Tag Archives: Tony Cruz

2012 Preview: Catcher

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.

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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.

Happy Trails, Tony La Russa

What a way to go out. For Tony LaRussa, it was probably the best managing job he’s ever done. Over 10 games out in August, rallying to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, beating Philadelphia in 5 games, beating Milwaukee in 6, and then playing what is very likely the best World Series game in history, before clinching his third World Series Championship in Game 7 against the Texas Rangers.

To top it all off, the Monday morning after celebrating the World Series Championship, he decided to call it a career.

33 years

2,728 career wins

3 American League Championships

3 National League Championships

3 World Series Championships

Oh, and 7 NL Central Championships in the last 16 years as the Cardinals’ manager. It’s safe to say that it has been the most successful run in franchise history where the Cardinals were never far from the front.

I wasn’t quick to write this post because I really wanted to take a different angle on it, but I had no idea what I wanted to write. Sure, anyone can reiterate statistics of what the man has done. This year will go down as his greatest managerial performance ever. Perhaps he deserves some credit for it, but I think his desire to retire changed his perspective and I think that had a great impact on exactly how the team developed this season.

In previous seasons it was a complaint of mine and many others that the team played tight. This year, it was the Rangers that looked tight when crunch time came. The Cardinals on the other hand, they were having a good time and enjoying themselves. It was accompanied by performance on the field.

It was an attitude that we saw in the Cardinals down the stretch. And to Tony’s credit, he embraced it.

This team was different than any other team and performed unlike many other teams would have.

In Spring Training the Cardinals lost their ace. Rather than working out away from the team, Adam Wainwright was a fixture on the Cardinals’ bench during home games. He traveled with the team in the playoffs. He became the team’s cheerleader. His job was easy, keep the guys up on the rail cheering their teammates on. Certainly a difference from other teams who failed down the stretch who had allegations of guys hanging out in the clubhouse rather than cheering their teams on.

Injuries slowed the team. The team that ranked near the bottom of minor league farm systems found themselves in great need of it. Guys like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Fernando Salas, who Cardinals fans knew of, stepped up big when given their opportunity to play. Then there were new guys like Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez who played big roles.

The team had weaknesses. By the end of April, the Cardinals had no closer and no left handed relievers capable of getting reliable outs. By the end of May, we began to wonder if we needed a better defensive short stop and another starting pitcher. At the trade deadline, John Mozeliak went and got them everything they needed.

The team’s persona changed. The addition of Lance Berkman was the big move, in my opinion. He gave the Cardinals a veteran with clout who is the type of leader people think of when they think about a good leader. It was a figure this team had really been missing since Jim Edmonds was traded. When you watched games, he talked it up on the bench with veterans and rookies alike. While Albert Pujols keeps mostly to himself and only a few, Berkman did what was was needed, making some of the younger players feel accepted and relaxed.

If this season doesn’t illustrate that it’s a total organizational effort to create a winning team, I don’t know what does.

To me, the move to retire wasn’t a surprise. He changed through the course of the year. It’s funny how your perspective changes when there’s an end date in mind. And I saw his wife on the post-game coverage on the MLB Network. I can’t remember ever seeing his wife before. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the moment.

LaRussa embraced the change in the team persona and because of that the team excelled. That’s reason enough to give him the credit for it.

I’m not the biggest Tony LaRussa fan, but I sure hope he enjoys retirement. That elephant keeper job sounded like fun.

Jon’s 2011 Cardinals All-Prospect Team

This is a post that I was interested in writing for quite some time. I’ve taken notes and considered my options. Some people do top prospect lists, like today you will find that this month’s UCB project is for us to do a top-7 prospects list. Instead of that, what I really wanted to do was identify my favorite player in the Cardinals’ system at each position in an All-Prospect team. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, many of these players are still a year or two away.

And so, with the Minor League playoffs pretty much done, I shall begin.

C Tony Cruz (.262, 4 HR, 25 RBI in 45 games at AAA Memphis) – Tony Cruz is my catcher. The 25 year old 26th round draft pick made a mark for me this season in his limited playing time in St. Louis. When Gerald Laird went down with an injury, it was Cruz that stepped into his shoes as the backup catcher and got the job done, hitting .258 in 34 appearances with the big league club. He got a September callup and I would place him as the odds on favorite to potentially be the full-time backup catcher next season for the Cardinals. It would be a cost savings over Laird and Cruz has proven himself both with the bat and the glove. The fact that Carpenter and Cruz were paired up and were successful speaks volumes about Cruz and puts him ahead of Bryan Anderson on my list.

