BERNIE BITS 

Let’s begin by checking in on a some former Cardinals: 

Albert Pujols, 41, is moving deeper into the unavoidable decline phase that’s part of the unforgiving aging process for athletes. In his 41 plate appearances for the Angels, Pujols is batting .231, slugging .308 and is performing at 31 percent below league average offensively based on OPS+. This is the final campaign of Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million contract with Halos; they’re paying him $30 million this season. 

But Pujols can still get some things done. Batting .316 in his last five games, Pujols alertly stole third base in a double-steal gambit during Monday’s 6-4 loss to the Rangers. After noticing that the Rangers were ignoring him at second base, Pujols took off and swiped third base without a throw. Albert’s first stolen base since Aug. 19, 2019 set him up to score on a wild pitch in the Angels’ four-run seventh inning. 

Pujols became the oldest player to steal a base since the Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki got one against the Cardinals on July 17, 2016 at age 42 years and 269. And at 41 years, 94 days old Pujols also became the oldest player to steal a base while playing first base in a game since Julio Franco in 2007. This was steal No. 115 in Pujols’ 21-season career. 

“Just heady, he’s ahead of the game at all times,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said of the Pujols’ steal.  “Just a great play, great veteran play. Bully for him. Great job.”

Randy Arozarena: The strangely underutilized Cardinals outfield prospect is off to a chilly start this season for Tampa Bay, batting .246 with a .377 slug and two homers. After Arozarena’s epic 2020 postseason for the Rays — 20 games, .377 average, 1.273 OPS, 10 homers, 19 runs scored, 14 runs driven in — I’m thinking his slow start will be forgiven. 

Adolis Garcia: Remember him? With considerable fanfare the Cardinals signed Garcia out of Cuba and never really gave the outfielder much of a shot at the big-league level. Playing extensively at Triple A Memphis Garcia bashed 54 homers and drove in 169 runs over two seasons, slugging .500 in 2018 and .517 in ‘19. In 17 at-bats for the Cardinals in 2018, Garcia batted .118 with seven strikeouts. The rebuilding Rangers are seeing what’s there, and Garcia is slugging .552 in seven games and 29 plate appearances. But Garcia is 28, and the plate-discipline issues remain. 

Marcell Ozuna: After having an MVP-caliber year for Atlanta last season — .338 average, a league-leading 18 homers, and 56 RBI — the left fielder is trying to rev up. Through 16 games Ozuna is batting .230 with a .279 slugging percentage and a 31.4% strikeout rate. But Ozuna heated up in Sunday’s 13-4 rout of the Cubs, going 2 for 4 and reaching base four times.

Carson Kelly: The heralded catching prospect started anew at Arizona after being part of the trade Paul Goldschmidt. Kelly, 26, is hitting .400 with three homers this season. Kelly had no chance of seeing meaningful action as Yadier Molina’s seldom-used backup in St. Louis — but he’s showing what he can do in Arizona. In 161 games for the Diamondbacks Kelly has a .342 OBP and .472 slug, with 26 homers and 72 RBIs. He’s 11th in WAR among catchers since the start of the 2019 season. Among the 21 MLB catchers who have at least 500 plate appearances over the last three seasons Kelly ranks 4th in OPS (.814) and is tied for 4th in slugging percentage. 

Stephen Piscotty: The Oakland outfielder, now 30, had a sensational day last Thursday. First, he launched the A’s to an 8-4 win over the Tigers by blasting a solo home run that had an exit velocity of 109.6 mph. Two hours later Piscotty hurried out of the Oakland Coliseum in the 7th inning to be with his wife Carrie, who gave birth to their first child, a boy. Piscotty has two homers and a .531 slug early on for the A’s this season. In 300 games with the A’s since the trade from St. Louis, Piscotty has a .262 average, .315 OBP and ..447 slug. He’s nine percent above league average offensively (109 OPS+) for Oakland. 

Luke Weaver: Kelly is catching another former Cardinal, starting pitcher Luke Weaver, who was also part of the deal for Goldy. Coming back from a forearm strain that sidelined him for the final four months of the 2019 season, Weaver struggled with a 6.58 ERA during the truncated 2020 season. But he had a 2.94 ERA in 2019, and has a 3.78 ERA after three starts this season. 

READING TIME, 3 MINUTES: 

Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, 76, probably has a lot on his mind these days. In their first season with TLR as manager, the Chicago White Sox are off to an 8-9 start — largely because of a bullpen that’s blown five of seven save opportunities. And then there’s this surprising development, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News: 

“The Animal Rescue Foundation, the venerable Bay Area animal welfare nonprofit co-founded by Tony La Russa, is in turmoil after the baseball legend and his family announced they were resigning and stepping away from the organization amid allegations that its leadership has long subjected employees to ‘a toxic’ workplace that included abusive and retaliatory behavior. The stunning announcement came in a statement posted to social media Saturday night and signed by his wife and daughter, Elaine LaRussa and Bianca LaRussa. The announcement did not specify the family’s concerns, but only said they had ‘collectively concluded that we cannot support or participate in ARF’s current leadership.’

