Tag Archive | "Career Highs"

Triple Play: Jay Bruce, Dan Haren, Pittsburgh Pirates

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we look at a Red-hot outfielder, a National disaster of a starter, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

JayBruce

Who’s Hot?

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

Sorry for the pun up above. But take a look at that the Reds’ right fielder has done over the past two weeks and you’ll understand: a .322/.349/.796 slash line, eight home runs, 14 RBI, and 10 runs scored. What’s more, Bruce had a stretch where seven straight hits sailed out of the park. Red hot, indeed. For the season, he has 18 homers (tied for 4th in the NL) and 54 RBI (5th). The 26-year-old is on track to belt 38 homers, knock in 115 and score 95 runs, which would all represent career highs. Isn’t amazing what happens when Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are on base in front of you regularly? Each season of his career, Bruce’s home run total has gone up, and that’s on pace to continue in 2013. The .279 average and lack of stolen bases prevent Bruce from approaching Carlos Gonzalez-territory in the fantasy baseball world, but you won’t find a Reds fan complaining right now. With Ryan Ludwick’s injury, the team needed Bruce to step up and he has responded in a big way.

Who’s Not?

Dan Haren, Washington Nationals

How far has Haren fallen? While with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, Haren started 34 games and led the American League with a 5.82 K-to-BB ratio while winning 16 games. In 2013, Haren has started 16 games for the Nats and leads the NL in hits allowed (105), earned runs allowed (56) and homers allowed (19). What exactly has happened? Haren has offered no excuses for his ghastly performance, but after his most recent start Saturday, manager Davey Johnson said that his big righty has been dealing with stiffness in his pitching shoulder. Washington GM Mike Rizzo confirmed as much Sunday, saying a trip to the disabled list is imminent. Whether a shoulder injury actually exists is anyone’s guess, but the DL trip should serve as a welcome break to fantasy owners and Nationals fans alike.

Playing the Name Game

Name this team: .239/.306/.384, 283 runs scored, 72 HR, 50 SB, 3.20 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 61 HR allowed, 591 strikeouts.

This team ranks 11th in the National League in most batting statistics, but they are tops in ERA, fewest hits allowed and third in home runs allowed. As this team continues to rise and improve in a virtually unnoticed way, I am reminded of the old American Express commercial from the original Major League movie: “Hi, do you know us? We’re a professional baseball team. But, since we haven’t won a pennant in over (20) years, nobody recognizes us, even in our own hometown.”

Right now, their top starter is on the disabled list, their best position player hasn’t really gotten going yet and their most prolific slugger is hitting below .240. Recognize this team yet? They play in one of the most beautiful parks in all of baseball, where their fans are desperate for a winning season, which last happened when their pre-steroid slugger still played there. Got it now? Yes, it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sit one game back of St. Louis in the NL Central.

The team hasn’t had a winning season since 1992, when Barry Bonds was last seen noodle-arming a throw home that failed to retire the slow-footed Sid Bream in Game 7 of the NLCS. It’s been a long dry spell for Pirates fans. The past two seasons, Pittsburgh flirted with first place in July, only to falter badly down the stretch. This current Pirates team is a fascinating bunch. Their ace, A.J. Burnett, is out with a torn calf muscle in his right leg, but was leading the NL in strikeouts before the injury. Andrew McCutchen, their All-Star center fielder, is currently hitting .288/.357/.453 with only eight homers – a far cry from the 18 he bashed in the first half of 2012. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is red hot right now (three homers, seven RBI over the weekend against the Angels), but struggles mightily to make consistent contact. When he does, though, the results are mighty impressive. Despite a .234/.301/.498 batting line, he leads the team in home runs and RBI. If the 26-year-old Alvarez could drag his average up to the .275 range, he would be a threat to launch 50 home runs a season.

The keys to the Pirates’ success this season have been huge contributions from unexpected players. Left fielder Starling Marte leads the team with 22 stolen bases. Rookie lefty Jeff Locke is 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and the lowest H/9 ratio among the team’s starters. Veteran Francisco Liriano has been every bit as good, going 6-3 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and the lowest HR/9 ratio in the rotation. Closer Jason Grilli has been among the best in all of baseball, saving 26 games with an eye-popping 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Best of all, prized rookie Gerrit Cole has been worthy of the hype, averaging over six innings in each of his three starts (all wins) while walking just one batter. Set-up man Mark Melancon (acquired in the Joel Hanrahan deal with Boston) has been every bit as dominant, sporting a 0.99 ERA/0.88 WHIP.

