Posts Tagged ‘Yadier Molina’

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Spring Training is coming around again, and thus means that all is preparing to be well in the world. The best of the best in the game are dusting off the tools of their trade and preparing to get back to business around the diamonds of Major League Baseball.

And in what has become an annual tradition here in the CHEAP SEATS, it is prime time to take stock of the best of the best in the game today at each of those roles around the field. Over the next month, the top 10 players at each position in the game will be pitted against each other and ranked to determine who the best is today.

Where else better than to start such a countdown than at the nucleus of any baseball team: with the catcher? In recent years, there has been an ebb and flow at the top of the catching mountain between the defensive mastery of Yadier Molina and the comprehensiveness of Buster Posey. While a few others have jockeyed for position, they have proven to be an air-tight duo.

 

10. Stephen Vogt, Athletics (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .261/.341/.443, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 21 doubles; 32% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .265/.327/.432, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 12 doubles

It was a tale of two halves for Vogt during his breakout 2015 year. After swinging his way into an All-Star birth during a first half that saw him post 14 home runs and a .287 average, Vogt plummeted in the second half. Perhaps it was the wear and tear of playing a full slate of games behind the plate for the first time, but his numbers dipped to a .217/.280/.349 split in 51 post-ASG games and he managed only four home runs and 15 RBI in that run.

Vogt’s first half showed what he is capable of at full capacity, but it remains to be seen if he is built for the life of a dual-threat catcher.

 

9. Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .234/.353/.403, 16 HR, 47 RBI, 12 doubles; 29% caught stealing, 3.34 CERA

Last Three Years: .228/.341/.395, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 13 doubles

Grandal splits some time with A.J. Ellis still behind the plate, but he is the vastly superior offensive option between the two and should see more and more time as he continues to mature as a backstop. Grandal at age 27 has battled some health issues in the past, including a shoulder injury that slowed his second half in 2015. But in being liberation of Petco Park, he predictably produced his strongest offensive year during his first full year away from it.

His eye at the plate improved last season (an increase in walks combined with a steep decline in strikeouts), which produced a career-best .353 on-base percentage. He profiles to produce plus power from behind the plate, although his switch hitting future is likely as a first baseman.

 

8.Francisco Cervelli, Pirates (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .295/.370/.401, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 17 doubles; 22% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .294/.370/.401, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 10 doubles

Cervelli followed in the footsteps of Russell Martin in becoming a former Yankee catcher who made the most of a full-time opportunity in Pittsburgh. In his first season as a frontline backstop, Cervelli proved that he could maintain his career trend of producing high on-base and extra base hit totals in a full-time role as well.

Of NL catchers that qualified for the batting title, Cervelli’s .370 on-base percentage was second behind only Buster Posey –and by a slim .009 margin. He also added in an eye-raising total of five triples, which shows a rare athleticism for the position as well. Cervelli profiles to continue to rise further and further up the power ranks of MLB catchers in the immediate sense.

 

7.Derek Norris, Padres (#10 in ’15)

2015: .250/.305/.404, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 33 doubles; 34% caught stealing

Last Three Years: .256/.333/.405, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 23 doubles

While he did not make a return to the All-Star Game again in 2015, Norris still produced a strong season amid his transition to the National League. He set career-highs in games played (147), hits (129), runs (65), home runs (14) and RBI (62). Albeit, these counting stat totals are dampened by an extreme fall off in his on-base percentage and a huge jump in strikeouts.

Yet this is all balanced out by the fact that he has become a much more mature backstop in the process. He threw out 17% more would be base stealers last year and guided the talented Padres staff well. Further NL familiarity could provide for his most balanced season to date this upcoming year.

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6. Brian McCann, Yankees (#7 in ’15)

2015: .232/.320/.437, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 15 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .239/.312/.432, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 14 doubles

McCann remains the most reliable and consistent power conduit at the position in the game. 2015 marked the eighth consecutive year that he hit at least 20 home runs. This should be given due deference, especially considering that the only other catchers to do this in the history of the game are Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra.

Furthering the point, it was the ninth season overall that McCann reached 20 long balls, which joins him with Johnny Bench and Gary Carter as well as the only catchers to reach that level.

His consistency is shown in the fact that he also played in 275 of the Yankees’ 324 games since he joined the club before the 2014 season, with 234 of them coming behind the plate. He’s a silently, consistent soldier amid baseball’s most spotlighted team.

 

5. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#3 in ’15)

2015: .264/.326/.391, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 20 doubles; 28% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .284/.349/.443, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 33 doubles

Injuries kept Lucroy out of the lineup for a little over a month last season and also slowed his production at the plate from hitting full mass until late in the year….just in time for a concussion to end his year prematurely. However that should not erase the memory what he was capable of doing at full speed just two years ago. The master pitch framing technician finished in the top 5 in NL MVP voting, after producing a .301 average to go along with 66 extra base hits.

With his health abiding, as well as a stated desire to play for a contender (something that he will not be a part of in Milwaukee) this year should an audition year of sorts for the 29-year-old backstop, as he either vies for a trade or simply proves that he still is who we (or perhaps “I”, based on this ranking) think he is.

 

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (#4 in ’15)

2015: .260/.280/.426, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 25 doubles; 31% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .270/.297/.420, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 26 doubles

The most constant presence amid the Royals’ rise to the top of the baseball world, Perez is by and far the game’s top young backstop and has continued to affirm that position. He will enter the season at only 25 years old, but has taken home the past three AL Gold Gloves at his spot and has been an All-Star thrice in as many seasons as well. During this run, he has topped 70 RBI and 25 doubles in each year, and has reached a new career-best in home runs in each season thus far, with 21 representing his new peak.

Considering the high volume of innings he logs (he has logged 2,440 innings behind the plate in the past two years) he could stand to do much better with his patience at the plate (he walked 13 times in 553 appearances last year –Buster Posey walked that many times in the month of September last year). However, he is a big, tough, formidable two-way threat, who’s best days are still ahead of him.

 

3. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#5 in ’15)

2015: .240/.329/.351, 23 HR, 77 RBI, 23 doubles; 44% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .250/.351/.421, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 21 doubles

Martin took well to his new surroundings in Toronto last season, and was a major catalyst in breaking the Blue Jays’ 20+ year drought. He turned a career-year offensively, with new personal bests in home runs (23) and RBI (77), well as a six year best in slugging percentage. It was the fifth straight year he topped 60 RBI, and also marked the 4th time in five years that he hit 15 or more homers while posting an OPS of greater than .700.

But where Martin makes his biggest impact is between the lines via intangibles. He makes a pitching staff better when it is throwing to him, as well as limits the ability to take the extra base. The soon to be 33-year-old cut down an AL-best 44% of would-be base thieves, while working the Jays staff to a 3.88 ERA as well.

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) is congratulated by catcher Yadier Molina (4) for a victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#2 in ’15)

2015: .270/.310/.350, 4 HR, 61 RBI, 23 doubles; 41% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .291/.334/.407, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 29 doubles

2015 was probably the most difficult season that Molina has had to endure in his career. A ligament injury in his thumb shortened both his regular season, as well as his postseason (and one that has carried into his 2016 start as well). This was after struggling through the season with lingering issues from a knee injury suffered the year before. The result was a five year low in offensive output across the board nearly, albeit still producing a respectable 61 runs batted in, 23 doubles and working his way to seventh consecutive All-Star Game.

However, what did not diminish was his perennially unparalleled defensive impact. Molina won his eight consecutive Gold Globe by catching 41% of would be base stealers (only 37 runners attempted to steal on him all year), converting 9 double plays and allowing only four passed balls. Add in the fact that Cardinal pitching worked a MLB-best 2.80 ERA when he was behind the plate in route to a 100-win season, and it goes to prove that impact comes from far more than just the clearest parts of a box score.

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#1 in ’15)

2015: .318/.379/.470, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 28 doubles; 36% caught stealing

Last 3 Years: .308/.371/.470, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 30 doubles

The class of the position by far, few players combine more raw talent with inherent leadership and intangible presence than Gerald Posey does. His perennial standard has reached such a clip that they are better compared to those already in Cooperstown than most of his peers, and he still yet to reach his 30th birthday. Buster led all MLB catchers in hits (177), batting average (.319, 4th in the National League), RBI (95) and OPS (.849). All of this combined saw him produce just over six Wins Above Replacement –three more than any other catcher.

Already the owner of three World Championships, an MVP, a batting title, three All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers and a .310 career average (the 4th highest of all-time for a player that has been primarily a catcher), it would seem that Posey has it all. And that’s because he does, but he is only halfway through the race and is just now approaching his prime.

 

Just a bit outside: Travis d’Arnaud, Mets; Yan Gomes, Indians; Matt Wieters, Orioles; Miguel Montero, Cubs

To catch up on last year’s picks for top catcher, click here.

 

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Catcher is a position that is tough to define in terms of what makes one particular player more valuable than the next, simply because so much goes into making up a great catcher. Is it how he handles a bat or how he handles his pitching staff? Is it the impact he makes on cutting down base runners or his glove work? Do inherent leadership intangibles play into it or is it just raw production?

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There is much to be considered when checking the stock of the position around the game, but for certain there is a plethora of types of catchers making their impact around the game currently. The best of which make an elite contribution in at least two different areas, followed by a group that may be elite in one and then another that specializes in doing one better than the others.

Headed into 2015, there are seven players that appeared on this list a year ago, which shows the fact that it is a cornerstone position. Basically, when a team gets a good catcher, it is smart to hang on to them. Of the three debuting backstops, each is coming out of his third full season and is on the heels of a breakout season.

Here are the top 10 players behind the dish headed into 2015 for CSP, with their rank from the previous year included:

 

1. Buster Posey, Giants (#2 in 2014): It has been and ebb and flow for who is the top backstop in the game between Posey and Yadier Molina over the past few years, but Buster inched forward to the top again in 2014. The glue to game’s most cohesive unit in San Francisco, when Posey turned it on, his team rode the momentum all the way to a third World Series in his six year career. He hit .354 after the All-Star break and finished fourth overall in the National League with a .311 mark.

2-year average: .303 average/.838 OPS/18 HR/80 RBI/162 hits/.993 Fld%/30% CS

2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (#1 in ’14): His defensive capabilities at this point have hit legendary levels. Yadi won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove and second Platinum Glove awards in 2014, when he cut down an MLB-best 48% of would-be base stealers. Only Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench have taken home more of the honors than him at this point. Since 2007 with his presence in tow, the Cardinals have experienced 50% less stolen base attempts than the MLB average. That is the mark of an elite game-changing presence.

2-year average: .303 average/.784 OPS/10 HR/59 RBI/138 hits/.997 Fld%/45.5% CS

3. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers (#7 in ’14): He broke out in a major way last summer and firmly entrenched himself as arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He led the MLB in doubles with 53, and in the process set a single-season record for catchers, with the 46 that came while he was behind the plate. Overall he hit .301 on the year and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote.

