Tag Archives: Albert Pujols

Epstein looks to join the Cubs

“Twas the night after Theo signed and all the Cubs’ fans’ houses. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The uniforms were hung by the lockers with care, in the hopes that Albert Pujols would soon be there.”

It didn’t take more than 15 minutes after reading my first article about Theo Epstein resigning from the Boston Red Sox with the intention of joining the Chicago Cubs as President of Baseball Operations for me to spy my first article. “Albert Pujols a good fit for Epstein’s Cubs,” was the title. The man isn’t even on the job yet and they are already expecting him to land the biggest free agent to hit the market in, well, maybe ever.

Needless to say that Epstein’s expectations are high in Chicago, where fans are looking to him as the savior to end their 104 year title drought.

Epstein has worked the magic before. He was hired at 28 by new Red Sox owner John Henry who was looking to shake some things up. He wanted younger blood. Someone who understood the computer models and the mathematics behind advanced statistics rather than some of the older baseball minds of the time. He wanted someone who wasn’t afraid to try something new if it meant getting better results.

It seems to have worked as in his second season as GM, the Red Sox made an improbable run to the World Series and then swept the Cardinals to end an 86 year title drought. Not to mention, they did again in 2007.

When I heard the rumors of Epstein leaving the Red Sox for the Cubs, I immediately dismissed it as simple hope that the Cubs could land such a person. Epstein is a god in Boston. Would he really want to leave that post? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s far more fun to build a winner than to try to maintain a winner. Seems Theo thought the same.

The second thought, once I realized that it was a possibility, is to think about how many General Managers have built teams with two different franchises and taken them to the World Series, much less having won two. Unfortunately, I can’t find that information anywhere. But I do know one, that would be Pat Gillick who led the 1992 and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays to World Series championships and then the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.

It has to be rare because so much of building a good team requires a little luck. Luck from drafting the right players to making good free agent signings to putting the right people in place in the organization to pulling the trigger on the right trades.

Epstein got some luck right at the beginning of his tenure in Boston, where his three biggest moves of his first couple offseasons were David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Curt Schilling.

George Steinbrenner had told his GM Brian Cashman that he wanted David Ortiz. Apparently Cashman misinterpreted exactly how badly Steinbrenner wanted Ortiz in Yankee pinstripes and didn’t pursue him as hard as necessary to keep him away from the Red Sox.

Kevin Millar was sold to a Japanese team, but Boston was able to block the move by waivers to claim him. He really only had one exceptional season in Boston, average the next, and below average the one after that. But it worked for 2004 and his attitude and personality was credited with loosening up the team on a playoff run that featured a 0-3 series deficit in the ALCS that year, enabling them to win the next 8, win the ALCS and then sweep the Cardinals.

And finally Curt Schilling who was under a large contract in Arizona. The Diamondbacks essentially took peanuts for him so they could stop paying him. None of the players they received were impact players and the minor leaguer was a middle of the road guy who hasn’t played in Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball since 2004.

The three big pieces of their World Series team basically given to them. Can’t get more lucky than that.

Can Epstein repeat his success in Chicago? Maybe.

Immediately he gives the team a guy with a name. A name that was made by breaking the Curse of the Bambino. He’s been a winner and that will change the attitude of employees and players in the organization.

He’s been in a winning organization and knows what one looks like. The Cubs hope he can reproduce it and Epstein is already rumored to be making moves to bring a few of his key advisors from his early years in Boston to the organization. I think that is a good move.

I feel that the Cubs’ problems right now are deeper than a new man at the top and a change in personality can make. Some of their clubhouse problems over the last two years show that, in my opinion. From dugout shouting matches to Carlos Zambrano meltdowns, the team’s psyche is scarred. I think the Cubs would benefit from ripping the Band-Aid off as it applies to a few of these high paid, declining veterans on their roster and working to solidify their foundation.

And will Albert Pujols be Theo Epstein’s #1 priority in free agency?

It will certainly make the rumor mills, that is for sure. The prospect of their arch-rival Cubs stealing away the best player in baseball who has played for the Cardinals all of his career? That’s “Curse of the Bambino”-like.

