Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Cardinals’

James Shields’ run along the free agent road has begun to reach a marathon-like duration at this point. The durable righty sits as the last of the premiere open air options from a winter that is quickly turning towards spring. He has watched the other top shelf pitchers that joined him in this year’s free agent party take home a combined haul of over $360 million over the past few months, while he has remained the question without a clear answer now into February.

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At this point he is all but assured that he will not get that same caliber of contract for himself, but as Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and Ervin Santana have proved in recent years, a late stay on the market does not mean that a worthwhile check and home cannot await still.

But at this point, the favor is in the hands of the teams that get serious in pursuit. Shields has proven that he is not a true staff ace, in form of one that carries the weight of a creating a win every fifth day in the form of a Kershaw, Hernandez or Wainwright. But he still is a very good second option for any number of rotations or being a de facto #1 in a deep rotation, such as he has in Kansas City and Tampa over the course of his career.

The 33-year-old has averaged 14 wins a year with a 3.17 ERA and just a hair over 200 strikeouts per season over the past four years. But his calling card has been his incredible durability. He has made at least 31 starts over the past eight years and has logged an average of 223 innings person, while totaling 22 complete games and nine shutouts along the way. In a world where high-volume pitcher health is a constant source of worry, Shields has proven to be a high-volume exception to that source of worry.

So for whatever the reason may be for Shields still being homeless for the time being, whether it is a refusal on his side to drop his price to an intriguing level for his suitors, or there not being any teams left that want to cut a substantial commitment at this point in the offseason, he remains a potentially pivotal acquisition for many teams.

With the clock counting down on the offseason, here are a few intriguing options that should look into Shields working out a pact to acquire one of the game’s top workhorses for the immediate future.

Boston Red Sox: Boston has been aggressive this offseason, making nine acquisitions over the winter to pull themselves out of the cellar of the American League East. Three of those additions have been Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to their starting rotation, which is a substantial commitment to a win-now team’s shot at getting back to October, but still feels a bit short. Shields is the type of top half of the rotation presence that would pull up the potential of their current ensemble significantly and affirm their buzzing status as a fifth-to-first candidate team.

Chicago Cubs: They are the team that is carrying the most expectations out of the offseason into the spring, and while they have done exceptional work, signing Shields would be resoundingly loud finish to their shopping spree. A Lester-Shields one-two punch gives them one of the most formidable rotation in the National League and an invaluable weapon against the deep NL Central lineups.

Chicago White Sox: The Sox have been just as active as their National League neighbors to the North, but in many ways, their moves could have a more immediate impact in the weaker AL Central. Adding Shields to a rotation with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardijiza and Jose Quintana pushes them from players to perhaps favorites in their division.

New York Yankees: Anytime the Yankees say they are going to sit out the big name market in any given year, it is immediately disregarded as posturing simply because, well, they are the Yankees. They can have anything they want. But Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner have been men of their frugal (by Yankee standards) word this year thus far, passing on more than a few high dollar, solid fit free agents. But if Shields price and contract length demands drop, he becomes nothing short of a must-have for a Yankee team that is short on dependable options in its starting rotation, but carrying its usual high expectations.

San Diego Padres: The Padres have been rumored to be in on checking on Shields, which is not surprising considering they have been the hungriest team in the league all winter. But despite having a very talented pitching staff as is, they still lack a pure top talent that can match wits with the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner, both of whom their tightest division rivals wield. An addition of Shields would solve a big problem, although it could present a problem in bidding for the cost conscious Pads if Shields is still in position to demand $16MM+ per year.

Seattle Mariners: The M’s have been aggressive in the open market over the past two years, and it paid off last year with them pushing for a postseason spot until the season’s final day. While they have a strong pitching staff already in tow, adding Shields gives them a clear cut powerhouse staff. Plus they would not have to surrender a first round pick as compensation, as they have already sent that to Baltimore for

St. Louis Cardinals: They have been a part of everybody’s dot connecting with big name starting pitching this year, due to the fact that they have a competition in place for the fifth starter role. Naturally Shields has been a part of that association as well, and while there is an intriguing mix of need and fit in the mending Cardinal rotation, the team has not shown much interest in involving itself in the big money free agent market.

Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has made some smart moves in attempting to close the elusive postseason they have been aimed on for the past two years. However their pitching staff overall leaves much to be imagined in making that a reality. The addition of Shields to anchor the staff perhaps overplays his potential impact as a top of the rotation presence, but he adds a much need talent to a team that is still a few pieces away.

