January 2010

Cardinals add a lefty

A familiar name will be coming to Cardinals camp next month.

Left-hander Rich Hill, who spent the first four years of his big league career with the Cubs, agreed Tuesday to a Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. Hill, who will turn 30 in March, pitched for the Orioles in 2009.
He had been one of the more promising young lefties around, going 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA and 183 strikeouts for Chicago in 2007. But Hill’s control deserted him in 2008, as he walked 62 batters in 67 1/3 innings between the Majors and Minors.
Those difficulties continued into 2009, before he shut it down for the year due to injury. Hill underwent shoulder surgery in August.

Ludwick avoids arbitration

ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals and outfielder Ryan Ludwick avoided arbitration on Tuesday, agreeing to a one-year contract for the 2010 season. The deal will pay Ludwick $5.45 million. The club announced the deal on its official Twitter feed.

Unlike 2009, club and player didn’t even get to the point of exchanging arbitration figures. A year ago, Ludwick and team representatives actually traveled to Arizona, expecting to attend an arbitration hearing, before settling in the final hours before the scheduled session.

Ludwick, 31, saw his numbers dip in his second full season with the Cardinals, but still managed 97 RBIs. He hit .265 with a .329 on-base percentage and a .447 slugging percentage, 22 home runs, 20 doubles and 63 runs scored.

The right-handed hitter will likely bat fifth for the Cardinals in 2010 as the team’s starting right fielder. He made $3.7 million in 2009.

Second baseman Skip Schumaker is the only remaining Cardinals player eligible for arbitration. Schumaker said on Sunday that he is close to getting a deal done to avoid arbitration.

Monday Warm-Up tidbits: Lohse, Wainwright, plenty more

The Winter Warm-Up is wrapping up and it’s almost time for the Writers’ Dinner. Here are some tidbits from another busy day. Hard to remember a Warm-Up with this much news.

* Kyle Lohse said he’s had a normal winter and hasn’t felt anything at all in his forearm since about two weeks after the season ended. He’s on his usual program and has no worries about how he will feel once he starts throwing off a mound.
“I’ve been playing catch for two weeks, and it’s like a normal this-part-of-the-year for me,” he said. “I’m not doing anything different right now. A couple weeks ago I was making sure I was doing a little extra exercises to make sure the strength was still there and I didn’t feel any tightness or any of the feelings I was feeling last year. And I wasn’t feeling it, so I feel good about where I’m at.”
* Likewise, Adam Wainwright said he’s taken no extra precautions or extra rest after enduring a career-high workload in 2009.
“I actually felt a lot more healthy during the season than I ever have, to be honest with you,” Wainwright said. “I stayed on my training program with Pete Prinzi a lot better, a lot more consistent with my work ethic between starts. I think that made me feel better each and every start I made. And actually I felt better at the end of the season than I did at the beginning. 
“So when I got done with this season, I felt like I was in better shape than I’ve ever ended a season. My body seemed to recover really well. We’ll see about, I haven’t got off the mound yet but my arm feels great, my body feels great. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. I haven’t done anything different. It’s the same program I’ve been doing for years. It seems to be working OK. I don’t think I’ll change it.”
* La Russa said that if the Cardinals only make one move, he ranks a hitter as a higher priority than a pitcher — and ideally, a hitter who could play third base and the outfield. Felipe Lopez comes to mind.
“We’re talking about creating a competition at third,” he said. “We can use some outfield depth. If you only have one bullet, [you’d like] a guy that can do both those things.
“When you have some of the possibilities we have — like with Kyle [McClellan], with [Mitchell] Boggs, with [Blake] Hawksworth — if you have the resources, I think right now, in my opinion, probably a position player has a slightly higher priority than a pitcher.”
* Allen Craig said he’s been taking some balls at third base, after playing in the outfield all last year. That may be another way they create competition for David Freese at third, though I’m still skeptical as to whether the organization really takes Craig seriously as a third baseman.
U2, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
Public Enemy, “By the Time I Get to Arizona”
Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A Changin'”
Marvin Gaye, “Abraham, Martin and John”
Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Edmonds to return?

