C70 At The Bat

There are many reasons why one becomes a fan.  Perhaps there’s a player with a fun name or a name that is similar to yours on a team that you are watching.  Perhaps a player hit a big home run or piled up some strikeouts at the first game you remember attending.  Perhaps it’s passed down through the generations, perhaps you become a fan of another team to spite those generations.

Fandom is not rational.  Why should I be a fan of the Cardinals when the Royals are closer to where I live and the Rangers are just as far away?  Why do I deck myself out in red rather than blue, save for the more pleasing effect on my sanity?  It probably helped that as I was starting to follow baseball, the Cardinals were in the midst of their strong run in the 1980s.  It definitely helped that they had Ozzie Smith patrolling the infield.  To this day, I can’t tell you if I liked the Cardinals first or the Wizard first.

So when, in 2012, the Cardinals announced that they were bringing up Tyler Lyons from Memphis, it didn’t really register on me.  I’m not a big prospect watcher like the guys at Future Redbirds or CardinalsFarm, and while I’d probably heard the name somewhere along the way, it didn’t make a big impact.

Until they announced that he’d wear the number 70.

If there was a Lyons bandwagon then, I immediately got on and shoved myself to the front of the line.  I’ve cheered for him, defended him on Twitter, and argued for his placement on the postseason roster.  And while I’ve believed those arguments and they have merit, there’s a strong likelihood I would not be so passionate about it had they assigned him 71 or 68.  That number means something to me.

Tonight, in what is really one of the highlights of my blogging career, I’ll get a chance to interview the Patron Pitcher of the Blog.  While there’s no doubt I’ll be asking about his number, I wanted to look into his history, see what other things to ask about.  Given that the blog posts have been sporadic around here recently, it seemed a good way also to kill two birds with one stone.  Let’s take a look at Wikipedia and see what we find.

For example, did you know that Lyons was a two-sport star in high school before focusing his attention (wisely) on baseball and going to Oklahoma State to play ball there?  He was fourth in the country in wins during 2008 while a Cowboy and got to play with Team USA that summer, when they won a gold medal in the FISU World Championships.  He didn’t give up an earned run in any of his appearances during that run.

He was drafted by the Yankees in 2009 but didn’t sign.  Usually, you’d think that he was a late round pick to turn down that opportunity, but as a 10th-round selection, it’s a little more notable that he rejected going to such a decorated organization.  Granted, there’s no telling what the negotiations were like and he did have another year of school to use as leverage, but it is interesting that he was confident enough to go back to school.

The Cards drafted him the next year in the ninth round, so he did move up a slot by going back to Stillwater.  He started his minor league career the next season and quickly made an impact, being the first player to throw a no-hitter at Palm Beach in their history.  The overall ERA wasn’t superb, but he did manage nine wins.

The next season, he quickly ran through Springfield before running into a bit of a wall in Memphis.  He was sent back to the land of the blues to start the ’13 campaign, but injuries led him to his first major league start on May 22, 2013 in San Diego.

I still remember writing up the post, one of my last before moving over here to the Conclave, and that picture of the big 70 across his back as he shut down the Padres.  He had back to back strong outings, allowing just one run in seven innings both times, before faultering a bit and then returning to Memphis.

He returned later that season and seemed to find a home in the bullpen.  Save for an up-and-down spot start in July, when he was just called up because of a double header, he returned in August and had four of his five appearances come in relief.  In each of them, he went at least two innings and in only one of them did he allow a run.

With his experience on a team that was less stocked with pitching talent, he well might have been assured a spot on the Opening Dday roster.  Instead, he start in Memphis again in 2014, though he was promoted by the end of April.  He had three starts, two good, one middling, and a couple of good outings out of the pen.

Then the Cubs happened.

Making the start on May 12, the Cubs got four in the first, three in the second and two in the fourth off of Lyons.  The Cubs hit him hard and hit him often.  He allowed two home runs in that span and Chicago wound up with a 17-5 win.

You can allow a lot of runs in a game if you have the pedigree of Adam Wainwright and not have too many repercussions.  Not so much for a second-year player.  Lyons was sent out after that game back to Memphis.  He pitched well for the Redbirds and became the club’s career leader in complete games.