What should be frightening for the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals (and the rest of the NL) is that lineup anchors McCutchen and Neil Walker have yet to get going offensively compared to 2012. McCutchen is just too good to keep hitting below .300. Walker isn’t the same kind of force, but he’s much better than he has shown. With Burnett, his injury may prove a blessing in disguise; if he can return from the calf injury rested, it may prevent the fatigue that slowed him down the stretch in 2012. The 2013 Pirates are 16 games above .500, largely on the strength of their starting pitching and dominant bullpen. If they can combine improved hitting with that pitching, they will not fade the same way they have the past two seasons – and the rest of the National League had better beware.

Incidentally, the Pirates and Cardinals still have 14 games against one another this season. It is shaping up to be an exciting season in Pittsburgh.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Adam Wainwright pitched 37 consecutive innings before issuing his first walk of the season. All season long, we are keeping track of how few free passes are handed out by the Cardinals’ ace. Sunday night, he walked one batter (while striking out six) in a 2-1 loss to Texas. That gives him 10 walks on the season (versus 106 strikeouts), leaving him with a better than 10-to-1 K/BB ratio, which is still the best in the NL (as is his 0.8 BB/9 ratio). Sunday’s game was a struggle, though, as Wainwright went to a 3-ball count several times against the Rangers. He has now dropped two straight decisions, leaving him with a 10-5/2.31/ 1.01 pitching line for the season. He will look to bounce back at Oakland this Saturday.
  • Considering how the Rangers had been scuffling coming into the series in St. Louis (their first trip back since the 2011 World Series), their sweep was particularly impressive. Still, I don’t think that Texas truly considers it “revenge.” It’s a little like losing a winning Powerball ticket and having to replace it with a lottery scratcher. Nice, but just not quite the same.
  • Wil Myers’ stats after one week: .280/.440/.720, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 runs. Yasiel Puig really set the bar too high for everyone else.
  • In related news, Jeff Francoeur is still playing right field in Kansas City, where he sports a rally-killing .143 batting average this month.
  • The Angels get a rare quality start from Joe Blanton (7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 6 K), only to watch the bullpen allow seven runs in the final two innings. It’s been That Kind of Season for baseball in Los Angeles.
  • Speaking of which, Matt Kemp with 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in his first rehab game with Triple-A Albuquerque. Yikes.
  • I have read twice in the past week that Toronto might trade Josh Johnson at the trade deadline. This makes no sense at all. The Blue Jays have won 11 straight and are on the verge of getting Jose Reyes back into their lineup. With no clear front-runner in the AL East (sorry, not buying Boston yet), why would they deal away one of their top starters? Oh, right. It’s coming up on the Silly Season – you know, that time of year when baseball writers start throwing as much stuff against the wall as they can think of, just to see if any of it sticks.
  • During their 11-game streak, the Blue Jays have swept three consecutive series for the first time in 15 years.
  • With each stellar start, I’m becoming more convinced that Matt Harvey should start for the NL at the All-Star Game at Citi Field. It might be the biggest highlight of the Mets’ season.
  • In the AL, Max Scherzer is looking like the guy. First time in Tigers’ history that a starter has gone 11-0 to start the season. Detroit has had some pretty darn good pitchers in its history. Think the Diamondbacks might like a do-over on that trade?
  • The Rockies have made some smart moves recently, namely jettisoning Jon Garland/Jeff Francis from the rotation in favor of Tyler Chatwood/Roy Oswalt, and dumping all-around liability Eric Young Jr. Here’s another they should make post haste: 1) promote Drew Pomeranz into the rotation and move Juan Nicasio to the bullpen, where he could serve as a late-inning weapon. Pomeranz is 8-1 with a 1.35 WHIP down at Triple-A Colorado Springs, with 96 punchouts in 85 innings and only 33 walks. He appears to be ready for his second try at the majors. Beyond closer Rex Brothers, Colorado’s bullpen is a mess. They desperately miss Rafael Betancourt (although he hopes to return within a week), and ballyhooed off-season acquisition Wilton Lopez has been abominable since day one. Nicasio and Brothers could form a strong bridge to Betancourt and allow the Rockies to avoid falling further behind in the NL West.
  • I’m still shaking my head at the Mariners’ box score from Sunday – Jeremy Bonderman and Oliver Perez both pitching well. Is this 2013 or 2006?

