Posted on: December 22, 2011 9:21 pm
File this under the Life Goes On Dept.:
The St. Louis Cardinals lost three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols ... and still may enter 2012 as NL Central favorites.
Yes, you read that right.
That's what two years and $26 million -- oh, and a full no-trade clause -- to free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran does for the Redbirds. No guarantees of course, because his knees have more mileage on them than Don Rickles. But if Beltran, at 34, can produce as he did as an All-Star last summer, look out.
Defending division champion Milwaukee is on the brink of losing Prince Fielder, and the Brewers could be without NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first third of 2012 if his suspension for a testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug is upheld. The Reds are coming off of a highly disappointing season and have young starters surrounded by lots of questions (Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, Mike Leake). The Cubs have miles to go. The Pirates fell off in the second half last season. Houston? Please.
In St. Louis, this isn't about the Beltran of 2006, when he played in 140 games and blasted 41 homers and collected 116 RBIs. That Beltran but a memory -- just as is the image of him standing there frozen at home plate, gawking at Adam Wainwright's knee-bending, Game 7 curve for strike three that sent the Cardinals, and not Beltran's Mets, to the World Series.
No, this is about how today's Beltran fits in with, yep, Wainwright and the rest of the post-Pujols Cardinals.
Wainwright should be sufficiently recovered from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery to start the season in the rotation. Add him to Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse and that's a winning rotation. Always, you start with pitching.
Beltran alone would not solve St. Louis' issues, pre- or post-Pujols. But with Matt Holliday (left field) and Lance Berkman (first base) in place, and with promising outfielders Jon Jay (center field) and Allen Craig (right field), now you've got something. Beltran fits well into that rotation. Veteran Rafael Furcal back at shortstop, World Series hero David Freese at third base ... mm-hmmm, the Cardinals will miss Pujols, but they're still versatile and potent.
With all that, first-year manager Mike Matheny shouldn't need to ride Beltran into the ground. But with Craig probably set to open the season on the disabled list following November knee surgery, Beltran can plug into right field early, stabilize the outfield and add depth and power to the lineup.
When Craig returns, Matheny surely will have no problem finding enough at-bats for Beltran in center and right field.
If he's got his legs under him, his bat is still there: His .525 slugging percentage in 2011 for the Mets and Giants ranked eighth among NL outfielders. Overall, he batted .300 with 22 homers and 84 RBI in 142 games.
You can argue that St. Louis overpaid for a guy who turns 35 in late April. But Colorado gave Michael Cuddyer $31.5 million over three years. It's a lot of money, but it's also a short-term commitment for St. Louis.
In that short-term, especially when measured against the rest of the NL Central right now, it looks like smart money. Yes, Pujols is gone. But that doesn't necessarily mean turn out the lights in St. Louis.
Posted on: December 17, 2011 1:55 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2011 2:49 pm
Jimmy Rollins, the heart of the Phillies for the past several seasons, will continue to provide the pulse: He is returning to Philadelphia on a three-year, $33 million deal, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 12:02 am
PHILADELPHIA -- This is a trick, isn't it? The way the St. Louis Cardinals are setting this up, it looks suspiciously as if it might be a referendum on how smart the rest of us are.
We wrote them off once, back in early September when they were 8 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.
You and the Atlanta Braves know what happened after that.
Now, after they blew an early lead in Game 1 of this Division Series and then fell behind by four runs against Cliff Lee in the second inning of Game 2, yes, just when it looked as if it was safe to write them off again ... BAM!
The Cardinals undressed Lee, a tag-team of six relievers redeemed Chris Carpenter's awful start and Tony LaRussa's gang swiped one from the Phillies, 5-4.
This was a game made for LaRussa. He used four different pitchers in the eighth inning alone. And it worked.
The Cardinals have to feel great about this one, and not just because of the win. But because of how they earned that win.
Rafael Furcal chopped a leadoff triple in the first ... but his teammates failed to score him.
David Freese drilled a leadoff double in the second ... and never moved as St. Louis blew another early opportunity against Lee.
St. Louis was 0 for 6 alone in the first two innings with runners in scoring position. And Carpenter was so off that LaRussa ripped plate umpire Jerry Meals during his mid-game television interview for having two different strike zones for Carpenter and Lee. Blatently untrue.
But somehow, Phillies mustered just two baserunners against the not-so-vaunted Cardinals' bullpen over the last five innings. The Cardinals drove Lee from the game in the seventh.
And they drove this series back to St. Louis even.
