Where do you begin with this bullpen?
While other major news media sources are making reports that the St. Louis Cardinals just need a minor tune up for next season, I'm wondering which team they are looking at?
Forget about the long list of potential free agents, C Einar Diaz, RP Cal Eldred, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, OF John Mabry, SP Matt Morris, INF Abraham Nunez, RP Al Reyes, OF Reggie Sanders, SP Jeff Suppan (team option), RP Julian Tavarez, and OF Larry Walker (team option/expected to retire). Just take a look at the bullpen.
The biggest job Walt Jocketty will have this winter is addressing the needs of the bullpen, and for the record it may be the most important thing he does before next season.
The bullpen, that had recently become the cornerstone of the franchise, in it's back to back 100 win seasons, will need a facelift before the Cardinals open the gates to the new Busch Stadium in 2006.
A third consecutive season of 100 victories could depend on what Cardinals General Manager, Walt Jocketty does, addressing the needs of the relief corps.
Jason Isringhausen will be back next season, as our closer, that‘s a given. Izzy, his nickname, signed a three year extension in February carrying him through the 2007 season with the Cardinals and the club has an option on him for the 2008 season.
There is somewhat of a mystery concerning the origin of the nickname Izzy, I think I discovered where it came from. Izzy loaded the bases one Saturday night in August in the ninth inning. As my wife, Anne walked past the TV and saw that the bases were loaded, she looked at me and asked "Izzy pitching?"
There you go, it's a question, Is He?
If you are too young to remember the football "Cardiac Cardinals" of St. Louis in the mid-70‘s, when Jason takes the mound in the 9th inning, you kind of get that same feeling that we got back then. He doesn't always make it look easy, when he takes the mound.
In spite of his very impressive numbers, it doesn't take Dog "the Bounty Hunter" to track down a Cardinal fan, who isn't ready to trade him in a heartbeat. In spite of his success in St. Louis, Isringhausen distracters are everywhere.
Izzy finished this season with a 1-2 record and a 2.14 ERA. He saved 39 games in 43 save opportunities. In spite of these numbers, the calls for his head never died out. For what it is worth, I can think of about 34 other teams who would love to have an Isringhausen in their bullpen, fortunately for us, his staunch supporters, with nerves of steel, I might add, he'll be back in St. Louis in 06.
Some fans demand perfection in their ballplayers.(something they rarely demand in themselves). Perfection it's a nice goal, but in reality, unattainable, though Izzy has come close at times. Imagine this if you will, appearing in 23 postseason games and having a record of 1-1 and a 2.36 ERA with 11 saves in 12 saves opportunities.
Could you live with a guy like that? Well, we will, and it's Jason Isringhausen.
In three games in the National League Championship Series this year, Isringhausen didn't give up a single earned run and while there are many fingers pointing in many different directions assigning blame for the Cardinals early postseason exit, none can be pointed the way of Isringhausen.
Izzy is a given next season, but in front of him there are a lot of question marks, meaning the midnight oil will be burning in Walt‘s office.
First Thing on Walt's "Things to do List"; What to do with Ray King?
The ink wasn't even dry on my NLCS Game Six scorecard and the left handed reliever, Ray King was demanding for a trade because of his lack of playing time in the postseason.
I guess you have to agree with him about his lack of playing time, he didn't appear in a single game. While most of us would love to get paid to go to work and not work, it seems to trouble professional athletes. Now that I think about it, there are a lot of you who go to work and get paid and don't work. You know who you are, you are probably reading this at work. :)
King is quoted as saying in an MLB.com interview, "We had eight games, nine games after the last game of the season, and I was pretty much a spectator. If I can't pitch here, then I can pitch somewhere else."
La Russa's comeback "we do not want him back...for him to say something that clueless at that time after what has happened to him personally and to us as a club obviously shows that he doesn't understand what we are trying to do here. He said there are 29 other teams that he could pitch for and I hope he's pitching for one of them next year."
King's career in St. Louis appears to be dead, he'll most likely be pitching on another team in 2006, another hole that Jocketty has to fill.
Next on the "Things to Do List"; Who is going to take Al Reyes' place in the bullpen? Reyes will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery for most of 2006, and he won't be back, at least not for next season. The 6'1" 210 pound right handed pitcher was very impressive in 05. Appearing in 65 games for the Redbirds, Reyes had a record of 4-2 with a 2.15 ERA and was three for three in save opportunities.
