2006 Cardinals - N. L. Central Preview

In the second in a series of team previews of N. L. Central clubs, we present the Cubs Home Opening Day opponents (some of you may have heard of them), the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals won more games than any other National League team in each of the past two seasons, and were the only N. L. club to win 100 or more games in either season (the Cards did it in both 2004 AND 2005). In both 2004 and 2005, the Cardinals were nine or ten games better than any other team in the league, finishing among the leaders in runs scored, fewest runs allowed, fewest errors, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum. The Cardinals were simply so much better than every other club in the N. L. over the past two seasons that they never really had to concern themselves (yawn) much with selecting the perfect long-reliever for the bullpen, or who the utility infielder would be, or fret over their farm system being rated one of the worst in MLB by Baseball America, or any of the things a team with no margin for error (like the Cubs circa 2003-05, for instance) would need to worry about. But that doesnít mean everything remains the same in 2006. There have been a number of changes on the Cardinals 2006 Opening Day roster, including some major subtractions, and so there are significant issues the Cardinals will need to address and problems they will need to resolve if they want to stay in the rarified air atop the N. L. Central. The Cards went into the off-season between 2004 and 2005 needing to replace SS Edgar Renteria (who had signed a FA deal with Boston), and had David Eckstein (non-tendered by the Angels in December) literally fall into their laps. Likewise with 2B Mark Grudzielanek (replacing Tony Womack), after the Cubs declined to exercise their club option for 2005, and LF Reggie Sanders, who came to the Cards after most all the other FA outfielders got contracts with other MLB clubs. And so Eckstein (naturally) proved to be one of best lead-off hitters in MLB in 2005, Mark G. did a fine job at 2B, and Sanders put up solid numbers and played a good LF. They also needed to replace Mike Matheny (who signed a FA deal with the Giants) after the 2004 season, and so they basically were forced to insert their young catcher (Yadier Molina) into the starting lineup and hope for the best. And (of course) Molina DID do the job. And then they rolled the dice and traded their best young starting pitcher candidate (RHP Danny Haren), their most reliable middle-reliever (RHP Kiko Calero), and their top hitting prospect (1B Daric Barton) to Oakland to get LHP Mark Mulder. And it seemed as though every move the Cardinals made before last seen--even arguably dumb moves, like trading Haren, Calero, and Barton for Mulder--turned to gold. So this past off-season, the Cardinals once again found themselves needing to replace a number of key players who either retired (RF Larry Walker), left via free-agency (starting pitcher Matt Morris, 8th inning bullpen set-up man Julian Tavarez, LF Reggie Sanders, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, and back-up 1B-OF-PH John Mabry), or were used to acquire players to fill other needs (LHP Ray King). But just like the year previous, the Cards did not heavily pursue any ìbig nameî free-agents. Instead, they took their time and signed ìsecond tierî free-agents who essentially fell into their laps, like RF Juan Encarnacion, relievers Braden Looper, Jeff Nelson, and John Riedling, starting pitcher Sidney Ponson, and infielder Deivi Cruz, or traded for players who were coming off poor seasons with other clubs, like Junior Spivey, Aaron Miles, and Larry Bigbie. So here is the team Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa put together during this past off-season ("THE PLAN") and how it turned out ("THE OUTCOME"): STARTING ROTATION THE PLAN: Jocketty & Company began the off-saason knowing their starting rotation was one of their strengths. They had the reigning N. L. Cy Young Award winner at the top of their starting rotation (that being Chris Carpenter), followed by Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan, who together with Carpenter, made up 4/5 of the 2005 starting rotation that started an incredible 160 of the Redbirds 162 regular season games last year, making it one of the most reliable starting rotations in recent baseball history. These guys made ALL of their scheduled starts right from the gitgo on Opening Day, and that included Matt Morris, who had labrum surgery after the 2004 season! Coming into Spring Training 2006, the only piece missing from the 2005 starting rotation was Morris, a free-agent after last season, who signed a lucrative multi-year FA deal with the Giants. The Cardinals figured they could let Morris walk, and give their top pitching prospectóRHP Anthony Reyes, who by the way was a teammate of Mark Priorís at USCóa shot at taking the vacant #5 spot in the rotation, competing with rookie Adam Wainwright, and veteran Sidney Ponson, who the Cards signed to a non-guaranteed incentive-laden contract after he was released by the Baltimore Orioles following some off-the-field problems during the off-season. The Cardinals hoped that among Reyes, Wainwright, and Ponson, at least two could pitch well enough to allow them to trade Jason Marquis for a power-hitting run producer, like maybe Kevin Mench, Aubrey Huff, or Brad Wilkerson. THE OUTCOME: Reyes struggled the first half of Spring Training, and the Cardinals did not waste any time sending him back to AAA to work on perfecting his two-seam fastball, a pitch Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan believes Reyes MUST throw to be a successful major league strting pitcher. (Reyes needs to develop a pitch that will allow him to throw fewer pitches per inning, a problem he has yet to solve, and this problem makes him essentially a five-inning pitcher). And meanwhile, Ponson pitched OKónot great, just OK, but at least good enough to temporarily win the the #5 starter gig (albeit by default), as Wainwright struggled with his command. Itís still possible that if Reyes can perfect his two-seamer by May or June, or if Dave Duncan can help Ponson get his act together on the mound while Ponson himself gets his act together off the field, or if Wainwright can develop some consistency while working out of the bullpen, that the Cards might still consider trading Marquis for a power-hitting LF by sometime around the All-Star break. Itís also equally possible that Ponson will be a bust and a drain on the bullpen, that Reyes will end up being recalled to replace him without first perfecting the two-seamer, that Wainwright will continue to be inconsistent, and that the Cardinals will find themselves missing Matt Morris this year as much as the Cubs