Yesterday I tackled my April Grades for the Cardinals’ position players and today I will tackle the grades for the Cardinals’ pitching staff and the manager. Chris Carpenter is still out and we’ve kind of forgotten that he even exists with how great the staff has been so far in 2012.
Manager Mike Matheny – Matheny was my #1 choice to take over for Tony La Russa after he announced his retirement. We’ve long heard about his potential as a manager. However, I didn’t really like that he had zero managerial experience. It’s something I held heavily against Jose Oquendo. But I felt that Matheny always had the ability to be a good manager, and so far he has been.
It’s hard to take over for a probable future Hall of Fame manager, but he has and he’s done it by making it into his own team. Over the last few years, I felt that the Cardinals had strayed from that “Play Like a Cardinal” ideal and become flat with their on field play. This year, I see some excitement. I see some of that baseball that I recall seeing earlier in La Russa’s tenure coming back. It’s a fun time to be a Cardinals’ fan. Grade: A.
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.
The commercials are back according to a press release that arrived in my inbox this morning. Every year the St. Louis Cardinals (and really teams around baseball) do annual commercials that get shown during their games. In previous years there was a theme like “Play like a Cardinal” or “We are Cardinal Nation.” However this year there doesn’t seem to be an overriding motto.
Rather than release them all at the same time as they have in previous years, the organization is using a “film festival” style release with each ad being released on the internet on their web and social media presences. What this means is, you’ll have to keep coming back for more. Unless you just wait until Friday night to view them all at once.
Right now three commercial spots are released. Skip Schumaker showing off his impressive glove collection to Allen Craig, Adam Wainwright telling Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse about his personal twitterer, and then one of all the players still finding confetti everywhere.
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.
The Cardinals made it official this morning that they have signed infielder Alex Cora to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. According to Derrick Goold, the move is not only for competition, but to help provide some coaching for the younger players. Cora’s playing days are pretty much up, but he has an interest in coaching.
Cora, 36, hit .224 with 0 home runs and 6 RBI in 91 games for the Washington Nationals last season. He spent time at every infield position for the Nationals through the course of the season as well. In his 14 year career he has spent most of the last 7 as a utility infielder off the bench for the Indians, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, and most recently the Nationals.
The move on the surface is nothing more than depth for the Cardinals as they enter spring training, just in case one of their players gets injured. However, I think there might be more of a potential for Cora to make the major league squad than we expect.
While his bat certainly won’t light the world on fire with his three-year line of .232/.296/.292, he gives the Cardinals something that the other infielders don’t. Who else plays at least a league average shortstop on the Cardinals roster? Rafael Furcal. Behind him? Tyler Greene‘s career numbers at shortstop stack him closer to Ryan Theriot than Furcal. Daniel Descalso took some time there last year and showed potential, but needs more playing time to adjust to the position.
Cora’s glove will be the second best defensive shortstop in Cardinals camp in a few weeks. I can’t be the only one who realized what effect a better shortstop had on the Cardinals pitching staff. For example, Jake Westbrook‘s ERA after the Furcal acquisition was about half a run lower than it was before the trade. That’s big. Depending on how much value the Cardinals think it might have, could end up getting interesting.
Less than two weeks away from pitchers & catchers reporting. Can’t wait.
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