Maybe Jim Edmonds was dead serious. Maybe it was all an elaborate put-on. When it comes to Edmonds and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, it can be tough to tell. This much is certain: Edmonds said on Sunday night that he wants to come back and play for the Cardinals in 2010.

The long-time Angels and Cards star hasn’t played since 2008. Before that year, St. Louis traded him to San Diego. After the Padres released him, he signed on with the Cubs, with whom he played his last game on Sept. 26, 2008.

On Sunday night at the annual “Stars to the Rescue” benefit for La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, Edmonds said he was “challenging” La Russa to let him rejoin his old team.

The exchange started after the final bows for the event, which featured country star Dierks Bentley and comedienne Kathleen Madigan, among others. La Russa said that “someone” had sent him a text and wanted to come onstage. That someone turned out to be Edmonds, who made his way from his seat at the opposite end of the arena.

Edmonds took the microphone with a grin and addressed the crowd.

“I’m challenging him to let me come back and play for the Cardinals
again for free,” Edmonds said to the crowd at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.

Edmonds then modified his offer to playing for the league minimum, rather than for free. He and La Russa engaged in some playful banter, and at the end, La Russa quipped that he wished he had a rewind button so that he could simply skip Edmonds appearance — but he said it with a grin.

The Cardinals could use a backup center fielder as well as a left-handed bat off the bench, and there have been rumblings that Edmonds might be interested in a return to the game. Still, it’s a long way from that sort of speculation to a return after missing a full year.

La Russa and Edmonds have what can fairly be called a complicated relationship. They didn’t always get along when Edmonds played in St. Louis, but their mutual fondness was always obvious. La Russa chastised Edmonds for what he believed to be dismissive comments about St. Louis after Edmonds joined the Cubs, and the criticism seemed to sting Edmonds at the time.

On stage on Sunday, though, Edmonds referred to La Russa as like a father figure to him, and the warmth in their relationship, rather than any strain, dominated the scene.

Neither La Russa nor general manager John Mozeliak could be reached for comment after the event ended.


Sunday Warm-Up tidbits: Schumaker, Holliday, Freese, Rasmus

Matthew Leach

Hello from what is likely the most memorable Winter Warm-Up day in the eight years I’ve covered this event. The McGwire introduction and news conference were certainly experience. Hopefully later in the week I’ll be able to post an entire blog entry on all the weirdness, but if you haven’t checked out my tweets and Twitpics, that should provide at least a little color. And I have a story on all of it going up on the site shortly.

On with the tidbits:
* Skip Schumaker said that he’s very close to getting a 2010 contract squared away. Schumaker, of course, is under team control for ’10, so it’s not like it’s a matter of keeping him or losing him. It’s just a matter of dollars, and ideally of avoiding an arbitration hearing.
“Getting close, but no deal done yet,” Schumaker said. “I don’t think either of us wants to go to arbitration. I don’t have anything bad to say about them, so I don’t want to go. But it all works out. I understand the business side of it. It all works out.”
Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick are the Cardinals’ only arbitration-eligible players.
* Matt Holliday told reporters that he no longer takes any kind of supplements.
Holliday was asked whether he would ever put something in his body without knowing what it was — an excuse that has sometimes been used by players who have used steroids, claiming they did it unknowingly.
“No,” he said. “I think it’s my responsibility as an athlete to know what I’m putting in. I’m not willing to take risks if I don’t know it’s been approved. They have those approval things that the Players’ Association hands out. I quit taking any supplements altogether, just stick to a protein shake and that’s about it. I don’t feel that that’s any area where I’d take a chance.”
* I’ll have a full-length story on David Freese going up on the site this evening. He talked at length about the aftermath of his drunk-driving arrest this winter, so I’ll avoid that topic here. But another bit from his chat with us: Freese said that he has lost weight and drastically reshaped his body this winter.
“I’ve lost 16 pounds, down to 9 percent body fat, working with [conditioning coach] Pete Prinzi,” Freese said. “I’ve been real focused. Obviously I had a little bump in the road but getting down there to Jupiter and trying to make that squad and help this team win is one of my top priorities.”
* In another conditioning-related story, Colby Rasmus is going about a different program this winter. Last year when we saw Rasmus at the Warm-Up, everyone was struck by how much bulk he had put on. This year, in hopes of holding up better over the course of a full season, he’s worked much less on mass and more on endurance.
“Last year going in I tried to focus more on putting on a lot of weight and getting bulked up,” Rasmus said. “Tis year I’m doing more conditioning, running, sleds, hills, that type of thing. Just to try to see if that will change up a little bit and be able to last a little longer instead of being big and looking for more power. Just be able to keep my body more maintained.”
Today’s playlist is a wind-down after a long day:
The Who, “Getting in Tune”
Rolling Stones, “Ventilator Blues”
Jimi Hendrix, “Castles Made of Sand”
Bob Marley, “No Woman No Cry”
Otis Redding, “Dock of the Bay”

