C70 At The Bat

After a quiet fall, the podcast fires back up as I chat with another member of The Conclave.  Doug and I have a nice back-and-forth plus, as a bonus, I talk Star Wars.  (I know, I know, but it’s at the end so you can skip it.)

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Reynolds To Cards

Jon Heyman says the Cardinals have a deal with Mark Reynolds, pending physical. He brings power plus the potential of plenty of cool breezes during the hot summer days.

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Daniel (Descalso)

My friend William Tasker started it (via a conversation with Dathan), so blame him. He knew what he was getting you into. And best to Mr. Descalso–I do hope he lands in a good situation.

Daniel (to the tune of Elton John’s “Daniel”, of course)

Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red ball cap with so many tear stains
Oh, and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
Sure does look like Daniel won’t be having Cardinal ties

It never was pretty though at times it was clutch
Well Daniel says if only Mike didn’t play him so much
Oh and he should know, he was out there enough
Oh he’ll miss Daniel, oh he’ll miss him so much

Daniel the scrapper, you are younger than me
Do you still feel the high of that Game number 5?
Your time has died, but you’ve seen more than I
Daniel, you’re no star but a great clubhouse guy

Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red ball cap with so many tear stains
Oh, and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
Sure does look like Daniel won’t be having Cardinal ties
Oh it looks like Daniel won’t be having Cardinal ties

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Eight years.  It’s so hard for me to believe that we’ve–and by we, of course, I mean the United Cardinal Bloggers–have been making our selections for these awards for eight straight years.  In fact, it’s the first project the UCB took on in 2007, I think even before we had a formal name.  It’s sort of the marker for the beginning of another year with this group and it’s always fun to see who wins and how the ballots look and are explained.

As head of this intrepid band, I’d be remiss if I didn’t cast my ballot in a timely manner.  (Not to say it hasn’t happened, of course.)  So below are my takes on the award categories.  You’ll have to check in December to see who gets the actual prize, but there are no wrong answers here.

Of course, it’s possible you disagree.  Or maybe you agree and want to express that.  That’s why we have a spot for you to cast your own vote.  Click over here and make your picks!

TEAM AWARDS

1) Player of the Year
Nominees: Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta

I just said there are no wrong answers and the first question proves it.  You could easily select any of these guys and make a compelling case why they were the MVP, as it were, of the 2014 Cardinals.  That said, I have to go with Jhonny Peralta.  When you set a team record for home runs in a position, that’s one thing, but when you do it at a position that’s been held down by folks like Pete Kozma and Brendan Ryan over the last few years, it makes those 21 long balls seem like 70.  Add to that the fact that Peralta played pretty solid defense–better than many of us were expecting–and he’s my pick for Player of the Year.

2) Pitcher of the Year
Nominees: Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek, Adam Wainwright

Again, making these kind of decisions are so tough.  Neshek was amazing out of the pen, but when you are looking at the Cy Young of the staff, it’s tough to go with the 8th inning guy.  Which brings us to #1 and #2 in the rotation.  I loved seeing Lance Lynn turn the corner (right after I wrote my post on The Lynning) and I’m quite intrigued to see what he can do for an encore next year.  It was nice not to hold your breath each time he took the mound.

All that is well and good, but I’m hardly ever going to not pick Adam Wainwright for this spot, especially in a season where he finished third in the entire National League for the main pitcher award.  Wainwright did have his dead arm period and scuffled a bit in the playoffs, which means that deciding between him and Lynn was agonizing, but I think we forget just how good Waino was in the first half.  In a year where he was able to beat Clayton Kershaw to the All-Star starting punch, you gotta go with the ace.

3) Game of the Year
Nominees: May 20, May 31, NLDS Game 1, NLDS Game 4, NLCS Game 2

It’s sometimes tough to single out a game that just is obviously the best game of the year, the game that symbolizes what the season was about.  While the game with Mike Matheny continuing to bunt with two strikes and no discernible reason would also count, that’s not really what we are going for here.  I liked Wainwright’s one-hit game on May 20 and obviously Oscar Taveras‘s debut on May 31 was memorable (more on that later on).  And the playoff games, with what they meant, the stakes that were so high, were incredible games as well.

I’m going with NLDS Game 1, because not only was it huge to win the first game of the playoffs, but to do so in such a fashion, rallying from 6-1 down against the best pitcher in baseball, was so incredible, even if it was a bit out of character for the 2014 squad.  Would have fit right in with the 2013 Cardinals, of course, but it was a great game, one that will be remembered for years to come.

4) Surprise Player of the Year
Nominees: Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek

Each one of these players has a strong case for winning the award.  Jay not only overcame the Curse of the Goat, becoming the first player ever to be the Top Goat here to play the next year for the Cardinals, but also a slow beginning of the year and Peter Bourjos being on the roster to become a guy you couldn’t reasonably take out of the lineup down the stretch.  Neshek was a minor league invitee that people thought would be pretty good, but nobody expected an All-Star appearance and a dominating season.

Still, I’m going with Lance Lynn.  We knew Lynn had talent, but many of us despaired of him ever putting it all together.  We had just about resigned ourselves to the fact that he was an inconsistent and middling pitcher when things clicked and he became a dominant force behind Wainwright in the rotation.  No more talk of Lynnings, no more worrying if he should get a postseason start.  The outlook on Lynn might have changed more than any other player, which is why he’s my pick here.

