C70 At The Bat

With nothing else to do, let’s do a little group thinking, shall we?

When the Cardinals lost Lance Lynn for the year due to Tommy John surgery, they eventually picked up Mike Leake to fill that void.  However, few of us immediately slotted Leake into Lynn’s spot in the rotation.  Lynn was set up as the #2 starter in 2015 (though there are questions about whether he’d have been there again this season if he was healthy) but Leake, at least in my mind, always sat at the end of the rotation.

That’s nothing against the newest Cardinal, not at all.  It’s just that this rotation is a talented one, one that put up some historic numbers last year with minimal contribution from the staff ace.  Leake might be a mid-rotation guy for a lot of teams, but he didn’t seem to be one on this squad.

Then I saw some Twitter exchanges with Derrick Goold about where Leake fit in the rotation and Goold questioned (obliquely, at least) whether Leake really was a #5 guy.  On talent, I think he’d rank well behind any of the four that are already on staff, but talent is not always the only factor taken into account when setting up a rotation.

For instance, maybe you put Leake in the third spot with Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha after him, figuring that the end of the rotation might get a start or two less and that keeps the young guys’ inning count low.  Perhaps you mix the styles of the pitchers, so that the hard-throwing Martinez is followed by Leake who is followed by the nasty stuff of Jaime Garcia.

So how would you order the staff 1-5 this season?  Well, let’s say 2-5, because I’m going to assume that everyone is going to put Adam Wainwright as the staff ace and the guy pitching on Opening Day.  The other four, though, could be set up in a myriad of different ways.  I want your opinion–tell me who should be 2, 3, 4, and 5 when the season begins in a couple of months.  We’ll talk about the answers (and perhaps look at the bullpen in a similar way) in an upcoming post.  Be sure to scroll down and answer all four questions.

(Also, while I have you, don’t forget about the Cardinal Approval Ratings!)

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When the 2011 season started, this blog was 3 1/2 years old and had never actually covered a championship season.  That changed during a dramatic season and historic postseason.  Now that the fifth anniversary of that run is upon us, I’m going to rerun some posts to relive that run as it happened.  I don’t know that I’ll do all of them, but probably a good number of them.  (It also doubles as getting some posts over here from the old site.)  So I hope you’ll enjoy these dispatches from a semi-long time ago!  We’ll start out with one that makes you realize that I can never make predictions.

Yet Another Pujols Entry

I know, I know.  The Albert Pujols negotiations have been done to death.  The scraps of information in the national press are even too small for a mouse, to reference a classic Christmas tale.  So why should we talk about it again?

Well, for one thing, there’s not much else out there to talk about.  Besides, I look back over my last posts and see that I’ve not really talked much about it since January 18.  (Granted, that was only four posts ago, but bear with me.)

Really what got me thinking about it and wanting to put a few thoughts down was the conversation Nick and I had last night on the UCB Radio Hour.  After a wonderful half-hour with Geoff Goldman of Fox Sports Midwest (and if you didn’t listen last night, go spend some time as Geoff talks about what we may see this year on the TV side and some of the reasons behind the on-air rotation that will be going on), Nick and I started talking not only about the story of the day, but how the story of the day was being covered.

It’s a rare condition this day and age, besides reading any good news on the newspaper page, to have a negotiation really take place behind closed doors.  There’s always someone leaking something, someone trying to build up value in the press, someone wanting to exert pressure on someone else.

Not in this situation, though.  Sure, there was a little bit of talk earlier in the year, mainly in the spring training deadline, but nothing about disrespect or lowballing or anything actually to do with the negotiations.  Just think about how rare that really is.

I think there are a couple of reasons for that.  One, this isn’t a real free agency situation.  Albert is going to be a Cardinal this coming year, there’s no question about that.  So it’s not a situation where he’s on the market and trying to get multiple teams to bid so as to drive up the price.  There’s only one team in the mix and they know not only what he’s done, but what he’s worth to the organization.  They’ve seen it first hand.  There’s no need to artificially turn up the stove, as it were.

The second reason is pretty simple.  Dan Lozano is not Scott Boras.

That’s a huge difference, isn’t it?  Boras is known for “mystery teams”.  He’s known for feeding specific writers bits of information that help out his cause.  Which means that the teams that are in the negotiation feel obligated to leak their information as well, so as to combat the public opinion that Boras is trying to shape.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with all of that.   Boras is trying to get the best deal for his client (and, by extension, himself) and those are the tools he wants to use to do it.

Lozano is a different story, it appears.  Scott Lamb, author of Pujols: More Than The Game (which came out early–you can order it on Amazon right now if you want!) made a couple of points in the chat room during last night’s show.  One was that, even though Lozano just recently went out on his own, this isn’t his first solo negotiation.  He just recently got a contract extension for Joey Votto from the Reds.  Not exactly the same stakes, but still a nice job.

The second part was that Lozano sits on the board of the Pujols Family Foundation.  What that means to me, knowing what we do about how passionate Pujols is about his charity work, is that Lozano is more than an agent.  He’s a friend, a guy who knows what Pujols is about, who knows what he wants and how he wants to get there.  I don’t think he risks a baseball incident, if you will, trying to squeeze the club for a little more when he knows Albert wants to stay on the club.

When you think about it, these negotiations really do seem to fall in line with what we think we know about Albert Pujols.  He’s trying to be respectful, both to the team and his teammates.  He’s not necessarily trying to put undo pressure on an organization that he cares about.  He knows what he wants, but he’s not going to talk about it because the money isn’t the biggest thing to him.

I think when you look at all the factors, he’s going to resign in the next couple of weeks.  Of course, the countdown is on.  Like Nick said last night, though, if they are very close at the beginning of spring training, I don’t think Pujols jeopardizes things by cutting off negotiations.  He may let Lozano finish up the details and they sign early in camp.  Still, for PR purposes if nothing else, I think they try to get it done before AP makes it to Florida.

