Tag Archive | "World Series Mvp"

No hangover here

David Freese has a lot going for him in his short career.

He’s already an NLCS- and World Series-MVP.

He’s the hometown boy who saved St. Louis’ favorite sports team from elimination, that was only one strike away, and led the team to its eleventh World Series.

And that was all accomplished without even playing a full MLB season yet.

Now Freese might face his most difficult test ever; replacing Albert Pujols.  Freese, who had nine hits all spring in 48 at-bats, has 10 in half as many at-bats (24) in five games. He has hit safely in every game and has four multi-hit games

After St. Louis’ favorite son left this past offseason, there was a void of sorts left in the hearts of every Cardinals fan. Pujols was a larger-than-life character that had close ties to the community and was all around a generally good guy. And that was just off the field.

On the field, Pujols won the Rookie of the Year award, and took the Cardinals to three World Series in a period of eight years, winning two of them.

With the big slugger gone, people in St. Louis are looking through the jersey racks trying to find that one name that resonates the most with them. Fan favorites Yadier Molina and Chris Carpenter have contributed so much to the Redbirds in their respective careers, but your old-time fans—as well as your younger ones—are going to be polarized towards David Freese.

Although it might be too early in the season to call it, after a few short games, Freese has shown no World Series hangover. Baseball has been nothing but business for the soon-to-be 29-year-old. With an average over .400, Freese looks like he’s playing at a level that could easily have him averaging over .300 by season’s end.

Having to pick up the slack for Pujols’ exit, Freese has answered the call and has been an RBI machine with increased power. If there’s one way to win over young fans and baseball purists alike, it’s to produce.

As he was in last year’s postseason that led to a World Series, Freese has been a huge part of the Cardinals’ early domination of the MLB.

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Five to watch as the ‘real’ games begin

The St. Louis Cardinals had an impressive showing in spring training, compiling a solid 16-9 record. Spring games and records for that matter mean little to nothing so take it for what it is. Preparation.

 

The pitching staff was especially good, allowing the fewest runs in the Grapefruit League and the hitters did their part as well. Some names are familiar, others not so much.

If St. Louis can keep this momentum going, they could jump out to an early lead in the National League Central race. And while the results of the games may not count for anything. The work put in often does.

Let’s take a look at five players who could have a quick start to the 2012 regular season.

David Freese, 3B

The World Series MVP showed some impressive power this spring, blasting three home runs. He also racked up 10 RBI, good for second place on the Cardinals roster.

He only hit .189, so he needs to improve his pitch selection, but that should come with time.

It’s possible Freese could put up career highs in homers and RBI this season, as long as he stays healthy.

Matt Carpenter, INF

Carpenter made the big league roster because of his outstanding spring.

The backup infielder hit .357, scored 13 runs and had 10 RBI.

With David Freese at third and Lance Berkman at first, it’ll be hard to get consistent playing time for Carpenter, but when he does play, he should be very effective.

The Redbirds are set at the corner infield position with Carpenter backing up the stars.

Adam Wainwright, SP

Wainwright missed the entire 2011 season with an elbow injury. But now he’s back, and he doesn’t appear to be any different.

The Cardinals ace had an impressive spring, recording an impressive 1.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.

He makes the Cardinals’ starting rotation so much more dangerous.

When Chris Carpenter comes back from his neck injury, the National League won’t enjoy playing St. Louis.

Kyle Lohse, SP

Chris Carpenter’s neck injury looks like it will linger into the regular season, meaning Lohse is going to have to step up and solidify the St. Louis pitching staff.

He showed that he’s up to the task this spring, notching three wins and leading the team with 20 strikeouts.

If he can avoid injury and keep the ball in the park, the Cardinals should be able to survive a month or two without Carpenter.

Matt Holliday, LF

Holliday absolutely tore it up at the plate this spring.

The slugger hit .383 with three home runs and 11 RBI in Florida.

He’s going to have to lead this team offensively in 2012. If his spring numbers are any indication, the Cards are in good hands.

It’ll be up to Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran to make sure Holliday gets plenty of good pitches to hit.

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2012 Key Players: It’s Wainwright, or it’s way wrong

Can’t lie, I’m pretty excited about writing this piece for i70 this year.  I’m hoping to look like I actually know what I’m talking about, and maybe just go ahead and extend my streak to two.  You see, last year, for the “Key Player” project, I wrote about a young man by the name of David Freese.  My incredible good fortune insight, luck stunning analysis, and fluke happenstance major league scout-like analysis identified the eventual NLCS and World Series MVP more than 7 months ahead of time.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Is there a single player, let alone pitcher, whose 2012 season will be more important to the St. Louis Cardinals’ success this year?  To borrow a phrase from the recently departed Tony LaRussa, if Adam Wainwright isn’t, then he’s certainly tied for first.  The organization, the fan base, and the entire National League had high expectations for Wainwright’s first season back to the bump following his Tommy John surgery a year ago.  For months, everyone has anticipated his return, and many of us have expected/hoped for dominance–an important arm if the Cards are to return deep into the 2012 postseason.  And that was before Carpenter went down.

“Hey, maybe one of these days, we can pitch during the same season again. Whaddya say?”

It’s been a year and a half since we’ve seen Waino pitch in a game, so it’s easy to see how a person could forget exactly just how dominant this guy has been.  For those who remember him as “pretty darn bueno”, but exactly how bueno is escaping you at the moment, here’s a quick recap on the last two years he’s pitched.

