Tag Archive | "Daniel Descalso"

MLB Trade Rumors Center Around St. Louis Cardinals Shortstop Pete Kozma

Trade rumors begin to swirl as spring training nears completion in Major League Baseball.  As Opening Day draws near, teams begin to identify their needs as well as their surpluses.  The St. Louis Cardinals, who have found themselves actively involved in the market for shortstops around the league over the last few seasons, suddenly find themselves with a player to offer to the market.

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Pete Kozma is the odd man out in St. Louis, and general manager John Mozeliak hopes to benefit from that.

According to Adam Rubin of ESPN, the Cardinals have been shopping Kozma around the league, letting other teams know that the young shortstop is available:

The reasons for trade rumors surrounding Kozma are obvious.  The Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta during the offseason, Daniel Descalso offers a backup option who can play multiple positions and the team needs the room on the 40-man roster.

All of this could lead to a trade for a low-level prospect in exchange for the man who played 143 games for the Cardinals last season.

Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out another need that the Cardinals may wish to address with the rumored trade of Kozma based on the recent reassignment of relief pitcher Tyler Lyons.

“The Cardinals can option Kozma or keep him as Peralta’s backup. Having optioned Tyler Lyons to Memphis on Wednesday, the club could survey the market for long relief. No obvious internal candidate currently exists,” according to Strauss.

That option would not alleviate the roster restriction that exists but is a fair trade rumor as it fulfills both the team’s need and surplus at the same time.  The argument against a long reliever in return is based more on the value that Kozma holds.

Ben Humphrey of Viva El Birdos breaks down the value of Kozma on the market and what fans should expect in return.  Ultimately, Humphrey comes to the conclusion that a trade involving Kozmawould likely resemble the trade of Brendan Ryan in December of 2010.  In that trade, the Cardinals received relief pitcher Maikel Cleto, a low-level prospect with a lively arm.

The Cardinals will do their due diligence in shopping Kozma around to see if there is a trade that makes sense.  If the past can tell us anything, it is that Mozeliak will only move Kozma if he feels that the Cardinals will clearly benefit from the return.

Meanwhile, the trade rumors will continue to circulate.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Maybe St. Louis Cardinals discount rate suggests Aledmys Diaz isn’t worth the hype

St. Louis Cardinals officials said they wanted to make a “big splash” in the market for Cuban baseball players when they signed infielder Aledmys Diaz on Sunday, but their first signing might turn out to simply be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

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The Cardinals signed Diaz, 23, to a four-year, $8-million contract and will likely send him to the Double-A Springfield Cardinals to begin his American baseball career.

However, the excitement Diaz generated when the Cardinals brought him to their spring training headquarters in Jupiter, Fla., nearly three weeks ago suggested they were about to sign a player more similar to Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder sensation Yasiel Puig rather than someone who would have to labor to take a spot away from utility players such as Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso.

The organization’s interest and subsequent offer are not unfounded, to be sure. The $8 million it will pay Diaz in the next four years is substantially less than the $15-20 million many people thought it would take to sign Diaz with teams in play such as the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, San Franscisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays.

Those teams ultimately steered clear of Diaz and the Cardinals might have gotten him at a discount, which could be important if he never develops beyond the Kozma-Descalso level and yet another incredible Cardinals bargain if he becomes a starter in Major League Baseball.

But he has plenty of work to do to get there. Although he hit .315 and had 12 homeruns in 2012 in the Cuban professional league, he has not played since because he falsified his age when he defected after that season and Major League Baseball suspended him for a year before he could sign with an American team.

So the projected start in the minor leagues is well-founded, and the Cardinals have little reason to rush Diaz up to St. Louis after they signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53-million contract in November to be the starting shortstop.

Yet the fact Diaz is now in spring training camp with the Cardinals does not mean fans should expect him, rookie second baseman Kolten Wong and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras to be the next Albert Pujols-Jim Edmonds-Scott Rolen trio that will carry the team to World Series championships.

That’s a possibility, but it’s a small one at this point.

While some reports say Diaz will be an impact righthanded hitter at the major-league level, others suggest he will be merely a utility infielder.

Of course, projections about former Cuban players are always difficult because the information on them is so scarce.

The Oakland Athletics lucked out in 2012 when they signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million contract. He has hit more than 20 homers and had 80 or more runs batted in, in each of his first two years although many people around baseball thought the A’s made a misguided move to sign an unknown player to such a large contract.

