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News and commentary about the past, present and future state of the St. Louis Cardinals.
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Saturday, January 15, 2005
Ins and outs balance...
Where Did the Money Go?
Venturing back into the
turgid budget waters, I decided to run some comparisons between how the Cardinals spent their budget in 2004 versus how it
will be spent in 2005.The idea is to be able to draw conclusions about how money
that will no longer be spent was reallocated on both planned increases and new players coming in.Not surprisingly, it pretty much balances out.
To come up with the minus
column, I either took the departing players’ 2004 salary minus any buyout (Woody Williams, for example) or the negative difference
between their higher 2004 and their lesser 2005 salary (Cal Eldred, for example).
For the plus column, I used
either the complete 2005 salary if the player is new to the team or the amount of their 2005 increase, if the player was on
the team at the start of last year.The only time I added in a 2005 bonus was
in the case of Matt Morris, where there is such a large and apparently easy to achieve amount involved.I also assumed an overall team budget increase of $6 million, from $82 million to $88 million.
These numbers are not intended
to be totaled or to be analyzed in great detail.Instead, it is one of a large
number of possible ways to make some interesting comparisons.
Here’s how I did it.I looked at the amount saved from single player or a group of players and paired them
with a player or group of players who will receive a similar amount of increase.I
tried to do the comparisons by similar positions to make the comparisons as relevant as possible.
Williams’ savings cover Carpenter’s and Marquis’ estimated increases.
Kline’s savings cover King’s increase plus Myers.
Renteria’s and Womack’s savings cover Eckstein, Grudzielanek plus Suppan’s increase.
Matheny’s savings cover Diaz plus increases for Molina and Sanders.
Morris’ and Anderson’s savings cover Mulder.
Eldred’s and Lincoln’s savings cover Tavarez’ increase.
The Tino, Vina and DeJean buyouts cover increases for Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen
Lankford’s savings cover Reyes.
The team budget increase covers Walker plus increases for Ankiel
(est.) and Mabry, with about $200K left.
Taguchi’s savings of $650K is unassigned.
Using this very rough process,
one could draw the conclusion that the team might have about $1 million left.That
may or may not be right, but the real fun and the intended focus was in making the comparisons above.
After I completed this exercise,
I felt better about the budget than I did before.The cost just to stand still
each year is considerable.To grow requires a larger budget, which the Cardinals
have stepped up to.All-in-all, it seems pretty fair.
Anxious Cardinals fans have
at least three recent factors by which to establish their impressions of Rick Ankiel’s readiness to pitch.Those include his recent elbow discomfort, his assigned role on the team and his recovery time.
Some wonder whether the
team is coddling the pitcher, given his surgery was 18 months ago.Others fear
a conspiracy, questioning whether the Cardinals are creating doubt about his role and/or his health to try to maintain contract
negotiating leverage with Ankiel and his agent Scott Boras.Others assume this
is just business as usual (BAU).Count me among the BAU camp.
Still, since not everyone
in the Cardinal Nation agrees, let’s look at each factor in more detail.
1)Elbow twinge or pinch.
Fact:Near the end of his winter ball campaign in Puerto Rico, Ankiel experienced pain in his reconstructed elbow.He
was sent home early as a precautionary measure, though he has since been cleared to resume throwing.
Fear:Was this a legitimate act to protect Ankiel or was it overreaction, designed to create FUD (fear, uncertainty
and doubt)?Ankiel is bound to the team, but has accrued enough major league
service time to be eligible for arbitration.He is currently unsigned for 2005.
2)Role on the team.
Fact:Because of Matt Morris’ recovery time from shoulder surgery and the lack of another viable starter, recent
comments from the front office have changed.Current indications are that Ankiel
may be asked to start games in April.Previously, he was assigned to the bullpen.
Fear:Is the team downplaying this role change for salary reasons?After
all, starters make considerably more money than long relievers, don’t they?
Fact:Ankiel’s reconstructive elbow surgery, aka ligament transplant surgery, aka Tommy John surgery was on July 16, 2003, 18 months ago.That surgery involves taking a tendon
from the wrist or hamstring and grafting it into the elbow.Listed recovery time
for this surgery is 12-18 months, but for pitchers to return to full effectiveness, up to 24 months was sometimes quoted in
Fear:Is the team protecting Ankiel or themselves or both?After
all, “maybe well” pitchers make less than “completely well” pitchers.Why aren’t
they cutting him loose?
