Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Royals Trying to Shake the Kansas City Blues


The Royals have been really bad for most of the last 15 years or so. They haven't even had a winning season since 2003 and haven't made the postseason since winning the World Series in 1985. They have an interesting mix of promising young players right now, but they still only won 71 games in 2011. The Royals also had alot of good players come up in the late 90s, but they never were able to win in KC and they were traded off. Mike Sweeney signed a long term extension, but fell off after signing it. Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, and Johnny Damon were all traded off just as they were entering their prime. One of the big problems is that the Royals were never able to develop good pitching to go with it.

Fast forward to 2012, the Royals have a young nucleus of LF Alex Gordon,  1B Eric Hosmer, C Salvador Perez, 3B Mike Moustakas, and DH Billy Butler. Perez was recently given a six year extension with option years despite only being a rookie last year. He did bat .331 in 39 games played and was only 21 last year. Most of these guys have All Star potential and maybe one or two of them will represent the Royals this year in their home ballpark in July. Veteran RF Jeff Francouer returns and still has a strong throwing arm in the outfield. They also have slick fielding shortstop Alcides Escobar and rookie CF Lorenzo Cain, both acquired in the Zack Greinke trade. Greinke is about the only Royals starting pitcher who has worked out well for them in the last 15 years. Luke Hochevar has had his moments, but hasn't emerged as a top starter.

The Royals were 6th in the AL in runs scored last year with 730, but they ranked 12th in the AL with 762 runs scored. Pitching is still a weak spot and they will need it to improve if they want to get better. They added former Giant Jonathon Sanchez in a trade and he should be one of their top starters. Bruce Chen and Hochevar also had decent years as well. Former Dodgers closer Jonathon Broxton signed to be a setup reliever for closer Joakim Soria. Soria had an off year in 2011 but has been solid the rest of his career. The Royals lone All Star last year was rookie reliever Aaron Crow, a Mizzou alum. Crow could move to the rotation, if not he gives the Royals a solid back end of the bullpen.

The Royals also have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Alot of position players have already came up, but they have a few still in the minors. They also need their pitching prospects to pan out to have any long term success. The AL Central is probably the weakest division in baseball. I'd be shocked if the Tigers didn't win the division this year. But the Indians are about average, the White Sox are in rebuilding mode, and the Twins nearly lost 100 games last year. Its not out of the question for the Royals to break the .500 barrier this year since they are in such a weak division. But to get to the next level, they need to get better pitching and they need to keep some of their players instead of dealing them away.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is Molina Going to Stay in St. Louis?

2012 is Yadier Molina's last season on his five year 21 million dollar extension he signed in 2007. The Cardinals front office and Molina's agent have been working on an extension but earlier this week it looked like contract talks were over. Molina's agent Melvin Roman insists that Molina wants market value and will not accept a hometown discount. Molina did say he liked playing in St. Louis and wanted to get something done though. According to the Post Dispatch, the two sides have gotten back together and talks are going in a positive direction.

I'm not for sure how much money Yadi is looking for, but I hope the two sides can come to a reasonable deal. Molina would be hard to replace, and there would be a significant downgrade by any internal options. Mike Napoli of the Rangers is also up for free agency after the season, but I would expect him to command just as much money as Yadi would. Alot of people wonder if Yadi wants to join his best friend Albert Pujols with the Angels as well. Losing Pujols was tough, but replacing a All Star first baseman is easier than replacing an All Star catcher. The Cardinals front office said that not signing Pujols would give them the flexiblity to re-sign current players and keep a competitive team. They should make an aggressive push to re-sign him.

Reportedly, Molina wants a five year deal around 10 million plus a year. Molina will turn 30 this season and that would carry over til Yadi is 35. There's a chance Molina could be broken down at the end of the deal, but at least he's not asking for a longer deal. Since 2005 he has caught more games than any other catcher during that time. So he's durable, but most catchers don't age well either. Molina is also coming off a career year offensively, posting career highs in numerous categories. He still is the best defensive catcher in baseball, and is a good handler of pitchers.

