Tag Archives: Rafael Furcal

2012 Preview: Third Base

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.
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2012 Preview: Shortstop

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.
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Alex Cora agrees to minor league deal

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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On Oswalt and McClellan

Unless you’re a Cardinals fan that lives under a rock, you’ve heard the recent rumors relating to Roy Oswalt and Kyle McClellan. To catch you up, the Cardinals and Oswalt were reportedly very close to an agreement this past weekend, with a couple reporters calling the signing “imminent.” Of course, since the St. Louis scene wasn’t all over the rumor, I questioned it’s accuracy. And now, just over the last days or so, the St. Louis Cardinals are actively shopping Kyle McClellan, purportedly to get a roster spot and an extra $2.5 million of salary room so that they can increase their offer to Oswalt.

Now, Oswalt’s agent said within the last couple weeks that he would not be a reliever this year. That means he likely has more than one team interested in him to pitch out of the rotation. That’s where he’s been successful in the past, and I wouldn’t want to sign him as a reliever anyway, there is no guarantee a successful starter can adjust to the differences coming out of the bullpen. Which is also another reason against moving Westbrook to the bullpen.

As I sat and thought about these moves last night I’m confused. I cannot for the life of me figure out the cost-to-benefit analysis on this move. You’re trading away 27-year-old Kyle McClellan, who was one of the best middle relievers in major league baseball in 2010, his last season pitching solely out of the bullpen, to add a 34-year-old sixth starter who has had back problems off-and-on for the last few years, culminating last year where he only made 23 starts.

It seems like the 2012 Cardinals are banking hard on injury prone players and praying they remain healthy. They gave $14 million to Rafael Furcal, $26 million to Carlos Beltran, and now seem to be on the verge of giving Roy Oswalt somewhere in the $7-10 million range. These signings all sound great… if it were 2004.

Here are three reasons against signing Roy Oswalt.

First, the cost-to-benefit analysis doesn’t work out for the Cardinals. There was an excellent post at Viva El Birdos yesterday talking about Oswalt replacing Westbrook in the rotation or the use of a six man rotation. If you don’t feel like reading all of that, what his analysis eventually showed is that replacing Jake Westbrook with Roy Oswalt would theoretically result in a net gain of 13 fewer runs allowed, basically what ultimately boils down to just about 1 win over the course of a season. So basically the Cardinals look to be trying to spend $7-10 million for 1 more win.

Many Cardinals’ fans aren’t happy with Westbrook and would be happy to trade him for a bucket of balls. Westbrook, for some reason, had the worst season of his career, posting a 4.66 ERA but still 12 wins. However, in the second half he posted a 3.89 ERA. He struggled most of the season for sure. For what reason, we don’t know, but it’s safe to say that most fans were expecting the 3.48 ERA Jake Westbrook we saw at the end of 2010 when we traded for him. So to get the Westbrook we got was a shock. Something to remember is that Westbrook is likely to be better this year.

And I’m back to my statements of last offseason where we got rid of a couple players who failed to perform in 2010 but had previously had success for a couple of players who failed to perform in 2010 but had previously had success. If we’re going to be crossing our fingers that someone suddenly becomes productive again why all the shake up?

But that doesn’t stop many of us fans from going all googly-eyed about the idea of Roy Oswalt in the rotation. He has the sexy name that everyone wants, but it doesn’t seem worth it.

Second, you have to ask yourself: Is Roy Oswalt better than Jake Westbrook?

If you’re asking for 32 starts from both and they give them to you, Oswalt is going to be the better pitcher. However, when you look at the whole of the situation: Oswalt’s back, Westbrook’s no trade clause, a full rotation already… I’ll take Westbrook because it’s a better use of the organization’s money.

Many fans defend the idea saying Roy Oswalt could be the Lance Berkman of 2012. How many times does lightning strike the same place? How many times do you win on two consecutive pulls of the slot machine? How often will a roulette wheel turn up 17 twice in a row? To expect someone to come out of a perceived nowhere and put up a season like Lance Berkman did last year is naive. Could it happen? Yes, but it is exceptionally unlikely.

