Tag Archive | "Mcclellan"

Shelby Miller makes early case for National League Rookie of the Year

The St. Louis Cardinals knew rookie right-handed starting pitcher Shelby Miller had talent since they drafted him No. 19 overall in the 2009 draft, but others in baseball questioned if the Houston-native’s maturity level would allow him to succeed at the sport’s highest level.

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Miller projected he would be the in big leagues within two years of being drafted. Well, it took an extra year, but Miller has made the most of his first opportunity with the Cardinals and has set a pace that could earn him the highest honor a rookie can receive.

Miller gave up just one hit and struck out 13 Colorado Rockies in a complete game Friday to move his record to 5-2 and drop his earned-run average to a rotation-best 1.58.

His five wins are tied for second-most among Major League Baseball pitchers, and his ERA is four among all starters who have pitched more than two games so far in 2013.

Those are the sort of numbers that made the Cardinals draft Miller so high and made fans yearn for the team to call him up nearly anytime another starting pitcher had a couple of bad games. However, Miller didn’t look much like a Rookie of the Year-caliber pitcher when the Cardinals had holes to fill in their starting rotation at this point last season.

Projected starters Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan suffered long-term injuries in spring training last year. That left a potential spot for Miller to make good on his two-years-to-the-show claim, but Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly filled those positions instead.

Meanwhile, Miller was in the midst of a season with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds that produced an 11-10 record with a 4.74 ERA, not nearly numbers that would inspire a call-up to the major leagues.

However, Miller won six of his seven final starts in 2012 with the Redbirds and pitched six games in relief with a 1.32 ERA as the Cardinals made their late-season run toward the playoffs.

He’s been even better in 2013 as part of starting rotation that has had one of the best starts to a season in franchise history, posting a 2.15 ERA in April. In fact, the entire Cardinals starting rotation would likely receive an invite to the All-Star Game if it was played in May instead of July.

Granted, the season is still young, and Miller will eventually have to face teams for a second time as the season progresses, but he has set a foundation for what could be one of the best rookie seasons for a Cardinals starting pitcher in more than a decade.

Remember, Adam Wainwright pitched too many games as a reliever in 2006 to be considered a rookie although he went 14-12 with a 3.70 ERA in 2007 as a full-time starter.

Before Wainwright, the Cardinals hadn’t had a dominant rookie pitcher since Rick Ankiel burst into the big leagues to be Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2000 with 194 strikeouts and a 3.50 ERA in 30 starts. Unfortunately, his dominance didn’t last very long as he lost control of his pitches with five wild pitches in a playoff game against the Atlanta Braves later that season and eventually switched positions to become an outfielder.

Matt Morris finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1997, going 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 33 starts, but he suffered a major elbow injury midway through the next season and didn’t make a full return to the starting rotation until 2001.

Miller probably won’t maintain his sub-2.00 ERA throughout the season, but his first seven starts have set him up for a chance to go down as one of the best rookie pitchers in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

That could also be the first trophy on what could be a very full mantel by the end of his career.

If that’s the case, the Cardinals could be in the beginning stages of another decade full of good pitching, and that usually means many seasons with winning records.

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The Expendables

The unofficial second half began Friday as the St. Louis Cardinals got back into action following the All Star Break. But trade season is also officially underway, and the Cards are looking to improve so they can make another run at the postseason.

Lance Berkman is due to come off the disabled list this weekend while the team is in Cincinnati, making the lineup and bench whole for the first time in months. Obviously, upgrading the pitching staff is now the most logical move for the Cardinals—especially in the wake of losing both Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan for the season, and having no idea when they’ll see Jaime Garcia again. The debate on who to go after could be endless: Top of the rotation guy? Innings-eater? Closer? LOOGY? Middle reliever? All of the above? Regardless, you have to give up something to get something as the old saying goes. And the Cards have some depth. They have guys they can deal.

This list is by no means easy to compile. And the number of players going each way is a huge factor. John Mozeliak may end up packaging one group of players to acquire another group of players like he did for the Colby Rasmus trade in 2011, or he could do a one-for-one swap. So I’m compiling a list, and it is by no means comprehensive. But since the Cards need to add to their pitching staff, I’m going to avoid designating pitchers on the active roster as “expendable”—even though a guy like Fernando Salas seems to be as far from “untouchable” as a reliever can get. And if they had a better relief option in the minors, that guy would be up…he wouldn’t be trade bait either. Are there better starters than Jake Westbrook out there? Of course. But anyone who thinks the Cards are going to be able to trade him for Cole Hamels is quite obviously hoarding all the good drugs.