Other Cuban players such as Puig and Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman have also made big splashes in the big leagues within the past three years, but those three players signed contracts worth a combined $105.25 million.

Maybe the Cardinals have gotten away with one of the greatest steals in the history of the Cuban-American baseball, but any further hype about Diaz should probably wait until he at least gets to the top level of the minor leagues, much less the majors.

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Are Descalso’s Days Numbered?

Daniel Descalso will enter the spring simultaneously in an unfamiliar, yet accustomed, position. In one regard, he is at odds with the team over his contract, and as a first-time eligible arbitration candidate, he gets to stake a claim for himself. GM John Mozeliak has stated that both sides have some “significant differences” between their stances on the subject, and is even willing to take it past arbitration and to a trial potentially.

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However, at some point, the matter will be settled, and in the case of Descalso, that is when things could become oddly clear—in one direction or another. In one regard, he’ll be back in a position that he has found himself in the past, which is showing up to compete for a role. However, for a change, there is no clear role that works in his favor alone.

“We’ll see where I fit,” was Descalso’s own take on what capacity he could serve in for the 2014 Cardinals, which is a very reasonably uncertain take on the upcoming month.

The Cardinals underwent an infield facelift since last October, trading away David Freese, while moving Matt Carpenter back to third base. Additions were made in the forms of free agents Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis, while the organization’s Player of the Year in Kolten Wong has been promoted to assume a daily role in the majors as well. All things considered, it is a tight spot for Descalso, who just a year ago, was in a competition (albeit a brief one) for the starting second base job last spring.

But things have not gone in his direction much over the past year. His average stayed south of .240 for the second consecutive season a year ago, in fewer at-bats than the year before. Descalso’s claim for place value is as a part-time player, but his performance last season torpedoes that idea as well. As CBS 920’s Corey Rudd points out, in career off the bench, he carries a .432 OPS mark, which drags him south of even Pete Kozma’s offensive value, which has been much more maligned than even that of Double D.

Yet the most eminent threat to his place could be even beyond contractual issues or continued offensive shortcomings, rather it is that his niche is being closed in on as well. Being able to take to the field as late inning defensive upgrade has been his benefit, but it is also being closed in on by the Cardinal additions, and can be pressured by the continued emergence of Greg Garcia as well.

While seeing time in Memphis at both second base and shortstop (sound familiar?), the left-handed hitting (once again, ahem) Garcia hit .271, yet saw a clear uptick in his late season production after getting over a nagging hamstring issue in the first half of the season. Garcia had an encouraging effort in his first spring training, and could be a viable option for the club if he as a repeat effort.

Adding to the equation that Ellis has expressed an openness to play multiple positions if needed and the continued presence of Kozma may be required due to the limitations of Peralta in the field, and Descalso’s margin for error is getting tighter and tighter.

Creating a clear purpose is of the utmost importance for the reserve candidates for any roster, and for a team with as much brimming talent as the current Cardinals feature, having clear mark is an absolute. Descalso’s most distinguishable feature is quickly becoming not much more than being a familiar name, which can become easy to forget in the rat race of March baseball.

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Cardinals Winter Warm Up Progressive Blog – Day One

To follow this year’s Cardinals Care Winter Warm Up, we will be posting a three way interaction experience, through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and most notably, the Progressive Blog here on site.

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The blog will note the comments from the media sessions, including current Cardinals, select minor leaguers, management and Hall of Famers. Check back regularly to see new content, and follow on Twitter and Facebook for unique in the moment comments and notices on new additions to the blog.

For more info, follow us on Instagram at @I70Baseball and myself directly at @CheapSeatFan, and on Instagram at the same name. Send questions for players and about the event to any of those outlets, and we will do the best we can to work them in. Notices for new additions will be sent through those outlets as well.

So, here goes….

9:45—Players to be expected: Daniel Descalso, Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter, Pete Kozma, Greg Garcia, Trevor Rosenthal, Adam Wainwright, Randal Grichuk, Seth Maness, Oscar Taveras, Jhonny Peralta, Kevin Siegrist.

10:00—Daniel Descalsco:

Stated he would not discuss the status of his pending arbitration situation, deferring to John Mozeliak.