And third, it’s easy to sit here and say sign Oswalt, move Westbrook to the bullpen or trade him. However, you have to ask yourself what is the impact of the move on the locker room’s makeup? What if Westbrook isn’t happy about his demotion out of the rotation? He was willing to move to the bullpen in the playoffs for the team, and appropriately so because he was the team’s least successful starter in 2011. I think he understands that, but he’ll want the chance to show he can still be a successful starting pitcher. An unhappy player can easily poison a locker room and a poisoned locker room won’t be winning many championships.

And in summary, the question that we should be asking about the Cardinals’ interest in Roy Oswalt is what it means for the current rotation? The Cardinals have apparently also checked in on Edwin Jackson recently as well. That has me wondering why you’re looking for another starting pitcher when you already have five locked in under contract and a young Lance Lynn getting his starter’s arm back at Memphis (or that’s the plan anyway). Remember the news that Chris Carpenter might not be able to make his start in Game 1 of the World Series due to an elbow issue? Could there be injury concerns about one of the Cardinals’ starters that haven’t been made public?

That is a much larger concern.

Reports are now that Oswalt is visiting with Texas early this week. Personally, I think that’d be a great home for him to finish out his career and they could use a veteran pitcher to lead that rotation.

One thing is certain. After this offseason, I don’t know how anyone can call Bill DeWitt “cheap” anymore.

UCB Project: Top Stories of 2011

This month’s United Cardinal Bloggers project is to break down what we thought the top-5 Cardinals Stories of 2011 were. Albert Pujols‘ departure and the Cardinals winning the World Series will be two very big stories that my fellow bloggers will likely be hitting on today. But those are easy. That’s the low hanging fruit. What really contributed to the Cardinals being there in October and getting their chance to come through and why? That’s what I’m going for.

#5. Adam Wainwright out for the season after Tommy John

Those dreaded words crossed my Twitter feed in February, just three months after I embarked on my Cardinals’ blogging mission. The names “Tommy John” and “Adam Wainwright” were mentioned in the same tweet. And to top everything off, Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak was not feeling optimistic when he talked about Wainwright’s injury. And so we waited with baited breaths wondering how Wainwright’s doctor’s appointment in St. Louis would turn out. Would we lose our ace?

Many looked back to 2007 and 2008. Those were two seasons where we lost Chris Carpenter, then our clear #1 pitcher, for the majority of the season. He made 1 start in 2007 and 4 starts in 2008. The Cardinals finished 3rd in 2007 and 4th in 2008 in the NL Central. Was our season over before it began?

Many fans packed it in and it would have been easy for the Cardinals to dwell on the loss of Wainwright. But they moved on without the ace of their pitching staff determined to compete without him. That determination would come in handy throughout the season. Little did we know it would set the tone for the season. Whether it was Matt Holliday‘s appendix, a moth looking for a new home, Allen Craig‘s knee cap, or Albert Pujols’ wrist, the team was determined to give everything when it would have been very easy to mail it in without their key players. It would have been a good excuse that everyone would have bought. The Cardinals were a team ravaged by injuries all year.

The determination to get over the injury of Wainwright and move forward served the team well. From day one they were being prepared for a difficult season.

#4. The Search for a Closer

For a few years the Cardinals had been relying on Ryan Franklin to be the team’s closer. And I’ve been saying for just as long that Ryan Franklin isn’t a very good closer and we needed some insurance for him because it was simply a matter of time. However, I think the Cardinals were attempting to ride it out at least one more year with Franklin taking the ball in the 9th inning.

But when the season started and Ryan Franklin was ineffective, it threw the entire Cardinals’ bullpen into chaos. First it was Mitchell Boggs who got the 9th inning opportunities. Then he blew one and Eduardo Sanchez got a chance. Then Sanchez struggled to throw his slider for strikes when batters realized they could just take the pitch and Fernando Salas finally got the opportunity.

