Tag Archive | "John Mozeliak"

Prioritizing The Cardinals’ Holiday Shopping List

Black Friday is quickly approaching, which sits as the unofficial start to the Christmas buying season, but for the Cardinals, the seasonal shopping is well underway. With the addition of Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden, the St. Louis Cardinals have addressed two of their biggest outstanding needs in the young offseason already: an all-around upgrade in the everyday lineup and a back of the bullpen arm (that is a ‘break in case of emergency’ closing option as well). However, their work is not complete yet. In an offseason that is sending out vibes from the front office of being a very active one, where else could the team look to improve? And more so, what are the best possible routes to do so through?

St. Louis Cardinals wrap up season press conference

Here’s a look at the team’s current build and where it could be headed to address its most pertinent needs.

Issue #1: Reinforcing the infield

Situation: There is bound to be some turnover in the infield in at least two locations: finding a right-handed bat that is capable of playing the corner infield positions and upgrading up the middle. John Mozeliak has hinted at the team wanting to upgrade on the role that Descalso plays, and has even gone as far to name him directly as a candidate not to return. Meanwhile, Adams’ struggles to progress against left-handed pitching (.197 career mark in 203 plate appearances) has reached a point where he is almost a platoon candidate.

Solution: With Ellis out the door and Descalso potentially following him, it is a good situation for Kozma, who is more than capable when cast as a defensive reinforcement at second base and (more invaluably) at shortstop. That leaves open one more position that could be addressed through free agency, although the middle infield crop is not as impressive.Kelly Johnson and Alberto Callapso are versatile options on the open market, while Clint Barmes is a more limited possibility positionally, although he is close to Kozma in usage.

The best answer is likely Greg Garcia, who has been solid in his cups of coffee visits to the big league club. With the ability to play either spot up the middle, he can be a versatile option that could be a low-cost upgrade directly in Descalso’s lane.

The other infield issue is not as easily solved, as there is not an absolute successor in the system to step up and assume as large of a role as a potential first base platoon option could be. Add in the idea that such a player should also be able to play some third, and it becomes completely apparent that some shopping must be done to fill this role.

Once again, the open market is not very accommodating for this need this year. Mark Reynolds could be a player in this scenario, although he has not played third base since his Arizona days. Otherwise, there is not an easy fix here, so either a trade may have to be maneuvered or a pure first baseman will need to be acquired such as Reynolds, Corey Hart or potentially Mike Morse—if the team is really dedicated to spending and creating a true time share—at the spot. Otherwise, the team may have to continue to bear Adams’ struggles and perhaps give Xavier Scruggs a further look in the spring as well.

Prediction: Kozma sticks, Garcia is promoted and a first baseman is signed. Third base backup remains a slight issue entering camp.

Issue #2: Left-handed bullpen help

Situation: With the injury-filled (and slightly regressed) year of Kevin Siegrist, the clubs left-handed bullpen options where limited. With Randy Choate being a pure specialist, the reliance fell on the shoulders of Sam Freeman to do much of the heavy lifting, which he was able to do in stretches last year. However, a more resolute option is desired, that can be more versatile than Choate, while still being able to overpower opponents like Siegrist. Mozeliak has said he will look to deal Choate in the name of freeing up a spot for such a left-handed option.

Solution: This is an issue that can be handled on the open market as well, it just depends to what extent the club wants to invest in it. Andrew Miller is the top lefty available, but also one of the most sought after properties overall, so his price is likely to be at a premium. After fellow southpaw reliever Zack Duke received three years and $15 million from the White Sox this week, it is fair to say that Miller should easily receive twice that value on at least as many years. That may be too rich for the Cardinals blood, but there are other routes as well.

Craig Breslow and Sean Burnett are two further options that could interest the team. The 34-year-old Breslow is coming off a career-worst campaign in Boston, where his ERA spiked up to 5.96 over 60 appearances. But in the six years previous to 2014, his career ERA was 2.82 over an average of 65 games per year.

Burnett has been injured for much of the past two years, but represents a reclamation project of sorts. He was the other left-hander on the market when the team picked up Choate two years ago, but has never got going full-speed since.

Other left-handed options on the open market include Tom Gorzelanny, Phil Coke, Scott Downs, Joe Thatcher andJoe Beimel. Internal options include Marco Gonzales, Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons.

