Tag Archive | "Gold Gloves"

Cardinals Position of Interest: Organizational Catcher

As our look around the Cardinals’ system, from the roof to the basement continues, we’ll move onto catcher, where the club is in a familiar situation. In Yadier Molina, the direction of the team is set with perhaps the face of the entire organization, yet even in as secure of a situation has there is, there still have to be contingencies. So what is the scenario behind Yadi? And is the future potentially as certain as the immediate past and present has been? Here’s how the current situation for the Cardinals’ backstops is playing out.

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St. Louis: The scene is set with the big league squad, and isn’t changing for a while. Molina is arguably the best catcher in baseball currently. Since inheriting the job from now manager Mike Matheny in 2005, he’s grown into the best defensive player in baseball, a winner of five consecutive Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves as well. His bat has also began to rise up the level of his prodigious defense as well, has he has hit .310 over the past three seasons. This balance helped him finish fourth in the National League MVP vote a year ago. At 31, he’s the cornerstone of the team, and is an unapproachable role as the team’s top catcher.

Although the opportunities behind Molina are sparse, Tony Cruz made a solid impact in his part-time work and is a fairly good athlete. He’s in a good position to hold the spot for a while, as he is low cost, young and has an ability to play other positions if needed.

High Minors: At Memphis, the club currently has some veteran backstops stashed to provide depth, and most importantly, help groom the young arms reaching the brink of St. Louis. Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles are currently lining up behind the plate. While neither is much more than an extreme fallback option in case of an injury to Molina or Cruz, Johnson did perform well in the spring.

At Double-A Springfield, 26-year- old Audry Perez has been the part-time backstop for two years, splitting the duties three ways in 2011. While not a major prospect, in five seasons through the organization, he has hit .275.

Low Minors: Cody Stanley and Jesus Montero are the prime talents at the Class-A level, both at Palm Beach currently. A former pitcher, Montero the 21-year-old hit .308 at Low-A Batavia in 33 games a year ago. Of all the catchers in the system currently, he has among the best chances of breaking through into St. Louis. While he projects favorably, but needs to get healthy to starve off his teammate this season, Cody Stanley. The 24-year-old is hitting .250, with a home run and two triples, and while he isn’t a great threat to make an impact in St. Louis, he can be a solid player in the minors.

Steve Bean, the team’s second round pick a year ago, showed some potential as well. He split his first professional year at Johnson City and the GCL Cardinals at the Rookie level. After a slow start at Johnson City, he hit .320 in 50 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League, and at only 19 years old, he has a decent amount promise to still deliver on. He’ll continue in the GCL when season play starts June 21.

Prognosis: In a lot of ways, it’s really Yadi and then everybody else. And while that would be the case regardless of the talent behind him, it’s a rather extreme difference. From veteran backups to young, but one-dimensional prospects, there’s not a clear player that is “next” in the organization right now. While Cruz is talented, he’s not displayed himself to be a candidate for much more of a role than he carries now, for any club. And while Montero and Bean are showing potential, they are some way off from being even among the better players in the system as whole. So for the time being, in Molina’s value is even greater than is seen daily, just due to how much taller he is than the pool he’s standing in.

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If This Is It, It’s Time To Give Rolen His Due

It gets lost in the shuffle sometimes just how important of a Cardinal Scott Rolen was. And with his career perhaps coming to a close this week, it’s a ripe time to take a look at why. Perhaps it’s because it ended on such a dismissive note that what he represented in St. Louis at such a high point in the franchise’s history.

Kansas City Royals v St. Louis Cardinals

How will he be remembered? Overall, he’ll stand up tall with the people that watch his era. Not to the statuesque level of Chipper Jones, but really, there’s not many, if any, that played the hot corner in the last 15 years that were any better than him. A seven-time All-Star, 1997 Rookie of the Year and owner of eight Gold Gloves. But it’s the glove that truly stands out, because with the exception of Brooks Robinson’s escapades on the hot corner, nobody has ever done it better. There are some that would say he ever surpassed Hoover in the glove game, a claim that could amount to blasphemy by some, but has some credence with many. But the ground that Rolen could cover while standing at 6’4″, and combined with one of the best infield arms ever, makes it valid.

But what is it about Rolen that makes him not be more revered as a Cardinal? Was it the silent, perhaps even standoffish way he went about his business? Dig a little deeper, because he has some legit claim to be in the discussion for greatest Cardinal third baseman ever. That’s a not too shabby group that includes Ken Boyer, Mike Shannon and Whitey Kurowski. After being acquired as at the trade deadline in 2002, he embarked on a remarkable six year run with the club. Among all third baseman in franchise history, he is second in second in home runs (111) and doubles (173) and fourth in RBI with 453 despite hitting behind Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds the majority of his time with the club and missing much of the 2005 season.

He returned in time to help the club rebound from that disappointing 2005 season. He played huge, and slightly forgotten, role in taking the club to its second World Series in 2006; one where he built up eight hits in 19 at-bats, including a home run and three triples. This was his crowning moment as a Cardinal, but soon shoulder injuries would keep him off the field for much of the rest of his time with the club. While he has gone on to have strong campaigns with the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds, his career truly peaked as a Cardinal, and reached a point where he showcased just how great he truly could be.