While average recovery time
from this surgery has been improving over the years, nothing is guaranteed.Of
the recent prominent TJ pitchers, Florida Marlin A.J. Burnett had one of the more aggressive return schedules.Following his April, 2003 surgery, Burnett was activated and pitched four innings on June 3, 2004.However, the aftermath of those 14 months was extended
when Burnett missed time in September due to inflammation in his repaired elbow.
Another situation more familiar
to Cardinals fans is that of Matt Morris.Famous surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe repaired
Morris’ torn elbow ligament with a tendon from his right hand on April 13, 1999. Morris
came back in 2000, but was limited to 31 relief appearances.He progressed as
the season went on and appeared in four postseason games.
Back in the starting rotation
in 2001, Morris had a career year, winning 22 games in 34 starts.No Cardinal
starter has had more victories in a season since Bob Gibson won 23 games in 1970. Morris’
3.16 ERA was the sixth-best in the National League.
So, why can’t Ankiel be fully
ready this spring, too?Note Morris’ surgery was in April, while Ankiel went
under the knife in July.Those three months may be the difference in the team’s
comfort zone between the two pitchers, where one was cleared to start the season, while the other is seemingly being treated
more cautiously.After all, remember that Ankiel hasn’t yet made those 35 post-surgery
appearances like Morris did.
By this July, two full years
will have transpired since Ankiel’s surgery.We’ll probably know long before
then whether his comeback will be complete.
Bottom line.The Cardinals would be fools if
they didn’t want more negotiating power.After all, against Scott Boras, one
needs all the ammunition they can get.But, Ankiel is not in line for a big payday
yet, anyway.Yes, they are being cautious with Ankiel, but not overly so.I simply call it BAU – business as usual.
I had heard a rumor that
the Cardinals were talking with the Indians about second baseman Brandon Phillips.But,
I wasn’t sure if its origin was pre or post-Grudz, so I didn’t think too much of it.I also couldn’t figure out why the Indians would give up on Phillips.
Then, this afternoon, some
of the pieces started to align.I read an article in the Orange County Register
which reports that second baseman Alex Cora will sign with the Indians.That
would clearly make Phillips expendable.
Now, in all fairness, Phillips’
name has been rumored to be part of a proposed deal with Florida for starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, and probably in other places, too.So, I have no idea if he would ever end up in St. Louis.
But, the hot stove is a
bit cool now, so let’s stay with this for a few minutes.Why would the Cardinals
want Phillips, anyway?
Well, Phillips is Hector
Luna with a higher upside but scuffed shoes. He is only 23 now and was a can't-miss prospect.In fact, Baseball America had tabbed him as Cleveland's #1 prospect
in 2003. Phillips was handed the Indians' second base job two years ago and missed.He flopped with the bat big-time, hitting just .208 in 370 at-bats and was tagged as being difficult.
Phillips has decent speed
if he could only get on base, but doesn't have the greatest instincts. He has a good arm and has experience playing
both second and short. He began as a shortstop, but was moved because of Omar Vizquel. Having less than one season
in the majors means that Phillips makes the minimum. If the kid could grow up and figure out how to hit, the Cardinals
could end up with a very good player.
Phillips did have a pretty
good year with the bat in Triple-A last season, hitting .296 with an on-base percentage of .356.Still, the Indians re-signed Ronnie Belliard to another one-year deal, anyway. With Cora, they’d
have two starting second basemen.The Indians' next can't-miss shortstop, Jhonny
Peralta, is ready, so it is easy to assume Phillips is a goner.
Maybe Hal McRae saw something
in the American League and thinks he can help Phillips. On the other hand, Phillips is not a left handed hitter, which
is what the Cards supposedly want to complete their middle infield picture. Still, if the price in trade was reasonable,
I might take a shot.
