All posts by Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.

More on New Cardinal Maekawa from Luhnow and Rodriguez

As I had footnoted on Friday in my original article on the Katsuhiko Maekawa signing, the 30-year-old Japanese left-hander has been signed to a minor league contract by the St. Louis Cardinals, but did not receive an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Since then, I have communicated with Jeff Luhnow, Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development and his leader in the Caribbean, Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez regarding the signing.

Between the two executives and some additional research, we now can fill in more of the details of the Maekawa story.

Past interest

Luhnow notes this was at least the Cardinals’ second look at the pitcher. “We knew about him last year but we did not pursue him. He did sign a contract with another club (ed: the Washington Nationals) but his visa was held up and by the time he finally got that cleared up, it was too late,” he explained.

Returned to the Dominican

While I had noted in my first article that Maekawa had been pitching in Venezuela for Caribes, I missed the fact he had started this off-season in the Dominican. He returned there in 2008 after putting together a very nice 2-1 record with a 1.82 ERA in seven starts for the Gigantes del Cibao in 2007.

Back in Cibao this winter, Maekawa apparently hadn’t built up much goodwill from the previous winter. Rodriguez explains. “He had been pitching in the Dominican Republic this winter but was released after a few appearances.” Specifically, it was at the end of October after pitching in just two games.

Perhaps rusty from the long layoff, Maekawa only lasted 3 1/3 innings in two starts and was charged with nine earned runs. After his release, he came across Luhnow and the Cardinals contingent while they were on a scouting mission.

Asked the Cardinals for a job

Luhnow explains how it came about. “About a month ago I took a large group of scouts and player development people to the DR. While we were there, we ran into Maekawa and he said he was looking for a place to pitch. We had him come to our academy and face hitters.”

The Cardinals brain trust liked what they saw in Maekawa.

“His stuff was very good for a guy who hadn’t been pitching in a while. His fastball was 90 plus, he showed a sharp curve and a splitty with tumble. He has some deception in his delivery (the ball just seems to appear out of nowhere). The biggest issue with him has always been his control, but he put up some decent numbers in Japan,” Luhnow offered.

Note that over his 10-year career in Japan, Maekawa walked over five batters per nine innings. This winter, it has been almost 12 free passes per nine, so there is a lot of work to be done here.

Moved to Venezuela

Luhnow and the Cardinals signed Maekawa and sent him to work under Enrique Brito with Caribes in the Venezuelan League in late November.

“We decided to get him into some games in Venezuela for a month or so until it was time to head home and get his visa. We are hopeful there will be no hangups this year and he will be in Jupiter in time for minor league spring training,” Luhnow said.

Rodriguez is responsible for making that happen. “I’ve been involved on the administrative side (visa, contract signing, etc.). Maekawa just returned home to Japan to attend his visa appointment this week and will not return to Venezuela,” Rodriguez explained.

Back to Japan

Hopefully for the Cardinals, Maekawa’s visa hearing will go better than it did last off-season. Though he signed a deal with the Washington Nationals for the 2008 season, he was not allowed to fulfill the contract.

The Japan Times confirmed that Maekawa was fired by the Orix Blue Wave in 2007 as the result of the pitcher’s arrest in Osaka in 2006. He allegedly fled the scene of a car-bicycle accident when the police arrived and asked for his license. It had been suspended since another incident in 2002.

Maekawa originally joined the then-Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1997 as their first-round draft pick. In his ten years in Japan playing in both the Pacific and Central Leagues, he had a 31-45 career record with a 5.26 ERA in 149 games. During his final season there, 2006, Maekawa was 1-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 24 games.

Career stats

Following are Maekawa’s stats while in Japan and since.

LG W L ERA G GS CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO GO/AO AVG
1997-2006 Jpn 31 45 5.26 149 95 16 1 9 609 628 385 356 48 345 417
2007 Winter
Gigantes Dom 2 1 1.82 7 7 29.2 19 6 10 19
2008 Winter
Gigantes Dom 0 2 24.30 2 2 0 0 0 3.1 6 9 9 1 6 3 2.00 0.400
Caribes Ven 0 2 6.39 4 4 0 0 0 12.2 12 9 9 2 15 12 2.57 0.255

Opening or closing doors?

What with all the Cardinals-related excitement generated over Japan in the last few weeks simply because the general manager met with the agents of a couple of free agents from that country, some overly-optimistic fans look to Maekawa’s signing as a door-opener for the organization overseas.

I recall the same types of comments when the Cards signed their first Japanese player, So Taguchi, back in 2002. Of course, it didn’t happen. At least in that situation, the player was a model citizen and became a favorite in St. Louis.

A Japanese-American friend of mine familiar with the Maekawa situation made it clear that due to his off-field problems, public sentiment against Maekawa in Japan is very strong. In fact, while perhaps only rumors, at least one Washington Post writer believes Maekawa has unofficially been banned from the Japanese major leagues.

As a result, it is hard to believe any attention the Cardinals will receive in Japan as a result of the signing will be positive.

The future

Consider this move comparable to the signing of a six-year minor league veteran free agent to provide depth to the upper levels of the Cardinals’ system.

Maekawa’s past record indicates that he is the type of pitcher flexible enough to serve in most any role, whether as a starter, long reliever or left-handed specialist.

Luhnow basically confirmed that when he said, “We see Maekawa as competing for a rotation spot or bullpen spot in Memphis.”

PJ in PR: Finishing in Style

It seems crazy to even suggest it, but in my opinion, right-hander P.J. Walters may be the most underrated pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system, at least at the upper levels.

All the 23-year-old did was take the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for the entire organization last year and our equivalent recognition from Scout.com, too. That was earned while pitching across three levels, as he began 2007 with Quad Cities. We ranked him as the Cardinals’ #10 prospect in the system last off-season.

Walters started the 2008 regular season with Springfield, then quickly moved up to Memphis. There were some whispers of concern as his won-loss record was not great in the second half. So what? Here are his last three months of results with Memphis:

IP AVG BABIP WHIP W/9 K/9 HR/9
June 25 0.327 0.431 1.80 4.32 9.72 0.72
July 30.3 0.248 0.284 1.32 3.86 8.60 1.78
August 36 0.203 0.262 1.31 5.50 9.00 0.75

(A tip of the cap to Minor League Splits.com.)

We can see his June was rough, as his opposing batting average and on balls in play were very high. Through July and August, the numbers moved back into more of an expected range. There was a momentary blip of home runs allowed in July and the walks are still too high. Other than that, it was a fine conclusion to the 2008 season for Walters.

He was asked to pitch in winter ball for Jose Oquendo and the Gigantes de Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Getting international experience and prolonged exposure to the coach rumored to be the leading candidate to follow Tony La Russa as Cardinals manager could only be a good thing – if the results followed.

For his part, Oquendo rewarded Walters with the opening night start for both Carolina and the entire league and kept him in the rotation for eight starts. Early on, before the arrival of catcher Yadier Molina, Walters had the additional enjoyment of pitching to a familiar target, Memphis catcher Bryan Anderson, who has since returned home.

Home is the next stop for Walters, too. He pitched his final Puerto Rican game on Friday night per the original agreement and will be home in time for Christmas.

Walters pitched to a Ponce club on Friday whose leadoff hitter was none other than last week’s big signing by the Cardinals, infielder Joe Thurston. His winter average fell to .288 as he went 0-for-4 against Walters and a quartet of relievers as Carolina breezed to a 7-1 victory.

P.J. picked up his third win of the season on 5 1/3 shutout innings of work on five hits, two walks and one strikeout as his pitch counts were carefully being watched. After all, between the regular season and winter ball, Walters has tossed just short of 200 innings.

Here is P.J.’s final line for the winter compared to his Springfield/Memphis regular season totals.

Team W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO G/AO AVG
Spr/Mem 10 6 4.50 29 29 158 158 88 79 22 70 156 1.28 0.262
Carolina 3 3 4.34 8 8 37.1 42 21 18 3 11 38 1.83 0.290

Strikeouts better than one per inning, walk rate under control. Ground ball rate was up considerably compared to Memphis. Though opposing batting average was also up, the level of competition was too. Overall, a nice showing.

Importantly, Walters finished his Puerto Rican stint strongly, allowing just four runs over his last three starts, totaling 18 innings, including his longest outing of seven innings last Sunday.

On a footnote, word is that former Yankees great, outfielder Bernie Williams will be suiting up for Carolina soon as he tries to make the Puerto Rican club for March’s World Baseball Classic. Bernie last played in the majors in 2006. Oquendo will repeat as the WBC manager for his homeland.

Walton’s take: You’re going to see Walters listed too early in our Top 40 countdown currently underway at Scout.com, but it isn’t justified, in my opinion. While he will surely start at Memphis in 2009, Walters is clearly positioning himself to take a spot in the line of contenders for a call up to St. Louis when the need arises.

Cards sign Katsuhiko Maekawa – Who?

Guess this is the week for a Japanese focus around The Cardinal Nation. First, we had all the excitement because the club’s GM met with the agents for two 33-year-old free agents, Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami. Then, I posted an unflattering comparison between Cubs “star” Kosuke Fukudome and former Cardinal So Taguchi.

Now, in the Cards’ continuing search to acquire obscure left-handed pitchers from every continent on the planet, they may be able to cross Asia off the list. (I understand that Ian Ostlund is from Virginia, but with a name like that, doesn’t it seem like he should be a Brit or a Scandinavian?)

According to a published report, the St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly signed Japanese native, 30-year-old left-hander Katsuhiko Maekawa, to a minor league contract. No word on if he was invited to major league spring training.

The source was a Japanese report picked up and translated by Rotoworld.com. The signing has not yet been confirmed by the Cardinals, though I will update this article when I receive an answer.

Most recently, Maekawa has been pitching in Venezuelan winter ball for Caribes, where his work has been simply uninspiring. In four starts totaling 12 2/3 innings, he has allowed an incredible 27 baserunners, 12 on hits to go with 15 free passes plus five wild pitches.

With a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 2.13, it is amazing Maekawa’s ERA is “just” 6.39. On the positive side, he has a dozen strikeouts in Venezuela.

Prior to the 2008 season, the 6-foot-1, 216-pounder was signed to a minor league deal by the Washington Nationals but never made it to major league spring training camp. Maekawa was reportedly denied a visa due to the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident and driving for several years without a license in Japan.

He had likely caught the Nats’ attention when he delivered a 2-1 record with a 1.82 ERA in seven starts in the Dominican Republic last winter.

(Last month, the Cardinals had added another lefty who actually pitched for the Nats, Charlie Manning. The Cards picked Manning off the waiver wire and as such, he is on the club’s 40-man roster.)

