Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Goodbye, Colby.

Looking back on it now, it seems like something that was inevitable. Colby Rasmus is an ex-Cardinal. To a certain degree, I think the Cardinals have made a bit of a mistake. Rasmus has issues, and had earned a fair bit of the ire that he's received from some corners of Cardinals nation. He's requested trades, and by many accounts, ignores the advice from the coaches that are paid to make him a better player in favor of the advice that his Dad (also his former high school coach). This has never sat well with TLR....and that is completely understandable. At the same time, it seems that La Russa has had his mind made up regarding Rasmus while he was still working his way up the minor league ladder.

Regardless, it isn't a stretch to say that Rasmus wasn't living up to expectations this year. His numbers have tumbled mightily after getting off to a good start, and he's started losing playing time to John Jay. He's one of those players that has so much natural talent that it can sometimes appear that he's loafing it in the outfield. Add to that a few dropped balls in some key situations, and you have a scenario that rarely plays well with a fan base that values hustle and "playing the game the right way."

So Rasmus leaves, along with relievers Brian Tallet, Trever Miller and minor leaguer P.J. Walters. The centerpiece of the players coming back is Edwin Jackson, an free agent to be who is in the midst of his best year in the majors. He'll be tough to resign, especially if he performs well now that he's moved over to the NL. The Cards also get relievers Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepcynksi and former Cub Corey Patterson.

This deal does seem to make the Cardinals better for the short term. The offense hasn't had much trouble putting up runs, the rotation has been decent, but the bullpen has shown a propensity to blow a lead in close games. This allows Skip Schumaker to see a little more time in the outfielder, so in theory the infield defense should improve a bit (though with the personnel in place, it will be a minimal increase). The team also expects Allen Craig back from a rehab stint sometime in early August. Kyle McClellan will move back to the bullpen, and the rotation shouldn't suffer from the addition of Jackson. Rzepcynski will hopefully be an upgrade in the left handed reliever department, Dotel has closing experience (a role I hope he never fills in STL) and there are worse backup outfielders in the league than Patterson.

I have mixed emotions on the deal. On one hand, Colby wasn't looking like the player that we expected him to be. But at 24, it isn't like he's reached that point in his career where he settles in as a 'good' player rather than improving and becoming a great player. Last year, Ludwick was sent packing after an underwhelming and injury filled first half, and Jay faltered a bit down the stretch as he went from sub to starter. But now we're sure he's ready to handle things as the starting center fielder? Then again, the only season that we should be worried about here is 2011 -- we might well wish this trade has never happened a year from now, but if the Cardinals can use this move to get into the playoffs and hopefully make a run to the World Series, the trade of Rasmus will be nothing more than a footnote to the season.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sometimes you can't win for trying

Saturday, July 9, 2011.....the day Derek Jeter became the 28th major leaguer to collect 3,000 hits. Only the 14th to collect all of his hits with one team. First Yankee to get 3,000 hits. 2nd player to homer on hit #3,000. Jeter had quite a day as I'm sure you've heard....going 5 for 5 (half of the Yankees total hits), missed the cycle by a triple, but did manage to drive in the winning run. It was the kind of day that sadly has been in short supply for Jeter in 2011.

Leading up to this historic weekend, I was somewhat taken aback at all of the negativity surrounding Jeter and his chase for 3000. I fully understand why the average baseball fan is sick and tired of the "Damn Yankees", and by extension, tired of Jeter. Negativity from those types of people is to be expected. But much of the furor was coming from Yankees fans themselves -- many thinking that there is no way this team wins the World Series with Jeter as the full time shortstop. The Yankees did play well while Jeter was on the DL, and his replacement, Eduardo Nunez, did little to disprove the idea that he may well be the Yankee shortstop of the future. Once Jeter was off the DL, there was also a fair bit of talk that Jeter did not deserve his starting spot on the AL All Star roster (I won't disagree with this thought).

