We've hit the midpoint of spring training. Three weeks from today, we're avoiding stupid April Fool's jokes and focusing on the pitching matchup out in Arizona. It's a long spring this year, what with the World Baseball Classic going on, but you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If Allen Craig can't see that light, now he can afford some glasses that help. Craig signed a five-year, $31 million deal Friday, a contract that bought out all of his arbitration years and his first year of free agency. This is the kind of deal that we've come to expect from the Cardinals, a contract that gives them cost-certainty and keeps them from having to make some forced decisions down the road.
Since Craig is older for the amount of experience he has--he's already 28--this means that all of Craig's prime years will be in St. Louis. This will possibly also be his biggest contract, though if he continues to rake like he has been, he could get another five year deal or so when it's up with payment for what he's done in the past built in. It's just a good thing to be able to put solid numbers in the payroll matrices for the next few years and at a pretty reasonable rate as well. Kudos to John Mozeliak and the front office for getting this done.
It does make you wonder a bit on what the outlook is for David Freese, however. Freese was in a similar situation this year--he actually had arbitration on his side, whereas Craig did not--and he only got a one-year deal. There are differences in the situation, of course, but there are a lot of similarities. Will Freese get a deal similar to this next year if he's proven he can stay healthy? Does Freese not fit into the Cardinals' plans as well as Craig does? That's something for much later, of course, but worth considering when you are talking the bigger picture with the Cardinals.
Also, the article relating to Craig's contract points out that the team signed him for his bat, not necessarily to be the first baseman. That seems to indicate that Craig will need to keep his outfielder's glove handy, which may mean we'll be seeing Matt Adams in a Cardinal uniform this year as well. Someone is going to have to spell Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran and if Oscar Taveras isn't going to do it, it might as well be Craig, though I'm sure Shane Robinson (who seems to have played his way into starting the season with the big club) and/or Adron Chambers will get a whack at that too.
One of the more intriguing stories to come out this weekend was the fact that the club now considers Matt Carpenterto be acceptable at second base, not only as a temporary measure but also as a starter. Apparently--and to be fair, this is spring and spring coverage, which can at times run more optimistic than the regular season, Joe Strauss notwithstanding--Carpenter has impressed all those involved and has been fielding well and correcting any errors that he may make. We all know that Carpenter has been able to hit, though we'll have to see if having a new position on his mind affects that--it hasn't so far this spring, as he's hitting .370/.469/.519 in 27 at-bats--so being able to put his bat in the lineup without creating a significant defensive liability is huge.
If he is being so proficient, that means a few things: 1) that Daniel Descalso might see time at short if Pete Kozma fails there. If nothing else, Dirty Dan will become a utility player and defensive replacement; 2) that Carpenter might not have to be taken out in the seventh or whatever for defensive purposes, at least not consistently; 3) that the bench becomes a little weaker in that regard, again pointing to the need for someone like Adams. If Carpenter starts, the bench would be Descalso, Tony Cruz (who will never get into a game as a pinch-hitter, of course), Ronny Cedeno, Robinson and Chambers. While Robinson has played lights-out this spring and Descalso has a couple of home runs to his credit in Florida, there is no one on that bench that you bring up when you are down by two and need a double or a homer. Adams is more likely to be that guy, so we'll see if he bumps Chambers back to Memphis.
We saw Joe Kelly have a bit of trouble Thursday against the Yankees in his bid for the fifth slot in the rotation. Shelby Miller came out against the Nationals on Friday and seemed to impress some people, most notably during an 11-pitch at-bat against Bryce Harper that ended with Miller blowing a pitch past him. Miller did give up a couple of runs, though it sounds like part of that was due to a bad hop over Craig's head on Harper's next time up. All in all, if it had been a tie for the last slot before these outings, Miller likely pulled a smidgen ahead after them. They both will probably get one more start, maybe two, before the decision is made.
All in all, the pitching was pretty good this weekend, but the offense didn't show up at all. Maybe it was due to Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina being in the Puerto Rico lineup instead of the Cardinals, maybe it was due to Matt Holliday still being sick, but whatever the case, the team that scored 16 against the Nationals scored two against a Marlins' split squad team and none against the Mets in back to back games. The roller coaster continues.
For all the talk about Rafael Furcal and how he should have had the shoulder surgery earlier, no one is pointing out (which is a classy thing for Mo to do, because I think many would say, "Hey, look there.") that Jaime Garcia also was in a situation where most people thought he needed surgery, but Garcia has been fine this spring and, indeed, hurled five scoreless innings against the Mets. Garcia is giving up a few extra hits--his BAA sits right at .300 in the spring--but he's not letting those turn into runs. Dare we hope that Garcia's game has matured? Because if he can consistently be the left-handed guy we've seen him be on occasion, this rotation takes another step up.
The biggest disappointment in yesterday's game was seeing Eduardo Sanchez have a relapse. Sanchez, who had not walked anyone all spring, walked the first two batters he faced yesterday, both of which came around to score insurance runs. Before that, though, he'd gone 5.1 innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. If yesterday was just a blip on the radar, Sanchez has a good chance of making the bullpen. I think he'll start in Memphis but, well, more on him later today.
Mike Matheny has headed back to St. Louis to have back surgery. When I hear back surgery, I think of a significant procedures that's going to keep you out for an extended period of time. Apparently medical technology and advancements are some impressive things, because Matheny is having the procedure today and should be back in the dugout on Thursday. That's just amazing to me, really. I understand that he's not playing and so the recovery time is quicker, but still, to be able to fly just two days after having your back opened up? That's something. Best wishes to the skipper and hope the surgery goes without a hitch.
Today's approval ratings focus on Lance Lynn, John Rooney and the general manager. It's the first year for Lynn on this ratings, as he didn't crack the list after his 2011 stint in the bullpen. You had a tale of two seasons for Lynn last year, though, and I was curious to see how people reacted to him. Some of this voting was done around his comments about "his job to lose" in the rotation, which didn't sit well with some folks either. All that combined, Lynn comes out with a 79.5% mark. That's a pretty solid standing for a guy that we aren't completely sure what we have with yet. A good 2013 and that number might jump by double digits.
Lynn's on his first approval rating, but Rooney has been here since the very first one. He's been remarkably consistent as well--his lowest mark was 76.2% in 2010, his highest was this year's 84.5%. I think the partnership between Rooney and Mike Shannon has been a great one for Cardinal radio and hopefully it will continue for a long, long time.
Finally, we get to the architect of the team. There are always going to be critics--though how people put 0 and 10 on this rating form is beyond me--but for the most part, Mozeliak has done an exceptional job at keeping a small-market team competitive and viable even with a larger-than-mid-market salary. The farm system has been rejuvenated under his watch and the team has always been competitive, even when major injuries strike. The fan base seems to agree, giving him an 86.5% score, his highest ever.
Besides the fact that the Cards play the Yanks today on ESPN for your afternoon enjoyment, there's plenty coming here at the blog. Later this morning, I'll be posting the transcript for the last UCB roundtable question and this afternoon, we play pepper with the Milwaukee Brewers. So continue to check back through the day!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball