Tag Archive | "Middle Infielder"

If Tyler Greene Homers In Chicago, Will Cardinal Nation Hear It?

St. Louis Cardinal fans are seemingly obsessed over former players.  Brendan Ryan, Rick Ankiel and Lance Berkman have all been on fans’ minds throughout the season.

Tyler Greene?  Not so much.

White Sox Mets Baseball

The middle infielder, who many believe cracked under the pressure that Tony LaRussa placed on him while they were both in uniform for the Cardinals, found himself on the outside looking in after a weak spring training with the Houston Astros.  He was released from his contract prior to opening day and he drifted off into oblivion.  Or Chicago.  Same thing in most people’s minds.

Tyler Greene is a Chicago White Sox infielder.  That news was a surprise to me as I read a recent article over at the St. Louis Sports Page about former Cardinals and how they are performing.  I had not heard anyone talking about him.  No fans rumbling about his arrival in the big leagues when Gordon Beckham went down hurt.  No sudden jubilation when he signed a contract with the pale hose on April 1st.

Surprisingly, not even a blurb on the internet when Greene went yard on April 26.

Greene is playing well in Chicago in very limited duty.  He has produced a .276/.323/.483 slashline in 29 at bats, producing a single home run and two runs batted in while scoring four times.  He has entered the game as a pinch runner or pinch hitter almost as many times (5) as he has on the field as a second baseman (6).  He has yet to attempt to steal a base and has committed one error in 29 chances.

Tyler Greene is a bench player in major league baseball, continuing to patrol the middle infield and run the base paths.  Leaving St. Louis has not injected his career with a sudden level of success.  The absence of Tony LaRussa has not allowed Greene to improve to the level that everyone thought.

Even so, it appears that no one cares.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by 
clicking here.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

Wigginton Should Be Next Cut

The St. Louis Cardinals sent home one unproductive veteran player Tuesday in their latest round of cuts, and they need to do the same with another, even if it costs the team a relatively large amount of money.

Robinson Freese Wigginton

The Cardinals brought Ronny Cedeno in to spring training as an insurance policy at the shortstop position since Rafael Furcal did not recover from an elbow injury he suffered last season, and the team had yet to believe Pete Kozma would be good enough to handle the position full time.

But the Cardinals realized they would not be in good hands with Cedeno, a career .247 hitter, as their primary option at shortstop. Kozma burst out of offseason to hit .429 in the first 10 days of exhibition games while Cedeno struggled to raise his batting average above .167.

Cedeno eventually picked up the pace to finish with a .290 average, and Kozma predictably didn’t hit above .400 the entire spring (he fell to .318), but Kozma showed the Cardinals he could handle the responsibilities of being the starting shortstop. That meant the Cardinals had little need for Cedeno, who had signed for one year and $1.15 million.

Daniel Descalso will now be the Cardinals only backup middle infielder, but Cedeno’s release freed up a spot on the bench for more talented hitters such as first baseman prospect Matt Adams.

But that’s only because the Cardinals will likely be hesitant to release the other unproductive veteran free agent they brought to camp: Ty Wigginton.

Wigginton has just four base hits and a .103 batting average with eight strikeouts so far this spring, yet the Cardinals probably won’t release him because they made the poor decision in the offseason to sign the 35-year-old, who hasn’t hit above .250 since 2009, to a two-year, $5 million contract.

Sure, $5 million isn’t an incredible amount of money in the modern world of baseball, but expecting Wigginton to be a productive player at all, much less two years, is almost asking for a miracle to happen.

Maybe Wigginton will run into a late-inning homerun and ends up helping the Cardinals win a game at some point this season, but they have much more talented players who will start the season in the minor leagues.

Future second baseman Kolten Wong, future outfielder Oscar Taveras and even outfielder Adron Chambers provide more potential benefits to the Cardinals that Wigginton, but they aren’t making $5 million across two years and they are young players who the Cardinals don’t want to rot on the bench.

So Wigginton will probably make the team no matter how bad he hits. Thankfully, there should still be a spot for Adams, who has hit .304 this spring and is tied for the team lead with 12 RBIs. It would be nice if the Cardinals went with Chambers, who provides speed, or outfielder Shane Robinson, who has had a great spring with a .465 batting average and 12 RBIs, but one will likely be left off the opening day roster.

