Welcome to the second non-StL-centric edition of Lucky Seven. Let’s get rolling, shall we?
1. Pardon me a little synergy here. In this article, I examined some of the various candidates for the title of best player in baseball. In your mind, who’s the best right now?
2. Heck, while we’re at it, who’s the best pitcher in the game?
3. Which team will employ A.J. Burnett when Spring Training games start?
4. A lot of you named the Phillies last week as the NL’s best team. Which NL East team will give them the most trouble this year?
5. Granting that the MLB All-Star game is the best (c’mon, you know this is true), which is second-best? NBA, NHL, or Pro Bowl?
6. Last really great meal you had at a restaurant?
7. Best novel you’ve read recently?
Note: This is the first in what hopefully will be a recurring series of anecdotes from my life as a baseball fan and a person working within the game.
As I may or may not have mentioned in this space before, I grew up a Red Sox fan, and to a lesser extent a Braves fan (big league sports didn’t really exist in Florida then, except for the Dolphins and Bucs, so everybody just really picked teams to follow; one of my best friends was a Blue Jays fan). Team fandom pretty much goes out the door once you have a beat, so those alliances are long gone for me in 2012, but from childhood till about age 28 I lived and died with the fortunes of the Red Sox. Two years after I stopped following them, they won the World Series, but that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway. Though I grew up in Florida and lived there for the vast majority of my pre-adult years, we spent one year living in Norman, Okla. — my ninth-grade year, from summer of 1988 to summer of 1989. I had seen the Red Sox play in person once or twice before, but obviously from Florida there weren’t a lot of chances to do so, other than Spring Training.
From Oklahoma, though, it was another matter. Arlington was about a three-hour drive away, and so I began lobbying my parents to make the trip down when the Sox came to town. Bless them, they said yes, and we began making plans to drive down for a Sunday afternoon game at old Arlington Stadium.
And then I started paying attention to the pitching rotations. And counting five days and five days out. And it became clear that we were in for a treat. It was this game. Follow the link, check that pitching matchup, and come back for the rest.
That’s pretty cool. It was the first time the two Texas legends had pitched against each other, and in Texas, no less.
I don’t remember a whole lot of very specific details about the game itself, aside from Palmeiro’s homer, the outcome and the thrill of being there for a historic occasion. I do remember being very close to the Rangers’ bullpen, which was along the third-base line, and seeing (and hearing) Nolan Ryan warm up. That’s still one of my most vivid memories, ever, at a ballpark. Even at 42 (holy cow, FORTY TWO YEARS OLD, and he was still four years from being finished), Ryan could absolutely bring it, and being up close to see him fire laser-beam fastballs and evil breaking stuff was really cool.
But that’s not the reason I thought of this game today. Oil Can Boyd has been in today’s news, and not in a good way. Once again, news about the Can is sad, which is unfortunate for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he was a really good and entertaining pitcher, and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see him pitch for longer.
After the game, my parents once again humored me by coming with me to wait outside the Red Sox clubhouse so I could try to get autographs as the players went to the bus. Clemens signed but barely stopped. Dwight Evans, my favorite player at the time (and one of my all-time favorite players still to this day), signed. For the most part it was tough going, though.
Then a woman approached us… enthusiastically. I was, being a 14-year-old fan, decked out in Red Sox gear. And she came up to us and acted like we were dear, long-lost old friends. She practically yelled how happy she was to see any other Red Sox fans at the park, that people gave her a hard time in the stands, and just generally chatted us up for a while.
She was very friendly, very animated, and had an accent that made it clear she wasn’t from Boston. I think she actually may have hugged me, but if she didn’t, rest assured she may as well have. She asked us where we were from, what we were doing there, all that. She saw my baseball cards that I was waiting to get signed.
Then the conversation started to wrap up, and she started heading toward the clubhouse. And she asked me for my Oil Can Boyd card. She was his sister, she told us. She took the card, took it in, and Can signed it and personalized it. She brought it back out with a smile and put it in my hands.
I’ve been an Oil Can fan ever since, and I’m still pulling for him in whatever he does next.