With 3k no in the books, the negativity turned to the events of the day. Quite a bit was made of the storybook nature of the kid who caught the home run ball. First it was that he couldn't possibly be what he seemed on TV (the suggestion being that he was coached up by Yankee big wigs). Then he was naive for not trying to cash in on the ball. Then Jeter was a jerk for not offering up cash to the kid even though he demanded none (and got seats in a luxury suite for the remainder of the season through the playoffs).

Finally, with all of those topics beat to death, Jeter decides to skip the All Star Game, and that's dominated the talk since. Honestly, do we not have anything better to talk about? Well, maybe not -- baseball is taking its annual break and the other two major sports are both in lockout mode. There was the US Women's team's thrilling victory over Brazil on Sunday in the Women's World Cup, but soccer always seems to stir up as many detractors as it does win fans during these tournaments.

So, the debate rages on. Sports writers, fellow players -- even the likes of Hall of Famer Willie Mays -- all had their say. Ad nauseum. I'll freely admit that as someone who is a huge fan of Jeter, I'm inclined to give him a pass on this where I might not be so generous if we were talking about some other player. And Jeter's been a good "baseball citizen," too. He's played in All Star Games, he's played more post season games than most any player currently in the majors and been a part of both World Baseball Classics. He's represented the Yankees and the game with class and dignity basically any time he has been asked. And no matter what any of us average joes think, playing baseball isn't a game for a guy like Jeter, it is a job. And chasing a milestone like 3000 hits in a media market like New York is a tiring affair. I don't doubt that Jeter needed the rest.

I'd also like to believe that an unspoken reason that Jeter declined to attend is precisely the one that many are using against him. There seems to be some sentiment that Jeter owed it to baseball to allow the fans to applaud his achievement at the All Star Game. But given the way Jeter has always conducted itself, I don't think it is just my particular bias that wonders if, in part, Jeter stayed away to allow the spotlight to shine on all of the selected All Stars rather than to let it become DJ3K Celebration, Part 2. It makes a certain amount of sense, doesn't it?

Again, I am biased. Jeter has been such a great player -- a great Yankee -- and I admire the way he's been able to sidestep most of the kinds of things that have dogged pro athletes in the internet/social media age. When you consider just how big the microscope is that any celebrity is under these days, it's simply amazing that Jeter's never been the center of the type of controversy that's dragged down the likes of Tiger Woods, ARod or Roger Clemens. Jeter hasn't even been surrounded by something like the Michael Jordan gambling incident. His biggest crimes seem to be fighting for a contract this past off season, displaying the diminished physical skills that would affect any 37 year old and deciding he needed to skip the All Star Game. It seems to me that maybe we'd all enjoy things like the All Star Game more if we spent as much time saluting the players that are deserving to be there as we do worrying about one player that isn't.

And I wouldn't be shocked to see an article tomorrow blaming the NL's newly minted ASG winning streak on the absence of a certain AL shortstop that decided to skip the game....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Incredible? Yes. So then why am I so worried?

This should be good news. I should be thrilled. I should be rushing to tell a certain Facebook friend/Cubs fan that "The Machine" -- Albert Pujols if you're not familiar with his nickname -- came back from injury early.....AGAIN! This isn't the first time Albert's pulled off this trick. In 2006, he came back from an oblique injury after missing just a couple of weeks. In 2009, people were sure it was a matter of time before he blew out his elbow. He played the entire season, and missed a minimal number of games. This one is perhaps the most amazing.... Pujols seems to be finally working his way out of a season long slump (which in his terms is a decent season for a lot of really good players out there) but collides with a runner while reaching for a throw on Father's Day. Pujols immediately goes down and the injury looks serious. Turns out to be a fracture, and he's expected to miss AT LEAST 4-6 weeks. (Quick aside -- I'm ticked because I have tickets to the 7/29 game vs. the Cubs and was facing the prospect of my first Cardinals game since '98 that didn't involved Albert).


