Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Cardinals' Uneventful Offseason Hits A Pothole

I'm not talking about the signing of Ronny Cedeno. That's an uninspiring move, but there's a chance he could replicate his good defensive numbers from two years ago in Pittsburgh while backing up Furcal, when he was 10 runs better than average by Total Zone, and worth 1.2 defensive WAR. I'm not expecting him to hit. Last year was the first of his career with an above average OPS, and the first one since his rookie season with an OPS+ better than 90. The surprising result was because a) he had a 73 point gap between batting average and on-base percentage, compared to 43 points for his career, and b) his isolated power was 151, compared to a career average of 110.

It all screams "FLUKE" to me, like those seasons Jack Wilson would have every so often where his iso would double for one year. He was 29, which would make him a late bloomer (and also exiting his prime), and it was in 186 plate appearances. He hit 4 HRs last year, which is a total he's exceeded 3 times: 2006 (6 HRs in 572 PAs), 2009 (10 in 372), and 2010 (8 in 502). So no, I don't expect Cedeno to hit this year, but if he can play the same level of defense he did in 2011, I'll take it. Though a Cedeno/Descalso starting infield would be an offensive disaster nearly on par with the 2010 Ryan/Schumaker combo (though it might be better defensively, not involving Skip Schumaker).

That was a lot more words than I intended to spend on Ronny Cedeno, when the big issue is Chris Carpenter. He's having more of the same nerve trouble that kept him out last year. I'm not sure how many more ribs they can (or should) remove at this stage, even assuming that would help. The Cards don't seem to expect Carp to pitch at all this year, though I haven't heard anything from Carpenter to the effect he's retiring or giving up on the season. Wouldn't blame him if he did, he's already had about 8 surgical procedures to get back on the mound. Nobody would judge if he said enough is enough.

OK, some people would judge, but they're assholes and we all know it, so we can ignore them.

For the Cardinals, it opens up a rotation spot for one of the young guys. I think Joe Kelly might have the lead on the "been there before grounds", since he was in the rotation for most of the season. I'd prefer to see Shelby Miller myself, let Rosenthal work on the secondary pitches in AAA some more, and Kelly can be a righty specialist out of the 'pen. Or work on trying to get out lefthanders more consistently in the minors. Whichever suits the team's needs. I wanted to see more of the young guys in the rotation, but not because Carp was out. Garcia's shoulder implodes? Sure (and it'll probably still happen). Westbrook doesn't get a new contract last August, and leaves in free agency? Absolutely.

It's Carpenter they're losing, though. I don't know what to say about him. He's probably one of my three or four favorite Cardinals' starting pitchers of all time. Part of that is because he was so damn good. His healthy years were some of the best I've seen from a Cardinal, up there with John Tudor and Bob Tewksbury. Part of it was the injuries he was either coming back from, or seemingly on the verge of. I think that's a lot of it. All pitchers are injury risks, but with Carpenter there was this tangible sense that his elbow would go again, or his shoulder, and that might be it. It made me appreciate his healthy seasons all the more, while hating and dreading those injuries, because they were going to shut him down again.

Carpenter pitched a lot of great games for the Cardinals. His summer of 2005 was nothing but. The Game 3 in the 2006 World Series, the Game 7 in the 2011 World Series. Outpitching Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the Divisional Series in 2011. For me though, the game that stands out was the season finale that year.

Yeah, it was against the suckass Astros. But those same Astros had kicked around Garcia and especially Westbrook the two previous games, taxing the bullpen. And the Cardinals still had to win the game to have any chance of making the postseason. During the game the night before, as the team scrambled to come back and hold on, Carpenter told Dave Duncan to the effect, "Don't worry about the bullpen, I've got tomorrow covered." And then he went and threw a complete game shutout. Yeah, against the Astros, but in a game the Cards needed, and he came through.

I'm not sure players can or should care about every game as much as we do, because it's their job, and they have to go back in the next day. To let their failures in some May game eat them up the way fans do (they way I did about the series with the Mets last year, for example), would only distract them. But in the big games, I love the players that have that aura that it does matter as much to them as it does to me. That they hate losing, and so they want the damn ball because they know they'll get the job done. Carpenter had that, even when he struggled (the '06 NLCS), and that's why I always believed he'd come through, or do everything he possibly could if he didn't.