2-year average: .291 average/.817 OPS/16 HR/76 RBI/161 hits/.993 Fld%/23.5% CS

4. Salvador Perez, Royals (Same in ’14): His walk-off single that started the Royals record run through the postseason was his highlight moment of the year, but Perez was the most important mainstay for the Royals in 2014. He led all catchers in games started behind the plate with 143, and won his second Gold Glove in as many years in the process. He also drove in 70 runs for the second straight year and hit .333 in the World Series.

2-year average: .275 average/.722 OPS/15 HR/74 RBI/148 hits/.992 Fld%/33% CS

5. Russell Martin, Blue Jays (#10 in ’14): He was one of the most sought after properties on the free agent market this year simply for the fact that he is the quintessential multi purpose catcher. He does a bit of everything well: he makes a staff better, plays at a Gold Glove-level with the glove, provides clubhouse leadership and swings a dependable bat. If he can work the same magic in Toronto that he did in Pittsburgh, the Jays will have finally found their elusive missing piece to get into the American League East race.

2-year average: .256 average/.764 OBP/13 HR/61 RBI/104 hits/.996 Fld%/28% CS

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6. Matt Wieters, Orioles (#5 in ’14): He was off to his best year as a pro before elbow surgery shortcut his 2014, hitting .308 over 26 games. Now he faces a return behind the plate on the mend from Tommy John surgery, but with a pedigree that includes three-All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves by the age of 28, it is not a bad bet to make that Wieters will be able to rediscover his way.

2-year average (’12-’13): .247 average/.726 OPS/22 HR/81 RBI/127 hits/.995 Fld%/37% CS

7. Brian McCann, Yankees (#3 in ’14): It would be fair to say that he had a down year in first season in pinstripes due to the fact that he posted a career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, but in reality he still had a solid season. He led all American League catchers in home runs (23) and RBI (75) and an upswing is reasonable to expect in 2015.

2-year average: .242 average/.735 OPS/22 HR/66 RBI/103 hits/.996 Fld%/30.5% CS

8. Yan Gomes, Indians (Not Ranked): Probably the member of this list that flies the furthest under the radar, Gomes is credited as calling one of the best games behind the plate in the American League and was a major reason for the success of the understated Indian rotation. In addition, he led all AL catchers in WAR at 4.4 and was second in both home runs (21) and RBI (74) at the spot as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.801 OPS/16 HR/56 RBI/110 hits/.993 Fld%/36.5% CS

9. Devin Mesoraco, Reds (Not Ranked): He had been touted as their catcher of the future for a few years now, and Mesoraco came into his own in 2014. The 26-year-old connected for 25 home runs and worked a .359 on-base percentage in his first year as a full-time starter, despite missing time in early in the year due to injury. He also made his All-Star debut and recently notched a $28 million dollar extension as incentive to keep it up.

2-year average: .257 average/.782 OPS/17 HR/61 RBI/91 hits/.995 Fld%/27% CS

10. Derek Norris, Padres (Not ranked): Although he was a part of a time share with John Jaso a year ago, Norris turned in some very respectable figures in his third year. He reached All-Star status while sporting a .270 average and connecting for 10 home runs in just over 442 plate appearances. He also carried the lowest catcher’s ERA in the AL at 3.14, and will inherit a talented new staff in San Diego to work with as well.

2-year average: .260 average/.760 OPS/10 HR/42 RBI/84 hits/.993 Fld%/21.5% CS

 

Just Outside: Miguel Montero, Cubs. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies. Kurt Suzuki, Twins.

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One of the most interesting projects of the MLB offseason is hosted, rather appropriately, on the MLB Network via their “Top 10 Right Now” program. Each player by position (or projected 2014 position) is fed through ‘The Shredder’ which dices up stats and metrics on each player’s recent performance, and then feeds out a ranked top 10 list for each position. This is debated and offset by personal lists from hosts, commentators and even the original stats and context guru himself, Bill James.

The end result is a highly interesting, yet constantly debatable rundown of the game and the best in it today. And, as usual, providing my own take on what this process is, and what goes into answering the always-debatable question of “who’s best?”

The outline: This will be an 11-part entry over the next month on the best at each position (outfield is sorted by alignment, pitchers divided into right/left handers and relievers). Decisions on ranking are made by a mixture of two-year performance (right now) and projection going ahead—with a dash of reputation. This differs in the ‘Top 100 Players’ countdown that will be coming in March, where skill and talent are worked in as well—in addition to a larger window of performance being considered.

Today, the position under the magnifying glass is one that can be defined variously, because determining the value of a catcher is a very complex job. Their ability at calling a game and leading a pitching staff is just as important as bringing their bat and glove to the dish. It is also a position that is under change, most noticeably, the absence of Joe Mauer, who is one of the most productive catchers of all-time, but is moving to first base full-time this year. There are also a handful of young up and comers, that are beginning to put the push on the upper rung backstops in the game as well.

Picking the apart the pack is tough, but of course its doable. And its time to get to the doing for 2014 here in the CHEAP SEATS…

10. Russell Martin, Pirates: Martin showing up and the Pirates holding it together down the stretch is far from a coincidence. While not the offensive performer he was at the beginning of his career, he was superb behind the dish. His .998 fielding percentage and 40% caught stealing figure were among the best in baseball.

9. Wilin Rosario, Rockies: The perfect catcher for Coors, Rosario has become the premier power hitting catcher in baseball. The 24-year-old has hit 49 in the past two years, and raised his average to .292, despite a brutal 15-109 strikeout-to-walk number.

8. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks: 2013 saw a six-year low in average for the D’Back backstop, and he failed to drive in 80+ for the first time in two years, but injuries curtailed his time and an upswing should be expected.

7. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers: He assumed the role of lineup axis amid Ryan Braun’s suspension and Aramis Ramirez’s injuries a year ago. The result was career-bests in seven different categories including home runs, hits and doubles.

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6. Jason Castro, Astros: He made the most of his first full-time season as a starter, making his first All-Star appearance and turned it on in a major way in September, hitting .338 and .290 overall in the second half. The arrow is pointing up for him in Houston.

5. Matt Wieters, Orioles: He topped 20 home runs for the third consecutive year and continued his strong defensive presence, throwing out 35% of would be base thieves, as well as committing only 3 errors on the year.

4. Salvador Perez, Royals: He is the owner of a .301 career average, and made his All-Star debut while winning his first Gold Glove as well. He is the core of the emergent Royals club, and the most important piece of their growing puzzle.

3. Brian McCann, Yankees: He continues to swing a big bat behind the plate, topping 20 home runs for the sixth consecutive year during his final run in Atlanta. Moving over to Yankee Stadium could do wonders for the 29-year-old, but already seven-time All-Star.

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2. Buster Posey, Giants: The 2012 MVP didn’t swing the bat at quite the same clip, but remains one of the most indispensable players in the game. He hit over .290 for the third consecutive season, and in addition to the MVP has two World Series titles, a Rookie of the Year, a batting title and has caught both a no-hitter and a Perfect Game in his first four years.

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Arguably the best defensive game-changer in all of baseball, he has won six consecutive Gold and two consecutive Platinum Gloves. He threw out over 40% of stolen base attempts for the fourth time in five years last summer. Molina has rounded out his game at the plate as well, hitting over .300 for the third straight year, including a .373 clip with runners in scoring position.

Just a bit outside: Carlos Ruiz, Yan Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski

For more on the Top 10 Today and the game as it is developing, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

One of the great debates of any year is what exactly is “most valuable”. Does it mean the player with the best numbers, the one that made the most irreplaceable difference or the best player on the best team? Every year there is a case for each type of candidate for the award, however in this year’s National League, there is more variety than ever before.

There are the candidates with the raw power numbers, as well as those with the balance of impact across the board. In the same vein, there are the engines that pushed the league’s best teams, as well as those that had major seasons, but couldn’t quite pull their team along with them. Also, there were those that made major impacts on the pennant chase, but did so around injury. Yet then, there were those that had such a unique touch across the board, which numbers alone can’t quite account for it all.

Yes, it was a grab bag year from the National League’s best, but in the end, the most all-encompassing impact comes from the player who’s impact simply blanketed not only every game he participated in, but also the rest of the fortune of not only his club, but the approach of every team that faced them.

2013 Stan Musial Most Valuable Player—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

The Numbers: .319, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 161 hits, 68 runs, 44 2B, 3 SB, .836 OPS, 5.7 WAR

What Yadier Molina brings to the St. Louis Cardinals simply crosses over just what he does at the plate or how many snap throws he makes on would be base runners. Because it could be argued that there is a player that impacts the game in more ways than Molina does, but it would be a losing debate. Ranging from what could be the finest glove in the game, to the game’s best quarterback behind the plate and concluding with a bat that carries its own weight as well, there’s literally nowhere to escape Yadi’s grasp.

If you are a raw numbers guy, Molina is not your man. Likewise, for the mathematical baseball crowd, he won’t be thrilling either. Yet, for a dye in the wool baseball guy, Molina had a season that was of epic proportions. This was not always the case, but now Molina has become among the more consistent hitters in the game. He finished fourth in the NL batting average, second in doubles and struck out a mere 55 times in 541 plate appearances. With runners in scoring position, he turned it up to a .373 clip.

Behind the plate, he was once again the measuring stick for all catchers, throwing out 43% of the few runners that challenged him on the bases and allowing a paltry three passed balls in over 1115 innings caught. One of the toughest feats in sports is to quantify the value of a catcher in calling a game, but it was there in-between the lines that he had his defining impact. Tasked with a pitching staff that lost three of its projected Opening Day starters in the first half of the year, as well as its first two closers shortly thereafter, he worked wonders behind the plate. By the end of the year, he made a staff that deployed 12 rookies across the year into a 96-win team, who finished in the top five in NL ERA and opponent average against. By their own acclimation, the success of Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal was tied to “throwing whatever Yadi put down.” And all of this was a bonus to stellar return to form that Adam Wainwright authored following his lead as well.

The individual numbers at the plate do tell a great story, yet in the terms of “most valuable” the story can go far beyond one component of man’s year. And Yadier Molina touched more parts of the success of the National League’s best team than any other, and in that, he defined every definition of the award’s purpose this summer. Those 96 wins say more about what Molina pulled off than the average, RBI and Gold Glove say combined. Sometimes, less truly is more–especially in the ultimate game of inches.

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2. Andrew McCutchen-Pirates: .317, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 185 hits, 97 runs, 31 2B, 27 SB, .911 OPS, 8.2 WAR

Another whose impact was bigger than his numbers showed, the numbers were lower in several areas for The Cutch than they were a year ago, but his 2013 effort led the Pirates back to prosperity. Along the way, he finished in the top 10 in three in the NL in hits, on-base percentage and hit .339 after the All-Star Break.