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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David Freese and the time value of money

The St. Louis Cardinals reached an agreement with third baseman David Freese on Friday on a deal for the 2013 season. The deal will be for a reported $3.1 million dollars, and with it, the team avoided heading to arbitration to settle the deal. However, the deal represents the just beginning of potentially difficult decision making process over the next few years. And the relationship between the 30-year old and the club could be put the test as well.

MLB: NLCS-San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals

Freese represents a paradox in several areas. He’s a late bloomer that’s coming into his own during his prime seasons. While his 2011 postseason heroics and honors set the tone, he really put his stamp on his future in what he delivered in the follow up season. In 2012, he played a career-high 144 games, while hitting for a .293 average, along with 25 home runs, 79 RBI, 25 doubles and 70 runs scored, all career highs as well. He took this into his first arbitration-eligible season, and the Cardinals responded with a $2.4 offer, while Freese’s agent countered with a $3.75 million offer. While they settled at about the middle point between the offers, he’s in a position to get some substantial jumps up the ladder in the next few years.

Freese is entering into his negotiation years at an interesting time, for both player and club. The third base market has seen the majority of its top flight players locked to contracts the last two years. Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Evan Longoria and Martin Prado have all received new contracts at the position in recent memory, essentially setting the bar for money at the position for the near future. These deals average at around $15 million per year over the life of a five year deal, and each represents a franchise cornerstone. However, it’s Prado’s deal from last month that is the most intriguing when accessing what Freese’s worth could be.

The 29 year old Prado signed a four-year, $40 million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks shortly after being traded from Atlanta last month. This deal represents what he will play at through his majority prime years (it will expire when he’s 330. It is a cut below the massive deals that aforementioned group received, but still a very a solid value-to-length deal. The similarities between the Freese and Prado are there as well: both are one-time All-Stars, with similar career batting numbers (Prado a .295 career hitter, Freese .296). Prado is a more versatile option in the field, but Freese carries a .345 career postseason batting average, a place where much of his value comes into play.

Freese is a large part of the foundation of the Cardinals going ahead, although he’s a notch below the type of cornerstone performer Wright or Zimmerman is. He’ll play this season at age 30, and is past the type of deal that either a young player or a player with longer resume would get at his age. While a medium-length/annual salary deal such as Prado received makes sense, it’s also hindered by his arbitration status. More likely than not, the Prado-like extension wouldn’t be approached until terms are exchanged next year, and for good reason. The raise he will play at this season is a raise of $2.6 million. If he continues to play at the level he established last year, a comparable raise could continue along, rising at close to the $7 million per year level by the time he is eligible to hit the open market in two years.

The Cardinals could very easily continue to maintain Freese through his arbitration seasons as a cost controlled option that continues to be a “wait and see” property. But if the subtle, yet hard line he stood this winter is any indication of what’s to come, Freese understands his value, and he won’t be long for having non-committal terms. Especially as he’s playing through his highest earning potential seasons, and the team is showing a willingness to put money up early to avoid arbitration, such as they did with closer Jason Motte last month.

There are several lines of legit questioning that can go into such a deal, many of which will be answered this year. Can he have another healthy summer? Will he continue to grow as an offensive presence, has he did a year ago or plateau? Obviously, the franchise won’t be forced into having to make a deal for two more years, which will serve as a fair measuring ground of what to do. A deal over five years would be difficult, which age as a primary consideration. Also, there’s the fact that much of the core of the team is in a similar place, with year-to-year deals with Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn to tend to.

But locking Freese up to a deal has some urgency to it that cannot be denied either. He’s a productive and already showing his prime level of play, but the Cardinals are also evolving as a team regularly now, and will be on the verge of a mini-youth movement over the next two years, as their top shelf prospects begin to push into the picture at the Major League level. Finding the right deal to keep Freese situated in St. Louis is important, and provides face and play value stability to the team at difficult position to do so at. However, timing is everything. And there is nobody wearing the birds on bat has a more bi-polar relationship with time than Freese does now.

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David Freese Cracks Top Ten Right Now

Fans of MLB Network know that they have been subjecting players to “The Shredder” for statistical analysis to determine the top ten players at each position right now.

In an episode of the show, hosted by Brian Kenny, that will air Friday night, i70baseball has learned from an MLB Network executive that St. Louis Cardinal David Freese will indeed be featured as one of the top 10 thirdbaseman in baseball.