On the offseason, he said a short offseason is a good thing, and “good price to pay.” He said he took a month off post season, and said its “the norm” for this club now, due to its regular success.

“We’ll see where I fit. I’ll show up to spring training ready to compete. We made a big signing with (Jhonny) Peralta and added a good veteran in Mark Ellis, so we’ll go out there and see where I fit.” In regards to preparation for the new infield parts, “I’ve done the same things I’ve done in years past, and just get ready to for the middle part of February when we all get down to Florida.”

In regards to his home team 49ers chances in tomorrow’s NFC Championship Game, he has “no predictions.”

 

10:55—John Mozeliak

(More in-depth post to come on Mozeliak’s comments later—especially concerning Oscar Taveras. But here is an outline of various topics)

“I don’t think we have ever had a time where we know what we look like at this point,” regarding the readiness of the overall roster.

“It was not an easy decision to come to…but that it is such an competitive market that if a move is solid and not seen as a Band-Aid, you have to do it.” He continued on that adding minor league outfielder Randal Grichuk “sealed the deal”.

Regarding arbitration case with Descalso, “We are far apart; a hearing could be a possibility”

I don’t anticipate any contract activity here, but something could happen before Opening Day

On the impact of Peter Burjos: “From a defensive perspective, he one of those few guys you think of in the Gold Glove conversation. You combine that speed and that aggressiveness, and you have to haraness it. That is part of the reason why he bangs himself up a little bit. Having him on the field is critical.” Mo adds that while he doesn’t make lineups, he would be reluctant to move him to the top of the lineup.

In the same vein, he sees Peralta as having potential to hit in both the top of the lineup and in the middle, and that his success against left-handed pitching is critical.

In comparison to Taveras and Albert Pujols emergence, he doesn’t see similarities necessarily because of the higher profile of Taveras coming in. There is no surprise element.

Mo stated that Chris Carpenter is looking to stay involved with the organization immediately and that he is developing a job description to utilize him. “We are looking to find something that isn’t too overwhelming the first month or first year.” Any role would be out of uniform, and that scouting could be a factor. “Scouting is a critical part of the front office, and maybe getting him experience on both sides of that, amateur and the pros.”

Regarding the health of Allen Craig, he stated he hasn’t seen him but that all reports are good regarding his health moving ahead. Similarily, he expects for the Jaime Garcia to be fully ready to contribute as a starter as well.

On the Clayton Kershaw contract, he views “the bar as being risen, and that it will pull other things up as it goes.” He stated that the Wainwright negotiations take on a good value, and that negotiations this year would like be impacted by that deal. “If Adam wanted to go to market, he would have done better”, but that it was his decision to finish the deal as he did and at the time that he did.

Also, the team will be having meetings this week to work on addressing the recent expansion of instant replay, and any personnel that may need to be added to accommodate it.

Adam Wainwright—11:30

About the team’s loss in the World Series, he says it differs from the loss in the 2012 NLCS, because “we got beat. It felt like we let the Giants off the hook. The games were there for us to win. Last year, (the Red Sox) pitchers didn’t give runs and they got timely hits.” He said the loss was much more painful the year before.

Regarding 2013, he said that while he felt good after last season’s heavy workload, he still pushed back his usual training regime by two weeks: “Sometimes you talk yourself into being tired when you aren’t.”

In regards to the talent and competitiveness of the emerging young starters around him, he expresses comfort in being the standard bearer for the staff. “I used to tell Carp that I was coming for him, and I always welcome that.” He continued, “If anyone else ends up being the ace of the staff, we’re going to be really, really good team because I’m going to continue being me.”

He said he has a good relationship with Clayton Kershaw and speaks with him regularly throughout the offseason. Regarding his new contract, he texted him to congratulate him, but it doesn’t change his stance on his decision to resign in St. Louis early. “I love the city and I love going to work every day. I love pulling up and seeing the stadium every day, but mostly I know our front office is going to give us a chance to win every year. Could I have gotten more money elsewhere? Sure, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. What I want to do is look back at this contract and say that I did what the team signed me to do, like I did at the end of the last one.”

About finishing as runner-up for the Cy Young for the second time, he said he did not expect to win. “This time I knew I was not going to win (laughing). The first time I was runner up, I had no chance to win either.” He went on from there to speak to his consistency and the quality of his seasons: “If you take my three really good seasons, and put them in any other year I probably win.”

