Hidden Starter for Cards in Memphis?

Alan_benesWith Walt Jocketty being forced to work miracles due to the modern economics of the game, coupled with the fact that the Cardinals only have 2 of the 5 starting pitcher roster spots filled, I can’t help but wonder if the Cardinals are overlooking a talent that is right under their nose.  Alan Benes is a name I am sure all of you remember.  He was a member of the Cardinals staff from 1995-2001.  He came in 7th in Rookie of the year voting in 1996.  The little brother of Andy Benes, they helped form a valuable part of the Cardinals rotation for much of the 90’s.  He has certainly not lived up to his potential, but he is still plugging away as a pitcher for the Memphis Redbirds.  The 6’5", 215 pounder from Indiana pitched in 30 games for the Redbirds in ’06, starting 4, and sporting a 4.75 ERA.  Those aren’t exactly numbers that get you called up, but the fact that he was a major league starter for 7+ years for the Cardinals/Cubs has to count for something.  In my opinion the Cardinals should consider him an option under certain scenarios.  Let’s pretend that we are lucky enough to land a top teir free agent pitcher this off season like Zito or Schmidt (see my article entitled "Pitching, Pitching, Pitching").  Well landing a pitcher like that would no doubt strengthen our rotation, but it would also mean that we would have much less to spend on the other spots in the starting rotation. Alan_2 And I don’t need to tell you what kind of miracle worker Dave Duncan is with reviving pitchers’ careers in the past.  Players that have lost the edge or fallen into the pit of mediocrity, have come to St. Louis, and flourished and shined brighter than ever.  Players like Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley,  Woody Williams, Cal Eldred, and most recently Jeff Weaver have found themselves again under Duncan’s tootilidge.  All I am saying is that if we find ourselves in that good position of landing a Zito or Schmidt caliber pitcher, the money required to round out the rotation will be critical.  Why not give a shot to Benes. Alan_3
Why not invite him to spring training, and see how it goes.  Worst case scenario, if it doesn’t work out, you have little to no investment.  And if the Cardinals find themselves in need of bullpen help, I could see him easily taking Jorge Sosa’s spot.  It would be difficult to **** as bad as Sosa did this year. I have seen him pitch this past year, and I can tell you he still has that competitive drive.  So I say, give ol’ Alan another shot, at 34 he just might still have some left in his tank.
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So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree? Let me hear from you out there….
Thanks,
Josh

“Clutch” is Coming Back

Scott_spiezio_042906_rbi_sac_flyWithout Scott Spiezio, I don’t think that the Cardinals would have won the World Series. The 34 year old was signed by the Cardinals in Spring Training 2006, He revived his career that had almost slipped away, redefined himself as a valuable role player.  He sort of fit the Jonn Mabry role, and played 1st Base, 2nd Base, 3rd Base, Leftfield, and Rightfield.  He batted .272 and had a .496 slugging percentage, which was the best of his career.  His clutch hit the last weekend of the season was the most important hit of the season for St. Louis up to that point.  They needed a win desperately, and he came through with a three run triple.  Whether starting, or off the bench, I was always hopeful when he came to bat.  His red soul patch caught on and created a following with the fans, giving us some unity and a feeling of togetherness among Cardinal Nation.  In my opnion, his signing is HUGE for the Cardinals.  He is signed through 2008, with an option for 2009.  His two year deal will bring him $4.5 million.  At that price you will not find a better player.  Injuries strike every team, and you never know when, at what position, or for how long, you are going to lose someone.  So it is nice to have someone like Spiezio to fill in wherever needed and start as well.  He could very well be an every day player for the Cardinals, but I think Tony will continue to use him like he did this past year.  A veteran player like Spiezio who is as versitale as he is, is hard to find these days.

