Tag Archives: Prince Fielder

Cubs to pursue Pujols

Despite the rumors otherwise over the last month, FOX Sports is reporting that the Cubs will pursue Albert Pujols after all. During the meetings in Milwaukee before Thanksgiving it seemed like the Cubs were interested in bringing back their existing first baseman, Carlos Pena. That seems to be in doubt with the recent news.

With the announcement of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the way that compensation will be divvied up to teams losing Type A free agents, the big winners are probably Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Previously, if their teams offered them arbitration (which the Cardinals have offered to Albert) and they went to sign with another team, the team that signed them gave up an early round draft pick. Now, the team that is losing the Type A free agents gets a pick sandwiched in before the signing team’s pick. This immediately made Pujols, Fielder, and other Type A free agents much more attractive to teams who are trying to building from within.

Just a few weeks ago I went over each team and what their potential interest in Pujols was likely to be. I still feel that while the Cubs fans would love to steal Pujols away from their arch-rivals, it doesn’t make much sense for the Cubs other than making a big splash. The team’s problems are much deeper than one 32-year-old former best player in baseball can fix. Plus, would Pujols be willing to throw away his 11 years in St. Louis for a payday?

For the Cubs, they have to consider what is actually best for the franchise. What got the previous management team in trouble in Chicago is spending big money on declining players. Albert’s last three years have been a systematic decline, plus I can’t be the only one who realizes that a player’s true prime is ages 29-31, not 32-35 as has been suggested by many in the big media.

The “cheap” option for them is to bring back Carlos Pena. Pena, 33, hit .225/.357/.462 for the Cubs last year with 28 home runs and 80 RBI. He was on a 1 year, $10 million contract trying to regain his value after a rough final year in Tampa. Given his closest free agency comparisons are likely Lance Berkman, who signed a 1 year, $12 million deal with St. Louis with far better numbers, and Adam Dunn, who will make $14 million next year in his second year of a four year deal with the White Sox. Pena is probably in the $11-13 million range to bring him back. That could be half of what it would cost to bring in a guy like Fielder or Pujols.

Pujols, who will turn 32 in February, is coming off of the worst season of his career. He hit .299/.366/.541 last year with 37 home runs and 99 RBI in what could be his final year in St. Louis. The rumored top offer stands with the Cardinals at 9 years, $198 million, which is a $22 million average annual value.

The man I think that makes far more sense to every team out there, except the Cardinals, is Price Fielder. Fielder, 27, hit .299/.415/.566 last season with 38 home runs and 120 RBI. Right now he’s put up better numbers that Pujols in their most recent season. He’s also younger and about to hit his prime years. Overall, the money commitment required to land Fielder will be less as he will likely be roughly the same AAV, but fewer years. If I was a team needing a slugging first baseman who had no existing attachment to any of the three, Fielder is my first choice.

There have been conflicting reports over the last week. Some media writers saying teams would prefer to take an overweight player like Fielder rather than an older player like Pujols. However, in his article announcing the Cubs are in on the Pujols negotiations, Ken Rosenthal claims that the Cubs are interested in Pujols because of his conditioning and concerned about Fielder’s. He also mentions their defense.

But let’s be honest here. It’s first base. It’s not a position where defense is considered a premium. No team will give up offense at first base to improve their defense there, well no team that expects to win, that is.

I think you also have to take note of their injury histories. Fielder has not yet missed time due to an injury. Pujols has been plagued by several over the years and has existing nagging injuries that many (including myself) feel have reduced his production as he plays through them.

When I lay everything out, I still think that Albert returns to the Cardinals. I just don’t see how the Cubs even think he makes sense for their organization.

There is only one team that can give Pujols everything he wants. He wants a winning team, and St. Louis is coming off a World Series championship. He wants a long-term contract, and while the latest rumor is that Albert’s contract is for significantly less than 10 years, I don’t see it getting any less than 8. It only makes sense for one team to lock him up into his forties. He wants money, and the Cardinals’ principal owner has said that they will overstep their $110 million payroll budget for this season for Albert.

