You know, during the winter, there were a lot of days where there just wasn't anything to talk about. Things were slow and we grasped at whatever crumbs we could find. Yesterday, well, yesterday wasn't one of those days.
Let's start with the biggest news. Rafael Furcal will be having Tommy John surgery next week, effectively ending his season. OK, sure, after last year and Chris Carpenter you hesitate a bit to put "season ending" down in print, but I think we can be pretty sure of this one. The Goat curse continues in a unique way, because it seems unlikely Furcal will ever see the field in a Cardinal uniform again.
Of course, this news set off a ton of recriminations toward John Mozeliak, most of which seem to be unwarranted. If what he says is accurate, that no doctor last year recommended surgery, then I don't think you can blame Furcal and the team for not going that route. Getting cut on is not exactly a walk in the park, after all. We have had amazing advances in medical technology and knowledge, but surgery still is one of those things that you tend to not have unless there are no other options.
And, if that's the case, it really hamstrung Mo this offseason. He likely knew Furcal was going to have issues, even though the reports during the winter seemed to indicate he was healing, but what could you do? You can't get a Stephen Drew to come in when he wants a guarantee he will start. You can't use some of your significant trade chips to bring in a shortstop knowing that he'll be sitting the bench if Furcal is ready to go. It was a tough corner to be in.
That said, you do wonder if he couldn't have shored up the backup role a little better in preparation for such an eventuality. Pete Kozma looks to be the starter now (an obvious departure from the Tony La Russa days, where Ronny Cedeno would have been written into the lineup due to his veteran status) and if the team actually thinks he can be some part of the player that he was last year, even though his minor league numbers don't support that, then more power to them, I guess. It could happen, sure, but it seems like a dangerous way to bet. As for Cedeno, when the only person that was in favor of your signing (the general manager) says in relation to how he's been doing in spring with, "Um, not good," I don't think I'd get entirely comfortable, though it seems like he'll go with the team anyway due to a lack of other options and the fact that Mo inexplicably gave him a major league contract instead of a minor league one. (However, Joe Strauss notes his contract isn't guaranteed, so we might not be seeing much more of him.)
In an ideal world, Mo would have made a move for a young shortstop who could have been the backup this year, being groomed to take over the role in 2014. That way, if Furcal did go down, you could still use Kozma and let this new guy ease into things or throw him into the deep water and let him start. However, I'll freely admit that save for Jurickson Profar, whom the Rangers are not going to part with, I don't know where said shortstop would have come from.
That said, there's no need to panic. (Great idea for a Jupiter T-shirt: "Keep Calm and Kozma On".) As Strauss writes, a full season from Furcal wasn't in the plans anyway, given all his health issues. Most teams don't have All-Stars at every position, yet the Cards could make the case for one everywhere but the middle of the diamond. If Kozma is as defensively adept as he's made out to be (which was better than a hurt Furcal last year), it won't matter too much what he hits. I do have visions of rallies dying on the vine when Daniel Descalso and Kozma are stacked back-to-back at the bottom of the lineup, but it would also be reasonable to expect that Descalso will have a stronger season than last year and that might not be as terrifying a vision as it seems on first glance. Couple that with the fact Matt Carpenter might start some games at second and the offense part of the equation fades into the background.
All in all, this feels like bigger news than it probably is. Losing two players for the season before the first game starts is a tough thing for a team to deal with, but it looks like the losses of Furcal and Chris Carpenter can be absorbed and not put much of a dent in the playoff aspirations of this team. Which says a lot right there, I think.
Right before the Furcal news came out yesterday, the club made it official that Trevor Rosenthalis going to the bullpen. The Cards were excited about what he brings out of the bullpen and were afraid that he wouldn't get enough innings in spring to stretch him out (for which you can thank Michael Wacha's emergence mostly). On the positive side for Rosenthal, this basically assures him a spot on the major league roster, which is what you want as a player anyway.
It always seemed like there were three outcomes for the three pitchers vying for that last spot in the rotation. One was going to get it, one was going to the bullpen, and one was going to start in Memphis. We've figured out part of the equation, so now what's left is to see which of Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly get to ride in the red convertibles and which one gets to enjoy some Southern BBQ. Kelly pitched yesterday--more on that in a bit--and Miller goes today.