More than just wanting Albert Pujols to return as a Cardinal and the Cubs being the third to last place on earth that I’d want him to go (New York and Boston would be the last places, gladly not likely to happen), I don’t think that Pujols would be a good fit in that organization at this moment. Their problems are more than just one player, and when it comes down to it, Pujols is a 32 year old first baseman with declining defense and he is not the offensive power he was just a few years ago. Minor injuries have nagged some of his skills away. He will be pricey, in terms of both dollars and years.

A much better fit for the Cubs? Prince Fielder. He’s four years younger than Pujols. While he’ll likely cost as much as Pujols will because he’s younger, he will probably get fewer years because he’s not the caliber of player that Pujols has been.

Regardless of what happens in the offseason, there is almost nothing I’d love more than for the Cubs to contend in the Central again. I’d love to have a Cardinals-Cubs rivalry that had more on the line than fan pride. Let’s get to September and have those fall games at Wrigley mean something. That’s what I want to see.

And it should be fun to see how Theo Epstein plans to guide them there.

Rangers steal Game 2

As I said after the game on Twitter, I expected the Cardinals to lose this one. Just not the way they did.

By all accounts Jaime Garcia should have been lit up by the Texas Rangers offense that can be easily considered to be the best offensively producing team against left handed pitchers in the entire major leagues this season. Instead, Garcia turned in what was probably his best pitching performance since a two-hit complete game shutout that he threw on May 6th against Milwaukee. It was probably in the top-3 of his pitching performances of the year, and if you consider the circumstances around it, quite possibly the best.

In his 7 innings on the mound, Garcia held the Rangers at bay with just 3 hits and a walk, along with 7 strikeouts.

He issued a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth that nearly came around to bite him, but he caught Adrian Beltre swinging on strike 3. In fact, Kinsler, who walked and then made it to third on a single by Michael Young, was the only Rangers player to make it past first base until the 9th inning.

Cardinals fans felt like they had to be watching a replay when in the bottom of the 7th of a tie game, Tony LaRussa brought out Allen Craig to pinch hit. Ron Washington, going with the definition of insanity (repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome), brought out Alexi Ogando who Craig singled off of to drive home the go-ahead run in Game 1. With Freese on third this time and Punto on first after a pair of singles, Craig singled to right field again, scoring Freese for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

At that moment, I felt like Craig had virtually clinched a shot at World Series MVP, if the Cardinals won the series, in just two at bats. It was going to be tough to beat a guy who was 2-for-2 with 2 game winning RBI.

Fernando Salas struck out Mike Napoli in the Rangers half of the 8th. Then Marc Rzepczynski came out and struck out Yorvit Torrealba (potentially ending the talk that he was the better option in Game 1?) and then faced Esteban German again, who grounded out to Albert Pujols.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Cardinals threatened to add an insurance run to the board. Mike Adams got Jon Jay and Albert Pujols to fly out to start the inning, but Lance Berkman followed that up with a single before Matt Holliday walked. Up to the plate came Daniel Descalso, who had been one of the Cardinals’ best clutch hitters earlier in the season, but Adams got Descalso to ground out to second base.

With the 1-0 game, Tony LaRussa went to Jason Motte once again. Once again back in the no-doubles defense (a throwback to the 2009 NLDS Game 2 where Holliday misplayed a ball that resulted in a Dodgers rally and victory), Ian Kinsler popped one up. It was just out of the reach of Furcal as he ranged back and Holliday was a few steps short of catching it. Had he been playing regular depth, Holliday catches the ball without an issue and we have 1 out in the 9th. Instead, Kinsler is standing on first base.

While the next batter Elvis Andrus looked at bunting, Kinsler took off and stole second base. That took the bunt off and Andrus wasted no time in hitting a line drive to Jon Jay for his own single that put the tying run in Kinsler at third base with no out.

On the same play, Andrus was able to advance to second on the throw after a couple miscues by the Cardinals that have resulted in a bit of a furor about it. Jon Jay’s throw was wide of the plate and Pujols had a chance to cut off the play and keep Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, but he missed the ball and it ended up rolling the rest of the way to Molina. More on the furor later.

That misplay ended up being the key ingredient in the Rangers win.

LaRussa went out to the mound to bring in Arthur Rhodes to replace Motte to face the left handed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to Schumaker in right field that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus. 1-1, tie game.

LaRussa went back to the mound to bring in Lance Lynn for his first World Series appearance. It was a good move considering that Lynn is far more of a strikeout threat than Rhodes and you don’t want them hitting the ball and scoring the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michael Young did. He hit a sacrifice fly to Jon Jay that allowed Andrus to score on the tag up.

