Its that time again gang. Last year I bombed pretty bad on a number predictions but that doesn’t scare me away from doing it again! Who will win the World Series? Who will take home the Cy Young Awards? Who do the ROY honors go to? Without further ado…
With just six posting days left before the beginning of the 2012 season, I don’t have much time to get things going in the whole preview department. So the hope is to hit several topics over the next few days to round it all up.
Last season the Cardinals starting pitching took a big hit in spring training when Adam Wainwright was lost in February to Tommy John surgery. The injury advanced Kyle McClellan into the rotation. Lance Lynn made two starts when McClellan missed a couple due to an injury in June before Edwin Jackson was acquired near the deadline to replace McClellan in the rotation.
Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook all made over 30 starts for the Cardinals. They hadn’t had that many starters make more than 30 starts since all 5 starting pitchers did it in 2005.
From Opening Day 2011 to Opening Day 2012, there are only two positions that we know will be the same, Yadier Molina at catcher and Matt Holliday in left field. Of course, saying that I’ve probably doomed them both to disastrous spring training injuries. (knock on wood)
For the 29-year-old Molina, 2011 was a big year. He led the Cardinals in batting average with his .305. For all intents, he had a career year. He set career highs in batting average (.305), slugging percentage (.465), runs (55), hits (145), doubles (32), home runs (14), and RBI (65) among others. He won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and made his third consecutive All Star Game appearance. Picking up his $7 million option for 2012 was a no brainer for Cardinals management.
In my mind, Molina might be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. He is coming off a career year where he hit nearly double the home runs of his previous career high. Not only did he have home run power, he had gap power, notching 32 doubles as well, up from the 19 doubles he hit in 2010. For a man who is considered as slow as he is, that’s a high number, second on the Cardinals only to the other steady starter, Matt Holliday. That shows some potential that 2011 may end up being more than just a statistical fluke.
Another reason that I find Molina’s 2012 to be interesting is that his best friend on the team, Albert Pujols, has skipped town on his way to Anaheim to play for the Angels to the tune of $240 million over 10 years. How will he react after spending the previous 8 years of his career in Pujols’ shadow, will he step into the waiting spotlight or will he shy away from it?
You also have his impending contract situation, which I’ll address a little later.
Because of Molina’s defensive prowess and game calling reputation, any offense you get from the catcher position while he’s playing is a definite plus. It also means he logs a lot of innings behind the plate, 1150 innings in total last year across 137 games. Despite the fact that he logged 12 more innings in 2 more games than he did in 2010, he was used quite less than he had in previous years this season. If you remember, he was shut down for the final couple weeks of the season with knee issues at the end of 2010.
Despite those problems, Molina has been steady as a rock behind the plate for the Cardinals, notching over 1,000 innings behind the plate in 5 of the last 6 seasons. If the Cardinals are playing baseball, over the last 7 years the odds were pretty good that he was behind the plate as he’s proven himself exceptionally durable thus far.
For the Cardinals in 2012, there is no doubt that Yadier Molina goes in as the incumbent starter. The game is on, however, for the backup catcher role in 2012. Once held down by Jason LaRue and last year by Gerald Laird, the Cardinals under new manager Mike Matheny (to whom Molina was once a backup to) will be having an open competition for the roster spot. The guys who will be matched up in that battle will be Tony Cruz, Bryan Anderson, and free agent signee Koyie Hill.
Tony Cruz, 25, broke out when he got a chance to be the Cardinals backup catcher when Laird went down with a broken finger in May. While Laird was on the disabled list from May 23rd to July 5th, Cruz hit .278 with a .333 OBP over 18 games, 6 of which were starts behind the plate. His versatility was also used by the Cardinals as he made appearances during that time at third base and first base. Until 2009, Cruz had played primarily third base through the minor leagues, notching 130 games there before transitioning to catcher.
Bryan Anderson, 25, has toiled away in the Cardinals minor leagues since being drafted out of Arkansas in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. Since that time he’s played 593 games in the minor leagues and just 15 in St. Louis in 2010. Anderson has been the question mark since he was drafted. Before the 2008 season he was rated the #85 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and that was after a fairly lackluster year in double-A Springfield. The power that many scouts talked about never developed in the minor leagues and he got off to an ice cold start in Memphis in 2011 while splitting time with Tony Cruz. However, once Cruz made the trip to St. Louis, Anderson regained his stroke and finished up the year with a hitting line of .281/.357/.409.
