All posts by Brian Walton

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

We all Missed on Randy Arozarena, but BaseballHQ was Closest

photo: Randy Arozarena (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

The St. Louis Cardinals-related social media world has been ablaze for days now and will continue for at least the next week to 10 days through the World Series – and likely much longer.

Every time Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena adds to his formidable list of postseason accomplishments, another swarm of angry comments are directed at the Cardinals organization for trading the budding star away.

Randy Arozarena

For many, the frustration is magnified since the Rays rookie’s greatest feats have occurred in the same area that the current Cardinals have the greatest need – power hitting. It also did not help that Arozarena’s breakout came on the heels of Luke Voit’s emergence in New York.

There is no doubt that in the early returns, the Rays have taken over as the perceived winner in the January 2020 trade that also brought Class-A pitcher Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis. That is a change from the time the deal was announced. At that point, most observers believed the Cardinals made the superior deal because they added the best of the four players to change organizations – 2018 first-rounder Liberatore.

Matthew Liberatore

That may still be proven to be the case over time, but Arozarena is setting the bar higher. And even the possibility that Liberatore may one day achieve his potential does not soothe today’s anger of many. For them, this article will have no effect, as the current results on the field speak for themselves, rubbing more salt in their festering wounds.

Some go further (too far, IMO) in citing lists of departed players in recent years, asserting there is a systematic problem with how the Cardinals develop and evaluate players. Without a similar view of other teams over time, there is no base of comparison to which I could anchor a substantive review.

ESPN prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel has that kind of broader national perspective. He recently observed on 101 ESPN Radio in St. Louis that the players who departed St. Louis were never considered top prospects, complimenting the organization for scouting and developing these kinds of lower-expectation players into productive major leaguers.

McDaniel suspects it is a cyclical matter – noting the Cardinals have had a rougher stretch in this area the last few years than the decade prior despite basically the same people being in charge. The analyst chalked it up to a run of bad luck, noting all organizations look back on trades they could have done differently.

But chances are that minds are already made up and I am not going to try to convince you to change your point of view.

So, putting that aside…

My focus below will be a review of those of us who project prospects – and how we all missed out on Randy – some more than others.

In addition to ranking Cardinals prospects myself, I closely monitor how national analysts see St. Louis’ prospects compared to each other. The additional perspective they add which I cannot is positioning the Cardinals prospects in the much larger pool of all 30 MLB teams’ youngsters.

Randy Arozarena (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

Missing the mark on Randy

It should not pass without emphasizing that prior to now, Arozarena was never a top 100 national prospect on any major list, at least that I am aware of. In fact, as recently as the last full offseason Randy was a Cardinal, prior to the 2019 campaign, six of eight name-brand national raters I track did not even place him among their top 10 prospects in the Cardinals system.

Those who missed include MLB Pipeline (MLB.com), Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, 2080 Baseball and Prospects Live. ESPN was an exception, just sliding Randy in at number 10 on their 2019 top Cardinals list.

Further, among the names ahead of Randy on one or more of these 2019 Cardinals prospect top 10 lists were the likes of Evan Mendoza, Luken Baker, Edmundo Sosa and Griffin Roberts.

Those raters with longer lists than 10 prospects generally slotted Randy in the range between nos. 15 and 20 in the Cardinals system. Among St. Louis outfielders alone, Arozarena was ranked as low as the system’s no. 7 outfield prospect – behind Dylan Carlson, Jhon Torres, Adolis Garcia, Lane Thomas, Justin Williams and even Conner Capel. (By this time, Tyler O’Neill had already graduated off prospect lists.)

The clear standout among the eight national prospect watchers was BaseballHQ, which ranked Randy fourth among Cardinals prospects (at all positions). As the highest-ranked outfielder, Arozarena was four spots ahead of Carlson at the time, according to HQ.

Jumping on the bandwagon

Leaping to the present, some are catching on quickly. In recognition of Arozarena’s meteoric rise during the early rounds of the 2020 playoffs, Fangraphs moved him into their national rankings, at number 42. That is being opportunistic – taking advantage of a very fresh lesson learned.

We missed, too

Lest anyone think I am picking on others unfairly, here at The Cardinal Nation, we missed out, too. We had Randy 12th prior to the 2019 season. I wrote that I thought Thomas had a brighter MLB future ahead. Fellow outfielders O’Neill and Carlson were also ranked ahead of Arozarena on our list.

Thanks to his feats during the following summer, Randy jumped up to number 7 in our initial 2020 rankings, unveiled just before his trade. But to reinforce the aforementioned point about the perceived best player in the swap, we placed Liberatore at number 3 when Randy was removed from his no. 7 place in our rankings.

Take a bow, BaseballHQ

As noted previously, BaseballHQ stood alone in their early confidence in Arozarena. Here is his player capsule from HQ’s indispensable Minor League Analyst book for 2019.

MLB
Rk Name Pos debut Future Pot Commentary
4 Randy Arozarena 79 2019 Starting OF 8D Athletic OF put together a solid season and can do
a bit of everything. Can be overly aggressive at
the plate, but was more selective as the season
8=solid MLB regular progressed. The jump to AAA proved challenging
D=30% chance but his base skills remained intact. Above-average
defender in LF with a good arm and plus speed.

As solid as the report was, the 30% confidence was not unusual and reflects the inherent lack of certainty when projecting prospect futures. The “solid regular” tag, was, well, solid.

Even so, Arozarena did not register on HQ’s “Mega-Lists,” which outline the best prospects in the game by position in terms of long-range potential in the Major Leagues as well as in top skills such as power, batting average and speed for position players.

The Mega-Lists also include the top 45 outfield prospects in the game. There was no mention of Randy in 2019.

Post-trade update – not too deep of a bow, though

By the time the 2020 Analyst went to press this spring, Arozarena had been dealt to Tampa Bay. In the loaded Rays system, ranked number 1 in MLB, he was no longer the cream of the crop – slotting in at just no.13.

Arozarena also made his debut on the national top 45 outfielders Mega-List – but he barely placed, at number 44.

His player capsule in the 2020 Analyst showed a new grade of 7B, meaning an improved 70% chance of becoming an average MLB regular. However, that latter mark was a tick lower than the “solid regular” ceiling the year before.

The pre-season 2020 write-up was as follows. (Clarifications in parentheses are mine.)

“Underrated player can do a bit of everything and had a breakout season (at Triple-A Memphis). Aggressive approach is mitigated by quick hands and ability to barrel the ball. Gap-to-gap approach, (relatively small) size and poor pitch recognition limit power profile. Above-average speed, arm and range give him the tools to play all three OF spots.”

So even BaseballHQ did not fully project what was coming for Randy just months later – during this September and October.

What is next?

Who knows where Arozarena will go from here, but one thing is for sure, Cardinals fans will continue to watch with the highest level of interest (and perhaps angst).

When the 2021 Minor League Analyst is made available in January (pre-orders are being taken now), we will again share related Cardinals prospects highlights. I thank them as always for sharing their work with me, and therefore, you.


Looking for more in-depth Cardinals analysis?

There is plenty more of the kind of in-depth writing that you just read available here at The Cardinal Nation.

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Struggling with the Pros and Cons of Neutral Site Postseason Series

photo: Globe Life Field (Texas Rangers)

Call me a baseball traditionalist, but I like it when managers manage. Yet, from multiple corners – players, managers and broadcasters alike – there has been criticism of the 2020-only playoff format of up to seven consecutive games without a day off.

Here is an example. Perhaps it was taken out of context, but if not, wow. The 2020 St. Louis Cardinals played 53 games in 44 days. But, the Los Angeles Dodgers – a group that won more regular season games than any other team, an organization hasn’t won a World Series in 32 years – can’t get up for playing on seven straight days? Really?

Broadcasters on both League Championship Series networks, FOX and TBS, have repeatedly pointed out how this format inconveniences the teams participating. Again, I not only have no sympathy. I do not agree.