ended up missing Matt Clement last season. BULLPEN THE PLAN: Jason Isringhausen is one the best and most reliable closers in baseball, but what has made the Cardinals bullpen so good the past couple of years isnít just Isringhausen pitching the 9th inning, itís other pitchers accepting set-up and middle relief roles that put them in a postion to succeed. Julian Tavarez (free-agent) and Ray King (traded) are gone, thought to be replaced by former Mets closer Braden Looper (returning to the set-up role he handled well a few yars ago in Florida), LHP Ricardo Rincon, and veteran RHP middle relievers Jeff Nelson, John Riedling, and Alan Benes. The remaining couple of spots in the bullpen were to be a competition between Randy Flores, Brad Thompson, Brian Falkenborg, Tyler Johnson, Carmen Cali, and Rule 5 pick Juan Mateo (since returned to the Cubs). THE OUTCOME: The Cardinals were disappointed with what they saw of Nelson, Riedling, and Benes in Spring Training, so they were released. Instead, the Redbirds will go to war in the late innings with Isringhausen, Looper, and Rincon, and hope that between Brad Thompson, Randy Flores, Josh Hancock (released by Cincinnati during Spring Training), and failed starter Adam Wainwright, they can get some good work from the middle relief corps. Dave Duncan has done wonders in reclaiming and developing relievers over the years in Oakland and St. Louis, but only time will tell if he can do it again with the 2006 crew. STARTING LINEUP THE PLAN: David Eckstein leads-off and plays SS. Eckstein falling into the Cardinalsí lap was the ultimate in serendipity (dumb luck) a year ago. After the Cardinals lost Edgar Renteria to free-agency after the 2004 season, and as they were preparing to round up the usual suspects and perhaps start the season with utility infielder Hector Luna at SS, the Angels suddenly non-tendered Eckstein on December 20th. Natch, the Cardinals quickly signed him to a multi-year deal, and Eckstein subsequently turned into the lead-off hitter Tony Womack had beenóand THEN some!!!, providing a hustliní tenacious spark at the top of the order. Larry Walker hit 2nd for the Cardinals most of last season, but he has retired. To replace him, Walt Jocketty signed ex-Marlins RF Juan Encarnacion, but only after attempts to sign Brian Giles or Jacque Jones fell through. Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen return in the 3-4-5 slots in the batting order, and they are about as good a threesome of middle-of-theñorder run producers youíll find anywhere. They are scary. The Cardinals came to Spring Training hoping that Rolen would be healthy again after battling a sore shoulder last year. Jim Edmonds also has had his share of nagging injuries over the past few year. The #6-7-8 spots were the big questions, as LF Reggie Sanders and 2B Mark Grudzielanek both left via free-agency and signed with the cross-state rival Kansas City Royals. To replace them, Jocketty acquired LF Larry Bigbie and 2B Aaron Miles (both coming off seasons where they lost their starting jobs) from Colorado, and 2B Junior Spivey from Washington (Spivey also had a poor 2005). Yadier Molina was expected to be the #1 catcher and hit 7th or 8th, backed up by veteran Gary Bennett. THE OUTCOME: Tony LaRussa hit Encarnacion in Larry Walkerís #2 slot in Spring Training, although Tony may end up moving Encarnacion to the #6 slot if he can find somebody else to hit 2nd. Aaron Miles started Spring Training competing for the 2B job with Spivey and Luna, but won the job outright by having an excellent Spring Training (striking out only ONE TIME in 40 PA). It helped Milesí cause that Spivey came to camp out of shape and hit about .150 with five errors (he was subsequently designated for assignement), and that La Russa prefers to use Luna as a super-sub ultility player. But still, Miles had a good Spring and earned the starting second-sack job. Larry Bigbie, the expected starting LF, is presently sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot. This has necessitated a So Taguchi/Skip Schumaker platoon in LF that provides excellent defense, but not much offense out of the #6 spot in the order. And itís not like Bigbie would necessarily be much better, either. Ideally, Taguchi and Schumaker would be late-inning defensive replacements available off the bench. 1B-OF John Rodriguez beat out veteran Brian Daubach and will be John Mabryís replacement as the Cards #1 lefty PH, and veteran switch-hitting IF-OF Scott Spiezio (whose dad Ed played for the Cardinals in the 1960's) also won a job in Spring Training. The bottom line is, even when Bigbie returns, the Cardinals will probably need an upgrade in LF (and the #6 spot in the order), but they have no in-house options, except MAYBE lefty slugger Chris Duncan, who was moved to LF in Spring Training, but who has major defensive shortcomings no matter where he plays (not to mention very high K totals). Unless it gets to the point where they feel they can trade one of their starting pitchers to get a LF who is also a run producer, this need will remain unfilled, and could induce rival managers to pitch around the #5 hitter (usually Scott Rolen). SUMMARY: The Cardinals are going to miss Matt Morris, Julian Tavarez, Ray King, Reggie Sanders, and Mark Grudzielanek a lot. The starting rotation will need to stay totally healthy like it did last year, and even then Ponson or Reyes will have to go a ways to replace what Matt Morris gave them last year. Likewise for other positions like 2B and LF, and the bullpen. And then there is the lack of ready-made "replacement parts" for the pitching staff at AA & AAA. Juan Encarnacion is not a #2 hitter, although he is a good defender with a very strong arm, and so he should be a plus in RF. In fact, I wish the Cubs had signed him instead of Jacque Jones. The main problems will probably be the #5 starter (Ponson, Reyes, or Wainwright), bullpen depth, and the #2, #6 and #7 spots in the batting order, with the biggest problem of all being that the Big Red pitching staff just ainít what it used-ta-be in 2004-05, and other than Anthony Reyes, there isnít much to recommend (pitching wise) at the top end (AA and AAA) of the Cardinal farm system. MY PREDICTION: 90-72 (2nd Place in the N. L. Central, finishing five games behind your Chicago Cubs. However, I predict the Cards will be the N. L. Wild Card team).
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Comments

"Mark Prior is on an "accelerated schedule" while rehabbing in Arizona, according to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and soon should be throwing off a mound for the first time since he was shut down with shoulder soreness. Ö Kerry Wood will throw another batting practice session Friday."

http://chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sport...