Photo Courtesy of/Copyright Erika Lynn

Photo Courtesy of/Copyright Erika Lynn

The “Top Ten Right Now” series is enjoying it’s third incarnation and will feature a Cardinal third baseman for the first time when Freese’s name is revealed.  Sabermetric Godfather Bill James and former Oriole second baseman Bill Ripken will be on hand with Kenny to help analyze The Shredder’s results and provide their own lists for comparison.

Bill James:
“The only thing you like about him really is the bat. He [has] a terrific bat, quick bat, hits the ball hard [to] straightaway center. He’s not a defensive wonder, he’s not a base stealer, but he does hit.”

Freese has garnered some attention since his now famous heroics in the 2011 Post Season.  However, it was 2012 that helped solidify that Freese could be seen as a consistent contributor to the Cardinals roster.   A player that has battled injuries for most of his career, Freese was able to take the field for 144 games last season and show solid production while he was at it.

Bill Ripken:
“When King Albert left and went out to Los Angeles to play with the Angels, here’s one of the guys that picked up the slack.”

He would reach career highs in almost every offensive category, posting a .293/.372/.467 “slash line” while hitting 20 home runs and driving in 79.  He was a spark plug at times for the 2012 team and added much needed depth in the lower part of the lineup.  He would achie his first appearance in the midsummer classic after being voted in as the final roster spot by fans on the heels of a very successful social media campaign for the position.

Brian Kenny:
“Freese has established himself now as a solid contributor to the Cardinals.”

“He’s a player who isn’t great at any one thing, but is above average everywhere and that makes you an excellent player.”

“Last year, [he had] 20 homers, .293 batting average, 57 walks. Just enough power, average and plate selection to add up to sixth in OPS among qualifying third basemen last year.”

Freese’s future looks bright for the team and the team is currently in negotiations with the home town hero to avoid arbitration and possibly secure him to a long term deal.

The show will air at 8pm Central Time on MLB Network, Friday February 8th.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals arbitration talk shouldn’t raise concerns

One of the men most responsible for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship is currently locked in a battle with the team to be paid more like the star he is becoming, but this isn’t the type of battle that should raise serious concerns.

DavidFreese

David Freese is one of the most talented young position players the Cardinals have, and he has plenty of potential to grow into another St. Louis baseball superstar. So far, the team has gotten an incredible bargain with Freese, who has made just $1.7 million total in his four-year career and is currently the 16th highest-paid player on the team.

It’s time for Freese to start earning more money. In his four years with the club, Freese has hit .296 and his power numbers have increased exponentially each year. He finished with career highs in hits, homeruns, doubles, runs scored and RBIs in 2012. And don’t forget he has a career .345 postseason batting average and was the MVP of the 2011 National League Championship Series and World Series.

He could fairly easily make a case that he deserves more than the $3.75 million he is asking for this offseason. The Cardinals have countered with a $2.4-million offer. The case will go to arbitration sometime between Monday and Feb. 20 if the two sides can’t strike a deal.

Now, while all of this sounds as though Freese and the Cardinals can’t see eye-to-eye on his worth, this is more of just a typical baseball business deal. Nobody will have their feelings hurt too no matter how the case finally plays out. The Cardinals have already finalized similar deals with relievers Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and Marc Rzepczynski.

Even if the case goes to arbitration and the Cardinals win, Freese will be in line for a big-money contract within the next three years. He won’t be a free agent until 2016. By that point the Cardinals will know whether Freese is going to be a franchise cornerstone at third base or if he will succumb to his substantial injury history that has kept him from playing 100 or more games in all but one season.

However, the Cardinals would still be smart to lock Freese up with a long-term deal as soon as possible because player salaries will only continue to rise throughout Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals made a smart decision early in Albert Pujols’ career to sign him to a 10-year, $110-million contract in 2001, and that deal was considered a bargain by the time it expired at the end of the 2011 season. Pujols’ next contract was worth more than twice that amount when he signed a 10-year, $240-million deal last year with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Freese and the Cardinals would both be in better positions if they could work out a long-term deal sometime soon, but right now the organization has other pressing matters. Namely, Adam Wainwright’s contract.
Wainwright is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, and his asking price will likely be astronomical if the Cardinals can’t sign him to a contract before he hits the open market.

The Cardinals did sign catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75-million contract last offseason, so they will have a strong core group of position players for the next few years.

And that’s what makes Freese’s contract situation a tad bit irrelevant. The difference of little more than $1 million this year shouldn’t have much of an effect on future negotiations.