From 1997 through 2006, Maekawa posted a 5.26 ERA and a 417/345 K/BB ratio in 609 innings during his career in Japan with Kinetsu (1997-2003), Hanshin (2004-2005) and Orix (2006). Apparently he did not pitch during the 2007 regular season in Japan.

His aggregate won-loss record was 31-45 and he shows a consistent problem allowing too many baserunners. His Nippon Professional Baseball WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was 1.60. (Major league average is under 1.40.)

Walton’s take: IF the Cardinals have truly signed Maekawa and IF he can enter the US in March and IF he can pitch reasonably effectively, the best we can probably hope for is a Ron Flores replacement for Triple-A Memphis. The younger of the Flores brothers was never seriously considered for a call-up to St. Louis during 2008 and left the organization as a minor league free agent following the season.

Update: MLB.com confirms the signing. A major league spring training invite is not included.

2005 Taguchi > 2008 Fukudome

“C’mon! Fukudome was so bad, even Taguchi was better!”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

Ah, the Holidays are a wonderful time of year, when families all over the country re-assemble, reminisce and yes, sometimes resurrect past skirmishes.

Such is the case in our household here in 2008. My oldest son Ian returned home first of our gang to officially begin the consumption of mass quantities of food and seize the opportunity to catch up on his laundry. While waiting for the dryer, our conversation most predictably gravitated to the state of the game of baseball.

As the discussion narrowed to the prospect of Mark Cuban’s apparently futile attempt to purchase the Chicago Cubs, Ian tweaked my nose over the likelihood that a Cuban regime would escalate growth in the National League Central salary structure to a level even more uncomfortable for the St. Louis Cardinals to compete.

Of course, we both knew that Cuban’s recent indictment for alleged insider trading eliminated the less than 1% chance Bud Selig and his cronies would have let an unpredictable and deep-pocketed hands-on adversary like Cuban crash their exclusive country club, anyway.

Still, Ian’s point was that even BC, Before Cuban, the Cubs had grown their payroll to an amount considerably higher than their NL Central counterparts, most notably including the Cardinals.

My reply was that the Cubbies need a higher payroll since they have handicapped themselves by wasting millions on fool’s gold, the likes of former Cardinals starting pitcher Jason Marquis and the high-profile outfielder imported from Japan last winter, Kosuke Fukudome.

Marquis, too undependable to even hold down the fifth starter’s role for the Chicagoans, same as in St. Louis, is slated to earn just under $10 million this coming season.

That’s pocket change compared to the amount the then-shiny-new Japanese import Fukudome was presented last winter – a whopping $48 million over four years, including $11.5 million in 2009.

What those two duds are paid more than closes the financial gap between the Cardinals and Cubs.

As I was making that point, a light bulb moment occurred.

Speculating that the Cubs’ had been hoping to acquire their own Ichiro, I noted they got much less that they bargained for – unless you count an unbelievably unjustified All-Star Game selection and an unearned sixth place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, that is.

Fuk may be waiting a long time for a ring
Fuk may wait a long time for a ring

In fact, with some wind in my debating sails, I continued by push my point by making a rash assertion that the Cubs’ received less production from Fukudome than the Cardinals did from their own Japanese import, So Taguchi, in his best season in the US.

“Say what?”

Turns out, when normalizing the at-bats from the light-hitting Taguchi’s 2005 season with St. Louis, his first as a full-time major leaguer and the one in which he received the most at-bats, with Fukudome’s initial season in MLB, I was absolutely right.

This despite the fact that Fukudome is eight years younger and So’s best campaign was at the age of 35, in his decline phase physically.

Year AVG AB R H HR RBI SB OBP SLG E
Taguchi 2005 0.288 396 45 114 8 53 11 0.322 0.412 2
Taguchi 2005 n* 0.288 501 57 144 10 66 14 0.322 0.412 3
Fukudome 2008 0.257 501 79 129 10 58 12 0.359 0.379 6

* normalized

leader in BOLD

In summary, had Taguchi maintained his 2005 pace through 501 at-bats, the number Fukudome received last season, So would have had a higher batting average, more RBI, more stolen bases, a higher slugging percentage and half the errors in the field as the Cubs “star”.

“Yee, hah!”

Fukudome did score more frequently and amassed a better on-base mark, but that is it. Those represent the only two major statistical areas in 2008 where the overpriced, overrated Cubbie actually performed better than the 2005 version of Taguchi.

While the Cub made $8 million in 2008, So pulled down a whopping $550,000 back in 2005. In other words, in his top season, Taguchi made less than 7% than did Fukudome last year.

One final point. Taguchi’s Cardinals club took the World Series the very next year while Fukudome’s Cubs have now been waiting 101 years for the same. Based on his “rookie” season, it certainly doesn’t look like Fukudome is going to play any positive factor in reversing that trend over the final three years of his current contract, either.

Hey, Taguchi is again a free agent. Maybe his agent should call Jim Hendry to see how badly the Baby Bears general manager wants a new centerfielder?

Cardinals Minority Owner in Serious Financial Trouble

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch?

Yes, at least via their family relationships.

The family tree

Founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1878, the Post-Dispatch was still owned by the media company Pulitzer Inc. until 2005. At that time, Lee Enterprises, Inc. of Davenport, IA purchased Pulitzer Inc. and made it a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lee.

A footnote in that transaction was that a small minority stake of the St. Louis Cardinals also passed from Pulitzer to Lee.

Chairman Michael Pulitzer had tried to join the William DeWitt Jr. ownership group when the Cardinals were purchased from Anheuser-Busch in 1996. Though it was a bit of a surprise at the time, there was strong public sentiment that the business community was demonstrating their commitment to help keep the Cardinals in St. Louis.

Yet because Pulitzer already owned a stake in the Arizona Diamondbacks, MLB would not allow him to also acquire a share of the Cardinals. MLB’s rules preclude ownership participation in more than one team.

Five years later, in 2001, both Pulitzer Inc. and Michael Pulitzer himself successfully acquired what was characterized at the time as a “nearly four percent stake” in the Cardinals. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, nor was it clear what portion is under company ownership and what Pulitzer holds personally.

The annual Cardinals media guide continues to list both Pulitzer Inc and Michael Pulitzer among the 15 “investors” in the club. The other 13 are all individuals, led by DeWitt and his older sister.

In their annual report on the Business of Baseball, released in April, Forbes estimated the value of the Cardinals at $484 million. The entire four percent stake would be worth just under $20 million, or peanuts considering the magnitude of Lee’s current problems.

Current state cloudy

Somber news was reported on Monday in the Post-Dispatch and nationwide. Lee’s independent auditor, KPMG LLP, sounded an ominous warning that heightened fears that the company may be on the brink of imminent financial failure.

KPMG plans to file a “going concern” statement in conjunction with Lee filing its annual report by the end of the year. Apparently, the only way to avert that would be for Lee to refinance a $306 million debt by the end of this month. If that fails, a series of default loan dominoes will reportedly fall, which would bring down the company.

The St. Louis Business Journal added for the same reasons, KPMG will also modify its auditors’ reports on the separate financial statements of Pulitzer Inc. and the Post-Dispatch.

As expected, Lee officials’ public comments express optimism the problems will be resolved.

Independent industry watchers disagree. 24/7 Wall St. ranks Lee number seven in their 15 companies on “Bankruptcy Watch” and that was when company stock was almost $6 per share.

Their assessment: “The company wrote off $841 million in assets last quarter. Advertising revenue dropped almost 6% year-over-year, and that is almost certainly accelerating. Lee is sitting on almost $1.3 billion in debt and, before the end of the year, it probably will not have the operating income to cover debt service.”

In October, Lee had suspended dividend payments to stockholders and established a new credit agreement with lenders to try to stave off selling assets or declaring bankruptcy to survive. Employees were informed that company matches to their 401(K)s were reduced.

Shares in Lee Enterprises have plummeted from a 18-month high of $24.97 to $0.34 at market opening on Thursday. That’s right, just 34 cents per share.

In other words, it would cost you more to buy a copy of the Post-Dispatch from a newsstand than to acquire two shares of Lee stock! One might argue it is barely worth the paper it is printed on.

Lee is hardly alone, as many newspaper chains nationwide are feeling the severe effects of the credit crunch aggravated by steady declines in circulation and advertising sales.

Many financial observers attribute much of Lee’s current problems to being overextended in debt tied to acquisitions. Lee reportedly borrowed roughly $1.5 billion to acquire Pulitzer Inc. three years ago and prior to that added Howard Publications in 2002.

Bottom line, selling their small stake in the Cardinals, whatever it is exactly, wouldn’t even slow the flow of red ink from Lee’s gaping wound.

Impact is broad

While the Post-Dispatch may have been Pulitzer’s flagship, Lee Enterprises publishes 49 daily newspapers and more than 300 weekly newspapers and specialty publications virtually nationwide.

At the time of the 2005 acquisition, Lee Enterprises employed over ten thousand people, of which 4,000 came over from Pulitzer.

Despite the obstacles, perhaps satisfactory arrangements can be made to keep the papers running without interruption. Selfishly and narrow-mindedly, I believe the quantity and quality of the Post-Dispatch’s Cardinals coverage has grown substantially in recent years and would hate to see that compromised.

Most importantly, here’s hoping the thousands of Post-Dispatch employees can keep their jobs as their parent struggles to remain solvent.

Cardinals consider two Japanese pitchers

I read with considerable interest Joe Strauss’ article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday in which a small celebration occurred over the St. Louis Cardinals’ interest and activities in the Pacific Rim.

“This was something we had interest in as an organization. We’ve made a pursuit of it,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told Strauss.

To the best of my knowledge, the club’s efforts are still in their infancy, at least in the area of amateur scouting. They have a couple of people assigned to cover an awful lot of ground over there. Matters are complicated by factors of distance, culture and most importantly, rules that make free movement of players from The East to the US especially difficult.

On many occasions over the last five years, Cardinals Vice President Jeff Luhnow has reminded me of the challenges of establishing a foothold in Asia.

On the other hand, the success of professional scouting is very dependent on one 800-pound gorilla – the rules of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

Kawakami and Uehara
Kawakami and Uehara

Not to be dismissive to the Cardinals’ hard-working scouts in any way, but the two names in the P-D, 33-year-old pitchers Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara were already relatively well-known in international baseball circles.

In fact, even I profiled them a few months ago. At the time, I didn’t call the two out as specific targets of the Cardinals, but instead as players projected to be available as free agents this off-season.

Because both pitchers have over ten years of service in the NPB, they are true free agents and do not have to pass through the restrictive and expensive player posting process.

That may be one reason why they appeal to the Cardinals, though the club would still have to bid against other interested clubs, same as with US free agents.

As a result, I am not overly excited about the Cardinals’ chances. If the players are really good, the Cardinals could easily lose out in the bidding and if the players are undesirable to other organizations, they should be undesirable to the Cards, too.