Prediction: Mozeliak sounds determined to make the team better there after the role collapsed on the team in October. There is a chance that they could decide to make the large commitment to woo Miller, whose recent success is breeding a larger payout than his long-term numbers say he should, but there is the path of less resistance as well.

On that road, they go out on faith that Siegrist is healthy and ready to resume his former stopper role, while exploring the trade market for the type of versatile, power arm they desire. If all else fails, go to the non-roster invite well late in the winter and continue to depend on Freeman and bounce back candidate like Breslow, who is capable of pitching in a variety of situations. It would seem the latter is more feasible than the former.

Issue #3: A Major Boost To The Rotation?

Situation: After dealing Shelby Miller, an opening was made in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales were brought forward as the options to battle for the newly open spot, which is a very feasible and even envious position to be in. However, it appears the team may want to do more, as they are in the rumor mill for the services of Jon Lester as well.

Solution: Signing Lester would obviously be a huge game changer to the expectation for the club, which is already to be back atop the NL Central and on the World Series shortlist. Putting Lester in a rotation with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Lance Lynn gives the Cardinals the best rotation in perhaps all of baseball, which is an obviously intriguing carrot to chase.

Club President Bill DeWitt has said the team is willing to add payroll this year, so getting competitive for Lester may not be as daunting of a proposition as imagined. He is likely in line for a payout of around $18 to $20 million annually, which would make him the highest paid player on the team, but there is a clear opening if wanted to fill it in such a way.

Prediction: Behind former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Lester is the most sought after premiere option on the market this year, and potentially is the best value of all as well. If the Cardinals’ interest is indeed sincere, they could get well into the mix for bidding for him, but there is a huge chance that another more desperate team offers up an insane amount of money (think C.J. Wilson in 2011), along with an extra year or so to land him in their city. It seems the Cardinals may pursue slightly, but not chase intently, and Lester ends up elsewhere while the Cardinals go to camp with their two young guns vying for the fifth rotation spot.

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Masterson Deal Stays In Line With The ‘Cardinal Way’

After many days of non-stop prognosticating regarding what direction the Cardinals would order their steps heading into the trade deadline, the club finally made its move, acquiring pitcher Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians. And while the days leading into today’s deadline saw them be associated with every big name arm either potentially or actually available, in the end John Mozeliak returned to the low road to solve what could potentially be a major need.

 Justin-Masterson1

It is not a move that is an unfamiliar either, as it echoes loudly of the last time he did business with the Indians while in a similar situation. It was 2010 when the club approached the deadline in need of some sort of upgrade to steady a shaky rotation. It was done at the cost of Ryan Ludwick, who had downturned since the All-Star form he had displayed in years past. The answer to solving that situation was landing the veteran sinkerballer, who in turn went 4-4 in 12 starts down the stretch with a 3.48 ERA. What Westbrook’s job was to do was help be a low-cost bridge to the postseason, which he certainly did. While he did not appear in the 2010 playoffs, he did what he was charged with accomplishing initially.

The move to acquire Masterson echoes the same sentiment of that deal. Just a year removed from an All-Star campaign, he has struggled mightily most of this season. He will leave behind a 5.51 ERA in 19 American League starts this year, and a WHIP north of 1.653. He entered the season with a buzz that had him rumored to be pushing for a $100 million dollar pact with the The Tribe, who now 75% of the way through the summer had to be glad to just get something of value back in return for him.

What they netted was St. Louis’ 2012 first round pick in James Ramsey, who was just recently named to the All-Star Futures Game and projected as a solid fill-in option down the road in St. Louis. However, while Ramsey was far from an irrelevant part of the organization (he was ranked 8th among all Cardinal prospects by Baseball America earlier this year), he was not one of the premiere parts that had been rumored to be the cost of return for one of the premiere options on the market. Combine that with the fact the Cardinals are flush with young outfield prospects, it was simply the numbers game that worked in favor of moving Ramsey.

And trading from any part of the organization’s prospect/control year deck is something that once again Mozeliak proved to be hesitant to do, regardless of the return. However, with what could be seen as a concession to improve the rotation’s prospects, but to do so to a lesser extent than possible, a two-fold message is sent. Mainly, that he is dedicated to making an effort to quiet the grounds underneath the rotation since the injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia over a month ago.

