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Cardinals Spring Training Warm-Up; A Farewell to Arms

Posted: February 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Finally! It’s almost here!

No, not my resignation as a writer.

Tuesday, the Cardinals pitchers and catchers will officially report to Spring Training in Jupiter. Hard to believe it’s been almost four months since our beloved Redbirds were last playing.

While this has been a relatively quiet off-season for the team, there have been a few changes. I’ll start with the (relatively) smaller changes before I hit the bigger ones.

Kyle McClellan released

This was a fairly obvious move coming. With the influx of flamethrowers emerging from the minors and McClellan’s injury struggles, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that K-Mac would be gone.

Don’t cry too hard, though, as K-Mac didn’t stay unemployed for long. He’s signed a minor-league contract with the Rangers with an invite to spring training.

Justin Christian, Rob Johnson, Ty Wigginton signed

The first two are strictly depth moves. Justin Christian will likely help out in AAA Memphis, as there likely won’t be many chances for him in the outfield barring injury. Ditto Rob Johnson, who will probably work with the minor league staff as a catcher.

Wigginton, on the other hand, will be a depth move for the big league club, as the team suffered from a relative lack of right-handed pop off the bench last year. Wigginton’s numbers aren’t incredibly sexy, but he has a career OBP of .354 against lefties with a decent .456 slugging percentage against them. He’s also hit 22 or more home runs four times in his career. Should Descalso win the starting spot off the bench, Wigginton could be a decent complement to Matt Carpenter’s bat off the bench in pinch-hitting situations this season.

Randy Choate signed

This may be the Cardinals’ most important, least-heralded signing of the off-season. With Rzepczynski’s struggles last year, the team lacked a truly efficient LOOGY the first half of the season. Choate is very effective against left-handed batters (career .201/.278/.284 line against him), but has fared much more poorly against righties. This will give Matheny two lefties to match up against teams late in the game.

Arbitration avoided

The Cardinals had five players who were arbitration eligible this year, and they avoided mediation with all of them.

Mitchell Boggs signed relatively early in the process, as did Edward Mujica. Jason Motte, now entrenched as the Cardinals’ closer, signed a two-year deal for $12 million that will buy out his remaining arbitration year.

Marc Rzepczynski, the much-maligned lefty specialist, signed earlier in January.

Today, it was announced that David Freese agreed to a one-year contract worth over $3 million, preventing the team from having to go to arbitration for the first time since 1999, when they won their case against pitcher Darren Oliver.

Skip Schumaker traded

Dry your eyes, ladies. Yes, I know you’re sad.

The truth is, though, with the emergence of Jon Jay in center field, the ascension of Oscar Taveras as one of the top-hitting prospects in all of baseball, and Skip’s relative weakness at second, he became the odd man out late in the season, even when the team struggled up the middle in the infield. The Dodgers, buying up pretty much any player available, gladly took Skip in exchange for minor league shortstop Jake Lemmerman.

And now…

Carpenter to miss 2013…

…and likely beyond.

The bulldog of the Cardinals’ rotation when healthy, it was announced earlier this week that Chris Carpenter would miss 2013 with recurring issues in his shoulder. Given his age and the gravity of the condition, it’s unlikely he’ll put on a Cardinals uniform as a player ever again, and just as unlikely he’ll ever pitch in hte majors again.

When I first heard back in 2002 that the Cardinals had signed Chris Carpenter, my first thought was…wasn’t he drafted like 15 years ago?

Turns out my mind was thinking of Cris Carpenter.

Whatever. Close enough, right?

Whatever. Close enough, right? Turns out that set of baseball cards I got in first grade really stuck with me.

All Carpenter has done since then has provide one of the most exceptional pitching performances ever displayed in a Cardinals uniform.

Carp won the Cy Young in 2005 and finished in the top three in voting two other times. He also became the winningest pitcher in post-season history for the team, notching ten wins, including such memorable performances as his dominance in game 3 of the 2006 World Series, his gutsy performance on three days’ rest in game 7 of 2011, and game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, arguably the greatest-pitched post-season game (for the Cardinals) since Bob Gibson struck out 17 in game 1 of the ’68 World Series.

His ferocity was infamous. He wasn’t above getting angry at his teammates when they screwed up (note, the infamous Brendan Ryan glove mix-up), and he certainly didn’t make any friends on the field, eh Nyjer? *

* –¬†I don’t think I’m alone when I say I didn’t shed too many tears when I found out Nyjer wouldn’t be playing in the majors anywhere on this continent this year.

He didn’t have to, though. He did everything in his power to help his team win, and his competitive drive was one of the many things that made him a great pitcher.

There’s so much I could write about Chris, but this article’s getting long enough, and I still have yet to write about the biggest event to befall Cardinal nation this winter. I will end with a thank you.

Thanks Chris, for everything you did for this club. Whatever you do from here on, I hope you look with pride at the 2006 and 2011 banners, knowing they wouldn’t have been raised without the help of your arm.

Scream on, you crazy diamond. Photo by Eileen Blass, USA Today

Scream on, you crazy diamond.
Photo by Eileen Blass, USA Today

Stan The Man passes on

I meant to write a longer story when it happened, but I just couldn’t put the words down.

I wish I had a Stan story. Seems like everyone had one.

His generosity with his time. His astonishing kindness. His willingness to stand up to racism when his teammates threatened to boycott games in which they’d play against black players.

Everyone has a Stan story.

There was the time he was mobbed by fans, exhausted after playing a game in the sweltering heat, when he likely just wanted to rest, but refused to disappoint anyone and stayed signing autographs well into the evening. That story happened maybe one or two…thousand…times.

There was the time he was the highest-paid player in the National League and offered to play for a smaller contract after an off-year.

There was the time he moved out of his condo during spring training so he could help unite the team by insisting all players live together in the same complex.

There was the time in 1948 he led the National League in just about every hitting category but home runs (off the lead by one, fans still insist he would have tied for the league lead had it not been washed out by rain).

There were the three times he won league MVP. Only one person in the history of the game has won more than Stan.

There were the 55 records he held by the end of his career. To this day, nobody’s hit more home runs in the All-Star Game than he.

There was his recognition as one hell of a human being when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive.

I truly wish I could have seen you play, Stan. I wish even more I could have met you. Still, what you did for this team, this city, for baseball, will resonate for a long time.

I guess I do have a Stan story.

Despite my incredible affinity for the Cardinals, I’d never made it to a home opener until last year, when my pulchritudinous friend Lauren was generous enough to buy me one for my birthday. We waited out the agonizing rain delay pounding a few drinks at a bar down the street until the game was ready to get underway. When we settled in, the team did the traditional parade of player introductions around the warning track, followed by the living Hall of Famers.

One by one they rode in on carts until only one was left.

As his cart circled the outfield, the roar grew deafening. And when he reached home plate for the final time, he looked around and wave, as though thanking the crowd, when really we were thanking him.

For a career of greatness.

For a lifetime of integrity.

For an eternity of stories.