Salas, the only pitcher near ready to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals who had closing experience. Going into 2011 he was a perfect 44-for-44 in save opportunities between Springfield in 2008 and Memphis is 2010. Why he didn’t get the first opportunity is quite a bit of conjecture, but when the Cardinals needed a stabilizing influence in the 9th inning, they found it in Salas. He got his first save opportunity on April 28th. It was a little exciting with a hit and a walk, but he got the job done. He would save 10 games before blowing his first on June 1st. Over the summer he became a little homer happy, opening the door for Jason Motte who was having a dominant summer.

Jason Motte went from June 26th to September 6th, a span of 34 appearances and 26 1/3 innings, without allowing an earned run. It was enough to get Tony LaRussa to say he wanted to get Motte some time in the 9th inning role, but stopping short of naming Motte the team’s closer. On August 28th he got his first save as the team’s 9th inning man and racked up a total of 9 as the season went on.

#3. Wheeling and Dealing at the Deadline

Colby Rasmus was the future of the franchise. Or so we all thought going into 2011. He had a really good start to the season as well, with many, including myself, thinking that he had finally turned the corner and unlocked that potential. However, it wasn’t long before Rasmus was mired once again in a huge slump at the plate and was making big mistakes in center field. By July, most Cardinals fans were debating the merits of making Jon Jay the team’s starting center fielder. Apparently, so was Tony LaRussa as Jay started getting more and more playing time in center field.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ GM, had apparently been working on an extension with Rasmus that would have bought out his arbitration years. The team still viewed him as a major part of their future. They denied wanting to trade him, but everyone recognized that Rasmus would be the organization’s largest trading piece.

Despite the rumors of teams like Tampa Bay offering a very good starting pitcher for Rasmus, Mozeliak decided to take an offer that was viewed as lesser of the deals, but it did two very important things for the Cardinals. It filled holes in the rotation and the bullpen, something the other deals didn’t. Mozeliak knew Rasmus was his biggest (and likely only) bullet, he needed to it fix as many problems as possible. It also brought the Cardinals back draft picks for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel who left for free agency. They also got to keep Marc Rzepczynski, a talented left handed pitcher, something the Cardinals have been unable to produce on their own in recent years.

He wasn’t done. The Cardinals needed to improve the defense at short stop. Their plan to forego offense for defense during the offseason had come around to bite them when Ryan Theriot struggled to field his position as he had in the past. Mozeliak found a partner in the Dodgers who were willing to send them Rafael Furcal. All the Dodgers wanted was Alex Castellanos, and considering the Cardinals were facing a little bit of an outfielder squeeze at the top of their minor league depth charts, he was expendable.

When all was said and done, for the price of Colby Rasmus and Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos, John Mozeliak filled every hole on the 2011 Cardinals. It was a move that earned him Executive of the Year awards, but the Cardinals still needed help to get to the playoffs.

#2. September and the Hunt for a Cardinal Red October

Despite the additions, the team went just 15-13 in August and fell from half a game back of Milwaukee when the trades were made to 8.5 games back when August drew to a close. But that was mainly because Milwaukee was really good in August, going 21-7. It’s hard to keep up with a team who is that hot.

But the Cardinals would put together an 18-8 September, finishing as one of the hottest teams in baseball as they slipped into the playoffs on the final day of the season, courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Atlanta Braves. Many would say that the Braves choked up the playoff spot, but when you look at the fact they lost their #1 pitcher for the final two months of the season and their #2 pitcher for the final month, I have a hard time saying that. Where would the Cardinals have been this year if they’d lost Chris Carpenter as well? Nowhere pretty.

It was just what the Cardinals needed to get into the playoffs. As Daniel of C70 at the Bat said Wednesday night on the UCB Radio Hour, if the Braves win two more games anywhere in the season, they go to the playoffs and we don’t have this discussion and the trade of Rasmus seems like a huge mistake. What a kill joy.

#1. The Emergence of David Freese and Allen Craig

My top story of the season has nothing to do with the big names Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman (though Berkman did have an excellent 2011 season, way better than I expected). I attribute a lot of the Cardinals winning this World Series to the unsung heroes of this team. The Cardinals run into the playoffs and to the World Series Championship was a total team effort. There was no singular player’s performance, at least from a player you could expect.

