Cardinals Major League Notebook: 11/05/11

Jason Motte

The St. Louis Cardinals have a closer for the present and future in hard-throwing right-hander Jason Motte.

INSIDE PITCH

 

It took nearly five months, but the Cardinals apparently found their closer of the present -- and future -- in hard-throwing Jason Motte. He recorded all of his nine saves after Aug. 28, which was about the time the Cardinals started their remarkable charge toward a playoff berth and then a World Series title.

The bullpen, with Motte at the end, solidified itself a few weeks after the big trade with Toronto in which center fielder Colby Rasmus was dealt for, among others, right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel and left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, who generally were outstanding.

In the same trade, Edwin Jackson came from the Chicago White Sox, via Toronto, to augment the rotation, freeing up starter Kyle McClellan to return to the bullpen.

Although it certainly didn't look like it in spring training, outfielder Lance Berkman showed conclusively that he was not finished after a 2010 season in which he hit only 14 homers and drove in 58 runs. In effect, he doubled that this year, banging 31 homers, knocking in 94 runs and starting in the All-Star Game.

The Big Three of first baseman Albert Pujols, left fielder Matt Holliday and Berkman combined for 90 homers, 268 runs batted in and nearly a .300 average. Catcher Yadier Molina, who won his fourth straight Gold Glove, led the club in hitting at .305, and center fielder Jon Jay and third baseman David Freese, the postseason hero, gave the club six regulars who averaged between .296 and .305.

And that didn't include supersub Allen Craig, an infielder/outfielder, who hit .315 in 200 at-bats.

Without right-hander Adam Wainwright, the rotation was up and down this season although the Cardinals did wind up with five pitchers who had between 11 and 14 victories.

They were led by right-hander Kyle Lohse, who, a year removed from serious forearm surgery, also led the staff in earned run average at 3.45 in addition to his 14 wins.

Postseason star Chris Carpenter had only 11 wins but led the National League in innings pitched with 237 1/3.

The Cardinals overcame a generally lightweight bench with some versatility, mostly in infielder Daniel Descalso and second baseman/outfielder Skip Schumaker, who actually started 92 games.

For next year, the Cardinals have two immediate goals: Find a manager to replace Tony La Russa, who resigned after 16 seasons, and sign Pujols, a free agent.

Their pitching staff will get a jump with the expected return after Tommy John elbow surgery of right-hander Adam Wainwright, who won 20 games in 2010. But the offense, the most productive in the National League, would take a jolt if Pujols isn't re-signed.

--Mike Matheny was considered one of the best defensive catchers in the majors during his 13-year career. Now he'd like to call games from the dugout.

Matheny, who has been a special assistant to St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, interviewed for their managerial opening Friday. He retired as a player in 2006, while with the San Francisco Giants, after a series of concussions.

The Cardinals previously had interviewed Chris Maloney, manager of their Class AAA Memphis farm club, and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing.

The big name who has yet to interview is Terry Francona, who left the Boston Red Sox this year. Francona originally was scheduled to interview Friday but figures to come in next week.

Other candidates to replace Tony La Russa are Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, said to be the first choice of Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, who is a free agent, and former Chicago Cubs great Ryne Sandberg, who has been managing the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A club.

--Tony La Russa may be done managing, but he's not done with baseball.

After retiring as the manager of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, La Russa told a Chicago radio station he wanted to play some type of substantial role with a team.

"I need to get back in baseball somewhere," La Russa told ESPN Chicago. "I think I don't really want to retire immediately and just make a ceremonial visit here and there. I don't want some kind of idle job that doesn't do anything. I like responsibility."

While La Russa is looking to remain in the game, he doesn't necessarily want to join a team that has things in place. He sounded more interested in building a franchise up and helping make a transition for a team that needs one.

Asked about joining the Chicago White Sox, where La Russa began his career as a manager, he said that would not be the right fit.

"I think they are really set up. I think that's the problem," he said. "You don't want to go into some place that already has it figured out. They got it figured out."

NOTES, QUOTES

Bob Forsch, the former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who threw two no-hitters and just recently threw out the first pitch of Game 7 of the World Series, died Thursday night.

