Tag Archive | "Rob Rains"

This One’s For You: Tune In To Fox Sports Midwest

As the clock reaches 5:30 we now hand over the This One’s For You commentary to the team at Fox Sports Midwest for their annual broadcast.

FSMW

We hope our readers have enjoyed the many different viewpoints that we have been able to bring to you today.  We have certainly enjoyed taking some time to acknowledge the men and women who server our country and to feature voices that are not normally part of i70baseball in doing so.

Our writers and many more combined to bring you 17 unique outlooks on tonight’s broadcast and our respect for members of the military.  Those articles are indexed here for your convenience:

I started it off with thoughts about my cousin and her family.
Kevin Reynolds took a look at a generation known as “The Greatest Among Us”.
Rob Rains explained how he is just now gaining a personal connection to the military.
Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reflects on her interactions with soldiers.
Tim Danielson took a look at a special set of cards.
Chris Reed expressed his thoughts on quiet reverence.
Jim Spurlock shared his views from a Kansas City Royals fan.
Joe Schwarz brought you a Cup of Joe full of Thank You’s.
Jennifer Gosline talks about taking freedom for granted.
Jennie Finch was kind enough to share her unacknowledged moments.
Aaron Hooks talked about Matt Damon and patriotism.
Daniel Shoptaw, known as “The Blogfather”, talked about the freedoms we all enjoy.
Nick Schaeflein wears the flag on his arm and his heart.
Cardinal broadcaster Dan McLaughlin recalls the importance of connecting families.
Jacob Mayer talks about soldiers reuniting with their families at baseball games.
Nick of PH8 fame explains what This One’s For You means to him.
Finally, Tara Wellman brings a powerful post to round out the day.

Thank you all for reading, for sharing, and for commenting throughout the day.

Of course, thank you to those that fight for our right to share our opinions openly in these forums.

This One’s For You.

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Rob Rains Inside Baseball: The Manager

When you don’t do something for 16 years, it’s logical that you might be a little rusty at it. And when you have never done something before, it’s even more understandable.

All of which means we should not be surprised at what has happened so far in the Cardinals’ search for a manager to succeed Tony La Russa. It’s the first time the Cardinals have gone through picking a new manager since 1995 and the first time ever that team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and GM John Mozeliak have gone through a managerial search.

Maybe that is why this search seems so different than what is going on in Boston and Chicago, a fact which might be a little disconcerting for all Cardinal fans.

Does anybody else wonder, for example, why the Cubs and Red Sox seem to be working from the exact same pool of managerial candidates, and that none of those possible managers is even on the list of people DeWitt and Mozeliak plan to interview?

Or, to cite another example, if Jose Oquendo is such a top candidate to become the next Cardinals’ manager, why is he not included in the folks interviewing for the jobs in Boston and Chicago?

One more question which is a little troubling – if Terry Francona is indeed the Cardinals’ top candidate, and if he has said he is interested in the job, why go through the charade of other interviews, and why wait more than a week to bring him to town for an interview?

That delay suggests that Francona either has doubts about taking the job if it is offered to him, or that the Cardinals have doubts that Francona is the right fit for the St. Louis job, but feel an obligation to interview him anyway.

From Francona’s standpoint, there would be a great deal of pressure in succeeding La Russa, and he is leaving a highly pressurized job in Boston. Maybe he wants to take a year off before getting back into a major-league dugout. That certainly would be understandable.

Another reason for the delay might be because Francona wants to see if he can get a read on what is happening with the Cubs’ position before he has to make a decision to take or reject the Cardinals’ job, if it is offered to him.

An interesting case could be made that Francona would be a better fit for the Cubs’ job than for the Cardinals, unless his relationship with Theo Epstein was so fractured by how everything ended in Boston that it cannot be repaired.

Reportedly, however, Epstein and Francona have been in communication about the Cubs situation and Francona’s biggest problems at the end in Boston were with the Red Sox’ owners, not Epstein.

If that is true, wouldn’t Francona be more comfortable continuing to work for Epstein and Jed Hoyer, two men he has worked with successfully in the past, instead of having to work with people he likely has never even met or talked with before this interview process? And, which job would present a bigger challenge, while also providing less pressure, Chicago or St. Louis?

Especially if the Cardinals re-sign Albert Pujols, the expectation is that this team will be a contender, if not the favorite, to repeat in 2012. The Cubs have no such expectations. And if Francona can go to Chicago and win the team’s first pennant since 1945 and first World Series since 1908, after breaking the curse in Boston, plans for his canonization as a saint should begin immediately.

One person who offered an interesting opinion on the difference between managing the Cubs and the Cardinals came this week from La Russa, during a radio interview with ESPN 1000 in Chicago.

“I think the neatest thing about the Chicago Cubs’ situation is it’s got the best dream going: to bring a world championship to that town,” La Russa said in the interview. “I think that turns on a lot of baseball people at whatever level because it’s a challenge that you look forward to. Imagine being a part of that situation. I think in that regard it’s tough to top that for the other 29 clubs. I think the biggest dream going right now is the Cubs.”

Another difference between the way the Cardinals and Cubs are conducting their job search is that the Cubs have made their interviews known to the public, and have had each of their candidates meet with the media after the interview, considering it a part of the process to see how that person interacts with the media. The Cardinals have not done that, forcing the media to rely on “sources” to let them know who has been and will be interviewed.

In addition to Francona, five other candidates reportedly have or will be interviewed for the Cardinals’ job. They have interviewed former Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny, Triple A manager Chris Maloney and former Cardinal Joe McEwing, hired last week to be the third-base coach of the Chicago White Sox after several years managing in their farm system.

The other two scheduled to interview this week, besides Francona, are Oquendo and former Cub Ryne Sandberg. Of the five other than Francona, the only one interviewed by another club looking for a manager this year was McEwing, by the White Sox.

Two people expected to be on the Cardinals’ list, but who so far have not been contacted, are former Washington manager Jim Riggleman and Atlanta coach and former Cardinal Terry Pendleton. In addition, former Cardinal and longtime minor league manager Tom Lawless is scheduled to meet with Mozeliak later this week.

One of the hardest parts of monitoring the Cardinals’ search is the uncertainty of what they are looking for in a new manager — since DeWitt and Mozeliak have never picked one before. After Matheny’s interview, he said much of the three hours he spent with DeWitt and Mozeliak centered on a discussion about leadership, and what the managerial candidate felt was the necessity and the characteristics of being a leader, and the importance of being the leader in the clubhouse.

Matheny almost certainly scored major points in the leadership category, but how much that will weigh against his lack of managing or coaching experience is uncertain. The Cardinals do not seem to have made that a major component of their job qualifications, at least at the major-league level, or they would be interviewing a different group of candidates.

La Russa, in his radio interview in Chicago, actually gave Sandberg’s candidacy more of a boost than others have done.