Growing up as a teenager in the 80's I didn't really despise the Cardinals. I wanted them to lose, obviously, but I still rooted for guys like Jack Clark and Ozzie Smith & Joaquin Andjuar & John Tudor & Tommy Herr, etc. Now? I can't stand any of 'em. I wonder why that is? La Russa maybe? I still loathe anything concerning the Mets though. Always have, always will.

AZ Phil, your orginizational reports are tremendous. Do you get some info from any of the Cubs minor leeague teams directly, or is it just tedious research on your own? Either way, it simply is a great read.... Anyway, just rambling while the kids are running around like psychos.

From previous thread-
Espn 1000 Bruce Levine reporting Hendry signing today and that Dusty will be evaluated at the end of the season.

"Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Prior should be throwing from the mound soon in Arizona.

Prior has made a quicker comeback than anticipated from his right shoulder strain.

"What was faster was the amount of throws he made on flat ground and how much better he felt," Rothschild said."

http://www.suntimes.com/output/cubs/cst-spt-k...

Can Prior pitch to the side of the mound on the grass when he comes back?

AZ Phil, you consistantly have the best in-depth analysis. I certainly hope your prediction of the Cubs taking the division is on target, but I still very negative on Jones. I live in the Minnesota area and have seen him lose lotza games with his bad defense for the Twins. Again thanks for your great report.

The Brewers will finish ahead of the Cards.

and...did someone on here say he used to root for tommy herr?!?

I rooted for Mrs. Herr and Tito Landrum.

What kind of analysis results in the Cardinals finishing second by five games to the first place 95-67 Cubs?

The Cubs pitching and defense is actually worse than last year. The new outfield now features 3 really bad arms, the kind that can cost a run a game. Cedeno, feeling the pressure of starting, is a downgrade at SS over Neifi. Barrett 2006 looks awful instead of just mediocre. And the pitching rotation ....please...WHAT PITCHING ROTATION?!!

The 2005 NL Champion Houston Astros DVD Ad on the side of the website: That's just cold.

Bring back the beach volleyball players.

Big Jim: I certainly hope your prediction of the Cubs taking the division is on target, but I still very negative on Jones.

Jones will be alright once he gets that bat going again.

AZ Phil: 90-72 (2nd Place in the N. L. Central, finishing five games behind your Chicago Cubs.

I love you.

From today's Trib: Dusty not only wants (and expects) an extension, he also wants (and expects) a raise--based not on Cub wins, but on Tribune revenues.

Very, very nice...

Having watched the Cardinals-Phillies game last night, after watching parts of the cubs game on tape, the differences in quality between the two teams is rather stark. The only way the Cardinals don't win the division is if Rolen and Edmonds go down, and Carpenter falls back to his pre-St. Louis reliability/effectiveness. This is a possibility, of course (if it were the Cubs, an inevitability), but right now the Cards simply have significantly more talent than anyone else in the division, including the Cubs.

CWTP: What kind of analysis results in the Cardinals finishing second by five games to the first place 95-67 Cubs?

Dude, if you're gonna be all gloom and doom, you might want to consider changing your moniker...

#9 of 12: By cubswinthepennant (April 6, 2006 11:22 AM)
What kind of analysis results in the Cardinals finishing second by five games to the first place 95-67 Cubs?

The Cubs pitching and defense is actually worse than last year. The new outfield now features 3 really bad arms, the kind that can cost a run a game. Cedeno, feeling the pressure of starting, is a downgrade at SS over Neifi. Barrett 2006 looks awful instead of just mediocre. And the pitching rotation ....please...WHAT PITCHING ROTATION?!!

----

CWtP: We just disagree about this.

At this point, I believe Wood, Prior, and Miller will return to action and be close to 100% by June 1st, and then the rotation will be Zambrano-Wood-Prior-Maddux-Miller. I also like the bullpen very much, as well as the starting lineup. So that's why I project 95 wins.

If one of the three (Wood, Prior, or Miller) misses most or all of the season or does not return somewhere close to 100%, then I would project 87-89 wins for the Cubs. If two of the three (Wood and Prior, Wood and Miller, or Prior and Miller) miss most or all of the season or do not return somewhere close to 100%, then I would project 79-83 wins. If all three of them miss most or all of the season or do not return somewhere close to 100%, then I would project 71-77 wins.

I would agree with you that the "outfield arms" (Murton-Pierre-Jones) are the Cubs biggest weakness. If Hendry's off-season FA RF choice was between Jacque Jones, Juan Encarnacion, Preston Wilson, or Jeromy Burnitz, Encarnacion would have been the better choice because they all will put up about the same offensive numbers, but Encarnacion has the best RF arm.