He came up and got one appearance in July, allowing four runs in three innings (though none were earned) in a game that was already fairly out of reach.  He was sent down and didn’t return until August 30, when he faced the Cubs again.  This time, the results were a bit different.

Lyons came into the game with the Cards down 5-1 after another rough outing by Justin Masterson.  He got the last two men out in the fifth, then went the distance, allowing Chicago no more runs, only one more hit, and striking out eight of the 14 men he faced.

The Patron Pitcher only received three more appearances during the rest of the season, going almost two weeks between the last two.  He took the loss against the Reds on September 10 when he allowed two runs (one earned) in 2.1 innings.  He wrapped up the season with 0.2 scoreless innings against, yes, the Cubs.

If there weren’t so many lefties in the bullpen or so many wonderful starters in the rotation, Lyons would seem to be a lock for the roster this coming year.  He’s a guy that can give you solid innings, who is versatile enough to go from rotation to relief, and will just turn 27 in about a month.  He’ll likely never be a top-of-the-line guy, but you win with solid contributors like him.  I’ll be keeping an eye on him in Jupiter, seeing how the Cards are using him and how he’s doing with the tasks assigned.  No matter the outcome, I’ll always be a fan.

As long as he doesn’t change that number, of course.

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There’s been a lot of talk about pitching this offseason.  Whether it’s a pitcher that’s gone (Shelby Miller), a pitcher possibly changing roles (Carlos Martinez) or a pitcher that never materialized (Max Scherzer), a strength of the Cardinals has been the talk of the town, more than you’d expect after 23 shutouts as a staff (and given the offensive weakness of last year–you’d think we’d be talking about the hitters!)  Pitching is the name of the game and the name of this hot stove season.

However, in all the talk this winter, one name has been pretty overlooked.  Not entirely–you’ll hear his name pop up from time to time–but not seriously considered.  Yet Jaime Garcia could be the X factor, the monkey wrench, the good-problem-to-have headache of the 2015 season.

Let’s start with the big number: $9.25 million.  That’s how much Garcia gets paid next year, whether he starts 30 games or if the only baseball he plays is on his XBox.  (Is that what the kids play these days?  I still only have a Playstation 2, so I’m quite out of the loop.)  Garcia’s salary most likely will be a significant tiebreaker in any sort of competition.  If he’s healthy, my feeling is he at least starts the year as the #5 starter.

Is that a bad thing?  Again, you are assuming health here and that’s a dangerous assumption to make with Garcia, who has thrown less than 100 innings in the past two seasons combined.  Garcia had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, the same thing that made Chris Carpenter‘s last real good run the 2011 playoffs, even though he didn’t retire until after 2013.  Carpenter didn’t have much success battling the injury and there’s a strong probability that Garcia won’t either.  While reports are glowing right now, they were pretty good for Carpenter in the offseason as well.  It was when the daily grind started that the injury would really rear its head.

Let’s say he’s healthy, though, and that John Mozeliak has forgiven him for the way he went about the surgery.  That means the Cardinals would have a 28-year-old lefty pitcher with strikeout stuff and a fairly rested arm.  Garcia’s ability has never been in doubt, as he already has two seasons with 13 wins and, save his baptism into the league in 2008, has never had a FIP over 4.00.  Without the last couple of games last year, when he was likely dealing with the injury, you could drop that level down to 3.75.

It seems to be a given right now that Martinez will be the man for the rotation, the man they cleared room for by dealing off Miller in the Heyward trade.  There’s no doubt that Martinez has some electric stuff of his own and I’ve argued that you have to get him out of the bullpen soon before he becomes too valuable to move and gets stuck there like Trevor Rosenthal.  Without Garcia, I’d say the best thing would be for Martinez to go into the rotation and Marco Gonzales to be a long man in the pen (though that would mean a lot of lefties down there, not even counting the Patron Pitcher of the Blog).

If Garcia is right, though, I think you have to start him, slide Martinez into some role in the bullpen (the eighth is possible, but that would seem to be Jordan Walden‘s spot) and let Gonzales start in Memphis while waiting for the seemingly inevitable injury.