The Cardinals are chiseling away at their roster for opening day. Unfortunately, they will probably leave one blemish and give Wigginton a job based on what they hope he can do, because he certainly hasn’t shown them anything this spring that makes him worthy to make a Major League Baseball roster.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

St. Louis Cardinals can win with current middle infielders

One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ most talked about needs heading into the offseason concerned who would patrol the dirt around second base next season at Busch Stadium, but they might start the 2013 season and contend for a playoff spot with the same players who did that job in 2012.

DanielDescalso3

The Cardinals ended last season with Daniel Descalso as the starting second baseman and Pete Kozma as the starting shortstop.

Descalso is a light-hitting, strong defensive player who can make great plays in the field and come up with a hit at a critical time. The problem is those moments don’t happen often, and he can usually be counted on to hit near his career average of .245.

Kozma was the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2007 and muddled his way through the minors for much of the next five years before the big club called him up when shortstop Rafael Furcal hurt his elbow Aug. 31 against the Washington Nationals. Kozma capitalized on his first opportunity for regular playing time in the big leagues by hitting .333 in the final month of the season while playing solid defense.

However, the Cardinals were reluctant to have Descalso and Kozma as their starting second baseman and shortstop for next season. Club officials have repeatedly expressed hope and confidence that Furcal’s recovery is going well and he will be ready to be the everyday shortstop at the beginning of the season. They also told utility man Matt Carpenter to come to Spring Training prepared to play second base.

Neither of those moves show much confidence in the duo that manned the middle infield as the Cardinals played their way to within one win of a World Series appearance, especially considering rumors the team has been looking to sign or trade for a middle infielder from other organizations.

The Cardinals have been linked to rumors about players such as Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon and free agent utility player Scott Hairston.

Whether or not the Cardinals make a move to bring in a new middle infielder, their current options should be good enough for the team to compete for a playoff spot and the National League Central Division title. No, the middle infield might not have a great impact on the lineup, but all of those players are solid to above-average defenders, and defense was one of the poor aspects of last year’s team.

The Cardinals have plenty of power in their lineup with Matt Holliday, David Freese, Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. They don’t need their second baseman and shortstop to hit .280 with 10-15 homeruns and 60 RBIs. Sure, that would be nice, but this team is built to withstand a couple of lineup spots that produce less-than-average numbers.

Even if Furcal doesn’t come back healthy, the Cardinals have a good backup option at shortstop with Kozma, who has for some reason been undervalued during the offseason. Yes, his numbers in the minor leagues were awful, and the Cardinals nearly cut him from the 40-man roster more than once in 2012, but he showed he can play at the major league level. Even if his future numbers aren’t as good as what he did last season, the Cardinals will have a decent shortstop.

On the other side of the base, the Cardinals know what to expect from Descalso. He won’t hit much, but he will play exceptional defense, which is something that will be a question mark if Carpenter wins the job in Spring Training.

In any case, the Cardinals will be in fine shape if they don’t acquire another middle infielder before the 2013 season begins. And with all of the young pitchers in the system, they will have leverage to make a move during the season as the trading deadline approaches at the end of July.

Although they haven’t made a sexy move in the offseason that leads to the obligatory hand-wringing from a segment of fans who think offseason headlines lead to championship-caliber seasons., the Cardinals could start play in April with their current roster and compete with the top teams in the National League.

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

Pete Kozma suddenly critical to St. Louis Cardinals success

In a season when the St. Louis Cardinals traded a former first-round draft pick who turned out to be a bust, another first-round prospect on the verge of that same level has sparked the team in September and could push it into the playoffs.

The Cardinals selected shortstop Pete Kozma with the 18th pick in the 2007 draft. He spent the next four years tooling around the Cardinals minor league system with little success, never hitting above .258. He even got a call up to the big club in 2011 and played in 17 games, but he hit a measly .176 with one RBI. Those are the type of numbers that get people to call a first-round pick a bust.

Then came Aug. 31, 2012.

The Cardinals called up Kozma for the second time in his career the day after regular shortstop Rafeal Furcal went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. Kozma played in only five of the team’s first nine games after his call up, but he has played in all but one game since Sept. 10.

That’s because this time around he is hitting .306 with two homeruns, three triples, 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored. In fact, he’s been the most productive hitter in the Cardinals lineup in September other than catcher Yadier Molina.