“I’ve heard he’s done a really good job in the minor leagues,” La Russa said about Sandberg, who ran the Phillies’ Triple A club this season. “I also pay him huge credit points and respect points. How many Hall of Famers do you know who are ready to go to the minor leagues and manage and prove what they can do?

“It’s not just the baseball side when you think about minor league travel and when you get to Triple-A, those 4 o’clock wakeups where you’ve got to make three stops to get to your town and get your club ready to play. It is paying some severe dues and the fact that he paid them I think says something very special about him.”

What nobody is saying about the Cardinals’ search is that DeWitt and Mozeliak are no doubt looking for a manager who fits into their organizational philosophy, meaning someone who will take input and suggestions from a variety of sources, including statistical analysis. A first-time manager probably will be much more likely to fall into that category than someone with multiple years of major-league experience, such as Francona.

Financial considerations also no doubt will play a role in the decision. Hiring Francona will certainly cost more than hiring Matheny or Oquendo, for example. If having continuity with the coaching staff is important, that also would suggest that Matheny or Oquendo could be the choice, knowing they would keep the bulk of the coaching staff intact, while Francona would likely want to bring in several of his own coaches.

The other major uncertainty in making this decision, of course, is timing. Almost everyone who has spent time around Matheny knows that he has all of the qualities to become a great major-league manager someday, except for the experience of actually coaching or managing. But if he goes out and gets that experience for a couple of years, will the Cardinals’ job be open again at that time? Or will he get the experience in the St. Louis system, then get plucked off to manage another major-league team? If the Cardinals think Matheny is the best choice now, they need to hire him now and not run the risk of him going to another team.

It is interesting to note that of the 10 managers who began their first full season in the major leagues in 2011, six of them were first-time managers. Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke each led their teams to division titles.

Ultimately, what the Cardinals have to decide is what qualities they view as the most important in their selection of a new manager – leadership, experience and/or the willingness to work with the front office. Make the wrong choice, and the team will suffer the consequences. Make the right choice, and it could be a home run. Or the pick could fall somewhere in between and be neither a great success or an abominable failure but just an OK choice.

Mozeliak has said he would like to have his decision made before the GM meetings begin Nov. 14 in Milwaukee, or certainly before Thanksgiving, so we won’t have to wait much longer.

Read more of Rob’s thoughts on The Stl Sports Page.

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Carpenter’s Gem

The unrelenting pace of the postseason schedule only gave the Cardinals about 41 hours to enjoy Chris Carpenter’s performance in game five of the NL Division Series before they had another game to play on Sunday.

For everyone else, however, we get to savor the beauty of that game for a long time, remembering where we watched one of the greatest performances in MLB postseason history.

Two men in particular were glued to the television to watch the battle between Carpenter and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay to decide which team would advance to the NL Championship Series. Tim Wilken, now the scouting director of the Chicago Cubs, had that same position with the Blue Jays in the 1990s and was responsible for the team selecting both Carpenter and Halladay in the first round of the 1993 and 1995 drafts. Danny Cox met both pitchers about the same time while he was finishing his major-league career with the Blue Jays. Cox also had the distinction of being the last Cardinals’ pitcher to throw a shutout in the postseason, in game seven of the 1987 NLCS against the Giants.

Wilken watched the game with some other Cubs personnel at The Bonfire, a restaurant in Scottsdale,Ariz., while Cox was watching at his home in Freeburg,Ill. Neither will soon forget Carpenter’s 1-0 win over Halladay, his good friend and former teammate in the first game they have ever pitched against each other.

“That was a pretty darn good game,” said Wilken, “probably better than you could have expected. Needless to say it was a wonderful evening. Wow.

“It was two warriors and two wonderful human beings. Unbelievable.”

Cox had a similar reaction, especially with his personal knowledge of what each pitcher was feeling to be on the mound in a win-or-go home environment.

“That was a fun game to watch,” Cox said. “The thing about it was after Carpenter lost game two, a lot of things had to happen just for there to be a game five. That also happened to me. I lost game four, and we had to get the series to game seven for me to pitch again.

“When it happens it’s almost surreal. I’m sure he was thinking that he had a second chance, and now it was payback time. He wanted to redeem himself, and it worked out just like it did for me.”

Cox did not quite have the same pressure as Carpenter in his game 24 years ago, however. He was at home, starting against Atlee Hammaker, and was staked to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, thanks in large measure to a three-run homer by Jose Oquendo. He then cruised to a 6-0 victory.

“I had a little more to work with than Carpenter,” Cox said. “He’s like an Eveready battery out there. He just keeps going, and he always has the same face and the same demeanor.”

Wilken said he was a little worried about Carpenter before the game, wondering if his sub-par performance in game two was a sign that the wear and tear of the regular season was getting to the 36-year-old pitcher, who did pitch the most innings in the National League this season.

“In the back of my mind I was hoping it would be a good game,” Wilken said.

It turned out that Wilken did not need to worry. How good was this game? Here are just a few reasons why it will long be remembered:

*It was only the third time in MLB postseason history that a pitcher won the clinching game of a series with a 1-0 complete game victory. Ralph Terry of the Yankees did it against the Giants in game seven of the 1962 World Series and Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings for the Twins in beating the Braves in game seven of the 1991 World Series.

*Carpenter became the third pitcher in postseason history to throw a shutout, allowing three hits or less, in a clinching game. The other two were Johnny Kucks of the Yankees in game seven of the 1956 World Series, and Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers in game seven of the 1965 World Series.

*It was only the third complete game shutout ever pitched by a Cardinals pitcher in a clinching game in the postseason, joining games by Dizzy Dean in the 1934 World Series and Cox.

*It was the 42nd 1-0 game in MLB postseason history, but was only the second time the Cardinals won a game 1-0 in their 190 postseason games. That was game six of the 1987 NLCS versus the Giants, when John Tudor, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley combined on the shutout.

*Carpenter had made 339 starts in his career before this game, including the regular season and postseason, and he had never won a 1-0 complete game.

*It was the first time the Phillies had lost a 1-0 game in their home stadium in three years.

It was a pretty special night indeed. Said Cardinal manager Tony La Russa, “I think he (Carpenter) will remember that forever, and so will the Cardinals’ fans.”

One of the men Wilken was watching the game with was Randy Bush, the interim general manager of the Cubs who happened to be on the Twins team in 1991 when Morris out-dueled John Smoltz.

“We were talking about and it and Randy said that in that game, Tom Kelly, the Twins manager, had gone over to Jack during the game and said ‘Hell of a job,’ and Jack had a few adjectives and said, ‘I’m not done yet.’ I kind of had the feeling that if Tony had said something to Chris, he might have had the similar words to say,” Wilken said.

“You could see the determination in Chris’ face. The way relieving takes place today it was so much fun to watch a complete game and see how well Roy pitched. If you throw out his first seven or eight pitches, that’s a 0-0 game. For some reason the start of games has always been a little tough for Roy. It was unbelievable. I don’t see how it could get much better than that.”

