Thursday, February 21, 2013
Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee at Spring Training
The Cardinals came within a game of returning to the World Series last year, but could never win that final game against the Giants in the NLCS. With first year manager Mike Matheny at the helm, the Cardinals won 88 games and clinched the second wild card spot last year. They beat the Braves, then went on to beat the Nationals in a thriller of a Division Series. Ironically, Matheny won as many games as previous manager Tony La Russa did in his first year. Even stranger, La Russa's 1996 team blew a 3-1 series lead in the NLCS. The Cardinals return most of last year's team and boast the game's best farm system. Another postseason run should be expected this year.
Additions-Ronny Cedeno, Ty Wigginton, Randy Choate, JR Towles
Subtractions-Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, Kyle Lohse, Bryan Anderson, Chris Carpenter
Key Prospects-Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal
CF Jon Jay
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Matt Holliday
1B Allen Craig
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese
2B Daniel Descalso/Matt Carpenter
SS Rafael Furcal/Pete Kozma
Joe Kelly/Shelby Miller/Trevor Rosenthal
Rosenthal/Kelly/Miller/Victor Marte/Sam Freeman
Yadier Molina had his best overall season last year, setting career highs in average(.315), on base percentage(.373), slugging(.501), home runs(22), RBIs(76), runs scored(65), and stolen bases(12). He won his fifth straight Gold Glove and made his fourth All Star team last season. Molina also finished 4th in MVP voting last year. Molina also threw out 48% of runners attempting to steal in 2012. Tony Cruz returns as the backup and did a good job in limited playing time. Steven Hill and newcomer JR Towles provide insurance and will likely be in Triple A this year.
The Cardinals were able to make up for the loss of Albert Pujols last year, actually scoring 3 more runs in 2012 than they did in 2011. Allen Craig was a big reason why. Craig was limited to 119 games, but still managed to hit 22 home runs and drive in 92 runs. Craig was also 7th in the National League with a .307 batting average. Craig came back right about the same time Lance Berkman went down. Berkman hardly played at all after that. David Freese followed his historic postseason of 2011 with a All Star campaign in 2012. Freese hit 20 home runs, drove in 79 runs, and hit .293. Still, Freese is prone to slumps and has hot and cold streaks. Matt Carpenter filled in nicely at the corner spots last year and finished 6th in the Rookie of the Year vote in 2012. If Freese or Craig need a day off, the Cardinals won't lose much by putting Carpenter in there. Matt Adams is also avaliable if Craig were to go down. Adams has crushed minor league pitching, but was mediocre in limited major league time last year.
This is probably the weakest spot on the team. Rafael Furcal went down with a torn rotator cuff in September. Furcal opted not to have surgery and gave it time to heal. Ozzie Smith had a similar thing happen to him in the 80's, and is advising Furcal on some changes he can make to limit the damage of it. Matheny rode Furcal hard during the season when he was healthy. He played in 121 games, the most the oft-injured Furcal has played in since 2009. In fact, Furcal has played 100 plus games only twice in the last five seasons. The Cardinals would be lucky to get that many out of him this year. Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, and newcomer Ronny Cedeno are the alternatives to Furcal right now. Daniel Descalso could also play there when he is not at second. Descalso is a good defender and has a knack for clutch hits, but he was overexposed last year. He batted only .227 with limited power. Matt Carpenter has been working with Jose Oquendo on playing second base, and should get some time there this year. Prospect Kolten Wong could force himself into the mix with a strong spring or good play in the minors.
The Cardinals boast one of the best outfields in the league right now. Matt Holliday made his sixth All Star appearance last year, and led the club in runs(92), hits(177), doubles(36), RBIs(102), and total bases(298). Holliday took over as the #3 hitter last season. He is prone to fielding miscues and is a somewhat streaky hitter. Jon Jay played Gold Glove level defense in center field last year. Jay was limited to 117 games last year, but hit .305 and led the club with 19 stolen bases. Carlos Beltran led the club with 32 home runs last year. After killing the Cardinals for many years, Beltran played quite well in his first season in St. Louis. Beltran also had a healthy season last year, playing in 151 games. Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers are vying to make the club as backup outfielders. Carpenter can also play the corner outfield spots. If any of the starters go down to injury, top prospect Oscar Taveras would be called up to fill in. Taveras is regarded as a budding star by the Cardinals front office, and will surely be up by next year.