But, the great part of Kozma’s month is that he’s playing simply to help the team win ballgames instead of worrying about stats. He nearly single-handedly kept the Cardinals within striking distance of the Washington Nationals on Saturday night, going 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. He also made a spectacular diving play at shortstop in the ninth inning.

Contrast Kozma’s performance this year with the Cardinals 2005 first-round draft pick, a middle infielder who was supposed to be the team’s starting second baseman: Tyler Greene.

People inside and outside the organization said Greene had potential to be an everyday starter, and maybe former manager Tony La Russa’s managing style didn’t mesh with Greene’s playing style. Maybe those people just didn’t want to admit the Cardinals missed on Greene.

Greene had great speed. He was caught stealing just twice and had 25 stolen bases in his four-year career with the Cardinals. But he simply couldn’t hit big-league pitching. He never hit better than .222 and was hitting .218 when the Cardinals sent him to the Houston Astros in July. He has hit .236 in 35 games for the Astros.

Perhaps the Greene experience and Kozma’s meddling minor-league numbers caused people to brace themselves and declare Kozma as the next Cardinals draft pick to wash out. That could certainly still happen. He is working under a small, albeit good, sample size.

Kozma is currently filling a role similar to the one Ronnie Belliard filled for the 2006 club. Belliard came to the Cardinals at the trading deadline from the Cleveland Indians after seven full seasons in which he hit a combined .268 and surpassed 12 homeruns in a season just once.

Belliard hit just .237 for the Cardinals during the 2006 regular season, but he came up with key hits and was a large factor in the team’s postseason success. He hit .462 in the Division Series against the San Diego Padres and made several wonderful plays at second base to save runs.

All of this could change and Kozma could go hitless the rest of the season, but the Cardinals would likely be neck-and-neck with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild-card spot if not for Kozma’s contributions.

This could also be a flash in the pan, Kozma’s few moments to shine before he falls back into the shadows and becomes the mediocre hitter he was in the minor leagues. But for now he’s getting key hits and playing terrific defense, and players similar to Kozma are vital to teams’ success in the postseason.

He could also have his name immortalized on the back of championship T-shirts if he helps the Cardinals pull off a fantastic ending to another baseball season.

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

The Revolving Door At Second

No aspect of the 2012 Cardinals comes with more questions than the middle infield, where one position has no clear starter and one has a veteran with something to prove. Rafael Furcal returns on a two-year contract with the Redbirds, hoping to show he can still play at the high level he displayed as recently as 2009, while the team goes into Spring Training with an open competition for the starting second-base job.

If Furcal’s performance is an unknown, at least his role is not. On the other side of the keystone, there’s a different kind of uncertainty. Three players go into camp with a shot at winning time at second base: Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker. Any of the three could win the lion’s share of the job, or manager Mike Matheny could fashion a job-sharing arrangement among two or three of the contenders.

This is one spot where the Cardinals find themselves far from the top of the division, both offensively and defensively as it stands today.

Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney hit .276 in 2011, with a pair of homers, nine steals, 43 RBIs and 66 runs scored.  Barney secured the starting second base job in Spring Training and never looked back. A .238 batting average in the second half dampens any enthusiasm for this youngster, who hasn’t shown much power or speed.

The Reds exercised Phillips’ $12 million option on Oct. 31, but the three-time National League Gold Glove winner has long trumpeted his desire to re-sign with Cincinnati for many years.  Phillips, 30, has also been firm about his lack of willingness to accept a hometown discount to remain with the Reds.  Phillips recorded his first .300 season but the numbers weren’t all as rosy. His home run total was the lowest since 2006 and his 14 steals were the lowest since 2005. Phillips remains a quality second baseman but at age 30, it remains to be seen if he can climb back to the 20-20 level.

Astros rookie second baseman Jose Altuve hit .276 with a pair of homers, seven steals, 12 RBIs and 26 runs scored in 221 at-bats during his inaugural season.  Altuve was hitting .389 in the Minors when the Astros gave him the call to the show. The 21-year-old showed some speed and the ability to collect hits against Major League pitchers but his lack of power and elite speed will limit Altuve’s potential in the short term.

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks finished up an injury-plagued 2011 season with 20 homers, nine steals, 49 RBIs, 77 runs scored and a .269 batting average in 453 at-bats.  Weeks launched 17 homers in the first half of the season but suffered a serious ankle injury near the end of July and registered only 83 at-bats in the second half. The 29-year-old is an attractive asset heading into 2012 because of his ability to hit for power as a second baseman.