Despite having gained the approval of new manager Mike Matheny in previous years, which might gain him some favor in the battle for backup catcher, there are still pitchers on the Cardinals’ roster, namely Chris Carpenter and I’ve recently heard Kyle Lohse, who don’t like the way he handles things when he’s behind the plate. That could have a huge impact on the battle if you have two starters in your rotation who don’t like pitching to a particular catcher. However, you could jump him around the rotation to avoid him. He’s worked with Jaime Garcia before when they both played in the minor leagues together and because of his time there, he has caught most of the guys in the bullpen.
Regardless of what happens, Anderson might be happier that this could be his final season with the Cardinals’ organization. Despite solid performances, Anderson has topped out in Memphis the last four years and his trade value is virtually nil. But he now has 6 years of minor league service time, which means he’s a free agent after one more. The Cardinals do still hold one more option on him, so he can be sent back to Memphis without risk of losing him.
The Cardinals also surprised fans by bringing in veteran catcher Koyie Hill, seemingly against their previous statements of letting Anderson and Cruz fight it out for the spot. Hill has spent the last five years with the Cubs and hit .194/.268/.276 with 2 home runs last year in 46 games for the Cubs. He’s never been exceptionally notable at the plate, nor even behind it with a career -0.7 defensive WAR. The move doesn’t really make sense except as a veteran catching option should Molina go down with injury. He would be an exceptionally long shot, but you never know what might happen.
So who do I think will win the backup catcher job in St. Louis. Honestly, I feel it should be Bryan Anderson and just not because I’ve been very high on Anderson the last few years and hate that he hasn’t gotten an opportunity somewhere. The Cardinals will need to figure out where they are going with the catcher’s position beyond this year. Molina is in the option year of his contract and is very likely to command a near $10 million salary in this next deal.
Between the catchers that the Cardinals currently have in the organization, I see Tony Cruz with more of a long-term future with the team than Anderson does. Therefore, I think it’d be better for Cruz’s development to be playing everyday in Memphis than playing once a week in St. Louis. Anderson might get the role simply because Cruz has more of a future with the organization. It wouldn’t be the first time the Cardinals have done something like this. And if Carpenter and Lohse don’t like throwing to Anderson, you have three other starting pitchers who you can pair him with. Or tell them to suck it up.
The Cardinals announced today that they have agreed to a 1 year deal worth $2.5 million with pitcher Kyle McClellan. The Cardinals and McClellan will avoid arbitration in his second arbitration eligible year.
McClellan, 27, started the season in the rotation after the injury to staff ace Adam Wainwright. McClellan had come through the minor league system as a starter, only to switch to relief after his Tommy John surgery. In 17 starts for the Cardinals, McClellan was 6-6 with a 4.21 ERA. After the acquisition of Edwin Jackson, McClellan made 26 more appearances out of the bullpen posting a 6-1 record and a 4.14 ERA.
He only made just 1 appearance in the playoffs for the Cardinals though after struggling with arm fatigue issues late in the season. There doesn’t appear to be any concern in the organization that those issues will continue into this season.
Many, including myself, have speculated that McClellan might be traded this offseason because of his desire to be a starting pitcher. With Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook already in the rotation, Wainwright back from injury, and Lance Lynn slated to start the season in the Memphis rotation, the odds of that happening in a Cardinals’ uniform are slim. He’s also well liked, so I think if he made his desire known to the Cardinals’ brass, that it wouldn’t come out negatively.
That leaves the Cardinals with only Jason Motte‘s contract situation to sort out. Motte, 29, is in his first arbitration year and asked for $2.4 million. The Cardinals have offered $1.5 million.
I just got back from finishing up my Christmas shopping when I sat down at my desk to see a tweet talking about Pujols and the Angels. It piqued my curiosity and I decided to scroll backwards and see what the root of the talk was. Then I spotted it, Pujols accepting a deal valued in the $240-250 million over 10 year range with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. My jaw slightly dropped.
For one, I didn’t think any team was going to step up and offer that sort of money. Pujols has been amazing his last 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, but over the last three years his numbers have slipped. Many defended his slump this year saying that he was trying to prove himself worthy of a big contract with Alex Rodriguez-type money. But what’s he going to do this next year as he tries to prove himself worth of the contract he got.
Joe Strauss is now reporting that the Angels’ offer is more likely closer to $255 million over 10 years and was comparable with the Marlins’ offer.