 

For more on the MLB race to spring training in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @cheapseatfan.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Arizona Diamondbacks

The full glory that is Opening Day is here again, and with such beginnings, an expectation towards the end is already in play. Over the past two weeks, I have produced division-by-division previews from the ceiling to the floor of each team and how I feel about their chances for this summer. All manners of things can happen in-between now and the 161 games that follow from today onwards, from injury to simply over-achievement made good on (see the reigning World Series champs), and getting a grasp on exact where it all will play out is more often than not an exercise in calculated futility.

However, it’s the fun type of futility that everybody is invested in this time of the year, because for the most part, hopes spring rightfully eternal as the season opens up. With advent of the extra Wild Card spot and play-in game, more teams than ever have finished in range of the postseason—and not at the expense of quality of competition. The average win total of the two teams that have emerged from the Wild Card game in its first two years of existence as been 91 wins; a clear indicator of worth level of championship level competition. And while one as yet to reach the World Series, that day is coming—and it could be nigh.

Here is my best take on how the MLB season to come could play out, including a few bonus Award favorites in each league as well—and a few other random tidbits to come.

 

The Postseason

NL Wild Card Game—Pittsburgh Pirates vs. San Francisco Giants

Landing a Wild Card spot will tough in the NL this year, but I like what the Giants have done to address their lineup deficiencies and their starting staff is deep and experienced as well. The Pirates on the other hand could have the type of the team that puts up a win total that could win some divisions, but falls short within their own. Winner: Pirates

AL Wild Card Game—Tampa Bay Rays vs. Kansas City Royals

In what could be an intriguing matchup of two teams playing at the peak of their competitive window, both clubs are poised to take the long way to capitalizing on it. The Rays should reach their second straight Wild Card contest, while the Royals are within a stones toss of their first postseason in nearly 30 years. Winner: Rays

 

Division Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

A rematch of what is sure to be a year-long power struggle, as well as a repeat of the best divisional series match up of a year ago, the Caridinals will face another tight challenge to start the postseason. In the end, the Cardinals growing experience with their young arms (as well as an active Shelby Miller this time around) pulls them ahead again in the matchup. Winner: Cardinals

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

This is a tight showcase of two teams that are fairly evenly matched. Both have great staffs and lineups that are as stacked as NL 8-man order can be. But the presence of Kershaw twice in a series is tough to bet against, I won’t today either. Winner: Dodgers

Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Look familiar? This dance was had last fall when the Rays headed to Boston as the freshly rewarded Wild Card winners. They stand to be an improved club this year with more experience for their young staff. The Sox have the experience, but I see the edge for the Rays this time around. Winner: Rays

Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland A’s

Can the third time be the charm for Oakland? Each of their previous two seasons have ended at the hands of the Tigers, and more specifically, at the hands of fantastic efforts from Justin Verlander. The third time does not seem to be much more of a charm either, and the Tigers are in line to reach a third consecutive ALCS. Winner: Tigers

 

League Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

A repeat in the NLCS is ahead of us, only this time the home field advantage swings to the Dodgers way. The Cardinals have made a routine of making it to this point, while the Dodgers are beginning to hit their peak. If they are both at full strength, this could have the intensity of a World Series contest, but in the end, the Cardinals seem to have an edge in the pitching depth department that can swing in their favor. Winner: Cardinals

Detroit Tigers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

A couple of Verlander/Price matchups in the ALCS could be worth the price of admission, but it’s the depth of a rotation that can tell the story here. The Rays are the better team in regards to lineup depth and impact, but the Tigers front end pitching is more impressive. In a series that will be defined by depth and bullpen potency, the Rays make the leap over the Tigers and reach their second World Series in franchise history. Winner: Rays

 

WORLD SERIES

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Two very similar teams would face off here: balanced lineups that deploy a variety of approaches and a complete pitching staff, headlined by one of the game’s best pitchers. Matchups of this type usually come down to the moment and experience in it making the difference, and in that department, the Cardinals are unmatched in recent years and it will be the deciding factor in 12th World Series title. Winner: Cardinals

 

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Detroit Tigers

As a capper to this preview exercise, a few award picks as well:

NL Most Valuable Player

1. Freddie Freeman—Braves

2. Yadier Molina—Cardinals

3. Ryan Braun—Brewers

4. Andrew McCutchen—Pirates

5. Paul Goldschmidt—Diamondbacks

AL Most Valuable Player

1. Mike Trout—Angels

2. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers

3. Evan Longoria—Rays

4. Adrian Beltre—Rangers

5. Robinson Cano—Mariners

NL Cy Young Award

1. Clayton Kershaw—Dodgers

2. Stephen Strasburg—Nationals

3. Adam Wainwright—Cardinals

4. Madison Bumgarner—Giants

5. Cliff Lee—Phillies

AL Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander—Tigers

2. David Price—Rays

3. Felix Hernandez—Mariners

4. Jered Weaver—Angels

5. Chris Sale—White Sox

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Billy Hamilton—Reds

2. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

3. Gregory Polanco—Pirates

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Xander Bogearts—Red Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Taijuan Walker—Mariners

