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Welcome to Brian Walton's St. Louis Cardinals blog!

News and commentary about the past, present and future state of the St. Louis Cardinals. 
 
Note that all new St. Louis Cardinals-related content will be posted on the new Birdhouse site, stlcardinals.scout.com, rather than here.  An explanatory note is below. 
 
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Saturday, January 22, 2005

March 12 against the Mets

Third Cards Spring TV Game Set

By Brian Walton

 

A third Cardinals spring training game to be televised has been announced.  This one is on Saturday, March 12, a Mets split-squad game in Port St. Lucie.  The game will be televised on Fox Sports New York at 1pm Eastern time.

 

Earlier, I reported that the Monday, March 14 Braves game will be shown on ESPN and the Detroit Tigers split squad game on Sunday, March 20 will be televised on Fox Sports Detroit.

9:20 pm est

Series Champs Stick it to Spring Training Fans

 

The World Series champion Boston Red Sox increased their box seat prices by 50% from $16 to $24 for all spring training games at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, FL, including the Cardinals' visit on Wednesday, March 16.  In a further revenue grab, the team added 300 “premium seats”, which go for $36 to $44.  Even the cheap seats aren’t, as right-field berm seats are $12 and it costs $10 for a standing room-only ticket.

 

Sadly, the bad guys win again, as the entire home slate of games sold out in 6-1/2 hours.

 

As a point of comparison, Cardinals spring training tickets top out at $21 ($22 on weekends).  They went on sale today, January 22, and needless to say are a better entertainment value.  http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/stl/ticketing/springtraining.jsp

 

Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe tagged the Red Sox increases “naked greed”.  All I can say is that I agree.

 

9:19 pm est

Clemens for five ... but not in 2006

News item: Roger Clemens agrees to a one-year, $18 million contract with the Houston Astros, the largest one year deal for a pitcher in Major League Baseball history.

For a team that has been bludgeoned time after time in this offseason, some positive news from the Astros was long overdue.

However, for those who follow the Cardinals, it provides the opportunity to again marvel over the magical job Walt Jocketty does in balancing payroll. Given the choice, would you rather have the soon-to-be 43-year-old Clemens in 2005 or the entire Cardinals starting rotation?

That's right, the sum total of the 2005 base salaires of the five starting Redbids hurlers comes in under Clemens' record payday. Specifically, Mark Mulder @ $6 million, Chris Carpenter @ $2.4 million, Jason Marquis @ $3 million, Jeff Suppan @ $4 million and Matt Morris @ $2.5 million. Even if you throw in #6 (or is that #5a?) Rick Ankiel @ $400,000, it still is quite an eye-opening comparison.

The downside of this situation will be upon the team in just nine months. For 2006, every one of the Cards six with the exception of Mulder will need new contracts. Just as in 2005, Marquis and Ankiel will be arbitration-eligible. So, they are bound to remain if the team wants them, but their prices will surely go up if they have the types of seasons expected of them.

Carpenter and Morris will represent significant challenges, yet one or both may be willing to give hometeam discounts in return for the loyalty the Cardinals showed when offering them contracts during injury rehabilitation periods.

Next offseason, Suppan may find himself in a similar situation to that which faced Woody Williams this year. Specifically, the Cardinals could prefer to follow other options for less money than it would take to bring Suppan back. Those options could include youngsters Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson or Blake Hawksworth.

But, it is a long time until the 2006 rotation needs to be set. So, for now, be delighted with five pitchers who each won at least 15 games last season, all for the price of one guy who may finally retire in 2006.

6:34 pm est

Friday, January 21, 2005

Can the Cardinal Pieces Fit Into a Winning 2005 Picture?

 

A year ago, we were obsessing about things we couldn’t control, like the Cubs and Astros adding stars to their teams as if they were in the arms race-driven American League East.  This year, the Cardinals have a fine 2004 to look back upon, yet may find themselves as 2005 underdogs to a Cubs team who they finished 16 games ahead of last season. 

