Greetings, chatters. Thanks for dropping by. My apologies for the absence last week. Took a week off to attend a family event and get a quick rest before spring training. I'll be heading to Jupiter the first week of March to join the crew down there. Plenty to discuss about that, and ... the Blues! They are proving me wrong. I thought it was over. So, I'll eat some crow today, I imagine. Happy to do it. Let's roll.
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They're still so hard to trust, but give credit where it's due. They are finally playing like the team we thought they could be. The talent was never in question. It's been there all along. Finally, cylinders seem to be firing together, and not going dormant for stretches after a few things go wrong. I do think this team has hardened, in a good way, over the season. That's evident in the comments coming out of the dressing room. They used to get too high and too low too easily. Now they seem more mature and level-headed. Perhaps going through the roller-coaster to this point made that happen. Can it last? Who knows. But if the season ended today, they're in the postseason and one of the hottest teams in that bunch. It's much better to be hitting your stride toward the end.
I mean, this chat alone is worth it -- as long as Jim shows up.
I don't think it's nearly as big of an issue as commissioner Rob Manfred seems to think. He's obsessed. But if this was that big of a deal to the league, it would look at the option you considered: trimming TV breaks. There is absolutely zero talk of that, so the obsession over pitch clocks and mound visits just feels a bit forced, to me. Recently, you have noticed some of the in-game ads that cause your TV to go split-screen or a screen within a screen, with the ad being smaller than the game but still present during play. I hate it, and I imagine most of you do too, but if there's money to be made, it's going to continue. That's the best metric. If it makes money, it will continue. And likely grow.
To paraphrase Dory from Finding Nemo, just keep swimming, or in this case, winning. If Berube can take this team from the ditch it was in into a meaningful postseason, that's a pretty impressive line on his resume. It said something that GM Doug Armstrong wanted to see how he fared the rest of the season. Obviously, everyone wants Joel Quenneville. He's the best option out there. But what if he can't be had? Is Berube not more appealing than many of the other potential candidates at this point? It's not nearly as tough of a sell now as it once seemed.
Jim, thanks for writing. And I hear you when it comes to the distaste that bubbles up when hearing and/or reading about millionaire players butting heads with millionaire owners. It makes Average Joe Baseball Fan gag, as I wrote in today's column about the state of the game entering spring training. What you are not going to find is both sides agreeing to make less money. Baseball is big business, and it's making more and more in spite of declining attendance across the board. It's still possible to get into a game for a decent price. The Cardinals, for example, just ran a flash sale on $5 tickets that included an item from the concession stand. Busch Stadium allows soft-sided coolers to enter with fans, which offers a way to save money. Parking might cost you the most on those days, but you can find spots for $10 or so if you are willing to walk a bit. That's not a bad deal. But if you show up wanting to sit in a great seat, park close and eat at the park, yes, it's going to be a decent amount of money. But as long as there are people willing to pay those prices, they will remain, or even climb. The Cardinals, unlike many teams, are not hurting for attendance. And if they are, a quick sale on tickets or a giveaway can prompt plenty of buyers.
The Blues have already proven they can rise up and beat any team. Look at how they handled Washington. Their challenge has been finding consistency. They have never looked this close to grabbing a hold of it as they do right now.
That's funny. If I recall correctly, I was the first person to write that Fowler needed to be moved from center field, and the first person to write that the Cardinals needed to cut ties if they could not commit to a plan with him. I also pointed out how a pursuit of Bryce Harper would make a ton of sense for the Cardinals, and that Fowler's contract commitment should not stop that interest. So, I don't think I have given Fowler a pass for his performance. But if you are looking for criticism that goes beyond concerns about his health and performance, you will have to find it somewhere else. Fowler, like any under-performing athlete and, in some cases, more than most, has had to endure a lot of personal attacks on social media during his struggles. I'm not going to go there, and am glad that my colleagues don't as well. Derrick Goold's conversation with Fowler during winter meetings was the most thorough, enlightening piece anyone has published about what Fowler was going through last season. You can't ask to know, then get mad when he said he was wrestling with mental health issues. If you want the truth, accept it. And maybe consider that these guys, like us, are people. They go through things. They are not able to turn that off when they get to the field. Ultimately, Fowler's fate here is going to come down to what he does or does not do in right field and at the plate. The Cardinals want it to work badly, in part because of the contract. He's getting another chance. If he struggles again, the Cardinals can't afford to keep trying to force it. They have too many intriguing alternatives in O'Neill and Martinez.
I'm pulling for Isaac Bruce, and I think he might be interested. Bruce has been such a great ambassador for STL, and remained one after the Rams left town. He would be appealing to players and to assistant coaches. I really hope it happens.
Well played. The Tigers won't be in the NCAA tournament this season without a shocking SEC tournament stunner. As for Smith's outlook, this is getting confusing. Not because of the amount of time missed (five consecutive games) but because of the messaging from Coach Martin. Ankle sprains are misleading, because a minor one might keep you out a day, and a bad one, especially a high-ankle sprain, basically feels like a broken ankle and takes a long time to heal. What's confusing is Martin says he thinks Smith is ready to go, then Smith doesn't play. One wonders if the coach is trying to motivate his sharpshooting guard to get back out there? I don't have inside info on this injury, but it's safe to say the Tigers are in serious trouble every time they are on the floor without Smith. They don't have enough talent and depth to miss a key piece for very long.
That would be a mild surprise. I never got the sense Norris would be back. There could be another Norris-type in the cards to join the Cards, but I don't think it will be him, considering how he finished last season. The wheels were coming off a bit there toward the end.
Hard Salami. Because I'm buff.
That's the popular theory this week, starting with the Giants reportedly showing interest in Harper on a big-money, short-term deal. If a team can score Harper at that price, it's a genius move. But if I'm Harper, I don't know why I would jump at it -- if there are higher-paying, longer-term deals on the table like the reported 10-year, $300 million offered by the Nationals. Any player who bets on the market providing a better deal one year from now is not following current trends. What is more likely if you are in Harper or Machado's shoes? You have a down season or suffer an injury that hurts your free-agent stock after one season, or you play so well that you are suddenly more likely to get a mega deal after you are one year closer to 30? I think the former is more realistic, so I would advise those guys to avoid it. I understand the drive to set records, whether it's overall $ or $ per season. But at the end of the day, their goal should be to get the most guaranteed to set themselves and their families up for life. I would worry a lot less about raising or maintaining the mark for other players than I would getting the best monetary commitment I could find.
I'm gonna hit on this one time this season. Everybody ready? Here goes. It's. Not. About. The. Hair. With. Carlos. What this season is about is proving he's a starter, proving he can stay healthy, proving he can maintain his body and his routine in a way that makes him more valuable as a starter than a dominant reliever, which we saw last season. It's about proving the Cardinals should stop low-key shopping him as trade bait. It's about reclaiming the spot at the top of the rotation that was once available for his taking. It's about washing away a confusing and disappointing 2018 season that included headaches on and off the field. It's about determining how he will be remembered in St. Louis -- as an under-performer who did not maximize his massive talent, or a guy who broke through some early stumbles to dominate. It's about all of these things, and none of them have a single thing to do with the color of his hair.