And last but not least, he wants a legend. He sees all the great Cardinals of the past get received by Cardinals fans and you have to know that he wants that for himself. Spending several years in a Cubs uniform, in light of everything he’s said he’s looking for in a team, will destroy that legend in the eyes of Cardinals fans.

The search begins in Miami

For Cardinals fans and Albert Pujols, the ball has begun to roll. While there are reports that the Cardinals were unwilling to boost their pre-season offer to Pujols, he has already scheduled his first tour and meeting of the offseason.

The Miami Marlins are looking like they are considering making big moves this offseason. They’ve already talked to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, two of the top free agents at their positions, and now they have added Albert Pujols to the mix. Pujols will receive a tour of their new ballpark today before meeting with their administration tomorrow.

2012 is all about new for the Miami Marlins. Yes, the Miami Marlins. As part of their deal to build a new ballpark closer to Miami in an effort to draw in more fans, the Marlins will be changing from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. With that comes new uniforms and logo, which were to be announced today.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s new General Manager Jerry Dipoto has apparently also expressed their interest in both Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. You can bet that at some point Pujols will be making a trip to Anaheim to take a look at their facilities and meet with them.

Meanwhile Nolan Ryan said that he’d be surprised if the Rangers were big players in either Fielder or Pujols while giving a vote of confidence to their current first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland, 26, hit .259 for the Rangers last season with 16 homers and 51 RBI. But Moreland isn’t and will likely never be a true impact player in the league. But he doesn’t have to be because the Rangers have guys like Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre.

As a Cardinals fan I’m torn by this news, but know that it’s the way it has to be. Pujols has to do his due diligence and check out the other interested teams, if just to confirm to himself that he is in the best place.

I don’t think the Marlins will play a critical role in the Pujols negotiations simply because they already have a pretty capable first baseman as it is. They would have to make room for him and if they do it before, they risk Pujols not signing. If they do it after, they risk not getting any return on him. It would be a difficult place to be in.

I think the move is more to generate media mentions about the Marlins. Get the new name out in public and let everyone know that these will be the new look Marlins, not the one that trades away all their good players. They hope to have increased payroll next year, but I think for them to go and triple that payroll is expecting a bit too much. However, they need to compete with the Miami Heat (which is easy right now because there is no NBA right now) and they need star players. Pujols and Reyes can both fit that mold. The two of them? Well that’s almost on the same level as the Heat.

The Marlins actually have a pretty prime opportunity. They already have the basis of a solid team. However, contending in the NL East right now, with Philadelphia and Atlanta having the rosters that they do, is going to be difficult. They could basically add in a few guys who could completely turn the face of the franchise around because their existing payroll is so low.

They have the flexibility that the Cardinals would have going into 2013 if Pujols doesn’t return.

Until contract numbers start flying around, don’t get too excited about Pujols visiting other teams. It’s something he has to do to prepare for the decision he has to make. I think we still have a long way to go until that decision is made. Like, somewhere closer to two months.

But it should be very interesting to see who is in and who is out. And will a mystery team come in and make waves at the last minute, much like the Phillies did with Cliff Lee last year?

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Be the GM: My offseason strategy

We all know that question #1 for the Cardinals is whether or not Albert Pujols comes back, and that will be keeping John Mozeliak’s attention for most of the next two months.

I expect it will be a long negotiation while he waits for the market to completely develop. I see Prince Fielder signing first, probably something around 5 year, $115 million (in my opinion in Texas or with the Cubs). Then Pujols will likely return to the Cardinals with about an 8 year, $190 million deal. Yes, I do expect that Pujols will return to the Cardinals next season, and I think it’s just a matter of time.

If I’m the Cardinals, I have Allen Craig penciled in at first and Lance Berkman penciled in in right field should Albert Pujols not sign. My backup plan is in place and all I need to really do now is solidify the holes on the team.

So what do I do if I’m the Cardinals GM and I’m busy twiddling my fingers waiting for Pujols to finally sign on the dotted line?

Solidify the Middle Infield Situation

The first thing I’m thinking about is finding a way to solidify the middle infield. Obviously last season’s decision to trade defense for offense was a bust. The Cardinals were at their best when we were getting good defensive play up the middle in center field, short stop, and second base. The trade for Rafael Furcal really strengthened the defense at short stop. Unfortunately it didn’t help the offense.

