Forget Winter: Spring Is Coming

I realize that some of you read the title of this post, took a glance out of the window, and snorted hard enough that it sounded like the running of the bulls.  It can be difficult to believe in spring with white snow covering the ground. (That has not been a problem here all winter and, in fact, it’s supposed to be almost 70 this weekend.)

However, spring truly is coming.  Two weeks from today the Cardinal pitchers and catcher officially report. Many are already down there or will be in the next few days. I saw a beautiful overhead shot of the spring training complex in Jupiter online yesterday, which I would hunt up for you but I’ve got limited time and this ancient computer would take 15 minutes to find it. The Super Bowl thankfully is over (even if people REFUSE to stop yakking about it) and we are heading full-steam into baseball.

The Cardinals know spring is coming as well and they’ve made a couple of moves in the last two days to add different faces to the mix of guys wearing the birds on the bat in Florida. They first acquired a minor league catcher, Michael Ohlman, from the Orioles. Josh has talked a bit about Ohlman and for right now, all it seems like this deal did was add some catching depth to the organization, something that is always a good thing to have. Not just anyone can be capable with the tools of ignorance on and while Ohlman might not always be a catcher, he is right now and that’s good enough.

That said, there’s potential for Ohlman to do more. He’s had some success in the lower levels of the minors and was rated in the top 10 of the Orioles’ prospects. The question is, did he hit the ceiling of his talent in Double-A or was it just a normal struggle when first moving up a level? He’ll be seeing a lot of time in Springfield and we’ll get a chance to see which answer is correct. If he can do what he’s done at the lower levels, the Cards might have gotten a steal here. At worst, he’s organizational filler they picked up for cash considerations, so there’s really no down side.

The more immediate move, at least for the major league squad, was the Redbirds signing Carlos Villanueva yesterday. Apparently–and I’ll admit, I didn’t see any of this personally–there were folks that were down on this move, which is mindboggling. Is Villanueva a hidden star? No, I doubt that. Will he be the next Pat Neshek? I’m not saying that and it seems unlikely he’ll reach those levels.

Is he exactly the kind of move I expected John Mozeliak to make? Absolutely. A veteran major league arm on a minor league contract. If he’s terrible, you can cut him without significant repercussions. If he’s middling to good, he can go to Memphis and be there if and when a starter (or even someone out of the pen) goes down. If he’s great, then it’s a pleasant problem to have.

We’ve seen many times that the depth of an organization, especially at pitcher, can be key. With Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Jaime Garcia all having varying levels of injury concerns and John Lackey being the elder statesman (which comes with its own age-related health issues at times), having a veteran guy like Villanueva keeps you from having to go with Marco Gonzales (if you want to keep him on regular work in Memphis) or Tim Cooney. Sometimes predictability is what you want, even if the upside of the others is much higher.

I think Villanueva has some potential to at least be league-average if not a little above. His ERAs have been awful the last couple of years, but some of his peripherals haven’t been so bad. I’m the last person that should be talking about the advanced stats, but his FIP didn’t look so bad and he does have a K/9 between 7-8, which means he can get the strikeout at times. I still don’t think he gets the gig straight out of camp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see him at some time this season.

A signing like that should close the door on St. Louis going after James Shields, if that door was ever open in the first place. A few rumors tied them to the free agent and I have no doubt that Mozeliak would scoop him up if the price was right. I mean, if someone is just giving you quality pitching, it’d be rude to turn it down. However, with three or four teams now in the mix, it seems unlikely Shields’s price will drop enough that Mo would rather take him than the winner of the Carlos Martinez/Garcia prizefight.

(It’s still interesting how there’s little talk of Garcia in this whole equation. Derrick Goold tweeted the Cardinals would still rather give Martinez the shot at the fifth man spot. I’m pretty sure that’s the organization’s thinking, but if Garcia comes in healthy and effective, I don’t know how you can’t give it to him given contract, left-handedness, history.)

They also announced the non-roster invitees yesterday, but nothing really stood out to me there. Stephen Piscotty is coming to camp, but we all knew that. There’s no exciting prospect like Wacha or Oscar Taveras this year that we want to get our first look at. That hole in the prospect system is hitting now, but in a couple of years we’ll have a few more interesting folks that we’ll be hoping are on the NRI list.

Spring is coming, folks. I promise!

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