NL Comeback Player of the Year

1. Starlin Castro—Cubs

2. Johnny Cuerto—Reds

3. Matt Kemp—Dodgers

AL Comeback Player of the Year

1. Albert Pujols—Angels

2. Grady Sizemore—Red Sox

3. Michael Pineda—Yankees

 

Well, that’s about it and that’s about as much ground as I can ground as I can fly without my crystal ball. For the on the run Opening Day info, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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It is debatable if the NL Central was baseball’s best division a year ago, but what is not is that it had the toughest road to its title a year ago. Between the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds, the division had three legitimate title holders throughout the year, and in the end sent all three clubs to the postseason, with St. Louis finishing with the league’s best record and Pittsburgh and the Reds facing off in the National League Wild Card Game. It was only fitting that the Cardinals and Pirates had one final showdown, and it was a Division Series showdown that went the full five games and took a two game rally from the Cardinals to pull it off.

2013 Finish

  1.        St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
  2.        Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)
  3.        Cincinnati Reds (90-72)
  4.        Milwaukee Brewers (74-88)
  5.        Chicago Cubs (66-96)

Fast forward a year later and the Central looks to be even stronger headed into the spring. The league’s most improved team a year ago, Pittsburgh looks to continue to develop and push their fortunes further. With the league’s MVP in Andrew McCutchen leading the way and a team synched around him, it is more than likely to continue trending up. The Reds are looking to be at full strength more often than they were a year ago, and return to the form that made them division champions just two years ago. St. Louis has reached the last three National League Championship Series and two out of the last three World Series, and yet somehow still managed to improve this winter. After a year marred by injuries and the loss of their top star Ryan Braun to a performance enhancing drug suspension, the Brewers look back to full strength, if not slightly improved. The Cubs are a distance away from their division mates, but are continuing a slow burn along their most recent rebuilding effort, and feature a roster slated to show plenty of increasing levels of young talent throughout the year.

In a division that has regularly been a gauntlet to survive, but has still produced multiple postseason clubs in each of the past three seasons. Will the Cardinals continue to ride their run atop the National League, or will they be clipped before they even make it out of their home division?

All-Division Lineup

1. Matt Carpenter—Cardinals, Third Base

2. Joey Votto—Reds, First Base

3. Andrew McCutchen—Pirates, Center Field

4. Ryan Braun—Brewers, Right Field

5. Matt Holliday—Cardinals, Left Field

6. Yadier Molina—Cardinals, Catcher

7. Brandon Phillips—Reds, Second Base

8. Jean Segura—Brewers, Shortstop

 

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright—Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Francisco Liriano—Pirates

Starting Pitcher: Shelby Miller—Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Homer Bailey—Reds

Right Handed Reliever: Marc Melancon—Pirates

Lefty Handed Reliever: Justin Wilson—Pirates

Closer: Aroldis Chapman—Reds

 

If Gomez, who led the NL in Wins Above Replacement a year ago (9.3), produces a similar 2014, it will assure the Brewers of an elite offense.

If Gomez, who led the NL in Wins Above Replacement a year ago (9.3), produces a similar 2014, it will assure the Brewers of an elite offense.

Lineup

1. Cardinals

2. Brewers

3. Pirates

4. Reds

5. Cubs

With the addition of Jhonny Peralta, STL has five reigning or former All-Stars in their everyday lineup, and the Cardinals can score runs at any point in their attack. Not far behind them are the diverse and timely Pirates, who have an attack similar to the Cardinal clubs of a generation ago: speed in bunches, based around a hammer in Pedro Alvarez. However, the Brewers could be back at their 2011-12 levels of elite run production if their rising stars from last year continue to trend up, and Braun and Aramis Ramirez can stay on the field.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Cardinals

2. Brewers

3. Reds

4. Pirates

5. Cubs

While they have no high level power hitter, the middle of the Cardinal lineup in Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina are all relentless, and timely, line drive hitters. The trio combined to hit .405 with runners in scoring position, with Craig leading the way at .454. The Reds have a potent duo in Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, which could reach even higher levels with returns to form of Ryan Ludwick or Todd Frazier.

Table Setters

1. Reds

2. Cardinals

3. Brewers

4. Pirates

5. Cubs

The Reds could have a duo that approach 100 runs scored each in Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips, who will return back to the second slot in the order. Matt Carpenter led the NL in hits with 199 last year, while Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura both topped 30 steals a year ago in Milwaukee. Starling Marte is bordering on All-Star level in Pittsburgh, stealing 41 bases and working in 10 triples as well.

