Tag Archive | "Career Season"

St. Louis Cardinals will likely be forced to give Adam Wainwright record contract

As another offseason of eye-poppingly large free-agent contracts begins to wind down, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in an unfortunate, yet familiar situation as one of their biggest stars heads into the final year of his contract.

AdamWainwright

It was Albert Pujols in 2011; it will be Adam Wainwright in 2013.

The Cardinals co-ace is headed into the final year of his six-year, $59.4-million contract. That number is almost laughably low for a  Cy Young Award quality pitcher with a career 80-48 record, 3.15 ERA. In the past year, pitchers with less impressive numbers have signed contracts nearly triple the size of Wainwright’s current deal.

The San Francisco Giants signed Matt Cain in April to a six-year, $127.5-million extension. That was, of course, before he had a career season that included starting the All-Star Game and pitching a perfect game June 13 against the Houston Astros. The Los Angeles Dodgers also recently signed former Cy Young winner Zack Grienke to a six-year, $147-million contract. And those are just the big-name pitchers.

Even mediocre pitchers got paid big bucks this offseason. The Detroit Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez, who has a career 48-51 record and 3.75 ERA, to a five year contract worth $80 million. The Chicago Cubs were in the hunt for Sanchez, but they quickly turned around and gave Edwin Jackson, a 70-71 career pitcher with a 4.40 ERA, a four-year, $52-million deal.

If those types of pitchers are getting around $15 million per year, a pitcher with Wainwright’s record could honestly be looking at the possibility of a contract that pays him closer to $30 million than $20 million per year. That’s one heck of an investment.

The Pujols situation blew up in Spring Training of 2011 when Pujols cut off contract negotiations, and that issue lingered throughout the entire season. Pujols, of course, ended up signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 10 years and $254 millions the following offseason.

The Cardinals avoided a similar situation with catcher Yadier Molina when they gave him a five-year, $75-million contract extension in Spring Training before the 2012 season even began.

If the Cardinals and Wainwright don’t reach a deal before the 2013 season starts, the unrest in St. Louis concerning the team’s best pitcher will build and build whether Wainwright pitches great or pitches poorly.

The Cardinals have plenty of incentives to get a deal done quickly, but Wainwright could play the system and cash in at the end of next season. The Cardinals would likely be able to sign Wainwright at a cheaper price now because no other teams are currently able to offer him contracts, and if Wainwright pitches great in 2013, that will also drive up his price.

The team’s other co-ace, Chris Carpenter, currently holds the record as the highest-paid pitcher in Cardinals history. He signed a five-year, $63-million contract in 2006.

Like it or not, the Cardinals need to be prepared to shatter that record with Wainwright because the price for good starting pitchers continues to skyrocket. It’s not impossible to think Wainwright could sign the largest pitcher’s contract in the history of the game, exceeding the seven-year, $161-million contract the New York Yankees gave CC Sabathia before the 2009 season began.

Otherwise, St. Louis baseball fans might spend next Christmas bemoaning the fact that one of the best pitchers in franchise history moved on to take a huge sum of money somewhere else.

After Pujols’ departure in December 2011, that’s probably a Christmas story few Cardinals fans would want to relive.

Correction: a previous version of this article claimed Adam Wainwright was a former Cy Young Award winner.  That has since been corrected.

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2012 key player: Lance Berkman

Oh what a difference a year makes.

Last spring we worried if new St Louis Cardinals signee Lance Berkman had anything left in his offensive tank. Turned out, did he ever.  By OPS+ he enjoyed the best season of his career.  By slash line (.301./.412/.547) it was a top-five career season and his best effort since 2008.  Then he went out and, for an encore, hit .423/.516/.577 against the Rangers.  He was the 2011 NL Comeback Player of the Year, and deservedly so.