If it were up to me, Furcal would not be my first choice to play short stop. His injury history scares me off and his offensive performance leaves me wanting.

I would contact the agent for Clint Barmes. In Houston last year as their starting short stop, Barmes hit .244 with 12 HRs and 39 RBI. He was a +14 runs saved on defense at short stop, compared to Furcal’s +2. Barmes provides just as much pop, just as much bat, but a far better defender who is also two years younger and without the injury history. He made $3.93 million last year and will likely command a raise on top of that. I think something like 3 years, $15 million would get the job done to bring him in and surely he’d rather play for a World Series contender than Houston.

With his ability to play both second and short stop plus defensively, he also provides you some great flexibility if you decide that Ryan Jackson is deserving of an opportunity to play short stop in a couple years.

Next, I’m looking for a second baseman. Somewhere in all of this mess you have to find someone who can legitimately be considered a leadoff hitter for you. While Jon Jay might be able to fit that bill in center field, you want to have someone who can jump into that spot during his slumps. That brings me to my choice at second base, Jamey Carroll.

Carroll,at 37, has basically been a utility guy for most of his career. As a free agent the opportunity to play for a playoff contender could be interesting to him. Last season he hit .290 with a .359 OBP over his 146 games for the Dodgers. He was also a +2 runs saved at second base in 81 games there. Certainly a player that could be capable of leading off when you consider in 33 games as the Dodgers’ leadoff man, Carroll hit .315 with a .389 OBP. He hit .304 with a .388 OBP in 30 games in the second spot in their lineup. Something like 2 years, $4.5 million should get the job done.

That gives you two plus defenders up the middle who aren’t slouches with the bat. Offense and defense should trump the other by itself.

Find a LHP to compliment Rzepczynski in the bullpen

This is the hard one. The list of quality left handed relievers is very thin. Last fall I said the Cardinals should pursue a premier left handed reliever because our organization has been unable to develop one from within yet. You also had 4-5 of them on the market. Unfortunately, the Cardinals went and got Brian Tallet.

While I wouldn’t completely complain if the Cardinals chose to bring back Arthur Rhodes for this role, I’d like to see them invest outside of that option.

The two best that I see on the market are Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver, both coming off their seasons from Texas. Gonzalez held left handed relievers to just a .214 batting average while Oliver kept them at just .227. However, both will be pricey options that are liable to cost nearly $4 million a season.

If the team wants to save some money and perhaps have another Dave Duncan reclamation project, you could consider Damaso Marte, who missed the 2011 season after having shoulder surgery in late 2010. Before the surgery in 2010, he held left handed hitters to hitting just .146 with a .200 OBP. He could be a cheaper option as a guy who is trying to prove his health. You might be able to get him for closer to $2 million on a 1 year deal after the Yankees declined his $4 million option.

Find a right handed hitter who can play all 3 outfield positions

Okay, this one might be harder, but it isn’t as expensive. Unless the Cardinals believe that Allen Craig can play center field in roughly 10-15 games this year, I think they need to consider bringing in another outfield for the bench. All the internal options, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Adron Chambers, who are major league ready are left handed hitters. That hurts in a matchup against a tough left handed pitcher.

There was really nobody that I wanted to go after on the market as a good fit. However someone on the CardsClubhouse forum brought up Andruw Jones.

Jones has played just the corner outfield spots the last few years, but he is right handed and showed some bat last year. He hit .247 with a .356 OBP, 13 HR and 33 RBI in 77 games for the Yankees last year while making $2 million.

Jones picked up 222 plate appearances last year for the Yankees. With the Cardinals and Allen Craig likely getting the opportunity to play first and the corners ahead of him, Jones would likely end up with roughly 20 starts and maybe 50 pinch hitting appearances. That’s 130 plate appearances, assuming that everyone stays healthy (which is always a question in itself). Would Jones be happy with that or does he want more playing time?

Beyond those three things, the Cardinals can fill from within pretty well. Daniel Descalso can be the utility infielder with the potential of bringing a guy like Nick Punto back or giving guys like Tyler Greene or Pete Kozma a chance to earn that spot. Tony Cruz can be more than satisfactory as the backup catcher.