Without a lot of fanfare, this second-year player  produced a solid 2011 with .273 with 12 homers, nine steals, 83 RBIs and 76 runs scored.  Walker has settled in as a solid, but not spectacular second base option. Don’t look for major improvements in 2012 but at age 26 he could still make small gains. A  reasonable expectation for him and a solid season cound make him one of the few second baseman to collect 90 RBIs.

Schumaker, 31, hit .283 in 117 games last season, including a .299 mark after the All-Star break. He batted .381 in the playoffs and had the game-winning RBI in the decisive fifth game of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.

By the time 2012 is said and done here is how I see things shaking out amongst the NL Central second basemen

  1. Brandon Phillips
  2. Rickie Weeks
  3. Neil Walker
  4. Darwin Barney
  5. Skip Schumaker
  6. Jose Altuve

Looking ahead:

Descalso and Greene are likely slicker fielders, but Schumaker has established himself as a solid hitter for a middle infielder. Whereas at the start of the winter it sounded as though he was being removed from the second-base picture, later indications have made it clear that Schumaker can compete for the job.

Greene and Descalso both come from other positions. Descalso has played plenty of second, but in the Major Leagues, he’s spent more time at third. Offensively, he’s a bit similar to Schumaker, a line-drive hitter with some on-base ability but not much power. Defensively, he is probably a superior second baseman. But his versatility is also an asset that Matheny may covet.

Then there’s Greene, who sometimes sounds like the favorite coming into the spring. A former first-round Draft pick and a shortstop by trade, he has tremendous tools but has yet to turn them into dependable production at the big league level. Greene’s upside is the highest of the contenders, but of the three, he has proved the least in the Majors.

One advantage for Greene is that he is a shortstop, and there’s no clear backup to Furcal. If Greene doesn’t win the starting job, he could well stick as a utility player. Descalso is also almost certain to be on the roster for his positional flexibility, defense and pinch-hitting savvy, while Schumaker will be on as a utility man if not the starter.

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

Farewell

What else is there to say? He’s gone. The drama, rumors, headaches and more are over. Albert Pujols is no longer a Cardinal.

I never thought I would type those words.

In the matter of less than two months I have seen my favorite team since I was a young man win the World Series, say goodbye to a manager that had been a part of the team for around half of my life, and lose the greatest player I have ever witnessed to free agency.

Albert Pujols is a player that defines an entire generation. He plays the game head and shoulders above anyone. His 2011 season was a season that most players would accept as a near career defining year and yet to Pujols, it was a “down” year for him. He capped that year off with the third highest contract in Major League history and a departure from the only team he has ever known.

The team that believed enough in him to draft him in the thirteenth round of the 1999 amateur draft, the team that gave him an opportunity in 2001 and the team that surrounded him with enough talent to play in three World Series and win two World Championship rings will take the field searching for the next face of the franchise.

Cardinals Chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt, Jr.

“We are disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis. Albert is a great champion and we will always be thankful for his many achievements in a Cardinals uniform, as well as his contributions to the St. Louis community. I have the highest regard for Albert both personally and professionally, and appreciate his direct involvement in this process. I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen.”

 

Parents will struggle to explain to little boys and girls that, when it comes to baseball, your favorite player and your favorite team do not always have to coincide. That it will be okay to cheer for a man in a different shade of red if they want to. That players come and go but the jersey stays the same. That love of this game can, and will, lead to heartbreak.

The Cardinals will be just fine. Some argue that they are still the favorites in their division and many speculate now where the Cardinals will begin shopping. The off season started with one goal, resign Albert Pujols. Now the focus shifts into acquiring a middle infielder or two and possibly an outfielder that can help provide some pop to a fairly potent lineup. The “Birds On The Bat” will prevail and the franchise will continue to be one of the premier franchises in Major League Baseball.

To that end, Albert Pujols will be just fine as well. He will continue to hit and has the added security of a designated hitter role later in his career. He will hit major milestones in the next few years and become a part of a franchise that will look to compete heavily in the near future. He will utilize the monetary gain to fund charitable foundations and continue to perform the work he feels God has called him to do.

