Winter Warm Up: The New Guys
New Faces in the Crowd
The team traded Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook during the 2010 season, leaving a hole in right field and the lineup…and Jake Westbrook was slated to become a free agent for 2011. But at the beginning of this offseason, GM John Mozeliak acted quickly to re-sign Westbrook to a multiyear deal. Not long after that, Mozeliak added Lance Berkman to cover right field and provide a power and on-base boost to a lineup that lacked both for too much of 2010. In need of another lefty for the bullpen, Mozeliak also brought in Brian Tallet. All three will need to be key contributors if the Cardinals are to make a run at the division title this season.
Westbrook knew going into the offseason that St. Louis was where he wanted to pitch in 2011. He is excited to be with the Cardinals for the whole year; he really values the preparation eschewed by Yadier Molina and Dave Duncan, and he believes he can only benefit from working with them for a full season. Westbrook says his goals for this season are staying healthy all year like he was in 2010 and getting back to where he was in 2004 – 2005. He makes it pretty obvious that he loves pitching for the Cardinals; he said the Winter Warm-Up was fun to be a part of, he heard a lot about how great Cards fans were before coming to St. Louis and experienced that last year, and he felt like he was welcomed and really fit in well after the trade.
Berkman, of course, has much more familiarity with the St. Louis Cardinals after his many years as their opponent with the division rival Houston Astros. “It’s going to be strange the first time I put the Cardinal jersey and hat on,” Berkman said. “It’s weird. For most of my career I couldn’t stand the Cardinals; I basically hated the organization’s guts…in a good way, a fun way, you know, it’s more just a healthy respect I should say.” But Berkman said he gave his agent a list of five teams he wanted to play for in 2011 and the Cardinals were on that list…and from that list, the Cards were the only team that showed real interest. Now that he has found a new team to call home, he believes the Cardinals have a great squad going into this season. “If there’s a better team in the National League, I don’t know who they are,” Berkman gushed. “We can pitch with anybody, we can hit with anybody, and we have a great team. Everybody ought to be excited because if everybody stays healthy and if guys perform like they have in the past and like they’re capable of, we have as good a team as there is—not just in the National League—but in baseball. I feel this is a legitimate World Series contender, and I’m not just saying that…I really, in my heart, believe that.”
Tallet, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, echoes Berkman’s sentiments by saying he relishes the opportunity to pitch for a storied franchise like the Cardinals and get out of the AL East. “It’s a brutal division,” Tallet recalls. “Day in and day out you’re playing Boston, you’re playing New York and a very good Tampa team…we never went into a season thinking we were the favorite. We were always the underdog. They never expected us to win, and the problem with that was the team felt the same way. And when you’re a baseball player, the worst possible thing you can do is think it’s OK to lose, because it’s not. And accepting losing for me was very difficult. My time there was great and I had a blast doing it…but I’m ready to win.” Tallet had an up-and-down year in 2010, largely because he came back too soon from an injury early in the year. But he’s the type of pitcher that can get both lefties and righties out, so he could allow Tony LaRussa to save a bullpen weapon instead of taking Tallet out once a right-handed hitter comes up to bat.
Chris Reed is a freelance writer from Belleville, IL who also writes about the Cardinals for InsideSTL on Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he wants. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.
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