The Reality of Legacies and Latter Round MLB Draft Picks

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As nice and uplifting a story as the Diamondbacks drafting of paralyzed former Arizona State player Cory Hahn in the 34th round of the MLB draft is, it also provides insight as to how little teams think of the draft’s latter rounds and the likelihood of finding useful on-field talent that can make it to the big leagues.

In another pick that got significant attention, the Yankees drafted Andy Pettitte’s son Josh in the 37th round out of high school. Because Pettitte’s son has committed to Baylor University, Josh Pettitte is not expected to sign with the Yankees. That’s probably a relief for them because a 37th round draft pick is not expected to be anything more than organizational filler. If Josh Pettitte was considered an actual prospect, he would’ve been taken by a team other than the Yankees well before the 37th round, commitment to Baylor or not. When the Yankees selected Paul O’Neill’s nephew Michael in the third round, they did so not as a legacy or a favor to the O’Neill family but because he can actually play. The Mets made a similar selection with Lee Mazzilli’s son L.J. in the fourth round. These are players who would have been selected by another club at around the same spot had the Yankees and Mets not made the selections. There’s no doubt that the legacy was a tiny factor in picking the players, but not to the degree that the Yankees selecting Pettitte and this is the difference between players selected in the first 10-15 rounds—for any reason—and those picked after.

For every late-round draft pick who makes it to the majors, there are thousands of others who don’t get past the low minors. Players who are drafted past the tenth round are not expected to make it. Once in a long while you’ll have the occasional freak occurrence like Albert Pujols (13th round), James Shields (16th round), Domonic Brown (drafted as a pitcher in the 20th round), Mark Buehrle (38th round), and Mike Piazza (62nd round as a favor to Tom Lasorda). By and large, the players who make it to the majors are those who are picked in the first 20 rounds with the numbers decreasing significantly as the rounds pass. Players taken in the first few rounds will receive repeated opportunities not just because of latent talent, but because of the money teams invest in them. That’s become even more pronounced with the slotted bonuses and limited amount of money teams are allowed to spend in the draft. They don’t want to toss money away on a player even if, after three or four years, he shows he’s not what they thought he was. In some cases, these players make it to the big leagues so teams can say, “Look he made it to the majors at least,” as if that’s some form of justification for an overall miss on a high draft pick.

Indicative of how little teams think of the latter rounds were the decisions to make these selections of players like Hahn and Pettitte. They create a story for a brief time but devolve into the realm of the forgotten because they weren’t meant to be remembered in the first place.

Should teams spend more time and money on the draft past the initial stages? Are there enough talented draft-eligible players to make it worth their while? It depends. Some clubs don’t want to spend the money and resources it will take to mine through the amateurs for 50 rounds to find perhaps five players that have a chance to contribute. Others, like the Cardinals, have made it a regular occurrence to draft players on the third and fourth days of the draft such as Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, Allen Craig, Luke Gregerson, and Jaime Garcia. The Cardinals and then-scouting director Jeff Luhnow have been credited with the Cardinals’ fertile farm system, but perhaps the truth is more of a matter of the conscious decision not to waste late-round picks on legacies and heartwarming stories, instead choosing to draft players who they think might be able to help them at some point.

The Yankees and their apologists can point to the inexplicable luck the team had in 1990 with Pettitte the father (22nd round) and Jorge Posada (24th round drafted as an infielder) as reason to think Josh Pettitte has a chance, but that’s wishful thinking. They got lucky in 1990 just as the Cardinals got lucky with Pujols and the Devil Rays got lucky with Shields. On the same token, teams have repeatedly failed with top-tier picks for one reason or another be it injuries, miscalculation, off-field problems or bottom line bad luck. If the Yankees were going to draft a player in the 37th round who had a miniscule chance of becoming useful to them or the Diamondbacks were going to do the same thing in the 34th round, then why not draft the players they did and accrue some publicity? Overall, there’s no difference because a paralyzed player like Hahn only has a slightly less chance of making it than someone else who was drafted in the 34th round, so the Diamondbacks did something nice and it won’t harm their draft because on the field, it won’t make much difference either way.

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Pujols May Save the Cardinals Again

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Albert Pujols did the Cardinals a huge favor by departing for Anaheim and the Angels. Not only did he save them from paying a player who’s listed at age 32 (but might be older) $220 million for 10 years, but he gave them a substantial amount of money to use in other areas. Because they won the World Series last year, the afterglow gave them a pass for any perceived negativity.

With Pujols gone and Lance Berkman already onboard from a mid-season 2011 contract extension, they signed Carlos Beltran at $26 million for two years. He’s been an MVP candidate for them.