Year

Wins

ERA

CG

IP

K

K/BB

WHIP

CY Vote

2009

19*

2.63

1

233.0

212

3.21

1.21

3rd

2010

20

2.42

5

230 ⅓

213

3.80

1.05

2nd

So, let’s see…something along the lines of 21 wins, an ERA near 2.21, 10 CGs, 214 Ks, a sub-one WHIP, and a Cy Young Award, all in about 227 innings should pretty much meet expectations, right?  Holy 12-to-6s, those are some ridiculous numbers!

Honestly, it’s probably ludicrous to think Waino’s 2012 campaign will be anything close to either of his past two seasons.  The one thing that drives many of these numbers (save ratios, and the “all important” win category), is IP–a number sure to be significantly lower this year.  I said in another post on another site that I could see him going more than 200 innings this year, a number that I’d now argue against.  170 to 180-ish seems more like reality at this point, though, you just never know for sure.

One thing is certain, though, with Carpenter out indefinitely, all eyes will be focused on Wainwright every time he takes the ball.  I remember many very similar conversations a year ago, though the names were exactly the opposite–let’s hope Wainwright’s April & May turns out better than Carp’s did last year.  The reality is, Wainwright’s season probably lands somewhere between Carps’s low points of April & May (a 1-7 start, with win #2 coming on June 23rd), and the highlights (wins in deciding games 5 vs. Halladay in the NLDS & game 7 of the World Series).

Big picture, long-term, though…I trust that John Mozeliak will work with Mike Matheny to be sure that Adam Wainwright & his workload are handled in 2012 in a way that’s best for Waino over the course of his career.  So, if we don’t see the Wainwright that we know he can be (and maybe even better with that new arm), be patient–better to have him long term & healthy than sacrifice it for a run at another ring, and risk a more serious injury, and threaten his career.

Remember when they shut Jamie Garcia down down the stretch in 2010?  If you don’t think that worked, maybe you haven’t considered all sides of the argument.  And before you jump in with the “but Chris Carpenter…” rebuttal, remember Waino is 30 and if he keeps doing what he’s done, he’s headed for a $20MM/yr range-type deal.  Carpenter, on the other hand, will be 37 in one month, and just inked a two-year $21MM deal–likely the last deal of his career.

My supposition is that by the time June rolls around, we’ll know if we might be talking about the future possibility of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright pitching in the same rotation ever again, and by the All-Star Break, I’ll bet we know one way or the other.  One thing’s for sure, Adam Wainwright is going to be a critical piece going forward in 2012 and beyond!

*Way to go, Kyle McClellan.

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Infield Depth Is A Big Question Mark For The Cardinals Heading Into Spring Training

Much like last season, the St. Louis Cardinals will enter spring training with a little bit of uncertainty, but for the most part the team should feel comfortable and confident. The Cardinals are, after all, the World Series champions. They currently have seven viable options for the starting rotation (if you include Kyle McClellan and Marc Rzepczynski) and could still land Roy Oswalt on top of that. They have four legitimate outfielders in Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, and Carlos Beltran. The bullpen is stacked with young arms and just enough crafty veterans. Behind the plate, there’s a Gold Glove catcher anchoring the team.

That just leaves the infield.

At first glance, the infield seems to blend in with the other strengths of the Cardinals. You have Comeback Player of the Year Lance Berkman at 1st base, World Series MVP David Freese over at 3rd, a decent hitting shortstop with a solid glove at short, and a bit carousel over a 2nd base, but a couple of good ball players nonetheless in Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso.

On paper, that’s an infield that can help get the Cardinals back to the playoffs. But can that group actually stay on the field? And if not, who’s ready to step up and take their place?

Durability

The Cardinals’ projected starting infielders haven’t exactly had the best run of luck when it comes to injuries. David Freese missed 65 games last season, and 92 the year before that. Lance Berkman only missed a couple of weeks last season, but missed 66 in the two years prior and turns 36 this month. Rafael Furcal, 34, had missed an average of 70 games per season dating back to 2008, and missed 75 games last season alone. Skip Schumaker, 32, missed more than a month last season due to injury, not including the injury he suffered during the playoffs.

Do the math, and you’ll find that on average, the Cardinals’ four projected starting infielders have missed a total of 424 games over the past two seasons, an average of 53 games per player, or roughly one-third of the season. Yikes.

Backup Infielders

If the worst should happen, who will fill in over the course of the season?

We’ve already mentioned Daniel Descalso, who may very well be ready to snag a starting position this year similar to the way Jon Jay did in the outfield. Descalso hit .264 in mostly part-time duty, with 24 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs in 326 ABs. Those aren’t exactly Earth-shattering numbers, but Descalso has a steady glove, can play 2nd or 3rd, and every Cardinals fan will tell you that it felt like each of his 28 RBIs were driven in the latter innings of close games. The guy is clutch.

I suppose we could list Allen Craig as an infield reserve, and the whole world found out just how great he can be last October. But… Craig also spent his fair share of time on the disabled list last season, appearing in only 75 regular season games. He’ll also miss at least the first month of the upcoming season due to knee surgery, and might not return until June.

Beyond that, the team has a trio of prospects in Pete Kozma, Mark Hamilton, and Tyler Greene (though Greene doesn’t really qualify as a prospect anymore). Living in Springfield, Missouri, I’ve had the chance to watch all three of these players perform at the Double-A level, and none of them came across as players with great Major League upside.

Pete Kozma is a career .237 hitter in the minor leagues, and had consecutive 34-error seasons in 2009 and 2010. Last year, Kozma cut that number to 14, but hit just .214.

Mark Hamilton is an interesting little case study. A career .285 hitter with average power, Hamilton hit .298 with 20 HRs in 2010, then saw his average jump to .345 while his power dropped to just 2 HRs in 2011. Hamilton played both of those seasons at Triple-A Memphis, making the numbers all the more puzzling. In 61 career at-bats in the majors, Hamilton has been overmatched, hitting just .197 with no home runs.