Allen Craig, the subject of my largest sports man-crush right now, only had about 220 plate appearances for the Cardinals this season, but they were MVP quality appearances. His 2.9 WAR over those plate appearances projects out to 8.6 if he gets 650 plate appearances at the same rate. That’s better than some guy named Ryan Braun, who walked home with the National League MVP trophy. He also had RBI in 5 of the 7 games in the World Series. He had the game-winning RBI in game 1. He had a go-ahead RBI in game 2. His first inning home run in game 3 set the tone for the Cardinals. His 8th inning home run in game 6 was crucial to set up David Freese‘s opportunity. And in Game 7, his third inning home run put the Cardinals on top for good. He was definitely a worthy candidate as World Series MVP in my opinion. Well, were it not for this next guy.

It was a situation that all kids dream about. You play with the bat in the backyard and you call out the situation to yourself, “Bottom of the 9th. Game on the Line. Two out. Down to your last strike. You lose the World Series if you don’t get this hit. In comes the pitch…” It’s a triple off the wall to tie up the game! Even more incredible when you come up to bat 2 innings later and hit your first home run of the World Series to win the game in walk-off style to send it to Game 7. Then he goes and gets the game tying runs in the bottom of the 1st just two nights later in Game 7. Yeah, that’s David Freese.

It was the emergence David Freese and Allen Craig that really propelled this team. Your superstars can only do so much. Teams attempt to minimize the impact your superstars have on the game. Having players behind them who will make them pay too, that just makes things sweeter. And that’s what makes a team a winner.

Those are my top-5 stories. What are yours?

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Cardinals add Carlos Beltran

Is it Christmas come early for Cardinals fans? John Mozeliak delivered a two-year, $26 million contract for outfielder Carlos Beltran on Thursday night. The deal was announced by the team as pending a physical. The deal also includes a full no trade clause, likely a concessions for a two year deal instead of a three year contract like Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham both received.

Beltran has been in high demand since the Winter Meetings in Dallas. He reportedly received offers from the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Indians, Red Sox, and the Rockies kicked the tires before signing Cuddyer. According to a few baseball writers, the Cardinals kicked their negotiations into high gear on Wednesday.

Beltran, 34, has great potential to be an asset to the Cardinals. In 142 games last year between the Mets and the Giants, Beltran hit .300 with a .385 OBP, and a .525 SLG. On top of that, he added 22 home runs and 39 doubles. If you look at his 152 OPS+, which factors in park and league factors, it was the best season of his career.

However, he did spend a short time on the 15 day DL last season and has missed significant time in 2009 and 2010. That leads to my biggest concern, his durability. The Cardinals have gambled $19 million ($13 for Beltran, $7 for Rafael Furcal) in each of the next two seasons on these guys being healthy, but both have been injury prone. Add on to that, that Beltran is coming off of arguably his best season at the age of 34, the odds of him repeating or getting close to those numbers again are very slim.

How exactly Beltran figures to be used by the Cardinals is the big question. Will he get most of his playing time in right field, displacing or Allen Craig? Or will he get an opportunity to prove himself in center field and displace Jon Jay? With Craig’s recent knee surgery, he will be missing time this season, so the opening day outfield will likely be Holliday-Jay-Beltran.

Another question is where will he hit in the lineup. He could realistically end up anywhere between 2 and 5 in the Cardinals lineup depending on how new manager Mike Matheny puts his lineups together.

Additionally, I hate blocking Craig like they are. There is the potential that he can slide to first base (or left field with Holliday making the move to first) in 2013, but to me, Allen Craig’s 2011 season deserved a larger role this season and he won’t get it. I can’t see Beltran playing center field regularly enough for it and when Beltran is the second highest paid player on your baseball team, you can’t justify sitting him very often. An outfielder signing this season needed to be nothing more than a band-aid. You don’t wear a band-aid for two years, you only wear it as long as you need it.

If Beltran remains healthy, if Beltran remains productive, if Beltran can still occasionally play center field, then this is a good deal for the Cardinals. But it’s too many “if”s for me to feel comfortable with the move.

Now, let’s take odds on how long it takes for Adam Wainwright to come up behind Beltran and ask him if he’s swung yet.

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