3. Paul Goldschmidt-Diamondbacks: .302, 36 RBI, 125 RBI, 182 hits, 103 runs, 36 2B, 15 SB, .952 OPS, 7.0 WAR

Goldschmidt gave the stat sheet the Thanksgiving turkey treatment all summer, leading the NL in RBI, tying for the circuit lead in home runs and finishing in the top three in four other categories as well.

4. Matt Carpenter-Cardinals: .318, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 199 hits, 126 runs, 55 2B, 3 SB, .873 OPS, 6.6 WAR

Carpenter’s breakout season provided the spark to the Cardinal punch. He led the NL in hits, runs and doubles, as well as double plays turned in his first season at second base.

5. Freddie Freeman-Braves: .319, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 176 hits, 89 runs, 27 2B, 1 SB, .897 OPS, 5.5 WAR

Freeman was perhaps the most underrated player in baseball this season. Along the way, he finished third in both RBI and average, and was elected to his first All-Star Game.

6. Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236 IP, 232 Ks/52 BB, 3 CG/2 SHO, 0.92 WHIP, .195 BAA

7. Hanley Ramirez-Dodgers: .345, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 105 hits, 62 runs, 25 2B, 10 SB, 1.040 OPS, 5.4 WAR

8. Joey Votto-Reds: .305, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 177 hits, 101 runs, 30 2B, 6 SB, .926 OPS, 6.4 WAR

9. Allen Craig-Cardinals: .315, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 160 hits, 71 runs, 29 2B, 2 SB, .830 OPS, 2.3 WAR

10. Jayson Werth-Nationals: .318, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 147 hits, 84 runs, 24 2B, 10 SB, .931 OPS, 4.8 WAR

Here it is, the full run of the CHEAP SEATS’ Baseball Bloggers Alliance Award rundown—the Award Tour.

Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

National League—Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

American League—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year Award

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

American League—Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

Connie Mack Manager of the Year Award

National League—Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

American League—John Farrell, Boston Red Sox

Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Award

National League—Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

American League—Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year Award

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

American League—Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

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Tonight, for the first time (and perhaps the last time for many years), the St. Louis Cardinals will face Albert Pujols. In the year and a half since the best player in at least a generation is St. Louis left for LA Angels, and invoked a large range of emotions in his wake.

In the time since he’s left, there has been a contradiction of sorts in the emotion towards Pujols. On one hand, there’s the feeling that he betrayed the club by leaving; that his decision to leave went against the sentiment and covenant that develops between a franchise cornerstone and the fans of said franchise. On the other hand, there is the fan of the team first, that still roots for the Cardinals above all, and the name on the front of the jersey is all that matters.

In many cases, there has been an odd crossover between the two segments of the fan base when the subject shifts to Pujols. There is the feeling that, regardless of the rationale in maintaining him in St. Louis, or the success since of the team itself, that Pujols should still be vilified in regards to his move. On every level possible, this makes absolutely no sense and has to end, for multiple reasons.

The reality of the situation of keeping Pujols in town show the inherent ridiculousness of why having an issue with his decision is as well. The fact of the matter is that the fan should follow with their heart, but also base reaction on reality. There was no realistic, plausible positive outcome of Albert returning to St. Louis. Yes, there would of course be a place for him to come back, but the cost would have been detrimental to everything that the club is looking to establish. If the contracts of Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafeal Furcal have looked like dead weight over the last two years, imagine what seven more years of Pujols’ inflated, yet fair, deal would have seemed like. The organization’s greatest asset has been financial flexibility, that is offset by an ability to build around 1-2 large deals. With the massive price of Pujols sitting as a boulder in the middle of the Cardinals payroll, all of the long-term success of the team would have been put at risk. Need an example? Look at the Minnesota Twins.

When the Twins signed hometown hero/MVP Joe Mauer to his eight-year, $184 million deal in 2010, the Twins had won the AL Central six of the last nine years. For the annually cash strapped Twins to pony up the funds to secure not only their best player, but a community cornerstone such as Mauer to an elite contract in baseball, it was reflected as a big deal in keeping the club’s identity concrete. Fast forward two years later, and the Twins haven’t moved out of the cellar of the division since that deal was signed, and have lost over 95 games two years in a row and are at the bottom of the AL Central again.

This is due to an inability to keep their promising youngsters in tow, and a lack of flexibility to compete in the free agent market financially. Conversely, those are the strengths of the Cardinal approach. Championship caliber rosters require large level of compensation across the board. The Cardinals are the most successful lower-medium market team in baseball because they have been business savy. The decision to not pay ahead for “reputation pay” years of Pujols enabled them to lock up their entire core to contracts that could carry them through the full prime of their careers. In other words, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright are here because Albert isn’t. The ability to maintain Allen Craig and Jason Motte was done because Albert did not have to be accounted for. Because of these decisions, the Cardinals were able to be tactical in how to approach filling their needs. Between the signing of Carlos Beltran for $13M per and the expansion of time for Allen Craig, the Cardinals got in return 54 home runs and 189 RBI. Basically, the expected 2-for-1 exchange for Pujols paid off with a similar production level in the lineup, the flexibility to extend Yadi Molina $96 million and to keep free another $118 million, of which $97M was given to Adam Wainwright this spring to keep him in town. Basically, the Cardinals built another five years, at least, of competitive advantage by not keeping Pujols in tow.

And at the end, that’s what matters if you are truly a Cardinals fan: your team being competitive. If Albert had taken less, would there have been a place for him in St. Louis? Absolutely. But is it is fault for cashing in on the reward that was rightfully his for the unworldly start that his career took off with? Absolutely not. There are no bad guys in this equation, and in the end, everybody has truly walked away better for it. This is not a case of the team going from championship level, to in the tank, such as when LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, due to one man’s decision. No, the greater good was served overall here.

