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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pujols again is swinging a hot bat

Pujols again is swinging a hot bat
By Rick Hummel
Albert Pujols
Albert Pujolswatches his home run leave Holman Stadium during the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training baseball game against the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Fla., March 7.
(Orlin Wagner/AP)

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. — Albert Pujols is hitting .415, he has five home runs and he's slugging .830 this spring. This hardly is man bites dog material as Pujols does this sort of thing almost every spring and he's repeated it to a large degree in each of his previous seven big-league seasons.

Only last year did Pujols ever struggle in the spring. Last year, he didn't have a home run virtually until the end of camp and was hitting mostly in the .260s, although manager Tony La Russa and Pujols ascribed some of the home-run drought to the wind blowing in constantly in Florida ballparks.

"It wasn't my normal spring last spring, but I felt great," said Pujols. "The wind was blowing in a lot. But I think this is one of the best springs I've had in my career. I started seeing the ball good the first week of the spring, which is not normal. Now, I'm working on different things and I'm getting good results."

Asked to amplify on those things, Pujols smiled and said, "Top secret. Can't tell you. Then the league is going to know what I'm working on."

Regardless of the atmospheric conditions last spring, hitting coach Hal McRae said Pujols "has had a much better spring than last year — just the way he's swinging the bat. I don't get involved in the numbers."

One of the numbers to keep an eye on perhaps this year is how many times Pujols will be pitched to, with such veterans as Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds gone. McRae said he has thought a lot about the protection that Pujols would be afforded.

"That's my main concern," said McRae. "The two lefthanded hitters (Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel) have to perform around him. (Righthanded-hitting Troy) Glaus will give some support, but the key to me is the lefthanded hitters."

Pujols, however, said he wasn't worried about who would protect him and, in fact, spoke highly of the Cardinals' corps of young hitters, which includes Memphis-bound Colby Rasmus, who cracked a two-run homer as a reserve Sunday. Ankiel, who will bat fourth as often as not behind Pujols at the start of the season, also hit a two-run homer, giving him four home runs and 11 runs batted in, plus a .361 average, this spring.

"We've got Troy and we've got Ankiel and we've got Dunc," said Pujols, who also listed Skip Schumaker and Yadier Molina in the young-talent group.

"We've got a lot of young guys who bring excitement. They have a lot of talent and they have a good idea of what they want to do at the plate. They don't need a lot of teaching. Those guys already have an idea of how to play the game.

"If you would have told me there would be a lot of guys with no talent, it would be different but I'm excited."

Pujols was hampered by elbow and leg ailments last season. He so far has not had a problem with the torn ligament in his right elbow, and the hamstring injuries that dogged him appear to have abated as Pujols has shown speed on the bases and run them aggressively.

"Instead of resting two weeks, I rested six weeks in the offseason," he said. "I wish we had been playing in the playoffs but it wasn't a bad thing. I needed to heal from the injuries."

Pujols had just two of the Cardinals' 21 hits Sunday, both singles in a 14-4 rout of the New York Mets, and when he came into the clubhouse after being replaced by a pinch runner, he screeched, "Those kids can hit."

The reference was to a six-run surge in the ninth, highlighted by Rasmus, whom Pujols has taken under his wing a bit.

"I like the kid," said Pujols. "I like everybody on my team but he's a real good kid. There's not much you can teach the kid but when he gets more of an idea about hitting, I think he's going to be a really dangerous hitter because he's got all the tools.

"He can run, he can throw, he can field, he has some power and he can hit. Players like that don't come in the same package. Look at the spring training he's having (.310 with 12 walks and three homers). He's probably not going to make the team because we've got all these guys who are having better spring trainings than he's having.

"One thing I told him, 'Go back to wherever they send you and keep working hard. Don't be disappointed that you got yourself sent down. Hopefully, I'll see you in a month.'''

In his eighth season, Pujols said he didn't consider himself a leader as much as an adviser.

"I don't put all that responsibility on me being a leader," he said. "I'm not a babysitter. Everybody here knows what they need to do.

"There's some things that you have to control on the team. When you see a couple of guys bragging, not doing their job and not playing the game the right way, then you can say something to them.

"But, there's going a bunch of young guys here right now. To have them play the way they've played here in the spring brings a lot of excitement to the veteran guys and motivates us to play harder and to play with the energy they play with."

With David Eckstein, Rolen and Edmonds gone, the look of the Cardinals will be as different as it's been for a half dozen or so years.

"Change sometimes can be good," said Pujols, "but we cannot say anything until after the season and see how the changes go. You miss the guys who got traded or they couldn't sign again because they were in the same boat you were in 2006 and we won the World Series. Those are memories you are never going to forget and they were great teammates.

"But, at the same time, if I get traded tomorrow off this team, people are going to say the same thing — that you need to move on and move on with the guys that you have."

McClellan appears to have made club

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — In October 2006, a young righthanded reliever made something of a name for himself by freezing New York Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran with a called third strike.

The locale Sunday was Tradition Field and not a league championship game in Shea Stadium, and the pitcher was not Adam Wainwright, but St. Louisan Kyle McClellan. The inning was the fifth and not the ninth, but the result was the same. McClellan froze Beltran with a called third strike to stop a Mets rally, and the Hazelwood West product took a giant step toward landing the final berth on the Cardinals' opening-day pitching staff.

McClellan, pitching in front of many members of his family who had made the trip, and his friends watching on television back in St. Louis, said, "I didn't really know what my chances were coming in'' this spring.

At age 23, McClellan never has pitched above Class AA and has been a reliever only one season. But this spring he has a 1.64 earned-run average in 11 innings, including 2 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday.

"What I wanted to do coming into spring was to do well and catch some attention," he said. "I've done that. Now, once you get that attention, you keep going. You don't want to be a guy who catches it for a little while and then it's gone."

But McClellan said, "If you had asked me if I thought I would be here the last week, I would have said, 'I don't think there's any chance.'"

Manager Tony La Russa said he didn't bring in McClellan as a test case against Beltran. La Russa said starter Todd Wellemeyer was coming out after 80 pitches and Wellemeyer reached 80 with two outs and two on in the fifth inning with the Cardinals protecting a 6-3 lead.

"I love those situations," McClellan said. "You focus more. If you come in and there's nobody on, it's easier to lose your concentration. There's no room for error. The only better thing is a one-run lead."

La Russa almost let it slip that McClellan is likely to be on the club.

"That's exactly the situation he's going to be challenged with," La Russa said. "And I thought he handled himself really well.

"It was an indication of the type of the situation he might be called upon to pitch in, if he's on the club."

Albert Pujols is a workout partner of McClellan's in the offseason in St. Louis.

"He's got a lot of heart," Pujols said. "He's got the stuff to be here in the big leagues and he just needs to trust his stuff and listen to (pitching coach Dave) Duncan."

Red Scare: 10 Unforgettable Cardinal Killers

In the wake of a season that showcased one of the worst starting staffs in Cardinal history, and looking into the quagmire of a potentially disastrous 2008 campaign, it seems agonizingly appropriate to highlight some of the most crucial Cardinal killers in recent memory. Some of these players have the uncanny ability to repeatedly destroy Cardinal pitching or, on the flip side, completely shut down a Redbird lineup… seemingly elevating their level of talent to otherworldly status when facing the birds on the bat. Others seem to have a penchant for backbreaking clutch plays or on-field incidents, ultimately burned into the memories of heartbroken members of Cardinal Nation. Fans loathe them, players audibly gulp when they see them on the opposing lineup card and they have the rare ability to give even the unflappable Tony LaRussa nightmares. In no particular order, here are 10 of the most notable Cardinal killers. Get ready for cold sweats, skip.

Jim Thome
The epitome of a slugger, this hulking, corn-fed good ‘ol boy absolutely annihilates Redbird pitching. In exactly 100 career at bats he has ripped St. Louis hurlers to the tune of 18 homeruns, 40 RBI and a .430 batting average.

Carlos Beltran
No surprise he makes the cut, because Beltran burns the Cards when it counts. In two postseason series (2004, 2006) he went yard 7 times to compliment his .353 average and 9 RBI. Rumor has it the source of Gross. How did this swarthy, gold chain wearing pile of man-meat inflict so much damage on the Cardinals?his power is derived from the hideous mole on the side of his head.

Craig Counsell
Most notably known for his game-winning 3-run bomb in the 2001 NLDS and a batting stance that would instantly get him into Magnolia without paying a cover, Counsell is the ultimate fly in the ointment. It’s probably because no one expects him to do anything at all, so when he does it stings all the more.

Carlos Zambrano
This triangle toothed Chicago Cub’s stuff is almost as nasty as his attitude, and he loves working over Cardinal hitters. Since 2005 he is 7-0 with a 1.48 ERA against St. Louis. Plus he looks like a demon, and Cards fans will never forgive him for plunking Edmonds twice in one game.

Alex Cintron
No introduction necessary. The man solely responsible for turning Scott Rolen’s shoulder into a Jello mold and squashing the Cardinals World Series hopes in 2002, is actually a terrible baseball player. And that just makes the grapes even more sour.

Tom Glavine
This old man never seems to go away. He mowed down Cardinal hitters in his glory days as a Brave and his senile days as a Met (most notably in the 2006 NLCS), and has complied a 20-6 record against the Birds since he came into the league some 300 odd years ago.

Matt Holliday
The NL’s best hitter last season loves playing against the birds on the bat. In less than 80 at bats Holliday hit .418, swatted 9 dingers and complied a 1.331 OPS. A few more games against the Cardinals and he might not have gotten robbed of the MVP last year.