The Cardinals’ best offer bounced around quite a bit in the rumor mill. Their initial offer was reportedly the same as the $198 million over 9 year offer that they offered him back in January. Then they reportedly jumped to $220 million over 10 years after the Marlins went to 10 years. But it was later reported that they never officially went to 10 years.
Ultimately, only a few people know what happened in the negotiating room. And we are likely never to find out. But what does this mean to all involved.
For Albert, he turned down legend status in St. Louis for a payday.
I know baseball is a business and players today are always going to chase the money. Except over the last few years Albert convinced the people of St. Louis that he was a man of faith and of integrity. He said winning was more important to him and was willing to put a little bit of money where his mouth was on that if the need came. He consistently put off extension negotiation talks because he was under contract and the team had other priorities. He said that people who think he’s all about the money don’t know him very well. And how does it all add up?
He’ll be wearing an Angels uniform next season because they offered him more money.
It’s not because the Angels are a winning club. I still think the Rangers are a better team with more potential in the AL West. The Athletics could be contenders with the right pieces behind that pitching staff. And the Astros under new GM Jeff Luhnow will join the fray in 2013.
Meanwhile, you walked away from a team that is coming off of a World Series, with all it’s major parts returning, and adding a Cy Young contender to it’s rotation. Obviously it’s not about winning because you have a situation any player would kill for in St. Louis.
Only time will tell what this decision will do to his legacy in St. Louis. He’s still likely to go into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal, but not only a Cardinal. Will he get the statue at the ballpark? Will he get trotted out in front of the crowds on Opening Days? One thing is for sure, his name won’t be mentioned in the same breath as Stan Musial and Bob Gibson.
He may not regret this decision today, but I think he will at some point wish that he’d never left St. Louis. It’s a better baseball town. It’s a town that would have let him decline without anger out of perspective of what he’s done the last 11 years. It’s a town that would have vehemently defended him against all opposers. It’s a town that would have celebrated his legacy for the rest of his life.
How much is that worth? $30 million?
For the Cardinals, they are a team that is in excellent position to deal with the loss of Albert Pujols. They have Lance Berkman signed for 2012. Once Allen Craig returns from his knee surgery, he will be more than capable in the outfield. They also have the young Matt Adams who has hit up a storm the last two years in the minor leagues who will get a Spring Training invite and probably end up in Memphis, but his chances of making the big league club exponentially increased.
Right now the Cardinals are in position for a team makeover. It’s probably a situation that John Mozeliak has quietly drooled over since he became the Cardinals GM. A chance to make the Cardinals his team, instead of holding onto the successful members of the past. Matt Holliday is the only offensive player signed beyond this season. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright have two more years left. Jaime Garcia is the only pitcher than goes beyond 2013.
The build from within philosophy is now completely dedicated to now that Pujols has left.
Pujols’ departure also opens up some serious payroll room. I am a fan of bringing back Skip Schumaker to play second base. He’s one of the better hitters on the team and made huge strides defensively last year, but it seems if he does come back he will be relegated to a utility role.
They will need to spend on one or two players, but who will it be. Most of your players who are considered top-tier candidates are on the decline of their careers, have been plagued by injury, or both. The best value players have already made their departure from the market.
The team will need to look at a corner outfielder or first baseman and will also need to look at a shortstop. Jimmy Rollins has appeared to be a favorite of the Cardinals’ according to the rumor mill, but I’m still on the fence about him (though I do like him more than Furcal or many of the other options). And a name I heard floated as a potential outfield bat was Ryan Ludwick.
It also frees up some cash for the impending free agency of Adam Wainwright. If I had to choose between Wainwright and Pujols, I’d take Wainwright every day of the week. It’s harder to find an elite pitcher than it is to find an elite hitter, and elite pitchers cost more too.
For me, I’d often thought that it was in the Cardinals’ best interests to let Albert walk if he was going to cost much more than $22 million a year. It seems that Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak agreed with me.
I’ll be sad that Albert is gone. I wanted to see him finish his career with the Cardinals. To be the legend that I can turn to my kids and say, “I watched him play his entire career with the Cardinals and he was amazing.” However, I’m a Cardinals fan whether Albert Pujols plays for them or not.
I believe this is a mistake for Albert. I also believe that the Cardinals will be more successful over the next 5 years than the Angels will be.
Tony LaRussa has some tough decisions to make about his lineup for tomorrow night’s contest against the Texas Rangers. I’m here to help him make those decisions.