Lynn then got Beltre to ground out to third base, but the damage was done and the Rangers were up 2-1 with Molina, Punto, and Schumaker due up in the bottom of the 9th with Berkman and Freese already out of the game.

With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entering the game with his 100 mph fastball, the Cardinals spent the entire inning struggling. He initially struggled to find his command though, walking Yadier Molina. Watching the inning, I felt that Feliz never really regained his command, but despite that, struck out Nick Punto (who failed twice to bunt) and Skip Schumaker. Feliz would then get Rafael Furcal to fly out to right field to end the game and let the Rangers notch one of their own in the win column.

According to MLB.com, Feliz threw all fastballs in that 9th inning, none slower than 97 miles per hour. He is a true flamethrower.

After two games, the series will head to Texas and the Ballpark in Arlington where it’s now become a Best of 5 and the Rangers have home field advantage. The Rangers are the second best home team in baseball and the Cardinals are the second best road team in baseball. Arlington also happens to be an extremely hitter friendly park, so it’s safe to say that we’ll probably see more offense over the next three games than we have.

Finally, to discuss the aftermath of the play in the top of the 9th. This morning Jeff Passan wrote a piece about Pujols’ leadership after the loss, or lack thereof. Apparently by the time the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse opened up to the media, Pujols had showered and left. So had Berkman, Holliday, and Molina. The four of them leaving their younger teammates to answer questions about what went wrong in a heartbreaking ninth inning collapse.

This experience illustrates exactly what I’ve been saying about Pujols and the Cardinals for the last few years, really since the 2009 season. Pujols is not a leader, well maybe a (9, 1) leader on the managerial grid. He is very much let’s his work ethic and on field performance speak for him. He’s not the type of leader who will help motivate the players around him. There are stars in sports who are great players, and then there are stars in sports who elevate those around them. Pujols is the former. A guy like Peyton Manning is the latter.

But the issue becomes as well, that as long as Pujols is a Cardinal and as long as he is the highest paid and longest tenured player on the roster, nobody is going to potentially step on his toes and step up to take that role. As we heard during the 2006 run to the playoffs, it was Jim Edmonds who stepped up to motivate the team. Edmonds was the veteran, he had the paycheck and the tenure to do it.

The second thing is that there is a seeming divide between the veterans and the younger players. Colby Rasmus was a big illustration of this to me. Pujols was quoted as saying that he’d talked to him maybe 2-3 times the entire time they played together. So basically, what Pujols just said is that he spends at least 162 days a year with 12 guys, they played together for two and a half years (almost 450 games) and they only talked 2-3 times? I know Rasmus keeps to himself, but really?

I have zero problem with Pujols snubbing the media. As many have said as we’ve had fan forum debates on it that the players owe the media nothing unless outlined in Major League Baseball rules.

Where my problem lies is that he left his teammates holding the bag, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard this story about Pujols.

My problem is that you can bet your tail that if Pujols had hit a walk off grand slam that he would have stayed to make sure every reporter’s questions about it got answered while he basked in the glow of success with that trademark grin on his face. On the other hand, when he fails and a misplay by him ultimately costs the Cardinals the game, he cuts out early and leaves his teammates to answer questions about the tough loss.

When you don’t have players who have each other’s backs, you create poison in the locker room. This sort of thing is the #1 reason why I feel the Cardinals have underperformed over the last three years. Team psychology during the season, and even more so the playoffs, is a critical thing. Passan asked a remaining Cardinals’ player about why Pujols left and he shrugged his shoulders and dodged the question about how he felt about it. I have a feeling his response would have been something to the effect of, “It is what it is.”

This kind of thing can be the catalyst that breaks a team. And if it does, that is all on Albert Pujols for hanging his teammates out when he should have been the one to accept his failures and man up to them to set the example for the rest of his teammates. That’s what being a leader and a man is all about.

I hope the team proves me wrong on Saturday night by going out and getting another win.

Cards take Game 1

What elbow problems? Chris Carpenter silenced the doubters who suggested that his elbow injury might limit his ability to shut down the high powered Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday night. When it was all said and done, Carpenter allowed just 5 hits and walked 1 over 6 innings. Two runs were all that the Rangers managed to put on the board, those on a one runner on mistake that Mike Napoli crushed in the top of the 5th.