Matheny will need to give veterans like Furcal and Beltran more time off this year. Carpenter will likely play quite often this season, although it will be at different positions. Carpenter can now play first, second, third, left, and right. Tony Cruz can also play some third base along with catcher. Ty Wigginton was signed as a right handed bat off the bench. He pretty much replaces Skip Schumaker. Chambers and Robinson are probably competing for one spot, much like last year. Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Jackson, and Pete Kozma are vying for a backup middle infield spot. If Furcal isn't ready for the season, another spot will open up for one of these guys.
The Cardinals heard some bad news a few weeks ago when John Mozeliak announced that Chris Carpenter will not be able to pitch this season, and likely never again. Carpenter's right arm has been punished throughout the years and he was still dealing with a nerve problem. Kyle Lohse is still a free agent, but the Cardinals have showed little interest in bringing him back. Adam Wainwright is now the Cardinals number #1 pitcher. Wainwright won 14 games and had a 3.94 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The Redbirds are hoping that Waino can regain his 2009-10 dominant form. Wainwright is also a free agent after this season, but I would think that the two sides would get something done before then. Jaime Garcia is the Card's only lefty, and he is coming off an injury plagued season. Garcia has had some success in the big leagues, but has not proven to be a durable workhorse. Lance Lynn won 18 games and made the All Star team, but tired down the stretch. He arrived in spring training leaner and lost a lot of weight in the offseason. Hopefully, Lynn will be more durable this year and build on last season's success. Jake Westbrook returns as the the fourth starter, and he also wore down late in the year and was shut down in September. Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, and Trevor Rosenthal are vying for the fifth spot, and I think it's safe to say the Cardinals will have a good pitcher as their fifth starter. It's quite possible the Cardinals could need all three pitchers to start at some point this year. Kelly made 16 starts last year, but doesn't have the ceiling the other two have. Carlos Martinez is also waiting in the wings.
Jason Motte returns as the Cardinals closer and he led the National League with 42 saves in 2012. Mitchell Boggs excelled in the setup role last year, and had a 2.21 ERA. The trade for Edward Mujica didn't make a lot of headlines, but it paid off. In 26.1 innings, Mujica had a 1.03 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. Fernando Salas played a key role in the Cardinals 2011 championship run, but struggled last year. His ERA jumped up over 2 runs, ending the year at 4.48. The same could be said about Scrabble, who went through a rough patch last year. After going through several other lefties last year, the Cardinals signed veteran Randy Choate to be their second lefty. The losers of the fifth spot battle will likely round out the bullpen.
The Cardinals recently extended the contracts of both GM John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny. Mozeliak has overseen a team that has the best farm system in the game and has a major league team built to win. Matheny enters his second season as Cardinals manager and did a fine job last season. Derek Lilliquist took over as the pitching coach last season after Dave Duncan's retirement. While he may not be a Duncan, Lilliquist did a good job last year and during the 2011 run in Duncan's absence. Mark McGwire left to be the Dodgers hitting coach. John Mabry was elevated from assistant hitting coach to replace him, and Bengie Molina took over as the assistant.
The Cardinals have few holes on their team. Shortstop is the biggest concern with Furcal's elbow and the lack of depth there. The Cardinals are also relying on youth in the rotation, but I think that will work out for them. This team has proven they can contend in the post Pujols/La Russa era. In the National League, the Nationals, Braves, Reds, Dodgers, and defending champion Giants look pretty tough. Even with that, I expect the Cardinals to make another run at the World Series this year.
Bengie and Yadier Molina in spring training
Thursday, February 14, 2013
New Royals pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis
The American League Central was baseball's worst division by far last year. The Tigers are coming off back to back to back division crowns, and they were the AL champions last season. While they are the most talented team in the division, they had to rally to win it. The White Sox lead most of the year, but faded down the stretch. The Tigers went 18-12 and the White Sox stumbled to 13-18 in September. Detroit only won 88 games, the lowest amount for a division winner last season.
The Tigers should be the class of the division again. They are led by strong bats in Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and the return of Victor Martinez. They also added Torii Hunter, and still have emerging young players in Alex Avila and Austin Jackson. Their pitching staff is led by ace Justin Verlander, and they bring back Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello to form a strong rotation. Their bullpen is decent, although they lack of closer with Jose Valverde's departure. They could go with a bullpen by committee led by Phil Coke.
If the Tigers have a weakness its probably their defense, although it should be improved this year. Hunter, Jackson, and whoever plays left should form a good defensive outfield. Their infield defense is still a liability. Cabrera moved to third to make room for Fielder last season. Shorstop Jhonny Peralta is better known for his bat than glove. Jim Leyland will have to sort out his bullpen as well.