What’s it going to cost?  I don’t know.  There’s a big debate raging most everywhere but definitely at CardsClubhouse about where the price point is.  Where do you say, “He’s worth this but no more.”  Pip showed that he’s possibly not going to be worth an A-Rod contract.  Where do you draw the line?

I’m one that would probably pay him more than others. Not only for future performance, not only because I think payroll would adjust, not only for what he’s done in the past at a discount rate, not only because I think what is expensive today will be commonplace down the road.  All of those things come into play, but I think one of the reasons Pujols will get a premium boils down to one word.

History.

Nick and I were talking last night about one of the reasons the Pujols coverage is so frustrating to us is because we are on the ground floor of this.  We follow the local media, read the little they have, then see it regurgitated by the national press with nothing new on it.  As I said last night, this would have a little less impact on us, be a little less wearisome, if it were Albert Pujols of the Atlanta Braves or San Francisco Giants.  It’s also a perfect storm of events, though.  A guy this good on the team that we follow?  When is the next time that is ever going to happen?

Which is what I mean by history.  You are paying somewhat for the opportunity 25 years down the road to trot out Albert Pujols as the greatest living Cardinal.  (Unless Stan’s still around, but that might be asking a lot even from the great Musial.)  You are paying for that chance to see an inner-ring Hall of Famer spend his whole career in your uniform.  You are paying for my son and daughter’s generation to hold him in as much reverence as we hold Musial.

These are the things that you pay a premium for.  It’s an opportunity that may never come around again.  You think there will be countdown clocks when Colby Rasmus comes close to free agency?  We may agonize about Adam Wainwright, but it won’t be a national story.  As much promise as Shelby Miller has, do we really think he’ll reach these kind of Cooperstown elite levels?

The Cardinals had Stan Musial.  That’s all they could ever expect to have.  To have one amazing talent spend their whole entire career in your uniform is a blessing.  Some teams don’t have that.  I’m not talking about just lifers, or good players that happened to stay with your organization forever.  I’m talking no-doubt Hall of Famers.  To have one guy like that is a great thing.  To have two……

I’ve often joked that, with Musial being 6 and Pujols being 5, I really wanted to see who was wearing 4 when my son gets to be my age.  But the fact is, the likelihood of ever having a top-level HOF player being developed and then staying in St. Louis again has long odds.  Hopefully, the Cards won’t squander this opportunity.

This isn’t anything new, of course.  You’ve probably heard most of these arguments and discussions over and over again.  I just wanted to get them down in one spot, though.  If nothing else, maybe I can make it into The Daily Pujols!

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There are times in the offseason where it seems like there’s just nothing going on, that there’s barely any news, that everything has been hashed and rehashed plenty of times.

Then there are times like the last couple of weeks, when you wish for that much.

If you caught me on Gateway this weekend, you know what I’m talking about.  Without Tara, there wasn’t enough stuff to discuss to get through a third of the show.  You have to go back to January 9th to get an actual post on this blog (not this site, mind you–Doug and Dathan have done some good work in the interim).  Even with that lag, there’s just not much out there.

I mean, Adam Wainwright got the Fred Hutchinson Award, which is pretty neat.  The award is given to a player for outstanding community service and there’s no doubt that Waino exemplifies that.  His foundation, the work he has put in making Big League Impact really a big league project, the things he does around St. Louis, all of that is amazing and a wonderful thing to be lifted up.  It’s a great honor for him and a well-deserved one.  Major kudos to the staff ace for this award.

Then there’s been the various prospect lists that have come out.  The Cards placed one, Alex Reyes, on the MLB.com Top 100.  If you are only going to get one, having him be in the top 10 is a good thing.  Baseball Prospectus also put out their list and their team lists as well.  St. Louis has some talent coming up, but a lot of it is a couple of years away.  Reyes might be the only one (save folks like Tim Cooney who have already made their debut) that we see this year and even that’s iffy.

Of course, that gap has been the focus of recent articles by Benjamin Hochman and Derrick Goold, because, like us, they don’t have just a ton to write about either at the moment.  The farm still seems to be pitching-heavy, with any offensive help multiple years away, if it develops at all.  The club does have Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, etc. at the big league level so that dearth isn’t just the worst thing in the world, but if someone does go down, it seems much less likely that the Cards will be able to pull someone out of Memphis and not miss a beat like they have over the last couple of seasons.

Goold has been talking about this doughnut hole, as he calls it, for years now and we’ve finally reached it.  Like the eye of a hurricane, it’s a calm, almost dead spot that means help isn’t just a phone call away anymore.  Sure, there will be bodies at Memphis that can be called up to fill a spot, but depending on who goes down or where the need is, it’s not as likely to be as successful of a “next man up” as it has been in the past.

Which is probably another reason, besides their general philosophy and the hedge against any hacking-related punishments, that the Cardinals have been jealously guarding their draft picks this year.  While anyone taken in June isn’t going to solve the immediate problem, it’ll hopefully keep another hole from forming and the pipeline can begin again with its regular churning of talent.

That’s really about it.  If you missed it, I was on Talking About Birds recently with Nate and Ben and that episode went up Monday.  It was a lot of fun talking with those guys and I’d really recommend you check it out when you’ve got a spare hour and a half.  Also, please don’t forget the Cardinal Approval Ratings are going on.  I’m still hoping for 100 folks to fill it out in the next three weeks and right now we’ve got about 15.  So if you haven’t, please take a few minutes and do so!

This afternoon, we’re going to start something a little different and see how it goes.  I’ve always enjoyed reading “as it happened” news coverage, getting the perspective of the time rather than a retrospective look at things knowing how they all played out.  With this being the fifth anniversary of the 2011 championship (and the first one that I “covered” as a blogger), I’m going to rerun some of my blog posts from that year.  I don’t know how many I’ll do–obviously I’ll skip press releases and projects and such of that nature, but I’ll probably do a lot of the game recap ones–but I hope you’ll enjoy reliving that great season from the beginning.

