High Sock Sunday

 

(Photo : Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo : Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Everyone knows that St. Louis Cardinals fans are racists and bigots, so it wasn’t surprising to see such a fiery response on Friday when Jason Heyward announced that he was leaving The Best Fans in Baseball™ and Baseball Heaven™ to play for the rival Chicago Cubs.

Here’s a collection of some of the vitriol hailed at Heyward’s way on Twitter.

Man, get a grip, Cardinals fans.

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(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

I visited with the guys at ESPN Evansville to discuss the effect of Adam Wainwright’s season-ending injury and whether or not the National League should adopt the designated hitter. You can listen to the full segment below.

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Oftentimes one of the best ways to cope with a tragic death of someone close to you is to be around others you love who also loved the person who died.

The Cardinals weren’t really afforded that opportunity when Oscar Taveras died. His tragic car accident happened on Oct. 26. The 2014 season ended 10 days prior with a loss to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

By that time, most players were either back home with their families or on vacation somewhere, away from the team.

Away from their baseball “family” when one of their brothers died. It was tough.

The Cardinal Caravan event came to Evansville, Ind., on Jan. 19 – my hometown – and it was hard to miss the “OT 18″ lapel pins that Cardinals players and team officials were wearing. He was clearly on their mind and will be this whole season. The players will wear jersey patches that read “OT” while Carlos Martinez, a close friend of Taveras, changed his number from 44 to 18 in honor of his late friend.

I asked the players how they dealt with Taveras’ loss while being away from their teammates. They said Spring Training would be the first chance at some true closure for them as a group.

“Individually, he passed away right after the season so it’s hard to fathom for me personally,” said outfielder Tommy Pham, who grew close with Taveras while in the minor leagues together. “I always called him my ‘hermano de Dominicano’ – my Dominican brother.

“Seeing him gone now is still hard for me to take in. When we start playing games and see that he’s not there it will soak in, but it will also be more comforting because we’ll be together as a group.”

As a result there’s been a lot of reflection this offseason – from teammates, coaches, front office personnel, fans. For most players, it was most comforting to remember the joy Taveras had for playing the game of baseball.

His rookie season had its share of ups and downs, but no one could doubt that the kid was having fun doing what he loved.

“He always brought that competitive edge, especially as a young guy,” pitcher Marco Gonzales said. “He was always the first one to look for an opportunity and take advantage of it. He always brought a smile to everyone’s face and a really great guy – really positive. That’s what I’ll remember him for.

“I want to echo what Tommy said, too. I’m still looking for a little bit of closure. I think we’ll  get that in Spring Training when we’re all together and we can all come to closure as a group and be there for each other as teammates. I’m sure it will be emotional at the start, but it will be good.”

 

Follow Cole Claybourn on Twitter at @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com

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Cardinals pitcher Marco Gonzales (left) speaks to media at a Cardinal Caravan event in Evansville, Ind., on Jan. 16, 2015. (Photo by Cole Claybourn)

Cardinals pitcher Marco Gonzales (left) speaks to media at a Cardinal Caravan event in Evansville, Ind., on Jan. 16, 2015. (Photo by Cole Claybourn)

A “whirlwind” is how Marco Gonzales described his rookie season.

“It’s been overused a lot, but it’s pretty accurate,” Gonzales said at last month’s Cardinal Caravan stop in Evansville, Ind. “I think just experience-wise, pitching in high pressure situations, just being able to prepare and see what other guys have done in those situations will help me going forward. There’s no better way to grow and learn than to be thrown in the fire like that and see what happens.”

That fire Gonzales spoke of happened to be the 2014 Postseason. Gonzales, a 2013 first round draft pick out of Gonzaga, bounced between Triple-A Memphis and the Major League roster throughout the season before landing a spot on the playoff roster as a reliever.

Normally a starter – he made his Major League debut with a June 25 at Colorado – he was added to provide another left-handed arm out of the bullpen to complement Randy Choate and to perhaps serve as a long reliever if needed.

And he was stellar.

He didn’t give up a run and allowed just three hits during his first five outings and picked up two wins during that stretch, including the dramatic NLDS Game 4 series-clinching win over the L.A. Dodgers. His only bad outing came in Game 4 of the NLCS vs. the San Francisco Giants in which he gave up three earned runs in 2/3 innings pitched and was saddled with a blown save.

But those were the only three runs he gave up in six playoff appearances. As a rookie.

Not bad.

So it’s no surprise that as pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Thursday that Gonzales heads to Jupiter with much more expectations than he had a year ago. After posting a respectable 4-2 record and a 4.15 earned run average in 10 appearances – five of which were starts – Gonzales will likely compete heavily with Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia for the No. 5 starter spot.

Gonzales said he worked on his cutter and implemented a two-seam fastball over the offseason. Per BrooksBaseball.net, Gonzales threw a four-seam fastball most of the team mixed in with a change-up, curveball, slider and a sinker.