Going further into his rotation mates, he was quick to specify between the two top names. “I was more impressed with Shelby’s season as a whole, but if Michael does what he did down the stretch for a whole season, he’ll be in the Cy Young talks.” Going on, Wainwright touted the virtues of both further. “But what’s lost in the shuffle is Shelby winning 15 games and Joe Kelly as well. Michael may be one of the most talented pitchers I’ve ever seen. I’m very impressed with his game, but I want to see it across a full season. Sometimes we forget was Shelby was able to do with us.”

Yadier Molina—Noon

On returning back to working with his staff, he is enthusiastic.

On the increased usage of defensive shifts the team could employ, and its impact on how he calls his game, he is indifferent. “I don’t follow that too close, I just try to call my same game I do every day. That is more on the coaches than for me.”

He states he prepared the same for this season as he did last year, when he participated in the World Baseball Classic. He states that the knee injury from last August is not a factor any longer, and did not bother him even as late as last season. “It was a long season for me. We started early with the WBC and went all the way to the World Series. Right now, I am rested as much as I can be.” He expressed that he gets bored in the offseason and is ready to get back to the ballpark.

Regarding the departure of David Freese and Chris Carpenter, he said it is sad for the loss of an extended teammate, but will continue to communicate with both.

Greg Garcia—2:45

On his status entering the season, “I’ll have a little bit more of a comfort level with this being my second big league camp, but I’m going to go in and do my best. I’ve worked on all parts of my game.” He anticipates working out at shortstop, second and third base. “The work ethic of the guys there is the main thing, and seeing some of the best players in the game still work hard at it.

While injuries hampered him early last year, he said that consistency is his primary goal this year. “Trusting myself and not changing things mechanically is the goal. It’s about squaring up pitches and playing baseball.”

Kevin Siegrist—3:00

He said he is refining his existing pitches, and while the team has discussed him coming to camp as a starter, he always prepares as such. “It’s easier to transition pitches into the bullpen from a starting perspective.” Despite this, he does anticipate being a late inning reliever only.

Randal Grichuk—3:10

His name is pronounced “Gree-Chick”

On Peter Bourjos, who was traded along with: “He’s the best defensive centerfielder in the game. A great teammate.”

States Matt Holliday texted him a day following the trade and that he grew up playing with Shelby Miller in the Area Code Games. He recalled splitting two at-bats in the minors versus him, doubling once while striking out on another.

He expects to get playing time in centerfield with the club this spring.

A Houston native, he states growing up a big Astros fan and being “crushed” by Pujols home run in the 2004 NLCS.

 

Come back tomorrow for the Day Two news and media session info, and continue to follow for new posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Legend of the Fall: Beltran Continues His Quest

The heroics of Carlos Beltran in the month of October are nothing new. He ranks in the top 10 nearly every major postseason category that an individual can find himself in. However, in last night’s game one of the National League Championship Series, he had his signature effort as a Cardinal during the season’s final month. In the process he single-handedly carried the team to series-opening victory, as well as continued to make an increasingly convincing case for how his legacy will be rewarded.

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Beltran took the world on his shoulders, as his two-run third inning double started the offense, and remained the entire output until his RBI single ten innings later earned a grueling win to a grueling start to the NLCS. In a matchup that saw just three lead changes scattered across 13 pitchers for both sides, it was the two defining hits by Beltran that made the complete difference in the Cardinals 3-2 victory.

Yet, the moment of the game came in the top of the tenth inning, when Beltran showcased why the team leans on him so heavily at this point. After Jon Jay misplayed a Mark Ellis line drive into the right center field gap, which resulted in a one out triple, the club found itself in about as big of a bind as possible. After intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to reach Michael Young with a double play situation in play, Trevor Rosenthal found himself in a do or die scenario.

Young did exactly what he has supposed to do, which was put the ball in the air to the outfield. The ball he hit would have been Jay’s to take in any other scenario, but this was far from that; it was the game on the line. With this crossroads clear and evident, Beltran moved over from right to overrule his outfield mate, and uncorked the type of throw which helped make him a Gold Glove center fielder three times over, cutting down Ellis at home plate and giving the Cardinals another life.