Brad Lidge*
For 2 years no closer had ever shut down a Redbird lineup like Brad Lidge. His 99 mph fastball, knee buckling slider and stupid sole patch haunted Cardinal hitters. In 15 regular season games in 2004-05 and 4 postseason games in 2004 he allowed 0 runs and only 4 hits.

Lance Berkman, Cardinal Killer, seen here with dorky family.Lance Berkman
Cardinal fans hate Lance Berkman because he is the best hitter on the Astros and it seems like they play against him 50 times a year… and because his name is Lance. Over the years Berkman has torched the Birds for 27 homeruns and 96 RBI at a .317 clip. Here’s hoping he gets traded.

Kip Wells
The Kipper cost the Cardinals almost as many wins last year as the rest of these guys combined. Ok, maybe that’s a bit irrational, but how else can you interpret 17 losses and a 5.70 ERA. And the fact that he looks like KD Lang made it even harder to stomach.

The Cardinals are going to have enough problems this season. If the road back to .500 is a realistic possibility, they definitely have a few speed bumps to avoid.

*All statistics are prior to Albert Pujols’ destruction of Lidge’s career with one swing in the 2005 NLCS.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cardinals Team Report

nside Pitch

A tattered Cardinals rotation got a lift when veteran Kyle Lohse, who worked a combined 191 2/3 innings for Cincinnati and Philadelphia last year, signed a one-year contract with St. Louis. He will receive a base salary of $4.25 million

Right-handers Matt Clement and Chris Carpenter and lefty Mark Mulder already weren’t going to be ready for the start of the season as they continue to recover from surgeries. And now right-hander Joel Pineiro, who suffered shoulder inflammation after just one spring start, also is likely to open the season on the disabled list.

“You’d be jeopardizing (Pineiro) to be putting him in that situation” of pitching in the first week of the season, pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “If it takes time, it takes time.”

With right-hander Braden Looper struggling early in the spring, Lohse, who has been throwing to Cal State Fullerton hitters, might be the No. 2 starter behind right-hander Adam Wainwright.

General manager John Mozeliak, who had hesitated to sign another free agent pitcher because of flexibility issues that would arise when the injured hurlers return, said, “If this was a perfect world, we wouldn’t have had to go down this road. But it’s not, and we’re going to need a guy to pitch every fifth day.”

Duncan, after watching Lohse’s first workout, said, “I was impressed with his control of all his pitches.

“There’s a need. I think we picked him up under the right circumstances.”

Lohse got under way with the Cardinals on Monday, firing 70 pitches in a simulated game. “I just felt like I normally would at this time of the year,” he said.

Notes, Quotes

• RHP Adam Wainwright struggled on the mound a day after signing a $15 million, four-year contract. Wainwright allowed four earned runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings with a strikeout and a walk.

• LHP Tyler Johnson, out all spring with a strained left rotator cuff, will be re-examined Saturday. General manager John Mozeliak expressed frustration to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Johnson is still unable to throw. “At some point we need the pitcher to pitch. He’s not pitching. So at some point we examine all our options and try to determine what’s best for the club,” Mozeliak said.

• OF Juan Gonzalez, out since March 12 with an abdominal strain, doesn’t have a hernia, he learned after an exam Thursday. However, he remains sidelined indefinitely.

• INF Brendan Ryan, who has a mild muscle strain in his right side, won’t return before Saturday, the team announced. Ryan hasn’t played since Monday.

• 1B Albert Pujols, who didn’t homer until deep into spring training last year, hit his fifth of the spring Wednesday at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., off Baltimore LHP Adam Loewen. Pujols, who drove in a total of three runs, also has five doubles this spring and is slugging .857.

• RHP Brad Thompson, a spot starter last season, made his first start of the spring Wednesday and was highly effective. He held Baltimore to two runs, one of the scratch variety, and four hits in 4 1/3 innings.

• RHP Jason Isringhausen, who hadn’t pitched in nearly a week because of a back strain, worked a perfect sixth inning Wednesday.

• RHP Kyle Lohse, signed last week to a one-year contract as a free agent, will make his first spring start for the Cardinals on Saturday against his former team of many years, the Minnesota Twins.

• OF Chris Duncan, hitting .038 (1-for-26) and recovering from a back ailment, got some extra at-bats Wednesday in a minor league game in Jupiter, Fla. He continues to try to regain his form of the first half of last season, when he hit 16 home runs and batted .288. After his morning workout, Duncan then motored to Fort Lauderdale and popped an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat against Baltimore.

• SS Cesar Izturis, who had been 5-for-36 (.139) this spring, had two hits Wednesday.

By The Numbers: 4—Of the Cardinals’ first eight exhibition victories, four came in their first four games with the New York Mets.

Quote To Note: “I know under the circumstances I’ll probably be under a little bit more of a spotlight.”—Newly signed RHP Kyle Lohse, who came to terms with just two weeks left in spring training.

Roster Report

With the Cardinals’ rotation suffering from numerous injuries, the team made a mid-spring training acquisition, picking up free agent RHP Kyle Lohse. If he gets up to speed in time, he might wind up as the No. 2 starter.

Arrivals: C Jason LaRue (free agent from Royals), SS Cesar Izturis (free agent from Pirates), INF D’Angelo Jimenez (minor league free agent from Nationals), RHP Matt Clement (free agent from Red Sox), 3B Troy Glaus (trade with Blue Jays), OF Juan Gonzalez (minor league free agent, out of baseball last year), LHP Ron Villone (minor league free agent from Yankees), RHP Kyle Lohse (free agent from Philadelphia).

Departures: OF So Taguchi (free agent, signed with Phillies), RHP Troy Percival (free agent, signed with Rays), SS David Eckstein (free agent, signed with Blue Jays), CF Jim Edmonds (traded to Padres), C Gary Bennett (free agent, signed with Dodgers), RHP Kip Wells (free agent, signed with Rockies), INF Miguel Cairo (free agent, signed with Mariners), 3B Scott Rolen (traded to Blue Jays), INF Russell Branyan (free agent, signed minor league deal with Brewers), C Kelly Stinnett (free agent, unsigned), OF Preston Wilson (free agent, unsigned).

Projected Rotation:

1. RHP Adam Wainwright

2. RHP Kyle Lohse

3. RHP Braden Looper

4. RHP Todd Wellemeyer

5. RHP Anthony Reyes

The rotation is all right-handed, so far, with LHP Mark Mulder (shoulder surgery) not being counted on until the second month of the season. RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Matt Clement and RHP Joel Pineiro are all ailing, too.

Projected Bullpen:

RHP Jason Isringhausen (closer)

RHP Ryan Franklin

RHP Russ Springer

LHP Randy Flores

LHP Tyler Johnson

RHP Brad Thompson

RHP Cliff Politte

In what generally was a poor 2007 season overall, the Cardinals bullpen was a strength, with Isringhausen able to stay healthy for the whole season and rack up 32 saves while holding opponents to a .179 batting average. Springer and Franklin were solid for most of the season as setup men, but Flores and Johnson must be more consistent. Politte, originally a Cardinal, could make the club as a non-roster invitee.

Projected Lineup:

1. RF Skip Schumaker

2. CF Rick Ankiel

3. 1B Albert Pujols

4. 3B Troy Glaus

5. LF Chris Duncan

6. C Yadier Molina

7. 2B Adam Kennedy

8. Pitcher

9. SS Cesar Izturis

Unless he changes his mind, manager Tony La Russa is likely to go with a position player hitting ninth as he did in the final two months last year. According to La Russa’s research, the pitcher hitting eighth rarely hurt a Cardinals rally. Izturis has enough speed that he could become the “second leadoff man,” similar to how American League lineups are constructed. Schumaker might give way to 21-year-old Colby Rasmus if the latter is ready sometime early in the season.

Projected Reserves:

C Jason LaRue

INF Brendan Ryan

INF Aaron Miles

OF Ryan Ludwick

OF Brian Barton or OF Juan Gonzalez

LaRue figures to give C Yadier Molina a better backup than Gary Bennett was last year. Ryan’s chances of sticking increased with the release of INF Scott Spiezio. Barton could make the club with his speed or Gonzalez with his blasts from the past.

Top Rookies: CF Colby Rasmus swatted 29 homers at Class AA Springfield last year and continued to excel as his U.S. team won a tournament in Japan. C Bryan Anderson probably is still a year away, although he hit .298 at Springfield.

Medical Watch:

INF Brendan Ryan (muscle strain in right side) hasn’t played since March 17. He won’t return before March 22.

RHP Jason Isringhausen (sore back) missed a schedule appearance March 16. He returned to action March 19.

OF Juan Gonzalez (abdominal strain) was scratched from the lineup March 12 and still hadn’t played as of March 20. He is day-to-day.

RHP Joel Pineiro (right shoulder strain) missed his March 2 start, pitched March 7, then missed his March 12 start. He likely will open the season on the disabled list.

LHP Tyler Johnson (sore left shoulder) won’t need surgery, but he will open the season on the disabled list.

RHP Chris Carpenter (Tommy John surgery in July 2007) isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break.

LHP Mark Mulder (shoulder surgery in September 2007) is expected to be ready sometime in May.

RF Juan Encarnacion (fractured eye socket) won’t play this year after he was struck by a foul ball last Aug. 31.

RHP Josh Kinney (Tommy John elbow surgery in March 2007) suffered a broken right elbow in August 2007, slowing his rehab. He is unlikely to return before May.

RHP Matt Clement (shoulder surgery in September 2006) is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, pitching coach Dave Duncan said at the start of spring training.