Depth

1. Cardinals

2. Pirates

3. Cubs

4. Reds

5. Brewers

With Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Matt Adams, Mark Ellis and Matt Adams all rotating in-between roles in the Cardinal lineup, the team’s biggest improvement is its depth. Each could play a regular role at will, and the team will employ all of its working parts regularly. Clint Barmes and Travis Snider are all solid former regulars in Pittsburgh, while the Cubs actually have a really versatile roster, brought on by having a lot of players at the same level, but some solid versatility in Ryan Roberts, Emilio Bonafacio, Justin Ruggiano, Luis Valbuena and former Gold Glover Darwin Barney.

The Reds gave Bailey $100 million headed into the spring as a reward for his steadily improving performance, which included career-bests in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched a year ago.

The Reds gave Bailey $100 million headed into the spring as a reward for his steadily improving performance, which included career-bests in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched a year ago.

Rotation

1. Cardinals

2. Pirates

3. Brewers

4. Reds

5. Cubs

Adam Wainwright is an automatic matchup advantage in nearly every instance, but he is backed by a high talent, and regularly maturing rotation that performs far beyond its 24-year-old average age. The Pirates have a strong mixture of veteran experience and emerging youth, while the Brewers bolstered their rotation in an impressively patient fashion yet again, by adding Matt Garza to Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and the emergent Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta. Cincinnati has a chance to have a very, very good rotation as well IF Mat Latos and Johnny Cuerto can both stay healthy.

1-2 Punch

1. Cardinals

2. Reds

3. Brewers

4. Pirates

5. Cubs

Wainwright and Wacha stand to be the new Carpenter and Wainwright, with Wacha having the talent to push Waino’s hold as the Cardinals top arm the same way a young Wainwright did to the incumbent regular Cy Young competitor in town when he joined the Cardinal staff full time a half decade ago. Homer Bailey is one of the game’s regularly bettering arms, while Yovani Gallardo has four 200 strikeout years under his belt as well.

Bullpen

1. Cardinals

2. Pirates

3. Reds

4. Cubs

5. Brewers

Trevor Rosenthal became a force of nature last October, proving move than ready to move into the ninth inning for a full season this year. When coupled with a nearly equally impressive Carlos Martinez and the looming return of Jason Motte as well, and the Cardinals could have final call in the 6th inning. Not far behind however is a Pirates pen featuring two All-Stars in Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, and that is setup by Tony Watson and Justin Walker. The uncertainty around the availability of Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall clouds the potential of the Reds pen, while the Cubs have put together a grouping Jose Veras, Wesley Wright and James Russell, albeit if none is a clear cut closer option.

 

McCutchen's all-around effort is what led him to the the NL MVP a year ago. The one-time Gold Glove winner is as much the glue in the field as he is at the plate,

McCutchen’s all-around effort is what led him to the the NL MVP a year ago. The one-time Gold Glove winner is as much the glue in the field as he is at the plate,

Defense

1. Reds

2. Pirates

3. Cardinals

4. Brewers

5. Cubs

The Reds can get to anything that’s hit even remotely close to their way, with plus defenders in Phillips, Bruce and Votto, as well as underrated performers in Frazier and Zack Cozart. All of that team speed does well in Pittsburgh, with Andrew McCutchen, Barmes and Marte all being fantastic defenders, and Russell Martin being one of the best field generals in the game. Speaking of which, Molina makes the biggest singular defensive difference in the game—as his six straight Gold Gloves attest to.

Manager

1. Pirates

2. Cardinals

3. Brewers

4. Reds

5. Cubs

Clint Hurdle went from nearly taking the fall for the Pirates 2012 slide to being rightfully honored as the NL Manager of the Year for the outstanding work he did in keeping the Pirates on track to end their 20+ year losing season curse. Nick Price and Rick Renteria will take over a clubhouse for the first time in Cincinnati and Chicago, while Mike Matheny looks to reach the NLCS for the third time in his third season.

Finances

1. Cubs

2. Cardinals

3. Reds

4. Brewers

5. Pirates

The Cubs are sleeping giants in the Central as they have unparalleled buying power in the division, and whenever they are ready, could pull themselves back into the race quicker than any other team. Outside of them, every other club is either at or close to their spending potential already.