So what is it that keeps Rolen from being a more embraced member of the franchise’s history? He doesn’t really get an exceptional reception from fans when he returns, especially considering what he contributed to a very recent era. Perhaps it’s the way he faded away at the end, or that there was nothing of great lasting return received for him. Maybe it’s the feud with Tony LaRussa that kept him from relishing many returns with the club. Perhaps it’s his affiliation with the club’s fiercest rival the last few seasons in Cincinnati, that hasn’t allowed for many moments of reflection.

Whatever it may be, if his decision to decline coming to Spring Training with the Reds, a team he recently said is the only one he’d consider returning to this year, it’s time to embrace the man more in St. Louis. He’s a virtual baseball nomad by a career sense; he could never go back to Philadelphia to a warm reception, and he spent the shortest tenures of his career in Toronto and Cincinnati. St. Louis is where he deserves to come back to eventually, for the recognition an outstanding player of his level deserves. Maybe, with some time and reflection, both sides will learn how to properly place each other.

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Best Defensive Team In AL Might Be In KC

The Kansas City Royals have built a team through the draft and player development, turning home grown players into Major League mainstays.  Many of the accolades afforded to the players coming through the system, as well as some players acquired from elsewhere, is focused on the offensive production they have produced.  Quietly the players that make up the starting eight have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball as well.

Catches like this one earned Gordon a 2nd consecutive Gold Glove.

Catches like this one earned Gordon a 2nd consecutive Gold Glove.

The voting for last year’s Gold Glove Awards consisted of votes cast by each manager and up to six coaches from each team.  Voters were given a list of players they could vote for and were restricted from voting for anyone on their own team.  When the dust settled, the Royals had four players finish in the top three of their position, more than any other team in the American League.  Only the Cincinnati Reds can claim more, having six players finish in the top three at the respective positions.  Beyond those four, a good case can be made for two more Royals to have received consideration.

During a recent interview with a local radio station, Royals manager Ned Yost made sure to point out the hard work and effort that third baseman Mike Moustakas had put forth in getting better defensively.  Long before the remainder of the team would report for batting and fielding practice prior to a game, Yost stated that you could find the man known as “Moose” taking ground balls at third base, determined to make himself a asset to the team when in the field.

Moustakas and his counterpart across the diamond, Eric Hosmer, both finished second in American League voting results for Gold Gloves at the close of the 2012 season.  The two talented infielders have represented the youth movement of this franchise for many years now and seeing them develop into strong defenders in 2012 has got to please the manager.

In addition to the corners, the Royals enjoy one of the most dynamic and talented shortstops in all of baseball.  Alcides Escobar was not recognized this year for his defensive talent, but most scouts and players will tell you that he is widely respected as one of the best at his trade.  His appearances on the nightly highlight reels across the country would support this claim as Escobar continues to become a large part of the Royals future success.

Behind the plate, another home grown talent patrols the field with a highly impressive arm and an ability to control the field the way most teams hope their backstop will.  Salvador Perez was given a substantial contract extension last year and, while his production at the plate is impressive enough, the way he controls the field and works with his pitching staff leaves very little doubt as to why the team extended the young man who had barely seen major league service before then.

The outfield reveals another player who finished close to a Gold Glove Award and one that took home a second consecutive Gold Glove of his own.  Alex Gordon has become one of the best left fielders in the game today and his counterparts rewarded him as such in 2011 and 2012.  His range, arm, and ability have solidified him as an outfielder that commands a lot of respect around the league.  He has quickly become known as a player that runners do not try to advance on and has established a presence that makes the fans pay close attention to any ball hit to left field.  Any ball that ends up within the range of Gordon quickly becomes capable of becoming that day’s “did you see that?” play.

The opposite corner of the outfield finds a player that many fans are ready to see the team cut ties with.  Offensively speaking, Jeff Francoeur is statistically speaking one of the worst players in Major League Baseball.  His veteran leadership, his glove, and his arm keep him on the field every day.  One of the most impressive throwing arms in recent memory, “Frenchy” routinely makes up for a lack of range with an impressive accuracy that holds runners at bay.

Six positions on the field are capable of amazing plays that everyday players can only dream of.  Four of those positions were considered to be one of the best three at their position in the American League last season.  The other two figure to be in that discussion for a long time coming.

While the Royals continue to find themselves offensively and with a rebuilt pitching staff, they know what they have on defense.  What they have is, in fact, golden.

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Cooperstown Choices: Steve Finley

With the Hall Of Fame election announcement coming on January 9, 2013, it is time to review the ballot, go over the names, and decide who belongs in the Hall Of Fame.

There are twenty four men on the ballot for the first time this year and we will take a look at each one individually prior to official announcements. You can find all of the profiles in the I-70 Baseball Exclusives: Cooperstown Choices 2013 menu at the top of the page.

In this article, we take a look at Steve Finley

Steve Finley
Finley’s career would lead him to eight teams over 19 seasons, with his most memorable coming in Arizona from 1999-early 2004.  The outfielder would win five Gold Gloves during his career and be selected to two All Star rosters.

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1989 BAL 81 217 35 54 5 2 2 25 17 15 30 .249 .298 .318 .616 77
1990 BAL 142 464 46 119 16 4 3 37 22 32 53 .256 .304 .328 .632 80
1991 HOU 159 596 84 170 28 10 8 54 34 42 65 .285 .331 .406 .737 113
1992 HOU 162 607 84 177 29 13 5 55 44 58 63 .292 .355 .407 .762 121
1993 HOU 142 545 69 145 15 13 8 44 19 28 65 .266 .304 .385 .689 88
1994 HOU 94 373 64 103 16 5 11 33 13 28 52 .276 .329 .434 .764 102
1995 SDP 139 562 104 167 23 8 10 44 36 59 62 .297 .366 .420 .786 110
1996 SDP 161 655 126 195 45 9 30 95 22 56 87 .298 .354 .531 .885 136
1997 SDP 143 560 101 146 26 5 28 92 15 43 92 .261 .313 .475 .788 110
1998 SDP 159 619 92 154 40 6 14 67 12 45 103 .249 .301 .401 .702 90
1999 ARI 156 590 100 156 32 10 34 103 8 63 94 .264 .336 .525 .861 113
2000 ARI 152 539 100 151 27 5 35 96 12 65 87 .280 .361 .544 .904 121
2001 ARI 140 495 66 136 27 4 14 73 11 47 67 .275 .337 .430 .767 91
2002 ARI 150 505 82 145 24 4 25 89 16 65 73 .287 .370 .499 .869 117
2003 ARI 147 516 82 148 24 10 22 70 15 57 94 .287 .363 .500 .863 115
2004 TOT 162 628 92 170 28 1 36 94 9 61 82 .271 .333 .490 .823 109
2004 ARI 104 404 61 111 16 1 23 48 8 40 52 .275 .338 .490 .828 107
2004 LAD 58 224 31 59 12 0 13 46 1 21 30 .263 .324 .491 .815 112
2005 LAA 112 406 41 90 20 3 12 54 8 26 71 .222 .271 .374 .645 71
2006 SFG 139 426 66 105 21 12 6 40 7 46 55 .246 .320 .394 .714 83
2007 COL 43 94 9 17 3 0 1 2 0 8 4 .181 .245 .245 .490 24
19 Yrs 2583 9397 1443 2548 449 124 304 1167 320 844 1299 .271 .332 .442 .775 104
162 Game Avg. 162 589 91 160 28 8 19 73 20 53 81 .271 .332 .442 .775 104
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
ARI (6 yrs) 849 3049 491 847 150 34 153 479 70 337 467 .278 .351 .500 .851 111
SDP (4 yrs) 602 2396 423 662 134 28 82 298 85 203 344 .276 .334 .458 .792 112
HOU (4 yrs) 557 2121 301 595 88 41 32 186 110 156 245 .281 .331 .406 .737 107
BAL (2 yrs) 223 681 81 173 21 6 5 62 39 47 83 .254 .302 .325 .627 79
COL (1 yr) 43 94 9 17 3 0 1 2 0 8 4 .181 .245 .245 .490 24
SFG (1 yr) 139 426 66 105 21 12 6 40 7 46 55 .246 .320 .394 .714 83
LAD (1 yr) 58 224 31 59 12 0 13 46 1 21 30 .263 .324 .491 .815 112
LAA (1 yr) 112 406 41 90 20 3 12 54 8 26 71 .222 .271 .374 .645 71
NL (16 yrs) 2248 8310 1321 2285 408 115 287 1051 273 771 1145 .275 .338 .455 .793 108
AL (3 yrs) 335 1087 122 263 41 9 17 116 47 73 154 .242 .291 .343 .634 76
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2012.

Why He Should Get In
A well-rounded player that stole more bases (320) than he hit home runs (304), Finley boasts a solid yet unremarkable career.

Why He Should Not Get In
The numbers, the awards, the iconic moments simply are not there.  While he was a likeable player that put together a solid career, it is not Cooperstown worthy.

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

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St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina should be NL MVP

While much of the National League Most Valuable Player talk has shifted out West to campaign for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, the catcher who should receive that award is in St. Louis.

No discussion about the NL MVP award should leave out Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, but most breakdowns of the MVP frontrunners inexplicably don’t include Molina.

For years, people could point to Molina’s offensive numbers as a way to keep him out of an award that honors what a player does at the plate much more than what he does with his glove. But this year Molina is hitting a career-best .332 with 19 homeruns, 66 RBIs and even 11 stolen bases heading into play Saturday. Each of those numbers is already a career-high, and there is still nearly 20 games left in the season.

Despite Molina’s numbers, Posey still surpasses him in every category except stolen bases. Posey would be a solid choice for MVP. His return to the Giants this year after missing most of 2011 after a horrific collision at the plate has made the Giants a better team. But Molina’s skills beyond the stat sheet should give him the edge.

Molina’s defense has always been his hallmark trait. He already has four Gold Gloves and has caught 47 percent of baserunners this year, which is substantially better than Posey’s 29 percent rate. But Molina has also allowed just 33 stolen bases compared to Posey’s 80. Baserunners don’t often steal against Molina because he has such a strong reputation as a great throwing catcher, a reputation that is well-earned. Molina also has a wins-above-replacement of 6.3 compared to Posey’s 6.0.

Molina is a force behind the plate with just his presence. When Albert Pujols left in the offseason to join the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Molina stepped in as the unquestioned leader of the team. Sure, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday are also team leaders, but Molina is the drive-train that has carried the Cardinals through the 2012 season.

Interestingly, Holliday is getting more MVP attention than Molina. Holliday is hitting .298 with 27 homers and 96 RBIs. Those are certainly impressive numbers, but they don’t stand out so much that he should be considered the best, or most important, player in the league this year. Holliday is an offensive force, but Molina is the complete package. There hasn’t been an area of the game Molina hasn’t excelled in this year.