With a two-seamer and a cutter in the mix, that’s a repertoire and collection of pitches that even some veterans don’t possess.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

Gonzales is pretty clearly a starter and most certainly projects that way long term. But in the mean time he could serve as a very solid left-handed middle-to-long relief guy. He’ll likely have a more prominent role than guys like long-relief left-handers Tyler Lyons or Nick Greenwood, so he fills a role that the Cardinals haven’t really had in a while.

He’s a real threat to win the No. 5 spot, though Martinez seems to be the favorite heading into camp. At any rate, Gonzales also provides a solid option as a sixth starter if anyone gets hurt or if Jaime Garcia can’t get or remain healthy. Speaking of Garcia, his health could go a long way in determining exactly what role Gonzales will have to start the season.

At this point Gonzales said he just wants to help in whatever way he can.

“A lot of it is just focusing on my consistency – realizing what I can bring to the table, realizing who I am as a pitcher and realizing what I did well and focusing on that, staying within myself,” he said. “Going into Spring Training it’s really just focusing on my strengths and hoping that I can help the team.”

 

Follow Cole Claybourn on Twitter at @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com

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ESPN.com’s Paul Lukas caused a bit of controversy with an article in which he contemplated the merits of a memorial jersey patch for the late Oscar Taveras.

Taveras, a rising MLB star and the likely future cornerstone of the Cardinals going forward was killed, along with his 18-year-old girlfriend, in a car crash in the Dominican Republic in late October shortly after the season ended. Taveras was drunk – more than five times the legal limit – at the time of the crash.

Because of this, some question whether the Cardinals should honor and remember him with a patch on their jerseys this upcoming season. ESPN Evansville asked me to come on and talk about this issue. You can listen to the full interview below.

 

Follow Cole Claybourn on Twitter at @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com

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My 2014 UCB Awards Ballot

Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run, the first of his career, in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium on May 31, 2014 in St. Louis, Mo.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run, the first of his career, in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium on May 31, 2014 in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Choosing winners for awards is always tough, and when you’re dealing with the Cardinals and Cardinal bloggers, there aren’t really any wrong answers. Both the players and the bloggers who write about the team are talented and worthy of praise. Alas, we must pick winners. Below is my best attempt at doing so.

Cardinal Player of the Year

Nominees: Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta

Winner: Matt Carpenter

For me this came down to Carpenter and Peralta. Peralta filled the biggest need during last offseason and played a huge role in the team’s success last season. He led the team in home runs and both offensive and defensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR). For me, however, this award goes to Carpenter. He hit .272 in 2014, a bit below his .318 average of 2013, but still posted a team-high .375 on-base percentage, scored a team-high 99 runs, tallied a team-high 156 hits and hit eight home runs at the leadoff spot. The main reason I leaned toward Carpenter here was because of what he did in the Postseason. He hit .375 in the NLDS with three home runs and seven RBIs and added another home run in the NLCS.

Pitcher of the Year

Nominees: Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek, Adam Wainwright

Winner: Adam Wainwright

This was going to be Lance Lynn until I realized there was another category that’s more fitting for Lynn’s season. Wainwright, who finished third in the National League Cy Young voting, finished with a team-high 20 wins, a team-best 2.38 earned run average among starters, a team-high five complete games and 179 strikeouts, which was just two behind Lynn’s team-high 181. Wainwright proved to be a true ace and did so while dealing with tendinitis and other issues throughout the season. He still finished with a team-high 227 innings pitched.

Game of the Year

Winner: NLDS Game 4

The National League Division Series was a tremendous series overall, and I was fortunate to be present for Game 3. I’m kicking myself for not also going to Game 4, because in my opinion, that was the game of the year. The Dodgers were on the verge of tying the series and sending it back to Los Angeles for a decisive Game 5, and even though Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t be available that game, it felt like the Cardinals needed to close it out in Game 4 at home or else L.A. would win. On short rest, Kershaw looked dominant through six innings vs. the Cardinals, something that’s become somewhat of a trend. But, like in Game 1, the Cardinals got a seventh inning rally going and got two runners on base with no outs and Matt Adams up to bat. Then this happened.

 

Adams struggles against left-handed pitching — just three of his 15 home runs in 2014 came against lefties — so for him to do this in this moment against the best lefty and best pitcher in baseball was nothing short of miraculous. It really felt like he needed to hit a home run right then or else the Dodgers might have hung on. He came through, and the Cardinals won the series.