Freese will get paid what he is due at some point. How soon the Cardinals will be willing to make that commitment is what will be the most interesting part of this situation.

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Escobar Named Joe Burke Award Winner

Kansas City, MO (November 5, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals have announced that shortstop Alcides Escobar was selected as the 2012 Joe Burke Special Achievement Award winner.  The award was voted on by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).  The Joe Burke is awarded to an unsung player who contributed above and beyond what was expected, or someone who the writers felt deserved some recognition for an outstanding season.

Escobar had a breakout offensive season in 2012, his second with Kansas City after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers on December 19, 2010.  The 25-year old set career highs with a .293 average, 177 hits, 30 doubles, five home runs, 52 RBI, and 35 stolen bases.  The 177 hits were 13 more than the previous single-season mark for a Royals shortstop.  His .293 average ranked second to New York’s Derek Jeter among MLB shortstops and was the third-highest single-season mark at the position by a Royal.  Escobar’s 35 stolen bases ranked fifth in the American League and were the most by a Royals player since 2003.  He became the first infielder in franchise history to post at least 30 doubles and 30 steals in the same season and the first Royal to accomplish the feat since Carlos Beltran in 2002.  Escobar’s first career multi-homer game on July 14 vs. Chicago was the first by a Royals shortstop since 1997.

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Five to watch as the ‘real’ games begin

The St. Louis Cardinals had an impressive showing in spring training, compiling a solid 16-9 record. Spring games and records for that matter mean little to nothing so take it for what it is. Preparation.

 

The pitching staff was especially good, allowing the fewest runs in the Grapefruit League and the hitters did their part as well. Some names are familiar, others not so much.

If St. Louis can keep this momentum going, they could jump out to an early lead in the National League Central race. And while the results of the games may not count for anything. The work put in often does.

Let’s take a look at five players who could have a quick start to the 2012 regular season.

David Freese, 3B

The World Series MVP showed some impressive power this spring, blasting three home runs. He also racked up 10 RBI, good for second place on the Cardinals roster.

He only hit .189, so he needs to improve his pitch selection, but that should come with time.

It’s possible Freese could put up career highs in homers and RBI this season, as long as he stays healthy.

Matt Carpenter, INF

Carpenter made the big league roster because of his outstanding spring.

The backup infielder hit .357, scored 13 runs and had 10 RBI.

With David Freese at third and Lance Berkman at first, it’ll be hard to get consistent playing time for Carpenter, but when he does play, he should be very effective.

The Redbirds are set at the corner infield position with Carpenter backing up the stars.

Adam Wainwright, SP

Wainwright missed the entire 2011 season with an elbow injury. But now he’s back, and he doesn’t appear to be any different.

The Cardinals ace had an impressive spring, recording an impressive 1.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.

He makes the Cardinals’ starting rotation so much more dangerous.

When Chris Carpenter comes back from his neck injury, the National League won’t enjoy playing St. Louis.

Kyle Lohse, SP

Chris Carpenter’s neck injury looks like it will linger into the regular season, meaning Lohse is going to have to step up and solidify the St. Louis pitching staff.

He showed that he’s up to the task this spring, notching three wins and leading the team with 20 strikeouts.

If he can avoid injury and keep the ball in the park, the Cardinals should be able to survive a month or two without Carpenter.

Matt Holliday, LF

Holliday absolutely tore it up at the plate this spring.

The slugger hit .383 with three home runs and 11 RBI in Florida.

He’s going to have to lead this team offensively in 2012. If his spring numbers are any indication, the Cards are in good hands.

It’ll be up to Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran to make sure Holliday gets plenty of good pitches to hit.

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Melkman sized shoes to fill

Last season the Kansas City Royals were able to put together arguably one of the best collective performances, both defensively and offensively, by an outfield committee that fans have seen in the organization’s history.  Some may say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but the Royals had a different plan.

They needed some help on the pitching staff and that is what they got in the trade with the San Francisco Giants, sending center fielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants in exchange for left hander Jonathan Sanchez.  The reason that Cabrera was an expendable asset is because of the confidence that the Royals have in their young center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Many regard him as being a defensive upgrade in center since his speed will allow him to have a great amount of range in the oversized outfield of Kauffman Stadium. He will not make the amazing diving catches that can be seen in highlights because he will take a page out of the Willie Wilson handbook and get to balls in the gaps that other outfielders simply cannot get to. His offense in the past has shown that contact will not be a problem but the power will need to continue to develop and get stronger which will come as experience sets in.