Need to catch a baserunner? Molina has thrown out 29 this year. Need the pitcher to drop a pitch in the dirt with two strikes? Molina has just four passed balls. Need a hit in a clutch situation? Molina is hitting .337 with runners in scoring position. He has also played in 123 games, the fifth-most on the team.

He will also defend the plate even if it means getting hit by a truck. Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison mowed down Molina in the second inning of a game Aug. 28. Amazingly, Molina held onto the ball for the out. He had to come out of the game, but he was back in the lineup after missing just one game.

That’s not to say Posey isn’t as tough because he no longer blocks the plate. Posey’s ankle was destroyed in a collision early last season, and it would be stupid to ask him to risk another similar injury because he is an important part of the team.

The National League has other worthy candidates outside Posey and Molina. Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is having a great season, as is Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun. But, neither of those players play fantastic defense, and their position is not nearly as demanding defensively.

Many MVP races are decided by which team makes the postseason, but for some reason Posey is much more likely to win the award even if the Giants and Cardinals both make the playoffs. Maybe there is still a stigma against Molina’s hitting abilities.

Molina doesn’t play for a bad team, but voters have already shown they will vote for the best player regardless of the team’s record. They gave the Cy Young award to Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez in 2010 even though he went 13-12 and the team had a 61-101 record.

In any case, Molina is a deserving candidate for this year’s NL MVP award. Now it’s up to the voters to recognize his brilliance includes more than a golden glove.

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Ozzie’s Shadow

In sports, music, and entertainment, legends come along every so often that need only a first name. The Babe, Pele, Madonna (or Lady Gaga’s mom as many of my friends commented during the Super Bowl), Usher, Prince, P Diddy/Daddy/Dandy or whatever the latest name is. If we are talking about basketball and I say “MJ”, you immediately know who I am referring to. If we are talking music, and I say “MJ” you know immediately who I mean.

In sports, those one-name figures cast a shadow so large that it takes a long time before it feels right to watch anyone else play “their” position on “their” team. I was flipping through the channels just the other day, and stopped on the Chicago Bulls game for just a few minutes. Derrick Rose is one of the NBA’s best players, no question about it. For me, it still just does not feel right watching a Bulls superstar not named Michael, even though he has not worn a Bulls jersey since 1996.

In Cardinal Nation, there is a larger-than-life player that also walked away from the game in 1996. He also needs only one name to be remembered; of course I am talking about Ozzie. Ozzie (Smith) was Rookie of the Year in 1978, won an astounding 13-straight Gold Gloves from 1980-1992, played in 15 All-Star Games, was runner-up MVP in 1987 despite not hitting one home run, and was eventually voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In what I consider the most telling stat, Ozzie led the team in WAR (wins above replacement) each season from 1983-1995 (check out Derek Goold’s piece for a great read on this). No other Cardinal has led the team in WAR that many consecutive seasons.

*Quick sidenote: Just as a means of showing the effect of inflation and free-agency on the game, Ozzie made $31.5M during his 15 seasons with the Cardinals.

More than incredible stats, he was the face of the Whiteyball era, and provided 15 years of excellent shortstop play that has not been matched since. He was the back-flip to start the game. He was the guy that kept you glued to the TV not knowing just what he might do next. It still does not feel quite right to me watching anyone else play shortstop for the Cardinals. It takes time to fill the shoes of the legend…actually that is not correct…it takes time to be OK with them not being filled. Ozzie’s shadow still looms large.

This article will look briefly at Ozzie’s career, the shortstops since Ozzie, and what we can reasonably expect from the shortstop position this season with Rafael Furcal as the starter.

During Ozzie’s 15 years with the Cardinals, he had 1944 hits, 644 RBIs, 433 SBs, and a .272 BA. He was the perfect offensive spark during the Whiteyball era of manufacuring runs. Let’s take 1995 and 1996 (age 40 and 41 seasons) out of the equation for a minute and look at average production between 1982-1994.

During those years Ozzie averaged the following line per season:

Ozzie Smith 1982-1994

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

521      72     25    4      2        49      32    64   .273

While these are good offensive numbers, he would not be a Hall-of-Famer simply based on this offensive production alone.

Average WAR 1982-94: 4.42      Total WAR 1982-94: 57.5

WAR by Season

1982: 4.0   1983: 3.0   1984: 4.4   1985: 5.7   1986: 5.3   1987: 7.1   1988: 5.5   1989: 6.3   1990: 2.8   1991: 4.7   1992: 4.3

1993: 2.5   1994: 1.9

WAR factors in defensive play (runs saved above replacement level), and Ozzie’s D was a huge factor in his outstanding WAR levels during his Cardinal years. Only once since he retired has a Cardinal shortstop (Edgar Renteria 2003) had a season WAR higher than Ozzie’s average WAR as a Cardinal. No Cardinal shortstop has topped his season total of 7.1 in 1987. That is impressive.

Here are the season averages for shortstops post-Ozzie. If they were the primary starter all year, only their stats will be measured. If multiple players started a significant number of games, their numbers will be combined for the year(s) being measured. All stat lines are an average per season of the year(s) measured.