1B Matt Adams (.300, 32 HR, 101 RBI in 115 games at AA Springfield) - Matt Adams made a name for himself this year in the Cardinals organization. He backed up a strong single-A season last year at Quad Cities with an even stronger season for the double-A Springfield team. At 23, Adams has shown that he can flat out hit. He was named the Texas League Player of the Year this year. For the Cardinals, Adams’ emergence means one of two things for the Cardinals. He provides a solid backup option in the event that Albert Pujols opts for free agency and another team. We have a slugging first baseman in the minors who can hit and while he’s not superman with the glove at first base, he is serviceable there. But if Pujols returns, he provides a valuable trade chip that many teams may be interested in acquiring, especially if he continues smacking the ball in Memphis next year.

2B Kolten Wong (.335, 5 HR, 25 RBI in 47 games at A Quad Cities) - Kolten Wong was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick this year and quickly established why the Cardinals viewed him so highly. He showed that he had an advanced bat for single-A and hit his way to a .335 batting average and featured an on base percentage over .400. While lower level numbers don’t mean as much because they are playing lesser competition, he has impressed me more than the other players. Pete Kozma had been moved to second base in Memphis and they demoted Donovan Solano to Springfield to get them both more playing time. To me, that means that neither is predicted to have much of a future in St. Louis. His defense left a little to be desired, but that can be attributed early on to adjusting to the game, the league, and the change in lifestyle. Most players improve as they develop.

SS Ryan Jackson (.278, 11 HR, 73 RBI in 135 games at AA Springfield) - Jackson had a solid year for the Cardinals and might be their solution at short stop in a couple years. He experienced a little bit of a breakout year in 2011 showing up with some power that he hadn’t previously shown at any level. Over the last few years his defense has been stepped up as well, which advances him ever closer to the major league roster. Jackson isn’t special, but he does seem to have the tools required to be a solid short stop. Those are in high demand in the major leagues today.

3B Zack Cox (.306, 13 HR, 68 RBI in 135 games between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield) - Zack Cox was the Cardinals’ 2010 first round draft pick and got his chance at the Arizona Fall League last year. Viewed as a rather advanced hitter, Cox has been a bit of a slow starter after each promotion. However, that hasn’t stopped him from turning in solid numbers overall. Cox is projected to have a bit more power than he’s shown, but from what I’ve read he is focusing more on getting hits and becoming a pure hitter rather than focusing on hitting for power. I love that approach. Plus, he showed up early for spring training this year to get some extra work in before the big names showed up. That plays nicely to Cardinals fans who enjoy a good, hard working player. With a major league contract already given to him, Cox burns up options every year he heads down to the minor leagues, so the team has incentives to get him to the majors as soon as possible.

LF Andrew Brown (.284, 20 HR, 73 RBI in 107 games for AAA Memphis) - Andrew Brown was one of the Cardinals’ minor league hands to get his first taste of major league action this year as he appeared in 11 games for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he failed to really make a mark on the team, hitting just .182 during his time up. Brown can flat hit and from what I hear he has a gun for an arm. He’s got the power (no breaking into song, please). Though that arm might be better suited to right field, for some reason he has played infinitely better in left field. Why? Who knows. All I know is that the guy can hit and won’t usually embarras you with his defense. What more do you want?

CF Adron Chambers (.277, 10 HR, 44 RBI in 128 games for AAA Memphis) - Mr. Chambers is an exciting young talent for the Cardinals in the outfield. While he doesn’t have the star of a Colby Rasmus, Chambers has displayed the necessary tools to play at the major league level. He can hit for average, has a solid OBP, some speed, and plus defense. All that combines to a solid player who can truly play all three outfield positions. The only problem for him? He hits left handed, so he’s not going to make a mark as the right handed outfielder to spell Jon Jay in the outfield next season meaning that the Cardinals would prefer another player to fill the fourth outfielder role. I like everything that Chambers brings to the table, plus he has a cool sounding name.

RF Oscar Tavares (.386, 8 HR, 62 RBI in 78 games for A Quad Cities) - The 19 year old Tavares is young and that’s good. The Cardinals kept him in Quad Cities because they felt he had more things that he needed to work on refining before he got promoted, at least that was the official story. The unofficial one might be that they were having trouble dividing up playing time at Springfield and Memphis for outfielders because of their depth of solid talent there. Tavares is a bright star though, even with an adjusted batting average he won the league batting crown. He also got the majority of his playing time in RF this season and has played all three outfield spots. As he develops the next couple seasons his true potential will become clearer, but early response says that he could be a top of the order hitter, much like the guy I moved him for.

SP Shelby Miller (11-6, 2.77 ERA in 25 starts between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield) - At 20 years old there is no more exciting prospect in the Cardinals system than Shelby Miller, and I’m sure most would agree. If Miller puts the work in, there is almost no doubt that he will be a top level major league pitcher if he can put it together. After a suspension for violating team rules, Miller will need to work to stay away from off the field problems as well or that could further derail his speed through the Cardinals’ system. Through his time this season, Miller got promoted and got better, something that doesn’t necessarily always happen and didn’t happen to his fellow top prospect Carlos Martinez. If he keeps working on mixing up his speeds and his pitches his success will continue.