If all three of the injured starting pitchers return to action by June 1st and are close to 100%, AND Jacque Jones gets hurt, AND Felix Pie is playing well enough at AAA to get the recall to replace Jones, the Cubs could win 100 games. Pie has an outstanding arm, and could easily play RF. Signing Jacque Jones to play RF was Hendry's one really bad mistake this past off-season, in my opinion. Heck, I'd even take Jeromy Burnitz over Jones.

Big Jim: I live in Minneapolis too, and Jones is a-w-FULL! He's a hitter that will have one good stretch then stink it up the rest of the season. His defense is mediocre at best. I think the Cubs could take one of the three, but the way Z looked I don't think we can get the best of carpenter, and with the weather that's expected tomorrow, I don't know if our "small ball" plan will work. Our best bet is Sunday night.

Each year I tell my Cardinal friends (the number of which far outweigh the number of Cub friends, by the way) that this is the year the Cards start to fall apart. And each year it seems that I am somewhat correct, although they still find a way to win 100 games.

I think AZ Phil is right in that the rotation will be a problem this year for the Cards. Not because they won't produce (the Cards have a way of making mediocre pitchers like Ponson and Suppan perform well) but because of injuries. It's just not possible for them to repeat starts the way they did in 2005.

The bullpen also will be a HUGE vulnerability, and I think Braden Looper will be the next Danny Graves or Dan Kolb, and Ricardo Rincon and Randy Flores just aren't very reliable. And, maybe it's just me, but I think Isringhausen is greatly overrated. He is quickly falling into Dempster territory with his control problems.

If it weren't for David Eckstein's 2005, I'd say that Aaron Miles is nothing to worry about. However, again, the Cards have a way of getting top performances of mediocre players. Still, I think both Eckstein and the 2B-man (whomever it is) will regress from 2005 numbers.

Finally, while I think Rolen could come big and have a great year, I put a lot of stock in BP's declaration that this is the year that Edmonds finally starts to fall off, in a big way. His injuries have become a more serious concern, and I think they'll affect his defense and his swing.

Still, unless we can count on 75 starts from Wood + Prior + Miller, I don't see how the Cardinals finish 2nd to the Cubs. They won't win 100 games but unless the Brewers make a strong push (with a healthy Ben Sheets), they'll still win the division.

Tito Landrum taught me how to throw a curveball. I swear.

I found a great recent-history article about the Trib...

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m12...

It's good stuff. Basically the Trib won't spend the money. Also I found the bit about Kerry Wood interesting.

The Cubs pitching and defense is actually worse than last year.

That seems like some pretty selective analysis to me. While the pitching is worse now, it should be better by mid-May than at any time last year. I don't need to list our big names off, but we also have healthy rookies in Marshall and Guzman (if they'd bring him up). The bullpen, while perhaps overpaid and overextended, is undoubtedly better as well.

As for defense, I think that remains to be seen. Pierre probably won't be as good as Patterson, but he shouldn't be that much worse, especially in Wrigley. Jones is supposedly good defensively, although I thought Burnitz was excellent last year. And Murton, from what we've seen so far, seems to be far better than any of our LF options from last year. As for Cedeno, I think he'll be fine with time.

Nonetheless, the offense is better, and I doubt you'd campaign to put Neifi in the starting lineup just to make our defense better.

right now the Cards simply have significantly more talent than anyone else in the division, including the Cubs.

I agree that the Cards should win the division, but it's not because of talent. Actually, in terms of pure talent, I think the Cards rank 3rd behind both Chicago and Milwaukee. Pujols is a god, and Rolen and Carpenter are very good, and Mulder, Edmonds, Isringhausen, and Eckstein are adequate (though overrated IMO). But aside from them, I don't see another player on the Cards' roster that is great talent-wise.

The difference between the Cards and other clubs is that they have the ultimate team mentality. TLR stresses never making bad plays, always giving 100%, and always playing "a hard nine". They get more out of less talent than any team in baseball. And that's not a slight, in any way -- in fact, it's enormously impressive.

What kind of analysis results in the Cardinals finishing second by five games to the first place 95-67 Cubs?

What kind of hypocritical whining does it take for someone to complain about a prediction of a 95 win season, when less than a week ago the same poster said quote "The Cubs cannot avoid winning 89 games with the players and even the dud manager they have now"?

One more thing about Jacque Jones:

The Cardinals supposedly were one of the teams interested in Jones during the off-season, but the Cards would have played Jacque Jones in LF, with super-defender So Taguchi available as a late-inning defensive replacement and platoon partner.

Hendry's idea that Jones can play RF and routinely face LHP was the big miscalculation. If Jones was signed to play LF (NOT RF) and only start against RHP, then I would not have a problem with that. Except with Matt Murton in LF, the Cubs didn't need a LEFT-fielder, even a platoon left-fielder. They needed an everyday RIGHT-fielder. So either keeping Burnitz for one more year or signing Encarnacion for three would have been a better option for RF.

I presume the reason the Cubs took Jacque Jones over Encarnacion is that Hendry already had decided that he wanted a left-handed bat to replace Burnitz in RF, and didn't seriously consider Encarnacion, because that would have left the Cubs lineup "overly right-handed." But playing Jones in RF everyday and not platooning him with anyone is a lot worse than having a lineup that is "overly right-handed," and it's also a lot worse than just keeping Burnitz for one more season (with Felix Pie projected to hit the Big Show in 2007).

Some posters here think the Cubs won't have any problem moving Jacque Jones if and when Felix Pie is ready for the majors. I disagree. Jones is going to be an albatross.

Sorry if it seems like I am obsessed with this, but Rusch starts will do that to be.