Impact Additions

1. Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals via free agency)

2. Matt Garza (Brewers via free agency)

3. Peter Bourjos (Cardinals via trade)

4. Jose Veras (Cubs via free agency)

5. Mark Ellis (Cardinals via free agency)

Plenty of waves were made by the contract the Cardinals handed to Peralta coming off of his PED suspension, but his offensive capabilities could make him the quintessential “final piece” move. The Brewers made another patient free agent add to strengthen their empty rotation in their surprising grab of Garza late in the winter as well.

Leap Forward

1. Michael Wacha—Cardinals

2. Garrit Cole—Pirates

3. Trevor Rosenthal—Cardinals

4. Khris Davis—Brewers

5. Junior Lake—Cubs

There is an abundance of young potential that is driving each club in the division, and on the mound is where it is most prevalent. Wacha’s star took off like a rocket with his regular flirtation with no-hitters (resulting in a 1.76 September/October ERA) late in the year. He was MVP of the NLCS after yielding only seven hits and no runs over his two starts. No far behind him is Cole, who pitched much better than his 10-7 record would lead to believe in his 19 starts last year. He should become the Pirates unquestioned ace by the end of the summer.

Cubs top prospect Baez took camp by storm this year, hitting five home runs and impressing to the point that star shortstop Starlin Castro said he would move positions to make room for him if needed.

Cubs top prospect Baez took camp by storm this year, hitting five home runs and impressing to the point that star shortstop Starlin Castro said he would move positions to make room for him if needed.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Billy Hamilton—Reds

2. Oscar Taveras—Cardinals

3. Kolten Wong—Cardinals

4. Javier Baez—Cubs

5. Kris Bryant—Cubs

Hamilton has a chance to be the sensation of the summer and make a real push for seeing 70 stolen bases and 100 runs, with relative ease. The questions about his ability to hit every day seems more hopeful than realistic, as he hit .368 in his brief stint up last year and followed with a .294 clip in over 50 spring at-bats. The Rookie of the Year should be here in the central. Bryant and Baez could both push for that honor as well, as the Chicago youth movement takes some serious steps throughout the summer.

PREDICTIONS

1. St. Louis Cardinals

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

3. Miwaukee Brewers

4. Cincinnati Reds

5. Chicago Cubs

Consistency is tough to imagine here, because it is a tough division. In all reality, any of the top four clubs could compete in any division and have a legit chance at still pushing for the playoffs. However, there are only six playoff spots and at the most, only three can come from these four clubs. And while postseason talent is here, there will be a lot of beating up on each other that will work in the favor of clubs in the East and West wild card hopes. Because like last summer, this one will come down to the end of September in the Central as well, but unlike last time, it will be a fatal four-way, not just a triple threat.

The Cubs will be holding up the wall once again; forced to be content to continue their process of rebuilding well outside of the hope of any surprise progress in the wins column. Of the competitors, the Reds are the most volatile. While they have a strong lineup, their pitching staff is in disarray, and it could take well into the season to see their entire club together, which is a tough shake for their rookie manager. Milwaukee has a potent offense that should be among the league’s most productive and an impressive starting rotation, but they have a thin bullpen and will need the most to work in their favor to max out their potential. The Pirates stand to continue to mature and grow from their experience last year, a run for a division win would not be in the least bit surprising.

However, there is something special about this Cardinal team it seems. It has the perfect marriage of mid-prime veterans, high-talent and maturity youth and depth in both pitching and offense. Most importantly, it has experience and the hunger for more based off two straight near misses in October. They have something to prove, and the talent to prove it with. That’s why the Cardinals will win another Central, but be joined by (at least) the Pirates in the postseason again—a rematch that may not be in their best interest to find.

 

Come back soon for the complete predictions, including a World Series look-ahead that is sure to be wrong (because its March) next week. And for real-time commentary, follow me now on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

David_Freese

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Angels pulled off one of the more intriguing deals of the offseason on Friday afternoon, with the Cardinals sending third baseman David Freese and pitchers Fernando Salas to LA in return for outfielders Peter Bourjos and minor league outfielder Randal Grichuk. For both teams, the deal represented a pursuit to fill in positions in need of upgrade, yet both solutions come at the hope of an upside swing of two different varieties.

On the Angels End: Anaheim has long been in need of a steady answer at third base, as they have been chasing a solution at the position since Chone Figgins departed a few years back. Alberto Callaspo had manned the role over the past few seasons, but he was more of an over-extended utility man than anything else. In Freese, they make a move for a player who carries a career .286 average and never has a season with an on-base percentage south of .340, and is just a year removed from a .293/.372/.467 2012 split, all numbers that surpassed Callaspo’s best campaign substantially.