Wilken knows that Carpenter, Halladay and former Cardinal pitcher Pat Hentgen, also a former teammate and close friend, likely will get together a few weeks from now on a fishing trip. This game certainly will come up, and probably the first thing Carpenter will want to talk about was his eighth-inning single off Halladay.

“I am sure that will come up,” Wilken said. “If Chris doesn’t bring it up I’m sure Pat will.

“It was a wonderful evening as far as being a viewer. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to know both of these gentlemen, and I say that with great respect. They are both wonderful human beings. I haven’t seen Chris for a while, and hopefully will run into him somewhere. I can’t say enough about both of them. Hopefully Chris Will Carry that torch all the way through the World Series.”

Drop by Rob Rains Stl Sports Page and read his thoughts on Ryan Howard, the Busch Squirrel and news around the league by clicking here.

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Priorities

There is no major question about how much money the Cardinals will spend this off-season. Their payroll for 2012 almost certainly will land in the $110 million range, give or take a few million, just a small increase from this year’s total.

Bullpen

The important question is, How will they spend all of those millions?

Last winter it was all about the offense. The Cardinals’ braintrust admitted they were willing to make sacrifices on defense, believing the expected extra offensive boost would make up for those shortcomings.

Through Sunday, that “extra” offense amounted to less than 1/4thof an extra run per game, an average of 4.7 runs a game instead of 4.5 runs a game scored by the Cardinals in 2010. The result is that the Cardinals most likely will fall short of the playoffs once again, now trailing the Brewers by 9 ½ games in the NL Central and the Braves by 8 ½ games in the wild card race with 22 games to play.

So as the planning begins to determine their spending priorities for 2012, here’s some unsolicited advice for Bill DeWitt, John Mozeliak and company:

Go get pitching, pitching and more pitching.

All it takes is one look at the current National League standings, and a check back at the results of the past few seasons, to realize that pitching is what wins games. Home runs are nice, and fans really like the fireworks, but if a team wants to win, pitching is paramount.

The best team in baseball, the Phillies, leads the NL with a 3.08 ERA. The Giants, the worst offensive team in the league, have stayed in contention in the NL West because of a 3.15 team ERA. The Braves follow with a 3.35 ERA.

Before one thinks this is a one-year aberration, consider that the Giants led the league in ERA in 2010 and won the World Series. The Dodgers led in ERA in 2009 and 2008 and lost in the NLCS both years.

The Cardinals came into Sunday’s game with a 3.91 ERA, 10th in the NL, up nearly half a run, from the team’s combined 3.57 ERA, which ranked fourth in the league, and nearly half a run per game below the league average. If the Cardinals hold on to their current spot among NL teams, it would be their worst ERA ranking since the 2007 staff finished 11th in the league with a 4.65 ERA.

That information kind of makes their league-leading batting average and league-leading runs total a little less important.

Another fact which shows it is even more important than ever to improve the pitching staff — if the Cardinals want to contend in 2012 — is the NL trend which has seen the league’s average ERA decline every year since 2006. The 2011 season could mark the first time the league’s composite ERA drops below 4.00 since 1992 – meaning that at a time when the Cardinals’ numbers are getting worse, the other team’s numbers are getting better.

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While no one is suggesting the Cardinals come close to matching what the Phillies spend on starting pitching – a combined $65 million this year for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton – they should be able to be competitive with the other top pitching clubs in the league – the Giants, Braves and Brewers.

The Giants’ starters this year earned a combined $44 million, the Brewers $31 million and the Braves just under .$30 million, although both of those totals will no doubt increase due to raises for their own pitchers in 2012.

After picking up Adam Wainwright’s $9 million option for 2012, the Cardinals have $33 million committed to four starting pitchers for 2012 – Wainwright, Kyle Lohse ($12.2 million), Jake Westbrook ($8.5 million) and Jaime Garcia ($3.3 million). Chris Carpenter has a $15 million option, or $1 million buyout, as well.

If the Cardinals choose to buy out Carpenter, and try to re-negotiate a new contract, they basically will have about $38 million at their disposal if they keep the total team payroll near this year’s total.

That extra money, of course, comes from Carpenter and not re-signing Albert Pujols and Ryan Theriot, which brings up the biggest question facing the Cardinals this winter – do they want to keep Pujols, or do they want to win?

From a simple economic standpoint it doesn’t seem possible to do both.

If Pujols had not hit free agency until after 2013 or so, it might have been possible because the Cardinals’ farm system is loaded with young talented pitchers, but all of them except Shelby Miller are probably at least two years away from arriving in St. Louis. That stable of good, cheap talent would allow the Cardinals to spend a higher percentage of their payroll on one player, but it just doesn’t seem possible for 2012 – if the priority is to win. Those pitchers are now in Class A ball or lower, and the fact is the Double A Springfield staff, even with Miller, had the worst ERA in the Texas League and allowed the most walks and most home runs in the league this season. Their bullpen also blew 25 saves. Almost all of the pitchers at Triple A Memphis are not prospects.

There is no question that Pujols is a Hall of Fame player and a great citizen of St. Louis. But what we have learned, once again, over the past five seasons is that baseball is not, never has been and never will be a one-man game. As great as Pujols has been the last five years – including two MVP awards – the Cardinals have won zero playoff games in that time span.

If they can re-sign Lance Berkman for a reasonable increase over the $8 million he made this year, the Cardinals have a short-term answer to replace Pujols in the lineup. Their long-term answer might be 23-year-old Matt Adams, the Texas League Player of the Year this season who hit 32 homers and drove in 101 runs to go along with a .304 average at Springfield. Allen Craig can take over Berkman’s place in right field.

The Cardinals need to make the tough choice that it will be much wiser to make those moves and take the money it would cost to re-sign Pujols and re-sign Carpenter to a lesser contract, go sign another starting pitcher and a closer. A new shortstop would be nice too, but let’s try not to be greedy.

There will be four above-average left-handers on the market this winter, C.C. Sabathia, C.J. Wilson, Cole Hamels and Mark Buehrle. Because of his St. Louis connections, and the fact he likely would take a shorter contract, Buehrle has to be the focus of the Cardinals’ attention, and sooner rather than later.

Getting Carpenter to come back for less money would also be a plus, allowing the team to explore what the market could possibly bring by trading either Westbrook or Lohse. A starting rotation for 2012 of Wainwright, Buehrle, Carpenter, Garcia and either Westbrook or Lohse would definitely be an upgrade over the 2011 rotation.

How good is Buehrle, who will be 33 next March? Before having his worst start of the year Sunday night against the Tigers, he had gone 10-3 in his previous 20 starts for the White Sox and had the second best ERA in the American League since May 1. Justin Verlander was at 2.04 since that date, Buehrle was at 2.47 before the Tigers erupted for seven earned runs against him in just 3 1/3 innings.