While neither of these pitchers has to go through the posting process, I thought I would digress for a bit to explain about it.

The posting process

The “posting system” is documented in a signed agreement that governs player movement from Nippon Professional Baseball to MLB organizations.

A two-part bidding process is in place for all posted players that by definition will likely squeeze out mid-market clubs such as the Cardinals from getting top players, not unlike as in the USA (C.C. Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, etc.).

MLB teams are allowed to place sealed bids through the MLB Commissioner’s Office for the right to negotiate with selected NPB players. They may only be posted, or made available, if their NPB club is willing to let them leave.

The NPB team is informed of the highest bid. They must make their decision whether or not to accept without knowing which MLB team is the highest bidder.

These initial fees compensate the NPB team for the loss of their player. The NPB player is then allowed 30 days to negotiate with the winning MLB team regarding the terms of his prospective contract in the USA.

The whopper

The most famous example is that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was posted two winters ago. The Boston Red Sox submitted the highest bid of over $51 million, which was accepted by the Seibu Lions of the NPB.

On to step two.

Dice-K’s agent, (guess who?) Scott Boras, wanted a five or six-year deal and he got exactly that, a six-year, $52 million deal with the BoSox. That made the club’s total investment in the pitcher over $100 million.

Of course, I am not assuming for one second that the two players in which the Cardinals are interested would command anywhere near that type of money.

I should note that this posting system only applies to players that were under contract with a Japanese team and does not apply to amateur players. The latter is currently a major point of contention. The final player of the five highlighted below, Junichi Tazawa, entered MLB this way, much to the dismay of the NPB.

Who are these guys?

The following five capsules will be a part of the “2009 Fantasy Baseball Guide” magazine, for which I am a long-time contributor. It will hit newsstands this spring.

I will start with the two players linked to the Cardinals. Mozeliak met with their agents during the Winter Meetings last week. While the P-D article discussing the two is entitled “Fuentes waits, so Birds mull options”, it is difficult to picture either as legitimate consolation prizes if the Cards cannot sign free-agent closer Brian Fuentes.

One last time, please remember that both Uehara and Kawakami are free agents, and as such are not required to pass through the posting process. Also be aware that NPB stats listed below do not translate directly to MLB.

The two in question

Right-hander Koji Uehara was 6-5 with 72 strikeouts and a 3.81 ERA in 89 2/3 innings this past season for the Yomiuri Giants, a major drop from his 1.74 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 62 innings in 2007, his only season as a closer. He was actually demoted to the Japanese minor leagues for two months during 2008 for poor performance. At age 33, what role might he play?

Kenshin Kawakami, also 33, was reportedly Japan’s highest-paid starter at $3 million last season. A veteran of international competition like Uehara, Kawakami was 9-5 with 112 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 117 innings for the Chunichi Dragons. That was a considerable improvement from his 3.55 ERA in 2007. The right-hander sports an 87 mph fastball, cutter, and curveball. He fans nearly a batter per inning, but can be prone to yield the long-ball, too.

Three others

Hitoki Iwase, the left-handed closer of the Chunichi Dragons, has collected 165 saves over the last four seasons. The 33-year-old’s ERA was 2.94 this past season after a 2.18 mark in 2007 and a 1.30 ERA the year prior. Iwase’s fastball is said to reach 93 mph, backed up by a plus slider. How much does he have in the tank, though?

Olympian Yu Darvish is the biggest name in Japan, but there has been no announcement on whether or not he will be posted this winter. Rumors of a $75 million posting fee would clearly set a record if true. The 22-year-old right-hander went 16-4 with a 1.88 ERA and fanned 208 in 200.2 innings for the Nippon-Ham Fighters.

Junichi Tazawa is a hard-throwing 22-year-old right-hander who played for a semi-pro club in 2008 and therefore was not required to go through the posting process. Tazawa is said to sport a mid-90s fastball, a 12-to-6 overhand curve and a splitter, but is unproven professionally. He signed a Major League contract with the Boston Red Sox in early December, but is expected to start 2009 in the minor leagues.

Knoedler signing invokes memories of Dizzy Dean

In what was a minor signing by any stretch of the imagination, on Tuesday, MLB.com and various mainstream media sources reported the St. Louis Cardinals signed catcher Justin Knoedler to a minor league contract for 2009 and included an invitation to Major League spring training camp.

This morning, I received several notes informing me of the announcement, wondering why I had missed it, wanting to know more about the new Cardinal, etc…

The fact is that I thought I didn’t need to re-announce it, as I had already reported the Knoedler signing three-and-a half weeks ago, way back on November 21! (Click on the highlighted link to read the free article along with a photo gallery.)

The 28-year-old was signed, sealed and delivered before the protected lists for the Rule 5 Draft were due on November 20th. Knoedler was eligible to be selected in the draft, but not surprisingly, he was passed over.

– Did any other Cardinals news source report his signing last month? Nope.

– Did they report anything about the Rule 5 Reserve Lists and their ramifications? I did. (Link to subscriber-only article on Scout.)

Nothing against those hard-working writers from the deep-pocketed organizations that cover the Cardinals regularly. Many of them I consider friends. And I don’t expect to scoop the big boys on most all major news items affecting the major league club.

On the other hand, I hope you can recognize Knoedler as an example to appreciate the unparalleled depth of coverage you get here and on Scout.com about the Cardinals minor league system. I’ll gladly stack our hustle and coverage on the minors up against any of them.

If that interests you, remember to check here at The Cardinal Nation as well as at The Birdhouse daily!

In the immortal words of the great Dizzy Dean, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it!”

Astros to close Venezuelan academy while Cardinals invest

The St. Louis Cardinals will soon have one less competitor with in-country facilities in Venezuela as the Houston Astros announced this week plans to close their Venezuelan academy.

Though under the ownership of Drayton McLane, the Astros have reportedly cut back on scouting and player development, this news was still a surprise to me. Houston was the first MLB organization to enter that market 20 years ago and as a result mined premier talent such as Bobby Abreu and Johan Santana.

That initiative was started under the leadership of the well-respected scouting and development executive Andres Reiner, who is now planning a similar long-term investment initiative in Brazil on behalf of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Speaking to MLB.com, Houston officials seemed to go out of their way to explain that the changes have nothing to do with the on-going political unrest in Venezuela, or the economy. Instead, they want to deploy their resources to try to get players to the majors sooner.

The Astros will continue to scout players in the country going forward. As did the Cardinals two years ago, the Astros are adding a Gulf Coast League club, but in their case, it is trading one off for the other, not an incremental addition.

The Astros aren’t alone. In 2008, the 12-year-old Venezuelan Summer League ran with just eight teams, including Houston. Other organizations that had previously participated but no longer field VSL teams include Boston, Cincinnati, Florida, San Diego and Baltimore.

The Cardinals are heading in the opposite direction, increasing their commitment in and to Venezuela. Not two weeks ago, I was trying to reach Cardinals Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez only to find he was out investigating an untapped territory in the country.

Rodriguez explains. “It’s a very large country so you need more than one scout there as the regions you need to cover are so vast. You can’t just do it with one or two guys.”

The Cardinals deploy three scouts in the country along with the assistance of Latin American cross-checker Juan Mercado.

Rodriguez is clearly bullish on the country. “Venezuela has really made some strides in the last ten years in the area of player production. The last time I checked, Venezuela had over 1000 players in the minor leagues under contract to major league clubs. That is a pretty significant number. They are really producing players,” he explained recently in an October subscriber-only interview I ran on Scout.com.

Rodriguez went on to note that the corresponding number of players under contract from the Dominican Republic is only about 1600-1800, making the difference much smaller than most, including me, would have guessed.

The Cardinals are planning to move their Venezuelan academy into a new leased facility with a target opening date of mid-2009.

“Our plan is to build an academy in Venezuela, operate in the same manner as we do in the Dominican Republic and our goal is to produce players. We feel there is talent to be had there,” Rodriguez said.

The Cardinals believe that having in-country facilities should at least give them “a slight edge” when trying to sign 16-year-olds. Some players or their parents might have concerns about youngsters having to head overseas to Dominican academies instead of being able to train in Venezuela.

“Venezuela is not a country you can ignore, in my opinion,” Rodriguez summarized.

Links to the October Rodriguez interviews on Scout.com (subscriber-only):

Rodriguez on Cards’ International Operations

Cards Director of Int’l Ops, Moisés Rodriguez

Muckdogs drag Rochester deeper into financial muck

Rochester Community Baseball, the organization that stepped in last winter to rescue the floundering Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League, has released their financial statement for 2008, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Unfortunately, RCB lost over a quarter of a million dollars running the St. Louis Cardinals’ short-season NY-P affiliate this past season, that on the heels of another six digit loss in 2007 when the club was operated locally. Had the Rochester group not stepped in, the League was seriously considering pulling the plug on the franchise.

Despite their first league championship in 45 years in 2008, the Muckdogs’ attendance was basically flat at Dwyer Stadium at around 45,000 for 38 home games. In fairness to them, the Rochester group got a late start last season but committed this fall to give it another year.

For 2009, they can build a full head of steam to sell tickets and advertising, the two primary revenue sources. To help carry that out, RCB has brought in their own management team to operate the Muckdogs this coming season.

In a bit of an unusual arrangement, two young men will split the traditional general manager role for the ‘Dogs under the direction of highly-respected Rochester GM Dan Mason. Travis Sick, 23, was named the General Manager of Baseball Operations while 31-year-old Casey Freeman is the new GM of Stadium Operations.

Rochester management is a proven team that has demonstrated the ability to turn a profit in running a minor league club. The Red Wings, the Minnesota Twins’ affiliate in the International League, made over $150,000 last season, yet that was not enough to offset the Batavia loss.

RCB Chief Operating Officer and Chairman of the Board Naomi Silver was properly optimistic but also acknowledged the business reality in telling the Rochester paper, “…Batavia was a tough nut. We won’t stay in Batavia indefinitely if the operation continues to lose money.” Last week at Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Silver was named Minor League Baseball’s Executive of the Year by Baseball America.

As far as the on-field product is concerned, the parent Cardinals are doing their part, too. The championship team put onto the field and managed by veteran Mark DeJohn was anchored by 15 collegians from the 2008 draft, including our Batavia Position Player of the Year, Colt Sedbrook.

Other stars were our Cardinals system Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year Scott Gorgen and Rookie Reliever of the Year Adam Reifer, along with some exciting youngsters such as then 17-year-old Venezuelan centerfielder Frederick Parejo.

In addition, this fall the Cardinals stepped up and committed to supply players to Batavia for two more seasons, covering 2009 and 2010. They came to Batavia after the Philadelphia Phillies moved out following the 2006 season. In 2006, the nomadic Cards franchise played their only year in State College, PA and prior to that called New Jersey home.