 

Now, we pessimists all know what could happen to the 2005 Cardinals, not unlike what happened to the 2004 Cubs.  The weakened bullpen flops, the starters don’t return quickly from injury, then are overworked, age and injuries in the outfield give Tony La Russa the opening to try everyone except Fredbird in the outfield with no success, there is no one getting on base at the top of the lineup, and the Cardinals finish closer to the Reds and the Pirates in the Central Division standings than they do to the Cubs and Astros.

 

Well, hold on.  All that just isn’t going to happen to the 2005 Cardinals.  After all, the middle of the lineup remains strong as every and the rotation has all the potential to be the best in a long, long time.  Let’s look at ten possible, but crucial events, of which more than just a few would need to happen for luck to remain squarely on the shoulders of the Cardinals in 2005.   

 

1.  Rick Ankiel becomes the National League Comeback Player of the Year.

 

Probability:  Low.  This is way lower odds than last year’s selection, Chris Carpenter.  Carp hadn’t pitched since early in 2002 and was a .500 pitcher then.  Ankiel’s situation is different as his last extended duty in the bigs was way back in 2000.  Everyone still wants the man to succeed, but there is no guarantee that he has conquered all his demons.  Only time will answer that.

 

2.  Jason Marquis picks up his game a notch further and wins 18 games.

 

Probability:  Medium high.  Marquis had a fine 2004 campaign, winning 15 and losing just seven.  But, there were nagging concerns about his maturity.  The best way to quiet his critics will be for Marquis to just be quiet and pitch.  As much as the return of Matt Morris, the establishment of Mark Mulder and the return of Ankiel will define the rotation, one should not overlook the wild card that is Marquis.  He may still have the most of any of them to prove.

 

3.  The Cardinals get lucky with a dependable backup outfielder.

 

Probability:  Low.  I wish the team had some more decent candidates.  Roger Cedeno could be the man, although he has not shown the consistency expected of a fourth outfielder since joining the team.  So Taguchi is a nice late-game defensive replacement, but his shortcomings would be exposed if he had to play every day for an extended period.  John Gall does not seem to be up to the task defensively while John Mabry is too important in backing up Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.  Perhaps the best situation would be to get a dependable corner infield backup and devote Mabry to the outfield.  Even that may not be enough, given the advanced ages of outfield starters Reggie Sanders, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker.

 

4.  Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds each have another MVP-contending season.

 

Probability:  Medium high.  Pujols would be a lock, except for the issue of his heel pain returning.  Rolen is solid and steady and should be expected to repeat as long as he doesn’t wear down.  I’d like to see John Mabry spell Rolen a bit more often in 2005.  At 34, Edmonds may not be able to equal his excellent 2004 and there is a big dropoff when he is out of the lineup.  But, if Edmonds can stay healthy, these three will again carry the offense.

 

5.  Reggie Sanders performs as the #6 hitter.

 

Probability:  Medium low.  One person who probably was most sad to see Edgar Renteria leave was Jim Edmonds, who has now lost his protection in the batting order.  Sanders continues to strike out a lot and while productive, is not in Renteria’s class as a hitter.  The difference between the hitter “haves” and hitter “have-nots” will be accentuated on the 2005 team.   I fear Sanders will slide toward the latter.

 

6.  Matt Morris and Mark Mulder perform as they have in their best years past.

 

Probability:  Medium.  When he is “on”, Morris is a Cy Young-contender.  He has done it before and has the talent to do it again.  Will his shoulder surgery fix what ails him?  Wouldn’t another 20-win season look nice?  Mulder is better than Morris when “on” and that is really, really good.  Yet, until he gets on the mound and proves his second half 2004 was a fluke, questions will remain.  Still, these two plus Chris Carpenter, steady Jeff Suppan, a better Rick Ankiel and Jason Marquis is a very, very good starting pitching nucleus.