5) Disappointing Player of the Year
Nominees: Peter Bourjos, Justin Masterson, Kevin Siegrist

If we went with players that were Cardinals at the beginning of the year, Allen Craig would probably run away with this reward.  Instead, we are focusing on folks that were there at the end.  I qualify Bourjos’s season somewhat because I still believe he wasn’t properly used by Matheny and I wonder what he could have been if the beginning of the season had gone differently.  I was leaning toward Masterson, but Mo’s comments that he was hurt when they got him definitely put a different spin on his time in St. Louis.

So I’ll guess I’ll go with Kevin Siegrist, even though he has an injury to fall back on as well.  You never know quite what you are going to get from relievers from year to year and I hope that Siegrist can rebound, but his work down the stretch was such that he was left off the postseason roster.  When he’s right, he’s an amazing weapon.  When he’s not, he gets awards like this.

6) Cardinal Rookie of the Year
Nominees: Marco Gonzales, Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong

It was a great year for Cardinal rookies, as a bumper crop of players made their major league debut wearing the birds on the bat.  There were quality performances from a lot of them and there’s a good chance the Cardinals don’t go as far as they did in October without these guys.  Grichuk provided a spark in September with some big hits and a great glove, then homered off of Kershaw to start the playoffs.  Taveras, though taken from us too soon, still provided memorable moments in his only year in the bigs.  Gonzales’s second stint with the club was so great that he was placed on the postseason roster and performed admirably there as well.

However, there’s really no contest here.  Kolten Wong played a majority of the season (save that strange demotion to Memphis at the beginning of the year when he–and the rest of the offense–struggled) and showed power as well as a fine glove.  Wong hit some big postseason home runs as well, including the walkoff to win Game 2 of the NLCS.  When you come in third in the entire National League in the rookie voting, chances are you were the best freshman on your team.

7) Acquisition of the Year
Nominees: John Lackey, Pat Neshek, Jhonny Peralta

In Mo We Trust took a bit of a hit this year, most notably with the Masterson trade.  That said, John Mozeliak is still one of the better GMs out there and proved it with these grabs.  Neshek was the lottery ticket that paid off and to be able to get a quality pitcher like Lackey (who, as we all know, is playing for almost nothing next season) for a struggling player like Craig and a mid-range young pitcher like Joe Kelly is a feather in his cap.

That said, the Cards probably don’t make the Lackey trade if they aren’t in contention and they aren’t in contention without the signing of Jhonny Peralta.  There was a lot of blowback on that to start the season, what with his suspension for PEDs (something that has come up a lot in the comments around here all year long) but Peralta rewarded Mo’s faith in him and there’s not been a hint of a relapse at all.

8) Most Anticipated Cardinal
Nominees: Rob Kaminsky, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver

The Cardinal system doesn’t have that one huge prospect to focus on.  For a long while, it was Shelby Miller.  Then it was Oscar Taveras and Michael Wacha overlapping and intertwining.  Now, while there’s still some very interesting talent in the minors, there’s nothing that just attracts everyone’s eye.

Piscotty is likely to be the next man up and he’s going to be worth watching, but I’m a pitching guy most of the time.  I hear great things about Kaminsky and Weaver’s got a lot to live up to given the path of the last two first round draft picks, Wacha and Gonzales.  They should also be fascinating to watch.

However–and this is strange, given that I actually came up with the ballot–I’m going to call an audible and go with Alexander Reyes.  He was quite young for Peoria this last season, but still struck out over a batter an inning and posted an ERA of 3.62.  He’s going to have to gain a little more command–his K/BB rate isn’t much over 2, even with 137 K–but he could be the next big thing for the St. Louis rotation.

9) Cardinal Moment of the Year
Nominees: Taveras’s first home run as the rains came, “The Big City Leap” in Game 4 of the NLDS, Wong’s walkoff in Game 2 of the NLCS

Finding just one solitary moment in an ocean of pitches, hits and plays in a full 162-game season (plus playoffs) is so difficult.  It’s like sifting sand on the beach to find that one perfect grain of sand.  Still, there were a few that stood out.  For the pure cinema, it’s hard to go wrong with Taveras’s home run in his major league debut.  The pictures we have, with the rain drops starting to come and the heavens opening up afterwards, are striking.  That moment is going to resonate for a long time given his passing this offseason.

However, I think I’m going to go with Matt Adams‘s “Big City Leap” after he connected off of Kershaw in Game 4 of the NLDS, putting the Cardinals ahead, a lead they never relinquished.  The unbridled joy of the big man at seeing that home run go out, most likely amplified by it coming off not only a left-hander, but THE left-hander, is something that’s going to be part of the Cardinal postseason highlight reel forever.

BLOG AWARDS

10) Individual Cardinal Blog of the Year

This has gotten tougher and tougher as the years have gone on.  More and more quality bloggers are joining up and they aren’t doing it in teams.  Then it gets even MORE difficult when folks like Christine Coleman and Tara Wellman, both quality folks who I usually voted for as a team blog over at Aaron Miles’ Fastball, go their separate ways and now BOTH are in this category.  Even The Cardinal Conclave doesn’t help because all of those are individual blogs in one place, not one team blog.  What to do, what to do.

So there are quality folks everywhere and I could pick so many folks here and still be right, but I think I’m going to go with my compatriot here at the Conclave Dan Buffa and his Cardinal Nerve Center.  Dan has no problem churning out the content and it’s always an interesting read, even if he’s got so much energy sometimes I feel like I need a nap after reading.  Does that count as exercise?  Because my wife keeps telling me to exercise.