As for the bullpen, Sunday’s 10th inning loss to the Reds marked the 22nd time this season the Cardinals have lost a game in the opponent’s final at-bat. The Cardinals’ total of 23 blown saves is tied for the second highest total in the NL, behind Washington’s 25. The Phillies have six blown saves all season.

The best closer on the market this winter will be Heath Bell, but others to consider would include Jonathan Papelbon and Matt Capps. Bell and Papelbon have had the most success and experience in their careers, but also will cost the most. Capps has not had a great year this season with the Twins, saving 15 of 23 opportunities while splitting the job with Joe Nathan, but he is 31 of 41 the last two years and is only 29 years old.

It will not be easy for the Cardinals to say goodbye to Pujols. Many fans no doubt will protest and be upset. Winning, however, will calm them down and bring them back to Busch Stadium.

And as history shows, the road to the pennant starts on the pitching mound.

Head over to RobRains.com to read Rob’s notes on the rest of Major and Minor League Baseball.

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Rob Rains Inside Baseball: Keep Watching Cards Fans

The Cardinals are almost certainly headed for their fifth consecutive season without a playoff victory, but there are still some compelling reasons to watch the team during the month of September.

Rob Rains

Here are 10 of them:

1. How well this team finishes could play a major role in Tony La Russa’s decision about whether he wants to come back as manager for a 17th season.

The routine has been the same for the past several years. At the end of the year, La Russa says he wants to evaluate how the team performed, whether he still has the desire to manage and whether the front office, players and fans want him back. If all of those responses are positive, he will come back.

There appears to be more of a negative opinion among the fan base towards La Russa this season than in previous years, and that feeling likely will only increase if this team sleepwalks through September. Finish with a strong month, and some of those feelings may be quieted somewhat.

Many of the fans may make their displeasure known by staying away from the ballpark, which is one certain way to attract the attention of ownership. Attendance already is guaranteed to decline from a year ago, and fans who want a new manager also could voice their displeasure by failing to renew their season tickets for next year – sending a very financial message to Bill DeWitt. Perhaps the only way DeWitt would decide it was time for a change, and not let La Russa do whatever he wants, is if he gets the message that fans will stop coming to Busch Stadium if La Russa is back in 2012.

2. Who will win the power struggle between General Manager John Mozeliak and La Russa over the amount of playing time given to the extra players who will be coming up from Memphis.

The results of this interesting clash of egos might also play a role in any decisions about whether DeWitt will make a change in managers or with the general manager. Mozeliak wants the players coming up from Memphis to play, so the team can get a better reading on who can possibly help the big league club in 2012.

La Russa has said publicly that he will play the players who play the best, and he routinely has not been fond of putting too many extra players on the roster for the final month of the season. There are six players occupying spots on the 40-man roster, led by infielder Tyler Greene, who are at the crossroads of their career – it is either time for them to be on the regular major-league roster or time to move them out of the organization, freeing up places for younger players not only on the 40-man roster but for playing time at Triple A Memphis.

In addition to Greene, the other players who fall into this group are catcher Bryan Anderson, first baseman Mark Hamilton, outfielder Andrew Brown, third baseman Matt Carpenter and shortstop Pete Kozma. All, except Anderson, have had very limited chances to play in the majors, but Mozeliak would like to see them play for an extended period to make the decision about their future easier.

The poster-boy for this group likely will be Greene, who will be 28 before the 2012 season starts and needs to either prove he can be a big-league player or hope for a chance somewhere else. Nobody would be served by having him return to Memphis for another season. He has played 143 games spread over the last three years in the majors, but has never played more than five consecutive games. He has a lifetime average in the majors of .213, but everybody except La Russa, it seems, thinks he can hit closer to his current .326 average in Memphis if he gets that extended chance.

The Cardinals do not have a projected starting shortstop for 2012, and if Greene, a former first-round draft pick in 2005, proves he can do the job it will help give the team some financial relief over having to sign a free agent or make another trade for a shortstop. He also would give the team a legitimate stolen base threat, something the Cardinals have badly needed all season.

3. Can Pujols and Lance Berkman finish 1-2 in the National League home run race.

Through Sunday, Pujols and the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp were tied for the league lead with 31 homers while Berkman, Dan Uggla of the Braves and Mike Stanton of the Marlins all had 30. Prince Fielder of the Brewers was one behind that group with 29.

Pujols is trying to win his third consecutive NL home run title, something no Cardinal has ever done. Berkman is trying to break the franchise record for most home runs hit by a switch-hitter, currently 35 by Ripper Collins in 1934.

The Cardinals have never had the 1-2 finishers in the league in the home run category, and in fact no NL team has done it since the Giants in 1965 when Willie Mays and Willie McCovey did it.

4. Can Pujols hit well enough to reach 100 RBIs and finish with a .300 or better batting average.

With 28 games to play, Pujols’ average is at .288 with 78 RBIs, meaning he needs 22 RBIs to get to 100 for the 11thconsecutive year. In his career, Pujols has driven in more than 22 runs five times during the month of September, with a high of 28 in 2006. He also has driven in less than 22 runs in the month five times, with a low of only 10 RBIs in September of 2003.

No player has ever hit .300 with 30 or more homers and 100 or more RBIs for each of the first 11 years of their career.

5. Who will get the bulk of the playing time at second base and shortstop.

Part of the answer to this question depends on what happens with Tyler Greene. The other player who should get a long look in September, at either second or short, is Daniel Descalso.

The Cardinals know what Skip Schumaker can do at second, and in the outfield, and there is no reason to play Ryan Theriot anywhere. Rafael Furcal has provided better defense at short since his arrival on July 31, but he has not hit and there would appear to be no way he would be returning to St. Louis in 2012.

For the Cardinals to control costs in 2012, and to have a much better defensive infield, it would be a tremendous boost if the team is convinced that Greene can play shortstop and Descalso can play second. They won’t know that answer, however, if they don’t get a chance to show it in September.

6. Can Fernando Salas pitch well enough in the closer’s role to convince the Cardinals he can do the job in 2012, keeping them from going out and adding a proven closer this winter.

Salas, for not even making the team out of spring training, has performed better in the closer role than most could have expected. Still, there is an uneasy feeling when he comes into the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead.

Much like the situation at shortstop and second base, the Cardinals are going to need to have some positions on the roster which are filled with lower-cost players next year. It would help the budget a great deal if they were convinced Salas will be better closing games in 2012, and another month’s experience in that role will help them make that decision.

There is no other proven closer on the current roster, and Jason Motte failed in his one earlier attempt at the job. Having to go out and acquire a more established closer, if that is the route the Cardinals decide to go, will certainly cost them more money and perhaps force them to make a cutback at some other position.

7. Will Chris Carpenter pitch well enough to force the Cardinals into picking up his option for next season.

This will be a tough call. Carpenter has been one of the team’s best starters the second half of the season, not to mention the last several years, but $15 million might be more than he is worth for 2012.