The right management seems to be in place and the right on-field product should again be there. It remains up to the people of Batavia and the surrounding area to get behind their team.

The signals are pretty clear that the community business leaders need to step up and regional fans have to come out in greater numbers to support the Muckdogs or they could easily backslide into the very tenuous spot they found themselves following the 2007 season.

If the All-Star team of Rochester Community Baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals can’t pull it off, who else would take the risk to try to help pull the Batavia Muckdogs out of their own deepening financial muck?

Cardinals add Thurston, but why?

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of 29-year-old infielder Joe Thurston to a minor league contract and invited him to their 2009 major league spring training camp.

Thurston spent the 2008 season in the Boston Red Sox organization, the majority at Triple-A Pawtucket. The second baseman led the International League with 160 hits and ranked third in batting with a .316 batting average. It was the second straight season that his batting average eclipsed .300.

Thurston is currently playing winter ball for Ponce in Puerto Rico and is batting .298 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 104 at-bats. The left-handed hitter has appeared in just 59 major league games in his ten-year professional career and owns a .227 (15-for-66) batting average.

The Dodgers’ fourth-round draft pick in 1999 used to be a top prospect way back when. Then known as “Joey Ballgame”, Thurston was ranked as the #5 Dodgers prospect by Baseball America in 2003 and was being touted before the season as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Instead, he gradually played his way into becoming the non-prospect he is today.

Thurston has seen MLB action for the Dodgers (2002-2004), Phillies (2006) and Red Sox (2008) and played in the Yankees system in 2005. Thurston appeared in three games for the Red Sox from April 18-21 last season after having his contract purchased on April 16.

Walton’s take: I don’t get it. I thought the Cardinals were done with this type of minor league veteran fill-in signings for Memphis. Thurston is primarily a second baseman and can play shortstop and outfield.

Memphis already has Brian Barden, Tyler Greene, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Jose Martinez up the middle, with the first three already on the 40-man roster. And we already know how crowded the outfield is at the top of the system, even before we might see Allen Craig and/or David Freese out there for the Redbirds.

Bottom line, this seems like a wasted signing. If Thurston sticks with Memphis, he will just take away at-bats from legitimate prospects with little chance of a call-up. Think of it as the 2009 version of D’Angelo Jimenez without the MLB track record.

Looper arbitration decision could impact Fuentes

In recent days, two of the most talked about subjects surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals have been the cases of free agent closer Brian Fuentes and starting pitcher Braden Looper – one potentially coming into town with the other likely leaving.

In what follows, I will explain how these two seemingly-isolated cases are anything but.

Aftershocks of the decision to not offer Looper arbitration include either the Cardinals not signing any Type A free agents such as Fuentes or gutting the early part of their 2009 draft. There is also a significant financial ramification that may or may not impact the organization’s Latin American program.

Looper and Fuentes
Looper and Fuentes

Losing Looper

Though the Looper decision was not assumed prior to the December 1 deadline, many observers, including me, expected the Cards would offer him. Yet, Looper was probably pleased to be cut loose. Seeing Kyle Lohse snare a four-year deal worth $41 million likely helped Braden realize some time ago that his chance to score a similar multi-year contract would not be with St. Louis.

Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and now Lohse have long-term contracts, with Todd Wellemeyer coming up for consideration in 12 months. That is potentially too many starters tied up for too long, leaving Looper on the outside looking in.

Despite concerns about the economic downturn everywhere, Looper seemed assured of getting a better deal somewhere other than a one-year, arbitration-driven deal with the Cardinals. As a result, it was generally expected that the shaky closer-turned solid starter would have turned down the opportunity for a one-year deal with the Cards via arbitration.

The Cardinals didn’t care about expectations. They were apparently worried that Looper might accept despite the seemingly low risk of its occurrence. Therefore, they took the only route to absolutely assure that wouldn’t happen – they cut their formal ties with the pitcher.

With no guarantee that injured ace Carpenter will be ready to go to start next season and how many innings they will get from him, the Cardinals seem to be in the market for some insurance for their starting rotation. Their top five are currently Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro.

If the organization does want that insurance, it seemingly won’t be delivered via Looper, unless the two sides come back around to each other later in the off-season.

Extra pick lost

Though I believe the Cardinals were unnecessarily cautious in this situation, I am frankly less concerned about keeping Looper than I am about the downstream ramifications of the decision.

As a Type B free agent, had Looper been offered but not accepted, the Cardinals would have received a compensatory draft pick commonly called a “sandwich” pick that can be used between the first and second rounds of the June, 2009 draft.

Since the Cardinals did not make that offer to Looper (or Jason Isringhausen or Russ Springer), they were not awarded that selection.

A change in plans?

From an organization that has highly-prioritized the long-term mission of building their farm system, bypassing the likely compensatory pick for Looper seems a surprisingly counter-strategic decision.

If fact, 2009 will be the first time since 2004, before Jeff Luhnow assumed the role of farm director for the Cardinals, that they will have no extra picks coming into the draft.

Perhaps anticipating this kind of move, not ninety days ago, I asked Luhnow if the Cardinals could ever have too many compensatory picks.

“No, absolutely not. Those picks are valuable and you just have to figure out how to turn those assets into something that you need. I am speaking as the scouting director now, but even speaking with my global hat on, we like those draft picks and will take as many as we can get,” Luhnow declared.

Fear of being locked into arbitration with their compensation-eligible free agents clearly altered the organization’s intent this year.

Yet, the Cardinals are not unique. Along with St. Louis, at least ten other clubs, perhaps concerned about the economy, excluded all their six-year-plus veteran free agents from arbitration offers.

No sandwiches would leave system hungrier

To provide a reminder of the quality of players that have joined the Cardinals as supplemental picks, I offer their most recent sandwich round selections, with the bonus amounts awarded each:

2008: Lance Lynn – $938,000

2007: Clayton Mortensen – $650,000

2006: Chris Perez – $800,000

2005: Mark McCormick – $800,000 and Tyler Herron – $650,000

All in all, would the Cards rather have these players than not? It would certainly seem like it.

Though the jury is still out on the 2005 and 2008 sandwich players, the major league club already began reaping the benefits of Perez less than two years after he was pitching in the College World Series. Mortensen is also on the fact track to the big leagues, starting in Triple-A before he had even one full year of professional experience.

A misdirection play being run?

As they pump more money into their growing Latin American operations, could the Cardinals be changing their strategy by passing up comp picks, while routing more money away from the June draft in the process?

Think of it this way. Had the Cardinals landed 16-year-old Venezuelan centerfielder Yorman Rodriguez in August instead of former GM Walt Jocketty’s Cincinnati Reds, by my calculations, the Cards would have spent more 2008 bonus money overseas than they did in the regular First-Year Player Draft. The Reds reportedly dished out $2.7 million to Rodriguez, a record for a Venezuelan-born player.

Furthermore, consider the Cardinals’ top 2008 international signing, Roberto De La Cruz. The third baseman received more in bonus than any other Cards player taken in this June’s First-Year Player Draft not named Brett Wallace, a polished college hitter five years older than he. In fact, the Dominican Republic native fetched the same bonus as the number 29 pick in the first round!

Since at least 2005 and probably much longer, only Wallace and Pete Kozma (2007) received more in bonus from the club than did De La Cruz. Among the recent first-rounders who brought home less than the third baseman are Adam Ottavino (2006) and Colby Rasmus (2005).

That is uncharted territory for an organization that didn’t even have an international presence outside of the Dominican Republic just a few short years ago.

Increasing confidence in growing overseas budget

I asked the Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development about the significance of the escalation of the Cardinals’ international spending on players and whether my estimate of their shifting balance toward a majority spent in Latin America and a minority in the US is accurate.

“Correct. There are a couple of clubs teetering on that edge and a couple that have already gone over (spending more outside the US). We wouldn’t be afraid to do that.

“I think Mr. DeWitt and Mo now have the confidence that we have the right scouting resources in place and the right infrastructure in place that it makes sense to deploy the bonus dollars there and wait for the return. It is a bit more of a long term investment, so you have to look at the whole portfolio,” Luhnow explained.

Type A free agent signing carries big downside

The final ramification of not having that supplemental selection is that the Cardinals may be more reluctant to sign Fuentes or any other of one of the top free agents, called Type A, this despite the club needing help at several positions at the major league level.

Examples of Type A players offered arbitration that might previously have been on the Cardinals shopping list include:

Infielders Orlando Hudson and Orlando Cabrera

Left-handed relievers Fuentes and Darren Oliver (AA*)

Starting pitchers A.J. Burnett (SS**), Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez

Outfielders Raul Ibanez (SS**) and Milton Bradley

* arbitration offered

** signed since

(The above list excludes high-end Type A’s that were in the same situation but likely priced outside the Cardinals budget, players such as C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. (Yeah, I heard the rumors about an offer to K-Rod, but I don’t believe them.)

The Looper situation indirectly suggested that the remainng Type A players have an uphill chance of becoming Cardinals in 2009. Either the players accepted the offer of arbitration, as did Oliver, taking them off the market by tying them to their old clubs, or if they declined, compensation from the signing organization will be required. As an aside, of the 25 players offered this year, only Oliver and Cincinnati’s David Weathers accepted.

If the Cardinals do go ahead and sign any Type A, it would seem their plan to focus on improving the farm system via the First-Year Player Draft would be taking a one-year hiatus as a result.

Again, here’s why. If a Type A signing is made, the Cardinals would forfeit their first round pick for next June.

Is signing a Type A worse than not?

We’ve already seen why the Cards will have no supplemental pick in 2009. Add to that the potential loss of their first-rounder in this scenario and the chances of the organization nabbing an impact player in the 2009 draft will be greatly diminished.

Though the specifics of the supplemental round are not yet defined, I currently estimate the Cardinals’ second-round pick should be somewhere between 65th and 70th. That would be their very first selection in the 2009 draft in this case.

Not pretty, nor is it a normal situation for the Cardinals.

In fact, the last year the Cards went into a June draft without either a first-rounder or a supplemental first-round pick was way back in 2002. That was due to the club having signed Type A free agents Isringhausen and Tino Martinez during the previous off-season.

The 2002 scenario could repeat this year if the Cards signed two Type As such as Fuentes and Perez. Losing both their first and second-round picks would ensue.

Rewriting history isn’t pretty

In a world where the Cards would have no first or sandwich round picks, their top selections in recent drafts would have been the following players. They represent the organization’s initial second-round picks in these years:

2008: Shane Peterson

2007: David Kopp

2006: Brad Furnish

2005: Josh Wilson (retired)

Nothing against any of these young men, but would anyone feel as good as they do about the much-ballyhooed improvement in the Cardinals system had these players been the organization’s highest picks in the last four drafts?

Methinks not.

