10 Things I Think I Think About the Cardinals

Brian Walton's shares what he's thinking about the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals, surprisingly ten games over .500 and in first place in the National League Central Division.

With a nod to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who familiarized the world with this simple, but effective format, let's delve into…

10 Things I Think I Think About the Cardinals – May 7, 2008

1. I think a really bad way to trade a young player is for his own manager and coaches to first drive down his market value. It would seem to me that the rest of the Cardinals are establishing a pattern of making general manager John Mozeliak's job more difficult.

Consider the very pointed comments by Tony La Russa about former third baseman Scott Rolen last fall. The new GM then had to try even harder to peddle goods that now every one knew were damaged. To his credit, fortunately Mozeliak did not settle for 50 cents on the dollar by taking Milwaukee's ineffective then injured starting pitcher Chris Capuano in return.

With 12 doubles the first month and a .260 batting average, Troy Glaus is proving a decent complementary performer for the 2008 Cardinals. Nice recovery, Mo, but here comes another.

Next we have the case of Anthony Reyes. The staff managed to made it clear the new GM overruled them by placing Reyes on the season-opening roster. Why can't they just keep this stuff quiet? Finally, after a month of sporadic use and mixed results, Anthony was put back on the Memphis shuttle for the fourth consecutive season.

Raise your hand if you would rather see Mike Parisi starting instead of Reyes. Right.

2. I think that getting shelled in rehab starts does not signify making progress for a recovering pitcher. Mark Mulder may look like a major league pitcher, but his results clearly do not. The big question now is if he will be given any starts with the Cardinals and what will be done if/when he continues his ineffectiveness.

My money says a trip back to the disabled list and a reset in extended spring training is in the offing, and this was written prior to Mulder being sent back to St. Louis for examination instead of taking the mound again this coming weekend for Memphis.

Overall, Walt Jocketty surely deserves accolades for his tenure as Cardinals GM, but it honestly seems like every decision he ever made regarding Mulder was the wrong one. Let's hope Mulder's recent bride didn't ask "Uncle" Walter for prenuptial advice.

Remember that Mulder was given a sweetheart deal for two years, $11.5 million prior to last season despite being injured coming in. There is also a third year option at $11 million for 2009 with a $1.5 million buyout. I'd give that option a very generous 2% chance of getting picked up.

3. Speaking of… I think that $1.5 million must be the equivalent of pocket change for the Cardinals. Along with that amount to be sunk on Mulder's buyout above, they are on the hook to pay Matt Clement the same chunk of cash in 2008. I bet you almost forgot about Clement, right?

So did the Red Sox, who knew all about Clement's shoulder damage and his rehab. They worked him in the instructional league late in the fall of 2007 and in contrast to the Cards with Mulder, decided to cut their losses.

Apparently either not knowing or fully probing the extent of Clement's damage and thinking he would be ready when he wasn't, Mozeliak signed the rehabbing righty over the winter. It could have been a tolerable gamble except the Cards immediately penciled Clement into the middle of their 2008 rotation and labeled said rotation "legitimate" because he had been added.

Only by the grace of Kyle Lohse did the Cardinals dodge a major bullet banking on Clement. It took until the middle of March for the club to realize they were several starting pitcher bullets short coming into the season.

Now, the Cardinals medical reports continue to note that Clement is pitching in extended spring training against short-season hitters two years after his surgery, and hoping he might be ready for a minor league rehab stint in six weeks down the road.

At this point, the organization effectively has a very expensive batting practice hurler to show for their investment.

4. I think I don't know what to think of Rick Ankiel. Sure, he has considerable physical talents. We've known that for a decade now and were reminded again Tuesday night with a pair of assists on throws to third base that are among the most impressive I have ever seen. It is what may be going on upstairs that no one knows.

Coming into Tuesday, Ankiel had accumulated 373 major league at-bats, which is getting to be a reasonable amount. His home and road splits are profound. At Busch, he looks like a monster with a .941 OPS, but on the road, we basically have another Cesar Izturis. Away from home cooking, Rick the Stick's OPS is an anemic .576. Just looking at this season, the nums are only slightly better on both counts, .966 home and .616 away.

Sorry, I didn't mean to insult you, Cesar. For the record, Izturis' career road OPS is actually much better, at .656.

