Izzy signs minor league deal with Rays

Jason Isringhausen signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. Izzy joins a long list of former Cardinals who have joined the Rays, including Tino Martinez, Al Reyes, Troy Percival, and most recently Adam Kennedy.

Izzy was a great Cardinal and I hope he can get his 300th save in a Rays uniform. Good Luck!

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The team of the “aughties”?

Michael Riehn
Whiteyball staff

wstrophyThe decade of the 2000’s have been a good one for the Cardinals. They’ve continued their run of dominance in even numbered decades (World Championships in the 20’s, 40s, 60’s, 80’s and 2000’s) and submitted their name for discussion in the team of the decade debate. A World Series Championship, 2 pennants and 5 division titles, 1 Cy Young Award and 2 MVPs have made it a magical ride, and it’s fascinating to see how they compare to the other great teams of the decade.

With one year left in the 2000’s, can the Cardinals really make a claim as the team of the decade? Before we get into the American League (and the other heavyweight contenders: the Yankees and Red Sox), let’s take a look at the teams that have won the World Series in the National League:

 

Team Win % Playoffs Playoff WP Playoff W Div. Titles Penn. Champ
St. Louis 0.564 6 0.541 33 5 2 1
Philly 0.520 2 0.647 11 2 1 1
Florida 0.497 1 0.647 11 0 1 1
Arizona 0.504 3 0.519 14 3 1 1

 

It’s pretty easy to see that the Cardinals are well ahead of the competition for the NL title.  It would take a second World Championship by the Phillies, Marlins or the Diamondbacks to put any other team in the discussion.  A World Series Title in 2009 would make a compelling argument for any of these teams, but the Cardinals would still have a nice claim to the decade as they would most likely win every other category.

The National League has been down this decade though, so it’s not hard to see why the Cardinals have the inside track.  The American League has dominated the 2000’s so let’s look at the Cardinals versus the AL’s  two main contenders:

 

Team Win % Playoffs Playoff WP Playoff W Div. Titles Penn. Champ
St. Louis 0.564 6 0.541 33 5 2 1
Boston 0.566 5 0.630 34 1 2 2
NYYankees 0.593 8 0.526 41 7 2 1

 

A couple of things struck me about this table.  First, the Cardinals still have a chance to be team of the decade.  I really didn’t think they had a shot against these two American League teams.  They would have to win the World Series this year and the Red Sox could not win the pennant, but they still have the opportunity.  If this happened, I could still see an argument for the Red Sox, but it would be difficult to say either one was better. 

Second, I never expected the Yankees to have a compelling argument of overtaking the Red Sox for team of the decade.  I thought the Sox were a lock.  A World Series Championship by the Yankees wouldn’t just get them in the discussion, I think they would be the winner.  Boston would have a better winning percentage in the playoffs, but the division titles, playoff appearances and regular season winning percentage would tip the scale, in my opinion.

As Cardinals fans, we often complain about the team not doing enough to win and we question the moves of the ownership and front office.  If we take a step back though, we can see how truly blessed we’ve been in this decade.  Whether you believe it to be luck, skill or a combination thereof, we’ve had an amazing run that doesn’t happen to teams (not named the Yankees) very often.  Here’s hoping the Cardinals finish off the decade right and cap off one of the best decades in this storied franchise’s history.

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Spring Is In The Air, sort of

Trevor Coleman (Photo by Dustin Mattison)

Trevor Coleman (Photo by Dustin Mattison)

It might be blissfully cold here in Southeast Missouri but Spring is definitely on the way.  The St. Louis Cardinals are in full swing with workouts in Jupiter while the Division I college baseball season kicks off on Friday.

I got a text message from Ian Ostlund earlier this week with his impression of the first few days of Cardinals camp, “It’s wonderful here….what a classy organization!”  Ostlund has become a personal fave and is one to watch when looking at the southpaws competing for a spot in the Cardinals bullpen.  I had the pleasure of interviewing “Oz” recently at the Birdhouse.