Money potentially saved

If one subscribes to this action being a part of an expense-adjustment strategy on the part of the Cardinals, consider this. The organization could avoid spending as much as $2 million next June just by not having to bonus both a first-round and a sandwich pick.

Another potential factor is sheer roster space to put all their players. While the Cardinals’ system is the youngest of the 30 organizations in aggregate, it is reaching its capacity, says Luhnow.

With fewer minor league free agents and better quality players, it is becoming more difficult to determine who should be pruned from the system. As a result, fewer can enter.

Here is Luhnow’s recent observation.

“I look at next year’s draft and look at all the players in our system and I am not sure we are going to need to sign as many as we did this year. I said that this year, too, so we will have to see,” the farm director explained.

There are several potential ways to achieve financial benefits. For example, they could shave off the high-end picks as discussed here, they could draft more players with signability issues, and/or they could refuse to pay over slot value for any draftees.

In conclusion

The Cardinals’ decision to not offer Braden Looper arbitration either eliminates their signing of a Type A free agent or dooms them to waiting and waiting to make their first 2009 draft selection until the 65-70 range.

There is a possibility that the club could divert unspent bonus money into their Latin American signing budget, but that is not assured.

Cardinals increasing ticket promotions acknowledge the economy

Some think Major League Baseball clubs will be impacted by the Nation’s economic problems while others wonder if families cutting back on expensive travel might decide to rediscover their local team during the summer of 2009.

Major League Baseball is clearly concerned. About six weeks ago, Commissioner Bud Selig sounded a stern warning to club general managers. Later, he spoke to the Associated Press.

“We’re living in a tumultuous economic period. Many economists believe that we’re going to have significant problems. Maybe this could turn out to be the most difficult period since the Great Depression. I view these coming months with trepidation,” Selig mused.

It is not clear how the above statement was directed, since “Bud Light’s” focus has always seemed to be more on the relationships between ownership and players than any legitimate concern over the game’s fans.

Some professional teams are getting more creative than just turning up the volume on the annoying rock music blared out during every break in the action, and sometimes during the game, too.

BusinessWeek recently picked up on a unique promotion the Blues first staged on November 29th. The NHL club kicked off the first of 11 “Fannie and Freddie Mortgage Saturdays.” A winning fan from a drawing held at each game gets his or her rent or mortgage payment paid by the team. The value is up to $1,000 per month for four months. Blues officials estimated the promotion sold about 500 extra tickets for the first installment.

The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t sitting still, either. And it is good they aren’t.

Since opening the smaller Busch Stadium (III) in 2006, the Cardinals have drawn over ten million fans. Regular season home attendance has been relatively flat though, ranging from 3.41 million in the inaugural season (in 80 games instead of 81), to 3.55 million in 2007, likely fueled by the 2006 World Championship, back down to 3.43 million last season.

In the recent 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index, which includes all major professional sports, football, baseball, hockey and basketball, the Cardinals ranked a very respectable tenth. Across MLB, they followed only the Boston Red Sox (2nd overall). The Green Bay Packers of the NFL are number one.

The Index maps a team’s brand in its home city in the areas of Team Popularity, Fan Loyalty and Grade of Ownership. At least in off-the-field areas, the Cards don’t seem to be making any assumptions about those high levels of popularity and loyalty.

Since the start of November alone, the Cardinals have sent out over a dozen email offers specifically focused on ticket sales. I do not ever recall such a concentrated blitz of sales promotions so early. At this point, the selling point is more price than promotion, though.

They have marked the opening of season ticket sales, which offer a 50% discount over face value with a post-season purchase option, to packages that feature 12 games for the price of ten and up to ten for the price of five. They start at $109 and go up to $1,389.

Extras galore are offered, from Holiday deals that include a free stocking (whoopee!) to others that provide free access to the All-Star Fan Fest, to be held during the July All-Star Game break.

Next, single game tickets went on sale, but only for the ever-popular “pig out plans”. Or in more politically-correct speak, the “all-inclusive areas” that offer “a delicious buffet and complimentary beer and soda”.

The next set of email blitzes were around party rooms, ideal for businesses to entertain clients, at least those without deep enough pockets to acquire luxury suites, that is. You can also get tickets via packages offered by “preferred hotel” partners.

Then there are the 27 game plans (which not surprisingly are no longer branded “Rolen Plans”) as well as Share-a-Seat Plans.

Last Thursday, the team offered a one-day only pre-Holiday sale in which either $30 or $60 would be taken off the prices of the two flavors of package deals from 12 games down.

The most recent one-day-only offer came in just this morning, blaring this message, “$25 Discount on Cardinals All-Inclusive Tickets for April-May games”.

In their packages, the Cardinals already either include certain “premium games”, such as with the Cubs or weekend games, or offer more tickets for the money for games deemed less desirable. Take Pittsburgh on a Thursday afternoon, for example.

Going one step farther, now the team is trying to fill seats for “most” pre-summer games while filling up fans (with the all-you-can-eat chow and unlimited Anheuser-Busch products).

I am not pushing any of these packages or deals, but instead, just noticing a blitz that doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. Yet, if you are price-sensitive (and who isn’t?), I suggest you subscribe to the team’s email notifications – if you can stand the volume of mail, that is!

It’s only December 16 and plain old-fashioned single-game tickets haven’t even gone on sale yet!

Mark Mulder: What comes after “fooled me twice”?

Recently, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal apparently had a nice chat with Gregg Clifton, the agent for former St. Louis Cardinals left-handed starting pitcher Mark Mulder.

Guess what news Clifton relayed about his currently unemployed and therefore non-commission-generating client?

Of course! Mulder is “making significant progress in his recovery”. He’s been working with a pair of celebrity personal trainers in Arizona.

“Dr.” Clifton assured Rosenthal that Mulder’s shoulder is “fine, but that he is just now starting to build ‘functional strength’ — in other words, the muscles that will enable him to pitch successfully again.”

Let me translate that. Mulder is probably looking very buff these days, but no one still knows if he can pitch a baseball worth a darn.

Rosenthal dutifully reported that the 31-year-old Mulder “will not begin throwing until December”. His article was posted all of nine days before the month began.

The writer closed his probing interview with a sales pitch suggesting that the lefty “could prove a reasonable one-year risk for a team in need of starting pitching”.

I have a suggestion for Clifton. Dial 1-800-Walt-Jocketty. Call now!

They say that lightning does not strike in the same place twice, but it clearly did in St. Louis. And now fortunately, Walt has since moved up river to Cincinnati.

Some think that internal friction over the building of the farm system versus the trading of prospects for established minor leaguers was the spark that burnt down Jocketty’s comfy 13-year-old St. Louis mansion.

If so, Mulder lit the match.

Fooled once

In what is unquestionably the most disastrous trade in Jocketty’s St. Louis reign, he dealt Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton to Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s for Mulder in December, 2004. At the time, much of the fan fury was over losing top prospect Barton, who has been a washout so far, while Haren has become one of the best young starters in the game.

Though Mulder had been the American League’s starting pitcher in the 2004 All-Star Game, there were whispers all over baseball as he went in the tank big-time after the break that season. His second-half ERA was an alarming 6.13 with a 1.59 WHIP and he posted a below-.500 record. That compared to 3.21, 1.19 and a 12-2 record prior to the break.

Was that screaming “buyer beware” or what?

Still, the post-trade Mulder started ok, bagging his fifth straight 15-game winning season in his St. Louis debut in 2005. But the next year, his troubles more than returned. The lefty logged 85 days on the disabled list in 2006 due to left shoulder impingement. That culminated with surgery on his rotator cuff and labrum in September of that year.

Any time “rotator cuff” is mentioned in conjunction with a pitcher, be concerned. Be very concerned.

Fooled twice

Walt could have walked away from the whole mess as Mulder was a free agent following the 2006 season, but he didn’t. Presumably with the support of the Cardinals medical staff, Jocketty doubled down on his Mulder gambit, laying a fat, juicy, two-year, $11.5 million offer chock full of incremental incentives on the table.

What a surprise! Mulder took it, though he probably had to sign with his right hand.

Not surprisingly, Mulder made none of his over $10 million in additional performance bonuses in that albatross of a contract over the next two seasons. In fact, the Cards got 12 2/3 innings total of over-ten ERA pitching in 2007 and 2008 combined for their increased investment.

Mulder missed 135 games in 2007 and for the second consecutive year, had surgery in September. The labrum was now fine but the rotator cuff had only partially healed. He actually managed to top that in 2008, as he missed a total of 149 games.

I was there in the Philadelphia clubhouse before Mulder’s Waterloo, his one and only 2008 start as a major league pitcher, on July 9. I remember vividly Mulder’s excitement as he told us the day before that he had finally located a new, comfortable arm slot and he couldn’t wait to try it out in the game.

After throwing just 16 pitches in live action, the big lefty trudged off the mound with more shoulder discomfort. After the contest, a disappointed, frustrated and bewildered Mulder simply said he felt pain and was unable to throw the way he wanted.

The next day, Mulder said he had absolutely no idea what the next steps would be. Back onto the DL he went, never to be seen on the mound again. This time, everyone seemed to agree that more surgery would likely not accomplish anything.

To add insult to injury, in the January, 2007 deal, Walt gave Mulder an $11 million option for 2009 that cost the Cardinals another $1.5 million to extract themselves from. That made Mulder’s meter run up to $13 million for the two washed out seasons. His stint with the Cardinals officially ended in October when this last buyout check was tendered.

Fooled thrice?

Part two of the agent’s current awareness campaign seemed to focus on the Winter Meetings and was delivered through the Boston Globe, who on Sunday quoted Clifton saying this: “He’s ready to go for any team right out of the chute.” There had been some talk that teams would have to wait until May or June (before Mulder would be ready to pitch in 2009). “Not true,” said Clifton.

It is most assuring to learn that the agent has recently added fortune-telling to his medical credentials.

At least the Globe writer had the common sense to include the Mulder blurb in an article entitled “Beware of warning signs”.

So all in all, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t start doing backflips over Mulder’s exciting “progress”.

Don’t get me wrong. I bet Mulder wants nothing more than to be an effective major league pitcher again. It’s just that he may not be able to do it. I imagine his agent wants to score another big contract for Mulder. It probably isn’t going to happen.

The reaction of many Cardinals fans when Mulder is mentioned is very similar to how those rabid Boston Red Sox fans feel about Matt Clement. Go to any BoSox board and look up Clement or ask about him. A vast majority of the posters’ remarks I viewed were from fans sick of the years of injuries and ineffectiveness. They just wanted him to go away.

The Cardinals obliged last winter. Do you remember how well that worked out?

Maybe GM John Mozeliak, who was with the Cardinals throughout the entire Mulder saga, will have the guile to immediately forward any calls from Clifton over to his old boss Walt.

Let’s see. There’s “fooled me once”. There’s “fooled me twice”. Let’s just hope the Cardinals never write the definition of “fooled me thrice”!

