March 2006

Packing up

Another six weeks of spring have come to a close, at least for me. The Redbirds have two more Spring Training games, but the next time I see them will be Opening Day in Philadelphia. I absolutely love Florida, and I absolutely love Spring Training, but I absolutely love my wife and my dog and my cat even more. So it will be delightful to be home, even if it’s for a few days.

The players have reached the point where they’re obviously ready for the games to start counting, and heaven knows the writers have too.

With all that said, here are my predictions for 2006:

First, the Cardinals — they will win 92-94 games and win the NL Central, but it will take a significant midseason trade for that to happen.

Now, the rest of baseball:
NL East champion — Atlanta
NL Central champion — St. Louis
NL West champion — Los Angeles
NL Wild Card — New York
NL award winners — MVP, Albert Pujols; Cy Young, Roy Oswalt; rookie and manager, no idea

AL East champion — Boston
AL Central champion — Chicago
AL West champion — Oakland
AL Wild Card — Los Angeles
AL award winners — MVP, David Ortiz; Cy Young, Johan Santana

World Series (I know, I’ve said it many times, and I still believe it, it’s a fool’s errand to predict playoff series; but I have to get it out there just in case I’m right): Atlanta over Oakland

My "I Have a Feeling" teams — Atlanta, Oakland, Texas, Colorado, Detroit
Basically, these are the teams that I think are better than they are being given credit for. Obviously success will have various meanings with these teams. If the Braves win 88 games and win the Wild Card, I will have been wrong on them. If the Tigers win 88 games and win the Wild Card, I will have been right. My No. 1 IHAF team is Texas, a club I think could be a real playoff contender. My No. 2 is Atlanta, which I think could win the most games in the NL.

Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot. But if you say so, come up with some predictions of your own.

Quick updates: Wainwright in; Duncan, Cruz, Gall out

I’ll have more in my notes later, but here’s the quick update…

Deivi Cruz has been released, and Chris Duncan and John Gall have been optioned to Memphis. That leaves, basically, five guys for four spots — Skip Schumaker, John Rodriguez, Scott Spiezio, Hector Luna and Aaron Miles. Tony La Russa wouldn’t commit to whether he would take 4 or 5 outfielders — that is, he wouldn’t guarantee that both Schumaker and Rodriguez will make the club. The chances, however, look good for both of them.

Additionally, La Russa said, and I quote, "You can say Wainwright’s on the club." That leaves three guys for one bullpen spot — Brian Falkenborg, Josh Hancock and Alan Benes. I’m of the opinion that Hancock is in the lead, but nothing is for certain yet.


my book report

Alex Belth, one of the proprietors of the excellent Yankees blog "Bronx Banter," has written a new book that looks at the life and struggle of Curt Flood. An acquaintance of mine through mutual friends, Alex had the publisher send me a copy so that I could give it a read, and I plowed my way through it posthaste.

And so, here are my thoughts on Stepping Up:

In a very small nutshell, it’s a worthwhile read. I learned a great deal about Flood, his life, his case, and all the surrounding circumstances. It’s well-researched and it’s clear Alex took significant interest and care in the topic. If you’re interested in Flood, you’re going to learn a lot. If you’re interested in the Cardinals and baseball history, then you really should be intersted in Flood.

That, actually, is one of the best things about Stepping Up: bringing attention to one of the most moving and important stories of the last 40 years in baseball. Far too many players, never mind fans, have no idea who Curt Flood was and what he brought about. So if people read the book, and learn, it will be a good thing right off.

I had a few small complaints, but I’m picky — I would have liked some more first-hand interviews with some of the guys mentioned (guys like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Mike Shannon), and the tone of the baseball segments seemed aimed at more of a novice than a hardcore fan. But those are relatively minor, matters of taste to some extent.

The one thing I really would have liked for Alex to do was to re-structure the book somewhat. The initial section, detailing Flood’s upbringing, was very valuable. He did a fine job of showing the elements that led Flood to become the man he eventually became. It’s important to know, and it’s well done.

From there, however, Stepping Up features too much play-by-play. The middle segment about the Cardinals mid-60s glory years covers a lot of ground that’s been covered before, in books like Halbertstam’s October, 1964. It should be there, because it’s part of Flood’s career, but it doesn’t need to be in nearly that much detail. And if it’s going to be in that kind of detail, it should be more about Flood and less about his teammates.