Last spring we worried how Berkman would do playing the OF full-time for the first time in 4 years.  He was not as bad as we feared, but he wasn’t great either. Opponents took an extra base on a ball hit to right slightly more than half the time when presented with the opportunity.  That ranked him 20th among right fielders.  He was OK on balls hit to shallow right, but not too good on medium flies and slightly worse on deep balls.    Berkman was ranked 31st overall among RF’s by Dewan Plus/Minus in 2011.

This spring we wonder if Berkman can repeat last year’s performance at the plate.  It is a near certainty he will not bottom out like he did in 2010.  Berkman’s hitting last season, while impressive given the context, was virtually dead on his career averages (.296/.409/.545).  Plus, he is no longer being asked to patrol the outfield.  Albert Pujols‘ departure for the sand, sun, and cash of Orange County California ceded first base to Berkman.  He will be a lot less physically taxed this year in the field than he was last year.  And, his contribution to the overall team defense will rise.  Throughout his career Lance has been at least an average defensive 1B, and on occasion (2006, 2008) a top 5 defender (again, according to Plus/Minus).  He is not as good a defender as Pujols, but he’s no Freddie Freeman either.

Berkman will hit fourth in the new order. Last season he was supporting cast to Pujols and Matt Holliday, and he performed above expectations.  This year the stakes have risen, and he is expected to be a vital cog in the Cardinal offense.  He is also expected to be a plus defender at first base.  Oh, what a difference a year makes.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He blogs about the Padres.  Follow him on Twitter.

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Royals Add Broxton

A team focused on a youth movement acquires a player in his own “rebuild” mode. Jonathan Broxton is going to wear Royal Blue in 2012.

Broxton has seen his share of down times in the last few years but many teams see him as a legit answer to the back end of bullpen issues. In an effort to maximize his future payday, Broxton was on the market looking for a one year deal to allow him to rebuild some value and seek a longer, more lucrative contract, in the near future.

While Broxton’s 2011 was cut short by injury, his arrival on the scene in 2006 showed sure dominance. A fireballer out of the bullpen, Broxton opened his first full career season by striking out 97 hitters in just 76 1/3 innings. His rise came quickly and he would find himself in the All Star game in 2009 and 2010. A lifetime strikeout to walk ratio of 3.09 shows a guy that is going to force hitters to beat him.

The Broxton signing will leave fans to wonder what the future holds for closer Joakim Soria. In my opinion, you will see Broxton setting up Soria and one or the other being used as trade bait near the deadline if they are both performing. Soria has team options stacked up for 2013 and 2014, making him the more attractive piece to other teams, but also making him the more valuable piece to the Royals.

Broxton will get $4 million for the 2012 campaign, including $1 million dollars in incentives based on games pitched, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com who broke the news.

I must admit, Dayton Moore is showing signs of making some good moves in my opinion this off season. His next few moves may be the big ones that everyone is waiting for.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

The official Press Release from the Royals is below:

KANSAS CITY, MO (November 29, 2011) – The Kansas City Royals announced today that the club has agreed to terms with right-handed relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton on a one-year Major League contract for the 2012 season, pending a physical exam. Consistent with club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

“We are delighted to add someone as talented as Jonathan to our bullpen,” Royals GM Dayton Moore said. “He will be used in a set up role to closer Joakim Soria and will help solidify what we feel is a young and talented bullpen.”

The 27-year-old Broxton was a two-time National League All-Star (2009, 2010) while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, including picking up the save for the National League in the 2010 Midsummer Classic in Anaheim. Since debuting in 2005 for the Dodgers, Broxton has compiled a 25-20 record with 84 saves and a 3.19 ERA in 386 appearances, all in relief. In 392.0 career innings, the 6-foot-4 right-hander has struck out 503, a ratio of 11.55 strikeouts per nine innings which is the third-highest in baseball since 2005 among pitchers with at least 350 innings. Broxton was 1-2 with seven saves and a 5.68 ERA in just 14 games for the Dodgers in 2011 before being placed on the Disabled List on May 6 with bone spurs in his right elbow that eventually required arthroscopic surgery on September 19.