Helping to make good on a dominant, seven scoreless inning collaboration from the Cardinal bullpen, poetically, the game came back around to Beltran came back to the plate again in the thirteenth inning and capped his legend securing evening. With two on and one out in the 13th, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly finally unleashed his closer Kenly Jansen, owner of one of the most dominant fastballs in the game. But Beltran worked the count in his favor so he could face that pitch on his terms, which resulted in him lining a base hit in right field, which brought in Daniel Descalso (who had a clutch flare hit to start the inning) and closed out a hard-fought win to start the series.

For Beltran, his reputation simply grows at the highest peak of the season again. It has been nine years since his record-setting eight home run October debut with the Houston Astros. In the time since, he has grown his career, seemingly lost his peak to injury and then rebuilt it in a new role. All along, he’s become a new player in the season’s final month, the type of postseason legend that is rightfully mentioned along the lines of Jeter, Jackson and Ruth.

There are a few things each name in that group has in common, and it is that their efforts evenly resulted in a World Series victory. Despite reaching the NLCS four times and reaching the seventh game of each appearance, he has yet to be able to breakthrough to game’s final level. The debate continues on whether Beltran is a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but one thing that is a consensus is that the conversation starts, and finishes, with the efforts he turns in during this point in the season. And when it comes time for that discussion to ultimately be decided on, the game he began this season’s NLCS with will be remembered as a strong indicator of just how exceptional he truly has been. But where the season ends, and how much further he can fuel this particular Cardinal team, could ultimately be the decider.

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Déjà vu Threatens Cardinals All Over Again

Down 2-1, and faced with nothing elimination games ahead in their Divisional Series match up with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals find themselves in a familiar place. But not the type of “they’ve been behind before” postseason rhetoric that has been tagged to the club so often recently, rather it directly correlates to the way their season ended last time around. While the pitching alignments get the buzz, it is the lineup that is once again failing the Cardinals.

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It has now been two full games since the Cardinals had a lead at any point versus Pittsburgh. Along the way, the Cardinals have been buried by the same type of timely hitting from the Pirates core that the Cardinal collective has been prided on. Pedro Alvarez, Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd have collaborated to drive in more runs (16) than the Cardinals have combined for as a club (11).

Basically, they are being beat at their own game. After a season where the Cardinals were the second most productive team offense, hitting for a .269 average, they have torpedoed to a .219 average through the first three games of the series. Carlos Beltran’s once again outstanding October effort aside, as well as solid showings from Yadier Molina and Matt Adams, the rest of the lineup has brutally underperformed. Highlighted by a 1 for 11 (.091) spin by Matt Carpenter, a 2 for 12 effort by Matt Holliday (.167) and a pair of 2 for 10 showings from Jon Jay and David Freese, the same type of large scale outage that sunk the team over the last three games of 2012 has made an untimely return.

There is a huge difference in the 2012 postseason Cardinals than any past incarnation however, and it is a simple see: it is not a deep team. Whereas in years past there were Allen Craig, Lance Berkman and Matt Carpenter among others to supply hits off the bench, there is no such presence of that sort this year. Look no further than the final two batters in yesterday’s game, Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who, respectively, hit .217 and .238 on the year. It’s a striking showing that their were no other bats available to take those opportunities, and proves resoundingly the depth the team lost when Craig was lost for what looks to be the season. The bottom line is simply, what starts is what has to produce, and the group failings to do so (a .192 average from the starting lineup over the past 18 innings) is creating a brutal case of déjà vu.

Over the past the last three games of last season’s National League Championship Series, the Cardinals mounted one run across three games, which unfolded in the same home, then road-road sequence. While the team is guaranteed to score more runs than last with yesterday’s output, there is still simply too much pressure put on the pitching staff to win games.

Game four sees a continuation of yesterday, with Michael Wacha going to the mound for his first postseason appearance of his career. While he has been effective against the Pirates, and is the best available option to start this game, even with his best efforts will be for nil if the team continues to leave runners on base

In a most poetic situation in how the year has unfolded, it is the young arms that have been leaned on to pitch in high leverage situations, and while the rookie staff as performed impeccably throughout the year, they still are young. The postseason is made for veterans to deliver, and for all of the strides the team took this season, it finds itself on the verge of ending in not only the same fashion, but at an earlier clip if it cannot work out the order of things by 5:00 this evening.

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David Freese could be right-handed version of Matt Adams for St. Louis Cardinals

The moments of brilliance for St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese come in flashes.