By the time the reader reaches Flood’s suit against baseball, the book is two-thirds over. And that’s the good stuff. The detail becomes richer. The drama becomes higher. The suit is the guts of this book. Ultimately, it’s what the book is about, and it should have a larger portion of the page and word count. Similarly, the aftermath for Flood is incredibly compelling stuff. By all accounts, including Alex’s, Flood was never the same after the suit. I want more of that, too.

What Alex did in Stepping Up, he did quite well. He certainly accomplished something I have never done and something I admire and envy — he completed a worthwhile and interesting book. But he "buried the lead" a little bit, to use a newspaper term. If Stepping Up had been more about Flood’s battle with baseball and the aftermath, it would have been an even more compelling read and telling document.

(now playing on the iPod: New Order, Low-Life. Yes, I’m still old)


Toying with the lineup

My feature tonight is a look at how I expect the Cardinals lineup to shake down, but suffice it to say I have a few different ideas about lineup construction than skipper La Russa does. Mind you, I’ve won about 2200 fewer big league games than he has, but even so, indulge me.

Here’s how I expect the Cardinals lineup to look on April 3:

Eckstein, Encarnacion, Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Taguchi, Molina, Spivey, Carpenter

And here’s how I would do it, assuming the same nine guys:

Eckstein, Edmonds, Pujols, Rolen, Encarnacion, Spivey, Taguchi, Molina, Carpenter

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When your No. 3 hitter is Albert Pujols, then there is one main thing I want from my No. 2 hitter — a high OBP. If he happens to have some power, even better. If, in Edmonds case, he has the ability to stay out of the double play, that’s great too. But I don’t care if he strikes out a lot, I don’t care if he’s not a hit-and-run guy, and I don’t care if he doesn’t have speed.

Encarnacion is the kind of guy who might make a nice 5-6-7 kind of hitter, driving in the guys from scoring position much the way Edgar Renteria and Reggie Sanders did.

I still have confidence in Spivey; I’m not willing to jump ship until we’re a little ways into games that count and he’s still struggling.

And I understand La Russa’s rationale for wanting Molina out of the eighth spot, because a slow player really can make sacrificing difficult. But I’d still put him there until he develops a little more offensively. I expect him to be the least potent offensive player in this lineup, and therefore I’d hit him eighth.

Currently playing on the iPod: the Cure: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (yes, I’m old).


Nelson, Daubach out

I’ll have more on this later, but here’s the nitty-gritty for the time being. The Cardinals re-assigned Brian Daubach to Minor League camp this afternoon, and released Jeff Nelson.

Tony La Russa said before the game that there would be four moves, but didn’t explain afterward why there were only two. More may be in the offing tomorrow, or they may not.


Roster speculation, revisited

Here we go with round two.

The same caveats apply as before, but here’s my second look at how I see the roster. Obviously I was off more than once or twice the last time, so take it for what it’s worth.

Starting pitchers (5):
Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Sidney Ponson

Relief pitchers (7):
Jason Isringhausen, Braden Looper, Ricardo Rincon, Randy Flores, Brad Thompson, Adam Wainwright, Josh Hancock

Outfielders (5):
Jim Edmonds, Juan Encarnacion, So Taguchi, John Rodriguez, Skip Schumaker

Infielders (6):
Albert Pujols, Junior Spivey, Scott Rolen, David Eckstein, Scott Spiezio, Aaron Miles

Catchers (2):
Yadier Molina, Gary Bennett

Disabled list (2):
Larry Bigbie, Rick Ankiel

Last three on:
Hancock, Schumaker, Miles

Last three off:
Brian Falkenborg, John Gall, Hector Luna

currently playing on the iPod: The Libertines, The Libertines.

Four into three

Tony La Russa made his clearest explanation to date as to how he envisions the Cardinals’ outfield situation going forward. Essentially, he said, he plans to have four main outfielders rotating into three spots.

Now obviously Jim Edmonds will get more than 1/4 of the at-bats apportioned to outfielders. And Juan Encarnacion will probably get a slice a little bigger than 25 percent, as well. But in La Russa’s blueprint, the plan is not to have a single starting left fielder, nor is it to have a two-man platoon. It’s to have two guys who can divvy up the bulk of the at-bats left and also play some in center and in right when the other guys need days off. One will be So Taguchi. The other may be Larry Bigbie, and it may be John Gall, and it may be John Rodriguez, and it may even be Skip Schumaker.

