Pitchers Hit Eighth

Quintana Questions

Just when you think January will end without much to talk about, one article flips the script for all the wrong reasons. Granted any ‘news’ about the Cardinals helps get us closer to actual baseball, but it is true the silly season has turned into the wacky world after Chicago dominated both parts of the 2016 hardball calendar. I fully expected more from Cubs fans who may just be savoring the shiny new shirts that can finally replace the ones from the 80’s. This is not a slight on the Baby Bears either, as they are built to run towards another October in a steamroll fashion.

On the other side of the Windy City, however, much of the long winter was dominated by a White Sox club that retooled in the most glorious fashion. After months of speculation, both Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded to no one’s surprise. The real shock was in the return package on each and what that might signal going forward in the new CBA. Bill Ivie and I chatted yesterday and both feel St. Louis is primed to be very active on the trade front as well as in free agency the next two years.

That coincidence was before I had even heard about the story linked above, since Jose Quintana checks plenty of boxes for every contending team in the sport. It is only natural to speculate given that Chicago hardly has put to rest any of the discussion about their southpaw ace but the timing just seems off at least for the Birds on the Bat. Not only do the Cardinals have a full rotation at present, but they need the WBC just to find innings for a couple of other options. Acquiring a lefty starter to replace Garcia last month would have also required another move with Lance Lynn needing a spot, but that isn’t even the most head-scratching part of this.

Alex Reyes may be pushed back to start the season, and that in no way means he did anything to deserve a trip to Memphis. Carlos Martinez and Reyes form a dynamic duo that St. Louis can ride to the postseason for the next decade, but if Michael Wacha returns to form in March there is every reason to showcase him in April. The rookie phenom won’t be traded for Quintana or anyone else in 2017 or 2018, not when you are trying to catch the Cubs. Does taking Reyes out of the equation mean a deal between the two clubs is dead? That is the million(s) of dollars and years of control question that will have to be answered in any trade the next few years.

While the front office made the right move in sacrificing a first round pick to get Dexter Fowler, they can’t be in a hurry to clear up the 40-man roster crunch with one swift move. Because let’s be honest here, Quintana or any other game-changing target is going to cost much more in prospects than what the Cards should be willing to sacrifice in January. If this becomes a late June and into July question, though, feel free to mention how much the cost has risen between now and then. Giving up potentially 30+ years of control for even a top starting pitcher before any games have happened only adds to the concerns that one or more pitchers is not healthy.

Yes, the future is very bright in St. Louis but as many of us learned from the Brian Dozier non-news, other teams are going to continually try and use the Cardinals for leverage. Quintana may still end wearing the Birds on the Bat but personally, I am very much looking forward to this campaign and how some of that younger talent performs. There is always time to make moves during the dog days, and In Mo We Trust has never been needed more.


Shopping Spring Sales

With most of the winter weather hopefully in the rear-view, it is officially time to start the baseball countdown. Pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter in less than a month with workouts in full gear before the WBC makes things interesting for the Cardinals more than most teams.  Before jumping into what might occur the next three weeks, read this Winter Warmup review for the latest happenings plus some chuckles.

St. Louis clearly has improved overall with returning healthy players in the pitching staff as well as the new Redbirds. That doesn’t mean the additions are finished, as Mo has already called for at least a lefty-hitting spare outfielder among other pieces. Bullpen arms are always a last-minute addition but those moves rarely move the needle unless you are talking a big trade which is unlikely. The biggest remaining pieces on the market closely resemble what everyone hopes Matt Adams could be, and that is one player who figures to get plenty of at-bats this March.

For anyone searching the clearance bin to find a Kyle Lohse Special, keep digging as the Cardinals still have a full 40-man roster. That does limit the possibilities unless a deal comes together quickly for the just the right piece but bargains have become harder to find. The pillow-contract angle actually would make sense if a first baseman was needed, so that can be scratched off the list as well. With all that being said, just what may be on the St. Louis shopping list t-minus 30 days and counting before the 2017 campaign begins.

The biggest priority has to be figuring who fits the outfield puzzle, and that is where the most attention will be down in Florida. It isn’t out of the question to say the only true roster spot up for grabs is who becomes the spare outfielder who hits from the left side. Adams even slimmed down will not be the answer, so that means another new Redbird should be joining Opening Day given the need. One intriguing name has to be Jordan Schafer if you look at the roster just the right way. Schafer could become Matheny’s swiss-army tool able to pitch or hit but how ready is the southpaw at the Major League level.

