Coming Up Short Yet Again

What’s spring training without a major injury for the Cardinals?  Nobody really knows.

Yesterday morning, Jhonny Peralta left camp in street clothes, bound for St. Louis and a second opinion on what the Florida MRI had told him, that he had a tear in his thumb ligament (perhaps he’s been hanging out with Yadier Molina too long) and probably was out 2-3 months.  There doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause to the injury, though initial reports were that he hurt in on Saturday, but whatever the case the starting shortstop of the team will be out until at least May, probably longer.

We know that the default for any situation like this is “internal options” and the Cardinals do have plenty of them.  Jedd Gyorko hasn’t played a lot of shortstop (220 innings last year, with just one error) and the rap on him initially is that he might not have the range to play the position.  Then again, though Peralta has been much better defensively than we expected when the contract was signed three years ago, it’s not like Gyorko would have to replace Ozzie Smith when it comes to coverage.  If Gyorko can make the plays that he should make and hit like he can hit, things would probably be all right.

The early expectation is that Gyorko will get the starting spot, Greg Garcia will go north as the backup middle infielder, and Aledmys Diaz will start every day in Memphis to make sure that run at the end of last year was the real thing.  If mid-May comes, Peralta is still out and Diaz is lighting up AAA, then he might get a chance to supplant Gyorko.  Lots of things to keep an eye on and see how they develop.

Could the Cardinals go outside the organization for a replacement?  They could, but until they get a feel for what they have, it seems pretty unlikely.  Some were pointing out that it’s too bad Ian Desmond just signed with the Rangers, but even if he was still out there, St. Louis wasn’t going to go get him, I don’t think, given the fact that they do have these options and Desmond would have required surrendering their first round draft pick.  Money might not be much of an object for the group, but the draft picks are.  Now, if the Cardinals wanted to try to make a play for Jurickson Profar from Texas since they have all these middle infield types, I wouldn’t be opposed.  It just doesn’t seem very likely.

Derrick Goold mentions in his story that the Cardinals have time to evaluate, which is somewhat true.  They do have March, of course, when the games are made up and the scores don’t matter.  Once the season starts, though, I worry that this team has a limited margin for error.  (After reading through the 2011 posts when I continued to say that, I sound like a broken record.)  We know the Cubs should be very good and, if it all comes together for them as everyone seems to think it will, St. Louis won’t want to get too far behind them very early.  We all remember 2011, but we also know that’s a once in a lifetime rally and we’ve seen it once in our lifetimes.  I don’t think that, no matter who they go with, it’s going to cost them all that much even if it doesn’t work out, but if Peralta is going to be out longer, Mo can’t wait forever if the options are struggling.

The other story of the day was the fact that the Cards have sold most of their interest in the Memphis Redbirds.  We’ve talked a lot about The Cardinal Way in recent weeks and the minor leagues are a good reflection of that.  Branch Rickey started the modern minor league concept when he started buying a number of minor league teams and feeding their players to St. Louis.  Before then, the minor league teams could sell their players to whomever they wanted, but Rickey knew a place like St. Louis was going to need a regular flow of cheaper talent.  Obviously, over time, things have shifted from teams owning the affiliates to just having agreements with them, allowing for teams to move around to different cities if they wanted or needed, but over the last few years it appeared the Cards were trying to go back to the original model, owning Palm Beach and Springfield before purchasing Memphis a couple of years back.

It’s a move that, honestly, doesn’t make a lot of sense to the casual observer, of which I consider myself one.  It’s not about the money, or it shouldn’t be with the new TV deal about to kick in.  Obviously we don’t know the terms of the deal, but while the financial windfall will likely be noticeable for the DeWitts, it’s not going to set about a sea change in how they do things.  Memphis has struggled financially in the past, which is one of the reasons that the Cardinals wound up buying the team from the non-profit group that held them in the first place, but it seems unlike the organization to cut their losses so quickly without trying to improve things instead.

Jon Doble posited on Twitter yesterday that perhaps the club always wanted to just have a minority stake in the club but, given the legal hoops that might have been involved with the current owner being a non-profit, had to buy the whole thing to make it simpler.   That could be, of course.  It still seems strange, especially since Bill DeWitt says the club wasn’t looking to sell, but this opportunity just came up and they had to grab it.  I’m not sure how someone just “happens” to express interest in a ballclub, but given that this Peter Fruend (again according to Mr. Doble) has been involved in buying a team basically every year since 2010, it’s obvious the rich do things differently.  Most people I know just want to buy baseball cards before the season, not whole teams.

Oh, and they played a game yesterday where Adam Wainwright started and Matt Holliday played first base.  So, yeah, it was a busy day.

Waino went two innings, not allowing any runs but also showing a bit of the rust that accumulated over the winter.  Then again, we’ve seen Wainwright make starts in the regular season where he throws 40 pitches in two innings, so it’s not unheard of, it’s just not prime Wainwright.  Given this was his first start since last April, I think we can be forgiven if we don’t draw any overarching conclusions from his time on the mound.

Holliday was supposed to play first base on Saturday but was a late scratch from the lineup.  He originally was in the lineup to DH yesterday, but wound up feeling well enough to make his first start at the corner.  Nothing dramatic happened, no throws getting past him, no appearance that he had no business playing the position.  I’m sure he’ll play a few more times in spring, just to give the Cardinals that option as the season goes along.  While you could obviously stick Stephen Piscotty there if you wanted a right-handed first baseman (when lefties Brandon Moss and Matt Adams wouldn’t do), having Holliday be also available gives a little more flexibility and more options for Mike Matheny.  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is, of course, up to your impression of the manager.

Jordan Walden got the win yesterday, continuing to look like he’s recovered from his rotator cuff injury he suffered last year.  We’ve mentioned it plenty of times before, but if he’s healthy and on his game, that bullpen is going to be dynamic.  Couple that with a strong starting rotation and the offense won’t have to do quite as much to win ballgames.  Thankfully.

The Patron Pitcher got into the game yesterday, but the linescore doesn’t look as nice for him.  (Which is all I have to go by since I wasn’t able to watch that portion of the game.)  Two runs in an inning on a walk and two hits is not what Tyler Lyons wanted.  Hopefully that was just a bump in the road and we’ll see more like what we saw in his start to begin the spring in his next appearances.

Let’s quickly do the approval ratings.  Today’s player is Yadier Molina.  Molina could be considered the face of the franchise, the soul of the team, the bedrock on which all things Cardinal lie.  However, he’s been hurt the last couple of years, bringing his production down.  At least this year, the group that made up this voting pool took that into consideration and Molina dropped to 80.7%.  Still a nice mark, but it’s his lowest score since we started doing this in 2009.

Our media member of the day is Dan McLaughlin of FOX Sports Midwest.  I’ve always enjoyed Dan and it’s not his fault that he’s paired up with some less-than-stellar folks in the booth.  (Though him and Tim McCarver is a treat.)  The one game that Dan did by himself drew raves from most anyone that watched it.  However, whether it’s personal preference or some of the bias toward his teammates, McLaughlin just wound up with a 66.3% rating this season.  That’s also his lowest since he made the ballot in 2012, which makes me feel like this group of voters just was more critical than others.

Finally, we look at hitting coach John Mabry.  With the offense struggling over the past few years, Mabry’s often be the focus of criticism and complaint.  So it’s probably not a surprise that he comes in at 53.9% in his first year.  If the bats come around this year, maybe that will climb in 2017.

Cardinals play the Twins today and it’s the online audio crew covering it at cardinals.com.  There’s you something for the afternoon!

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