The Pirates' next series begins tonight in St. Louis, so I caught up with Dan Moore, who writes about the Cardinals and St. Louis sports for Viva El Birdos and SB Nation St. Louis, to ask him five questions (six, actually) about the Bucs' next opponents.
First, the obvious question. What's Albert Pujols' status, and will the Cardinals be able to retain him?
It's hard to say; Pujols's self-imposed Spring Training deadline for contract negotiations has held so far, and there's no public sign of either side backing down on its terms. But the Cardinals are a risk-averse team, and I just can't see them not retaining Pujols. I don't know what that would look like.
Did Jaime Garcia's excellent season in 2010 catch you off-guard, and does his brilliant first start of 2011 yesterday make you think he can repeat it?
It was definitely a surprise, for a number of reasons. It seemed unlikely that a Tony La Russa/Dave Duncan team would rely on a 23-year-old starter in their rotation, especially one who was about 40 innings removed from elbow surgery; then it seemed unlikely that he would be able to keep up his impossibly hot start; and it seems unlikely even now that he'll be able to repeat it in 2011.
He's an excellent pitcher, and I think he might be able to make up for not repeating that 2.70 ERA, value-wise, by taking more than 28 starts. As for yesterday's shutout, what made me happiest about it is that I won't have to hear about Garcia's terrible Spring Training numbers anymore.
When do you think Matt Holliday will be back after his appendectomy, and what do you expect out of replacements Allen Craig and Jon Jay? Did you agree with the Cards' decision to spend $8 million on Lance Berkman when they already had totally functional players like Craig and Jay available to potentially take those at-bats?
Jay and Craig are almost creepily ideal as platoon partners; Craig is a converted infielder who can't really run or throw but hits extremely well as a right-hander, and Jay is a left-handed center fielder who doesn't have the stereotypical corner-bat profile. One of them's a neat freak played by Tony Randall, while the other is a sloppy sportswriter who looks strikingly like Jack Klugman, and each of them has a secretary named Kennedy. They would have been completely adequate in right field, but they're even better as bench anchors. Craig can even stand at third base, when they let him.
That's what I liked about the Berkman deal. It's a risk of $8 million, but it's not really a tactical risk; the Cardinals aren't relying on him to make 140 starts and take to the outfield immediately so that Nick Stavinoha doesn't have to play there all summer, they're just taking a shot that he'll be an outstanding hitter again and get one more year out of his knees. With Jay and Craig on the bench they've got a high floor in the outfield, and Berkman raises the team's performance ceiling as much as any of the other players available at that point in the offseason.
The Cardinals are showing a lot of faith in Kyle Lohse, who is back in their rotation. Do you feel that faith is justified after his recent struggles, and can we learn anything from his strong Spring Training this year?
I'm not sure it's faith so much as the Cardinals being forced to take Pascal's wager; whether Lohse is recovered or not, they have to use him, so they might as well pretend to believe he's recovered. This just wasn't a very flexible rotation, even before Adam Wainwright went down. The Cardinals had to pay market price for Jake Westbrook to find enough innings, and they've always got Chris Carpenter, another expensive, injury-prone starter, to worry about.
As for Lohse himself, that he's healthy is itself a feat after he went down with an injury that primarily targets motocross riders. I don't want to make a claim based on his Spring Training the day after Jaime Garcia's shutout, but if nothing else he's unlikely to be as bad as he was last year.
What do you expect of top prospect Shelby Miller this season?
Last year he made 24 starts and was allowed to throw just 104 innings, so we'll probably see more of the same in 2011. My only expectations are that the Cardinals slowly increase the number of innings he's allowed to pitch and Miller does tantalizing things at high-A for most of the year. (In low-A last season he struck out 140 batters against just 33 walks.)
Is there any indication, at this point, that the Cards will trade Colby Rasmus?
None at all. Rasmus and Tony La Russa are both making noises about having made up. Rasmus looked especially good over the first series, but even if that weren't the case I can't see it happening. La Russa has pushed a few stars out of St. Louis in his day, but it's worth noting that those players he's appeared to dislike—Scott Rolen, J.D. Drew—were also either expensive or about to get expensive. Rasmus is just too cheap and too good for a team built like the Cardinals are to give him up, regardless of how little LaRussa likes him.