All posts by Lou Roesch

The Greatest Cardinals Lineup That Never Was

photo: Paul Molitor

For more than a half century, Major League Baseball has been holding its annual draft. Although you never know how players are going to pan out down the road, especially high schoolers, draft potential and develop potential. Enjoy the success it brings.

With the conclusion of the 2021 draft, pundits alike will be analyzing the class for years to come. Instead of joining the crowd, let’s take a look at the best players drafted and unsigned or passed on by St. Louis over the years and see what kind of starting lineup they could have fielded fantasy style. For the purpose of this article, I have chosen nine position players and, a left-handed and right-handed starter as well as a reliever. Here Is what an all-time greatest Cardinals lineup that never was might have looked like if these players across the last five decades had signed and worn the Birds on the Bat.

The corner positions on the infield are two of the most difficult to fill on a consistent basis. Maybe because the Cardinals have done so well at the corners, you can understand overlooking Frank Thomas “The Big Hurt” in the 1998 draft. The Cardinals passed on Thomas, choosing outfielder Paul Coleman with the fifth pick while the future Hall of Famer went to the White Sox as the very next selection.

Career: BA: .301, Hits: 2468, HR: 521, RBI: 1704, OPS: .974

Bill Madlock

At the hot corner, the Cardinals had a shot at four-time National League batting champion Bill Madlock in 1969. Nicknamed “Mad Dog,” he was as ferocious of a hitter as ever there was one. His four batting titles are second in the National League to Tony Gwynn’s eight since 1970. Picked out of Eisenhower High School in Decatur, Illinois, Madlock chose to not sign with the Cardinals and eventually became the property of the Washington Senators in June 1970 as a fifth-round pick. Imagine the protection he might have provided for Keith Hernandez in the lineup.

Career: BA: .305, Hits: 2008, HR: 163, RBI: 860, OBP: .365

Now for the double play combination. The Cardinals have featured some sick fielding duos at second base and shortstop but in our look at the Greatest Cardinals that never were Paul Molitor at second base and Bucky Dent at shortstop would have been a pretty good one-two punch up the middle.

Paul Molitor

Along with fellow Hall of Famer Robin Yount, Molitor saved the Brewers franchise in the 1980’s, turning the perennial cellar dwellers into a World Series competitor against the Cardinals in 1982. Appropriately nicknamed “The Ignitor”, the seven-time All-Star and 1993 World Series MVP owns the seventh longest all-time hit streak at 39 and at the age of 37 became the oldest player to record his first 100 RBI season.

The difference between the Cardinals signing Molitor, a 28th round pick in 1974, and the Milwaukee Brewers’ first round pick in 1977 was $6,000. The St. Paul, Minnesota native went to college and the Cardinals cashed out on a player who went on to earn more then $40 million dollars in his career

Career: BA: .306, Hits: 3319, RBI:1307, Runs Scored: 1782, Stolen Bases: 504

Bucky Dent

Dent was another one who got away. Drafted not once but twice by the Cardinals in a six-month window, the Georgia native opted instead to go to college. Had Dent signed with St. Louis, it is possible that Garry Templeton and Ozzie Smith – who like Dent has his own heroic playoff home run -might never have been Cardinals either.

Dent finished second in the 1974 American League Rookie of the Year voting as a member of the Chicago White Sox before being shipped to the New York Yankees three seasons later. The 1978 World Series MVP would eventually wear a St. Louis uniform albeit as the first base coach for Joe Torre from 1991 through 1994.

Career: BA: .247, Hits: 1114, OPS:  .618

The outfielders were a little harder to differentiate whom to choose and whom to leave off the list.

Lenny Randle

Missouri native Lenny Randle was the 10th round pick of the Cardinals in 1967. The outfielder chose instead to win a national title with the Arizona State Sun Devils before being drafted by the Washington Senators with the 10th overall pick in 1970. Although Randle was more of an infielder then an outfielder, it’s hard to overlook a career stained by one moment in time – the 1977 assault on his manager Frank Lucchesi. The blemish does not change the success he had a as a major leaguer, and the first to play professionally in Italy. If that wasn’t enough; how many players can claim to have been managed by four Hall of Famers and one in Billy Martin who may make it one day?

Career: BA: .257, Hits: 1016, HR: 27, OPS: .626

Greg Vaughn (Getty Images)

Greg Vaughn is one of those rare players whose name is called more than once as a draft selection. For the record, he was drafted five times between January 1984 when the Cardinals made him their fifth-round pick and June 1986 when he finally signed as a first-round pick with the Milwaukee Brewers on their second try. The leftfielder fashioned a 15-year career that included nearly 1500 hits, over 350 home runs and more than 1,000 RBI. He appeared in the 1998 World Series against the New York Yankees hitting just .133. A nice middle of the order bat, he averaged 23 home runs and 71 RBI a season.

In a little known fact, the then 38-year-old Vaughn came the closest in this group to actually play in the regular season for St. Louis. The outfielder finished his career in a failed attempt to make the 2004 Cardinals in spring training as a non-roster invitee and retired.

Career: BA: .242, Hits: 1475, HR: 355, RBI: 1072, OPS: .807

We round out the outfield with a player probably more familiar to today’s readers – Xavier Nady. The Cardinals made the North Carolina High School Player of the Year their fourth-round selection in the 1997 draft, but he chose to go west instead. Nady attended Cal Berkeley where he set the all-time Golden Bears and PAC-10 slugging percentage mark (.729) before the San Diego Padres claimed him with the 49th pick in the 2000 draft. He became the 18th player in baseball history to go straight to the big leagues without a day in the minors. Over his 12-year career, Nady played for 11 different teams.

Career: BA: .268, Hits: 797, HR: 104

The final position player to be named is catcher. Because of the Cardinals success at the backstop position, it was difficult to find one who they drafted and did not sign or passed on. The selection is a real stretch because he never spent a day catching in the major leagues.

The Cardinals selected six catchers in the 1970 draft but passed on a young one out of Cincinnati, Ohio named Dave Parker. “The Cobra” as he was affectionately known threw out 72 baserunners in his career as a right fielder. He was as lethal with his bat as he was with his arm, clubbing more than 300 career home runs and collecting over 2,700 hits in his career. Parker starred for the Pittsburgh Pirates for most of career becoming the first player in baseball history to average a million dollars a season by signing a $5 million, five-year contract in 1979.  The accolades are endless. Parker was a seven-time All-Star, a National League RBI King, two-time batting champion, National League MVP and two-time World Series champion. He eventually wore a Cardinals uniform albeit after his playing days were over, serving as hitting coach for Tony La Russa’s 1998 Redbirds.

Pitching staff:

Max Scherzer

Right-hander – What can you say about Max Scherzer that has not been said? He is arguably one of the best pitchers over the last 14 years, with his success culminating in a World Series title in 2019. A native of St. Louis and a graduate of the University of Missouri, the Cardinals chose him with pick number 1291 in round 43 of the 2003 draft.

The author of two no-hitters, three Cy Young Awards and two-time All-Star Game starter, Scherzer is an example of the Cardinals’ ability to find young talent before it has been fully developed. The newest Los Angeles Dodger may never wear “The Birds on the Bat” but is quickly writing his legacy for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Career: Games Started: 387, W/L: 183-97, Innings Pitched: 2468.1, ERA: 3.19, WHIP: 1.09, K’s: 2931

Dan Plesac (MLB Network)

The left-hander spot on this list belongs to Crown Point High School Indiana graduate Dan Plesac.  The lefty began his career as a starter with a mid-90’s fastball and a slider to go with it before the Brewers converted him to a closer. Plesac averaged nearly a strikeout per inning pitched over his 18-year career. He was the last Phillies pitcher to take the mound at old Veterans Stadium, closing the park with a strikeout of Ryan Langerhaus on September 28, 2003. The three-time All-Star was as durable as they come, never having spent a day on the disabled list in his nearly two decades of major league baseball.

Career: Games: 1,064, W/L:  65-71, Innings Pitched: 1,071, ERA: 3.64, K’s: 1041, Saves: 158

Closer – Rob Dibble. One of the most feared pitchers coming out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, Dibble could have been the second coming of the “Mad Hungarian” had the 11th round pick of the 1982 draft signed with the Cardinals out of high school. The right-hander is just one of 94 pitchers in modern baseball history to record an immaculate inning – recording three strikeouts on nine pitches. He recorded 500 strikeouts in fewer innings (386) then anyone before him, a feat later broken by new Chicago White Sox closer Craig Kimbrel.

Career: Games: 385, W/L:  27-25, ERA: 2.98, WHIP: 1.19, K’s: 645, Saves: 89

Two other right-handers could be added to this list in Bryn Smith and Rick Aguilera. Both were high school draft picks by the Cardinals and did not sign but went on to impressive major league careers.

Lineup Pitching Staff
Lenny Randle – CF RHP – Max Scherzer
Paul Molitor – 2B LHP – Dan Plesac
Bill Madlock –  3B Closer – Rob Dibble
Frank Thomas – 1B
Dave Parker –  C
Greg Vaughn –  LF
Xavier Nady –  RF
Bucky Dent – SS

Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Over $14 Million in 2016-2017 International Spend on Former Cardinals

2021 Prospect Guide now available!

Now available, The Cardinal Nation 2021 Prospect Guide is back for a fourth year. It includes over 250 pages of in-depth commentary about the very best St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers, including dozens of color photos.

10% off Blowout Sale now underway on the spiral-bound, printed version.

TCN’s 2021 Cardinals Prospect Guide – Now Available!

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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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© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Historic Bloodlines Run Deeply

photo: Branch Rickey

Over time, multiple members of many families have been members of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Lou Roesch recalls multiples.

The St. Louis Cardinals are a storied franchise – and like any other they have a legacy of players – some great and some not so great who passed through their annals of history. Over the decades, the Cardinals have employed some of the finest players to ever wear a uniform competing on the ball diamonds in and around St. Louis. More than 2,000 players have suited up for the organization since its inception in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Records for the early years are sketchy at best and as such we will pick up where the Cardinals began to flourish under the guidance of then-owner Sam Breadon and general manager Branch Rickey in the mid 1920’s. This article will provide insight into the assertion that baseball truly is a family sport by highlighting a variety of Cardinals’ players and their bloodlines in baseball.

Branch Rickey

Rickey’s legacy has now transcended generations. His son Branch Jr. spent many years as his father’s right-hand man and his grandson Branch Rickey III was the last president of the Pacific Coast League that ceased operation for 2021. Under his grandfather’s tutelage, the team gained three players in outfielders Wally Roettger and Chick Hafey and infielder Billy Southworth who had some pretty good baseball bloodlines.

Roettger spent the years 1927 through 1929 and again in 1931 with the Redbirds. Over that span, he hit .293 with more than half his 200 hits going for extra bases. The youngest of three brothers, the right-handed hitting Roettger had the first hit and scored the first run of the 1931 World Series.

The St. Louis native had two brothers involved with professional baseball. Roettger’s older brother Harold (Hal) was an executive assistant to Rickey for more then 20 years until his death in 1955. Oscar, the oldest of the three, appeared in 37 major league games for three different teams including the 1927 New York Yankees. He became more well known as the chief sales executive for Rawlings working into the mid 1980’s.

Chick Hafey

Baseball and Cardinals Hall of Famer Chick Hafey became the first player to wear glasses primarily due to double vision. For six of his seven years, he was a main figure in the St. Louis lineup. Rickey once said,” I always thought that if Hafey had been blessed with normal eyesight, he might have been the best right-handed hitter baseball had ever known. Hafey was selected to the National League’s first All-Star Game in 1933 and collected the first hit.

Hafey’s brother Albert and cousins Tom and Bud all played professional baseball. Albert never made it to the big show, but Tom and Bud did. Bud spent 12 years among four different teams even including a brief stint in the Cardinals minor league organization in 1936. Tom spent parts of two seasons in the majors debuting with the New York Giants in 1939.

Billy Southworth

The last of this trio, Billy Southworth, came to the Cardinals in 1926. A pretty darn good hitter, the infielder hit .345 in the 1926 World Series playing in all seven games. St. Louis saw Southworth as more then just a good ballplayer. They liked his leadership skills and eventually gave him the opportunity to manage the team. His first managing stint didn’t end well but the second time around his teams won three pennants and two World Series titles from 1940-1945. Southworth was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and is in the Cardinals Hall as well.

Southworth’s son Billy Jr. also played professionally as did cousin Bill Southworth. Although Billy Jr. did not make it to the majors like his father, he was a decorated bomber pilot during World War II. After playing at Webster Groves High School, cousin Bill reached the majors as a third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves in 1964. A right-handed hitter like the rest of the Southworth clan, he went 2 for 7 in his brief career with his one of his hits a two-run home run in his final game on October 4, 1964. At the age of 18, he was the youngest to homer in Braves history.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Cardinals had at least three different baseball families run through the organization with strong baseball genes.

Hector Cruz

The Cruz family is possibly the most well-known of the three. Jose Cruz Sr., an undrafted free agent signed straight out of high school, reached the big leagues in 1970 with the Cardinals. Three years later, his brother Hector ascended to the Cardinals as well. Although in a limited capacity, brother Tommy also came to the bigs with the 1973 Cardinals, giving St. Louis all three Cruz brothers on the roster at the same time. Together the three brothers combined for 28 plus years of major league baseball experience. The Cruz lineage does not stop there as Jose Cruz Jr., son of the elder Cruz, enjoyed a 12-year major league career before becoming the head coach at Rice University in Houston, Texas. At Rice, Cruz coached his son Trei, who was selected in the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft.

Vic Davallio, known more to older Cardinals’ fans, was the epitome of premier pinch hitters. The outfielder arrived via trade in 1969 and instantly made his presence felt. In his first at-bat as a Cardinal, Davallio hit a three-run home run. Almost a month to the day of that home run, the native Venezuelan launched a grand slam to key another Cardinals win. After a solid 1969 season with the Cardinals, Davallio hit .310 as a pinch hitter, going 23-for-74, setting the record for pinch hits in a season. His older brother Pompeyo preceded him to the majors with the then-Cincinnati Redlegs.

Ed Spezio is another Cardinals ballplayer to have another generation follow him into professional baseball. Known as the “Joliet Jolter,” Spezio hit .205 during his five years with the Cardinals and earned World Series rings 1964 and 1967 as a spot player. On a side note after being traded to the expansion San Diego Padres, the third baseman had the first hit, first home run, and first run scored in team history.

Scott Spiezio (USA TODAY Sports)

Ed’s son Scott had a 12-year major league career primarily as a reserve player and pinch hitter. In 2006, Spezio signed a free agent minor league contract with the Cardinals and earned a roster spot coming out of spring training. Scott’s arrival in St. Louis gave the Cardinals their third father-son duo in team history.

In 2007, when the Cardinals presented their World Series rings, Ed was there to hand Scott his. They became the first father-son to earn a World Series ring with the same team.

The late 1970’s brought two more family bloodlines to the Cardinals in the person of Dane Iorg and Tommy Herr. Iorg came to the Cardinals in a trade that sent 1974 Rookie of the Year Bake McBride to the Philadelphia Phillies. Iorg played all four corner positions and was a valuable pinch-hitter for Whitey Herzog’s small-ball Redbirds. Iorg led the Cardinals in hits (9) and extra base-hits (5) in just 17 at bats in the 1982 World Series.

Iorg’s brother Garth also enjoyed a major league career and his other brother Lee reached the AAA level with the New York Mets. All three of Iorg’s sons played minor league baseball as well.

Ton Herr

Herr debuted with the Cardinals on August 13, 1979. The second baseman reached the 100 RBI plateau and was a National League All-Star in 1985. He played in three Fall Classics, winning it all in 1982. His sons Jordan and Aaron played minor league ball. Aaron competed one year for the Cardinals AA affiliate Springfield hitting .298. Jordan was chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the 41st round in the 2007 draft. Tommy was voted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2020.

This article began with one of baseball’s most famous names in Branch Rickey and ends with one of the greatest Cardinals of them all – Red Schoendienst. The Germantown native spent 67 of his 76 years in baseball with St. Louis. His five brothers all played professional baseball, although none attained the Hall of Fame status of the “Old Redhead.” Red’s son Kevin played two seasons in the Chicago Cubs organization.

The names highlighted in the article are just a sample of those that have passed through St. Louis. Names like Schofield, Molina, Boyer, Drew, Tatis and even the DeWitt family who currently own the Cardinals, could have been included, among others. No matter who you root for, it is always exciting to remember when and where you first heard a name, especially when it brings back memories of years gone by.

Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2021 Week 10

2021 Prospect Guide now available!

Now available, The Cardinal Nation 2021 Prospect Guide is back for a fourth year. It includes over 250 pages of in-depth commentary about the very best St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers, including dozens of color photos.

10% off Blowout Sale now underway on the spiral-bound, printed version.

TCN’s 2021 Cardinals Prospect Guide – Now Available!

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.

Follow Lou Roesch on Twitter @sportsguy409.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Have a Buying and Selling History at the Deadline

photo: Matt Holliday (Scott Kane/USA TODAY Sports)

Over time, the St. Louis Cardinals have made a number of impactful trades at the deadline, sometimes as a buyer and other times as a seller.

With Major League Baseball’s trade deadline just three weeks away, fans and teams alike are trying to determine if their teams are pretenders or contenders. Should they buy all in or sell and begin preparing for next year is the big question. If they are all in, will it be a big splash or deal of lesser proportion?

The MLB trade deadline has been in effect since 1917, however most of us only know it in its latest form. Here is a quick history lesson before we review the St. Louis Cardinals history of wheeling and dealing at the deadline.

The initial 1917 deadline was put into place to try and curb the activities of two particular clubs; the vaunted New York Yankees and the then New York Giants. The idea was that the deadline would limit the financial advantage these two clubs had on smaller market teams especially as seasons came to a close. Ironically enough, the sale of Babe Ruth by the Red Sox to the Yankees for peanuts was the impetus behind the trade deadline initiative. The deadline became August 1st – the point from which no American League player could be traded until the end of the World Series.

The National League came onboard in 1923 and June 15th was set as the deadline date. This remained in effect until the end of the 1985 season when the Basic Agreement set the new date as July 31st. It also established a waiver system whereby a player could still be traded during the month of August. This Waiver Trade Clause was eliminated in 2019. Because of the shortened pandemic season in 2020, the deadline date was temporarily moved to August 31st to fit the shortened season.

As the trade deadline looms in 2021, I thought it might be interesting to revisit how the Cardinals have fared over the years with their maneuvering at this key moment.

Billy Southworth

Delving into the history books, the first deal I found that appears to mark the beginning of historic mid-season trades by the organization occurred in 1926. That year, Billy Southworth was enjoying his most productive season as a member of the New York Giants. However, Southworth’s style clashed with disciplinarian John McGraw so the manager sent “Billy The Kid” packing to St. Louis for outfielder Heinie Mueller.

As Southworth’s playing career waned in the late 1920’s, the Cardinals made him the manager of their Triple-A affiliate and two years later he became the player-manager of the Cardinals. That stint did not end well as personal travails sidelined him for a number of years. The organization gave him another shot at Triple-A before promoting to the bigs again as their skipper in 1940. From 1941 through 1945, the Cardinals never won fewer than 95 games under his leadership adding three National League pennants and two World Series titles to St. Louis’ baseball legacy.

At the 1930 trade deadline, the Cardinals acquired Burleigh Grimes from the Boston Braves. The trade proved crucial to their World Series title in 1931 as Grimes, the last of the spitballers, hurled 8 1/3 innings in Game 7 with a dislocated vertebrae to secure St. Louis’ second World Series title.

Wally Roettger arrived from the Cincinnati Reds at the 1931 trade deadline. Although primarily a platoon player, the outfielder hit .286 in the three games in which he appeared in the Fall Classic before the Reds repurchased him from the Cardinals in December of 1931.

Red Schoendienst

For the next 25 years, the Cardinals made relatively small deals here and there but in 1956 all that changed. General manager Frank “Trader” Lane dealt away one of their best and fan favorite players in Red Schoendienst in a nine-player deal with the San Francisco Giants. Al Dark, the big name coming the other way, hit .289 over three seasons but never lived up to what St. Louis expected when they sent the “Old Redhead” to the Giants.

Eight years after the Dark for Schoendienst deal, the Cardinals struck paydirt at the deadline in what is one of the most famous deals in baseball history – future Hall of Famer Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio in 1964. Although there were four other players involved in the deal, the two were the cornerstones.

Over the next decade plus, the Cardinals did not make much of a splash as wheelers and dealers at the trade deadline. Their most notable moves over that span sent outfielder Reggie Smith to the Dodgers in 1976 for three players and 1974 Rookie of the Year Bake McBride to the Phillies in 1977.

Four years later, in 1981, the Cardinals sent outfielder Tony Scott to the Houston Astros for right-hander Joaquin Andujar. The trade immediately paid dividends for the Redbirds as the “one tough Dominican” won Games 3 and 7 of the 1982 World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Keith Hernandez (Getty Images)

The 1983 and 1984 trade deadline moves by the Cardinals sent away two cornerstones of the 1982 World Series club. First to go was first baseman and future Cardinals Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets, followed by third baseman Ken Oberkfell to the Atlanta Braves the next July. None of the returning players panned out for the Cardinals organization.

Six years later, the Cardinals were selling again – another fan favorite in Willie McGee. Although the trade with Oakland occurred after the 1990 deadline, it is included because it opened the door for McGee to become the first and only player in baseball history to win the National League batting title while playing in the American League.

Mark McGwire (Getty Images)

It was seven more years before St. Louis made another big splash at the trade deadline leading to more World Series appearances and titles. The first brought Oakland slugger Mark McGwire to St. Louis in 1997. Although few expected it at the time, “Big Mac” became a franchise fixture and not just a mid-season rental. Third baseman Fernando Tatis arrived the following year. Will Clark came in 2000, Woody Williams in 2001 and Scott Rolen in 2002 before a period of trade deadline stability.

The next big splash occurred in 2009 when Matt Holliday arrived from Oakland in exchange for three players. The outfielder became a fan favorite on and off the field as the Cardinals had their own version of Murderers Row with Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Holliday batting 3-4-5.

The final big splash came in an eight-player trade deadline deal in 2011 that solidified St. Louis’ run to its 11th World Series title. Although it did not appear to be major at the time, the arrival of pitchers Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, and Octavio Dotel from the Toronto Blue Jays paid off handsomely.

Tyler O’Neill (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not much has happened since, however some lesser trades at the deadline in recent years are starting to work out. Tyler O’Neill came over from Seattle in 2017 in exchange for pitcher Marco Gonzales. O’Neill is now the Cardinals clean-up hitter with over half of his hits going for extra bases. Others to keep an eye on are outfielders Jhon Torres and Justin Williams along with pitchers Genesis Cabrera and Seth Elledge.

Elledge arrived a year after O’Neill also coming from Seattle in 2018. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2020 with St. Louis and is working out of the bullpen intermittently again in 2021.

Torres is currently the leadoff hitter for High-A Peoria Chiefs hitting .271 with 15 doubles and 17 RBI. Acquired in a 2018 deadline deal with Cleveland, the 21-year-old is ranked no. 10 among the Cardinals top prospects according to The Cardinal Nation.

Williams and Cabrera, both part of the 2018 Tommy Pham deal with Tampa Bay, made the 2021 Opening Day roster. After an earlier trial with St. Louis, the outfielder is currently at Triple-A Memphis while Cabrera already has 40 appearances in 2021 as one of the top options out of the Cardinals’ pen.

With the trade deadline just weeks away, will the Cardinals be buyers or sellers? Will they make a big splash or engineer lesser trades that bring promise to the future? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, the organization has not been afraid to pull the trigger when the right opportunity presents itself.

Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2021 Week 9

2021 Prospect Guide now available!

Now available, The Cardinal Nation 2021 Prospect Guide is back for a fourth year. It includes over 250 pages of in-depth commentary about the very best St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers, including dozens of color photos.

10% off Blowout Sale now underway on the spiral-bound, printed version.

TCN’s 2021 Cardinals Prospect Guide – Now Available!

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.

Follow Lou Roesch on Twitter @sportsguy409.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Draft Success in the 2000s

photo: Yadier Molina (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

The foundation of the St. Louis Cardinals’ four World Series appearances this century came from their drafts.

With the addition of Albert Pujols in the 1999 draft, the St. Louis Cardinals had the first cornerstone piece in what became one of the most successful runs in the Major League Baseball history. No National League team won more games, appeared in more postseasons, had more consecutive League Championship appearances nor participated in more World Series between 2000 and 2020. Only two teams have won more Commissioner’s Trophies than the Redbirds since the turn of the century.

Yadier Molina joined the Cardinals organization as their fourth-round pick to begin the 2000’s.  The mainstay behind the plate has been a part of all four St. Louis World Series appearances since 2004.

Yadier Molina

Selected 72nd overall in the 2001 draft, Dan Haren arrived in time to pitch in the 2004 World Series. Utility man and a fan favorite Skip Schumaker was selected in 2001’s round five and spent eight seasons in a St. Louis uniform. He appeared in all seven games of the 2011 World Series.

Kyle McClellan, a St. Louis native, joined the Cardinals organization in 2002. His most successful season was 2011 when he was both a starter in place of the injured Adam Wainwright and then a reliever starting in August after the Cardinals acquired starter Edwin Jackson. In that latter role, McClellan logged more innings than any reliever in baseball while allowing just one run and helping the Cardinals into the postseason. A result of his career high in innings pitched, arm fatigue caused him to be left off the Divisional and World Series rosters.

In 2003, 11 of the Cardinals 47 picks made it to the majors -although not all with the hometown team. Chesterfield, Mo native Max Scherzer (currently one of MLB’s top pitchers) and Ian Kennedy were both selected by St. Louis but went on to college and were eventually drafted again by another organization. An anomaly also took place in 2003 as the Cardinals signed their first 10 picks with six making it to the big time, including three wearing the Birds on the Bat. Perhaps the most notable pick of 2003 was Iona College catcher Jason Motte in the 19th round. Later, Motte converted to pitching and he delivered a 42 save effort in 2012.

After an off year in 2004, the Cardinals added a stable of players in Colby Rasmus, Tyler Greene, Nick Stavinoha, Mitchell Boggs and Jaime Garcia in the 2005 draft.

A year later, right-handers Adam Ottavino and Chris Perez joined the mix along with Shane Robinson, John Jay, Allen Craig and high schooler Tommy Pham.

Matt Carpenter

The final three years of the opening decade of the 2000’s marked the addition of pitchers Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal. Add to that group Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso, Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter, and the Cardinals built a foundation of players who provided key contributions in the success of the next decade of St. Louis baseball.

With that base in place, Cardinals scouts continued to deliver. They                 expanded and enhanced the franchise’s success over the next five years beginning with second baseman Kolten Wong in 2011. Over the next four years, the arms of Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jake Woodford and Jordan Hicks were added while the bats of Stephen Piscotty, Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong have all been integral to St. Louis’ continuing legacy.

Harrison Bader

Although not every player mentioned has had the same level of success at the major league level in the hometown uniform, the Cardinals have found ways to ways to bring out the best in each. They continue to grow a farm system that delivers time and again to a faithful following that knows when the Cardinals say, “Next man up,” it is going to be someone with talent and promise.

Exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation

Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2021 Week 7

2021 Prospect Guide now available!

Now available, The Cardinal Nation 2021 Prospect Guide is back for a fourth year. It includes over 250 pages of in-depth commentary about the very best St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers, including dozens of color photos.

TCN’s 2021 Cardinals Prospect Guide – Now Available!

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.

Follow Lou Roesch on Twitter @sportsguy409.

© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Remembering Cardinals Drafts of the 1980’s and 1990’s

photo: Albert Pujols (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The 1980’s and 1990’s were a couple of hit and miss decades for the St. Louis Cardinals. They made three World Series trips in the 1980’s yet registered only one playoff berth in the following decade. The drafts in those years took a decidedly different approach than the previous decade and a half. Whether that was reason for the rollercoaster ride or just the growing pains for the new century knocking at the door makes for interesting discussion.

Like most major league teams, the Cardinals changed their draft philosophy after 1980 and began building their teams of with more experienced and polished college players rather than the blue chip high school player who still needed raw talent development.

The beginning of the overall change in attitude concerning high school athletes in Major League Baseball began after high school draft picks peaked at 88 percent in the late 1960’s. By the mid-1980’s, high school draftees fell to about 30 percent. Once the Cardinals got onboard with this trend, the change of heart was even more drastic, ranging from the 1980 draft that consisted of 23 of 37 draft choices (62%) being high schoolers to just three of the 26 picks (12%) coming from the prep ranks in the 1984 draft. The subsequent four drafts stayed true to that form as St. Louis selected just 21 high school players from 1985 through 1988. Ironically enough, the organization closed out the decade with the same number of high school picks in 1989 at 23 as they began in the decade’s first draft.

Despite the drop in high school draft choices, the Cardinals remained consistent in finding late round diamond gems. In this two-decade span, 19 of the 58 players who were drafted, signed and made it to the major leagues came in the 10th round or later. They included right-handed pitcher Rick Aguilera, who was the Cardinals’ final pick in the 1980 draft at no. 804 in round 37 and a high schooler to boot. Interestingly enough, most of those picks were also pitchers, including right hander Danny Cox at pick number 319 in the 1981 draft, one year before they found outfielder and future team Hall of Famer Vince Coleman in round 10. The Cardinals also drafted future Nasty Boy Rob Dibble straight out of high school and Kevin Ward later in the same draft. Neither would sign with St. Louis; rather they re-entered the draft and were chosen again by different organizations before making it to the big leagues.

Vince Coleman, 1983 Macon Redbirds

In the 1983 and 1984 drafts, the Cardinals were at it again, finding John Costello in the 24th round of the former and a trio of players in 1984 beginning with lefty Greg Matthews in round 10, utility player Craig Wilson in round 20 and Jeff Fassero, in round 22. Although Fassero eventually pitched for St. Louis, it was a circuitous route taken as the White Sox plucked him from the Cardinals farm system in December 1989. He made it back to the Redbirds via a trade with the Chicago Cubs 13 years later.

Mike Perez showed up in round 12 of the 1986 draft and spent five years in a Redbirds uniform recording 20 saves out of the bullpen. Catcher Mike Difelice arrived in round 11 of the 1991 draft just ahead of right-handed pitcher John Frascatore at pick 623 in round 24. The very next year, “Lil Mac” Joe McEwing entered the Cardinals farm system as the 28th round pick. His subsequent arrival at the big-league level nearly coincided with “Big Mac,” Mark McGwire. For the 1999 season, Busch Stadium had Big Mac Land in the upper deck of left field for McGwire’s monumental blasts while McEwing had his own “Lil Mac Land” in the lower decks.

Randy Flores (St. Louis Cardinals)

A few years later brought the addition of high schooler Ryan Freel in round 13 and utilityman Placido Polanco in round 19 in 1994. Kerry Robinson, a St. Louis native and current Cardinals scout, came via the 34 round of the 1995 draft and current Director of Scouting left-hander Randy Flores arrived a year later in 1996. That same draft also produced current Cardinals base coach Stubby Clapp 15 rounds after Flores. Nothing much came of the late rounds in the 1997 and 1998 drafts, but in 1999 the Cardinals drafted the iconic Albert Pujols, who cemented himself in Cardinals history with a three home run performance in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series.

As successful as the Cardinals were with their late round picks, the 1980’s and 1990’s also produced a plethora of players before the 10th round that St. Louis fans remember far and wide. Names like Rickey Horton, Terry Pendleton, Todd Worrell, Tom Pagnozzi, Joe Magrane, Luis Alicea, Todd Zeile, Ray Lankford, John Mabry, Donovan Osborne, Dmitri Young, Alan Benes, Braden Looper, Rick Ankiel, J.D. Drew and Chris Duncan.

Albert Pujols (Peoria Chiefs)

A handful – including Flores and Pujols – were instrumental in the Cardinals reaching the World Series four times in the first 13 years of the 2000’s.

Regardless of the Cardinals draft philosophy, the scouts have done their job throughout the decades finding key players who could make a difference and become part of the Cardinals lore. In our final installment coming soon, we will take a look at St. Louis’ drafts in the 21st Century.

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Cardinals Scouting Paved the Way for First-Round Success

photo: Ted Simmons (Orlando Ramirez/Imagn)

Over the last half century plus, the St. Louis Cardinals have proven to be one of the most adept at finding players who rise to become key major leaguers, and in most instances do it with the Birds on the Bat logo emblazoned across their chest. In this series of articles, we will explore the Cardinals picks from each of the decades since Major League Baseball began their current draft process in 1965.

Finding potential is the easy part of the draft but turning that draft pick into a major leaguer is another case in and of itself. We begin this series by examining the Cardinals success at having done just that. with their first pick of nearly every draft over the last 56 years.

Before sabermetrics became in vogue in the early 2000’s, Major League Baseball teams had a legion of scouts across the nation looking for that one player who could make a difference at the highest level. It was an inexact science done in person without the benefit of technology. This is what helps make the Cardinals success so astounding since Major League Baseball first introduced the draft in 1965.

With the exception of two seasons, St. Louis has had least one draft pick in every opening round and in some cases multiple picks in the first round. Since it generally takes a first round pick an average of 4-6 years to reach the big show, we stopped our look with the 2017 draft. Although we won’t name every first-round pick, we will highlight the success the Cardinals have generated with first round picks over the years and a few of the less successful yet interesting choices.

Not every first rounder who makes it became known for his accomplishments.

In 1965, the Cardinals made Joe Difabio of Delta State University their first ever draft pick. Difabio had some iconic sports connections. His high school baseball coach was none other than Hubie Brown, the future NBA Hall of Fame basketball coach. In college, his pitching career reached new heights under the tutelage of “Boo” Ferriss.” For 2 1/2 seasons, Ferriss was one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League and in 1946 he beat Difabio’s future Cardinals team in Game 3 of the World Series. Despite all this, due to injury, Difabio would never pitch in a major league  game.

The Cardinals may have struck out on Difabio but they didn’t strike out on many future picks. In 1966, they drafted Leron Lee out of Grant High School in Sacramento, CA. Within three years, Lee made it to the outfield grass of Busch Stadium where he would begin fashioning an eight-year major league career with four different teams.

Ted Simmons

In 1967, the Cardinals made Ted Simmons their top pick. By the following September, he made his major league debut and in 1971 became the Cardinals regular backstop, a role would continue for more than a decade. Simmons became the first Cardinals draftee to make it to the Halls of Cooperstown with the Class of 2020.

Ed Kurpiel, the Cardinals’ first pick in the 1971 draft, made it to the majors for a brief stint with the 1974 Redbirds. His first night on the roster, “Fast Eddy” watched as St. Louis speedster Lou Brock stole his 105th base of the season, breaking the MLB single season stolen base record previously held by Maury Wills.

A first round pedigree does not necessarily mean the path to the top is any easier than for any other player. In 1973, the Cardinals chose third baseman Joe Edelen.  Edelen toiled in the minors for eight years before making his St. Louis debut on April 18, 1981.

Garry Templeton

In 1974, the Cardinals drafted a player who would be remembered more for his trade than for his bat and glove. Garry Templeton was the 13th overall selection and within two years, he had played his way onto St. Louis’ roster. By 1981, the shortstop became highest paid player in Redbirds history to that point and a year later, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres for “The Wizard” Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Cardinals scouts continued to come through, as three of the final five draft choices to close out the decade of the 1970’s reached the big leagues. Leon Durham, Terry Kennedy and fan favorite Andy Van Slyke all made an opening day with St. Louis.

Of the 12 players drafted by the organization in the opening round during the 1980’s, six went on to enjoy big league careers that started with Redbirds while three others made their debuts in another uniform. More importantly for the Cardinals, all six including Cris Carpenter, Joe Magrane, Luis Alicea, Brian Jordan, Jim Lindeman and closer Todd Worrell would be key to the Cardinals future success.

With hindsight being 20-20, with a do over in the 1989 draft the Cards surely would have taken the “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas with the sixth pick and let their actual pick Paul Coleman drop to seventh and the Chicago White Sox.

Marty Keough (St. Louis Cardinals)

Not many teams can compete with the Cardinals first round draft success of the 1980’s but in the 1990’s they erased any doubt to how good the scouting department really was. Led by legends Marty Keough, Mike Roberts, and Fred McAlister, their hard work and attention to detail paid off as the team drafted one major leaguer after another, beginning with pitcher Donovan Osborne in 1990.

Over the next 19 picks in the decade, they added Aaron Holbert, Dmitri Young, Allen Watson, Brian Barber, Sean Lowe, Alan Benes, Matt Morris, Braeden Looper, Adam Kennedy, J.D. Drew, and Chris Duncan, all of whom reached the big-league roster. Pitcher Ben Diggins, selected 32nd in the 1998 draft made it to the bigs with Milwaukee and ironically his last outing in the majors was a loss to the very team that drafted him.

In total, 70 percent of the Cardinals first round picks in the 1990’s made it to the pinnacle of success for a ball player. That is higher than the major league average that lies somewhere between 60 and 65 percent depending on who you ask.

Lance Lynn (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Turning the page into a new century, draft picks proved how fickle potential can be. Following the success of the 1990’s, three straight number ones failed to make it to the big time at the beginning of the 2000’s. Eventually the tables turned, and the Cardinals ran off an impressive streak of 11 straight top draft choices ascending to the majors. Eight of them did not in a St. Louis uniform, including stalwarts Colby Rasmus, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller.

As the second decade of the 2000’s began, Cardinals scouts continued to scour the fields of amateur play uncovering 11 more diamond gems between 2010 and 2017. Gone now may be the likes of Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty and Michael Wacha, but the Cardinals draft legacy continues to shine behind the bat of 2021 National League Rookie of the Year candidate Dylan Carlson and the pitching Jack Flaherty and Jake Woodford, among others.

Analytics will continue to refine the way scouts find and score prospects but the success of Cardinals scouts has proven them to consistently be some of the best in the business regardless of the method or measuring stick used. Since 1965, the Cardinals have selected and developed 51 of their 78 first round picks into productive major league players.

Of the 51 who made it, an amazing 84% debuted in a Cardinals uniform. Out of those 43 who reached MLB as a Cardinal, 17 called Busch Stadium home for five or more seasons. Simmons spent the most time of any Cardinals first rounder, logging 13 years behind the dish. 15 of the 51 enjoyed an MLB career that spanned a decade or more.

Today, the Cardinals have three of their former first round picks on their current 26-man roster. 11 of the 189 first round picks currently playing in the majors began as members of the St. Louis Cardinals big league club.

With scouting and developmental success like this, is it any wonder that the St. Louis Cardinals have remained one of the best all-time?

Next up: Cardinals Second Round Analysis

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The Cardinals Remain on the Path Branch Rickey Blazed

photo: Branch Rickey 

With Major League Baseball clubs having broken camp and moved north for the 2021 season, minor league baseball now prepares for its 2021 season. The minors, thanks in large part to the ingenuity, perseverance and diligence of Branch Rickey, are the usual pathway to a big-league career.

Baseball represents one of the hardest sports to progress from high school to the spotlight of success. Just one half of one percent of high schoolers drafted – or one out of every 200 – make it to The Show. A very few can accomplish it without a trip through the minor leagues.

The St. Louis Cardinals are a storied organization dating back to when baseball was played barehanded. Along the way, the franchise has evolved and morphed into a 21st Century leader on and off the diamond.  Between the lines, they consistently are a marquee attraction in part because of a great farm system – but did you know that they were the first to start the baseball farm system as we know it today?

Branch Rickey

Baseball has always had lower levels and teams independent of the major leagues. In the process that evolved through the late 1800’s and into the 20th Century, major league teams would sign a player, hope he develops, and then make a deal for him to play somewhere else.

In the early 1920’s, St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey began implementing a plan that would change baseball history. Although Rickey had previously toyed with idea as the St. Louis Browns general manager, it was with the crosstown Cardinals where his idea came to life.  He believed the minors were the lifeline that smaller market teams needed to compete with the big clubs like the vaunted New York Yankees.

The idea for a developmental system was borne from the lack of honesty and integrity among independent minor league owners. They were more likely to sell a player to the highest bidder than to honor their deal with the team that originally had a player’s rights.

After his move to the Cardinals, Rickey received the go ahead from owner Sam Breadon to pursue his idea of a farm system to offset the advantage of bigger markets and to reduce the likelihood of losing potential stars.

The architect of the minors bought a 50 percent interest in the Fort Smith, Arkansas team, securing a spot for his first test case, Heinie Mueller, to begin his ascent to St. Louis. Shortly thereafter, the Cardinals brain trust added a minority interest in the Houston Buffaloes (eventually they would play a role in the Houston Colt-45’s and subsequent Houston Astros history.

With two rungs of the ladder complete, Rickey was set to add Memphis (which would come later) but unbeknownst to him, Breadon had struck a deal with the Syracuse owners and Memphis was scrapped for the moment.

The farm would eventually bring players like Dizzy Dean, Chick Hafey, and Joe Medwick among others to St. Louis, forming the cornerstone of the World Series-winning “Gashouse Gang.” Rickey’s creativity drew the wrath of commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Landis ruled with an iron fist and did not want to be upstaged by someone like the brash Branch Rickey.

Landis attempted to derail the plan but there was no stopping this train. By 1924, Rickey had gained controlling interest in both Houston and Syracuse. No longer did he need backroom handshakes and agreements.

Rickey’s innovation opened the door for stability and growth – not just for the Cardinals, but for major league baseball organizations as a whole. Without the minor leagues, St Louis may not have become synonymous with winning. Without the farm system there may never have been a Stan Musial, a Bob Gibson, a Steve Carlton, a Vince Coleman, an Albert Pujols or a Yadier Molina wearing the “Birds On The Bat” and most likely never 11 World Series titles, the second most in baseball history.

Branch Rickey

Rickey brought a pathway by which the Redbirds continue to grow and develop some of the best in baseball. Today the Cardinals have 263 players under contract including the 40-man roster. Of the 26-man active Cardinals roster, 14 are homegrown. That is 15, if you count Adam Wainwright, who was obtained in a deal while still a minor leaguer. It serves as a testimonial to Rickey’s vision of building a pipeline of development and success.

Even with baseball’s latest realignment of the minor leagues, the system created by Rickey continues paying dividends for the Cardinals, such as Dylan Carlson, a potential 2021 National League Rookie of the Year. Year in and year out, depending on who you ask, the Cardinals system ranks anywhere from the top 10 (as the pre-eminent deliberator Keith Law had them in 2020) to the bottom third where the website has them in 2021. In The Cardinal Nation’s annual breakdown of how a half-dozen national analysts rank farm systems, St. Louis remains in the middle third. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the parameters by which they assess.

No matter how it is measured, Branch Rickey’s genius lives on.

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Cardinals Welcome 112 Players to Minor League Camp

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Are Matt Carpenter’s Cardinals Days Numbered?

photo: Matt Carpenter via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Matt Carpenter’s time as member of the St. Louis Cardinals may be limited. His 2021 spring training camp has definitely not gone according to plan. If performance is the determining factor, the odds are not in his favor. This spring, Carpenter has not performed as he or the Cardinals expected. His productivity as an everyday regular and now as a role player off the bench appears to continuously trend downward.

Matt Carpenter

Over the course of the next week as the Cardinals prepare for their final cut to 26 players, they are going to have to make a tough decision. The organization must decide what is most important to this 2021 Cardinals team going forward. Is Matt Carpenter’s leadership and clubhouse presence more valuable or is his salary a bigger sticking point when it comes to the bottom line?

Here are four points to ponder.

Tommy Edman’s emergence

Edman has played well this spring. His performance at the plate has really made the decision of who mans the second base bag a fairly easy one for manager Mike Shildt. It had been thought that who covered the territory between first and second in the 2021 season might be up for grabs after Kolten Wong moved on to Milwaukee.

Tommy Edman

Carpenter, a former All-Star at second, came to camp hoping to show he still had what it takes to be an everyday player. He has not, but Edman has. The 25-year old switch hitter has nine more hits than Carpenter with only four more at bats. Among Cardinals this spring, Edman ranks in the top five in most offensive categories. He has shown, in limited action, an ability to finally hit right handed pitching with some consistency – something many thought might become the Cardinals’ primary reason for keeping Carpenter. It still might be.

Other bench options prevalent

Although Carpenter did not plan to come off the bench in 2021, it was presumed that if worse came to worse, he could be the left-handed bat off the bench – but an .041 spring batting average is not working in his favor.

Off-season signees Jose Rondon and Max Moroff have wielded healthy enough bats in the spring to help make Carpenter expendable. Combined, the duo is hitting .265 with six extra base hits, 10 walks and 10 RBI.

John Nogowski

If you thought Carpenter might do well enough to back up Paul Goldschmidt at first, think again. In fewer at bats then Carpenter, John Nogowski has a team leading 10 RBI and is in the top three of the club statistically in hits, walks and batting average. Plus, Nogowski may be able to play some outfield if need be.