Most Surprising Player

Nominees: Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek

Winner: Lance Lynn

This was between Lynn and Neshek for me. I won’t blame you if you chose Neshek here, because he’s got a helluva case. But Lynn has always been sort of an enigma to me. I was so uneasy about him that prior to one of his early-season starts that I compared the feelings I got before one of his starts to how I felt on days when Todd Wellemeyer started this season. I meant it, too. Lynn was so inconsistent and was impossible to predict. The “Lynning” was a real thing in the past. He’d start off on fire then have one big letdown, a mental breakdown and it would all unravel. In 2014, however, Lynn became the most reliable pitcher in the rotation and was absolutely vital in stabilizing a rotation that saw it’s share of injuries. One of my biggest knocks against Lynn has been that he was never able to finish out a full season. He’d be strong the first half or even into late August, but at some point would fizzle. Not this year. His 2.74 ERA was second among all starters, as was his 15 wins and 203.2 IP. He led the team in strikeouts with 181 and also threw two complete games, a sign of his much improved endurance. It cannot be overstated how valuable Lynn was to the rotation last season.

Most Disappointing Player

Nominees: Peter Bourjos, Justin Masterson, Kevin Siegrist

Winner (or loser?): Allen Craig

I’m actually going to go with a write-in vote on this one and say Allen Craig. Simply put, Craig’s final season with the Cardinals was miserable. A year removed from an MVP-caliber season, Craig looked like a shell of his former self, and it was painful to watch. It was clear something wasn’t right. Maybe he was still dealing with the foot injury that kept him out from September until the World Series last season. If not that, it was something. He was clearly not right. He hit .237 with just seven home runs, 44 RBIs and 77 strikeouts. This was a year after an All-Star season in which he hit .315 with 13 home runs, 97 RBIs and led the league in batting average from runners in scoring position, and that was even with missing a full month. There were huge plans for Craig this season and even Matheny refused to believe that there was an obvious decline. He ran Craig out in right field just about every day until GM John Mozeliak had finally seen enough and shipped him up to Boston.

Rookie of the Year

Nominees: Marco Gonzales, Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong

Winner: Kolten Wong

I don’t think it’s particularly close in this category. After some early struggles, or “adversity,” Wong blossomed into the type of player the Cardinals envisioned when they drafted him. He was a sound defensive second baseman with a tremendous bat. He provided a combination of power, speed and glove skills at the second base position that the Cardinals haven’t seen in some time. His .249 average will be a point of emphasis this offseason, but he hit 12 home runs, drove in 42 runs, stole a team-high 20 bases and also displayed some walk-off heroics a couple times. He hit three home runs in the Postseason was arguably the best hitter in the NLCS for the Cardinals. He finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, so his debut season stacked up well with the rest of the league’s best newbies.

Acquisition of the Year

Nominees: John Lackey, Pat Neshek, Jhonny Peralta

Winner: Jhonny Peralta

Peralta was exactly what the Cardinals needed this season. After several years of below-average offensive play at the shortstop position, Peralta came in a led the team in home runs (21) and doubles (38) and helped stabilize the middle of the batting order. His 21 home runs was a new record for home runs by a Cardinal shortstop. His 5.8 WAR was tops on the team, as was his 0WAR (4.0) and dWAR (2.6). He was arguably the best all-around player during the regular season. The Cardinals paid a good chunk of change to get him and get proved to be worth every single penny.

Most Anticipated Cardinal

Nominees: Rob Kaminsky, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver

Winner: Stephen Piscotty

Matt Carpenter is my favorite player, and all I’ve heard about Piscotty is that he’s a Carpenter-esque player. If that’s true, I think there will be a spot for him somewhere. He might not possess the kind of power that most want in a corner outfielder, but good hitters will still hit. I think he’ll be able to make an impact.

Cardinal Moment of the Year

Winner: Oscar Taveras’ home run in the rain

Everything is put in perspective given the horrible, tragic death of Taveras this offseason. But we’ll always have that special moment when he connected for the first time, sending a Yusmeiro Petit pitch into the right field bleachers. Taveras’ debut was one of the most anticipated days that I can remember as a Cardinals fan. For six years or so we’ve heard about this kid Taveras who can just mash baseballs, and about how great of a player he’ll be. We had to wait and wait to see him, and when we finally got to, it was quite a scene. He looked physically imposing, like a guy who was just ready to unload on a ball at any moment. A lot of times in sports, and even life, we often look forward to something or prop something up so much that we’re somewhat let down when we finally experience this. Taveras delivered exactly what we all were dreaming of in his debut. We all had envisioned his sweet swing driving a ball out of the park, and the moment it took off his bat, we knew. I literally got chills as I watched it happen and even today I’m so grateful I was able to be able to watch that moment on TV as it happened. It’s one of my favorite moments as a Cardinals fan and it’s how I’ll always, always remember Oscar. There was just something supernatural, superhero-esque about it all, with the rain coming down and all. In a way, it’s a moment that will define his career. I’m glad he got to have that moment, and I’m especially thankful us Cardinals fans have that memory to look back on.

Let’s watch it again.

 

Rest in peace, OT.

