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January 2011

UCB January Project: Top 5 Headlines

Posted on January 26, 2011 at 11:20 PM
As regular readers of this site or other Cardinal blogs know, almost every month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do some sort of interactive project.  Some are pretty regular (you'll always see a roundtable in February and the Cardinal Blogger Awards in November), while some are more one-time things.

This time out, we're trying a new project, suggested to us by Tom from CardinalsGM.  We are doing a little crystal ball gazing and putting down five different headlines we expect to see during 2011.  This isn't necessarily what we want to see, but what we think actually will happen during the coming months.  So, without further adieu.....

1) PUJOLS SIGNS RECORD-SETTING DEAL

February 14: In a valentine to the fans, the Cardinals and all-world first baseman Albert Pujols came to terms on a eight-year, $270 million contract that contains provisions that would keep him in St. Louis for the rest of his playing days--and beyond.

2) PUJOLS' BAT, WAINWRIGHT'S ARM START SEASON RIGHT FOR CARDS

March 31: Adam Wainwright threw seven strong innings in his first Opening Day start and Albert Pujols showed why he got a record contract by hitting a three-run homer as the Cardinals pounced on the San Diego Padres 6-2 to start the 2011 season.

3) ALL'S QUIET AS CARDS TOP REDS

April 22: At the end of last season, bad blood boiled between the Cardinals and the Reds.  However, you'd never have been able to tell when the teams met Friday night, with the Cardinals coming out on top 5-3.

4) DEADLINE PASSES WITH NO MOVES

July 31: With the Cardinals sitting four games up in the division and with a lack of flexibility in both payroll and talent, it was not a surprise when the trade deadline came and went Sunday with no activity in St. Louis.

5) CARDS CLINCH AGAINST RIVAL

September 23: Let the champagne flow.  The Cardinals are back into baseball's postseason after a 7-1 win against their long-time rivals, the Chicago Cubs.  Adam Wainwright pitched eight innings and Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday both had long home runs to send the team into October.

That's my amateur guessing at what is in store for us.  Be sure to check out what everyone else thinks over at the UCB official site.  Also, tomorrow night (1/29) at 6 PM, be sure to check out a special edition of the UCB Radio Hour, as Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth and JD from Bleed Cardinal Red With Me will be interviewing Cardinal pitcher PJ Walters.  Should be a great one, so don't miss it!

Scraping Bottom

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 8:48 AM
The biggest news in the last few days has been the signing of Nick Punto.  When that's your biggest news, you know things are quiet.

Punto is probably fine, as far as he goes.  The problem is, he just doesn't go that far.  As Joe Strauss not-so-obliquely implied, whenever the official press release on the signing includes the word "gritty," you aren't expecting much from the offensive side of things.  When the first thing you think of after looking at his numbers is, "Hey, that reminds me of Aaron Miles", well, you don't expect a lot out of the transaction.

Punto does give some insurance at a few positions, in as much as insurance means someone that can stand at the position and not make a fool of themselves.  He's pretty good with the glove, as far as I can make out, but again you just don't want him playing very much.  He's not likely to be much of a pinch-hitter, but he is a "gritty veteran," which means that a lot of the fanbase will probably be moaning much of the season as he gets much more playing time than he should.

Hopefully, it won't be much of an issue.  If David Freese stays healthy, if Ryan Theriot hits at a decent level, if Skip Schumaker is still on the team then Punto probably won't be seen all that often, save maybe in a late-game double switch.  As noted in the above article, it does seem to indicate Daniel Descalso is ticketed back to Memphis, but I'm not sure that's a terrible thing.  He could probably do as much as Punto, but he might develop a little more at AAA.

Besides that, the news that affects Cardinal fans the most may be the time-share arrangement Fox Sports Midwest has worked out with its TV guys.  I think a lot of fans might be happy that Al Hrabosky will have his role somewhat reduced, but it comes at the expense of having Ricky Horton on games more.

I talked about this some when I was doing the writeup of the FSMW tour from last season.  Cal Eldred is my pick for best former player working with the television side of things.  He's good, interesting, and laid-back.  I don't mind Al as much as others do, and that opinion of course went up after our long talk with him last year.  Horton, though, even though he seems like a nice guy, comes across a bit too chipper, a bit too much of a homer, when he does games.  I'm not sure I'd have expanded his role like they did, especially at the expense of Dan McLaughlin.

If this kind of thing interests you, though, I want you to mark your calendars for February 2.  That night's UCB Radio Hour, which will be the first under the new Ivie League Productions banner, will have us talking to Geoff Goldman of FSMW.  We'll talk about the TV schedule, the broadcasters, and other related topics.  Should be a fun time!

