Back from an extended holiday weekend (and having to watch/listen to that Cubs series with a group of friends who are all Cubs fans), I thought it best to leave the weekend be what it was and look ahead to the “second half” of the season with only two series remaining before the All-Star break.
First, congrats to Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick for making the NL All-Star team. Some think Luddy doesn’t deserve it (I’m glaring at you Keith Law), yet he was voted in by the players, so I find it hard to argue with that validation. I think Kyle Lohse deserved to be on the team too, but alas, I only have twenty-five votes.
Mark Mulder is returning to the starting rotation on Wednesday night against the Phillies. Hold onto your hats. Here’s hoping he’s got that arm slot right. Mulder was knocked around in only his second appearance (both were in relief) with the Cardinals this season, but apparently Tony and Dunc have seen something they like out of the guy. His velocity has been good, his breaking pitches seemingly average. I think location becomes the key for this guy. Well, that, and can he maintain his velocity and composure for five or six innings. I’ve long thought that the Cards could benefit from having a left-handed starter back in the rotation, but never in a million years did I think Mulder would get another shot at being that guy. If he can provide ANY productive starts between now and the end of the season, I think it would be a lot more than Cardinals fans (and maybe team officials) would’ve expected.
Speaking of contributions from pitchers, there was some “progress” with the other three most talked about injured names from the Cardinal disabled list. Matt Clement was not ready to come back but at the end of his rehab clock, so was placed on waivers. He has cleared, and will remain in Memphis trying to build up his arm strength. Adam Wainwright has been cleared to start throwing, and the Cards hope for him to start a rehab assignment within a week or two. Chris Carpenter has made continued progress in Jupiter, pitching simulated games on a strict pitch count. My take? Clement is done, won’t see him in the bigs this year, maybe ever again. Wainwright is an interesting case, one where looking at the long term deal they just gave him, I hope they don’t rush him back just for the sake of trying to squeeze a few wins out of him down the stretch this season and wind up having him take the Carpenter route for the next two. Let the guy get truly healthy, and bring him back with that nasty hammer. Carpenter is perhaps the most interesting of the three. He has been rumored to be headed for a relief role upon returning, trying to work his arm back into shape where he can start full-time in 2009. If the reports of his simulated games are true, that he’s throwing 60 pitches and Mozeliak calls them “glowing,” then why wouldn’t the Cards try to get him back into some starts around say late-August? I know, I’m contradicting my approach with Wainwright, but there’s no talk of Waino going back into the ‘pen. If Carp comes up and throws in middle relief for two weeks, then starts if the Cards are still in the race come September, I reckon I’d be fine with that too. As I’ve whined about on many occasions before, the Cards could never have enough solid pitching in the bullpen this season.
This brings me to the roster moves made. Cesar Izturis has rejoined the team, which I believe will improve the lineup. Obviously he’s never been and never will be a world-beater at the plate, but I sincerely believe his defense at shortstop was a big reason for the great start to the season by the Cardinals’ starting pitchers. Mitchell Boggs was sent down, which was inevitable following his disastrous last start with the team.
To me the most interesting move was Brian Barton to the disabled list, making room for a second recall for Joe Mather. Barton certainly isn’t unique for the Cardinals this year, joining the disabled list under what seemed like a “suspicious” ailment – not that he wasn’t fighting through something, but they carried Rick Ankiel and Yadier Molina through worse – which opens a box of opportunities for the Cardinals.
By now, everyone knows the story of Barton having to stay on the Cards’ 25-man roster, be sent back to Cleveland, or traded to another team that must keep him on their 25-man roster. Well, the caveat to that is if he is hurt and sent on a rehab assignment. So now Mozeliak has an opportunity to rest him for 15 days, then send him on a fairly lengthy rehab assignment. Could they be auditioning Barton for a team that can more reasonably carry Barton on their 25-man this year? It would seem that trying to get Barton regular at-bats in Memphis would be an audition for a team that is out of the race this year, can carry him on their roster without harming the team’s chances this year, and then send him to triple-A next season for another year of seasoning before bringing him back up to be a full-time MLB player. Now, obviously Barton is already 26, so his clock is ticking – but I believe there could be a market for him.
Similarly interesting is the move to bring up Mather. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Mather is being auditioned for other clubs. He has killed triple-A pitching, but wasn’t really given an opportunity to show his wares or get in a groove during his earlier call up to the big club. The Cardinals have a glut of outfielders between Mather, Barton, Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick, Nick Stavinoha, Colby Rasmus, Cody Haerther, Shane Robinson, not to mention guys at lower levels like Jon Jay and Daryl Jones. I could see the Cards moving any two of Mather, Stavinoha, Barton, and/or Duncan in a deal for a stud reliever or perhaps in a bigger package for another big bat in the lineup. It will be interesting to keep track of Mather and Barton as we approach the deadline.
I plan to drop a lot more words about this on you all later, but in light of the two big moves made by the Cardinals’ division rivals – I hope Mozeliak stays the course. Trading someone like a Rasmus at this stage “just to keep up” would be a disastrous mistake. I’ve read things from lots of Cardinal fans upset that Mo wasn’t more involved in the CC Sabathia-stakes or moving on Rich Harden. They’re missing the one big picture that I hope Mozeliak keeps in mind.
The Cardinals don’t need starting pitching. Sure, Harden or Sabathia would displace one or more of the starters in the Cards’ current rotation. But the rotation hasn’t been the issue, and those guys would’ve almost certainly required a package starting with young guys that Mo is hesitant to give up.
So why not focus on needs? Get a big bat at 2B – if Oakland sold Harden, that pretty much sells out their season, right? Time to inquire about Dan Ellis. Hopefully Mo keeps in on the Brian Fuentes talks.
With the team (at least in many eyes) overperforming this season, but headed in the right direction with their young players both at the major-league level and in the system, now is not the time to sell out for “one more run.”
The same fans clamoring for Mozeliak to make a move now are those who were pleading with him when he took over the general manager duties to rebuild the farm system and make the Cards a self-sustaining franchise. Let’s give the guy a chance to do that.
Let’s go Cards!