RHP Dewon Brazelton (stiff right shoulder) was limited to playing catch early in spring training.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A look at the competition: The Houston Astros

A look at the competition: The Houston Astros

By cards4life on reds

2007 record: 73-89, 4th place in the nl central

IN: doug brocail,jack cassel, geoff geary, ryan houston, chad paronto, jose valverde, oscar villarreal, geoff blum, miguel tejada, reggie abercrombie, micheal bourn, darin erstad, yordany ramirez, kaz matsui (not all these guys will make the team; most likely, some will have to compete for a spot on the roster this spring training which is quickly coming to a close).

OUT: matt albers, craig biggio, eric bruntlett, chris burke, adam everett, juan gutierrez, jason jennings, mike lamb, eric munson, orlando palmeiro, troy patton, brad lidge, trever miller, chad qualls, dennis sarfate, luke scott

as you can see from the amount of players that have left and the new guys that were brought in, there was a huge turn over in the roster of this team. the problem is, I’m not sure it was for the better.

the astros basically traded their whole farm system and some damn good major league players for a shortstop that seems to be declining both defensively and offensively and its happening rather rapidly.

the astros’ problems last year was not because they could not score runs or close out games per say, but because their starting pitching was terrible. look for it to be the same if not worst this season.

the got roy oswalt and who? here is one of the potential astros rotations: roy oswalt, woody williams, shawn chacon, brandon backe and wandy rodriguez. really?

williams is a guy at the end of his career and he is a fly ball pitcher in the ballpark; interesting isn’t it? he did not fair too well last season and he won’t this season either. chacon was promarily a reliever last season; in fact, of his 96 innings pitched, only 19 1/3 innings came as a starter. his splits show that he was a good reliever last season but a bad starter. backe has potential but he keeps getting injured.

wandy is the only starter that the ’stros can potentially depend on after oswalt. that’s it; who’s going to get the ball to valverde? you bring in a 40 save closer but you can’t had him the lead so what is the point? they traded away luke scott, a potentially potent left handed bat and a regular starter in the outfield who was young and cheap. burke is also gone; I don’t know if he could have been a starter, but he certainly was a good supersub. qualls and lidge are also gone, both intregal parts of the bullpen. they also way overpaid for matsui.

their lineup should be potent though with c. lee, berkman, pence, tejada. so, projected lineup for 2008 might look like this:
bourn, matsui, tejada, berkman, lee, pence, wigginton, towles. this lineup has great power potential but also potential to strike out a lot, much like the old cincy lineups.

verdict: they got a chance in this division, but not for a wild card. if the cubs, brewers and reds slip then the astros got it but I think a lot of things would have to go wrong with all three clubs and possibly the cardinals for the astros to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team being that competitive except in the nights roy pitches and maybe the nights what wandy pitches. my guess is that this team will win 74 games and lose 88.

Take 5: Why the Cards may not be as bad as feared

The overview on this baseball season hasn’t changed much in recent days. The Brewers remain the team to beat in the National League Central, with the sage Ted Simmons on their bench to settle things down.

The Cubs will make a big run at the playoffs, assuming that Lou Piniella locates a closer. (Kerry Wood could be the guy . . . or the brittle Wood could end up in a body cast after suffering multiple and simultaneous injuries.)

But the Cardinals keep generating hints that they might not be nearly as bad as the general public fears. Here are Five Positive Signs from the last several days:

1. Against all odds, the temporary rotation is shaping up.

Adam Wainwright appears prepared for the lead role leaving Jupiter. Free agent pick-up Kyle Lohse showed up ready to pitch, which was a pleasant surprise.

Most mid-camp additions would need a couple of extra weeks to get ready. Lohse already has impressed his new team.

Braden Looper just threw an encouraging 5 1/3 innings, relocating his sinking stuff while getting eight groundball outs. Prior to that, he got hammered.

Brad Thompson just threw well enough in tough conditions to provide insurance if Todd Wellemeyer or Anthony Reyes struggle. Odds are, one or both of those guys WILL struggle.

These six guys must hold the fort while Joel Pineiro, Matt Clement, Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter work back into pitching shape. Dave Duncan already is setting up his pitching rotation for the start of the season and the group looks more competent by the day.

2. Adam Kennedy can hit!

He was a black hole in the lineup last season, batting .219. He came to camp on a short leash, since the club re-signed reliable Aaron Miles and had slick-hitting Jarret Hoffpauir in the wings.

But Kennedy seems to have relocated the stroke he had throughout his time with the Angels. After a slow start this spring, he pushed his batting average up to .349.

With Cesar Izturis likely to open the season at shortstop -– and not add much offense as the No. 9 hitter -– the Cards absolutely need second base to be an impact offensive position this year.

3. Rick Ankiel is going crazy.

This team has many X-factors, but none is greater than this guy. Will Ankiel post solid, Ryan Ludwick-type numbers (.267, 14 homers, 52 RBIs in 303 at-bats) in his first full season as a big league outfielder?

Or will he add an impact bat to a lineup needing all the offense it can find? Chris Duncan’s spring struggle underscored this team’s need for another strong hitter.

Ankiel’s spring training performance (.397, three homers, nine RBIs) has raised expectations. Could he fill the clean-up role against righthanded pitching, allowing newcomer Troy Glaus to hit in the more comfortable No. 5 slot?

If so, that would be a team-changing development.

4. Ron Villone is viable.

This is notable, because would-be lefty specialist Tyler Johnson faces an uncertain ’08 season after developing shoulder trouble. And holdover Randy Flores didn’t dominate the lefty-lefty matchups last season.

In past springs, the Cards have seen an assortment of veteran lefties fail to impress Duncan. But Villone has posted a 1.17 ERA in six appearances, generating hope he could become a key bullpen component.

5. The organization finally has depth.

The demise of Scott Spiezio and the inevitable breakdown of Juan Gonzalez chilled the competition for roster spots. In past springs, these unfortunate developments would have been major concerns.

But this year the Cards will have plenty of help just a phone call away. Skip Schumaker earned the leadoff assignment with a brilliant spring, but Colby Rasmus will be the outfielder-in-waiting at Memphis.

Ludwick has done enough to keep his platoon outfielder role. Brian Barton used his speed to gain the inside track on the spare outfielder role. But if Joe Mather continues to trend upward at the Class AAA level, he, too, will press for a spot on the Cards roster.

If Brendan Ryan gets healthy, he will push Izturis -– whether Tony La Russa is excited by that prospect or not. Hoffpauir is stuck behind Kennedy, Miles and Ryan at second base, but he offers more depth than, say, Junior Spivey did a few years back.

And we can’t remember the last time the Cards had multiple pitching prospects on the cusp at one time:
Kyle McClellan, Chris Perez, Mike Parisi, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Clayton Mortensen, Jaime Garcia, Adam Ottavino . . . the list extends down to Class AA Springfield and includes pitchers of every description.

Veteran depth guys like Hugh Castellanos, Dewon Brazelton, Ron Flores and John Wasdin won’t get as much attention because the franchise has so many legitimate prospects. In fact, the club may have to let some usable veterans go just to keep all the kids busy.

Now THAT is a sign of real progress.

The Cards went through a lot of baling wire last season when injuries hit. When situations arise this season -– and they most certainly will -– the team will lean on home-grown prospects who excelled this spring.

Will the Cards contend this season? Probably not.

Will the Cards grow this season and become more solid as the year progresses? Probably so.

This may not be one of the most exciting Cards teams ever, but it could become one of the more interesting.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wainwright signs new deal with Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals confirmed this morning that they have signed starting pitcher Adam Wainwright to a long-term contract, as first reported by the Post-Dispatch.

Wainwright signed a four-year contract that guarantees him $15 million, and it includes an option for two more years. (See contract highlights in box at top right on this page.)

The option is a team option, but Wainwright can trigger the two-year option by reaching specific innings-pitched and games-started incentives over the final two years of the new contract.

The option was a key to completing the deal, general manager John Mozeliak said, because it gave the Cardinals protection against injury and it gave them control over Wainwright's first two years as a free agent.

Before the deal, Wainwright would be eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

"He embodies everything we look for in a player," Mozeliak said.

The club announced the deal Thursday at their offices in Jupiter, Fla. Wainwright's agent, Steve Hammond, attended the press conference.

The discussion on the contract began in January and continued through the Cardinals renewing Wainwright for the 2008 season a couple weeks ago. Hammond said a critical portion of the negotiations was agreeing to the Cardinals' wish for a two-year option, instead of the one-year options attached to similar deals like those done for San Diego's Chris Young or Colorado's Jeff Francis in recent seasons.

Exact finacial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Wainwright will receive a significant raise from the $448,000 he was set to make in 2008, and the contract will climb throughout its term. The guaranteed portion of the contract buys out all three of his arbitration years.

"Hopefully I go out there and make myself the most underpaid player in the game for the next four years," Wainwright said.

* * *

Our earlier story on Wainwright getting a new contract, posted at 11 p.m. Wednesday:

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. • The Cardinals’ opening day starter and present-day ace Adam Wainwright is expected to sign a long-term contract today with the club that assures his place in its future.

The Cardinals plan to finalize and announce a multiple-year deal for Wainwright that could make him a fixture in the rotation through 2013.

The contract is pending the results of a physical Wainwright had Wednesday. Multiple sources said that an agreement had been reached. The club declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing contract negotiations. Wainwright and his agent have also declined to comment.

For several weeks the Cardinals and Wainwright’s representative have been discussing the framework of a multiple-year deal, and they continued to negotiate after the team unilaterally renewed his contract for the 2008 season. The guaranteed part of the new contract is four years and expected to be worth around $15 million, and it will buy out Wainwright’s arbitration years, through 2011. The deal has an option that would cover the first two years of his free agency, sources said.

Previously, only Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina have had contracts with the club that can extend through 2012.

