February 2011

Carp and Waino: The dynamic duo that barely was

The news Thursday that Adam Wainwright would require season-ending Tommy John surgery put an early damper on the Cardinals’ playoff chances, further clouded the future of Albert Pujols in St. Louis — and may have put an end to one of the best pitching duos of the new millennium.

In fact, there is a very good chance that the dynamic pitching pair of Wainwright and Chris Carpenter has ceased to exist.

If so, we barely got our fill.

Wainwright won’t be pitching this season. We know that. What we don’t know is what the future holds for either of them, and there’s enough haziness to seriously doubt both will be together as Cardinals in 2012.

Since the 29-year-old Wainwright finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting at least once over the previous two years — actually, he finished in the Top 3 twice — all he needed to do to trigger his 2012 and ’13 club options (totaling $21 million) was not finish this season on the disabled list. Now, he will. And now, the Cardinals have a choice on whether or not to pick up his options (both must be picked up at the same time).

Surely, $9 million in 2012 and $12 million in 2013 is a pretty good bargain for one of the best pitchers in baseball, especially given Tommy John surgery’s sparkling track record. But who knows what the state of the Cardinals will be at that point, given Pujols and possibly manager Tony La Russa — he holds a mutual option for 2012 — may not be there if the 2011 season is an unsuccessful one.

That brings us to Carpenter.

The 35-year-old (36 on April 27) has a $15 million club option on his contract for the 2012 season. With the Cardinals likely trying to save every penny to sign Pujols to the lucrative extension he seeks, it’s hard to envision them picking up the options of both Wainwright and Carpenter (perhaps either).

It’d be understandable, but also a shame, because it’d mean we didn’t get to see enough of this spectacular duo of pitchers. Carp was recovering from his own Tommy John surgery when Waino burst onto the scene as a starter in ’07. And now, Waino’s own elbow-ligament damage could put an early end to these two leading the Cardinals’ rotation.

But that’s all speculation at this point. So here is some hard evidence of just how good they were in the only two years they were together (2009 and 2010), brought to you by my friends at the Elias Sports Bureau …

* During that time, the two combined for 72 wins — the most by teammates in a two-year span since Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe matched them in Boston from 2002-03.

* Their combined winning percentage of .692 (72-32) ranked second among starting-pitching teammates since ’09 (minimum 40 starts each). First were CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, who combined for a .714 winning percentage (65-26).

* Their combined ERA of 2.65 over the last two seasons is the most by starting-pitching teammates in a two-year span since Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt combined for a 2.57 ERA in Houston from 2005-06 (minimum 40 starts each).

* Combined, Wainwright and Carpenter notched three Top 3 finishes in Cy Young voting in their two-year span. That hasn’t happened since Clemens and Oswalt did it from 2004-05.

– Alden Gonzalez

** Check out my column on how Wainwright’s injury affects the landscape of the National League Central   

Star gazing as we approach vernal equinox


Spring Training .jpg

NOT FLORIDA — I won’t make it down to Florida for Spring Training until early March, but I’m sure the Grapefruit League will be fine without me. A lot happened this offseason, and there’s a lot to watch this spring, especially among the upper-echelon guys. So, I thought I’d put together an easy-to-follow guide. Print it out, fold it up and put it in the back pocket of your Bermuda shorts as you weave through camps this spring. 

Here goes nothin’
… 

Coming back from injury

Star players whose 2010 seasons ended on the shelf

* Chipper Jones (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.):
It looked like Chipper’s career would be over when the 38-year-old tore his ACL
in August, but now he’s
aiming
to be ready for Opening Day
. If he’s healthy and contributing — even if it’s not at an
All-Star level — the Braves are title contenders. 

peavy.jpg

* Stephen Strasburg (Viera, Fla.):
Strasburg’s meteoric rise came to a screeching halt with the dreaded Tommy John
surgery in August. He won’t be ready until September, but he has already been tossing a ball
, and Tommy John has a pretty good
track record with regards to comebacks. 

* Jason Bay and Johan Santana (Port St. Lucie,
Fla.)
: Bay’s rough first season in Queens was put out of its misery
when a concussion ended his season in late July, and now the right-handed power
hitter must prove he could succeed within the spacious dimensions of Citi Field. Santana’s
season was cut short last year because of left shoulder surgery and he isn’t
expected back until midseason, though he
has
begun throwing at his Fort Myers, Fla., home
. The Mets need Santana to return to full health, since he’s still owed at least $77.5 million over the next four
years. 

* Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby
Ellsbury (Fort Myers, Fla.)
: The healthy returns of Youkilis
(thumb), Pedroia (foot) and Ellsbury (ribs) will be key if the Red Sox are
going to cash in on widespread expectations of an American League crown
(including from me).
Youkilis and Pedroia both say they’re feeling good,
and Ellsbury is expected to be ready to go from the jump. But can they continue
to produce at the same level? 

* Jake Peavy (Glendale, Ariz.):
Injuries have limited Peavy to 33 starts the last two years, and shoulder
surgery knocked him out in early July last year. Peavy (pictured above) is
pushing
to be ready by Opening Day
, but the White Sox will be cautious — because they know that
even with all the success they’ve had this offseason, Peavy may still be the key in
2011. 

* Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan (Fort Myers,
Fla.)
: Even without their biggest run producer and closer — and
thanks to the services of Jim Thome
and key bullpen additions — the Twins were the first team to clinch a playoff
spot last year. This year, the comebacks of
Morneau (concussion) and Nathan (Tommy John surgery) will be vital
for success in an improved AL Central. 

* Brandon Webb (Surprise, Ariz.):
Nobody is expecting him to fill the void of
Cliff Lee, but it’d be nice if Webb could retain some of what made
him one of baseball’s best pitchers two years ago and help shore up a pretty
questionable Rangers rotation. Webb, coming off shoulder surgery, has made
exactly one Major League start since the end of the ’08 season. 

* Grady Sizemore (Goodyear, Ariz.):
This is a big year for Sizemore, who was one of baseball’s best center fielders
from 2005-08 but has been derailed by injuries the last two seasons. An Opening
Day return still seems possible. But can he return to form after knee surgery? 

* Kendry Morales (Tempe, Ariz.):
That offensive spark the Angels sought this offseason could be fixed by the
healthy return of Morales, whose season ended in late May after an awkward
landing at home plate caused a serious leg injury. He is
expecting
a full recovery

New in town

Notable offseason pickups and their new homes 

* Dan Uggla (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.):
Love Dan, but I feel like the Braves will regret that five-year, $62 million
extension down the road (and I know I’m not alone). Still, he’s the
right-handed power hitter they sought this offseason, and he helps make them a force. 

Lee.jpg

* Lee (Clearwater, Fla.): OK, so Lee (pictured left) is not really new. But
he’s back in Philly (or, for now, Clearwater). And thanks to him taking less
money — though nobody’s bringing out the violin for a $120 million player –
the Phillies have arguably the best rotation foursome in baseball history. 

* Jayson Werth (Viera, Fla.): One of
the most scrutinized contracts of the offseason was the seven-year, $126
million one signed by Werth. Now, he’ll try to prove he’s worthy of being one
of the highest-paid players. It’ll be interesting to see if he can without the benefits
Philly brought him — a star-studded lineup loaded with lefty sluggers and a
hitter-friendly park (though Nats Park isn’t bad for hitters, either). 

* Rafael Soriano (Tampa, Fla.):
Soriano was a great closer for the Rays last year, and now he’s a $35 million
setup man. That’s pricey, but the Yankees have the eighth and ninth locked down
now. 

* Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (Fort
Myers, Fla.)
: Nobody had a more successful offseason than the Red
Sox, which added Crawford (seven years, $142 million) and Gonzalez (extension
pending) and now have one of the game’s best offenses. Fenway Park should prove
very friendly for both. 

* Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez (Port
Charlotte, Fla.)
: I don’t know about Manny and Johnny making the
Rays elite again, but they’ll surely make things entertaining in St. Pete. And
they were cheap (Damon at $5.25 million, Ramirez at $2 million). 

* Vladimir Guerrero (Sarasota, Fla.):
Quietly, the Orioles look to have one of baseball’s best offenses. The addition
of Guerrero 
– signed to a one-year, $8 million deal — as the designated hitter is just one of many reasons why. 

* Adam Dunn (Glendale, Ariz.): The
White Sox needed a big lefty bat for the middle of the order, and they got one
in Dunn — signed to a four-year, $56 million deal. Dunn should thrive in U.S.
Cellular Field, especially while hitting in such a dangerous lineup. 

* Victor Martinez (Lakeland, Fla.):
V-Mart, a switch-hitting catcher who can also play first base and DH, was a
nice pickup for the Tigers at four years and $50 million. They should be in the
hunt in the AL Central all year. 

* Lance Berkman (Jupiter, Fla.):
Berkman was an interesting signing for the Cardinals, especially at $8 million
guaranteed. If he reverts to pre-2010 form, it’s a bargain. If he doesn’t, it’s
a mistake signing at a time when the club can’t really afford any (see: Albert Pujols extension). 

* Zack Greinke (Phoenix, Ariz.): The
Brewers, thanks to the acquisition of Greinke, now boast one of the deepest and
best rotations in baseball. The best part about it is they didn’t really give
away any premier prospects in the process. 