However, Freese comes with some risk, as he’s never completed a season without at least one disabled list stint. Also, he showed major regression in 2013, as he steadily struggled with the strike zone, in addition to limited range in the field. He is an absolute upgrade from a situation that was looking to be filled by Andrew Romine or Chris Nelson as of yesterday, and saw little to no full-time solutions on the free agent market. Freese is an immediate plug and play upgrade, whom can take some time at designated hitter.

Salas has a diverse history in the bullpen, manning nearly every role in the Cardinal bullpen over the past four years, but is likely to have to compete for a role in the LA pen in the spring.

On the Cardinals End: It is a deal that represented an opportunity to get a piece that was not an absolute necessity, but too good to pass on in Bourjos. A 27-year-old, low cost outfielder that covers as much ground as any player in baseball in the outfield, he is an absolute upgrade in the Cardinal outfield that has suffered from limited range for the majority of the past two years. Bourjos also presents a speed element that has been non-existent in the station-to-station Cardinal lineup for some time as well.

As well, the team the team acquired one of the Angels’ top prospects (in an organization devoid of much talent beneath the Majors) in Grichuk. He is projected to be a strong candidate for development and should remain in the Top 10 prospects within the substantially deeper Cardinal system.

The move creates even further financial freedom for the Cardinals, as Freese was due for a raise in the neighborhood of $4.4 million for his second time through arbitration this winter. Salas was a candidate to be non-tendered this offseason by St. Louis, so including him in the deal was likely a throw in. The Cardinals get a crucial extra year of club control in Bourjos, who is not scheduled to hit free agency until after the 2016 season and makes just over $1 million currently.

Bourjos creates a multitude of options in how the Cardinals will handle their 2013 roster.

Bourjos creates a multitude of options in how the Cardinals will handle their 2013 roster, as he has played every outfield position, and enables Jon Jay and Oscar Taveras more flexibility.

The Dominos: The aftermath of the deal is in an instant fill in for the Angels, but also the loss of a player that projected to be their top offseason trade chip in Bourjos. While Freese fills a need, the Angels greatest problem is their lack of starting pitching depth. No player on their team created more interest than the young, cost-controlled Bourjos, and by not getting a starting pitcher in return for him, they likely will be forced to spend (over overspend) even more in the free agent market to remedy this issue.

The theme of the trade continues to revolve around starting pitching for the Cardinals as well, who manage to avoid having to include anyone from their stockpile of quality starting pitching within the deal. That likely would have been a non-starter within the deal, unless shortstop Erick Aybar was included as well, which was discussed but could not be settled upon.

Also of importance for the Cardinals, is the trade cleared up the pending infield time jam between Freese, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong. Carpenter can now return to third base, while Wong can inherit the second base job freely.

The Winner:  It was a swap of expendable players for both sides, and ones with similarly questionable health histories as well as potential to have much greater seasons than they are coming off. But in the end the Cardinals win out as much for getting the plus tooled Bourjos as the Angels lose in trading him for a return less than he could have netted.

For more on the Cardinals evolving offseason in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more Cardinal coverage, head to I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal for the game, the culture and the events.

matt-carpenter-

Every season, there is a player that blows up on the scene out of seemingly nowhere. And while the focus hits the rookie class of the year, there is always a class of players that takes the step up from “good” contributor to game changer, seemingly out of nowhere.

Here at the end of the year, most of these names have become regulars on the highlight reels and Fantasy leaderboards, but before awards season pulls some permanently to the mention among the league’s elite, here my take on those that made the farthest leap forward in the year that was.

9. Edward Mujica: While he curbed down badly at the end of the season, the fact that he was able to save the Cardinals rapidly defaulting bullpen early in the season was impressive and a huge reason the club rebounded into the race early in the first half. He finished with 37 saves in his first year anchoring the ninth inning in his career and made his first All-Star team.

8. Chris Johnson: He went from a throw in portion of the deal that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta, to the most consistent part of the deal in Atlanta. Johnson hit a career-best .321, good for second in the NL this year and added some fire to the team that could have easily gotten detached from the race while running away and hiding in their dominant NL East Championship run.

7. Justin Masterson: The up and down Masterson reached a new peak for the Tribe in their heist of the AL Wild Card upper-hand. His mastery of his sinker/fastball saw him run up 14 wins and a career-best 195 strikeouts, and more importantly, become a legit number one arm for a team in need of one.

6.  Andrelton Simmons: A sneaky WAR impacter, the Braves young shortstop stepped into his own last year, and became a force in the field. He had the large range factor (4.92) and his defensive WAR was an absurd 5.4, which breaks out to 3.2 more games saved with his glove than any other shortstop in baseball. Add in his 17 home runs and 59 RBI, all things considered, he changed 12.1 games in the Braves favor.

