The Cards have a load of depth on their roster and it’s not just limited to the pitching staff.
Coming into camp, the Birds have an outfield full of possibility. The Oscar Taveras watch begins this month and younger guns like Stephen Piscotty(coming off a white hot Winter league session) and James Ramsey aren’t too far off the M.L.B. radar. The area with the most intrigue is center field, with newcomer Peter Bourjos and returning player Jon Jay.
Some people think Jay will be taking over the spot by the end of April because he can hit and provide adequate defense. Others think Bourjos offers you the better defensive ability that can give a fine bump to an outfield that ranked near the bottom in the majors in 2013. Each offer you something different. Let’s break them down individually first.
Jay does have the better bat and showed that over the course of 2010-2013, hitting .300 in two seasons and playing a fine centerfield after the departure of Colby Rasmus. He filled a gap for a relatively low price and has a good history with this team and working relationship with the coaches. While his bat slowed down in 2013, he still hit .276 with 151 hits, 67 RBI and a .351 on base percentage. A lot of Cardinals fans, including myself at times, forget that 2013 wasn’t a horrible year at the plate for Jay. His defense did erode last season, and that is where Bourjos comes into play. Jay had problems covering the gaps and has never had a great arm. However, his bat will get him plenty of starts in 2014.
Bourjos is an amazing defensive outfielder and can make the highlight reel with his catches. His arm is decent and his range is very good. The biggest question mark with Bourjos is his bat and his health. His only 130 + game season came in 2011, and the other seasons have seen him take injuries to his upper body and lower body. Bourjos played 50 + in 2010 when he came up to the Los Angeles Angels and only got 55 games in last year. He has never hit for an amazing average, with a lifetime mark of .251 and an even worse on base percentage of .306. He has stolen 41 bags in 54 attempts in his short career. His biggest feature easily comes from his defense and that sets up the main question.
It’s official folks. Pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Florida in less than 2 weeks. The waiting is nearly over with and the anticipation is going to start boiling over. Sometimes fans forget about the 45 days that happen before the real 162 game stretch begins. This is where rosters start large and full of promise and end up shredded and cut to size.
With that goal in mind, I am going to take a look at five things that strike me as interesting about this 2013 Cardinals team. There are a lot of things worth talking about but here I will give you five for now.
5.) Daniel Descalso has one very good agent. One thing that struck me about John Mozeliak’s media session at the Winter Warmup was his icy feelings towards the Descalso camp. Dirty Dan wanted 1.6 million and the Cards were offering 900,000 and sticking to it. Yesterday, Descalso signed for 1.2 million, a price met by the Cards due to the fear of the first arbitration trial for the Cards in like….forever. Was this a good deal? For Descalso, it sure is. He gets financial security but I am not sure where the Cards are going to justify him with the at bats and playing time.
Descalso isn’t fighting Pete Kozma for starts anymore. He is fighting the future in Kolten Wong and the seasoned veteran edge of Mark Ellis. He may have won at the bank but in the field not so much. Ellis didn’t come here to play behind two younger players. Descalso’s OPS(on base percentage plus slugging percentage) was downright horrible last year and his batting average(.238) wasn’t much better. In a dog fight there isn’t much he offers to the team in reality over a defensive wizard like Kozma or a younger buck like Greg Garcia.
I like Descalso and appreciate his fine contributions over the years, but his defense has gotten worse and his bat doesn’t do enough to justify a spot. His 1.2 million isn’t as bad as Ty Wiggington’s 2.5 last year but it still leaves me scratching my head.
4.) Hey Joe. I am talking about California Wildfire fighting Joe Kelly. The jack of all trades who happens to work out with pizza in his mouth(at least according to twitter) is coming into spring with his role undetermined. It’s a good thing Kelly doesn’t let those kind of shenanigans affect his preparation.
In 2013, Kelly served as part time Porsche parked in the garage and part time excellent fill in starter. He went from missing in action to taking Shelby Miller’s rotation spot in the playoffs(yeah that’s just happened). Unlike 2 of his fellow rotation dogfight participants, Kelly has a strong mental makeup and doesn’t let his spring training status stop him from working hard. If it were up to me, I would carve out a spot for Kelly in the rotation right away but since he is so versatile, I can’t be too sure.
Tony La Russa never wasted any words when speaking with the media during his career as a manager. While those words could be short ended and sparse at times, he is direct and carried a dry sense of humor about him.
When these media sessions go well, the player/coach treats them like a conversation and not an interrogation. La Russa simply sat there and talked to us before he signed for the fans. Here are are his thoughts on various subjects.
On Sunday, La Russa gave an intimate 25 minute conversation about his years in St. Louis, instant replay, and getting into the Hall of Fame. It was one of those conversations that you didn’t want to see end and wouldn’t soon forget.