Tony Cruz is likely to be Molina's backup this year since Gerald Laird was not retained. Cruz faired well during the time he was called up last year. It wouldn't hurt to start Cruz once a week to give Yadi a rest and to see what he's capable of in case Molina doesn't stay. Even if Molina re-signs, the Cardinals should think about drafting a top tier catcher in the next couple of years. Catcher is the weakest spot in the organization. The Cardinals had slugging first baseman Matt Adams in Double A last year, and he looks to be Pujols eventual successor. There is no catcher in the system that looks like a starting caliber catcher.

Spring Training Notes: Ozzie Smith will be a guest instructor this year and will be working with the middle infielders and help with baserunning. Smith has stayed away from spring training in past years due to his feud with former manager Tony La Russa late in his playing career. New manager Mike Matheny reached out to Smith and former manager Whitey Herzog in the offseason. He's also talked with La Russa too, but he won't be a guest instructor in camp. He will be attending the season opener though.

Matheny also hopes to increase base stealing this year, after last year's meager total of 57 steals in 96 attempts. It was last in the NL and the Cardinals were only successful 59% of the time they tried to steal. I'm happy to hear that Matheny has emphasized this myself. Matheny was quoted recently saying "If you have some speed, show it. That's going to be the philosophy. If guys have speed in their repertoire, they certainly need to display it and improve on it and take advantage of some of the special instructors we have in here."

Tyler Greene led the team with 11 steals last year despite spending most of the season in Triple A. Greene looks to be part of a platoon at second base with Daniel Descalso this year. New Cardinal Carlos Beltran has the highest success rate of any active player at 85%(293 for 334). Rafeal Furcal isn't as fast as he used to be, but is still capable of stealing bases. Younger players like Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Adron Chambers, and Greene are capable of stealing more bases too. Matheny will have Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and Willie McGee in camp to teach baserunning tips. Brock is second alltime in steals with 938 and Smith stole 580 bases during his career. McGee was an excellent baserunner as well during his career.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Gary Carter

Gary Carter tagging out Jim Rice during the 1986 World Series

Sadly, Gary Carter died from his battle with brain cancer yesterday. Carter was one of the best catchers ever to play the game and made 11 All Star teams during his career. Carter hit 324 home runs and drove in 1225 runs. Gary was also an excellent defensive catcher and threw out 35% of runners trying to steal during his career.

Carter broke in with the Montreal Expos in late 1974 as a catcher and right fielder. He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1975 and made the All Star team. By 1977, Carter became a fulltime catcher and rarely played other positions. He also hit 30 home runs for the first time and batted .284 that year. Carter was overshadowed by other great catchers like Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, and Carlton Fisk in the mid to late 70s, but he was emerging as one of the best in the league despite playing on losing Montreal teams.

In 1979 the Expos had turned the corner and became a contending team. Led by Carter, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers, Charlie Lea, and Tony Perez, the Expos won 95 games and finished only 2 games behind the NL East champion(and eventual World Champion) Pirates. Carter had another great season in 1980, driving in 100 runs for the first time, winning the first of three Gold Gloves, and he finished 2nd in NL MVP voting. Unfortunately, the Expos finished 1 game short of the pennant to the Phillies, who also went on to win the World Series.

During the strike shortened 1981 season, the Expos finally broke through and made the playoffs. They beat the Phillies in the Division Series, and faced the Dodgers in the NLCS. Carter hit over .400 during the 81 playoffs, but the Expos lost in pivotal Game 5 of the NLCS due to Rick Monday's home run. The Expos were loaded with talent at this time. Carter and Andre Dawson would make the Hall of Fame and Tim Raines may join them some day. Youngsters Jeff Reardon and Tim Wallach would make several All Star teams and Larry Parrish, Bill Gullickson, and Scott Sanderson would be solid players for the next decade. But, the Expos never did return to the playoffs.

Carter was now considered the best catcher in the game and had monster years in 1982 and 1984. Carter led the NL in RBIs with 106 in 1984 and hit a career high .294. After the season he was traded to the Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Floyd Youmans, and Herm Winningham. Carter joined a team that already had Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, and Lenny Dykstra on it. 1985, Gary hit a career high 32 home runs and drove in 100 runs. Carter also did a good job working with the Mets younger pitchers. The Mets won 98 games but fell short to the Cardinals in 1985.