The Cardinals have yet to publicly confirm Wainwright as the opening day starter for March 31 at Busch Stadium — they may in a news conference today — yet there is little doubt who will get the honor. Wainwright is coming off his first season as a major-league starter, and with Carpenter and Mark Mulder rehabbing from surgery, Wainwright is the staff’s budding star.

A year after serving as the Cardinals’ World Series-winning closer, Wainwright won 14 games, the most in club history by a first-year starter. He went 14-12 with a rotation-best 3.70 ERA, and after the All-Star break his 2.71 ERA was the fourth-lowest in all of baseball. Ten of his final 12 starts were quality starts.

The exact financial structure of the deal was not disclosed by sources Wednesday, though pitchers with similar service time offer blueprints. Last April, San Diego’s Chris Young agreed to a four-year deal worth $14.5 million that escalates from $750,000 in its first year to $6.25 million in its final year, with an $8.5 million option.

Colorado ace Jeff Francis, who will pitch opposite Wainwright on opening day at Busch, agreed to a four-year, $13.25 million deal in November 2006 that also climbs toward a $7 million option for 2011.

Wainwright’s guaranteed deal surpasses both, and its length speaks to his value to the Cardinals. It was only two winters ago that the club flinched at the requested five-year deal by free agent starter A.J. Burnett. The Cardinals had preferred to avoid deals of that length with pitchers.

An exercised option would put Wainwright’s at six years.

When the Wainwright contract is completed, new general manager John Mozeliak will have secured a battery of cornerstone players to multiple-year deals before the team plays its first regular-season game under his tenure. Mozeliak signed Molina to a four-year, $15.5 million contract in January.

As a third-year player, Wainwright did not have arbitration rights this winter. And because the team and his agent could not initially come to an agreement, the team renewed his contract. Wainwright sought around $550,000; the club employed a scale to set players’ values this season and Wainwright was pegged at about $448,000. Among the players with less than three years of service time, he was the highest-paid.

Internally, the club recognized how clinical the move was, especially for one of the faces of the franchise’s new, younger look.

Since striking out the New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran with a curveball for the final out of the National League Championship Series in 2006, Wainwright has been part of the club’s fabric — and its advertising. Earlier this spring, Wainwright volunteered to appear in a commercial for the club, hamming it up with closer Jason Isringhausen.

The Cardinals acquired the righthander from Atlanta in December 2003. The Cardinals also got Jason Marquis and Ray King in a deal that sent J.D. Drew south. Braves pitcher John Smoltz recently called it "one of the more regrettable trades we’ve ever done."

After a 10-10 season with Class AAA Memphis in 2005, Wainwright was uneasy and unsure as a September call-up. The next spring, he was everything but. The righthander forced his way into the bullpen, and by the end of the season, with Isringhausen injured, Wainwright had a 3.12 ERA in 61 appearances and was the playoff closer. His title-clinching strikeout of Detroit’s Brandon Inge in Game 5 of the 2006 World Series was the first strikeout to close a championship since 1988.

He struck out 15 and did not allow a run in 92⁄3 innings that October.

Wainwright went to the rotation last season, and this year the Cardinals have delicately, though clearly, hoisted the ace mantle onto him while the other starters mend.

"He has a lot to learn as far as from start to start what you’re working with," manager Tony La Russa said earlier this spring. "He’s a bright guy. You could see him start to put it together last year. He’s still innings away from being as great as he could be."

Wainwright will make his penultimate spring start Friday at Roger Dean Stadium. In his previous two starts, Wainwright has gone 10 innings, allowed three earned runs and struck out four. Pitching coach Dave Duncan has called him impressive. He was the first pitcher in the Grapefruit League this season to pitch five innings in a start, and he held the New York Mets to two hits in five innings Saturday.

In the second inning of that exhibition game, Wainwright faced Beltran for the first time since the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Wainwright threw him a curve.

Beltran popped out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lohse agrees to one-year deal with Cards

Lohse agrees to one-year deal with Cards
By Joe Strauss
Cards Lohse
Kyle Lohse pitches for the Reds against the New York Mets last July.
(Getty Images)

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals moved to address their question-filled starting rotation Thursday by reaching agreement with free agent righthander Kyle Lohse on a one-year, $4.25 million contract, pending Lohse passing a team physical Friday.

Lohse is eligible to make another $100,000 at each of four thresholds: 160, 170, 180 and 200 innings. He also is due $500,000 if traded during the season.

The move occurs three days after the Cardinals suggested four-fifths of their projected season-ending rotation would be unavailable opening day. Joel Pineiro’s inability to make Wednesday’s scheduled start due to recurring shoulder stiffness served as the catalyst for Thursday’s signing, as general manager John Mozeliak initiated negotiations with Lohse’s agent, Scott Boras.

The Cardinals have virtually ruled out Matt Clement’s availability for opening day, and Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter continue to rehab from shoulder and elbow surgery, respectively.

"If it were a perfect world, we wouldn't have had to go down this path," Mozeliak told the Associated Press. "But it's not and we're going to need someone to pitch every fifth day.

"At some point, we may be dealing with a strength instead of a weakness."
Kyle Lohse bio on

Lohse, 29, constructed a 9-12 record and 4.62 ERA while splitting last season between the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies. Just as importantly, he made 34 starts and worked 192 2/3 innings.

With their rotation in flux, the Cardinals have scheduled Clayton Mortensen for Friday's start in Vero Beach against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mortensen never has pitched above Class A and was made the 36th overall pick of last June’s amateur draft.

Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper entered Thursday as the only pitchers considered locks for the Redbirds’ Opening Day rotation. A scrum including Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle McClellan and Mike Parisi was under consideration.

Lohse’s best seasons came with the Minnesota Twins in 2002-03 when he won 27 games combined. Just as significant, Lohse worked 201 innings in 2003 and 194 in 2004. He has made at least 30 starts in five of the last six seasons.

Lohse could report to the team’s spring training headquarters as early as Friday afternoon.

Originally projected as the free agent market’s second-most attractive pitcher, Lohse languished as Carlos Silva, rated the market’s top pitcher, became the only arm to receive a multi-year deal.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, passed on several low-budget options, including Jon Lieber, Josh Fogg, Sidney Ponson and Bartolo Colon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Outfield Conundrum

The Outfield Conundrum

By Kujo on Rick Ankiel

If you go to the current Spring Training stats, as of March 8th, the top six hitters in terms of at-bats are all outfielders: Ankiel, Schumaker, Ludwick, Mather, Barton and Gonzalez, with Rasmus and Duncan not far behind. As a group, the outfielders have been very successful thus far in ST:

Rick Ankiel 21 .381 .409 .524 1 1 2
Skip Schumaker 21 .429 .455 .667 1 5 4
Ryan Ludwick 19 .368 .400 .526 1 1 2
Joe Mather 19 .368 .478 .737 1 2 3
Brian Barton 18 .333 .368 .500 1 2 3
Juan Gonzalez 18 .278 .316 .500 1 4 3
Colby Rasmus 18 .222 .391 .611 2 4 4
Chris Duncan 12 .083 .353 .083 0 0 1

Matt Leach has his fourth guess at the opening day roster up, and he sees the Cardinals sticking with Ankiel, Duncan, Ludwick, Schumaker, and Gonzalez as the five outfielders. That situation would entail a move pertaining to Brian Barton - either offering him back to the Indians or working out a deal with Cleveland in order to designate him to Memphis. The Cards also have Joe Mather, who will turn 26 in July. After a strong showing in Springfield last year, Mather tailed off a bit after being promoted to Memphis. Now we see him lighting it up in Spring Training so far, making a case to make the opening roster.

The Cardinals have the fortunate predicament of having too many capable outfielders. They have the opportunity to have healthy competition in order to give spots to the most impressive players. The Mets are in desperate need of an outfielder to replace Moises Alou - what about a trade of one of our surplus for a prospect?

Ron Villone: Player Profile

Ron Villone has moved his way up from an irrelevant Spring Training arm to potentially making the opening day roster. Villone is a 38 year-old, lefthanded reliever who has spent time with 11 organizations and has not played more than two consecutive years with any one team. He was drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Mariners but was traded in 1995 to the Padres for Greg Keagle and our old friend Andy Benes. He has been traded five times since then, the most recent being from Seattle to Florida in 2005. Villone was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, and, in an interview with Tyler Kepner at the New York Times, didn't disprove his connection to steroids:

Was the report true, as it concerned him? “I can’t answer that, for better or for worse,” he said.

Villone turns 38 next month and he’s unsigned for next season. I asked if he worried that this would diminish his chances of getting a job. “I sure hope not,” he said, “but I really can’t tell you anything more than that.”

I asked a few other questions and got nowhere.

“It’s a serious situation, and I’m trying to take it as serious,” Villone finally said. “It’s my name, and I’m going to treat my name with respect and the game of baseball with respect.”

The sad thing is, even though it appears Villone took steroids, it doesn't appear so in the stat books. Villone has had a rocky career from the get-go, but has had a few quality seasons in between some really bad ones. He has a career 4.76 ERA and 4.94 FIP and has only been able to get ground balls 38% of the time. He will be able to strike people out, boasting a 7.09 K/9 ratio, but the numbers aren't kind beyond that, as he has a 4.81 BB/9 ratio and a 55-57 record.

I'm surprised the Cardinals decided to take a chance on Villone, since he is yet another Cardinal connected to steroids and has not had a very successful career. In what might amount to be Villone's final season, Ron will be asked to redeem himself as Tyler Johnson's replacement. His past three years have proven his stinginess against lefties, allowing a .608 OPS versus a .782 OPS against righties. If he can continue that trend, he will find a home in St. Louis as a LOOGY, which is about the only capacity I could see him being useful to this squad.