The tone of the night was set early. Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game. Kinsler, one of the two 30-30 guys this season, was caught by Yadier Molina after Elvis Andrus whiffed on an attempted hit-and-run. And it didn’t even look like Molina tried. It seemed effortless.

The Cardinals offense got the action going in the bottom of the 4th. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had his moments, but was mostly inconsistent from the mound. That was illustrated by a pitch that bounced well before the plate and hit Albert Pujols in the shin. Then Matt Holliday doubled to give Lance Berkman an RBI opportunity in his second plate appearance of the World Series. With men on second and third, Berkman singled to right field allowing Pujols and Holliday to score easily. 2-0 Cardinals.

The Rangers answered quickly in the top of the 5th. Adrian Beltre singled to right field himself. Then a mistake to Mike Napoli was parked in the right field bleachers. That quickly evened it up, 2-2.

It was Allen Craig, pinch hitting for Chris Carpenter with two out in the bottom of the 6th, that broke up the tie game. David Freese hit a one-out double and then Nick Punto was walked to put men on first and second with the pitcher’s spot due up. This was to make Tony LaRussa pull Carpenter and go to the bullpen. The gamble is, of course, that the pinch hitter does nothing.

Tony LaRussa went with the hook and sent Allen Craig up to the plate with two outs in a tie game in the World Series. No problem with pinch hitting or coming off the bench or the pressure situation, Craig hit a line drive down the line that Nelson Cruz nearly caught with a slide. The ball bounced out of Cruz’s glove, allowing Freese to come around to score the go-ahead run. The Cardinals were now up 3-2 with 9 outs remaining, as us UCBers on Twitter have taken to tracking games by.

With Carpenter out of the game, LaRussa called upon Fernando Salas for his first choice out of the bullpen. While Adrian Beltre grounded out to start the inning off, Salas quickly found himself in trouble with a Nelson Cruz single and a Mike Napoli walk. Was the bullpen starting to show it’s first cracks from it’s heavy use in the National League Championship Series? That was the question at the forefront of Cardinals’ fans minds as LaRussa made the walk out to the mound to bring in left hander Marc Rzepczynski to face the left handed David Murphy.

In a counter move, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington went to his bench with Craig Gentry, a right handed hitter to eliminate the lefty-lefty matchup. It didn’t matter. Rzepczynski would use 7 pitches and strike out Gentry and Esteban German who pinch hit for Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando.

To start the 8th inning, in came Octavio Dotel. He got Ian Kinsler to ground out and then struck out Elvis Andrus before Tony trotted back out to the mound with another change. In came left hander Arthur Rhodes, in his first World Series (ironically matched up between the two teams he played for this year), to face Josh Hamilton. He got Hamilton to fly out to center field and we were on to the 9th. Three outs remained between the Cardinals and a Game 1 win and early lead in the World Series.

In came the pitcher who just happens to typically come in in the 9th inning of games when it’s a save situation, Jason Motte. Some teams would call him the closer. Motte slammed the door shut on the Rangers, keeping his impressive streak of playoff performance alive. Motte has faced 25 batters over 8 innings of work this post-season and has allowed just 1 base runner.

Carpenter becomes the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a quality start in the playoffs since himself. That would be that complete game shutout that he hurled in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against Philadelphia.

There was some debate about whether Ron Washington managed his game properly or whether he was trying to out-manage LaRussa. Personally, I think Washington managed the game well. The worst part of it was really that he took a few gambles that didn’t pay off.

First, running on Molina in the top of the first was a huge gamble. It can be a huge momentum turner but, while Kinsler has some speed and steals bases at a better than 86% clip, if you mess the play up you end up turning the tables. In the end, Chris Carpenter gets out of lead off hit and the St. Louis crowd explodes.

Second, walking Nick Punto in the 6th was designed to get Chris Carpenter out of the game. Now, granted Punto did hit .350 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position this season, but I think you need to go after him. For one, you can be sure you’re getting only a base-hit if he gets a hit, after all he’s only hit 14 home runs in 11 major league seasons. Making the Cardinals bullpen work is one of the keys to the series for me for the Rangers, but with Allen Craig being the first man off the bench in those situations, I don’t (intentionally) walk Punto to force that. Especially when Carpenter wasn’t all that sharp tonight. Plus, you may have seen a pinch hitter anyway if Punto had reached.