BLOG AWARDS

Best Individual Cardinal Blog

Winner: C70 At the Bat

Daniel seems to truly love blogging. It’s evident through his work, his tweets and even when you just talk to him. There are some bloggers who post a large amount of stuff but without much substance. Daniel is able to produce a high a volume but with quality content. For someone who’s also balancing a wife and kids, that;s impressive. All of his posts are well thought-out and not hasty that others who post a lot. His posts are  always interesting and engaging.

Best Team Blog

Winner: Viva El Birdos

I’ve gotten to know a lot of the writers at Viva El Birdos and have really enjoyed their work. They’re genuine people who bring a good balance of analysis, wit and humor — three characteristics that I think are vital for sports blogs to be successful. They have a good posting regimen and each writer seems to have an area of expertise. They’re a valuable part of the Cardinals blogging community.

Best Media Coverage

Winner: Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

As a journalist and sports writer myself, Derrick Goold has always been someone whose work I follow closely. When I was learning in college how to cover beats while working for WKU’s student newspaper, I often found myself studying Derrick’s work and how he went about his business. For anyone journalism students out there, there aren’t many better people to follow than him. Derrick traveled to the Dominican Republic to cover Oscar Taveras’ funeral. I know there will be a lot of people who won’t think twice about that and will sort of take it for granted, but the journalist in me gained a ton of respect for him for doing that. It’s one thing to cover the local team when they’re playing games or even during the offseason. But he boarded a plane and flew to a foreign country to cover an extremely delicate story and did an outstanding job doing so. He and his photographer also had a good amount of their equipment stolen while covering the funeral but never once complained publicly about it. They just went on doing the job they were there to do. It’s extremely impressive and worthy of praise.

Best Cardinal Rookie Blog

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

Winner: Bird Tales

Tara is one of the most knowledgeable baseball people I know and she’s able to showcase that in her writing. She has a journalism background and as someone who works in the business, it’s clear that that training shows in her writing and is able to separate her from others. She has a wide range of skills and can put together a post where she’s breaking down matchups and numbers or she can use her writing skills and put together a well thought-out post memorializing the life of Oscar Taveras. I can’t wait to see how much her blog grows next year.

Post of the Year

Winner: ‘The Lynning: Fact or Fiction’ by Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At the Bat

First, let me just say that I’m pretty sure I was the first person to coin the term “Lynning.” I tweeted it well before I saw anyone else using it and then it began to catch on. Anyway, needless to say when Daniel Shoptaw tweeted this post, it caught my attention. Anyone who can take an issue, or in this case a narrative, and put together a post that endeavors to prove said narrative wrong, it earns my respect. Daniel went really in-depth with this post and outlined some fascinating data about Lance Lynn starts and whether or not he actually does suffer from the “Lynning,” as was mentioned earlier, or if there were other factors that contributed to it. This post used a ton of charts and figures to help Daniel make his point and I would venture to say that it contained the most research of any blog post I read all season.

Best UCB Project

Winner: UCB Roundtable

This was a fun project in which all of the bloggers got to ask a question and see how all of our peers felt about that topic. It was a good way to learn about how fellow bloggers view certain players, the organization and even the management. For me, it was the most valuable project because I was able to have meaningful discussions with smart baseball people about topics that we all came up with.

Best UCB Podcast

Nominees: Conversations with C70, Gateway to Baseball Heaven, UCB Radio Hour

Winner: UCB Radio Hour

I’ve had the fortune of going on UCB Radio Hour with Tara Wellman and others before and it’s always been a solid program that’s never short on topics to discuss. Rarely does it even finish in the allotted time block because there’s always plenty to discuss.

Best Non-UCB Podcast

Nominees: Best Podcast in Baseball, St. Louis Cardinals Extras, Viva El Birdos Podcast

Winner: Abstained

I’ll be honest. I’ve not listened to any of the nominees, so I don’t feel like I can cast a vote in this category.

Best Twitterer

Winner: A.J. Blankenship (@GSC_AJ)

A.J. has become one of my better friends in the blogging community and a big reason for that is that we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things regarding Cardinal baseball. He and I always have good discussions during the season and he’s able to provide takes with quality backup. It’s a crime he doesn’t have more followers because he’s a knowledgeable baseball fan who has a good mix of analysis, humor, snark and sensitivity in his tweets.

 

Picking these winners was hard because I felt like most categories, particularly the blogger categories, could’ve had multiple winners. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the offseason.

 

Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com.

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One question that was raised shortly after Jason Heyward was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals was whether or not he’d get to keep wearing No. 22 on his jersey.

Manager Mike Matheny donned 22 for most of his career, including from 2000-2004 when he was with the Cardinals, and has worn it ever since he took over as manager before the 2012 season.

Heyward wore the number to remember a high school teammate who passed away in a car wreck, and on Saturday confirmed that Matheny would allow him to keep wearing it in St. Louis.