11) Team Cardinal Blog of the Year

None of these blog awards are limited to the UCB, though most of the selections will likely come from there.  There are some quality team blogs in the UCB, folks like I70 Baseball, Cardinals FarmRedbird Rants, CardsBlog and even those goofballs over at StanGraphs.

But when you think of a Cardinal team blog–heck, when 90% of the people that think of these things think of a Cardinal blog at all–you think of Viva El Birdos.  VEB is the gold standard.  When you hear Bernie Miklasz or Derrick Goold refer to a blog, it’s Viva El Birdos.  Most of our blogs go years not getting the comments VEB gets in a day.  The community over there is quite close–as our former colleague Mike Grabowski found out to his detriment–and it’s a wonderful place to smartly discuss Cardinal baseball.

12) Best Media Coverage
Nominees: Derrick Goold, Jenifer Langosch, Stan McNeal, Bernie Miklasz

St. Louis has always been a great place for baseball coverage.  Probably it’s an offshoot from the expectations this rabid fan base has for their news and information on the Cardinals.  We’ve always been blessed with a great group of writers (no matter what you may think of Joe Strauss, the man does bring it to the page) and people that get what the team means to the city.

So all of these guys are great, but one of these days this award is going to be renamed the Derrick Goold Award.  Derrick wins this every year and with good reason–whether it’s great game stories, good analysis pieces, interacting on Twitter, or being part of a podcast, Derrick brings his A game almost every night and even when he doesn’t, his B game blows most people out of the water.

13) Best Rookie Cardinal Blog
Nominees: Baseball Geek in Galveston, Bird Tales, Cajun Cardinal, Gateway Sports Connection, High Sock Sunday, Red Cleat Diaries

Don’t make me choose.  Seriously, this is a ridiculously tough category this year.  The UCB was greatly revitalized by the addition of some new blogs (by bloggers both old and new) and selecting just one is like trying to figure out which finger you don’t need anymore.  (Hint: as a blogger, you pretty much need all of them.)

In part not to play favorites with my Conclave cohorts, I’m going to select Red Cleat Diaries here.  Marilyn and I don’t always completely agree–usually we are probably on the same page, just maybe at the top and bottom–but she brings a perspective on things that we don’t always see in the group.  I’m glad she’s out on her own and she’s always a great read.

That said, that’s no slight to Doug, Tara, Harrison, A.J. or Cole.  Every one of them was worthy of this and if my coin had landed different when I flipped it, maybe my selection would have been different as well.

14) Post of the Year
Nominees: The Dawn of the Stephen Piscotty Era in Right Field (Daniel Solzman), Doctor’s Prescription: A Daily Dose of Baseball (Doug Vollet), The End of a Love and a Season (Marilyn Green), The Lynning: Fact or Fiction (Daniel Shoptaw), The Outfield Chronicles: A Conversation (Christine Coleman), Thinking of Playoff Baseball (Dan Buffa)

An amazing selection of work here.  We’ve got the personal stories of Dan and Doug, a great look at the warts at the end of the season by Marilyn, a look at the future by Daniel, and a wonderful potential conversation by Christine.  Then there’s my post, but that’s really not worth discussing.

All of them are great, really, but I can’t stop grinning over Christine’s projected discussion between Bourjos and Craig in The Outfield Chronicles: A Conversation.  The conversation is great enough, but the still she has from the game broadcast just really puts it over the top.  Christine didn’t write as much this year as she has in the past, but this one proved that a drop in quantity in no way indicated a drop in quality.

15) Best UCB Project
Nominees: Bloggers As Players, Cardinal Hall of Fame Voting, Mailbag, Roundtables

I really enjoy the monthly projects that we do as a group.  It’s great to put out a concept or a theme and see just where everyone goes with it.  You can see things that you’d never thought of or find out you agree with someone you might not usually agree with.

This year, I think the Bloggers As Players project might have been the most fun.  Putting together a lineup and a rotation using personality traits and posting habits was a unique exercise and one that really got people fired up.  We’re not going to take the field anytime soon, but it was enjoyable to play a little what if.

16) Best UCB Podcast
Nominees: Conversations With C70, Gateway to Baseball Heaven, UCB Radio

As always, I have to put in a little clarification when I vote here.  I usually try to make sure not to vote for myself in any of these awards.  Not only is my stuff usually not worthy, but I’ve always felt it a bit out of character for me to say that my stuff is the best.  Other folks might differ in how they approach the voting and that’s completely up to them, but that’s the way I look at it.

That said, here I’m involved with all three of the nominees.  My personal podcast, Conversations With C70, is an irregular one, but Tara Wellman and I are on almost every Sunday with Gateway to Baseball Heaven.

As much as I’d like to honor Tara’s work on Gateway, because she gets the save just about every week, I’m going with UCB Radio.  I still get to honor Tara, but also the many other voices of the show that airs every Wednesday.  We’re mixing some new voices in and I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes in the next year as well.  Yes, I’m occasionally sitting in the host chair here as well, but my participation is much more limited and well diffused by the quality that sits behind the mic week after week.

17) Best Non-UCB Podcast
Nominees: Best Podcast in Baseball, St. Louis Cardinals Extras (MLB.com), Viva El Birdos

After having the podcast market mainly to ourselves the past five years or so (yes, UCB Radio really has been around that long–just about to start year six, I believe), 2014 was the year everyone else jumped in the pool.  The problem is, everyone else was pretty darn talented at it as well.