Schafer is a familiar name from his time with the Braves as an outfield prospect who was in the Texas League last year as a LOOGY. He has the inside track currently just because it doesn’t cost anything to see if he can make the club. How he is actually deployed around the beginning of March will be even more important because that will let everyone know if another move might be needed. Sam Fuld and a few of the other names out there have question marks as do nearly all the players still looking for teams. Personal favorite Brandon Moss won’t be back, but that was clearly part of the plan to get more athletic.

The 2017 season is right around the corner and honestly, I find myself looking forward to April more than any other season in recent memory. Enjoy the rest of Winter as we thaw out and get ready for Spring.


Cardinals Changing Their Stripes

A few years back, the biggest shock in any off-season I can recall was the announcement that there was now going to be more than just the Birds on the Bat for the front of the jersey. And while the St. Louis for Saturday home games might feel gimmicky to some, the reality is the Cardinals no longer have an advantage over the rest of baseball. Today’s announcement (nothing official just yet) puts the team under the Arch squarely in the middle of an arms’ race with more than a few bats thrown in for good measure.

Gone are the days of ‘hometown discounts’ and wanting to perform in front of a packed house every night. Baseball prints money now so it makes perfect sense for David Price and Jason Heyward to follow the dollar signs to bigger markets. Today the entire management team for the Cards should be applauded for getting Dexter Fowler because going forward everyone is on a level playing field. That’s not to say Carlos Martinez will sign a deal in the next few months that is perceived to be team-friendly but if he does, good on the player and team for having mutual interest.

What I hope beyond hope happens going forward, though, are that the two most recent signings put St. Louis in a better place going into the NEXT two Winters. Everyone agreed that this free agent class may have been the weakest in recent memory which also coincided with some of the wildest trade scenarios possible. Whether or not a play for Tara’s pick (see Blackmon, Charlie) was truly an option is a post for another day as one thing is for certain – the Cardinals were tired of being used as leverage and finishing second.

Celebrate today for what it means moving forward, especially as the build-up left a bitter taste after watching the Cubs and Nats get stronger. They chose to deal away prospects and will have to make more moves to counter the dreaded luxury tax that someday might even come into play for the DeWitt family. Yes I will have less to do come May and June since today also marks the biggest change in strategy to date. Mo sacrificed a first-round pick to make the big league club stronger, and that should be applauded in my opinion.

We have been spoiled the past two decades with some amazing teams and more importantly, future Cardinal Hall-of-Famers. Instead of worrying about a prospect who may or may not matter in five years, let’s give Molina and Wainwright the proper send off to their historic careers. Fowler was the right fit at the right time but make no mistake about it – the price will be higher than anyone predicted. Starting with the Mike Leake contract last December, St. Louis found out that history is great but the present requires more than red jackets or Ballpark Village.

For those of us who anxiously await the start of the season from the final out, the future is brighter today than it was yesterday. And no matter how you feel about the player, that is a cause to be happy this brisk Winter morning.


Matching Up For the Millers

Welcome to the Silly Season! Now that my favorite part of the season has passed (Draft) followed by an extremely eventful July 2nd (International Signing) period, it only makes sense to dive right in for my first post of 2016. The timing is right to re-introduce myself just as the craziest part of the calendar takes place over the entire weekend.

As far as those in St. Louis are concerned, the annual Trade Deadline should just be changed to Relievers ‘R Us until the middle of August. It has turned into a yearly tradition for the Cardinals that will continue sometime in the next 72 hours. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, however, the safest method is to go with what has worked in the past.

Let the Cubs get all press for making the splashy moves while the Dodgers and Nationals fight for the scraps. History has proven that while some trades (Holliday) pay off immediately, the cost of those deals can set an organization back years in the depth department. Look down the I-70 if you need proof at what may be happening very soon in Kansas City. The Royals went all-in last July with a couple of high profile deals that certainly paid off in the short-term.

Fast forward 12 months, though, and the defending champs are mired in next-to-last place nearly ten games back of the surging Indians. While no pitchers from Cleveland or KC figure to make the trek towards the Arch this summer, the lack of depth for the Royals has turned them into potential sellers. That is eye-opening given the talent on their big league roster but not very shocking when you factor in how much top-level depth matters in today’s game.

What all of that means in the NL Central race should be fairly obvious at this point. The St. Louis front office won’t mortgage the farm unless Mike Trout suddenly wants to be a Cardinal. As great as that would be, it isn’t happening this summer or any other one for that matter because the prospect cost would cripple what has quietly become a strength again. Don’t look now but all the new additions this summer have changed the dynamic of just how stacked the prospects are from Memphis down to Johnson City.

MLB recently released their updated Top 30 lists and one familiar name hasn’t changed. Alex Reyes won’t be trading in his Redbirds uniform just yet, but when he does it will be for the Birds on the Bat and not anything else such as pinstripes. Andrew Miller has become the latest can’t-miss closer with rumors spreading to any team with a winning record. Just for the sake of speculation, St. Louis has been grouped in most likely due to the fact that Reyes has positioned himself as one of the finest prospects in all of baseball.