John Mozeliak, Assistant
General Manager, would not comment on whether or not progress has been made in signing Jason Marquis and Rick Ankiel to 2005
contracts.If the players are unable to come to terms with the team, each has
the right to an arbitration hearing next month to set their 2005 compensation.However,
in this tenure with the Cardinals, Walt Jocketty has had only one case actually proceed all the way to the hearing.So, expect both players to sign.How soon remains the open
Good, but Not Enough
MLB is expected to announce
a new steroids policy today that includes an initial ten game suspension, year-round testing and an expanded list of banned
substances.The new pact, while an improvement, still falls short of other major
Hot Stove Rankings
In a two-part article on
teams’ off-season maneuvering to-date, CNNSI ranks the Cardinals tenth.
Even more interesting, in
the above CNNSI story, they linked to a study from The Hardball Times.It shows
that Tony La Russa’s team got 54 outs in 54 one-pitcher-for-one-batter situations last season.La Russa’s frequency of setting up these situations was second highest in baseball, while his team’s efficiency was
in the top six.Not bad at all, but I wonder what the next hitters did…Ray King, Julian Tavarez and Steve Kline were the top Cardinals individuals in this
The first announcement of
a Cardinals spring TV game has occurred.It is a split squad game against the
Detroit Tigers in Lakeland on Sunday, March 20 at Eastern.While it will be on Fox
Sports Detroit, more telecasts on ESPN, FSMW and perhaps WB11 will be announced soon and I’ll post them as I get more information.
Playing for the Mazatlan
Deer in the Mexican League playoffs, John Gall is still looking for his first hit in 22 playoff at-bats after batting .222
in the regular season.He had no homers and three RBI in 27 regular-season at-bats.Recently, Gall has been holding down the DH position for the Deer.Less than 50 at-bats is a small sample size, but it isn’t a very encouraging campaign to-date.
Majors and Minors Simpatico
MLB and Minor League Baseball
(National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues) approved an agreement on a new 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement
(PBA), extending through the 2014 season. The PBA defines the working relationship between the two organizations.Among the highlights:The agreement guarantees that Major
League teams will field at least 160 Minor League teams through the life of the agreement and access to all Minor League content
is granted for a baseball-only television channel, owned and operated by MLB.
Ron Jacober, KMOX Sports
Director, has confirmed their plans and that of the network for Cardinal spring training broadcasts are set and have been
beefed up for 2005.
As has been the case in
recent years, KMOX will air all Saturday and Sunday games (this should begin with the game against the Marlins on March 5th).They will also provide broadcast feeds of Tuesday and Thursday games for optional
use by their Cardinal network affiliates.KMOX does not air these midweek games,
but instead includes game highlights during Sports Open Line.
In addition, there is a
bonus in 2005 as KMOXwill carry three evening games.They are Wednesday night, March 23rd, against the New York Mets, Thursday night, March 31st,
against the Baltimore Orioles in Oklahoma City and Friday night, April 1st, also against Baltimore.
One of my long awaited signals
of the upcoming season, sort of like the first robin of spring, has appeared with the first of the television schedules being
published.The Big FOX Saturday lineup for 2005 is out and it holds good news
for Cardinals fans the world over.
The FOX network plans to
televise ten Saturday afternoon Redbirds tilts during the season.The games are
listed below, and include three Cubs games, one each in July, August and September, as well as a match against the New York
When a Beantown buddy of
mine told me he had an extra ticket for a long sold-out rock concert on Sunday at a club in Boston, I barely feigned interest.He went on to explain the event included a baseball-themed benefit auction and was
being held at an intimate 500-capacity hall where, in the past, bands like U2, The Police and Van Halen appeared.Still, he didn’t get a bite, even though I like rock-‘n-roll almost as much as baseball.
However, the lay of the
land changed dramatically when he revealed that the show was none other than Hot Stove, Cool Music, the fifth annual charity
event organized by ESPN’s Peter Gammons.The beneficiary of 100% of the
proceeds is The Jimmy Fund, founded back in 1948 to support the fight against cancer through the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
That was all I needed to
know.Whether or not it was right for a Cardinal backer to wade into the middle
of Red Sox Nation, I was in.
