Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wainwright Extended

Yesterday, the Cardinals announced that they signed pitcher Adam Wainwright to a five year, $97.5 million extension that carries to the 2018 season. It is the longest contract for a pitcher in club history. Only Matt Holliday's current deal and Albert Pujols 2004-11 deal surpasses it in overall money. With Chris Carpenter's injury issues expected to force him into retirement, the Cardinals felt like they needed to lock up their #1 starter. Since losing Pujols to free agency after the 2011 season, the Cardinals have made some moves to lock up key pieces like Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Allen Craig. They also signed Jaime Garcia to an extension right before then.

This deal carries some risk, though. This is far more money committed to Waino than his previous deal, which was a bargain. In his first post-Tommy John surgery season, Wainwright was up and down. He finished the season with a 14-13 record with a 3.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 184 strikeouts in 198.2 innings pitched. He did pitch better in the second half, especially in July and August. It took Wainwright awhile to regain his feel for his curveball after surgery. At times, Cardinal fans saw a vintage Waino, other times they saw a pitcher who was struggling. It takes pitchers awhile to fully recover from Tommy John, and the Cardinals are betting that Wainwright will this year and in the future.

Wainwright started his career in the Cardinals bullpen in 2006, his rookie season. Closer Jason Isringhausen went down, and Wainwright took over the closing duties late in the season in to the playoffs. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series, with Wainwright closing out Game 7 of the NLCS and the deciding game of the World Series. Now teammate Carlos Beltran was frozen on a Wainwright curveball in the 2006 NLCS. With many starters leaving via free agency that winter, Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa
 decided to put Waino in the rotation. He threw for over 200 innings in 2007 and won 14 games on a Cardinals team that finished below .500. He missed some action in 2008, but had went 11-3 with a  3.20 ERA in 132 innings. Wainwright was on his way to becoming a dominant pitcher.

In 2009 and 2010, Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in baseball, a true ace. He led the National League with 19 wins in '09 and finished 3rd in Cy Young Award voting. While he missed out on the CYA, Adam won the Gold Glove. In 2010, he had a even better year, winning 20 games, posting a 2.42 ERA. Wainwright still finished 2nd in the Cy Young to Roy Halladay. He made his first All Star team in 2010 as well. Big things were expected in 2011, possibly finally winning the coveted Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, Wainwright felt elbow pain in spring training 2011 and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, missing the entire season. Even worse for Wainwright, he missed out on a championship season.

So, what to expect from Wainwright this season? A pitcher who will contend for the CYA, or a innings eater who isn't as dominant? I think that Wainwright will be better this season and will lower his ERA quite a bit. He will have a better feel for his curveball, which is one of the game's best. Will he be able to be the pitcher he was in 09-10? That remains to be seen. At the very least, Wainwright is the staff's unquestioned ace and leader. He will be a mentor to Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, and Shelby Miller, much in the way Carpenter and Daryl Kile were in the past for St. Louis.

Other Cardinal Notes: Both closer Jason Motte and third baseman David Freese will start the season off on the disabled list. Ryan Jackson will make the opening day roster, with Matt Carpenter expected to fill in for Freese. Carpenter will also play second base at times, especially when Freese comes back. Mitchell Boggs will fill in as closer in Motte's absence, with Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal taking on Boggs' eighth inning setup role. Shelby Miller has won the fifth starter competition, beating out Joe Kelly. Kelly will pitch out of the bullpen.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

2013 MLB Predictions


NL East

1) Nationals
2) Braves(WC)
3) Phillies
4) Mets
5) Marlins

I think the NL East will be pretty close to last year's results. The Nationals could be even better than the team that won 98 games last season. They added Denard Span, Dan Haren, and Rafeal Soriano to a team loaded with young stars. The Braves acquired the Upton brothers this offseason, but lost franchise icon Chipper Jones. Still a solid team with one of the game's best bullpens. Age is starting to catch up with the Phillies, and they'll need big comeback years from Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley if they are going to contend. David Wright signed a long term deal to stay with the Mets, but he is in for another rebuilding year. The Marlins had yet another fire sale this offseason, trading Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell one year after signing them. Their fan base has had quite enough of owner Jeffrey Loria.

