Kickoff. It was a word used often this weekend and not at all meaning that secondary sport that had some sort of championship games or whatever going on. The Winter Warm-Up is always seen as the first real marker of the new season and 2015 proved to be no exception. With the video and news coming out of St. Louis (coupled with temperatures in the 60s around here), it was easy to get excited about another season of Cardinal baseball.
Most of the big names took their turn in front of the media spotlight. (And along with the major sources like Derrick Goold and Jenifer Langosch, be sure to check out Matt Whitener and Kevin Reynolds, plus our own Dathan Brooks of course.) Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, all spent some time in front of the press as well as the fans. There are some more scheduled today, including Yadier Molina, who has missed the last few Warmups.
Let’s talk a bit about the folks that have had their time, though. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits that came out, even though everyone of course professed to be very healthy and ready to go for the next season and all the other cliches that you expect to hear in January. One thing that we learned is that we can never trust Wainwright and the club about injuries ever again. Most of us have had reservations about what the team and players say about their health anyway, but to hear Wainwright basically say that he couldn’t extend his arm in the second half of the year and that was the major cause of the variance in his halves (the first half, healthy and dominant; the second, not so much on either account) after claiming all year last year that he was fine, it was just a dead arm, etc. means we’ll be even more skeptical if someone starts struggling this season.
That said, it does sound like there is little reason, besides the general worry that you do on all pitchers in major league baseball, to think Wainwright won’t have another stellar year. He is a year older, of course, and there’s no doubt he’s getting closer to the downhill side of his career, but nobody says that hill has to be all that steep. There are still a number of good years in the team ace.
Heyward showed up for the first Hot Stove Live! along with Kolten Wong and was a big hit. Heyward is saying a lot of great things, which is to be expected. Tara and I talked last night on the season premiere of Gateway that both sides need to be a little cautious, given that we don’t necessarily know what the Cards will get out of Heyward. While he’s got plenty of potential to be that next big core player and I expect that he will be (I’ve even gambled and ordered my Heyward shirsey, something I said I wouldn’t do until he signed an extension), you’d hate to get locked into a long-term deal with a guy that turns out to be a fairly pedestrian player. I expect both sides will want to see where he is at in May or June before really coming down to brass tacks on that sort of discussion.
However, it does appear that Heyward is quickly becoming a fan favorite. If the “recruiting” actually works for professional athletes (and most of the time, the only recruiting that works is the dollars on the page), the fanbase is doing their best to help out. You’d expect nothing less from any fanbase, really, but especially from this one.
To return to the theme of injured pitchers, Michael Wacha says he’s good to go. Of course, as much as I hope that’s the case, I can’t help thinking of how Chris Carpenter would often come to WWU saying he felt great and things looked good, only to stumble when the rigors of throwing a baseball came around. It’s not surprising that after four months of rest (if you count October!) things look better. But will they look better after a month or so of games?
It’s probably a good thing that the stress reaction has faded on the MRIs, meaning that even if it does flare up again, it’s probably a long way off. It’s interesting to read about the club managed his workouts, modified how he did things to hopefully strengthen the right parts and keep this from happening again. How successful they’ll be on this is something we’ll find out in time.
Speaking of pitchers, John Mozeliak reiterated in possibly his strongest language yet that the club was “out of the big pitcher market”. My personal feeling is that it’s not a coincidence that a few hours later, news broke that Max Scherzer was on the verge of signing a deal with the Washington Nationals.
I’ll lay out my Cardinal-biased theory as I did on the show last night. My feeling is that Scherzer, a St. Louis-area native, really wanted to pitch for the Cards. I think that he left that door open as long as he could. I think Mozeliak and company were interested in Scherzer coming in and tried to see how it would work. However, with good health reports and the signing of Lance Lynn to an extension, that door finally shut. Scherzer had his second option ready to go and when Mo signaled that things were over (either with his public comments or shortly before in a communication with Scott Boras), he moved on. Again, that’s just my feeling watching this year’s market. Probably has little to do with reality.
It was a wonderful weekend for Cardinal baseball, even as far away as here in Arkansas. Those first tendrils of spring are starting to reach out. Spring training will be here in about a month. Let the thaw begin!