The third is one that many others have questioned, using Esteban German to pinch hit with two on and two out in the 7th rather than Yorvit Torrealba. While Torrealba hit just .256 against left handed pitchers like Rzepczynski, German (who has hit .292 against left handed pitchers in his career) hadn’t taken at at bat since September 25th. I think Washington made the right decision there. You have to expect that each player on your bench can equally perform to their averages whenever you want to use them.

Trying to take the crowd out of it early and trying to get the Cardinals to use their bullpen, both are things that you’ve got to do to win while on the road. You hope you can catch a reliever on a bad night and capitalize on a mistake. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t work out for them.

Winning Game 1 puts the Cardinals at a huge advantage as far as history shows. In 13 of the 16 World Series’ in the Wild Card era, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. When the home team wins Game 1, they’ve won the series every year since 1993. Good news for the Cardinals, but while history shows it will be a difficult road for the Rangers, it’s never over until it’s over.

Game 2 will matchup the Rangers’ Colby Lewis against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Lewis is 1-1 in two postseason starts for the Rangers this season. He threw six one-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 win, unfortunately that hit was a solo home run. Against the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, he allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 5-2 loss. In the final two months of the season, Lewis was 4-2 with a 5.23 ERA, which could bode well for the Cardinals.

Only 5 current Cardinals have faced Lewis before. Lance Berkman has 13 plate appearances against him, hitting just twice. Gerald Laird is 3-for-8, Nick Punto is 0-for-1, Ryan Theriot is 2-for-2, and Albert Pujols is 1-for-1.

Garcia is 0-2 in three starts for the Cardinals in the playoffs. He allowed just 1 run in 4.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game the Cardinals won, but was given a quick hook when the fifth inning began shaping up like that of Game 1 where Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead home run off of him. The advantage for Garcia is that he will be pitching at home, where he is a much more confident pitcher. Garcia finished the season off going 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Only 2 current Rangers have faced Garcia before. Coincidentally, their two backup catchers. Matt Treanor, who was just added to the roster for the World Series is 1-for-4 against Garcia with 3 strikeouts. Yorvit Torrealba is 0-for-2.

The question for Garcia and the Cardinals is how will he handle the Rangers. According to ESPN’s Team Stats, the Rangers led the league with a .282 batting average against left handed pitchers and were second in slugging percentage at .459. Garcia also struggles against left handed hitters, allowing them to hit .308 with a .418 slugging percentage. The Rangers have a premier left handed hitter in Josh Hamilton. They also have David Murphy who has had a great postseason so far.

This is the game that I predicted to be a slugfest. Unfortunately, I think the Rangers are better suited for that type of game and will win Game 2, taking us to Arlington tied up at 1 game a piece.

The game is once again scheduled for an 8:05 pm Eastern start on FOX.

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UCB Project: Interview El Maquino

Every month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to take up a network wide blogging project. This month, those who could participate volunteered and were paired up to interview their fellow bloggers to find out a little about them. I got to interview Aaron from El Maquino and ask him about his love of the Cardinals and why he chooses to blog. As part of the project, he interviewed me and you can find that on his site.

Aaron, how did you become a Cardinals’ fan?

Well, I’m from Kansas City, but when I first got into baseball about six years ago, I knew I had to choose a team. But I quickly found out that my hometown Royals had management that couldn’t care less about their fans. I figured if they didn’t care about me, I wouldn’t care about them.

Not wanting to be a bandwagon fan and pick a big east coast team, I chose the next closest franchise: the Cardinals.

Who is your favorite Cardinals’ player?

Albert Pujols is by far my favorite player and always will be. Not only is he the greatest player of all time, he plays for my favorite team and is a great model for modern Christians. His talent alone is enough for him to be my favorite. His character is pepperoni on the pizza.

What is your favorite Cardinals’ moment?

Favorite Cardinals moment is tough since I’ve only followed closely since 2009. Uh, maybe when Albert knocked the “I” out of the BIG MAC sign? His 400th was cool. Carp’s near no-hitter was great until it blew up at the end. The fight against the Reds.

What got you into blogging about the Cardinals?

I used to have a site by the same name that I updated for part of last season, but it ate up way too much of my time and I shut it down. But in December, I got the itch for writing again.

I knew I wanted to be a baseball writer in some capacity someday, so I started up EM2 with the idea that I would use it for writing practice.

