Matthew Pouliot

Mike Matheny, Chris Carpenter

Cardinals’ lack of action could be their undoing

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It’s hard to blame the Cardinals for staying the course. Even with free agents Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman set to depart, St. Louis ended 2012 with a roster that already looked like a winner entering 2013:

Rotation: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal

Bullpen: Jason Motte, Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, Kelly, Marc Rzepczynski, Eduardo Sanchez, Victor Marte

Lineup: CF Jon Jay, RF Carlos Beltran, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Allen Craig, C Yadier Molina, 3B David Freese, SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Matt Carpenter/Daniel Descalso

What did it make sense to do from there? Upgrade at second base? Perhaps, but it was probably the weakest position in free agency this winter. The Cardinals were rumored to have made a run at Marco Scutaro before he re-signed with the Giants.

Upgrade the rotation? Since the Cards seemed committed to Carpenter and Westbrook, that probably would have meant sending Lynn back to the bullpen and there simply weren’t many starters available in free agency that were better bets than Lynn and those few would have been expensive.

Adding to the bench should have been a priority, and the Cardinals did. Unfortunately, they did so with Ty Wigginton, a defensive liability no longer worthy of a roster spot. They also signed Ronny Cedeno as a shortstop fallback rather than trust an encore performance from late-season surprise Pete Kozma.

Besides those two, the only notable newcomer is lefty specialist Randy Choate.

That the Cardinals did so little might have been just fine if not for the events of the last month. Carpenter is expected to miss the season after his nerve problems returned with a vengeance. Miller, the early favorite to replace him in the rotation, is sidelined with shoulder tightness. And Furcal, the lineup’s biggest question mark, is still having problems with his throwing elbow.

The Cardinals are still fairly well protected in the rotation. Even if they have to dig down deeper as the season progresses, top prospects Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha could prove ready. Rosenthal should be a big weapon wherever he happens to be deployed.

The team is also very well set in the outfield, what with top prospect Oscar Taveras available to step in if Beltran goes down. The Cards can even put Craig back in a corner and call up power-hitting Matt Adams to play first base if needed.

The middle infield is a big issue, though, particularly in light of Furcal’s ill health. Ideally, Matt Carpenter will prove capable at second base and win the job there. However, if he can’t handle the defensive responsibilities, the Cards could be looking at spending big chunks of the season with the light-hitting Descalso covering one spot and Cedeno, Kozma and Ryan Jackson vying for the other.

At third base, Freese also has an extensive injury history, and while Carpenter is a fine fallback there, he can’t play second if he’s starting at the hot corner.

With spring training games having even yet to start, the Cardinals’ depth has been whittled away. If it stops now, the team is still in very good position, particularly since it should have plenty of flexibility to pull off in-season trades. Still, it’s fair to express disappointment that the team didn’t do better than Wigginton and Cedeno for the bench. A Scutaro to start at second or a Kelly Johnson to give added protection would look quite nice right now. The left-handed-hitting Eric Chavez would have made a lot more sense as a backup to two right-handed-hitting corner infielders than Wigginton does. Time will tell if those misfires come back to bite them.

Bobby Valentine is the Athletic Director for Sacred Heart University

Bobby Valentine
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Ex-Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine got the gig he was aiming for: he’ll be named the new Athletic Director of Sacred Heart University in a press conference scheduled for Tuesday, CtPost’s William Paxton reports.

It’s another odd turn for the former big-league infielder and three-time major league manager. Besides managing the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox and commentating for ESPN, Valentine also spent seven years managing in Japan, served as Director of Public Safety & Health for Stamford, Connecticut and popularized the wrap sandwich.

Sacred Heart University is a Catholic school located in Fairfield, Connecticut and apparently is a Northeast Conference powerhouse in baseball and golf. The baseball team went 25-32 last season, but still won the NEC for a second straight season with a 19-13 conference record.

Following a disastrous lone season in Boston, it’s doubtful that the 62-year-old Valentine will ever surface in a major league dugout again. Still, he does have a winning record in 16 years as a major league manager, going 1,186-1,165.

Where this leaves Valentine and NBC is unclear. Valentine was hired last month to serve as a co-host on a weekday talk show for NBC Sports Radio. That gig was due to begin in April.

Jason Giambi set to sign with Indians

Jason Giambi
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The Denver Post’s Troy Renck reports that the Indians and first baseman Jason Giambi are closing in on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

The 42-year-old Giambi was considered for the Rockies’ managerial vacancy earlier this winter, but after failing to get that, he said he wanted to keep playing. The Indians should have room for him as a left-handed-hitting DH after losing Travis Hafner to the Yankees.