Listen, my fandom has never been questioned but under no circumstances should Reyes or Luke Weaver be sent to another organization for a relief pitcher. As important as it is to get the bullpen figured out, the future rotation trumps all other needs. Way back in March, the lack of depth behind the starters was a hot topic that has all but disappeared thanks to health and more than a little luck. Instead of stressing about which new hurler will be joining the Cardinals in the near future, it is time to think about adding one from the recent past.

Struggling to adapt to his surroundings would be the ultimate cop-out for Shelby Miller, who is just as likely to change teams as Andrew for much different reasons. As much as Reyes has become the next great St. Louis starter, it wasn’t long ago that Shelby had fulfilled some of that same promise. Everyone knows about the deal that sent him to Atlanta, but the Braves maximized his value by shipping him out West. Arizona was familiar with Miller thanks to Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa, but they never could have expected the struggles that have caused a demotion and questions about his future.

The interesting part then becomes how do you value Shelby moving forward. Daniel and I had a discussion earlier today about fit so I wanted to see how Miller has reacted in his return to the PCL. And to put it mildly, I see a number of ways that Shelby could help the Cardinals not only this year but for many more seasons. His stuff is still overpowering, so why not see if Shelby could help bridge the gap to Oh. He also could help release Tyler Lyons for more regular work by taking over the long-man role.

Would it be a risk? Honestly you can say that about any deal made the next two days or two years. As far as this pitcher is concerned, however, St. Louis already knows what they are getting and with many years of control at the same time. I still wouldn’t deal Reyes, Weaver, or Harrison Bader given the fact that Miller no longer appears to be a number one or two starter. But instead of selling the future for a 31-year old reliever, how about a hurler who doesn’t turn 26 until October.

Chances are both Andrew and Shelby won’t have to forward their mail until at least 2017 but anything can happen as the Wacky Weekend is about to commence!


Garcia Gets a Look

To make room on the active roster for newcomer Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday has been put on the 15-day DL. Greg Garcia was also recalled to add depth as Dan Johnson’s tenure with the Cardinals appears to be over. The veteran 1B was DFA to open up a spot on the St. Louis 40-man roster.


Reports late last night had St. Louis and Cleveland close to making a deal for the third consecutive summer, and now Brandon Moss will don uniform No. 21 for the Cardinals. The 1B/OF has 15 HR and 50 RBI in 2015, both that would be team highs for St. Louis.


Playing the Roster Lottery

All teams compete with pretty much the same roster configuration, no matter which level of professional baseball is in the discussion. A 25-man roster typically has 12-14 pitchers to go with two catchers and then a mix of fielders to make the math work. With the final 2015 visit to American League parks, the Cardinals get the added bonus of the Designated Hitter that can help keep most of the regulars healthy. The issue at hand isn’t whether or not Stephen Piscotty belongs on the roster, as the bat will stick with opportunity.

Now the questions about playing time in St. Louis for the top prospect will begin but as Daniel pointed out earlier today, a bigger clock is the priority. The Cards do not have another day off until August 3rd, setting up the yearly roller coaster to again have a possible impact on the active clubhouse. Where as some teams look for a change to bring a spark, that’s not normally how the Birds on the Bat view the trade deadline.

When you are leading the sport with basically a 23-man roster, however, and 22 on days when the long reliever is off-limits news that Ty Kelly will most likely never get to St. Louis become a side note. More changes will have to be made to the 40-man in the very near future as Jordan Walden should be back before July 31st, but that also isn’t the concern. Where the fun starts is looking at how the Cardinals will accommodate the trio of Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia as well as Walden on the active lineup.

Mike Matheny and company are geared for October pretty much with every move, and that makes playing with a short bench all the more frustrating especially after 18 innings of fun. Never mind that Tony Cruz was MIA Sunday or that he was drafted as a 3B, because the back-up catcher under the Arch is largely an afterthought. It also needs to be mentioned that there are currently five catchers residing on the 40-man but having a third backstop on the St. Louis roster hardly would make a difference.

The lack of confidence in Greg Garcia would maybe be a bigger story on a different club, especially as Pete Kozma continues to anchor the bench with his .381 OPS. But with all that in consideration and more injured players closer to contributing, let’s turn to how the roster should look when the calendar turns to August. The dog days are compromised slightly more than usual  given that two All-Star hurlers may have an unknown innings cap getting closer with each start. Only the Cardinals’ front office knows exactly when Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez will be given breaks, but the innings crunch is a real thing.

