Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer are the leading MVP candidates with two weeks left this season and it sounds like both players may spend the offseason negotiating contract extensions. Mauer is a free agent after next season and the Twins desperately want to lock him up long term, and St. Louis owner Bill DeWitt revealed Thursday that the Cardinals plan to approach Pujols with a long-term deal as well.
Pujols still has two seasons remaining on the seven-year, $100 million contract that he signed in February of 2004, so the Cardinals can afford to be a little more patient with him than the Twins can be with Mauer. In fact, the first order of business for the Cardinals this winter will be deciding what to do with free agent Matt Holliday, who’s hit .356 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 55 games since coming over from the A’s.
While the Cardinals decide whether to hand out $250 million in new deals, here are some other notes from around baseball …
* Lou Piniella reportedly gave Rich Harden the option of shutting things down for the season and the impending free agent decided against making another start. “It’d be a lot different if we were in it and they needed me to pitch,” Harden said. “I’d be out there in a second and I’d be fine. I’m still healthy, feeling good.” Maybe, but he’s not “feeling good” enough to give potential suitors one more look at his oft-injured arm.
As usual Harden has been dominant at times and shaky at times this year, going 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA and 171/67 K/BB ratio in 141 innings. He has the best strikeout rate in baseball among pitchers with 25 starts, narrowly beating Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander, and held opponents to a .234 average. On the other hand his walk rate is eighth-worst among 25-start pitchers and he hasn’t logged 150 innings since 2004.
* Bronson Arroyo held the Pirates to one run in seven innings Thursday for his 12th straight Quality Start, which is quite a turnaround considering that he was sporting a 5.65 ERA through early July. Since then he has a 2.15 ERA and 67/23 K/BB ratio in 109 innings spread over 15 starts and has allowed more than three runs just once in that time, although his win-loss record is modest at 6-5.
Arroyo’s impressive stretch has his ERA below 4.00 for the first time all year. In fact, the last time his ERA resided under 4.00 was following his first start of 2008. Arroyo isn’t having a breakout at the age of 32, but his turnaround makes next season’s $11 million salary a little more palatable for the Reds whether they choose to keep him or shop him to a big-payroll contender. Arroyo also has an $11 million option for 2011.
* I’ve posted tons of Twitter updates this week and will probably ramp things up even further once the playoffs get going, so sign up to follow me or forever be uncool.
AL Quick Hits: Clay Buchholz stayed on a roll Thursday with 6.2 shutout innings and has now allowed six total runs in his last six starts … Justin Verlander took over the MLB lead with 256 strikeouts and won his 17th game Thursday as the Tigers upped their AL Central lead to three games … Felix Hernandez picked up his 17th win with eight solid innings Thursday … Zack Greinke didn’t pitch Thursday, but still managed to get ejected from his dugout seat for arguing balls and strikes … Kevin Jepsen will be unavailable for another few days because of what the Angels are calling “a dead arm period” … Josh Hamilton (glute) plans to return to the lineup Friday after missing three weeks … Tim Wakefield’s next scheduled start has now been pushed back to Wednesday … Scott Feldman remains stuck on 17 victories after coughing up seven runs in 3.1 innings Thursday.
NL Quick Hits: Matt Kemp’s big game Thursday night made him the first player in the Dodgers’ storied history with 25 homers, 25 steals, and 100 RBIs in a season … J.A. Happ lingering oblique injury didn’t seem like a problem Thursday as he allowed two runs in 5.2 innings for his 11th victory … Raul Ibanez was scratched from Thursday’s lineup with a stomach virus, so Ben Francisco started in his place … Bruce Bochy said Wednesday that stud prospect Buster Posey may finally see some playing time behind the plate once the Giants are eliminated from the Wild Card race … Carlos Gonzalez (hamstring) was out of the lineup again Thursday and could be sidelined until next week … Jeremy Hermida (hamstring) took batting practice Wednesday for the first time since September 2 and aims to return this weekend … Cristian Guzman made a pair of throwing errors Wednesday and took Thursday’s game off because of shoulder soreness.