Fans emotions will heal over time and kids will find a new favorite player. The Cardinals and Angels will play baseball at a highly competitive level and game will continue to be played the same way it has for well over a century. We will still hear The Star Spangled Banner before games, Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the seventh inning and God Bless America during some games. The 2011 Cardinals will still be defined by “What a team. What a ride.” I will still tell my children about “The time I saw Albert…” Most of us will continue to love the game and our team.

Cardinals Sr. Vice President & General Manager John Mozeliak

“Albert has been a special player in this organization since the moment he was drafted over 12 years ago. His accomplishments on and off the field have been spectacular. I wish him well in the next phase of his career.”

Today feels like a loss. It should feel that way. Many of us truly believed that Albert would spend his entire career in front of us in “our” stadium. We believed, deep down, that he would be our generation’s Stan The Man. We thought that we had discovered a truly great player that felt some level of loyalty to the franchise he matured with.

We were wrong.

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

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (4)

2011 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Cookie Rojas

The week of Thanksgiving brings a time for all of us to be thankful for family, friends, health, any a myriad of other things that each of us finds important. Here at I-70 Baseball, we take this time to show some thanks to some players that spent some time wearing both of the uniforms of our two teams, the Cardinals and Royals.

The requirements are that simple: the inducted player had to play for both the Cardinals and Royals in his career. From there, it is pure judgement of I-70 Baseball to say they deserve enshrinement in our “Hall Of Legends”. This year we induct five new legends to join the inaugural group of five from last season. The original five inductees were manager Whitey Herzog, pitchers Dan Quisenberry and Danny Jackson, outfielder Reggie Sanders, and catcher Darrell Porter.

The first inductee for 2011 was Vince Coleman. Today, we welcome Cookie Rojas.

There might not be a better example of how the game of baseball has changed in the last half century than Octavio Victor “Cuqui” Rojas. Born in Havana, Cuba on March 6, 1939, Rojas was an acrobatic middle infielder that played in the major leagues for 16 season, even though he was a career .263 hitter with an on-base percentage barely over .300. In the game today, every player is expected to contribute offensively and Rojas probably doesn’t make it out of the minor leagues. That would be such a loss for baseball because fans would be deprived of one of the best loved and perhaps smartest players to play the game.

There might not be a more easily recognized player either. If you somehow missed the translucent plastic frames holding those giant lenses, or the effervescent smile that can only come from somebody that loves what they are doing, just wait a few moments. Rojas will be the one diving for a ground ball or leaping high in the air to avoid a base runner while tuning a double play. In the end, he will leave you with a similar smile because you have just become another in a long line of Cookie Rojas fans.

Reds (1962)

Rojas was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, at the age of just 17. His dad had wanted him to be a doctor, but the young infielder had different ideas. He progressed through the Reds minor league system, playing for West Palm Beach (D) in 1956, Wassau (C) in 1957 and Savanah (A) in 1958. Although his power numbers improved and his glove was always solid, his overall batting average dropped at each level.

In 1959, he returned to his home town of Havana, which happened to be the Reds AAA affiliate. His batting average continued to fall, reaching a new low point of .233. With Leo Cardenas and Elio Chacon both hitting better than Rojas, Cookie would return to Havana for the 1960 season, a most unusual one for the franchise. When Fidel Castro nationalized all US-owned businesses in Cuba, the Reds moved the Sugar Kings to Jersey City for the remainder of the season. Rojas continued to struggle at the plate.

With Chacon and Cardenas with the big club, Rojas got more playing time with the Jersey City Jerseys (AAA) in 1961, and he made the best of it. His offensive numbers improved significantly, his batting average jumping to .265. He would also drive in 44 runs. This would turn out to be the story of Rojas career – the more playing time he got, the better his production at the plate.

Rojas make the Reds out of spring training to start the 1962 season, and made his major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 10. In his first major league at-bat, he would lay down a sacrifice bunt, moving Eddie Kasko over to third base ahead of Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. That would be another trademark of Rojas career – although he didn’t hit with power or any great regularity, he could handle the bat in sacrifice situations. After two months of struggling at the plate, Rojas would finish the season with the Reds new AAA Affiliate, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, but he would be back soon, as a September callup.

With the Reds infield looking set for the foreseeable future, they traded Rojas to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1962 . In return, the Reds got a right handed pitcher named Jim “Bear” Owens. Owens would not last long in Cincinnati. He would be sent down to the minors and Houston would claim him in the Rule 5 draft.