I’m beginning to get some feel for what the new assignment is going to look like. First big project will run a week from today, and there will be stories between now and then as well. Additionally, though, I think that being off the beat will free me up to do some different stuff from the blog.
And to resurrect some stuff that used to be on the blog, like Lucky Seven. For anyone who’s forgotten, or hasn’t seen this before, it’s pretty simple. Just answer the questions. This is your feature, not mine. One rule and one rule only: if one of the questions doesn’t interest you or appeal to you, just don’t answer. “The DH is stupid” or “I hate basketball” or “who cares about that?” doesn’t advance anything. Besides, obviously I care about it or I wouldn’t have asked.
One other thing: this blog, and this feature, obviously won’t be nearly so Cardinals-centered anymore. That starts now.
So anyway, on with the questions.
1. I count 11 teams with realistic playoff hopes in the National League. What’s the BEST team in the senior circuit as Spring Training approaches?
2. The Tigers are pretty much a consensus favorite in the AL Central. Which of the other four teams is the biggest threat to them?
3. What team improved itself the most over the winter?
4. What team will employ Roy Oswalt on Opening Day, if any?
5. Aside from Spring Training/Opening Day, what’s the next sporting event you’re really looking forward to? Masters? NCAA Tourney? NFL Draft?
6. What’s the funniest show on TV (pretty sure y’all know my vote on this one)?
7. You saw my list. What was YOUR favorite album last year?
The time has come, and for once I have very little idea of what to say or write. As of today, I’m no longer the Cardinals beat writer for MLB.com. I’ve handed the reins to Jenifer Langosch, who has covered the Pirates for us for the past five years, and I begin my new journey writing more national and analytical pieces for MLB.com.
Here’s Jenifer’s hello to all of you, and I hope you’ll take a minute and go read it. I would wish her luck, but she doesn’t need it. She’s going to do great work and I’m eager to read it.
I don’t really have a lot to add that I haven’t already said. This blog isn’t going away, and neither is my twitter feed. The focus will obviously be a bit different, though I’m sure some folks would argue there’s never been much of a focus to OYNAG or my twitter feed anyway. We’re not moving to New York for another couple of months. For the coming weeks, I’m going to be feeling out what exactly it is that the new job is going to look like.
But I just wanted to pass along, one more time, my thanks to everyone for making a truly amazing chapter in my life what it was.
Hello, all… First a little housekeeping:
* We have an official, formal date for the transition on the beat. Jenifer Langosch will take over in nine days, on Feb. 3. I’ll start writing in my new capacity that day. This blog should continue to exist, as should my twitter feed, but as of Feb. 3, I will no longer be MLB.com’s beat writer. If this is all news to you, check this entry for the story. We will probably be moving in April.
* Tonight at 9 p.m. CT, MLB Network will run a special on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects. Spoiler alert: there are some Cardinals on the list. So come to Cardinals.com about that same time for more on them. My good friend and longtime colleague Jonathan Mayo does great work with the prospect stuff for us, and you should definitely check it all out.
And now, on with the music.
This post gets later and later every year, which I apologize for. But hey, maybe I win some sort of prize for the last top-10 of 2011 list of any kind, anywhere.
Anyway, first a disclaimer/explanation. Actually, I’ll just re-run what I wrote in the intro to this piece last year:
If you’re not interested, just stop reading now. Won’t hurt my feelings. Head over to Cardinals.com for the news on Jason Motte’s contract and all the other stuff we’ve had there in recent days and weeks. … I know this is a baseball blog, but as I’ve made clear over the years, I also always intended it to be a little more than that. So thank you for indulging me. And most of all, thanks for reading all of it — blog, stories, everything — and for taking the time to comment and keep me on my toes.
In past years, my wife and I have done two separate posts. This year, she has simply emailed her list, which is a top-11 (I DO WHAT I WANT, she notes). So here it is. I’m not sure we’ve ever had so little overlap in our favorite albums in a year:
1. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit–Here We Rest
2. TV on the Radio–Nine Kinds of Light
The Cardinals have confirmed a Wednesday afternoon report that they have agreed to terms with right-hander Jason Motte. The deal is worth $1.95 million according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, who first reported that a pact was in place.