We can take some comfort in that Esteban Yan and Pedro Borbon, Jr. have already played in St. Louis and they are not likely to return in the place of Reyes.
The laundry list continues with the Free Agents.
Julian Tavarez and Cal Eldred are free agents and there are big question marks concerning their return. While we hope Eldred comes back, we aren't going to miss Tavarez.
Cal Eldred had another good season after a scare in April. The veteran reliever was hospitalized for a time with myopericarditis, a viral infection that causes inflammation around the heart. Cal was back in June and was a godsend the second half of the season. Appearing in 31 games, Eldred finished the season with a 1-0 record and 2.14 ERA and 0 saves.
Eldred was roughed up in the National League Division Series, but other than that, he played for just $600,000 this season and to have a 12 year veteran like him in the bullpen is very important, especially in those dog days of summers.
Hopefully the Cardinals will bring Eldred back for one more season.
Julian Tavarez, is another story.
It seems like every year there has to be at least one player that you wished wasn't on the team.
For a couple of years for me it was
J.D. Drew, who drove me nuts. The next Mickey Mantle? Drew, I believe, was the only player in
St. Louis Cardinals' history, who had a handicap parking spot at the stadium.
For what it is worth, I had a life like J.D. Drew Bobble Head doll, and it was just like
him, it only worked half the time.
For what it is worth, I had a life like J.D. Drew Bobble Head doll, and it was just like him, it only worked half the time.
Then there was Garrett "Not My Fault" Stephenson and Steve "What's My Role" Kline, who drove me nuts crying about not knowing his role. Of course we found out Kline couldn't close, which could hurt his chances in ever becoming a shift manager at McDonalds.
Matt Morris, is so close to being a member of this illustrious group that it isn't even funny. The only good thing I could see about the Cardinals getting knocked out in Game Six of the NLDS, was that I spared seeing Matt Morris taking the mound in a Game 7.
Of course, the entire time these guys were driving me nuts, (surely it's not my fault), I was out there rooting for them, each and everyone.
Julian Tavarez is one of those players who would never play for me or at least he would have been gone a long time ago if he had been on my team.
The straw that broke the camel's back with me on Tavarez was, when he reported to spring training this past season, saying on the first day, that he wanted to take it easy, because he had been playing winter ball.
HELLO? Take it easy? HELLO? Are you kidding me?
This is the guy who broke bones in his left hand after punching something during a fit of rage after allowing a game-winning home run to Carlos Beltran in game four of the NLCS, leaving his team in a bind, when they needed him and he has the nerve to come to spring training, wanting to take it easy.
Anyway, the taking it easy comments was just the last straw. Breaking his hand in the playoffs. His suspension for eight games for getting caught with a "foreign substance" (pine tar) on his cap> (Tests showed there was no foreign substance on his hat). The guy who reports to spring training for the Cardinals in 2004, his first year with St. Louis and says he needs time to get in shape and isn't ready. Talking about making a good first impression. As far as I'm concern he didn't and he hasn't changed my mind since then.
Here's my take, YO! Julian, take all the time you want, rest up, take it easy and just go.
Tavarez had another good season this year, if you don't count September. Unfortunately they do count September. In the final full month of the regular season, Tavarez was 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA in 10 games.
For the season, in the effort to be fair, before I try to run him out of town, he had a respectable 2-3 mark with a 3.43 ERA and four saves in six opportunities.
If there is any good news about Tavarez, it's that he'll most likely command more money on the free agent market, than even the St. Louis Cardinals think he is worth. That means Tavarez will be gone in 2006 and Walt will have to find a replacement for him, just another thing to do, on his "Things to Do List",
Right hander, Brad Thompson (4-0 2.95 ERA 1 sv) and left hander, Randy Flores ( 3-1 3.46 ERA 1 sv) both pitched very well in 05 and will be back. Thompson was named the Cardinals' "Rookie of the Year" and Flores stepped up and filled the gap from the left side when Ray King faltered at times.
The Bottom Line - Walt's Bullpen "Things to Do List" shapes up with Jason Isringhausen, returning as the closer. In addition Brad Thompson and Randy Flores will be back, but beyond that, it's unclear how the relief corps will look next season.
Will Walt, sign Cal Eldred for one more season?
Will Walt, let someone else pay Julian Tavarez to take it easy?
Will Walt, make Ray King's wish come true and trade him before the season starts?
There are a lot of questions when it comes to the bullpen for next season.
It's a good thing we got their names on their jerseys and scorecards to tell who's who.
Ray Mileur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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