The Winter of our Discontent

From the World According to Joe Mammy

Where has the winter gone?  Maybe I was just waiting for something more to happen this off-season.  Jason Marquis was supposed to be gone, end of story.  Yet, here we are a mere month before the phrase I've been waiting all winter to hear: pitchers and catchers report, and Jason is still in the starting rotation and the big impact power corner outfielder we added was… Juan Encarnacion?  And the pitching help was, well, a guy who was fired from the Orioles because of poor conditioning, poor results and an alcohol problem.


Of course with the cold and flu season it seems many baseball fans and franchises alike develop a more insidious malady that I call "Steinbrenner's Syndrome."  It's a conditioned characterized by irritability, mood swings and feelings of inadequacy if the gross national product of Cuba isn't spent on every possible free agent on the market.  I seem to come down with it in late October like clockwork.  I don't get it as bad as some (I hear there's been an outbreak in Toronto this year…) but I have to admit that while I don't dislike any of the new additions, they were a bit of an anti-climax.


The only real complaint I might have with this off-season was the lack of punch in the lineup.  I like Encarnacion almost as much as I like Edmonds out of it.  Edmonds struck out too much (although, in fairness, striking out is better than hitting into double plays and Edmonds didn't hit into many of those) and is best suited for the five or six slot, in my opinion.  But should Rolen start slowly again and Edmonds goes on one of his cold streaks, protecting Pujols in the lineup could be an issue.  While seeing Yadi Molina in the cleanup spot was novel last season, frankly I don't consider it a viable long-term option and I don't see Bigbie, Rodriguez or whoever ends up hitting second as the answer.  As others have pointed out, the Cardinals have no foreseeable backup either with the bat or the glove for Scott Rolen.  Given the proclamations of Rolen being 100% in the past, I don't think that some wariness isn't unreasonable.


All that being said, I like the look of the '06 Cardinals so far.  It's unlikely that Rolen and Edmonds or (God forbid) Pujols won't get it together for most of the season.  And even if the offense doesn't gel right away, it's hard to feel that the starting rotation has suffered with the addition of Reyes or Ponson and the subtraction of Matt Morris.  Mark Mulder is entering his money year and honestly even if Carpenter doesn't repeat his Cy Young campaign, Suppan is likely to continue to be a workhorse and Marquis, well, hopefully he can carry his late season success and the lessons learned from his struggles in '05 over to a solid season.


And one last thing, not that I haven't beaten a dead horse already, but I for one am glad that Jocketty has been more conservative in his spending habits.  One need look no further than the Florida Marlins and their strange cycle of over-bulking and then selling off en masse to get the team budget in check.  In the Jocketty era there have been no fire sales and no unloading of players solely for budgetary reasons.  While it has cost the Cardinals in free agent bidding wars it's this same mentality that got the Cardinals the likes of Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Woody Williams, Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen, Fernando Vina and one year impact players like Mark Grudzielanek and Tony Womack.  The result has been one of the most consistent and winning National League franchises in recent memory.


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