Cardinals Major League Notebook: 02/13/11

The St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols are heading toward a Wednesday contract extension deadline.


   Albert Pujols doesn't want to negotiate and play ball at the same time.


   According to, Pujols has set a deadline of Feb. 16 -- the day he reports to spring training -- for completing a contract extension with the Cardinals.


   Unless the sides agree to a new deal, Pujols would become a free agent after the 2011 season.


   It's hard to set Pujols' value, as his offensive production over the first 10 years of his career has been unprecedented in recent history. He's a .331/.426/.624 hitter who has averaged 40.8 homers and 123 RBI a year. Last season, he led the National League with 42 homers and 118 RBI while batting .312 (sixth in the league).


   Pujols has won three MVP awards (2005, 2008, 2009) and has been the runner-up four other times (2002, 2003, 2006, 2010). Only once in his career has he finished below fourth in the MVP voting, in 2007 when he came in ninth.


   --Third baseman David Freese, recovering from surgeries on both ankles last year, won't be ready to play exhibition games when the spring schedule begins, and his debut very tentatively is targeted by club officials to be during the second week of Grapefruit League contests.


   General manager John Mozeliak has said that the team is shooting for Freese to be the starter on Opening Day, but there certainly is no guarantee how many games Freese might be able to play this season. Surely, he will not be burdened by a stretch of consecutive games early in the season, enhancing the possibility of switch-hitting Nick Punto or right-handed hitting Tyler Greene taking some time at third. Another possibility is Allen Craig, a former third baseman who was converted to the outfield because club officials weren't thrilled with his throwing mechanics.


   However, although the Cardinals have insurance for Freese, they really do not have another potential regular third baseman in house. Still, they aren't likely to go outside the organization to acquire one, having more or less maxed out their payroll -- at least for the moment.


   If healthy, Freese, a .296 hitter in 240 at-bats last year, figures to hit sixth or seventh in the lineup. If he hits sixth, that would put him in an enviable RBI spot behind Nos. 3-4-5 Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, all of whom could have high on-base percentages.


   The addition of Punto might well mean that left-handed hitting infielder Daniel Descalso, who had a four-hit game last September, is headed for Class AAA Memphis at the start of the season. Punto and Greene appear to have a considerable edge as backup infielders on the 25-man roster.


   As far as their third baseman of the future, the Cardinals will be closely watching top draft pick Zack Cox, who will begin his first full season this year after coming out of the University of Arkansas. Cox, who also has played second base, projects not so much as a power hitter but a line-drive hitter with gap power. A member of the 40-man roster, Cox will get some at-bats early in the spring before being sent out.




   --1B/OF Jim Edmonds is returning to the Cardinals. He was signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training and will get a chance, at age 40, to show whether he has anything left. He didn't play in 2009 but hit .276 for the Brewers and Reds last year. He hit 241 home runs while playing for the Cardinals from 2000 to 2007.


   --LHP Jaime Garcia, the club's top rookie last year and one of the best starters in the league, is expected to take on more of a workload this year. Garcia, who had Tommy John elbow surgery late in 2008, was not extended last year and then was shut down because he had some arm fatigue late in the season. Though a 13-game winner, he averaged fewer than six innings per start.


   --RHP Lance Lynn, a supplemental pick in the 2008 draft, is expected to get a long look this spring as a potential No. 6 starter before he returns to Class AAA Memphis. Lynn, a 6-foot-5-, 250-pounder from the University of Mississippi, was 13-10 at Memphis last year and was said to have improved his velocity.


   --OF Allen Craig, who used to play third base but was moved off it because of throwing issues, will find himself taking plenty of grounders there this spring, with third base coach Jose Oquendo, one of the club's infield instructors, paying particular attention. If Craig hits, the club will have to find a place to play him.


   --OF Jon Jay, a .300 hitter as a rookie, probably will have his playing time cut with the signing of free agent OF Lance Berkman. Jay was a pleasant surprise last year, hitting .383 before the trading deadline. But after RF Ryan Ludwick was dealt to San Diego, Jay, seeing more regular duty, batted just .244 over the final two months of the season. His place on the team seems relatively secure, however, because he plays all three outfield positions.


   --INF Pete Kozma, the team's top pick in the 2007 draft, will be on his first 40-man roster this spring. Kozma showed power at Class AA Springfield (Mo.), hitting 13 homers and driving in 72 runs last year, but hit only .243. That last figure also is Kozma's minor league career average for four seasons.


   --All was quiet on the Albert Pujols contract front. The Pujols camp had set a deadline for the start of spring training (Feb. 19 for the regulars) as a date when negotiations would cease until after the season if there had been no agreement on a multi-year extension.


   BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Wins for often injured RHP Kyle Lohse over the last two seasons after he won 15 games in 2008.


   QUOTE TO NOTE: "The bottom line is I didn't have a good year, the year that I wanted to have. The first half was bad, so I figured something might happen. I'm glad they're giving me another shot." -- 2B Skip Schumaker, who hit .265 last year after .302 and .303 seasons the previous two years.




   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. They have tried to upgrade the supporting cast, particularly by signing outfielder Lance Berkman.


   ARRIVALS: C Gerald Laird (free agent from Tigers), RF Lance Berkman (free agent from Yankees), LHP Brian Tallet (free agent from Blue Jays), SS Ryan Theriot (trade with Dodgers), RHP Miguel Batista (minor league free agent from Nationals), RHP Ian Snell (minor league free agent from Mariners), INF Ramon Vazquez (minor league free agent from Astros), INF Nick Punto (free agent from Twins), 1B/OF Jim Edmonds (minor league free agent from Reds).


   DEPARTURES: INF Brendan Ryan (traded to Mariners), RHP Blake Hawksworth (traded to Dodgers), RHP Brad Penny (free agent, signed with Tigers), RHP Jeff Suppan (free agent, signed minor league contract with Giants), RHP Mike MacDougal (free agent, signed minor league deal with Dodgers), 3B Pedro Feliz (free agent, signed minor league deal with Royals), OF Randy Winn (free agent, signed minor league deal with Orioles), LHP Dennys Reyes (free agent, signed minor league deal with Red Sox), INF Aaron Miles (free agent, signed minor league deal with Dodgers).








   --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.

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