So far in Spring Training, Ron Villone has pitched 2.2 innings - 3 hits, 4 runs, 0 earned runs, 2 walks, and 1 strikeout. What do the projections have in store for Villone in 2008?

Proj. Sys. G IP ERA K/9 BB/9 LOB%
Bill James 38 46.0 4.11 7.04 4.70
66.0 4.64 7.09 4.36 70.8
54.0 4.67 7.00 4.50 71.0
ZiPS 62 67.0 4.43 7.12 4.70 71.0

The normally pessimistic ZiPS calls for an improvement from Ron's 5.31 ERA-2007 season, while Bill James has the one truly realistic scenario of only 46 IP. Villone's projections are comparable to both Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson; I guess a 4.50 ERA is the going rate for lefthanded relievers these days. But in order to make the team and stay on the team, Ron is going to have to aim for higher goals than that.

Nationals, Cardinals Interested In Jeff Weaver?

Nationals, Cardinals Interested In Jeff Weaver?

By Tim Dierkes

Whither Jeff Weaver? We haven't heard much about potential destinations for the 31 year-old righty. Probably has to do with his 6.20 ERA last year, but at least he's healthy.

Jeff's younger brother Jered piped up yesterday, saying that the Nationals and Cardinals have expressed interest. Hard to say if that interest is current or just occurred at some point this winter. But either team would do well to bring him in on a minor league deal. If he's holding out for a Major League contract it may be time to adjust expectations.

When teams have their rotations all lined up on paper during the spring, with their rose-colored glasses on, adding a guy like Weaver isn't terribly appealing. But perhaps this year Scott Boras will try a new ploy with Weaver and Kyle Lohse by letting them sit out until April or even May. We've seen the mercenary thing with Roger Clemens, but not so much with healthy, younger pitchers. A few starters get injured, others don't pan out, and suddenly maybe Lohse and Weaver cause bidding wars.

Cardinals Interested In Lohse

Cardinals Interested In Lohse

Joel Pineiro's second bout of shoulder tightness this spring has the Cardinals scrambling for pitching help. Fortunately there are still a few names left on the market who are probably as good as Pineiro. One such pitcher is Kyle Lohse; the Cardinals put in an inquiry with Scott Boras recently.

GM John Mozeliak was upfront in saying that Pineiro's uncertainty changes the landscape for his team. If Lohse truly goes in the $4-5MM range we've been hearing about, that's a fine signing. Hell, Pineiro got two years and $13MM and was more questionable than Lohse at the time of the signing. Jeff Weaver and David Wells are the other two names we've heard linked to St. Louis this winter. A few people have asked me about Eric Milton. He had Tommy John surgery on June 15th, so he'd be of no help to the Cards right now.

Rockin' The Red gives five reasons why they think the Cards should sign Lohse, if you're interested.
Changing Landscapes

Braden Looper. Adam Wainwright. Anthony Reyes. With Pineiro's looming shoulder problems, the Cardinals are down to just three starters, two if you consider Reyes as only a competitor for a rotation spot. John Mozeliak has acknowledged that "the landscape has changed to some degree." If it's my call, I sign Kyle Lohse to a $4 million contract. My reasons?

1.) Matt Clement and Mark Mulder are no sure things. Pineiro has had less injury problems in his career, so there's reason to believe he can recover to full strength. On the other hand, Mulder and Clement have had significant injuries, have missed significant playing time, and have significant hills to climb to get back on the mound. If the rotation is left as-is, Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson are put in charge of holding two spots for an indefinite amount of time. Wellemeyer hasn't pitched more innings than his career-high 79.1 IP last year, while Thompson also had a career-high 129.1 IP last year. It would be hard to count on them to last that long, much less be effective for that long. Kyle Lohse has been a innings-eater when starting and has no lingering injuries that we know of.

2.) Jeff Weaver will be 32 in August and had an atrocious year last year. Even when he was with the Cardinals in 2006, Weaver had a 5.18 ERA, a 4.86 K/9, and the highest FIP of his career - 5.77. Last year, Weaver maintained his shrinking K-rate, striking out 4.91 batters every nine innings. Weaver would be another reclamation project in a situation where we need less projects and more solutions. I would rather try to make Mike Parisi or Kyle McClellan into a serviceable starter than try to reinvent Jeff Weaver again.

3.) Kyle Lohse is dependable. At 29 years old, he has amassed innings in every year he has pitched and has maintained a fairly stable K-rate. His time in the NL produced even better results for Lohse, including a successful run with Cincinnati where he faced pretty much the same competition he would face here in St. Louis. He's not going to "wow" you, but he offers stability in a rotation that has remained in a constant state of flux since November.

4.) Lohse is believed to only be looking for a one-year deal for numbers ranging from $4 million to $10 million. At this point in the season, it would be wise for him to take the best offer he can get, which could be from the Cardinals. I postulate that a $4-5 million deal would be sufficient to get Kyle in a uniform and report to Jupiter, and I think that should be as I high as we go. It would really make sense for Lohse to take that deal, as there's no other clubs as desperate for pitching as St. Louis.

5.) If Kyle Lohse can perform to last year's standards in the first half of the season, he becomes a great trading chip for the Cardinals to use. Last year, he was traded to Philadelphia for a top ten prospect - Matt Maloney - who is now the 6th rated prospect in a strong Cincinnati farm system. It could become another step in the rebuilding of the franchise while simultaneously opening a spot for the return of Matt Clement, Mark Mulder, or even Chris Carpenter.

The Cardinals should jump on this opportunity to sign a pitcher that could benefit the club in many ways - as a replacement for injuries, as a dependable innings-eater, and as a possible trading chip. He is a step ahead of the rest of the free agent talent available and could come at a cost similar to Kip Wells last year. You can never have too much pitching, and this seems like a deal we can't afford to miss out on.

Monday, March 10, 2008

After Him… There’s Nothing

After Him… There’s Nothing
Posted by Chris Russell in St. Louis Cardinals
March 9th, 2008

From post season hero to defacto ace, Adam Wainwright has a lot to live up to this season.

From post season hero to defacto ace, Adam Wainwright has a lot to live up to this season.
Make no bones about about it. No one in Cardinal Nation expects this year’s starting staff to be good. In fact, they’ll have a very tough time improving on last season’s performance, which was the worst, statistically, in franchise history in a non-strike shortened year. It stands to be as gruesome as a bucket of puppies in a woodchipper, but there is a lone bright spot. That’s why all eyes will be on Adam Wainwright.

Thrown into the role of defacto ace due to Chris Carpenter’s injury, Wainwright will be shouldering Atlas like responsibility in 2008. With new scrap heap addition, Matt Clement, experiencing setbacks, Carp on the shelf until midseason, Looper and Pineiro questionably effective at best and Mark Mulder slated to pitch competently sometime in Biff Tannon’s alternate 1985 Wainwright is the Cardinals only dependable starter. Barring a miracle of course.

The lanky right hander got off to a rocky start last year in his first pro season as a starter (his ERA stood at 5.59 at the end of May), but Adam tightened some nuts and bolts and righted the ship (lowering his ERA to a staff best 3.70 at the end of the regular season). But Wainwright wasn’t just better, he was elite. He recorded the third best ERA in the National League after the All Star break, and looked like the dominant starter the Cardinals hoped he’d become. Now, he just needs to be better. With a shabby entourage behind him in the rotation, Wainwright will need to be consistently lights out all season if the Birds don’t want to end up in the cellar of quite possibly the worst division in baseball. That’s a tall order for a 26 year old, but Adam seems to have the poise, makeup and work ethic of a grizzled veteran. Add that to his vicious curveball and he has a shot at being one of the better starters in the league.

He’s not off to a great 2008 by any stretch of the imagination, giving up 10 hits and 3 walks in only 6 innings this spring, but hey, it’s spring training. As long as the kinks are worked out by opening day. There will be 45,000 red clad faithful on hand to see that they are.

Injury Watch

Wainwright relies on his bending 12-6 curveball as an out pitch to compliment his fastball, changeup and slider; eerily similar to previous Cardinal aces Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter. Similar pitches, similar arm angles and similar heavy workloads (Adam threw over 200 innings last year) could lead to similar health issues. Carp and Morris both had to undergo Tommy John surgery (Carp clearly is still recovering). Even though most pitchers rebound from Tommy John with increased velocity and success, the team could ill afford to lose Wainwright for a season and a half. He’s probably not in any danger for a couple years, but keep an eye on him down the road and don’t be surprised if he runs into the same elbow issues as his number one predecessors.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pineiro ready for delayed spring debut

Pineiro ready for delayed spring debut
By Derrick Goold


VERO BEACH, Fla. -– A day before Joel Pineiro makes his belated first start of spring, the Cardinals’ righthander sat in front of his locker and said he and his once-ailing shoulder were ready.

"I’m already nervous," he joked.

As the pieces of the Cardinals’ starting rotation have flaked away this spring – Matt Clement tossed from the mound to strengthen his arm; Pineiro slowed by his shoulder; etc., etc. – it has become increasingly apparent how starved for innings the team could be early this season. That need shifted the attention to Anthony Reyes, who could alleviate some of the issue by making the rotation and making regular starts. Reyes is important.

But only if Pineiro does the same.

Past Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper, the Cardinals do not return a pitcher who made more than 20 starts last season. Wainwright is the only healthy arm in the bunch who had a 200-inning season in 2007. Pineiro has it in him, or at least on his baseball card.

Three times in Seattle he made at least 28 starts and appeared in at least 30 games. Three times he pitched 189 innings or more.