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me hear from you out there….
Thanks,
Josh
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Edmonds + St. Louis = Match Made In Heaven

Nlcs_game_2_jim_edmondsSince 1982, The St. Louis Cardinals have basically only had three Centerfielders.  Willie McGee patrolled the astroturf in Center for the Cards during the 80’s, Ray Lankford was perched there in the 90’s, and Jimmy Ballgame this decade.  And speaking as a life long Cardinals fan, I can tell you that there in NO ONE i would rather have in Centerfield than Jimmy.  He is probably my favorite Cardinals player of all time.  As I am sitting here writing this article, I look around at my office, and there are framed pictures of Jimmy all over my walls.  The catch against the Reds on July 6, 2004 where he went up over the wall; The Homerun in Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS (which is probably my favorite Cardinals moment of all time);  The catch the next night in Game 7 to save the season.  In my opinion he is one of the best Centerfielders of all time.  His flashy glove play has earned him Gold Gloves year after year, and he has hit some of the most dramatic Homeruns in the history of the franchise.  I would have hated to see him leave after the sub par year he had.  He battled through multiple injuries, still putting up decent numbers (.257 avg., 19 Hr’s, 70 RBI’s in 110 Games), to become the leader on and off the field that helped carry the team to their World Series Title.  He finally got his redemption for 2004.  He Finally got his World Title.  So how could he possibly go anywhere else?
  Well the answer is money and today’s baseball economics. Jimmy_ballgame_nlds_game_1_hr_2
Walt Jocketty had three options in regards to Jimmy.  First, he could buy out the option on Jimmy’s contract for $3 million and Jimmy would walk.  Secondly, he could exercise the option and Jimmy would come back, but at a price of $10 million.  This would have spent a lot of money that we need to save for other moves this offseason.  The last option was to sit down and re-negotiate a new deal.  And that is what they did, nailing out a two year deal.  He will earn $8 million in each of the next two years, and then receive $3 million spread out from 2010-2019.  This was the best possible outcome to the question of Jimmy and the Cardinals.  So here’s to Jim Edmonds, who will go down in my book, as the best Cardinals Centerfielder of all time.

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree? Let me hear from you out there….
Thanks,
Josh
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Martin’s Mulder Musings

Mark_and_dave_3_8_05_2Mark Mulder told both Walt Jocketty and Tony La Russa that the Cardinals fans haven’t seen the real Mark Mulder yet.  Even though he won 16 games in 2005, he has never been as good as he can be.  I think he is one of the best left handers in the game today if he can get back to the form he had with the Oakland A’s.  Just like Luis Gonzalez, his agent is Greg Clifton.  Clifton said, "He is a premiere pitcher who did not have a premiere year.  But there is a reason for that.  And now he’s fixed."  Mulder said he had a desire to show the fans in St. Louis the real Mark Mulder.  It is very probable that Jocketty will offer him a one year incentive laden deal, sort of a rehab deal if you will, to show that he can get back in the groove.  THEN, test the free agent market next off season when he will no doubt command near $10 – 12 million per year if he had a good 2007.  Matt Morris did sort of that very same thing, when he came back on a one year deal in 2005.  Then he cashed in with the Giants that offseason.  In my opinion, I would love to have Mark Mulder on our staff.  I didn’t include him in my projected rotation because I tend to think he will take what he can get in the free agent market this year.  There aren’t a whole lot of high quality pitchers out there, so he may figure his value hasn’t been hurt.  I think the Cardinals stance is appropriate – You are welcome to come back for a certain amount, and if you think you are worth more, then good luck and go get it.  I know he has expressed interest in Baltimore, and the Mets have expressed interest in him.  This will be an interesting story as it develops.  He was one of my favorites, so I hope he re-signs.

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me hear from you out there…..

Thanks, Josh

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Gonzo to the Gateway?

Gonzo2Could Luis Gonzalez be headed to the Gateway City?  Greg Clifton his agent, said that Luis said he "has never seen fans like that", speaking of the St. Louis fans.  He seemed to have caught Cardianls’ Fever while broadcasting the post-season as part of the FOX broadcasting crew.  Even thought he will be 40 next September, he was second in the league in doubles with 52 this past year, and hit .271 with 15 home runs.  I am not sure how i feel about this.  He earned over $10.6 million in 2006.  The Cardinals Walt Jocketty admits he tried to trade for him this past summer and is still interested.  Gonzo’s agent says 9 teams have contacted him about the outfielder.  He could serve a Larry Walker role for us if we were to get him.  A lot of this would depend on how talks with Jimmy go as well.  If Jim Edmonds and the Cardinals are unable to come to terms, then we might explore something like this, even though we would still have to pay Edmonds’ $3 million buyout. We couldn’t even begin to afford his salary unless Jimmy left or we were able to dump some salary by trading Izzy.  I am still thinking on this one, I may have more to say at a later time.  But it isn’t a crazy thought to think that one day Gonzo could be wearing the birds on the bat, stranger things have happened.

