Bold decision to hire Mark McGwire as hitting coach has paid off for Cardinals

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When the Cardinals hired Mark McGwire as their hitting coach prior to the 2010 season there was lots of talk about his lack of coaching experience and lots of speculation about how his steroids-related baggage would be a distraction.

Two years later all of that seems to have been forgotten, as McGwire has mostly flown under the radar in terms of national media attention and the Cardinals led the league in runs scored this season.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch described how even yesterday, with media members from across the country assembled at Busch Stadium and McGwire fielding all sorts of questions, his job performance and the lineup’s success were the focus.

Several hitters, including NLCS MVP David Freese, have singled out McGwire’s tutelage as a big reason for their success and during the regular season the Cardinals led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS in addition to runs. And as Goold notes they were also the only NL team to strike out fewer than 1,000 times despite McGwire ranking 34th all time in strikeouts himself.

It turns out McGwire is simply a really good hitting coach and Tony La Russa deserves credit for making what was at the time a headline-grabbing, oft-criticized decision to add him to the staff when the media attention on McGwire was almost exclusively negative.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.