In a statement the La Russa family said: “We hope that our withdrawal from the board and organization will prompt renewed focus on careful stewardship of the foundation and its mission. Until we see significant change, we are stepping away from ARF and will dedicate our passion, time and resources to aid other animal welfare organizations. We remain hopeful that with meaningful changes, ARF can return to the mission and ideas upon which our family founded it 30 years ago.” 

According to the Mercury News, attorney Mark Venardi contacted the newspaper  to say his firm represents four employees, including ARF’s former human resources manager, who allege that “those in charge started to run the organization like a personal fiefdom at the expense of its loyal and dedicated employees.” And that ARF “retaliated against and rooted out employees at all levels who attempted to have the organization do the right things for the right reasons.” 

Sounds ugly. But don’t jump to conclusions. TLR may return at some point. The ARF board president, attorney Greg McCoy, tells the Mercury News that the board has “reserved the chairmanship for Tony.”

Moving On …

Blues coach Craig Berube is right to bust up the enigmatic line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. In their 14 games as a unit since Tarasenko’s return on March 6, the trio has been outscored 7-4 at even strength. Only four goals in 134 minutes. Yikes. And when playing at five on five, the line has an abysmal expected goals-for percentage of 30.3 percent. Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko are being paid a combined $19.35 million this season. For Thursday’s home game against Colorado, the Berube will have Tyler Bozak centering Tarasenko and Schwartz; Schenn will center Mike Hoffman and Jordan Kyrou. 

The Bleacher Report ran a list of the 20 MLB players that are being paid at least $25 million this season and ranked them from Worst to Best. Cards first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was No. 11, and third baseman Nolan Arenado came in at No. 4. “The Coors Field question, specifically, is going up in flames,” BR wrote. “Pitchers are trying to expose Arenado by feeding him an increased diet of off-speed and breaking pitches, yet all he’s doing is hitting .407 with a .704 slugging percentage against them.”  The players ranked ahead of Arenado were Mike Trout (1st), Jacob de Grom (2nd) and Gerrit Cole (3rd.)

Remember when Giancarlo Stanton declined to waive his no-trade clause to squash a tentative trade that would have sent him from Miami to St. Louis? Stanton preferred to be a Yankee and got his wish when the Marlins traded him to New York before the 2018 season. Stanton’s decision worked out well for the Cards chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations. Though Stanton played 158 games and clubbed 38 homers and cashed in 100 RBI in his first season as a Yankee, he’s appeared in only 54 of a possible 237 games since the start of the 2019 season — that’s 23 percent. 

Stanton opted into his contract at the end of the 2020 season, which committed the Yankees to paying him $188 million over the next seven years. That total would be $218 million but the Marlins agreed to pay the Yankees $30 million over the final three years of Stanton’s contract. But even with the $30 million subtraction the Yanks will pay Stanton an average annual salary of $26.8 million. And he’s a designated hitter now. In his 54 games since the start of the 2019 season Stanton is hitting .242 with a .462 slug and 31.4% strikeout rate. Over the three years (2019-21) Stanton will collect an average of $27 million from the Yankees. 

If Stanton would have said Yes to the Cardinals, there would be no Paul Goldschmidt or Nolan Arenado in St. Louis. And they’d be stuck with a massive contract for a frequently injured player that’s limited to DH duties. This season Stanton is hitting .167 through 13 games for the Yankees. The team’s $202 million payroll for 2021 has netted 5 wins and 10 losses so far. Stanton has struck out 280 times in his 212 games for New York. 

AS OTHERS SEE US: 

Writing for The Athletic, former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden offered a suggestion that involves the Cardinals: Seattle should trade outfielder Mitch Haniger to St. Louis, or to the LA Angels. After noting that the Mariners are well stocked with outstanding young outfield talent for the future, Bowden wrote: 

“Add it all up and it’s time for Seattle to consider moving right fielder Mitch Haniger. Haniger is one of this year’s best comeback stories, overcoming a ruptured testicle he suffered during an at-bat in June 2019. He didn’t play last year, but has started this season well with a .321 batting average, four home runs and 10 RBIs while hitting safely in all but one of the Mariners’ 13 games. He’s a free agent after the 2022 season and likely won’t be re-signing because of the Mariners’ depth of young outfielders, so why wait to deal him? The Cardinals have struggled with their corner outfield offense outside of Rookie of the Year candidate Dylan Carlson, who has mostly played center field this season. Adding a bat like Haniger’s would significantly stretch their lineup. Haniger hit 16 home runs in only 96 games in 2017, then had 26 home runs, 93 RBIs and a .366 OPB in 2018. That’s the type of production I expect from him this year.” 

Updated stats: After 17 games Haniger is batting .319 with a .932 OPS, four homers, five doubles and 14 RBIs. And he’s been a force in Seattle’s unexpected 11-6 start.

Thanks for reading … 

–Bernie

Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com  … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.