Philadelphia (1963 – 1969)

Philadelphia had two very good middle infielders, Bobby Wine and Tony Taylor, but Rojas found a way to get into games, first backing up Taylor at second base and then occasionally in the outfield. As his hitting improved in 1963, the Phillies found any way they could to get Rojas into games. He would play all eight defensive positions in 1964, and again in 1965. With a batting average finally over .300, Rojas would get an invitation to play in the 1965 All Star Game, as a second baseman. He would also receive some MVP votes, recognition for his improvement and ability to play anywhere he was needed.

What was originally a stunt to keep him in the lineup had become yet another trademark of his major league career – the ultimate utility player. But even that would eventually come to an end as Rojas became the every day second baseman, taking over those duties from Tony Taylor in 1966. He and Bobby Wine would turn into one of the best double play combinations in baseball. Fans would start calling duo the plays of “Wine and Rojas”, referring to the popular song, “The Days of Wine and Roses”.

The one position Rojas had yet to play was pitcher, and that changed in a blowout against the Giants on June 30, 1967. Trailing 12-3, Rojas came into the game in the ninth inning. He gave up a single to Tom Haller. Hal Lanier reached base on an error. Rojas then retired Tito Fuentes, Juan Marichal and Willie Mays to end the inning, stranding both base runners. That would be his only relief appearance, so his career ERA stands at 0.00 and his WHIP is just 1.000.

With a young infield prospect named Denny Doyle turning heads in the Phillies farm system, Rojas would be traded away to make room at the end of the 1969 season. The Cardinals were also ready to shake up their roster, and the two teams agreed on a multi-player deal that would alter baseball history. St. Louis would send Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Curt Flood to Philadelphia for Rojas, Richie Allen and Jerry Johnson. Curt Flood would refuse to report to the Phillies and the Cardinals were forced to send prospects Willie Montanez and Jim Browning to complete the deal. Flood would challenge the reserve clause in 1970, eventually losing, but that would make way for a successful challenge four years later.

St. Louis (1970)

Cardinals fans were excited to see Rojas in a Cardinals uniform after all the years of watching him as a member of the Phillies. With injuries and age starting to catch up to Julian Javier, the happiness over Rojas was tempered by sadness in the realization that Javier’s Cardinals days were coming to an end. Surprisingly, it was Rojas that left first, not Javier. But not before one exciting play.

The date was April 14 and the Montreal Expos were in St. Louis. In a rare rough outing from Bob Gibson, an early 3-0 Cardinals lead had turned into a 4-3 deficit in the top of the seventh inning. Thanks to some outstanding relief pitching and a Jose Cardenal home run in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals tied the game, and it went into extra innings.

In the top of the tenth inning, Sal Campisi gives up a 2 out walk to Mack Jones. Marv Staehle triples Jones home to give Montreal a 5-4 lead. Howie Reed tries to close out the game for the Expos, but the Cardinals had a much different plan. Leron Lee leads off the bottom of the tenth with a single. Joe Hague reaches base when Bob Bailey boots a ground ball. Julian Javier fails to advance the runners, forcing Lee at third base on a fielders choice. Pinch hitter, Jim Campbell singles home Hague to tie the game. Vic Davalillo is intentionally walked to load the bases, setting up the double play at just about any base. Cookie Rojas comes off the bench to pinch hit for Sal Campisi and hits a slow roller to third base. It is too slow to turn a double play and Javier scores easily with the winning run. Leave it to Rojas to deliver a walk off single and the ball never leaves the infield.

That would be the lone highlight of Rojas Cardinals career as he would be traded to Kansas City in early June.

Kansas City (1970 – 1977)

Even though he failed to find a home in St. Louis, Cookie couldn’t have found a better place to launch his second career than with the expansion Kansas City Royals. He immediately took over second base duties, and just as he had done in Philadelphia, raised his batting average back to a respectable level. He would hit .260 for the rest of the 1970 season and .268 for his entire time with the Royals.

Fans immediately fell in love with Rojas and his acrobatic plays at second base. One of them was captured by the Topps baseball card photographer and his 1971 card remains one of my all time favorites. That image says everything you need to know about Cookie Rojas.

1971 would be a very good year for Rojas, hitting .300 for the second time in his career. He would also set a new career high for on-base percentage (.357) and slugging (.406). He would also be rewarded with his second All Star Game invitation, the first of four consecutive in which he would represent the Royals. He also received more than a token nod in the MVP ballots.