There are several understandable reasons why MLB adopted this condensed format. One is that to generate additional revenue is a very down year, they jammed an extra round of playoffs into the same calendar period. The goal was to complete the World Series in October, which will be accomplished.

Another major factor is that due to COVID, the final three rounds are being played in neutral, warm-weather sites in Texas and California. That means no travel days are needed. This is in contrast with the one or two days off routine normally earmarked for travel when series are played in home team parks.

Further, when normal October games are played in colder climates, weather-driven postponements are far from unheard of. This both extends the series and also enables teams to deploy their best pitchers more frequently than normal. In fact, the Cardinals benefitted from rainouts in both the 2006 and 2011 World Series.

We have also seen in recent years other teams take advantage of multiple days off to rely heavily on two starting pitchers to prevail, most recently the 2019 Washington Nationals utilizing dual aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to the “max”.

As this fan noted, some like seeing the biggest names more frequently in October.

I guess it gets down to whether your top priority is to market your stars or have a format that more accurately reflects how the regular season is played. Normally, teams play seven games straight on a regular basis and nobody makes a big deal about it.

A problem – as I see it

By following this rationale, I find I am leading myself toward backing the consecutive-games format going forward. In turn by doing that, I am also dictating the use of neutral sites, which I am not nearly as comfortable with.

Being realistic, you can’t have both consecutive games and travel in the same series. Take a Los Angeles-New York World Series, for example. Trying to play seven games straight (even if October NY weather allowed) would require overnight transcontinental travel, the logistics of which would be exhausting for the teams and potentially compromise the quality of play.

In our Wednesday podcast this very week, Dan McLaughlin tossed out the possibility of a neutral site World Series continuing beyond 2020. I suspect it was more driven by the potential of MLB turning it into a Super Bowl-like extravaganza – and of course driving a lot more revenue into their coffers as a result. But whatever the motivation, the traditionalist in me was immediately opposed as I would not want to take the World Series away from loyal team fans.

Sure, the wealthiest followers could travel to a neutral site, but baseball has always been and should continue to be for the everyman. Joe and Jane Fan are not going to be able to pull the kids out of school for a week in the middle of October to travel to sunny San Diego, while dropping probably five or 10 grand in the process.

Yes, the NFL makes a big deal over the Super Bowl, but do other sports, which feature a series of games, rather than just a one-game final, do it that way?

So, I am struggling with my position. What do you think? Stop by The Cardinal Nation’s free forum and join the discussion.


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Possible St. Louis Cardinals 40-Man Roster Relief


Looking for more in-depth Cardinals analysis?

There is plenty more of the kind of in-depth writing that you just read available here at The Cardinal Nation.

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Face Six Possible Arbitration Cases for 2021

photo: Jack Flaherty (Jeff Curry/Imagn)

An important part of the annual player payroll establishment process for Major League Baseball teams is setting salaries for the players with between three and six years of service. These players are eligible to have their salary requests heard by arbiters if they are unable to come to agreement with their teams. The arbitration process allows them for the first time to have a say in how much they will be paid.

Key to the actual process is using comparisons to other players of similar experience and skill who came before them. However, a member of the staff at MLB Trade Rumors has refined a model to set estimates without direct review of comparable cases. With a high level of uniqueness and uncertainty in 2020, MLBTR has used three different processes to make their 2021 predictions.

  • Method 1: Applies model directly with actual statistics from this 60-game season
  • Method 2: Extrapolates all counting stats to would-be 162-game totals.  One home run becomes 2.7 home runs.
  • Method 3: For non-first-time eligibles, finds the raise they’d get in a 162 game season, then gives them 37% of that raise.

The quantity of eligible players, noted below as Arb 1, Arb 2 or Arb 3, varies by team. The first-time players, Arb 1, could remain under organization control for three more years, through 2023, Arb 2 for two more years and Arb 3 for just one more season prior to free agency eligibility.

Non-tenders ahead

The high mark across MLB is the 19 eligible players on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 40-man roster, a clear indication of the relative inexperience of the Bucs’ team. The low is the three on the Toronto Blue Jays. The average across the game is nine, with the Cardinals at six.

Be aware that the MLB total of 256 is just a point-in-time count and will decline in the weeks ahead.

The total that will still be with these organizations will drop by the December 2 tender date, as some players deemed to be potentially too expensive via the arbitration process will simply be cut loose by their teams, instead.

This will be important to watch across MLB as these non-tendered, turned free agent players could be a source of less-expensive talent for clubs looking to improve their rosters for 2021.

Cardinals snapshot

Despite the general non-tender talk in MLB, in the case of the Cardinals, I predict that all six eligibles will receive an offer to remain with the team for 2021.

Arb eligible Pos Class Control thru Method 1 Method 2 Method 3 Average
John Gant RHR Arb 2 2022  $1.5MM  $1.9MM  $1.5MM $1.6MM
Jack Flaherty RHS Arb 1 2023  $2.2MM  $3.0MM  $2.2MM $2.5MM
Harrison Bader OF Arb 1 2023  $1.2MM  $1.7MM  $1.2MM $1.4MM
Alex Reyes RHR Arb 1 2023  $1.0MM  $1.2MM  $1.0MM $1.1MM
Jordan Hicks RHR Arb 1 2023  $900K  $900K  $900K  $900K
John Brebbia RHR Arb 1 2023  $800K  $800K  $800K  $800K
totals $7.6MM $9.5MM $7.6MM $8.3MM

As you can see, five of the six are first-timers in the arbitration process with John Gant the only multi-year participant. Outfielder Harrison Bader is the lone position player, joining four relievers and starter Jack Flaherty.

Jack Flaherty

Because of his mound success, Flaherty is not surprisingly expected to receive the most money of the Cardinals’ six, anywhere from $2.2 million to $3 million, per the MLBTR estimates. Given the right-hander’s ongoing concern about the entire player compensation process, further heightened by his first-time status, and occurring in a year during which a new labor agreement will be negotiated between players and owners, I expect Flaherty to not come to agreement with the team and instead exercise his right to plead his case in a February hearing.

The player at the opposite end of the Cardinals’ affordability scale is reliever John Brebbia. It is not a matter of limited talent, however. The right-hander was St. Louis’ best-performing pen member in 2018 and put up solid and consistent results in 2019, as well. However, the former Rule 5 pick is not expected back until mid-season following his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

John Brebbia

As I outlined for members of The Cardinal Nation in an earlier article series, St. Louis does have a 40-man roster crunch, leading some to predict the Cardinals will non-tender Brebbia. This despite the fact he will not become free agent eligible until after the 2022 season, leaving 1 ½ seasons of team control ahead.

I am not among the doubters, as my guess is that the club sees the value Brebbia brings, especially at a below-$1 MM salary. Even a minimum salary player who would potentially replace Brebbia on the roster would earn almost $600,000.

So if he is cut, it won’t be for money savings, but rather to reclaim his roster spot. However, I believe there are other candidates for that who are less valuable to the team.

Bottom line, I just don’t see a savings of $200,000 and gaining a half-season at most of a young replacement player who will likely be less effective is worth jettisoning Brebbia, given he still has a season and a half ahead under Cardinals control.

(P.S. To those who might suggest the Cardinals non-tender Brebbia and bring him back on a minor league contract, here is why that would probably not be palatable to the player. He would lose MLB service time, benefits and salary. If faced with that possibility, as a free agent, Brebbia could simply look to sign an MLB deal for $800,000 or more with another willing team. Teams looking for good relievers at a low price are almost certainly out there.)

The other four arbitration-eligible Cardinals – Bader plus relievers Gant, Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks – seem clear candidates to be brought back for 2021. I would be very surprised if any of them are non-tendered given their talent and relatively-modest salaries expected of less than $2 million each.

