Posted on: February 29, 2012 5:39 pm

Victorino likes new playoffs, wants even more

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In a way, baseball's new expanded playoffs are set up to benefit a team like the Phillies, who have won their division five straight years but twice were beaten by a wild-card team in the first round.

But if the playoffs are changing, as it's now expected that they are, Shane Victorino wants more.

"Why not make all three series seven games?" Victorino said Wednesday. "That's what I'd like."

Victorino's Phillies lost a best-of-5 first-round series to the wild-card Cardinals last October, after leading the major leagues in the regular season with 102 wins. The Phillies lost to the wild-card Rockies in the first round in 2007.

One big benefit from the new system is that it will reward division winners, and particularly the team with the best record in each league. It will make it harder, although certainly not impossible, for a wild-card team to advance to the World Series.

That should make the regular season more meaningful.

It also guarantees baseball a pair of knockout games to begin the postseason.

"I think it's great for baseball to have that extra game," Victorino said.

The team that survives the one-game wild-card playoff will face the team with the league's best record, after already burning through its best available pitching and also having to travel.

Of course, the Phillies had a chance to set up their pitching going into the first round last year, and the Cardinals, who didn't clinch the wild card until the final moments of the season, did not. And the Phillies still lost.

Would they have lost if the series had been best-of-7?

There's no way to know that, and we do know that a best-of-7 first round isn't happening right now. A second wild card team is happening, and it's extremely likely that it happens this year.

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 23, 2012 11:22 pm

Will La Russa return to baseball as a GM?

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Just a few months back, Tony La Russa retired.

Now he's thinking about his next job.

La Russa's visit to the Tigers spring training camp this week gave him a chance to spend time with close friend Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager. But La Russa planned the trip just as much so he could learn from Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager.

His next job, the 67-year-old La Russa figures, could be as a GM.

"I might get a shot," La Russa said Thursday.

If that shot comes, La Russa wants to be prepared. Thursday, when Dombrowski came off the field after the Tigers' workout, La Russa headed to the Tiger GM's office to talk.

La Russa and Dombrowski go way back together, back to when La Russa was the White Sox manager in the 1980s, when Dombrowski worked in the White Sox's front office in his first job in baseball.

La Russa said he also plans to talk to Reds GM Walt Jocketty, who he knows well from their time together with the Cardinals. But La Russa said that out of respect to the Cardinals, who play in the same division as the Reds, he won't be helping out the Reds this spring.

With the Tigers in the American League, there's no such conflict here. But La Russa's visit was based as much on allowing him to learn as it was on anything he could do for the Tigers.

"If I get a shot [as a GM], I want to be prepared," he said.
Posted on: February 20, 2012 3:04 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2012 3:13 pm

How Albert Pujols can help the 2012 Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. -- In the oddest of ways, perhaps Albert Pujols is helping the Cardinals this spring.

His presence is felt . . . because of his absence.

Let me explain.

Because Pujols is gone -- and because Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are also gone -- the Cardinals have a strong sense that they're now being doubted. And a strong sense that they're the rare defending champions who come to camp with something to prove.

Instead of listening to everyone tell them how good they are, the Cardinals have listened to everyone ask about what they've lost.

If they win this year, it won't be because they had Albert or Tony.

"They want to make their own statement," general manager John Mozeliak said Monday.

"I see a lot of chips on shoulders that I didn't think I'd see," new manager Mike Matheny said. "And that's a beautiful thing."

Matheny said later that he didn't equate those chips simply to Pujols' departure, but it's easy to see that it plays into it.

Just in the first two days of camp, it seems that half the Cardinals players have felt compelled to say, "We have a good team," something that is normally just accepted with a defending champion.

"Not that they take offense, but they think they're not chopped liver," Matheny said.

The Cardinals certainly appreciate what Pujols meant to them, and they say they wish him well with the Angels. A few said they have kept in touch with Pujols.

"We're still good friends," pitcher Kyle McClellan said. "We've exchanged texts. I hope he goes there and has as good a next 10 years as he had here."

If Cardinals fans have come to resent Pujols for his decision to leave, that sentiment seems absent (or at least unspoken) within the Cardinal clubhouse.