On getting into the Hall Of Fame-
“I had convinced myself it wasn’t going to happen. This has been a surreal experience. All the pieces they give you and the other guys. It’s heavy stuff. You get the call and they don’t tell you anything else. They tell you to come down. They tell you that your life will be different. There’s some far out stuff that is impossible to comprehend.”
La Russa, even after making it into the Hall, isn’t comfortable being a part of it.
“I still think the Hall Of Fame is a place for players. I always thought the managers in there were guys like Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson, who lit the room up with baseball. When we won the Championship in 2006, there was a feeling something was there, having won one in each league(like Sparky). It may be hard to avoid it. I am not comfortable with it and the biggest reason is I never thought good fortune was hall of fame criteria. I have been lucky enough to be in places like Chicago, (Oakland), and St. Louis. The only thing I want is to not disrespect Chicago or Oakland. They will make their decision soon.”
One year after Stan Musial passed away, the legendary Cardinal still comes to Tony’s mind.
The final day saw a much more calming presence at the 2014 Winter Warmup. The frenzy was dialed down but the passion was there. Players like Peter Bourjos, Sam Freeman, Michael Wacha and Mike Matheny spent time with the media while fans flocked to them for signatures, small moments and a picture or two.
Part of my job here is separating the fan side of my personality from the professional side and being contingent on getting enough quotes from them for a good story and catching a glimpse into the way their minds work. The balance isn’t always easy and one time I was totally swept up in fan zone mania with….Seth Maness. After his session I asked him about his ability to quickly induce double play balls making the other bullpen guys jealous. He may have been on the verge of telling me a huge secret when suddenly I wouldn’t shut up. My rookie status stays quiet for only so long.
Here are some images, bits of info, quotes and other things from Day 3 of the Winter Warmup.
Sam Freeman expects to come into camp ready to compete for a spot in the bullpen. “Executing pitches one pitch at a time and letting everything fall into place. Control everything I have control over and keep it as simple as possible. The competition is something Freeman hasn’t thought about. “Go out there and perform to the best of my abilities.” Freeman does have things he wants to improve on. “Putting batters away. There were times where I had two strikes and let the batter back into the count.” When asked if he lets the situation of moving between Memphis and St. Louis creep into his pitching, Freeman simply said no. “I just let it fly man. Every time.”
Wacha is a confident kid and he gives that aura off every time he speaks, even though he appears very humble. Has he sat back and surveyed the world wind experience? “Yes. It was a heck of a run and gets me itching for it to get going again.” In his mind, the goal is to go out and be perfect, not giving up any hits or runs. Does he feel the pressure to top last year? “I wouldn’t say that. I can’t pay much attention to that. I have my own expectations for myself. The main goal is try not to do too much. Same mentality going into this year.”
For all the St. Louis Cardinals fans who have been craving a base stealing threat at Busch, Peter Bourjos could be the answer to your prayers. He doesn’t plan on just swiping a few bases either.
“I’d like to be in the 40’s. It’s all about how often you get on base. How you swing the bat. In the minor leagues, I stole 50 bags. It would be nice to be in that range.”
Bourjos is gracious, smiling and looks genuinely excited to playing in Busch Stadium. When he first saw it in December, it was covered in snow but he still thought it was beautiful, especially coming from a guy who grew up in Arizona and played the last few years in Los Angeles.
Bourjos jumped at the chance to play for St. Louis and his ex-teammate Albert Pujols told him how great the city was. “He told me the fans understand the game(here in St. Louis) and that they will root for each side. They know how the game of baseball is supposed to be play.” Bourjos said Pujols couldn’t speak higher of St. Louis.
The Cardinals had just competed in the World Series so Bourjos was excited to come into the ballclub. “Just to have the opportunity to come here and prove what I can do. I didn’t think I was going back to Anaheim.”
As the second day of Cards fan crazy mania came to a close, I found myself seeing this experience go by way too quickly. This has been an amazing experience mixing it up with players, other writers and fans. For Cardinals faithful, this is their comic con. A chance to meet, greet and talk to a few of your favorite players.
In the media room, Sunday saw a flurry of players come across the microphone. Matt Adams got things rolling, and he was followed by Shelby Miller, Shane Robinson, Joe Kelly, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and Lance Lynn. A surprise appearance by Tony La Russa gave way to the most candid and laid back discussion with the newly minted Hall of Fame manager I have ever seen. All in all, a wonderful day. Here are some bits to enjoy as we come up on the final day of festivities.
What did 2013 do for Joe Kelly and what did he find out? “That I can be pretty good. Gaining confidence. It’s not a fluke. I carried some swagger and confidence, and proved I can be better than my opponents.”