That would exactly split the difference between what the club offered and what Motte requested when arbitration figures were submitted earlier this month.
Motte, who emerged as the club’s closer late in 2011, requested $2.4 million. The club offered $1.5 million. As a matter of policy, the Cardinals do not divulge contract terms.
Motte was the only unsigned arbitration-eligible Cardinal. As a result, the team will avoid arbitration for the 13th straight winter. The team has not gone to a hearing since 1999, when it won its case against left-hander Darren Oliver.
Carlos Beltran was engaging and entertaining over his session chatting with us before he signed. A few tidbits:
* Beltran will wear No. 3.
* He didn’t express any real preference as to a spot in the batting order.
“I’ve hit second in the past, a little bit with the Mets, a little bit with Houston. I don’t mind. As players sometimes you go through situations where you’re swinging the bat well and the manager feels that he wants to hit you third or fourth. That’s his decision. I’m just going to come to the ballpark every day prepared to play, and wherever he needs me, I’ll be there.”
* Asked about the finalists to sign him, Beltran named the Indians, Rays and Giants along with the Cardinals.
* He explained that the easiest thing last year, with Angel Pagan around as a capable center fielder for the Mets, and Beltran recuperating from knee trouble, was just to go ahead and move him to right field from the start.
“Let me play right field and let Pagan play center field, and if later on in the season you need me playing center, then you know, I’m fine. I have played center for 12 years and I feel very comfortable playing center. But moving to right, it was an easy transition for me. So if they need a center fielder, I will prepare myself to be there.”
* Finally, I asked him about something J.D. Drew said a few years ago: that for a player with knee trouble, center field could actually be easier on the knees than right field. Drew’s contention was that in center, you can sort of glide to a stop, whereas in right field you sometimes have very sudden stops, which is difficult on the knees. It’s fair to say that Beltran doesn’t agree.
“No way. There’s no way, because you have to cover right center. You have to cover left center. You have to cover a groundball to second base. You have to cover a groundball to shortstop. In right field, a ball to left field, I just stand.”
That’ll about wrap it up. They’re not bringing any more players in today. We’ll have two full stories on the site, about Allen Craig and about Beltran, as well as a notebook and plenty of video. Hope you’ve enjoyed all of the content this weekend.
Just about to go hear what Carlos Beltran has to say, but in the meantime a few nuggets from Kyle Lohse and David Freese.
* Lohse said John Mozeliak did call him about the trade rumors that swirled in December, and it was clear that Lohse was unfazed by the whole situation.
“When he [Mozeliak] talked to me, he was like, ‘ I realized that I probably should say something to you just so you are clear on what’s going on,’” Lohse said. “The way he put it to me was, teams are inquiring, and he’s got to listen. It’s all part of the business. I’m not going around with my feelings hurt that someone is talking about trading for me.”
Of course it helps that Lohse can’t be traded without his permission.
* Lohse also had raves about the Carlos Beltran signing.
“Have you seen his numbers on me? I think he’s the greatest player in the history of the game. … It’s going to lower my ERA at least half a point.”
Beltran is 22-for-39 with 10 extra-base hits against Lohse.
* David Freese is very excited about his health, saying he has no hesitation or concern about his ankles for the first time in a long time.
“I guess publicly we didn’t talk about it a lot last year, but there was times where Tony would give me rest in games,” he said. “It helped that Descalso is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, so it was a win-win. You could throw [him] in there and keep him fresh. But I think 2012 will be different in the sense that it will be like, ‘Hey, Dave, just go play and do what you can do.’ Each day, each year, I get more healthy. There’s still room for improvement, but that’s the exciting part.
Asked about a target number of games, he said:
“I’d like to say I can handle 162. I’m not going to throw a number out there. … But the way I feel now, I’m not nervous, and that’s a good thing. That’s a feeling I don’t have. I’ve had that feeling for a long time with my legs and stuff. A year ago today, there was that feeling, a nerve-wracking feeling going into camp. To pull that off my shoulders is a great thing.”