So it took only a couple of days for some controversy to come out of the Cardinals camp.  Seems that Joel Pieneiro has taken exception to being left out of the Puerto Rico rotation.  First off, he is not better than Javier Vazquez, Ian Snell, or Jonathon Sanchez.  Secondly, didn’t he learn from the Adam Kennedy experience that he needs to keep things in-house?

In a couple of weeks, the minor leaguers will be ascending on RDS as the minor league phase of ST will be starting up.  I had a chance to talk shortly with left-hander Jonny Bravo recently and he let me know that he is leaving for Florida on March 9. I really believe he has a chance of starting the 2009 season at the Quad Cities.

Over at the Seamheads Historical League, my All-Time Cardinals team continues to struggle.  It looked like the team was ready to bounce back maybe using Derrick Goold’s recent blog as motivation.  But it was short lived as the team has lost three straight.

It seems to me that the more players that get busted for steroids, the better Mark McGwire looks.  It seems Joe Posnanski at Sports Illustrated feels the same way.  He has an interesting piece on McGwire and that infamous Congressional hearing. 

On the college front, a few of the teams I follow closely will be in action this weekend.

The Missouri Tigers will be in Phoenix to play a round robin tournament with Gonzaga and Nevada. The Tigers are experienced and talented at the top of their rotation with Kyle Gibson, Ian Berger, and Nick Tepesch. Behind the plate, Trevor Coleman is one of the top backstops in the country. Both Gibson and Coleman were named preseason All-Americans by Baseball America. The team is ranked number 10 by BA while ranking at number 20 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll.

The College Baseball Blog ranked Gibson as the fourth best college player in the country in its Top 50.

Vanderbilt will making the trek across country for a 2-game series with Stanford before traveling up the road for another 2-game series with Cal.  Left-hander Mike Minor could continue the trend of a Commodore being picked at the top of the draft.

The Southeast Missouri Redhawks hit the road for a series against the 21st ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Redhawks return most of its offense but appears to be weak on the bump.  JUCO transfer Kyle Gumenley is a southpaw that is hoping to bring consistency to the rotation.

Sikeston native and Blake Dewitt’s cousin, J.R. Bizzell, has started off strong for Rhodes College.  The senior is hitting .400/.457/.467 through his first seven games.

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Dustin Mattison

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Pujols has the Right Picture

imgp02861Earlier this week Albert Pujols interviewed with Joe Strauss and had discussions regarding his contract status that runs through 2011 including the Cardinals club option.

Pujols told Strauss that he is more concerned with winning and wants to see the Cardinals commit to winning every year if he plans to sign another contract with the Cardinals. I think I even heard a hint of willingness to give the Cardinals the “Home Team Discount” they are always looking for.

The thing that really got me worked up about this story was the media attention that it got nationally. I expected all the local media to blow it up and try and turn this story around any which way possible. What I didn’t expect was to turn on MLB Network’s Hot Stove program and see Billy Ripken discussing how Pujols should have kept this behind closed doors with the organization. He stated the Pujols was acting out trying to bully the management into making bigger free agent signings. Harold Reynolds did follow Ripken with the approach that I believe, which is Pujols just wants to win and he doesn’t really care how it’s done, he just wants 9 more rings to put on all his other fingers. Reynolds also said that Pujols is the face of the organization and there is no problem with the him saying what he feels the organization should be doing. I agree that Pujols is the face of the Cardinals and his opinion of the organization counts and should be expressed.

Pujols interviewed for the first time with the ITD Morning After radio show on Team 1380, Tuesday morning and expressed these same feelings. He wants to win and if the Cardinals management wants to rebuild and not dedicate all resources to winning, then he will possibly look at a better situation where he has a better chance to win a championship. It was a really good interview, by a usually grab-ass morning radio show. Part 1 and Part 2 can be heard by linking back to insidestl.com.