The Cardinals haven’t made an official announcement on the number changes yet, but Saturday also brought rumors that Matheny would take Carlos Martinez‘s No. 44 and Martinez would wear No. 18, which was last worn by his dear friend Oscar Taveras, who in October also passed away in a car accident.

Matheny wore No. 44 briefly in St. Louis and giving No. 18 to Martinez would certainly be a touching tribute to the late Taveras.

 

Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com.

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Getty Images

Getty Images

Jaime Garcia is owed $9.25 million next season before his club options kick in following the 2015 season. With recurring shoulder issues plaguing the talented-when-healthy lefty and a pitching staff full of capable starters, it’s unclear what Garcia’s role will be next season, or if he’ll even have any.

John Mozeliak, answering questions to a group of Cardinal bloggers in a written Q&A, addressed the issue of Garcia, which was also the subject of a recent United Cardinal Bloggers Roundtable discussion.

“Our expectations are TBD,” Mozeliak wrote. “He’s currently rehabbing from thoracic outlet surgery and right now we are encouraged on how that’s going. But until we see him on the mound and see him in spring training, we won’t know exactly what we have until he’s cleared to throw.”

The prognosis, both on and off the field, seems rather bleak for Garcia.

Sports Illustrated reported in July shortly after Garcia had his surgery that Mozeliak was miffed on how Garcia handled the subsequent surgery and more notably how he informed his teammates and the club’s front office.

The SI story cites a passage from a Post-Dispatch story:

Although he was offered a menu of rehab options before having surgery, Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia alerted the Cardinals this morning that he intends to have a procedure this coming week that will end his season.

…”He’s been a hard guy to count on,” Mozeliak said of the oft-injured lefty. “He’s been a hard guy to keep on the field.”

…The club was irritated by how Garcia notified them.

“It could have been handled a little different,” Mozeliak said. “This (injury) appears to have generated itself in the last couple weeks.”

This is indeed out of character for Mozeliak, who is usually rather low key and often stays away from public criticism of his players. But, in fairness, he had a point here.

On top of his latest issue, Garcia has dealt with a number of shoulder injuries dating back to the 2012 season.

He made nine starts in 2013 and went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 55.1 innings pitched, but again was sidelined that season and in 2012 with partial labrum and rotator cuff tears. He underwent surgery last May 24.

He began 2014 on the disabled list but still dealt with shoulder inflammation early on. He showed flashes of what he can be when he’s right, but his season ended after just seven starts after “discomfort” set in. He went 3-1 with a 4.12 ERA in 43.2 innings pitched.

For context, Garcia logged 479.2 innings from 2010-2012 and won 33 games during that stretch with a respectable ERA of 3.36. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Garcia logged just 99 total innings and saw his home run rate skyrocket. He gave up six home runs in 2013 and 2014 in just 16 total starts. He gave up seven home runs in all of 2012.

The issue that arose over the summer is not the first time that Garcia has angered teammates and management about knowledge and handling of his injuries. He attempted to pitch Game 2 of the National League Division Series while knowingly hurt. The result was two innings of tight-rope walking pitching that nearly resulted in an important loss for the Cardinals, a performance that caused some teammates to publicly disclose their frustration with Garcia.

On one hand, it’s hard to fault a guy for trying to gut it out for his team. Even the latest example, which largely hinges on Garcia opting immediately for surgery rather than rehab, is somewhat understandable. He’s at a crossroads in his career and he theoretically runs the risk of causing even more damage during rehab than if he just went ahead and had surgery. With possible free agency looming for Garcia, it’s entirely plausible that he felt his best chance at landing a deal would be to get healthy and go all in for 2015.

On the other hand, the aforementioned SI article outlines how big of a riff Garcia’s injuries caused among staff medical personnel. Whether Mozeliak is right or wrong in his opinion on how Garcia handled everything, it’s evident that his patience for the 27-year-old pitcher is running thin.

The Cardinals can obviously find a place for a healthy Garcia, most likely in a long relief role. As Mozeliak said, he’s not a guy that they’ve been able to count on much lately so throwing him right into the rotation seems illogical. Not using him in some way, though, also seems illogical.

Best case scenario would be the Cardinals are able to showcase a healthy Garcia in some fashion and move him in a trade. However, if Garcia isn’t healthy by Spring Training or even suffers a setback, it’s entirely likely that Mozeliak could finally decide to just part ways.

 

Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com.

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As is often the case with any bit of Cardinals news, the guys at ESPN Evansville 105.3 had me on to discuss the Jason Heyward-Shelby Miller trade. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the trade in the comment section, or tweet at me @HighSock_Sunday.

 

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JaimeGarcia

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia has been sort of an enigma that last couple years. The two-time 13-game winner has dealt with a shoulder injury on several instances dating back to the 2012 season. The apex of this saga arguably came in 2012 when Garcia attempted to pitch Game 2 of the National League Division Series while knowingly hurt.