"Rothschild said Prior has done ìflat-groundî throwing much more quickly than the Cubs thought he would.

ìHe got up on the mound the other day and starting going through some mechanical stuff without throwing,î Rothschild said. ìHe should be off the mound here shortly.î"

http://www.dailyherald.com/sports/sportsstory...

Dude, if you're gonna be all gloom and doom, you might want to consider changing your moniker...
Posted by: IM Slacker"

Me? All Doom and Gloom???

Just the other day I said, "I don't care whether they are 100% or not, if Zambrano, Wood, Prior, Maddux and Miller are the rotation by Mid May, the Cubs cannot avoid winning 89 games with the players and even the dud manager they have now. If (pick two) Rusch, Marshall, Williams, or Guzman show up and surprise us, the Cubs cannot avoid winning the wildcard."

I stand by that prediction, but it's obviously predicated on the rotation being intact from mid-May til the end of the season.

Not picking the Cubs to win the division by 5 games over the Cardinals is hardly all doom and gloom.

Some posters here think the Cubs won't have any problem moving Jacque Jones if and when Felix Pie is ready for the majors. I disagree. Jones is going to be an albatross.

Couldn't agree more that he'll be very hard to trade if the Cubs insist on the other team paying his salary. However, I hope that Hendry realizes that to move Jones in a year will necessitate him eating some of that salary. With Pie being very cheap right now that shouldn't be a problem.

"CWtP: We just disagree about this." - Arizona Phil

Well, you and I saw the same team playing in March and I doubt we really would disagree much about their talent, just their projected health.

Basically I assume less than 100% health and project 89 wins. And you agree if the staff isn't
complete.

I don't think there's enough time for the Cubs to win 95 games if they have to wait til June for Wood, Prior, and Miller. And I personally don't think it's a good bet that any of them will be quite 100%.

It's sad to say, but the outfield of Hollandsworth , Patterson, and Burnitz was far superior defensively to the weak arm of Pierre, weaker arm of Murton, and wild arm of Jones. At some point I expect Dusty to have a meltdown in despair over that outfield of his. It's going to cost a lot of runs.

ANDREW: That could happen. It's possible.

As a platoon LF (and I believe he would be fine in that role, just not with the Cubs, because they don't need that particular type of player), Jacque Jones would probably be worth about $3m per year. So if the Cubs find someone in need of a platoon LF next year, they would probably have to pay the difference (about $3m each season, 2007 & 2008), or else take back an overpaid misfit making about the same money from the other team, in order to move Jones.

General question for the group:

Am I the only person who reads these supposed "good news" reports about the Prior and Wood rehabs and wonders whether the team might be trying to accelerate their returns because of giving up, oh, 15 runs in two games in Cincinnati? I have this sinking feeling that they will be rushed back and be on the DL again in July.

That seems unlikely Tom, as the good news about Prior and Wood's rehab started to come out before the start of the season.

Admittedly, any time that I hear Prior's and/or Wood's rehab is being "accelerated", I do get a little queasy. However, due to the consistently optimistic reports on Wood all year and the knowledge that the Cubs should be the last ones wanting to rush Prior and risk another setback, I'm hoping for the best.

AZ Phil,

What makes Jones more of a LFer than a RFer? Is it because of an inaccurate arm? Or is it because he's not as much of a slugger as a RFer ideally should be?

#32 of 32: By Andrew (April 6, 2006 02:07 PM)
AZ Phil,

What makes Jones more of a LFer than a RFer? Is it because of an inaccurate arm? Or is it because he's not as much of a slugger as a RFer ideally should be?

--

ANDREW: While Jacque Jones has the athleticism to make spectacular catches and the speed to run down balls in the alley, his arm is just too scatter-gun to make long & accurate throws from RF to 3B and home.

From LF, the throws to 3B and home are shorter (the throw to 3B from RF is across the diamond, and the pitcher's mound is in the way of a lot throws from right-center to home, plus the catcher can't come up the line to get a throw from RF like he can for throws from LF). Also, the shortstop (who usually is the relay man for throws from LF) usually has a much stronger arm than the second-baseman (who usually handles relay throws from RF). So of the three outfielders, the RF has to have the strongest and most accurate arm.

Obviously, a strong arm in CF is important, too, but that's mainly for plays in dead center and right-center. For plays in left-center, a strong arm isn't as important, although having a strong and accurate arm at any of the three outfield positions is a plus.

The best Cubs RF arm I've seen belonged to Andre Dawson. He was the epitome of what a RF should be, because he had a strong AND accurate arm, and he also had the speed to get to balls quickly (which also had a positive affect on the time it takes to get the ball back into the infield).

AZ Phil,

If Pie really tears up AAA, what are the chances he gets called up and Murton ends up platooning with either Jones or Pie? The Cubs would then sit on Pierre's contract for a year, and then let him go after the season. That would make the 2007 OF Murton, Pie, and Jones. It would also mean the Cubs would enter yet another offseason without a leadoff hitter (assuming they don't make the mistake of putting Pie in the leadoff slot), but could make a run for a middle infielder (either 2B or SS) to fill that role next season.

I've been thinking about where the Cubs can improve, and the most obvious position (assuming health at the trade deadline) is SS. There should be some SS's that are made available this year by the wave of young, athletic SS's now making their way through the minors. Julio Lugo is being pressed by B.J Upton in Tampa, Craig Counsell is being pushed by Stephen Drew in Arizona, and Orlando Cabrera is being pushed by Erick Aybar AND Brandon Wood in Anaheim. None of those three guys are bona fide power hitters, but any of them would represent an upgrade over Neifi/Cedeno.

