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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Mark Mulder: What comes after “fooled me twice”?

Recently, FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal apparently had a nice chat with Gregg Clifton, the agent for former St. Louis Cardinals left-handed starting pitcher Mark Mulder.

Guess what news Clifton relayed about his currently unemployed and therefore non-commission-generating client?

Of course! Mulder is “making significant progress in his recovery”. He’s been working with a pair of celebrity personal trainers in Arizona.

“Dr.” Clifton assured Rosenthal that Mulder’s shoulder is “fine, but that he is just now starting to build ‘functional strength’ — in other words, the muscles that will enable him to pitch successfully again.”

Let me translate that. Mulder is probably looking very buff these days, but no one still knows if he can pitch a baseball worth a darn.

Rosenthal dutifully reported that the 31-year-old Mulder “will not begin throwing until December”. His article was posted all of nine days before the month began.

The writer closed his probing interview with a sales pitch suggesting that the lefty “could prove a reasonable one-year risk for a team in need of starting pitching”.

I have a suggestion for Clifton. Dial 1-800-Walt-Jocketty. Call now!

They say that lightning does not strike in the same place twice, but it clearly did in St. Louis. And now fortunately, Walt has since moved up river to Cincinnati.

Some think that internal friction over the building of the farm system versus the trading of prospects for established minor leaguers was the spark that burnt down Jocketty’s comfy 13-year-old St. Louis mansion.

If so, Mulder lit the match.

Fooled once

In what is unquestionably the most disastrous trade in Jocketty’s St. Louis reign, he dealt Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton to Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s for Mulder in December, 2004. At the time, much of the fan fury was over losing top prospect Barton, who has been a washout so far, while Haren has become one of the best young starters in the game.

Though Mulder had been the American League’s starting pitcher in the 2004 All-Star Game, there were whispers all over baseball as he went in the tank big-time after the break that season. His second-half ERA was an alarming 6.13 with a 1.59 WHIP and he posted a below-.500 record. That compared to 3.21, 1.19 and a 12-2 record prior to the break.

Was that screaming “buyer beware” or what?

Still, the post-trade Mulder started ok, bagging his fifth straight 15-game winning season in his St. Louis debut in 2005. But the next year, his troubles more than returned. The lefty logged 85 days on the disabled list in 2006 due to left shoulder impingement. That culminated with surgery on his rotator cuff and labrum in September of that year.

Any time “rotator cuff” is mentioned in conjunction with a pitcher, be concerned. Be very concerned.

Fooled twice

Walt could have walked away from the whole mess as Mulder was a free agent following the 2006 season, but he didn’t. Presumably with the support of the Cardinals medical staff, Jocketty doubled down on his Mulder gambit, laying a fat, juicy, two-year, $11.5 million offer chock full of incremental incentives on the table.

What a surprise! Mulder took it, though he probably had to sign with his right hand.

Not surprisingly, Mulder made none of his over $10 million in additional performance bonuses in that albatross of a contract over the next two seasons. In fact, the Cards got 12 2/3 innings total of over-ten ERA pitching in 2007 and 2008 combined for their increased investment.

Mulder missed 135 games in 2007 and for the second consecutive year, had surgery in September. The labrum was now fine but the rotator cuff had only partially healed. He actually managed to top that in 2008, as he missed a total of 149 games.

I was there in the Philadelphia clubhouse before Mulder’s Waterloo, his one and only 2008 start as a major league pitcher, on July 9. I remember vividly Mulder’s excitement as he told us the day before that he had finally located a new, comfortable arm slot and he couldn’t wait to try it out in the game.

After throwing just 16 pitches in live action, the big lefty trudged off the mound with more shoulder discomfort. After the contest, a disappointed, frustrated and bewildered Mulder simply said he felt pain and was unable to throw the way he wanted.

The next day, Mulder said he had absolutely no idea what the next steps would be. Back onto the DL he went, never to be seen on the mound again. This time, everyone seemed to agree that more surgery would likely not accomplish anything.

To add insult to injury, in the January, 2007 deal, Walt gave Mulder an $11 million option for 2009 that cost the Cardinals another $1.5 million to extract themselves from. That made Mulder’s meter run up to $13 million for the two washed out seasons. His stint with the Cardinals officially ended in October when this last buyout check was tendered.

Fooled thrice?

Part two of the agent’s current awareness campaign seemed to focus on the Winter Meetings and was delivered through the Boston Globe, who on Sunday quoted Clifton saying this: “He’s ready to go for any team right out of the chute.” There had been some talk that teams would have to wait until May or June (before Mulder would be ready to pitch in 2009). “Not true,” said Clifton.

It is most assuring to learn that the agent has recently added fortune-telling to his medical credentials.

At least the Globe writer had the common sense to include the Mulder blurb in an article entitled “Beware of warning signs”.

So all in all, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t start doing backflips over Mulder’s exciting “progress”.

Don’t get me wrong. I bet Mulder wants nothing more than to be an effective major league pitcher again. It’s just that he may not be able to do it. I imagine his agent wants to score another big contract for Mulder. It probably isn’t going to happen.

The reaction of many Cardinals fans when Mulder is mentioned is very similar to how those rabid Boston Red Sox fans feel about Matt Clement. Go to any BoSox board and look up Clement or ask about him. A vast majority of the posters’ remarks I viewed were from fans sick of the years of injuries and ineffectiveness. They just wanted him to go away.

The Cardinals obliged last winter. Do you remember how well that worked out?

Maybe GM John Mozeliak, who was with the Cardinals throughout the entire Mulder saga, will have the guile to immediately forward any calls from Clifton over to his old boss Walt.

Let’s see. There’s “fooled me once”. There’s “fooled me twice”. Let’s just hope the Cardinals never write the definition of “fooled me thrice”!

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