Broxton and his wife, Elizabeth, have a son, Jonathan Brooks, and reside in Waynesboro, Ga.

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Comeback Puma Of The Year

Major League Baseball announced the winners of the Comeback Player Of The Year Award in both the National and American League today. Below is the official Press Release from Major League Baseball:

Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox are the recipients of the 2011 Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Awards, it was announced today. The Comeback Player of the Year Award is officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball, and is presented annually to one player in each League who has re-emerged on the baseball field during the season.

Berkman, who hit a combined .248 with 14 home runs and 58 RBI between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees in 2010, batted .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI in his first season with the Cardinals in 2011. The 35-year-old added 23 doubles, two triples and 90 runs scored while posting a .547 slugging percentage and a .412 on-base percentage. The 23 doubles marked his 12th consecutive season with at least 20 doubles while it was his sixth career season with 30-or-more home runs and his eighth season with 90-or-more RBI. The switch-hitting Berkman finished the season ranked among National League leaders in home runs (T-9th), RBI (T-11th), walks (92, 4th), slugging (5th) and on-base percentage (3rd).

Berkman, who led the N.L. with 22 home runs on the road, now ranks fourth all-time among switch hitters with 358 career home runs and his 31 homers this season were the second-most by a switch-hitter in St. Louis history behind the 35 hit by Rip Collins in 1934. Berkman, who was originally selected by the Astros with the 16th overall pick in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, registered four multi-homer contests this season and now has 29 for his career. The Texas native appeared in 145 games, including 107 starts in right field, 16 in left field and 16 at first base. The 145 games marked his most since playing in 159 during the 2008 season. In July, the Rice University product was elected by the fans to his sixth career All-Star Game (also 2001-02, 2004, 2006, 2008) and made his third career start.

Ellsbury, in his fifth Major League season, posted career-highs in nearly every offensive category after being limited to just 18 games in 2010 due to injuries. Ellsbury hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 46 doubles, five triples and 119 runs scored. He also added 39 stolen bases to go with his .552 slugging percentage and .376 on-base percentage. The 28-year-old led the Majors with 364 total bases and 83 extra-base hits while ranking among the A.L. leaders in hits (212, 3rd), RBI (T-6th), runs (3rd), batting average (5th), slugging (T-5th), multi-hit games (T-5th), stolen bases (4th), doubles (T-3rd) and home runs (T-5th). The Madras, Oregon native became the first Red Sox player to have a 30-homer, 100-RBI season while serving as the club’s primary leadoff hitter, and the first Major League leadoff hitter to accomplish that feat since Alfonso Soriano did it for the New York Yankees in 2002.

Ellsbury, the 23rd overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, became the first Red Sox player ever to achieve a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season and the 12th player in A.L. history to accomplish the feat (16th time). In addition, Jacoby became the fourth player in Major League history to reach 200 hits, 100 RBI, 35 stolen bases and 30 home runs in a single season, joining Vladimir Guerrero (2002), Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Alex Rodriguez (1998). Ellsbury, who was named an All-Star for the first time in his career this year, joined Carl Everett (33 homers as a center fielder in 2000) as the second Boston center fielder in the last 25 years to top the 20-homer mark, and his 364 total bases were the most ever by a Red Sox center fielder, eclipsing the previous mark of 339 set by Tony Armas in 1984. The only Boston center fielder to collect more hits than Ellsbury’s 212 was Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, who recorded 222 hits in 1912.

The 30 Club beat reporters from MLB.com, the official web site of Major League Baseball, selected the winners for the 2011 Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award. Past winners of the Award include: Jason Giambi and Ken Griffey, Jr. (2005); Jim Thome and Nomar Garciaparra (2006); Carlos Peña and Dmitri Young (2007); Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge (2008); Aaron Hill and Chris Carpenter (2009); and Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson (2010).