However, this is something that was both evident and never in doubt. Yet but what is more clear than ever is Mo’s commitment to the homegrown talent that he has so tightly held onto over the years. The thought that a potential short-term addition would cost the team a great loss of controlled seasons, inflated payroll and burgeoning talent was too great of a cost, regardless of the return. What is affirmed is the belief that this team is in a strong enough position without anything rash that could alter what has long since been developed for the future.

Masterson does represent an acquisition with a chance to see a marked improvement with the change in his surroundings, due to the much greater defensively skilled Cardinal club. Cardinal infielders have worked to a +35 defensive runs saved mark this season, while his former club has been worth a -39 run

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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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Peter Bourjos Q & A: Learning A New Home & ‘The Catch’

One of the consistent questions around the Cardinals in recent years has been if they will upgrade in center field. Often, the idea is around finding a new bat for the position, however when the opportunity presented itself to make such a move, John Mozeliak went in the opposite direction by acquiring one of the most renown outfield gloves in the game, which is the one that Peter Bourjos brings with him.

Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

While his reputation was already set coming into last June, but he affirmed it with one of the most athletic catches in recent memory on a long shot by Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. And while explaining it could be the way to go, reliving it is a much livelier experience:

The 26-year-old has frequented highlight reels since debuting with the Angels in 2010, and has was good enough with the glove for manager Mike Scioscia to keep Mike Trout relegated to left field when Bourjos made it to the lineup. His combination of speed and fearless tracking on anything hit into the outfield is a big addition to a Cardinal team that has struggled in both outfield range and speed of any sort for a number of years.

I-70 got a chance to speak one-on-one with the newest addition to the Cardinal outfield mix on Monday. He discussed ‘the play’ that put him on the map, his approach to doing what seems improbable in the field and how he is preparing to make a regular impact in the Busch Stadium terrain.

 

I-70: A play that is really noted with you is the catch against the Orioles last year, where you went back to the fence and seemingly defied gravity to bring back an easy home run. What comes to your mind in a moment like that?

Bourjos: You kind of space out and forget about the ball, and that’s the key. You can be afraid of hitting the wall, and on that particular play I timed the jump and it was just me and the ball. I really had no thoughts in my head at all.

I-70: When you look at a park like Busch Stadium that you’ve never played in before, how do you go out and get a feel for how to approach what you need to do for positioning yourself and getting familiar with it?

Bourjos: I think you have to work on that in batting practice. Feel the dimensions out, where the warning track is and how padded the wall is. All of those things go into account with getting your work in and learning from the other guys as well.

I-70: Have you been to the Stadium yet?

Bourjos: I went over a few weeks ago, but it was covered in snow so I didn’t get to see it much, but it is a beautiful stadium.

I-70: When you get to camp, are you looking forward to getting with Matt and Allen and the other outfielders to get a feel for how they approach the field and what their range is to gauge what will be needed of you.

Bourjos: Yeah, there’s a comfort level with your other outfielders, and even the middle infielders, about what they can get to, and having that relationship about what they can get to on certain balls.

I-70: A lot of how busy you are has to do with the type of game that is being pitched as well. How excited are you to play behind a pitching staff like the Cardinals features?

Bourjos: Oh, I can’t wait. Obviously, there’s not going to be as many balls to run down because the staff is so good. Occasionally there’s going to be lazy fly balls more than likely. We had a pretty good staff earlier on in my career in Anaheim, and there wasn’t a lot to do out there, and boring is good because that means that the pitchers are doing their job.

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Peralta Signing Creates Best-Case Outcome

The aggressive Cardinal offseason continued this weekend, when the club came to terms with free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta. It is a signing that seems contrary to how the team has operated in years past, but it certifies one thing above all others: the team is ready to get over the hump.

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The woes that the club had at shortstop began early in the year, and continued on through the fall. Pete Kozma gave everything he had, but could not recapture the regular effort at the plate he found in September of 2011. The reality of the situation was grim: Kozma was the worst regular in baseball at the plate last season, who’s defense was solid, but not to a transcendent level that would entice the team to give him another chance. So the team gritted through a lemons-to-lemonade style situation at the position, but made no secret that making an upgrade was of the most essential of priorities.

While virtually every shortstop in baseball was discussed in some fashion or another as being a fit with the team, and “how much is too much for Player X” has been the hottest water cooler talk in the city, it is clear that John Mozeliak’s commitment to keeping his homegrown talent in tow continues to be the highest priority for the future of the team. However, with such an immediate need, there had to be not another fill-in resolution; there had to be an end brought to any further concern about the position.