The Clock Is Ticking

Posted on January 18, 2011 at 8:57 AM
If you are tired of the Albert Pujols negotiation discussions, I have a suggestion for you.  Turn off all devices capable of receiving news for at least a month, perhaps the entire season.  That's the only way you are going to be able to get away from it.

Bernie Miklasz writes that both sides share a little blame in this.  I think that's true, to a certain extent.  There's no doubt that the Cardinal management and ownership have seemingly blundered their way through this, hoping that it'd get taken care of or being overly cautious on not signing a bad contract.  We all thought that last offseason was the time to get things done, but serious talks weren't held then.  I'm not even sure unserious talks, where Albert's agent and John Mozeliak got up and did their best celebrity imitations while singing Broadway show tunes, were held.  "We have him under contract," was the mantra, and it was true, as far as it went.  You do have him under contract, but the sign him chorus is only going to get louder as time goes by.

I also do think that Pujols is naive if he really thinks that not negotiating during the season will keep the distractions to a minimum.  Even if, which I don't believe, the St. Louis press stopped asking him about it, every time he goes to a new city, that press corps is going to be asking him and, more importantly, his teammates about life without Pujols, do you think he can sign, etc.  It'd be one thing if the questions were limited to AP, but you know everyone in that clubhouse is going to get asked the same questions over and over again.

Both sides have a vested interest in getting this done and a time period to do it in.  I do wonder if John Mozeliak isn't negotiating for his job, though.  The man who let Pujols walk would not be popular in Cardinal Nation at all.  Even the normal "blame the player" act that this organization has been known to do won't break through the negative buzz around that.

Joe Strauss Tweeted yesterday that he thought it was funny that those that said the contract was done by Winter Warmup now are saying it is crumbling.  (I realize that the problem with following Strauss on Twitter isn't that he's snarky--snarky is fine in its place--but that he's condescending, and not at all subtly.)  Now, perhaps over at Cards Talk there was discussions about a "done deal," but (at least by the site's reputation) you can also probably find a discussion about how Albert is actually from another planet and the MIB are going to use the Arch as a huge neuralizer to have the whole city forget he was actually here.  In other words, use your silo of salt when you go in there.

That said, it also makes sense that if you thought that things were going well enough to get done by the Warmup, the fact that they are still far apart doesn't feel you with warm feelings.  I was one that all winter expected an announcement this week.  I thought that the PR would be great, that you wouldn't want the scene you had this week with Pujols refusing to answer questions and having that hang over the whole thing.  Obviously, it didn't get done.  Couple that with the comments, the talk about them still being far apart, and I'm down from 100% to 95% that he's staying.  I still think it'll happen, but I've got my first slivers of doubt.

There was a report yesterday (and again, since both sides seem to be doing their best to keep to the "radio silence" pledge, there's no telling how much truth there is to it) that the Cards' offer wasn't even $200 million and that they didn't want to go eight years.  At first, I looked and that and thought they were trying to lowball AP, which is a stupid tactic and made me fear for the negotiations.  Then I figured that, if they went right up to $200 million and went seven years, that $28.5 million a year.  That's an average value higher than the Alex Rodriguez deal, so it's definitely not a lowball.

Seven years, assuming it started after this season, would keep Pujols in St. Louis until he was 39.  You don't know who ownership would be then, who would be running the show, what AP would think of St. Louis then, but looking at it from one angle, it'd be tough to let a guy like Pujols, after having put in seventeen years, go when you could lock him up for another year or two and keep him in Cardinal red forever.  I think seven is fine, maybe with some mutual year-to-year options that keep rolling over at the end of it, similar to the contract Tim Wakefield had with the Red Sox.

There are a few other things going on in Cardinal Nation, though it's hard to imagine.  Tony La Russa held court yesterday and had a few things of interest to say.  One, his fascination of taking infielders and putting them in the outfield (and vice versa) hasn't abated, as it looks like Tyler Greene will get some time in center this spring.  I'd much rather Greene be focused on his hitting and be comfortable somewhere (say, like second base), but this gives Greene some more ABs and, of course, stirs the Colby Rasmus pot just a bit.

Also, to the dismay of the fine folks over at Pitchers Hit Eighth, TLR plans a traditional lineup this season.  That said, he has been known to use the lineup to try to give the team a boost or a jolt, so I would be pretty surprised if the pitcher didn't make an appearance at eighth at least a few times this season.

Lance Berkman is going to hit fifth.  I still think I'd rather see him in the two hole and, again, lineups are fluid with TLR, but I'm guessing most of the time it'll be Pujols-Holliday-Berkman.  Which isn't a terrible middle of the order.  I know Rasmus isn't fond of the leadoff slot (and I think he's wasted a bit there), but La Russa says that's an option.  I wouldn't mind, if you have to have Berkman two, a lineup of Theroit-Rasmus-Pujols-Holliday-Berkman-Freese-Molina-Schumaker-pitcher.  We'll see if that happens, though.