Perhaps his greatest moment as a member of the Royals came in the 1972 All Star Game. With the American League trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, Rojas steps up to the plate with Carlton Fisk on first base and two outs. Rojas pulls a Bill Stoneman pitch deep into the Atlanta left field seats for a 2 run homer, giving the American League a 3-2 lead. That home run was also historic in that it was the first AL homer to be hit by a non-American born player. Unfortunately for Rojas, Wilbur Wood could not make the one run lead hold up and the National League would win 5-4 in 10 innings.

Rojas continued to play well for the Royals, but as in Philadelphia, he was about to lose his job to a younger and more talented prospect. This time it would be Frank White, but instead of being traded away, Kansas City was smart and kept Rojas around for the rest of his career, which ended in 1977. That also helped the fans who were slow to embrace White, preferring to see their favorite, Rojas, playing every day. Once again, Rojas versatility came into play, backing up White at second base, occasionally playing third and even, ironically, as a designated hitter.

Rojas playing career ended in 1977, but that was not the end of his baseball career.

The Rest of the Story

For his long and productive major league career, Cookie Rojas has been honored as a member of both the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as in his homeland of Cuba.

Rojas stayed involved with baseball, first as a scout and then as a coach. In 1988, he managed the California Angels, but after failing to reach .500, was replaced with 8 games remaining in the season. Rojas returned to coaching with the Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

You can find Cookie Rojas today as the Spanish language broadcaster with Fox Sports Florida, providing color commentary on all Marlins home games. His son, Victor, is also also a broadcaster, first with the Texas Rangers and now with the California Angels.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

Posted in Cardinals, Classic, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, I-70 Hall Of Legends, RoyalsComments (0)

Revolving Door At Third Continues To Turn For Royals

Third base is traditionally called the “hot corner,” but lately the Royals have been treating the position more like a hot potato.

What now seems like years ago, it was just nine months past that Alex Gordon was entrenched as the Royals third baseman. While he’d had his struggles hitting and staying healthy, the Royals had to hope Gordon would man the position for the next decade. That’s what you expect from the second pick in the draft.

Now Gordon’s home is in left field, and it may be a part-time or temporary home at that. With the signing of Melky Cabrera, Gordon’s hold on the outfield spot is tenuous at best.
The Royals made two moves at the winter meetings to bolster their outfield as they brace for a rocky 2011 and build for 2012 – the additions of Cabrera and Jeff Francouer. While those two signings caught the headlines, however, third base remained a situation of addition by confusion.

A broken finger on March 6 forced Gordon off third base, and he would never return. A revolving door opened at the position and has yet to stop turning. The Royals further muddied the waters in the past 10 days by declining to resign Josh Fields. Then Ned Yost stated publicly that he sees Mike Aviles, primarily a middle infielder, as the possible next in line at third.

It is generally assumed that whoever starts the season at third base will merely be keeping the spot warm for slugging minor leaguer Mike Moustakas. Yost is reluctant to admit that Moustakas will have a shot at making the big club in spring training, but most reports are that if all goes according to plan, Moustakas will be in KC sometime later in 2011.

The non-signing of Field came as little surprise. No one put much faith in him from the moment he came over from the White Sox with Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade – Teahen himself once a Royals third bagger. Fields had struggled with injuries and inconsistency at the plate. I personally had high hopes for the former OSU Cowboy quarterback, hoping he could at least man the spot for another year until Moustakas was sufficiently seasoned.

But evidently no one else saw what I hoped was there in Fields. His departure went essentially unnoticed. That left Wilson Betemit, who played well enough in 51 games at third, seemingly the incumbent.

Not so fast, according to Yost. In a statement to the media on Dec. 7, Yost touted Aviles as the likely choice at third. The implications of Yost’s statement are broad.

First, it means Betemit will probably see spot duty at several positions, including outfield. Yost believes the strain of playing every day wore Betemit down last year, and coming from the bench Betemit gives Yost a right-handed bat to shuffle into the deck, But Yost’s statement also implies that Betemit can probably kiss goodbye his one shot at being an everyday major league starter.
Second, it means Yost intends to give Chris Getz every opportunity to hold onto the second base job. Getz has thus far been a light-hitter, which means Yost intends to actually do what he said he would do a year ago – place a premium on good defense.