Instead of looking at all the players who are locks to maintain their spots, it really comes down to three or four spots left up for grabs. Obviously a trade would shake things up, but that unknown is a post for another day. As it stands now, Garcia or Gonzales would slide into the fifth spot in the rotation, most likely pushing Cooney back to Memphis. There could be a modified six-man rotation as well, but off days as well as pushing back the young arms will open up plenty of opportunity for innings. That all but assures Socolovich is the odd-man out as the last guy remaining in the bullpen.

Where things get less obvious is what to do when Walden comes back, on both roster fronts. If Piscotty has taken over first base in a time share of sorts, that makes Dan Johnson an easy DFA candidate plus keeps hard-throwing Tui on the active roster. If he hasn’t been used regularly, though, a stint in Memphis would make sense before rosters expand in September. The Johnson spot could then be used for an incoming option from the left-side if a deal is struck this month or next.

One under-the-radar name in the system to keep an eye on is Jeremy Hazelbaker, who offers speed as well as left-handed pop off the bench. Sporting a cool 1.433 OPS over 15 games with Memphis, Hazelbaker provides good insurance if Mo can flip an outfielder relatively soon. Unless the wheels fall off the bullpen or an injury ‘creeps’ up, the St. Louis postseason chances will be determined by pitching. It appears to be coming right down to the wire again and oh man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to listen in on the war room ten days from now.

No matter what does or doesn’t happen between now and then, it will be fascinating to see if the Cardinals can keep playing short and winning or if anyone can find Cruz!


Godspeed, Oscar Yadier Taveras.

I did not cry Sunday night when I read the news of Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo’s unfortunate fatal car accident. I felt all of the emotions usually associated with and preceding crying, but the tears didn’t come.

I chatted with Daniel on the Gateway to Baseball Heaven podcast Sunday night, mere minutes after the world was learning that Oscar and Edilia were gone. We stumbled and bumbled through it, it was cathartic in a way, if premature for truly having a reaction other than “this sucks.” Shock, disbelief, wanting to wish it away – that was all there, but no tears.

The outpouring of emotion and reactions from the Cardinal players, the news reports, the photos – oh, the incessant photos from the local press and citizenry, some things just should never be seen – these things brought more shock, more disbelief, increasing dismay and sympathy. Still no tears.

Yesterday I read about Taveras’ funeral and the stories of the townspeople who loved him, the children who loved him, the family who loved him and I was moved. There was one name that stuck out to me in the reports, one I’ll never forget. It read:

Oscar Yadier Taveras

Then came the tears. Oscar and Edilia’s one year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras, stopped me in my tracks. I think you can deduce from the gamut of emotion above that it was only a matter of time, and thinking of their young son left behind without truly knowing his mother and father finally put me over the edge.

That’s the differentiating factor of grief and mourning, it is obviously about those lost, but inherently it is also deeply personal to the person grieving, no? How that manifested itself in me, now the fortunate father of two healthy, happy children is that I now tend to see some things in the world the same way I see many of the things in my life – colored through the eyes of a parent. Sorrow and sympathy for the families, the parents of these two young lives lost. A parent should never have to bury their child. I know this is not a unique emotion to me or only to someone who is a parent. Nor is sympathy for a young child, his whole life in front of him. But I can say with relative confidence – and several years experience now – once that protective parental instinct kicks in, something like this hits deeper. It is more personal, more real. And brings more tears.

So on Sunday night and every night since, I’ve hugged my Cardinal-loving four-year-old son a little tighter when I put him to bed. I’ve stared at my four-month-old daughter asleep in her crib a little longer. They both got one extra kiss a day. Yesterday I read about little Oscar Yadier. More hugs, more kisses, more appreciation for the blessing of life.

I write this not to tell you my life, but to relate how I (and I imagine many others) cope. As Cole wrote eloquently, we all find our own ways to work through tragedies such as these. I did not know Oscar or Edilia, I do not know their son Oscar, I do not know their families or friends. I do know that no parent should have to bury a child, and no child should lose both of their parents in such tragic manner, especially while still clinging to the innocence of being a young child.

Today, I take comfort in knowing that Oscar Yadier has the support system of several thousands of beautiful Dominican people, family and friends. I take comfort in the hope that he grows up to share that wide, glowing smile of his father. I take comfort in the video he will be able to watch of his father achieving his life’s dreams, even in such a short life, and the stories that Cardinal fans will be willing to tell him for all of his life.

Mostly, I take comfort in knowing that Oscar Yadier has two new angels watching over him. Rest in peace Oscar and Edilia. Godspeed, Oscar Yadier.


I have the distinct honor of being a voting member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, and this season my vote is being tallied for the Walter Johnson Award for the most outstanding pitcher in the National League.