"We know what he meant to this team, this organization," Skip Schumaker said. "But we have to move on. I'll keep up with him, because he's a friend. But we've still got a pretty darned good chance to win."

They do have a good chance to win. It feels funny that we even need to say that about a team that won the World Series, then lost one big star but added in Carlos Beltran and has added back Adam Wainwright, who missed 2011 after Tommy John surgery.

But that's what Pujols has given the 2012 Cardinals. He's given them a defense against complacency.

"There is none," Mozeliak said.

No complacency here. And the Cardinals can thank Albert (and Tony) for that.

Posted on: February 19, 2012 6:05 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:42 pm

Anniversary approaching, Wainwright feels great

JUPITER, Fla. -- Tuesday is the anniversary of the day Adam Wainwright's 2011 season ended with an elbow injury.

"I'll celebrate it," Wainwright said Sunday. "Maybe strike out a few guys."

If the rest of Wainwright's 2012 spring is as smooth and happy as the start of it was, the Cardinals will celebrate, because the guy who finished second in the 2010 National League Cy Young voting (after finishing third in 2009) now says that Tommy John surgery was only "a speed bump in my career."

Wainwright has been throwing every third day for more than a month now, so his bullpen session on the first official day of spring training wasn't exactly a revelation. It was, however, a reminder of how far he has come, and how quickly it has all happened.

He was hurt on Feb. 21. He had surgery a week later.

Now, when you ask how good he feels, he says, "I'm reluctant to talk about it, because it feels so good."

Now, he says, "I go home at night not thinking about icing. I'm thinking about what time American Idol's coming on."

The Cardinals have suggested that they may need to limit Wainwright's innings this year. He said Sunday that he doesn't believe in that.

"I refuse to put a limit on innings," he said. "What if I have 185-190 innings going into September? I can't pitch the rest of the season?"

The first step, though, is to get past Feb. 21.

Category: MLB
Posted on: February 19, 2012 5:43 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 11:42 pm

Cardinals, Molina stop talking deal -- "for now"

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Albert Pujols arrived at spring training last year, negotiations on a new contract were over. And, as it turned out, Pujols was on the way out of town.

Sunday, Yadier Molina opened Cardinals camp by saying his contract negotiations with the team had ended.

For now, the free-agent-to-be catcher then added.

For now.

Unlike his good friend Pujols, Molina has not ruled out reopening negotiations, during the spring or possibly during the season.

"They know I'm open to talk," Molina said Sunday, after confirming that this month's talks ended with no agreement.

It's hard to know for sure how likely the Cardinals and Molina are to get a deal done. The catcher, who turns 30 in July, will make $7 million this year, on the option year of a contract signed in 2008.

Molina says he loves St. Louis and the Cardinals organization, but he wouldn't say that he'd be willing to take less money to do it.

"I'd like to work something out to try to stay," he said. "At the same time, this is a business."

Likewise, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak didn't exactly say that re-signing Molina was on his must-do list.

"Our desire would be to find a way to sign him," Mozeliak said.

That way will have to wait. How long? It's hard to say.

"We've stopped talking," Molina said. "For now, we've stopped talking."

Posted on: January 25, 2012 2:36 pm

Red Sox like Oswalt, but does he like them?

The Red Sox like Roy Oswalt. But is the feeling mutual?

The Sox, sources say, have made a significant offer to the free-agent right-hander. Oswalt has yet to accept, raising some doubt about his interest in going to Boston.

Oswalt already told the Tigers he wasn't interested in going to Detroit, sources said, and even a recruiting phone call from Justin Verlander didn't sway him. While he may not have given the Red Sox as definite a "no," it is thought that he would prefer teams closer to his home state of Mississippi.

Oswalt has long shown interest in going to the Cardinals, but it's unclear how interested the Cardinals are in him. The Rangers had interest in him earlier in the winter, but they have since added Yu Darvish to their rotation. The Reds were also thought to be a team that Oswalt would like, but they traded for Mat Latos.

The 34-year-old Oswalt spent most of his career with the Astros, then accepted a trade to the Phillies at midseason 2010. He went 16-11 with a 2.96 ERA in 35 starts for the Phils.