And then there’s Tyler Greene. What are we to make of the Cardinals’ former 1st round pick? He tears the cover off the ball in the minors, but just cannot seem to rise to the occasion in St. Louis. Greene has hit .295 in nearly one-thousand minor league at-bats over the past three seasons, so that’s no fluke. But in the big leagues, he’s a career .218 hitter. Then there are the brutal errors, including two game-changing dropped pop-ups last season alone. Is he the only big leaguer to drop pop ups? Of course not. Off the top of my head, I can think of two pretty crucial dropped pop ups in Game 6 of last year’s World Series. But Matt Holliday and David Freese can get away with that because they are solid hitters. Tyler Greene? Not so much.

What’s It All Mean?

The Cardinals said goodbye to two pretty solid infield reserves this offseason in Nick Punto and Ryan Theriot. Both brought a good veteran presence to the clubhouse and the plate, and could come up with key hits when called upon.

For the first two months of the season, the Cardinals will have one such reserve with a relatively solid track record in the big leagues, Daniel Descalso. The rest are all question marks. What will happen if one or more of the starting infielders go down to another injury? Who will fill in? Will they step up? Or will the team be forced to make a mid-season trade to fill the gaps?

Right now only one thing is certain: after last year’s injury-plagued season, the Cardinals know how to make it work and get it done, no matter who’s out with injuries. But it would sure be nice to have a little insurance in the infield.

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Cardinals Caravan Set To Cover Five States In Four Days

ST. LOUIS (January 5, 2012)– The St. Louis Cardinals announced today the schedule for the team’s 2012 Cardinals Caravan which will make stops in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Iowa and Tennessee.

The Cardinals will embark on five separate caravans, scheduled around the Winter Warm-Up weekend, January 13-16. Three caravans will depart on Friday, January 13 through Saturday, January 14 and two caravan trips are slated for Sunday and Monday, January 15-16.

The caravans are scheduled to visit 19 total cities, including the respective ballparks of local minor league affiliates Memphis (Tennessee), Springfield (Missouri) and Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa).

Several current Cardinals players such as Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte and Jon Jay will take part in the promotional caravans. Also making appearances will be National League Championship Series and World Series MVP David Freese and new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (Springfield, Mo. only), as well as numerous other veterans and future stars. Those players include Marc Rzepcyznski, Daniel Descalso, Mitchell Boggs and others. Cardinals’ minor league future stars include 2010 and 2011 Organizational Pitcher-of-the-Year Shelby Miller, 2011 Organizational Player-of-the-Year Matt Adams and 2010 first-round draft pick Zack Cox.

Fans will also be able to meet some of their favorite former players as Cardinals Alumni Andy Benes, Al Hrabosky, Danny Cox, Chris Duncan, Cal Eldred, Tom Lawless, John Mabry, Kerry Robinson, Jason Simontacchi and others will accompany the current players. Cardinals announcers Mike Shannon, Rick Horton, Mike Claiborne, Dan McLaughlin and John Rooney will serve as Caravan emcees and team mascot Fredbird will also be on hand.

A schedule of the five caravans, their destinations and participating players is attached, and can also be found on the team’s website at cardinals.com/caravan.

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Autograph Tickets For Winter Warm-Up On Sale Wednesday

AUTOGRAPH TICKETS FOR WINTER WARM-UP ON SALE
16th Annual Event to Celebrate 2011 World Champions

Header

ST. LOUIS (December 19, 2011)– Cardinals Care, the charitable foundation of the reigning World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, today announced the start of the online process for fans to purchase autograph tickets for the 16th Annual Winter Warm-Up.

Starting at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 21st, fans can purchase autograph tickets at the team’s website (cardinals.com/winterwarmup). Fans may also purchase admission passes for the three-day Winter Warm-Up at the team’s website, in the official Cardinals Team Store at Busch Stadium, by phone at 314-345-9000 and at Cardinals Clubhouse stores around St. Louis.

Player autograph sessions are one of the most popular attractions of the Warm-Up. While some players’ autographs are free with the admission pass, others require an autograph ticket available through a specific additional donation. Every dollar donated for autograph tickets and all proceeds from the Winter Warm-Up benefit Cardinals Care, the team’s community foundation that cares for kids.

This highly anticipated annual event will take place Saturday, January 14th through Monday, January 16th (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day) at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch. The event hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday.

This year fans will get the chance to meet members of the 2011 World Series Championship team, starting with pitcher Chris Carpenter on January 14th from 9 to 11 a.m., slugger Lance Berkman on January 15th from 3 to 5 p.m., and World Series MVP David Freese on January 16th from 12 to 2 p.m.

Fans can also greet the newest addition to the Cardinals coaching staff, manager Mike Matheny, as well as other former Cardinals greats and National Baseball Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst, and Whitey Herzog.

“The Warm-Up is the perfect opportunity for fans to meet their favorite players and help kids in the St. Louis community,” said Michael Hall, Executive Director of Cardinals Care and Vice President of Community Relations. “We hope fans will join us in welcoming our new manager and celebrating our recent World Championship.” Hall urges fans to check the Cardinals website (cardinals.com/winterwarmup) frequently for details, including player autograph dates, times and, if required, additional donation amounts.

Since its inception in 1997, Cardinals Care has maintained a direct focus on “Caring for Kids” by distributing funds to area non-profit youth organizations and establishing Redbird Rookies, their flagship program that supports youth on and off the baseball field. Most of the organizations who are recipients of Cardinals Care charitable grants are based in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. Grant funds are intended to support purchases such as school supplies and uniforms, computers, software, instruments, books and games for educational programs, as well as basic needs such as winter clothing for needy children.