Are you expecting to be a starter in 2014? “I haven’t really thought about it to be honest. I can’t even remember pitching in the World Series. I had to watch it recently. It’s the same since I was 5 years old. That feeling. It’s hard for ordinary people to understand. It’s not like I say I have earned anything. I will go out there and do what I can.”
Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte aren’t going to escape the question this spring or season. It’s not so much about who is the closer but who will be the closer at the end. Jason Motte took over the job in the latter parts of 2011 and thrived, saving 42 games in 2012 and performing well in the playoffs. In the spring of 2013, Motte went down with Tommy John Surgery and after Edward Mujica bridged the gap for 4 months, Trevor Rosenthal took over and was outstanding. 2014 will bring interesting events to every part of the team but the closer role could be a riddle that lasts into 2015 and beyond.
What did Motte think of Trevor’s job at the end of the season? “(Trevor) didn’t do anything any different. He was pretty good. You look at the stuff they have and he hasn’t done anything any different. It’s been fun to watch. It wasn’t a surprise to me.”
Trevor sees the situation as another sign of the great depth of pitching on this team. “We are both here to help the team win. You see a team with so much pitching. Like with Mujica last year, he was the closer all year and then I had to help him out in the end.”
The main thing on Motte’s mind right now is getting healthy and that started with an exam this week and gets more serious this coming week as he starts to throw in Florida. There is no timetable for his return. “We are going to throw more next week and work our way up. It won’t be a normal spring training. There isn’t a timetable. You don’t want to rush it back and then end up hurting yourself and the team. I just need to take my time and get healthy so I can get out there and help the team win.”
It’s an interesting question. Why didn’t Shelby Miller see time in last year’s playoffs. During his media session Sunday afternoon, that was the topic of discussion. That and the fact that Adam Wainwright called him the second strongest guy on the team.
“The biggest thing is trying to have a bigger offseason. Two years ago, I lost too much weight. This past month, I have gotten better with it. Putting on more muscle. Weight room wise I am a lot stronger than last year. It could allow me to throw more pitches.”
He did address the Holliday effect quickly.
“Just being around Holliday. He makes the weights scared of him. He lifts 100 pound dumbbells. Whoever wanted to go for 2nd on the team I would definitely work out with them.”
What were his feelings on October? “The media asks you. Family asked you. I don’t have a good answer for you. We had a good thing going with the rotation and the bullpen was throwing hard, so with these dominant guys, I didn’t have the opportunity to pitch.”
One of the good things about veteran baseball players is they aren’t afraid of any question and they are ready to answer completely without thinking about it. Mark Ellis, fresh off facing the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and since joined the Redbirds, is the epitome of candid honesty.
Standing in front of the media, Ellis shed plenty of light on expectations, why he came to St. Louis with playing time a question mark and facing young pitchers like Michael Wacha.
Q-Were you surprised the Cardinals got a hold of you?
A-Yes. Very surprised. I have always been attracted to this team. I didn’t know that Matt Carpenter would be playing third base. He just had 200 hits and was playing second base so I didn’t expect it.
Q-What did they tell you about Kolten Wong?
A-They like him from an organizational standpoint. He’s a good young player. They didn’t promise me anything. I just want to play baseball. I’ll back up Yadi. Being a part of a winning organization. No one wants to be a mentor but that’s a role you take on being a veteran player. You want to help the team win.
A-Help this team win. I want to help Kolten and they will decide what they want to do. My game plan is go out there and get prepared and be an everyday player. I want to win a championship.
As most everyone else does between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I’ve been thinking much about what I want to see in 2014. As the snow falls and the temps waver from low to high single digits, it’s only natural to think about spring … and baseball … and what I want to see from the Cardinals as the weather warms (both the temperature and my spirits!).
Taking a look back at last year’s New Year Wish List makes me wonder how much will change between now and October, but it’s fun to look ahead and wish, nonetheless.
So, as I watch the end of the college football season and look ahead to 365 days of new opportunities, here are 14 things I’m hoping to see from the 2014 Cardinals.
14. Visits to Busch, complete with a tour of Ballpark Village
We’ve been hearing about BPV for so long. This winter, watching the progress as it becomes a reality, has me yearning for the first opportunity to see it in person. (Like I need another excuse to visit the happiest place on earth!) The legacy that is St. Louis Cardinals baseball deserves a showplace worthy of its history, and here’s hoping the city does it up just right!
13. Chris Carpenter’s developing role
I know “front office guys” don’t usually show up in game recaps or headlines. But, I hope to hear what Carp is up to throughout the year. I mean, don’t you? Continue reading →