Royce Clayton 1997

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

576     75      39    5      9         61     30   33   .266

WAR: 2.6

Royce Clayton, Luis Ordaz, David Howard 1998

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

546      83      25    2      6        49     21    64   .214

WAR: -1.5

Edgar Renteria 1999-2004

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

560      83      35    2     12      75      25   51   .290

Average WAR 1999-2004: 3.0      Total WAR 1999-2004: 18

WAR by Season

1999: 1.4   2000: 2.2   2001: 1.2   2002: 4.2   2003: 6.5   2004: 2.5

David Eckstein 2005-2006

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

565      79      22    4     5         42     9      43    .293

Average WAR 2005-2006: 3.2      Total WAR 2005-2006: 6.4

WAR by Season

2005: 4.2   2006: 2.2

David Eckstein, Brendan Ryan 2007

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

614      88      32     0     7        43      17   39   .302

WAR: 3.2

Cesar Izturis, Brendan Ryan 2008

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

611       80     19     3      1        34      31   45    .264

WAR: 1.8

Brendan Ryan, Julio Lugo, Tyler Greene 2009

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

646       88     33     11    7       57     23   45    .277

WAR: 3.9

Brendan Ryan, Tyler Greene 2010

AB        R       2B    3B   HR    RBI    SB   BB   Avg

543     64     24     3      3         46     22   46    .223

WAR: 1.4

Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto, Daniel Descalso, Rafael Furcal 2011

2011 saw each of these four guys start at shortstop at some point. Everyone but Descalso saw significant playing time at another infield position so short of going through 162 box scores, there is no easy way to split out production from shortstop position for 162 games. For the sake of this article, we will look at the WAR totals for each of the four players that manned the position at some point

Theriot 2011 WAR: 0.00    NIck Punto 2011 WAR: 1.5   Descalso 2011 WAR: 1.2   Furcal 2011 WAR: 1.4

The numbers above show the Cardinals have not received anywhere near the production at shortstop they had during the Ozzie years. Save a couple of Renteria’s seasons and one of Eckstein’s, the Cardinals shortstops have produced at average to below-average levels.

Cardinal fans hope that changes in 2012. Reversing that trend falls on the shoulders of Rafael Furcal. He will have the opportunity to be the everyday shortstop this season, and gives the Cardinals a prototypical leader hitter they have not had in a number of years.

While Furcal will certainly not be Ozzie this year (age 34 season), he does provide hope for good, consistent play that is long overdue at shortstop. If he can stay healthy and approach career norms, he could give the Cardinals better production at the position than they have since 2003. Going back to Furcal’s rookie season of 2000, he has posted the following WAR totals in seasons where he has been healthy:

2000: 3.6   2002: 2.1   2003: 4.9   2004: 2.6   2005: 5.9   2006: 3.0   2007:  1.3   2009: 2.4   2010:  3.8  

A return to 2010 production would exceed the average of the Renteria, Eckstein, and Clayton years. A return to 2005 production, while very unlikely at age 34, would be the best season for a Cardinal shortstop since 2003 and 1989 before that.

Ozzie’s shadow still looms large over the Cardinal shortstop position. He was a once-in-a-generation shortstop. We may never see another like him wear the birds on the bat. But there is hope at shortstop for the 2012 season. There is also a kid by the name of Ryan Jackson that will be at Memphis this year. He is pretty darn good, and will have his chance to be the shortstop of the future. Ozzie’s shoes can never be filled. Furcal and Jackson, however, could be a significant upgrade over what the Cardinals have seen for the last 15 seasons.

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Black History Month: Curt Flood Broke A Different Barrier

Curt Flood was a star player, who spent 12 seasons patrolling center field for the St. Louis Cardinals’ after being traded from the Cincinnati Reds following the 1957 season. During his career he was a three time All Star and won seven Gold Gloves. He was not a power hitter, but did a little bit of everything, and did it all well. Despite his accomplishments on the field, Flood’s most important contribution to baseball is his challenge of the game’s vaunted anti-trust exception, and how he helped usher in a new era of player rights and rising salaries.

The Cardinals won 87 games in 1969 with the 31 year old Flood as their longest tenured player and still producing at a high level. Therefore, it was with great surprise when it was announced on October 7, that Flood had been traded with several other players to the dreadful Philadelphia Phillies for a package highlighted by the mercurial Dick Allen. While the Cardinals got back a star player in Allen, the trade was shocking for the way it jettisoned their senior leader.

Flood didn’t want to go to Philadelphia for several reasons. After spending 12 seasons with the Cardinals, he had established his home, family, and business ventures, and felt he should have a say if asked to relocate. The Phillies were also coming off a 99 loss season and played their home games at the ancient Connie Mack Stadium, which had a rough field that would have not been kind to Flood’s knees. Additionally, Flood, an African American, never forgot brushes with racism he experienced during his career in Philadelphia.

Flood refused to accept the trade, a move which defied 100 years of control professional baseball had over its players. After determining that he would be backed by the player’s union, he officially refused to report to the Phillies and petitioned to become a free agent. He sent a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, stating pointedly- “After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.”

To nobody’s surprise, Kuhn denied Flood’s request. He maintained Major League Baseball’s rights to have exclusive contractual control of the players. In his response to Flood, Kuhn wrote, “I certainly agree with you that you, as a human being, are not a piece of property to be bought and sold. That is fundamental in our society and I think obvious. However, I cannot see its applicability to the situation at hand.”