Overall to keep the six players, it is expected to cost the Cardinals less than $10 million in total and more specifically, somewhere in the range of $7.6 MM to $9.5 MM. From my perspective, this would appear to be money well-spent.

Key arbitration dates

December 2 – Non-tender date. Teams must declare whether or not they are making a one-year contract offer to all arbitration-eligible players.

January 15 – Eligible players who have not yet agreed on a 2021 salary and their team are both required to submit their desired salary amount. They are encouraged to continue negotiating and many come to terms once this point is reached and all the cards are on the table.

February – Individual player hearings are held if the two sides are still apart. If the arbitrator hears the case, he/she must decide between the two submitted amounts. There is no middle ground. In other words, once the hearing begins, there will be a clear winner and loser. The hearing result is binding, meaning that the arbitrator’s choice will be the player’s salary in 2021.


Related articles for members of The Cardinal Nation

The Calendar Works Against a Quick Return of Wainwright and Molina

Possible St. Louis Cardinals 40-Man Roster Relief


Looking for more in-depth Cardinals analysis?

There is plenty more of the kind of in-depth writing that you just read available here at The Cardinal Nation.

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Memphis Redbirds Owner Peter Freund to Lead MiLB Move into MLB

photo: Peter Freund (Memphis Redbirds)

Major League Baseball release

Major League Baseball today (Wednesday, October 7) announced the hiring of Peter B. Freund and Trinity Sports Consultants to work directly with MLB and the owners of its licensed affiliates as Minor League Baseball’s offices transition to New York. Freund has ownership of Minor League teams at three levels, including Triple-A (Memphis), Class-A (Charleston, SC) and Short-Season (Williamsport) and is also a partner with the New York Yankees.

In his role, Freund will work with the Office of the Commissioner to help develop the framework for a more cohesive and efficient model for the development of players in all the MLB licensed markets around the country. Starting in the 2021 season, MLB will begin implementing a modern approach to player development that includes significant enhancement to the Minor League experience for fans, teams, players and communities such as renovated facilities, reduced travel burden for teams, and improved daily working conditions for players. As part of this effort, MLB has committed to preserving baseball in every community in which it is currently played and has announced that Minor League players would be receiving salary increases ranging from 38% to 72% for the 2021 season.

Dan Halem, MLB’s Deputy Commissioner & Chief Legal Officer, said: “As we look to grow the partnership between Major League Baseball and its licensed affiliates and share our resources, it has always been our intention to have Minor League ownership partner with us in shaping the future of Minor League Baseball. Peter’s reputation and experience in the industry make him exceptionally well suited to assist us in transitioning to a Minor League system that will better serve Minor League fans, Minor League players, Minor League owners, and our Major League Clubs.”

Freund said: “Minor League Baseball is part of the fabric of so many communities and integral to the development of both players and fans of this great game. This truly is a watershed moment for professional baseball and we have a unique opportunity to find common sense solutions which benefit both Major League Clubs and their Minor League partners.”

Brian Walton’s take

This move is a very important step in Major League Baseball’s initiative to assume operations of the minor leagues.

At the end of September, the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) expired, meaning that Minor League Baseball as an independent entity no longer represented the 160 affiliated minor league clubs.

On October 1, MLB issued the following statement:

“Although the PBA has expired, we intend to work with Minor League owners to grow the game by building a new model that will serve fans, players and communities through the United States and Canada.”

Against the backdrop of the expected move of 42 minor league teams from professional affiliation to a lower level of baseball for 2021, the St. Petersburg-headquartered MiLB had unsuccessfully tried with a variety of negotiating committees for months to broker a new PBA with MLB.

These efforts were doomed as minor league owners were divided by the uncertainty of whether their affiliations (and therefore, franchise values in the millions of dollars) would be protected going forward and the reality that they had little leverage with MLB.

Peter Freund

Minor League Baseball, formerly led by Pat O’Conner, who has retired, is being folded into Major League Baseball with the promise of more efficient and profitable operations for the 120 remaining minor league affiliates.

Now we know that Peter Freund and his organization will be in the lead of these assimilation efforts. Given Freund’s broad experience, it is an inspired choice. Expanding his baseball portfolio, he took over majority ownership of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds prior to the 2016 season.

Many questions remain, however, including what new agreements between MLB and the independent minor league owners will look like as well as how long they will run, including how expenses and revenues will be shared. Other work items include facility upgrades, which are still needed in some locations, and the aforementioned affiliate valuations.

Fans of minor league baseball everywhere have to hope that once the turmoil of affiliated team reductions and league changes are past, that the surviving structure of minor league baseball will, in fact, be stronger.


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals Wild Card Series Hot-Tepid-Cold Hitters


Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Gabbing and Jabbing with Gibby – Revisited

Note: After posting the following Tweet Friday evening, shortly after learning the news of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson’s passing, I was touched by the level of interest in it by so many St. Louis Cardinals fans.

As a result, I am reprinting the article I referenced in its entirety. It originally ran on our predecessor site, The Birdhouse, over 15 years ago, on March 17, 2005. Through a number of Scout.com name and ownership changes as well as different technology platforms, including a major transition of our own, amazingly it remains active to this day.

As mentioned, it is the one and only time in the segment of my career dedicated to sports writing in which I wrote about my subject as a fan, rather than an impartial reporter. I hope you enjoy this brief look into how Gibson touched my life, brought home via a chance encounter on the back fields of Jupiter one sunny morning over 15 years ago.

– Brian Walton



In carrying out my duties reporting on the St. Louis Cardinals organization, I’d like to believe that I have done a credible job despite the fact (and perhaps sometimes because) I have followed the team since I was a child. In fact, it is a necessity. Any indication that it isn’t would violate one of the unwritten commandments in the book of sports writing etiquette.

However, today, I am man enough to admit that I may have committed adultery in my heart, to borrow a line from former President Jimmy Carter. Not real adultery, but maybe a bit of the sports writing version, if such a thing exists. Even if so, I don’t care. On Monday, I realized a childhood dream that transcends my role as a writer.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with figures in and around the game, from commissioners to Academy and Grammy Award-winners, but this was different. This time, it was personal. Off to the side, on one of the Cardinals’ practice fields that morning; I talked baseball with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for a full 30 minutes.

To say that I was elated is a massive understatement. For a once-young boy who grew up in the 1960’s in Gibby’s hometown, Omaha, Nebraska, it was a magical moment, one I could have only dreamed about. My family lived eight hours away from St. Louis and did not have the financial means to ever consider a trip to Busch Stadium to see our heroes in person.

Yet, not unlike today, I rarely missed a Cardinals game during the mid-to-late ‘60s and early ‘70’s. However, then it was very different, indeed. In those days, only one game was televised each week, “The Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoon. First, Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese in black and white; then Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola in NBC’s “Living Color”. Of course, the Cardinals were only featured now and then. Instead, we followed our favorite team via the radio.

My Mom often listened to Cardinals games with me, either on our trusty transistor radio or through the newfangled AM-8 track stereo in the Mustang convertible that I still have to this very day. It would be a waste of space here to recount Gibson’s many accomplishments on the mound for the Cardinals during that era, as real fans already know all about them. We cheered on the ultimate competitor, Gibson, and did other fans from Nebraska and tens of thousands of other Cardinals fans from all over the Midwest and South.

Bob Gibson (AP photo)

These days, in my sports writing role, I had seen Gibson around the team on occasion. But honestly, his reputation as an aloof, unapproachable person had been cemented into my consciousness years prior. As a result, I had sort of avoided him. Alright, not sort of; I plain avoided him. Come to think of it, I guess I always have. In fact, when I was a teenager, one night Gibson and his wife came into the Omaha movie theater where I was working, but I was far too scared to say anything.