So we’ll focus on position players, and pitchers not currently on the 25-man roster. I think you might know who I’m talking about. Again, there might be 50 players in the entire organization the Cards could do without, but players off the 40-man roster without name recognition—or players on it with no real upside—aren’t likely to bring much of a return. Anyway…my list:

Tyler Greene (2B, SS) – Shocking his name would pop up on this list, eh? Greene has been given every opportunity to stick with the big club. At first, we all thought it was nerves playing for Tony La Russa. Well, La Russa is gone. And the Cards are getting the same old, same old from Greene. One concession: he’s never gotten a legitimate chance as a shortstop, his natural position. Perhaps that’s the best reason of all to trade him. His value may not be much, but packaging him could help yield the Cards a player who can be consistently productive…something they probably will never see from Tyler Greene.

Shane Robinson (OF) – Sugar Shane has done everything asked of him: start, come off the bench, pinch hit, pinch run, you name it. He may never be a great player, but he is a good player and could have a role with any club as a fourth outfielder. Unfortunately, the Cardinals have like three other guys that can fill that role right now. Robinson is the classic odd man out, and he may benefit from more time in AAA. But he still retains some upside for any club, and would be a good addition to a package deal for an impact arm.

Matt Adams (1B) – He’s the Brett Wallace of 2012, except Adams can actually move. He’s blocked six ways from Sunday at 1st base, and that happens to be the only position he can play. If the Cards don’t have Carlos Beltran next year, I think Adams’ value is a little higher because Allen Craig would likely be needed in right field. He may anyway after Beltran leaves. But at this point, Adams’ trade value is pretty high, and may not get much higher.

Bryan Anderson (C) or Steven Hill (C) – The Cardinals are good behind the plate. Yadier Molina is obviously here to stay, and Tony Cruz is more than capable as a backup. And if he isn’t, backup catchers aren’t real tough to find. Anderson has never developed into what some thought he could be, and Hill is just a tic ahead of him offensively. Neither has a ton of value alone, but a team looking for catching depth may be interested in one of them as part of a package.

Brandon Dickson (RHP) – Dickson has some experience at the big league level and has some upside. Where he projects in a given rotation is anyone’s guess, but pitching is always at a premium and the Cardinals have enough organizational depth to dangle Dickson for a team looking for a young arm.

Shelby Miller (RHP) – This one is tough to swallow. Miller has been perceived as untouchable since he was drafted in 2009. And his struggles in 2012 are no reason to give up on him. But again—in order to get something, you have to give up something. The real, logical reasons Miller can be deemed expendable are: A) the emergence of Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly as viable rotation options, and B) the depth behind Miller in Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, and John Gast (among others). Trading Miller is not a must—the Cardinals could do a lot worse than holding on to him—but in terms of upside and ceiling equating to trade value, Miller may be the best chip the Cardinals currently hold.

Again, this list is far from complete. If they go after a second baseman, for instance, maybe Daniel Descalso becomes expendable. But aside from the unlikely hypotheticals, the Cards have pieces to move and they have the motivation to once again win now. That should equal an intriguing trade season for the defending World Champs.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @Birdbrained.

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2nd Half Key: Keep the “Fragile” Players Rested

No matter what you thought of Tony La Russa, one had to respect his ability to keep an entire roster sharp and ready to compete. There were no “Ripkens” on La Russa’s teams.

Manager Mike Matheny has done a terrific job of continuing that philosophy of starting players off the bench on a regular basis and getting the veterans and surgically-repaired players regular rest.

The baseball season is a grind, and games in 100-degree heat do not help matters.

The benefits are obvious, of course: yesterday’s starter is today’s pinch-hitter. Anywhere from one to three players play multiple positions in each contest, and getting the veterans out of blowouts (of which the Cards have had more than their fair share) will keep them fresh throughout the season.

While the Cardinals would be excited to see Jaime Garcia, Kyle McClellan and Lance Berkman back on the field, the club must do everything to keep their somewhat fragile stars, who have put them in this position to begin with, healthy as well.

Berkman is coming off minor knee surgery and seems ready to go after the break. Rafael Furcal is poised to have his best season in six years and is already just four games shy of his entire total last season. Carlos Beltran is on pace to surpass 600 at-bats for the first time in four seasons.