Here’s the exact quote:

"There’s four guys that we’re looking at. One of them is Juan
Encarnacion, one is Edmonds, one is
Taguchi. So that leaves one. There’s four guys that will play a lot. So it’s
not left field. It’s four outfielders. We’re still looking for that fourth guy."

My follow-up question was, does that mean Taguchi’s status is different from the other competitors, Gall, Bigbie, etc.? And the answer:

"Absolutely. There was never any
doubt about that. Said that from day one."

Now, in my estimation, that doesn’t mean there will be ONLY four outfielders. I expect they will carry a fifth, presumably someone with a slightly more limited skill set — someone like Rodriguez or Gall, who may be the two best hitters in the bunch but are not considered at the same level defensively as Taguchi, Bigbie and Schumaker. 

Currently on the iPod: flipping through songs that start with M, so at this second it’s "My Way Home" by Kanye West.


Quick update: Ponson is fifth starter

I’ll have a full story on this later today, but for now here’s the quick-and-dirty:

Sidney Ponson will be the Cardinals fifth starter, as confirmed by Tony La Russa today. Anthony Reyes has been optioned to Memphis, and Adam Wainwright will, for now, pitch in relief. Wainwright is in competition for a spot in the bullpen.

Also sent out today were Tyler Johnson, Carmen Cali and Michel Hernandez. The Cardinals will go with five right-handed relievers and two lefties, with four pitchers still competing for the last two spots. What’s odd is that there are five right-handers still nominally in the mix, not counting Juan Mateo, who is not going to make the club — Wainwright, Josh Hancock, Brian Falkenborg, Jeff Nelson and Alan Benes.


Sori? No way. Jose!

I’ve gotten lots and lots of emails already inquiring about whether the Cardinals can or will acquire Alfonso Soriano. And after sending the same answer a few times, I figured this would be a good way to address the issue.

I’m sure it’s a
possibility. I’d be shocked if Walt Jocketty didn’t at least put in a call to Jim Bowden to figure out what the situation is, and what it might take to get Soriano — after all, if he comes crazy cheap, you have to consider it. But ultimately, I have yet to have it explained why the Cardinals would want Soriano.

* He’s not a good defensive second baseman at all. In fact, he’s one of the worst around; Baseball Prospectus rated him as a full 21 runs below average defensively last year. Hence the reason the Nats want
to move him, and not Jose Vidro, to the outfield.

* He’s due to make $10 million this year. That’s a lotta jack, and unless Washington assumed the vast majority of that deal, it wold pretty much preclude the Cards from any other moves this year — such as adding a power-hitting outfielder, for example.

* Now, those things
would be much more forgivable if he were an asset offensively, but he’s not much of one. The past two
years, he’s been in major offensive decline – it’s just been masked by the fact
that he’s played in Arlington, which is the second-most hitter-friendly ballpark
in baseball. In 2004, away from
Arlington, he hit .244 with a
.291 on-base percentage and .444 slugging percentage. In 2005, he got even worse
away from

With all that said, there is a way that the Cardinals could benefit from Washington’s unpleasant situation — by picking up Vidro on the cheap. Vidro makes less money, is a better defender (though not a Gold Glover), is not an attitude case and actually gets on base once in a while.


Sorry, pally, this is BRONSON, Missouri

I’ve been talking about the Pena-Arroyo trade with people in the press box for the last half hour, and I finally distilled why I like it so much for the Red Sox.

I know Arroyo is cheap. And he’s a nice pitcher — people underestimate the value of 200 league-average innings (for example, Cardinals fans tend to underestimate the value of those 200 league-average innings from Jason Marquis, in my opinion). But you don’t give up guys like Wily Mo for guys like Arroyo, for one simple reason. There are a lot more guys like Arroyo than there are guys like Wily Mo.

Which brings me to this question: if you ran the Cardinals, would you have done a similar deal? Would you have given up Jason Marquis, or Jeff Suppan, or even Adam Wainwright, to get Pena? In the cases of Marquis or Suppan, it probably would have taken something else as well. Not because they’re inferior pitchers — they’re not — but because they’re both signed for this year only, and they both make more money than Arroyo.

But even so, if I were the GM of nearly any team in baseball, and I had the opportunity to trade a league-average starter for a guy with absolutely insane power, a guy who has averaged a homer every 15.5 at-bats over the past two years and who JUST TURNED 24, I would have done it. You do it and you don’t think twice.