As with many of these voting processes, BBA or other body of award-givers, there can be very few restrictions or qualifications for any given award, as is the case with this one. It makes it both fun and sometimes maddening distinguishing between several qualified candidates and then having to back up your position. It’s easy to TYPE IN ALL CAPS ON TWITTER BECAUSE YOU DISRESPECTED MY FAVORITE PLAYER, but it’s much different when you have to actually listen to or use reason yourself to deem one season-long performance superior to another.

With that said, here is my ballot:

  1. Clayton Kershaw – If you disagree with this, I will openly mock you. Ok, probably not, that would be rude because I don’t even know you, but it’s very difficult to argue with Kershaw as the winner of this award. Almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched helped result in an ERA and FIP under two, and xFIP just above it. Kershaw threw almost 200 innings and ranked in the top seven in the National League in FIP and xFIP among ALL pitchers. Those top seven lists include pitchers with fewer than ten innings pitched, to put that ranking in perspective. It’s really a shame Kershaw missed a handful of starts due to injury, for while this is already a phenominal season by any standard – we could be talking about a truly historic season.
  2. Jordan Zimmerman – I’ll admit, I almost used the voter crutch of “I’ve seen him more” to put Wainwright in this spot, but the statistics drove me toward Zimmerman. While not reaching the magical threshold of 200 innings pitched, likely due in part to a higher BABIP than his contemporaries on this ballot, Zimmerman did post a strong K/9 rate coupled with a low walk rate – always a recipe for success.
  3. Adam Wainwright – Always a bridesmaid, never the bride. Wainwright’s hiccup in the dog days of summer kept him from making this more of a contest, as he piled up wins (I know, I know), innings, and most importantly – outs. Wainwright posted a 2.38 ERA and 2.88 FIP, he was certainly helped by an improved Cardinals defense. [ED. Note: Please let the elbow be ok, please let the elbow be ok, please let the elbow be ok, please…]
  4. Jake Arrieta – I was surprised when this name showed up in my research. I guess that’s an indictment of my knowledge of what’s going on elsewhere in the league, or I just don’t pay any attention to the Cubs. (Probably a little of A, little of B.) Arrieta arrived with the big league Cubs in early May and proceeded to strike out almost ten per nine for the rest of 2014. He walked a lot too, but kept his pitches in the ballpark better than any other regular NL starter. If Arrieta can put together a full, healthy 2015 he will help buoy a staff looking for innings.
  5. Stephen Strasburg – Strasburg paired with Zimmerman to lead the Nationals to the best record in the National League, Strasburg’s performance predicated upon over 200 innings with lots of strikeouts. Unlike Arrieta, Strasburg struggled keeping the ball in the yard a little this season (what’s that old saying, faster it comes, faster it goes? – I’m dating myself…) but still posted a FIP just under 3 and xFIP of 2.56. The 14-11 record doesn’t scream dominance, but the peripherals do – a few more balls hit at fielders makes Strasburg’s season look much differently, I’d guess.

So there is my ballot. Agree or disagree? There’s a place for that below.


Make no mistake, when John Mozeliak reached out this off-season and signed Jhonny Peralta to a multi-year contract to play shortstop (for now) for the Cardinals, it was about improving the offense at the position. While Peralta has been very good on defense this season (2nd in defensive runs saved with 14, according to Baseball Info Solutions – Zack Cozart is 1st with 15), it was always the bat.

Many have criticized the move because of Peralta’s perceived lack of performance at the plate – after all, that .239 batting average isn’t even Brendan Ryan-esque, right?

But man, is he slugging. To wit:

1 Jhonny Peralta 13 2014 2014 87 344 306 32 73 23 0 39 32 1 64 .239 .317 .441 .758
2 David Eckstein 13 2005 2007 398 1749 1564 216 465 67 8 115 113 0 107 .297 .357 .375 .732
3 Rafael Furcal 12 2011 2012 171 748 673 98 176 29 3 65 61 1 75 .262 .323 .367 .690
4 Brendan Ryan 9 2007 2010 415 1332 1206 165 312 56 10 95 88 8 166 .259 .314 .344 .658
5 Pete Kozma 3 2011 2014 189 555 502 57 117 26 3 50 45 9 114 .233 .293 .315 .608
6 Ryan Theriot 1 2011 2011 132 483 442 46 120 26 1 47 29 0 41 .271 .321 .342 .662
7 Cesar Izturis 1 2008 2008 135 454 414 50 109 10 3 24 29 1 26 .263 .319 .309 .628
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/8/2014.

What you’re reading there is that Peralta, in half of a season, has the most home runs IN TOTAL of any Cardinal shortstop since Edgar Renteria left after the 2004 season.