In addition, David Freese and Allen Craig are both on pace to obliterate their season-high number of plate appearances, and they are both as crucial to the Cardinals’ prospects of making the postseason as the veterans.

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St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching will determine team’s fate

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2012 season with a potent, yet aging, offense that was prone to injuries. That potential was realized as several key hitters hit the disabled list early in the season. However, the Cardinals pitching staff is still the biggest factor in the team’s success.

When the Cardinals jumped out to a 3.5-game lead in the NL Central through April, their team ERA was 2.66. In the following six weeks, the team has gone 18-24 heading into play Saturday. The team ERA was 4.43.

Plus, since the debacle of a series in New York that included Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the Cardinals have lost just two games when their pitching gave up less than six runs, including Friday’s nail-biter when Tyler Greene nearly tied the game with a Little League-style dash around the bases that ended in hime being thrown out at the plate.

So, what do all these numbers tell us? They say Cardinals fans should be much more concerned about the performance of the pitching staff than the lineup. Despite the myriad of injuries to position players, the Cardinals will still put up enough runs to contend more days than not. The key for a successful rest of the season is whether or not the pitching staff can keep the opposition’s score within reach.

And that’s been the problem.

Even without Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals starting rotation pitched great for the first month or so of the season. The staff even carried ace Adam Wainwright for much of April and the bullpen was solid. Then the wheels fell off. Kyle McClellan got hurt, and Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski saw their ERA’s balloon to a combined 4.32. Closer Jason Motte also blew three saves.

The pitching has been better of late, however. The Cardinals have given up four runs or less in eight of their last 11 games heading into play Saturday. The team won six of those games.

Basically, the Cardinals will win more often than not when they get good pitching performances. When they don’t, the team enters slumps that threaten to take them out of playoff contention. That’s not surprising. It’s been an old baseball adage forever.

Just look at the Pittsburgh Pirates, who up until this last week were tied for the division lead with the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates are hitting just .225 as a team, dead last in Major League Baseball. But they also have a 3.51 team ERA, fourth best in the league.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals could be in line for more problems after starting pitcher Jaime Garcia went down with shoulder trouble last week.

Hopefully new starter Joe Kelly can put together a few solid starts. His contributions, combined with an ever-improving Wainwright and continued stellar performances from Lance Lynn could be the most important aspect of the 2012 Cardinals team for the balance of the season.

Yes, offense is important, but the pitching staff will be what determines how far the Cardinals go in 2012.

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Well, that was a bad week for the St. Louis Cardinals

The hits, or lack of hits, kept coming last week as the St. Louis Cardinals continued a rough stretch that included becoming the victim of the New York Mets first no-hitter in franchise history.

Aside from being no-hit by Mets pitcher Johan Santana Friday night, the Cardinals also sent Skip Schumaker back to the disabled list to join an all-star caliber cast that includes Lance Berkman, Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay on the offensive side, and Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan representing the pitching staff.

On the bright side, perhaps the only bright side of the week that saw the Cardinals go 2-6 in their last eight games, Allen Craig rejoined the team Friday. Although he obviously didn’t get a hit in his first game back, the Cardinals sorely need his presence in the lineup.

It’s not surprising that the Cardinals have fallen back to the back amid all of the injuries. Sure, every team has injuries throughout the long season, but no team is going to play first-place caliber baseball with six important players hurt.

However, the Cardinals are still capable of playing competitive baseball, and better baseball than they have of late.

The bullpen has been simply atrocious for much of the last three weeks. The Cardinals had the fourth-worst ERA in May at 4.72, and the bullpen’s ERA was even higher. The disturbing part of the bullpen’s performance is injuries cannot be used as an excuse. Aside from McClellan, the bullpen pitchers have remained healthy, they’ve just pitched terribly.

Now it’s to the point where guys such as Sam Freeman, Maikel Cleto and Brandon Dickson are trying to get important outs for the big league club, when in reality they should still be playing for the AAA Memphis Redbirds.

Even with the injuries to position players, the Cardinals put up four runs or more in every game last week before running into a buzz saw this weekend against the Mets. A team that consistently scores four runs or more should win a lot of ballgames, but the pitching staff has found numerous ways to give up more than four runs.

The struggles of middle relief pitchers have been particularly back-breaking. The Cardinals have shown all season they can fight back during a game even if they fall behind early.