Late Saturday Warm-Up tidbits

Matthew Leach

Another round of notes for you from today’s Winter Warm-Up. The main story coming a little later this evening at StLCardinals.com will be on McGwire, after a long chat with John Mozeliak today regarding the hitting coach.

* Brad Penny was emphatic that he’s never thought of himself as a strikeout pitcher, and will have no qualms about a pitch-to-contact approach in St. Louis. Asked about his low-K-rate, high-groundball-rate stint in San Francisco, he said he didn’t really change his approach but he was working with a slightly different arsenal.
“I was pitching to contact like I always do,” Penny said. “I’ve never had high strikeout numbers. I can’t remember a season where I’ve had a lot, except for the Minor Leagues. I started throwing a slider a little bit towards the end of the year, and I was getting more groundballs in a 1-0 count instead of having to throw a fastball over the plate.”
* Brendan Ryan talked a good bit about what he’s trying to do with his swing.
“He [McGwire] is trying to put me in a position to hit the ball better and be more consistent,” Ryan said. “I battle changing my stance every week. So the first thing was, let’s find a batting stance and let’s stick with that. the funny thing is, I had a hard time finding out who I am. So I just kind of started doing what Albert did, and I started taking good swings. so I’m going to hit like Albert this year, at least batting stance-wise. I’m going to try. That’s what we’ve been doing. It feels good. he’s got a pretty darn good swing obviously. If I can do an impersonation of that and fall just short, then I should have a pretty good swing too.”
* Jason Motte feels he’s finally found an offspeed pitch he can rely on — two of them, actually.
“I was going fastball-cutter,” he said, “and then a slider-curve kind of thing was my third one. Probably in that order.”
And, finally, Trever Miller had quite a lot to say in his session.
Miller on the team’s prospects: “I think we’re probably the favorite in our division. From the looks of our team, we’re strong everywhere.”
Miller on his shoulder: “It feels better this offseason. I just had my first round of long toss. All the exercise I do and all the training is what’s keeping it healthy and strong.”
Miller on McGwire: “The guy loves the game. To have to go through what he went through, coming out and telling everybody of the steroid use, there’s no doubt he loves the game. If you love the game, I love you. I can’t wait.”
And Miller on Ryan Franklin: “Frankie’s going to be our closer. He did a great job last year, one of the best in the game. he deserves the right to be the closer again, and I’m sure he’ll prove to everybody that he’s going to do it for the rest of his career.”
Today’s playlist:
Radiohead, “My Iron Lung”
Garbage, “Silence Is Golden”
Muse, “Starlight”
Cure, “Watching Me Fall”
Crystal Method, “Drown in the Now”

Early Saturday Warm-Up tidbits

Matthew Leach

Hello to one and all from the Winter Warm-Up, being held this year at the Hyatt Regency for the first time. Just a few tidbits from some of our sessions with players, and some other stuff:

* Mark McGwire will be at the Warm-Up on Sunday “in the 1 o’clock hour,” according to the club. He’ll appear on the main stage, and he’ll also take questions in a news conference.
* Chris Carpenter reported he’s in great shape this winter and enjoying a rehab-free winter.
“It’s actually been a lot of fun,” Carpenter said. “I’ve enjoyed my family a lot, didn’t have to worry about rehabbing stuff. it’s been a real nice winter. Enjoyed it a lot. … I feel like I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, as conditioned as I’ve ever been. My shoulder feels good. My elbow feels good. I started throwing a couple weeks ago, so I’m looking forward to it.
“Knock on wood, I’ve told my wife a bunch of times I’m not going to get too excited, because you never know what could happen. But my shoulder hasn’t felt this good since I don’t even know when. Three years. So I’m really excited about the way I feel.”
* Likewise, Jaime Garcia is optimistic about his health, and said he hasn’t been significantly restricted this winter. Garcia returned from ‘Tommy John’ elbow surgery late last season.
“The way I’ve been throwing and feeling, and the way I felt when I was in Memphis last year, I think I’m feeling the best I’ve felt, the best shape, my arm feels great,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how many innings I’m going to pitch, how many I’m going to be able to pitch. I just feel like this is the best I’ve felt.”
* Carpenter and Yadier Molina both expressed enthusiasm for the hiring of Mark McGwire, and neither voiced any real concern when asked about McGwire’s announcement of his past steroid use this week.
“Nothing,” Molina said when asked his thoughts on the announcement. “He’s a great person. He’s a great guy. I’m going to be happy to have him on my team.”
* John Mozeliak confirmed in a Q&A with fans that the Cardinals will take a look at Ben Sheets’ throw next week. However, there’s likely not much of a fit there.
* I’ll be tweeting through the weekend, so come on over to Twitter and check it out.

Tuesday tidbits: A McGwire-free zone

You may have heard there was some news regarding Mark McGwire recently. We have covered it a bit at MLB.com. In the meantime, though, there are some other things going on with the Cardinals. So here are some other tidbits around the club from recent days:

* Spring Training dates were officially announced today. Cardinals pitchers and catchers will report to Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 17 and begin workouts on Thursday, Feb. 18. The full-squad report day is Feb. 22, with full-squad workouts starting on Feb. 23.

The club had already announced its Grapefruit League game schedule, which begins with a March 4 game against the Mets at Port St. Lucie.

* In response to a question I recently received on Twitter, the following Cardinals prospects will attend the annual Rookie Career Development Program: Bryan Anderson, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Francisco Samuel. Thanks to friend and colleague Jonathan Mayo for the info.

* I’ll be posting an Inbox before the end of the week, so if you want to get questions in, send ’em my way. Click on this link to do so.

* Chris Carpenter won the Tony Conigliaro Award. The award is given to a player who “has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage.” Another fine colleague and good friend of mine, Ian Browne of RedSox.com, wrote the story on the award. You can check that out here.

* There’s a lot going on in St. Louis and the surrounding area this week. For information on the Cardinals Caravan, click here.  For Winter Warm-Up info, click here. And for details on the St. Louis Baseball Writers’ Dinner (I’ll be presenting an award!), click here.

Today’s playlist:
Hockey: “Too Fake”
Erasure: “Always”
The Farm: “All Together Now”
Nitzer Ebb: “Lightning Man”
Gossip: “Heavy Cross”


Holliday tidbits

Just a few odds and ends from today’s Matt Holliday deal…

* It’s likely that the deal will officially be announced, with a formal news conference, on Thursday rather than tomorrow. The Hall of Fame election announcement is on Wednesday, and they likely will try not to steal any of the spotlight from that.

* I laid out the terms in the story on the site, but here they are in a nutshell just in case. Holliday will receive $17 million for each season from 2010-2016. He has full no-trade protection. If he finishes in the top-10 in MVP balloting in 2016, a $17 million option vests for 2017. According to AP, there is a $1 million buyout if the option does not vest. I was told it is not a club option in any way, simply a vest or no-vest situation. That would make the guaranteed value $120 million (at minimum, $119 million plus the $1 million buyout) with a potential value of $136 million.

* My personal take: I’m fine with the AAV. $17 million per year is pretty reasonable for a player of Holliday’s caliber. I am not at all sold on the combination of seven years and complete no-trade protection. That could definitely put the club in a precarious spot over the final few years of the contract. I think Holliday and Scott Boras got a very good deal.

* By my estimation, the club still has approximately $6-7 million left to spend this winter.

More blogging coming soon, including my top-10 albums of 2009.