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NL Central Preview: Milwaukee vs St Louis

I-70 continues its look at the NL Central with a stop in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee has been a darling of the off-season, if for no other reason than acquiring Zack Greinke from the KC Royals. For years, Milwaukee has had a highly potent offense, questionable defense, and substandard starting pitching. In 2008, when they won the NL Wild Card, it was only after they fortified their rotation with CC Sabathia. Looking ahead to 2011, getting Greinke immediately vaults the Brewers from fringe contender to bona-fide challenger for the NL Central title.

So much for the build-up; let’s see how they stack up against the Cardinals.

First Base – Prince Fielder vs Albert Pujols. Now that Adrian Gonzalez is in Boston, Fielder is the second-best offensive first baseman in the National League ( Joey Votto needs to sustain his 2010 excellence for a couple of years). Fielder has been on an every-other year cycle, posting OPS+ of 157 and 166 in 2007 and 2009, but 137 and 130 in 2008 and 2010. If the trend continues, he’s due for a monster season. Fielder has never been known for his glove, and is considered a below average defensive first baseman.

How good is Albert Pujols? An 166 OPS+ would be his third-lowest career season. Fielder has one Silver Slugger; Albert has six, including the last 3 in a row. He has 2 Gold Gloves, and has been ranked #1 or 2 in Dewan Plus/Minus 4 of the last 5 years. Advantage: Cardinals.

Second – Skip Schumaker vs Rickie Weeks. Weeks was the second overall pick in the 2003 amateur draft, but has never quite lived up to that expectation. Until last season, when he had his finest offensive year (OPS 125+, career high 29 HR). He is the Brewer leadoff hitter, he can steal (although only 11 in 15 tries last season), and he led the league in getting hit by a pitch (25) in 2010. He does strike out a ton (184 in 751 PA). Defensively he regressed from his 2008 campaign, again by Dewan Plus/Minus, and was ranked 32 by that metric.

Schumaker, in contrast, had his worst offensive season since becoming a regular in 2008. He’s always been just average offensively (102 OPS+ in 2008 and 2009), but his OBP dropped 40 points last year and he finished with an 83 OPS+. As has been well documented here and elsewhere, he has had a tough time learning and playing second. His Dewan ranking for 2010 was just ahead of Weeks (31). Advantage: Brewers.

Third – Casey McGehee vs David Freese. McGehee finished fifth in the 2009 Rookie of the Year voting, and followed that strong season with a breakout season in 2010. His 116 OPS+ was fifth best on the club, and he led the team in RBI. He is, however, another all bat/no glove guy on this roster; in 2 seasons, he has ranked 29th and 34th among third baseman using the Dewan runs saved metric.

David Freese remains an intriguing player who has lots of potential but cannot seem to stay on the field. He has yet to play more than 70 games in a season, although in those 70 games last year he put up a 109 OPS+. He only has 600 major league innings at third. Last year Dewan ranked him 21st. The Cardinals hope this is the season he is the full-time third baseman from March to October. Based on their prior performance McGehee is the better player going into 2011. Advantage: Brewers.

Shortstop – Yuniesky Betancourt vs Ryan Theriot. Neither of these players was a member of these teams in 2010. Betancourt played the whole season with KC and came over in the Greinke trade. Yuniesky has one of the game’s most unique games, but that has not prevented him from being one of the worst everyday hitters in the majors throughout his career. Case in point: last season’s 88 OPS+ is the second-highest of his career. He is a defensive liability at short. The last 3 seasons he has posted -14, -20, and -15 runs saved (Dewan again).

Brewer pitchers better be good, because their infield defense is not.

Ryan Theriot started the 2010 season with the Cubs and ended it in Los Angeles. His career OPS+ is almost exactly the same as Betancourts (82 to 84), although last year it was a meager 70. This is because he has no power at all. However, proving that OPS+ is not the be-all and end-all, Theriot has value as a hitter, with a .348 career OBP, easily besting Betancourt’s .296. From 2007-2009 he saved 4, 5, and 5 runs respectively as an everyday shortstop, and although that dropped below 0 in 2010 it’s a better indicator of his true talent level. Advantage: Cardinals.