How did you get connected with the United Cardinal Bloggers?

I signed up for the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Association) to promote my site and Dan Shoptaw invited me to the UCB. So here I am!

Do you have any aspirations to go beyond blogging about the Cardinals? Maybe pursuing something related as a career?

As I said, I want to do this for a living someday. Recently, EM has done incredibly well and has made me wonder if I could be hired as an online writer someday. I hope to go to MU’s journalism school which would be a virtual free pass in the journalism world.

What do you think is the Cardinals’ #1 offseason priority going into the winter?

SIGN ALBERT. Other than that, gotta keep Wainwright and Yadi. I’d hate to see Carp go since he’s my second favorite player, but I get that that may not be prudent. And Berkman’s gone.

For additions, I’m not expecting a lot. Maybe a utility guy, some relievers, an unexciting starter?

Will you change the name of your blog if Albert Pujols doesn’t return next season?

Nice question! Shoot, I think he’ll stay, but it not… Yeah, I guess I would. He’ll always be my favorite anyways. It’d also be a hassle to change the “brand name” I’ve been able to build.

Well, you can always come write for Redbird Dugout if that happens.

If you are interested in finding more interviews, there should be a post aggregating the links at the United Cardinal Bloggers website.

Looking at 2012: Part 2

As the Cardinals near staring a 10 game deficit the topic of 2012 has once again crept into the minds of their fans. There are some huge questions hanging over the franchise as the season begins to wind down and I don’t know if there is another franchise with as much uncertainty towards next year.

In part 2 of this four now five part series, I will be looking at the players who have contract options for 2012.

The two contract options that I think may as well be considered picked up are those of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.

Now, just a week shy of his 30th birthday, Adam Wainwright will be coming off Tommy John surgery next year. It was reported by the Post-Dispatch that Wainwright has recently begun long toss from 120 feet, a big step in his recovery. He is expected to be cleared to throw from a mound at some point in September. A big question posed by fans is why would you take the risk of assuming the option years on Wainwright’s contract that total $21 million over the next two years and not try to renegotiate something with him to be flexible seeing as he’s coming off of injury.

The simple point is that Wainwright has all the power in that process. If the Cardinals choose not to pick up his option for 2012, he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. While many teams will be wary of the injury, there will be teams willing to spend more than the $9 million he’d be due next season to put a man who has won 39 games and posted a 2.53 ERA over his last two seasons.

In my opinion, the talent per dollar drop off for pitchers is much greater for pitchers and with the way that Tommy John surgery is becoming more and more routine these days, you don’t screw around with the potential of turning off a Cy Young caliber pitcher. You would think, at worst he’s a fifth starter pitcher which you’ll spend $9-$11 million on anyway. At best he’s the Cy Young caliber pitcher he’s been the last two years and retakes his place at the top of your rotation next year.

For Yadier Molina, he is coming off of his best season. He’s hitting over .300 and has a career high 11 HR. He has a $7 million option that would put him in the top-3 highest paid catchers in the league next year. To me it would be a no brainer to pick up the option, but there is some talk that he and the Cardinals may talk about an extension that would add years and lessen that 2012 salary number.

In my opinion, I’m nervous about the number of innings on Molina’s knees. He is on pace to put up another 1,130 innings at catcher, that’s less than the previous two years. However, under the 4 years of the last contract he signed, he will have turned in nearly 4,500 innings behind the plate. I’m willing to guess that that is the most in the majors. Can he continue to stay healthy? My guess is that he has probably 3-4 more effective years at catcher before he will need to be dialed back. The sooner you dial him back too, the longer you should be able to use him.

Now onto the question mark options. Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, and Octavio Dotel.

Carpenter, 37, had a slow start this season, but much of that was attributed to a shaky defense behind him. He’s stepped it up through the summer to once again become the staff ace. There are two questions to Carpenter. First, can the Cardinals afford that $15 million option and Albert Pujols? Second, is Carpenter slowing down or can we expect 2-3 more solid years out of him and is he worth extending?

There is a lot of fan talk that the Cardinals should consider with Carpenter what the Reds did with Rolen last year. They threw in a little more money and extended him. A 1 year, $15 million contract for Carpenter makes many fans tense up. However, there is great support putting together a 2 year, $20 million deal with another $10 million option. That would extend Carpenter into his 40s and I think that he’s the type of player who would leave money on the table if he wasn’t playing as well as he should be.