Forsch, 61, collapsed at his home in Tampa, Fla, after suffering a heart aneurysm, his wife, Jan, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He was the third-winningest pitcher in Cardinals history with 163 victories in 15 seasons. Forsch was the only pitcher in the team's history to throw two no-hitters, tossing one in 1978 against the Philadelphia Phillies and another in 1983 against the Montreal Expos.

He pitched for three World Series teams during the Cardinals' run under manager Whitey Herzog in the 1980s—1982, '85 and '87.

Forsch went 20-7 with a 3.48 ERA in 1977, his only 20-win season. He won at least 10 games 11 times.

He worked the last few seasons for the Cincinnati Reds as a minor-league pitching coach.

SS Rafael Furcal's and RHP Octavio Dotel's contract options were declined, but the Cardinals maintain interest in re-signing both. Furcal stabilized the infield defense although his on-base percentage as a leadoff man was poor. Dotel pitched well in all manner of relief roles.

RHP Edwin Jackson is a free agent, and the Cardinals probably won't be able to offer him a long-term contract with five starters already under contract in RHPs Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook and LHP Jaime Garcia.

C Yadier Molina won a fourth straight Rawlings Gold Glove for defensive excellence, breaking a tie for the most among Cardinals catchers. Mike Matheny, Molina's mentor, had three in the previous decade, as did Tom Pagnozzi in the 1990s.

2B Skip Schumaker and RHP Kyle McClellan both are arbitration-eligible and might not be back. McClellan, especially, might fall through the cracks with the rotation set and a preponderance of younger right-handed relievers on the roster.

RHP Jason Motte, after seven other pitchers had recorded saves, finally nailed down the closer's role, knocking off nine saves from Aug. 28 on. In the meantime, Motte set the club record for appearances by a right-hander with 78.

BY THE NUMBERS: 34-16 - Cardinals' record from Aug. 25 to end the of the World Series.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's time to end it."

- Manager Tony La Russa, on retiring after 16 seasons as Cardinals manager.

 

ROSTER REPORT

 

The Cardinals are coming off a World Series title, but general manager John Mozeliak realizes the big turnaround in the season came in late July and early August when the club changed 20 percent of its roster with five additions. There will be no standing pat, and that trend began three days after the World Series ended when manager Tony La Russa retired after 16 seasons.

 

BIGGEST NEEDS:

 

The top priority, after naming a manager, is re-signing 1B Albert Pujols, the cream of the free agent class. Secondarily, the Cardinals need to address their shortstop-second base situation, which finished with Rafael Furcal, whose option was not picked up, at short and Skip Schumaker, who is arbitration-eligible, at second. Mozeliak has indicated interest in Furcal but at a much lower figure than $12 million. Schumaker, a converted outfielder, has improved at second base, but the Cardinals might not want to pay to keep both.

 

FREE AGENTS:

1B Albert Pujols, RHPs Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel, C Gerald Laird, SS Rafael Furcal, OF Corey Patterson, INF Nick Punto, LHP Arthur Rhodes.

Every effort will be made to re-sign Pujols. Furcal and Dotel command interest by the Cardinals, but they won't be able to give Jackson a long-term deal. Rhodes is next most likely to be sought after by the Cardinals, but there won't be much money for him.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE:

2B/OF Skip Schumaker, RHP Kyle McClellan. INF Ryan Theriot.

All, in theory, could be non-tendered. McClellan is the most likely to dealt. Either Schumaker or Theriot won't be back, and possibly both.

IN LIMBO:

 

RHP Kyle McClellan, who moved back to the bullpen when Jackson was acquired, is in competition with several young right-handed relievers who are less expensive. He wouldn't go back to the rotation, either, with the expected return of RHP Adam Wainwright, who missed 2011 with Tommy John elbow surgery. INF Tyler Greene, who had a strong Class AAA performance and who was going to get a late season look until the Cardinals got back into playoff contention, could be a trade candidate if the club doesn't figure to have a role for him. In limited duty with the Cardinals, Greene led the club in steals with 11 (in 11 attempts).

 

MEDICAL WATCH:

RHP Adam Wainwright is expected to go to Jupiter, Fla., just after Jan. 1 to begin throwing in earnest. He expects to be ready for spring training.

LF Matt Holliday might need his right hand, injured twice late in the season, attended to.

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