Thirty years later, that trepidation remained. Yet, here it was; my last day in Florida this spring. The opportunity was there. There would be no better time than now. So, I sheepishly worked up the strength to approach Gibson. I waited patiently until he finished telling a story to eager listeners Adam Wainwright, Ray King and Jeff Suppan.

Like a fool, when Gibson was free, I led with my chin …er… microphone.

Gibson growled, “You don’t want to interview me. Go talk to them.” He gestured in the general vicinity of 40 red-uniformed players going through drills in front of us. I bravely stayed in the box against the most fearsome pitcher of his, and perhaps any, generation.

I stood arrow-straight, looked the great Bob Gibson directly in the eye and stated clearly and definitively, “I will talk with them later. They’re busy now. I hoped to talk with you.” Gibson said absolutely nothing in response as I put away my recorder, trying to decide whether or not to bail out.

But, my natural stubbornness took over and wouldn’t let this chance pass for what all I know could be another three decades, or more likely, never. For his part, Gibson surely didn’t encourage me. Yet, he had the chance to walk away and didn’t. We stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder silently watching the team for what seemed to be an eternity, until I finally broke the quiet by offering that I, too, am a native Omahan.

For there, we naturally flowed right into a discussion of the Creighton Bluejays, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the College World Series, Rosenblatt Stadium and various local points and topics of interest, including that old movie theater on West Dodge Road. My recorder remained firmly anchored in my shirt pocket. After all, it’s not like I would easily forget what was happening here.

This spring, as in the past ten years, Gibson is a Special Spring Training Instructor with the Cardinals. Gibson leaves his home in the snowy Midwest to spend the month of March in sunny Florida helping out the new version of the Redbirds.

Like he seemingly always had, Gibson has his own idea of what should be done and does it. But, that doesn’t include long bus rides. “I’ve done enough of that over the years,” said Gibson. “When the team isn’t playing here, I’m back at my apartment.”

“Spring training is just too long,” Gibson volunteered. He replied to the affirmative when I asked him if that was partially because today’s players are better conditioned. But, he must have counted himself among those who come ready to play. “I used to hold out in the spring. Not because I wanted more money. I did it so I could avoid having to come down here so soon. I didn’t need all that time to get ready.”

Having been a former major league coach, Gibson has no interest in returning to that role. The month in Florida each year suits him just fine in terms of satisfying his baseball fix. While I have no idea of his personal situation, I assume he is set for life and doesn’t have a financial dependence on the game. In other words, despite spring training being too long for his tastes, Gibson is there precisely because he wants to be.

Yet, it was difficult for him the first few years. “Early on, I was frustrated. I wanted to help, but wasn’t sure how. Red (Schoendienst) likes to hit fungoes, so he always has something. (Fellow Hall of Famer and Special Spring Training Instructor) Lou (Brock) and I pick our places. Some guys might sit next to me on the bench, but more often than not, it’s the older guys because they know who I am.”

I asked Gibson if the youthful players of today are any different than in his heyday. “No, not at all. Maybe I didn’t think I knew everything, but I sure had my ways of looking at things and had my reasons for doing so, based on what was happening in my life at the time.” I just nodded, pretending it was a knowingly kind of nod. I wanted to ask more, but decided to let that line of discussion go elsewhere. “I was probably the same way and so are my sons.” I swear I almost detected Gibson cracking a grin.

After the fact, I had to take a second look at the Media Guide to make sure Gibson is really 69 years old. He looks fit and in playing-shape trim today. His retirement seems more like it happened yesterday, rather than 30 years ago.

Maybe twenty minutes into our chat, ESPN’s play-by-play man for the day’s nationally-televised game, Gary Thorne, walked up. Thorne, like many in the industry, is a genuinely nice man. He called out to Gibson and after the two exchanged greetings, Thorne joined the conversation.

Neither Gibson nor I could hardly ignore a prominent trickle of blood on Thorne’s jawline. Surprisingly, Gibson spoke up first. Not only did he point it out, but when Thorne missed the mark, Gibson instinctively licked his finger, quickly and efficiently wiping the dried blood off Thorne’s face. “I’m not going to catch anything from you, am I, Gary?” Gibson cracked.

Can you imagine that scene? Big Bad Bob Gibson wiping blood off the face of a maybe 5-foot-8 broadcaster! Perhaps I was wrong about Gibby.

The three of us talked on about the Cardinals team, free agency and a boatload of other topics until inevitably, the subject of steroids arose. Gibson first seemed surprised, then angered, when I told him that his recent comments about steroids had been widely reported.

Uh-oh. Now, I’d done it.

(Note: The following video perfectly captures the sentiment of Gibson on the steroids subject to which I had referred.)

First, Gibson asked me what I was talking about. Then he growled that he would find out who wrote that and ensure he never spoke with that writer again. Gibson then turned and gave me a steely, penetrating look, as if to drive the same point home with me. That look was one which I imagined to be the exact same way he glared at countless enemy hitters during his years on the mound.

This was no time to wilt, to back down. Stick to the facts and you’ll be fine. At least that is what I told myself.

I assured Gibson that no one said that he would have used steroids, only that he didn’t know what he would have done if he had been in that situation at the time. I tried to assure him that his honesty was refreshing and was not misinterpreted to imply that he endorsed steroid use. Gibson repeated his view with emphasis to make sure I understood. I did then and I still do now.

As the three of us finally headed back toward the Cardinals’ clubhouse, Gibson apparently wanted to know the time. But, instead of simply asking, he used the opening to take what he probably thought would be an uncontested shot at me. That’s right, Bob Gibson gave me grief!

Bob Gibson (St. Louis Cardinals)

“Why don’t you have a watch on? I am in uniform, so at least I have an excuse,” he bellowed. I fired right back. “You should be flexible enough to embrace new technology, Bob.” I pulled my Blackberry out of my pocket and showed him the time. It was 10:00.

“Well, then I guess it’s about time for Brock to show up,” Gibson said, deftly moving his friendly jabs on to his next victim. While Lou Brock was not there to defend himself, I was confident that by now he has learned how to deal with Gibson on his own without any help from me.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen Brock that morning, but like Gibson, he has earned the right to do whatever he wants. I was honored in that what Gibson wanted to do for a brief part of his day was to talk with me.

As we parted ways, I thanked Gibson and reminded him that next time, I’d again be ready with that recorder for a real interview. But that simply isn’t true. I learned that day that it won’t ever be needed. Just talking baseball with the great Bob Gibson is more than good enough for me.

I wish I could tell my late Mom. She’d be so proud.


Related article

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson Passes Away


For more on Gibson

Check out a collection of videos and links to Gibson tributes on the special thread devoted to him at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals Record in Winner-Take-All Games is Good – Depending on the Situation


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St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson Passes Away

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals organization, the St. Louis community and baseball fans everywhere were saddened late last night (Friday, October 2) to learn of the passing of Hall of Famer Robert “Bob” Gibson at the age of 84.  Gibson, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, ranks first all-time among Cardinals pitchers in wins (251), games started (482), complete games (255), shutouts (56), innings pitched (3,884.1) and strikeouts (3,117) along with a 2.91 ERA.

Gibson, the National League Most Valuable Player recipient in 1968, was a nine-time All-Star, winning the N.L. Cy Young Award for pitching excellence in both 1968 and 1970.  “Gibby” was a member of three (1964, 1967 and 1968) Cardinals World Series teams, winning the title in both 1964 and 1967.

“Bob Gibson was arguably one of the best athletes and among the fiercest competitors to ever play the game of baseball,” said Cardinals’ Principal Owner & Chief Executive Officer William O. DeWitt, Jr.   “With yesterday being the anniversary of his record-setting 17 strikeout World Series game in 1968, it brought back many fond memories of Bob, and his ability to pitch at such a high level when the Cardinals were playing on the games’ biggest stages.  Even during the time of his recent illness, Bob remained a strong supporter of the team and remained in contact with members of the organization and several of our players.  He will be sorely missed.”