For example, the Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the first inning and two more runs in the third inning Wednesday to take a 5-0 lead. The Cardinals fought back and tied the game at five in the six, but Marc Rzepczynski immediately gave up three runs to take away any momentum the Cardinals had built.

So, what’s the fix? Good question. The offense will be fine. A lineup that includes Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and David Freese will produce enough runs to remain competitive. However, as we said before the season started, the pitching staff is going to have to be strong for the Cardinals to compete for the division crown.

That happened at the beginning of the season. The Cardinals jumped out to an early lead almost every night, and the pitchers held the opponents in check the rest of the night. The game seemed easy back in April.

That certainly changed in May. Relief pitchers such as Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas and Mitchell Boggs will have to regain their 2011 and early 2012 form if the Cardinals are going to keep up with the Cincinnati Reds throughout the summer. The Memphis Redbirds pitching staff isn’t equipped to compete in the major leagues, and it is showing right now.

Hopefully the Cardinals beat up on the Houston Astros this coming week, but after that series the team faces a stretch against AL Central powerhouses such as the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers.

Hang on tight, folks, the rough ride of the past week could continue for a while.

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Testing the Depth

Questions about the health of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals started popping up before the ink was dry on the contracts signed by Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran.

But those two players were not at the front of the line for treatment from the Cards medical staff. That spot belonged to Chris Carpenter, much like his rotation counterpart Adam Wainwright in 2011. Losing Ace 1A certainly make Cardinals fans nervous, and considering the injury histories of guys like Furcal, Beltran, Lance Berkman, and the recent knee injury to Allen Craig, tensions were understandably high. And then the Cards got off to a great start, and it seemed like this team may just be poised to make a serious run at a return to the postseason.

Now, the Cards look like a combination of the team we hoped for—one that scores a lot and pitches well—and the team we feared the most: a group of great players suffering one injury after another.

Friday, the Cards announced Allen Craig (hamstring) and Kyle McClellan (elbow) would be joining Carpenter (nerve damage), Scott Linebrink (shoulder) and Jon Jay (shoulder) on the team’s disabled list. Of the group, Craig and Jay are likely to return first, but it’s no secret the Cards are missing some key players right now. And this comes on the heels of a Berkman DL stint and Beltran’s ongoing leg issues.

Are the Cardinals injury-prone? It certainly appears that way. But it’s not all that surprising. And now more than ever this year, the Cards must lean on their depth in the minor leagues.

The plan has been pretty successful so far. Lance Lynn filled the rotation spot Carpenter would normally occupy; all Lynn has done so far is lead the team in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. Matt Carpenter has filled in quite well at all four corner positions, and before cooling off recently was far and away the best hitting rookie in the league. Since Craig and McClellan went down, the Cards recalled Adron Chambers and Brandon Dickson, two guys who have some experience at the major league level.

But it’s almost time to start wondering how close the Cardinals are to having to add someone to the 40 man roster. One, maybe two more injuries would be borderline devastating to this team; not because of the number of guys out, but because someone may have to have their “clock” started by coming into Major League Baseball earlier than the Cards hoped.

It is the toughest thing to plan for in sports, because you just never know who is going to come up lame. It may make logical sense to look at someone like Furcal, Wainwright, or David Freese based on their history. But how can a team prepare for that? If they stockpile corner infielders or starting pitchers and they end up needing a shortstop or shut-down reliever, how is that planning worth anything?

The Cardinals have been bitten hard lately by the injury bug, and the two-way conveyor belt between St. Louis and Memphis has been fired up, and right now it is sending more players north than south. Is it time to panic? No. But concern is legitimate.

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Time To Second Guess?

In last night’s game, St Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny opted to intentionally walk Bryan LaHair with two out in the eighth in favor of matching up Alfonso Soriano against Mitchell Boggs.

Why did Matheny do that?  In 157 ABs (172 PA) Soriano has posted a .261/.320/.420 line against the Cardinals.  He’s terrorized the Kyles, off whom he’s hit all 5 of his HR (3 off Lohse, 2 off McClellan).  Other than those two, and Lance Lynn (he’s 3-7 against Lance), current St Louis pitchers have largely handled Soriano.  On the other hand, there’s LaHair.  He has a much smaller sample size, having a total of 19 AB (22 PA) against St Louis, but he’s made the most of them.  LaHair has hit 3 HR in those 19 AB, and has a .368/.455/.842 line.