Peralta represents both middle ground between upgrade, compromise and a rescue. What he adds is another extra-base hit threat. At his worst, he’s an above replacement level player (which is a .255 hitter, with a .308 on-base percentage), which are both numbers that Peralta has regularly surpassed over the course of his career. For the better part of the past decade, with Kozma, Ryan Theriot, Brendan Ryan, Cesar Izturis, and even Rafeal Furcal, the Cardinals have hovered around or below those replacement level numbers, and now have a drastic increase in the balance of their everyday equation, and potentially an All-Star level performer, although the depth at shortstop in the NL surpasses that in the American League.

A clear advantage that he brings to the lineup is a much needed upgrade against the left-handed pitchers that plagued the club over the last two seasons regularly. As a team, the Cardinals hit .242 against left-handed starters, nearly 30 points beneath their team mark of .269. Peralta hit .352 in 2013 against southpaws. Also, while framed with an image of being an offense-only performer, he is capable currently of making more plays in the field than he is credited with, although the Cardinals will likely take a step backwards regarding infield defense with Matt Carpenter restricted to third base and Peralta being in the mix.

All of this was made available in the form of a four year, $53 million dollar pact, which pays him just north of $13 million per year. For a player that has proven to be an above average player at a premium position, it is a fair amount. The roundabout word is that Peralta actually left money on the table to join the Cardinals, which shows signs he is motivated to win as well. There are the rumblings about rewarding a player that was suspended last fall for performance enhancing drug usage, and what the deal represents regarding the acceptance of these players post-suspension. And it is true that the deal represents a departure from the club’s usual method of operation: cost-controlled, low-risk/high reward deals, as well as a preference for defense-first production up the middle. Yet, in the current state of the team, a change of course was needed.

The reality of the case is that Mozeliak is going all in to get the Cardinals past the last step on the mountain right now, while not compromising any of the young talent that is the nucleus of the organization. Peralta’s signing is a victory on all of those fronts; the team has addressed all of its biggest concerns, made a win-now decision that won’t cripple the team long-term and keeps all of its greatest assets in tow, with protection of the potential yet to be fulfilled.

 

Matt Whitener is a staff writer for I70, and can be followed on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and contact directly at WhitenerCSP@gmail.com.

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Freese Trade Provides Needed Reality Check

The Cardinals pulled the trigger on one of the most roundly debated moves in many years Friday afternoon, by trading third baseman David Freese to the Anaheim Angels. It is a decision that is good for business, but more difficult for the heart.

David_Freese

With all due respects to Colby Rasmus, perhaps no Cardinal in recent memory has had a steeper roller coaster ride than Freese did over his career. It was a five-year run highlighted by one of the greatest postseason performances of all-time, balanced in the middle by All-Star effort and local celebrity. Yet it also saw some dark recesses of freak injury and spoiled expectation.

However, perhaps he never received a fair shake either. After his incredible October in 2011, he instantly, he became one of the great hometown heroes in the city’s history; the prodigal son turned Cardinal great. It was an irresistible combination that was further in his encore season. In 2012, he hit 20 home runs and made his first All-Star team, a performance which further extended his heroic nature.

Yet what became painfully true was that his peak created that skewed image.  At best, Freese was a sensation, whose had a four week run that raised him to a level of expectation that he never should have been at long-term. Expectations overextended the reality, and when his year in the clouds came back to Earth, the reality became even harder to take. Then, when complicated with active nostalgia and the hope that his peak could be regained, his continued struggles with the strike zone, along with growing compensation due, amplified frustrations to a point where a change of scenery was a must for both side.

Ultimately, change had no choice but to come. He had become a man out of place, as well as out of time. Freese never looked comfortable in 2013, and was creating void far too wide to ignore. His numbers plummeted across the board, and his defensive range followed as well. For a team with few, but glaring, needs that the Cardinals already have, another year with Freese potentially underachieving was not an option. He became a man without a role in the lineup; a presence at a run producing position that could not drive in runs, as well as a single-dimensional player that did neither well enough to warrant a regular position.