Cardinals: Where are they Now? – Ken Oberkfell

“Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal”, is the way I have always seen things.

To wit, I read with interest this news item: The Mets’ new Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, will formally name Ken Oberkfell as their 2009 manager this coming Tuesday, December 16.

Being old enough to have remembered the great era of the 1960’s when the St. Louis Cardinals played in three World Series, winning two, then suffering through the 1970’s positioned me as one of millions of Cardinals fans excited when Whitey Herzog’s 1982 Cardinals finally made the playoffs after a 14-year drought.

Along with Keith Hernandez, my favorite Cardinal at the time, another of the most prominent of the players that bridged the gap from the awful 1970’s to the fantastic 1980’s was their second/third baseman Oberkfell.

Who can ever forget Ernie Hayes cranking out the “Star Wars” theme on the Busch Stadium organ every time “Obie” came to bat?

Oberkfell as a Cardinal

Oberkfell was a free agent signing by the Cards in 1975 and remained in the organization for almost the next ten years. He made his major league debut via a brief cup of coffee at the age of 21 in 1977. In two more seasons, the Highland, IL native had taken over at second base before moving over to third in 1981 when Tommy Herr came onto the scene.

Probably my favorite Obie moment was in Game Two of the 1982 National League Championship Series. (In those days, there was no Divisional Series, as there were still just two divisions. In an alignment that only MLB is capable of devising, the Cards were the Eastern Division Champions, while the Braves represented the West.)

Always difficult to strike out, the Cards third sacker came up in a crucial situation with one out in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game. Obie promptly singled to center off Braves closer Gene Garber. That scored David Green, who had singled and was sacrificed to second, with the winning run as the Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Braves, 4-3.

What could be more exciting than a home walk-off win in the playoffs?

That put St. Louis on the way to a sweet three-game sweep of “America’s Team” and silenced annoying Skip Caray for yet another winter. (Realize this was in the early days of cable television, when the Braves, Cubs and Mets were pretty much the only teams on.)

More importantly, it helped get the thirsty Cardinals to the World Series, where they topped the then-American League champion Milwaukee Brewers.

Obie, who never hit more than three home runs nor drove in as many as 50 in a single season during his time with the Cardinals, was known most for his solid fundamental play and especially, his glove. He led the NL in fielding percentage as a second baseman in 1979 and at third both in 1982 and 1983.

Post-St. Louis playing days

In June, 1984, Herzog/GM Joe McDonald traded Oberkfell to the hated Braves. The return was lefty reliever Ken Dayley (I wonder if he is available today?), who would become a key contributor to Whitey’s 1985 and 1987 champs, along with first baseman Mike Jorgensen.

“Jorgy” was near the end of the line as a player but stayed around. He later managed in the Cardinals farm system, reaching Triple-A, then becoming the director of player development. He temporarily added the role of major league skipper for part of the 1995 season. Jorgensen remains with the Cardinals organization to this day with the current title of Special Assistant to the General Manager.

In addition to the Cardinals and Braves, Oberkfell played for the Pirates, Giants, Astros and Angels. Oberkfell was a member of the 1989 NL champions from San Francisco that fell to Tony La Russa’s Oakland A’s in the infamous “Earthquake Series”. He ended his playing days with the then-California Angels at the conclusion of the 1992 season.

Always in charge

In 2009, the 52-year old will be entering his 13th season as a minor league manager in affiliated ball and his fifth at leading the Mets’ Triple-A team, first in Norfolk, most recently in New Orleans and now settling in Buffalo.

Coming into the season, Oberkfell is 812-803 (.503) as a manager.

He began his managing career in the independent Northern League in 1995 and 1996 before joining the Philadelphia Phillies the next season. Obie skippered Phils farmhands in the Sally and Florida State Leagues from 1997 through 2000.

Obie the Met

Though Obie never donned the New York Mets uniform as a player, he has been a most loyal employee since 2001.

Oberkfell moved over to the Mets organization that season, where he first led the Capitol City Bombers of the Sally League. In the second of his two seasons with St. Lucie club of the FSL, his 2003 team was the league champion. An assignment up the ladder to Double-A Binghamton for the 2004 season ensued.

Oberkfell was recognized as Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 when he was leading the Norfolk Tides, but he has never received the call to manage in the big leagues.

He was most recently the Mets’ first base coach under Jerry Manuel, who became the team’s interim manager upon the firing of Willie Randolph in June. Oberkfell received a promotion to the bigs from the New Orleans’ managerial role that would last only half a season as he was reassigned following the 2008 campaign. Coincidentally, in moving to New York, Oberkfell had replaced another ex-Cardinal, Tom Nieto.

Obie interviewed for the top job with the Mets several times, including when Randolph was hired prior to the 2005 season. Previously, he had also been passed over for at least two other coaching spots on the big league club in Flushing.

Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson was brought in to be first base coach in the summer of 2007 instead of him and the prior off-season, Obie interviewed for, but did not win a spot on the Major League staff when Manny Acta moved to become the Nationals’ skipper. Howard Johnson got that job.

Interestingly, Oberkfell’s reputation with the tough New York press seems to be that of a low-key, nice guy who prefers to remain in the background. As such, he does not seem to be considered to be the next in line to manage the Mets.

On a personal note, Obie was sidelined for a considerable time in 2006 with serious leg circulatory problems and complications from surgery. Hopefully, those health issues are totally behind him now.

Yet, through all the twists and turns, ups and downs, Oberkfell clearly remains loyal to the Mets organization.

Despite that, Cardinals fans from the 1980’s surely still hold a soft spot in their hearts for the former second/third baseman.

Best of luck to Obie with his 2009 Buffalo Bisons!

Houston Writer says “Don’t Count out the Cards” in 2009

Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, writing for the Sporting News, has some very complimentary words for the St. Louis Cardinals coming into the 2009 season.

Here are two excerpts:

“The St. Louis Cardinals also will be competitive. Write it down. Hold me to it. Almost every year, people like me count them out. Almost every year, they prove us wrong.”

“The Cardinals have an impressive organizational confidence. Let the Cubs continue to build a huge payroll. Money guarantees them of nothing. Don’t bet against La Russa.”

Justice also proclaims the Milwaukee Brewers can survive the loss of C.C. Sabathia and most likely Ben Sheets. He doesn’t spill any ink on the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates between the intro and a 2009 obituary at the very end.

He does slam his hometown Houston Astros, calling ownership “shortsighted” for limiting payroll to $100 million when he estimates it would take $120 million to keep the current team together.

Do the cries sound familiar?

“Instead of getting better, the Astros seem to be getting worse. (GM Ed) Wade didn’t have the minor league talent necessary to pull off a Jake Peavy deal, and if Hampton gets hurt again, the Astros could hit bottom.”

“IF” Hampton gets hurt again? If he is the key to the 2009 Astros, they may as well stop taking season ticket orders now.

No one asked me, but keeping that Houston team together may not be the best thing, anyway.

Apparently, Justice isn’t as cute as the St. Louis columnists or he would come up with a clever name to slam the owner, Drayton McLane. Since “McWallet” wouldn’t be very original, what about “McScrooge”?

I don’t know about you, but I am still amazed the pitching-less Astros found a way to finish ahead of the Cardinals in 2008 and I am pleased that one of their local writers doesn’t see it happening again.

Cards Non-Tender Flores, Johnson and Miles

The handwriting was on the wall for Randy Flores and fellow left-hander Tyler Johnson.

The two had lost precious ground in their attempts to seize the two left-handed spots in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen and as a result, were among three players non-tendered by the club at Friday’s midnight EST deadline. Infielder Aaron Miles was the other.

There were two other important reasons for these players being cut loose. One is money and the other is roster spots. These players three could have each earned several million via arbitration while there are replacements coming up behind them still making only six figures.


Two lefties gone

Flores, 33, had his time in the St. Louis spotlight, playing a headline role while pitching in 185 games for the Cards from 2005 through 2007, but began to decline in the second half of 2007.

Last season, his fifth in the organization, was a complete washout between injury and ineffectiveness. Flores passed through waivers unclaimed last summer on his way to a demotion to Memphis.

Despite over three years of major league service time, the injury-prone Johnson has only pitched in 77 big-league games. Once a top organizational prospect, the 27-year-old was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft, but was returned to St. Louis during spring training.

Since, he has been slowed by a myriad of arm problems. Johnson’s St. Louis highlight may have been his team-leading ten appearances and four holds during the magical 2006 post-season.

Left-handed relief alternatives aplenty

In recent weeks, the Cardinals have added a host of others from the left side. They include Charlie Manning via waivers from Washington, the former free agent from Tampa Bay, Trever Miller, and minor leaguer Ian Ostlund, also invited to major league camp.

The Cards have stated they are still in search of another lefty, with former Colorado closer Brian Fuentes a prime target. All will compete for likely two roster spots at the major league level this coming spring.

Miles also gone (again)

Of the three non-tenders, Miles was perhaps the biggest surprise, but perhaps not.

The switch-hitting infielder, who will turn 32 on Monday, was in the same situation one year ago and was also non-tendered by the Cardinals. That way, the team could avoid the arbitration process with Miles, where the club could end up being forced to overpay to keep him. Surprisingly, the two sides reunited in January when Miles was given $1.4 million to return to St. Louis for 2008.

After a solid year backing up the middle infield and even getting starts in the outfield, I thought Miles would be asked back in 2009. Perhaps that could still happen, but not via the arbitration process.

Nick Punto
Nick Punto: Over $4M per year

Market realities

Though I had projected that the Cardinals would tender Miles a contract, I second guessed myself as recently as Friday. That is when the Minnesota Twins re-signed their utility infielder Nick Punto to an eye-opening two-year, $8.5 million deal.

The 30-year-old Punto, playing a comparable role to Miles for the Twins, has a career line of .252/.319/.332 over the equivalent of roughly five MLB seasons. Miles’ line is .289/.329/.364 over his time with the White Sox, Colorado and the Cardinals.

So, if Punto can fetch $4.25 million per year on a two-year deal, isn’t Miles worth at least $5 million? Considering that view of the current market, I can see why the Cardinals took the cautious route here.

Miles is a handy player to have around, but not at that kind of price.

Infield alternatives

While they may still go outside for a Miles replacement if he does not return, the Cardinals do have alternatives. Several younger, cheaper and less-experienced in-house players already on the 40-man roster include Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden and Tyler Greene.

Ryan has the most time in the majors of the three but lacks consistency. That translates into less confidence shown by the coaching staff. The 26-year-old has no minor league options remaining, which means he has to either make the big league club in the spring or pass through waivers before heading back to Triple-A.

