Reporting Kevin Wheeler
Good morning from Roger Dean Stadium…
The big story here, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, is that contract talks with Adam Wainwright are currently on hold. News like that tends to incite overreaction so allow me to make a comparison to a similar situation from last year in an effort to calm the waters.
When pitchers and catchers reported last season Yadier Molina was entering the final year of a deal. Albert Pujols had chosen to sign with the Angels a couple of months earlier and there was some tension amongst fans about the possibility of losing the best catcher in the game shortly after losing one of the best hitters in the game. On that day one year ago Molina talked about his contract situation and said essentially the same kinds of things that Wainwright did yesterday, indicating that talks were on “hold.”
The next week I was sitting at a press conference and Molina was in possession of a 5-year, $75 million deal.
Talks of this magnitude go through ups and downs. The two sides are both jockeying for the best deal and sometimes they don’t see things exactly the same way. Both sides in this case are indicating that the door is open for more talks and that there is no deadline so my advice is to remain calm. The absence of a deadline is what differentiates this situation from the Albert Pujols talks. Pujols had said there would be no more talks once he reached camp and that eventually led to his hitting the open market.
There’s no need to overreact to the Wainwright situation. We’ve seen this movie before.
Here are some other notes from camp…
* Jaime Garcia threw a bullpen session yesterday and looked good. His delivery was clean, he was throwing free and easy and there were no visible signs that he was in pain or that he was compensating for anything. After practice he said he was throwing normally and was not on any kind of special program.
None of that means he’s definitely going to be good to go for the entire 2013 season. It just means that things are as good as can be expected at this time. When someone is dealing with a shoulder problem it is almost always noticeable. Their arm speed slows down, sometimes the delivery/arm angle changes a bit and a look of frustration is generally present.
Garcia showed no signs that anything was wrong. Now we just have to see how his shoulder reacts as his workload gets heavier in the lead up to the regular season. Once we get to the regular season we have to see how it reacts to pitching for real every 5th day. It will be an ongoing process but as we sit here on Day 2 of Spring Training there are no immediate causes for concern.
* Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal threw bullpens yesterday and Joe Kelly is set to throw today. Those three are battling for a spot in the rotation and, as a consolation prize, potentially a spot or two in the bullpen as well. This will be one of the top stories throughout camp and because all three are immensely talented there is no way to handicap the race at this stage. They all have their advantages.
Miller has the repertoire and the easy delivery of a starter and he has almost no experience working out of the bullpen.
Rosenthal has the best arm of the three, though Miller and Kelly aren’t far off, and he showed he could handle pressure in the post-season. He’s mostly been a starter but has shown he can handle the pen as well.
Kelly has the least experience as a starter in his professional career but he has the most experience of the three as a starter at the big league level. His background is as a reliever and over the last few seasons he’s made the transition into being a high end prospect as a starter.
Mike Matheny’s decision will be tough in one respect – choosing which guy starts – but it will be easy in another. He’s got three talented options for one spot so he’ll have someone with immense talent no matter which way it goes.
* Today we’ll see Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica take the mound for bullpen sessions. From our perspective these early bullpen sessions are just a matter of routine and the only time we place any importance on them is if someone is (or has been) dealing with some kind of physical issue. That said, these early bullpen sessions are incredibly important to the pitchers as they prepare and also for the young catchers who are trying to make an impression, both on the pitchers and on the Major League staff.
That’s a point that Matheny made to those young catchers yesterday. These early days of camp are where the young catchers get a chance to show what they’re made of. How do they handle the pitcher they are assigned? Do they make the pitcher feel comfortable? Do they catch the ball consistently well? Do they block the ball in the dirt? Are they able to communicate with the pitcher about what’s going right and what might need a little adjustment? Do they give the appearance that they are in control?
These are all things that Molina does as well as any catcher in the game and these are the things required to be a good catcher. Being able to throw is important too, don’t get me wrong, but you might have a few stolen base attempting within a given game and you’ll have anywhere from 120-150 pitches on most nights. You have to handle them and give the pitcher enough confidence to throw everything he has without hesitation.
That’s generally the biggest difference between young catchers and more established guys. The young guys tend to be shakier in this setting, probably a little nervous, while the vets have a calming presence.
This is the reason the Cardinals have J.R. Towles and Rob Johnson here in camp on minor league deals. Molina and Tony Cruz will be the Major League catchers but if either of them were to go down with an injury the team would need a replacement who can be reliable in the areas mentioned above. Many of the Cardinals’ catching prospects are raw so throwing them into the fire would be unfair. Towles and Johnson have extension Major League experience and that is something that the Cardinals value.
More to come either later in the day or tomorrow…