Musical performers, baseball
fans all, included The Gentlemen, Kay Hanley, Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria, Dropkick Murphy, Majorette, Theo Epstein
and Buffalo Tom plus Peter Gammons and the Hot Stove All-Stars.While some
of those names may not be familiar outside the Boston music scene, there was a lot of talent in the house.Every one was cheered enthusiastically by the packed crowd.For
the All-Star blues jam finale, Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere joined Gammons and the rest.
From the MLB community,
in addition to Gammons and Red Sox general manager Epstein, players Johnny Damon, Todd Walker, Casey Fossum and
Tim Wakefield made appearances at last year’s event.This year, none other
than Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo performed with his band, as did Sox player Lenny DiNardo.I was not the only one surprised by Arroyo’s strong voice.The
many ladies in attendance seemed to go for his good looks, too.Gone is the corn-row
look of 2004.
There were many items available
at auction; both goods and events like recording sessions, fishing trips and luxury boxes at Red Sox games.The highest selling item of the night was the chance to sit with Epstein during an upcoming game.In fact, when the bidding between two determined buyers climbed over $15,000, Theo
decided to let each of them win.They topped out at $22,000 and $21,000, respectively.One winner was the producer of TVs “This Old House”.When the other winner was asked where she came up with the cash, she loudly and proudly proclaimed that her divorce
became final last week.It elicited the loudest reaction on what was a night
full of cheer.
Interestingly enough, the
chance to join Sox principal owner John Henry during a game went for “just” $5700.There is no doubt as to the identity of the King of the Red Sox Nation.On
this night, the “market” valued the wunderkind GM at four times that of the team owner.
One of the items in the
silent auction that interested me was a jersey signed by Scott Rolen, who Gammons singled out for his gracious contribution,
but its price quickly spiraled out of my comfort range.For $25, one could pose
with actual the World Series trophy, brought in by the Red Sox just for the occasion.While I truly expect to see the 2005 version to soon reside near the confluence of the Mississippi and MissouriRivers, I did take advantage of the photo op, anyway.I did the same thing with the host of the evening, though unfortunately there was no time to talk baseball.
Gammons was both in his
glory and in his element at the event.As if there was ever any doubt, through
his remarks and actions, Gammons reiterated the reality that he is a Bostonian through and through.Not that I am against that, as we all have favorites.Like
so many in Red Sox Nation, to him, the removal of the curse was a blessed event.They
deserved the party.
Gammons emceed with co-host,
comedian Mike O’Malley, who had one of the most fitting lines of the night, when he observed that his strength was playing
overweight lugs who don’t want to grow up – namely himself.
Epstein was very much in
evidence throughout the evening, appearing very much like an average 30-year-old guy in a beard, tight-fitting and low-slung
Patriots cap and jeans.Instead of the general manager of the World Series champions,
Epstein actually looked more like one of the roadies.
Although the Theo hero worship
became overdone for my tastes, at least he tried to wave it all off as “divine intervention”.He played second guitar with multiple groups over the course of the night.Theo
did provide one of the evening’s highlights when he presented Gammons with a Baseball Hall of Fame cap, reminding us all that
Gammons will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer.Gammons was especially
gracious in his remarks.
Yankee bashing was the common
thread throughout the night.In fact, Arroyo’s encounter with Alex Rodriguez
in the ALCS when A-Rod slapped the ball out of Arroyo’s glove was hit on time and time again.Nary a single time were the Cardinals mentioned, even in pity.
The concert itself and the
entire evening was a blast.Even better, the last unofficial fund raising mark
I heard was $120,000.If you want to support Boston baseball’s fight against cancer, you didn’t have to attend the show.You
can order a Hot Stove, Cool Music benefit CD here.
What a great way to support
a good cause and get some hot music to help pass the long nights between now and spring training!
I was catching up on some
reading during this period of relative quiet in the world of baseball, when various thoughts began to come together about
Mark Mulder and the weight of the 2005 expectations being placed upon him by the Cardinal Nation.
Certainly, when evaluating
the 2005 Cardinals against the previous model, all favorable year-to-year comparisons begin with Mulder.Upon reading the good news that Chris Carpenter will be ready to go full speed in the spring, one commentator
reasonably predicted that Carpenter will be penciled as the game two starter.Before
throwing his first pitch with the team, it is another indication that Mulder is being anointed as “the man”.
Yet, there is that blind
spot, that doubt that exists about Mulder.