The White Sox lost AJ Pierzynski and Kevin Youkilis in the offseason, and they will be more reliant on Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, and Adam Dunn. Konerko is still a really good hitter, but is now 37 years old. Dunn and Rios are inconsistent from year to year. The Sox still have a strong rotation led by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. Their bullpen was somewhat shaky last year, though. The Sox should still be competitive this year, but they will need everything to go right to pass the Tigers.
Dayton Moore made some moves to shore up the Royals pitching this offseason. He re-signed pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who was acquired midseason. He traded for former Angel Ervin Santana, who is coming off a down year. That been said, Santana had strong seasons in 2010 and 2011. The big trade was with Tampa Bay, when they acquired James Shields and Wade Davis for a package of prospects led by Wil Nieves. Nieves may turn out to be a hell of a player, but the Royals add two good pitchers in return. Shields should be the best pitcher the Royals have had since Zack Greinke was traded. Shields has won 31 games over the last two seasons.
The fifth spot will be a competition of holdovers in Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, and Luis Mendoza. Hochevar was a first round pick for the Royals, but has yet to live up to it. This season could be his final chance in KC. The Royals also have a good young mix of arms in the bullpen. Greg Holland took over as closer after the trade of Jonathon Broxton, and saved 16 games. Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, and Aaron Crow all had solid seasons last year.
The Royals feature an everyday lineup where everyone is under 30, including veteran right fielder Jeff Francouer. DH Billy Butler made his first All Star team, hitting .313 with 29 homers and 107 RBI's. Alex Gordon followed up his breakout 2011 with another solid season. Gordon hit 51 doubles and won his second straight Gold Glove in left field. Catcher Salvador Perez missed the first half due to injury, but played really well when he came back. Shorstop Alcides Escobar hit .293 and played exceptional defense. The Royals are hoping that Lorenzo Cain and Johnny Giavotella will lay claim to center field and second base this year, after up and down seasons last year.
For the Royals to make a surprise run, they will need Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to live up to their potential. Moustakas was their first round pick in 2007 and Hosmer was their first round pick in 2008. Hosmer endured a sophomore slump after a strong rookie campaign. At age 23, he has plenty of time to turn it around. Moustakas had a solid first half, but only hit .215 in the second half. He did hit 20 home runs and play solid defense, though. If these two players live up to their potential, the Royals could have a pretty good offense.
The Indians made a lot of moves this offseason. They hired former Red Sox manager Terry Francona to be their skipper, replacing Manny Acta. Cleveland also added Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Jason Giambi, Trevor Bauer, Brett Myers, and Daisuke Matsuzaka this offseason. They did part ways with Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, and oft-injured Grady Sizemore and Roberto Hernandez(aka Fausto Carmona). At this point, Choo was the only significant loss. The Indians also bring back Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Mickey Brantley; who are all improving as players.
The Tribe's pitching was suspect last year. They will need better years from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez if they want to compete. Jimenez has been a huge dissapointment since coming over from the Rockies in mid-2011. He lost a league high 17 games last year, and has a 5.32 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP since joining Cleveland. The Indians have several candidates to fill out the rotation, including holdovers Zack McAllister, Josh Tomlin, and newcomers Myers, Matsuzaka, and Bauer. The bullpen is in good shape with Chris Perez and Vinny Pestano, and they refer to themselves as the "Bullpen Mafia."
I do not see the Twins doing much this year, though. They still have All Star catcher Joe Mauer, but they have a weak supporting cast. I do think the Tigers will have more competition this year. The Sox should be decent, and the Indians and Royals greatly improved themselves. Cleveland was actually 44-41 before the All Star break last year, but went 24-53 after the All Star break. Their front office made some major changes, hired a proven manager, and added several talented players. The Royals also have a lot of emerging young talent. With the second wild card, it's possible one of these teams could make a run at it, and possibly make the postseason. Nobody expected the Orioles and Athletics to make the playoffs last year.
New faces in Cleveland
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Chris Carpenter: Best Cardinals Pitcher Since Bob Gibson
One of the best moves former GM Walt Jocketty ever made was signing an injured Chris Carpenter in the offseason of 2002-03. Carpenter was hurt in mid-2002 and missed all of 2003 due to injury. Carpenter had moderate success in Toronto, but was never an ace there. He did pitch in the same rotation with Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams, David Wells, and Roy Halladay at various points of his Blue Jays career. However, the Jays only offered him a minor league deal after the 2002 season. Carpenter would finally pitch again in 2004, and under the tutelage of Dave Duncan would become one of baseball's best pitchers.
