When St. Louis Cardinal Players speak to the media at the Winter Warm-Up, most of the discussion focuses on them. They answer questions about their injuries or overall health, they talk about their off-season routines, and they offer their opinions about how the team shapes up for the coming year. But when coaches or members of the front office take the podium, what is said can be much more official, behind-the-scenes, and in many cases newsworthy.
Jose Oquendo is much more than just the third base coach. He sees the whole game and has his finger on the pulse of the team in terms of pitching, hitting, fielding, and base running. No wonder he’s on at least one team’s list of managerial candidates every off-season.
Oquendo talked about the recently signed Ian Snell, having managed him in the World Baseball Classic. Oquendo thinks Snell can benefit from the teaching of Dave Duncan, saying “he’s a good kid; he just needs some guidance.” He thinks Snell would be a good candidate to fill in as a fifth starter because he has the tools; he just needs to straighten everything out.
When it comes to playing in the field, few former players can offer more perspective than Oquendo who played at least one inning at every position. “The Secret Weapon,” as he was called while playing for the Cardinals, knows the team is in a tenuous position with David Freese still battling back from injury. Allen Craig was a candidate to back Freese up before the Nick Punto signing, and Oquendo recognized Craig’s inexperience. “We haven’t seen much of him playing third; he puts the work (in) on it, he does a lot of work, but it’s different practicing than when the games start,” Oquendo said. “I think he can do an accurate job up here, but for me he just needs to hit. If he hits here in the Major Leagues, we can find a spot (for him).” Oquendo further expressed concern over the backup role because he doesn’t know how Freese has progressed in his rehab from an ankle injury, and actually broke the news that the Cards had signed infielder Ramon Vazquez before the information had been made public. By the expressions on their faces, this caught most writers in the room off guard.
Oquendo also said he thinks Ryan Theriot could be a player similar to former Cardinal David Eckstein and is anxious to see him play. He said Yadier Molina has dropped a lot of weight, and joked that even though that will help the longevity of his knees, it probably won’t do much for his speed on the base paths. Oquendo is laid-back and easy to listen to, but he is still a professional with a deep knowledge of the game that shows up in everything he says.
When GM John Mozeliak takes the podium, he is personable but all business. Mozeliak’s words are carefully measured and matter-of-fact without being curt. “It’s an exciting time to be down here at the Winter Warm-Up,” he said after making sure everyone was ready to start. “I think all of you would agree, it’s when you can start focusing on Spring Training and that’s the really fun part. It’s great to see the players in a casual atmosphere before we actually get down to Jupiter (Fla.).”
Mozeliak started off by announcing the Cards had signed reliever Kyle McClellan to a one year contract, avoiding arbitration. He also said because of the signings of Snell and Miguel Batista, McClellan will likely not have to prepare himself to possibly compete for a starting job this spring like he did in years past. “In Kyle’s situation, I think he’s going to be brought in and kept in the role he’s had success in,” he said. “When you think about our bullpen in terms of Kyle, Boggs, Motte and Franklin, I think those are four very good arms at the back end of the bullpen.”
When asked about the third base situation, Mozeliak talked about internal depth at third base but left the door open for the acquisition of another backup third baseman (which, of course, happened). As for Freese, Mozeliak is hopeful but realistic in evaluating the third baseman in terms of rehabilitation, conditioning, and game readiness. “Candidly, we’re not going to know until we get him out there on the field,” Mozeliak said. “But the one thing we are certainly going to do is make sure that David Freese’s projectable playing day is going to be Opening Day and not the first day of Spring Training. So we still have time to make sure that we condition him to be ready to play by when the real bell goes off.”
Other than the now infamous disclosure of the Spring Training Deadline, Mozeliak remained steadfast in not talking about Albert Pujols’ contract negotiations no matter how the question was asked. Mozeliak may divulge news, but he plays his secrets close to the vest.
That wraps up my series on the 2011 Winter Warm-Up. Special thanks goes to our fearless leader here at I-70 Baseball, Bill Ivie…not only for securing the media credential from the St. Louis Cardinals but also for trusting me enough to allow me to represent the site at the event. I would also like to thank the Cardinals for letting a little old blogger like me into their inner circle for a day. I realize and appreciate how rare the opportunity was, and hope it can become more than a one time thing.