This current Cardinals team isn’t that good; their manager Mike Matheny has made some rudimentary strategic mistakes—as would be expected from someone who’d never managed before anywhere; they have holes in the starting rotation due to injuries to Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter. But they’re only 2 ½ games out of first place in a mediocre division and parity-laden National League and they have the farm system to make big deals. With the money available from not having to pay Pujols along with the expiring contracts of Carpenter, Berkman, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, they can pursue a Zack Greinke and potentially bolster the bullpen by expanding a Greinke trade to include Francisco Rodriguez. Greinke wouldn’t have to be a rental either; the freed up money could be used to sign him long-term.

The Cardinals without Tony LaRussa are being run more like a business with Matheny a functionary and not having the power to win turf wars as LaRussa did. Carpenter is out for the season with surgery to repair nerve damage in his shoulder. In the past it would’ve been guaranteed that LaRussa would bully his way into getting Carpenter another contract in spite of his age (38 next April) and frequent injuries. Now that’s not the case. The Cardinals let Pujols leave making any player disposable if his demands are extreme.

Thanks to Pujols, the Cardinals can be big buyers at the deadline and it could benefit them greatly for the rest of 2012 and beyond.

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The Objective Truth About Luhnow

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Simultaneously searching for a greater understanding through objective analysis, the stat people have taken to using subjectivity to bolster the resumes of the like-minded whether it’s accurate or not.

In this NY Times article by Tyler Kepner, the new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work glossed over in such a way to bypass how he got into the game; the issues that surrounded him with the Cardinals; and that he’s doled credit without full details nor the assignation of blame.

Luhnow was hired by the Cardinals in the heady days following the publication of Moneyball—before the story was proven to be a skillfully written fabrication. The specific purpose of the book was to prop up the supposed “genius” of Billy Beane and designed to document the antiquated nature of those who hadn’t been educated at an Ivy League school, didn’t use numbers as the end-all of existence and trusted their in-the-trenches experience and their eyes to assess players.

Immediately Luhnow became seen as a threat to veteran GM Walt Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa. He had the ear of owner Bill DeWitt and the organization set about altering the draft strategy. In addition to that, the organizational pitching philosophy, which had been designed by pitching coach Dave Duncan, was scrapped much to the chagrin of Duncan, LaRussa and Jocketty.

The front office had broken into factions with the old-schoolers battling the new age thinkers who, like Luhnow, were imported from other industries and whose presence was viewed as interloping on what they’d always done; what had been successful.

Kepner is sort of accurate (albeit with the count slightly off) when, in describing Luhnow’s first three drafts, he writes:

In those same years, St. Louis drafted 24 future major leaguers, the most of any team.

But is it spiritually accurate?

The list of big league players that Luhnow drafted from 2005-2007 are as follows:

2005: Colby Rasmus; Tyler Greene; Bryan Anderson; Mitchell Boggs; Nick Stavinoha; Daniel McCutchen; Ryan Rohlinger (did not sign); and Jaime Garcia.

2006: Adam Ottavino; Chris Perez; Jon Jay; Mark Hamilton; Shane Robinson; Allen Craig; P.J. Walters; David Carpenter; and Luke Gregerson.

2007: Pete Kozma; Clayton Mortensen; Jess Todd; Daniel Descalso; Michael Stutes (didn’t sign); Steven Hill; Andrew Brown; Brian Broderick; Tony Cruz; and Adron Chambers.

Apart from Garcia, is there one player that jumps out so you can say, “Wow, what a great pick that was!”?

The drafts were pedestrian. Because 24 of the players drafted in those three years made it to the majors, it doesn’t imply “success”.

A player simply making it to the big leagues is contingent on a myriad of factors—some of those for Luhnow are that the players were traded away for veteran help; such veteran help generally only comes from a team that is in need of young talent because they don’t have the money to keep the veteran players they’re dealing away, so they’ll be more open to giving prospects a chance in the big leagues.

Just as wins and losses have become a borderline irrelevant barometer in determining how well or poorly a pitcher has pitched in a given season, the number of big leaguers produced in a draft is rendered meaningless as well.

There’s little-to-no correlation between a draft being judged as “good” and the players making it to the majors for a token appearance.

Succeeding Jocketty, Mozeliak was placed in a position where he had to assuage his cantankerous veteran manager LaRussa (sometimes “yes-ing” him to death to keep him quiet) while fulfilling the mandate of ownership that became clear when they hired Luhnow in the first place.

This was a subtle and underappreciated accomplishment by Mozeliak.