The result was two innings of tight-rope walking pitching that nearly resulted in an important loss for the Cardinals, a performance that caused some teammates to publicly disclose their frustration with Garcia.

He made nine starts in 2013 and went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 55.1 innings pitched, but again was sidelined by injury. He made a similar comeback in 2014 and showed flashes of what he can be when he’s right, but his season ended after just seven starts as his shoulder woes came back. He went 3-1 with a 4.12 ERA in 43.2 innings pitched.

For context, Garcia logged 479.2 innings from 2010-2012 and won 33 games during that stretch with a respectable ERA of 3.36. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Garcia logged just 99 total innings and saw his home run rate skyrocket. He gave up six home runs in 2013 and 2014 in just 16 total starts. He gave up seven home runs in all of 2012.

The Cardinals are getting close to a crossroads with Garcia where a decision must be made on his future with the organization. The 28 year old is under contract through 2015 and is due $9.25 million next year, with club options for 2016 and 2017.

In all likelihood, the Cardinals will have no choice but to start 2015 with him on the roster. So what do you do with him? Do you try to put him in a rotation that already includes Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Shelby Miller? With healthy guys like Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales also vying for spots, it doesn’t appear that there’s a spot for Garcia there.

So does he go to the bullpen? Should the Cardinals try to trade him?

For this installment of the United Cardinal Bloggers Roundtable, I posed this question to my fellow UCB bloggers. Here are there answers.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

To me, the Cards have to prove that he’s healthy or they may as well just release him. If he’s not healthy, or if you don’t prove he is, he’s worthless on the trade front.

It would not shock me if they cut ties at some point but I could see his path being: Spring Training – Extended Spring Training – Minor League Rehab Assignment – Starting Rotation in St. Louis. At that point, Mozeliak may look to move him if he can get something in return.

Dan Buffa, Cards Conclave/Cardinal Nerve Center:

Jaime Garcia is such an intriguing story this season. What do you do with a guy who has proven to be a very good pitcher when healthy?

If he stays in Cardinal Red, he has to be in the rotation. His should injuries weren’t from wear and tear. His arm and shoulder have gone through a deep clean and appear to be sound. I can’t imagine putting him in the bullpen. He’s never been a useful piece down there or spent a lot of time there. Unlike Marco Gonzales, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, the clock is ticking on Garcia and you have to get the most out of him while you can. Best case scenario is finding a suitable trade partner for him this winter. We all know his history. He starts out great and goes bad. Second best is having him a lights out first half and then you deal him at the deadline and Marco then.

I don’t think Jaime is finished in the Major Leagues but my patience with him is running on empty. It’s not necessarily his fault that his body is brittle but the routes he has taken (pitching hurt in the playoffs, not telling Mo about the surgery) and his mental makeup on a mound give me serious pause.

If he’s here, he has to be a starter in order to get his trade value up.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat:

Bill’s right. The Cards have little option but to see what they have in Garcia. Nobody is going to trade for him in this state and given that his contract is up at the end of the season, it seems unlikely anyone is going to give up much for him for part of a year even if he is.

While the Cardinals could waive him, they would be on the hook for $9.25 million, which is a pretty hefty chunk of change to pay someone not to play for you. While the two option years are not going to be picked up, it seems pretty likely in my mind that he’ll be a Card all year long.

That said, how do you use him? I figure he gets a good long time in rehab/extended spring training, but if he’s healthy, he’s worth putting in the rotation. How you do that, I don’t know, since you wouldn’t necessarily want to trade any of your starters to find a place for a guy that might break down again as soon as you do, but I can’t see him a good bullpen piece.

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants:

If he’s healthy, they’ll find a way to put him into the rotation but at this point, he seems like a lost cause. I’m rooting for his health but it feels like he misses of season after season right now.

With so many season-ending injuries, I don’t know how much more the Cardinals wills tolerate. At worst, he gets DFA’d if the club can’t find a willing trade partner.

I’ve just got a bad feeling that he gets re-injured once more. Hate to say it but we won’t be seeing much of Garcia this season.

Doug V, Cards Conclave:

I joked when we did the rotation question that I’d release him only to see him win 20 games for another team…Joking aside, I’d turn spring training into an open audition for other teams. We’re full in the rotation, especially when Wacha rejoins it, whether that’s from the beginning of the year or a little later, and I think shoehorning him into the rotation will only end up with him on the DL, given his history. Plus I’d rather see what the kids have.

I’d seriously consider eating his salary. This isn’t something I do lightly, but if no trade market develops for him, I’m not someone who feels a veteran *has* to play.Now, maybe he has an amazing spring training, comes into the year fully healthy. Then I’d give him a month, if he stays healthy then that’s actually the best time to trade him, as he’d have built up value.

Sorry, but I just don’t trust the guy with his injury history, plus we’ve proven we can win without him.