Interestingly, two of those teams (Arizona and Anaheim) might be interested in Juan Pierre if the Cubs decided Pie was ready to take over CF by mid-season. The problem with trading Pierre would be the same as letting him walk after the season - the Cubs would again be searching for a leadoff hitter.

#34 of 35: By shawndgoldman (April 6, 2006 02:30 PM)
AZ Phil,

If Pie really tears up AAA, what are the chances he gets called up and Murton ends up platooning with either Jones or Pie? The Cubs would then sit on Pierre's contract for a year, and then let him go after the season. That would make the 2007 OF Murton, Pie, and Jones. It would also mean the Cubs would enter yet another offseason without a leadoff hitter (assuming they don't make the mistake of putting Pie in the leadoff slot), but could make a run for a middle infielder (either 2B or SS) to fill that role next season.

-

SHAWN: I think the only way we'll see Felix Pie in Wrigley before September is if one of the three starting outfielders gets hurt and goes on the DL. And that's only if Pie is playing well at AAA.

I can't see Dusty platooning Murton, Pierre, or Jones with anybody, although I'm sure Dusty will give Murton a day off (with Mabry or Bynum playing LF) against a really tough RHP (Oswalt, Carpenter, Peavy, and Smoltz) and Jones a day off (with Pagan playing RF) against a really tough LHP (Willis, Pettitte, O. Perez, and Capuano).

Of course, that presumes Pagan won't get optioned to AAA to make room for the 12th man on the pitching staff once J. Williams moves to the starting rotation next week. (Pagan, Cedeno, and Murton are only position players with minor league options left, and I can't see Murton or Cedeno getting sent down). If (when) Pagan is sent down, it's possible that Dusty will play Hairston in RF against tough LHP, or it's also possible Hairston could play LF and Murton could move to RF when Jones gets a day off. The Cubs asked Matt Murton to play some RF in ST, but he said he would prefer not to do that at this time.

Also, even though I can't see Pie as a lead-off hitter (no way!), I suspect Hendry and Baker do, so if Pierre does not return and Pie takes over CF, Pie WILL hit in the lead-off spot in 2007. In fact, I would say barring a major injury to Pie, it is likely that the Cubs will not make much of an effort to re-sign Pierre, and he will leave after this season. And then Pie would take over CF and hit lead-off in 2007.

"Also, even though I can't see Pie as a lead-off hitter (no way!), I suspect Hendry and Baker do"

Aren't we past the suspecting stage. Wasn't Pie mainly a lead off hitter during the spring.

#23 phil wrote:
Hendry's idea that Jones can play RF and routinely face LHP was the big miscalculation.

phil, the word "big" seems to understate this. information that jones had wicked lh/rh splits and a high strikeout rate was clearly available to several readers of this blog; how does the general manager miss the boat? where were the scouts in this; other posters have seen jones play and state his abilities defensively are suspect?
and is the fact jones was signed for 3 years a very early indication that hendry knew immediately that pierre was a one-year player only? that hendry basically threw in the towel on trying to sign pierre long-term, and is expecting his 2007 outfield to be murton-pie-jones? giving up on pierre while there is 6 months worth of exclusive negotiating time seems wrong; but i may be overstating this.
thanks as always for the thorough posts!!
dc

The Jones for 3 yr signing is made even worse because he is almost untradeable. At least without paying much of his remaining contract.( ala LaTroy Hawkins) It also points to Hendry's shortsightedness in not offering arb. to Burnitz and to a lesser extent Nomar. If either one of them would have accepted arbitration, we would have had our 1yr Rf'er in tow. If they wouldnt have accepted, we would have had an extra 1st rounder for nomar and a 1st and 3rd for Burny to search for our Rf'er of the future. As much as I like some of Jim Hendry's moves, he really doesnt work the financial system to his advantage as much as I would like to see.

growing up in the early 80s (born in the mid70s) i was under the impression guys like vince coleman, mcgee, r.henderson, rock raines were the norm.

was nice to see grissom and lofton come along in the 90s and steal some again (not to mention lofton's amazing D).

vince coleman was amazing...you KNEW he was gonna steal...the manager knew...the pitcher knew...the catcher knew....good luck doing it, though.

Good to see other people seeing Jock Jones as an albatross.

3 years is what really gets my goat, especially when he's already your third best outfielder, and when Pie is ready - your fourth.

What I'm afraid will happen is Pie will get ready and the cubs will trade Murton, something I've heard sports-talk radio speculate like it's a good thing. "Lock up Pierre cause he's a LEAD OFF hitter and get Pie up to play right, then move Jones to left." It's the "Kenny Lofton saved our season" myth replaying itself - so now people are adamant that the Cubs should lock up a speedster with declining stats and a rag arm on the downside of his career.

I like watching Pierre play and he's a good addition, but getting rid of young cheap talent like Murton so you can keep Pie, Murton, Pierre and (ugh) Jones in the same outfield is ludicrous.

but getting rid of young cheap talent like Murton so you can keep Pie, Murton, Pierre and (ugh) Jones in the same outfield is ludicrous.

not to mention, impossible.

post #2 by Tom C: i find that my own hatred of the cardinals is one that grew gradually over the years starting around the time we were joined by the brewers i think? but i totally agree with you on some unexplainable dislike for the mets that wont subside regardless of division...wait a minute, it is explainable. the fucking mets suck! ahahaha. hate the mets. always, always hate the mets. this is a law of nature. (and not only that, my kids are running rampant as well)

hey phil, way to field all these comments and stuff today. and thanks for the positive outlook!

