The St. Louis Cardinals episode of MLB Network’s Spring Training series 30 Clubs in 30 Days will debut Friday, March 18 at 7:00 P.M. CDT. The hour-long episode, hosted by Ahmed Fareed, will feature interviews with players, reporting from Lisa Kerney and analysis from John Hart and Harold Reynolds. It will re-air on Saturday, March 19 at 6 and 10 A.M. CDT.
In support of 30 Clubs, former Cleveland general manager Hart and ex-major league second baseman Reynolds were kind enough to answer a series of my questions, providing their view of a number of Cardinals-related subjects. The details follow.
Brian Walton: As a former middle infielder, how do you rank the Cardinals starting pair of Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot offensively and defensively in comparison to the other teams in the NL Central?
Harold Reynolds: Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot do not make for one of the top middle infield combinations in the NL Central. They both will make the routine play, but you won’t get anything spectacular out of them. Offensively, it depends on where they hit in the lineup. If Theriot hits in the one or two hole, he should have no problem scoring over 100 runs, with Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols hitting in the middle. But think about the middle infields in the NL Central. Every team has at least one middle infielder that is a star or can be a star. Brandon Phillips and Rickie Weeks are All-Stars. Neil Walker and Starlin Castro can potentially be All-Stars. I don’t think you can say the same for St. Louis. But Schumaker and Theriot will not make or break the Cardinals’ season.
HR: I think your personnel dictates whether or not you’re going to run with Albert at the plate. If it’s Vince Coleman or Ozzie Smith standing on first base, trust me, they’re running, no matter what. I don’t know if it’s as much by design as it is the personnel on the team.
BW: With a catcher like Yadier Molina behind the plate, how did you change your baserunning strategy?
HR: When you got a great catcher like Yadier Molina, your biggest fear as a base runner is getting picked off by the catcher, and not necessarily being thrown out trying to steal a base. As a result, your secondary lead changes. When the pitch is thrown, the base runner won’t have a big lead because if he gets too far off the base, the catcher is going to throw behind the runner. Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez and Benito Santiago were great at throwing behind the runner. Molina is the same way because he puts fear in runners.
BW: Compared to other catchers you have seen, how do you rank Molina in terms of throwing and game calling?
HR: He’s one of the best catchers in the game. How many catchers can both hit and play solid defense? You can count them on one hand. Runners are just flat out not going to run on Yadier Molina. The combination of intelligence, ability and durability makes him one of the top defensive catchers in baseball. He also can hold his own at the plate. He’s a positive for St. Louis, and I don’t think he’s going to stop winning Gold Glove Awards anytime soon.
BW: What does Colby Rasmus need to do to become an elite centerfielder?
HR: He’s on the right track. He’s got the right swing and approach. It may sound silly, but a kid with his ability just needs to keep playing every day. You learn more and more playing every day. There aren’t too many good centerfielders in the National League right now. Colby has the chance to be right up there at the top soon.
BW: What are some of the considerations in being a seller at the deadline and how do you weigh them? (fan support, player support, etc.)
John Hart: The contract status of the player you might be moving is important when you’re thinking about dealing him. You also have to think about if the player fits on your club next year. If you don’t think so, you ultimately try to maximize his value by getting the type of players he’s worth. You also have to think of the circumstances around the club. If the team has been bogged down with injuries, then you may want to stick with the core of the club for another year.
JH: I think the Cardinals, who are perennial contenders, will be more inclined to stick with Carpenter in 2011. If the team struggles out of the gate, St. Louis will most likely explore the trade possibilities. But just because Wainwright is out, I don’t think St. Louis feels they’re out of this division. If Jaime Garcia improves and Kyle McClellan can step in, St. Louis should still be right there. Milwaukee and Cincinnati aren’t powerhouse clubs. Look, if St. Louis falters, you can consider dealing him, but what about 2012? If Pujols comes back, aren’t you going to have championship aspirations? With Wainwright’s health still unknown, you’re going to need an ace-type pitcher in the rotation. I think Wainwright’s health is an important key to Chris Carpenter’s place on the team.
BW: Do you think Lance Berkman was wise to sign with an NL club and were the Cardinals wise to sign him?
JH: I think St. Louis wanted to thicken the lineup when they signed Berkman. He knows the NL Central and St. Louis didn’t have to go out on a limb to get this guy. If he gets enough plate appearances, he should have a pretty good offensive year. The big question is how he’ll do defensively, and will his body be able to take the rigors of playing the outfield. Lance obviously thinks he can handle it. He’s going to need some time off and I think St. Louis knows that. For a short term fix, and the fact that St. Louis didn’t tie up a lot of years and money, it wasn’t a bad move for a club looking to win a Championship.
BW: Do you think the Cardinals could have locked Albert Pujols up contractually before the 2010 season had they pushed harder or do you think Pujols’ demands may have been too high? What would be the max in years and AAV you would give Pujols and why?
JH: That’s a smart baseball group over there. These contract negotiations didn’t take them by surprise. It just gets more difficult to sign a player when they get closer to free agency. Look, you’re talking about a dominating player who has been with St. Louis since day one. My instincts tell me that he’s going to stay in St. Louis. I think the key, more so than dollars, will be how many years St. Louis is willing to invest in Pujols.