Serving mostly as a pinch-hitter, Giambi hit .225/.372/.303 with one homer in 89 at-bats for the Rockies last season. He was much better in 2011, batting .260/.355/.603 with 13 homers in 131 at-bats.

If Giambi impresses this spring, the Indians could make him their primary DH against righties, with catcher Carlos Santana occasionally rotating into the spot. Santana and Mike Aviles could share time at DH against lefties.

Brewers revert to thrifty form

Ron Roenicke
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The Brewers’ offseason opened with speculation about a push for Josh Hamilton. 3 1/2 months later, their biggest pickup has been Tom Gorzelanny.

Mark Attanasio’s Brewers won 96 games and went to the NLCS in 2011, and while the team lost Prince Fielder afterwards, it was able to bring in Aramis Ramirez as a replacement. Still, despite Ramirez’s best efforts, the team dropped to 83 wins and a third-place finish in the NL Central last year. The bullpen was the biggest problem, and when the Brewers couldn’t extend Zack Greinke, they traded him away to the Angels, sacrificing their second star in 12 months.

The curious thing is that while the Brewers were open to giving Greinke a $100 million deal, they’ve made no effort to distribute that money this winter. Gone also are the salaries No. 3 starter Shaun Marcum, No. 4 starter Randy Wolf and overpaid reliever Francisco Rodriguez. Those were four of the Brewers’ six highest-paid players last year, accounting for more than $38 million of a season-opening $98 million payroll.

Lesser lights Myjer Morgan, Manny Parra, Kameron Loe and Jose Veras have also been lopped off. That’s another $7.7 million.

The replacements: Gorzelanny at $5.7 million for two years, fellow reliever Mike Gonzalez at $2.25 million and infielder Alex Gonzalez at $1.5 million. The only other newcomer due a significant salary is reliever Burke Badenhop (acquired from the Rays) at $1.55 million. All told, they’ll combine to make about as much this year as K-Rod did last year.

As is, the Brewers are looking at a payroll about $25 million-$30 million shy of their 2012 figure. And they certainly have needs. Marco Estrada rates as their No. 2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo. A legitimate eighth-inning guy would be nice. The lineup was pretty well set before Corey Hart’s recent knee surgery, but a quality outfield option would be useful in case either Norichika Aoki or Carlos Gomez can’t repeat his 2012 performance.

Alas, most of the quality players are long gone now. But Milwaukee would still seem to be an obvious fit for Kyle Lohse if the team wasn’t so intent on retaining its first-round pick. Instead, it seems the Brewers will do little and hope for the best. The bullpen can’t be any worse and some young pitching might step up, but the odds are against the offense being as strong again and this is a team that’s going to need a lot of luck to get back to the postseason.

Pierre, Polanco, Stanton expected to top Marlins order

Giancarlo Stanton
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That’s the way new Marlins manager Mike Redmond is looking to kick off his lineup; Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco and Giancarlo Stanton are likely to occupy the top three spots.

Sadly, Pierre and Polanco seemed like givens to bat first and second from the moment they were plucked from the bargain bin this winter. The alternatives there the middle infield duo of Donovan Solano and Adeiny Hechavarria.

On the other hand, Stanton batting third is a bit of a surprise and quite seemingly a mistake, particularly given the lack of proven hitters behind him. Justin Ruggiano and Logan Morrison will be the  fourth and fifth hitters in some order.

Let’s face it, most of the Marlins innings that begin with the leadoff man are going to unfold in a couple of ways:

– Pierre and Polanco both make outs, putting Stanton up with none on and two out.

– Pierre singles, attempts to steal second or gets moved up by Polanco. Stanton comes up with a man on second and one out and immediately gets pitched around or intentionally walked to set up the double play.

My thought is that it makes a lot more sense to hit Stanton fourth. For one thing, if he’s going to come up with no one on, it’s much better that he does it at the start of the inning, giving him a chance to start a rally, than with two outs. And hitting him fourth should open up more situations in which he’s up with multiple men on, making the intentional walk less likely.

Cleanup hitters simply get more RBI chances than No. 3 hitters, even without accounting for the fact that they get fewer at-bats. Last year, NL No. 4 hitters drove in 1,658 runs while hitting .272/.343/.470. No. 3 hitters, despite hitting slightly better at .283/.356/.469, drove in 1,509 runs.

Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things. The Marlins would have to figure out how to hit Stanton second, third and fourth to have much of a chance of avoiding the NL East basement this year.