An outstanding athlete, Gibson played with the Harlem Globetrotters before arriving in St. Louis to stay in 1961. Three years later, he posted a 19-12 record with a 3.01 ERA in helping the Cardinals win the National League pennant. After losing Game 2 of the World Series to the New York Yankees, Gibson posted complete-game victories in Game 5 (5-2 in 10 innings) and Game 7 and earned Series Most Valuable Player honors.

Mike Shannon, Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver and Orlando Cepeda (Getty Images)

Gibson was on his way to another banner season in 1967 when a line drive off the bat of Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfielder Roberto Clemente on July 15 broke Gibson’s right leg. He was sidelined 52 days but returned to pitch the N.L. pennant clincher against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sept. 18.  In the Cardinals’ World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox, Gibson went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, three complete games and 26 strikeouts to again be named series MVP.

Bob Gibson’s 1968 National League Most Valuable Player Award

The postseason dominance was a sign of things to come. In 1968, Gibson authored the greatest season by a pitcher in modern history. His 1.12 ERA established an all-time record for 300 or more innings. Gibson posted a 22-9 record with league-leading totals of 13 shutouts and 268 strikeouts. During one stretch, he surrendered merely two earned runs over 95 innings. Gibson was named the N.L. Cy Young Award winner and MVP. For an encore, Gibson set a record with 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers (a 4-0 victory). He pitched two more complete games (winning Game 4 by the score of 10-1, before losing Game 7 by a 4-1 margin) to run his streak to a record eight straight distance-going performances. Gibson totaled 35 strikeouts in the three games to establish a

Bob Gibson’s 1968 Cy Young Award

Gibson won his second Cy Young Award in 1970 on the strength of a 23-7 record and 3.12 ERA. He fired a no-hitter against Pittsburgh on Aug. 14, 1971, winning 11-0 at Three Rivers Stadium, and became the second pitcher in baseball history to record 3,000 career strikeouts July 17, 1974 (following Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators).

Accompanying his blazing fastball and pinpoint control was an intense demeanor. Gibson was a complete pitcher, socking 24 home runs and winning nine Gold Glove Awards for fielding excellence. The nine-time N.L. All-Star was a first-ballot National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 1981 and an inaugural member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014. He was selected to the Major League Baseball All-Century team in 1999 and voted the starting pitcher on the All-Busch Stadium II team in 2005. In 2015, Gibson was voted by the fans as a member of Franchise Four, joining Lou Brock, Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial as one of the most impactful players who best represented the history of the Cardinals.

Bob Gibson’s 1971 Gold Glove Award

Gibson and his close friend and teammate Tim McCarver paired together as battery-mates for 197 games, second most among Cardinals.  Gibson’s uniform number 45 was retired by the Cardinals in 1975, the year that he retired from the game.

Gibson served as pitching coach for the New York Mets (1981) and Atlanta Braves (1982-84) and bullpen coach for St. Louis (1995).  He also did some broadcasting and was a special instructor for the Cardinals for over 20 years starting in 1996.

In 2018, the Cardinals organization launched a season-long campaign, #CompleteGamer, to honor Bob’s 17-year career with the Cardinals and share his extraordinary life story with fans across multiple generations.

Gibson’s long-time teammate, Hall of Famer Lou Brock, passed away nearly one month ago on September 6 at age 81.


Brian Walton’s take

Simply put, Bob Gibson was the greatest pitcher in the history of the long and storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

May number 45 rest in peace!


For more on Gibson

Check out a collection of videos and links to Gibson tributes on the special thread devoted to him at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.

Share your remembrances as well with other Cardinals fans.


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals Record in Winner-Take-All Games is Good – Depending on the Situation


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Cardinals Set Wild Card Series Roster

image: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals announcement

Brian Walton’s take

As expected, the Cardinals abandoned their in-season mix of 15 pitchers and 13 position players and the 14/14 split during the final week once all the doubleheaders were over, to the above 13/15 for the Wild Card Series. After all, the first-round series requires just three starting pitchers (Kwang-Hyun Kim, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty) and each team has to play just one game per day.

That enables Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon to move into what is essentially a 10-man bullpen.

During Tuesday’s workout day, manager Mike Shildt would not foreshadow his roster, but made it clear that “we’ll have plenty of pitching.”

The beneficiary of the team going with one fewer pitcher is third catcher Andrew Knizner. This allows second catcher, switch-hitter Matt Wieters, available to pinch hit. Knizner, The Cardinal Nation’s fifth-ranked prospect, was active from July 23 until September 4, filling in when Wieters was out with a toe injury. However, the 25-year old got into only eight games and took 16 at-bats, collecting four hits.

Andrew Knizner

The physical changes to the 28-man from the roster on the final day of the regular season are the addition of usual 29th-man Ponce de Leon and Knizner, with pitchers Seth Elledge and Jake Woodford coming off. Another regular contributing pitcher for whom there was no Wild Card room is Nabil Crismatt.

Playoff newbies

11 Cardinals will be making their MLB post-season debuts, ironically the same number as in 2019. They are pitchers (KBO playoff-tested) Kim, Gomber, Alex Reyes, Johan Oviedo, Kodi Whitley, catcher Knizner, infielders Rangel Ravelo and (eight-year MLB veteran) Brad Miller and outfielders Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Austin Dean.

Brad Miller

Six of the first-timers are homegrown Cardinals – Carlson, Gomber, Knizner, Oviedo, Reyes and Whitley.

St. Louis playoff debuts Position Joined StL Became pro Homegrown
Dylan Carlson OF 2020 2016 yes
Austin Dean OF 2020 2012
Austin Gomber LHP 2018 2014 yes
Kwang-Hyun Kim LHP 2020 2007
Andrew Knizner C 2019 2016 yes
Brad Miller IF 2020 2011
Tyler O’Neill OF 2018 2013
Johan Oviedo RHP 2020 2016 yes
Rangel Ravelo 1B 2019 2010
Alex Reyes RHP 2016 2012 yes
Kodi Whitley RHP 2020 2017 yes

Larger taxi squad

In addition to the active 28 players, up to 12 others are allowed to travel with the club as a post-season taxi squad. This is increased from the maximum of five allowed during the regular season.

While the Cardinals have not disclosed the members of their taxi squad, almost the entire 40-man roster is with the team in San Diego. President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak disclosed on Wednesday that all players under consideration to be used are with the team inside the bubble currently.

Those almost certainly included are pitchers Crismatt, Elledge, Woodford and Junior Fernandez, infielder Max Schrock and outfielders Justin Williams and Lane Thomas.

Any of them could serve as next-day replacements if one of the 28 players is injured. Rosters can be completely reset between rounds.

Injury updates

Clear exceptions to the bubble group are two pitchers done for the year. Dakota Hudson had successful Tommy John surgery on Monday in St. Louis, and fellow rotation mate Carlos Martinez will continue his rehab of his oblique strain at his home in the Dominican Republic.

With the team is another pitcher on the IL, John Gant (groin strain), who is a candidate to be activated in future rounds, if the Cardinals advance.

John Gant

Prediction self-audit

As I do each year the Cardinals reach the post-season, I predict in advance what will be the makeup of the active post-season roster.

Walton’s Cardinals Wild Card Roster Predictions – “Dance With Who Brung You!”

This year, I missed on just one of the 28, due to the fact I posted my predictions before outfielder Austin Dean was activated of the injured list before Sunday’s regular season finale. Dean took the spot on my projected Wild Card Series roster earmarked for reliever Elledge.


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Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

To view and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, those in reserve, those from alternate camp sent home, as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Alex Reyes’ Long Road to His First Playoff Appearance


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Dakota Hudson’s Tommy John Surgery Confirmed

photo: Dakota Hudson (David Dermer/Imagn)

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dakota Hudson will undergo Tommy John surgery, disclosed President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak on Sunday.

Hudson was placed on the 10-day injured list on September 18 with what was characterized as a forearm strain. At the time, the right-hander neither heard a pop nor felt burning in his elbow, causing some initial optimism. However, further testing drove his move to the 45-man IL on Tuesday and a second opinion confirmed the need for the surgery, to be conducted by Dr. George Paletta on Monday in St. Louis.

Dakota Hudson

Hudson’s recovery time was placed in the nine to 15 months window, per Mozeliak, depending on the pitcher’s recovery. Given this, he could miss all of 2021.

The 26-year-old placed fifth in the 2019 National League Rookie of the Year voting after leading the league in ground ball percentage, coupled with a 16-7 record and a 3.35 ERA. Hudson further cut down on his walks in 2020, and posted a sparkling 2.77 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in eight starts.

Immediate replacements (for Hudson and rotation-mate Carlos Martinez, who is also out for the remainder of the season) are Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber, essentially functioning as the team’s no. 4 and 5 starters.

Next season, even without Hudson, the Cardinals have numerous experienced rotation candidates, including Jack Flaherty, Kwang-Hyun Kim, Miles Mikolas, Martinez, Adam Wainwright (if the free agent returns), Gomber and Ponce de Leon. Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera are among starting wild cards.


Sunday roster moves

Because a day cannot pass in the 2020 season without at least one roster change…

In all seriousness, this returns the Cardinals to a 14-14 pitcher-position player roster balance, which I expect will continue into the post-season.

My Wild Card Series roster predictions follow.


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Walton’s Cardinals Wild Card Roster Predictions – “Dance With Who Brung You!”


Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

To view and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, those in reserve, those from alternate camp sent home, as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).


Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

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Gant’s Injured Groin Finally Requires an Injured List Move

photo: John Gant via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

St. Louis Cardinals announcement


Brian Walton’s take

In this between-games move on Friday, the Cardinals essentially announced their seventh pitcher is done for 2020 and the third this week alone – following Miles Mikolas, Jordan Hicks, John Brebbia and Ricardo Sanchez earlier, plus most recently, Dakota Hudson and Carlos Martinez.

Gant, 28, had previously been held out a week – from September 13 until the 20th – with groin soreness, but was not placed on the injured list. The right-hander returned to toss a scoreless inning on Sunday in Pittsburgh, but again did not pitch for an extended period afterward.

In his fifth day, Friday, he took the mound in the sixth inning of Friday’s doubleheader against Milwaukee. Gant threw five pitches, allowing one hit, before reinjuring his groin.

His season ends with a 2.40 ERA, having allowed nine hits and seven walks to go with 18 strikeouts in 15 innings. While Gant’s record was 0-3, he logged seven holds and received no save opportunities.

In Gant’s recent absence, right-hander Alex Reyes has moved into a more prominent late-inning role.

John Gant

Crismatt had been optioned to the alternate site most recently this past Monday the 21st, when Giovanny Gallegos was activated. Crismatt could be recalled inside of the normally-required 10 days because he is replacing an injured teammate.

The 25-year-old rookie has pitched his way into a semi-regular role with good results in low-leverage situations. The right-hander has a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings over six appearances. Crismatt fanned eight against just one walk, but also yielded two long balls.

Nabil Crismatt


Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

To view and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, those in reserve, those from alternate camp sent home, as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals Draft Recap 2009-2019 – 21st-50th Rounds


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Yadier Molina Ranks Fourth in Hits by an MLB Catcher as a Catcher

photo: Yadier Molina (Jeff Curry/Imagn)

With his single in the seventh inning of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday evening at Busch Stadium, Yadier Molina became the 12th catcher in history to join Major League Baseball’s 2000-hit club – and the sixth Cardinal ever.

It is another highly-celebrated milestone in what is shaping up to be a Hall of Fame career for the 38-year old, who first came up with the Cardinals in 2004.

As I see it, it is not only important because of the number, 2000, but also for the fact it was accomplished by a catcher – while playing for the same team.

Yet, what may be most notable was glossed over by many. Because of his durability, Molina has continued to catch almost every day when others eventually moved to less demanding positions.

As a result, his hits accrued while playing as his team’s catcher improve his ranking from 12th to fourth all-time.

Let’s look at each of the key elements of Molina’s accomplishment.

2000 hits

This is considered by some to be a gateway to Cooperstown, yet it alone is not and should not be enough.

After all, Molina is the 288th player in MLB history with 2000 hits. Alongside sure-fire Hall of Famers are players who were consistently good and remained healthy and productive for a long time. Random examples include Raul Ibanez (19 seasons), Tony Phillips (18) and Tony Taylor (19).

Personally, I get less excited about longevity records, thinking of them more like Lifetime Achievement Awards than winning the Oscar. But for Molina, there is much more.

2000 hits as a Cardinal

Especially in today’s world of free agency, a player achieving 2000 hits with the same team is quite a feat. To do it exclusively with one club is even more extraordinary and even more so with a franchise as storied as the Cardinals.

Molina became just the sixth to accrue 2000 hits as a Cardinal, following Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Rogers Hornsby, Enos Slaughter and Albert Pujols. Of them, only Stan the Man played his entire career with St. Louis.

Yadier Molina

Yet, this remains an open question for Molina, who intends to keep playing beyond the conclusion of his current contract, which expires this fall.

“It was in my mind to get it this year, wearing this uniform, because you never know what’s going to happen next year,” Molina said Thursday evening. “It was a great moment I’ll always remember.”

2000 hits by a catcher

According to MLB, Molina is recognized as the 12th catcher in history to reach 2000 hits.

Rank MLB catchers Total hits Years played
1 Ivan Rodriguez 2,844 1991-2011
2 Ted Simmons 2,472 1968-88
3 Carlton Fisk 2,356 1969-93
4 Joe Torre 2,342 1960-77
5 Jason Kendall 2,195 1996-2010
6 Yogi Berra 2,150 1946-65
7 Mike Piazza 2,127 1992-2007
8 Joe Mauer 2,123 2004-18
9 Gary Carter 2,092 1974-92
10 Johnny Bench 2,048 1967-83
11 A.J. Pierzynski 2,043 1998-2016
12 Yadier Molina 2,000 2004-20

However, these list-makers cut corners (or at least shave off the edges) by including hits accrued while playing other positions on the field.

As the above list reinforces, MLB history includes a number of great catchers, however many migrated to less-physically demanding positions later in their careers. With the likely permanence of the designated hitter in the National League, this should become even more common in the future.

However, this shift away from the plate never occurred for Molina, who has remained defensively-strong while having improved his offensive production as his career progressed.

In fact, it is it is important to recognize that Molina is sixth on the all-time list of games caught at 1986. This longevity and results achieved while carrying a daily load behind the plate for 17 seasons and counting sets Molina apart.

Yadier Molina (Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports)

It did not happen without a lot of hard work.

“He wasn’t an offensive player when he came into the league,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “What is more impressive is that he got better on offense as he went along – without sacrificing his defense. I don’t see the Hall of Fame as an evaluation (meaning he believes there should be no debate about Molina’s credentials).

The catcher used the early-career doubts by others as incentive to improve – and he did.

“When I came up, I focused on my defense,” Molina said. ““A lot of people in the media – they just gave up on me and my offense. Obviously, I was a poor hitter, but I worked hard to prove them wrong. Right now, I’m in this moment – and thank you to them for giving me the motivation.”

2000 hits by a catcher as a catcher

Trying to sort out numbers of hits while in the game as a catcher is a bit challenging, but doable with the help of career splits at Baseball-Reference.com. I took the same list of 12 catchers recognized with 2000 hits and broke out their catching-only hit totals.

The list is reordered substantially, with Molina moving up from 12th to fourth.