Re: which team has the most talent, the Cubs or or the Cardinals: The Cardinals starting rotation and the ability of its guys to take the ball and make their starts, along with having 3 guys in the line-up who are well on their way to Cooperstown in the heart of their line-up give the Cardinals a definite edge. The Cardinals are not as good as they were in 2004-05, atrocious problems in the corner outfield and 2B and Edmonds is starting to fade. But neither are the Cubs as their rotation after Maddux and Zambrano is pretty much AAA (or in poor Sean Marshall's case AA).

Re the return of the two myths, Prior and Wood, I have this to say. The Cubs have every reason to accent the positive in their rehab. It boosts the morale of the players (if we can hang around .500, when the big guys come back, then we can compete). Perhaps more importantly, it encourages fans to believe that the team will be competitive and July, August & September and hence worth paying $120 in advance for four bleacher seats to watch the Cubs play the Marlins (such an enticing prospect). Prior's shoulder problems sound a lot like Wood's problems of last year. Matt Morris came back in 2005 from labrum surgery in 2004, but was not the same Matt Morris, relying in guile and finesse and no longer capable of throwing sustained hard stuff. Guile and finesse are not two words I associate with Kerry. Hopefully my pessimism this year is as wrong as my optimism was last year, but I won't be fooled again Mr. McPhail.

Finally, looking at the all the money the Cubs are spending on mediocrity (Jones, Howry, Eyre, Nefi, etc.) or disability (Prior & Wood) I can't say the Cubs don't spend money, just that they spend it unwisely, emotionally, and in reaction to previous mistakes. There is a lack of a plan, or at least the discipline to stick with a plan (hence promoting Marshall, a kid with history of arm problems who has just completed his first healty seson at the Class A level, into the starting rotation based on a few Spring innings to fill a gap created by the earlier mistake of not signing or trading for starting pitching help. Instead, management hoped with Prior and Wood would that the visit to Lourdes in the off-season would do the trick).

Re the Jaques Jones signing: It again reflects Hendry's overvaluing apparent speed in a player. Because Jones appears faster then Burnitz, he must be a better player right? Hendry's and Gary Hughes obsession with pure speed is one reason the Cubs farm system is so bereft of hitting talent. They keep forgetting that speed can't steal 1b and it can't hit the cutoff man.

burn is making 1.5m more than jones and is a lot older.

burn's D is superior...nothing ever been wrong with his arm in RF. jones isnt a guy you're gonna run at will on, though.

at bat jones is gonna chace some ugly pitches low and look like an idiot vs. lefties unless something's happened to his game...

RF's thin all over for a couple years now...it pretty much came down to encarcenon or jones and both came wanting 3 years. no telling what else could have been done in trade, but there wasnt a lot of dealing going on there.

burn is making 1.5m more than jones and is a lot older.

Burny is worth more money since he only requires a 1 yr commitment. He wouldnt have got more than 5 mil in Arbitration.

WSCR: Neifi is starting 2B and will be batting 2nd.
Is this really starting already?

I really don't get this move...
Here's the numbers for Neifi and Walker vs. Suppan:
Neifi: 12 AB .250 AVG .308 OBP .250 SLG .558 OPS
Walker 34 AB .294 AVG .314 OBP .412 SLG .726 OPS

Is Suppan a ground out pitcher? Is that why this is happening? Still... I think this is bad considering it's happening so early in the season.

MORE CUBS MINOR LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS/LOWLIGHTS -
FROM WEST TENN AA OPENING NIGHT VS BIRMINGHAM (WHITE SOX):

Chris Walker, CF: 2-4, R, RBI, 2B, 3B, HBP, SB
Eric Patterson, 2B: 3-4, R, 2 RBI, 3B, BB
Brian Dopirak, 1B: 1-3, K (left game with foot injury)
Scott Moore, 3B: 2-5, R, 2B, 2 K, GIDP
Luis Montanez, LF: 1-3, R, BB, SH (OF ASSIST - RUNNER OUT AT HOME)
Richard Lewis, DH: 1-5, K
Adam Greenberg, RF: 0-4, 2 K, SH
Jose Reyes, C: 0-3, RBI, K (left game with hand injury)
Carlos Rojas, SS: 2-3, R, SH

PITCHERS:
J. R. Mathes 6-8-3-3-0-1, 1 HR
Rocky Cherry 2-0-0-0-0-2 (WIN)
Clay Rapada 1-0-0-0-0-0 (SAVE)

MORE CUBS MINOR LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS/LOWLIGHTS -
FROM DAYTONA HI-A OPENING NIGHT VS BREVARD COUNTY (MIL):

Sam Fuld, CF: 1-5, R, RBI, HR, K
Jemel Spearman, 3B: 0-5, 5 K
Nic Jackson, RF: 0-4, 2 K
Jacob Fox, C: 1-3, 3 R, 2B, BB, K
Jeff Culpepper, LF: 0-3, BB, K, CS, OF ASSIST
Matt Craig, 1B: 1-4
Issmael Salas, 2B: 2-4, RBI
Joe Simokaitis, SS: 3-3, 2 RBI, BB
Olin Wick, DH: 0-2 K
Nate Spears, DH: 0-2

NOTES:
N. Jackson (ex-40 man roster) returning from shoulder surgery
Simokaitis (ex-U. of Nebraska) played in NCAA CWS last year
Spears acquired from BAL in Corey Paterson deal

PITCHERS:
Justin Berg 4-6-4-4-3-4, 2 WP
Matt Weber 2-5-2-2-0-0
Angelo Burrows 2-5-3-3-0-0
Carlos Vasquez 1-1-0-0-1-0

NOTES:
J. Berg was acquired from NYY for Matt Lawton last season.
A. Burrows was acquired from ATL for Todd Hollandsworth last season.
C. Vasquez (ex-40 man roster) returning from shoulder surgery

ALSO BREVARD COUNTY WAS 5-5 IN SB ATTEMPT

OMG - the perfet relef pitcher name - ROCKY CHERRY - I can only hope he makes the Bigs.

