NASHVILLE, Tenn. _Rafael Furcal will be the Cardinals’ shortstop on opening day next April 1. At least that’s the picture manager Mike Matheny painted today in an interview session with media members.
Furcal, who was the National League starter at shortstop in the 2012 All-Star Game, went out for the season on Aug. 31 when he suffered a torn ligament in his right elbow. But, with subsequent treatment amid Furcal’s dread of having to undergo surgery, the 35-year-old now appears as if he will be ready for the start of the 2013 season.
Matheny said, “I’m very excited about the reports we’ve had from the medical staff on Raffy. We didn’t really know. We were kind of waiting until this time of year to evaluate how the rehab process was going and how he was progressing. And he’s answered the bell. So we know where our shortstop is.
“We’re excited to have him out there.”
As for second base, a trouble spot all last season, Matheny seemed much less sure. He said part of valuable extra man Matt Carpenter’s off-season “homework assignment” was to prepare for duty at second base.
But Matheny also noted that Daniel Descalso, who played most at that spot late in the season, Pete Kozma and little-used Ryan Jackson also were in the mix, and that Kolten Wong, their top pick in 2011, also would get a concentrated look next spring.
He didn’t specifically mention utilityman Skip Schumaker, who didn’t start at all in the postseason, although Schumaker is a signed player at $1.5 million per year, albeit one who wants to play more, whether with the Cardinals or somewhere else.
The fact that the Cardinals have talked to the representative for free agent and Cardinal playoff killer Marco Scutaro suggests they feel they need help at second base or certainly in the middle infield, in general.
The Cleveland Indians are not averse to moving shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who started his career at second base, although they are said to want a lot (read: much young pitching) in return. Cabrera is signed at $6 million for 2013 and $10.5 million in 2014.
Matheny, surveying the middle infield scene, notably second base, said, “Even though I did say that Raffy is going in primed to be our shortstop, it was a big question. But, with him on the mend, it takes away some of the anxiety about that position.
“As far as second base goes, we have some very viable candidates there. We give these guys opportunities without drawing up conclusions at the beginning, especially at the winter meetings.
“We’re going to give opportunities to all the players and see how the pieces come together. We’re looking for that position to be taken.
“We need somebody to step up and be that guy there.”
NATS' JOHNSON SAYS, 'WORLD SERIES OR BUST'
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson will be 70 years old next month and he says that the 70th year of his life will be the last he will spend as a manager. He is shooting for the stars
Appearing before the media at the annual winter meetings today, Johnson, who came out of retirement to take over the Nationals in the second half of 2011, said, “Shoot, I thought it was my last year ten years ago. But I really like the challenge.
“I think our organization. . . , we're primed to take that next step. We made giant steps last year.
“But I think we're in a perfect position to show the world that we're a pretty good damn ball club, and we can go farther into the postseason, and I want to be a part of that.
“World Series or bust. That’s probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that.
“If we’re not the favorite (to win the National League Eastern Division) this year, I’m going to be embarrassed with all you guys who didn’t pick me.”
Perhaps gone unnoticed in the San Francisco Giants’ improbable march to the World Series title last year was the fact that the Nationals, with 98 wins, had the most victories in the majors last year.
But, they gave up a two-run lead in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of the division series and the Cardinals pulled off a four-run rally and a 9-7 win to advance to the next round.
With a base open in that game and the score tied at 7-7 Johnson chose to pitch to rookie Pete Kozma with runners at second and third, two out and pitcher Jason Motte up next. Kozma got a two-run single to win the game.
But Johnson said he had no regrets.
“You know what,” said Johnson, “I play them just like I play them during the regular season, and I consider every game that I manage a big game. I had the right guy (reliever Drew Storen) in there, and I like giving guys an opportunity to pitch to hitters with the base open. That little phenom shortstop came up and got the game-winning hit, and everybody thought I should have walked him. But I like to give (the pitchers) a chance, and I do it all year long.
