December 2011

Thank you

A story:

Ten years ago right about now, I was a columnist for MLB.com, based in New York. I’d never worked a beat before, never spent any significant time in a clubhouse before. I was 27 years old and definitely punching above my weight class, so my superiors decided that perhaps I could use some seasoning. The company had an opening in St. Louis, and it seemed like a good fit.

Three weeks after my first conversation with our editor-in-chief, I was on a plane to West Palm Beach, covering my first Spring Training on the Cardinals beat. I had no clue what I was doing. I was totally untrained, and should have been more nervous than I actually was. The idea, I thought, was to get two or three years of seasoning, then get back to columns.

Two or three years became five, became eight, became 10. I met my wife (and her cat) and then we got married (not to the cat). We got a dog and bought a house. I made friends. I learned just how hard and rewarding it is to cover a beat, and learned a great deal about being a professional. I covered two World Series champions, three MVP seasons, and at least two future Hall of Famers. I started tweeting and blogging. I covered two player deaths — two too many.

And now, after 10 seasons in St. Louis, I’m leaving the beat, effective next month. As of the Winter Warm-Up, I’ll be handing over the reins to a really talented, dedicated replacement. I assure you the beat will be in excellent hands, and the announcement on who is taking that job will follow this announcement closely. You won’t have to wait long, and you won’t be disappointed in the choice.

As for me, I’ve been promoted to a job I’ve dreamed about for a long time, serving as a national writer/columnist (title to be determined, actually) for MLB.com. My wife and I will be leaving St. Louis within the next three months or so (the exact time frame remains a bit flexible), bound for New York. I’ll still be writing baseball, I’ll still be working for a company I absolutely love, and I’ll still be in St. Louis sometimes. But this job, this consuming, amazing, overwhelming job, will soon be in someone else’s hands.

The main thing I want to say, as I head east and transition to a new role, is thank you. Thank you to everyone who has read Cardinals.com and read this blog. Thank you to everyone in the St. Louis media, and in the city, who has been so good to me.

Thank you to my wife, Erin, for patience, support, dedication and general amazingness. None of the rest of this matters nearly as much as you, and I try never to forget that.

Thank you to Joe Ostermeier, R.B. Fallstrom and Dave Wilhelm, who gave me guidance when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Without your kindness, patience and direction, I probably wouldn’t have lasted two years, never mind 10.

Thank you to Derrick Goold and John Marecek, who have become two of my best friends and who have helped keep me sane over the years. Each is as good as anybody around at what he does, and Derrick in particular has made my work better every day by upholding an extremely high standard in his own work. This market is lucky to have them, just as I’m lucky to have them as friends and colleagues.

Thank you to Rick Hummel and Joe Strauss, two of the best in the business, who set a standard that I strived to match. Thank you to Bernie Miklasz and Frank Cusumano, who have promoted me more, and spoken more kindly of me, than I could ever deserve. Thank you to Brian Bartow, Chris Tunno, Melody Yount, Terry Rodgers, Jim Anderson and Brad Hainje for always being good to me no matter how much I asked of them. Thank you to Stephen Norris, Conor Nicholl, Daniel Berk, Lee Hurwitz, B.J. Rains, Michael Bleach and Austin Laymance, who gave the best they had as associate reporters, committed to making Cardinals.com the best site it could be. Thank you to all of the players, coaches, front office people and manager (yes, I covered one manager in 10 years) who treated me with respect and courtesy.

Thank you to the many other friends I have made, both in the press box and outside, who have made Erin and me feel at home. We’ll miss all of you. And anyone I didn’t name, it’s because I’m forgetful (surely you know this) and not because you’re not important.

I’m ready, and excited, for the next gig. It’s what I’ve been seeking for years. But I’m also more than a little sad. This has been not just a rewarding job but a defining one. Y’all have humored me when I’ve gone off on tangents, kept me honest when my work has slipped, and always reminded me that I have this job because people care about the team I’ve covered. It’s a job and a period in my life I will always treasure and will never forget.

I’m not entirely sure how to wrap this up. I never really covered Jack Buck. He passed away in my first year on the beat. But I do know that I can’t say it any better than his sign off, so here goes:

“So long, for just a while.”

Thanks, everybody. I’ll miss you. Stay in touch.

-M.

The long overdue post-Pujols Twitter answers post

OK, folks…

I’m officially on vacation, so any questions you have on here won’t be answered till I’m back on duty in a little over a week. But I promised this, so here it is. Most of the other questions that people had, I answered directly. But these were the ones that came up over and over again in the hours after it became known that Albert Pujols was headed to Anaheim.

* What happens at first base?

That’s Lance Berkman’s job, barring something very surprising. Allen Craig will move into right field when and if he’s ready, but that’s obviously a question mark. Which means that the Cardinals are looking at outfield help.

* What happens to the money they would have spent on Pujols?

You may not like hearing this, but there’s no guarantee they spend it all right away. The Cardinals tend not to be an emotional organization. They’re definitely freer to pursue some solutions in their areas of need — shortstop (already done, or all but done), left-handed relief, the outfield and the bench. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them stop short of spending all of that $20 million or so that would have gone to Pujols in 2011 right away, and leave the flexibility to do something during the season.

* Will the Cardinals receive Draft pick compensation? If so, how much and when?

Yes. They will receive the Angels’ first-round pick, plus a supplemental first-round, or “sandwich” pick.

* Are Jimmy Rollins and/or Rafael Furcal now in play?

Well, you know the answer to this one now. Rollins was always a long shot, though, because of the length of contract he’s seeking.