Catcher – Jonathan Lucroy vs Yadier Molina. Lucroy made his major league debut in 2010 and ultimately had almost 300 PA’s. He had good numbers in the minors (.875 OPS), and his defense seems average to slightly above average. He threw out 29% of would-be base stealers in 2010 while in Milwaukee. Overall, like David Freese he has a lot of potential, but most of it is as yet unrealized.

Molina’s 84 OPS+ last year ended three consecutive years of improvement with the bat. He hit the same number of HR (6) as in 2010 when he posted a 100 OPS+, but ended with 19 fewer singles, 3 fewer doubles, and no triple (although I don’t think we will see many more triples from the man). Defensively he remains the premier catcher in the NL. His 44% of runners thrown out last year was his best percentage since 2007; it’s interesting that teams attempted to steal 63 times against him, the most since 2006. Molina won his third consecutive Gold Glove last season. Advantage: Cardinals.

Left Field – Ryan Braun vs Matt Holliday. Braun is probably the Brewers best all-around everyday player; Holliday is the Cardinals second-best. Braun is the 2007 ROY and has finished in the MVP top 25 every year he’s been in the bigs. He’s won 3 straight Silver Slugger awards. His OPS+ was 133 last year, and his career average is 140. Braun’s real good. His defense is a bit erratic by the Dewan runs saved metric (8th in the rankings for 2008, 34th in 2009, 8th again last season), but we will give him the benefit of the doubt and call him an average to above average left fielder.

Matt Holliday posted a 149 OPS+ his first full season in St Louis, one point short of his best season ever (2007 with Colorado). He also won a Silver Slugger last year, his first since 2008 and fourth overall (disclosure – apparently MLB gives out the Slugger awards like they do Gold Gloves, which is why 2 left fielders can win in the same season). The last 3 seasons he’s also been one of the very best defensive left fielders in baseball, finishing 5th, 3rd, and 3rd in the Dewan rankings.

Holliday is a slightly better fielder and hitter, but Braun is younger. Advantage: Cardinals (barely).

Center – Carlos Gomez vs Colby Rasmus. Gomez only played 97 games during his first season in Milwaukee, his season ending after he was beaned by Cubs rookie Brian Schlitter on August 3 and suffered a concussion. He was having a career year at the plate, posting an OPS+ of 78, his career high. That said, his OBP resembles Betancourt’s, which is not a good thing given speed plays a major role in his game. Defensively he had his worst season in the majors in CF by the Dewan metric (23rd amongst center fielders).

Rasmus is supremely talented and still channeling that talent. He had a great year at the plate (OPS+ of 132), but defensively he graded out worse than Gomez (28th). Rasmus is a much better hitter with their defense being about even. Advantage: Cardinals.

Right – Corey Hart vs Lance Berkman. Hart had a career year in 2010, posting a 132 OPS+ and cranking out 31 HR. He was an All-Star for the second time and cracked the MVP t0p 25 for the first. Dewan’s rankings didn’t think much of his glove, rating him 32nd of all right fielders and -9 on the plus/minus scale.

Berkman is the mystery man on this year’s Cardinal team. In 2010 he posted an OPS+ of 114, his lowest since his 1999 rookie season. He is still recovering from knee surgery. If he can re-discover his bat, and recapture some of his former form in the outfield, he will be a find. Berkman has not played right since 2007. Only 2 years worth of data exist in the Dewan database, and he received a -2 score in 2006 and -5 in 2007 at the position.

Cardinal fans will hold their breath Berkman plays well in 2011, but who’s the better RF going into the season is pretty clear. Advantage: Brewers.

Starters

St Louis will probably start the season with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jamie Garcia, and Kyle Lohse as their starting 5. Milwaukee will counter with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson.