Allen Craig is fine with working out at third.  It's interesting that it's arm strength that's holding him back there, not the actual glove work.  I'd think that the strength is something that'd be easier to work on, especially in the winter.  Between Craig and David Freese, there's going to be a lot of focus on third base this spring.  Should be interesting to see how that all shakes out.

Matt Holliday wants to know where he'll be playing before spring training, which seems like a reasonable request to me.  I haven't heard any more talk about swapping him and Berkman since Berkman signed, so I would expect that both of them will be in their regular positions come Opening Day.

Finally, there was the other contract discussion that will get some attention this season, the Chris Carpenter option discussion.  Carp's got '11 under control, but '12 is a $15 million option.  I can't believe that'll get picked up, especially with Albert's new deal, hopefully.  A reworking seems reasonable, especially if he has a good year this year.

Remember, UCB Radio tomorrow night!

Late Night Musings

Posted on January 15, 2011 at 10:07 PM
It's Saturday night after a long day and I'm yawning my head off.  Which means it's a perfect time for a blog post!

With the Winter Warmup kicking off today, there were numerous tidbits coming out of St. Louis.  Probably the biggest in terms of play was the fact that negotiations with Albert Pujols and his agent must be completed before spring training begins.  That was pretty much understood, though I think some of us may have thought there was some leeway until Opening Day.

So this means the clock is ticking, and very, very loudly.  There are right at 30 days until pitchers and catchers report, so there is not much time to get an agreement done.  It does appear that my thought that they'd get it done and announce it at or before the warmup was completely erroneous.  The closer that that deadline comes, the more nervous I get.  I've never really entertained the notion that Pujols would reach free agency.  Today, that sliver of doubt hit my mind.

Hopefully the negotiations are close and they just aren't telling us.  Who knows if there's been an offer made and if it was in the ballpark.  I think it's good that they are keeping it in house, but it does make for a lot of frustrated guessing on the part of the fanbase.  As for the discussions, well, I have to reuse my line from this week's UCB Radio Hour chat room: Oquendo put up the stop sign at six years, but Pujols ran right through it.

The Cardinals also attempted to address their depth in the last couple of days, signing pitchers Ian Snell and Miguel Batista as well as shortstop Ramon Vazquez.  Whether this really will help out their depth still remains to be seen.  I held out a little hope that Snell and/or Bautista would be a serviceable sixth starter until reading the analysis over at Viva El Birdos.  Couple that with the fact that both of them can opt out of their deals if they aren't on the big league roster at the end of camp (which odds are they won't be) and it may be a short time in Cardinal red for both of those guys.  Maybe Pujols can get into an early rhythm by beating on one of his favorite targets in Snell during camp.

Fox Sports Midwest is running a vote right now to see which of a slate of 2010 games you'd most like to see again, edited and put into a nice 30-minute package.  The vote is being held here, so head over and make your selections.  If anything but The Brawl comes in first, I'd be shocked.

Hope you are having a good weekend and I'll see what I can do about getting more than one post up next week!

The Elephant In The Room

Posted on January 7, 2011 at 10:27 PM
The beginning of January is always a dead time in baseball.  The free agents are mainly signed, with only a couple of second or third tier guys still out there.  Pitchers and catchers don't report for another few weeks, which means the baseball writers are getting their vacations in while they can.  What exactly is there to talk about?

Well, finally the Post-Dispatch, in the form of Joe Strauss, tossed out a nice topic.  Turns out that the big wigs in the front office are finally sitting down with the representatives of Albert Pujols.  That's enough to stir the pot that is the Cardinal internet.  For instance, you have Aaron Miles' Fastball, the newest entry to the UCB (though written by an old friend) trying to do that whole head vs. heart thing when it comes to the length of the contract.

That's a very legitimate point.  It boils down to whether you want to watch Albert Pujols, even if he's struggling with a huge contract and a rundown team around him or are much more interested in winning baseball, even if it means seeing Albert come to town in a Mets, Angels or...no, he'd never go to Chicago, would he?

Personally, I'm of the opinion you pay him, keep him, honor him, and worry about the future (to some degree) when it comes.  Sure, Albert won't be Albert when he's 39, most likely, but who's to say that salaries won't be to the level that $20 million is about right for his production?  Plus he's been underpaid for so long, it's worth a couple of down years to see him in Cardinal red for his entire career.

Bernie Miklasz seems to lean toward the positive side of things with this news, thinking that if both sides are trying for the same thing--a return of Albert to St. Louis--then that helps loads in getting a deal done.  I agreed with this on the latest UCB Radio Hour and I stick to my prediction, made back in October, that a deal gets done right before the Winter Warmup, so that Albert can be feted while all the fans are in town.