That inevitability is why there’s a problem.  Because with a reasonably healthy Garcia, maybe you make some sort of deal.  Maybe you trade John Lackey off.  Maybe you move Gonzales for some top prospect.  However, in the back of your mind you know Garcia’s not likely to last.  That you’ll need that depth eventually.

That’s the frustrating part for both Garcia and the club.  They are both holding their breath, waiting to see just what that shoulder will do, whether the arm will stay sound.  Garcia would like to pitch well enough that the Cards would at least consider picking up that $11.5 million option for ’16.  If he can do that, even if they let him go another team would be on him in a heartbeat.

However, if he follows the Carpenter path, this could be the last real payday for Garcia.  Another injury-riddled year and the best he likely could hope for was a one-year, make-good contract with someone after the Cards decline the option.  This is–pardon the pun–a make or break year for Garcia.  If he breaks, it could be very, very costly.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been a huge Garcia fan.  His seeming inability to pitch on the road or out of his routine was irksome.  However, he seemed to be doing better with that last year and we all felt Lance Lynn‘s blowup innings were a major pain until he stopped doing them.  There’s no reason to think Garcia couldn’t make a similar stride in his game.

I like Martinez in the rotation, but I’m–as my partner here at the Conclave once put it–honking for Jaime this spring.  Having a dominant lefty in the rotation would be a wonderful thing for the Redbirds, no matter how long it lasts.  It’s going to be a lot of fun watching everyone go after that last spot this spring, I believe.  Glad FSMW is televising so many of them!

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Can you believe there’s been 50 of these?  Of course, only about 5 of them show up on the Podomatic site or on iTunes, so if you want to hear any of 2-45, let me know and I’ll get you a link.  This time, Jamie Pogue, the Cardinals’ bullpen catcher, joins me for his annual visit.  Hope you enjoy!

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Kickoff.  It was a word used often this weekend and not at all meaning that secondary sport that had some sort of championship games or whatever going on.  The Winter Warm-Up is always seen as the first real marker of the new season and 2015 proved to be no exception.  With the video and news coming out of St. Louis (coupled with temperatures in the 60s around here), it was easy to get excited about another season of Cardinal baseball.

Most of the big names took their turn in front of the media spotlight.  (And along with the major sources like Derrick Goold and Jenifer Langosch, be sure to check out Matt Whitener and Kevin Reynolds, plus our own Dathan Brooks of course.)  Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, all spent some time in front of the press as well as the fans.  There are some more scheduled today, including Yadier Molina, who has missed the last few Warmups.

Let’s talk a bit about the folks that have had their time, though.  There’s a lot of interesting tidbits that came out, even though everyone of course professed to be very healthy and ready to go for the next season and all the other cliches that you expect to hear in January.  One thing that we learned is that we can never trust Wainwright and the club about injuries ever again.  Most of us have had reservations about what the team and players say about their health anyway, but to hear Wainwright basically say that he couldn’t extend his arm in the second half of the year and that was the major cause of the variance in his halves (the first half, healthy and dominant; the second, not so much on either account) after claiming all year last year that he was fine, it was just a dead arm, etc. means we’ll be even more skeptical if someone starts struggling this season.

That said, it does sound like there is little reason, besides the general worry that you do on all pitchers in major league baseball, to think Wainwright won’t have another stellar year.  He is a year older, of course, and there’s no doubt he’s getting closer to the downhill side of his career, but nobody says that hill has to be all that steep.  There are still a number of good years in the team ace.

Heyward showed up for the first Hot Stove Live! along with Kolten Wong and was a big hit.  Heyward is saying a lot of great things, which is to be expected.  Tara and I talked last night on the season premiere of Gateway that both sides need to be a little cautious, given that we don’t necessarily know what the Cards will get out of Heyward.  While he’s got plenty of potential to be that next big core player and I expect that he will be (I’ve even gambled and ordered my Heyward shirsey, something I said I wouldn’t do until he signed an extension), you’d hate to get locked into a long-term deal with a guy that turns out to be a fairly pedestrian player.  I expect both sides will want to see where he is at in May or June before really coming down to brass tacks on that sort of discussion.