Perhaps the critical pieces of data for this discussion are these – Soriano was oh for 9 with 7 K’s career against Boggs.  LaHair had never faced the right hander.  And, while LaHair was 3 for 4 with a HR in the game to that point, Soriano was 0-3.

So with all that data in mind, Matheny walked LaHair.  Boggs promptly fell behind Soriano 2-0 and 3-1, then surrendered a single to left which allowed the tie-breaking run to score.  5-4 Cubs.  Chicago would tack on an insurance run in the ninth to win 6-4.

Did Boggs lose Soriano simply because he fell behind?  Perhaps, but Boggs had fallen behind in the count to Soriano on three previous occasions, and had recovered to induce a pop-out to first and 2 strikeouts.  He had only surrendered a 3-ball count to Soriano once before and it had turned into one of the 2 strikeouts noted above.

So did Matheny do the right thing here? Well, he did successfully navigate a scoreless seventh inning while directing 2 intentional walks.  And, had Boggs not fallen way behind in the count perhaps he could have retired Soriano successfully.  I think in this game Matheny rolled the dice once too many times.  He was bound to get burned.

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

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Battling adversity again

The St. Louis Cardinals received goodbad…news regarding the status of Chris Carpenter today. The staff ace is experiencing nerve irritation affecting his neck and throwing arm that has shut him down indefinitely, though as of now he will be treated with rest and strengthening exercises and surgery is not being discussed.

It could be worse. The worst-case scenario would be losing Carpenter for the entire season and having the continuance of his career be in jeopardy. That is not the case; however the Cards still have no timetable for his return and have to proceed as though they have no idea when he’s coming back.

While the situation is not ideal, it places the Cardinals in a familiar position: dealing with losing their best pitcher before the season even gets underway. In one sense, it is kind of amusingly ironic. In another, it toes the line of cruel and unusual punishment for the Cards and their fans. The team is the defending World Series champion, but could they possibly have a smooth start to that title defense? Of course not.

This has been coming for a while, and recently I lamented the possibility of the Cardinals going back to Kyle McClellan as an interim starter while Carpenter recovers. Thankfully, that option is off the table. Instead, Lance Lynn has been given the green light to assume the fifth spot in the rotation. I have mixed feelings about this move. On the one hand, Lynn only relieved for a short time in 2011 and has been a starter the rest of the time. “Converting back” to the starter mentality and routine should not be near as taxing on him as it was on McClellan through the first half of last year. Consequently, if Carpenter is able to come back sometime mid-summer, Lynn may be able to seamlessly transition back to the bullpen and not drastically surpass his recent innings totals. But for as well as Lynn looked as a reliever with the Cards in 2011, he had mixed results in his two starts at the major league level and was not able to complete six innings either outing. Yes, that is a really small sample size. But it just goes to show that Lynn is still an unproven rookie, and with that comes a whole new set of questions. What if he struggles initially, or even perpetually? What if Carpenter returns and Lynn can’t transition back to the bullpen effectively?

And what if the bullpen suffers without Lynn? Perhaps the Cards can get back the production from McClellan they got in 2010 when he was, by many measures, the best reliever on the team. That would certainly help. But the beginning of 2011 was a prime example of what can happen to a team when their bullpen falters, and the run at the end of the year began in large part because of dominant bullpen work from Lynn, Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, and the late additions of Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski. Dotel is gone, of course, so McClellan presumably replaces him. Who replaces Lynn?

Still, it is really hard to think the sky is falling today after we saw what happened last year in the absence of Adam Wainwright. It is relatively safe to assume that, no matter what, the Cardinals will make whatever moves are necessary to keep this team in contention for the entire season. It just would have been really sweet to see a healthy Wainwright and a healthy Carpenter at the top of the rotation for the entire season. And who knows; maybe Carpenter comes back at 100% in a few months and takes some of the heat off of Wainwright so he doesn’t get overexposed being just one year removed from Tommy John surgery.

But that is just wishful thinking. The reality is, the Cards are in a tough spot for the start of the 2012 season. Let’s hope this team is as good at battling adversity as the 2011 team was.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter at @birdbrained.

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Understanding McClellan, reliever only

Last year the St Louis Cardinals entered spring training with Kyle McClellan‘s role unsettled.  He wanted to be a starter but had spent his first years working high-leverage innings late in games.  With the loss of Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery, McClellan was thrust full-time into the rotation.