Actually, This is what I really expected:
Dusty, to himself in the shower, "That Murton kid hasn't had a hit since Monday, Mabry is hot, HR last AB. Maybe it's time for the kid to sit and watch."
and then
"Cedeno really screwed up that runner going home. He should watch Neifi! and learn"

In case anyone cares, Jon Connolly was released a few weeks backs.

Chadd Blasko is still around

Nic Jackson will be in Daytona at some point soon...

looks like Jackson is already there..thanks for the update AZ Phil

Burny is worth more money since he only requires a 1 yr commitment. He wouldnt have got more than 5 mil in Arbitration.

Burnitz made 5 million with the Cubs last year, he would certainly have made more in arbitration.

Aribtration would have put his salary much closer to the 7 million included in his second year option.

Burnitz ended up getting a 6.7 million dollar deal with the Pirates, after backing out of a similar offer from Baltimore, its just not realistic to think the Cubs could have kept him around for much less.

MORE CUBS MINOR LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS/LOWLIGHTS -
FROM PEORIA (LO-A) OPENING NIGHT VS WISCONSIN (SEA):

Davy Gregg, CF: 0-5, 2K
Matt Ciaramella, RF: 0-5, 2 K
Robinson Chirinos, 2B: 1-4, R, 3 K
Ryan Norwood, 1B: 3-5, 2B, 2 K
Alberto Garcia, DH: 2-4, K
Brandon Taylor, 3B: 2-4, R, RBI, K, CS
Johnny Defendis, LF: 0-3, BB, K, OF ASSIST
Mark Reed, C: 3-4, SB
Dylan Johnston, SS: 1-2, BB, K, SB

NOTE: Ciamarella was acquired from BOS for J. Van Buren

PITCHER:
Donnie Veal: 3.1-2-4-4-6-2, HR

(NOT A GOOD FIRST LINE FOR ONE OF THE CUBS TOP PITCHING PROSPECTS!)

RELOCATED FROM OTHER THREAD:

Iowa Cubs lose home opener to Albuquerque (Marlins AAA), 8-4.

HIGHLIGHTS/LOWLIGHTS

Felix Pie, CF: 0-4, BB, 2 K
Ryan Theriot, 2B: 2-3, R, RBI, 2B, 2 BB, SB, K
Casey McGehee, 3B: 1-4, BB, K
Michael Restovich, LF: 0-4, R, BB, 4 K
Brandon Sing, 1B: 2-3, BB, HBP, K
Geovany Soto, C: 1-5, RBI, K
Buck Coats, RF: 1-4, K, SB
Augie Ojeda, SS: 2-3, R, BB
Jae-Kuk Ryu, SP: 2 SH

PITCHERS:
Jae-Kuk Ryu: 5-5-1-1-1-5 (76 pitches)
Bobby Brownlie: 0.2-5-4-4-1-1 (32 pitches)
Mark Watson: 1-3-2-2-1-3, HBP
Brandon Emanuel: 2-2-1-1-2-2

For Albuquerque
Renyel Pinto: 3.2-2-3-3-7-5, 3 WP (87 pitches)
(ex-Cub traded to Marlins in Pierre deal):

Doesn't look like Ryu had a good outing.

His outting was decent, it was Brownlie who stunk it up.

AZ Phil,

Any updates on the severity of Dopirak's foot injury?

Burnitz made 5 million with the Cubs last year, he would certainly have made more in arbitration.

Aribtration would have put his salary much closer to the 7 million included in his second year option.

there is no way of knowing for sure, but I would think that Burny would have gotten The 5mil that Jones/PWilson/Jencarnacion gotten if he had accepted arb. Even if he would have gotten 6 mil. It is better to pay Burny 6 mil for 1 yr than to pay Jack Jones 16 mil over 3 yrs. When We eventually wise up and try and dump the frenchman, it will cost alot more than that 1 million dollar difference.

Watching the Cards play the Phillies, I was amazed at the difference between the Cards game, and how sloppy the Cubs' first two games have been....

We can't compete with that. I hope the Cubs shape up, but if this continues, there's just no way. We don't play that solid defense, we don't hit like that outside of Murton/Walker(when Dusty isn't playing Neifi)/Lee/Ramirez, and we don't have their pitching consistency until the Savior-Children come back and immediately begin throwing lightning bolts across the plate...

#60 of 62: By Derek (April 7, 2006 02:06 PM)
AZ Phil,

Any updates on the severity of Dopirak's foot injury?

---

DEREK: Not yet.

there is no way of knowing for sure, but I would think that Burny would have gotten The 5mil that Jones/PWilson/Jencarnacion gotten if he had accepted arb.

There's no way of knowing for sure, but there is a little common sense involved.

If multiple teams were willing to give Burnitz 6+ million, he simply would have refused arbitration if he didn't think there was an excellent chance of getting more than 6 million via arbitration.

Are these the Cubs I'm hearing? These guys can run! And catch the ball! And squeeze! And they're playing alert D - Murton may have a weak arm, but his head's in the game, like when he doubled Incarnacion off first.

Isn't it terrific to see the Cards being pressured into mistakes by good, fundamental baseball?

Sorry to run on, but happiness does that to me ...

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