News, Notes and Historical Information on the St. Louis Cardinals
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The idea of the Cardinals going after Barry Bonds has been batted around lately and, according to Tony LaRussa, Bonds has been a target of his for the last two. When I go back to my review of the club’s off-season moves, I will touch on the Card’s lack of depth at the outfield position, but I have to say that I feel this is a horrible idea. If Bonds is going to play, he needs to go to an AL club where he could DH, because I can’t see him playing in the field on even a semi-regular basis. On top of that, he would be taking playing time away from Chris Duncan, one of the promising young sluggers on the team and, perhaps more importantly, pitching coach Dave Duncan’s son. The Cardinals are going to rely on Dave Duncan working some kind of magic with the rotation more than anything this season, and the last thing they need is to have him upset that his son has lost his job to Bonds. I hate to say a true professional like Duncan would let his work suffer because of personal feelings, but LaRussa said that he polled his coaches and a few were against going after Bonds. I guarantee Duncan was one of those against. The last thing they would want is any type of strained working relatinship between these two. Beyond this, St. Louis simply does not need Bonds in a Cardinals uniform right now. Mark McGwire was the face of the steroids controversy for so long, and that devastated the pride of every Cardinals fan out there. As Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens emerge as the new faces of the steroid culture, the last thing St. Louis fans would want to see is one of them taking the field in that eerily familiar #25 uniform.
Second Base: The Cardinals re-signed Aaron Miles to a one-year contract and signed D’Angelo Jimenez to a minor league contract and have invited him to spring training. Miles, Adam Kennedy, and Jimenez will all have the chance to compete for the starting second base job, probably leaving last year’s feel-good story Brendan Ryan out of the picture. Jimenez will be the long shot to make the team because of the other two players’ contracts, so he will really have to impress in spring training. Miles and Kennedy will be in a similar situation to last year, with a healthy Kennedy getting every chance to win the spot.
Shortstop: The Cardinals let fan-favorite David Eckstein walk this off-season and brought in Cesar Izturis via free agency. Izturis does not bring much to the plate offensively but is a defensive whiz who will help make up for the drop-off in range the Cardinals will suffer in the third base transition from Scott Rolen to Troy Glaus. Izturis only signed a one-year deal and is seen as a temporary solution, but with no real major league-ready shortstops waiting in the wings, he will have the opportunity to turn a solid 2008 campaign into a long-term job with the club.
Catcher: Obviously Yadier Molina is the Cardinal’s starting catcher, but St. Louis let his backup, Gary Bennett, go and signed Jason LaRue to fill that role. This does not seem like it will be a significant move, unless Molina, one of the top defensive catchers in the game, misses any extended period of time. It is important to note, however, that Molina is nursing a knee injury this off-season, but is reporting good progress. He is coming into camp 15-20 pounds lighter than last season in the hopes of easing the stress on his knees and signed a four year contract extension with the club this off-season.
Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman has come out with his off-season grades for every major league team and has put the Cardinals in his “Strikeout Division,” grading them out at a C-. His biggest issue seems to be that he feel Troy Glaus is done, which is not unreasonable, although he does admit that LaRussa and Rolen were beyond reconciliation. It also seems like he thinks they should have done more to shore up their starting rotation than just signing Matt Clement.
Before the New Year the Cardinals made another big move when they traded Gold Glove center fielder Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres for minor league third baseman John Freese. Again, this was a move that had to be made from the Cardinals’ point of view. Edmonds had suffered several injuries recently, including a very bad concussion, and the Cardinals front office had actually talked about using him on a part-time basis, possibly even in right field. They had too much money tied up in Edmonds to be using him as a reserve outfielder, so they moved him and cash considerations to the Padres. The player they got in return, Freese, is by no means a top prospect. He hit .302 with 17 home runs and 98 RBI in single A ball last year, but did so at age 24, a little old to be playing at class A and be considered a prospect. But John Freese could turn out to be a pleasant surprise someday down the line, if nothing else he provides some depth in the farm system. Perhaps the most significant part of this trade, however, is that it leaves an opening for the Cardinals’ top prospect, outfielder Colby Rasmus, to step in and contribute this year. Rasmus may not make the team coming out of spring training, but if he continues to improve as he has over the last few years he will be the starting center fielder in
St. Louis at some point this upcoming season. While Cardinals fans will miss Jim Edmonds highlight reel plays in center, they should also be very excited about getting the chance to see one of the top outfield prospects in all of baseball in action this season.