The Cardinal staff is pretty darn good, something that gets overlooked in all the Phillie and Giant hype. Wainwright was the 2010 Cy Young runner-up and finished 3rd in 2009. Carpenter was the runner-up in 2009 and won the award in 2005. Westbrook was tremendous the second half of last season, Garcia finished third in the ROY voting, and Kyle Lohse is – well – trying to rediscover his 2008 form.

Milwaukee’s no slouch either. Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young in KC and had a very solid, if not to the same level of spectacular, season in 2010. Gallardo was second in the NL in K/9 last season. Marcum had an ERA+ of 125 last season with Toronto, Wolf remains a crafty left-hander, and Narveson pitched well in stretches during his first major league season as a starter.

Looking at some of the numbers, the Cardinal 5 posted WAR of 6.1 (Wainwright), 3.7 (Carpenter), 3.2 (Garcia), 2.3 (Westbrook combined between Cleveland and St Louis), and 0.7 (Lohse). Milwaukee’s projected rotation posted WAR of 6.3 (Greinke), 4.6 (Gallardo), 3.5 (Marcum), 0.7 (Wolf), and 1.8 (Narveson) in 2010. That’s pretty close (16 combined WAR for STL, 16.9 for MIL), so that’s how we grade them. Advantage: Even.

Bullpen. Two things make evaluating a bullpen difficult. One is the amount of turnover most teams experience from year to year. The other is any change in management. Milwaukee is no exception when it comes to bullpen turnover. MLB.com lists 10 bullpen arms on their depth chart. No way all 10 men break camp with the big club. Of the names listed, four saw significant work with the club in 2010 (LaTroy Hawkins, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe, and Manny Parra), and a fifth while with Los Angeles (Takashi Saito). How the bullpen will finally look at the end of spring training is still to be determined, but unless they pratfall Hawkins ($4.25M), Parra ($1.2M), Saito ($1.75M), and Loe ($0.65M) will be part of it. Possibly Sean Green ($0.875K) as well. Brewers relievers were 7th in the NL in WAR with everyone above less Saito and Green, so it does not make much sense to mess with a good thing.

John Axford is the closer. He saved 24 games in 27 opportunities after a one-plus year apprenticeship under Trevor Hoffman. Axford throws a heavy (95 MPH on average) fastball, slider, and curve. He should be better this season.

Turnover is no stranger to the Cardinal bullpen corps, but the same number of folks as Milwaukee has project to return for 2011. Kyle McClellan, Trever Miller, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and closer Ryan Franklin will be the mainstays. Fernando Salas and PJ Walters look to have expanded roles (Salas made 27 appearances, Walters 7, in 2010). By WAR alone this group is not very good (0.3 in 2010 was the second worst in the NL, and 0.5 was the fourth worst in 2009 with 57% of 2011′s projected bullpen having been in those two). It should be noted that Cardinal relievers threw the fewest innings of any team in the NL in 2009, and the fourth fewest last season. They rely heavily on their starters to get deep into games, so they can get by with just an average bullpen.

Franklin converted 27 saves in 29 opportunities last year.

Ron Roenicke takes over as the Brewers manager. How he will choose to use his bullpen is not well known at this point and will not be until a couple of months into the season. We know Tony LaRussa has as a life mission to ensure he has favorable pitching match-ups at the back of ballgames, so he will use his bullpen frequently and in 99% of cases effectively. That has to be an advantage for St Louis.

If the Brewer bullpen is better LaRussa’s experience counterweighs it. Advantage: Even.

Summary. Milwaukee will challenge Cincinnati as the best offensive team in the NL. They have three offensive holes – shortstop, catcher, and center field. Defensively they will once again be below average. Their pitching will be solid and will probably determine how far they get this season. This sounds remarkably like the Cardinals in 2011. St Louis has 3 offensive holes – second base, shortstop, and third base. They were below average (by UZR/150) defensively last season and will probably be there again this year. Their pitching will be solid and will probably determine how far they get this season.

Considering how even these two teams are going in, if Milwaukee is considered a contender for the division title so too should be the Cardinals.

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