Hopefully, given that pitcher and catchers officially report in a couple of weeks, we’ll have some things to talk about soon.  It can’t get any slower, I don’t think!

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I know, it’s been slow around here, but those winter doldrums are just hard to kick.  It’s tough to convince yourself to get out of a warm bed well before dawn to sit down and write about….well, not much of anything.  You’ve had the various podcasts to tide you over, I hope, and I do plan to get back to writing pretty soon.  If nothing else, spring training is just a few weeks away and it’s much easier to come up with posts then.

Until then, though, you can humor yourself by voting in the eighth annual Cardinal Approval Ratings.  They are kind of like those political ratings you hear about, where so-and-so has a 60% approval rating with the voters.  Here, you give me your personal approval rating and we use that to come up with an overall score.  This is completely on you.  Maybe you’ve never liked Matt Carpenter’s beard.  Maybe you think Al Hrabosky gets a bad rap.  Factor in whatever you like, on-the-field, off-the-field, it’s up to you.

The form is below, but I’ll be Tweeting out links to it regularly between now and February 21.  I’ll release the results afterwards in the daily posts.  You can see how folks ranked last year if you scroll down our links page.  Thanks for the input!

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If it’s almost time for spring training, that means I’m sitting down to chat with Jamie Pogue, bullpen catcher for the Cardinals.  It’s a wide-ranging talk as we discuss the great pitching from last year, what this bullpen might look like in 2016, and whether there’s more focus on the Cubs than before.  Give it a listen!

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The Escalating Hacking Case

This really isn’t the way I wanted to start off my 2016 posting, but since it’s the first thing that’s really been worth writing about in the new year, you take what you get.

On Friday, former Cardinal scouting director Chris Correa pleaded guilty to his role in the hacking of the Houston Astros database.  The government released their charges and we saw that, yet again, we had to revise our impression of this case.

When the news came out last year, we figured that it was just some low-level employees, with more time than sense, trying to see if Jeff Luhnow’s old passwords still worked on the Houston system and being surprised when they were.  Stupid, yes, but less of an issue for the Cardinals as a whole.  Some staffers would be fired and the whole thing would be considered more hijinx than criminal.

Then, last summer, Correa was let go because of the scandal.  While he wasn’t the scouting director when he was sneaking into Houston’s system, he still was a rising star and someone much higher than what we’d originally thought.  Still, it seemed to be a case where he believed Houston had St. Louis’s information, taken when Luhnow left the organization.  That doesn’t justify it at all, but the idea that he wasn’t necessarily looking for competitive advantage gave the situation a little different tint.  You could at least empathize with Correa, even if you didn’t agree with him.

Now, that’s even harder to do.  Even though Luhnow claimed that he knew “password hygiene” and didn’t carry over passwords from St. Louis, he either was wrong on that account or he used the same password conventions, because Correa, according to the government’s investigation, got into the system by that route.  (To be fair, it could have also possibly been Sig Mejdal’s password.  I’m not sure which of those Correa worked with more closely in St. Louis, thereby more likely knowing their password habits, but Mejdal is a former NASA engineer.  I think I’d believe Luhnow was more lax overall.)  Correa didn’t just limit his breaking and entering to trying to find Cardinal information, though.

Correa got into the database five times between March 2013 and June 2014.  If you are just looking for proprietary info, you’d think once would be enough, or at least the entries wouldn’t be that spread out.  Correa also accessed the Astros’ scouting information for the 2013 draft, including once during the draft looking up players that were still available and seeing what Houston’s thoughts and opinions on those players were.  He also accessed Houston’s notes on trade discussions at the 2013 trade deadline.

All that is very bad.  What is worse is that, when the Astros got wind of unauthorized use and had everyone change their password to the Ground Control system, Correa hacked into Luhnow’s/Mejdal’s email (where they used a similar if not the same password they’d been using for Ground Control) to find the email that gave them their new password, then continued his unauthorized entries.  That’s really going above and beyond and makes it much harder to give him the benefit of the doubt.

You wonder if the Cardinals have been hording draft picks and pool money this year because they are afraid of the penalties that Major League Baseball might impose on them for this incident.  It wouldn’t be the first time St. Louis has been hit with punishment for something unprecedented.  You may remember that the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, freed 70 players from the Cardinal minor league system when they were developing it because he didn’t like them having that much control over players.  There was less justification for punishment then than now, so I expect there will be something coming down the pipe.  Baseball’s never punished by removing draft picks or the like, but there’s no other real fitting punishment here.  Perhaps the fact that it seems limited to just Correa, the Cards did their own investigation, and made sure to fire him without pressure, that they’ll be just fined.  (And, as we’ve talked much this offseason, it’s money they have and peace they lack.)  There’s no guarantee on that, however.  You could easily imagine MLB trying to set an example on this kind of thing.

Correa continues to claim that he found St. Louis information in the Houston database.  While that’s not justification and, as we’ve noted, I don’t think that’s all that Correa was doing, even if that was his initial motivation, just because someone is a criminal doesn’t mean they are completely lying about everything.  Does Houston have Cardinal stuff or Cardinal-inspired stuff?  There’s a significant different.  I think it’s pretty accepted that Ground Control was based on RedbirdDog, that Luhnow put together something similar once he went to the Astros, but that’s not exactly copyright infringement.  Now, if he took methods and information that he had said he would leave in St. Louis, that’s a different story.  I’m not saying this needs to be a full-blown investigation or that Houston actually has this stuff, but I think it should be looked into.  Given that Bill DeWitt helped pick this commissioner, at least he should be able to put his case forward to the commissioner if he wants, though I wouldn’t be surprised if DeWitt and John Mozeliak just want the whole thing over and aren’t concerned with if and what Houston might have taken.

I feel like the Cardinals have done what they needed to do in this situation, but they are responsible for what happens with their employees to some degree.  Punishment should be mitigated by their actions, but there will likely be punishment coming.  It’s not over yet, unfortunately.