It’s not like the Cardinals have a lot of backup candidates in line for his job, however. The collapse of the starting pitching was one of the biggest reasons the Cardinals fell out of the race in the NL Central, and it would not appear they should expect more from Jake Westbrook or Kyle Lohse than they got this year.

With the failure of the “offense first” philosophy this year, it probably would be more logical for the Cardinals to try to improve the quality and depth of their starting pitching in 2012, spending whatever it takes, and Carpenter needs to pitch well in September if he wants to be part of that group.

8. Can Jaime Garcia figure out what he has been doing wrong the second half of the season and finish on a strong note.

Garcia has won only one of eight starts since the All-Star break, with a 5.01 ERA. Coincidentally or not, that was when he signed a new four-year, $27 million contract which was unnecessary and premature. Garcia obviously is a pitcher the Cardinals expect to be an integral part of their rotation for years to come, but for the last two months he has not pitched like someone the team can count on

With the status of Carpenter questionable for 2012, and Adam Wainwright recovering from Tommy John surgery, the importance of a productive Garcia to the team’s success obviously cannot be minimized.

9. Will the Cardinals break the NL or MLB record for most grounded into double plays in a season, and can they end the year with more than 50 stolen bases.

Allen Craig’s double play grounder Sunday was the team’s 144th of the season. With 28 games to go, the Cardinals are 23 double plays away from breaking their own franchise and the NL record. The 1958 Cardinals grounded into 166 double plays. The major league record is 174, set by the Boston Red Sox in 1990. Pujols has ground into 25 double plays; the team record is 29 set by Ted Simmons in 1973.

As far as stolen bases go, the Cardinals’ league-low total of 44 is three behind the individual league-leader, Michael Bourne of the Braves. They could become the first St.Louis team to finish with fewer than 50 steals in a season since the 1961 Cardinals finished the year with 46.

10. This might be the last month fans will see Albert Pujols in a Cardinals uniform.

The Cardinals’ final home game of the year, and thus perhaps Pujols’ final game in a St. Louis uniform, is Sunday, Sept 25 against the Cubs. The team ends the year with a three-game road-trip to Houston.

With Pujols’ free agency on the horizon, there is no way of knowing if he will be back in 2012, or if one of the greatest eras in Cardinals’ history is about to come to an end.

(For Rob’s roundup of news around the Majors and Minors and other St. Louis sports news check out RobRains.com)

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Rob Rains Inside Baseball: 2012 Answers Needed

Inside Baseball: Cardinals need to use rest of season to get some answers for 2012

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Since all but a few diehard optimists can now agree the 2011 baseball season is over, at least for the Cardinals, it is time to begin looking ahead to 2012. There is perhaps no other team in baseball which knows so little about what their team will look like seven months from now.

With the futures of Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman and others to be decided at some point this winter, there are only three positions in the regular lineup where the Cardinals can predict with any degree of certainty who will be at those spots next season – catcher, if the team picks up Yadier Molina’s 2012 option; third base, David Freese, and left field, Matt Holliday.

The other five positions, either because of free agency or performance questions, cannot be guaranteed. Which is why, beginning now, the Cardinals should use the remaining five weeks of this season to try to find some answers about who is deserving of a lineup spot in 2012.

There are four players currently on the roster, and a fifth in Memphis, who should play on an almost everyday basis between now and the end of the season if the Cardinals truly want answers about how much those players can be counted on in 2012.

Here are the five, listed in no particular order:

Daniel Descalso – He will be 25 before next season begins, and projects as a candidate for either the second base, most likely, or shortstop position. Much of his 71 starts this season came at third base in place of the injured Freese but with Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal all possibly gone next year, the Cardinals will be looking for starters at both second and shortstop.

The left-handed hitting Descalso, who Sunday night started only his 15th game since the All-Star break, has a .284 average against right-handers and only a .167 mark against left-handers this season, meaning the Cardinals need to find out if can be a full-time starter or would be better suited to be part of a platoon arrangement.

In nine starts and 17 total games at second this year Descalso has not committed an error. At shortstop, he has two errors in 10 starts and 12 total games.

Jon Jay – Jay will turn 27 next March, so the time is over to stop thinking about him as a young player. What has to be concerning to the Cardinals is how much he has struggled offensively each of the past two years following a trade which almost guaranteed him a starting position in the outfield, Ryan Ludwick last year and Colby Rasmus this season.

In the last two months of the 2010 season, following the Ludwick trade, Jay hit .244 after hitting .383 to that point, albeit in a reduced role. This year, following the Rasmus trade, Jay was hitting the exact same average, .244, before getting his first home run since the trade on Sunday night, as he raised his overall average to .299. He also turned in several nice plays in center field in the win over the Cubs. Before the trade he was hitting .312 with an on-base percentage of .363.

He also has driven in only four runs over that 24-game stretch, while striking out 19 times.

Other than Schumaker, and expecting that Corey Patterson will not be back, the Cardinals have no other centerfield candidates on the current roster and do not appear to have any ready to move up from the minor leagues by 2012 either.

Allen Craig – He started three consecutive games, one at each outfield spot, before Sunday night but realistically if Craig figures in the Cardinals’ 2012 plans it has to be as either the right fielder or first baseman. Whether those spots will be open or not remains to be seen.

Craig missed almost two months of the year with a broken knee, which makes the remaining time very important for him to show the Cardinals they can indeed count on him to be an effective offensive player. He turned 27 in July, meaning he is the same age as Jay and also can’t be looked at any more as a young player.

In the last two partial seasons in the majors, Craig has hit 10 homers and driven in 44 runs in 91 games while hitting .281. In three consecutive years in the minors he hit at least 22 home runs and drove in 80 or more runs, and he deserves the chance to see if he can produce those kinds of numbers in the major leagues.

Fernando Salas – Considering nobody expected Salas to be the team’s closer in 2011, he has done an admirable job, converting 22 of 26 save opportunities. His lack of experience in the job, however, leaves many wondering if the team should look elsewhere for a veteran closer for 2012.

One of the reasons some people question Salas in the role is the fact he has given up six homers in 58 innings. Only three current closers in the NL have allowed more –Huston Street(10), Leo Nunez (8) and Drew Storen (7) and each of those closers has 29 or more saves.

There has been some suggesting that even Jason Motte, who has performed so well this year in a setup role, merits a chance as the team’s closer and it would not be a stretch to see him get some opportunities in September on days Salas is not available.

Tyler Greene – After having seen Greene on a part-time basis the previous three years, it is time to make a decision on his future. With almost 1,000 career at-bats at Triple A, he has nothing left to prove at that level, and at age 28, can no longer block a younger player, such as Ryan Jackson, who is ready to move up from Double A.

