A New Year, A New Look

Oh You Missed It?  Let Me Recap For You…

If for some reason you have not paid attention to what has gone on in baseball this off-season, you have missed a lot.  It all began when Tony LaRussa announced his retirement, the Monday after the parade.  It came as a total shock to most, and when the press conference was announced, most thought it was going to be about him signing another one year deal.  Instead LaRussa retired, and finished his managing career on top.

Lets face it, Tony LaRussa is a great manager.  Even those who hate his guts have to admit that he is one of the best.  However, I for one will not miss those days that he tortured all of St. Louis by using 5 pitchers to get 3 outs, nor will I miss his CYC mentality.  That being said I thank him for giving us 2 World Series Championships and 3 NL pennants in the 143 years he managed the Cardinals.  I also thank him for retiring, because it gives the Cardinals a chance to start fresh…and by fresh, I mean FRESH.

A couple weeks after LaRussa’s retirement, the Cardinals announced that Mike Matheny would take over the reigns as Manager.  Nobody knows what to expect from Matheny as a manager, because, well, he has never managed a game in his life.  No better place to start than the Majors.  We’ll soon find out what type of Manger his is, what he’ll let his players get away with, and how he’ll hold them accountable.  Matheny really couldn’t walk into a better situation.

A week or so after that, we found out that the assistant coaches would change as well.  Jose Oquendo and Mark McGwire remained in their roles, but the rest would change.  AAA Memphis coach Chris Maloney is taking over as First Base Coach – last years Assistant Hitting Coach Mike Aldrete is this years Bench Coach – former Cardinal great John Mabry is the new Assistant Hitting Coach – Dyar Miller will become the new Bullpen Coach.

It seemed it was all set, but we forgot to mention one, very important, coach.  Dave Duncan was scheduled to come back to the Cardinals and resume his duties as Pitching Coach.  Unfortunately he has to take a leave of absence from his role to care for his ailing wife.  Derek Lilliquist will take over as the Cardinals Pitching Coach until Duncan can return, if he can.  We here at Bueno Joe wish Duncan and his family all the best.

Wait, I’m Not Done

With all of the personnel changes taking place, some were starting to doubt how the Cardinals could contend for the playoffs, and another World Series crown.  Everyone felt it was pivitol that the Cardinals sign Pujols and retain his name in the lineup.  News and negotiations were pretty weak leading up to December, but they really started to heat up when the Winter Meetings began.  Rumors began to swirl as the Miami Marlins started to hound Pujols with a 10 year deal.  This forced the Cardinals to make a 10 year offer of their own.  Most counted the Marlins out in the race to get Albert, due to the fact that they wouldn’t offer no-trade protection.  It seemed as if the Cardinals would bring Pujols back to finish his career where he belongs, in St. Louis.

Out of nowhere, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (say that 10 times fast) snagged Pujols with a 10 year deal worth 254 million.  You can see the details of his contract HERE.  If you look through this, you are almost glad the Cardinals didn’t sign such a money hungry fake human being.  Good luck paying $30 million to a “41″ year old Jose Alberto and contending for a World Series. Throughout his career, Albert preached that he wanted to be a Cardinal for life, and it was more about winning than money.  The Cardinals go out and build a World Series Champion, and Pujols decides to move on to LA for greener land, if you know what I mean.

The loss of Pujols left a mark on St. Louis, and that mark was caused by the knife that was put in the city’s back.  We all felt betrayed and let down, and it seemed as if the team couldn’t go on without him.

Moving On

Later on that week, I came to realize that the Cardinals would be a different, but very good team.  They have Lance Berkman to play 1st Base in Pujols’ absence, and Allen Craig and his tortoise to play Right.  They also will get one of the best pitchers in MLB back in Adam Wainwright.  Later on that month, the team got even stronger.

Needing to add depth and talent, the Cardinals were able to sign Rafeal Furcal to a 2 year deal, and they were able to add, former Cardinal Killer, Carlos Beltran to a 2 year deal as well.  By doing this, they were able to utilize the money they would fork over to Pujols, to improve the team.  Another important free-agent signing came in the form of lefty reliever J.C. Romero.  Here’s how I see the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup:

 

1. Rafeal Furcal

2. Carlos Beltran

3. Matt Holliday

4. Lance Berkman

5. Allen Craig

6. David Freese

7. Yadier Molina

8.  Daniel Descalso/Skip Schumaker

9. Pitcher’s Spot

This lineup is geared to hit, and hit well.  I don’t think we will see much of a drop off from last years numbers, and that should bode well for their chances to try and repeat.  In order to keep the everyday players fresh, the Bench will have to be able to contribute.

Infiled – Tyler Greene, Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso

Outfield – Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker

Catcher – Bryan Anderson or Tony Cruz

The bench players on this team will be very important to their success.  Jon Jay will virtually be an everyday player since Berkman, Beltran, and Craig will all get time off.  Adding to that, Allen Craig may miss the start of the season due to knee surgery.  Now we’ll check out what I think the strongest part of the team will be, the pitchers.  Lets start with the rotation.

1. Adam Wainwright

2. Chris Carpenter

3. Jaime Garcia

4. Kyle Lohse

5. Jake Westbrook

Wainwright returning to the rotation is more important than most people realize.  This will allow the bullpen to be more well rested throughout the season, and it will increase the club’s chance to win and keep losing streaks at a minimum.  Carpenter was dominant in the playoffs, and Garcia is getting better every year.  Lohse and Westbrook will be able to eat innings for the club, and provide 10-12 wins each.  All of this will help the bullpen be more effective.  Speaking of the Bullpen, their dominating performance in the 2011 playoffs gives us hope for a successful 2012.

CL – Jason Motte

SU – Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski

MR – Fernando Salas, J.C. Romero, Eduardo Sanchez, Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs

Motte forced himself into the closers role, and he never gave it back.  He was masterful in the postseason, and the bullpen as a whole was dominant.  It should be a good season for the ‘pen, and the addition of Romero gives Matheny more flexibility against left-handed bats.

Overall Outlook

The new look Redbirds will aim to pick up exactly where they left off last season, and they will try to take back what is rightly theirs, the NL Central title.  Come back later on this month, as I give you what I think the 2012 season will bring with my NL Central Preview.

 


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