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me hear from you out there….

Thanks,

Josh

Bring Back Bennent

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While we are talking about catchers, I thought I would go ahead and adress our backup catcher situation.  Gary Bennent just filed for free agency.  I really think this is a no brainer to re-sign him and here is why:
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1.  He is affordable – Let’s face it, back up catcher isn’t a position allocated to eat much salary and you can probably get him for close to his 2006 salary of $800,000 (which by the way was about double what they paid Molina).  Anytime you can get someone on your 25 man roster for under a million that is as solid as he is, I say go for it.

2.  Chemistry with the Pitching staff – Let’s face it.  Einar Diaz didn’t have the confidence of the entire pitching staff as a backup in 2005, the way that Molina did under Matheny’s tenure, or as Bennent did this past year.  He not only filled in, but played well.  He called good games, and offered a reliable alternative should Molina need rest or get hurt.

3.  Veteran Leadership – The Cardinals are the seventh stop for Bennent who has played for the Phillies, Rockies, Mets, Padres, Brewers, and Nationals.  Anyone that has been around as much as he has, has seen a LOT of different pitchers, and that can only be good.  A well traveled position player, and you sometimes hesitate and wonder why, but a well traveled backup catcher…I say sign him

4.  Offensive Potential – There was a weekend in August against the cubs where Bennent carried the Cardinals on his back.  A walk off game winning hit on Saturday, and then a walk off game winning Grand Slam the next night on ESPN’s Sunday Night Game of the Week.  My Father-in-law had just asked me what the phrase "walk-off" meant, and i simply said…."THAT" and pointed to the screen.  My point is Gary has the potential to contribute not just fill in.

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me hear from you out there….

Thanks,

Josh

Yadie Was Robbed!!

Yadier_4_5_05_throws_to_first_for_outThe crime rate just went up in St. Louis.  The Gold Glove was taken away from Yadier Molina and given to Brad Ausmus.  Are you kidding me?  Yadier’s .216 batting average was ok BECAUSE he is such a STUD behind the dish.  He is second to none.  I have to say, that when I heard that Brad Ausmus had won the award, i was more surprised than the many baserunners that were caught napping too far from 1st base this year and subsequently plucked out with precision.  I will give credit where credit is due, and yes, it is true that Brad only had 2 errors all season long, and one passed ball, but it is easy to not have passed balls when you have Clemens, Pettitte, and Oswalt throwing to you.  Yadier had to deal with Sidney Ponson, Jason Marquis, and a bullpen that wasnt always at the top of their game.  When I look at catchers I look at their ability to call pitches, set up correctly, fire to 2nd quickly, make the out on a play at home, and be the leader on the field.  I mean, the Astros were considering not even bringing Ausmus back this past year, until Clemens said he would only come back if Ausmus was his catcher.  Anyway, I am convinced that his Batting Average hurt him, even though it isnt supposed to be considered in determining the best defensive player at each position.  He will be ok offensively, so don’t worry Cardinal Nation.  Look what he did in the post-season.  Look what he did in 2005 (.252).  I am just at a loss of words.  He has picked up the high caliber expected of Cardinals catchers right where Mike Matheny left off.  And I hope he is our back-stop for years to come.  Yadier you are the Gold Glove award winner in my opinion.  The good news is that Brad Ausmus will be walking with a cane to come and watch you play soon, he is over the hill.

So there you have it.  Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you out there…..

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Gold Gloves at the Corners

Albert_pujols_021706Congratulations to Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.  It was just announced a few hours ago that they are 2006 Gold Glove winners at their postions.  This is especially sweet for Pujols, being his first Gold Glove.  Everyone on the planet, knows what he can do at the plate, but he has worked so hard and improved to Gold Glove caliber.  It isn’t a coincidence  to me, that the last great play that Albert made in 2006 was in the field during the last game of the World Series.  He found a ball that most first basemen would never even get to, then he found a way to get the ball to Jeff Weaver for the out.  From starting off as an outfielder back in the waning hours of the McGwire era, to taking over at 1st base full time for the Cardinals in 2003, his defensive abilities have increased every year.  He is far and away the best player in baseball.  I can’t think of a single weakness in his game.  He is a good baserunner, He is the best hitter in the game, and now he has his first gold glove and a .996 fielding percentage  to add to his list of accomplishments.