Greene has a .337 average at Memphis this season, with 12 homers and 15 stolen bases, but has only a combined .213 average in a little more than 300 career games in the majors. He can play shortstop and second base, but has to prove that he can hit at the major league level or else be labeled as a 4A type of player.

The Chicago mess

It will be interesting to see who Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hires as the replacement for general manager Jim Hendry. Hendry’s dismissal can be tied to the poor performance of several players he signed to long-term lucrative contracts, including Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez – one of the reasons why a lot of people expect the Cubs to proceed very cautiously this winter on pursuing free agent Albert Pujols.

The hottest name in Chicago’s job search will probably be Andrew Friedman, currently the GM of the Tampa Bay Rays. Ricketts has said he wants someone with GM experience who combines old-scout scouting techniques and the new sabermetrics approach to the game, and Friedman has done an admirable job with the low-budget Rays. He also is likely to receive a job offer from the Houston Astros once that team’s new ownership is in place. Friedman grew up inHouston.

One person who wants the Cubs job is Rick Hahn, currently the assistant GM of the White Sox. Hahn is a Chicago native who grew up living and dying with the Cubs. Whether he has enough experience for Ricketts, or if Ricketts is unable to talk a higher-profile candidate into the job, remains to be seen.

Head on over to RobRains.com to read the rest of Rob’s thoughts around the Major and Minor Leagues.

Rob Rains does his “Inside Baseball” column every Monday. “LIKE” us on Facebook for breaking news and features. Check back every day –we offer new content daily.

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Historic Home Run Battle Brewing

While most of the attention from Cardinals fans the next six weeks will rightfully be focused on the team’s attempt to catch and pass the Brewers for the NL Central title, another more personal battle will be going on at the same time.

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Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, who have adjoining lockers in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, will be going head-to-head in a competition for the NL’s home run title. Pujols pulled into the lead on Sunday night with his 29th homer of the year, one more than Berkman and the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, who hit his 28th homer on Sunday.

This is the first time in franchise history that the Cardinals have had the top two home run hitters in the league this late into the season. The last time a National League team finished the year with the first and second place home run hitters was 1965, when Willie Mays and Willie McCovey of the Giants accomplished the feat.

Pujols has led the league in home runs the last two seasons, and is trying to become the first Cardinal in history to lead the league in homers for three consecutive seasons. The only two St. Louis players who have won two home run titles in back-to-back seasons were Johnny Mize in 1939 and 1940 and Mark McGwire in 1998 and 1999.

The last hitter to win three consecutive home run crowns in the NL was Mike Schmidt of the Phillies from 1974 to 1976. Schmidt is the only player to complete the hat trick since Ralph Kiner of the Pirates won or tied for seven consecutive home run titles between 1946 and 1952.

With 29 homers on the season and just 41 games to play, Pujols is on a pace for 39 homers. Berkman, who has never led the league in homers in his career, is on pace to finish with 37 homers, meaning this could be the first year since 1992 that the home run title was won with less than 40 homers. Fred McGriff of the Padres led the league that year with 35 home runs. Dante Bichette of Colorado won the 1995 crown with 40 home runs.

This also could well be the sixth consecutive season the league-leading home run total fell from the previous year, starting with Ryan Howard’s total of 58 in 2006, down to 50 for Prince Fielder in 2007, 48 by Howard in 2008 and 47 and 42 from Pujols the last two years.

Berkman also has his sights set on breaking the Cardinals’ franchise record for most home runs by a switch-hitter, 35, set by Ripper Collins in 1934. He also is attempting to become the first outfielder, and non-first baseman, to lead the league since Andruw Jones did it for the Braves in 2005.

The closest the Cardinals have come to having the top two home run hitters in the league was in 1928, when Jim Bottomley and Hack Wilson of the Cubs tied for the title with 31 homers and Chick Hafey finished third with 27.

This year’s race will not just be between Pujols and Berkman, however. After Sunday’s games, six other players were within three homers of the two Cardinals and Kemp, who hit his 28th homer on Sunday. The group includes Fielder and Dan Uggla of the Braves with 27 homers; Howard of the Phillies, Mike Stanton of the Marlins and Jay Bruce of the Reds, all with 26 homers, and Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks with 25.

Only seven players in Cardinals history have led the league in homers. In addition to Pujols, McGwire, Mize and Bottomley, Joe Medwick tied for the title in 1937, Collins tied for the league lead in 1934 and Rogers Hornsby was the first Cardinal to do it, in 1922 and then again in 1925.

Both Pujols and Berkman also are climbing the ranks in career home run totals. Pujols is now at 437 for his career, one behind Andre Dawson fox 38th place on the all-time list. He is within 10 of passing Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones, which would place him third among active players behind Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome. Since the start of the 2001 season, Pujols has hit the same number of homers as Rodriguez for the most in the majors since that time, and Pujols’ total of 118 the last three years leads the major leagues.

Berkman now has 355 home runs and ranks fourth all-time for the most home runs hit by a switch-hitter. He is second among active players in that category, trailing Chipper Jones.

Rooting for both Pujols and Berkman to continue hitting home runs also could figure into the Cardinals’ attempt to chase down the Brewers. Sunday night’s win over Colorado improved the Cardinals’ record when they hit at least one home run to 49-29. They are 16-27 when they fail to hit a homer. Even better, the team’s record is 25-8 when they hit two or more home runs in a game.

Head over to RobRains.com and see Rob’s notes on Major and Minor League Baseball by clicking here.

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Rob Rains’ Inside Baseball: Cardinals Need Speed

Vince Coleman will celebrate his 50th birthday in September, and he is still confident that he could lead this year’s Cardinals in stolen bases.

“There’s no doubt in my mind I could do it,” Coleman said by phone this week from his home in San Diego. “Have them call me. I’d be glad to go out there and steal a base or two.”

It would not take many more than that for Coleman to become the team’s leader in stolen bases, which has dramatically become a lost art to anyone wearing a St. Louis uniform.

They came within three games of setting a franchise record for the most consecutive games without a stolen base earlier this year, going 33 games in a row without a steal, and since June 4, have stolen a combined five bases as a team in 55 games – with 13 caught stealing. Their season total of 39 steals in 115 games is only one more than the Cubs, but add in the fact that they have had 28 runners thrown out trying to steal, and their success rate of 58 percent is the lowest in the National League.

The last stolen bases they have had out of the leadoff spot in the order came on May 6. The team has a combined seven steals out of that spot, the lowest total in the league, and has had six runners caught stealing.

The individual leader on the team, Tyler Greene with nine steals, has spent almost as much time in Triple A as he has on the major league roster. Of the players on the current roster, Albert Pujols leads the team with six steals. There are 57 players in the NL with a higher total.

What in the name of Coleman and Lou Brock is going on here? A franchise which once stole 314 bases in a season, and had those two players top 100 by themselves, can’t steal more bases than this?