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

He hit one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers and just Monday he delivered a vital pinch-hit, two-run double to extend the Cardinals lead to 8-5 in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers.

But those moments are not enough for a player who the Cardinals have tried to make a cornerstone at the third base position. They are more fitting of a pinch hitter, such as first baseman Matt Adams, who has been a left-handed, pinch-hitting weapon for the 2013 Cardinals.

Sure, Freese is a good guy, he is considered a good teammate and he combined for a .295 batting average in 2011 and 2012, topping out with 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in during the 2012 season, but he has since become an average player, at best.

He started the 2013 season in a horrible rut. He bottomed out with a .163 batting average April 29 and a 20-game hitting streak between May 17 and June 11 raised his average to .284, but he is now back down to .265 with just six home runs and 46 RBIs.

Those aren’t horrible numbers and were good enough when the Cardinals did not have a replacement infielder outside of the .255-hitting Daniel Descalso, who also has a paltry .310 on-base percentage.

However, Freese also has a -0.4 Wins Above Replacement value, meaning he has played slightly worse than would be expected from a typical third baseman, and the Cardinals now have a replacement, although he comes in the form of a second baseman.

The team called up second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis last week, and manager Mike Matheny has started him in three of his first four games.

With Wong getting regular playing time at second, regular second baseman Matt Carpenter has had to move elsewhere. At first, Carpenter got a needed day off, but Matheny has continued to put Wong in the starting lineup so Carpenter has moved to his original position at third base and Freese has moved to the bench.

Freese isn’t buried on the bench, however. Matheny has given other regular starters extended time off throughout the season. He sat center fielder Jon Jay for several consecutive days in April and early May when he was struggling to fix his swing, and shortstop Pete Kozma didn’t play for several days in a row in late July and August when he went in an extended slump at the plate.

But a long-term view of the Cardinals infield suggests Freese could be the odd man out if Wong takes the starting job as second baseman and Carpenter becomes the everyday third baseman.

Carpenter plays solid defense and occasionally replaced Freese late in games in 2012 because Matheny wanted a stronger defensive player at that position in the late innings. Plus, Carpenter has hit .312 with 61 RBIs and has a WAR value of 5.1.

More than anything, the Cardinals figure to get more consistent production with Wong and Carpenter in the lineup than Freese, who has always been a streaky hitter.

Yes, he hit .390 in the 2011 postseason and was the Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series and World Series that year, but his batting average had also dropped from .326 to .297 in the six weeks that led up to the playoffs.

Instead of the everyday third baseman, Freese could take on the role Adams has for the Cardinals throughout the season. Adams has played in the field in just 46 of the 76 games he has played in during the 2013 season, but he has hit .277 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs while primarily coming off the bench.

Freese has some power and could give the Cardinals a reliable right-handed pinch hitter, which has been a lacking aspect of the team for much of the season.

Freese is a good player, but his value to the Cardinals might be higher in the late innings off the bench than throughout an entire game at third base.

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With Wong Promotion, Cardinals Go All In

After Thursday’s thrilling walk off win, the Cardinals continued to make the future the present, by promoting second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis. The latest pull from the club’s minor league talent pool is sure to spark an immediate debate about who should be in the daily starting lineup (a la Matt Adams), but what’s for certain is that the club is completely committed to putting its absolute best talent into this pennant chase much sooner than later.

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It has not been John Mozeliak’s style to pull prospects into up and to have them not contribute. But already this week, the club has promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha to bolster the bullpen, and has already flirted with Carlos Martinez in a similar role, and he’ll most likely return to that capacity when the rosters expand in a few weeks. On the heels of the team’s non-involvement in recent trade deadline, it has become clear that the team is going all in on using its system to add what’s needed, and will be pulling as much of its top talent as possible to the 25-man roster.

No matter how it is viewed, there are not 25 better players in the organization than Wong. The 2011 first round pick hit .303 in 412 at-bats in his first season in Triple A and made his second consecutive MLB Futures Game at the All-Star Game, all while clearly being in a holding pattern due to the success of Matt Carpenter at second base.

And while he is clearly qualified and ready to be with the Cardinals, the timing is curious for a variety of reasons, mainly because there still isn’t a clear route to him regularly contributing to the team…or is there? While Carpenter has not relented, David Freese has continued to yield more and more grasp on his everyday value to the team. In 391 plate appearances, Freese has hit six home runs on the season, which is just one more than Daniel Descalso has managed in 150 less opportunities in a utility role. Run in the fact that he is also due for an arbitration-mandated raise this winter, and it suddenly makes a lot of sense why Wong is here now.