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It’s been quiet of late, but there’s no doubt that 2015 had its share of newsworthy moments.  Every season has its plotlines, its notable occurrences, but this year will be memorable for a number of different reasons.  There were enough of these that started with the same letter (if I stretched) that I figured I’d make it a theme.  When you think back on 2015, you’ll think of….

1) Heyward.  While the trade for Jason Heyward was made in the 2014 portion of the offseason, no one person dominated our thinking this year more than the outfielder.  From his introduction at Winter Warm Up in January to his slow start in April, Heyward started out with the headlines and never really relinquished them.  His free agency was a thread that ran throughout the whole season, with folks continuing to try to read the tea leaves to see whether he was staying or going.  While everyone was doing that, Heyward started hitting and wound up as the most potent overall force in the lineup.  We’ll not soon forget his outfield play (even if Yadier Molina is still paying for that throw in Chicago) and most anyone that was hating on him when he hit around .200 in April was fully on his side when the season ended.

Which made his decision to leave St. Louis for Chicago even more painful.  It’s one thing to leave for more money or a different out of division spot, but the Cubs?  A lot was made of Heyward’s comments about Chicago being “younger” but whatever the reason, whether youth or money or a chance at history, Heyward’s turn made a lot of people feel like shouting like this guy:

FORCStormtrooper-trailer

(If you aren’t expecting Force Awakens references here, I don’t know what to tell you.)

Heyward will spend at least the next three years coming into Busch Stadium three times a year as an opposing player.  That’s not a wonderful thing to look forward to, but it definitely will always remind us of this year.

2) Hundred.  100 wins isn’t easy to come by, especially when the offense is less than impressive.  The Cardinal pitching staff was historic (which continues our theme), allowing 70 fewer runs than the next best team in the NL Central.  The team was hurting (another theme word) all season long, with Adam Wainwright going down at the end of April setting a tone that saw just about every major piece miss some time during the season.  (The injuries didn’t stop after the season either, with Lance Lynn already out for the entire 2016 campaign.)  To have a team that was flawed like this one was, most notably with injuries, turn in the best record in baseball and become the first 100 win team since 2011 in Philadelphia was a remarkable achievement and one that we’ll probably remember for a while.  If nothing else, it’ll be used as a “last time the Cards won 100″ marker.

3) Hacking.  In what was possibly the most stunning thing related to the Cardinals in quite some time, in mid-summer it was announced that the FBI was looking into the organization in relation to the release of private information from the Houston Astros.  Nobody ever expected this organization to be at all involved and we looked at it from both humorous and serious angles at the time, not expecting it to be anything more than low-level shenanigans.  Instead, eventually the scouting director, Chris Correa, was let go in relation to this right after the June draft.  Correa was lower in the organization at the time of the hacking, but it still was not a good look for such a high level guy to be caught up in this.

Of course, this also led to a lot more slams and shots at the Cardinals, a club that somehow has surpassed the Yankees on the “teams the general public loves to hate” list.  It was a black eye for St. Louis, there’s no denying that, but it does not seem to have been a systemic issue nor a cultural one, but more of one person’s overstepping of what should be done.  The investigation is still ongoing, which means we may here some of that in 2016 as well, but likely the bulk of the scandal will remain in ’15.

4) Humbled.  Beyond the hacking, the myth of the Cardinals, the ones that always were able to be a postseason winner, who always seemed to find a way to the NLCS, was punctured like planets in the Hosnian system.  For the first time since 2009 and only the third time in their history, the Cardinals were unable to get past the NLDS when they made it to the playoffs.  What was even worse, of course, is that it came at the hands of their long-time rivals in their first October meeting.  While the series was over in four games, it was a closer one than that and it could have easily turned St. Louis’s way if Jaime Garcia hadn’t been pitching sick or any other of small things broke in their favor.  That said, the Cubs slugged their way into the NLCS and the Cardinals weren’t able to deal with that.  If they are to make sure to be a roadblock in the way of Chicago finally having postseason glory, they’ll have to be able to shut down those young power bats.

5) Hunting.  The Cardinals may not have been successful this offseason (and you can argue whether that was their fault or not) but there’s no doubt that they were more aggressive in certain pursuits than we’ve seen them be in the past.  They offered almost $200 million to a pitcher (David Price) and over $200 million to Heyward.  They were stymied in every way, though, as Price wound up taking a late larger offer from Boston and Heyward, as mentioned, took less overall money to go to Chicago.  Still, their willingness to go beyond their comfort level for players that they saw as being additions to the core of the team going forward was nice to see, even if it was fruitless.

That aggressiveness was limited to just those two players, though.  While the Cardinals did sign Mike Leake to a five year deal, that was more insurance and security than an exciting addition.  Leake may be core by default, given he’s got a no-trade clause, but nobody expects him to be in the same breath as Chris Carpenter or Wainwright at the end of the deal.  (If he can be in the Kyle Lohse conversation, we’ll call it a win.)  The club has also stated they are fine with their offense, though with numerous outfielders still on the market that seems a bit questionable and something that may change if prices continue to drop.

There was a lot that happened in the past year, but there are plenty of things to wonder about for 2016.  Will the team be healthier?  Will John Mozeliak have a better trade deadline?  Can this team hold off Pittsburgh and Chicago or will this be a year that is wild-card or, horror of horrors, a playoff-less October?  Can the young guys step up and can the veterans hold off Father Time a bit longer?  Will Molina be OK after his surgeries?  So much to look forward to.  The WWU is just three weeks away and spring training kicks off in about six.  Here’s to a great new year!

 

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Anyone that has read me, followed me on Twitter, or actually exchanged more than a handful of words with me knows that I’m a huge fan of Star Wars.  Unsurprisingly, this passion has occasionally mingled in with the love of the Cardinals.  In the 8 1/2 years that I’ve been writing, I’ve had seven posts that celebrate this mashup.  With The Force Awakens coming out officially today (when this post publishes, I’ve already seen the movie in one of the early showings….and likely had to talk myself out of seeing it again at one of the late ones), it seemed a good time to revisit when a galaxy far, far away melded with baseball, where red didn’t automatically mean the Sith.