However, it does appear that Heyward is quickly becoming a fan favorite.  If the “recruiting” actually works for professional athletes (and most of the time, the only recruiting that works is the dollars on the page), the fanbase is doing their best to help out.  You’d expect nothing less from any fanbase, really, but especially from this one.

To return to the theme of injured pitchers, Michael Wacha says he’s good to go.  Of course, as much as I hope that’s the case, I can’t help thinking of how Chris Carpenter would often come to WWU saying he felt great and things looked good, only to stumble when the rigors of throwing a baseball came around.  It’s not surprising that after four months of rest (if you count October!) things look better.  But will they look better after a month or so of games?

It’s probably a good thing that the stress reaction has faded on the MRIs, meaning that even if it does flare up again, it’s probably a long way off.  It’s interesting to read about the club managed his workouts, modified how he did things to hopefully strengthen the right parts and keep this from happening again.  How successful they’ll be on this is something we’ll find out in time.

Speaking of pitchers, John Mozeliak reiterated in possibly his strongest language yet that the club was “out of the big pitcher market”.  My personal feeling is that it’s not a coincidence that a few hours later, news broke that Max Scherzer was on the verge of signing a deal with the Washington Nationals.

I’ll lay out my Cardinal-biased theory as I did on the show last night.  My feeling is that Scherzer, a St. Louis-area native, really wanted to pitch for the Cards.  I think that he left that door open as long as he could.  I think Mozeliak and company were interested in Scherzer coming in and tried to see how it would work.  However, with good health reports and the signing of Lance Lynn to an extension, that door finally shut.  Scherzer had his second option ready to go and when Mo signaled that things were over (either with his public comments or shortly before in a communication with Scott Boras), he moved on.  Again, that’s just my feeling watching this year’s market.  Probably has little to do with reality.

It was a wonderful weekend for Cardinal baseball, even as far away as here in Arkansas.  Those first tendrils of spring are starting to reach out.  Spring training will be here in about a month.  Let the thaw begin!

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Whatever the reason, John Mozeliak was a man possessed yesterday.  If you were standing close enough to him, it’s possible that you would have gotten an arbitration-avoiding contract as well.  Three of the four players eligible for arbitration settled yesterday, leaving only Jon Jay unsigned. It wouldn’t be a shock if he came to terms this weekend.

The Cards haven’t been to a hearing since 1999 with Darren Oliver. That’s before Mo, before anyone knew the name Pujols, before some folks that will be drafted this summer were speaking in complete sentences. I don’t think that the Cards have the record in this department, though. More and more, teams are buying out arb years or at least settling on a one-year deal before going before the arbitrator. It’s tough to tear a player down in a hearing, then turn around and tell him he’s a vital cog in the system. If the system was designed to get folks to agree on their own, it seems to be working.

Let’s take a look at these deals, going from least import to greatest. Tony Cruz will get $775,000 to sit behind the “break in case of emergency involving Yadier Molina” glass. Cruz probably should invest this money wisely, as it could be the last real contract he gets. We saw that the Cards didn’t trust him with extended play, as they signed George Kottaras and A.J. Pierzynski once Molina went down last year. It seems unlikely they’ll spend $1 million for such a limited backup next year, especially if Carson Kelly has a strong season in the minors. Cruz could bounce around the league as a defense-oriented backup, but those usually don’t cash in.

Peter Bourjos signed for $1.65 million.  It’s completely possible that this will turn out to be a major bargain for the Cardinals, though I think it’s much more likely that it’s going to be right in line with what we see out of Bourjos this season.  Jay is still going to be the starting center fielder, we know that, and it’s going to take a pretty serious dropoff (and quickly) for Bourjos to take over the role on a more permanent basis.  (We saw how long Mike Matheny’s leash can be for some folks last season.)  I do think, though, we’ll see Bourjos get a little more playing time even if Jay hits at about his regular line, especially if the rest of the offense will click more than it did in 2014.