It is not arguable that the increase of speed will help him to fill the shoes of Cabrera in the outfield but the offensive production is where the shoes are a little bit bigger to fill.

In 2011, Cabrera set career highs in many categories including batting average (.305), hits (201), doubles (44), home runs (18), RBI (87), and stolen bases (20) to name a few. Now to say that Cain will be able to pencil in all of these statistics in his first full season in the Majors would be a bit hasty. While he could develop into this kind of player in the future, the present is what the organization and fans are about.

In his minor league career of seven season, Cain averages 7 home runs, 47 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and a .295 batting average.  The stolen bases will come with the speed that Cain presents but the power, which has been low at best, is where Cain will need to improve to be a perennial player that the Royals need in center field. More power would equivocate to more run production and the more run production that he can bring to the table the less the pressure that hitters in the top half of the lineup will have to endure.

Manager Ned Yost has already revealed what his Opening Day lineup will look like and with history on his side he does not waiver much on the lineup throughout a season.  So Cain will have the lessened pressure of the bottom half of the lineup which will allow him to continue to get on base, steal bases, and score runs in front of hits from the batter in the top of the lineup. With the pressure off of his back he can develop that power and in years to come be a huge run producer for this team.

The positive that can be brought from this is a little bit of Billy Beane and Oakland A’s style.  The question is not whether Cain will have to fill the offensive hole that Cabrera leaves but can two or three players make up for the loss of offensive production.  This is a task that can be accomplished with the improvements of the young “sophomores” on the team.

No doubt not having Cabrera in the lineup again this season could hurt this team a little since he left such big shoes to fill with his production in 2011.  But will Lorenzo Cain be able to fill those shoes and become the resident citizen in center field will be a question on the future can answer.

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The Wizard’s finest year

St Louis Cardinals fans rejoice in Ozzie Smith’s return to the spring training fold.  Seeing the older but still fit Wizard in uniform brings back fond memories of his 15 seasons in the St Louis infield.  Twenty-five years ago, during the last of Whitey Herzog’s runs to the World Series, Ozzie enjoyed his finest season along the banks of the Mississippi.

The Cardinals entered the 1987 season as a question mark.  For the second time in the decade they had followed up a World Series appearance with a sub-.500 season.  No one expected them to challenge the New York Mets for NL East supremancy; the 1986 World Champs were coming off an 108-win season and looked like a budding dynasty.  Over the first week of the 1987 season, that future appeared to be today, as the Mets won six of their first 8 while St Louis stumbled out of the blocks.  The Cardinals were two games back of New York when the Mets came to town for an early 3-game series.

New York did not roll over the Cardinals on their way to the post-season.  Instead, St Louis swept the Mets, and rarely looked back.  They never trailed by more than a game in April and early May, took sole possession of first place permanently on 22 May, led by 9 games at the All-Star Break, and won their third NL East title in 6 years.

In the middle of this Cardinal resurrection was Ozzie, who had the best offensive year of his career.  It was the only year he hit over .300 (.303).  He set career highs in OBP (.392), hits (182), doubles (40), RBI (75), runs scored (104), stolen bases (43), walks (89), and total bases (230).

Those career highs compared favorably with the rest of the league.  He finished eighth in batting average, eighth in runs, third in hits, second in doubles, sixth in walks, seventh in stolen bases, and was fourth in at bats per strikeout. He was the only player in the top 10 of all those categories.   By Baseball Reference’s calculations, his WAR of 7.1 was fifth-best in the NL, behind Tony Gwynn, Eric Davis, Dale Murphy, and Orel Hershiser.  Broken into categories, his offensive WAR was seventh, his defensive WAR third.

As seemed to be the trend with those 1980s Cardinals teams, they quit hitting in the post-season.  In years past Smith had hit in the NLCS but struggled in the World Series, but in 1987 he struggled in both.  Ozzie hit only .207  combined (11 for 53) that October, and although St Louis rode home-field advantage and superior starting pitching to the NL pennant, they were bested by Minnesota in the Fall Classic.

Ozzie had some good years after that, and some years with better power numbers, but he never quite reached the heights he had in 1987.

It’s a shame he and Tony LaRussa could never find common ground, and that LaRussa had to retire before Ozzie was willing to come back to Spring Training.  Although it’s not the same without Don Tony, the team is better with Ozzie teaching the finer points of middle infield defense to a new generation of Cardinal players.