Costuming the Cardinals (October 30, 2008)
In time for Halloween, what the then Cardinals (and a few ex-Cardinals of recent vintage) should go as if limiting themselves to Star Wars outfits.

The Force Is With the Cardinals, Always (May 4, 2011)
The first of the Star Wars Day posts, this one is another of the “players corresponding to various characters” but updated for the fact three years had passed.

I Sense a Disturbance In The Force (October 31, 2012)
What if certain classic scenes in the original movie had a Cardinal tint?  That’d be strange and, also, this post.

Questions Relevant To May The Fourth
 (May 4, 2013)
Another Star Wars day post, this time with questions that Derrick Goold and Jenifer Langosch wouldn’t ask players and management, but should have.

May The Force Be With You
 (August 7, 2013)
Completing the trilogy of characters/players post, this time to go along with the very first Star Wars night.

Not That Long Ago in a Farm System Very, Very Close (May 4, 2014)
If Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and others were minor league prospects in the Cardinal system, a meeting about them might go like this.

Jedi League Episode I: The Offensive Plague (July 9, 2014)
For the second Star Wars Night at Busch Stadium, a screenplay about Cardinals as Jedi trying to figure out how to improve the offense. Also, the inception of #SithLord for a certain now former player.

Jedi League Episode II: Surrender of the Bats (July 29, 2015)
The third Star Wars Night came around with a similar offensive funk happening.  This was the result.

This doesn’t count, of course, the myriad of Star Wars references and callbacks that happen in the regular posts, whether it be in the title like this or this or this (which, sadly, doesn’t seem to be the case anymore) just in the general course of the writing, like basically every other post on the site.  With a new movie out now and four more movies between now and May of 2019, the pool of reference material is only going to grow deeper.  Brace yourselves.

And, of course, may the Force be with you.

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The Christmas Ghosts Return

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, I adapted the classic A Christmas Carol to the Cardinal front office, most specifically John Mozeliak.  With the way this offseason is going, it seemed like it might be time for the ghosts to make a return.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Mozeliak.”

John Mozeliak, the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, looked up from his desk.  While much of the Internet might be wondering just what was going on in the front office of the organization, there was still plenty of paperwork and other items to take care of and, as was his tradition, he was one of the last ones at 700 Clark Avenue again this Christmas Eve.

“The same to you, Lindsey.  Are you the last one besides me?”

“There are a few still straggling about, but most everyone is either gone or heading that way.  You’ll pardon us if we don’t wait on you before we start our holiday.  We know how you get this time of year,” Lindsey smiled.

Mozeliak returned the grin. “Yes, I guess I am usually the one burning the midnight oil while others are out having their Christmas celebrations.  I keep telling myself this year will be different, but it never seems to be that way.”

“Well, it’s not easy running a ballclub, from what I hear.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Mo acquiesced that, perhaps, there was something to that.  “Enjoy your holiday, Lindsey.  Tell everyone else to get out of here as well.”

Returning to the papers on his desk, he sighed.  This wasn’t the Christmas he’d been planning on.  He thought by now there’d be David Price or Jason Heyward jerseys flying off the racks at the team store levels below.  Instead, the Heyward jerseys were marked half off and still were sitting there, a testament to what happens to the best laid plans.

He fiddled with a spreadsheet, sent a text to an agent, then got up from his desk and looked out the window.  The city sprawled out on the other side of the glass, lit up with the regular lights of downtown plus some red, green, and white ones of the season.  It was beautiful and peaceful, but Mozeliak looked past it, unseeing as he dwelt in his thoughts.

Those thoughts turned to recent Christmas Eves, when he was visited by ghosts of Cardinal pasts, presents, and futures.  Experiencing what the ghosts had to show him had always been a powerful way to sort through things that were going on in his professional life.  Two years ago, he’d waited expectantly for the specter of Mike Shannon to arrive in his office to herald the coming of whatever three ghosts would be appearing this year.  Shannon never showed, though, and last year was the same.  Had the ghosts forgotten about him?  Had they found someone else to haunt?  Given their recent success, had they transformed into aids for Theo Epstein in Chicago?

“Now, big boy, you know better than to think we’d be helpin’ those baby bears.”

Mozeliak whirled and, sure enough, the glowing image of Shannon was somehow seated in one of the chairs across from his desk.  It looked just like the long-time Cardinal broadcaster had become one with the Force and was hanging out with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The first time he’d seen this, he immediately had checked in on the living Shannon, who was quite bewildered about a late night holiday call.

“Heh, heh, heh. Thought we’d forgot ‘cha, did ya?  Naw, things are not always as they appear to be as.  The last couple of years, you seemed to have a pretty good handle on things.  Wasn’t much this old country boy could show you.  Now, I don’t know, maybe we can, maybe we can’t.  Worth a try, right?”

Mo sat at his desk and contemplated his visitor.  It was true that he was in a place of upheaval.  Even if the ghosts couldn’t get him settled with his approach, he always enjoyed his trips, usually getting to see some amazing players playing a wonderful game as a great Christmas gift.

“All right, let’s do this. Who are we going to see first?”

Shannon hesitated.  “You’ll be visited by three ghosts as normal, all right, but I’m not sure you’ll find this go-round quite as much to your liking. It’ll be a bit different than your normal. These trips began as a tiny worm but they just may have blossomed into a large cobra.”

Before Mozeliak could question the spirit further, Shannon snapped his fingers and disappeared.

A different trip this time?  Not as much to my liking?  Mozeliak continued to ponder this, staring at his computer screen but not seeing what was on it.  Time slipped away, and while Mo finally could focus on his work, the sensation of impending doom couldn’t be shaken.

“Are you ready, John?”

Startled, Mozeliak looked across his desk and saw a glowing Chris Carpenter tapping his foot impatiently.  The former Cardinal righthander was wearing his old uniform and looked at Mo like he was Brendan Ryan and had forgotten his glove again.