Coleman thinks part of the reason is that the art of stealing bases is not taught in the minor leagues, as it was in his day in the 1980s, and that baserunners in the major leagues do not study the pitchers as and his teammates did in the 1980s.

“If Don Blasingame had not been an instructor in the minor leagues I wouldn’t have learned how to read pitchers as well as I did,” said Coleman, who stole 549 bases in his six years as a Cardinal between 1985-1990. “I knew what to look for and passed that knowledge on to my teammates. Whitey (Herzog) gave us the freedom and the green light to run at will. 

“Every pitcher has a flaw, and I don’t think today they study that and see what the flaw is.”

Coleman disputes the notion that the development of a “quick-step” move by pitchers slowed down the running game in the majors. He said pitchers who try that generally fall behind in the count, and then have to change to try to throw strikes in order to not walk the next batter.

“It just meant I would steal on the third or fourth pitch instead of the first or second,” Coleman said.

The Cardinals have had successful teams which did not steal many bases in the past. The World Champion 2006 squad stole only 59 bases for the season, and the next year’s total fell to 56 – the fewest by any team managed by Tony La Russa in the last 33 years. This year’s team already is ahead of the franchise record for fewest steals in a season – a meager 17 by the 1949 Cardinals.

Despite their lack of steals, which also includes the inability of going from first to third base on a single to the outfield, the Cardinals still lead the NL in runs and hits. Just think how much better off they would be even if they were at least average in the baserunning department? Think they might have grounded into a fewer double plays if they had players who could steal second?

To their credit, the scouting and player development personnel identified speed as an area they would like to improve in this year’s draft. Three of their first 10 picks in the June draft were described as speedy, athletic outfielders with a chance to develop as basestealers.

In addition to the lack of speed on the major-league club, there are only seven players (eight if you add Tyler Greene’s major league and minor-league totals together) out of the close to 200 in the minor league system with more than 10 stolen bases this season. Tied for the organization lead through Saturday’s games were Memphis outfielder Adron Chambers and Johnson City outfielder Steven Ramos, each with 17 steals.

Coleman, who worked briefly as a base running instructor in the minor leagues for the Cubs after his playing career, believes if a player doesn’t learn how to steal bases in the minors he is not going to be able to do it successfully in the majors. 

The lack of players who have the ability to steal bases also makes it hard for Coleman to watch games these days.

“There is no one out there who excites me,” Coleman said. “When fans came to watch the Cardinals in the 1980s the one thing they knew they were going to see was stolen bases, if they didn’t see anything else.

“I patterned myself after Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. Those guys excited me when I watched them play and steal bases. I learned from watching guys like Joe Morgan when I was growing up. I don’t see that many complete ballplayers in baseball today. When we got on base it was exciting.”

As the Cardinals attempt to add more speed to their lineup, the question is where it will come from – with the two corner outfield spots, the two corner infield spots and the catcher position all unlikely sources – there are really only three choices, shortstop, second base and centerfield.

Newly acquired shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal was supposed to add that dimension to the team, but he has not even attempted a stolen base in his first eight games as Cardinal. Jon Jay, now the regular centerfielder, has five steals but also has been thrown out four times. Now splitting time at second base, Skip Schumaker has no steals and two caught stealing, and Ryan Theriot has four steals and has been thrown out attempting to steal five times.

Head over to Rob Rains website to check out Rob’s thoughts on the National League Central race coming down to two teams and his notes on Major League and Minor League baseball.

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Rob Rains Inside Baseball: Trading For Pitchers

Now that the trading deadline has come and gone, we know that Ubaldo Jimenez, and not Edwin Jackson, was the best starting pitcher who changed teams this week, going from the Colorado Rockies to the Cleveland Indians.

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Would it have been nice if the Cardinals had been able to trade for Jimenez? Certainly. But the reason they didn’t shows why they are not the Cleveland Indians, and why that is a very good thing.

To get Jimenez, the Indians had to trade four prospects, including two pitchers who rank among the elite young pitchers in the game, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, their top picks in the 2009 and 2010 drafts. This would have been basically the same as the Cardinals giving up Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, plus two other minor-leaguers.

While the Cardinals had no interest in doing that, the Indians believed they had to make the move. Even though both teams went into Sunday’s games 1 ½ games out of first place in their respective divisions, the franchises are not equal.

The Indians have been to the playoffs only one time since 2001, winning the AL Central in 2007 and coming within one game of making it to the World Series. In eight of the other nine years since 2001, however, they have finished .500 or below.

As a result, the franchise that once set attendance records and sold out every game has been last or next-to-last in the AL in attendance the last two years. Going into Sunday, they ranked 12th this year, ahead of only Oakland and Tampa Bay. They drew only 1.3 million fans in 2010. They have to give their fans some reason to start coming back to the ballpark and get a buzz going in the city about the Indians and they are hopeful another division title will do that.

Unlike the Cardinals, where making the playoffs and selling 3 million tickets is almost expected every year, getting to the postseason in Cleveland is a big deal. And that was why taking the chance on dealing two future stars for a proven No. 1 starter was worth the risk. Jimenez is only 27 and, with an option, is under the control of the Indians through at least 2014.

The Al Central, just like the race in the NL Central, is imminently winnable for the Indians, especially if Jimenez pitches as he did for the Rockies a year ago.

The Cardinals, of course, were not the only team who refused to give up their top pitching prospects in deadline deals. Neither did the Yankees, Braves or Tigers. Other than Pomeranz and White, the best pitching prospects who were traded were Zack Wheeler, going from the Giants to the Mets for Carlos Beltran; Robbie Erlin of the Rangers, going to San Diego in the Mike Adams deal, and Jarred Cosart, sent to Houston by the Phillies as part of the package for Hunter Pence.

One young pitcher not traded was St. Louisian Jacob Turner of the Tigers. The 20-year-old graduate of Westminster High School was called up by the Tigers from Double A Erie to make his major-league debut on Saturday against the Angels.

Rob and BJ take their show on the road to The Sports Zone on Watson in Kenrick Plaza this Friday. $100 gift certificate will be given away. Hope to see you there.

Turner knew ahead of time that his stay in the majors – now – was only going to be for the one start, but he acquitted himself very well in his five-plus innings of work.

“Some of you guys will be gone,” manager Jim Leyland told reporters after the game. “And I’ll be gone, but he will still be pitching here for a long time. He’s that good.”

Turner became the youngest pitcher to start a game for the Tigers since 1979. He allowed just three hits in 5 1/3 innings of work and two runs and was charged with the loss. Six of the 16 outs he recorded came on strikeouts.

“It was a dream come true,” said Turner, the Tigers’ first-round pick n the 2009 draft. “I definitely had jitters in the first inning, but I think that’s to be expected … It was an awesome experience.”

The highlight of the day for Turner might have been as he was walking off the field, when he received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at Comerica Park.

“Once they started cheering, I don’t really know how to describe it,” Turner told reporters. “My body felt like it went numb. That was just kind of the highlight of my day, to be honest.”