Were the late round players who made it to the big leagues—some of which became star-caliber like Garcia—the result of change in philosophy spurred by Luhnow’s presence? Or was it typical luck that has to be present as it was when Jocketty’s operation picked Albert Pujols in the 13th round of the 1999 draft?

The trades that Kepner brings up came as a result of LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting to get what he wanted due to his stature and accumulated credibility from years of winning his way. They had nothing to do with Luhnow in a concrete sense.

The perception of a star player like Matt Holliday being available via trade is connected to his contract status; he was not re-signing with the Athletics and the 2009 A’s were playing poorly, so they traded him for some players that had been drafted under Luhnow.

One thing doesn’t justify the other.

Luhnow is in a less contentious position with the Astros than he was when he entered baseball as an outsider in 2003. With a new owner; a barren farm system; and essentially an expansion roster, he’s free to do whatever he wants from top-to-bottom and hire people who are of similar mind and will implement what he believes.

But it’s got nothing to do with what he did as a Cardinals executive because his contribution was secondary to having a Hall of Fame manager and a GM who was adept at placating those with differing philosophies that were trying to push him in one direction or another.

If anyone deserves the credit for the Cardinals ability to navigate these issues and still win, it’s Mozeliak.

Will Luhnow be a Paul DePodesta? Someone with the knowledge of numbers and solid resume but was unable to deal with the ancillary aspects of the big job? Or will he be a Jon Daniels? One who overcame a rocky start and muddled ownership/managerial situation, but has become one of the best, if not the best GM in baseball?

We won’t know until we know.

Luhnow’s getting his chance now. He’s the boss of the Astros. For better. Or worse.

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Cubs Or Cards For Francona?

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The Cubs currently have a manager so it’s unfair for people to speculate on whether or not Terry Francona is going to take over while Mike Quade is still employed—the job’s not open, so until it is he’s not a candidate.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a candidate once Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are settled in and come to a decision on Quade.

Common sense dictates that if they’re making a change, they’ve informed Francona that he should wait before taking another job.

And presumably that was before Tony LaRussa retired and a potentially more inviting job came open—a job where Francona could walk in and win immediately with the Cardinals.

The teams are bitter, historic rivals and that’s only be exacerbated if their manager of choice has to pick one over the other.

Which job is better?

Which is preferable?

Let’s take a look.

Expectations.

The Cubs demands are going to be muted as Epstein sifts through the current mess, tries to clear the contracts of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, repairs the farm system and alters the culture. Francona could run the club on the field while they retool and no one’s going to be comparing him to his predecessor—if they remember his predecessor at all.

The Cardinals are the world champions are are accustomed to contending almost every single year. With or without Albert Pujols (who’s going to have a say in whom the new Cards manager is), they’re good enough to make the playoffs in 2012. It’s not easy being the replacement for a legend and even though Francona has some hardware in his own right with two championships, there’s forever going to be the onus of the appellation of “middle-manager”; that other managers could’ve won with the Red Sox collection of talent; and the way his tenure in Boston ended was a humiliating disaster.

Being the boss and familiarity.

The Cardinals are ready-made to win, but with LaRussa’s departure, I’d be concerned that they’re going to return to their earlier attempt to go the Moneyball route with the Jeff Luhnow-types in the front office and ignore what the manager thinks. LaRussa was able to use his resume as a hammer to fend off those adjustments and eventually won the power struggle; GM John Mozeliak was the man in the middle, appeasing his bosses and the manager. If Francona comes along, he’s not going to have the sharp elbows that LaRussa did. Francona’s much more affable than LaRussa, but that might not necessarily be a good thing.

Francona can work with Dave Duncan and doesn’t have the ego to retreat from delegating responsibilities to his coaches and players.

With the Cubs, he’d have at least some say with the construction of the roster because of his prior relationship with Epstein and Hoyer.

Talent.

Short of a miracle the Cubs aren’t going to be winning anytime soon and Epstein ain’t Moses.

The Cubs have a semblance of a good nucleus with Geovany Soto and Starlin Castro forming the basis for a solid up-the-middle club; Blake DeWitt deserves a chance to play and under Epstein his on-base skills and good defense will be better appreciated.

But it’s going to take a couple of years for the Cubs to be ready to win.

When Epstein took over the Red Sox, much of the ALCS club from 2003 and championship club from 2004 were already in place due to the prior work done by Dan Duquette. The Cubs have some talent, but are far from contending status. Would Francona be willing to walk in and have his record sullied by a 75-87 season in 2012? His job wouldn’t be on the line, but it’s a weak follow-up to the Red Sox collapse.

