Five opinionated thoughts on the early days of Camp Cardinal in spring training 2023 …
1. The Cardinals have 13 guys from their 40-man roster competing in the World Baseball Classic. Hold your breath. This isn’t a risk-free experience for the players. I enjoy watching the WBC. Really, I do. But how many of the participating Cardinals will return to camp at full health?
In the most recent WBC (2017), multiple MLB players suffered injuries in the competition. The list included Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, shortstop Didi Gregorius (Yankees), utility guy Martín Prado (Marlins), and pitchers Drew Smyly (Mariners), Seth Lugo (Mets), Roberto Osuna (Blue Jays) and catcher Salvador Perez (Royals.)
All but Cabrera and Salvador began the MLB season on the injured list. Gregorius, a shortstop who played out of position in the WBC, missed 27 days with a shoulder strain Smyly had to go on the 60-day IL with a strained flexor tendon and never pitched in 2017. Lugo missed a chunk of regular-season time with a partially torn UCL and was out for 84 days.
Prado (hamstring, knee) missed 139 days. Osuna (neck) was fortunate; the WBC injury cost him only 10 regular-season days. Starting pitcher Félix Hernández (Mariners) played in the WBC but went down with a groin injury in his first regular-season start, missing 100 days with three separate injury disruptions.
Salvy Perez tweaked his back during the WBC, later missed 17 days because of related pain and played through additional discomfort.
Cabrera, the future Hall of Famer, hurt his back during the WBC, missed two weeks, and played hurt for much of the season. “Since the World Baseball Classic when I hurt my back, I can’t get it out of the way,” Cabrera told Detroit media in June of 2017. “It’s something that I deal with everyday. I’m not going to stop playing or make an excuse. I try to do my best.”
Let’s hope that the Cardinals come home from the WBC with only positive experiences … and no harm or physical damage.
2. The non-stop “competitive camp” narrative is already on my nerves. It’s overstated. It’s exaggerated. It’s more of a marketing pitch than a reality. The Cardinals had to give the media something to play with, and the competition angle was an easy sell. Cardinal camp is no more competitive than the other 29 spring-training sites in MLB.
3. Here’s what interests me the most during Planet Jupiter time: (A) every at-bat taken by Jordan Walker. (B) Every swing – and miss – when Nolan Gorman is in the batter’s box. Just looking for signs improved contact from big fella, especially on four-seam fastballs up in the zone. (C) Jack Flaherty’s form and confidence on the mound. I don’t care about spring-training ERAs. He just needs to be healthy and pitching freely. Flaherty is the most important player in camp. (D) Legit pitching prospect Gordon Graceffo, who has a chance to become a major factor this season. (E) Willson Contreras, and a smooth transition between the new catcher and a his new set of pitchers.
4. Not all that interested: the Paul DeJong narrative. Rebuilt swing, finally figured it all out, revival time, he’s back, etc. It’s fatiguing and boring. If Paulie goes 4 for 9 in his first three exhibition games, medics may have to distribute oxygen tanks to alleviate the hyperventilating that comes with breathless reporting. I sincerely hope DeJong does well, but there’s no way to honestly evaluate him until he starts playing real games against real MLB … or until he encounters his first 1-for-13 spell during the regular season.
5. Intriguing: Rule V mystery man Wilking Rodriguez. He’ll be 33 on March 2. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014 – consisting of two innings with the Royals. But he struck out an average of 14.7 hitters per nine innings for Dos Laredos in Mexico last season, and reportedly throws 100 mph. Is this guy for real, or is this another Sidd Finch prank?
A follow-up on my John Mozeliak column written earlier this week. Since Mozeliak took over as the head of the baseball department in 2008, the Cardinals rank among the top three in the majors for best regular-season winning percentage. The Redbirds are also in the top three for the most times making the playoffs.
The other two teams who are right there with the Cardinals are the Dodgers and Yankees.
And all three franchises have won only one World Series since 2008: the Yankees in 2009, the Cardinals in 2011 and the Dodgers in the pandemic-shortened 2020.
OK, and here’s where the three franchises differ: payroll. Here’s what each team has spent, total, on its end-of-season 40-man payroll since 2008:
– Yankees, $3.16 billion
– Dodgers, $2.923 billion
– Cardinals, $1.97 billion
You do the math.
That’s why I chuckle at the peoples who carry on about Mozeliak as if he’s such a sad and pathetic failure. Yes, let’s say it again: the Cardinals must do better in the postseason, and that quest should be the top priority. We all know that, and it doesn’t make you a tough guy to declare this.
The other day, I was reading something online that presented this conclusion: if the Cardinals fail to get where they claim that they want to be – the World Series – then this will prove it was wrong to give Mozeliak a contract extension.
This point of view inexplicably presumes that Mozeliak has all of the power, can make any trade he wants to make, sign who he wants to sign, and spend what he wants to spend to acquire prominent free agents – especially elite starting pitching.
Ever heard of Bill DeWitt Jr?
He owns the Cardinals. He sets the parameters, including the payroll size. And he has authority over any decision. DeWitt plays a major role in the Cardinals’ regular-season success, and he has the power (and payroll control) to chart a different strategy for improving his team’s chances for postseason success.
So why do some pretend that this is all about Mozeliak, all on Mozeliak, 100 percent about Mozeliak.
Does he have complete autonomy, beyond DeWitt’s influence?
If so, when and why did I miss that announcement?
If Mozeliak is such a stooge – he isn’t – then why have the Cardinals attained a similar level of success as the mighty Yankees and Dodgers despite Mozeliak having to work with a substantially lower payroll?
Do you think if Mozeliak worked in the same capacity for the Dodgers and Yankees, he’d be allowed to spend massive sums of money to sign a No. 1 free-agent starter to lead his rotation? Hell, yes. He’d be able to do that. He’d also be able to spend a vast amount of money on a No. 2 free-agent starter. Does anyone seriously believe that Mozeliak has the freedom to do so in St. Louis? Of course not. So don’t be an idiot.
Thanks for reading …
I wish you a swell weekend.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.