The Winter Warm-Up and annual 6K Run are Cardinals Care’s two largest fundraising events each year. In 2011 Cardinals Care raised over $700,000 at the Warm-Up and nearly $160,000 at the second annual 6K Run for Kids. Cardinals Care also raises funds through memorabilia auctions online and throughout Busch Stadium during the season. Cardinals Care has now partnered with Papa John’s Pizza for a special promotion where proceeds of pizza purchases in January will be donated to their cause.

You can read all about the Warm-Up and get the full list of players that will be present by downloading this PDF file.

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The Short Of It: Rollins, Furcal, Theriot, Greene… Or Someone Else?

For those of you who consider yourselves to be “big”Cardinals fans, I have a challenge for you: Name the Cardinals’ starting shortstops over the past 4 seasons. It doesn’t sound like a hard question, but I myself could not come up with all of them without doing a little research. It’s not a trick question, I’m not including any one-day minor league call-ups here, I’m simply asking for the names of the players who’ve been given a legitimate opportunity to claim the starting job as their own. I’ll give you a hint: since World Series MVP David Eckstein left town following the 2007 season, there’s been EIGHT of them…and that’s exactly what makes the question so hard to answer. Eight different starting shortstops over the past four seasons for a franchise that had only four different starters at that position over the previous 25 years: Ozzie Smith (’82-’96), Royce Clayton (’96-’98), Edgar Renteria (’99-’04), and David Eckstein (’05-’07). It’s hard to believe, really.

We’ll get to the answer of the question in a little bit, but first I want to look at a different question: “Who is going to be the Cardinals’ starting shortstop in 2012?” There are plenty of options, and some are better than others, but for a team needing some stability up the middle, it’ll be interesting to see who gets the job. Let’s take a closer look at some of the options.

Raefael Furcal
Rafael Furcal battled through injuries most of the season, but provided a big jolt to the Cardinals’ offense. He had a disappointing World Series at the plate, but had several key hits in the Cardinals’ frantic playoff run and in the NLDS and NLCS. Furcal just turned 34 years old, and has seen his stolen base total plummet over the past four seasons. Furcal is exceptional in the field defensively, and though his batting average was only .231 this year, he typically hits around .280 and draws a decent amount of walks. He also blended well with the other Cardinals’ players and helped the team to a World Series title. It remains unclear whether the Cardinals plan on keeping Furcal, who’s now a free agent.

Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins is the most interesting free agent shortstop on the market now that Jose Reyes has signed with the Miami Marlins. Defensively, Rollins is sound like Furcal, committing just 7 errors last season at short. Rollins is a year younger than Furcal, and also brings a little more power to the plate… but those numbers have faded a bit, and it’s important to keep in mind that Citizen’s Bank Park is one of the friendliest hitter’s parks in the league. Rollins carries a .268 career batting average, and has never hit .300+ for a season. The perception is that Rollins will be the most expensive shortstop on the market, so it’s unclear whether the Cardinals’ management team thinks he’d be worth significantly more money than Furcal

Ryan Theriot
Theriot is a decent hitter who brings a little power and didn’t strike out much last season, but his he has to hit better than .271 to make up for his deficiencies on defense. Theriot had 17 errors in just 91 games last season, and doesn’t have the range that Rollins and Furcal have. Theriot will be 32 years old heading into the 2012 season.

Tyler Greene
If Tyler Greene is the starting shortstop for St. Louis next season, I will be shocked. Is he an inexpensive stop-gap while the team looks for a long term solution at short…yes… but he has done nothing at the big league level to show he’s ready to take over the everyday starting job. Greene’s defense and offense have struggled, and at 28, he just may not be everyday big league material.

By all accounts, the Cardinals send one of these players out to play between second and third on Opening Day next season, but none of them appear to be long term solutions (though Rollins would likely sign for a few years). With that in mind, it’s time to go back to our original question: “Can you name all eight of the Cardinals’ starting shortstops over the past four seasons?” We’ve already named three of them in Furcal, Theriot, and Greene. We’re missing Brendan Ryan, Julio Lugo, Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, and Khalil Greene. If you knew them all off the top of your head, I’m thoroughly impressed. Let’s just hope this question doesn’t become even harder in the years to come.

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What Should The Cardinals Do With Craig?

At one point during the World Series, Fox broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were discussing Allen Craig’s breakout performance in the postseason, and one of them said, “He’ll be starting somewhere next season.” I remember thinking at the time: “Really? Where?”

The Cardinals have $120 million invested in left fielder, Matt Holliday, who is under contract through 2016. So he’s not going anywhere. Lance Berkman was named the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year and St. Louis rewarded him with a 1-year, $12 million contract extension to play right field (note: Berkman could move to 1st base if Albert Pujols leaves, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume #5 re-signs with St. Louis). In center field, you have Jon Jay, who quietly led the team with appearances in 159 games this season, hitting .297 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. He also has the best defensive range of all the outfielders on the team, so center field is out of the question for Craig as well. Craig’s natural position (at least the one he played through the Cardinals’ minor league system) is 3rd base, but that’s monopolized by a guy you may have heard of – World Series MVP, David Freese. Tony La Russa tried playing Craig at 2nd base about a half-dozen times last season, but was quick to take him out for a defensive replacement in the middle-to-late innings. That’s mostly based on Craig’s reputation he built up in the minors as a lousy fielder (it’s why he was moved from 3rd to the outfield to begin with) and though he’s only made 1 error in over 100 big league games, he likely won’t be considered as a legitimate starter at 2nd base.