A starting rotation with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook; a bullpen with a 100-mph fastball of Jason Motte; a lineup with Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese and presumably Pujols automatically has the Cardinals in contention.

The aggravation factor.

Francona’s hands-off approach eventually exploded in his face with the Red Sox, but the Cardinals have leaders who don’t tolerate any nonsense.

The Cubs have Zambrano and Soriano. It’s in their DNA to torment the manager.

There’s not a black cloud hanging over the Cardinals as there is with the Cubs. The negativity isn’t, nor will it ever be, present in St. Louis as it is on the North Side of Chicago.

While they’re almost waiting for something bad to happen to sabotage them—they almost revel in it as if it’s a badge of honor—the Chicago media and fans might be less willing to accept the “Flubs” if they don’t look like they’re on the right track under the new regime.

The Cardinals fans and media will support the club and their manager regardless of what happens as long as Francona doesn’t screw it up. And Francona’s not a “screw it up” guy who’ll make changes just for the sake of them.

There’s something to be said for being the manager of both the Red Sox and Cubs and ending two perceived curses—that’s part of what attracted Epstein to the Cubs in the first place; perhaps that would appeal to Francona. But for the reasons listed above, the Cardinals are a better job.

If offered both, the Cardinals job is a better situation and that’s the one I’d take if I were Terry Francona.

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The Albert Pujols Thing

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Tony LaRussa‘s going year-to-year as manager and has a 2012 option—he’s going to be back; Chris Carpenter is turning 37 and Lance Berkman 36; the Cardinals have exercised their 2012-2013 contract options on Adam Wainwright; Marc Rzepczynski is far from free agency and has potential as a starter; Jaime Garcia is locked up at a reasonable rate.

The only player on the roster who has a super-long, super-expensive contract is Matt Holliday who’s signed at $17 million per until 2016.

Yadier Molina‘s contract is up after next season and they have to keep him, but apart from that and the “Albert Pujols thing”, the team is set and they’re going to contend in 2012…even without Pujols.

It’s unfathomable to imagine Pujols in a different uniform than the Cardinals red, but there’s always that small possibility that he’ll leave. I’ve said forever that Pujols isn’t going anywhere.

And he’s not.

But what if he does?

What could the Cardinals do?

They could do plenty.

They could shift 2010 top draft pick, third baseman Zack Cox to first base; they could move Berkman to first and sign Michael Cuddyer; they could make a trade; they could keep Edwin Jackson and sign Jonathan Papelbon to have a devastating rotation backed up by a dominant closer; they could sign Jose Reyes to make up for some of the lost Pujols offense in a different way.

Could, could, could…

As long as the Cardinals have LaRussa and Dave Duncan and the core of players—especially the pitchers—they currently have, they’re going to be competitive sans Pujols.

That money allocated to Pujols—$20-25 million per year—would fill multiple holes with high-end players.

And Pujols has as much invested in the Cardinals legacy as they have in him; maybe more.

Would he want to muck with the Joe DiMaggio aura and his aesthetic by having teams other than the Cardinals on the back of his bubblegum card to make a few extra dollars?

It wouldn’t be as attractive as the “one team for his whole career” that is part of MLB lore.

The Cardinals need Pujols.

But Pujols also needs the Cardinals.

Examining it more deeply and with a ruthless and businesslike calculation, it just might be that Pujols needs the Cardinals more than they need him. Judging from their roster, their manager and the sudden availability of money to spend on other players, they’d win without him.

He needs to think about that before looking for the rumored Alex Rodriguez contract because as unthinkable as a Pujols-less Cardinals are, they could let him walk and still be very, very good.

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NLCS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers

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St. Louis Cardinals (90-72; 2nd place, NL Central; won Wild Card; defeated Philadelphia Phillies in NLDS 3 games to 2) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central; defeated Arizona Diamondbacks in NLDS 3 games to 2).

Keys for the Cardinals: shut the Brewers up early; get depth from their starters; wait for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to make a mistake and capitalize; maintain their composure.

For a team that’s never won anything, the Brewers have an awful lot to say. There are two ways to handle that: don’t respond to it and respond on the field; or retaliate with similar trash-talk and/or by popping someone.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is simmering and seething at the way the Brewers are talking about his players, notably Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, but he’s going to specifically tell his players not to engage and to do their talking with their play. They have to adhere to the mandate.

Jaime Garcia has done well against all the Brewers hitters; Casey McGehee is 5 for 17 vs Garcia so presumably he’ll be back in the lineup.

Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder have hammered Carpenter, but yapping at a fiery competitor and one of the best pitchers in baseball isn’t simply stupid, it’s adding fuel to a fire that didn’t exactly need to be stoked.

Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Jerry Hairston and Weeks all bash Edwin Jackson; McGehee has 3 career hits off of him and all are home runs; expect to see Hairston at shortstop and McGehee at third in game 2. If anyone’s going to retaliate against the Brewers with a brushback (or one between the shoulder blades), it’ll be Jackson.

Roenicke doesn’t seem to have control of his players—something he should’ve learned from his years working for Mike Scioscia with the Angels—and it could be a big problem; he’s made some bizarre, small-ball calls (similar to Scioscia) with his players this season and LaRussa is smart enough to sit back and wait for the mistake, then strike.

The Cardinals can’t let Morgan and the ridiculous “Beast” nonsense—an arms raised, “GRAAARRRR” thing the Brewers do whenever they get a hit—get to them. It won’t be easy, but if they want to win, they have to do it.

Keys for the Brewers: put their performance where their mouths are; get baserunners in front of Fielder and Ryan Braun; hand the ball from the starters to the set-up man/closer; mitigate Pujols.

The Brewers had better put up or shut up. But they’re the type of group that, even if they lose the first two game and look awful, they’ll talk more.

The problem with taking the personality lead from Morgan is that it’s eventually going to catch up to you if you pull it with the wrong people. The Cardinals are those types of people.

Even Zack Greinke has a is talking now. Greinke’s not someone who’s a talker, but he’s joining in on the fun. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay have all knocked him around; and Pujols is Pujols.

Pujols and Rafael Furcal both kill Yovani Gallardo; we don’t know who the Brewers game 2 starter is for some reason; both Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf were better on the road than they were at home; I’d start Marcum in game 2 because he’s better than Wolf and has less of a history with the Cardinals.

It always comes down to Pujols when playing the Cardinals. He can look terrible for 15 at bats, then wreck the game and series with three straight games of ridiculous lightning shows. And it doesn’t help that the Brewers and “Tony Plush” AKA Morgan chose to denigrate this era’s Joe DiMaggio in terms of performance and, just as importantly, pride.

What will happen.

It’s difficult to tell whether the Brewers bravado is false or if they actually believe it. Probably both.

The Cardinals are old-school; they’re not looking for friends on the field and that starts from their manager all the way through the team. They’re not happy with the way the Brewers disrespected them when the Cardinals looked finished in the playoff race; that September run that led the Cardinals to the playoffs happened in part because the Braves collapsed and in part because they wanted another crack at the Brewers.

They’re getting it.

This is a horrible matchup for the Brewers; in retrospect, they might’ve been better off facing the Phillies and the overwhelming expectations of a team for whom anything short of a World Series win was a failure. The Cardinals are playing with house money, are livid at the Brewers out-of-control mouths and will be determined to shut them up on and off the field.

The Cardinals hold a distinct advantage in managers; have been here—in this exact same position before—and came through.

When they upset the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, the Cardinals made it a point to ridicule the soccer chant that the Mets use(d) to celebrate Jose Reyes; those Mets were perceived as arrogant, but in comparison to these Brewers, they were the most professional, quiet, go-about-their-business group on the history of baseball.

It’s one thing to yap; it’s another thing to yap and disrespect.

The Brewers are writing checks with their mouths that their team’s not going to be able to cash.

And they’re going to be made to pay.

The Cardinals are going to slap a muzzle on them and be doing the Beast in the visiting clubhouse when they bounce the Brewers in 7 games.

PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN SEVEN.

NLCS MVP: ALBERT PUJOLS.

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LaRussa Misplaces His Genius Hat As 2011 Mirrors 2006

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We can search for any number of explanations to figure out why one of the most cerebral—some say too cerebral—managers in the history of baseball decided to do the bizarre things he did this past weekend.

From wondering whether Bob Brenly‘s presence in the TBS broadcast booth caused Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa to manage like Brenly (something no one wants to do); to asking (and not getting a reasonable answer) as to why he left Kyle Lohse in game 1 to face a series of hitters who have historically destroyed him; to debating the potential residue of shell-shock from the Rick Ankiel debacle in 2000 when the young pitcher lost the ability to throw his fastball for strikes in choosing Chris Carpenter on three days rest in game 2 over a rested Jaime Garcia and leaving Carpenter in when he clearly didn’t have his good stuff—there’s plenty to tear apart.

But as they head back to St. Louis, the seemingly overmatched Cardinals, who scratched their way into the playoffs on the last night of the season, are tied in the series 1-1 with the mighty, 102-win Phillies.

There is no explanation for LaRussa choosing to leave Lohse in game 1 with a 2-run lead and a group of hitters due to bat who have spent their career beating him like he owed them money; nor was there an understandable excuse for leaving Carpenter in game 2 as long as he did.