I might not have any major league or minor league experience for that matter, but I have managed my Las Vegas Aces CSFBL team to more playoff berths than any other team in my league since I took over the franchise some 60 seasons ago.
Sometimes it’s easier for us outsiders to generate a lineup like this. Why? Because we don’t have to deal with player egos. We can offer an purely analytical look at the lineup and why it should be a particular way. So without further ado, I hereby present my batting lineup for Game 6 of the World Series.
1. CF Skip Schumaker
Rafael Furcal is hitting .188 with a .233 OBP in the playoffs. I have to ask myself why he is even still leading off for the Cardinals. It just doesn’t make much sense to me to keep your coldest hitter in the lineup in the leadoff spot. It just kills any momentum you could generate at the top of the order.
Ultimately I would choose to go with Skip Schumaker. Schumaker is hitting .500 in the playoffs. Colby Lewis, the pitcher, is the only right handed pitcher that is starting against the Cardinals in this series, so take advantage of Schumaker’s .287 average against right handed pitching this season. That’s in comparison to a .230 from Furcal.
2. LF Matt Holliday
I’ve felt since we acquired Holliday that he should be hitting second in the lineup. Even more so now that Lance Berkman is here to hit cleanup. The situation gets the bat of Matt Holliday into the lineup right from the get go. He and Pujols are guaranteed first inning at bats. Hopefully, Holliday can take advantage and put Lewis and the Rangers in some trouble in the first inning. The idea is to jump on them early and often.
3. 1B Albert Pujols
Say what you will about Pujols, but the man is the best choice for a #3 hitter that the Cardinals currently have right now. I’m not going to move him.
4. RF Lance Berkman
Well, on this one Tony LaRussa agrees with me. But why should Lance Berkman be hitting fourth? The simple fact that he is hitting .389 with a .476 OBP in the World Series. He has been our best hitter over the last 5 games against Texas. He was also the only player to eke out a hit against Derek Holland in the Game 4 gem.
5. 3B David Freese
While Freese has seemingly been put on ice (see what I did there?) in clutch situations, his .313 batting average is still the second best in the World Series for the Cardinals. That makes him a great choice to backup the core 2/3/4 hitters in this lineup.
6. C Yadier Molina
There really isn’t another choice. Offense. Defense. It don’t matter. Yadier Molina is the best catcher on this roster. Oh, and his .294 batting average in the World Series is good for third on the team. The 4/5/6 hitters should definitely be generating some run producing opportunities.
7. SS Daniel Descalso
Okay, here’s where I start to raise eyebrows and get some funny looks. Follow me here. Furcal is hitting .188 in the playoffs and .230 against right handed pitching this season. Meanwhile Descalso is hitting .280 this season against right handed pitching with a .347 OBP.
He is solid defensively at short stop and has the potential to be excellent if he were to get some playing time there, so I don’t think you are giving up that much offense with him out there. Plus, you can always slide him to third and bring in Furcal if you want to shore up the defense later in the game.
8. P Jaime Garcia
There are quite a few people who don’t like to hit the pitcher 8th, but computer models prove that if players hit to their averages, your worst hitter should hit 8th in the lineup. For the Cardinals, that would be Garcia’s .097 batting average.
9. 2B Ryan Theriot
This is one that I go back and forth on. Really I’d be satisfied playing Jon Jay at CF in this spot and moving Schumaker to second or playing Nick Punto. Except here’s my problem with it, Theriot is hitting .320 in the World Series, though he only hit .256 against right handed pitchers this season.
Jon Jay is in the middle of a pronounced slump and Punto has looked silly on some crucial late game at bats, despite his strong numbers.
That’s the 9 guys that I’d run out there as my starting 9 tonight. I doubt that’s what LaRussa does though. With Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated tweeting that Holliday’s finger is hurting him worse than he’s letting on, we might see Allen Craig out there in Game 6, and Craig has done pretty solid.
With LaRussa’s love of veterans and certain players and consistency, this is the lineup we’re likely to see tomorrow night.
But hey, what more could we expect?
Season’s on the line. Let’s go Cards. I’m not ready for the season to end. I want Game 7.
Join me tonight on UCB Radio at a special time as we preview Game 6 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers on BlogTalkRadio. We will be live starting at 7:30 pm Eastern time, 6:30 Cardinals time. You can listen live over the Internet here.