In other words: there’s no room at the inn for the Cardinals’ hottest young bat. So that brings us back to the original statement that Craig would be starting “somewhere” next season. The Cardinals know he can be an everyday player in this league, and they know that likely within the next 12 months they’ll have an open spot to play him (either in 2012 if Pujols leaves, or 2013 when the Cardinals can let go of the aging Lance Berkman). No matter what scenario plays out, the Cardinals have a very valuable commodity in Craig and they also have a decision to make: Keep him as a long-term piece of the franchise’s future… or trade him and bolster and already potent championship team in hopes of repeating in 2012.

Why They Should Keep Him
Allen Craig has enormous potential. In 200 at-bats last season (roughly 1/3 of a full-season), the 27-year-old batted .315 with 11 HRs and 40 RBIs. That, in theory, could translate to 33 HRs and 120 RBIs over a full season… which would have made him 2nd best behind Albert Pujols in HRs on the Cardinals last season and the team leader in RBIs by a wide margin.

Craig would also provide big insurance for the Cardinals should Pujols, Holliday, or Berkman go down with an injury. Those three impact players missed a combined 70 games due to injury last season, so obviously having a player like Craig ready to fill in for injured players while being one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters in the game would be a huge plus for the Red Birds.

Why They Should Trade Him
There’s really only a couple of reasons the Cardinals would consider trading him. Thanks to his clutch postseason performance and his potential we just talked about, his value is through the roof. If the Cardinals keep Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright returns to form, the team will once again be World Series contenders. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have some holes to fill. Since the outfield is pretty much in place without Craig, the team could trade him to bolster some weak spots like the middle infield or the bullpen. It’s not that the Cardinals “need” another lights-out starting pitcher with Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia lined up, but it never hurts to have another great arm on the team. So that would be one reason to trade him: trade a strength to create improve a weakness.

The other reason the Cardinals might consider a trade is if they’re afraid Craig won’t pan out and be the type of hitter many think he can be. Living in Springfield, Missouri over the past 5 years has given me a chance to see the Cardinals’ AA team in person. I probably saw Allen Craig play 15-20 times over the 2 seasons he played in Springfield and I honestly never envisioned him being an impact player in the big leagues. Obviously, he’s already proven me wrong… even if he retires right now. But let’s say he doesn’t pan out. If he is a one hit wonder so to speak, his value will never be greater than it is right now. Cardinals fans might remember a pitcher by the name of Kent Bottenfield. In 1999, the journeyman pitcher had a breakout season, going 18-7 with an ERA of 3.97. Heading into the spring of 2000, the Cardinals’ starting rotation was viewed as a strong point, so the team traded Bottenfield when his value was highest and landed center fielder Jim Edmonds in a trade with the Angels. Edmonds went on to win numerous Gold Gloves with St. Louis, leading the team to 5 playoff appearances, 2 NL Pennants, and a World Series championship in 2006. Kent Bottenfield won a total of ten games the rest of his career.

As things stand right not, it appears to be in the Cardinals’ best interest to keep Allen Craig. Whether Pujols leaves or not, Craig could have a big impact once again for the Cardinals in 2012. He could platoon with Berkman, fill-in for injured players, try to learn how to play 2nd base, or just be the deadliest weapon coming off the bench in all of baseball until he finds a starting role in 2013. He’s currently the lowest paid player on the roster at $414,000… and with a pay raise still a couple years away, that makes his bat that much more valuable to the Cardinals moving forward (especially if they give Pujols a payroll-shattering deal). All things considered, it appears to Craig’s jersey would make a nice stocking-stuffer for the Cardinals fan in your life… though I’m sure Cardinals’ General Manager John Mozeliak knows that Craig’s status as perhaps the most sought after outfielder in the game is too compelling to completely ignore. It should be a very interesting offseason.

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Berkman’s Back: This Isn’t The Holliday Deal

Reason number 41,692 to like Lance Berkman: Leverage.

When the Cardinals signed Matt Holliday to his current 7-year, $120 million deal, they were in a different situation than today. Jason Bay was “the other” big name outfielder in the free agent pool, and Holliday was just coming off a two-month stint with the redbirds. Largely, it’s been assumed that the Cardinals were bidding against themselves when vying for the services of the left fielder, who is represented by none other than Scott Boras.

Compounding the problem was that the Cardinals didn’t really *have* a whole lot of other options for an everyday LF, and certainly didn’t have one capable of instilling fear in opposing pitchers and managers, who would have to ask themselves no fewer than thrice per contest, “Should I pitch to 5, or pitch to 7?”. The organization, while not technically being “forced” into signing Holliday, didn’t have a whole lot of other viable options at the time.

Turn the page to November, 2011, and we see Lance Berkman coming off a great year, his first as a member of the Cardinals. Berkman and the redbirds have reached an agreement, that will bring the slugger back. Number 12 will earn $12MM in 2012 for the Cardinals. But it’s much much more than repeating a number to make a sentence that geeks & number nerds will fawn over. It’s a tremendous bargaining chip for Cardinals General Manager, John Mozeliak.

“Hiya, John. My client seeks a deal worth $800,000,000 over 17 years.”
“Funny, Dan. That’s about what Bill & the boys paid for the team and this new ballpark.”
“But this is Albert Pujols, and you need a 1B.”
“Got one. Berkman.”
“He can play third. Remember? Chicago?”
“NLCS and World Series MVP, David Freese is over there already.”
“There’s a mystery team willing to offer $1.2 billion over 19 years.”
“He won’t DH.”
“How about something closer to $220,000,000 over, like, 8 years?”
“Let’s step into my office.”