Peralta’s Cardinal “career” ranks as the highest slugging percentage of any Cardinal shortstop’s career. I’ll give you small sample size on that one, given that his “career” is only 344 plate appearances, but Peralta’s 2014 as a season would rank 11th best in Cardinal history as well. Heady company in either case.

I’ll certainly be beaten over the head with “yeah, but PEDs” and “he’s not good at defense” (yes, that actually happens) just as I have been on Twitter when pointing out *GASP* facts about Peralta’s performance and value relative to his contract. I’ve addressed the PED thing before. If you still believe he’s not been good this season defensively, I can’t help you.

Peralta’s season is good for 2.8 fWAR as I type this. Converting to dollars, he’s been “worth” $15.5 million SO FAR this season. How much is he making this year, again?

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Going Out With a Bang

What a ride it has been…the end.

Okay, so that sounds more like how the weekend series for the big club went, but the truth is this was much harder to do after an amazing run. It feels like there is so much to say in a short amount of space, and I’ll do my best to include everyone responsible. By no means is this a sad post, however, and I’ll always be around the Twitterverse as well as supporting the UCB in anything I can do.

The Conclave recently celebrated a year of bringing the best Birds on the Bat content to the masses, and it was at that point I was faced with a decision. Not THE decision like that one basketball guy but finding time to fit everything in finally reached a crossroads. Not everyone can be Shoptaw or Buffa after all!

I’ve been a sports writer for 20 years and never in my wildest dreams did I think getting to meet the GM of the Cardinals would happen, let alone multiple times. So it is fitting I provided the comedic relief this time around for my last installment of UCB weekend. Your faithful scrappy utility blogger has a higher calling (Graduate School) as well as a talented daughter to keep on her own college track that will now be my focus. I wouldn’t be here without Mrs. Scrappy-Utility-Blogger, and I know she is ready to not have to share me with St. Louis baseball.

But the trio of readers left at this point didn’t show up for reminiscing tales — this is still the Preacher’s last ride! And the only way to finish it off has to be a final bold prediction. It is trade season but this campaign has surely not turned out as anyone predicted. The club is missing something and no, it isn’t more cowbell. Another strong voice in the clubhouse would bring that competitive fire back, and it would just be icing on the cake if said voice also happens to be left-handed.

As I hinted at earlier, I’m going in a different direction even after David Price keeps mowing down the competition.

Yup, you read that right. I do want Mo to pull off a trade for an ace and even from the AL East but not for a bidding war. Let the Blue Jays, Giants, and Dodgers play Price is Right and give up half their top ten prospects. Unless the Rays come back to Earth, it makes no sense to deal unless Longoria suddenly ends up in the conversation and well, Tampa hasn’t suddenly been taken over by TLR as far as we know. It also hurts any possible deals now that the cellar belongs to the other surprise team of the division.

Boston fans can certainly understand the grumbling felt by the Cardinal backers, but they will also point out that St. Louis is still in playoff consideration. While the Red Sox continue to admire their hardware from last October, a possible big problem resides on the horizon. Depending on which reports you believe, contract negotiations with ace Jon Lester have stopped and not everyone is happy about it. Would that provide the necessary window for another Holliday-type deal in the making?

As Daniel has told me many times, In Mo We Trust, and I would support a deal for a rental in this case. Why when the cost would still be high and sending prospects to Boston seems like a really bad idea you smart people say? Trades on paper rarely ever make sense but look at what the Red Sox need. They lost one outfielder to free agency and have struggled to put talent on the field since beating the Cards. Obviously I’m not looking at Taveras or even Piscotty in this exercise, but Grichuk and even a healthy Ramsey certainly seem like a strong starting point.

For me, though, I honestly can see this deal getting done more than any other because Boston has very little to lose. The chances of locking up Lester may be slim, but I’m reminded of what Nick said about championships — players come and go but flags fly forever. Lester is exactly the type of ace needed to pair with Wainwright and throw in a Brock Holt type, shopping list complete. Of course this is easier said than done because surely even less than half a season of an ace would cost at least a pitcher too, right?

Well, would anyone miss a Cooney or Lyons (sorry Daniel) if it certainly brings the pedigree that Lester has to offer. And hey, he may truly like the National League and everything St. Louis has to offer as one of the other truly great cities to play in…okay pipe dream aside, they have to make a move so why not reach for the stars! I’ve been blessed to share a room with great people and will never forget the times shared over the years. To Nick and Daniel, thanks for bringing me along for the ride and bring home title No. 12 because odd numbers are no fun!