Rank MLB catchers Hits as C Total hits Years played
1 Ivan Rodriguez 2,749 2,844 1991-2011
2 Jason Kendall 2,160 2,195 1996-2010
3 Carlton Fisk 2,145 2,356 1969-93
4 Yadier Molina 1,978 2,000 2004-20
5 A.J. Pierzynski 1,971 2,043 1998-2016
6 Ted Simmons 1,908 2,472 1968-88
7 Gary Carter 1,907 2,092 1974-92
8 Mike Piazza 1,906 2,127 1992-2007
9 Yogi Berra 1,765 2,150 1946-65
10 Johnny Bench 1,646 2,048 1967-83
11 Joe Mauer 1,118 2,123 2004-18
12 Joe Torre 933 2,342 1960-77

As noted, only three have collected 2000 hits while in the catching spot in their team’s lineup. With 22 more hits, Molina will become the fourth. He also has 11 hits as a first baseman, three as a designated hitter and eight as a pinch-hitter.

There seems no doubt Molina will get those last 22 – and many more!


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals Draft Recap 2009-2019 – 21st-50th Rounds


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Martinez’ Injury Worse than Expected; Season May be Over

photo: Carlos Martinez via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals announcement

Brian Walton’s take

The Cardinals managed to go just one day without a pitcher on either the 10-day injured list or the COVID-related IL after Kodi Whitley briefly cleared the slate with his Tuesday activation. (However, it is hardly a good situation with St. Louis also having five other hurlers on the 45-day IL, done for the year. They are Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks, John Brebbia and Ricardo Sanchez.

What was called a left mid-back strain after Martinez left Wednesday’s game in the sixth ining became a potentially more serious oblique strain on Thursday. Manager Mike Shildt confirmed this puts Martinez’ availability for the playoffs at low odds.

“It’s not favorable, for sure,” Shildt said prior to Thursday’s opener vs. Milwaukee. “Even if we make that deep run (in the postseason), it (Martinez’ return) is not likely.”

The 29-year old right-hander finishes his disappointing COVID-infected 2020 season with a record of 0-3 and a 9.90 ERA. The Cardinals went 1-4 in his starts.

Carlos Martinez

Oviedo, 22, was optioned to the alternate site one week ago, on Thursday, September 17 after starting in Game 2 of the doubleheader at Milwaukee the prior night. The outing, during which the rookie allowed five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, was his poorest of his five career starts, all of which his team lost.

For the season, Oviedo is 0-3 with a 5.47 ERA. The right-hander has thrown 24 2/3 innings, yielding 24 hits and 10 walks along with 16 strikeouts.

Johan Oviedo

The Cardinals have set their starters for the five-game Brewers series this weekend. They may prefer to keep Oviedo for a potential start in one of the expected make-up games in Detroit on Monday, but he could be needed in long relief prior to that.

With Hudson also declared out for the year this week, the top five in the St. Louis rotation currently seem to be Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Byung-Hyun Kim, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon.


Related article

How the Cardinals Can Avoid Monday Games 59 and 60 in Detroit


Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

To view and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, those in reserve, those from alternate camp sent home, as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals Draft Recap 2009-2019 – 21st-50th Rounds


Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

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© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

How the Cardinals Can Avoid Monday Games 59 and 60 in Detroit

The St. Louis Cardinals – from the head of baseball operations to the manager to the players – have all noted countless times this week that the team controls its post-season destiny. The remains the case even after a disappointing series loss to the Kansas City Royals.

However, the hill has gotten much steeper. Certainly, the goal remains to reach the playoffs any way possible, but the Cardinals greatly prefer to not have to travel to Detroit for a make-up doubleheader on Monday to play Games 59 and 60. The contests were originally scheduled for August 3-4 at Comerica Park.

Here are the conditions for those two games to be played (or not):

“The games will be played only if a postseason position is to be determined or home field for a Wild Card Round matchup.”

(A reminder that eight teams in each league make the playoffs – the top two teams in each division plus the best two remaining teams. The bottom four seeds visit the top four seeds for the best-of-three Wild Card Series.)

The only way for the Cardinals to ensure themselves a much-needed day off on Monday would be to sweep the Milwaukee Brewers five straight. However, even if they don’t go 5-0, the Cards could still avoid Monday play via help from the Minnesota Twins, which host the Cincinnati Reds for their final three games.

Winning the Central unlikely

With 32 wins against the Cardinals’ 27, the Chicago Cubs would have to lose all four remaining games and the Cards would have to sweep Milwaukee just to get a chance to play the two make-up games, both of which St. Louis would need to win to take the division on the second tiebreaker, intradivision record.

For more likely is that St. Louis’ hopes of repeating as National League Central Division Champions will be dashed this weekend. Chicago would also secure a spot among the top four seeds in the League, assuring the Cubs of playing their entire Wild Card round at home.

With (at least) five games remaining, a much more realistic target for the Cardinals is the second-place spot in the division, which comes with an automatic playoff berth. The Cardinals would finish no better than somewhere in the five through eight seeds, making them a road warrior in the Wild Card games.

But first things first. We should not forget that with Milwaukee just one game behind St. Louis, the Brew Crew could stake their own claim for second place with a big weekend at Busch. More on that later.

Securing second place without playing Games 59/60

As noted, St. Louis’ key rival for the second spot in the division (against whom they do not play again) is Cincinnati. The results of the Reds at Twins series will affect the Cardinals’ destiny almost as much as their own contests.

The good news for Cardinals fans is that Minnesota should be motivated to play its best. Though the Twins have clinched a playoff spot, they are in a battle with the White Sox to win the AL Central Division.

The Twins are third seed and the Sox fourth seed right now, so both would host their Wild Card Series, but the Indians and Yankees could pass one or both this weekend. On the other side of the coin, Minnesota could still grab the AL’s second seed.

As the grid below denotes, to achieve the closest-in goal of avoiding the trip to Detroit, the Cardinals must win at least three games over the Brewers this weekend.

Because St. Louis took the head-to-head series with Cincinnati, six games to four, they hold the first tiebreaker advantage. For example, if St. Louis wins three and Cincinnati wins one this weekend, both teams would have 30 wins. Since St. Louis would have two fewer losses, playing Monday would not change the two clubs’ relative position in the division standings.

Cincinnati wins
0 1 2 3
St. Louis wins 0
1
2 ???
3 ND ND
4 ND ND ND
5 ND ND ND ND

ND = No Detroit

The problem in losing three of five (???)

However, there is a problem if the Brewers take three of five at Busch, even if the Reds are swept and remain stuck at 29 wins. In that case, Milwaukee would finish with 30 wins and St. Louis would have just 29 – through 58 games. The Brewers would (at least temporarily) be the second-place team in the division.

If all that was at stake is which team (Milwaukee or St. Louis) is awarded second place and which team picks up the number seven or eight seed, the Cardinals would not need to play on Monday.

However, the playoff picture is bigger than the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. The Giants, Marlins and Phillies all currently have 28 wins and are in the thick of the race as well. And of these six teams, only four will make the post-season field. (As second-place contenders in the East, one of Miami and Philadelphia will get in, but both have a shot.)

(See the full standings here.)

So depending on how Cincinnati, San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia fare this weekend, St. Louis’ Games 59 and 60 will need to be played – if it means the difference for one of these teams getting into the field of eight.

Continuing this weekend three-loss scenario for both the Cardinals and Reds, Monday’s results could swing St. Louis’ record anywhere from 31-29 to 29-31. 31 wins would give them second in the division. 30 wins could secure them a seventh or eighth seed (but not second in the division, because Milwaukee would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker), but the Cardinals could also miss out entirely, depending on the other contenders. Finally, just 29 wins in 60 games could send the Cardinals (and the Reds both) home for the winter.

In other words, the Cardinals control their own destiny – sort of. Taking the Brewers series would surely go a long way.

Update

Proving nothing is as simple (!) as it seems, reader so_cal_cards_fan on The Cardinal Nation’s message board came up with a couple of exception case scenarios.