I want to spend some time going over the moves made by the Cardinals this off-season:
The biggest player personnel move was obviously the Scott Rolen trade. This move was essentially John Mozeliak’s way of telling the rest of the GMs in the league he is for real and will be a force to be reckoned with. Everyone and his sister knew that the Cardinals wanted to trade Scott Rolen. Injury history aside, he and Tony LaRussa simply do not like each other, and had no problem taking their issues public. It is not uncommon for a player to voice his concerns to the media after being sat down, especially in a championship situation. But the fact that the normally less-than-media-friendly LaRussa shot back so publicly at Rolen this off-season sealed the third baseman’s fate. Most GMs around the league were holding this, along with Rolen’s injury problems over the last two years, over Mozeliak’s head as he tried to move the player once considered one of the greatest third basemen in the history of the game. Instead of agreeing to pay a huge part of Rolen’s contract and giving him away to some team in return for a couple of throw-in prospects, Mozeliak held out and somehow managed to pry former World Series MVP Troy Glaus away from the Toronto Blue Jays. Glaus does not come without his own set of baggage, however. He has an even more extensive injury history than Rolen and has been linked to an HGH order in a recent report by Sports Illustrated. But the fact of the matter is the Cardinals could not get anything better in return for Rolen and, if Glaus can stay healthy this season, he immediately steps in for Rolen both at third base and in the middle of the Cardinals order and helps them compete for the NL Central Championship. Major props should go to the new man in charge for pulling off this incredible deal.
It is nearly impossible to predict what type of season the Cardinals will have in 2008 because so much hinges on the health of a few key players. The starting rotation is a mess, but the hope is that Dave Duncan will work his magic with the group of misfit toys he has been given. Best case scenario would be that Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, Joel Pineiro, Anthony Reyes, and Matt Clement pitch well enough to keep the Cards in the hunt until stud pitchers Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter return from injury at full strength and immediately put the team over the top in the weak National League Central. That plan is flawed on two fronts: first, assuming that Mulder and Carpenter come back at all is a stretch, let alone returning to their pre-injury form; second, asking for that staff to hold off the Cub and Brewer offenses for half the season is expecting a lot of magic, even from Dave Duncan.
Offensively, even the most cynical Cardinal fan has to crack a smile knowing that Albert Pujols will be back at first base in 2008. Outside of that, however, are a lot of questions. Chris Duncan will provide power, probably in front of Pujols, but should not be expected to do a whole lot more. If new addition Troy Glaus is healthy, he will be solid protection for Pujols at the cleanup spot. If the Cardinals are going to have any success offensively they will need Rick Ankiel to return to his post-promotion form (where he probably had Hollywood producers scrambling to buy the movie rights to his life story) and he will have to avoid going into the tank like he did when the HGH allegations came up. Cardinal fans can not reasonably expect anything big from the rest of the offense, save a pleasant surprise from a player like Adam Kennedy or an offensive breakout from Yadier Molina, both of which seem unlikely. That said, the Cardinals have enough fire power in the middle of their lineup to combine with a solid starting pitching effort (hopefully from a staff including Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter) to compete in a very winnable National League Central.
The St. Louis Cardinals followed up one of the most improbable World Series runs in 2006 with one of the most tumultuous seasons in baseball history in 2007. From manager Tony LaRussa’s pre-season drunk driving arrest to reliever Josh Hancock’s tragic car accident to the too good-to-be-true feel good story of pitcher-turned-slugger Rick Ankiel sullied by HGH allegations, the defending champs seemed like they could do no right in 2007. Despite everything the Cardinals put up a valiant fight and made a push in what was admittedly the weakest division in baseball. In the end, however, a combination of all the off-field issues and a non-stop barrage of injuries left the defending champs on the outside looking in during the playoffs. They were also left looking at themselves, trying to decide how they could, with the problems still facing them (including injuries to starting pitchers Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder), rebuild an aging team while still looking to compete in a very winnable National League Central.
The first change came at the top of the organization, where long-time Cardinal boss Walt Jocketty was fired, paving the way for his top assistant, John Mozeliak, to take on the role of General Manager. While some may look at the GM of the St. Louis Cardinals as a dream job, the reality of Mozeliak’s situation was an aging and injury-riddled roster, his Cy Young-winning pitcher out for a good portion of the upcoming season, his slugging third baseman in a very public feud with his manager, and a fairly thin farm system to work with, all while being constrained by a modest payroll. Mozeliak has done well for himself and the organization with a few small free agents acquisitions to go along with the Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen trades, but he will continue to have his work cut out for him during the 2008 season as he tries to build a contender in St. Louis.
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