And now, he leaves as he came in many regards. He was the return for Jim Edmonds in the trade that sent him to St. Louis after the 2006 season. In the full-circle nature of the life, there is some interesting closure in the departure of Freese. Edmonds arrived in St. Louis as an exciting defensive presence that immediately revived a stagnant Cardinal club. The return for him is yet another former Angel that will bring the same type of ability to a Cardinal outfield that Edmonds did in 2000. Peter Bourjos is a welcome upgrade from the overrated ability of Jon Jay in center and a needed ground covering presence between Matt Holliday and the likely duo of Allen Craig and Oscar Tavares in right. He is an instant upgrade, and in all truth, a steal in regards to return on where Freese’s stock seemed to be.

But now, the slowly grinding reality of trading away one of the preeminent faces of the city to Anaheim will set in, where he will not-so ironically join the last man that left an emotional void in the Cardinal fanbase when he departed. Yet the question begs to be answered, how does the . The organization that turns pages with more ease than any other will do just that, and a fan base that has had a more complicated time in doing so will have to once again.

For Freese, there will always be country within Cardinal Nation. And now with, both his highs and lows in the rearview, his legacy will begin to set itself; as a complicated, yet great flash in team history, and one that will one day have a place within the walls of Busch again, just not in the now.

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The Past Meets The Future—Matheny Extended, Carp Retires

It was a day of coming and going for the Cardinals. In the first major personnel announcements of the offseason, General Manager John Mozeliak announced that the organization was furthering its leadership on the bench with Mike Matheny, while also making official the retirement of Chris Carpenter.

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In the current, the decision to continue on further with manager Matheny was affirmed over the long-term—not that there was ever any question regarding it. In his second year, the Cardinals finished with a National League-best 96 wins, going to win its first National League Championship under his guide, before reaching Game 6 of the World Series. For these efforts, he finished fourth the voting for NL Manager of the Year and saw it come to a head today with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. Before the 2013 season, his third year option that covers the 2014 season was previously picked up.

Matheny has played a pivotal role in keeping the organization afloat after future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired two years ago. In a time where the team could have slipped into a minor rebuilding phase, under his watch it has instead returned it to the NLCS two consecutive years and won its first NL Central in four years. In his first two seasons on the bench, Matheny has a record of 185-139, which is the third best two-season start to managerial career in Cardinal history.

             HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Matheny has quietly climbed into elite company in Cardinal history in his first two years as manager. His 185 wins bring him in a third all-time in team history for manager wins over the first two seasons:

Billy Southworth (1941-42): 203-104

Frankie Frisch (1934-35): 191-116

Mike Matheny (2012-13): 185-139

Johnny Keane (1961-62): 177-147

Joe Torre (1991-1992): 167-157

Perhaps what has been most impressive has been the handling of the young guard of Cardinal prospects that Matheny has embraced. They have become an important foundation of the team, both now and in years to come. Armed with a ready to win, yet continually developing roster, the move to secure Matheny over the long-term is yet another strong early investment in continued Cardinal success.

 

Yet, while the club was securing its future, it also announced the newest part of its past. The biggest announcement of the afternoon was Mozeliak confirming what was long assumed to be coming: the retirement of Carpenter. Injuries curtailed the last two seasons for the 38-year-old pitcher, and he mustered only three starts since 2011. After mounting a final comeback attempt in mid-June, only to see it derailed in Memphis after the same nerve issues that ended his 2012 in Spring Training returned. Ultimately, it became clear there was nothing left to pursue in regards to continued attempts to return, and as his contract also expired with the club at the end of the season as well, it became clear that it was time to move on.

Injuries often kept Carpenter from being the regularly dominant presence at the front of the Cardinal rotation, but when he was there, he was among the best hurlers to ever wear the Birds on Bat. After beginning his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, but missed his first season in St. Louis with an elbow injury.

But from the time he made his Cardinal debut in 2004, on through 2006, he was as good a pitcher as the National League had. Over that time span, he posted a record of 51-18, including winning the first Cardinal Cy Young in 2005 since Bob Gibson hoisted the award 35 years before. In 2006, he anchored a Cardinal staff that salvaged a failing season to win the team’s first World Series since 1982.

While he missed all but five games in 2007 and 2008 due to a second elbow surgery, he played an important role as mentor to the young Adam Wainwright, becoming a critical part of launching a career that has seen him join Carp among the elite Cardinal hurlers all-time. He returned to the top of his game in 2009, joining Wainwright in the top three of the NL Cy Young vote, a third such finish for Carp.