Carter had his last great season in 1986 finishing 3rd in MVP voting. He drove in 100 runs for the third straight time and the last time for his career. The Mets were dominant that year winning 108 games and beat the Astros in 6 games in the NLCS. The Mets faced the Red Sox in the World Series that year, which was a classic. Carter came up with two clutch hits in Game 6(the Buckner game). He tied the game with a sac fly in the 8th and started a three run rally in the 10th with a single. The Mets won the next night as well and Carter won his first and only World Series.

Carter broke the 300 home run plateau in 1988 and set a record for most putouts by a catcher. However, Carter was in decline and only hit 11 home runs his lowest total since 1976. 1988 would also be the last postseason Carter played in. After only batting .183 in 50 games in 1989, the Mets released him after the season. He then signed with the Giants and was platooned with Terry Kennedy. In 1991, Carter served as Mike Scioscia's backup but the Dodgers finished 1 games shy of the NL West pennant. 1992 would be Carter's last season and he went back to the Expos for his swan song.

After being on the ballot for 6 years, Carter finally made the Hall of Fame in 2003 with Eddie Murray. Carter is still 6th alltime for home runs by a catcher. Carter also managed for a couple years in the Mets minor league system and led the A level St. Lucie team to the Florida State League Championship. Carter campaigned for the Mets managerial job, but never got it. Carter's number 8 was retired by the Montreal Expos and the Mets have not issued it since Carter made the Hall of Fame. I never was able to see Carter during his prime, and only saw him late in his career. Besides Pudge Rodriguez in the late 90s and early 00s, baseball hasn't had a catcher with Carter's offensive and defensive skills since he's retired.

Carter with his All Star teammates in 1982 at Montreal

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tommy John Surgery and Adam Wainwright's Recovery

Above is 70s era Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, who is the pioneer of the surgery named after him. In 1974, John was 13-3 going into the All Star break and trying to help the Dodgers win their first pennant since 1966. Unfortunately for John his elbow was in bad shape and he needed his ulnar colateral ligament replaced. Until John, this was a career ender for a pitcher. Dr. Frank Jobe tried an experimental surgery in September of 1974 taking a tendon from his forearm to replace the damaged UCL. John missed all of 1975 and part of 1976 recovering from the surgery. However, John did make a comeback after his unprecedented surgery in mid-1976. John pitched until 1989 with several other teams and won more games after the surgery than before. All together Tommy John won 288 games in his career.

Three current Cardinal starters besides Adam Wainwright have made successful recoveries from Tommy John surgery including Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Jake Westbrook. Carpenter did miss most of two seasons with some other complications but came back dominant in 2009 and 2010 and was dominant in the postseason last year. Mariano Rivera had the surgery in the minor leagues and is now considered the best reliever ever. Josh Johnson of the Marlins had the surgery in August 2007 and was pitching in the big leagues 11 months later. Tim Hudson had his surgery in mid 2008 and since he's came back he's gone 35-20 and finished 4th in CYA voting in 2010. AJ Burnett was throwing in the high 90s after the surgery and threw as hard as 102 mph in 2004, a year after having Tommy John surgery.

John Smoltz missed 2000 after having Tommy John surgery, and came back in 2001 as a reliever to save his arm. After three and a half dominant years as a closer, Smoltz moved back in the rotation in 2005 and made two All Star teams after that. Kerry Wood had the surgery after his first big league season, and came back with some strong seasons as a starter. His durability was always a problem though, but he still is active as a reliever. Billy Wagner and John Franco enjoyed some late career success post surgery. CJ Wilson, Brian Wilson, John Axford, and Scott Feldman all had Tommy John surgery in the minor leagues. Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano have had mixed results since coming back from the surgery.