Wong’s presence on the roster also adds a much needed boost to the depth of the team. While Adams has been a constant impact presence from the bench all year, the team has struggled to find identity and consistent impact outside of its regulars mostly. Wong will give Mike Matheny a similar flexibility that Wacha can bring to the bullpen: a flex option that can put higher level of available talent at all times.

A regular bench of Adams, Descalso, Wong, the backup catcher (Johnson or Cruz) and the returning Shane Robinson makes for much better strategic usage of the full roster throughout later games. The fact that Yadier Molina will be on a managed time schedule for the remainder of the regular season will also factor into the caliber of lineup options that are available, further the need to have as much impact possible spread around the rest of the lineup as well. The less than thrilling 7-8-9 combination of Johnson, Kozma and the pitcher spot showed that having more offense punch available is a must. And as this week’s matchups with the Pirates have proven, the entire roster maybe needed to win on a day-to-day basis, let alone series and season.

While the long-term implications of the presence of Wong on the roster are clear and unavoidable, in an immediate sense, his presence is just as strategic as it is symbolic. Time will tell, in an immediate sense, just how that strategy plays out.

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The Curious Case of Matt Carpenter

Entering the season, the 2012 emergence of Matt Carpenter was thought to have created only one dilemma for the upcoming year: a battle for who would get more time at second base between himself and Daniel Descalso. Yet just barely two months into the season, Carpenter has put that debate completely to bed and is now working on changing the much bigger picture of the organization going forward.

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The 27-year-old has changed the entire impact of the club this season. From taking ownership of the second base role, to surprising becoming one of the most productive leadoff hitters in baseball, he’s changed the dynamics of the team in a very immediate sense. Coming into today, he’s in both the top 10 in the National League in batting average (.323) and hits (17), as well as leading it in doubles with 18. These are totals that truly bloomed after he was moved into the leadoff spot. After that early May transition, his average from the leadoff position has sat at .336. It is a role he has entrenched himself in the role since, and given the Cardinals production in a spot in the lineup they have struggled to maintain an answer at for several years.

All the while, he has maintained the versatility that made him the weapon he was a year ago. He has made starts at four different positions this season, yet ironically, with his increased production, the long-term questions about his permanence in a role are beginning to set in. And they are questions are proving to have no easy answer.

Since he was drafted two years ago, Kolten Wong has been “next” in the long-term plans at second base. And by hitting .306 in his first two summers as a pro, he’s done nothing to dispel that. Yet Carpenter’s play has put a new factor in play at second base, which doesn’t create the same urgency that Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker’s presences created at the position when he entered the system. In a similar fashion, Carpenter’s way was delayed as a minor leaguer by the rise of David Freese, who he has outperformed in the early going of 2013; a time that has created yet another “who’s the odd man out” scenario for the uber-deep Cardinals roster.

Yet this time around, the answers aren’t as simple. In many other cases before, there has been an ascendency that has solved the issue. Shelby Miller takes over for Kyle Lohse. Lance Berkman fills in for Albert Pujols, who then Allen Craig ultimately fills in for him. Eventually, Oscar Taveras is slated to take over for Carlos Beltran. These have all been situations where an aging or expensive player is succeeded by versatile presence or a waiting in the wings youngster.

Yet in this case, there is no easy answer. All of the involved parties have two things in common: they are proving their worth regularly and are cost controlled. Carpenter himself isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015, and won’t see the open market until 2018. He is perhaps the most attractive player in the entire scenario: a versatile fielder and bat, that is low cost and still trending up as a proven Major Leaguer. And for as long as he continues to be the igniter for the Cardinals, he has also surprisingly made himself one of the most likely to stay long-term Cardinals of them all.

There will likely come a time when all three are teammates. There will also come a time when a decision has to be made about who stays, and who goes. But if the last five months have proven anything, betting against Carpenter in any scenario could be fool’s gold. He’s creating quite the career of taking best laid plans, and shattering them.

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Birds Eye View Preview: The Battle for I-70, Part 1

Once again, the battle for I-70 is about to get underway. However, this season, it’s going Hatfield’s and McCoy’s style, as the week will be literally a trek up and down the highway for one of the few back-to-back “natural rival” home-and-home interleague series. In the first half of the series, the Cardinals will go to Kansas City to see the Royals, in the final leg of an eight-game road spin.