Resisting pitching Garcia in game 2 in the hostile terrain of Philadelphia in his first post-season start is viable after what happened to Ankiel.

Despite Carpenter’s struggles, the Cardinals got to Cliff Lee; LaRussa’s bullpen—which has been shaky at best all season—was masterful.

As a result, the Cardinals head home with a chance that I didn’t think they had after three innings in game 2.

LaRussa needs to keep doing what he’s doing. Does it matter that he’s been lucky and isn’t outsmarting his opponents? Only to his ego.

Whatever works!

This 2011 post-season is taking on a 2006 feel.

You have the heavily favored Rangers running into a group of upstarts, the Rays. Such was the same situation in 2006 as the Twins lost to the Athletics.

There are the reviled, arrogant and overtly obnoxious Brewers taking on the Diamondbacks. Back then it was the hated Mets and the Dodgers.

The Tigers upset the Yankees in 2006—in part because of nature-related delays/postponements and a clueless Alex Rodriguez. (Don’t bat him eighth is my advice to manager Joe Girardi.)

And the Cardinals had collapsed late in the 2006 season, managed to crawl into the playoffs and regained their footing in shocking fashion to win a championship.

We’re only two games into each series, but the circumstances are there for a repeat of what happened 5 years ago.

It would be as shocking and messy as it was then and equally entertaining.

From my perspective anyway.

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Chris Carpenter’s Contract And Albert Pujols

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It’s a positive sign for the Cardinals that they’ve chosen to keep Chris Carpenter by agreeing to a contract extension through 2013. The contract eliminates the $15 million option and the $1 million buyout for 2012 by paying him $21 million over two seasons. This decision and that they’re going to exercise the 2012 option for Adam Wainwright means that their starting rotation will be formidable for 2012 with Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Wainwright.

Scott Boras represents Edwin Jackson, so you can forget about the Cardinals keeping him as they need to come to contract agreements with Albert Pujols and/or Lance Berkman.

This is also a precursor to Tony LaRussa remaining as manager. LaRussa has a mutual option with the Cardinals and it’s simply easier for him to stay with the club than to look for another job and start all over again even if it was an agreeable location with a neat story like going back to the White Sox.

What does this mean for Pujols?

Don’t automatically think the Cardinals are going to go insane to keep their star player, but he won’t leave. You can forget about the $200 million that was floating around as what Pujols wants. It’s notable that this “demand” came from voices other than Pujols himself. He’s not getting that from the Cardinals; he’s not getting that from anyone.

What hurts him on the open market are the other available first basemen Prince Fielder and Berkman and possibly Paul Konerko via trade. It works in the Cardinals favor that Pujols doesn’t want to leave St. Louis and they don’t want him to leave; because he’s so entrenched with the club and in the community and he never hired Boras as his agent, he’s not going to demand an Alex Rodriguez-style contract to be the alpha-male of baseball with the contract to prove it.

Pujols is this era’s Joe DiMaggio; he’s proud but not greedy just for the sake of it; nor is he going to look to extract every last penny from the Cardinals by means of extortion, emotional and market-driven.

That doesn’t mean he’s going to take short money or an offer that would be perceived as insulting for a player of his stature; under no circumstances should Pujols be expected to take substantially less money than inferior players like Ryan Howard, but with the Cardinals taking steps to get their financial house in order by extending Carpenter and exercising Wainwright’s option, they’re keeping the longtime core together to make it reasonable for Pujols to take less money than he would be entitled to in comparison to that which A-Rod received.

They could let Pujols leave if things get out of hand; Pujols could seek a larger offer elsewhere, but like Derek Jeter and the Yankees last year, the rest of baseball knows the reality with Pujols and the Cardinals and won’t bother making a competitive offer.

Part of the reason he’s going to stay is the alteration of Carpenter’s contract; part of the reason is the doesn’t want to leave; and part is that the Cardinals won’t let him leave.

The Carpenter contract extension is another piece to that puzzle.

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Season’s Over…Noitsnot!!!

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

The Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central.

This is after their season was declared “over” when they lost Adam Wainwright for the year at the start of spring training with Tommy John surgery.

Apparently the Cardinals’ season wasn’t over despite the doom, gloom and Jonny Gomes celebratory singing at the injury.

Taking advantage of above-and-beyond performances from Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan and Lance Berkman, they’ve also overcome a slow start from Albert Pujols and a bullpen in flux to stay competitive and more.

Who or what gets the credit?

Manager Tony La Russa?

Pitching coach Dave Duncan?