 

7.  One or more of the following proves to be a major surprise:  Mark Grudzielanek, DavidEckstein, Bo Hart, Abraham Nunez, Hector Luna and Scott Seabol.

 

Probability:  Medium low.  Like it or not, except Seabol, each got to the Cardinals because they were unwanted elsewhere.  Grudz was jettisoned by the Cubs because they preferred to keep Todd Walker.  Eckstein was non-tendered by the Angels, because they wanted an upgrade that turned out to be Orlando Cabrera.  Yet, he received a surprising three-year contract.  Hart probably won’t get a real chance to earn a job.  Nunez might break out, but more likely is another Wilson Delgado.  Luna, who was unprotected by the Indians and was a Rule 5 selection a year ago last December, really needs a year in Triple-A to prove himself.  I hope he gets it.   I am not sure if the inexperienced Seabol is being thought of a credible middle infielder or not.

 

8.  Kiko Calero and Steve Kline will not be missed in the bullpen.

 

Probability:  Low.  Calero had been one of the most underrated members of the team for the past two seasons.  While 34-year-old Al Reyes had a nice Triple-A campaign, there may be a reason he was unable to stick anywhere previously.  Mike Myers is a journeyman and will likely not cause anyone to forget Kline’s four solid years in the pen.  I hope the 2005 pen manages to resemble the 2004 model, not the 2003 version.  With little depth ready in the minors, a return to the Yan, Fassero, Borbon bargain bin could prove to be disastrous.

 

9.  The top of the lineup is solidified as Eckstein turns out to be a bona-fide leadoff hitter and Larry Walker gets 550 at-bats as the #2 hitter.

 

Probability:  Medium.  Eckstein is not known as an on-base machine nor a big base stealer, but he is patient and good with the bat.  On the downside, Eckstein was dropped to the #8 spot with the Angels when he struggled.  Let’s hope Eckstein raises his game a notch in St. Louis.  If Tony Womack did it, so can he.  Walker is a fine batter no matter where he hits, but he proved to be a real asset in the #2 hole.  If he can only stay healthy, there should be some guys on base for Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds to drive in.

 

10.  The defense up the middle remains credible.

 

Probability:  Medium.  I don’t expect Yadier Molina, Grudzielanek and Eckstein to bring home Gold Gloves like many of those who preceded them in recent years did (Mike Matheny, Edgar Renteria and Fernando Vina).  But, they need to play better than average defense to help a pitching staff that comes into the season with some questions.  However, one question they don’t have is about their ability to induce ground balls.  The Cardinals have some very good ground-ball pitchers.  But, they need the fielders to shag the balls.

 

Who knows what could happen with the Cardinals if the best-case scenario ensues and all ten of these hit?   The sky’s the limit.   Just four more wins were all that was needed last season.

 

9:08 pm est

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Book review

“Baseball 1862 to 2003” by John Shiffert

 

In this mid-winter period of early darkness, while the hot stoves of baseball’s off-season begin to cool is the ideal time to curl up with a good book about the game we love so much.  At this time last year, who can forget the impending anticipation over Pete Rose’s, “My Book Without Truths”, or whatever he called his drivel.    

 

This winter, my time was, and your time will be, much better spent if you get a new book that I have just finished reading.  It is the newly-released “Baseball: 1862 to 2003” by author, educator and historian John Shiffert, Jr.  Like Rose, Shiffert is a guy who spent some time in Philly.  In fact, he is a native of the City of Brotherly Love.

  

Like Rose’s, this is a book you can put down, but for an entirely different reason.  Rose’s was forgettable because of its self-serving spin, while Shiffert’s can easily be read in multiple installments due to its unique modular format. 

 

“Baseball: 1862 to 2003” is made up of a series of 50 vignettes of roughly six pages each, deftly marrying events from baseball’s past to an event that was currently facing baseball during the 2003 season.