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For Scott Rolen on the other hand, Gold Gloves are almost expected.   This is his 7th Gold Glove, and he has won the award every year that he has played at least 120 games except his rookie year of 1997.  Mike Schmidt said he was the best 3rd baseman to ever play the position.  Pretty high praise from a Hall of Famer who also played the hot corner.  Scott Rolen, in my opinion should also be the Comeback player of the year for the National League.  He just might win it, if Nomar Garciapara doesn’t.  It will be a close race.  But back to the Gold Gloves.  With 7 now, Rolen only trails Mike Schmidt (10) and Brooks Robinson (16).  And Rolen is only 31, so you never know.  Congratulations to both of you on your 2006 National League Gold Gloves.
Noticeably absent was Jim Edmonds, who

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has won 8 Gold Gloves and has made the best plays I have ever seen.  He has made plays that Willie Mays wouldn’t have made over the years, most recently the catch in the 2006 NLDS against the Padres.  We might not have even gone to the World Series if he hadn’t gone horizontal and caught the ball against the Astros in the 1st inning of Game 7 in 2004.  But this year was a little different.  I was there on April 13th sitting right behind him, and he made 3 misplays.  I am not sure if they scored them all as errors, but he had just made more mistakes in one game than he had the entire year before.  He went on to have a pretty good year in the field, but his concussion and post concussion stress disorder, mixed with his foot, mixed with his philosophy of throwing caution to the wind when it came to diving into walls, hills, warning tracks, even other players (Reggie Sanders in 2005).  At the end of the 2006 season, while he is still the best centerfielder in the game, he just had missed too much time and not been as consistant as in the past.  But who knows, maybe he will win another before it is all said and done.
In closing, I want to go on record as saying that next year, I think Yadier Molina could very well join the list of Gold Glove award winning Cardinals.  He was absolutely ROBBED this year.  Brad Ausmus? I mean, come on? That is a load of ****..

The more i think about it, this deserves a whole seperate article…I have already written two toady, but this is too important to not address.  Yadie was robbed!!  The voters are not supposed to consider offense when voting on the best defensive player at each position, but I can’t help but think they held his poor average this year agianst him.  Yadie is HANDS DOWN the best defensive catcher in the league, maybe even all of baseball.  How many runners did Ausmus pick off at 1st? I don’t know the number, but i guarantee you it wasn’t as many as Yadier "Cannon" Molina snipped off.  He even had a pickoff at 1st against the Reds that ended the game.  Anyway, I am going to write about all this.

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me hear from you out there…..

Thanks,
Josh
 

David Eckstein – “The Cardinals’ Little Big Man”

World_series_mvpIt seems like everyday this post-season, the St. Louis Cardinals had a different Hero.  One day I am thankful for Spiezo’s triple that last weekend of the season, just to help us hang on to our lead in the Central, and the next i am thankful for Pujols, Rolen, Taguchi, Molina, you name it.  But now that the season is over, I am going to recognize each and every contributor that the Cardinals had this year that i feel is noteworthy.  So what better place to start, than the World Series MVP, David Eckstein.  "He is the toughest player I have ever seen in a uniform", boasts Tony La Russa in an interview during the World Series.  Just two years ago, right after our last trip to the World Series, we were scared to death at the thought of losing Edgar Renteria to free agency.  Well, we did, but Walt Jocketty had a plan.  For less than a third of what it would have cost to keep Edgar Renteria, he went out and signed David Eckstein of the Angels.  Immediately Cardinals fans everywhere started to speculate at what we had gained or lost.  I never bought into it, but in almost everything I heard or read, it was being said that he was a decent fielder with poor arm strength.  Most every analyst figured we were losing some of our defensive power.  Boy, could they not have been more wrong.  Eck_3