Mike Matheny chatted with us for nearly 20 minutes today. Once again, there will be a little more on the site later today, but here are some of the bullet points from his session:
* On whether Spring Training will feature any particular emphasis:
“We’re going to hit baserunning hard again. Baserunning for pitchers as well. A lot of little things like bunting. There’s going to be a lot of bunting going on. There’s going to be a lot of situational hitting. There’s going to be team fundamentals. I think it’s going to cover the whole game.
“Even a lot of the players said they’d like to have more focus on breaking down things [about baserunning].”
(And before you freak out, I didn’t take this to mean they’d be sacrificing a lot during the season necessarily; just that they’ll work on bunting in Spring Training)
* On whether he’s sorted out a lineup yet:
“I’ve been writing lineups since the day I got the job. Got some projections going, potential guys, and it was nice to add another one in there. One with Furcal and two with Beltran. Start to play around with that. The lineup is going to kind of be fluid as you head into Spring Training. You don’t want to write that until you get there and see how guys kind of mix in together and how they gel.”
* Asked whether Carlos Beltran is a significant variable in the lineup, given that he has both table-setting and middle-of-the-order skills:
“I do see it that way. I see him being somebody that, if his legs are right, he could certainly fill that two hole. I’m an advocate of trying to get your best hitters up as many times as you possibly can. That’s just playing some good numbers. But you also have to look at the ability to drive in 100 runs, and he’s been a run producer in the past. You just kind of have to watch how it goes. You have to watch how he’s moving too. You want to be able to make sure that his knees are working to the point that he can be scored when he does get on first base. But the high on-base percentage mixed with power mixed with the knack of knocking in a big run gives you the flexibility to put him just about everywhere.”
* Matheny repeatedly referred to the second-base mix as a three-man competition, including Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene and Skip Schumaker. That’s a bit of a departure from some of what we heard earlier in the winter, when it sounded like Schumaker wasn’t really in the picture at second.
* On Beltran’s health and what it means to him playing center field:
“I think he’s going to over-deliver on what the expectations are of what his body is going to be able to hold. I just need to listen to the medical staff and also Carlos and his body of how we can use him, and center field may be a little more demanding than right field would be.”
Good morning all. I hope those of you who got to attend the Baseball Writers’ Dinner last night enjoyed it. I know I did, and it’s definitely one of the things I’ll miss about being around here.
A couple of morning tidbits for you:
* Allen Craig expressed a lot of optimism about the recovery of his surgically repaired right knee. He’s headed to Florida very soon to begin rehab, and likes the way it’s coming along so far.
“I’m walking around great and doing light strengthening exercises, and it feels really good,” he said. “I feel like I’m on track or maybe a little bit ahead.”
We’ll have a longer story on the site about Craig’s winter and his rehab later today.
* Craig said he gave the ball from the last out of the World Series to TLR.
“I heard through the grapevine that he was kind of interested in getting it after the World Series. And then he pulled us into the weight room and told us that he was retiring, so I was like, ‘I’m not going to be the guy that keeps the ball.’ So I gave it to him and I was glad to do it. I had the thrill of catching it. That’s all I need.”
* Kyle McClellan didn’t sound like he had a whole lot of feel for how his arm is doing following the difficulties he had at the end of the year. In short, he CAN’T really know just yet, but it’s worth noting that he certainly didn’t sound concerned. What McClellan was dealing with at the end of 2011 was essentially “dead arm,” so until he gets to pitching again, there’s no way to really know.
“I’ve taken a lot of time off and maintained my shoulder exercises but not thrown on purpose, and given myself a lot of time to rest,” he said. “And actually I’ll start throwing today for the first time and get back to where I normally am.”
I didn’t get any real feeling that McClellan thinks it will be an issue at all. He felt it was really a matter of fatigue after a career-high innings load, and I’m inclined to think that makes a lot of sense.
* We didn’t get much chance to talk to McClellan about his contract situation — he’s one of two unsigned arbitration-eligible Cardinals — but once again, he didn’t seem all that concerned.
“From what I understand, we still have plenty of time to get that done,” he said.