Having Bourjos and Jason Heyward in the same outfield at the same time means that the few fly balls that pitchers are going to give up (now that leading fly ball pitcher Shelby Miller is in Atlanta) should be tracked down without too much trouble.  We saw an outstanding pitching staff last year but a repeat would seem possible with that upgraded defense.  If the offense allows it, I think Matheny will see that and let Bourjos play a little more often.  Again, it’s not going to be even a regular platoon, most likely, but I don’t think Bourjos gets buried on the bench.

That brings us to the big deal, the three-year deal Lance Lynn signed to buy out all his arbitration years.  It’s a little surprising the Cards didn’t get a free agency year in the deal as well, but given that Lynn missed being a Super Two in arbitration by just a few games, he may have felt that he’d already given them a “free year” as it were.  Lynn will be 30 when he hits free agency, closer to 31, and he probably wanted to have at least one shot at a payday.  I can understand and respect that.

So Lynn will make basically $7 million a year for the next three years.  What other pitchers are making $7 million in 2015?  A short list:

Brandon League
Huston Street
Jake Peavy
Joakim Soria
Hisashi Iwakuma
Fernando Rodney
Wade Davis

(Interestingly, old friend Justin Masterson signed a $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox.  If nothing else, that makes Lynn look like a bargain.  While I don’t think Masterson will be as bad as he was with St. Louis last year, there’s not a lot of great history for him.  On the flip side, Madison Bumgarner is just a shade under $7 million, which means he’s an even better bargain.)

While I didn’t go through all the teams at this site, I think it’s pretty interesting that so many of the pitchers being paid comparably to Lynn are relievers.  While there’s definitely a value to a guy that pitches the eighth or ninth, wouldn’t you rather get 180 or so innings out of your $7 million than 30-40?  Especially when they are strong innings, for the most part?

I’ll put up my interview with Jamie Pogue, the Cardinals’ bullpen catcher, sometime this weekend but we talked about Lynn last night and he commented about how Lynn has been absorbing a lot from John Lackey since the trade last July and he feels Lynn could be a leader on the staff when Adam Wainwright’s time is done.  While there’s a lot of contract analysis done on the stats on the field, which is appropriate and the bulk of what any contract should be for, we don’t always know how the player impacts the locker room.  There’s got to be some value for those intangibles as well.

Lynn’s only continued to progress during his time in the majors.  He basically eliminated “The Lynning” last year and avoided his post-All Star Break slide that he had in his first couple of seasons.  He’s been healthy, he’s been reliable, and he’s seemed to mature as he’s gotten older and gotten more experience.  (Funny how that happens, huh?)  I think it was a smart move by Mo, even if it wasn’t a coup or groundbreaking.  Not everything has to be a major steal.

There’s an interesting article up at Fangraphs today showing that Lynn may continue to be successful while he stays in the NL Central as he’ll face much fewer left-handers in the division.  While Lynn probably still needs to improve against left-handed batters on the whole, it’s nice to have him in a place where he can work on that without being thrown into the fire on a regular basis.

Winter Warmup starts tomorrow and there will be plenty of coverage on I70 Baseball and STL Cards ‘N Stuff.  Dathan will be heading there on Saturday for The Conclave, so be sure to stay tuned for his reports as well.  Also, Gateway To Baseball Heaven returns this Sunday at 9:30 over at Blog Talk Radio.  Baseball is coming, slowly but surely!

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You’ve seen a few of these on the site today or around the UCB in general.  As we do at the end of every year, we take a look back at what the top stories were for the Cardinals over the past 12 months.  As Peter Quill put it, “Something good.  Something bad.  Bit of both.”  While the year in general falls into the good category, there’s no doubt there were some major stories that weren’t close to happiness.

1) The life and death of Oscar Taveras: There’s nothing else that could top this list.  Taveras’s arrival had been much anticipated and he didn’t disappoint in his May 31 debut, cracking a dramatic home run that will be remembered for years to come.  While he didn’t immediately make the impact that many expected–his usage by Mike Matheny was one of the reasons fans cited for that–he showed flashes of what he could be, including some postseason power off the bench.

All of that would put him on this list, but he’s at the top because of the tragic events of October 26.  That night, his car crashed in the Dominican Republic, killing himself and his girlfriend Edilia Arvelos.  It seemed like a senseless tragedy at the time, a young man taken by terrible roads and a rain storm.  Of course, later on we found out that alcohol was involved, as his blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit.