There are some pitchers who were unable to fully come back from the surgery though. Jose Rijo won the 1990 World Series MVP with the Reds and was one of baseball's better pitchers in the first half of the 90s. In 1995, he experienced elbow problems and wasn't able to fully recover from Tommy John Surgery. Rijo did make a brief comeback in 2001 and 2002, but he was past his prime by then. Pat Hentgen won a World Series and a Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays in the 90s. He pitched one year with the Cardinals in 2000, and signed with Baltimore after that. Hentgen required Tommy John surgery soon after, but never made a full recovery. Jaret Wright's promising career was derailed in the late 90s and early 2000s because of it. He enjoyed a successful year in Atlanta in 2004, but after that elbow problem ended his career. BJ Ryan and Darren Driefort were never the same after the surgery. Hong Chi Kuo needed Tommy John surgery twice, but was a pretty good reliever with the Dodgers for a few seasons.

Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals had the surgery in August 2010. and made 5 starts last September for Washington going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 24 Ks in 24 innings pitched. Strasburg likely will be at full strength this year.

Below is a link to ESPN's Dave Schoenfield's NL Central rankings. Lets say that Dave is skeptical about Wainwright's recovery from the surgery. Not only does he consider Wainwright the Cards third starter, he ranks him the third best after Bud Norris and Shawn Marcum. Wow, thats unbelievable. Joe Strauss of the Post Dispatch reports that Wainwright has started throwing to batters in Florida. He threw 30 warm up pitches and 30 pitches after that mixing in breaking balls as well. Wainwright said he felt like he was fully recovered from the surgery. The Cardinals will be careful with him, but I expect more out of him than the third best third starter in the NL Central and I'm sure he does too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rookie Managers to make the Playoffs

There has been some concerns over new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's lack of previous managerial experience made since he's gotten the job. He has never been a manager at any level before, and his only coaching experience has been as a guest spring training instructor. Matheny was a special assistant to GM John Mozeliak the last couple of years. I think Matheny will be fine considering he has a talented team to work with. Here's a look at rookie managers to lead their team to the playoffs since the start of division play in 1969.

Ron Roenicke, 2011 Brewers

Roenicke led the Brewers to the NL Central Division title last year after being on Mike Scoiscia's coaching staff for 11 years. He had to deal with alot of egos and strong personalities with this team and they had a 19 game improvement from 2010. Roenicke's opponent in Division Series was the Diamondbacks who had Kirk Gibson in his first full season as manager.

Dale Sveum, 2008 Brewers

I barely count this considering Sveum only managed the last 12 games of the season. For some reason they fired Ned Yost in the middle of a pennant race. Sveum went 7-5 and the Brewers won the Wild Card and lost to the Phillies in the Division Series. Sveum is now the Cubs manager.

Ken Macha, 2003 Athletics

Macha took over a team that made the playoffs three straight years and won 96 games in 2003. However, the postseason result was the same, a first round exit. Macha had the last winning season and playoff appearance for Oakland in 2006, and was not retained for the 2007 season.

Ron Gardenhire, 2002 Twins

Longtime Twins manager Tom Kelly retired after the 2001 season and his longtime assistant Gardenhire replaced him. In 2002, the Twins won the AL Central and made it to the ALCS. Gardenhire's teams has won 6 division titles total but he has a 6-21 record in the postseason.

Bob Brenly, 2001 Diamondbacks

Brenly was a broadcaster before becoming the DBacks manager in 2001. Led by Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Luis Gonzalez the DBacks won their first World Series championship.

Larry Dierker, 1997 Astros

Dierker pitched for the Astros in the 60s and 70s before becoming a broadcaster for the team. In 1997 he was named manager of the team replacing Terry Collins. The Astros won a weak NL Central in 1997 and they were promptly swept by the Braves in the Division Series. Dierker's teams won the NL Central 4 out of 5 years he was manager, but they only won 1 playoff game during his run.

Bill Russell, 1996 Dodgers

Tommy Lasorda had to retire due to health problems in the middle of 1996 and longtime Dodger player and coach Bill Russell took over as manager. The Dodgers won the Wild Card and were swept in the Division Series in 1996. They were in the chase for the NL West title in 1997 but fell short to their archrival Giants. Russell was fired in 1998 by new ownership.