Kyle McClellan could be used as trade bait over the offseason. He wants a chance to start and won’t find that in St. Louis. Plus, I think he’s well liked enough that if he went to Mozeliak and said, “Hey, I think I’m good enough to start and I know that won’t happen in St. Louis, I’d like you to explore trading me” that I don’t think it would become as publicized as Colby Rasmus‘ request. Plus, moving him could help the team fill one of the above spots. Beyond that, the bullpen is pretty with plenty of good young arms and more on their way through the system.

Key improvements are all that needs to be made for the Cardinals. They are defending World Series Champions and they have Adam Wainwright returning from Tommy John. Needless to say they should be more than capable of returning, with or without Pujols. If they make some moves like this, I think they could really solidify their position.

What are your priorities in the offseason if you were the GM?

Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website atunitedcardinalbloggers.com.

Like Redbird Dugout on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also find me on Twitter at @jondoble.

Who are Pujols’ most likely suitors?

That is the question that I will endeavor to answer over the next little bit of your read along. Though Daniel over at C70 at the Bat tackled this topic in a post of his own on Wednesday, I’m going to take a team-by-team approach to it. I’ll analyze each team’s current position and whether or not they have the place and the means to be a player in the Albert Pujols negotiations.

To really answer this question we need to discuss what is important to Albert. There are two things that really stick out. First, his desire for a winning team. Second, his desire to be recognized for his performance over the last 11 seasons. In professional sports, there is usually one way to determine who the best players in the game are and that is by looking at their paychecks.

So I have three criteria that I’ve evaluated each organization with. First, the team will have to be a winning team or have a young core of highly talented players ready to play in the major leagues. Second, the team will need to be able to pay him well. Third, I’ve assumed that he’d rather play first base everyday rather than be a DH for an American League team.

What do the grades mean. F means no chance. D means an outside chance if they make moves to make some room. C means the team meets a couple of the requirements, but he doesn’t quite fit their plans. B means a team may have the means, but maybe not the motive. A means that they have the cash and meet the requirements and should be players.

With that said, let’s jump in.

Atlanta Braves (Grade: F)
The Braves will not be a player for Pujols. They have the young Freddie Freeman who hit .282 last season with 21 HRs and 76 RBI, and that was just his rookie season. Freeman is likely there in Atlanta for the long haul as a foundation player for their future. They don’t have a need to go spend the necessary cash to bring in Pujols.

Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade: B)
The Diamondbacks could be a team with an outside shot at Pujols. They have a young core of players like Ryan Roberts, Chris Young, and Justin Upton as well as a really solid pitching staff with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. They’ve dealt away a lot of their talent in return for pitching production. Their payroll was the second lowest it’s been in a decade and is nearly half of what they were spending in the Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling years. They could have some money there to sign a player like Pujols, and having a premiere player of Pujols’ caliber in their lineup would change the face of the division. Would they be willing to pony up to be automatically penciled in as the best team in the NL West for the next few seasons? I’d be doing the math if I was in charge.

Baltimore Orioles (Grade: D)
The Orioles have money to spend and are in need of a first baseman for their organization. Many believed that their 1 year deal with Derrek Lee last year was specifically so they could chase Pujols in free agency. Except the big problem is that they aren’t a winning team nor are they expected to really be one any time soon. Plus, the team is currently searching for someone to lead the team as General Manager (I am currently unemployed and would love to). If it comes down to a pure money offer the Orioles could have a chance, but given that I feel Pujols is going to balance winning and his payday, the Orioles certainly don’t offer what he wants.

Boston Red Sox (Grade: F)
Adrian Gonzalez is pretty much coming off a career year both offensively and defensively. If we assume that Pujols doesn’t want to DH, Boston is out of the running.

Chicago Cubs (Grade: B)
The Cubs fans would love to steal Albert Pujols away from their rival Cardinals and believe Theo Epstein is the GM to do it. While I expect the Cubs to be in the discussion, they lose points on the winning category. They have the opening at first base and the money coming off the books, but have other flaws that need to be fixed. I would hope that Pujols wouldn’t go to the Cubs. That’d be like Jeter going to the Red Sox. Cardinals fans would go stupid crazy in the event he signed with the Cubs and I’d certainly hate to be the owner of that new Pujols statue in St. Louis because I doubt it would remain untouched.