The Cardinals plucked him out of Boston’s Triple-A bullpen last year and instantly made him a starter, because they had a vacancy. He pitched his way into a two-year, $13-million deal with the team – going 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 11 starts. He missed his first start of spring after experience tightness in his right shoulder. The club shifted him to a more intensive stretching and strengthening program, one he’ll have to keep up.

Though he’s a start behind the other starters, the Cardinals don’t expect that to keep him from his first turn in April. His prep begins today against the LA Dodgers in one of the Cardinals final visits to Dodgertown.

A User’s Guide to Pujols’ Elbow

The question looming over the most important and precarious ligament in the Cardinals’ franchise is whether or not Albert Pujols can play out the rest of his already illustrious career without repairing a shredded ligament in his right elbow.

His answer is yes now and check back with him later.

The team doctor agrees.

“Probably. Possibly,” Dr. George Paletta told three of us reporters Wednesday here in Jupiter, Fla. “This is not a curable problem without reconstruction. What we hope is this is a manageable problem. We’ve been managing this problem since 2003. … But there may come a time when it’s not manageable anymore. And if it’s not manageable, the best answer for Albert, long-term, is having reconstruction done.”

And therein lies the rub.

The Cardinals and Pujols will manage the elbow injury until they cannot.

As Pujols said: It blows when it blows.

There are continuous questions about the former MVP’s elbow — and sporadic bursts of intensive coverage, as we’ve seen the last couple days — and this is an attempt to pool all of the information for a one-stop reference. Below is both a history of the injury, a current situation report on the injury and some additional references. These details have all been discussed an reported before, but over a span of the last couple months and the breadth of several articles, at the P-D and elsewhere.

It started in April 2003.


– On April 19, 2003, an article appears in the P-D reporting how Pujols has strained the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow and the doctor recommends Pujols takes three weeks off from throwing.

– Manager Tony La Russa makes the call, in concert with Pujols, to continuing playing the invaluable hitter in the outfield with strict orders not to throw. Pujols complies, but this move prompts columnist Bernie Miklasz to write in May 2003:

When the baseball travels in the general vicinity of Albert Pujols, manager Tony La Russa offers a prayer to the baseball gods, hoping that Pujols resists the temptation to do what fielders are supposed to do: make a throw when challenged.

Because if Pujols lets one rip, and guns a speedball to cut down a runner, his right elbow may unravel and come apart. So, too, would La Russa’s reputation.

– According to Pujols this spring the fact the Cardinals did not make the playoffs in 2003 helped his elbow recover, because he did not have any problems with it in 2004. It felt as good then as it has in any seasons since.

– The elbow flared this past season, forcing Pujols to play in pain.

– Shortly after the end of the season Pujols consults with Cardinals’ team doctors and is also sent to Dr. James Andrews for an exam and a discussion on his possibilities. It is at that time that Andrews and Paletta lay out three options for Pujols:

1. Reconstructive surgery, a/k/a Tommy John surgery (here is a tremendous graphic from USA Today on the procedure).
2. A scope, similar to the one done on Chris Carpenter’s elbow early last season — which will clean the elbow and remove bone spurs.
3. Managing the injury by treating the inflammation and cautious use.

– Pujols rejects No. 2 when told that surgery could, like Carpenter, lead ultimately to No. 1 anyways, and he chooses No. 3. He said in February:

“Because it didn’t make sense when we were talking about doing it. Me having the surgery and just clean it up, when cleaning it up it wasn’t going to make it good. I had to do something in the ligament. If it wasn’t going to make sense why are we going to do surgery for it? Just leave it like that and when I do need the surgery and then we do it.”

– No. 1 is briefly discussed as the only solution that assures long-term health, but as one Cardinals source said this winter: “It is a real difficult call when you are talking about taking a hunk of playing time away from a player of this magnitude and a career that could accomplish amazing things.”

– Reconstruction prescribes a 7- to 8-month rehab process for a position player.

– At the Winter Warm-up Pujols says the rest has done him good and his elbow is fine, but then, after the cameras have stopped rolling, he shows a few reporters how he cannot entirely straighten his right arm. It stops short because of the elbow.

– Pujols reiterates at Winter Warm-up and in his first day at spring training that he can manage the elbow, that it won’t be a problem, but that he also will not play again through the pain he went through last season.


– Paletta classified Pujols’ injury as a “high-grade” tear of the UCL.

Diagram showing the location of the UCL

– He went on to say that Pujols’ injury is worse than the tear in Carpenter’s elbow last year, the tear that sent Carpenter in for Tommy John surgery. “Albert’s tear is farther along than Carpenter’s ever was,” Paletta said.

– In addition to the tear in the ligament, Pujols has developed what Paletta called early onset arthritis and bone spurs.

– It’s possible, Paletta said, that the bone spurs and arthritis have developed in response to the torn ligament and may actually be helping to provide stability and protection in the elbow for its continued usage. The severity of the tear has not changed since 2003, but the ailments surrounding it have. One reason a scope was so unattractive as an option is for the same reason it became problematic for Carpenter a year ago. Any work in the elbow could disrupt the environment created, however gnarly. And that could aggravate the injury just as easily as it addresses it.


– First, a couple things to get out of the way, without qualification:

* If Pujols were a pitcher, this would be a different news story. We’d be tracking the play-by-play of his recovery from surgery already. Done deal.
* Perhaps now you have a clear understanding why for several months now I’ve been adamant in here and elsewhere that Pujols would not play third base.

– Paletta called it a “wise decision” to try the non-surgical route of treatment. That will include attacking the inflammation in the joint with medication when needed and vigilance on Pujols part to pull back when the elbow barks or stick to treatment to brace the elbow for use.

– Pujols is a big believer that having a full offseason to rest the elbow will be the sure cure. It worked after 2003. Should work in 2008.

“Coming into spring it never bothered me,” he said. “It gets irritated during the year. Never has bothered me coming down to spring training and it doesn’t bother me at all during the offseason. It’s during the year when I’m hitting and throwing and doing more baseball stuff and not resting.”

– The Cardinals and Pujols point out that the plan this season isn’t all that different from the seasons past — more diligence; perhaps more conservative — and he’s played nearly five seasons with the same tear.

– La Russa said he spoke with Pujols about an elbow-friendly schedule this spring, and that the two may discuss how to build in days off for the regular season. Pujols has said he was open to such a discussion, but also dismisses the need for one. He has been on a limited throwing program this spring. In the regular season, La Russa could see giving Pujols a Sunday off before a Monday off day to steal the first baseman a couple days off. Pujols believes that one day or two day is not going to diminish any soreness and that any rest would have to be lengthier, so “go with the flow.”

– The manager said what Pujols did in 2003 — playing “under control” with the zapped ligament — and with his foot trouble and chronic hamstring issues has earned him the trust to decide when he’s playable and when he’s pushing. Said La Russa earlier this spring:

“There is a category of guys that deal with feeling less than their best and just play through it. And other guys it takes something away from them, either mentally or physically. Albert is one of the guys — the word that is most usually used to describe them is toughness.”

– Team officials have said that if he can manage the injury this season and not irritate it — or, as La Russa has said, “tweak it” — he could go a career without it needing a repair. Though, each swing is a chance.

“He’s just been really careful with it,” La Russa said Thursday. “Watch everyday. Being smart with the swinging and the throwing. Don’t make crazy throws. Not trying to hit the ball 500 feet. Don’t chase a pitch. … (All he has to do is) do something funny and tweak it.”

– It’s early March. At last check, Pujols said the elbow is tweak-free. Last time he was asked about he responded sharply: “It’s fine.” Paletta said on Friday (March 7) that the elbow is “completely asymptomatic”.

– Though it won’t be articulated there has been some sentiment internally that if Pujols’ elbow squawks this season or is even an annoyance and the team slips out of contention, he could have the reconstructive surgery and prep for 2009. There will be some resistance to doing that, for many reasons, his history-making stats just the most superficial. But the elbow is already at a point of no return.

“If he said he can’t continue playing like this, my recommendation would be to probably have the whole thing reconstructed,” Paletta said. “If the elbow condition cannot be (successfully) managed and it gives him significant problems again, then I think the horse is out of the barn. He should consider having the whole thing done.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

After 122 years in St. Louis, Sporting News magazine is heading Charlotte

Sporting News moving to Charlotte
Associated Press

After 122 years in St. Louis, Sporting News magazine is heading south.

The publication once known as the "Bible of Baseball" for its devotion to box scores and statistics is moving to Charlotte, home to its parent company, American City Business Journals. Last summer, online operations for, previously housed in both New York and St. Louis, were consolidated in Charlotte.

The move was announced Friday by Ray Shaw, chairman of American Cities. Several calls and e-mails to Sporting News and American City officials were not returned on Monday.

The loss isn't a major one economically for St. Louis -- Sporting News employs just a few dozen people who work out of an office building in suburban Chesterfield.

But the loss of the respected publication long a part of the St. Louis journalism community is certainly a blow to the psyche of the region.

Sporting News was founded by Alfred H. Spink as an eight-page broadsheet in 1886. Spink was a former newspaper writer and a director of the St. Louis Browns.

Sporting News quickly emerged as a favorite for hard-core baseball fans, who turned to the publication for box scores, game summaries, even minor league coverage.

Regular coverage of pro football didn't begin until 1942. Basketball and hockey were added that winter.

Sporting News switched to a tabloid format in 1943, originally as part of the effort to conserve paper during World War II. It didn't print a color picture until 1967, a shot of baseball's Frank Robinson.

In recent years, competition has increased significantly with the arrival of ESPN Magazine and Internet pages and blogs devoted to sports. Sporting News long ago dropped box scores that are now readily available on the Web.