The request of free agency was something that many players had previously wished was an available option, but was something owners had always fought hard against to maintain their control. They were aided by baseball’s reserve clause, which was an exception to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 that prevented business from creating monopolies. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that Major League Baseball was not interstate commerce, making them exempt from the law and allowing them to control their players with an iron fist. Major League Baseball fought for such ruling to prevent rivals like the Federal League from raiding their rosters. It meant that baseball players who wanted to play professionally for a living would play on the major leagues’ terms, or not at all.

Any player who didn’t abide by baseball’s labor rules could expect their career to end quickly. One excellent example of this was pitcher Hal Trosky, Jr., who refused to sign a contract with the Chicago White Sox organization in 1961 because he knew he didn’t figure in the big league team’s plans. He asked to be released or traded so he could seek a better opportunity, and when the White Sox refused his request, he declined to sign his Chicago contract. The White Sox never officially released Trosky until 1972, more than a decade after he had thrown his last pitch; ensuring he never played professional baseball again.

Flood knew his request to Kuhn would be denied, but he was prepared to fight. He filed a $1 million lawsuit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball, alleging they were violating federal antitrust laws. For Flood, it was not a matter of black and white, but of principle. Baseball’s union chief Marvin Miller later said that when Flood was asked if he filed the suit because of perceived racism, the player replied, “I wish it was, but we are dealing with an issue that affects every player. Color has nothing to do it.”

The case immediately placed Flood in the national spotlight. With race being such a hot button issue at the time of the suit, many people did believe his action was a result of black power. Therefore, it’s not surprising that his comparison of baseball to slavery became quite polarizing. His lawyer, Arthur J. Goldberg, told the press, “Flood decided he cannot play under an illegal system- and I agree… He is not willing to be sold into servitude.”

Flood went further, stating, “The problem with the reserve clause is that it ties a man to one owner for the rest of his life. There is no other profession in the history of mankind except slavery in which one mad was tied to another for life… In slavery, men were shipped from one plantation to another and in baseball, players are shipped from one franchise to another.” The notoriety of the suit redefined Flood within the context of baseball. He was no longer the star outfielder, but rather the face of resistance and labor rights.

Although Flood’s suit had the official unanimous support of the player’s union, many players were actually divided on the issue, with a good number even supporting the owners. While former players like Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg testified on Flood’s behalf, no current players took the stand or even attended the trial. With such a contentious issue, no player wanted to endanger their own career by sticking up for Flood.

Flood’s case went before Supreme Court, which in 1972 ruled 5-3 in favor of Major League Baseball, in a type of decision known as a “stare discisis,” or leaving things the way they were. It wasn’t a total loss for Flood, because in the meantime the owners had agreed to the “10/5 Rule,” or “Curt Flood Rule,” which gave players with 10 years of major league experience, with the last 5 or more with the same team, the right to veto trades.

Flood sat out the 1970 season because of his case and his refusal to go to the Phillies. Finally, in November, 1970, the Cardinals relented and sent two minor league players to the Phillies to complete the earlier trade. Flood was then traded to the Washington Senators, where he agreed to report while awaiting the adjudication of his case. Flood struggled mightily and experienced reprisals because of his suit. Fans sent vicious and racist hate mail, and before one game at Yankee Stadium, he found a black wreath, the symbol of death, hung in place of his uniform in his locker. Many players avoided him and he was a pariah amongst the owners. His Washington manager, Ted Williams, was reputed to have derided him frequently because of his actions.

All the negativity made Flood withdraw into himself, and after 13 games, where he hit .200 with 2 RBI, he decided to retire. He finished with his career with a .293 batting average, 1,861 hits, 85 home runs, and 636 RBI. Being only 33 when he hung it up, it is likely that the reaction he received because of his lawsuit hastened the end of his career. A very good playing career may have been one that was Hall of Fame caliber if he hadn’t felt the need to retire so early.

It wasn’t until 1975 that Flood’s sacrifices and principles fully paid off for all major league players. That year baseball’s reserve clause was abolished, opening the door for free agency, higher salaries, and more player rights. While he hadn’t won his case, Flood had succeeded in changing the opinion of many fans and players about the importance of player rights. Marvin Miller used momentum from Flood’s case to make such gains, saying of the lawsuit, “Once we had that, it was only a question of a year or two before we were able to get rid of the reserve clause.”

In addition to the prominent role Flood played in changing the labor landscape of baseball, he was also a great player. Like many other agents of great change, his sacrifices paved the way for the comfort and success of others. Curt Flood should be remembered as much for his selflessness and stubbornness as much as his ability as a baseball player. As President Bill Clinton said after Flood’s death in 1997, he was a man, “whose achievements on the field were matched only by the strength of his character.”

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Opportunity In Center Field

Last week we began taking a look around the National League Central position by position to see where how the St. Louis Cardinals stack up heading into the 2012 season. We started with right field where St. Louis has the decided edge in both starting talent and depth. This week we slide over to what is for sure the most crucial position in the outfield and possibly on the diamond altogether…center field.

Cardinal nation has grown accustom to excellence in center field over the years. From the likes of Willie McGee to Jim Edmonds it was not just about All-Star selections, batting titles and Gold Gloves. Okay well it was, but it was also about longevity. Since Edmonds left St. Louis following the 2007 the Cardinals have had a revolving door out in center usually reserved for second base. Rick Ankiel, Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay have shagged most of the balls out there over the last four seasons.