Carpenter accomplished a lot in St. Louis, despite missing time due to injury. He made three All Star teams, won the 2005 Cy Young Award, led the National League in ERA in 2009, and helped the Cardinals win two World Series championships. With the Cardinals, Carp went 95-44 with a 3.07 ERA in 1348.2 innings. Overall, he won 144 games during his career. In the postseason, he has a 10-4 record with a 3.00 ERA in 18 games starterd. He also won the Game 7 clincher in the 2011 World Series. Carpenter was also the leader of the staff, and the younger pitchers looked up to him.
Unfortunately, Carpenter will miss the entire 2013 season due to numbness in his shoulder and still has a nerve problem. Most likely, Carpenter will never pitch again in the big leagues. While he was a great pitcher, injuries always have haunted him. After missing a season in a half, he came back strong in 2004 going 15-5. He had to be shut down in September, and missed the 2004 postseason. After winning the World Series in 2006, Carp got hurt in the season opener in 2007. He needed Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2008 season as well. He came back strong in 2009, nearly winning another Cy Young Award. After 3 healthy seasons and a second championship, Carp missed most of last year due to nerve problems. Being a intense competitor, he came back late last year and pitched in the postseason. It's possible that he rushed back before he was completely recovered, causing these current problems.
As far as his legacy with the Redbirds, I would say that Carpenter was one of the best pitchers in team history. Maybe even the third best picher after Bob Gibson and Dizzy Dean. Gibson is the only other Card's pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. Jesse Haines, Mort Cooper, Harry Breechen, Steve Carlton, and Bob Forsch all had their moments in St. Louis as well. Carlton would rank higher if the Cards didn't foolishly trade him away in his early prime. Still, I think its fair to say that Chris Carpenter is the third best pitcher the Cardinals ever had.
Losing Carpenter puts a void in the Redbirds rotation. There has been talk of re-signing Kyle Lohse, who is still a free agent. Lohse had a career year last season, but has Scott Boras as his agent. He would cost another team a draft pick if they signed him. Lohse is now 34, and I would be hesistant to give him a long term deal. The Cardinals are focusing on signing Adam Wainwright to a long term deal, and I wouldn't give Lohse more than one year. Plus, the Cardinals have several young pitchers ready to take over in the next few years.
Wainwright will now be the leader of the Cardinals staff. He is not nearly as intense as Carpenter, but is a student of the game and sets a good example for the younger pitchers. Waino should be better this year since he's now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. After Wainwright, Jaime Garcia would be the number 2, depending on if he's ready to go at the season's start. Garcia was hurt in last year's Division Series against the Nats. Lance Lynn is coming off a 18 win season and was a All Star last season, and should be the number 3 starter. Lynn wore down in the second half, but should be more durable this season. Jake Westbrook returns as the number 4 starter, and has a mutual option for 2014.
The number 5 spot is a open competition, but there are three strong candidates for the spot. Joe Kelly made 16 starts in his rookie year last year, and also pitched well out of the bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal is also a candidate, and his fastball tops out at 100 mph. Rosenthal pitched out of the bullpen last year, and pitched 8.2 scoreless innings in the playoffs. However, he was a starter in the minor leagues and will be given a shot at the big league rotation. Then, there is 2009 first round pick Shelby Miller. Miller had a up and down season last year. He struggled in Memphis in the first half, but started using his off speed pitches in the second half and greatly improved. Miller dominated the Reds in the season's finale last year.
The Cardinals still have a surplus of pitching despite Carpenter's injury. With Carp, they had 8 candidates for the rotation, and now they have 7. Even if Garcia isn't ready to start the season, they still could put some combination of Kelly, Rosenthal, and Miller to fill the last two spots in the rotation. That's why I wouldn't make a rash decision and sign Lohse to a big deal. GM John Mozeliak has said that the team's interest in Lohse is "negligible at this time." I take that as Mozeliak has faith in the Cardinal's young pitchers. Rosenthal had been working with Carpenter this offseason, and hopefully Carp can help teach in spring training.
The Cards have been pumping out the young pitching the last few years. In 2010, Garcia had his rookie campaign and the lefty finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. In 2011, Lynn came up as a reliever, then took to the rotation last year. Last season, Kelly came up midseason after Garcia went down. Then late in the year, Rosenthal and Miller came up. Rosenthal and Miller should have a big role in this season's club, no matter what their roles are. Next on the horizon is 21 year old Carlos Martinez, who made it Double A last year. He's probably a year away, but could contribute on this year's club. Remember, the A's won the AL West last year with many rookies on their pitching staff. The Cardinals were recently ranked the number 1 farm system in baseball by Baseball America, and it should help them contend for years to come.
Adam Wainwright, Derek Lilliquist, and Shelby Miller in Spring Training last year
Carlos Martinez pitching for Double A Springfield