In 1997, then-owner Times Mirror Co. spent millions to update Sporting News to an all-color magazine. More dramatically, the makeover shifted focus to the NFL, though the magazine continued to cover baseball, hockey, basketball, college football and, eventually, NASCAR.

Times Mirror sold Sporting News to Vulcan Inc., a holding company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, in 2000. In 2006, American Cities purchased the publication for an undisclosed sum.

American Cities, which has not said when the move will take place, is a unit of Advance Publications Inc. It owns more than 40 weekly business newspapers, including the St. Louis Business Journal.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On Juan Gonzalez, Steroids And Why We Just Can't Care Anymore

Don't worry: Rick wasn't the only person to notice that our Cardinals sure do seem to have a lot of steroid folks on their team.

By our count, the following folks have had some sort of connection with this whole steroid business:

• Rick Ankiel.
• Ryan Franklin.
• Troy Glaus.
• Juan Gonzalez.
• Ron Villone.

And Tony La Russa was interested in Barry Bonds, remember. (And boy, what could have possibly gone wrong there?)

We've been asked if we have some problem with this, if we are some sort of Tony La Russa apologist, the same way he has been an apologist for all the steroid abusers he's managed over the years. We're not sure why this is; LaRussa is one of the most fun people to make fun of in sports. (He does it to himself.)

Our issue is not with LaRussa, who's just a guy who wants to win some games after all. (Is it a manager's job to kick guys off his team for doing steroids? That would seem like the exact opposite of what a manager should do.) It's our general exhaustion with the whole steroid business, which, we suspect, most of you share. Juan Gonzalez did steroids, Paul LoDuca did, Shawne Merriman did ... at the risk of sounding "cynical," how does this affect the price of butter in Egypt again?

The joy of being a sports fan, rather than someone involved in the echo chamber of sports as profession (ahem), is that sports doesn't have to be this big morality play for us. We can all hope that our favorite players are not on steroids, and we can boo those on other teams who are (or at least rumored to be), but we don't have to carry this stupid weight on our shoulders, as if our games have been ruined. This is not our life, this sports; this is something we enjoy to get away from our worldly woes. We didn't grow up worshiping Mickey Mantle; we grew up worshiping Michael Jordan, who probably got kicked out of the NBA for a year for gambling. We have no illusions about our heroes. They are flawed people who probably took some drugs to get ahead because it's really stressful and difficult to be a successful athlete and sometimes you feel like you need some help to stay in the game. It doesn't excuse it. It just makes the whole issue so tangled and so overwhelming that eventually you have to just say, "Aw, fuck it ... just play ball already." Boo, cheer, hiss, whatever: Just win, team, would ya?

This is the healthiest attitude we can imagine a sports fan mustering, and it's why when we boo Tony LaRussa this year, it'll be for starting Aaron Miles, and not for starting Juan Gonzalez. Though we suspect we'll probably end up doing that too.

Cards Reject Portrayal As Lax On Drug Use [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

(Throughout the upcoming baseball season, we'll be doing occasional Cardinals-centric posts that the millions of humans unfortunate enough not to be Cardinals fans won't care about. We'll label them accordingly and try to keep them out of your way. Consider this the first one.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Pujols sounds off

Pujols sounds off
By Joe Strauss
Pujols slide
Albert Pujols scores on a double by Troy Glaus Sunday against the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)

JUPITER, Fla. — At the same time he acknowledges a sense of loss, Albert Pujols recognizes reality.

The Cardinals are a different team from last season. It is on Pujols to help make it a change for the better.
Cards 4, Marlins 5

Center fielder Jim Edmonds, shortstop David Eckstein and third baseman Scott Rolen are gone. Pujols, 28, possesses more continuous major-league service with the Cardinals than anyone else in the clubhouse. A team that made the postseason in five of Pujols' first six seasons is now widely perceived as rebuilding after a 78-84 hard landing. Pujols says he isn't in denial, but neither is he ready to concede anything because of all the new blood.

"It's a business. I don't play for them. They don't play for me. We play for the team," Pujols said Sunday after contributing two hits in the Cardinals' 5-4 exhibition loss to the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. "We're getting ready for the season with the guys that we have. You miss the relationships with guys I've played with almost my entire career. You hate to see them leave. You have great memories. But you can't just lock yourself away.

"People are going to forget about it. You can't just come in and say, 'We miss Rolen. We miss Edmonds. We miss Eckstein.' Yeah, we do. But when you take the field you can't look at that because then you're just beating yourself."

Virtually certain to reach 300 home runs and 1,500 hits given a healthy summer, Pujols enters his eighth season coming off his least productive campaign, with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs.

He admits persistent elbow problems factored into a summer-long struggle in 2007 but believes the team's absence from postseason play last October allowed him time to recover.

"Instead of two weeks off, I had seven weeks," he said. "The same thing happened in 2003 (when the Cardinals finished third). I came into the next season feeling really good, and look what happened."

Pujols mashed 46 home runs and cranked 99 extra-base hits as the Cardinals won 105 games and reached the World Series. However, only catcher Yadier Molina, starter Chris Carpenter, lefthanded reliever Randy Flores and closer Jason Isringhausen remain from that club. Only Pujols and Isringhausen appeared that postseason.

"It's hard to walk in here and not see people like Jimmy, Eckstein and Rolen. But at the same time you get excited to see the young kids here who want to play the game and learn," Pujols said. "We don't have that many veteran guys even though we have a veteran bullpen. We have guys like myself, (nonroster outfielder Juan) Gonzalez and Molina. We'll help these guys like Mike Matheny, (Edgar) Renteria and (Mark) McGwire helped me in 2001.

"I still remember Darryl Kile saying, 'I'm doing this for you because you will do it for others.' That's what I'm doing."

Pujols is the brightest star within a smaller constellation. The situation now, according to manager Tony La Russa, is not new because of how injuries diminished Edmonds and Rolen in recent seasons.

"It may change for the media, but players on other teams still walk up to him like they would before. He leads the league in that," La Russa said.

Pujols says he is looking forward to the impact created by third baseman Troy Glaus, the team's likely cleanup hitter, who arrived in a trade that sent Rolen to the Toronto Blue Jays. The cleanup spot became one of many interchangeable roles last season as Rolen dealt with increasing shoulder discomfort before undergoing a third operation in a little more than two years.

"You're never going to see a team take more hits than we took last year," Pujols said. "It seemed whenever one guy came off the DL, one or two guys would go on at the same time.

"It was hard to see Rolen suffer with his shoulder. ... It hurt to see a guy play like that. He was trying his best, the same with Jimmy. It wasn't our year."

Pujols believes the mix of Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan, Gonzalez, Glaus and himself could represent something special.

"When you look at us ... this may be the most powerful lineup this organization has ever had," he said. "There is a lot of power in this team."

Glaus, Gonzalez and Pujols each has hit 40 home runs in a season. Ankiel hit 43 home runs last season between Memphis and St. Louis. Duncan hit 16 home runs in fewer than 250 at-bats before last season's All-Star break.

"You can't control what people think. All you can control is how you get ready. Only God knows who is going to win. I can't tell you we're going to win. But we're going to try to do better than we did last year," he said.

The Cardinals ranked only 13th in the league with 141 home runs last season, down from 184 in 2006. La Russa does not embrace any description of his team as reliant on home runs, but this year's lineup offers a decidedly American League flavor.

Pujols' left elbow will have much to say about his production. He consulted this winter with Birmingham orthopedist James Andrews and learned that ligament replacement surgery was an option. Pujols rejected that, hoping extra rest and a less aggressive weightlifting regimen would help the ulnar collateral ligament make it through one more season.

"For an outfielder, he told me it would be a nine-month recovery; for a first baseman, seven or eight months," Pujols said. "It would be the whole season for me. That's not something I want to go through if I can help it."

Top Ten NL Central Prospects STL Cardinals

Here are the Cardinals' top ten

1. Colby Rasmus - OF - DOB: 08/11/86 - ETA: July 2008
.275/.381/.551, 29 HR, 72 RBI, 108/70 K/BB, 18 SB in 472 AB (AA Springfield)

Rasmus seemed destined to return to the FSL after hitting .254/.351/.404 in 193 at-bats following a midseason promotion to Palm Beach in 2006, but the Cardinals aggressively pushed him up to Double-A and he responded even better than they could have hoped. His 29-homer campaign would have made him a circuit MVP a lot of years, but he ended up losing out to Chase Headley. The 28th overall pick in the outfield-rich 2005 draft, Rasmus has 30-homer ability and impressive on-base skills. He's already answered questions about his ability to stay in center field for the long-term, and the Cardinals traded Jim Edmonds to San Diego to clear the spot for him. That doesn't necessarily mean he'll win the job this spring, but the opportunity appears to be there if he turns in a Hunter Pence-type performance. If the chance comes this year, Rasmus will probably struggle against left-handers and find that some of his balls that traveled out of Texas League parks turn into warning track flyouts in the majors. He's a future All-Star, most likely, but he's probably a year away from being a real asset.

2. Jaime Garcia - LHP - DOB: 07/08/86 - ETA: June 2008
5-9, 3.75 ERA, 93 H, 97/45 K/BB in 103 1/3 IP (AA Springfield)

The Cardinals' returns the same top two this year, but while Rasmus' stock increased dramatically last year, Garcia's suffered after he went down with an elbow injury in late July. The strained ligament didn't require surgery, but it still could be a concern going forward. Before getting hurt, Garcia didn't show his usual command. He walked 45 in 103 1/3 IP in the Texas League after issuing a total of 34 free passes in 155 innings the year before. He also gave up 14 homers, 10 more than in 2006. Garcia did continue to get plenty of grounders with his sinker and curveball, though his sinker wasn't as consistently in the low-90s as the year before. Ideally, that will change after an extended winter's rest. Garcia looks like a fine middle-of-the-rotation starter when he's on, and he'll be a candidate to help the Cardinals as a reliever this year.