The first is a case in which the Cardinals could have to play Monday even if they sweep Milwaukee. It would require San Diego to be swept.

The second went beyond the scope of the this article to illustrate how the Cardinals could still take second place in the NL Central after winning just two games this weekend. It would also require the Reds to go 1-2 at Minnesota and for the Cards to then split in Detroit on Monday .

Stop by The Cardinal Nation’s free forum to join the discussion!


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St. Louis Cardinals Draft Recap 2009-2019 – 21st-50th Rounds


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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Cardinals Activate Whitley, Officially End Hudson’s Season

photo: Kodi Whitley via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

St. Louis Cardinals announcement


Brian Walton’s take

After making his first Opening Day roster and his first two MLB appearances, Whitley has been on the COVID-related injured list since August 4. The rookie right-hander began to throw weeks ago, but suffered elbow soreness and traveled back and forth between St. Louis and Springfield as he ramped back up. The 22-year old has thrown 2 2/3 perfect innings to date.

Kodi Whitley

Fernandez, 23, had rejoined the team on September 16, his second 2020 stint with the club after time on the COVID IL himself. This time up, the right-hander pitched a scoreless inning in Pittsburgh on the 17th.

Junior Fernandez

Prior to the game, President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak explained that based on his initial MRI, it seems clear that Hudson will not pitch again in 2020. However, his meeting in St. Louis with Dr. George Paletta was moved to Wednesday, so until then, his actions to remedy the problem are not known.

As such, Hudson was moved from the 10-day IL to the 45-day version.

Dakota Hudson


Roster ramifications

By placing Hudson on the 45-day injured list, it clears room for Whitley to rejoin the active 28 players without the Cardinals having to remove anyone from the 40-man roster. Hudson becomes the fifth Cardinals pitcher on the 45-day IL and done for the season, joining Miles Mikolas, Ricardo Sanchez, John Brebbia, and Jordan Hicks.

These transactions reduce the Cardinals 40-man roster to 40, for the first time since August 4-5.


Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

To view the two 2020 rosters and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 60-man pool, 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).


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Cardinals Acquire Minor League Left-Hander from Bucs


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Activate Two Key Players for the Final Week

photo: Giovanny Gallegos via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

St. Louis Cardinals announcement


Brian Walton’s take

The Fowler and Gallegos activations were expected as progress reports from John Mozeliak and Mike Shildt pointed to the third and final stop on this road trip, Kansas City, as their joint return.

In doing so, the club welcomes back two valuable performers – its best-hitting outfielder in 2020 and its closer.

Fowler is one of only three Cardinals with an OPS+ over 100, with his 124 mark trailing Paul Goldschmidt (151) and Brad Miller (128). On September 2, when the 34-year old went onto the injured list, he was slashing .279/.349/.485/.834 with four home runs and 14 RBI. The switch-hitting outfielder reached base safely in 19 of his 23 games while co-leading the Cardinals in home runs and ranking second in RBI at the time.

Dexter Fowler

Fowler had been trying to play through from a stomach ailment for several weeks, a recurrence of a problem he had in the past, prior to his St. Louis years. He had been trying different medications but did not get hoped for relief, so had to switch to a medication that would weaken his immune system. So, as a precaution, he was placed on the COVID-related IL

Giovanny Gallegos

Gallegos has a 3.97 ERA and four saves. The right-hander has fanned 14 against just three walks in 11 1/3 innings in 2020. Exactly 10 days ago, on September 11, the 29-year old was placed on the 10-day injured list with a groin injury. The Cardinals played 13 games without their closer, with Andrew Miller the primary replacement.

Justin Williams

Williams, 25, received his first-ever promotion to St. Louis on September 17 after two years of trying. The left-handed hitting outfielder went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts plus a walk.

Nabil Crismatt

Crismatt, 25, has pitched his way into a semi-regular role with good results in low-leverage situations, but is a victim of numbers. The right-hander has a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings over six appearances. Crismatt fanned eight against just one walk, but also yielded two long balls.

Roel Ramirez

Like Williams and Genesis Cabrera, Ramirez joined the Cardinals from Tampa Bay in the Tommy Pham trade in July 2018. Like a number of other Cardinals pitchers in this compressed season, the 25-year old was rushed to St. Louis before he was ready. In his lone outing with St. Louis, on August 16, Ramirez was bombed for six earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. He was returned to the alternate camp and was not recalled since.

Roster ramifications

Ramirez was the obvious choice to be removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Fowler, who had temporarily been exempted from the roster due to his COVID risk.

Ramirez’ next move will be decided in the next seven days – whether traded, claimed off waivers by another organization, outrighted to the minor leagues or released. Likely Ramirez will clear outright waivers and remain in the organization – following the path of fellow hurlers Alvaro Seijas, Ryan Meisinger, Jesus Cruz and Rob Kaminsky before him this summer.

The Cardinals have just one remaining player on the COVID IL, relief pitcher Kodi Whitley, who has since been dealing with an elbow issue. The 40-man roster is at 41 players as a result, not including four 45-day IL pitcher done for the season – Miles Mikolas, Jordan Hicks, John Brebbia and Ricardo Sanchez.

Playing time ramifications

With Fowler’s return, he will likely reclaim his starting job in right field. As Tyler O’Neill continues to be the regular in left, the only place for top prospect Dylan Carlson is center field. After a recent hot spell, Harrison Bader has cooled off over the last week and seems most likely to lose playing time in the final week.

As soon as Gallegos shows he is ready, he should be back covering the ninth inning. The set up corps is strong with Cabrera, Miller and Tyler Webb from the left and Alex Reyes and John Gant from the right.

Mozeliak remarks

Prior to Monday’s game, the president of baseball ops answered our questions.

Taxi squad – Williams and Crismatt join the carryovers from Pittsburgh, who are Andrew Knizner, Johan Oviedo, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Max Schrock. Obviously, that is six when only five are allowed. It is not clear which one is excluded and is in St. Louis instead of KC. My guess is Ponce.

Kodi Whitley – The right-hander threw Saturday and recovered well Sunday, so he might be activated in the next few days.

Dakota Hudson – The injured right-hander has returned to St. Louis. Next step is to be evaluated by Dr. George Paletta to decide his treatment plan.

Austin Dean – Is working in secondary camp in St. Louis, but will run into a roster crunch. About out of time for this season.

Secondary camp – The group of seven or eight players includes those who have already seen time with St. Louis this season. (Therefore, it would exclude Edmundo Sosa and Elehuris Montero.) Leading the camp are coaches Chris Swauger and Joey Hawkins. Jose Oquendo has returned home to Florida.

Games 59 and 60 – The two makeup contests on Monday, September 28, if required, will be held in Detroit. Mozeliak said he does not know if Game 2 would be played if the result of Game 1 determines it does not have post-season impact.

Mike Shildt via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Shildt comments

The manager followed the PBO before Monday’s game.

Gallegos – His return as closer is being thought about. Fortunately, they also have other options so will evaluate daily.

Fowler – He is ready to go. Expect he will be an every-day fixture in the lineup.

Austin Gomber – His choice as Game 2 starter was based on him being the most stretched out, capable of throwing 80 pitchers. Did not want to bring back Daniel Ponce de Leon again on short rest. Johan Oviedo not yet eligible to return from minors (inside of 10 days).


Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

To view the two 2020 rosters and to track the status of the Cardinals’ 60-man pool, 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).


Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals Acquire Minor League Left-Hander from Bucs


Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com or for fastest turnaround, pose your questions on The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

St. Louis Cardinals to Quarantine – Except for those Excluded

A little-understood ramification of the recent agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association to prepare for the 2020 post-season has closed alternate camps. In the process, dozens of players across the game are being sent home for the off-season, including a group of St. Louis Cardinals prospects.

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