So if anything, the next three days in Anaheim present an opportunity finally move on for the portions of the Cardinal fan base that have their feet stuck in the tar of two years ago. It is irrational to celebrate the success following the decision of Pujols and adjustment of the team, but to vilify him for the decision that he made. The time to move on is here; let carpe diem be your friend this week.

Maybe it’s the most ironic Independence Day yet, and if you don’t get the gist of that, give a Twins fan a call and ask them how their two years have been since their “Decision” went the other way.

 

For more on the Cardinals and the return of the King, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Yadier-Molina

Yet again the National League Central was home to one of the most diverse pennant races in the game a year ago. The Pittsburgh Pirates came out the gate with their best (and longest) runs in nearly 20 years, as they sat in first place at the All-Star Break, in front of the Cincinnati Reds and defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Yet, that grasp on the division didn’t last in the second half, a part of the year where the Milwaukee Brewers put together an assault on pushing into the postseason picture. But in the end, the Reds made the regular season their own down the stretch, winning the Central by nine games, the largest division title margin in either league. Yet, in the end, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who pushed their season the furthest from the Wild Card spot again, finishing one game away from a second consecutive World Series.

2012 Finish

1.                   Reds (97-65)
2.                   Cardinals (88-74)**
3.                   Brewers (83-79)
4.                   Pirates (79-83)
5.                   Cubs (61-101)
6.                   Astros (55-107)

This season, it’s a new division in where in the fact it’s a smaller division. Gone are the Houston Astros, who joined the Chicago Cubs as one of two 100 loss teams in the Central. That subtraction will make the fight for the division rougher in and of itself. The Reds are bringing in perhaps their most complete team of any season. The Cardinals loom constant in the division, as the most clutch team in baseball in the last two pennant chases. The Brewers and Pirates are both just outside the hump of the Cards/Reds, but both have shown plenty of fight and have made the changes needed to cut the division down. Meanwhile, the Cubs rebuilding continues, and they could be in position to spring a rise as well. So who’s the best in the revamped middle of the NL?

All Division Team

Catcher: Yadier Molina-Cardinals

First Base: Joey Votto-Reds

Second Base: Brandon Phillips-Reds

Third Base: Aramis Ramirez-Brewers

Shortstop: Starlin Castro-Cubs

Left Field: Ryan Braun-Brewers

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen-Pirates

Right Field: Jay Bruce-Reds

McCutchen took a huge step forward in 2012: his 194 hits led the NL and he gathered his first Gold Glove.

McCutchen took a huge step forward in 2012: his 194 hits led the NL and he gathered his first Gold Glove.

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright-Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Johnny Cuerto-Reds

Starting Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo-Brewers

Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos-Reds

Righty Relief: Mitchell Boggs-Cardinals

Lefty Relief: Sean Marshall-Reds

Closer: Aroldis Chapman-Reds

Top 10

  1. Ryan Braun, Brewers
  2. Joey Votto, Reds
  3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  4. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  5. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
  6. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
  7. Brandon Phillips, Reds
  8. Jay Bruce, Reds
  9. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  10. Starlin Castro, Cubs

Lineup

  1. Cardinals
  2. Brewers
  3. Reds
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

The Cardinals led the NL in hits a year ago, and finished in the top 5 in average, runs scored and total bases. With Jon Jay atop the lineup for a full season, those numbers could each increase. Meanwhile, sparked by Braun and a resurgent Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers seven of the eight everyday players reached double digits in home runs.

Cincinnati's All-Star tandem of Bruce and Votto combined for 79 doubles and 48 homers in 2012

Cincinnati’s All-Star tandem of Bruce and Votto combined for 79 doubles and 48 homers in 2012

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Reds (Votto/Ludwick/Bruce)
  2. Cardinals (Holliday/Craig/Freese)
  3. Brewers (Braun/Ramirez/Hart)
  4. Cubs (Rizzo/Soriano/Castro)
  5. Pirates (McCutchen/Jones/Alvarez)

The re-emergence of Ludwick (26 home runs, 80 RBI) gave the middle of the Reds line up some much needed right handed power. Votto had another now-standard type of season for him (.337 average, 40 doubles), despite missing over 50 games. Alfonso Soriano had a career-high 108 RBI and topped 30 homers for the first time in 5 years.

Table Setters

  1. Reds (Choo/Phillips)
  2. Cardinals (Jay/Beltran)
  3. Pirates (Marte/Walker)
  4. Brewers (Aoki/Weeks)
  5. Cubs (DeJesus/Schierholtz)

There’s a diverse group of lineup lead offs in Cincy. Choo and Phillips are both 20 homer/20 steal candidates, while Carlos Beltran is an early indicator of the big bats up and down the Cardinals lineup (32 homers, 97 RBI). Norichika Aoki had made a big debut, stealing 30 bags and adding 50 extra base hits as well.

Bench

  1. Pirates
  2. Brewers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Reds
  5. Cubs

Pittsburgh is taking to the strength in numbers approach. With Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and Gaby Sanchez all rotation in and out of the starting linup, there’s always going to be at least two impact bats in reserves. Add in John McDonald, and that’s a deep offering. The Cardinals depth is lead by the presence of a couple of Matt’s (Adams and Carpenter) that will offer various impacts for both resting and alternating lineup approaches.