* Matt Garza (Mesa, Ariz.): Garza
may not be an ace, but he’s a solid pitcher who’s been very consistent the
last few years. He gives the Cubs significant depth in their rotation. 

* Miguel Tejada (Scottsdale, Ariz.):
The defending champions will have a 36-year-old manning shortstop. Tejada gives
them a bit more punch than Edgar
Renteria
and Juan Uribe
— maybe — but a left side of the infield with Tejada and Pablo Sandoval will be, ahem,
interesting to watch. 

* Adrian Beltre (Surprise, Ariz.):
The Beltre signing — for five years at $80 million — gives the Rangers an
instant upgrade at third base (at least defensively). But does it make them a better team overall? Not
if it ends up costing them Michael
Young

* Vernon Wells (Tempe, Ariz.): It
was seen as a desperation move in many circles, and it surely is costly. But if
Wells — still owed $86 million the next four years — can repeat his 2010 performance, the Angels can stay in
the hunt in the AL West. 

Back to elite status? 

Elite players who had a down year — by their standards — in 2010 

Hanley .jpg

* Hanley Ramirez (Jupiter, Fla.): By his
standards, Ramirez’s 2010 — .300 batting average, 21 homers, 76 RBIs, 32
stolen bases and one public bout with his manager — was a down one for the
star shortstop. Could Hanley (pictured
right
) return to being the National League’s best shortstop, or has Troy Tulowitzki permanently taken that
crown from him? 

* Carlos Pena (Mesa, Ariz.): Pena
has averaged 36 homers and 102 RBIs over the last four seasons, but last year’s
.196 batting average was an embarrassment. Perhaps being reunited with his old
hitting coach,
Rudy Jaramillo,
in Chicago can make a difference. 

* Justin Upton (Scottsdale, Ariz.):
Is this the year Upton finally proves he’s a franchise-type player? Last year,
when he hit .273 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs, he wasn’t, and it led to new general
manager Kevin Towers listening to offers for his right fielder.
But Upton has all the tools, and he says he’s
ready
to have a big year

* Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton (Phoenix,
Ariz.)
: Broxton’s 4.04 ERA in 2010 was by far his highest in five full seasons in the Majors, and Kemp’s .249 batting average was a big
shock. Perhaps a new skipper could do the trick? 

* Sandoval (Scottsdale, Ariz.): Can
he return to being the “Big Panda” of 2009, the one who hit .330 with
25 homers and 90 RBIs? The Giants will need him to in hopes of repeating. And it
seems he
feels
the same way

* Chone Figgins (Peoria, Ariz.): Maybe there was just something in the water in Seattle last year that caused everyone to struggle at the plate. Nonetheless, Figgins had a rather unimpressive showing in his first year with his new team, sporting career-lows in batting average (.259) and on-base percentage (.340). Now, he’s dealing with trade rumors

* Jose Reyes (Port St. Lucie, Fla.): An assortment of injuries limited Reyes the last few years and greatly diminished his production. Now, he says he’s feeling good, and he’s entering his walk year. Big year for the speedy shortstop.

* Derrek Lee (Sarasota, Fla.): Lee hit .310 and averaged 26 homers and 84 RBIs from 2005-09. But a bad back limited him to a .260 batting average, 19 homers and 80 RBIs in 2010. Now, he’s in Baltimore on a one-year, $7.25 million contract. 

* Phillies’ middle infield (Clearwater, Fla.): Chase Utley (.275 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs) and Jimmy Rollins (.320 on-base percentage and eight homers in 88 games) are coming off down years. They’ll need to step up now that Werth is gone. 

* Red Sox starters (Fort Myers, Fla.): Mainly, the two veterans — Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Regardless of all the moves the Red Sox made on offense and in the bullpen, starting pitching always wins out (see: 2010 Giants). So, the success of this 2011 team will ultimately begin and end with the effectiveness of that staff. Beckett (6-6, 5.78 ERA) and Lackey (14-11, 4.40 ERA) need to be better. 

* Yankees infield (Tampa, Fla.): Well, at least three-quarters of it. All eyes are on Derek Jeter, who’s 36, coming off his worst year and recently signed to a three-year, $51 million contract with a fourth-year option. Rightfully so. But Alex Rodriguez (career-low .270 batting average) and Mark Teixeira (career-low .256 batting average) need to be more efficient to help make up for a shaky rotation in the Bronx. 

– Alden Gonzalez

** Check out my take on why greed shouldn’t be to blamed in the situations of Albert Pujols and Young. 

*** And check in next week, for a look at the most important Spring Training position battles.  

**** Photo credit above: The Associated Press 

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