Some folks felt that didn’t change their perspective on the matter, that it was a tragedy no matter what.  There’s no doubt that was true, that it was a sad and terrible event, but the inclusion of alcohol to me did affect how I thought about the situation.  If it had been anyone else save a ballplayer, it would have been a drunk driving incident and folks would have been less hesitant to cast some blame on the driver.  For an instant, it seemed like a natural tragedy had befallen before we found out that it was the same sad story we’ve heard too many times.  It’s still a terrible thing and a moment that will have repercussions for years on Cardinal baseball.

2) Continuing the NLCS run: For the fourth straight year, the Cardinals played for a World Series berth.  You have to go back to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s to find such an extended run.  While they bowed out to the Giants for the second time in three years, this team showed that October is where they are comfortable, twice beating Clayton Kershaw to get past the Dodgers.

This was also their second straight year to take the NL Central crown, something they’d not done since 2004-2006.  While it was a battle and it took a September kick to put it away, the Cardinals continued to show that they are one of the top organizations in baseball and that their window for success shouldn’t be closing any time soon.

3) In Mo We Trust Part I–Allen Craig and Joe Kelly traded for John Lackey: Even with the terrible season that Craig was having, I don’t think any of us really expected the Cardinals to part ways with him, especially since the return would seem to be less than his value given how 2014 was going.  However, with Taveras on the bench and Craig struggling like he’d never struggled before, John Mozeliak shook up the locker room by trading two well-liked players for a more crusty veteran.  While Lackey wasn’t the World Series-winning pitcher that the Cards faced in 2013, he still provided some solid outings down the stretch and is under contract for 2015 at a ridiculously low rate of $500,000, which played into Mozeliak’s thinking.  As for Craig and Kelly, neither of them were stellar as a Red Sox, with Craig scuffling even more than he did in St. Louis before spending time on the DL.  Kelly did win a major award in Boston, though, as his selfie with Derek Jeter got a lot of attention in MLB’s Social Media Awards.

4) In Mo We Trust Part II–Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins out, Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden in: Obviously the jury is still out on this one, as it’s been just over a month since this off-season deal was finalized.  There’s also no doubt this is the first of the ramifications from our first story above, as this move isn’t made if Taveras is still with us.  All that said, it looks like a bold and fairly savvy move for Mozeliak.  Miller seemed to find his feet the last six weeks of the season, but before that had been inconsistent and could be one of those folks that a change in scenery and coaching philosophy could do wonders for.  Heyward is a free agent after 2015 and if he doesn’t sign an extension, there are going to be folks that figure St. Louis lost this trade.  The Cards did move to extend Walden, who looks to be the eighth inning guy replacing Pat Neshek.

My opinion on this deal really hasn’t changed since it was announced in November.  I’m excited to see what Heyward brings to this lineup and I believe he can have a bit of a resurgence in a new place the year before free agency.  My gut feeling is he’ll sign long-term, but there’s a very viable scenario where he succeeds, goes to free agency, and the Cards get outbid.  It could happen, but I think the risk is worth it.  Heyward lengthens the lineup pretty considerably–you could have your 2014 team leader in homers (Jhonny Peralta) hitting sixth regularly–and I like his OBP and defense even if the power doesn’t come around.  The division is getting tougher, but the Cards still have to be the team to beat.

5) The offense goes into a tailspin: We knew that things would be different in 2014.  After all, when you set a record for highest batting average with runners in scoring position (and do so by a significant margin), there’s really no place to go but down.  We thought that maybe some power that was lacking in 2013 would make up for it, but there was little doubt the offense would slide.

However, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition and nobody expected a return of 1968.  The Cardinals spent all year scratching for runs.  It was a good thing the starting pitching staff put up 23 shutouts, because there were a lot of games where the club was only going to get one run.  They wound up last in home runs in the National League, even behind a San Diego team playing in the biggest pitcher’s park in baseball.  They were in the middle of the pack in OPS.  They were 13th in extra-base hits.  They were just one steal from last in the NL.  Basically, it was a team that needed three hits to score and, so very often, those three hits didn’t come.