A parity-laden National League?

The aforementioned players?

All of the above?

It’s irrelevant really.

Berkman isn’t going to keep up the pace of hitting close to .400; Pujols will be in the MVP mix by the end of the season; they may need to find a starting pitcher somewhere.

None of that matters.

What matters is that the negativity and near panic that accompanied Wainwright’s injury news was more widespread amongst the fans and media than it was with the players and club management.

Yes, the Cardinals were shocked and concerned when Wainwright was lost; yes, it helped that he was injured before spring training started so it wasn’t as much of an elephant in the room; but once his absence was verified, it was accepted. Players, coaches, managers and executives don’t—if they’re any good anyway—think the same way as outsiders do.

They move on.

Whether Adam Wainwright is pitching on Thursday wouldn’t affect Kyle Lohse if he’s pitching on Monday; it won’t enter the mind of Yadier Molina when he’s facing a Bronson Arroyo curveball.

Players move on.

In the 24-hour news cycle, there’s a tendency to evacuate before thinking about the true consequences of any bit of information. For the Cardinals to maintain competitiveness, they had to get improved performances from Jaime Garcia and Lohse; they had to get competence from whomever took the Wainwright spot in the rotation. They’ve gotten that and more.

There was no need to pack up the equipment and go home; no cause for celebration on the part of a journeyman player like Gomes for a Reds team that is coming off of their first playoff season since 1995.

Circumstances dictate how drastic a maneuver to make in response to an injury.

When Alex Rodriguez tore his hip labrum two years ago, there was a call for the Yankees to go get a third baseman.

A-Rod was due back in May/June. That Yankees lineup couldn’t survive a couple of months without A-Rod? They had to go get a star to replace a star? Why?

The answer is they didn’t.

A different situation is that of the Phillies. Looks of confusion surrounded GM Ruben Amaro‘s winter inquiry about Michael Young of the Rangers after Young formally requested a trade. No one understood what the Phillies were going to do with Young…until it was revealed that Chase Utley‘s knee problem was serious enough that it might cost him the entire 2011 season.

Salary aside, Young would be useful to the Phillies whether Utley is there or not. Third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins have both had injury problems; Domonic Brown is a rookie and Raul Ibanez is 39-years-old; Young could be a roving utility player and would probably wind up with 500 at bats without an everyday position.

It wouldn’t have been a desperation move on the part of the Phillies to get Young because they weren’t reacting to one lost player by doing something crazy to placate a skittish fan/media contingent.

Acquiring a player should rarely be about doing something for its own sake; it’s about doing something smart—or doing nothing and waiting—to see how the team responds.

The Cardinals are responding and they’re doing it without Wainwright.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

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//

Viewer Mail 2.25.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Hank Steinbrenner:

I agree about Hank. Very entertaining and good copy for us bloggers.

Hank the Tank just says “stuff” and much of the time I don’t think it’s off-the-cuff and reactionary to a question he was asked; I truly believe that he plans these things. Maybe not verbatim, but he’ll have something in his head that he wants to get out, it eats at him and pops out in the most inappropriate ways.

I don’t understand why Hank chose Derek Jeter to pick at. It’s as if the mansion offends Hank’s delicate sensibilities. George used to give Jeter a hard time as well. I could see if Jeter was risking his reputation in places he’d be better-served to avoid, but Jeter’s been around too long and is too smart to risk it all now.

It seems to me Hank—more than Hal—is offended at paying the salaries he does and the only way he can express that indignation is with his idiotic statements the type which he uttered earlier this week.

Perhaps that too is a calculated act; Jeter, as captain of the team, has to take the brunt of criticism directed at others in the clubhouse and keep quiet about it. Alex Rodriguez is too sensitive; Jorge Posada would explode; Mark Teixeira is too vanilla to criticize—that leaves Jeter.

I’m sure he doesn’t like it; doesn’t understand it; doesn’t agree with the bullying nature of segments of the Steinbrenner clan, but he knows the deal, shakes his head and lets it go.

Let Hank say his piece 3-4 times a year and go back to the horse ranch to scream at the trainers and maybe even the horses.

Who knows? About his horses, he might say, “He was too busy thinking about his future out at stud than the race…”

Know what? The same could be said of Jeter!

Tim Berger writes RE the Cardinals:

You can’t replace Carpenter. he’s worth 6 wins to the cards this season, which puts them back at .500. This doesn’t affect the win/loss percentages of the Brewers and the Reds (or if it does, it actually might give each of them a win). You can’t mute a loss of an ace, and your inference that they can recover even half of Wainwright’s wins back with Kevin Millwood is laughable. Healthy Scott Rolen – pretty lucky, run producing Jonny Gomes – pretty lucky. But Bruce and Stubbs are only getting better, Phillips actually had a down year, and Votto’s year is just a start. Lets start with facts, fill the middle with rational inferences, and end with reality – which spells an atom bomb sized whole for the Cards, one they likely cannot recover from.