I’ve not listed to Jenifer Langosch on the MLB.com podcast much, though I did enjoy the one I dialed up.  Viva El Birdos is putting their quality writing into audio form and it’s great to hear these writers talk among themselves.  I really like their show and much of the time, they’d get my vote.

However, when you pair Bernie Miklasz and Derrick Goold and let them talk Cardinals, you truly do get the Best Podcast in Baseball.  So many times this summer I put in my headphones, fired up the lawnmower, then spent the time cutting grass listening and occasionally discussing things out loud with Bernie and Derrick.  (Why they never responded to my points or comments is beyond me.  Maybe the mower was too loud.)  I never like to mow the grass, but these guys make it almost it a task to look forward to.

18) Best Twitterer

Twitter is such a wonderful thing.  We spend so much of the summer talking back and forth with each other, bantering, discussing the latest managerial move and just having a good time.  Some folks do it better than others, of course, but it’s usually a great way to kill some time and it can be a lifeline during the long cold offseason.

Picking out just one Twitterer is very, very difficult.  I have so many discussions with so many great folks that I can’t really narrow it down.  Still, I often have some great conversations with my Gateway co-host, Tara Wellman (@tarawellman).  You’ll find her dealing with #TheStruggle and often putting up a great picture of her dog, Louie.  If you want Cardinal talk mixed in with her real life, Tara’s a great follow.

However, following any of the UCB bloggers is a great move.  You should be doing that.  Why aren’t you?

Thanks for checking out the ballot.  Again, if you agree or disagree, go vote!

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Every year, I bring up the rear when it comes to our regular United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable.  Which does make it difficult, since there are always a ton of great questions that come before me by these talented writers.  This time, I decided to leverage the calendar into my question: Thanksgiving is coming.  As a Cardinal fan, what makes your list of thanksgiving? What are you the most thankful for as part of your fandom?

The responses were, of course, wonderful.  That’s what happens when you put this group to a task.

Bill Ivie (I70 Baseball):

I’m thankful to be the fan of a team with such a rich history.
I’m thankful to have seen Ozzie’s backflip in person.
I’m thankful for the soundtrack of my life including “Pardon me while I stand and applaud”, “Go Crazy Folks!”, “These Cardinals just won’t. go. away.” and “We will see you tomorrow night”.
I’m thankful that my favorite team is often the standard and leader of the game.
I’m thankful that this team, this game, have brought me some of the most important people in my life. From the UCB, to the best man and a groomsman at my wedding, to my wife…all connected by this team.
I’m thankful for the connection this team gave to me and my father. No matter how far apart, we always had something to talk about.
I’m thankful that I have a team I still enjoy talking about in November.

Most of all, I’m thankful that as good as this team is, I have far more to be thankful for in my life. It simply provides a great backdrop behind some of the greatest memories I have.

Tom Knuppel (CardinalsGM):

I am thankful the team has ownership and administration that wants to win which makes the team relevant on a yearly basis.

Doug Vollet (Baseball Geek In Galveston):

I too am thankful for being a fan of a team with a rich history.
I’m thankful for our leadership duo of Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak. They keep this team competitive and in the playoff hunt every year.
I’m thankful for you, Daniel. You helped open the door for me. Without you, I wouldn’t have gotten my blog out there to the large Cardinals Community.I also wouldn’t have met all the other bloggers, several of whom who have become good friends.
I’m thankful for Adam Wainwright, who combines competitiveness with a fun personality.
I’m thankful for Yadi. He’s the rock of our our team.
I’m thankful for Pat Neshek. He may have only been a Card for a year, but he’s made a fan for life. I’ll follow hom no matter where he ends up.
I’m thankful for the chance (I hope) to come home to St. Louis this year during a Cards home stretch and catch a game.
I’m thankful for all of you UCB guys. You’ve helped make blogging fun.

Ben Chambers (The View From Here):

I’m thankful that the Cardinals are what seems to be constantly near the top of the league every year. Although that brings hate from so many people that are fans of other teams, I certainly count that a blessing every year.

I’m also thankful for such a great fan base to chat about the team year-round with. Both in UCB members and in the other fans because there is a great fan base. Yes, there are always going to be that “crazy uncle” both in real life and in any group of people, and that it true in Cardinal Nation, but the majority of fans are wonderful people to interact with.

Marilyn Green (Red Cleat Diaries):

Hmmm. This is an interesting question for me, as I am in a crossroads of sorts in my Cardinals fandom. If I had been asked this question a year ago, it would have been easier to answer. But after this past season, my views are changing.

I am severely disappointed in the performance of Mike Matheny. I saw some very disturbing things in 2014 out of Matheny that has caused me some consternation. I am not going to spend this response on those issues as this question was meant to elicit a positive response. So eliminating the Matheny issues I can say the following:

• I am thankful for being a fan of a smart and winning organization with a rich history.

• I am thankful we have a GM who is smart and savvy. I am still waiting to see what else he does this offseason before I jump full throttle on the bandwagon, but so far I am pleased. When I think we could have someone like Ruben Amaro Jr., I have to count my blessings.

• I am thankful for the friends I have made as a result of being a member of Cardinal Nation.

• I am thankful for the character of the players who make up the team. Considering some of the less than acceptable behavior displayed by many professional athletes, the fact that there has been no significant controversy surrounding the Cardinals is something to be thankful for.

• I am thankful for the enjoyment being a Cardinals fan has brought me and the distraction from personal troubles baseball has provided me.

There are probably a few more things I could mention, but I will stop here.