Knowing better than to make that legendary temper wait, Mozeliak quickly nodded and got up from his chair, coming around the desk to take hold of Carpenter’s sleeve.

“Do I get to know where we are going, Carp?”

“We’ll be there shortly.  This time, we’re not going deep into history.”

Sure enough, they were instantaneously deposited in a new time and a new place.  Mozeliak looked around, puzzled.

“Wait a minute, this can’t be right.  Usually the Ghost of Cardinal Past takes me to a ballgame to see one of the greats play.  We’re in a conference room and we’re not even in Busch Stadium.  What in the world is going on here?”

The room was fairly uniform, with a long table in the front and numerous chairs facing it.  Mozeliak started to examine the room, but suddenly the doors opened and reporters began taking the seats facing the table.  They checked their equipment, started jotting notes, and settled in for what looked to be an important event.

Mozeliak, who knew by now that he couldn’t be seen by anyone on these visits, started walking around the room, looking for clues.  He finally glanced at the background behind the table and blanched.

“Spirit, no.  I’ve been here before.  Four years ago, I had to see the results of this first-hand.  Must I do it again?”

“John, this was a defining moment not only in your history, but in the long history of the Cardinals.  It’s not surprising that you’ll return to it again and again, finding lessons that you weren’t aware of before.”

A side door opened and, walking in front of the Angels logo, was the front office of the Los Angeles club along with former Cardinal Albert Pujols.  A contract, more for show than anything else, was at Pujols’s seat.  Before the reporters started their questions, Pujols affixed his signature to the document, locking his future with the Angels for the next decade.

“Wait a minute, Carp.  Isn’t the lesson here that things will be all right?  That if we can survive losing a talent such as Pujols, we can weather just about any storm?”

“I don’t provide the lessons, just the travel.  Besides, this is only half of the visit.  Let me take you to the other half.”

The room swam, then came into focus.  They were in another conference room, but this one was much more familiar.  The green Edward Jones background dotted with the Cardinal logo told Mozeliak he was back home.  This time, Carpenter had brought him right in the middle of the press conference, as he stood next to Derrick Goold while the reporter posed a question.  Glancing at the table, he was only somewhat startled to see himself up there, presenting the newest Cardinal to the press corps.

“Ah, when we signed Carlos Beltran.  That was a nice day.  Though I’m not sure exactly what we are doing here and how this relates to what’s going on with me currently.”

Carpenter flashed an irritated glance at the general manager.  “Don’t make me put a fastball in your ribs, John.  Again, I’m not here to spoonfeed you.  Think it through.  What possible reason could we have for bringing you to this point?”

Baffled, Mozeliak walked around the conference room, seeing his younger self extolling the virtues of the newly acquired outfielder.  He listened to himself talk about Beltran providing a potent bat and a very nice glove, of him being that veteran presence that would fit well in the Cardinal clubhouse.

“I’m seeing a couple of things that could be relevant, but I’m still not sure of what I’m supposed to take from this,” Mo slowly stated.

Carpenter sighed.  “All I can do is give you the puzzle pieces.  Perhaps your next visitor can do a little more.”

With a flash, Mozeliak found himself sitting at his desk in Busch Stadium again.  Carpenter was gone, no doubt heading to some sort of spectral baseball game to take out some frustrations.  Mo leaned back in his chair, deep in thought.

“When Pujols left, it was a devastating time, sure.  Surely Heyward isn’t quite to that level, though?  A guy that we’d only had as a Cardinal for a year?  Sure, it was a nice fit, but the history isn’t there.  Why would they be showing me something that just happened a few years ago?  I mean, I was there, I should know all about that, shouldn’t I?”

“Just because you were a part of something doesn’t mean you appreciate it fully.”

Startled out of his reverie, Mozeliak found himself staring at the current ace of the Cardinals, albeit in Force Ghost mode.

Adam Wainwright continued, “I mean, I was involved with the 2011 team, but did I appreciate that Series win as much as I could have?  Probably not.  I don’t know that I even appreciated ’06 until some time had passed.  Sometimes you gotta get the long view.  Which is pretty ironic, since I’m the Ghost of Cardinal Present.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mozeliak chuckled.  “So do we get to go to a game this time around?” he asked as he came around to stand next to the tall Georgian.

“Sorry, but that’s not on the list they gave me.  We’ve got two stops, but neither of them involve kicking back in the bleachers.”

The room dissolved and, once again, Mozeliak found him in another room with another press conference.  The white and blue motif made it quickly apparent where they had stopped.

“When you say the present, you aren’t kidding,” said Mozeliak.  “This just happened a week ago.”

As Jason Heyward was being fitted for his Cubs jersey with management and discussing his reasoning to leave St. Louis for the Friendly Confines, Mo again went over the whole negotiating process in his head.  Could they have done more?  Should they have done more?  They stretched, sure, but did they stretch enough?  Was there anything that they reasonably could have done?  What was reasonable anymore in this day and age of billion dollar TV contracts?  The doubts and questions continued to circle.

Wainwright nudged him.  “Hey, as that droid said in Star Wars, he made a fair move and screaming about it can’t help you.  You gotta learn from it, but you can’t let it paralyze you like Beltran looking at that curveball.”

Mozeliak glanced at the ghost.  “I thought you were only supposed to provide the puzzle pieces, not solve the puzzle.”

Waino grinned and said, “Who said I solved it?  There’s more to this than that simple moral.”

Mo contemplated.  “It’s not like our internal options are a bad thing.  I feel pretty comfortable with what we have.  We still have a good team.”

“Before you go down that road too far,” said Wainwright, “let’s move on to our next spot.”

For once, when the scene snapped back into focus, Mozeliak didn’t find himself in a faceless conference room with tables and chairs.  Instead, he stood outside a condominium in someplace that wasn’t St. Louis.  The wind had more of a chill than he’d left back in Missouri and the landscape was dark with much less urban bustle than he was used to.

“Spirit, where are we?”