The stifled offense led to things like Kolten Wong being demoted (even while his backup, Mark Ellis, was hitting worse than he was) and Craig being traded because the club couldn’t afford to run him out there and absorb his struggles.  It’s why Jon Jay eventually won out over Peter Bourjos, because Bourjos struggled when everyone else did, opening the door for Jay (who, to be fair, struggled for a while also before taking off).

There were lots of honorable mentions for this list.  You have Neshek’s journey from non-roster invitee to All-Star in his home park.  You have Ballpark Village finally opening and quickly becoming an integral part of downtown.  You have Lance Lynn taking that next step and becoming a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.  You have the first class of Cardinal Hall of Famers being inducted.  You have Adam Wainwright in another Cy Young race and Wong being a finalist for Rookie of the Year.  So many noteworthy things happened this year, but that’s in the past.  On to 2015!

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It’s been a terrible offseason.

Not for the Cardinals, who for the second year in a row took care of their most pressing business before the turkey was placed on the Thanksgiving table.  Not for baseball, with a flurry of moves that stoked the furnace warmer than Nebuchadnezzar on a bad day.  Not even for me personally, as the Christmas season was wonderful for my family, with blessings beyond anything I could ask for.

For me as a blogger, though, it’s stunk.

I wrote the day of the Jason Heyward deal on November 17.  Since then, I’ve had a roundtable transcript, a Q&A post with the answers from John Mozeliak, a song parody, my Cardinal Blogger Awards ballot and a podcast announcement.  That’s it.  Perhaps somewhat interesting each in their own way, but not exactly a lot of discussion or writing there.

It’s been very hard to wake up early, get out of a warm bed on a cold morning, and come fire up this six-year-old computer to write about little activity.  The Cards did sign Matt Belisle and Mark Reynolds, which I should have commented on and will below, but other than that, they’ve not even been really tied to any interesting rumor.  I appreciate those that have been able to write regularly during this time–you are much more creative than I, able to make bricks without straw.

However, the new year approaches and I’ve gotten terribly slack in a lot of things, so it’s time to try to see if I can remember how to ride this horse.

Let’s talk about those minor signings a bit.  Belisle gained a $3.5 million contract from the Redbirds, who are doing some serious gambling that a lot of his problems have been Coors Field related.  Belisle has never pitched his home games in a non-hitters park, having spent time in Cincinnati before Colorado, so it’s tough to really know what his talent level is.  He did put up three straight years of under-4.00 ERAs in Colorado, including one year under three, so that’s encouraging.  The problem is the last two years haven’t been nearly that good.

For his career, he’s been a little better away from those home parks, but it’s not a striking contrast.  He’s also been pretty even against righties and lefties, meaning he’s not the inverse of Randy Choate, even if they have similar contracts.  It would seem that Belisle will see the sixth and seventh innings of games, helping transition from the starters to the back of the pen.  It’s a fairly expensive deal for a guy that might have been a non-roster invitee for someone else.  We don’t know what Belisle’s market was and it would seem strange if Mozeliak misread it that badly, but it’s hard to believe there was just a ton of demand for him.

If nothing else, there’s another Matt on the team and that hardly ever goes wrong for the Cards.  He also gives them another righty in the pen, something that they really needed.  We tend to assume that bullpens are dominated by the right side, but with Sam Freeman, Choate, Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and Kevin Siegrist, the portsiders were winning this battle.  (The Cards also are lefty-heavy in the lineup, which makes you wonder if that’s the new market inefficiency or something.)

As for Mark Reynolds, I’ve got some concerns.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was a bad deal–two million for one year is pretty much minimum for a guy like that–and I think he can help this team.  Obviously he can hit the long ball, which is something this team had issues with last year.  He hit a home run in 5% of his plate appearances last year, which shows that when he makes contact, the ball goes a long way.

The problem, of course, is that contact isn’t necessarily his best friend.  More like a distant relative he sees only a couple of times of year.  He’s friends with it on Facebook, but he has to try to remember what the relationship is when it shows up in his feed.  When you strike out 28% of the time, it’s not great.