Angels manager Mike Scioscia was among those impressed by Turner’s performance.

“He has poise and command,” Scioscia said. “You have to be excited about everything that kid did.”

That’s something the Cardinals hope opponents are saying about Miller and Martinez sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Was Buehrle a possibility?

When the Cardinals first began discussing trading for pitching help with the White Sox, it would be interesting to know if Mark Buehrle’s name came up before that of Edwin Jackson.

Landing Buehrle likely would have come at a steeper cost than just Colby Rasmus for the Cardinals, since the White Sox, like the Indians and Tigers, are definitely in the race in the AL Central. But there are a lot of reasons why it would have made sense.

The left-handed pitcher, now 32, has made no secret of the fact that he would like to pitch for the Cardinals at some point before he retires. The native of St. Charles, Mo., is eligible for free agency at the end of this season and is pitching as well as he has in a long time. He held the Red Sox to two runs in six innings on Sunday, lowering his ERA to 3.21.

As a player with 10 years in the majors and five years with the White Sox, Buehrle would have had to give his consent to any trade. His contract also includes a $15 million option for next year which kicks in only if he is traded.

The Cardinals might have been a little scared off by that fact, but it seems possible Buehrle would have worked with his hometown team to reduce the cost for next year in exchange for adding another year or two onto the deal.

The White Sox seem to think there is no way Buehrle will leave as a free agent after the season, as they have not approached him yet about trying to work out a new deal. Since the Cardinals did not pursue him now, it remains to be seen if they will be interested this winter.

What the Blue Jays see in Rasmus

There is a growing belief among some people in baseball that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos is running a halfway house and not a major-league franchise. They cite his deals for shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Braves last year, Milwaukee prospect Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus, all of whom had problems getting along with their previous employers.

Anthopoulos goes along with the suggestion that the players should benefit from a change of scenery, but he told the Toronto Globe and Mail, “It’s not like we’ve brought in, I don’t know, Milton Bradley and Jose Guillen.”

If Rasmus can do what Escobar has done in Toronto, he will be very happy. Escobar leads all major-league shortstops in walks and on-base percentage and ranks second in batting average.

Escobar had a bad reputation with the Braves, but has been a key performer for the Blue Jays – exactly what they hope happens with Rasmus.

“What’s happened here, offensively, is that (manager) John Farrell has just let me play,” Escobar said through an interpreter. He added the difference in his game was “happiness.”

Said Anthopoulos, “I think we can get more out of him (meaning Rasmus) than we saw in St. Louis.”

Rasmus began his Toronto career 0-for-12 with five strikeouts before getting two hits and two RBIs in the win Sunday over Texas.

Trading deadline fallout

The general manager who had the worst trading deadline experience was Tampa Bay’s Andrew Friedman, who underwent an appendectomy Saturday night and worked the phones Sunday from his hospital room … The best moves at the deadline came from the Phillies (surprise), getting an impact player (Hunter Pence) for the third consecutive year, following deals for Cliff Lee in 2009 and Roy Oswalt last year; Texas, which got the bullpen help it wanted without giving up either of its best prospects; the Braves, who got the perfect player for their lineup in Michael Bourn of the Astros and held on to their top four pitching prospects; and the Pirates, who did not mortgage their promising future but still added major-league quality hitters in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee … The biggest loser, at least in the short time, was the Astros. The deals for Pence and Bourn left them with only three position players in their starting lineup Sunday – Clint Barmes, Carlos Lee and Jason Michaels – who have more than 196 career games in the major leagues … The two most surprised players to finish Sunday still with their original teams were Heath Bell of the Padres and B.J. Upton of the Rays, whose names had been linked to numerous deals for more than a month but ended up going nowhere.

Head over to RobRains.com to read Rob’s notes from around baseball by clicking here.

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Rob Rains Inside Baseball: Cardinal Contracts

We likely won’t know for a couple of years, or more, if the Cardinals made a wise investment in signing pitcher Jamie Garcia to a new four-year contract.

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What we do know, however, is that there are a couple of players on the Cardinals who should have been considered a more important priority than Garcia when it came to signing a contract or an extension for 2012 and beyond.

If the Cardinals had not signed Garcia to the four-year, $27 million deal last week, he would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career this winter. In other words, the only risk the Cardinals would have had in waiting to sign Garcia was financial. It’s doubtful, even if he had gone through arbitration, that he would have received a deal for more than the $3.37 million he will now receive next year.

In the case of Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina, however, there is a far greater risk involved in waiting.

Nobody can argue that signing Berkman last winter to a one-year, $8 million deal has been one of the best moves the Cardinals have made in a long time. With 27 homers and 69 RBIs in the first 101 games of the season through Sunday, he is on pace to record one of the best seasons by a switch-hitter in franchise history.

His contributions in the clubhouse have also been well documented, and he has stated often how much he is enjoying this season and playing in St. Louis.

Given that background, and add in the fact that Berkman also can play first base, and the current first baseman is a candidate to leave town this winter as a free agent, wouldn’t it make sense to try to get him signed to a new contract now, before Berkman can again be a free agent this winter?

The Cardinals have to know based on Berkman’s health and production this season that some team will no doubt put a higher offer on the table this winter if Berkman reaches free agency. Letting him even that choice would be a major mistake.

He will be 36 next February, so Berkman probably is not going to seek more than a two- or three-year contract, and the dollar amount should be reasonable. Waiting will only cost the Cardinals more money, and perhaps, the loss of the player. What would the team’s fans think about the middle of the batting order next year if both Albert Pujols and Berkman were gone?

In the case of Molina, he has a contract option worth $7 million for 2012, which the team certainly will exercise. At 29, Molina is unquestionably the best defensive catcher in the league and is now in the prime of his career.

And that makes it important for the Cardinals to get Molina signed to a long-term extension before he is eligible for free agency at the end of next season. Letting him get to the open market would be a major mistake, and even letting him go into next season sniffing free agency would be to repeat what has happened with Pujols this season.

While the Cardinals have prospects and young, less expensive help coming through the minor leagues, especially on the pitching side, they have nobody who is in Molina’s class, and neither do most teams in the NL. Trying to get him signed to a long-term extension should be at the top of General Manager John Mozeliak’s agenda.

The Cardinals likely would counter by saying they really don’t know what kind of money they will have to spend for next year and beyond until there is a resolution to Pujols’ status. That argument would make sense – if they had not locked up Garcia to the new deal last week.

The reverse can just as easily be argued – signing the other players first, knowing what the framework of your team will be if Pujols leaves – then offer him what you can and hope it is enough. If it isn’t, thank him for what he has done the last 11 seasons and move on.

Doing so without Berkman and Molina in the lineup, however, would be a major mistake.

Head over to RobRains.com to read more about Lance Berkman, Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals stolen bases and notes from around Major League Baseball by clicking here.

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