Chicago White Sox (Grade: D)
The White Sox have Paul Konerko signed for two more years to play first base and is coming off of a year where he hit .300 with 31 HRs and 105 RBI. While they might want him, they have no need of him. Especially with Adam Dunn signed through 2014 to DH. If they could deal off Dunn, maybe they could play in the Pujols sweepstakes, but I don’t see that happening where they don’t eat a large chunk of Dunn’s contract.

Cincinnati Reds (Grade: F)
The Reds might even have a backlog of talent at first base to deal with. Joey Votto is signed for two more years and their young prospect Yonder Alonso needs a position to play. They have no need, nor a desire, to go sign Pujols.

Cleveland Indians (Grade: D)
While they have some money coming off the books and a need for a first baseman, I don’t see the Indians being a major player for Pujols. Many of their younger players will hit arbitration for the first time and will likely absorb that extra money.

Colorado Rockies (Grade: F)
The Rockies will need to look at filling first base and replacing the 37 year old Todd Helton at some point, Helton still hits fairly well and is signed through 2013. The Rockies are also about at the top of their payroll over the last decade and they just signed Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to longterm, expensive deals.

Detroit Tigers (Grade: F)
The team has Miguel Cabrera signed through 2015 and many consider him to be the most dangerous hitting first baseman in the American League. While he is a defensive question mark, the Tigers also have Victor Martinez signed through 2014 to DH for them.

Houston Astros (Grade: F)
The Astros have been shedding payroll as of late, have a new owner, aren’t in any shape to contend, and have a long road back to contention. No way.

Kansas City Royals (Grade: B)
The Royals are the team that I’ve expected to be a dark horse for Pujols. He spent his first years in the United States there. However, the emergence of Eric Hosmer, unless they decide to move Hosmer to DH, severely diminishes the chances of Pujols finding his way to the Royals.

Los Angeles Angels (Grade: C)
While on the surface the Angels may appear to be a great contender for Pujols, they are going to find themselves in a bit of a salary crisis. Especially when they are paying Vernon Wells over $25 million a year for the next three years. Rookie Mark Trumbo also emerged this season as a viable first baseman. I think the Angels aren’t as big a threat as many think they will be.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Grade: F)
With the financial troubles this team is undergoing and the potential auctioning off of the team, I don’t see the Dodgers making a play for Pujols at all. They are looking like they’ll try to lock in Matt Kemp, however, after his breakout season.

Miami Marlins (Grade: C)
This is another team that people think could be a sleeper. They are moving into a new ballpark and expect to make some more money from it being better located in the city, instead of a good drive out of town. They have Gaby Sanchez at first base, so they would likely have to trade him in order to make it work. Sanchez could have some serious value, seeing as he has only used up two years of eligibility, he is under team control for four more years. But the Marlins have yet to show that they want to spend money in free agency, so I doubt they’ll start now.

Milwaukee Brewers (Grade: F)
If the Brewers were going to sign an expensive first baseman out of free agency this season, they’d be going after Prince Fielder. With the extra money spent on the pitching staff last year, I think they went all in in Prince’s final year and now will scale back a bit. I’d be surprised if they made a big splash in free agency at all.

Minnesota Twins (Grade: F)
The Twins are all screwed up right now. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were both signed to big contracts and both spend most of last year injured. With those two on the roster, they don’t have a need to bring in another high priced player and I don’t know if they could afford one.

New York Mets (Grade: F)
The Mets have their own financial problems and are unlikely to make any big moves in free agency.

New York Yankees (Grade: F)
With Mark Teixeira at first and projecting Jesus Montero at DH for the future, they have no need to bring in Pujols. Besides, pitching is a far greater concern to the Yankees at the moment than bringing in another offensive threat.

Oakland Athletics (Grade: F)
While they have an opening at first base, they aren’t likely to spend much more on their team than they are right now. Plus, I don’t see Pujols being all too interested in playing for them.