Dan Buffa (Cardinals Nerve Center):

I am thankful for you UCB members and fans across the league and Twitter that make every game of every season interesting and a learning experience. Through this membership, I have learned more about the inner dynamics of the game than I ever knew before my time on social media and this group. I am also thankful to the Cardinals for putting together a roster that doesn’t compete every single season but one that reaches for the top prize every October.

However, the game wouldn’t be as fun, winning franchise or not, if the fans and fellow bloggers didn’t interact like we do. It’s fun, invigorating, challenging and all together, worth the blood, sweat and tears.

Bob Netherton (On The Outside Corner):

I am most thankful for the community that I have found through Twitter and the members here at the UCB. There is no question that you all have rekindled an interest in baseball that had somewhat diminished over the years. Most of you know that my time as a fan goes back to the construction of the Arch and what we now call Busch II. Over the years, the team has gone though good and bad times, but my enthusiasm for watching the team play is higher than I think it has ever been. That is not a coincidence, it is because there is a fantastic group of people to share stories and conversations with. I thank each and every one of you for that.

I am also truly thankful for some of the wonderful people from these communities that I have had the privilege of meeting in real life, and look forward to the opportunity to meet more of you in the future.

In addition to the technology which hooks up all of us distant fans, I also appreciate that we have the ability to not only watch each baseball game in glorious high definition, but now we can enjoy a significant portion of the minor league games. This adds to the interest beyond just the 25 active players on the big league club.

On a personal note, I am also thankful to have nearly half a century of memories of Cardinals history and that my faculties are still in good enough order to keep them relatively straight :-) Not everything has been as good as it is now, but even in those “dark” years, there was always something or somebody to root for. OK, it might have been wondering which body part Geronimo Pena was going to injure next or which unlikely pitching was going to throw a no hitter. But there was always something if you were willing to watch.

Cole Claybourn (High Sock Sunday): 

When I think about what I’m thankful for in terms of being a Cardinal fan, a lot of things come to mind. The first thing is the memories I can pass down to my kids. I’ll never forget where I was at for McGwire’s 62nd home run or for David Freese‘s walk-off, and the countless other memories in between. Being a Cardinal fan is truly something special and the bond that fans feel with the team is unmatched across sports.

The other thing is the friendships you develop through being a fan. In just this year alone I’ve made so many new friends through blogging and Twitter. I honestly could make the trip from Evansville to St. Louis alone and feel like I’ve got at least 10 people I could call up to go to a game with. It’s truly like being a part of a big family. And in tough times like Oscar Taveras‘ death, you need that family.

This is truly something that will always be a part of me, and I’d argue would even define me to some extend. And I’m more than okay with that.

Daniel Solzman (Redbird Rants):

There’s a lot to be thankful for. Being able to watch STL win two World Series championships in my lifetime including an unforgettable Game 6 is something that nobody can ever take away from me.

Look at the UCB and that’s not something that you really see with fans of other teams be it baseball or other sports. I’m thankful for belonging to such a group even if we disagree on things when it comes to armchair managing.

The advent of social media has changed the way we follow games and that’s for the better.

Mark Tomasik (RetroSimba):

Thankful for the connections made with fellow Cardinals fans through our United Cardinals Bloggers group. It’s fun to share with others the passion for Cardinals baseball.

As for me?  Well, the bloggers above touched on most of them.  I’m quite fond of this community we are involved in and I love that we can get together in person occasionally but interact all year long.

I’m thankful that this team competes on a high level and doesn’t make too many missteps along the way.  Folks may poke fun at “the best fans in baseball” and “the Cardinal Way”, but I think it’s a wonderful thing that these fans and this organization are held to such a high standard.

I’m thankful that we have players like Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Michael Wacha, Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter, superb players on the field and great people off of it.  Not every team has the luxury of genuinely admiring their stars as players and men.

And I’m thankful that, day after day, folks keep coming by here to read what ramblings I might have.  I appreciate every one of you and I hope you’ll keep coming back throughout the winter and into the next season!

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As the season was winding down, I reached out to one of the folks in the Cardinal organization that’s always been so great to us bloggers (sorry, I know, that doesn’t narrow it down–they’ve ALL been awesome) and asked if I might have an email Q&A with General Manager John Mozeliak.  Not only was Mo up for that, but the Cards wanted to expand it to all the bloggers.

You’ll find other questions and answers around the blogosphere and next week we’ll put a full transcript up over at the official site.  Not knowing how many questions the GM would answer, I tossed quite a few of him, and it speaks highly of him that not only did he answer all of mine, but every question the bloggers threw at him got an answer and usually more than a “no comment”.

Below are my questions and his answers.  I’ll have a few more thoughts at the end.

C70: You’ve been the general manager of the Cardinals for seven years now. Where do you think you’ve improved the most over that time and where do you still feel you would like to improve?

Mo: In any career you always have opportunity to improve. When I think back over the last seven years, one thing I understand better today is there is always opportunity to improve your team. You don’t have to have your club set by the winter meetings, or by Opening Day. Being patient and opportunistic can be a very valuable asset.

C70: How has your relationship with Mike Matheny changed from when he was an assistant to the GM to now, three years into his managerial career?

Mo: My relationship with Mike Matheny has only gotten stronger over time. As anyone would imagine, your relationship working on a day-to-day basis between a GM and manager is constant and time consuming, but it also allows you to get to know the person not only in the work environment but also on a personal level.

C70: Are there moves that you regret making over the past seven years?