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2010 I-70 Hall Of Legends Inductee: Darrell Porter

If there is one word to describe the career of Darrell Porter, it would be hustle. There have been better hitters, better defensive catchers, certainly faster runners, but not many played the game harder than Darrell Porter. Whitey Herzog knew this from his time managing the Kansas City Royals. When it became time for Herzog give the St. Louis Cardinals a much needed makeover, he chose Porter to be the cornerstone of this new and improved team. Wildly unpopular in the beginning, Porter eventually proved the confidence shown by Herzog was well founded when he won the 1982 NLCS and World Series MVP, helping the Cardinals bring another championship home to St. Louis.

The Early Years

In the first amateur draft in their new home, the Milwaukee Brewers (AL) selected a catcher out of Southeast High School in Oklahoma City named Darrell Porter, preempting a possible football career at the University of Oklahoma. He was immediately assigned to their Class A affiliate in Clinton, Iowa – who still maintained the Pilots team name. Porter would struggle a bit in his first season, but looked like a much different player in his second year at that level. His performance would earn him a call-up in September, 1971, his first taste of the Big Leagues at age 19. It would also earn him a jump to Evansville (AAA) for the 1972 season, the last time he would spend any non-injury time in the minors. His offensive production was not terribly impressive, and his aggressive approach to the game left him striking out a bit to often, but he was also developing a keen eye for the strike zone that would serve him well throughout his career. He might never lead the league in batting, but his on-base percentage was eye-popping.

Porter would take over full time catching duties with the Brewers at the start of the 1973 season, at the tender age of 21. He would finish the season with a respectable .254 batting average. His strikeout rate was still a bit higher than the coaches might like, but his eye could judge major league pitching just as well as it had in the minors. His 50 walks would push his on-base percentage .363. Throw in 16 home runs and 65 RBIs, and that was good enough to earn him third place in Rookie of the Year voting behind teammate Pedro Garcia and the winner, Al Bumbry of the Baltimore Orioles.

After a bit of a slow start to begin the 1974 season, Porter would catch fire in May. The walks would start turning into hits and he would raise his batting average to .260 by mid-season. It was good enough to earn him the first of his four All Star Game invitations, joining teammate Don Money in the mid-season classic. While Porter did not get into the game, he did cross paths with Whitey Herzog, who was managing the California Angels at the time. This would prove to be very beneficial, as Herzog was about to take over the reigns of the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals Years (1977-1980)

While Whitey Herzog was busy lighting a fire under the players in Kansas City, Darrell Porter was turning into a dependable backstop for the Brewers. He didn’t always have the best mechanics, and frequently led the league in passed balls, he proved durable and could call a good game. And he played with enthusiasm, a trait that Herzog valued.

After the 1976 Royals lost the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees, it became clear that a few upgrades would be needed if Kansas City were going to have a chance to play in a World Series. The most obvious need was a catcher to replace Buck Martinez, who had been declining in offensive production since breaking into the big leagues a few years earlier. Veteran Bob Stinson had played well in a platoon role for Kansas City, but he was left unprotected and had just been selected by the Seattle Mariners in their AL entry draft. The Royals suddenly needed a catcher badly.

Kansas City was exactly where the Brewers would be in a few years, a core of outstanding young players surrounded by a group of productive veterans. A deal was struck that December that would help out both franchises. Milwaukee would send Darrell Porter and former 20 game winner, Jim Colborn, to the Royals for Jamie Quirk, Jim Wohlford and a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Bob McClure, who would move from the bullpen to the rotation and help guide the 1982 Brewers to the World Series. In an interesting piece of irony, it would be McClure that was victimized by Porter’s Cardinals in Game 7 of the series.

Both players made a huge impact, and immediately. On May 14, 1977, Colborn would pitch the game of his career, throwing a no hitter at home against the Texas Rangers. Behind the plate was his battery mate from Milwaukee, Darrell Porter. Yes, the field general could call a great game. Shortly after the All Star Game, the Royals were struggling at 5 1/2 games out of first place. After dropping the first two games of a series against the White Sox, the Royals lost the first game of an important double header on July 31. In a closed door meeting in between games, Porter challenged his teammates to play up to the level of their abilities. They responded by winning the second game of the double header. They would go on to win 5 in a row, a week later 10 in a row and then finally, an amazing 16 games in a row to build up an insurmountable lead in the AL West. They would cruise to the division title, but ultimately fall just short of their goal, losing to the Yankees in another tough five game ALCS. No longer just a signal caller, Porter had emerged as a leader of a very good Royals team.

Both newcomers had made their presence felt. Colborn would finish the season with 18 wins and Porter would raise his batting average to .275. He also did quite a bit of damage in the lower part of the batting order, driving in 60 runs in his first season with the Royals.

Porter would give Herzog and the Royals fans more of the same in 1978, and he would earn his second All Star Game invitation. Things were certainly looking up for Porter in Kansas City. He had cut down his strikeout rate, his walk totals were rising, and he was becoming an offensive force in the lineup. This would all come together in an explosive way in 1979 – the career year for Darrell Porter.

For the 1979 campaign, manager Whitey Herzog would make a change to his lineup that made Darrell Porter a star. With George Brett, Willie Wilson and Amos Otis hitting in the 1-3 spot, Herzog put Porter in the cleanup spot. And that’s exactly what Porter did – clean up. By the mid-point in the season, Porter was hitting .308. He had twice as many walks (66) as strikeouts (33), pushing his on-base percentage to .427. And he wasn’t just a singles hitter. Porter was slugging .487 with nearly as many triples (6) as home runs (10). He also managed 61 RBIs. The fans would reward the veteran catcher by selecting him to the All Star Game for the third time, but this time as a starter.