NL Central
1) Cardinals
2) Reds(WC)
3) Pirates
4) Brewers
5) Cubs

The NL Central will no longer have the Astros as their punching bag, with Houston moving to the American League. The Cardinals came within one game of returning to the World Series last year, and have the game's best farm system. They will have to do without Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal this season. The Reds blew a 2-0 lead in the NLDS to the Giants last year, ending the season dissapointingly. They return pretty much the same team, adding Sin-Shoo Choo and losing Scott Rolen. This might finally be the year the Pirates finish over .500. I still think they have too many holes to compete with the Reds and Cardinals, though. It looks like the Brewers pitching is going to keep them down this year, with a shaky staff after ace Yovani Gallardo. The Cubs look to be the doormat of this division and are coming off a season were they lost 101 games.

NL West

1) Giants
2) Dodgers
3) Diamondbacks
4) Padres
5) Rockies

A lot of people are picking the Dodgers to win the West, but I'm going with the defending champs. The Giants were written off as a fluke after winning the 2010 World Series, but it's not a fluke when you win a championship 2 out of 3 seasons. While the Giants may not have the star power the Dodgers do, I think they still have the better overall team. The Dodgers are certainly capable of winning the division, but I'm not convinced yet. What kind of production will they get from guys like Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Hanley Ramirez? I see those players being in possible decline. I'm still not sure on how Adrian Gonzalez and even Zack Greinke will adapt in LA. The Diamondbacks had a busy offseason and traded their biggest star Justin Upton for a package of players headlined by Martin Prado. Should still be a decent team, though. The Padres were one of the best second half teams in baseball last year. They have some emerging players, but will have to do without NL RBI leader Chase Headley for the first month. That could kill their momentum. The Rockies had a miserable season last year, and Walt Weiss takes over as the team's manager. This could also be Todd Helton's last year.

AL East

1) Blue Jays
2) Rays(WC)
3) Orioles
4) Red Sox
5) Yankees

This division should be a dogfight and it could be a close division overall. This is the first year in a long time that the Red Sox or Yankees are not favored to win it. The Blue Jays added RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Melky Cabrera in the offseason. One is never certain on teams that make big offseason splashes, it doesn't work all the time. I do think they should contend and on paper they have the best team. The Rays lost BJ Upton and  traded away James Shields and Wade Davis for a package of prospects headlined by Wil Nieves. Tampa also picked up several useful players and still have a lot of talent on the team. The key is they need a big year from Evan Longoria. The Orioles made their first postseason appearance in 15 years, and had a impressive knack for winning one run and extra inning games. Can their luck continue? Possibly, if their young players step up. The Red Sox picked up Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and Mike Napoli during the offseason. Biggest move of all was replacing Bobby Valentine with John Farell. This team still has some holes and injury concerns, but won't have to deal with any sideshows this year. Age and injuries look to doom the Yankees this year. By the time Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira come back, they may of fallen too behind.

AL Central

1) Tigers
2) Royals
3) Indians
4) White Sox
5) Twins

The Tigers are the class of this division. I don't see any other team winning it this year. I see the next three teams being really close. I took a leap of faith picking the Royals second, but I think they turn it around this year. They made some moves to improve their pitching, trading for James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. They also have some emerging young position players. The Indians added manager Terry Francona, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and many others this offseason. They should be much improved, but their starting pitching is still a concern. If Ubaldo Jimenez can find his old form, it's possible they could contend for one of the wild card spots. The White Sox led the division most of the season, but lost it in the last month to Detroit. They still are a solid, but incomplete team. The Twins most likely will be at the bottom of the division.

AL West

1) Angels
2) Rangers(WC)
3) Mariners
4) Athletics
5) Astros

I don't think anyone thought the Athletics would win this division last year, not even Billy Beane. They snuck in a race that was supposed to be between Texas and LA. The Angels signed free agent Josh Hamilton away from division rival Texas. Hamilton joins a lineup that already includes Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. The Rangers still have a solid team, but have fallen behind the Angels. I think the Mariners do better this year, they made some moves to improve their offense. Felix Hernandez also signed a long term extension this offseason. I'm not sure where to peg the A's, they could finish anywhere between first and fourth. It seemed a little flukey, and they could fall back. Then again, they have some young talent that is getting better. The Astros play their first American League season this year, and figure to be as bad in their new league as their old one.


