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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Where Have All the Starters Gone?

Wow…it’s a beautiful day outside in Missouri – scheduled to hit 80 degrees – and Cardinals baseball is on TV at noon! (and I’m stuck in a cubicle breathing processed air…*sigh*). For those of you lucky enough to get outside today, enjoy it…and also…stuff it!

Alright…on to baseball. Our Bird Watching topics this week revolve around Matheny Mash-Ups (vets + pups = The Cardinal Way), Bumps and Bruises, and a bit about Rule 5 draftees (otherwise known as the pain in my neck I always knew they would be). Let’s get into it…

Boo-boos and Ouchies. Fresh new baseball season, same old Spring Training. Every season, Cardinal fans anxiously await injury updates on player after player. Entire news articles are written about aches and pains that essentially equate to boo-boos and ouchies of very little consequence. Players attempting to gear up for a full season of baseball after an off season of relative rest are dealing with the natural and expected protests from muscles and joints. Furcal, Beltran, Berkman, and more headline the list of players taking it easy through work outs as their bodies sluggishly respond to baseball activities. Even Carpenter – although his “ouchie” is an actual problem injury – has fallen victim to a comparitavely mundane issue that simply requires time and treatment to get right. I think what I’m saying is this…it’s Spring Training, folks…let’s not overreact to players taking it slow and resting aching bodies. We go through this every year.

That said…where are all the veterans and marquis players? It seems like this year’s slate of ST games has included a noticeable dearth of big names and regulars. I may be mis-remembering things, but it seems like Tony ran his starters out there more often than not…and the young guys were left to pick up scraps that fell off the table in later innings. Maybe this is just Matheny and the organization making more of an effort to develop/look at prospects and minor league players than Tony ever did, and maybe it’s also an attempt to give the World Series Champions a bit of an extended off season to make up for some of the rest they missed out on by playing into late October…but it’s starting to irritate me.

Is Matheny spending too much time and effort developing the future and not enough time preparing the present? Mike is making a deleberate effort to mix the veterans with the youngins in camp and distribute that knowledge and experience to those who have none. He’s changing up the hitting/side session groups, asking Chris Carpenter to speak to minor leaguers, and constructing lineups that include names like Taveras and Velez on a regular basis. It all seems designed to develop, foster, and implement an organization-wide “Cardinal Way” from the top down. That’s great. It’s awesome, in fact. But it’s time for the big boys to play. Maybe it’s just my resistance to change, but I’m ready to see the regulars start most games. With a HUGE schedule of games against NL Central opponents right off the bat, we need to hit the ground running this season…and this lineup needs to be ready to play.

Komatsu may be in position to crack this roster. Erik Komatsu – the left-handed, Rule 5 draftee – has been seeing a lot of time in the outfield and at the plate…and he’s making the most of it. Hitting .333 with a .922 OPS in 15 at bats, he’s shown pop and a solid approach at the plate. His 5 hits have included a triple, a double, and four RBIs. In addition to that, he’s also managed to coax two walks and swipe a base. He could be showing his value – and it may not be a good thing. Many Cardinal fans will remember the last Rule 5 draftee to make the Opening Day roster – Brian Barton. Those same fans will also remember learning something about Rule 5 draftees – they have to stay on the MLB active roster the entire season or be offered back to their previous club for cash. I hate this situation. What happens when Allen Craig comes back? Will Mo be tempted, yet again, to keep an extraneous LH outfielder on the roster – perhaps making less desirable moves in the ‘pen or on the bench – just to keep him in the system? If we didn’t have Craig on the radar for April, I wouldn’t be concerned…but I hated being trapped into keeping a player just to stick him in AAA the next year. Of course, if Craig can’t go for much of the season…and Komatsu hits…then the situation looks much different.

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of Bird Watching. Listen to the UCB Radio Hour tomorrow night to hear me…and a couple other guys ;)…talk Cardinals baseball!

GO CARDS!!!

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