2005 Season Preview
Makeover Up the Middle – Joe Ostermeier
The defending National League champions have a new look up the middle as they work out the kinks this spring at their Roger Dean complex. The St. Louis Cardinals prepare for the season with a new catcher, a new ace on the pitching mound, a new shortstop and a new second baseman. “We’ve really worked hard, and we’ve been creative,” manager Tony LaRussa said of the changes to his team. “The front office and ownership have done their part ot put a good team on the field.”
When Edgar Renteria, Woody Williams, Mike Matheny, and Tony Womack took free agent offers elsewhere this winter, Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty traded for Oakland left-hander Mark Mulder and signed shortstop David Eckstein to a three-year deal. Jocketty also signed veteran infielder Mark Grudzielanek to play second base, and the Cardinals saw enough of young catcher Yadier Molina to turn over the catching duties to the second-year backstop.
Nobody is more excited to don Cardinals red than Eckstein, a fan favorite at Roger Dean this spring and at Busch Stadium over the summer. “Having the opportunity to come to St. Louis was definitely a dream of mine,” said Eckstein, who hit .276 with two home runs, 35 RBIs and 92 runs scored as the Angel’s leadoff man last year. “You want to play for a rich-tradition baseball club, and this is definitely on that has that.
Mulder, who was 17-8 last year for Oakland, is eager to join four 15-game winners (Matt Morris, Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Suppan) in the Cardinals rotation. “That’s exciting,” Mulder said. “Any time you can come into a season and your starting rotation is ready to go without four or five in question, it’s fun. Everybody knows their role, their spot,”
Grudzielanek hit .307 with six home runs and 23RBIs in 81 games for the Cubs last year, and is fully recovered from the inflammation in his Achilles tendon that caused him to miss more than two months of playing time. “Grudzielanek offers us versatility with both the bat and in the field.” Jocketty said. “He’s a proven veteran who should fit nicely into our everyday lineup.”
The Cardinals also expect good things from an imposing Molina, who impressed the brass and teammates alike with his hard-nosed demeanor behind the plate. He hit .267 with two homers and 15 RBIs in 135 at-bats while playing in Matheny’s shadow. “He’s like Albert (Pujols),” LaRussa joked of his 22-year-old catcher and 25-year-old first baseman – each playing with a veteran presence that belies his young age. “He’s been playing this game somewhere for five years.”
Jocketty acknowledged it will be difficult to see Renteria, Williams, Matheny, and Womack in different uniforms this season, but said that’s part of the business of baseball.
And he said the newest Cardinal players should keep the team competitive as it begins its quest for a sixth play-off berth in his 11 seasons at the helm. “I think they’re going to create a lot of excitement for this club,” Jocketty said of Mulder, Eckstein, and Grudzielanek. “When we went to spring training last year we were picked third, maybe fourth, in our division. But those of us that were close to the club knew what we had, and what was in the future for us, and felt good about it. Once we got to spring training, and saw what we had… we felt real good about our club. I can tell you going in to this spring, I feel just as confident. If we can stay healthy, I think we’re going to have another fun year.
- 2005 Official Spring Training Program
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