Cito Gaston, 1989 Blue Jays

The Jays fired Jimy Williams after stumbling out the gate in 1989. Gaston took over and went 77-49 the rest of the way and Toronto won the AL East. They lost to the Bash Brothers from Oakland in the ALCS that year. However, Gaston's teams returned to the postseason 3 more times and the Jays won back to back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

Joe Morgan, 1988 Red Sox

This is the other Joe Morgan, the white one who couldn't play baseball well. Morgan took over the Sox in midseason and piloted them to the AL East title. Morgan's Sox also won the 1990 division title, but both times they were swept by the A's. Morgan was fired after 1991 despite a second place finish.

Tom Kelly, 1987 Twins

Technically, Kelly managed the Twins briefly at the end of the 1986 season. In his first full season, the Twins won a weak AL West with a 85-77 record. They upset the favored Tigers in the ALCS, and beat the Cardinals in 7 games in the World Series. The 1987 Twins have the second worst record of any World Series winner(the 2006 Cardinals have the worst). In 1991, the Twins returned to the playoffs and won the World Series again in 7 games over the Braves. Kelly was also manager of the Twins when Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor joined the 3000 hit club.

Jim Fanning, 1981 Expos

The Expos fired Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams in the middle of a pennant race in 1981. His hard driving style was alienating Expos players and the easygoing Fanning was hired as a replacement. The 1981 season was a strike year, and baseball had a split season format for the first and hopefully last time. All games that happened before the strike were the first half and all games after the strike was the second half. Ironically, the Cardinals had the best overall record in the NL East but missed the playoffs because they didn't win the first half of second half of the division. The Expos did win the second half in the NL East and beat the Phillies in the division round of the playoffs. The Expos nearly beat the Dodgers in the NLCS, but Rick Monday's home run clinched it for the Dodgers.

Dick Howser, 1980 Yankees

George Steinbrenner liked to change managers frequently with the Yankees until Joe Torre came along. Howser won 103 games and the AL East in his rookie season in 1980. But the Yankees were swept by the Royals in the ALCS and Howser was fired after that. Howser eventually became the Royals manager himself and led them to their only World Series championship in 1985.

Tommy Lasorda, 1977 Dodgers

Lasorda took over for legendary manager Walt Alston who had managed the Dodgers since 1954 and won 4 championships with them. Lasorda turned out to be a Hall of Fame manager himself and took the Dodgers to the playoffs 7 times. The Dodgers lost in the World Series in Lasorda's first two years in 1977 and 1978, but they came back to win it against the Yankees in 1981. The Dodgers won the World Series again in 1988 despite being huge underdogs. That team was basically Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, and smoke and mirrors.

Bill Virdon, 1972 Pirates

Danny Murtaugh retired after the Pirates won the 1971 World Series and former Pirates player and coach Bill Virdon took over. The Pirates returned to the playoff under Virdon but lost in the NLCS. 1972 was also Roberto Clemente's last season before his tragic death. Virdon left for the Yankees job in 1974 and Murtaugh came out of retirement to replace him.

Sparky Anderson, 1970 Reds

Anderson won 102 games in his rookie year, but the Reds fell short to the Orioles in the World Series. The Big Red Machine fell short again in the playoffs in 1972 and 1973. However, the Reds won back to back World Series in 1975 and 1976. They added Tom Seaver in 1977 to join Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and George Foster, but they failed to make the postseason that year. Anderson was fired after 1978 despite winning 92 games because they fell short of the playoffs again. Anderson then became the Tigers manager a year later. The Tigers had a group of young talent in Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, and Kirk Gibson. In 1984 the Tigers won 104 games and Anderson became the first manager to win World Series in both leagues. All together, Anderson managed 7 teams to the postseason, 5 World Series teams, and won 3 championships.

Billy Martin, 1969 Twins

Billy Martin's first managerial job was with the Twins in 1969 and he led them to the playoffs. However, he was fired after the season due to getting in a fight with pitcher Dave Boswell outside a bar. Martin had a knack for turning teams around, but he was quick to wear out his welcome. Martin was fired 9 times in his career, 5 times by the Yankees alone.