The Olympian Barden was originally claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks late in the 2007 season. It doesn’t seem the Cardinals can decide about the 27-year-old. Last spring, they took him off the 40-man, when he went unclaimed, then later re-added him. Barden has yet to impress in two end-of-season call-ups. Despite a decent season in Memphis, Barden received a grand total of nine September at-bats with St. Louis in 2008. Not inspiring.

Greene, taken just two picks after top organizational prospect Colby Rasmus in 2005, has long been touted for his potential, but had yet to deliver until 2008. The shortstop had a decent season between Springfield and Memphis and for the first time as a professional, was moved all around the infield during his stint in the Arizona Fall League where he looked fine defensively. That tryout was surely not coincidental.

Second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir also still sits on the 40-man roster, likely on the strength of a .407 OBP put up in 2007 between Springfield and Memphis. His 2008 mark was a more realistic .352, but any future shot at St. Louis seems unclear.

What’s next?

All three non-tendered players, Flores, Johnson and Miles, are officially free agents, available to sign with any team with no penalties or restrictions, including the Cardinals – if both sides are willing.

As expected, five other Cardinals were tendered offers for 2009 by the deadline, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson. These players are bound to the Cards for next season, with the amounts of their salaries still to be negotiated over the next two months.

With these moves, the Cardinals 40-man roster is currently at 34 players. This gives the organization plenty of flexibility to make other moves as the 2008-2009 hot stove season continues.

Selling Anthony Reyes for $50K

The Cardinals were relatively quiet in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, picking up one reliever yet to pitch in Double-A, Russ Haltiwanger, but they lost two players, reliever Luis Perdomo and outfielder Cody Haerther.

The loss of Haerther, squeezed out by his uneven play, injuries and tougher competition, was all but assured when the Cardinals did not even protect him at the Triple-A level. He was taken by Toronto, also the “other” when they claimed Haerther off waivers one year ago, only to try to remove him from their roster a few days later – just before the 2007 Rule 5 Draft. Of course, as most know, the Cardinals took him back.

Cody is a class guy and as such, will be missed by The Cardinal Nation.

Perdomo’s loss was unnecessary, what with the Cardinals having enough roster space to keep him. As the draft demonstrated, he had value in the market, so why give it away? Taken by the San Francisco Giants, the reliever has to remain in the majors for the entire 2009 season, or be passed through waivers and potentially returned to the Cardinals.

Perhaps it is for the better, as any mention of Perdomo reminds me of the decline and eventual give-away of another ex-Cardinal, Anthony Reyes, as the two were swapped for one another in the days approaching the 2008 trade deadline.

Perdomo just reached Double-A this season, too, but his over-90 mph sinking fastball is why he didn’t last beyond the sixth pick in this Rule 5 Draft. The Cardinals now have just $50,000 to show for Perdomo, and therefore, for Reyes.

To put that into perspective, Albert Pujols makes roughly $30,000 per at-bat over the course of the season!

I am not going to raise my blood pressure rehashing the details of Reyes’ years with the Cardinals other than to again shake my head over what might have been. I can’t properly dish out blame in the proper proportion among player, coaches and front office, but I do firmly believe that somewhere, somehow, someone should have done more.

Best wishes to Perdomo and Haerther with their new organizations and same to Reyes with the Indians, for that matter.

To read more about the newest Cardinal, Haltiwanger, check out my free article on Scout.com.

WBC: See Pujols an Extra Time this Spring

For those attending Spring Training in Florida this coming March, be aware that tickets for the World Baseball Classic are now on sale. Six second-round games will be played in Miami from March 14 through 18. (Full WBC schedules and tickets available here.)

In addition, as I noted in this earlier article outlining the details of the Cardinals spring training schedule, St. Louis is playing one exhibition against a WBC team in Jupiter on Thursday, March 5. Their opponent will not have to travel far, as they will also be training right in Jupiter.

Though the title of this entry gives already gives away the answer, I will disclose the answer is Felipe Alou’s Dominican Republic squad.

(Details on all Cardinals spring tickets are available though the spring ticket office at Roger Dean Stadium. Individual game tickets go on sale January 10, but package deals can be purchased now.)

Alou’s club is just one of 11 WBC entries running their camps in Florida this March. The others, the four Asian teams and Cuba are training at home. The Asian Round One pool is made up of defending champion Japan, Korea, China and Taipei.

Among the players who have reportedly expressed interest in competing for Jose Oquendo’s Puerto Rican team include Cardinals Yadier Molina and Joel Pineiro. For those who are game for a side trip over to the Commonwealth (passports not required), first round games for the pool including both Puerto Rico and the Dominican are being held in San Juan from March 7 through 11.

No offense intended to Jose and his club, but if you want to catch Team Puerto Rico, you had better either swing by their training camp in Fort Myers or travel to see their Round One games. I don’t think they are going to get past the Dominicans.

The 2009 Dominican Republic squad should be absolutely loaded. Infielders committed to play include Albert Pujols and Carlos Lee at first, Robinson Cano and former Cardinal Placido Polanco at second with Alex Rodriguez and Aramis Ramirez at third. For his shortstop, Alou is going to have to choose among Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada. Big Papi is penciled in as the designated hitter, according to USAToday.

For those who would rather catch Derek Jeter and Team USA, training over on the west coast at Clearwater, they will play exhibitions against the Phillies in Clearwater on March 3 and 5, and the Blue Jays in Dunedin March 4. The USA begins its formal Round One play on March 7 in Toronto against a pool which also includes Canada, Venezuela and Italy.

Cardinals Mailbag


For those questions that don’t fit neatly under a specific post or if you just prefer email, send your questions to brian@thecardinalnation.com. I will answer them here, just like in the old days at The Birdhouse.


On passwords, Wilson and Martinez
(5/4)

Hey Brian!

You’re still doing a fantastic job.  I just have a couple curiosities maybe you can help me with:

1. How is Josh Wilson doing in Extended?
2. Jose Martinez’s absence.  Is it due to illness of his newborn baby this past offseason or other?  Either way, is there a way to send him well wishes for a speedy return?

Randy

p.s.  Your website is awesome.  I’ve tried to get on, but I messed up the password somehow.  Someone sent me a new one, but it didn’t work either.  No matter I just enjoy your original topics and overall coverage.

Brian’s take: Thanks for the kind words. I have reset your password and emailed it to you. For anyone else out there having this problem, please contact me and I will fix you up.

Now to your questions. I exchanged emails with Josh a few days ago. He says all is going well, but he has no idea when he will be promoted – could be a day or a month, he says. I only have hearsay on Jose’s situation, so I can’t comment. I am not aware of a good way to contact him at this time.


Perez fantasy advice – trade or hold? (03/09/09)

Brian

I heard you on rotowire’s fantasy focus last week and I was impressed by the depth of your cardinals knowledge.

I am weighing a decision in my deep nl only home league and I thought I’d run it by you to get your two cents.

My theory on saves is to go cheap if you can and grab ugly saves for less. I am heading into our auction with lindstom (fla) and mike Gonzalez (atl) both at $2 against an $80 cap. I also have chris perez for $2 and he is currently my final keeper.

All I seem to read recently suggests that perez is THIRD in the race for saves right now behind franklin and then motte. But, I love perez’s makeup and he seems to me to be the kind of guy who could really grab that job and run with it (though Larussa seems to hate him…)

So my question to you… Do you think perez gets 15 saves this year? Or do you think he will remain buried behind the veteran franklin and serve as a setup man this season and perhaps beyond?

Thanks very much for your time and thoughts!

Mark Anestis

Brian’s take: Mark, the ninth inning plans for the Cardinals remain unclear. La Russa pegs Franklin as the fallback closer while Dave Duncan has some different ideas for how to use the pen, the details of which he has not yet disclosed. All things equal, Duncan will make the call as the head of the staff.

To answer your question, my biggest worry about Perez is his heel, which required a cortisone shot over the weekend. Assuming he remains healthy, I think he will get those 15 saves. While Motte is a sexy pick right now, I am not convinced he is ready nor do I think he will be given the ninth inning no matter how well he pitches this month. Believe it or not, I see Franklin as the least sure of the three. He showed me last season that he cannot handle the job and does not offer the upside of either Motte or Perez.

Good luck with your trade decision.


Solid behind Brad (03/06/09)

I know you’re a very busy man these days, but I’m curious about something.  Yeah I know me and a million other Cardinal fans.  What is the Cardinals win/loss record when Brad Thompson starts a game?  I seem to recall from last year that it was pretty good or am I mistaken.

Randy Wile

Brian’s take: Last year, Thompson had six starts. The team went 4-2. In 2007, they were 12-5. 2006, 1-0 and 2005, none. Total record: 17-7.


How about some schedules? (03/04/09)

Can you email me a game schedule for the Gulf Coast Cardinals?

Julie Jones

Brian’s take: The GCL doesn’t typically begin play until the second half of June. I have not seen 2009 schedules yet.


Ducky fan club
(02/12/09)

A very interesting article on the numbers, but I’m baffled by one thing; why is Joe Medwick‘s number 7 not retired by the Cardinal organization.  He was an outstanding player for us before he was shipped out.  A HOF player.  He was good enough for the Hall but not good enough for our organization?!  I don’t get it.  I think this is an injustice, unless you know of a good reason why not.  In which case, please enlighten me.

Perhaps you could champion the cause of Ducky to get his proper due with our beloved team.  Go for it Brian!!!

Randy

Brian’s take: I have never understood the Cardinals’ thought process regarding retired numbers and Hall of Famers. In fact, I wrote an article about it back in 2005 called “Retirement Mysteries” (sorry, Scout subscribers only).

The reason I did was to try to understand why Frankie Frisch, Jim Bottomley, Johnny Mize and Medwick were never recognized with retired numbers. I have stated why (this article is free) I believe they are all deserving before Willie McGee or even Bruce Sutter (yes, I know it is too late for that one). You’ll have to read the article to appreciate the lack of clarity that exists. Basically it is all up to ownership.

Generally speaking, the Cardinals are not particularly history-focused, in my opinion. For example, as far as I could tell, they let the Billy Southworth Hall of Fame induction pass without even a mention at Busch last summer. It was a shame.


How to see early spring practices (2/11/09)

I saw your article about Spring Training dates. I’ll be visiting Florida with my kids from Feb. 15-20 and was wondering if it’s possible to see any players/practices during that time. I realize that the games don’t start until later, but my kids would be happy to watch practices (or try to get autographs) if that’s a possibility. Please let me know. Thanks.

Marty

Brian’s take: I am not down there that early and don’t ever enter that way, so don’t consider this the be-all-end-all answer. But based on what I have seen later in March, I would guess that you should be able to approach from the side/rear of the Cardinals complex and get up to the fences at least the closest two of the six back practice fields.

I suggest hitting the Roger Dean site in the morning, between 9 a.m. and about 11 a.m., as things get a lot quieter in the afternoons. There are several of semi-retired folks at the main stadium serving as security guards that are generally more than willing to help with directions.

