We made it.
It’s been a long, cold winter since we saw the Cardinals last on the field. (Cold metaphorically, at least. Around here, the temps have actually been unseasonably warm, especially of late.) No October baseball. The Cubs winning the World Series. The fairly cool hot stove time (though not ice cold, of course, with the signings of Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil). Now, now we can come out of hibernation. Today, pitchers and catchers report down in Jupiter.
Reporting day is becoming more and more of a ceremonial kickoff to the season, given that a number of players, not just pitchers and catchers, are already working out down in the spring training complex. Heck, even the media has been down there for close to a week, though given the choice between with a St. Louis winter and a Florida winter, that might not be as surprising. Still, there’s something special about those magical words “pitchers and catchers report”, bringing the game we love back to us, appropriately enough on Valentine’s Day.
We live in a new world, where the World Series trophy sits on the North Side of Chicago. Surprisingly, the world kept turning (though, depending on your point of view, it’s possible that the US election held soon after was a sign that perhaps the seventh seal was broken after all) and now the Cardinals get a chance to ruin repeat plans. It’s been a long time since they’ve been a spoiler and while you don’t typically think of a team that has a chance to win 90 games as a “spoiler”, I expect there might be a little more excitement to try to beat the Cubbies this year than there has been in seasons past.
As noted, the addition of Fowler should bring an interesting dynamic to the club this season. Fowler, excited to join his new teammates, is already down in Jupiter working out and getting ready for the coming year. Part of the reason for signing Fowler was to see if he could inject a little more life, a little different quirk into the clubhouse. Showing up early isn’t necessarily going to do that–most of the position players will do the same–but it’s good to see that he’s wanting to get into the mix as soon as possible.
With the press being down there as the players come in, that means a lot of informative stories and tidbits about Cardinals that we’ve not heard from most of the winter, including the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons. Lyons seems to want to be ready by May and appears to be on track to do just that, throwing off flat ground and starting to accelerate his workouts. If Lyons is in line for that kind of return, it might factor into the rotation decision. There’s still the possibility that Alex Reyes starts in the bullpen, after all, and it could be they put him in the ‘pen as the long man type until Lyons is ready, then move Reyes to the rotation when they activate Lyons. Of course, there are other pieces to that puzzle–who comes out of the rotation, who gets taken off the roster entirely–but it’s something to keep in mind.
The streak is over, it seems, as the club and Michael Wacha had their arbitration hearing yesterday, with a decision coming down perhaps today. While taking Wacha to arbitration made more sense than trying to do so with Carlos Martinez, both because of their history and because of the money involved (Wacha’s gap was a little bit more), it still makes you (and probably Wacha, now that the club extended Martinez and didn’t actually go through with a hearing) wonder where the pitcher stands with the club. They’ll say all the right things about him being a part of the future and they really like him, and maybe that’s true and the injury just clouds things. That said, it feels like if they were really stoked about him being a Cardinal for a while, they’d have at least settled, especially after Martinez’s extension.
Again, though, that injury, being as unique and as unknown as it is, adds a lot of uncertainty to the whole Wacha picture. I can’t blame the club for not wanting to commit to Wacha any more than they have to. Wacha’s got some great ability and he can really help this team for a few years to come, but he could also short-circuit and spend a lot of time either on the disabled list or being ineffective. It’s such a difficult thing to navigate and not one that there are a lot of road maps for.
(Though I will say John Mozeliak’s analogy of a sports car in the garage that you want to drive isn’t exactly what I’d use for arbitration hearings. I still think they are things to be avoided, not something that you should be anxious to go out there and try.)
Possibly the biggest change this season is that Jose Oquendo, who missed last year after knee surgery, won’t be rejoining the big league team but instead will be cementing his place as this generation’s George Kissell by working with minor leaguers during the season, passing on that institutional knowledge and training. There were a lot of folks that thought that Oquendo’s absence as one of the reasons the defense especially was so weak last year. I know Bengie Molina has passionately opined in that regard on the Two Birds on a Bat podcast. Mozeliak doesn’t think that is the case. Oquendo, well, he’s smart enough not to get pulled into it. There’s no doubt that Oquendo’s positioning and knowledge being missing probably did impact things some last year, though there were a lot of errors that should have been made plays regardless. He probably had an impact, but maybe not as large as some think.
Oquendo also says he’s done trying to be a manager, which is not really surprising. You’ve not heard his name connected to any job since he was in the running to replace Tony La Russa and it really sounds like he wants to be much more of a homebody, which obviously managers don’t get to do. Some cynics might argue that losing the job to Mike Matheny broke his managerial spirit, which I guess is somewhat possible, but I think if it affected him that much he wouldn’t have stayed not only in the organization but on the big league staff as long as he did.
Baseball news. Baseball stories. Baseball pictures and videos. It’s a great, great day.
We made it!