And third, it means Yuniesky Betancourt is the Royals’ shortstop for the foreseeable future. Aviles would have been Betancourt’s only competition. Maligned for poor situational hitting, lackadaisical effort and poor range (among many other things), Betancourt exceeded the low expectations everyone had for him last season. In light of his numbers from 2010, he probably deserves an encore in 2011. And if Aviles is at third, then Royals fans had better warm up to Yuni. He’s going to settle in for what looks like a long haul.

So, exit Teahen (changed position, then traded) Gordon (changed position), Alberto Callaspo (traded to the Angels), Fields (unsigned) and now Betemit (apparently demoted to a utility role).

Enter Mike Moustakas? Not yet, apparently. According to Yost, yet another option is coming to the fore – it’s Mike Aviles turn to try to handle the hot potato that is the hot corner in KC.

Posted in RoyalsComments (0)

St. Louis Cardinals Monday Morning Links: December 6

It has not been a terribly eventful week, but it has been a bit more eventful than weeks past.

The Cardinals would complete a trade for middle infielder Ryan Theriot, sending Blake Hawksworth to the city of angels to wear Dodger blue. They would follow that move up with one that very few people seen coming, signing former Astro Lance Berkman to a one-year contract to play the outfield.

As we take a look around the Internet this week we find our favorite sites discussing Berkman, Brendan Ryan, and even a guest post from yours truly. Enjoy some links and some material from various sources around Cardinal Nation and we will be back at it tomorrow with your history lesson from Bob Netherton.

Our friends over at The McBrayer-Baseball Blog posted one of the first excited articles about the arrival of Lance Berkman.

Meanwhile, old friend Tom at Cardinals GM feels that the team just added a lot of payroll and got little defense in return.

One of the newer blogs out in the world, Bleed Cardinal Red With Me, takes a look at the 2011 lineup with the new additions to the roster.

Pip over at Fungoes says the jury may be out on the Theriot deal, for now, and provides his usual expert analysis.

One of my favorite sites, Play A Hard Nine, takes a look at Theriot and Brendan Ryan and the need for one of them to rebound this season.

Finally, in shameless self promotion (I’m good at that), I made a bit of a homecoming this past week. You see, my passion for writing on the internet all stemmed from some guest posts at Cards Diaspora. This week, the minds of that site asked me my opinion on the Albert Pujols contract. My thoughts, as well as some people far more intelligent and well spoken than myself, can be found in this article from Friday.

Join us tonight as we feature our first panel discussions about the Cardinals and Royals on I-70 Baseball Radio.

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

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)

Theriot And Tallet

A night after I-70 Baseball Radio openly admitted that the lack of hot stove activity has both been frustrating and hard to overcome, the Cardinals became active in the market. One week prior to the highly anticipated Winter Meetings, General Manager John Mozeliak added a middle infielder and a left handed reliever to his roster, one via trade and the other via free agency.

In what seemed to be moments after the Dodgers had officially acquired former Giant, and Cardinal target, Juan Uribe via free agency, the Dodgers sent Ryan Theriot to the Cardinals in exchange for Blake Hawksworth. The Cardinals used the depth of right handed relief available in the organization to add some much needed insurance to the middle infield.

But did they get the job done?

Theriot, historically, is a lead off hitting shortstop who can also play some second base. He is a solid base stealing threat, an above average defender, and a solid on base threat. That is, historically speaking. Last season, Theriot patrolled second base primarily, saw his on base percentage drop, and was not as potent at the plate.

Can Theriot recover and be the lead-off hitter the Cardinals need to set the table? Does this trade mean that Brendan Ryan will be dealt at the Winter Meetings next week? John Mozeliak has already been quoted on twitter saying that Theriot is the team’s starting shortstop. Tony LaRussa, however, has stated that he believes there will be a competition in Spring for that position.

In another move, the Cardinals signed left-handed reliever Brian Tallet after his release from the Toronto Blue Jays. Tallet will assume the role left vacant by Dennys Reyes and join Trevor Miller in the bullpen this season. He held left handed hitters to a .176 batting average and four home runs last year, but struggled against right handers. He seems to be the type of player LaRussa works well with and will be a plus in the bullpen.

The Cardinals may have improved and may have just moved laterally. A lot will be told in Spring Training this year. Until then, the jury is out and I remain hopeful that there is something bigger on the horizon for the Cardinals.

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

Posted in CardinalsComments (0)