3. Chris Perez - RHP - DOB: 07/01/85 - ETA: July 2008
2-0, 27 Sv, 2.43 ERA, 17 H, 62/28 K/BB in 40 2/3 IP (AA Springfield)
0-1, 8 Sv, 4.50 ERA, 6 H, 15/13 K/BB in 14 IP (AAA Memphis)

No one in the high minors was tougher to hit than Perez last year. The 2006 supplemental first-rounder limited batters to a .130 average in 54 2/3 innings, recording more than three times as many strikeouts as hits allowed. Too bad he also allowed almost twice as many walks as hits allowed. Perez has a lethal 92-95 mph fastball-slider combination. He can also mix in a curveball that would qualify as a No. 2 pitch for a lot of relievers. What he can't do is hit the catcher's mitt with regularity. He's filthy enough that he'll be a successful major leaguer even while walking a batter every other inning, but he still has a ways to go before he'll be even that reliable. The command issues may prevent him from landing a closer's role during his first few years in the league, though he should get there eventually.

4. Bryan Anderson - C - DOB: 12/16/86 - ETA: 2010
.298/.350/.388, 6 HR, 53 RBI, 77/32 K/BB, 0 SB in 389 AB (AA Springfield)

Despite being even younger than Rasmus, Anderson got to skip high-A entirely after hitting .302/.377/.417 for low-A Quad Cities in 2006. He started off well in Double-A, but he slumped over the final two months, going homerless in both July and August. Anderson's bat remains quite promising. He's sure to add power with his left-handed swing, and he doesn't strikeout all that often even though he's typically been among the youngest players at his levels. Defense is an issue, and while he figures to be an above average hitter for a catcher, he'd be a long shot to make it as a first baseman. Either way, it's probably not going to happen for him in St. Louis, where Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols are set to be fixtures for a long time. He'll become trade bait at some point.

5. Adam Ottavino - RHP - DOB: 11/22/85 - ETA: Sept. 2008
12-8, 3.08 ERA, 130 H, 128/63 K/BB in 143 1/3 IP (A Palm Beach)

The Cardinals continue to get more from drafting at the bottom of the first round than the Pirates do from the top. The 6-foot-5 Ottavino was the 30th overall selection in the 2006 draft out of Northeastern. His low-90s sinking fastball and plus slider made him one of the FSL's best pitchers in his first full pro season. His walk rate was rather high, but a full third of his 63 walks came when he was fatiguing in August. Despite that, he had an ERA of 3.60 or better in every month of the minor league season. Ottavino needs to polish up his change, but he's a No. 3 starter in the making.

6. Brian Barton - OF - DOB: 04/25/82 - ETA: Now
.314/.416/.440, 9 HR, 59 RBI, 99/41 K/BB, 20 SB in 389 AB (AA Akron)
.264/.333/.333, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 18/7 K/BB, 1 SB in 87 AB (AAA Buffalo)

The most notable player available in the Rule 5 draft, Barton lasted until the 10th pick, suggesting that the Indians weren't the only ones that considered him a question mark following knee surgery. Barton went undrafted out of the University of Miami, but he established himself as one of Cleveland's top prospects while hitting .323/.412/.511 between high-A Kinston and Double-A Akron in 2006. The knee troubles definitely took a toll on his performance last year, but he finished with a .402 OBP anyway. Barton is a fine defensive outfielder with above average speed. He doesn't have more than modest power potential, but that'll be worth overlooking if he gets on base in the majors like he did in the minors. If it comes down to him versus Juan Gonzalez, the Cardinals should carry the 25-year-old as a fourth outfielder this year. He might prove to be a fair regular in 2009, though the better bet is that he spends most of his career as a quality reserve.

7. Clayton Mortensen - RHP - DOB: 04/10/.85 - ETA: 2010
1-1, 1.77 ERA, 13 H, 23/11 K/BB in 20 1/3 IP (SS-A Batavia)
0-2, 3.12 ERA, 44 H, 45/8 K/BB in 40 1/3 IP (A- Quad Cities)

Mortensen was the 36th overall selection in the 2007 draft out of Gonzaga. He seemed like a raw product when selected, but he showed better-than-expected command while compiling a 2.67 RA in the low minors. Mortensen gets a ton of grounders with his low-90s sinker, and his slider is a quality No. 2 pitch versus right-handers. He also showed pretty good feel for his low-80s change. If the Cardinals wanted to try him as a reliever, he'd be capable of moving quickly and maybe contributing this year. However, leaving him in the rotation is the right move for the long-term. He may have more upside than Garcia.

8. Pete Kozma - SS - DOB: 04/11/88 - ETA: 2011
.154/.267/.154, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2/2 K/BB, 0 SB in 13 AB (R GCL Cardinals)
.264/.350/.396, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 21/12 K/BB, 3 SB in 106 AB (R Johnson City)
.148/.179/.222, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 7/1 K/BB, 1 SB in 27 AB (SS-A Batavia)

Knowing they were going to need replacements for David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy down the line, the Cardinals made Kozma the 18th overall pick in last year's draft. A pure shortstop, Kozma has above average range and sure hands. His arm is a little lacking, so he probably won't be a Gold Glover unless the Cards get lucky with a shortstop at some point and can afford to move him to second base. On offense, Kozma projects as a steady hitter for average with a solid walk rate. Power won't be much of a part of his game, but he could be good enough to bat at the top of the order, rather than at the bottom. He's capable of moving quickly for a high school player, though that'd still mean he'd need three full seasons in the minors before debuting in 2011.

9. Tyler Herron - RHP - DOB: 08/05/86 - ETA: 2010
10-7, 3.74 ERA, 123 H, 130/6 K/BB in 137 1/3 IP (A- Quad Cities)

The Cardinals have pushed a lot of their prospects, but they've taken things awfully slowly with Herron since making him a 2005 supplemental first-round pick. He spent a second year in Rookie ball in 2006, and he was used quite carefully last year in the Midwest League, especially early on. Herron did get more innings as the season went on, and it helped that he was very efficient in recording outs. Herron spots his 89-91 mph fastball well, and both his curveball and changeup should turn out to be solid major league pitches. There's probably not enough movement on his heater to make him more than a future fourth starter, but he's ready to be pushed if the Cardinals want to get more aggressive with him this year.

10. Mark Hamilton - 1B - DOB: 07/29/84 - ETA: June 2009
.290/.348/.520, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 48/20 K/BB, 1 SB in 221 AB (A+ Palm Beach)
.250/.318/.383, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 54/24 K/BB, 2 SB in 248 AB (AA Springfield)
.171/.370/.220, 0 HR, 4 RBI. 9/13 K/BB, 0 SB in 41 AB (AFL Mesa)

While several position players perceived as lesser prospects enjoyed breakthrough years for the Cardinals in 2007, Hamilton never really put it together, though he did finish with 19 homers and 90 RBI. Hamilton was a surprise second-round pick in 2006, considering that the Cardinals had Pujols ahead of him at his only position. His outstanding power potential intrigued St. Louis, and he has responded with 30 homers and 38 doubles in 717 at-bats as a pro. Unfortunately, he still doesn't offer much on defense and his on-base ability is a bigger question mark now. He's more than another John-Ford Griffin, but he'll have to step it up this year if he's going to fulfill his potential as an AL designated hitter.

Next five: RHP Mitchell Boggs, RHP Jesse Todd, OF Jonathan Jay, OF Joe Mather, 3B David Freese

This is easily the deepest farm system the Cards have had in the time I've been doing this. All of the five players mentioned above would have cracked the team's top 10 in most years. … Boggs could be of use in middle relief this year and a fifth starter down the line. … Todd had a 69/14 K/BB in 58 1/3 IP after being taken out of Arkansas in the second round last year. … Jay, who ranked fifth a year ago, took a major step back last year after skipping high-A initially. He'll be handled more carefully this season and still could make it as a fourth outfielder. … Mather is 25, but he bashed 31 homers last year and might be a useful part-timer by the end of 2008. … Freese was the return from San Diego in the Jim Edmonds trade. He hit .302/.400/.489 at high-A Lake Elsinore last season.

2007 top 15: Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia, Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jonathan Jay, Blake Hawksworth, Mark McCormick, Bryan Anderson, Tyler Greene, Mark Hamilton, Chris Lambert, Mitchell Boggs, Josh Kinney, Matthew Scherer, Nick Webber

2006 top 15: Anthony Reyes, Colby Rasmus, Chris Lambert, Tyler Greene, Adam Wainwright, Nick Webber, Mark McCormick, Cody Haerther, Blake Hawksworth, Nick Stavinoha, Stuart Pomeranz, Tyler Johnson, Jose Martinez, Mark Worrell, Carmen Cali

2005 top 10: Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Blake Hawksworth, Brad Thompson, Stuart Pomeranz, Chris Lambert, Cory Haerther, Reid Gorecki, Carmen Cali, Brendan Yarbrough

2004 top 10: Adam Wainwright, Blake Hawksworth, Chris Narveson, Jimmy Journell, Yadier Molina, Rhett Parrott, Tyler Johnson, Daric Barton, John Gall, Stuart Pomeranz

2003 top 10: Jimmy Journell, Dan Haren, Justin Pope, Chris Narveson, Blake Williams, Tyler Johnson, Rhett Parrott, Shaun Boyd, Blake Hawksworth, Mike McCoy

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sidney Ponson will throw for Cards scouts

TLR confirmed that he expects Sidney Ponson throw for Cards scouts at some point in the next week or so.