Wild Card Game
Braves over Reds
Rays over Rangers

Division Series
Nationals over Braves
Cardinals over Giants
Rays over Angels
Tigers over Blue Jays

Championship Series
Nationals over Cardinals
Tigers over Rays

World Series
Nationals over Tigers

1) Andrew McCutchen
2) Joey Votto
3) Allen Craig
4) Ryan Zimmerman
5) Buster Posey

1) Mike Trout
2) Evan Longoria
3) Miguel Cabrera
4) Jose Bautista
5) Jose Reyes

NL Cy Young
1) Stephen Strasburg
2) Clayton Kershaw
3) Matt Cain
4) Adam Wainwright
5) Cole Hamels

AL Cy Young
1) Felix Hernandez
2) Justin Verlander
3) Jered Weaver
4) Josh Johnson
5) David Price

NL Rookie of the Year

Shelby Miller

AL Rookie of the Year

Wil Nieves

NL Manager of the Year

Clint Hurdle

AL Manager of the Year

Joe Maddon

NL Comeback Player

Tim Lincecum

AL Comeback Player

Evan Longoria

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cardinals Deciding on Middle Infield, Fifth Starter

                     Matt Carpenter: This Year's Second Baseman?

Coming into spring training, there were few questions heading into the season. Most of the roster was set, and the major competition was who was going to be the last guy on the bench and in the bullpen. Second base was the biggest spot up for grabs, with Daniel Descalso returning and Matt Carpenter learning how to play the position in the offseason. However, since then it has been announced by the team that pitcher Chris Carpenter and shortstop Rafael Furcal will miss the entire season due to injuries. This has opened up new competition for shortstop and for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Last season, second base was clearly the weakest spot on the team. Out of spring training, Mike Matheny went with a platoon of Descalso and Tyler Greene. Skip Schumaker joined the mix later in the year when he came off the DL. Descalso wound up playing the most games there, but only hit .227 for the season. Greene was never able to harness his talents in the big leagues, and after a miserable game in August was sent to Houston. Skip was traded to the Dodgers during the offseason, and the Cardinals signed veteran utilityman Ty Wigginton to replace him.

While Descalso is cleary the best defensive second baseman on the roster, I think the Redbirds will go with Carpenter as their main second baseman this year. They'll sacrifice some defense, but gain a lot more offense. Carpenter hit .296 last year in part time play with some power, and can also play first, third, left, and right field. Considering that Carpenter has experience playing the infield, it should be a better conversion than converted outfielder Schumaker. Descalso will also get some time at second, but with Furcal out, he will likely see some more time at short this year. 2011 first round pick Kolten Wong will likely start out in Triple A Memphis, but it is possible he could be in the majors later this season.

In Furcal's absence, Pete Kozma will likely be the starting shortstop heading into the season. The Cardinals also signed journeyman Ronny Cedeno, who's spot on the major league roster is not guaranteed. Kozma hit .333 in 72 at bats in September and had some key hits in the postseason last year. However, Kozma's fielding in the NLCS was brutal last year. He was the Cardinals 2007 1st round pick, but was leapfrogged by Ryan Jackson last season in Triple A. However, it seems that Kozma has leaped ahead of Jackson on the depth chart since then. Kozma is also a career .236 hitter in the minor leagues, but has hit .341 this spring. It is unclear how Kozma will fare in the big leagues, and I would expect Descalso to be the backup. With every other position having a good bat, the Cardinals could make do at short. However, if this isn't working out come July, I would think John Mozeliak would make a move.

For the fifth spot, it is a competition between Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller. Trevor Rosenthal was also considered, but he will open the season in the bullpen. Rosenthal opened some eyes in the organization last fall. He was dominant out of the bullpen, and could be a future closer. Rosenthal can reach 100 mph, and he still could be a starter. The Cardinals said it's very possible he could follow the path of Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, who both started out in the bullpen. Last week, Kelly started a game and Miller relieved, and this week Miller will start and Kelly will relieve. Kelly has the edge in big league experience, but Miller has the higher ceiling.

Kelly started 16 games for last season's club, and had a respectable 3.53 ERA. Miller struggled in Triple A in the first half of last year, but rediscovered his form in the second half. Miller started using his off speed pitches again. Miller also pitched 6 shutout innings against the Reds in the season finale last year, his only start. It's not certain who will win this spot yet, but I would expect both pitchers to start games for St. Louis this year. One thing is certain, Miller will not be pitching out of the bullpen. He will either be in the Cardinals rotation or in Memphis' rotation. If Kelly is not in the rotation, he will likely be in the major league bullpen. That would leave Fernando Salas as the odd man out in that scenario.