Going into this spring Jay looks to solidify the spot and make it his own. For the Cardinals this presents the weakest of the three outfield positions. But perhaps the one with the most upside. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak views Jon Jay as the team’s everyday center fielder rather than the left-handed half of a platoon.

Jay has certainly held his own against southpaws in his career, sporting a .296/.356/.377 batting line as compared to a .298/.348/.436 line against right-handers. The splits evidently have Mozeliak and the Cards prepared to run Jay out there every day rather than find a right-handed hitting complement for him, which enhances his value.

Here is a look around the National League Central and how Jon Jay stacks up against his peers.

 

Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd finished 2011 with nine homers, three steals, 35 RBIs, 51 runs scored and a .276 batting average. Byrd can supply a solid batting average but his lack of power and speed makes him a weak everyday outfielder. At age 34, it’s hard to predict any improvement in his 2012 numbers.

Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs swiped 40 bases in 2011, to go along with 15 homers, 44 RBIs, 92 runs scored and a .243 batting average. Stubbs reached the 40-steal level for the first time. But, the 27-year-old hit just .233 with four homers in the second half. This isn’t the profile of a leadoff hitter and the Reds could look for other options at that spot for 2012. The first Reds player with 40 steals in a season since Deion Sanders had 56 steals in 1997. Unfortunately, it can’t hide Stubbs’ struggles at the dish.

Astros outfielder Jordan Schafer hit .242 with two homers, 13 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 22 stolen bases in 2011. Schafer was traded to the Astros for Michael Bourn after failing to meet expectations in the Braves organization. The 25-year-old former top prospect had mixed results in limited time last season but remains the club’s best in-house option. Jason Bourgeois will continue to fill-in at all three outfield positions, while J.B. Shuck and Brian Bogusevic are also in the hunt . Schafer has enough speed (24 steals in 469 career at-bats) to warrant attention if he can get a full-time role in 2012. But he can’t steal first base and Schafer’s .228 career batting average could keep the 25-year-old from securing regular work.

Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan hit .304 in 2011, stole 13 homers, went deep four times, drove in 37 runs and scored 61 times. Morgan continued to be one of the game’s loudest players also let his bat do the talking with the second highest batting average on his team. Surprisingly, the Brewers didn’t let Morgan run the bases aggressively, as he stole 21 bases fewer than in 2009 despite collecting nearly as many hits.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen smacked 23 homers, swiped 23 bases, drove in 89 runs, scored 87 times and hit .259 in 2011. McCutchen posted his first 20-20 season but his other numbers weren’t as rosy. The 25-year-old was caught stealing 10 times, the same number as in 2010, despite attempting 10 fewer base swipes. He also hit .216 in the second half. There is still plenty of upside here, but several holes too.

Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay smacked 10 long balls, drove in 37 runs, scored 56 times, swiped six bases and hit .297 in 2011. Jay’s development was a key factor in the midseason trade of Colby Rasmus, as manager Tony La Russa wanted to get Jay into the lineup more often. Despite struggling at the dish in the postseason, the 26-year-old could be a big asset if he can exceed 500 at-bats in 2012.

Here is how I rank the center fielders heading into 2012.

  1. Andrew McCutchen
  2. Nyjer Morgan
  3. Drew Stubbs
  4. Jon Jay
  5. Marlon Byrd
  6. Jordan Schafer

Looking Ahead

Jon Jay will not be relied on to match the offensive numbers of his outfield mates Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. Rather Jay will be looked to for defensive support, which he proved more than capable of providing in 2011. However In part-time at-bats, Jay has proven to be a solid offensive player, hitting for a high batting average with at least serviceable pop. If he can average his production out over a full season it will mean good things for the 2012 Cardinals.

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Beltran Becomes a Royals Legend

By signing a five-year extension with Kansas City, Carlos Beltran ensures that he will finish his career as a life-long Royal and will be firmly established as the second best player in team history.

Having spent 14 years patrolling centerfield of Kauffman Stadium, Beltran hopes his career will end on a more competitive note.

“We’ve lost a lot during the last decade here in KC, but with all the talent we’ve got coming up, I really think we’ll compete for championships before I’m done,” Beltran said.

Despite being slowed by injuries, Beltran has been one of the few bright spots for the Royals. When outfield mates Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon sought greener pastures in the early 2000s, Beltran chose to stay in KC, joining George Brett and Frank White as the faces of the franchise.

“Sure I could have made some more money somewhere else, but I always wanted to be a guy who played his whole career for one team,” Beltran said upon signing the contract extension. “Some things are more important than money. Who knows where I’d be right now if I’d listen to that money-grubbing Scott Boras.”

Ok, so the reality is that Beltran is now a Cardinal. He’s also an ex-Giant, ex-Met, ex-Astro, and of course, ex-Royal. Beltran is now 34 and might possibly finish his career in St. Louis.

Beltran left KC at age 27, having played five and half seasons in a Royals’ uniform. Because of injuries and the natural decline of skills, Beltran played his best baseball before the age of 32. About half that time was spent in Kansas City.

Sadly, KC just missed out on some of Beltran’s best seasons – 2006 to 2008. In those seasons he won three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, made two All-Star appearances, and in 2006 finished fourth in the MVP balloting.

I really shouldn’t blame Beltran for his departure from KC. The team wasn’t paying top talents at the time, and they knew they had to deal Beltran when they could get a good return. It’s not his fault that the three players KC got in the trade (Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck) didn’t help the team rebuild.