I’m glad Pujols came out and stated the comments he did. Why not? The guy has played, arguably, the best baseball in the game over the past nine years and wants to win. The Cardinals need to heed his advice and try and put a winner out there every year. I don’t think Pujols expects the Cards payroll to be $150 million, but I do believe he expects a deal to be made if it makes sense for the organization and I completely agree with him.

Matt Wilson

Photo by Matt Wilson

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Closing Time… a new beginning

Michael Riehn
Whiteyball staff

Chris Perez at the 2009 Winter Warmup

Chris Perez at the 2009 Winter Warmup

With John Mozeliak slamming the door on a possible Jason Isringhausen return, it’s becoming apparent that we will see a new closer to start the season for the Cardinals in 2009.  Last year was not a good one for our relieving corps, as they combined to lead the league in blown saves with 31.  Many people have been critical of the Cardinals offseason efforts and plans for the closer role. 

One camp has been adament that the Cardinals sign the next big free agent, and are severely disappointed that we did not sign Brian Fuentes or Francisco Rodriguez (for a boatload of money and a first round pick).  The second main group thinks we should just roll the dice with our player development.  Chris Perez or Jason Motte should sink or swim, and we should annoit one of them as the closer for 2009 at the start of spring training.  This will show us what we have, and only give confidence to make them better for the years ahead, right?

Of course there is the third camp, which most importantly happens to include Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan.  

“You still want to improve your bullpen,” La Russa said. “The optimum thing is not to ask Chris or Jason to close in ’09. Let them grow into the role when they’re ready to take it.”

I haven’t seen a lot of analysis on the “competition angle” and whether this is the right move.  I believe this deserves scrutiny.  Tony La Russa has gone on record to say that he doesn’t belive the kids are quite ready for the closer role.  He has pushed them through the media and presumably behind the scenes, but will not publicly anoint one as the fireman for this year.  Duncan has made it a full blown competition:

“If no one takes the job by the horns, you could go into the season trying to mix and match,” Duncan said. “That’s not your preference. But it can be done.”

Is it the right method to question the ability and competence of your young relief staff through the media? Will this push Perez to throw strikes under pressure or increase Motte’s ability to develop a secondary pitch? What positive outcome might these comments provide?  Remember, La Russa and Duncan are very smart and experienced men.  This ‘ain’t their first rodeo’ and they don’t make off-handed comments through the media without a purpose.

Jason Motte in Memphis 2008

Jason Motte in Memphis 2008

Contrary to popular belief, La Russa and Duncan might want Perez or Motte to win the job outright.  Cries that they don’t like young players and that they don’t give them a chance are really not accurate.  For every Anthony Reyes and (to a lesser extent) Dan Haren, there is a Bud Smith, Rick Ankiel, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.  They are no dummies, and can see a player’s abilities, probably better than we can.  They aren’t totally adverse to throwing a rookie out to the mound in tight, late game situations (see Wainwright, Adam circa 2006). 

Some coaches/ managers use the media to drive or push players to varying success (it didn’t work with Scott Rolen, but some players fuel on critical comments… look at Michael Jordan or Albert Pujols). While it might not be the way you would do it, pushing a player publicly can work (as long as you are not demeaning them).

Motte and Perez have plenty of stuff (high K rates, successful minor league stats) and deserve a shot to close, but I’ve come up with 10 reasons why La Russa should push them and not anoint one of them as closer just yet:

