If you asked anyone in the St. Louis Cardinals organization to assess their performance in 2005, they would probably say that the season was by-and-
large a huge disappointment.
If the beloved Cubs (NOT) were to experience the kind of season the Cards did in 2005, they would say that they were proud -- even elated -- to have experienced such a fabulous season. This is what separates the Cardinals from most of the other clubs in the Major Leagues.
The Cardinals posted the best win/loss record in all of baseball. They were the only team in the majors to post 100 wins, going 100-62. Albert Pujols once again led the Cardinals into the post-season, earning the first of what promises to be many MVP awards.
The Cardinals once again rolled through the Division playoffs to face off with the Houston Astros in the NLCS. Missing in 2005 was the Gold Glove fielding of Scott Rolen as well as the power and run production to which the Cardinals had grown accustomed.
Despite one of the most dramatic homers in post-season history (Albert Pujols' game winner in Game 5), the Cardinals lost Game 6 to the Astros, ending their storied tenure in Busch Memorial Stadium.
The first loss of the off-season for the Cardinals was their home stadium of 40 years. Soon after the final out was made in Game 6 of the NLCS, Busch Memorial Stadium came tumbling down. The Cardinals will play their 2006 home games at the new Busch Stadium, which is currently under construction.
No one knows if the stadium will give hitters or pitchers an advantage, or if it will offer any advantage at all, but chances are the Cardinals organization will not allow their new stadium to be as big a joke as those recently erected in Philadelphia and Houston.
The Cardinals watched as player after player left via trade, free agency and even retirement. The Cardinals take pride in their bench players' ability to fill in whenever and however needed.
Abraham Nunez (after filling in for Scott Rolen at third base for much of 2005) signed a deal with the Phillies that resulted in his taking the starting job from David Bell. Super-utility man John Mabry inked a deal with the Cubs, and backup catcher Einar Diaz packed up and moved to Kansas City.
Also going to the Royals were well-traveled veterans Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek. Sanders was injured most of the second half with a broken leg but should be fully recovered to play for the Royals in 2006. "Grudzie" will fill the void at second for Kansas City across from double-play partner, shortstop Angel Berroa. Also leaving via free agency was long-time ace Matt Morris (San Francisco). The Cardinals made efforts to re-sign Morris but fell short to the Giants' three-year offer.
The Cardinals also made good their word in trading reliever Ray King. King had complained about his lack of post-season appearances last season and made some harsh remarks directed at Cardinal skipper Tony La Russa in the local newspapers.
Shortly after the Cardinals NLCS loss, King publicly requested a trade. Now, he will have the great pleasure of trying to keep fly balls from leaving the park in thin air of Colorado. Good luck!
In addition to those players gone via free agency or traded are outfielder Larry Walker and relief pitcher Cal Eldred, who both called it quits after injury-riddled seasons, while catcher Mike Mahoney, reliever Mike Lincoln, and infielders Scott Seabol and Bo Hart were not tendered contracts.
Before they knew it, the Cardinals had holes at both corners in the outfield, as well as a gaping hole at second. Furthermore, the Cardinals had more relievers leaving St. Louis than returning.
While addressing the outfield, the Cardinals signed Juan Encarnacion to a three-year deal. They also landed outfielder Larry Bigbie along with second baseman Aaron Miles in the Ray King deal.
Neither are guarantees to start, but both are capable of competing for jobs come spring training.
In addition to Miles, the Cardinals signed Junior Spivey to compete for the second base job. Deivi Cruz was also brought in to help add depth in the infield.
Catcher Gary Bennett and veteran OF/1B Brian Daubach were also brought in to compete for bench spots.
The major objective for general manager Walt Jocketty was to rebuild the Cardinals' bullpen.
He signed former Mets closer Braden Looper to set-up closer Jason Isringhausen. He also signed veteran lefty specialist Ricardo Rincon to fill the void left by Ray King.
He then went on to add right-hander Jeff Nelson, Rule 5 draft-pick Juan Mateo from the Cubs, and one time highly-acclaimed prospect, 26-year-old Dennis Tankersley.
The Cardinals then reached out in a courageous act of goodwill, signing Sidney Ponson, whose past has been blemished by felonious acts of intoxication, immaturity and irresponsibility.
If Ponson shows that he can stay sober, avoid the beaches of Aruba, not punch civil servants such as judges or police officers, and keep from driving while under the influence, as well as avoid letting his body inflate to resemble a Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloon, he may very well win the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation and prove to be one of the best signings of the off-season while making some much deserved incentive money.
The Cardinals will probably not make any more moves heading into the season, but look for them to make a strong push at adding some of the big names that may become available at the trade deadline to add pop to their lineup and make yet another run at the post-season.
The Cardinals will have a few very interesting battles come spring training, the most interesting of which will be for the fifth starter position. Ponson will come to camp to face off against stud rookie Anthony Reyes. Reyes is the front-runner to win the spot, but La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan have had a history of favoring veterans. Anything could happen.
Another intriguing battle will be between Junior Spivey and Aaron Miles. Both were acquired during the off-season and if they perform near as well as scrap-heap projects Mark Grudzielanek and Tony Womack, Jocketty will once again look like a genius.
Look for the decision to come down to whether or not La Russa wants a stolen base threat with pop in Spivey, or a contact hitter and on-base threat in Miles.
The last position battle will take place in left field. Lefthanders Larry Bigbie and John Rodriguez will battle it out against So Taguchi.
Bigbie has struggled the last couple seasons while John Rodriguez has impressed in the few chances he has been given in St. Louis. Taguchi surprised many last season by hitting eight homers, stealing 11 bases and driving in 53 RBI in just 396 at-bats.
The Cardinals, once again, underwent an off-season transformation, but will probably still be the favorites to represent the National League Central in the post-season.
One thing "Cardinal Nation" can bet on-- if the Redbirds are in the thick of things around the trade deadline, Walt Jocketty will once again pull the trigger on a deal to bring an impact player to the Cardinals, capable of putting them over the top.
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