Without answering, Wainwright pointed at one of the windows.  Mo could see that inside, a young woman was playing with a cute dog in front of a tastefully decorated Christmas tree.

“Do you see that woman?  That’s a woman that’s enjoying the Christmas season, but there’s a little piece that’s broken.  That’s a woman that’s trusted in Cardinal management for a long time, that’s defended Cardinal management often, but finds herself in a place unfamiliar, a place where she’s questioning just exactly what the plan is.  That’s a woman who has been unable to blog about the Cardinals since all of this started and found herself in an uncharacteristic rant against what was happening.

Where we are doesn’t matter.  Who that is doesn’t matter.  What matters is that she’s not alone.  Cardinal Nation is shaken, more shaken than it’s been in a while.  Perhaps it is temporary.  Perhaps your team can be on top again next year.  But what if it isn’t?  What if, after all this, you miss the playoffs?  What then?”

Mo was quiet, thinking about what the spirit had said.  He did believe in his team, he did believe in the process, but he could understand why others might not.  He didn’t and couldn’t share all his information, all his plans.  He also knew it was a tightrope to expect trust without results.  Actions often bought some grace period if they were accepted, though as he found out this summer, even action can be an issue if the price is too high.

It was a data point. What the data point meant, how much value he should give to it, he wasn’t sure yet.  There was thinking left to do there, because the best plans on paper don’t always consider the personal and emotional aspect.

The internal options might be fine, but the more he thought about it, Mozeliak realized what the Beltran visit may have meant.  Sometimes you have to supplement, sometimes you have to go outside the organization to help those that are in it.  Sometimes a move to assuage the loss could be a very important move to make.  There’s a cautious level and there’s a crazy level, but sometimes you can find a happy medium.

Suddenly, he realized that he was much warmer.  He’d returned to his office at some point, sitting again in the chair behind his desk with the same spreadsheet on the screen in front of him.  The numbers and plans still made sense, but he started to wonder if there wasn’t something they were missing.

He looked around the office.  There were no sounds coming from the rest of the floor, so everyone must have finally gotten off to their celebrations.  He began to pace back and forth, trying to figure out just what the best course of action should be.

After a few crossings of his carpet with his head down as he worked out different options, he bumped into something, something that hadn’t been there before.  A hooded figure, cloaked in black.

Mozeliak chuckled.  “Man, really getting into the traditional look this time, are we?  Who is it this time?  Stephen Piscotty?  Alex Reyes?  Luke, Luke Weaver is that you?”

The figure kept silent and, somehow, Mozeliak felt the goosebumps rising on his arm.  Without saying a word, the dark character lifted his arm and beckoned for the general manager to stand beside him.  Uneasily, Mozeliak complied and then was transported into something he never would have expected.

It was Busch Stadium.  At least, it used to be.

The facade was crumbling and caving in.  Only the “h” in Busch and the “adi” from Stadium still could be found from the sign, laying in the surrounding rubble where they had fallen from their normal place at the top of the structure.  Smoke filled the air and fires raged throughout the area.  In the distance, gunfire could be heard as battles took place on what used to be the streets of a major metropolitan city.

While Mozeliak was still trying to figure out what in the world was happening, two young men came around a corner and ducked into the remnants of the old park.  As always, they couldn’t see Mo, so he got closer to them, trying to pick up clues to what was going on.  Finally, he got into earshot of their conversation.

“I always thought that was a myth!” said one.

“Apparently not,” said the other.  “This is insane.  Have you heard how far this goes?”

“Communications are sketchy with the major networks no longer able to transmit, but it seems worldwide.  I’ve heard California actually did break off with those terrible earthquakes.  Somebody said nothing on the East Coast is still in one piece.  It’s terrible.”

“Hang on, I think there may be a gap in the gunfire.  Let’s make a run for it!”

The men took off, looking for safety in a world that suddenly didn’t seem to have any.  What could have caused this?  Mozeliak couldn’t figure out why he’d be brought to such a time.

“Spirit, why am I here?”

The hooded figure still not speak, but pointed at an overturned newspaper container.  Picking his way through the crushed glass and strewn brick, Mozeliak finally reached it and looked at the headline of the last paper printed.

“CUBS WIN WORLD SERIES”

The fact, spelled out in bold black letters, shook Mozeliak.  Yes, he knew that was always a possibility and yes, he knew that the Cubs were building a good team, but he never expected this kind of havoc to be unleashed.  There’d always been that joke that the world would end if Chicago ever ended their curse, but it was always a joke.  Apparently there was some truth to this.

“Spirit, tell me, is this my fault?  Can I fix this?  Is it set in stone that these things will come to pass?”

The spirit remained quiet.

“Spirit, speak to me!  I must know!”

Finally, words came from the hooded being.

“You know, I’m trying to decide whether I’m more upset about the Cubs winning or the fact that now we’ll never know how the Star Wars saga ended up.”

With a jolt, Mozeliak found himself back in his Busch Stadium, safe and sound (as much as St. Louis gets, of course) and still in one piece.  Shaken, he took some calming breaths before picking up the phone.

“Bill, it’s John.  Merry Christmas to you as well.  Can I make a visit to you on Saturday?  I think we really need to rethink how aggressive we plan to be the rest of the offseason…….”

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Heyward and the Future

I’ve discussed Jason Heyward’s decision on Best Dans in Baseball and had a good old-fashioned rant fest with Tara on Gateway to Baseball Heaven last night*.  Much of this post may be a recap of those two shows, but I’ll put it down here so I can work through a few other things as well.

*Last night, after the show, I tweeted this. It seemed accurate.

So Heyward is off to Chicago.  Given the fact that this is Star Wars week, this seemed appropriate.

Sith

Balance

You can understand Heyward’s thinking even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.  More money up front, a chance to take another bite at the apple, the chance with a World Series win to be thought of in this way by folks from the future.