His final great hurrah was in the 2011 postseason, when he authored one of the great postseason games in history, winning a 1-0 dual with Roy Halladay. Overall, he posted a 4-0 record that October, including two World Series wins over the Rangers, including the decisive game seven victory.

Overall, he finished with a career record of 144-95, and a 10-4 postseason record, the seventh most wins in playoff history. With the Cardinals, his career record finishes at 95-44 with a 3.04 ERA and finished in the top ten in strikeouts, winning percentage, WHIP and postseason wins. He fought through a litany of injuries during his career: a torn shoulder labrum, torn ulnar-collateral ligament, and finally thoracic outlet syndrome, that led to the nerve and circulatory problems that ultimately brought his career to a close.

Due to time lost, Carpenter will not reach Cooperstown, but will loom large in the lore of his era. He is likely to be a quick inductee into the forthcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame when the Ballpark Village-based Cardinal museum is completed. Nobody will ever wearing his number 29 again most likely, despite the fact it is not eligible to be “officially” retired under current team rules. As for his future in the game, there has been continued dialogue between him and Mozeliak on finding a place for him with the club, most likely in a coaching capacity. Because, for one of the game’s great warriors, a suit-and-tie front office gig will not do. Rather, keeping him close to the dirt and the players that continue the legacy that he so intensely embraced is the only way.

As it has always been, its only goodbye for now for Carp.

 

Matt Whitener is a staff writer for i70 Baseball. He can also be found at The Sports Fan Journal and Cheap.Seats.Please, as well as on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and WhitenerCSP@gmail.com

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“Drew” The Right Thing: Why Stephen Is Best For Cards

The rumor mill around the Cardinals search for an upgrade at shortstop has hit red alert levels of speculation. Yet while the names of nearly every player in the game at the position has crossed the lips of one person or another about what direction the team could go in, the easiest way to solve the problem will require some sacrifice—in the form of a contract to Stephen Drew.

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Drew is not the sexiest option on the table; those honors go to Troy Tulowitzki and Elvis Andrus. Likewise, he is not as potent of an offensive threat as Jed Lowrie or Jhonny Peralta, or even the pure fielding genius that Pete Kozma was. Over the past three years, the 30-year old has played for three different teams and never hit over .255 at any stop. What’s more, the 124 games he played in this past season in Boston, while hitting .253 with 13 home runs, 67 RBI and 112 hits were all high marks that he had not touched since 2010.

None of that sounds too great, does it? Not when there are numbers floating around like Tulowitzki’s five years of 24 or more home runs, or Andrus’ 40 steal summer are in the mix. Add in the fact that it is going to cost in the neighborhood of $13 or so million a season for his services (with negotiations overlooked by Scott Boras of all people), and a pursuit of Drew sounds like a full-fledged ride on the Crazy Train.

But stepping back from the surface level of it shows that the investment into Drew is perhaps the safest route of action for the team. For one, the cost of acquiring any of the numerous players that could be explored on the trade market is heart stopping strong. Teams are going to sift through the plethora of cost-controlled, Major League proven, sub-25 year old talent that the Cardinals have built the core of their team around. This is a group that includes Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly among others at the MLB level (it has been stated that Michael Wacha is not available under any circumstances), and could stretch into inquires around Oscar Tavares and Kolton Wong at the next level. A combination of any of those players is a tough pill to swallow, for any player and dents what allows the Cardinals to consistently compete at the level that they do: having high-talent, low cost returns throughout their middle market salary capabilities.

Despite the notion that he “has” to move some of them, especially considering what seems to be a logjam off starting pitchers; John Mozeliak has repeatedly stated that he is not keen on moving his young arsenal of talent. And there is good reason to see why he feels this way. The rotation is ever evolving and outside of Wainwright, there is no proven year in, year out presences in the mix yet. Basically, the time is now, but the picture is still developing and making a brash move while the incubation stage is not quite finished yet could be a leap of faith off the wrong cliff, even if the return is an elite talent at another spot.

So in the end, how do you remedy this situation, while still bringing in as much improvement at the club’s biggest need position still? Pay the price for Drew. Market value often gets tied to numbers, but it is almost always determined more by being in the right place, at the right age, at the right time. Drew is likely to command in the neighborhood of $52 million over the next four years, and quiet honestly is worth it. Yes, he’ll get more than he is worth, and will therefore become prone to inherit the crown of thorns that Matt Holliday has so expertly won in the court of public opinion over the past four years. But the simple truth of it is every deal can’t be one that the team wins. Meaning that cost for a plus shortstop is not going to be a fair one; it is a high demand position that can name its own price within reason. The good thing is that money isn’t an obstacle for the Cardinals, who cleared over $35 million dollars from its 2012 roster between the departures of Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Jake Westbrook, Edward Mujica and Carlos Beltran from its ranks.