Marilyn Green, Redcleatdiaries.com:

If he’s healthy, they are going to have to use him, and he doesn’t fit in the bullpen. My suggestion would be to use him as a 6th starter to plug in when a starter needs a break. They need to limit Wainwright’s and Wacha’s innings, so use him to spell both of them and occasionally one of the others when needed. He isn’t likely to have the stamina to be a full time starter anyway, because he breaks down easily. He is in the last guaranteed year of his contract, and with his health issues and his contract, he is not likely to be trade material. If he goes down again, not a big loss, but use him when and while you can for starter relief.

Ben Chambers, The View From Here:

No matter what happens with him, the Cardinals are going to have to pay at least the majority of the $9.25 million he’s owed. Even if they can find a trade partner, they’re going to not get much back for him and likely ship him off with half of his salary or more in tow.If that’s the frame of mind that the Cardinals have, I don’t know that he ends up making his way to St. Louis. He can spend time at Extended Spring, and then a rehab. If nobody takes him by the time the rehab clock is over and nobody is injured (either him or someone else in the rotation), then a release might be in order because he’s not going to come up and be in the bullpen.

I really hope that they find a way to get rid of him. I don’t mean it to sound that harsh, but it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to remember the time when he was fully healthy for an extended period of time. So long, old friend.

Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner:

Two words here. Chris Carpenter. OK, so the mental toughness quotients of the two may be a bit different, but my point still stands with respect to injuries.

Bill is exactly right that the Cardinals are going to have to prove that Garcia is healthy if they stand any chance at all of trading him for anything of value. The irony is that if he is, in fact, healthy, it is in the Cardinals best interesting to have him in the rotation and breaking up all the hard throwing right handers.I go back to our discussion yesterday – I fail to see how John Lackey offers anything above what Garcia is capable of sans injury trouble. Lackey’s contract is favorable to the team, but Garcia’s is as well already being factored into the salary planning for next year.Garcia is not a shoppable asset at the moment, Lackey is. I’d rather see the front office move the veteran right hander and give Garcia another shot at the rotation in spring. Where I differ a bit from Bill is that I don’t want to see the Cardinals play games with him, dangling him while trying to show something in an extended spring training. I know he made Mo angry with the way that he handled his injury last year, but when a team starts penalizing a player for being injured, it is time for them to start reevaluating their priorities.

And there is an unwritten rule in baseball – a starter never loses his job because of an injury. If he can’t come back from the injury, that is a different situation. Garcia has earned the right to get his spot in the rotation back until such time as he shows he can’t keep it.

Mark Tomasik, RetroSimba:

Trade him — hope to get a second-tier rospect or a utility player — or offer him a job on the team’s Cardinal Care community relations team, perhaps a replacement for former player Ted Savage.

 

Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com.

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Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak speaks to bloggers on June 22 at the annual United Cardinal Bloggers Event. (By Cole Claybourn)

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak speaks to bloggers on June 22 at the annual United Cardinal Bloggers Event. (By Cole Claybourn)

St. Louis Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak told KMOX on Wednesday night that he doesn’t expect infielder Daniel Descalso to return to the Cardinals next season.

“I would imagine Danny is going to want to move on,” Mozeliak said. “We may have to make a hard decision on that one.”

Mozeliak cited the play of second baseman Kolten Wong and shortstop Jhonny Peralta as reasons why the veteran utility infielder would struggle to see much playing time, and that he’d work with Descalso on making a trade to help land him somewhere.

What it sounds like is that Descalso is likely a non-tender candidate, meaning they would decline to offer him arbitration and make him a free agent. It sounds like a mutual decision to part ways.

Descalso appeared in 104 games in 2014, the lowest of his career aside from the 11 appearances when he first broke into the league in 2007. The 27 year old logged just 161 at-bats in 2014 after averaging 343 the previous three seasons. He tallied just 10 RBIs in 2014.

Mozeliak discussed several other offseason nuggets during his 15 minute interview with KMOX. In it, he said free agents Mark Ellis and A.J. Pierzynski, both 37, are two players the Cardinals won’t pursue this offseason, which doesn’t come as a surprise. Pierzynski served as a nice stopgap option during Yadier Molina’s injury and was an even better addition in the clubhouse. But frankly, he’s nothing more than a spare part and is not an essential piece moving forward. The same can be said about Ellis, who appeared in 73 games due to nagging injuries and recorded a career-low 32 hits.

The Cardinals will likely go with Tony Cruz as the backup catcher over Pierzynski and have plenty of infield depth to replace the oft-injured Ellis.

As for reliever Jason Motte, Mozeliak said it’s likely he’ll want to seek another opportunity where he can pitch in the 9th inning. With Trevor Rosenthal solidifying that role, Motte’s role in the Cardinals bullpen became obsolete in 2014 after he came back from Tommy John surgery. After missing all of 2013, Motte appeared in just 29 games in 2014 and had an ERA of 4.68 and gave up seven home runs in just 25 innings pitched. He gave up 16 total in the previous three seasons combined, including nine in his previous full season of 2012 in which he made appearances.