What Beltran can provide the Cardinals and where Beltran stands among the greats of history are topics for another article.

But what interests me is just where Beltran would rank if he had played the same seasons, with all the same production, and with all the same injuries and decline of skill, in KC.

Here are Beltran’s career numbers compared to the best in Royals history:

Games – 1768 Beltran would rank 6th currently and could move to 3rd this season behind Brett and White.
At Bats – 6767 Beltran would currently be in 5th place.
Runs – 1184 Beltran would already be in 2nd place on the team list, with only Brett’s 1583 to shoot for.
Hits – 1917 Racking up hits isn’t exactly Beltran’s game. Even so, he would rank 6th on the team list and could move into 2nd this season. Only Brett and White collected more than 2000 hits.
Doubles –390 Beltran would be in 4th place at present.
Triples – 73 Beltran would be a distant 3rd behind Brett’s 137 and Willie Wilson’s 133.
Home Runs – 302 Beltran’s home run total might be different if he’d spent his entire career playing in Kauffman stadium. But for the sake of this game, we’ll give him full credit. Amazingly, only one other Royal has more than 200 homers – Brett with 317. Beltran would, in 2012, become the Royals all-time home run leader.
Runs Batted In – 1146 Beltran would trail only Brett, who drove in 1595 runs.
Stolen Bases – 293 Beltran is one of the most efficient base stealers in the game, but thievery numbers are down from the Royals golden years. Even so, he would rank behind only Wilson (612), Amos Otis (340), and Freddie Patek (336). In reality, Beltran ranks 6th in team history.
Average – .283 Of players with more than 4000 at bats in a Royals uniform, Beltran would sit fourth, behind Brett (.305), Mike Sweeney (.299), Hal McRae (.293), and Wilson (.289).

Without a doubt, Beltran would rank as the second greatest player in Royals history, and by some measures could be considered THE greatest.

It’s been hard over the past decade for Royals fans to resist delving into a lot of “what ifs:” what if the Royals had kept the outfield of Beltran, Dye and Damon together; what if they could have held onto Joe Randa and Raul Ibanez, what if Mike Sweeney had stayed healthy…

I’m sure millionaire professionals like Carlos Beltran don’t waste time on “what ifs.” But if Beltran did, he might wonder what his legacy would be had he stayed in KC. He might think that players who jump from team to team during the prime of their careers are quickly forgotten. But players who grow up and grow old with the same team can become legends.

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Royals Offseason Potpourri I

I have a few thoughts on what has transpired during the Royals’ offseason, but none of them would fill up it’s own article. Here are some random thoughts.

Alex Gordon Wins a Gold Glove
I stated last week that I’m not a big awards person. No one is going to run around in an Alex Gordon Gold Glove shirt. But I understand their value and that individual awards are something players deserve. Congrats to Alex Gordon on his first Gold Glove. How Jeff Francoeur didn’t win one blows my mind. If you want to know the correlation between Gold Gloves and wins for a baseball team you will have to look that up on your own. Before you do, take note that the last Royal to win a Gold Glove was Mark Grudzielanek in 2006.

Everyone needs a Sluggerrr PillowPet

Pitching Coach Dave Eiland (pronounced i-land)
I read biographies on Dave Eiland from serveral sources . Nothing earth shattering jumped out at me. Most recently he was the Pitching Coach for the New York Yankees from 2008 – 2010. The names of the pitchers he is attributed to working with aren’t anything to get excited about. However, he does have experience within a winning organization. If he can figure out a way to decrease walks by the Royals pitching staff, and correct Luke Hochaver’s basketcase innings he will have done is job and the Royals will be a better team. You know?

Melky Cabrera
This article appeared last week about Melky Cabrera’s future with the Royals. Because the Royals signed him as a free agent I thought he had hit free agency, but that is not the case. The Royals do control him through the 2012 season. They will have to pony up more than $1.25 Million, but they have control. Given this past season Melky’s numbers were much higher than his career numbers I like the way the Royals are approaching this situation. That still doesn’t mean he’ll be around for Spring Training. Lorrenzo Cain is waiting in the wings and the Royals still need some starting pitching. Cabrera would be a good trade piece. However, I seem to remember writing this same sentence in July.

Bruce Chen
Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tweeted this week that Bruce Chen has two other suitors besides the Royals. It has been reported in other publication that Chen is looking for a multi-year deal. As thin as Royals pitching has been I think the Royals have to do what it takes to bring him back. If the last year of his contract doesn’t work out you have to chuck that up as the cost of doing business.

Pitching Search
No doubt the Royals need to add starting pitching in the offseason. So, far I haven’t seen anything to get excited about. But it’s still early. Like last offseason, you knew a trade was coming for Zack Greinke. This time it’s look for a trade that brings an Ace too Kansas City. I like this way better.

Hey Look! Baseball
You may not know this. But there is baseball on television tonight. MLB Network will be televising the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game tonight at 7pm CDT (barely). I’ll have a hard time watching it over Kansas State at Oklahoma State or LSU at Alabama. But it’s worth a DVR look. Royals prospects and players Wil Myers, Nate Adock (after a full season in the majors he’s not a prospect) Christian Colon, and Jeremy Jeffress are on the rosters. Maybe in a few year there can be four Royals in the Major League All-Star Game.

Cover photo courtesy of Minda Haas.

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