Series Preview:  Bird-brained

MILWAUKEE BREWERS vs. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Friday, April 9, 2010, @ 7:10 p.m. (CDT)

Dave Bush (N/A) vs. Kyle Lohse (N/A)

 

Saturday, April 10, 2010, @ 2:10 p.m. (CDT)

Yovani Gallardo (0-1, 3.86) vs. Chris Carpenter (1-0, 3.00)

 

Sunday, April 11, 2010, @ 7:05 p.m. (CDT)

                                                           Randy Wolf (1-0, 5.40) vs. Jaime Garcia (N/A)

As you all know, the St. Louis Cardinals won the NL Central last year and are pretty heavily favored to repeat this year. I got in touch with DanUpBaby, who manages Card's SBN site Viva El Birdos and asked him about his feelings on untucking, as well as old friend Felipe Lopez, the possibility of renewing Albert Pujols, and more.  Question and answer session with Dan following the jump!

1.  Albert Pujols is signed through this year, with a club option for 2011, which will assuredly be picked up.  With Pujols perhaps being the best player in the game right now, what do you see the Cardinals chances of re-signing him being?  In addition, how huge of a contract do you think he will get and could it potentially cripple the Cardinals chances for the future by taking up such a large percentage of the payroll?

Dan: There's a non-zero chance I'm deluding myself, but following the Holliday signing I think the Cardinals really have to reach a long-term agreement with Pujols, although it probably won't happen in 2010. Everything the Cardinals have done in the last several years, beginning with firing Walt Jocketty in favor of John Mozeliak, who's less veteran-happy, has been to some degree about keeping Albert Pujols, and in 2010 they're a team built around a few big contracts and some increasingly aggressive minor league spending, which has allowed them to fill the remaining spots in the lineup and rotation on the cheap. 

Even the Holliday contract comes in answer a long-held Pujols idea, one he's spoken about on more than one occasion—that he wants the Cardinals (or whichever other team he might end up with) to prove it's interested in winning before he makes a commitment. The Cardinals have done that; they've built their team to flex around two enormous contracts—Pujols could make $25 million, though I'd be very surprised if he approached A-Rod levels in total—that would have suffocated the 2003-2007 teams. And it's a good thing they did, because if the Cardinals don't resign Pujols they will have a Best Fans in Baseball revolt to deal with.

2.  Former Brewer Felipe Lopez is probably going to end up being a great deal for the Cardinals after they signed him to a one year, $1M contract for this year.  The Cardinals official site has Lopez listed as the backup at 3B, 2B, and SS--is he going to be playing the role of a super utility man a la the Brewers Craig Counsell?  How much playing time do you see him getting?

It really was a great deal, wasn't it? On Viva El Birdos that deal earned Mozeliak more love letters than the Holliday contract.

If the roster works out as planned—David Freese, the rookie third baseman, is perhaps most likely to lose his job to Lopez—he'll be in that "super utility" role, but he'll get plenty of playing time. He could play 110, 120 games without La Russa even trying very hard. 

La Russa already likes to play his reserves, and with the Cardinals' bench composed mostly of corner outfielders at this juncture Lopez will get most of the backup playing time at each of his listed position, in addition to the usual weird excursions into the outfield. He'll also, I hope, play in an undefined but relatively strict platoon at second base; Skip Schumaker can't hit left-handers, and while his move from the outfield has gone as well as we had any right to think it would he's not exactly an irreplaceable defensive asset.

3.  The Cardinals pitching last year was superb, anchored by two valid Cy Young candidates in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.  However, they did lost 2/5 of that starting rotation with Todd Wellenmeyer going to the Giants and Joel Piniero to the Angels (and replaced them with Brad Penny and Jaime Garcia).  How good do you think the rotation will be this year in St. Louis?  Can the two big guns put up similar seasons to their great 2009?

It'll be tough to replace Joel Pineiro (more specifically, Joel Pineiro's career season); the move from Pineiro to Penny is perhaps the biggest downgrade the Cardinals made in the offseason. Carpenter and Wainwright are also following up seasons that had then performing in the ninetieth percentile of our rational expectations for them, so the team figures to lose a lot of value from what was surprisingly their biggest asset in 2009. 

Todd Wellemeyer's a good example of how the Cardinals plan on plugging in the gaps, and how they've always operated; he was terrible in 2009, and had been for most of his career, but in 2008 the Cardinals used him to fill a rotation spot and got more in his 32 starts than they had any right to expect. Such is the vaunted Dave Duncan Touch—sometimes they hang on a year too long, but his track record for turning useless veteran pitchers into rotation stalwarts is, at this point, a little frightening. (Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals' top prospect, is an exciting exception to that standard operating procedure.)

4.  Other than Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols, which position player do you think is the biggest key to a successful season for the Cardinals in 2010?

Colby Rasmus, the Cardinals' last top prospect, had a useful rookie season in 2009, but most of his value was on defense, and all the offensive tools he had—he's long been praised for his speed, his power, his selectivity at the plate—seemed to show up one at a time, if even then. He'll be an asset in center field for a while yet because of his outstanding defense, but if he ever hits like we've hoped he could he'll be among the best players in baseball.

5.  Finally, the Cardinals and their fans have been at the forefront of the anti-untucking movement against the Brewers, while most Brewers fans see it as a small, fun gesture at the end of the game.  What are your personal views on the Brewers untucking their jerseys after winning a game? (Noah's Note:  I sent these questions prior to finding out the Brewer's had officially quit untucking)

I've always liked the Brewers, and I like them more now that they're facilitating a Jim Edmonds comeback, so I'm probably not the Cardinals fan to ask. I can understand the animosity, I guess, and have had things like that under my skin before, but I've always been fond of group celebrations, and I don't think the untucking thing is a particularly annoying example.

Thanks, Dan, for being so gracious in answering my questions!
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