I feel confident this is going to get done.  What it is going to look like when it is all said and done, I don't know, but I don't see Albert going anywhere anytime soon.

Other quick bits from around the web:

*Jason from It's About The Money, Stupid, one of the members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, has a neat graph on his blog today comparing WAR to OPS+ for the last 10 years.  You might guess a certain first baseman does pretty well in this.

*The gang over at Pitchers Hit Eighth hit a nice milestone today, throwing up post #600 with their normal class, tact, intelligence and skill.  Congrats, guys!

*The Cubs made a deal for Matt Garza today.  While that shouldn't jump them past the Cards, Brewers and Reds, it would seem to me to close the gap significantly, making the NL Central a competitive four-team race.  Tom over at CardinalsGM is, as always, on top of the story.

*Speaking of the UCB, we've now got a dedicated Twitter account at @utdcardbloggers.  You'll be able to see when members have posted, as some of our RSS feeds are going into that account, triggering a Tweet.  If you are reading Cardinal baseball and are on Twitter, you need to give it a follow.

*The Cardinals also made a couple of front office moves today, most notably promoting Michael Girsch to assistant GM.  Girsch comes from the analytic side of the front office, meaning that some of the discussions that we as bloggers had about the rift between old-school and new-school might have been a bit overblown.  How could that be possible?

*If you are missing your dose of me, check out CardsClubhouse.  In the forums over there, I've started a thread called Ask Cardinal70.  Anything (for the most part) is fair game and may or may not be answered seriously.  If you set up an account over there, please let me know when you do so I can get you activated.

As news breaks, well, better look to the news sites.  But I'll come around eventually to give you my take on it!




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Heroes
Carlos Beltran (6)
Yadier Molina (5)
Matt Holliday (4)
Jon Jay (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Pete Kozma (3)
Shelby Miller (3)
Adam Wainwright (3)
Allen Craig (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Tyler Lyons (2)
Edward Mujica (2)
Jake Westbrook (2)
David Freese (1)
Joe Kelly (1)
Seth Maness (1)
Trevor Rosenthal (1)
Michael Wacha (1)
Ty Wigginton (1)

2012 Top Hero: Matt Holliday (17)
2011 Top Hero: Lance Berkman (24)
2010 Top Heroes: Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (24)
2009 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (28)
2008 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (25)

Goats
Jon Jay (6)
David Freese (5)
Mitchell Boggs (4)
Joe Kelly (4)
Pete Kozma (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Allen Craig (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Yadier Molina (3)
Matt Adams (2)
Carlos Beltran (2)
Matt Carpenter (2)
Matt Holliday (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Seth Maness (1)
Shane Robinson (1)
Fernando Salas (1)
Adam Wainwright (1)
Jake Westbrook (1)

2012 Top Goat: Rafael Furcal (11)
2011 Top Goat: Ryan Theriot (12)
2010 Top Goat: Brendan Ryan (14)
2009 Top Goats: Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer (13)
2008 Top Goat: Troy Glaus (13)

Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
Chris Carpenter 89.8% (down 0.3%)
Derrick Goold 89.1% (up 6.3%)
Matt Holliday 88.4% (up 0.9%)
Allen Craig 88.3%
Adam Wainwright 88.2% (down 3.7%)
Jose Oquendo 87.1% (up 2.4%)
Jason Motte 86.9%
John Mozeliak 86.5% (up 1.1%)
United Cardinal Bloggers 85.2% (up 6.3%)
Bill DeWitt 85.1% (up 5.3%)
Mike Shannon 85.1% (down 0.2%)
John Rooney 84.5% (up 3.0%)
Mike Matheny 84.4% (up 3.3%)
David Freese 82.9% (down 2.6%)
Jon Jay 81.8% (up 10.7%)
Lance Berkman 80.6% (down 8.0%)
Jenifer Langosch 79.5%
Lance Lynn 79.5%
Dan McLaughlin 76.0% (up 8.0%)
Jim Hayes 73.0% (up 1.1%)
Ricky Horton 65.5% (down 2.0%)
Jaime Garcia 64.1%
Albert Pujols 59.2% (up 4.3%)
Ballpark Village 58.3%
Joe Strauss 54.3% (down 13.4%)

2012
Tony La Russa 88.2% (up 17.4%)
Mark McGwire 82.6% (up 20.1%)
Skip Schumaker 73.3% (up 9.2%)
B.J. Rains 69.5% (down 0.9%)
Kyle Lohse 68.9% (up 13.8%)
Al Hrabosky 66.4% (up 3.2%)
Colby Rasmus 46.5% (down 35.3%)

2011
Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
Ryan Franklin 72.8% (up 3.1%)
John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

2009
Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%


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