As the season wore on, opposing pitchers started working around him more frequently, preferring to put him on base instead of letting him drive in runs. That worked fine for Porter and even better for the guys hitting behind him like Pete LaCock, Hal McRae and Al Cowens. Porter would finish the season with some of the best offensive numbers put up by a catcher. He would both drive in and score over 100 runs – only the sixth time a catcher had done that. In recent history, it had only been accomplished by Carlton Fiske and Johnny Bench, both in the Hall of Fame. Porter would also lead the league in walks (121), joining Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane (1947) as the only other catcher to add 100 walks to the mix. While his batting average cooled a bit at the end of the season, he would finish with a career high .291/.421/.484 line. Pretty impressive for a former 8th place hitter.

While all of this was going on, something very unfortunate was happening in his private life – something that was becoming far too common in baseball: substance abuse. As Porter was enjoying his greatest success on the field, his addiction to alcohol, cocaine and other controlled substances was taking over his personal life. The Commissioner’s Office was taking notice of the situation across baseball and would soon do something about it. Knowing that Bowie Kuhn was hard on this type of problem put additional pressure on Porter, and his fear of being discovered led to a turbulent off-season. In a fateful encounter with Don Newcombe in spring of 1980, the star catcher realized that he would have to do something about his problem. He left the club and checked into a rehabilitation center, hoping to turn his life around. In taking this courageous step, Porter became one of the first major leaguers to publicly admit that he had a problem with narcotics. During his recovery, Porter became deeply religious. He would also remarry, giving his life some additional stability. By all accounts, Porter had escaped this dangerous situation.

When he returned to the team in May, Porter took over the catching duties as if nothing had happened. By the All Star break, he was hitting .274. Respectable, to be sure. But the other numbers were about half of where they were at the same point in the season last year. Whether it was for his production in 1980, his total contributions over the last 3 1/2 years in Kansas City, or just a pat on the back for having the courage to take control of his life, Darrell Porter would earn the last of his four invitations to the All Star Game.

As the summer progressed, the Royals would begin to look like champions. Thanks to the pitching of Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura and the amazing Dan Quisenberry, plus George Brett’s legendary run at hitting .400 (finishing with a mind-boggling .390 average), the 1980 Kansas City Royals under new manager, Jim Frey, would accomplish something they could not while playing for Whitey Herzog – get past the New York Yankees in the playoffs. The summer would not be so kind for Porter though, as he would put up nearly an 0-fer for the last month of the season. His average would plummet all the way to .248. He would recover nicely in post-season against both the Yankees and eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, but his time in Kansas City had come to an end. Darrell Porter would be released in November, 1980.

The Cardinals Years (1981-1985)

While Darrell Porter was busy turning his life around, his former manager was doing the same thing to a hapless team in St. Louis, just 230 miles to the east. After taking over the franchise midway through the 1980 season, it became clear to Herzog that the Cardinals needed some big changes. And he’d been empowered by the owner to make those changes. It’s not that the Cardinals didn’t have talented players – they did. But they were not a good team, and there was a general lack of hustle throughout the clubhouse.

When the Royals declined to offer Darrell Porter a contract, General Manager Whitey Herzog wasted no time running across Interstate 70 to sign him to contract. Herzog knew that Porter was exactly the player he needed as he retooled the Cardinals. Fans and sports writers, who knew Porter more for his run-in with substance abuse than what he was like as a player, immediately and loudly rejected the signing. We also knew that meant that fan favorite, Ted Simmons, would be the next player shipped out. Simmons had been hugely popular with the St. Louis fans for the last decade, and when the trade with Milwaukee (ironically, the team that signed Porter originally) was made, everybody wanted to run Herzog out of town. But the White Rat knew exactly what he was doing.

Things didn’t get much easier for Herzog and Porter as the 1981 season kicked off. Porter got off to a terribly slow start. To make things worse, an injury knocked him out from mid-May until the teams returned from their work stoppage in August. While all of this was going on, a feud broke out between Herzog and Garry Templeton. No, things were not going very well at all. Except that this new look Cardinals was starting to gel and play well as a team. A crazy playoff system due to the work stoppage conspired against Herzog and the Cardinals as they ended up with the best overall record in the NL East, but didn’t win either half-season. They would miss the playoffs – but not for long.

When the 1982 team took the field for the first time in April, very little of the team Herzog inherited remained. Just Keith Hernandez, George Hendrick, Ken Oberkfell and the grizzled veteran Bob Forsch in the pitching rotation. With all of the new players in the clubhouse, it was Darrell Porter that quietly brought them all together. He had played for Herzog before and could tell the new guys what he was all about and what he expected out of his players. Herzog wanted his players to hustle, and Porter was the role model for that type of ballplayer. His most important contribution, maybe because of what Porter had just gone through in Kansas City, he could sit down and talk to any player on the team. We saw this often as the camera would flash to the Cardinals dugout, Porter would be sitting next to a different player chatting away. With Darrell Porter on the roster, there was not going to be any fracture developing in the clubhouse.

Porter would not have a very successful offensive year in 1982. The former slugger would end up at the bottom of the batting order, competing with the light hitting Ozzie Smith for 7th place. What he did become was a very good defensive catcher. His mechanics improved and balls in the dirt long longer got past him, which was huge because Cardinals closer, Bruce Sutter, made a living out of throwing baseballs in the dirt. Systematically, Darrell Porter and the now hustling Cardinals marched their way into the post-season.