Welcome back, Ozzie.

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Yadier Molina: He’s No Pujols

BREAKING NEWS: Yadier Molina is not Albert Pujols.  The catcher for the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals is entering the final year of his current contract, and, unless extended will become a free agent once the upcoming season ends.  And that’s about where the similarities between the redbirds’ catcher, and their former first baseman end.

Molina, 29, has garnered some attention recently, over some comments he made concerning his contract, and related discussions.  “I’m open to staying here.  I love the city.  I love the fans.  I love the ballpark.  But it’s out of my hands.”, Molina said.  Sentiments all too familiar to this fan base, who, by all rights is slow to trust anything that sounds remotely close to what Albert Pujols told them for so long.

Winner of the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove Award, and general all-around bad-ass, Yadier Molina

The reigning (since 2008) Gold Glove catcher, has earned the Rawlings award, and in the most recent three years, went ahead and added “All-Star” to go along with the honor.  Known for his defense, and picking opposing runners off first base like a sniper behind the plate, the “Legend of Yadi” expands well beyond the National League Central division.  Heck, there was a time not all that long ago when you couldn’t throw a dead cat in the Majors without hitting a catching Molina or two.Yadi’s stepped up his game on the other side of the ball, too.  With career highs in OPS+ (126), OPS (.814), and a .305 batting average to boot.  He also set a career high in total bases, with 221, representing an increase of more than 20% over his previous career high of 184, set a couple years ago.  That’s big, man.  20%.  That’s a guy who hit 50 bombs a couple years ago hitting 60 this year.  It’s a pitcher throwing 210 innings the year before last, then coming out and going more than 252 innings this year, or an 85-win team becoming a 102-win team–I’m tellin’ ya, it’s a big difference!  What it’s not, however, is enough to put him in elite company when talking about the greatest who ever played the game.

Yadi has skipped out on Winter Warm-up, and jilted fans who’d bought autograph tickets, not once, but twice.  In a row.

Bad taste in the fans’ mouth – 2
Catcher, Yadier Molina – 0

Then he bailed on the team for their visit to the White House.

BTITFM – 3
Yadi Mo – 0

He showed up in Jupiter Florida a week early & “twenty pounds lighter”.  He said he’s open to negotiating throughout the season, and won’t put a deadline on negotiations.  Good for him.

Enough with the “keeping score” thing already.

Look, Yadi is a premier catcher in the league, and across baseball, people know this.  But, he’s not Albert Pujols, and whether they’ve got a true bromance or not, it’s unfair to act like this is “Albertageddon 2.0”.  Yadi, like Albert, seems open to staying in St. Louis for his next contract.  But, also like Albert (and 748 other guys out there), there’s more to their contract than that.  It’s about taking care of their family, it’s about charitable work, it’s about being respected/disrespected or feeling/not feeling wanted by an organization, or maybe just one person in that organization.  ‘course, if that one person is the general manager…

So, give Yadi a break, and be fair.  I’m not even saying you have to like him, or the process or the outcome or any of that.  I’m saying we should at least be fair to the man.  Sheesh, can we at least do that?   I’m saying if the fans take out their leftover emotions from the Albert situation, and pile on Yadi, that’s pretty crappy.  Am I saying I don’t want him back after 2012 season?  Of course not–I hope Yadi stays, and stays for a long time.

But I hoped the same about Mike Matheny when Yadi came on board, and we see how that turned out.

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Royals Avoid Arbitration With Pena

ROYALS AGREE TO TERMS WITH CATCHER Brayan Pena ON A ONE-YEAR CONTRACT FOR 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO (January 16, 2012) — The Kansas City Royals announced today that the club has agreed to terms on a one-year Major League contract with catcher Brayan Pena for the 2012 season, avoiding arbitration. Consistent with club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed. The Royals now have six remaining arbitration-eligible players: pitchers Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Jonathan Sanchez; infielder Chris Getz, and outfielders Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier.

The just-turned 30-year-old, his birthday was on January 7, batted .248 (55-for-222) with 11 doubles, three home runs and 24 RBI in 72 games for the Royals in 2011. Pena set career highs in games played, at bats, hits, doubles and RBI. He was acquired by Kansas City in a waiver claim from the Atlanta Braves on May 30, 2008. Born in Havana, Cuba, he now resides in Miami, Fla.

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