RP Jordan Swagerty (5-3, 1.83 ERA in 12 starts and 24 relief appearances between A Quad Cities, A+ Palm Beach, and AA Springfield) - Swagerty was one of the Cardinals’ big four picks from last season that saw them really begin to change their methodology when it came to selecting draft picks. While signability and cost was a factor in years previous, the Cardinals went after who they thought was the best talent and paid them what they needed to. While Swagerty started the season starting in the minor leagues, the organization moved him to the bullpen in order to limit his innings. There, he showed that he was more than capable. While he may be able to transition back into the starting role and the team will likely do that, his future role may be that of a reliever if he stays with the Cardinals organization. With the near future of the rotation looking to be Wainwright, Garcia, Miller, and Martinez that leaves one spot open that many other players will have first chance to claim. He’s moved through the system pretty quickly and has me excited about him.

The Cardinals have a lot of talent down in the minor league system. That’s a huge change from where they’ve been in recent years. While there is now a handful of top level talent in guys like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Zack Cox, there are plenty of other guys who deserve note as well but won’t get the touting of the national media. Just because they don’t doesn’t mean they aren’t good. In fact, Matt Holliday never made a top prospect list before he broke out in the major leagues and we all know how great a player he is. The lists really mean nothing.

In the end most of the guys in the minor leagues have the necessary tools to be successful in the major leagues. It is a matter of opportunity and then putting it all together when they get there. Some guys capitalize on their opportunities, like Jon Jay. Others, like Tyler Greene, struggle to lay claim to a major league roster spot despite having it all figured out in the minor leagues. The Cardinals need to work on developing opportunities for these guys, more so than they have in the past because we actually have a solid system with true talent now.

Looking at 2012: Part 3

It’s tomorrow! Well, maybe not. I’m continuing the “Looking at 2012″ series that I began nearly three weeks ago before life got crazy for me. In part one, I overviewed the Cardinals biggest question and some of the decisions that they’ll have to make in the offseason. In part two, I talked about players with contract options and what I think the Cardinals will do and ought to do with them. Now in part three, I will talk about some of the young talent that we expect to contribute to the 2012 Cardinals.

We can start with the two that we already expect to be starting everyday for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. Those would be David Freese and Jon Jay.

Despite a couple injuries as a result of being hit by pitches, Freese stayed healthy this season. Freese has surpassed last year’s appearances and he has managed to duplicate his batting average, small drop in his on base percentage, but he is hitting for more power which provides some interest for the Cardinals going into next season if he can continue developing. It’s very possible that Freese turns into a guy who will flirt with .300 and hit 20 home runs a season. In today’s MLB that’s a pretty good player. Only 24 players in the majors have hit more than 20 home runs this season. Only one of which is a third baseman. Looking at the stats, Freese could potentially slot in as one of the top-5 third basemen in the major leagues next season.

Meanwhile Jon Jay has proved himself capable of playing everyday for the Cardinals. After going into a slump immediately following the trade of Colby Rasmus, much like he’d done in 2010 when the Cardinals dealt Ryan Ludwick to play him everyday. There was question whether he could handle that. He has, as he has hit .309 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. A decrease in his OBP has me a little concerned, but he’s gotten over the initial hump of the pressure and has become the player in that position we expected him to be when the Cardinals decided they could trade Colby Rasmus.

The other two guys that deserve consideration are Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso.

Allen Craig has been a polarizing player for Cardinals fans. Many look at his minor league statistics and see a guy who consistently hit .300 with 20 HRs over the last few years. He’s a hitter without a position, but provides solid enough defense in the outfield or at first base. Originally drafted as a short stop, he could also become an interesting candidate at second base going into next season. This season, though missing a large part of the season thanks to a broken knee cap, he played a pivotal role through the first injury to Matt Holliday and was poised to do it again before he got injured. Now he’s looking like the regular left fielder until Holliday returns from his hand injury, if he even does. His stats show a capable player, and I don’t think there’s any reason that he can’t turn into that .300, 25 HR guy that he’s been in the minor leagues. He just needs a place to play and that’s easier said than done.

The other is Daniel Descalso who has played a key role through the season. “Mr. Late & Close” became his nickname as he hits .373 with a .413 on base percentage in Late & Close situations. With a man on 3rd and 2 outs, Descalso hits .357. He has a laser gun for an arm too and has proven himself the perfect guy to spell David Freese at third base and is a solid utility guy around the infield for the team. Personally, I think Descalso could be the solution at short stop for the future. While it’s true that he has a handful of errors there during his small number of chances this season, to me, those seem more like errors that are simply due to inexperience at the position rather than actual inability. He has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than Brendan Ryan, and those who know me know that I am a huge Brendan Ryan supporter.