Philadelphia Phillies (Grade: F)
The Phillies have $50 million invested in the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, not to mention another $20 million in Ryan Howard, their first baseman, I don’t see the Phillies even calling up Dan Lozano to kick the tires.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Grade: D)
The Pirates only have $6.6 million committed to 2012, and just about half of that is going to Kevin Correia. They do have 10 players due to hit arbitration and many more still under team control, so it’s not like they don’t have anyone to field a team next year, but they do have plenty of financial flexibility at this point to do what they think they need to. They don’t have anyone to play first base and have a young core of talent coming up. I doubt, though, that their ownership is ready to invest what would likely be nearly half their payroll into a single player.

San Diego Padres (Grade: F)
The Padres new ownership is still cutting payroll. Their highest paid player last season was Heath Bell, their closer, making $7.5 million. I doubt they will pick up for the phone to Lozano either. Pujols doesn’t fit with their organizational strategy.

San Francisco Giants (Grade: F)
The Giants are currently at their highest payroll of all time and broke $100 million for the first time this season. They have Aubrey Huff to play first base for at least one more year and young Brandon Belt who was expected to take the role. They’ll be spending their money to retain as much of their pitching staff as possible and they won’t be in the Pujols discussions.

Seattle Mariners (Grade: F)
While the Mariners are a team in dire need of a consistent offensive threat in their lineup, their payroll has remained pretty steady over the previous few seasons and they don’t have that much money coming off their books in 2012. Plus, they may be considering paying up to retain Felix Hernandez with an extension after his contract expires at the end of the year.

Tampa Bay Rays (Grade: F)
The Rays struggle to find money to pay their own talent. Their owner was in the press complaining that the lack of attendance makes it difficult for them to bring in and retain their talent because they need to run the business inside their budget to make a profit. And I feel for him. He’s provided them a playoff team in 3 of the last 4 years (only the Phillies have made it 4 times and the Yankees are the only other to make it 3) and still they struggle to bring fans to the stadium.

Texas Rangers (Grade: A)
The Rangers might be the biggest threat for the Cardinals through the negotiations. Mitch Moreland played the most first base for them and Pujols will definitely out perform him. You can also assume that since they didn’t spend the money they were chasing Cliff Lee with last season that they have some to spend. While I still see Prince Fielder as the better fit for the Rangers as he will ultimately cost less and be more willing to slide into the DH role as he ages, Pujols might enter their radar. While Fielder might command nearly the same money, he will likely get fewer years which lessens the investment required for a team.

Toronto Blue Jays (Grade: C)
Toronto has gone about building a young core of players over the last few seasons, so that is the #1 reason I can’t see them pursuing Pujols. While they might have a team capable of battling the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays with a couple of additions, I don’t see Pujols fitting in with their strategy. They potentially have the money to spend too.

Washington Nationals (Grade: D)
The Nationals could step in and make a play for Pujols with the thought of moving Michael Morse back into the outfield, but the young Morse is a defensive liability wherever he plays. That is an unlikely move, however, with Jayson Werth in right field and left field likely penciled for Bryce Harper. Morse enjoyed a breakout season, hitting over .300 with 31 home runs for the Nationals. They are deservedly high on him and he’s still under team control for two more years.

* * *

And with that we reach the end. So according to me, I expect the biggest competition to the Cardinals to be the Texas Rangers. Beyond them, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Arizona Diamondbacks should all be in that next tier of players.

The big problem for Pujols is that there is a younger first baseman on the market who will put similar numbers up. Fielder will likely be the first one off the market. Once that happens, Pujols’ market will be more defined, but the problem is that beyond the Cardinals it really only makes sense to just a few teams to seriously consider signing him. I’m not even sure it makes sense for the Cubs beyond the “let’s screw the Cardinals” rhetoric.

It’ll certainly be the issue that will divide the fan base this offseason and be the source of much discussio and debate. Even more so than the managerial search. Do we spend the money and keep him, do we not and invest it in shoring up the team’s holes? It is potentially the single largest free agency decision that the Cardinals have had to make in my lifetime.

Whatever happens, given the right move this season to shore up the team for the playoffs… in Mo we trust.

Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website at unitedcardinalbloggers.com.

Like Redbird Dugout on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also find me at @jondoble on Twitter.

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.

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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