Who said anything about Chris Carpenter? He’s supposedly healthy. If he gets hurt (not a small possibility given his history), then they’re screwed.

You missed the point of what I wrote. The value of Wainwright wasn’t the number of wins he accumulated as much as it was the quality innings he threw; they can patch together the wins elsewhere.

It’s beyond simplistic to say that because he was a 5.7 WAR player last year, then the Cardinals will be a .500 team without him. It’s like looking at a playoff series and matching the players up on a position-by-position basis—it’s meaningless.

I’m glad I made you laugh, but am not sure what’s funny. You’re telling me that Kevin Millwood can’t win 10 games for the Cardinals by showing up and being competent? Competence and durability is why Millwood is still around.

Jeff Suppan won 44 games in 3 seasons with the Cardinals from 2004-2006 with nothing in terms of stuff. Nothing. Millwood or some other cog can’t replicate that?

You don’t think they’re going to get a better performance from Kyle Lohse? He can’t be much worse. With a full year from Jake Westbrook, a minute improvement from Jaime Garcia and if whomever they plug into Wainwright’s spot is breathing and throwing strikes, they’ll have a win total in the mid-80s as a team; however many they win after that will determine their fate.

As for the Reds, yes Jay Bruce is getting better.

But what’s the genesis of the opinion that Drew Stubbs is getting “better”? He’s been in the big leagues for one year, hit with some pop, struck out a ridiculous amount of times and had a poor average/on base percentage of .255/.329. He’s got speed and is a good outfielder; in the minors, he never hit more than 12 homers and bashed 22 last year. You think he’s going to improve on that? Based on what?

As for Votto’s year being a “start”, you’re asking a lot. Another near Triple Crown/MVP season isn’t fait accompli. He’s a fine player and will put up big numbers, but a “start”? Really?

Obviously you’re a Reds fan and need to look for a few facts, rational inferences and reality of your own before pointing said stick at me.

You can equate the Twins trading Johan Santana in 2008 (and getting nothing in return) as losing their ace and recovering from an “atom sized hole” in their rotation; they nearly made the playoffs.

You can’t make these “season’s over” assertions in February especially with a team that has Albert Pujols in a contract year and Tony La Russa managing it.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright:

The main issue (for me anyway) is that we don’t match up with the Reds, Brewers and Cubs when it comes to 1-2 in the rotation anymore. And, the bigger problem: team morale.

It’s my team. I’m behind them all the way no matter what. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say we aren’t the favorite in the NL Central anymore because of this. We’ll be lucky to be in the hunt after the All-Star break. And MY morale… well, not feeling much of it right now. Still dealing with the shock and everything.

This just blows.

It’s a positive that it happened so early in the spring that they’ll be able to come to grips with it, find alternatives and let it go by the time the season starts.

I wouldn’t worry about the 1-2 matchups—they’re generally overblown and much of the time the pitchers don’t face one another in the games.

I’m low on sympathy after what’s happened to the Mets in recent years. I understand though.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Cardinals and Kevin Millwood:

I watched Millwood in Texas and he’s no slouch. I don’t think he’s a big game pitcher, but he’s a grinder. He’s a durable veteran who does his job.

He may not be suited to be your #1, but the Cards already have one of those. Millwood could slot in nicely behind Carpenter.

People are forgetting about Garcia. He was a rookie and was terrific.

As I said earlier, they could do worse than Kevin Millwood; Dave Duncan is the man who coaxed 18 wins out of Kent Bottenfield. He and La Russa have had their gacks (I’m going to talk about that very thing in an upcoming post), but with a veteran like Millwood, what they’d need is innings and he can definitely deliver those.

Gabriel writes RE the Cardinals and the media:

I think nobody should bag the season without even playing the first game. No one knows how things are going to unravel. The tone of the news reminded me of tabloids, always looking to sell the shocking news instead of presenting objective analysis.

It’s a big loss and a huge story, but it’s not a catastrophe of monumental proportions. Things need to break right for them, but it’s not absurd to believe they can win without Wainwright.

You’re expecting objective analysis? Is there such a thing anymore?

Well, there is here, but elsewhere?

It’s mostly agenda-driven, twisted and self-aggrandizing knee-jerk responses or lame swings at comedy.

These types are looking for attention and, unfortunately, getting it.