5.  Josh Donaldson: The A’s third baseman is the perfect presence for the perennially underrated A’s. Donaldson flew beneath the radar all year, and didn’t even get an All-Star nod, but went on to hit .301, drove in 93 and doubled 37 times in route to becoming the leader in A’s run to defend their AL West title.

4.  Matt Harvey: His 7-2, 2.35 ERA and 147 strikeout first half earned him an All-Star start in his first full season as pro. And while a torn UCL in his elbow ended his second half early and will keep him out until 2015, this year was a revelation on what could be: a top shelf arm of the highest degree.

3. Matt Carpenter: The Cardinals biggest catalyst went from utility man trying his hand at a new position, to becoming an All-Star second baseman that would go on to lead the National League in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55). And to cap off his transition story, he also led the NL in double plays turned as well.

2. Paul Goldschmidt: The next step in the career of Goldschmidt found him tied atop the National League in home runs (36) and sole leader in RBI (125). However, the third year first baseman was far from just a power conduit, as he hit .302 and stole over 15 bases for the second consecutive year. Add in leading the NL in slugging percentage, on-base + slugging percentage and total bases, and he’s on par to remain an overall force for years.

1. Chris Davis: How can it not be him? Davis did not exactly come out of nowhere; he hit 33 home runs and drove in 85 RBI in 2012, and had two other previous seasons of topping 17 long balls. But he broke out in rare air this year, topping the Majors with 55 homers this summer, becoming the first player since Jose Bautista in 2010 to do so. He also led the MLB in RBI, with 138 and ran direct interference with what was a very solid effort at a repeat Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera.

What’s even more is how he did it. He had 37 first half home runs, and was on pace to run past 60 for over half of the year, and before hand and wrist injuries slowed his pace in August, he was creating a true debate about if he had the chance to be the “real” (read as non-Bonds) home run king.

 

For more on the postseason as it unravels and all other sorts of great things, such as what I’m thinking about eating for breakfast right now, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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What began on the morning of September 11th, 2001 just a few hours ago in New York City as never stopped resonating. The attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center was jolt into the daily lives of Americans that ushered in political actions that still have dominoes that are lined up to this day.

Yet how it changed the psyche of the nation was, and is, the most enduring impact of that morning’s events. Nobody knew what to make it; families stayed home, schools and places of employment remained closed and grocery stores were bombarded as supplies were hoarded for what seen as potentially only the first of what would be many attacks on the nation.

But fear being the mind-killer that it is was ultimately pushed back. The decision to stop cowering and reclaim the American way of life shortly became the way that the people of country, who were largely unequipped to do anything else, aided in the fight back. Terrorism had risen, but the people had stood up to meet it eye-to-eye. To regain the upperhand, the best possible thing that could be done, was to do what we always had. And baseball remained, as it always had, at the heart of the American course of life.

It was was in this light that Jack Buck took to the microphone at Busch Stadium on September 17, 2001, the first night that Major League Baseball reconvened after the attacks a week before. Despite being on the downside of his fight with lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease, the Baseball Hall of Famer and long-time voice of American broadcasting went to one of his lesser known abilities to draw people together with the classic and comforting sound of his voice at a time when comforts were few and far between: poetry.

In one of his final public appearances, Buck delivered “For America”, and in a way that only a the combination that a veteran of the second World War, a narrator of history as it unfolded for over 50 years and personal class of the caliber he had could, Buck brought not only Busch Stadium, but the American people together. Here, 12 years to the day of the events that inspired his call to arms, here is Buck’s live rendition of his memorable words.

For more on the game, the culture and the life of sports (and maybe even a bit of what I had for lunch), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

I’d guess since that first piece back on Tumblr in 2010, I’ve written about 900 or so articles, maybe more. But I notice that next post number up for me was a nice round, #400, I wanted to take a chance to look back, because I so rarely do (or am sentimental enough to bother with it).

I started writing because I never really stopped.

For as long as I can remember, I have found ways to maximize my experiences with sports. From creating franchise modes on Madden was will back on Sega and didn’t even know how to yet themselves, all the way up to ranking the best ballplayers on my block growing up (an exercise that started a healthy amount of fights back in the summer on of ’97), I have always had the urge to expand on my love of sport.

But I really got into it when I simply was not into anything else. I didn’t go to Journalism School in college because I wanted to keep my enjoyment of sports “pure”. I was a lead sports writer for my High School newspaper, and did well with it my junior and senior years, but I never looked at it as the future. I was against taking my first love and hobby, and tarnish it by making it my work. Consequently, I never found anything else that impacted me in the slightest. I enjoyed college, took plenty of courses that interested me, but none that ever moved me in the way that a passion would. Not so ironically, I hadn’t a clue as to what I truly wanted to do when college ended. Get a “job” I supposed. So, after I got said “job”, it should be no surprise that I quickly returned back to my passion, initially in my free time, but then also in-between (and probably during) my work as well. Just to distract myself from the monotony of what the morbidly repetitive job that was based on “squeezing blood from a turnip”.