On top of that, he struggled at times to retain the velocity he had been known to have and was never used in high-leverage situations. With the pitching depth in the Cardinals farm system, it’s understandable why the Cardinals would elect not to pursue him going forward.

It’s a little trickier with reliever Pat Neshek, who had a career season in 2014 that also included an All-Star selection. He appeared in 71 games, just three shy of his career high, and logged a career-high six saves to go with a 1.87 ERA, 2.37 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and just four home runs allowed. The Cardinals could possibly want him back, but it’s also possible that his 2014 production might out-price what the Cardinals would be willing to pay for a 7th-8th inning guy.

“I’m sure (Neshek) is exploring the market right now,” Mozeliak told KMOX. “I certainly think we need to add, but I’m not sure if we can find him a happy place.”

As for what the bullpen may look like, Mozeliak said he expects right-hander Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales to be in the bullpen. That leaves a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Shelby Miller, barring any offseason trades.

“It’s going to be tough for those guys (Martinez and Gonzales) to break into the starting rotation,” he said. “But as I’ve learned, you can never have enough depth.”

And yes, that means he expects Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright to be healthy by Spring Training.

“Wacha is going to have a great offseason,” Mozeliak said. “He’s in a great spot. His end-of-the-year MRI came back clean.”

“Everything we have heard from Wainwright is business as usual.”

The GM meetings is usually where the first bits of Hot Stove action occur each offseason, and we’ve seen that a little bit with Michael Cuddyer signing with the Mets. But for the most part things have been slow, Mozeliak said.

That’s especially true for the Cardinals, however Mozeliak remarked that conversations with and about players are much different than he envisioned they would be near the end of the season. Outfielder Oscar Taveras’ tragic death has forced Mozeliak to look at outfielders this offseason, something that wasn’t in the original plan.

“The work we are doing now is laying ground work for future decisions,” he said. “We could see some things happening as early as Thanksgiving.”

 

 

Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com.

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A lone light is left on in right field at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 28, in honor of Oscar Taveras. (Cardinal)

A lone light is left on in right field at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 28, in honor of Oscar Taveras. (Photo courtesy of the Cardinals)

I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced anything quite like this.

First off, in full disclosure, I’ve suffered through several personal tragedies in my life. I lost my mother to Lupus when I was 14, then my grandfather just several months later. Those were and still are the hardest experiences I’ve ever gone through.

I say that not for pity, but to provide context. The thing about both of those experiences was that even though I was young, I understood my my mother was sick. I understood my grandfather was getting up there in age and had lived a good life. Their deaths, while earth-shattering and heartbreaking, at least made sense in my naive brain.

I understood dying is a part of life. I understood there are things in this world that we as humans simply can’t control. I understood that God has a plan for each and every person that walks this earth.

Thousands of people gathered Tuesday in the Dominican Republic to say goodbye to Oscar Taveras, who died on Sunday as a result of a car accident. (Photo by Franklin Martinez)

Thousands of people gathered Tuesday in the Dominican Republic to say goodbye to Oscar Taveras, who died on Sunday as a result of a car accident. (Photo by Franklin Martinez)

For some reason, Oscar Taveras’ death has still not made sense to me. I thought (hoped) that by now I’d at least have some semblance of rhyme or reason why a 22 year old with immense promise and life ahead of him and an 18 year old girl were taken so suddenly. I’ve struggled with so many schools of thought over the last three days.

Why is this affecting me so much? I never even met or talked to Oscar. Am I overreacting? Should the death of an athlete impact me this much?

Death is part of life, right?  What am I truly upset about? The loss of life, or am I just selfishly upset that the Cardinals are now without one of their future stars? Is that even an OK thought to have? Should I feel guilty about some of my feelings?

How must his family and his girlfriend’s family feel? My grief pales in comparison theirs. Why can’t I make any sense of this?

Chances are you’ve struggled with some of, and maybe all of, those same thoughts. It’s OK.

What makes this so difficult, so different is that when you think of Oscar Taveras, you think of someone whose entire career has been nothing but looking forward. We’ve heard about him for years and when we thought of Oscar, it represented thinking about the future. He was the future.

Even today when I think about Oscar, my mind defaults to the future. It begins to envision that sweet swing sending balls out to the right field bullpen. That beautiful follow through gracing the skies. His infectious smile and youthful antics all throughout the field. It’s the same thoughts my brain has been trained to invoke over the last three or four years.

Perhaps the hardest part has been and will be retraining our brain, because the future was stripped away from us. It was stripped away from his parents, his family, his teammates, his coaches. It was stripped away from the thousands of friends and loved ones who showed up to say goodbye to him at his funeral in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.

It was stripped away from Oscar.

It’s a complete robbery of life that I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

 

Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at highsocksunday@gmail.com

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