  1. Pushing a player makes them work harder on conditioning in the offseason (especially someone with weight issues like Perez).  It looks like Tony’s comments on Perez getting in shape has paid off as he has reported to camp leaner
  2. Decreasing expectations (a young player CAN lose confidence in his abilities if pushed into a role he is not ready for)
  3. Push management to add more options.  While the Cardinals did come up empty on a free agent closer.  They made the best offer to Brian Fuentes.  He turned the muggy midwest down to be closer to his home in California, but you can’t say that they didn’t make a competitive offer.  Many people decry that the Cardinals always seem to make the second best offer.  They didn’t in this instance. 
  4. Keep young players grounded and from becoming overconfident and/or cocky
  5. Give a goal for a player to shoot for instead of giving someone a job to lose.  This is important because if you fall just short of your goal you are still pushing upward instead of regressing.
  6. Chris Perez is only 23 years old and Jason Motte is 26.  There is plenty of time for them to take the closer role if they are able to earn it.
  7. Perez does not have a good walk rate (and never has), he had a few issues with the long ball last year with 5 in 41 IP (not terrible, but not where you want it to be).  He may be our best option, but while I have a lot of confidence in his ability, I do not believe he will be a dominant closer this year.  It’s not like LaRussa and Duncan would be holding him back from being one of the best closers in the league.
  8. Perez has toyed with the idea of replacing his secondary pitch (slider) with his third pitch (curve ball) this spring.  This does not instill confidence that he is ready. 
  9. Jason Motte does not have an effective second pitch yet.
  10. Creating less expectations for a fan base is a good thing.  The closer role might be the most mentally strenuous position on the team.  We all saw how fast the fans turned on Izzy, and he had a track record for being great.  Could a young player really handle that?  Remember how tough mentally that Izzy was as a closer.  Do we really think Perez or Motte could handle the extreme negativity when Izzy had trouble with it?  I don’t care how many games Perez saved in the minors or college, the big leagues are different.  Thinking about it, this could be the number one reason to NOT anoint them the closer going into camp, and possibly making it a closer by committee for the year.

Photos courtesy of Dustin Mattison

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Ludwick signed, avoids arbitration.

Ryan Ludwick signed yesterday afternoon, continuing the Cardinals streak of not going to an arbitration hearing with a player since 1999.

The Ludwick deal is around the $3.7 million mark with some extra incentives possible. The Cardinals went over the 1/2 way point between their offer of $2.8 million and Ludwick’s request of $4.25.

This is a good move for the Cardinals. I believe making these moves keeps your players happy and will end up helping you in future contract negotiations.

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Would having Izzy back be all that bad?

I’m starting to hear more and more grumblings that Izzy may end up back with the Cards this year.  I’d say the odds are 50/50.  Dave Duncan said he didn’t think it would happen last week while on air with Bernie, but Joe Strauss has noted it’s possible.  Regardless, one has to ask, would it really be that bad?

He would have to accept a significantly reduced rate (with incentives I’m sure), but a one year deal is smart for both sides.  If he wants to keep pitching, he can build up his market value with a strong year while La Russa and Dunc get the veteran they want to transition Perez or Motte (don’t overlook Kinney) into the closers role.

I have read some concern that his presence might be counter productive, e.g., other players not feeling comfortable with the closers role while he’s on the team out of respect – which he deserves.  But I think if his role is made clear from the get go (assuming he makes the team), then everyone can accept the arrangement that would hopefully allow for another 8 saves or so.

Jason and Lorrie Isringhausen

Jason and Lorrie Isringhausen at the 2004 Winter Warmup

 Personally, I’d also like to see Izzy get to 300 saves while wearing the birds on the bat.  I remember when he first came to town with the 98+ heat and that nasty breaking pitch.  My wife and I were at the second game of the year against Milwaukee and we watched him k the side with an exclamation point.  It’s been a little disheartening to see his struggles of late and the heat he got from the home crowds.  Even more so when I heard Izzy’s wife talk about how it effected their family.  For those of you with kids – you get it.

Bottom line, if he can accept a camp invite and be an effective part of the current BPC (bullpen by committee) and get the young guns some time to develop their off speed pitches, would it really be all that bad?

Around the horn

Funny note about K. Greene from the Chicago Tribune.

“Khalil Greene should be a welcome addition for the Cardinals. . St. Louis shortstops drove in 31 runs last season — two fewer than the RBI total of Cubs pitchers. The Orioles hopped on the Cardinals’ hand-me-down, Cesar Izturis, knowing it will be an upgrade to have a shortstop who can catch the ball, even if he can’t hit. …”

Clark

(Photo courtesy of Webshots.com)

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