* What about Hanley Ramirez?

Well, we can put this one to bed too. But, again, wasn’t going to happen. Ramirez is not a good shortstop, and he’s getting bigger, slower, and less suited to play the position. Plus he’s coming off a very disappointing offensive year. Plus he’s owed $46 million or so over the next three years.

* Well, then, what about Carlos Beltran?

OK, now you might be on to something. Beltran, if he can play any center field, is an intriguing option. He’s represented by Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be an obstacle. While the talks were difficult, it’s my understanding that they were never really acrimonious. Plus, if there’s a good fit, it would be foolish for team or agent to let that sort of thing get in the way. Beltran is far from a certainty, but he fits a lot of the profile of what the Cardinals need: someone who can play center and right field and bat from the right side (he’s actually a switch-hitter).

* And Prince Fielder? You’re probably going to say no there, too. OK, why?

Yeah, you knew the yes/no answer here. As for the why, well, the Cardinals didn’t especially like offering as much as they did to Pujols, but he’s a franchise icon, a once-in-a-generation player. In short, their offer wasn’t just made for baseball reasons. Fielder is a terrific player, but they’d only be bidding for baseball reasons. Besides, there’s no guarantee that Fielder, who’s significantly younger than Pujols, comes any cheaper than Pujols did.

* OK, one more: Yoennis Cespedes?

No and no. I talked to someone at the Winter Meetings with a very close knowledge of the Cespedes situation, and I was told in no uncertain terms that the Cardinals are not expected to be any kind of player for the Cuban outfielder.

* What about Pujols’ Hall of Fame plaque?

This one could be interesting. It’s highly likely, extremely likely, that Pujols’ BEST years on the field happened in St. Louis. He’s unlikely to rack up the MVP awards, the All-Star game appearances, the overall numbers, over the next 10 years that he did in the previous 11. But on the other hand, he’s likely to hit all of those big round numbers — 500, 600, maybe 700 homers, 3000 hits, etc — wearing an Angels cap. So it’s difficult to know for sure. Obviously if Pujols’ decline is sharp and rapid, he’s more likely to go in as a Cardinal. If he remains a star-level player over all 10 years of his new deal, that’s less certain.

And for those of you unaware, this is the Hall of Fame’s call. It sometimes consults with the player, but the Hall makes the call.

* What does this mean for Matt Adams?

Not a lot just yet, I’d say. If they sign somebody for multiple years to play 1B or the outfield, that might change. Craig is going to play, so if they were to sign an outfielder for 3 years or something, clearly moving Craig to first base (for example), that might block Adams. But for now, Adams’ ETA was never any sooner than Sept. of 2012 anyway, and Lance Berkman is only on a one-year deal.

* Any chance of a stopgap first baseman? Casey Kotchman/Carlos Pena/etc?

Sure, there’s a chance, but it’s unlikely. If they’re only going to bring in one player, it’s much more likely to be an outfielder than a first baseman.

* When and where will Pujols talk?

This is another that of course has already been answered. But if you want to read his comments, check Angels.com for all sorts of coverage from Saturday’s news conference.

And, finally, the playlist. And, yeah, it’s themed.

Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas”
The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping”
Run-D.M.C., “Christmas In Hollis”
Bruce Springsteen, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Bob Seger, “The Little Drummer Boy”

-M.

Making the best of things

Everyone…

 

I’m in the midst of working on a couple of stories on today’s events, and as I promised on Twitter, I’m also going to put up a blog post answering the most common questions about the Albert Pujols situation. In the meantime, though, I wanted to throw this out there because I think it’s really cool.

 

The Gathering, a church in St. Louis, is asking that if you are parting with your Pujols shirts, jerseys, etc., that you please not just throw them away (or worse). Donate them. The church will be collecting any items and donating them to a clothing pantry in the Los Angeles area. It’s a way to make some good out of what is obviously sad, frustrating day for a lot of Cardinals fans. You can bring the items by 2105 McCausland Ave. during regular business hours on Sunday.

 

Here’s a link for a bit more info.

 

-M.

Monday Winter Meetings tidbits

Lotta stuff from today. Be sure to check out the MLB.com Hot Stove Blog, where there are all kinds of updates from the meetings, including plenty on some Cardinals targets and their talks with other teams.

 

* John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt met with Dan Lozano for about an hour, and Mozeliak expects to speak with him again tonight. Mozeliak did not go into much detail as to the pace or results of the talks, but acknowledged that he wouldn’t be surprised if things pick up with Pujols and various teams in the next few days.

* Per Mozeliak, the club is not assuming it has any “last right of refusal” for another team’s offer to Pujols. He said he has not asked and team Pujols has not indicated.

* My friend and colleague Jesse Sanchez reported earlier today that the Cardinals are one of five teams in the hunt for Octavio Dotel. However, Mozeliak indicated that there’s really not much movement with Dotel right now.

* Mozeliak reiterated that the Cardinals will not be adding a starting pitcher, even if they do not sign Pujols.

* The Cardinals have spoken with Pujols directly since the season ended, not just with Lozano.

* Mozeliak acknowledged that it’s unlikely — “not inconceivable,” but unlikely — that the club has BOTH Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot next year. One or the other could well return, but probably not both.

 

And, finally, the playlist…

It’s pretty simple, I’ve been listening to one thing more than anything else lately: the new official release of the Rolling Stones’ Brussels Affair 1973 live recording. So today’s playlist is five highlights from that unbelievable album:

“Gimme Shelter”
“Tumblin’ Dice”
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
“All Down the Line”
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

-M.

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