Mo: Yes. Not going into details on those as I’m guessing most people that follow the Cards could guess what those would be. But in fairness, our decisions are based on our process that we go through in evaluating talent and we have a lot of confidence in that process. When we go out and get a player it’s not for a lack of effort.

C70: Are there times during games where you second-guess the manager just like the fans do?  Do you talk with Matheny after games about those times, if so?

Mo: I never second guess decisions that are made on the field or in-game. I may, after a game, ask questions on something because I’m curious to understand how people think. But Mike is our manager and it’s his job to run the team. I am happy to ask questions, though, for his benefit and growth.

C70: You said recently that you believe Matheny has improved as a strategist since he took over the club. Could you point to examples that lead you to that opinion?

Mo: Well, I feel when he first stepped into this role he recognized the game was going to be fast. He didn’t have managerial experience and that learning curve was only going to come with time. When you look at where he is today, after three years, he is much more comfortable in this role.

C70: What did you expect to see in Justin Masterson that didn’t pan out once you acquired him?

Mo: I think the untold story of Justin Masterson was that he wasn’t 100% when we got him. Unfortunately it affected how he pitched and had a direct correlation to his performance. I will say in his defense, he gave us one huge game in Miami when things weren’t going well for our club. But in the end, I can see why people do not look at this as a positive deal.

C70: Can you give us a sense of what general manager meetings, like the one you recently attended, are like? Are there presentations and such or is it more just a place to gather together to talk and lay groundwork?

Mo: A typical GM Meetings look like: 8:30-12:30 each day MLB would put on presentations that could be about rule discussions or rule changes and general topics that are being discussed throughout baseball. Afternoons and evenings are typically spent meeting with other clubs or agents, setting up groundwork for the offseason.

C70: What would you say would be the expected role of Tyler Lyons in 2015?

Mo: Tyler gives us protection in the rotation as well as bullpen.

First off, I can’t express enough gratitude to Mo for taking the time to answer the questions and to do it in such a through manner.  There’s a reason the Cardinals are considered one of the classiest organizations in baseball and it’s all about the tone at the top.  Mo’s been great at every UCB Weekend and he continues to be so here.

I was most interested to hear about his relationship with Matheny.  While you might not expect him to come out and say they weren’t that close, there are ways to say that the relationship is not what it used to be.  “Things are different in our different roles” or something like that.  Instead, he says that they are closer than ever, putting to rest those thoughts (and, I’ll admit, I was on that page) that there might be a rift between the two men.

I also am not sure if I’d heard that Masterson was hurt when he came to St. Louis, though that was definitely bandied about as a reason for some of his problems.  It’ll be interesting to see if he gets better and turns in a good performance for whomever his next team is.

There’s no doubt we’ve seen Mo be opportunistic, most recently with the trade of Jason Heyward (note, all of these questions were submitted before the trade was announced).  The early moves of the last two seasons, getting so much done before Thanksgiving, seems to underline what he was talking about.

Finally, you didn’t expect me to not ask about the Patron Pitcher of the Blog, did you?  Looks like we’ll be seeing #70 again next year, in one way or another.

Again, thanks much to John Mozeliak for his time and hopefully we’ll do it again sometime!

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Chasing Jon Lester

Jim Bowden reports a team source has told him the Cards are now in the Jon Lester hunt. Take that with however many grains of salt you like, but it proves the stove isn’t cooling down.

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Well, then.  Never sleep on John Mozeliak.

Last winter, we knew that Mo would have to deal a pitcher or clear up that first base/outfield logjam.  Instead, he swapped David Freese and Fernando Salas for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.  Coupled with signing Jhonny Peralta, Mo swooped in, got things done, and kept most of his powder safely locked away.

So this winter, we knew Mo wanted power and we knew there was still somewhat of a pitching logjam, but I don’t think we expected him to pull the trigger on something like this trade with the Braves.  Let’s take a look at the individual pieces.  Remember, this just got announced about five minutes ago, so I’m really just thinking off the top of my head.

1) Shelby Miller. It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals cut bait on the guy that was their phenom prospect for so long.  Shelby was the guy that was the focal point of the minor leagues, the guy that was the big tough Texan that was going to be a force in the big leagues for a long time to come.

That easily could still happen.  Miller looked very good down the stretch last year before faltering in October.  It could well be that the organization wasn’t sure he’d ever get over the hump.  It could just as easily be that the club figured that he was going to have a lot of value, but with all the pitchers in the organization, someone had to go.  I would think that Miller could do well in Atlanta, though he’s going to have to curtail his fly-ball habits.  Turner Field ranked 10th in HR, Busch Stadium 16th.  Miller tended to give up the long ball a little more often than you’d like even in a better pitching environment, but perhaps he can modify that in a new organization.

2) Tyrell Jenkins.  Jenkins has been an intriguing project for a long while now, having been drafted in 2010 as a toolsy guy that they hoped to develop into a pitcher.  Jenkins has been injured throughout his career and has struggled at times, but he put together a pretty interesting season at Peoria this year, even as he was a couple of years young for the league.  I still think it’s a long shot for him to ever make the big leagues, but it’s a lottery ticket for the Braves that might well pay off.

3) Jason Heyward.  Heyward had a down year last year, staying healthy but putting up only 11 home runs.  That said, he’s still an intriguing offensive force, plus he’s got the defensive chops (a two-time Gold Glove winner) to not have Mike Matheny thinking about double switching him out of close games.  Heyward can draw a walk and puts up a relatively decent average.  It’d be interesting to have him in the second spot behind Matt Carpenter, wearing pitchers out before hitting the heart of the order, though I expect he’ll it more in that middle of the order.