Let's not leave Rosenthal just yet, though. The conventional wisdom is that starters are more valuable than relievers, so moving Rosenthal to the pen seems to be a short-term gain at a long-term loss. I think there's some truth to that. Rosenthal has shown in the past that he can be very effective as a starter and you hate to lose all those innings that he could give you. While the club has said that they'll continue to develop him as a starter if he wants, it seems the longer he's in the bullpen the less likely you can flip the switch without losing some of his effectiveness.
That said, there are a whole lot of starter arms coming up. Right now you still have Kelly and Miller and coming up you have Wacha and Carlos Martinez and perhaps Seth Maness and the list continues on and on. Not all of these guys are going to get regular turns in the Cardinal rotation, there's just too many of them. So the loss of Rosenthal as a starter can be offset pretty easily by some of these other arms. I think we'd rather have Rosenthal as a reliever than him starting against the team somewhere, so this move is definitely not the worst thing that could happen.
This is getting a bit long and we've not even touched on yesterday's game. Click the link to continue!
Also in the non-game news, Adam Wainwright's agent is back from a trip to Israel and the two sides are talking again. While nothing much has changed, it still seems like these talks are free from any bitterness, posturing or ill will that the Albert Pujols negotiations seemed to engender. I'm not as confident that a deal will get done by Opening Day as I used to be, but that's more because there's just three weeks to get the deal done than from any fears that Wainwright is ready to bolt. Still, if they get into the season without a contract signed, I'm thinking the odds of Waino pitching somewhere else in 2014, as unimaginable as that seems, might be a lot higher. I also think the backlash toward the front office if that happens is likely to be stronger than when Pujols signed with the Angels, because of the fact that Wainwright doesn't seem to be holding the organization hostage.
Oh, and by the way, they played a game yesterday and a wild one at that. As Jenifer Langosch noted on her blog, a day that was dominated by the Furcal news saw the middle infield come up huge in this one. Kolten Wong hit a bottom-of-the-ninth two-run home run to tie the game at 6 before Adron Chambers singled in the winning run. Also going yard yesterday? Descalso, who went yard in the seventh and gave the Cards a temporary lead, and the man of the hour, Mr. Kozma. What middle infield worries?
In fact, with all the spring caveats, if you were going to worry about someone it might be Jason Motte. He gave up yet another run yesterday, raising his spring ERA to around 11, and a number of those have been long balls. Again, though, small samples and it's not like he's working in his normal routine down in Jupiter--yesterday he pitched the sixth inning, for instance. It doesn't seem like it's time to panic just yet, though it'd be nice if Motte turned the corner soon to let us feel better before going into the season.
As noted above, Kelly pitched yesterday and didn't have his best outing, reaching his pitch count in two innings instead of the expected three or more. He walked three in that time, though some reports indicated a couple of those were on borderline pitches. He also hit a batter and gave up two hits, which is a lot of base runners in two innings. He didn't pitch himself out of the competition by any means, but he didn't leave a high bar for Miller to clear against the Nationals today.
OK, we're at the halfway point of the Cardinal Approval Ratings. Today, we'll look at the centerfielder, Jon Jay. Jay took over as a full time starter last year and avoided the slumps he had in 2010 and 2011 when his play led to trades of the starters. He had a Jaime Garcia-like home/road split, however, which he may need to even out a bit going forward. Still, his play garnered him an 81.8% mark this year, which is up 10 percent from last year. Jay seems to be one that most people like and he rarely gets the Twitterverse worked up during games, save those times where he takes a strange route to the ball.
Next up is the main main on the Fox Sports Midwest mike, Dan McLaughlin. Dan has had some well-publicized foul ups in his personal life, but he seems to be dedicated to clearing that out of his past and he's bounced back tremendously, especially with his weight. He also likely gets to look good by comparison as he's with Al Hrabosky and Ricky Horton on the broadcasts and, well, let's just say neither of them are huge hits in Cardinal Nation. Dan checks in this year with a 76, which like Jay is a strong jump from the prior year.
Our final result for the week is Mike Matheny. Last year, Matheny was a fairly unknown commodity. Sure, he had a residual base of good feeling from his days as a player, but no one really knew what he'd be like as a manager. Now we have a year of that under the belt and, well, it really didn't change our opinions of the head man that much. Matheny comes in this year with a 84.4% rating, which is just about three percent better than last year's mark. He might have had a bigger mark, but he bunted a vote to third to make sure he got at least one. (I kid, I kid.)
Today's game with the Nationals should be a fun one, with Miller going up against Jordan Zimmermann. Tune into that this afternoon and be sure to come back as we talk Miami Marlins in the last Playing Pepper of the week!
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ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball