Cardinals minor matters – February 8

Not counting anyone out

The other day, I gave a nod to Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle as the result of an article he wrote for the Sporting News in which he advised not to count out the 2009 Cardinals. I did that, overlooking his fearless prediction that “The Cardinals might win 90 games or lose 90.” Way to stick your neck out, Richard.

I spoke too soon as Justice is apparently writing a series of similar articles, just substituting the team name. His latest: “Don’t count Astros out in spring training”. This despite the fact he clearly stated that Houston “gotten worse” this season in the earlier article.

Let’s see. Worse than third place means what? Contention? Guess he has to appease the hometown readers.

It is certainly the right time of year to accurately suggest that no team is out of it. Keeps all the bases well-covered that way, I imagine. I am guessing Justice is having a big stack of waffles for breakfast this Sunday morning.

Series ends

Congratulations to the Aragua Tigres of Venezuela for winning the 2009 Caribbean Series with a 5-1 record. The Mexican club, the Mazatlan Venados, finished in second at 3-3.

The Tigres actually clinched with a victory over Mexico on Friday, making Saturday’s game meaningless. Venezuela’s Brad Knox, a free agent formerly from the Oakland system, got the Saturday nod. Knox, a starter I mentioned over on on Friday (subscription required), was hammered for eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings. He had tossed a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings his first time out.

The main pitcher I profiled there, Edgar Gonzalez, previously a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is rumored to be close to signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Too bad if that happens, as he would have been an intriguing add for the Cardinals.

Cards Mexican Pacific League recap

Also make sure you hop on over to Cardinals Best News Links to check out Josh Jones’ summaries of winter league action by Cardinals players past and present. Just posted was a recap of the Mexican Pacific League season.

Wolf signs with Dodgers

Arguably the top left-hander on the market, Randy Wolf, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with Joe Torre’s Los Angeles Dodgers. That was very bad news for still-free agent Braden Looper, widely considered to have been the Dodgers’ second choice.

Looper seems destined to be a second choice kind of guy. Most Cardinals observers would admit that the difference between Looper, who was sent packing, and Kyle Lohse, who was offered four years and $41 million to stay, was not that huge.

Now, it is Looper who will likely have to accept a circa 2008 Lohse-ian deal someplace. (Lohse did not have a home this time last year, signing a cut-rate one-year contract with a base of $4.25 million with the Cardinals in mid-March.)

Not that the Cardinals were serious suitors, but one part of me is relieved that Wolf did not sign with St. Louis. I don’t think I could survive an entire season listening to Hungo pronounce the pitcher’s name as “woof”.

Torre and A-Fraud

Speaking of Torre, the timing of the release of his new book, “The Yankee Years”, last Tuesday was impeccable. All week, the furor was at a fever pitch over Torre supposedly savaging his old club, while the grandfatherly skipper hit the talk show circuit carefully explaining his intent. A great way to sell books. One controversial reference was to “A-Fraud”, though not necessarily attributed as a direct Torre quote.

Seems the A-Rod steroid allegations have knocked any lingering rage at Torre off the back page of the New York tabloids while reinforcing the unfortunate nickname of the embattled third baseman.

MLB Network – the other side

One of the places where Torre was most visible was the fledgling MLB Network. His co-author of the book, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, already works there. A great way to sell books. Hmmm.

Yet, the most visible face there has instantly become Bob Costas, who left behind his cable deal with HBO to move over to the MLB Network, also just last week. His first interviews were with Torre and Verducci.

Costas, who has become sports’ answer to Dick Clark, America’s oldest teenager, does have a reputation that enables him to ask at least marginally tough questions, something that is badly needed at MLB Network.

While I like their programming, their four-person roundtables are terribly boring, with four yes-people all agreeing on how good such-and-such signing was. In all fairness, they can hardly be critical of teams and of MLB while ripping their bosses in the process. I guess it was unrealistic to hope the Network would be any more hard-hitting in their coverage than, the flagship mouthpiece for the empire.

It must be frustrating for the writers and broadcasters, who are likely intelligent, opinionated people, to be unable to fully speak their minds. Heck, when MLB employees blog, they do it via a company-run blog site. How independent can that be? Big brother is always watching.

It is clearly high-stakes big business for MLB. I wonder if there will be editorial pressure to downplay the new A-Rod steroids scandal on MLB Network. I surely hope not, but have to wonder. Biting the hand that feeds you rarely turns out well.

Cookie WHIPped

Speaking of MLB Network, I spent much of my evenings last week watching the Caribbean Series there. One of the rotating color men used daily was former MLB player and manager Cookie Rojas.

He is clearly old school. When an ESPN graphic popped up the Venezuelan club’s ERA and WHIP, Cookie explained WHIP as hitting with runners in scoring position. Ouch!

Old school, new school contention remains

Since it is time for the fresh start of the new season, a logical column for the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss to write is the annual “Tony La Russa is re-energized” tome.

Buried in it was La Russa’s not-so-subtle reminder that he is still not totally in synch with the new wave Cardinals organization.

“I believe analysis from a computer is useful but should be secondary to what you observe. That may not be the opinion of the people in charge,” La Russa told Strauss.

It’s not a news flash, as La Russa has made similar comments in the past, but it is discouraging to see the organizational tension remains at a level such that the manager feels the ongoing need to discuss it publicly.

Congrats to Worrell

Former Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (pictured) was among the 14 inductees into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Springfield.

The now-49-year-old was a standout as a closer and set-up man for the Cardinals from 1985 through 1992 and has given back as a former player. An excellent choice.

DiFelice retires

Former Cardinals catcher Mike DiFelice (1996-97, 2002) has retired as an active player to manage the Mets’ rookie team in Kingsport, TN. The K-Mets are an Appalachian League adversary of the Johnson City Cardinals.

The 39-year-old DiFelice spent most of 2008 in Triple-A but did get a final cup of coffee (with dessert?) with the AL champion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He did not appear in the post-season.

Lefty swapping

The same article linked to above notes the Rays are signing Brian Shouse, apparently to replace now-Cardinal Trever Miller for the left side of their pen. It will be interesting to see which club turns out to have made the best decision. To say I am nervous about the Cardinals’ 2009 relief lefties is an understatement.

First arbitration case decided

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Shawn Hill won his salary arbitration case and will receive $775,000, instead of the $500,000 the team was offering. For the Cardinals, Rick Ankiel is up first, this coming Thursday, with Ryan Ludwick scheduled the Tuesday following, on the 17th.

Gorgen shoulder surgery good news

On Saturday, I had a long phone conversation with right-handed pitching prospect Scott Gorgen. He has a most interesting story about the evolution of his shoulder discomfort through surgery last week. The news is good – out eight weeks instead of the entire season. It is subscriber-only content, but worth the listen if you are a member.

Remember that you’ll continue to see several feature articles each week from me at, so make sure you check there regularly, too.

Cubs lead Cards in Koreans, 4-1

Recently, ran a feature about the Chicago Cubs’ increase in worldwide scouting, noting the club has invited three young Korean prospects to minor league camp along with another player from that country that was also under contract last season.

The Cardinals signed a Korean of their own last week, Hyang-Nam Choi, assigned to Memphis and also heading to minor league spring training. The 37-year-old cannot be considered a youth any more, however.

Last spring, the Cards had another Korean pitcher in minor league camp, Jai Chul Chung. The then-25 year old stayed around into extended spring training, but did not make a team.