Posted on: July 30, 2011 2:37 pm
Edited on: July 31, 2011 12:09 pm
The Cardinals officially obtained the shortstop they were seeking on Sunday morning when Rafael Furcal waived his no-trade clause and the deal with the Dodgers was formalized: Furcal heads to St. Louis, and the Cardinals send Double A outfielder Alex Castellanos to the Dodgers, along with $2.5 million.
In the midst of rearranging things on the fly while trying to fend off the Brewers, Pirates and Reds in the NL Central, the Cardinals shipped center fielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto the other day for pitching help, and now are close to filling a huge hole at shortstop.
They've been going with Ryan Theriot and Daniel Descalso. But they moved him to second base on Saturday against the Cubs for his first start there.
Furcal in the past has been a dynamic shortstop and top-of-the-order player, but he has battled injuries all season. An oblique strain struck him early in the year and, consequently, Furcal is hitting a career-low .197 with a .272 on-base percentage and a .248 slugging percentage. A switch-hitter whose game normally is getting on base and running, Furcal has been limited to 15 runs in just 37 games in 2011.
However, he's feeling better now than he has all season, and he's getting healthy at the right time. Over the past two weeks, Furcal has batted .270 with a .400 on-base percentage in 11 games, and over the past seven days, he's hit .333 with a .455 on-base percentage in five games.
Approximately $4 million remains from Furcal's $12 million salary through the rest of this season. His contract also includes a $12 million option for 2012.
Because Furcal, 33, waived no-trade rights as a 10-5 player -- 10 years in the majors, the past five with the same club -- the deal would did not become official for 24 hours after the Dodgers and Cardinals agree to terms, which was Sunday.
The deal allows the Dodgers to save a couple of million from Furcal's contract and opens a position for prospect Dee Gordon. The Dodgers also now will keep Jamey Carroll for infield depth.
St. Louis' interest in Furcal was first reported by Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday.
Posted on: April 8, 2011 9:15 pm
Nevertheless, they were sad, disappointed and stunned -- stunned at Friday's news, and surprised that whatever system of checks and balances Manny uses, that he would put himself in a position to get zapped again.
"That's bad," said shortstop Rafael Furcal, a teammate of Manny's from 2008-2010. "Oh my God.
"I promise you, he does not want to retire. I don't know what happened.
"For me, it's sad."
Ramirez abruptly retired Friday, just five games into Tampa Bay's season, rather than face the penalty for a second drug bust: A 100-game suspension.
Throughout the game, people were adjusting their views of what he accomplished during his 19-year career, which now includes becoming the first (and, so far, only) player to get popped twice for failing PED tests.
"A little bit," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, Ramirez's hitting coach in Los Angeles from the time he landed on July 31, 2008, until the club allowed the White Sox to take him as a waiver claim last Aug. 30. "It's hard not to wonder what's what.
"You just don't know. That's the hardest part."
Part of not knowing the "what's what" with Ramirez, from the Dodgers' perspective, now includes his torrid run two-month run immediately upon joining the club in '08 during which he pretty much carried the Dodgers into the playoffs.
"I think you look at all guys, when it comes out like that," Mattingly said. "You wonder about the last seven or eight years. You wonder about Boston [where Manny played from 2001-2008].
"You wonder about all of it."
Though echoes of Ramirez's Dodgers past continue to reverberate in the organization, it's not like he left behind many close friends. Outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier both said they texted some with Manny during the winter but had not heard from him since spring training started. Furcal said he hasn't been in contact with Ramirez since he left Los Angeles last August.
"I didn't think this would happen again," Ethier said. "I don't think if this hadn't happened, [retirement] would be his decision.
"Unfortunately, circumstances forced him out of the game. I don't know if he felt uncomfortable, or he didn't have the confidence, to be the old Manny."
Or, perhaps, the skills.
"I don't even know what to say," Kemp said. "I haven't talked to him in awhile."
Furcal said the news "caught me by surprise" when a reporter told him what had happened with Ramirez shortly after the shortstop's arrival in the clubhouse Friday afternoon.
"That's bad," Furcal said. "He's still young. He's only 38 years old. He can still play.
"You never know what happens in other people's minds."
The Dodgers still owe Ramirez roughly $20 million in deferred salary through 2013. That is money still owed that will not be affected by his retirement.
Posted on: June 17, 2010 12:40 pm
CINCINNATI -- The Dodgers won the first two games of their series here and moved into first place in the NL West, but they lost their leadoff man overnight Wednesday. They've placed shortstop Rafael Furcal on the bereavement list and are not sure when he'll return.