At the time he started the
2004 All-Star Game representing the American League, Mulder had a sterling 12-2 record.He had managed to win his final first-half start despite giving up six runs in Cleveland.That game looked to be an anomaly.After all, in the entire first half, Mulder had just one other start where he allowed
more than four earned runs, a mulligan at Yankee Stadium in early May.
But, during a dreadful second
half in 2004, the situation got worse and worse.In that stretch, Mulder gave
up seven or more runs in five different starts.Mulder secured his last win on
August 24.He could not prevail in any of his last six starts, going 0-5 with
an ERA of almost nine.His only shutout of the 2004 season had been way
back on May 21 against the woeful Kansas City Royals.
What had gone so wrong?Wishful thinkers hoped for an injury.After
all, Mulder had a history of late-season maladies.Yet the team, known in the
past for being less-than-straightforward about injuries, and Mulder himself over and over again denied there were any physical
problems.Mulder also would not admit fatigue was an issue.
On to mechanical difficulties.The A’s former pitching guru, Rick Peterson, who had nurtured Oakland’s “Big Three” of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mulder, had left the Bay Area to re-join former boss Art Howe with the
Mets a year ago.Bad decision, Art and Rick.Anyway, the A’s replaced Peterson with former major-leaguer and veteran A’s organizational pitching coach Curt Young.Surely, Young and Mulder should have been able to diagnose and work out any mechanical
difficulties together.Apparently not.
That leaves mental preparation.I read a piece where Oakland Tribune writer Josh Suchon opined that Mulder had lost
his confidence.The theory went something like Mulder had never before experienced
a long period of adversity.He had been the golden boy, the kid with size, and
movie-star good looks; a high draft pick who had excelled at every level.
With other members of the
Big Three each experiencing their own adversity, it was time for Mulder to step up.He couldn’t do it, nor could his team, as the A’s missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons and the first
time in Mulder’s career.
ESPN and others reported
that Mulder had met with a sports psychologist and based on the results demonstrated on the field, it seemed to be ineffective.Mulder went two innings during his final start on October 1, a crushing loss to the
team who edged the A’s by a single game, the AL West division champion Anaheim Angels.
Mulder himself told Suchon,
“I started thinking too much down the stretch. I was completely fine. There's nothing wrong with me. It was one of those things.
I flat-out struggled. I've never struggled like that in my career — even when I was a rookie. More than anything, it was embarrassing
for myself. I was trying so hard to get out of it.”
This November, at the time
of his trade to the Cardinals and shortly after, Mulder seemed shocked.His public
remarks, while certainly not negative in any way, left some with the impression that becoming a Cardinal would take Mulder
time to get used to.
With that, I asked Dr. Richard
Crowley, who works with players’ mental preparation for a living (www.sportsmaker.com), about the Mulder situation.Crowley noted
that Mulder was not alone.Barry Zito also had a similar bug as Mulder as he
Crowley wondered that if the professional who worked with Mulder didn't do any good,
whether Mulder would believe that his situation may be without hope.One
might draw that conclusion if the person he saw had a reputation in baseball for helping players, but couldn't help him.
Said Crowley, “The sad part is that baseball does not know what to do with their players who all exhibit Mulder and Zito behaviors
from time to time. A catcher I just started to work with from a Big 12 university had given up all hope.He believed that if the Yankees with all their money and resources couldn't help Chuck Knoblauch, there
was no hope for the likes of him.”
Still, all is not lost.Crowley assumes that the Cardinals believe their coaches can reconnect Mulder.Our dialogue ended with a wish.“It would
be wise to have somebody work with him now so he arrives in spring training "all better".”
Perhaps this is already
happening behind the scenes.Perhaps the situation is under control.I have yet to meet Mulder and he is not a patient of Dr. Crowley.So, maybe we are all wet.
At least publicly, as would
be expected, Mulder is not worried."Is it something that I'm concerned with?
No. I'll be ready in spring training. I hit a bump in the road. It was a big bump."
One thing is for sure.Fairly or unfairly, on his left arm, in his 6-foot-6 frame and in his head, Mark Mulder
carries an inordinate share of the 2005 hopes of the Cardinal Nation.I sure
hope he is ready.