This year the Cardinals enter spring training with McClellan’s role settled, but his presence in the bullpen uncertain.  Now faced with the possible  loss of Chris Carpenter for at least a few starts,  McClellan, who has 17 major league starts to his name  . . . never came up as a potential replacement.  Lance Lynn is on track to fill in, as needed, for Carpenter.

What – what?  Why did that happen?

McClellan has major league experience out of the rotation, something Lynn doesn’t yet possess.  By all outward appearances Kyle was pretty good before he hurt his hip.  McClellan posted a 6-2 record in his starts prior to May 30, spent 15 days on the DL, then posted a 1-4 record prior to being sent back to the bullpen for the remainder of the season.

Doesn’t seem like enough to disqualify him from this year’s discussion.  If his hip is sound he should be able to return to his pre-injury form.  So why was he left out?  Let’s look a little deeper.

From his first start until the injury, opponents hit .250/.307/.404 against him with a .257 average on balls in play.  After he returned from the hip injury, opponents hit .272/.322/.426 against him with a .285 BABIP in games he started.  That’s not far off from what he was allowing prior to the injury; worse, but consistent.  As a reliever, he gave up a .264/.341/.496 line and a .269 BABIP.  His numbers got worse as the season progressed regardless of how he was employed.

Here’s what I found interesting.  According to Fangraphs, during his hot period as a starter he was worth exactly 0.1 WAR. In May, his last full month as a starter, he was worth -0.1 WAR.  Yes, WAR uses FIP to evaluate pitchers, FIP heavily penalizes home runs, and McClellan gave up a lot of those last season (8 of his 21 surrendered in those two months).  Nevertheless, isn’t it interesting he was exactly replacement level as a starter the first two months of 2011*?

Maybe the reason St Louis decided to go with Lynn, despite a belief he is more valuable long-term out of the bullpen, is his higher ceiling.  Don’t forget Lynn was the Cardinals minor-league pitcher of the year in 2009 as a starter.  McClellan’s spectacularly average performance while starting last season makes the selection of Lynn to be this year’s spot starter more understandable.

*for the record, in June and July he posted a 0.0 WAR.

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

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Who’s the next guy?

Matt Holliday re-signed in 2010.  Albert Pujols is gone.  Yadier Molina re-upped with the St Louis Cardinals last week.  So who’s the next future Cardinal free agent in line for a long-term deal?

Is it Lance Berkman?  Despite the legions of converts to Pumania based on his 2012 season, Berkman is still more closely identified with Houston than with the Cardinals.  Interestingly last season (by OPS+) was the best year of his career.  He signed a one-year deal for 2012 for a symmetrical $12 million, but will be 37 before the 2013 season starts.  St Louis might bring him back on a 2 or 3 year contract, depending on how this season goes, but he has passed the point in his career where a 5+ year deal makes sense.

Is it Adam Wainwright?  Much more likely.  Although on the DL at the end of 2011, which would have allowed the Cardinals to decline his option, that option was picked up, meaning he’ll be with the club through the end of next season.  There is much risk to keeping Wainwright for another 5 or more years.  He’s on the wrong side of 30 (will be 32 after the 2013 season) and has now had Tommy John surgery, meaning his career could end on his next pitch.  In his favor, and helping mitigate that risk, is the fact he has learned at the feet and via the example of Chris Carpenter the past 7 years.  Carpenter is no stranger to arm issues himself, but has learned how to prepare himself in-between starts to minimize the chances of re-injury.  Wainwright is one of the elite pitchers in the NL and it would make lots of sense to retain him.

Is it Jason Motte?  He is also on a one-year deal for 2012, and has two years of arbitration ahead of him before hitting the open market in 2015.  Motte has already been anointed the Cardinal closer by new manager Mike Matheny, a position he capably filled during last year’s magical stretch run and post-season.  St Louis might consider signing the 29-year old to a long-term deal, but given the short useful lifespan closers not named Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman enjoy a lengthy contract could turn into money thrown out the window.  I don’t think St Louis will lock up Motte for more than 3 years at a shot.

Is it David Freese?  Like Berkman, David is on a one-year deal. Unlike Lance, Freese is only making $500K this year, is only 28, and appears to have arrived (based on his performance both during last season and the post-season).  The Cardinal front office is probably waiting to see if he can play 100 games for the first time in his career before entering serious negotiations.  His defense is decidedly average, but his bat is superior at a traditional power position.

I think we have a winner.

If you the fan is looking for the next player to obsess over regarding a long-term extension, direct your energy towards David Freese.

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

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