Then throw into the mix two players who are out of options in Edmundo Sosa and Justin Williams. Out of options simply means that the team cannot assign them to the minors without them clearing waivers. Although being out of options is not a reason to make the club heading north, it can be an important tiebreaker. The risk and reward toward the youth and progress of these two may become a consideration for the Cardinals in light of Carpenter’s lack of performance.

Carpenter’s struggles

The Galveston, Texas native has been his own worst enemy this spring in terms of plate performance. In fact, his overall return since signing his most recent contract extension in April 2019 has been lacking. With a combined slash line over the last two seasons of .216/.332/.372 and his .041 average this spring, the question comes down to this – Is Matt Carpenter’s leadership and clubhouse presence worth $18.5 million if he isn’t producing on the field? There is no easy answer.

The former All-Star came to camp relishing the opportunity to prove he can do it again. When asked in late February about being a role player, Carpenter offered this reply;

“Well, I don’t know if it’s been established that I’m a part-time player just yet,” Carpenter said. “There is a lot of camp left. There’s a lot of season left. I’m going to go out and compete every day to be in our lineup. Who knows where that’s going to be? If I find a way in there, it could be at a different position. That’s my mentality this spring to go out and win a job.”

His willingness to play anywhere and do whatever has been asked of him has allowed the 399th pick of the 2009 MLB draft to have a fairly productive MLB career. That hasn’t changed. When Nolen Arenado was acquired by St. Louis last month, it meant Carpenter would no longer be in charge at the hot corner, where he had achieved All-Star honors previously. When Wong left, it opened the possibility for Carpenter to battle for the second base job with Edman. That battle never materialized. No one knows better than him how important his bat is to his future and the Cardinals success.

“That’s my mentality, take care of that first,” Carpenter said recently. “That’s my first and foremost mentality for this entire season. I know if I hit like I know I’m capable of, I’m going to help this team, plain and simple. I think we’re a better team if I’m swinging the bat like I know I can.”

The bat is not working for him this spring, as referenced by his 11 strikeouts in his 25 plate appearances. This makes the decision all the more difficult and painful. The expectation and hope has been that he would find the magic of 2018 when he crushed 36 home runs and earned that extension. His work in the offseason to return to his once characteristic control of the sticks and bat speed has not yet produced the desired results.

The final straw

Moving on from Carpenter and his $18.5 million 2021 salary makes financial sense. From a baseball standpoint, moving him out would open the door for a younger player. Carpenter, though, brings a depth of leadership like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. His presence brings a certain amount of respect to the game and doing things right.

Those two reasons alone make Carpenter a valuable commodity – one that just might be worth $18.5 million to a team expected to be in the hunt for another World Series title. However if the Cardinals choose to release Carpenter, they would still be on the hook for his 2021 salary minus the $570,500 (MLB minimum) another team would be required to pay if they picked him up. (There is also a $2 million 2022 buyout that will have to be paid regardless.)

Instead, the Cardinals could look to trade Carpenter, but there aren’t many clubs, if any, that would be willing to take on much of his salary. As a result, the Cardinals would likely be on the hook for a vast majority of his compensation – similar to the recent Dexter Fowler deal.

For an organization that has always treated its players like family, this presents an unenvious situation. Should he stay or should he go? That is the million dollar question – or 18 and a half million dollar question, if you will.

How can the Cardinals make the right decision for all concerned?

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Cardinals Drop 10 in Second Round of Spring Reductions

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Hicks “Feels Great” after First Outing Since 2019

photo: Jordan Hicks (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

“I feel great!” (emphasis added). Three simple words made the day of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt the morning after reliever Jordan Hicks made his return to the mound on Sunday. One year, eight months and 17 days in the making, his first game appearance was nothing short of epic, but the fact he still felt good the day after was equally, if not more important.

Coming off recovery from Tommy John surgery, Hicks got in his one inning/25 pitches of scheduled work by facing just one batter during Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the New York Mets. The 22-pitch battle between Hicks and Mets infielder Luis Guillorme overshadowed everything else in baseball that afternoon. It was the stuff of which legends are created.

Shildt praised future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina for coming out to the mound in the 13-14 pitch range to give the pitcher “a blow”. In doing so, it created a break as if between batters. The manager said Hicks’ outing “exceeded all expectations”.

Jordan Hicks

At 21 years of age, Hicks had made the jump from Class A to the Major Leagues in 2018 and struck out 70 in 77 2/3 innings as a rookie. In 2019, the right-hander dominated hitters with a 3.14 ERA and 14 saves, striking out 31 in 28 2/3 innings.

Then came the injury that sidelined the Houston, Texas native. Pitching to David Fletcher of the Angels on June 25, 2019, Jordan felt a twinge in his elbow. Originally diagnosed as triceps tendinitis, Hicks received a second and third opinion before finally succumbing to the knife.

Recovery for this type of surgery is usually in the range of 12-15 months but then came 2020 and Hicks’ decision to sit out the season. This decision was driven by Hicks’ Type 1 diabetes, increasing his COVID-19 risk.

The pandemic proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals and their hurler. The decision to sit out relieved the team and player of taking the risk to perhaps rush him back, a temptation to which many have fallen. It’s not the first time the organization has erred on the side of caution with their prized hurler. In 2015, just after drafting Hicks out of high school, the Cardinals shut him down for shoulder soreness and then again in 2016 so he could get a full Fall League experience. The moves paid off handsomely.

The future Cardinals closer hit the radar in the 100 mph range for the first time publicly during spring training 2018. Before the injury, Hicks became the first pitcher to reach 105 multiple times in the same game.

The flamethrower doused any doubts that he could again hit that range on Sunday with six pitches registering 100 plus. More impressive was his ability to throw all of his pitches effectively. You only had to watch what would have been a record setting battle had it occurred during the regular season to know that the converted minor league starter to prime time closer indeed appears to be back in fine form.

This is none too soon either for a Cardinals pitching staff that needs a pick me up. The Cardinals, with a team ERA of 5.40, a WHIP at 1.58 and rising, needed Sunday’s performance to jump start a spring that has been plagued with pitching adversity across the board.

Hicks is expected to be on a normal reliever schedule over the remainder of the spring, meaning we should expect an inning or so every three days with the time gap decreasing as the team draws closer to breaking camp.

Shildt said that closing opportunities to open the season may be spread among a group that includes Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos – and yes, Hicks seems ready to make his spots count, as well.

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Cardinals Make First Cuts of Spring 2021

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