I’ve always been somewhat of a fan of Heyward and I’m really interested to see how he does in St. Louis.  He’s a free agent at the end of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t try to lock him up with a long-term deal at some point.  Heyward probably wouldn’t go for it now–I imagine he’s been thinking about free agency–but minds can change during the season.  He’s going to bring a pretty consistent and exciting bat to the lineup, assuming he breaks the pattern of being hurt every other year.

4) Jordan Walden.  A friend (who is big in fantasy baseball) just texted me to ask if Walden is going to close.  I don’t think that’s going to happen–Trevor Rosenthal is still Matheny’s guy–but he does have that experience, saving 32 games for the Angels back in 2011 and picking up three saves when Craig Kimbrel needed a break last year.  Walden struck out over a batter an inning last year and walked one every two frames, which is a nice thing to see at the end of games.

5) Carlos Martinez.  Martinez wasn’t in this deal, but odds are he gets to be put in the “winners” column on this deal.  Walden would look to be a great guy for the eighth inning, replacing Pat Neshek.  That was one of the plans for Martinez this season, and being that there is now an obvious vacancy in the rotation, it would seem that Baby Pedro has the inside track on that slot.

6) Randal Grichuk.  If Martinez is a winner, Grichuk is a loser.  I don’t think many expected Grichuk really to be the starter in right field come Opening Day, but before this deal that’s the way things stood.  Now, Grichuk is less likely to see the field (assuming Heyward does stay healthy) because it’s not like last year, when there was only Oscar Taveras to compete with.  Heyward has the track record and the production to get everyday starts and that will be what happens.

The whole outfield situation becomes interesting as well.  There was thoughts that Jon Jay could shift to right and Peter Bourjos play center at times.  That would seem to be less common now, though I’m sure we’ll see that occasionally.  Does that mean one of those guys gets moved anyway, even with both of them coming off surgery?  Does Grichuk get dealt in another move?  Lots of variables now, which is good, because with that snow on the ground outside, the hot stove really needs to kick it up a notch.

I think this is a deal that has a chance to benefit both sides.  I felt that Miller was starting to take the steps needed to become a big-time pitcher and I don’t see that this deal will change that.  Heyward and Walden would look to be upgrades on the Cardinal side of things for sure.  The trade “win” might hinge on whether Jenkins does anything of import for Atlanta.  If he does, and if Heyward doesn’t stay past this season, it might go the Braves’ way.

In 2003, the Cardinals sent an outfielder and a catcher to Atlanta for two pitchers and a prospect.  If Jenkins turns into Adam Wainwright, this is going to hurt, but that’s long odds.

Kudos to Mo–he’s not standing still.  The Cardinals as constructed yesterday were playoff favorites.  They just got better today.

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Every year about this time, the United Cardinal Bloggers do their year-end awards.  We look at what happened on the field and in the blogosphere over the last season and vote on what we think was the best.  You can see our ballot over here.

The last few years, we’ve let the fans do a little voting as well and combined them into one regular ballot that gets added to the totals.  To cast your vote, head over here.

Voting is going to wrap up November 30 and I’ll have my selections up hopefully soon.  But head over and make your voice heard!

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Exit Interview: The 2014 Index

It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.  However, we’ve finally come to the end of the Exit Interview series.  I appreciate all that have commented either here or on Twitter that you’ve enjoyed them and I’ve found it instructive as always to revisit the players and see really how they did.  If you missed any of these over the last three weeks, here are the links to help you catch up!

Management
Mike Matheny
John Mozeliak

Catchers
Tony Cruz
George Kottaras
Yadier Molina
Audry Perez
A.J. Pierzynski

Infield
Matt Adams
Matt Carpenter
Daniel Descalso
Mark Ellis
Greg Garcia
Pete Kozma
Jhonny Peralta
Xavier Scruggs
Kolten Wong

Outfield
Peter Bourjos
Joey Butler
Allen Craig
Randal Grichuk
Matt Holliday
Jon Jay
Tommy Pham
Shane Robinson
Oscar Taveras

Starting Pitchers
Jaime Garcia
Joe Kelly
John Lackey
Lance Lynn
Justin Masterson
Shelby Miller
Michael Wacha
Adam Wainwright

Relief Pitchers
Keith Butler
Randy Choate
Eric Fornataro
Sam Freeman
Marco Gonzales
Nick Greenwood
Tyler Lyons
Seth Maness
Carlos Martinez
Jason Motte
Pat Neshek
Jorge Rondon
Trevor Rosenthal
Kevin Siegrist
Sam Tuivailala

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Exit Interview: John Mozeliak

The last couple of years, I spent the time immediately after the season examining each player that had made an appearance in St. Louis during the season.  This series was well received and so I’m bringing this idea back for the 2014 offseason.  More summaries than anything, I imagine the player coming into Mike Matheny‘s–well, in this case, Bill DeWitt’s–office and having a short conference before heading home for the winter.  

This year’s Exit Interview series is brought to you by Cast.  Get instant feedback on whatever question you want to ask, whether it’s what’s going to happen in tonight’s game or which Muppet is the best.  Cast lets you ask anything that’s on your mind and quickly see what other folks are thinking as well.