After looking at the offense, the bullpen is full of young contributors. Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Marc Rzepczynski and Lance Lynn lead the field there.

Fernando Salas closed in 2008 in Springfield, closed in 2010 in Memphis, and earned the closer’s role in St. Louis in 2011. He continued to prove himself a solid closer, but got a little homer happy during the summer which led Tony LaRussa to experiment with Jason Motte in the closer’s role in September. However, that likely has more to do with Motte’s hot streak than Salas’ troubles. While many fans talked about bringing in an established closer through the summer, Salas’ numbers were better than all considered for most of it. He has shown that he is a one inning pitcher though. When I looked the other day, he had roughly a 1.80 ERA in his first inning of an appearance but beyond that he had a nearly 8.00 ERA. Certainly not pretty.

Eduardo Sanchez was another pitcher that provided Cardinals fans with excitement earlier this season while the team was struggling to find reliable bullpen arms. With his wicked slider, Sanchez was fooling major league hitters for two months before going down with what was initially termed shoulder fatigue. After an abbreviated rehab assignment, he hit the disabled list again. He’s rejoined the Cardinals now, but it’s unlikely that he will get a chance down the stretch. The issue with Sanchez was that eventually major league hitters realized that he couldn’t consistently throw the slider for a called strike, so they laid off it and got him into some trouble near the end of his time. With a chance to hit spring training as an expected contender for the 2012 bullpen, Sanchez should be able to work on that slider and figure out what he needs to do. He’s probably the most exciting pitcher the Cardinals have and I think many agree with me that he has the best pure stuff in the bullpen.

Marc Rzepczynski was acquired in the Colby Rasmus trade and provides something that the Cardinals haven’t been able to produce: a quality left handed reliever. However, there is also the potential that he could jump to the rotation eventually as both the Blue Jays and the Cardinals consider him starting material. However, the rotation is set for next year and that means that Rzepczynski is back in the ‘pen for 2012. While Zep has been good this season for the Cardinals, he hasn’t been as dominating, but that could be attributed to being used more often as a regular reliever under LaRussa than he was in Toronto.

Finally, Lance Lynn was a starter for Memphis and Tony LaRussa has said that he has the stuff to be a starter in the major leagues. However, when he was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen he made it his own. He quickly became one of the best pitchers that the Cardinals had in the bullpen and solidified an 8th inning role. That was until an apparent oblique injury. There is no reason to expect that Lance Lynn cannot assume a major role in the 2012 bullpen again.

Now the lesser known guys.

Tony Cruz is definitely someone I can see being a contributor to the 2012 team. He spent a lot of time in St. Louis over the summer, and could be the guy that takes the backup catcher job and potentially position himself to be the successor to Yadier Molina. It’s big that he and Carpenter were paired together a few times over the summer too, with Cruz behind the plate. It would be a cheap way to fill that role and save a few bucks as they attempt to spend to keep some of the starting level talent on the team.

Adron Chambers and Andrew Brown should be putting their names in the hat as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Chambers’ advantage is that he can play all three outfield positions. Brown’s advantage is that he is right handed and has more power. So it really depends which average the Cardinals would like to go, defense and speed with Chambers or right handed and power with Brown. Both are on the cusp of being ready and if we’re looking at a Holliday/Jay/Craig outfield next season, you know that there will be some at bats available in the outfield.

There aren’t a huge number of young guys who I expect to contribute next season. Just those who really made a small mark this season. There is a little bit of a talent gap in the Cardinals minor league system, in my opinion, for about the next year or so. This creates a fairly large question for the Cardinals as they potentially have to deal with injury questions in 2012. Who gets the call to absorb the impact?

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Cardinals add veteran Rhodes

The Cardinals announced tonight that they have signed left handed reliever Arthur Rhodes. The 41 year old Rhodes was released by the Texas Rangers earlier this week after compiling a 4.81 ERA in 32 appearances for the Rangers.

The veteran left hander was taking his time to choose because he wanted a team that was in contention with the hopes of a playoff shot.

The Cardinals bullpen has lacked a quality left handed reliever for most of the season. With recent acquisition Marc Rzepczynski capable of being a multiple hitter pitcher, the Cardinals lacked a true LOOGY and a guy that they could use in strategy situations against a quality left handed hitter without wasting Rzepczynski.

When you look at Rhodes’ platoon splits, while he gets lit up by right handed hitters to a tune of a .333 batting average, .365 on base percentage and .633 slugging percentage, he has been pretty good against left handed hitters. Those stats are a .216 batting average, .310 on base percentage, and a .405 slugging percentage. Good enough to fit the role and give Tony LaRussa a layer of strategy in the late innings (if he actually utilizes the lefty-lefty matchup correctly, that is). Continue reading