And speaking of Beltran, it is his original purpose that a Drew acquisition most closely replicates. No, he will not hit 30 home runs or even be guaranteed to make two All-Star Games in as many years as Beltran did. Realistically, the team does not need that from its shortstop. But what he will be able to do is fill a major void in place that has to find an answer at, which is exactly what Beltran was acquired to do in December of 2011 on the heels of the Pujols departure. He came to town with a big dollar figure, and an injury prone reputation, but in return he gave the team everything it needed and erased what was a briefly a gaping hole.

That is what Drew represents, an instant replenishment that does not create a new one via acquiring his presence. Look past the numbers and see the truth; the smartest move does not always have to be the cheapest one, rather it should be the most comprehensively effective one.

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Matt Holliday and Measuring the Moment

For all that can be said about Matt Holliday, one thing that can’t be taken from him is his flair for the moment. On Tuesday night, for the second time in this season’s playoff run, he delivered a decisive and momentum swinging blow for the Cardinals, and has once again delivered them to brink of moving to the next round.

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Yet when looking at his plain performance, it is easy to see why he receives some of the criticism he does. Despite being leaned on to be the main producer for the struggling Cardinal lineup, he has more often than not failed to live up to that billing. In the NLCS, he is hitting .125 and hadn’t had a hit in over 10 at-bats before his massive fourth inning home run against Ricky Nolasco, which drove in Matt Carpenter and was a resounding moment in reviving a Cardinal offense that seemed to be on the verge of an early hibernation for a second year in a row.

The motivation of this big statement was very familiar, because it was the same thing his Game 4 home run in Pittsburgh did just last week. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, he provided the support to make Michael Wacha’s masterful performance stand up, via a two-run seventh inning home run. And now, as a revived Cardinal team finds itself awakened and with three chances to advance itself to the World Series, the team’s fortunes have been pulled in place by the most incorrectly criticized player in recent Cardinal history.

The image of Holliday is tarnished by the shadows it stands in, as well as the image it is supported by. From day one, there was the idea that he was rental player, which cost the team too much to land (the now laughable expense of Brett Wallace and two other minor leaguers who never made it far). Yet in his first postseason, it was one dropped fly ball in Game four of the NLDS during the Cardinals last October trip to Los Angeles which remains the highlight of his first campaign in St. Louis. Much more than the .353 average he hit once coming over from Oakland which provided much needed non-Pujols created offense and helped the team win the NL Central by a runaway 7.5 games.

He was John Mozeliak’s first blockbuster acquisition, as well as his first big dollar contract dealt out. The purpose of Holliday’s acquisition was to be the second half of a potent heart of the lineup along with Pujols, but to also be security in case he was not able to be retained. Ultimately, the latter became reality, albeit after the Cardinals won a World Series in a season where Holliday put up a .296 average, All-Star effort. At this point Holliday replaced the then irreplaceable hitting third in the Cardinal lineup. But he also carried the tag of being the “highest paid player in Cardinal history”, which became more curse than reward in the court of public opinion. This was fueled by his pay grade was not deemed as necessary stroke of foresight, but rather being a prime reason why Pujols couldn’t stay, for financial reasons.

Holliday’s career thus far has been better than it has been bad. In St. Louis, his career numbers during the regular season have been the most consistent of any player on the team during his four-year tenure, averaging .306/23/90 split as a Cardinal. Despite the notion of not being “clutch”, he turned in a .390 average with runners in scoring position this season, which increased to .426 in same scenario, but with two outs.

Those numbers are a pretty fair regular read out of his “clutch” tendencies, as well as a showing of regular value.

However, the postseason struggles have happened and cannot be denied. A team needs its power conduit to be churning at the highest points of the year, and Holliday has let the club down in those scenarios over the past two years. In most situations, a season is not made by the moment, but the postseason is an exceptional time, and the same rules do not apply. While consistency is still not his ally this October, he has made amends in many regards by showing up when most needed. And that is not a presence that should be glazed over lightly, even if that has been the trend for many of his greatest contributions thus far.

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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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