One of three 2011 Opening Day starters expected to take the field in the same position in this year’s Opening Day game, Matt Holliday already has his name penciled onto the lineup card. The team’s new #3 hitter after the departure of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday will have some big shoes to fill in the eyes of the fans.
They are shoes he is already filling, in my opinion. Myself and others have complained about the lack of visible leadership on the team. Holliday seems to have done just that this offseason, becoming more involved with other players on the team and even inviting a few of the Cardinals’ recent draft picks out to St. Louis on his own dime to work out with them during the winter. He does it under the radar, but it is there.
Last year was a freak year for Holliday. From injuring his back lifting weights to a moth flying into his ear, odd things were the name of the game. He played just 124 games, the fewest since his rookie season, as a result. It’s also the first time since his rookie season that he hit below .300, with his line of .296/.388/.525. He added 22 home runs and 75 RBI. Despite the abbreviated season, Holliday’s performance helped him post a career high in OPS+ at 153, better than the 150 he put up in 2007, when he finished second in the MVP voting.
This afternoon the St. Louis Cardinals officially announced that their catcher, Yadier Molina, has finalized a 5-year extension with the team. The deal, which is worth $75 million from 2013-2017, includes a $15 million option for 2018 for a maximum value near $88 million according to sources. He is already under contract for 2012 on a $7 million option from his previous contract signed before the 2008 season.
Many fans questioned the team’s loyalty to the stars of their last two World Series’ runs after they failed to match the Angels’ $240 million, 10 year offer for Albert Pujols in the offseason. Since Pujols left, the team has spent money to bring in Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran and began their talks for an extension with Molina. It’s fair to say that if Pujols had stayed, none of this would have happened.
At 29, Molina enjoyed his most successful major league season to date in 2011, leading the team in batting average at .305. He also posted career highes in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. He was an All Star and picked up his fourth consecutive Gold Glove at catcher. He also enjoys the reputation of being the best defensive catcher in baseball with excellent pitching staff handling skills. His bat is just a bonus, though inconsistent.
David Freese had a spectacular postseason. He then had an amazing offseason that included a stop by Jay Leno’s show and presenting at the CMA Awards with Erin Andrews. The question will now be, can he put it all together, have the season everyone thinks he can have, and then take his place as one of the league’s premiere third basemen?
Of course, that’s what we asked last spring and unfortunately it only half happened. After starting the season hitting around .320, but missed 51 games after being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his left hand. It was the only derailment in 2011 for Freese who had ankle injuries force him from the lineup in both 2009 and 2010.
Thankfully for Freese and the Cardinals, Freese didn’t sustain any ankle injuries in 2011. Something that has allowed him to come into this season saying that his ankles feel better than ever. Hopefully that’s something that can continue.
In the end, Freese finished the season with a .297/.350/.441 line with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in the 97 games he did play. For the 28-year-old third baseman, that was just the beginning of the story of his 2011. As has been covered and will be covered for years to come, Freese lit up the NLCS with a line of .545/.600/1.091 and added 3 home runs and 9 RBI on his way to scoring the NLCS MVP award. He wasn’t going to stop there though.
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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