I started this up because I was tired of doing everything else. I’d started online writing in 2009 casually. Despite not being a part of the J-School at Mizzou, I’d taken a writing intensive course schedule in route to my Sociology degree and because it was far easier for me to take a page to explain my answer than filling in a bubble on Scantron. I had a conversation with a friend in the middle of one of the now millions of offhand conversations I’ve had about some sports topic, and in the practiced way that only one of your closest friends can do he said, on no uncertain terms, that I was “really wasting myself by not taking sports more seriously”. The writing I’d done to that point was just an offshoot on ideas about whatever I’d been thinking about at the time. Another friend of mine, who is now a screenwriter and producer, told me that I needed to go after what I’m passionate about, because writing with a goal that you have an expertise in will come off much better.

I had to back up and think about what that meant, and what it didn’t. It basically was a push to follow my passion, which I wasn’t so sure that I even had at the time. So I brought together the writing and years of sports that I had at the time since then, and decided to start up a blog. My first blog was a simple one on Blogger, and I just published my notes on the 2010 NFL Draft. It went well enough, the few people that read it liked it, and then I followed up with some MLB All-Star Game picks, which got even better reviews.

I started Cheap.Seats.Please and wrote my first post here on May 10 of 2010, on the plight of JaMarcus Russell. And for the next year or so, I poured my efforts into this. I quit bleeding out of turnips business on May 30 and became a “blogger”. And for the next year, that’s what I did. I wrote and researched daily everything I could to make up for the time I did not spend learning in college and how to get exposure. Along the way, I began to meet actual writers along the way, how to get into the door with editors and how to use social media as a free and regular advertisement. I have combined these factors, and continued to work at them ceaselessly.

Now, just a bit after three years into it, I’ve continued to be encouraged by the progress that has been created. Midway through 2011, I was offered a regional site to write St. Louis sports news, which made me learn more about beat writing over commentary. Shortly after that, I was extended an opportunity to write as a contributor on a national online magazine, which gave me my first experience for writing for an editor in nearly 10 years. Then a longtime goal of contributing to my fraternity’s quarterly publication found me when a mentor of mine returned to the magazine as editor. Shortly thereafter, I was bumped up to lead writer and editor for the sports section of magazine, an experience which first introduced me to interviewing and transcribing conversations, as well as story profiling.

I took the long way to learning the craft, but while the majority of my work is still directly online, I have crossed the bridge for blogger to writer, and now it is all about continuing to take it to new levels. In the last year, I’ve found some amazing platforms to continue to be challenged and showcase my work. The Sports Fan Journal has been a great experience, with an amazing staff of similar types of writers to me. I70 Baseball is a great chance to analyze what I know best: the St. Louis Cardinals and the baseball culture within the city.

The best thing I’ve learned to do is to take advice as well as inspiration. If you can keep both of those, and have your own solid levels of knowledge via work ethic, humility and patience, anything can be done. Along the way, many people have provided these elements, from numerous family and friends, to the guidance of Jonathan Hicks, Maurice Drummond, Michael Tillery, Chris Broussard, Kali Wilder, Jamilah Lemieux, Derrick Goold, and Bryan Burwell. To the peer pushes form Eddie Maisonet, Kenny Masenda, Mark Trible, Justin Tinsley, Dillon Friday, Joe Vozelli, Tara Wellman and Joe Boland. To the exposure opportunities from Daniel Shoptaw, Bill Ivie, Lindsay Weber, Jason Clinkscales, EJ Christian, Jason Lamontogue and Dan Danese. I’ve had a lot of help getting here, and I’m only in the starting blocks still.

I look back at as an offshoot of what do now time to time, to remind me to not take myself so serious, because at the end of it, I really love what I’m starting to do. I’m far from rich, but man do I enjoy what I do. I’ve been humbled before by being asked for advice on writing, blogging and how to pursue it. I’ll never say any more than what I know, and that’s to engulf yourself in what you love for and the results will show.

Whether I end up at the top of some great publication I can’t even estimate now, on radio network doing what I have done here 400 times now over the air, become an author or professor, or if I simply just do this for years on top of years, I’d guess I’ll never stop, because what’s life without passion? After a little while of denying mine, I’ve finally set out after it, and I wouldn’t have life any other way.

For the regular course of biz, ball and life, follow me on Twitter @CheapSeatFan