Sunday Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur

It was bound to happen sooner or later, St. Louis Channel 5 is reporting this weekend that the Cardinals are distancing themselves from left-handed closer Brian Fuentes, a move that should have been expected and one that keeps the door open for Jason Motte or Chris Perez to step in and assume the closer's role for 2009.

Fuentes doesn't want to commit to anyone until free agent Mark Teixeria signs a deal, because if Teixeira lands somewhere other than with the Angels, it's the Angels that could be the only team that might be willing and able to meet his three-year, $30 million demands.

We've been down this road before, the Cardinals announce that they are committed to going after someone, only to learn when it's all over, that they couldn't meet the player's demands are compete against higher offers made by other teams.

I haven't been a supporter of signing of Fuentes, certainly not for three-years for $30 million, and then when you throw in a first round draft pick that it will cost the Cardinals because Colorado offered him arbitration, then I'm emphatically against it.

Chris Perez and Jason Motte may not be ready to step into the closer's role on day one, that appears to be the position being taken by the Cardinals brain trust.

I'd give Motte & Perez the ball on the first day in spring training and let them rotate as closer from day to day with some on-the-job training until one of them snatches the job away from the other. Competition for a position, heard that before? As manager Tony La Russa always says, that's a good thing.

If the Cardinals pull their offer for Fuentes off the table they may pursue former Los Angeles Dodgers closer, 39-year-old Takashi Saito. Here is another potential deal that I can't wrap myself around and get the warm fuzzies. Saito missed two months of the season last year because of an elbow injury and was left of the Dodgers National League Championship Series roster. The Dodgers declined to offer him a contract because of mounting concerns about his health, but have indicated that they remain open to him returning to LA.

"The door remains open to bring him back in 2009, but right now there's just a difference of opinion on his contract," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told LA reporters. "We have a great deal of respect for him as a player and a person and we know how difficult the last two or three months of the season were for him from a health perspective.

My take on Saito at the end of the 2008 campaign was that his career is basically over, so I'm surprised by some of the interest in him, including Japan's World Baseball Classic team. The Japan team was the winners of the first WBC in 2005. According to, (I'm going to have to learn to speak and read Japanese) Saito has been invited to Japan's, training camp for the World Baseball Classic. Saito is one of 34 players asked to report to Japan's training camp starting February 16.

If Saito makes the team and that is a big if in my book, a good performance there could lead to an MLB club taking a chance on him and signing him to their bullpen just before Opening Day. I'd suggest the Cardinals put off making any serious offer to Saito until they see how he performs in the WBC. If someone else signs him before then, so what, I like our other in-house options better anyway.

I have reservations about any St. Louis Cardinal pitcher participating in the World Baseball Classic without completing the typical spring training regime, prior to facing live batters in game situations. Japan's first game is schedule for March 5 against China, just 18 days after reporting to training camp. I'd hate to see St. Louis sign Saito to a deal only to see him blow out what is left of his arm before April.

In closing out this train of thought, I mean really what is wrong with this team as it stands today? If the Cardinals don't make another move this winter, looking into my crystal ball, this team can be very competitive next season, winning 88-94 games.


---Speaking of Japan, the Cardinals signed Japanese left handed pitcher Katsuhiko Maekawa to a minor league contract this week. According to our own Hot News item, Maekawa, from 1997 through 2006, Maekawa posted a 31-45 record, 5.26 ERA and a 417/345 K/BB ratio in 609 innings during his career in Japan with Kinetsu (1997-2003), Hanshin (2004-2005) and Orix (2006). Apparently he did not pitch during the 2007 regular season in Japan.

---The Venezuelan Winter League will be wrapping up its season at the end of this month. The Cardinals had a couple of position players playing in the league; third baseman David Freese and middle infielder Jose Martinez. Freese played for the Caribes de Anzoategui (I'm going to have to learn Spanish), his last game was back on November the 2nd. David hit just .235 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 14 games, before returning home, after being cut by the team for what was initially reported to be because of poor performance rather than a later report referring to a left wrist injury. Jose Martinez only played in six games, his last game back on November 5th. Martinez hit just .118 (2-for-17), making one wonder if he was 100% healthy?

---Winter Ball Pitcher of the Year? Springfield Cardinals reliever Luke Gregerson, who has already returned to the States, posted some of the most impressive numbers among Cardinal pitchers participating in winter ball this year. Gregerson finished the season with a 3-1 won-loss record with a miniscule ERA of 0.82. In 19 games (22 IP), Luke gave up just two runs on 19 hits.

---Winter Ball Player of the Year? If the voting was held today the winner would be Amaury "Superman" Marti. Marti through 44 games is hitting .303 with a team leading, seven home runs and 32 RBIs. He's struck out 42 times in 165 at-bats, but he has also drawn 21 walks. Marti is currently playing in the Dominican Winter League for the Tigres del Licey team. But here is the bottom line, if we are ever going to get a handle on how good Marti is, he's going to have to play in the States for an entire season and put an end to this loaning him out to the Mexican League or any other league for that matter.

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