Just as he does with everything, he worked hard at improving his arm strength.  He was tenacious in the field, at the plate, in the clubhouse, in the batting cages.  He even sprints to 1st base after a walk.  I have seen him come up with some balls at short, that make me think of another Cardinals great, Ozzie Smith.  What he lacks in natural talent, he makes up in successful edfforts.  The Grand Slam last year to beat the Braves…The Sqeeze bunt to edge past the Cubs last year…The single that kept our season alive in game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, the same single that was followed two batters later by the Pujols blast that sent us back to St. Louis for Game 6. Eckstein_beer_2

  And then there was this year’s World Series.  David Eckstein tore up the Tigers pitching the last few games of the World Series.  Even with the injuries that he went through this season, he battled back.  I went to several games this year, and one of the best parts was to watch his pregrame stretching routine.  He was always one of the first players on the field.  He would stretch and warm up, run some sprints, play long toss (usually with Miles), all in preparation for the upcoming game.  I have heard his story about always overcoming adversity.  So here’s to you David Eckstein, World Series MVP.  You embody what every team would love to have, the perfect combination of hustle, ability, determination, and enthusiasm.  What a positive message to send to our youth, that with hard work and determination, nothing is impossible.  It reminds me of the message in the movie, "Facing The Giants".  If you haven’t seen it, i HIGHLY reccomend it.  I went and saw it the afternoon of Game 5, only to watch Eckstein win the MVP award.  I am so glad you are on our team, I am so glad you are a part of the Cardinals family, and I hope you are for years to come.

 

So there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree? Let me hear from you out there…..

Thanks,

Josh

Wainwright: Starter or Closer?

Adam_wainwrightI thought since I addressed the starting rotation yesterday, that i would next move on to the bullpen.  More specifically, before I get into bullpen blogs, I would like to talk about one member of the ’06 bullpen.  I can’t say enough about Adam Wainwright.  Since watching him pitch as the ace of the Memphis staff to closing out the World Series, I have been more impressed each time.  The maturity, poise, and confidence he displayed throughout the post-season was immeasurable.  Earlier in the season, we watched as Jason Isringhausen struggled and then went on the disabled list.  Many fans were scared at who would step in.  I have to be honest, I was actually relieved in a way.  I was tired of us losing games we should have been winning.  Hip problem or not, Izzy was clearly not the Izzy of old this past year.  I started tracking blown saves, a stat I had never paid much attention to in the past.  But then, slowly, Wainwright started to develop as the closer.  Braden Looper and Adam were both used on occasion, as well as a few others to close out games.  But with the playoffs coming, the choice was clear.  Which brings me to my point today.  The Clear choice for closer for the 2007 Cardinals is Wainwright over Izzy for the following reasons:
1.  Salary – Adam Wainwright earned $327,000 in 2006, whereas Izzy earned $8,750,000.  If Jocketty and the Cardinals are wondering where the money will come to sign a free agent, then there is your answer.  Trade Izzy NOW, for an outfielder or pitcher with a lot less salary.  That would free up an enormous amount of salary.

2.  Wainwright’s Pitch Arsenal –  Wainwright may have the best Curveball I have ever seen besides Chris Carpenter.  That 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock pitch where the ball seems to be falling off of a table, is so exciting to watch. Not only that, but his fastball, and slider are WAY above average.  He has a couple "go to" pitches when he is in a jam.  Izzy has lost his "go to" pitch in my opinion.  Very rare does a RELIEVER have the ability to throw any of his pitches at any time.  Adam displayed that he can throw any pitch he throws for strikes while starting at Memphis. 

3.  Team Chemistry –  I have been a Cardinals fan for 25 seasons now, and i have NEVER seen the fans boo a Cardinal.  But on several occasions this year, while attending games, I saw the entire stadium boo and gasp in fear each time Izzy was called on….one time we had a four run lead and he still got booed coming in.  Wainwright exudes confidence on the mound.  And Izzy may have a lot left in him, i am just not sure it is in St. Louis.

A lot of people think that with the Cardinals losing 4/5 of their starting rotation possibly, that he will jump back to starter, and he very well may.  I think that is the plan La Russa has.  I am just saying he was more than a substitute in my opinion, I think he may have found his true calling. 

So there you have it.  Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you out there….

Thanks,

Josh