Legends

However, while we can understand the reasons why Jason Heyward now wears blue pinstripes (sadly, he wasn’t quite Han Solo), it doesn’t mean that Cardinal fans, as a whole, are going to accept them, especially when Heyward rejected a more lucrative total offer from the club to go play in Chicago.  The Albert Pujols signing (and Tara laid out some great reasons why this is very different than that situation last night on the show) at least had the benefit of him being out of sight, out of mind.  AP’s had roughly 12 or so at-bats against the Redbirds since the Angels signed him.  The Cards will see that much of Heyward by May (at a guess–I’m not actually looking at a schedule but you get the point).  I don’t expect he’ll likely get the warm former player welcome that Skip Schumaker and company have received.  If fans are still booing Brandon Phillips, how long before Heyward gets just an ignored reaction?

The results of the last couple of months have brought up some issues relating to the Cardinal front office, though.  Questions that seemed buried are coming back to life.

Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fort-…“–Admiral Motti

The Cardinals have, for a while now, been very disciplined in how they approach signing players.  For the most part, I think that’s amazingly admirable and it’s produced some great results.  I don’t fault them for their formulaic outlook on the different markets.  It’s helped the squad avoid any real terrible contracts and has given us five straight playoff years.  I don’t want them to vary much from that.

However, being slavishly devoted to a plan can be a problem as well.  Yes, they “stretched” to go after Heyward and David Price, but how much did they stretch?  After losing Price and seeing that Heyward was going to their most dangerous (wow, I can’t believe I’m saying that, but it’s true) rivals, did they stretch even more?  Was their creativity the issue or their pocketbook?  I’ll admit, trying to counteract two opt-outs, something that had never been given before, is a difficult thing to do.  Still, when it’s your top priority, you do everything you can to make that happen.  From the outside looking in, it doesn’t feel like that happened.  That may be a misconception, but unfortunately it’s one that is going to be prevalent for a while.

“Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”–Obi-Wan Kenobi

This weekend, Mozeliak made public pronouncements that, even though there are other outfield options on the free agent market, the club isn’t seeing a “dynamic” player and therefore won’t be making any dynamic offers.  Which led to some predictable angst and accusations of cheapness on the part of ownership.  A not unexpected reaction and, indeed, I’ve been more amenable to those arguments than I have been in the past after this.

That said, look, ownership okayed 200 million to Heyward and 185 million or so to Price.  That’s not the actions of people that don’t want to spend money.  Since Bill DeWitt took over, they’ve tried to be smart with their money, spending on players that they are comfortable with and that they believe can make a difference.  They aren’t spending just to spend and I think that makes some sense.  Just because you have $20 in your pocket doesn’t mean you can’t come home with it, which is a lesson I never seem to have learned but that’s beside the point.

In poker, after a tough loss or a bad beat, there’s that tendency for a player to go “on tilt”, throwing around money trying to win back what they just lost and basically abandoning their focused strategy.  Usually that’s when mistakes happen.  So I can understand ownership revamping and not wanting to just chase a player because they are out there.

However, while you can dream on what the Cardinals have right now and hope for some sort of regression from the Cubs, the simple truth is that the Cubs are the clear favorites in the division and, right now, you have to hope St. Louis has enough for that one-game wild card playoff, a situation that none of us ever want to see again.  Yes, you can have an outfield of Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty and, best case scenario, that’s not a bad outfield.  However, Holliday’s closer to the end of his career than the middle and is coming off injuries that kept him off the field most of the year.  Grichuk also dealt with injuries and while he obviously has power, there’s some downsides to his game as well.  Piscotty well may have been the second half MVP last year, but he had a .372 BABIP.  Chances are, that comes down a bit, plus teams will have the offseason to plan on how to approach him.  Will he make the adjustments?

Then, at first base, you have Matt Adams and Brandon Moss.  Adams coming off injury and there were questions about him even before then.  Perhaps with Moss taking the brunt of the lefties you’ll have them meld into one solid first baseman, but that seems to be expecting quite a bit.  Moss did look a bit better at the end of the year and will be farther away from his own surgery, with a regular offseason of training and work, but it’s still hard to rely on him to be this 25 homer guy, even if he splits time in the outfield.

Basically, right now we need everyone to play at their best case scenario level to be able to compete and we saw in 2015 how fast “best case” becomes “tenth-best case”.  The Cardinals needed a historic year from their pitching staff, a staff that’s already taken a serious hit with the loss of Lance Lynn.  They aren’t going to pitch at that level again next year, especially since they aren’t adding a top-notch pitcher into that mix.  You bring in Price, you have Wainwright return, and maybe you could weather the defection of Heyward.  Now, with what’s left out there, it seems doubtful.  Probably the best pitcher still available on the market is Johnny Cueto, and if you think letting Heyward go was a PR nightmare, replacing him with Cueto might mean structural damage to Busch Stadium given the torches and pitchforks.

There’s still the trade option (though the talent you’d have to give up to get a game changer is probably more than this organization would ever part with) and perhaps Mo can still pull out something that will let folks feel like this offseason has been salvaged, but losing out on two prime free agents–when the Cardinals legitimately could have had one or both of them–means there’s little way this winter feels like a win.

They play the games on the field, though, and the team that wins the offseason doesn’t even get a nice trophy for that (talk to the Padres, Blue Jays, and Nationals of recent years), so you never know what’s going to happen until the first pitch.  It could be we’ll look back on this in a similar fashion as Pujols, feeling the bullet has been dodged.  We’ll see.  (Even when Pujols left, they got Carlos Beltran.)  Mo’s gambling on the system being better than the individual parts.  It may be the most risky thing he’s done since becoming a general manager.

 

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Broxton Returns

No financial details yet, and it’s not the free agent we’ve been waiting for, but Tom Ackerman of KMOX is reporting Jonathan Broxton has signed a two-year deal to return to St. Louis.

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Multiple sources are reporting that the Cardinals have acquired Jedd Gyorko from the Padres for Jon Jay. Gyorko hit .247/.297/.347 last year but had 16 HR in 128 games and can play 2B and SS.

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