1991 Season Preview
"The New Look Cardinals in 1991" - The Cards re-vamped lineup features new faces and old.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in Florida this spring facing a different situation that in years past. For the first time in over a decade, the Cardinals will not be considered a genuine threat to challenge for the National League East Division Championship. The Cards will have a distinct new look in 1991 as youngsters will have the opportunity to fill vacancies created by the departures of several long-time Cardinal veterans. Because of this, some consider the 1991 season to be a “rebuilding” year for the team that won three Eastern Division Championships in the 1980’s.
The Cardinals finished the 1989 season with 86 victories and in third place, despite being decimated by injuries to key player throughout the season. With the crafty manager, Whitey Herzog and a group of healthy returning veterans, many thought the Cards would challenge for the N.L. East crown in 1990. The shortened spring training, the threat of top player leaving for free agency, an off years by some key players quickly turned the team’s focus from the pennant race into just playing for respectability as the Cards finished with their poorest winning percentage since 1978.
The troubles began early when ace starter Joe Magrane had trouble returning to his 1989 form when he won 18 games and continued as Jose DeLeon and Ozzie Smith among others had sub-par seasons. The 1990 season seemed to be unsalvageable and Herzog, who was in his eleventh season as the Cardinal’s skipper, resigned at mid-season. St. Louis finished the year with two managers very familiar to Cardinals fans as Red Schoendienst took the team over on an interim basis before handing over the reigns to former Cardinal catcher/third baseman Joe Torre.
Besides the managerial switch, much else has changed for the Cardinals via free agency this past winter were 3B Terry Pendleton, who signed a multi-year deal with the Atlanta Braves; speedster Vince Coleman, who will be in the outfield for the division rival Mets; steady reliever Ken Dayley, who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays; and the often injured Danny Cox, who will be trying to re-establish himself with the Philadelphia Phillies.
John Tudor, the veteran lefty, finally succumbed to injuries that plagued him the past few seasons retired. Willie McGee, the Cardinals starting center fielder since 1982, was leading the league in batting late last year when he was dealt to the Oakland A’s for 24 year old outfielder Felix Jose, third base prospect Stan Royer and minor league pitcher Daryl Green. McGee’s .335 average was good enough to capture the National League batting crown despite spending the last six weeks in the American League.
Gone are many members of the Cardinals that made the team so successful during the last decade. But will St. Louis spend the 1991 season “rebuilding” in the classic sense or the word? Probably not. With free agent signings, rookies, young prospects, and several returning veteran starters, the Cardinals could follow the lead of the 1989 Baltimore Orioles and the 1990 Chicago White Sox by playing beyond Grapefruit League expectations.
The Cardinals will be looking closely at several players to fill the shoes of the departed veterans. Most of the key youngsters have spent some time in the big leagues but are relatively inexperienced. A big question seems to be whether Todd Zeile will successfully handle the planned switch to third base. Zeile had a solid rookie campaign (.244, 15, 57) in 1990 while playing four different positions, mostly at catcher. The Redbirds are hoping the move to third base, a position which is less physically demanding than catcher, will allow Zeile to increase his offensive production and provide the punch needed to be a big run producer in the lineup.
Zeile moving up the line to third creates an opportunity for Tom Pagnozzi to become the Cardinals full time starting catcher. Pagnozzi spent most of three seasons as a reserve until he became the team’s everyday catcher at the end of the year. The Cardinals are happy with the hard-nosed Pagnozzi behind the plate because of his very solid defensive skills. Last year he threw out 46% of potential base stealers, did not allow a passed ball and committed only four errors. He also showed signs of being able to hit big league pitching with a successful second half last year with the stick. An impressive .296 batting average after the All-Star break helped raise his average to .277 for the season. If Torre is not happy with the offense that Pagnozzi is producing, then verteran backstop Alex Trevino will get some starting time.
The Cardinals outfield has been completely reconstructed in one year. The entire opening day starting outfield is gone and only Milt Thompson remains from the beginning of last year. Besides McGee and Coleman, Tom Brunansky is gone in the trade that brought Lee Smith from Boston. St. Louis is hoping that a trio with less than two years combined major league experience, along with Thompson and the versatile Rex Hudler, can fill the shoes of the departed veterans.
Jose, the 24 year old switch-hitting right fielder, made the 1989 World Champion Oakland A’s opening day roster and became a started in their outfield in May. As a professional, Jose has shown the capability to hit for both power and average and may be the senior member of the Cards’ opening day outfield. One scenario has two highly touted rookies in Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford joining Jose in the outfield. The speed of former left fielder Coleman may not be missed when these two get on base. Gilkey stole 45 bases and Lankford 30 as teammates at Class AAA, Louisville.
Gilkey, a St. Louis native, led his Louisville club in several offensive categories last season and his .388 on base percentage was second best in the American Association. Baseball America ranked Bernard as the fifth best prospect in the league and he lived up to his billing in his first extended big league appearance, finishing with a .297 batting average. Gilkey might be the proto-type leadoff hitter that can take the place of Coleman, but he will be pushed by both Hudler and Thompson. Thompson hit .290 with 27 stolen bases two years ago and owns a career .277 batting average. The 30 year old Hudler, acquired from the Expos early in the year, was especially impressive in the second half for the Cards.