The Red Sox would like to add another starting pitcher before spring training, but the options right now seem to be limited. Edwin Jackson is the only other significant free-agent starter on the market, and the Red Sox have talked to him, too. The Red Sox have also talked to the White Sox about Gavin Floyd, but were turned off by the asking price and it seems that a deal for him is unlikely.

Posted on: January 23, 2012 1:49 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 1:57 pm

Tigers patient on Victor Martinez replacement

It's been almost a week since the Tigers found out that Victor Martinez would likely be lost for the season with a knee injury, and the team still doesn't have a replacement.

What's taking so long?

Actually, it won't be a surprise if the Tigers' search for a Martinez replacement goes on quite a while longer, perhaps even into the 2012 season.

While the Tigers seem to have some interest in Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero, and less in Johnny Damon, none of the possible Martinez replacements would provide the Tigers with exactly what Martinez gave them -- a quality switch hitter who gives Miguel Cabrera protection in the batting order.

The other option would be for the Tigers to stick with the players they already have, and to figure out as the year goes along whether they need to spend their resources on a designated hitter to replace Martinez or on filling other needs.

As of now, the Tigers are also without a definite fifth starter. They tried to deal for Gio Gonzalez, but lost out when they wouldn't include both Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos in the same deal. They showed interest in free-agent Roy Oswalt (even having Justin Verlander put in a recruiting call), but were told that he was not interested in them (and seems headed for either the Red Sox or Cardinals). The Tigers have been linked by some to Matt Garza of the Cubs, but a Garza deal seems a real longshot.

While the Tigers haven't ruled out adding a veteran starter later in the winter, they now seem willing to go to spring training and pick a fifth starter there (with Turner one of the candidates).

Even without Martinez, and without a clear fifth starter, the Tigers should enter spring as the clear favorite in the American League Central. Barring further injuries, they should at the very least be able to remain in contention for the first half of the season, then look to make another midseason deal like last year's trade for Doug Fister.

Posted on: December 6, 2011 2:27 am
Edited on: December 6, 2011 2:28 am

Phillies' preference is still to keep Rollins

DALLAS -- You may have heard that the Phillies talked to free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

It's true.

You may have heard that the Phillies' talks with Jimmy Rollins hit some obstacles.

Also true.

But here's another thing that remains as true as before: The Phillies' overwhelming desire is to have Rollins back as their shortstop.

And their show of interest in Ramirez could well be part of this.

By reaching out to Ramirez, several baseball officials suggested Monday, the Phils could be showing Rollins that they do have a suitable backup plan, and thus trying to prod him to accept a deal.

So far, Rollins has been asking the Phillies for five years, with the team preferring a three-year deal (with some sources suggesting that general manager Ruben Amaro would agree to go to four years).

It's unclear what the market for Rollins is outside Philadelphia. The Brewers have met with Dan Lozano, Rollins' agent, but people familiar with their plans say that even a three-year deal may be beyond what they would do. The Nationals are considered by some to be a possibility, but Rollins does not seem to be their primary (or even secondary) focus at this point. Perhaps the Cardinals could become involved if Albert Pujols signs elsewhere, but it's hard to count on that.

People who know Rollins aren't sure how the talented but also very proud shortstop will react to all this.

Some suggest that he could view the shorter offer from the Phillies as a sign of disrespect, and respond by telling Lozano he wants to go elsewhere. Others say it's hard to believe he would leave the Phillies spotlight to go to a team like the Brewers.

"Jimmy wants to get paid," said one official who knows him. "But Jimmy likes the big stage, too."

In the end, most in baseball seem to believe that Rollins will re-sign with the only team he has known.

If not, perhaps the Phillies will come hard after Ramirez, who they have so far shown just lukewarm interest in, sources say. Ramirez has also drawn interest from the Brewers and Angels, and one person who knows him say his strong desire is to find a team with the best chance to win.

If the Phillies signed Ramirez to replace Rollins, they would go with young Freddy Galvis at shortstop, and trade incumbent third baseman Placido Polanco (which would require eating some of the remaining $7.25 million on his contract).

Would the Phillies do that?

It's possible they would. It's certain that their first choice would be to simply re-sign Jimmy Rollins.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com