 

As expected, Peter Edward Rose does make an appearance, as does Corky Sosa, Rocket’s 300th win, platooned closers, Steve Blass disease and many more, all anchored to baseball’s rich heritage.  Better than anyone I have seen, Shiffert explains the subject matter, puts it into a historical perspective with supporting facts and has a lot of fun while doing so.  What a great combination! 

 

Let me put this into personal terms.  I am proud that one of my sons especially loves baseball.  Yet, he has stated more than once that he is indifferent to the idea of learning more about the rich history of the game.  To me, that is what makes baseball what it is – America’s Pastime over time.  His McDonald’s fast food, Cliff’s Notes view of the game disappointed me, but did not surprise me.  As much as anything, it may be a reflection of our ever-faster moving society. 

 

Yet, Shiffert’s approach of short vignettes and gracefully weaving history into current events hooked my son before he knew what happened to him.

 

“Baseball: 1862 to 2003” retails for $24.95 and is available from all major book retailers.  However, it is also available from the publisher, www.publishamerica.com , for a discounted price of $19.95.  I heartily recommend it!

 

Plus, when that isn’t enough for you, go to Shiffert’s website, www.baseball19to21.com and email him to sign up for his weekly newsletter.  In it, you’ll get a new, current vignette each week, totally free!

 

OK, before I end this I do have to come clean.  I count Shiffert as a friend and am proud to have been noted in the acknowledgements of the book.  However, my real contribution was to recount the Curse of the Billy Goat, which continues to plague the Chicago Cubs.  As a Cardinal fan, I wanted to ensure that was on record into eternity. 

 

6:40 pm est

One Spring Tilt to be Televised on ESPN

 

Between ESPN (eight) and ESPN2 (three), there looks to be 11 Spring Training telecasts currently planned.  The good news for Cardinals fans is that one of those games includes the team.

 

Monday, March 14  Braves @ Cardinals from Jupiter (1pm ET)

 

(The Cubs will be on twice; against the Rangers on the 7th and the Diamondbacks on the 23rd.  No Astros games are among the 11.)

 

More on spring schedules as I get info.

 

4:10 am est

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Ankiel and Arbitration

 

I have been asked some follow-on questions about the arbitration process generated by my Rick Ankiel story from Friday.  I have every reason to believe both sides have discussed proposals and continue to predict a deal between the team and Ankiel’s agent Scott Boras will get done before a hearing is actually held.

 

However, to answer the questions…

 

Both sides are required to submit a single salary amount for a one-year contract.  No incentives are allowed to be included in the submission.  These amounts are due this coming Tuesday, the 18th.  Most of the time, the two parties settle around the midpoint prior to the hearing. 

 

If it gets that far, all cases are heard between February 1 and 20 by a three-arbitrator panel.  Each side gets an hour to present their case, with 30 minutes for rebuttal. 

 

Regarding arbitration criteria, here is what is allowed:

 

  • Performance, qualities of leadership and public appeal.
  • Length and consistency of career contribution.
  • Record of player's past compensation.
  • Awards for playing excellence.
  • Comparative baseball salaries, with special attention to those within one year of service.
  • Existence of physical or mental defects.
  • Recent team standing and attendance.

What is not allowed:

 

  • Financial position of the player or the team.
  • Player or team performance press comments or testimonials.
  • Offers made by either side prior to arbitration.
  • Costs of attorneys or others to prepare.
  • Salary references outside of baseball.

The arbitrators will decide on one of the two amounts.  Once the hearing begins, there is no compromise.  One side wins and the other loses.

 

As soon as the two sides’ salary offers are exchanged and the dates of the Ankiel and Marquis hearings are scheduled, I will provide an update.  The establishment of those dates creates the impending event which should drive the final resolution.

 

9:21 am est

2005.02.13 | 2005.02.06 | 2005.01.30 | 2005.01.23 | 2005.01.16 | 2005.01.09 | 2005.01.02 | 2004.12.26 | 2004.12.19 | 2004.12.01 | 2004.11.01 | 2004.10.01 | 2004.09.01 | 2004.08.01

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