Till we meet again – Preacher


[Author’s Note: Yes, you read that title right. In August of 2013, the United Cardinal Bloggers undertook one of their various monthly projects intended to get readers to better know the folks writing. I drew Dan Buffa, then (and still, just not Cardinal-centric) of Dose of Buffa, now at Sports Rants. Unfortunately for Dan, I failed to get the post up in a timely manner and it didn’t make it out in the timeframe necessary for the project. Well, lest it be lost to the ether, here is the entirety of my Q&A with Dan, a great Cardinals fan and a patient fella – sorry it took me this long to get this up Dan, hope you’re well.]

[Author’s Note 2: Keep the snark to yourself on items that are now nine months old (yes, I’m a terrible person) – questions that asked for predictions or projections are not now subject to discussion because I was tardy in posting. If anything, congratulate Dan where he was right.]

PH8: Many of us have a favorite story or a realization of sorts about how or why we’re a Cardinal fan, or a baseball fan in general (and for some of us, why we’re a little neurotic about it…) – what’s yours?

DB: I started watching baseball when I was 5 years old with my dad. It was something I developed on my own and from an early age, I could tell it wasn’t going to be a casual love of the game. There was an intensity there whenever I watched as a kid, and it only grew as I went through my teenage years into high school and college. In 1996, I befriended current Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III and he got me a job on The Manual Scoreboard at the old Busch. From 1998 until the closing in 2005, I was integrated with the team even more and became obsessed with each player, their stats and how they would do against a particular team. Talk about being neurotic. We were all crazy die hards who let a loss hang over our evening. We called our manual scoreboard hub the Nerve Center because it was where the scores came out and basically a confession table for real fans. I tell my wife that I marry this team in February every year until we separate in November. The Cards are a team that became attached to my central nervous system and not just an ordinary love. I let every loss inside and let’s just say some summer nights are better than others.

PH8: How long have you been writing for, and what made you want to write about the Cardinals?

DB: I have been writing since I was in high school but I started blogging on the Cards when I started working on the scoreboard. I started sending out these rants/emails about the team to my fellow Scoreboard watchers and the list of recipients grew and grew with each year. I wrote short stories on Rick Ankiel‘s ascension or Bud Smith‘s no hitter and turned the true story into a tall tale. I love to write and feel a journalistic hunger to tell my side of the story or give my take and that never came more smoothly than it did with the Cardinals. I regularly blog at least a 1,000 words on them every 48 hours because I see so many things about the team that needs to be addressed and I don’t have a limit like other paid writers. I guess you can say I don’t let my amount of readers lead on my topical discussion but I do like a response on one of my blogs because there is nothing better than breaking down a baseball team.

PH8: Sacrifice bunting – for or against?

DB: For it as long as it’s used in moderation. Far too many times, a manager will give away too many outs thinking he is positioning the team better with a bunt. Naturally, pitchers can’t hit as well as the other 8 position players (unless they are named Pete Kozma) so it’s logical for them to bunt. However, the fewer outs you have and if you can catch another team off guard with a hitting approach at the plate instead of bunting and providing the pitcher with a breathing session and a free out, I am all for the anti-bunt approach. There is a time for a bunt and that usually comes in a one run game where you must get that runner into scoring position so you can tie the game. When it reaches the point of regularity, I am not a huge fan of giving away free outs. Moderation is best.

PH8: Who’s your favorite Cardinal from the team’s history that’s not in the Hall of Fame or on the wall at Busch III?

DB: Pedro Guerrero was my favorite as a kid growing up and in a lot of ways my first favorite player. The quirky former Dodger villain (who threw his glove down in disgust when Ozzie hit the go crazy home run) who turned into an RBI machine for the Cards in 1989, played a decent first base and always had this goofy mystique around him. He had his off the field troubles and didn’t hit for a ton of power but he got my attention and I remember this great 2 HR day he had at Wrigley on a Friday and his picture was all over the cover of the Saturday newspaper. I could have taped the sports front page to my chest and worn it like a badge of honor I was so proud of being a Guerrero guy. He wasn’t a huge fan favorite but I still have the paper from the day after he stood at home plate and tipped his cap to the crowd at old Busch. He was a player’s guy and someone who wasn’t flashy but got the job done.

PH8: How hard can you throw a fastball?

DB: I pitched a little in high school and once hit 65 mile per hour. These days, I would be lucky if I hit 55 because I haven’t pitched in some time and never had the hardest arm in the crowd. I played a lot of first base and outfield and had an arm that probably matched up to Jon Jay or Matt Holliday. I just made sure I hit the cutoff guy instead of making an infamous name for myself by missing the plate by 20 feet.

PH8: Where is your favorite place to sit at Busch Stadium? Why?