Follow this link to see a satellite map of the area. Enter this address: “4751 main street, jupiter florida 33458” and you will see the main stadium. Scroll the map up and to the right to see the Cards’ six practice fields. The two on the bottom should be your most likely target, probably entering from the right.

Good luck with your trip. I wish I could be down there that soon!



Darryl Kile Award (01/23/09)

Thank you for putting this online as this is the first that I’ve heard this news. I am also disappointed that Russ Springer won’t be back, I thought he was the most dependable out of the bullpen.

Terry Vance

Brian’s take: You’re welcome, Terry. So few seem to care about good news these days. Adam Wainwright was a most deserving winner.

Yes, Springer was very effective the last two years and the team will miss his experience. I felt he should have been given the closer’s job when Franklin was struggling.

However, now even without him, they have at least eight qualified relievers for seven openings this spring. How quantity will translate to quality remains to be seen.

On Saturday, look for my next article looking at this very subject – the loss in experience levels in the pen.


Izzy update requested
(01/02/09)

Brian, hope you are having a happy new year! Since Fuentes signed elsewhere, do you think there is any chance that the Cardinals will offer Izzy an incentive deal?  Have you heard how his rehab program is coming and whether he still wants to pitch next year?  If he doesn’t return to the Cardinals, is there any other team that might give him a shot?  I listen to MLB Home Plate all the time and have not heard one word about him.  Looks like the Cardinals are going cheap this year so it seems that a healthy Izzy might be a bargain.

Lynda Freeland

Brian’s take: Lynda, happy new year to you, too! The rumors are that Izzy definitely wants to pitch in 2009 and if so, I believe he will get a job somewhere. While he may represent a fallback option for the Cardinals, I hope both sides decide to move on.

The two were great for each other for the better part of seven years, but Izzy, a proud man, may need time to adjust to not being the center of the action as closer and I think that will occur better somewhere else.


Welcome to TCN! (12/12/08)

Cards to Re-Use Uniforms in Minors

Just prior to their Winter Meetings at the opulent Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Major League Baseball general managers had been sternly warned by Commissioner Bud Selig to act accordingly given the economic downturn. (Apparently, the Yankees’ Brian Cashman didn’t relay that message back to the Steinbrenners.)

Anyway, I had already heard that young job seekers trying to catch on with an organization at the minor league job fair and trade show were having tough sledding. (As an aside, working the Winter Meeting circuit is how Cardinals senior quantitative analyst Sig Mejdal started on his path to getting hired. More details here.)

Now, a Friday New York Times article provides examples of cutbacks at the minor league level, using the Cardinals as a poster child.

“In the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system, many players will wear last year’s uniforms. Buddy Bates, the organization’s minor league equipment manager, said it was difficult to find items to cut on the field because the teams still needed catcher’s equipment, helmets and baseballs. But, he said, reusing uniforms was something his organization could get away with.

“We’ll just fill in the things we need,” Bates said.”

I have an idea. Maybe they can pass the unis down from level to level. Can you imagine how proud an aspiring minor leaguer would be to have the opportunity to wear an old (…or shall I say, “pre-worn”) Albert Pujols or Chris Carpenter jersey?

If so, Bates and his cohorts might have to enhance their loss avoidance procedures, though. Maybe some of those job-seekers can hire on as security guards!

Message from Classy Cody Haerther

I have had the pleasure to meet many St. Louis Cardinals major and minor leaguers over the years and one of the nicest, most genuine of them is outfielder Cody Haerther. As you may know by now, the 2002 sixth-round draft pick was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.

Though the 2008 season had to be difficult for the 25-year-old California native, he pressed on, contributing at both Memphis and Springfield.

Haerther had been dropped from the Cardinals’ 40-man roster twice in the last year. The first was just prior to last year’s Rule 5 Draft, when Toronto grabbed him off waivers only to try to pass him back through a few days later. Their attempt to send Haerther down to the minors was thwarted by the Cards, who claimed him right back.

St. Louis then outrighted Haerther off their 40-man again this summer, followed by them assigning him to Springfield for Rule 5 purposes. That essentially meant the Cards were willing to give Haerther away for $12,000. With no waiver restrictions this year, the Jays grabbed him a second time. He seems likely to begin with the Jays’ Triple-A squad in the spring.

Haerther asked me to pass this message on to Cardinals fans:

“Thank you for the support all these years.  I can’t wait for a fresh start and a good opportunity with the Jays.  I always wanted to be a Cardinal but it was apparent this year I was not in their plan, which is fine and I understand.  But I’m very thankful that the Jays believe in my ability as do I.  Hopefully one of these years the Jays and Cards will play in interleague. Thanks again.”

For more info on all the Cardinals Rule 5 activity on Thursday, including the addition of minor league reliever Russ Haltiwanger, check out my article on Scout.com.

Will Friday be Flores’ Last Day with St. Louis?

On Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals have to declare whether or not they are offering arbitration to eight players that have accrued from just under three to six years of major league service. The alternative is being non-tendered, which is a kind way of saying, “you’re fired”.

The eight include pitchers Randy Flores, Brad Thompson, Tyler Johnson and Todd Wellemeyer, infielder Aaron Miles and outfielders Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick.

Of this group, I project only Flores is at serious risk of receiving his walking papers. Given the left-handers that have been added in recent weeks says nothing good about Flores’ job security. They are minor leaguer Ian Ostlund and 40-man additions Charlie Manning (off waivers from Washington) and free agent Trever Miller (from Tampa Bay).

The Cardinals are still looking for a lefty and a closer. If he is affordable enough, free agent Brian Fuentes could be the man for both job. Add Johnson to the mix and you have potentially six lefties fighting for two or three jobs at most.

That could mean trouble for Flores’ continued employment with the Cardinals.

For more details on the process and my logic on all eight players, check out my free article on Scout.com.

Tony La Russa Still Loves Colby Rasmus

There has been a long-running saga surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals’ top prospect, outfielder Colby Rasmus, at least since last spring training. The youngster played very well then, as did his left-handed hitting competitors on the roster, especially Skip Schumaker. The latter made the team instead of Rasmus.

Rasmus was apparently disillusioned because he believed he had done all that was asked of him to make the club, yet did not. This all comes from the talented player’s dad, Tony, who frequents the Scout.com message board. The outfielder went into a funk on the field, was injured and his 2008 season went down the drain before he knew it.

The elder Rasmus (and/or those close to him) have been stating in print for months that Colby will not make the Cardinals until September, 2009 and attributes that to manager Tony La Russa and the personnel currently on the roster. A not-so-subtle message board campaign to increase awareness of a wish that the top prospect would be traded so he could become the 2009 Rookie of the Year elsewhere has ensued.

La Russa granted an extensive interview at Baseball’s Winter Meetings, where he expressed admiration for the player’s abilities, while also noting that he has others also very capable of starting in the big league outfield. The theme was why the club is looking to trade outfielders to both address other needs and open spots up.

Here are several of the skipper’s comments. Head on over to Scout.com to read the rest of this extensive interview.

Whether Rasmus could shuttle between Memphis and St. Louis:I mean, I would hope — this guy, because he has a chance to be a very special package, you would try to avoid that. You’d avoid disrupting a guy, either send him to AAA, send him to the big leagues and not do that to him if you can help it.”

Whether Rasmus could be a lead-off man:I think he’s a unique, remarkable kind of talent from what I saw in spring training. I saw he had a good strike zone, and when he got the ball — he’s shown it. He got some home runs, he runs really well. I probably would prefer him at the top of the lineup.”

Links to Cardinals “Best of” Lists


To help pass the time over the various off-seasons in recent years, we compiled lists of some of the top current Cardinals minor leaguers and past major leaguers as well as engaged in some very interesting debate as a result.

Following are the links to these lists:

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2014

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2013

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2012

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2011

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2010

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2009

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2008:

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2008: #16-20

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2008: #11-15

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2008: #6-10

Top 20 Cardinals Stories of 2008: #1-5


Cardinals Minor League Players and Managers of the Year

2015

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: TBA

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: TBA

Manager of the Year: TBA

2014

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Rob Kaminsky, Kyle Grana and Magneuris Sierra

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: Daniel Poncedeleon, Jery Then and Derek Gibson

Manager of the Year: Steve Turco, Gulf Coast League

2013

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Zach Petrick, Lee Stoppelman and Kolten Wong

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: Andrew Pierce, Zach Loraine and Edmundo Sosa

Manager of the Year: Oliver Marmol, State College

2012

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha and Oscar Taveras

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: Zach Petrick, Lee Stoppelman and Patrick Wisdom

Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt, Springfield

2011

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Brandon Dickson, Keith Butler and Matt Adams

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: Seth Maness, Danny Miranda and Kolten Wong

Manager of the Year: Johnny Rodriguez, Quad Cities

2010

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Brandon Dickson, Fernando Salas and Matt Carpenter

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: John Gast, Hector Corpas and Oscar Taveras

Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt, Johnson City

2009

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez and Allen Craig

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: Scott Schneider, Josh Squatrito and Matt Adams

Manager of the Year: Chris Maloney, Memphis

2008

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: Jess Todd, Jason Motte and David Freese

Top rookies also awarded system-wide: Scott Gorgen, Adam Reifer and Brett Wallace

Manager of the Year: Mark DeJohn, Batavia

2007

Starting pitcher, reliever and position players by level and system-wide

Top winners: P.J. Walters, Luke Gregerson and Colby Rasmus

Manager of the Year: Ron “Pop” Warner, Springfield


Top 40 Cardinals Prospects

2015

Top prospect: to be named

2014

Top prospect: Oscar Taveras (repeat winner)

2013

Top prospect: Oscar Taveras

2012

Top prospect: Shelby Miller (repeat winner)

2011

Top prospect: Shelby Miller

2010

Top prospect: Jaime Garcia

2009

Top prospect: Colby Rasmus (three-peat)

2008

Top prospect: Colby Rasmus (repeat winner)

2007

Top prospect: Colby Rasmus

2006

Top prospect: Anthony Reyes


Top 40 Cardinals Players of All Time

(includes top Cardinals team by position, Hall of Fame distribution and more)

#1: Stan Musial


Top 15 Cardinals Teams of All Time

#1: 1942


Minor league history series

Top Cardinals minor league managers – 1966 to present
Cardinals minor league franchise census since 1974
Cardinals in the Gulf Coast, Arizona and Pioneer Rookie Leagues
Cardinals in Triple-A – 1977 to present
Cardinals in Double-A – 1966 to present
Cardinals in the Florida State League – 1966 to present
Quad Cities: Cardinals top minor league club has a long history
Cardinals in the Appalachian League – 1975 to present
Cardinals in the New York-Penn League – 1981 to present
A quarter century of Cardinals minor league results