That’s when we saw a glimpse of what Kansas City fans enjoyed throughout the 1979 season. Darrell Porter was a juggernaut in the NLCS. Willie McGee would finish the short series with the Atlanta Braves, going 4-13 with 2 triples, a home run and 5 RBIs. Ozzie Smith would go 5-13, all singles, and 3 RBIs. Bruce Sutter would win Game Two, save the clinching Game Three and not allow a run in 4 1/3 innings of work. All of these were dwarfed by the contributions from the Cardinals backstop. In 14 plate appearances, Porter would reach base safely 10 times (2 singles, 3 doubles and 5 walks). That’s an on-base percentage of .714. Simply put, the Atlanta pitchers couldn’t keep Porter off the bases. His biggest blow came in the pivotal Game Two. With Atlanta leading by two runs in the sixth inning, Porter would double home Keith Hernandez, cutting the Braves lead in half. Porter would be thrown out at home, trying to score the tying run on an Ozzie Smith single later in the inning. When faced with the same situation two innings later, Porter would score the tying run this time, taking away whatever wind had accumulated in the Braves sails. The Cardinals would end up winning the game thanks to a walk-off single from David Green. The Cardinals steamrolled to a sweep of the Braves, and it was Darrell Porter that took home the NLCS MVP. Booed loudly upon his arrival in 1981, Porter was now becoming a fan favorite in the Gateway City.

His good fortune would continue in the World Series. The Cardinals were supposed to brushed aside with little effort by the Monsters from Milwaukee. After a 10-0 17 hit thrashing in Game One, it appeared that might actually happen. But the Cardinals rebounded and the games tightened up significantly. The series tilted in Milwaukee’s favor as they took 2 of 3 at home, giving the Brewers a 3-2 lead as the game returned to St. Louis. It was do-or-die time for the Redbirds. With Darrell Porter calling the signals in the first of two elimination games, rookie pitcher John Stuper took a one hitter through two long rain delays and into the ninth inning, while his teammates destroyed the Milwaukee pitching staff. Stuper would end up with a 4 hitter, allowing one run on a wild pitch and the Cardinals would win 13-1, setting up a decisive Game Seven. While we all marveled at Stuper’s pitching heroics, it was Porter’s two run homer in the bottom of the 4th that put the game out of reach.

Porter still had one more card to be played, and that would happen in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game Seven. With the Cardinals holding on to a slim 4-3 lead, Porter put the game out of reach with a 2 out RBI single off the tough left hander, Mike Caldwell. Caldwell had won 17 games in the regular season, but this was the post-season and it was Porter’s time to win. Steve Braun would tack on another run and the Cardinals were just three outs from their first World Series Championship since 1967. Fans still remember a jubilant Porter, catching Sutter’s strikeout of Gorman Thomas to end the series. In a rare acknowledgment of defensive performance, Porter would named World Series MVP, to go along with his award from the NLCS. For a catcher that used to struggle with passed balls, it was his ability to block them in the World Series that led to the the award. Yes, Whitey Herzog knew what he was doing in November 1980 when he signed Porter to a contract.

The new Cardinals hero would have a good season in 1983, raising his batting average to .262, up almost 30 points from the previous season. It would not be a good season for the team as an injury to Tommy Herr, and rare poor season by Bruce Sutter doomed the team to a mediocre finish. With the season well out of reach, September 26 would bring a most memorable highlight. In a home game against the Montreal Expos, Bob Forsch would throw a no hitter, the second of his career – the only Cardinal to accomplish that feat. Behind the plate was Darrell Porter. It was also the second no hitter of his career.

Injuries again would impact the Cardinals in 1984, Porter’s last season as a full time catcher in the major leagues.

Now a left handed hitting platoon player, Porter and the right handed hitting Tom Nieto would receive one of the best pitching rotations the Cardinals fans had ever seen in 1985. The 101 win Redbirds blew through the NL East and into post-season, past the Dodgers and finally a date with Porter’s former team, the Kansas City Royals. It would be an exciting contest between the two teams on Interstate 70, but Porter would not be much of a factor in the series. In fact, he was a part of the Cardinals demise in Game Six. A passed ball in the bottom of the ninth inning allowed the winning run to get to third base with only one out. That run would eventually score, tying the series at three games apiece. Kansas City would win the final game in a laugher, taking home the World Series Championship for the only time in their franchise history. For Porter, it would be the last game he would play for the Cardinals.

He would finish out his career with two seasons as a backup with the Texas Rangers. When the final number were tallied on Porter’s 17 year career, he would end up with 1,369 hits, 188 home runs, 826 RBIs and a career batting average of .247. What about his on-base percentage ? Over 100 points higher, at .354. A pretty impressive career for a player that overcame substance abuse, reinvented himself, and helped two different teams get to the World Series.

A Sad Ending

After his career in baseball ended, Darrell Porter could be found doing local high school broadcasts of baseball and basketball in the Kansas City area. He was more known for his continued involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, trying to help young players deal with many of the things he struggled with during his playing career. All of this would end tragically when Porter was found dead in his car on August 5, 2002. An autopsy revealed that the demon from his playing days had once again returned and had taken his life. Rather than look negatively upon the end of Porter’s life, let’s take this opportunity to recognize just how devastating a cocaine addition can be. Even with his strong faith and a supportive family, the specter continued to tap on his shoulder for the remainder of his life.

Cardinals and Royals fans will remember the life and career of Darrell Porter with great joy. We remember the big smile, those enormous glasses looking back at us from behind the catcher’s mask and that Oklahoma accent giving us a simple but clear answer to questions throughout his career. The name Porter immediate recalls a jubilant catcher popping up from behind the plate in October 1982 as he caught the final out in a World Series Championship. My personal favorite memory of Porter was being fooled so badly on a pitch, that he would fall to his knees, and somehow still making contact from that position for the most improbable base hit. And it seemed like he did that in every game. As George Brett once said about Darrell Porter, he played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series. Not a bad legacy to leave with two franchises.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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