Rotation

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

The Reds had a coming of age in their rotation a year ago. Four of their five starters reached double digits in wins to go along with ERA’s under 4.00; a result strong enough for the team to resist putting Aroldis Chapman in the rotation. The Cubs have boosted their rotation with Edwin Jackson, but the health of Matt Garza and return of Scott Baker are key to if this team can actually surprise the rest of the pack in the Central, which they have the potential to do.

Wainwright won 14 games and struck out 184 in nearly 200 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Wainwright won 14 games and struck out 184 in nearly 200 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery.

1-2 Punch

  1. Reds (Cuerto/Latos)
  2. Cardinals (Wainwright/Lynn)
  3. Brewers (Gallardo/Lohse)
  4. Pirates (Burnett/Rodriguez)
  5. Cubs (Garza/Samardzija)

Johnny Cueto won 19 games with a 2.78 ERA last season, and continued his accent up the ranks of most underappreciated hurlers in baseball. Lance Lynn won 18 games in an up and down first season as a starter, and Adam Wainwright had a gradual yet impressive, 14-win return, from Tommy John surgery as well. A return completely from him gives the division a legitimate Cy Young front runner candidate.

Bullpen

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Cubs
  4. Brewers
  5. Pirates

The back end of the Reds bullpen is a nightmare. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton are among the best left-right setup combos in baseball, and Chapman waits in the wings as arguably the best power pitcher in baseball (a record 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings). The Cardinals bullpen took a hit when Jason Motte was shutdown indefinitely with an elbow injury. He tied for the NL lead in saves with 42 a year ago.

Defense

  1. Reds
  2. Brewers
  3. Cardinals
  4. Cubs
  5. Pirates

There’s a trio of Gold Glove worthy centerfielders in the Central, with McCutchen, Jon Jay and Carlos Gomez. But there’s only one award to go out, and The Cutch took it home a year ago. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are among the elite defensive infielders in the game, while Yadier Molina (five consecutive GG’s) is among the greatest defensive catchers ever.

While the power in Milwaukee gets the headlines, the trio of Braun, Gomez and Aoki combined for 97 steals as well.

While the power in Milwaukee gets the headlines, the trio of Braun, Gomez and Aoki combined for 97 steals as well.

Speed

  1. Brewers
  2. Pirates
  3. Reds
  4. Cardinals
  5. Cubs

With the exception of Milwaukee, it is not a very fast division. The Brewers outfield of Braun, Gomez and Aoki each topped 30 steals, with a total of 97. Pittsburgh has an aggressive, quick team with Sterling Marte, Josh Harrison and McCutchen topping five triples.

Manager

  1. Dusty Baker, Reds
  2. Ron Roenicke, Brewers
  3. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
  4. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
  5. Dale Sveum, Cubs

Baker has pulled the Reds to two consecutive division championships, while the Cardinals as a team have reached the previous two National League Championship Series, which Matheny did as a rookie manager last year. Hurdle has the Pirates on the verge of snapping their record losing season streak, and received a two-year contract extension to do so.

Finances

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Reds
  4. Brewers
  5. Pirates

The Cubs are in the midst of an intentional rebuilding run, but if they wanted to go all in immediately to fight into the picture, the funds are there. Team president Theo Epstein is just biding his time by building within, before inevitably releasing the okay to make the type of additions that no other team in the Central has the resources to match. The Cardinals shored up their final questionable contract situation for the foreseeable future by reaching a $97.5 million extension in March.

Impact Additions

  1. Shin-Soo Choo (Reds from Indians)
  2. Kyle Lohse (Brewers from Cardinals)
  3. Edwin Jackson (Cubs from Nationals)
  4. Randy Choate (Cardinals from Dodgers)
  5. Kyuji Fujikawa (Cubs via Japan)

Acquiring Choo, who is pending free agency, was a win-now move for the Reds who are looking to find a way to carry their regular season runs into October. After what felt like the longest, coldest winter ever, Kyle Lohse found a 3 year home in Milwaukee, in a move that could tilt the balance in the Central some.

In less than a year, the powerful Rizzo has become one of the biggest rebuilding pieces on the North Side.

In less than a year, the powerful Rizzo has become one of the biggest rebuilding pieces on the North Side.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  2. Todd Frazier, Reds
  3. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
  4. Michael Fiers, Brewers
  5. Jeff Sarmardija, Cubs

Rizzo has raw power to spare, and as soon as he touched Chicago a year ago, he became the guy they built their lineup around. He hit 15 homers in his Cub debut, and shows the type of profile to become an All-Star as soon as this year. Frazier stepped when Votto went down last year and hit 19 homers as third and first baseman, as well as some outfield.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Oscar Tavares (Cardinals, Outfielder – AAA)
  2. Shelby Miller (Cardinals, Pitcher –MLB)
  3. Starling Marte (Pirates, Outfielder—MLB)
  4. Billy Hamilton (Reds, Center Field—AAA)
  5. Garret Cole (Pirates, Pitcher—AAA)

The Cardinals top two prospects are ready to burst into the MLB scene, but only one has a clear path. Tavares hit like he belonged in the spring, but Miller will get his day in the sun first, as he made the club as fifth starter. Hamilton has stolen 258 bases the last two years in the Reds system, and as soon as he finds a position, he’ll be among the elite speedsters in the MLB too.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs

While 2012’s Central was the scene of the biggest gap between the best and worst in baseball, which is a thing of the past. There are four legitimate contenders for the postseason bunched together, and if everything plays out as it forecasts, it will be the toughest division to get out of in baseball. While it has produced three of the last six Wild Card winners, winning this division will never have been more important, because the chance to rack up wins, without a title, is going to be difficult.

