Shortly after the Cardinals' 2010 season had ended, observers pegged the chances of hitting coach Mark McGwire returning for a second season at no better than 50-50. But McGwire said his delay in wanting to come back was fueled mostly by wanting to know if manager Tony La Russa would be back.
La Russa will return -- and so will McGwire.
McGwire, who became the father of
triplet daughters in June, said the final question of his return came when
arrangements were made for his young family (he also has two sub-teenage boys)
to have domestic help in
"I was thrilled (La Russa) asked me back," McGwire said. "We as coaches didn't know what Tony was going to do. To hear that he was going to come back for at least another year opened it up.
"It's just awesome to work for
The Cardinals, in McGwire's first year as hitting coach, had an up-and-down offensive season, although they scored more runs than in the previous season. Some of the younger players, however, appeared to struggle to embrace McGwire's approach.
Poor pitch selection seemed to be part of the problem, and McGwire said, "With young guys, you have to make them understand the game is difficult. They really have to know the strike zone. Young guys try to cover both sides of the plate. You just can't do that in the big leagues and be successful. Pick one side and be the best at it."
--RHP Jake Westbrook, impressive in the final two months of the season after the Cardinals acquired him from Cleveland, is a player the Cardinals would like to re-sign before he gets into the free agent market. It probably would take at least two years and an option year to land the 33-year-old, who was 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA in 12 starts for the Cardinals. He has had offseason shoulder surgery, but it was on his left (non-throwing) shoulder.
--One of the areas where the
Cardinals hope to improve is their leadoff spot.
--Two Cardinals first-round draft
picks are playing in the Arizona Fall League. 3B Zack Cox, the team's top pick
this year, had a long hitless streak to start his AFL season but then went
5-for-10 to jump his average to .185. SS Pete Kozma,
--Candidates to replace Marty Mason as bullpen coach include Derek Lillliquist and Dyar Miller, minor league pitching coordinators, and Class AA pitching coach Dennis Martinez, a former star right-hander with the Orioles.
--One of the few pitching commodities the Cardinals are searching for in the offseason is a left-handed reliever. LHP Trever Miller's contract has vested, but veteran LHP Dennys Reyes, who was both hurt and somewhat ineffective last season, probably won't be back.
BY THE NUMBERS: 29 -- Consecutive seasons pitching coach Dave Duncan and manager Tony La Russa will have been together when the 2011 season begins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I certainly think when you judge a hitting coach, one of the things you look for is enthusiasm and energy. He brings that. This season was a learning experience for him, and I certainly think he'll do a good job." -- GM John Mozeliak, on the re-hiring of hitting coach Mark McGwire for a second season.
The Cardinals entered the offseason with one of the best core groups in baseball: 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday, RHPs Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and Gold Glove C Yadier Molina. But the supporting cast must be upgraded.
BIGGEST NEEDS: At the top of the Cardinals' wish list should be a contract extension for 1B Albert Pujols, but GM John Mozeliak said there were other priorities. Presumably, they are to get another starting pitcher (possibly by retaining RHP Jake Westbrook) and an infielder or two with pop and the ability to play at least adequate defense. The Cardinals also are looking for another power bat in the outfield, but that could be top prospect Allen Craig, who finished the season in the majors.
It is possible that none of them will be brought back, although Westbrook, impressive in two months with the Cardinals, is at the top of the list.
Ryan, coming off a .223 season, shouldn't command too much money, although he is a Gold Glove candidate. McClellan is one of the best middle relievers in the game.
IN LIMBO: 2B Skip Schumaker could be part of a deal if the Cardinals don't consider him as a regular. He will make $2.7 million in 2011. One of the Cardinals' strengths is right-handed relief, where Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan are all young and relatively inexpensive. Any of them could go in the right deal.
--3B David Freese (right ankle surgery in August 2010, left ankle surgery in September 2010) should be ready for spring training.
--LHP Jaime Garcia (left arm fatigue), RHP Adam Wainwright (right forearm strain) and C Yadier Molina (right knee inflammation) all were shut down at the end of the season. All are expected to be ready for spring training.
--RHP Brad Penny (strained upper back) went on the disabled list May 22, and he missed the remainder of the season.