General Manager: John Mozeliak

Season record: 90-72

Postseason record: 4-5

Overall grade: B+

Positives: Was able to flip Allen Craig at his low point and get something valuable back in return….smartly targeted John Lackey not only because of his experience, but because of his $500K 2015 price tag….picked up Pat Neshek on a minor-league contract before the season began.

Negatives: Had his first major misstep as a general manager, trading solid prospect James Ramsey for Justin Masterson, who completely flamed out while a Cardinal….surprisingly anointed Jon Jay as the starting centerfielder for next season at a post-season press conference….his signing of Mark Ellis was a bust on the order of Ty Wigginton (but not QUITE that bad).

Overview: In Mo We Trust.  That’s the mantra, that’s what we say every time Mozeliak does something we aren’t quite sure about or don’t necessarily see the reasons behind.  That trust was shaken with the Masterson deal.  Whatever improvements or modifications Mo believed the club could make to the Cleveland pitcher obviously weren’t terribly effective.  And while James Ramsey was definitely blocked in St. Louis, it’s still tough to give away what could be a valuable asset for something that gave the club next-to-nothing.

We don’t know how things are between Mo and Mike Matheny right now.  They seem to be on the same page–witness the talk about Jay–but it did seem at times Mo made moves to force Matheny’s hand during the season, whether it was trading Craig to keep him out of the Cardinal lineup or demoting Kolten Wong so he’d actually play instead of sitting on the bench watching Ellis flail away.  I think most fans would like to see Mo be a little more adversarial toward the manager, given where Matheny stands in the opinion of many in Cardinal Nation.

That said, Mo is still one of the top GMs in the league and the Cardinals are lucky to have him.  He’s been fairly disciplined with how he approaches the free agent market (though the praise directed to him for not signing Albert Pujols is a little overblown, given the lucrative contract they did offer him) and he’s been very willing to promote from the minors to make sure the club has what it needs.  There aren’t many you’d swap Mozeliak for in the game, which is a nice thing to say.

Outlook: It would seem that Mo would need to do something about the lack of power this offseason, perhaps clear up a little of the pitching glut, and figure out what to do in the outfield.  It’s a delicate piece of work, given the fact that the Cards are currently almost set at every position, but if anyone can do it, Mozeliak can.  After all, in Mo we trust.

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Exit Interview: Mike Matheny

The last couple of years, I spent the time immediately after the season examining each player that had made an appearance in St. Louis during the season.  This series was well received and so I’m bringing this idea back for the 2014 offseason.  More summaries than anything, I imagine the player coming into Mike Matheny‘s–well, in this case, John Mozeliak’s–office and having a short conference before heading home for the winter.  

This year’s Exit Interview series is brought to you by Cast.  Get instant feedback on whatever question you want to ask, whether it’s what’s going to happen in tonight’s game or which Muppet is the best.  Cast lets you ask anything that’s on your mind and quickly see what other folks are thinking as well.

Manager: Mike Matheny

Season record: 90-72

Postseason record: 4-5

Overall grade: C

Positives: Led the team back to the postseason, even as things were less than optimal….seemed to ease up some on the bunting, though there were still times he called for one that frustrated folks….continued to have the loyalty of everyone in the clubhouse, the major reason he was hired.

Negatives: Didn’t seem to handle the Jon Jay-Peter Bourjos outfield situation very well….continued to run out the remains of Allen Craig even when it was obvious Craig wasn’t going to rebound….continued to be frustrating with his bullpen usage, including sticking with Trevor Rosenthal much longer than most everyone else would have and compounding the issue by saying he wanted Rosie to “feel like a king out there.”

Overview: All in all, it felt like Matheny regressed a little bit in 2014.  The bullpen was the major focus, with him continuing to run Rosenthal out there night after night when it was obvious the guy could use some rest.  He’d stick with him come heck or high water as well, though at least by the end of the year conceded enough to start warming up someone behind him when Rosenthal got into trouble.  There was also the Michael Wacha issue in the playoffs, not using him until the final inning of the final game.

The outfield was a situation that caused some angst as well.  Bourjos didn’t seem to get a full trial out there and then was buried on the bench when Jay took off.  Craig had to be traded to Boston before Matheny stopped putting him out there.  Oscar Taveras spent a lot more time in Memphis and a lot more time on the bench than many people expected.  Randal Grichuk earned a good chunk of playing time down the stretch, but seemed exposed at times in the playoffs.

Mix in the Kolten Wong demotion, the continued use of Daniel Descalso, and some questionable tactical decisions (or non-decisions) and you have a situation where, before October 26, many fans were wondering if maybe a change wouldn’t do the Cardinals good.  With Joe Maddon sitting out there, it was a tempting possibility, even if the odds of that happening were somewhere between 1% and 0%.

Outlook: After October 26, a lot of things changed in the perception of Matheny.  No, he’s not likely to become a tactical genius overnight, though you can at least hope that he’ll get better at it.  (I’m not sure the promotion of David Bell to bench coach will help, but we’ll see.)  He’s still going to frustrate folks with how he used the pen and the bench.  Most of those things we can just hope improve by degrees over time.

However, to keep a cohesive team, to keep players focused on the game instead of on the tragedy that’s befallen them, there’s no one better than Matheny to lead this squad.  He knows them, not only as players but as men.  They know he’s got their best interest at heart and that he’s grieving just like they are.  They’ll play for him, they’ll rally around each other, and hopefully that will mean 2015 is a special year for them.

What’s that saying about Batman?  He’s the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now?  Matheny’s no Batman.  He may not be the manager the Cardinals deserve, but he’s the one they need right now.

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