have been mentioned as potential starters by Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak. It certainly looks to be the only real positional battle for the Cards entering spring training and it will be one that will have clearly defined battle lines.

Greene, 28, is one of the most polarizing young Cardinals. In fact, a few of us bloggers were discussing him on Twitter today. A few thinking he is the breakout Cardinal of the year while myself and a couple others still question just what type of player he is.

A former first round pick, most of the interest in Greene has been created by the numbers he’s put up the last three years in the minor leagues. What happened three years ago, he turned 25, the age where you start taking the “prospect” tag away from a minor league player. If he hasn’t shown up by then, will he ever? Going into the 2009 season, Greene’s career line in the minor leagues was a paltry .254/.323/.414. His defense is below average at what people would call his “natural position,” short stop.
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