DB: I love sitting down the third base line in Loge. You can see all the action from an angle and easily track down the trajectory of fly balls and get an idea of where the fielders’ range is at on close and tight plays. Sitting too low leaves you handicap to the flight of the ball and the outfielder’s chances of catching the ball. Sitting too high leaves you absent from the details of the game. Loge down the third base line (or first base line for that matter) gives you the best “baseball sense” positioning. Except for being unable to see the strike zone, you are seated perfectly. Who cares about the strike zone familiarity anyway? The player reaction and umpire mannerisms give you all the answers you need and getting lost in balls/strikes at a game can deprive you of the many jewels from the rest of the action.

PH8: Have you seen the Cardinals play at other stadiums, and if so, where? If not, where would you like to go?

DB: I saw them play the White Sox at Comiskey Park when I was in high school. It was different seeing them in their road grays in person and also interesting to hear the home crowd break down my players or present their ways to get them out. It was like being a mole at a rival’s dinner party. I don’t make a big deal and lots of noise when I attend games at other parks or if I do in the future. I just sit there, hope for a win and cheer in the right moments while not being absent or too silent. It’s a great test of your strength as a fan watching them in other parks. Before they rip it down, I hope to get to Wrigley one summer for a Cards-Cubs game. Hopefully, when the Cubs aren’t a horrible team and out of the race.

PH8: Scenario: the Cardinals have reached the 2013 World Series, Wainwright had to pitch a complete game gem to win game 7 of the NLCS and is unavailable – who starts game 1 of the Series?

DB: Joe Kelly. Right now, it’s Joe Kelly because he has an ability in his 26 career starts to pitch very well with runners on base, doesn’t allow the big inning and always gives you a solid 5-6 innings. The guy has the chops to take the mound in an opposing park or on a big stage and get into a risky situation and not let his mental makeup disappear. Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia don’t have their mental strength. Jake Westbrook is a declining arm that depends on luck. Shelby Miller is an interesting choice but doesn’t pitch as well in dicey go for broke spots like Kelly does.

PH8: Where do you think Carlos Beltran will play next season?

DB: Tough question because there are so many variables. If he doesn’t demand a 3 year deal, it could be in St. Louis. It depends on what Carlos wants. He has provided 2 very good years here and proven he can still play RF and produce. He has the dead spot in July and August but recovers in September and the playoffs. With Oscar Taveras recovering from ankle surgery and seemingly having a great chance of making the team in 2014, Beltran’s situation is so fluid that I am not surprised it gives John Mozeliak sleepless nights. It all comes down to Beltran. He could earn his retirement ticket and play for a AL league contender and do a split RF/DH role. He has earned the right, unlike Lance Berkman, the big career closing contract. Or he could work out a smaller deal or a different way to stay here and get a ring. Playing a part too is if the Cards end up winning the World Series this year. Beltran came here to win a ring and may depart easier if we win it this year. Standing here today, I’d say the chances of Beltran returning are 35/65. The smaller percentage for him staying in Cardinal Red because I have a hard time thinking he will accept another 1-2 year deal when he can cash in somewhere else for a team that contends for a World Series. He’s a business man and a pragmatic athlete who knows he may have one more great contract left in him and that he better soak it up right now. Still, Mo will make a play. He wants Beltran here to mentor Oscar and keep that steady bat in the lineup. Offseason’s biggest quarrel is the Beltran decision.

PH8: What one position will the Cardinals upgrade after the 2013 season, and how?

DB: Shortstop. There’s no way the team can present Kozma, Ryan Jackson or Daniel Descalso as a starting shortstop and with the proposed departure of Beltran. You have to find a better impact bat to put at shortstop and while it may seem preposterous to some, I would like the team to take a look at Jimmy Rollins. Sure, there will be other candidates out there to take a look at, but Rollins is a guy who has played great baseball and I believe has something left to provide in a winning environment. If you can’t find that big young shortstop, Rollins could work. He had his best year when the Phillies were winning. When they declined this year, he went right with them. Rollins needs a winning team to be at the top of his game and I think would be an upgrade and he would benefit from the change of scenery and the placing inside a strong lineup. You can still play DD there to give Rollins rest, but if the market is dry, Rollins could work. Jon Jay has earned another season in CF, while Allen Craig can play RF if Beltran departs with Matt Adams moving into first. Here’s a bonus answer. The player that could be leaving after the season is David Freese. He is on a year to year basis and hasn’t earned that multi-year contract. With Kolten Wong needing more playing time and Matt Carpenter playing a great third base, this could be the big offseason shocker. Freese hasn’t shown me the traits needed to keep him here long term.

Wonderful answers! Better late than never? Check out Dan’s Cardinal work at Sports Rants and as part of the UCB! Thanks, Dan!

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