Furcal notified manager Joe Torre around 1 a.m. Thursday that he has an ailing family member and needed to return to the Dominican Republic. By 8 a.m. Thursday, Furcal was on a plane home.
"One of those things that came up in the middle of the night," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "That's pretty much life."
Furcal, hitting .305 in 40 games this season, had gotten hot recently. He punched out five hits in the series opener here Tuesday night and, since returning from the disabled list on May 25, has batted .302 with two homers and 12 RBI in 21 games.
The Dodgers are unsure of when he'll return -- bereavement list rules state that a player must miss a minimum of three games -- and Torre said he'll mix and match leadoff men in Furcal's absence. Blake DeWitt was batting first in Thursday afternoon's series finale here.
Posted on: May 16, 2010 8:29 pm
The most significant thing about the Dodgers' seven-game winning streak is found behind the numbers:
They've put all of that together without shortstop Rafael Furcal (strained hamstring) and opening day starter Vicente Padilla (right elbow soreness), who are on the disabled list, and they've won the last two games without Andre Ethier (fractured right pinky).
The Ethier loss is still fluid, and the Dodgers will not know until later this week whether they'll have to place him on the disabled list.
If he misses significant time, it will make life tough on the Dodgers because, as Sunday's games started, Ethier led the NL in all three Triple Crown categories: Batting average (.392), home runs (11) and RBI (38). In fact, he leads the majors in two of those categories -- average and RBI.
Manager Joe Torre said following Sunday's 1-0 win in San Diego that the plan is to "wait a couple of days" and "let some of the soreness come out. Then we'll see what he can do with it and decide if that's enough.
"The last thing I want is for him to go out and do something and get into bad habits."
Ethier injured himself in the batting cage before Saturday night's game while in the midst of his regular pre-game routine. Torre said Ethier's right pinky finger -- on his bottom hand as the lefty swings the bat -- always has had a tendency to slip off the knob and sort of fall behind the bat handle. That leaves the bat handle threading through Ethier's right ring and pinky fingers.
The fracture is in the area of the first knuckle of Ethier's right pinky -- the one closest to the fingernail.
Torre said the trainers will place the finger in "some kind of splint" to immobilize it and hope it calms down in a day or two.
"A lot depends on what we find out over the next couple of days," Torre said. "As far as his comfort level."
"It's big because we've put a streak together for ourselves where we've played good baseball and gotten good pitching," Torre said. "We were fumbling around early trying to get a good feel."
"It's been good," said first baseman James Loney, whose clutch home run helped win Saturday's game.
The Dodgers now are 17-7 in games when they hit at least one homer, and 3-10 when they don't homer.
One other significant stat: They're now 12-3 in games against NL West opponents. Cleaning up within the division is exactly how they won the NL West in 2009: They went 46-26 against the Padres, Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks.
Posted on: December 2, 2009 9:09 pm
Question is, is Wagner the right guy?
I don't see a lot of middle ground here: I think this is either going to work out extremely well ... or it's going to backfire badly.
The Braves signed Wagner for $6.75 million in 2010 and a $6.5 million club option for 2011 and, because Boston was smart enough to offer Wagner arbitration, the Braves also forfeit their first-round draft pick to the Red Sox next June.
That's a lot of freight to pay for a 38-year-old closer who missed most of last season following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. And that's why I think the final verdict will be black or white, without shades of gray.
Wagner says his arm feels better than it has in a long time, and a small sample of games for Boston at the end of 2009 (1-1 with a 1.98 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings) backs him up.
And as Braves general manager Frank Wren notes, we're talking about a man who has converted 86 percent of his save opportunities over his career.
But is the 38-year-old, post-surgery Wagner still that guy?
That's the Braves' gamble, one in which they didn't blink in making Monday. (They do have a partial buffer zone for the lost draft pick, though, because they still stand to gain picks for relievers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who were offered arbitration, assuming they sign elsewhere).
The upside is tremendous, especially for a team Wren views as being capable of winning 90 games or more.
The downside? That manager Bobby Cox will be rummaging around his pen looking to fill the ninth-inning gap if Wagner blows out again or simply can't handle the requirements of a closer on a contending team (converting nearly every save opportunity, pitching on back-to-back days, etc.).
For now, this sure beats last winter, when the Braves spent November and December chasing their tail in failed Jake Peavy trade talks, finishing behind the Yankees in their pursuit of starter A.J. Burnett and getting burned by the agent for shortstop Rafael Furcal, who signed with the Dodgers after the Braves thought they had him.
Wagner's club option for 2011, by the way, becomes guaranteed if the lefty closer finishes 50 games next season.
If it gets that far, that will be money well spent.