Image courtesy of STL Today/Cardinals (

Then late last week, news came out that Albert was making incredible progress in his recovery and that it was looking like he'd be back early. The worry doesn't start just yet....the guy's known as a quick healer, and I'd begun to expect (hope?) that he'd be returning sometime around the game I have tickets for. But this is a fracture....even if you're a quick healer, it just takes what it takes for a bone to heal, right? So I was more than a little surprised to see the MLB TV "Ballpark Cam" trained on Pujols and his trainer as I was waiting for the Yankees/Indians game to start yesterday. Then I hear the announcer say that Pujols may be "....back as soon as tomorrow." Tomorrow was Tuesday, July 5, 2011 (today as I'm writing).

And that's when it started....The worry. Started out wondering if the Cardinals doctors are just that incompetent. These were the guys, after all, that had played havoc with my fantasy team the week I traded for Matt Holliday, and these same doctors let Holliday play through a quad injury that ultimately landed him on the DL. Worse yet, since he'd tried to give it a go, they couldn't retro the date. (Incidentally, I traded away Jay Bruce who went on a hell of a tear just as he joined the other team's roster. I know -- no one cares about your fantasy team but you, but I can't help talking about it a little). So maybe they'd misdiagnosed Albert's injury.

Then the conspiracy theories started. Was this some plot to keep Pujols out of the line up and drive his value down? Who knows? Or did Pujols play up the injury to get a little break and also add to his legend (and eventual payday)? Both seem a little far fetched, sure, but crazier things have happened in baseball history, so maybe this was it. Or maybe he's pushing his way back too early trying to salvage his numbers ahead of free agency. Maybe he's coming back before he's ready and this is setting up a season ending injury (which would likely end what chance the Cards have at making an October run).

But ultimately, my real worry -- my 2nd biggest baseball-related fear, to be more exact -- settled into my head and has been sitting their weighing on my thoughts since. What if this recovery -- and I guess by extension the previous ones that I mentioned -- was accomplished by less-than-natural means? After Manny Ramirez, I can't imagine that any big name player is stupid enough to test his luck with MLB's drug testing policy and use steroids. But HGH? I don't know. They can't test for it, so any current MLBer could be taking the stuff and we wouldn't know. Pujols is a big guy, too...There are more than a few Cards haters out there that would suggest that the guy can't be doing this without some kind of booster. A quick google search brings up all kinds of possibly legit information suggesting that HGH could speed bone healing.

I don't want to believe this is true. I hate that the thought even crossed my mind, and I suppose I'm being somewhat irresponsible putting pen to paper as I've done here. The only thing the could shake my passion as a fan more than Albert Pujols being found out as a drug cheat would be if we learned that Derek Jeter was one. I'd be a little less surprised if this did prove true for Albert, but my disappointment would be indescribable. With Jeter, I'd be upset because his general demeanor -- as I read one writer suggest -- is that he thinks he's just better than the type of guy who'd take PEDs. Where Pujols is concerned, it's more the fact that he's said more than a few times "Don't be afraid to believe in me." He says it would be an insult to his faith to cheat his fans. He says that his wife would kill him, and he's more afraid of her than any fan based wrath he would have to face. He says all the right things, and I want to believe that he's the real deal. I want to believe that I'm seeing one of the greatest of all time giving his all game in / game out.

The sad fact is, even after all this time, no matter how sick I am of talking about PEDs, they are still a part of the game. I still remember turning a blind eye to them as Sosa and McGwire were crushing Maris' home run record. I'm ashamed that I've left ballparks satisfied that I saw one or both of those guys clubbed one. I said the same after seeing Bonds hit one in Coors when he took over as the game's premier slugger. I've seen the legacy of some of my favorite teams of all time tainted by the likes of Roger Clemens. I sympathized with Andy Pettitte as he admitted his own HGH use. I've felt the mix of sympathy and "yeah, so now you guys have your cheats, too"-itis as the key duo to the '04 and '07 Red Sox teams were outed as PED users. There have been a steady string of no names that have been busted. I should be numb to it by now. But this is different. This is Albert. This is one of my favorite players -- my favorite Cardinal since Ozzie (except maybe for Stubby Clapp). It's hopefully just one of those stupid little things that I decide I need to worry about, and I'll tell stories one day of how I saw the great Albert Pujols come back from a fracture in 15 days. But in 2011, it is hard to be sure about anything, no matter how badly you want to be wrong.