One last note: The Cardinals made a terrific move by signing Allen Craig to a 5 year, $31 million deal with a option for 2018. If the option is picked up, it will take him to his age 33 season. The Cardinals have locked up Craig through most of his prime years at a discount rate. In only 119 games last year, Craig hit .307, slugged .522, hit 22 doubles, and 92 RBIs. He was 7th in the National League in batting average and slugging. Imagine if Craig plays a full healthy season, what type of numbers he would put up. Craig had a higher average, OBP, and slugging than Albert Pujols last year at a fraction of the cost. Even with his new deal, Craig averages $6 million a season, and Pujols averages $24 million. Craig said he signed the new deal because he liked playing in St. Louis. While he could of got more money if he waited, he said after his knee injury in Houston two years ago, he knows his career could be over in a instant. Hopefully, he can avoid injuries and put up some big years as the Cardinals first baseman.

                           Miller and Kelly, Fifth Starter Candidates

Friday, March 8, 2013

New Order in the AL East

Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees
                                        Rivera enters his final season

The American League East should be an interesting division this year. The traditional powers of the division are fading. The Red Sox finished in last place and fired manager Bobby Valentine after one tumultous season. 2012 was far worse for Boston than the chicken and beer club the year before. The Yankees won the division last year, but are already plagued with injuries during spring training. Age may be catching up with them. The Orioles were a surprise team last year, and look to build on 2012's success. The Rays won 90 games last year, but just missed out on the playoffs.

The most interesting team in the division is the Blue Jays. They are coming off a 73-89 season, but made many big additions during the offseason. They made two seperate deals with the bottom feeders of the NL East, the Mets and Marlins. They acquired RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio. They also signed Melky Cabrera, who is coming off a PED suspension. Toronto also has a new manager, which is an old face. John Gibbons is entering his second stint with Toronto. His first stint was stormy, and he had confrontations with Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand. This is a way different club, though.

Toronto underachieved last season, due to weak pitching and an injury to Jose Bautista. They have added three top starters, and Brendan Morrow should be healthy this year. Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout year last season, hitting 42 home runs. While Reyes, Bautista, and Encarnacion are the key players on their offense, the Jays need young players like Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and JP Arencibia to step up. Toronto could be really good this year, but it depends on how this team gels together.

The Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals in the offseason, picking up 4 prospects, headed by OF Wil Nieves. They also picked up James Loney, Kelly Johnson, and Yunel Escobar, but loss BJ Upton to free agency. They have a versatile club, and Joe Maddon is good at mixing and matching, especially with Ben Zobrist, who can play almost anywhere. Despite trading away Shields and Davis, the Rays still have 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb in their rotation. Closer Fernando Rodney had a career year last season. Still, the Rays could use a big year from Evan Longoria. Longoria was limited to 74 games last year, and a return to health could take the Rays to the next level.

Last season, the Orioles were amazing in one run games, and in extra inning games. They went 16-2 in extra innings, and 29-9 in one run games. Not sure if they can carry that luck over to this year, but they do have a young improving ballclub. Baltimore brings back most of last year's club, and manager Buck Showalter has done a terrific job with this team. The Orioles are no longer the doormat of the AL East.

A team that could be in a decline is the Yankees. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are both coming off serious injuries. Alex Rodriguez had hip surgery and may not even play this season. CC Sabathia had bone spurs removed during the offseason. Phil Hughes has been dealing with a back issue. Russell Martin left as a free agent, leaving Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and prospect Austin Romine as the options for catcher. Curtis Granderson broke his forearm last weekend, and now Mark Teixeira is out 8-10 weeks with a strained wrist. Other players like Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ichiro Suzuki are getting old. Newcomers like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner are also declining players.

The Yankees may not crash and burn this season, but it could be a trying season for Joe Girardi's club. Despite winning the division last year, they are no longer the favorites in the East or even to make the playoffs. Their arch rivals, the Red Sox, are also a team at crossroads. They added Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Drew, and Ryan Dempster during the offseason. None of these guys are huge additions, but they could help. Boston will need healthy and productive seasons from David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester if it wants to contend this year. Otherwise, they will be an average club this year.

I think it will be a dogfight this year in the East. This might be baseball's most exciting race this year. The Yankees and Red Sox no longer dominate this division like they used to. The Rays have been contending for the last 5 years, and the Orioles made their first postseason in 15 years last season. The Blue Jays should be pretty good this year. It will be interesting to see how this race plays out this season.

                            Blue Jays revamped rotation