One thing is certain, is that every team can hit in the division, so the margins of who can keep their red flags flying the lowest is of the utmost importance. The two-time runners up in St. Louis have the talent to win the division, but have the challenge of staying healthy in front of them, as well as a lot of “ifs” regarding their pitching staff. The Brewers can hit, and worked on their pitching some, but the staff as whole is still a cut below St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Winning it one way will be tough. As for the Cubs, they are quietly improving, but it’s going to be closer to two years off before they have everything in place to factor back into the race.

That leaves the Reds in a similar position. They have the bats, pitching and ballpark to shape the division in their favor. The decision to leave Chapman in the bullpen gives them the most dominant unit of any team in the division via their pitching staff. They can play defense behind them, and get the runs to support their effort consistently. If Joey Votto’s knee is healthy, Shin-Soo Choo can be steady enough in the field at his new position in center and health continues to be their ally (only two non-rotation starts in all of 2012), they will hold off the pack, and take their third consecutive Central title. But what happens from there…is still uncertain.

For more on the season to come, and everything Opening to closing Day related, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Money is the motive in the winter for Major League Baseball. It’s all that’s discussed and the only thing matters. The price of a player is more important than his actual talent in many cases, and the market is set based on this perceived value. But before any individual figure can be counted, knowing what’s in place already is the key.

To understand where the St. Louis Cardinals are headed, understand where they are already. Below are the full salary figures in place for the club today, as free agency has gotten underway. In 2012, the team’s total payroll was roughly $111,858,500, which stood as the 9th highest in the MLB. This was the highest annual payroll the team has ever paid out, and a $2 million dollar increase from the year before.

The two major subtractions from the 2012 roster are Kyle Lohse ($12.1M) & Lance Berkman ($12M), both of whom will not be back with the team, for financial reasons. While that removes $24 million from the previous year total, there are rising costs that will eat that difference. Yadier Molina’s new $76 million contract will begin to pay out this season, with an increase of $7 million annually. In addition, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Rafeal Furcal will see a total increase of $8 million total to their respective deals. Add in raises in arbitration deals, and the Cardinals overall payroll range has changed much, despite taking two big money deals off the board.

Take note of the deals that are also expiring after the 2013 season, which will open up a considerable amount of payroll and roster room. Some most likely would not be renewed (such as Beltran, Furcal and potentially Carpenter), but in the case of Wainwright, there will be a significant rise in a new deal, that could rival the Matt Holliday annual figure.

But that’s all speculative, and below are the facts. Here is a breakdown of the Cardinals’ current payroll on MLB level contracts, and a bit of a read out of what the potential roster both looks like and could manage to add, within reason.

 

Molina’s new contract kicks in this year, making him the second highest paid player on the roster behind Matt Holliday.

Current Non-Arbitration Roster Salaries

Matt Holliday: $17 million (3 years, with $51M remaining + 1 option of $17M for ‘17)

Yadier Molina: $14 million (4 years, with $58 million remaining + 1 option of $15M for ’18)

Carlos Beltran: $13 million (Final season)

Adam Wainwright: $12 million (Final season)

Chris Carpenter: $12.5 million (Final Season)

Jake Westbrook: $8.75 millon (+1 option of $9.5M for ’14)

Rafael Furcal: $7.5 million (Final Season)

Jaime Garcia: $5.75 million (2 years, $17M remaining + 2 options of $11.5 & $12M for ’15 & ’16)

Skip Schumaker: $1.5 millon (Final Season)

COMMITTED 2013 PAYROLL: $92 Million

 

Arbitration Cases (Estimates via MLBTradeRumors.com)

Jason Motte: $4.7 million (Arbitration 2, free agent in 2015)

Edward Mujica: $3.2 million (Arbitration 3, free agent in 2014)

David Freese: $2.6 million (Arbitration 1, free agent in 2016)

Mitchell Boggs: $1.3 million (Arbitration 1, free agent in 2016)

Marc Rzepczynski: $900,000 (Arbitration 1, free agent in 2016)

TOTAL ESTIMATED ARBITRATION PAYROLL: $12.7 Million

 

Motte stands to get a nearly $3 million raise in his second arbitration year after tying for the NL lead in saves.

 

Pre-Arbitration Players (Players on MLB minimum deals)

Jon Jay: $504,000 (under team control until 2017)

Fernando Salas: $498,000 (under team control until 2017)

Allen Craig: $495,000 (under team control until 2017)

Daniel Descalso: $495,000 (under team control until 2017)

Lance Lynn: $482,000 (under team control until 2018)

Tony Cruz: $481,000 (under team control until 2018)

Matt Carpenter: $480,000 (under team control until 2018)

Shane Robinson: $480,000 (under team control until 2018)

TOTAL MINIMUM ALLOTMENTS: $3.91 million

 

Players Due on Minor League Minimums on the 40 man roster is due at $67,300 per year. Only active if promoted to the MLB and subject to promotion to prorated 25 man roster date. Players that would be due this would be players with less than a full year of MLB service time. None of these contract figures are assessed in the team total, due to them not being set on the 2013 roster yet, and still having minor league options. This includes players such as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Adron Chambers.

TOTAL 2013 PAYROLL (Pre-Arbitration Estimate) CURRENTLY: $108.61 million (22 players)

 

 

For more on the daily dealings of the Cardinals, and basically anything of substance I can pull from the cruel baseball-less winter, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.