Rafael Furcal is a tougher question. As of right now, the 33 year old short stop has played in 339 games since 2008. The teams that he’s been on have played 614 games. That means he played just 55% of the potential games due to injuries. He received another freak injury over the weekend at Wrigley Field by tripping over a rope in the batting cages there. The team holds a $12 million option on him that seems like a no-brainer to not exercise.

There are large health concerns with Furcal, but there is no doubt that if he’s healthy he could solidify the short stop situation for the next couple years. The pool of quality middle infielders is extremely shallow (if the Nationals have a trade market for Ian Desmond, you know the pool is shallow) so there will definitely be a market for Furcal’s services in the offseason. Ultimately, I think that will be why the Cardinals do not pursue him. If they get matched up against multiple teams wanting him, he will cost more than they are willing to invest in him. Especially when it seems Daniel Descalso can play a pretty good shortstop.

For Octavio Dotel, he is quite a cheaper option for the Cardinals at $3.5 million. It still makes him potentially the most expensive bullpen arm for the Cardinals. Dotel will be 38 next season. He has a 3.71 ERA over 165 innings the last three seasons between the White Sox, Pirates, Dodgers, Rockies, Blue Jays and Cardinals. Yes, that’s right. Six teams in three years. And he spent all of 2009 with the White Sox to boot.

I think Dotel is one of the pitchers you have to bring back for next season. With the way the bullpen is stacking up for next year, he would be one of the only true veteran relievers and that might be worthwhile having out in the bullpen with the young pitchers. Plus, if the team is intending to pull an existing reliever into next year’s rotation I would be more confident with Dotel in the bullpen than someone from Memphis. But, I’ve been surprised in that aspect before.

Since I’ve already written a ton more than I intended to for this article (I shoot for 1000 words, and I’m almost at 1100 at this point), I’m going to extend the series by a part. Tomorrow I will discuss the young, in-house talent that we can expect to contribute to the Cardinals in 2012.

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Looking at 2012: Part 1

As the Cardinals near staring a 10 game deficit the topic of 2012 has once again crept into the minds of their fans. There are some huge questions hanging over the franchise as the season begins to wind down and I don’t know if there is another franchise with as much uncertainty towards next year.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Albert Pujols is question #1 for the Cardinals entering the offseason. He is playing this year on the option year of the 7 year, $100 million contract he signed before the 2004 season. His impending free agency has been offseason topic #1 for all of baseball. It’s not every day that the best player of the last decade becomes available on the market. Because of that, it’s a topic that everyone has covered deeply, not just myself.

Manager Tony LaRussa also finds himself at the end of a contract this season. He does have an option for next year, but there always has to be the uncertainty until he says that he’s picking up that option.

Chris Carpenter is in the final year of his contract, but has a $15 million option for 2012. Adam Wainwright, who underwent Tommy John surgery in February, has missed this season and probably won’t make it back. That means his $21 million option that keeps him a Cardinal for the next two years doesn’t automatically vest, however the team has indicated they plan to pick up the option regardless.

Their catcher, Yadier Molina is in the final year of his last contract as well. He has an option for next season that could net him $7 million. However, there are rumors that they might renegotiate for more years and reduce that salary number for next year.

Lance Berkman, who is probably the best signing of the last offseason, will also be a free agent after his 1 year, $8 million contract expires. Berkman currently has the 25th highest batting average in the National League. He is also 3rd in the NL in home runs and 9th in runs batted in.

You also have a handful of guys that we traded for that are also eligible for free agency. Rafael Furcal has a $12 million team option for next year. Octavio Dotel has a $3.5 million option as well. The final piece would be starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, who many see as having a lot of potential as a pitcher, is also a free agent at the end of the year.

There’s also the arbitration question. Do you try to trade Skip Schumaker or Ryan Theriot before their final arbitration year? Do you non-tender them? Do you keep them around?

John Mozeliak will definitely earn his paycheck this winter with all the work he has ahead of him. It is the most busy that I can remember any offseason being.

The Cardinals officially enter next season with $41 million committed to Matt Holliday, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, and Jaime Garcia. I think it’s safe to assume that the Cardinals will pick up the options of Wainwright and Molina, which pushes the number up to a cool $57 million.

In part two, I will discuss the contract options that are on the table for the Cardinals and what internal talent can we expect to contribute in 2012.

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