I had an e-mail chat with Daniel Shoptaw last weekend, someone I met when I was looking for really good baseball bloggers a couple of years ago. His blog, C70 At The Bat, follows the daily ongoings of his favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals. You can also find him on Twitter at @C70.
We started by chatting about Albert Pujols and ended up talking about Pujols (in part two). It should give you a pretty good inside look at the Cardinals from a guy who follows the team very closely. In part one, we chat about the Albert Pujols contract negotiations, Adam Wainwright’s injury, and Mark McGwire.
GG: On this side of the US, we only hear the national perspective of the Albert Pujols contract negotiations. Is the local perspective different? How do the fans view the negotiations and who are they blaming; Pujols, or Cards management?
C70: Right now, I don’t think a majority of the fans are really blaming anyone. Reasonable fans know that there was little chance that things were going to get done this spring and that the Cardinals still have an excellent chance to sign him. I think the biggest difference between following this as part of your fanbase and following it as part of a national story is that the local perspective hasn’t said it is cut and dried that he’s going anywhere else. Maybe that’s a little wishful thinking, but there are a lot of solid reasons for that, reasons that resonate more when you are in the eye of the storm, as it were.
There are, of course, those fans that think that Bill DeWitt should have signed over a blank check and there are others that think Albert is all about the top dollar and will never stay in St. Louis. I don’t think either of those camps have a majority, though if Albert does leave this winter, both of those camps will grow significantly.
GG: It’s interesting that you mentioned the fans who forget about the business side of baseball and just expect Albert to be given whatever he wants. Kenny Williams (and I imagine many owners) disagree. What did you think of Kenny Williams’ description of that 30 million number as “asinine”?
C70: Of course it is. It’s ridiculous that teams spend $5 million a year on ballplayers, much less $25 million or $30 million. The whole thing is nuts.
However, within the context of what the market is, $30 million isn’t that out of bounds. We’ve seen the calculations that project he’ll be worth close to that, if not exceed it. When you factor in what he’s done in the past, a little overpay sounds reasonable.
One of the examples floating around Cardinal circles is whether a 20-year, $400 million contract would be reasonable for AP. $20 million a year is a great deal, right? Well, the Cards have had him for 10 years at $100 million, so another 10 at $300 would average that out…..
GG: The latest news is that ace starting pitcher Adam Wainwright could be out for the season and is possibly facing Tommy John surgery. Anytime you lose a starter as good as Wainwright to such an injury, it hurts. Tony LaRussa has said that the person replacing Wainwright will come from within. Who do you expect it to be and how do fans view the situation?
C70: Lots of possibilities on Wainwright’s replacement. The smart money seems to be on Kyle McClellan moving from the bullpen into that starting role. McClellan came to camp in 2009 prepared to be a starter if Chris Carpenter wasn’t ready, then prepared as a starter again in 2010 for the open fifth starter slot that Jaime Garcia wound up winning. He’s on a starter regimen again in camp, so it won’t be a big stretch to see him taking that slot.
If, though, the powers that be aren’t sure how he’ll be replaced in the bullpen (he’s a key cog that is projected to be a seventh-inning type), there are other options. Ian Snell was signed in the offseason, but few if any expect he’ll get a serious look unless the famed Dave Duncan magic takes hold quickly. PJ Walters also has an outside shot, but is more likely to take a bullpen role if McClellan gets promoted. Probably the most serious competition to McClellan would be Lance Lynn, a pitcher who has yet to make his major league debut but seem to take the next step last year and will be the first starter up if he doesn’t win the competition.
Reaction to Wainwright’s surgery was pretty much what you would expect, with some fans writing off the season while others were looking for the positives. I lean more toward the latter–for instance, Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds for the Cardinals dropped dramatically without Wainwright, but they were still the best in the NL Central.
GG: Even though it took two years, you have a great example right there in the starting rotation of someone who came back from Tommy John surgery in Chris Carpenter. He’s had two really nice years since coming back from the injury. Do you think Carpenter will be able to be closer to that 2009 guy who was one of the best starters in the game, or the 2010 guy who fell off ever so slightly?
C70: I think it’s asking a lot of Carpenter for him to replicate 2009. 2010 is probably more in the range of plausibility, but remember that he threw more innings last season than he had since 2005. It was great to see him make 35 starts, but will he be able to do that again? That said, before hitting the 200 inning mark, he was was something like 14-5 with an ERA under 3.00. I think if he stays healthy, you’ll see numbers in line with what he did last season, which is still better than the aces of a lot of teams.
GG: Close to this time last year, the media jumped all over the story of Mark McGwire returning to St. Louis as the batting coach. Now that a year has passed, how do you view the job he did in the role? And I imagine the furor has died completely and he can just do his job without answering to the media like he was a player?
Mark McGwire did a very wise thing at the beginning of spring training last year. The first day he was there, he had a 15-20 minute informal question and answer session with the media. He stayed until there were no more questions and he didn’t do a lot of dodging and weaving, coming at the questions head-on. You might not have agreed with all the answers, but it was obvious it was the truth as he saw it and that did wonders to keep any steroid-related hoopla to a minimum. After that session, I honestly don’t think it was brought up again. If it was, it was in a visiting city and it didn’t get back to the St. Louis faithful.
So after a year under his belt, it’s tough to say what the Cards have in him as a hitting coach. There was a lot of inconsistency out of the team last year. Games where it looked like things would click would be followed by stretches where two runs a night was a good thing. Statistically, his first year was much like Hal McRae’s last year in 2009, so for a first year coach, that’s probably not too bad.
McGwire has talked a lot about his opinion that the hitters are too reliant on video, not able to adjust to those pitchers that they don’t have a book on. It got to the point last year (and, honestly, the last couple of years) where if a pitcher had just been called up from the minors or if they had a losing record and a high ERA, they were going to shut the team down. Whatever the reason, it seemed like bad pitchers turned into worldbeaters against St. Louis. For goodness sakes, they started calling Bud Norris Chuck when he went against them!
It will be interesting to see if they try to get a more fundamental approach to hitting installed this year. I lean toward giving McGwire a bit of a pass from last year, what with having to adjust to doing this on a daily basis and getting back into the grind of things. He almost didn’t return for this year, as his wife had triplets during last season, but felt like the home life was under control enough for him to return. If this year is like last year, though, he will probably not return for 2012.
In part two, which will be posted next week, we’ll talk about who Daniel thinks is a good Fantasy sleeper, whether the Cardinals have what it takes to make the postseason, and ultimately, where Pujols ends up.
Photo of Pujols shared by Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license