I know the current trend is to discount strikeouts–they only count as one out, after all, which could be better than the numerous double plays we’ve seen Redbird hitters roll into over the past couple of years–and to claim that batting average isn’t a great marker to understand a hitter.  I agree with both of those claims for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that both categories don’t still have something to tell us, even if it’s not as overarching as maybe we treated it 25 years ago.

What worries me about Reynolds is that, if he’s out there every day, you get four chances for him to make contact.  Granted, a lot of days, he’s going to put up 0-4 and if he’s your regular first baseman, you are probably going to be hurt more than you are helped by him.  I get that and I assuredly wouldn’t want to see some sort of platoon between him and Matt Adams.  However, Reynolds is going to be probably the biggest threat off the bench, depending on who might be resting that day.  He’s going to come up in situations where the Cards need him to get a hit and, if the stats are accurate, more often than not he’s going to fail.  Sure, he might hit a couple of pinch-hit HR over the course of the season, but will that make up for all the times he strikes out with the tying run on base?  We’ll have to see.

It reminds me a lot of Mark McGwire‘s final season.  Tony La Russa had to figure out just when to use McGwire, because he was hurting too much to run or play the field.  McGwire was still a threat to hit a home run, but that was about it and figuring out just when to use that threat was an interesting managerial challenge.  Obviously, Reynolds is more of a player (overall) than McGwire was in 2001, but the similarities are there–odds are a pinch-hit appearance ends in a home run or a strikeout, little in between.

I started this post wanting to talk a little bit about Max Scherzer and I think I still have time before I head to work.  I’ve seen a few items over the last week or so talking about the Cardinals and the Missouri native.  As far as I can tell, there’s nothing really tying St. Louis and Scherzer, more the fact that he’s not signed yet and there’s really not much to talk about the last week or so of December.

When this offseason started, I mentally toyed with the idea of signing Scherzer and then trading one of the young starters for a hitter.  Obviously, Mozeliak didn’t wait for Scherzer to be signed to do that, moving Shelby Miller for Heyward.  I’m not opposed to him doing my plan out of order, of course, but things have changed.  Heyward will need an extension and my original plan, of course, didn’t account for that but expected Oscar Taveras to be manning right field.

Could the Cardinals afford both Heyward and Scherzer over the next few years?  They could, I think.  The FOX Sports Midwest deal will be up in a couple of years (though I’ve seen indications in places that they might already be negotiating to end that deal early) and you have to figure much more revenue will be coming that way.  If they feel confident in their minor league system continuing to produce solid to above-average players for the big club, Heyward and Scherzer wouldn’t necessarily sink the payroll.

Will they do that though?  It seems unlikely.  Not only because of the money, but because Scherzer has a draft pick tied to him as well.  The Cards hoard those things like Smaug hoards gold, so it would seem pretty strange for them to not only give out a record (for them) contract to a pitcher but also give up a chance to help refurbish the minor leagues.  If they weren’t planning on keeping Heyward (and figuring they’d get a pick back when he walked next off-season), they might go that way, but there’s no indication they think they can’t keep the outfielder.

Scherzer’s a great talent and you wonder how much better he’d be moving into the National League.  Honestly, I’d love for the Cards to make that over-the-top move to really try to go for a title this year.  However, the long-term planning method of putting together this team has done pretty well over the past 15 years and you’d hate to see that go by the wayside.  As healthy as Scherzer’s been, pitchers are made to be broken.  It seems unlikely that he could get a five-year deal from anyone and stay healthy and effective through the whole thing.  Some teams can handle a chunk of their payroll being on the DL and the Cards well might be one of them, but I’d hate to find out they aren’t.

There’s logic to pursuing Scherzer but there’s much more in letting him go, especially with the surplus of arms in the system.  They may not be ace material, but they also don’t cost $25 million a season either and they get the job done reasonably well.  As much as I’d like to see Max in Cardinal red, it just doesn’t seem to be a move John Mozeliak would make.

The UCB project of the Top 5 Stories of 2014 comes your way Wednesday.  I’ll try to keep the momentum going and not let another couple of months get by!

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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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