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The series between the Cardinals and Royals is always an interesting one. It’s a matchup of heavy fan interest, as there are the underlying points of interstate relationships, the perceived “superiority issues” of the Cardinals vs. the long-suffering Royals, and as it will be forever, the aftermath of the 1985 World Series; a storyline that’s just as sore of a subject today as it was 28 years ago.

Here are the stories of the two teams as they face off for the first half of the series. Where they have been, where they are going and what’s at stake currently.

The Cardinals coming in: The Cardinals enter with an MLB best record of 32-17, and 1.5 games ahead in the National League Central. They are coming off of a very competitive series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which capped with a second consecutive win over their ace Clayton Kershaw. Overall, the team has not lost a series, nor recorded consecutive losses, in nearly a month. Their 17 road wins are the best mark in the Majors as well.

Over the past week, the run production load has been diverse, with Daniel Descalso leading the team in runs driven in with six, most coming on his grand slam in San Diego last Tuesday. David Freese and Allen Craig are both tied for second with five RBI….Yadier Molina enters the series third in the NL in hitting with a .339 average…Pete Kozma turned in a 4 for 4 performance on Sunday with three doubles, including one with the bases loaded to pull the club ahead….Seth Maness recorded his first loss of his career on Saturday evening, but rebounded to produce a bases loaded double play on Sunday to get his fourth win of the season, all coming in relief and within the last month.

The Royals coming in: Kansas City enters with a season mark of 21-26 and in fourth place in the American League Central, a disappointing turn for a team that was largely believed to be on the brink of a breakthrough coming into the season. They also enter on the heels of four-game sweep at home from the Los Angeles Angels, and overall are on a five-game losing streak. They have not won a home series since May 3-6 vs. the Chicago White Sox

Alex Gordon is having perhaps his best season to date. The left fielder is hitting .335, with six home runs and 30 RBI. His average is fifth best in the AL….Catcher Salvador Perez is hitting .311, with four multi-hit games in his last 10….overall, the Royals are hitting .262 as club, ninth best in baseball, but have managed only 190 runs as a result, the third worse total in the AL.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (1:10)—James Shields (2-5) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-3): Monday’s matchup is a showdown of both club’s aces and two of the better arms in all of baseball. Shields has pitched in perhaps the toughest luck of any starter in the AL. Despite having surrendering only six runs over his last four starts, he has taken the loss in three of four. Wainwright threw 7.1 innings in his last outing to win his sixth game and lower his ERA to 2.38, sixth best in the NL.

Tuesday (7:10)—Ervin Santana (3-4) vs. Tyler Lyons (1-0): Santana surrendered four home runs in his return start against his former club in Anaheim his last time out. For the season, he has turned in a 3.14 ERA, but is also a loser of his last three outings. Lyons won his Major League debut on Wednesday, filling in for the injured Jaime Garcia. The 25-year-old threw seven innings, allowing only four hits, one walk and a single run.

Injury Impact—St. Louis: Out for Season: Rafeal Furcal (Elbow), Jason Motte (Elbow), Jaime Garcia (Shoulder). 60 Day DL: Chris Carpenter (Shoulder); 15-Day DL: Fernando Salas (Shoulder), Jake Westbrook (Elbow), John Gast (Shoulder). Kansas City: Out for Season: Felipe Paulino (Elbow). 60 Day DL: Danny Duffy (Elbow). 15 Day DL: Jarrod Dyson (Ankle).

A look back: The Cardinals won the season series in 2012, 4-2. They outscored the Royals 45-29. On the season, the Royals finished 72-90, good for third place in the AL Central, while the Cardinals finished in second place in the NL Central with an 88-74 record. All-time, the Cardinals lead the series 48-38, and have met once outside of the regular season, in the 1985 World Series, which the Royals won 4-3.

News and Notes:

–          The series is a two-and-two spin, with two games in Kansas City, followed by two in St. Louis. This will be the first interleague games of the season for both clubs.

–          Monday is “Armed Forces Day” at Kaufmann Stadium, and miniature American flags will be given away. Tuesday is “T-Shirt Tuesday”, with a shirt giveaway for the first 10,000 fans.

 

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