Lankford, rated the third best prospect in the American Association, performed like a potential All-Star in his first 39 games with the Cardinals. Before even reaching the big leagues, the four year pro was facing great expectations due to his successful climb up the minor league system. Lankford performed to those expectations by finishing with impressive offensive statistics (.286, 3, 12, 8SB). The Cardinals opening day center fielder is not just all “O” and no “D”. Ray is considered a top defensive center fielder and has shown great range in the middle of the outfield. The Cardinals are looking forward to having Lankford, who could make a strong bid for Rookie of the Year honors, for an entire season.
On the mound, the Cardinals will be hoping that 1991 is the year that Ken Hill makes the club during spring training and stays the entire year. The 25 year old right-hander has pitched for parts of 3 seasons for St. Louis including 33 games started in 1989. The hard throwing Hill averaged 11 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched for Louisville last season while posting a 6-1 mark and a low 1.79 ERA. Hill has been used mostly as a starter while with the parent club and has the opportunity to earn himself a spot in the starting rotation with a strong spring. Hill’s main competition will come from Omar Olivares, the 23 year old righty from Puerto Rico. Olivares was acquired in the Alex Cole deal and is considered a top prospect after finishing with 10 victories and a 2.82 ERA at Class AAA.
Despite a group of young talented players, the Cardinals front office entered the free agent market during the off-season and added some veteran experience to the ball club. The Cards signed left-handed reliever Juan Agosto to a three year deal, bolstering their bullpen after Dayley signed with the Jays. Agosto, who has been pitching in professional baseball since 1875, is extremely durable as proven by his league-leading 82 appearance as a Houston Astro last year. He will serve as a valuable left-handed setup man for closer Lee Smith.
The Cardinals also added strength to their bench by signing first baseman Gerald Perry. Perry spent most of his career in the National League with the Atlanta Braves before going to Kansas City last season. With the Royals, Perry rebounded from a shoulder injury and had a good year (.254, 8, 57, 17SB). He can be a key contributor this year because hi is capable of hitting for average (.300 in 1988), driving in runs (74 RBIs in 1987-88), and stealing bases (42SB in 1987). Perry will serve as a back-up to Pedro Guerrero, provide a good left-handed bat off the bench, and may even see some action in the outfield.
Torre’s first full year as the Redbirds’ skipper will be aided by some veteran Cardinal players. Although the Cardinals have undergone a major face life in the past few months, some things remain unchanged. The “Wizard of Oz”, Ozzie Smith, enter his tenth season as the club’s starting shortstop. The 1990 campaign saw Smith’s offensive statistics dip, but that did not affect his defense as he went on the capture his 11th Gold Glove award. It is often said that, in order to be a winning ball club, a team must be strong up the middle. The Cardinals have that piece of the puzzle solved as Smith and second baseman Jose Oquendo form one of the best double play combinations in baseball.
Returning to first base will be slugger Pedro Guerrero. Pedro has the capability of carrying a team when he gets hot, like he did during the 1989 season, batting .311 with 117 RBIs and finishing third in the MVP balloting. Guerrero played in only 136 games last season and his offensive numbers did not match those in 1989, partly due to a late season back injury. A healthy Pedro Guerrero could mean a world of difference for this young Cardinals club and a big year could vault them up the Eastern Division standings. Even with some key performances on offense, a serious run at the pennant will require the two aces of the pitching staff to rebound from poor 1990 seasons.
Joe Magrane and Jose DeLeon combined for a 34-21 record to leas the Cardinals pitching staff in 1989. Much was rightfully expected from them in 1990, but their records reversed as the two combined for a 17-36 mark. Magrane started off horrendously, suffering defeats in his first six decisions and ended up losing 17 games on the year. DeLeon enjoyed a better beginning, but it was the tail end of the season when he really struggled. Jose did not win a game after August 19th, finishing the year with a 7-19 record. Although 1990 was not a banner year for these two, they were still talented hurlers capable of getting batter out. On the positive side, Magrane showed signs of his old self by going 6-5 with a 2.90ERA following the All-Star break and DeLeon has bounced back from disappointing seasons before – as a youngster he was 2-19 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985.
Other starters expected to contribute will be Bryn Smith and Bob Tewksbury. The veteran Smith won 9 games his first season in a Cardinals’ uniform after signing as a free agent. Smith is still capable of giving a team needed innings and has proven to be good for around 10 victories a year during his career. Tewksbury earned himself a spot in the starting rotation by performing well last season, tying for the team lead in complete games and shutouts and will get a chance to prove he belongs for good in 1991. Chris Carpenter may also be in the picture this year.
With the addition of Agosto and the possibility of a strong return from Todd Worrell, the Cardinals could have one of the top bullpens in the league. Stopper Lee Smith was tremendous last year after joining the Cardinals from Boston, recording 27 saves for the team while posting a 2.10 ERA. If Worrell is able to make a successful comeback from surgery, opponents will have a difficult time making late inning charges against the team with two of the finest stoppers in the game. Youngster Mike Perez has been a formidable reliever in the minors and may also contribute.
The Cardinals enter 1991 with a realistic view. After losing so many key players, they realize that they are not in the familiar role of division favorites. They hope the role of the underdog this year might actually play in their favor to relieve some of the pressure from the talented youngsters. The Cards look at the success of other young teams in recent years and see that a contending team may not be all that improbable. And with the talented youngsters, nucleus of remaining veterans and strong pitching staff, the Cards just might be able to surprise the National League and be the Cinderella team of 1991.
- 1991 Official Spring Training Program
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