While I would normally suggest the club ride out his road woes, this isn't just any player. One has to wonder how emotionally fragile Ankiel is and whether he should see less time in the lineup away from Busch.

5. I think I want to see more of Brian Barton (right). Like fellow bench-rider Brendan Ryan, the outfielder and Rule 5 pick injects life into the Cardinals lineup when he plays as evidenced by his .317/.404/.439 line coming into Tuesday.

With Ankiel struggling at home and Chris Duncan scuffling overall, I'd like to see Barton receive more than eight at-bats per week or 215 on the season, his current pace coming into Tuesday.

6. I think I don't know what I don't know about the 2008 Cardinals, but I want to see more. It has been great so far, with the club ten games over .500, but let's see what some more road action and even better competition brings. For example, while outside the NL Central they have teed off on the defending NL champ Colorado Rockies, they struggled against the lowly San Francisco Giants.

Sure, plenty of others are just as much on the Cards bandwagon now as they were off it during the winter. I continue to be amused by those who change direction like the wind. Many of the same writers who claimed gloom and doom in the off-season are now purring like contented kittens. I guess moderation isn't controversial enough.

7. I think all those national prognosticators who labeled the Cardinals a last-place team have quietly gone undercover. No one is saying this team is a lock to win the division, yet they do seem most competitive. If the Cards simply play .500 ball the rest of the way, how couldn't anyone be delighted with an 86-76 record? I do imagine that most if not all of the nay-saying sheep never actually got off their couches and saw the team in action this spring or they wouldn't have been so down.

Perhaps what we need an independent source to do an audit of these ludicrous pre-season predictions – not now, one month plus into the season, but at the end of the line. For the record, ours are right here.

8. I think I want to know why Cardinals fans aren't turning out to see their team this season. The past weekend's Cubs series represented the first sellouts at Busch Stadium since opening day. Perhaps the novelty of the new park has worn off.

More than likely, all the off-season gloom, doom and silly name calling affected those who pull out their wallets and lay their money down to buy tickets. That is too bad.

As noted in this recent article, while the overall cost of attending a Cardinals game is up slightly from last season, that local 3.8% compares most favorably to an average increase of 8.3% across MLB. There is no doubt the 2008 Cardinals are more than 3.8% more watchable than last year's entry, too.

Here's hoping the club remains in contention and the fans warm up to this very interesting team along with the weather.

9. I think those close to former Cardinals utilityman Scott Spiezio should force him to look in the mirror and deal with his demons head-on before it is too late. I didn't write about it at the time, but I was not surprised when Spiezio was again fired by the Atlanta Braves even before making it back to the majors. It seemed he re-signed too soon after his departure from St. Louis and the words of being cured and having learned his lesson rang hollow from the first sentence uttered.

Having a lot of money, time and the adulation of thousands is a bad combination for many young men. Add to that the machismo culture of the game that I fear inhibits peers and management from acting, often until it is too late. Here's hoping Spiezio's career doesn't parallel that of former pitcher Steve Howe, whose inability to avoid abuse ruined his career and perhaps helped prematurely take his life despite him having been offered many chances.

10. I think it is about time for Mark McGwire to resume his public life. The novelty and shock impact of the steroids era are clearly past. I have never positioned it this way before, but I think Big Mac owes the Cardinal Nation a return of just a small percent of the adulation and praise they heaped upon him from 1997 through 2001 and beyond.

I was encouraged when word came out that McGwire might show up at spring training this year as a guest instructor, taking up a standing offer from Tony La Russa. Alas, it didn't and really couldn't happen – until Big Mac clears the stagnant air that continues to surround him. Otherwise, his return would foster the circus environment that McGwire has wanted so much to avoid since that fateful March day in Washington, DC in 2005.

I believe it is time for McGwire to make a face-saving announcement that could be as vague as that of his pal Jason Giambi (who continues to be an active MLB player making $21 million this season after apologizing for something or another). From there, Mac can make a(nother) declaration not to discuss the past and stick to it.

Whether or not he cares about election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is his business. But, I believe he should be giving back to the Cardinals and their fans, best accomplished in the likely limited number of years remaining while La Russa and his crew are still at the club's helm.

In closing, I think I should do these columns regularly. At least, I hope so, That depends mostly on whether you've enjoyed reading this half as much as I did writing it.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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