Cardinals Are Not Dormant During Winter

cardsWhile for a lot of teams, the offseason is a quiet time, a time for renewal and reflection.  For the Cardinals, this offseason has been anything but.

It would have been hard to believe after the final out of the NLDS that anything would overshadow the pursuit of Matt Holliday during the winter. After all, St. Louis had mortgaged their future, to some extent, to bring him into the fold. Holliday promised to be one of the top free agents on the market and one that would draw a lot of attention from around baseball.

However, the Holliday pursuit was moved to the back burner with the November announcement that Mark McGwire would be returning to baseball as the Cardinals’ hitting coach. McGwire, who had been out of baseball since the end of the 2001 season and had kept a low profile since his disastrous 2005 testimony before Congress, was not present at the announcement of his hiring, but the team promised he would be available to the press at some time.

26 Feb 2001: Mark McGwire #25 of the St. Louis...
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That time was January, as McGwire met the media and admitted what had long been suspected, that he used steroids during his playing career, including his record-setting 1998 campaign. McGwire made the rounds with his apology and admittance, but his stance that steroids didn’t help him hit home runs undercut any good will that had been generated by his coming forth.  An incomprehensible press conference at the team’s Winter Warm-Up, where the press was herded into a crowded hallway and only allowed a few minutes with McGwire, didn’t help in the war of public relations either.

The Holliday situation came to a head before McGwire’s admission.  Just as reports had the Cards setting a firm deadline and preparing to walk away, the two sides came together and hammered out a seven-year, $120 million contract.  While the total numbers weren’t exactly in the range where Scott Boras expected them to be, it still is the most expensive contract ever handed out by St. Louis.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08:  Matt Holliday #...

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That distinction is expected to last until the Cardinals come to terms with first baseman Albert Pujols.  This offseason, there was a lot of talk about extending Pujols’s deal, which expires (after a team option) at the end of the ’11 season.  Pujols has said that he won’t have negotiations during the season, leaving the team a short window to do anything before the ’10 season kicks off.

While the team has expressed strong interest in getting the job done, Pujols’s comments have been at least interpreted in various ways.  While he has said that he’s prepared to become a free agent, he’s also said that he’d consider a discount to stay.  He’s indicated there is no rush to get him signed, preferring the team focus on their pursuit of Holliday.  Now that he’s in the fold, that focus has changed.

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The contract status of Pujols will be one of the major topics during the coming season.  He may not want to discuss it, but the rest of us will.

The Cardinals also worked on their pitching staff during the winter, signing Brad Penny to a one-year deal and bringing in former Cub Rich Hill as a non-roster invitee to spring training. As it stands now, this is the look of the Cardinals going into the spring (at least from this writer’s viewpoint).

2B Skip Schumaker
SS Brendan Ryan
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Ryan Ludwick
CF Colby Rasmus
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese

Bench: C Jason LaRue, INF Julio Lugo, rest TBD

SP Chris Carpenter
SP Adam Wainwright
SP Kyle Lohse
SP Brad Penny
SP Rich Hill/Jaime Garcia/Mitchell Boggs

RP Kyle McClellan
RP Blake Hawksworth
RP Ben Jakish (Rule V from Reds)
RP Jason Motte
RP Dennys Reyes
RP Trever Miller

CP Ryan Franklin

The bench will likely be a focus of GM John Mozeliak’s in the days leading up to and even into spring training.  However, the Cardinals have a strong core for 2010.

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