“Sure, I can change my stripes and protect you guys from second-guessing me by doing something, but I like to give guys to have the opportunity to get any hitter out with a base open where they don't have to give in. If you don't understand that, I've done that my whole life, and I ain't changing.
“So I don't relive it because I think enough about what I'm doing before I do it, and I have all the reasons. I go through that checklist, knowing what's going to happen an inning or two ahead of time. So I've never worried about anybody second-guessing me because they don't know all the options that I have and how I've managed all year. So none of that bothers me.
“And I don't relive it. I experienced it. I can always think back on it. But if I didn't do my homework leading up to it with the talent I know that's going against the other guy, then I'm the idiot because I wasn't prepared.”
Recalling Storen’s control problems in the ninth inning _ he walked Yadier Molina and David Freese with two out _ Johnson said, “Last year. . . a lot of young guys didn't know who they were and hadn't played up to their potential, I thought the one drawback we had was the experience of being in the big games.
“Some of our young guys didn't really handle that big game situation. Sometimes you don't attack the hitters as much. They get a little too fine, but that's a learning experience. You can't teach that.”
But, after the word today that righthander Dan Haren would be signed by the Nationals, Johnson said, “I feel we're in great shape. We don't need to do a whole lot in the winter.
“We've had questions in the past, but we don't have a whole lot of questions. We've had a year of great experience in the pennant race and a tough playoff series against the Cardinals. We're going to be fine next year.
“This is one of the best ball clubs I’ve ever had to manage.”
CARDINALS TALK TO SCUTARO'S AGENT
The Cardinals spoke with the agent for infielder Marco Scutaro and were linked by reports to the bidding for the veteran infielder. How Scutaro and the salary he's seeking would fit into the Cardinals' infield alignment is less clear than the connections being made.
Scutaro, 37, would be a starter at second base who also has experience playing shortstop.
The San Francisco Giants remain the favorite to re-sign the infielder. ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported that the price for Scutaro has reached three years, $24 million. That would be rich for the Cardinals, who are looking at options at second base but are wary of blocking young Kolten Wong from taking over the position in the future. Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reported that the Giants have a three-year offer on the table for Scutaro.
The Cardinals have Rafael Furcal under contract for 2013. They approach that season with a committee of potential second basemen -- including Daniel Descalso, the starter at second in the postseason -- and Wong on the way. Finding insurance for the infield remains of interest to the Cardinals. Several options, like Scutaro and Jeff Keppinger, however, are in the market for starting jobs and contracts that reflect that status.
Nationals grab Haren
Former Cardinals righthander Dan Haren, who pitched for the 2004 National League championship club, was the first big-name pitcher to move during baseball's winter meetings. He agreed to a one-year, $13 million contract with the Washington Nationals today, pending a physical.
Haren, 32, has a 119-97 won-lost record, although he was just 12-13 in 2012 with the Los Angeles Angels as he battled back and hip injuries.
In a career which also has included stops in Oakland and Arizona, Haren has won more than 10 games on eight occasions.
A three-time All-Star, Haren is expected to replace free-agent righthander Edwin Jackson, another former Cardinal, in the Nationals’ rotation which features Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Wentzville’s Ross Detwiler.
Haren’s acquisition would seem to take the Nationals, who won more games than any other team during the 2012 regular season, out of the running for free-agent righthander Zack Greinke.
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NASHVILLE NEWS & NOTES:
• The Cardinals have been able to get a feel for the lefty market and now appear more likely to sign a lefty from the free-agent pool instead of trading for one. To this point, deals haven't developed. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said that he expects to leave the meetings with a clear sense of where they plan to go — if not with a lefty in place.
• Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina won his second consecutive Platinum Glove this season, but it was by a landslide margin. Rawlings had fans vote on all nine of the National League Gold Glove winners to determine the finest fielder at any position. Molina received 71 percent of the vote, more than double the total he had when he won the award the previous season.
• Imagine for a moment the kind of contract Molina could be considering this winter if he hadn't signed a five-year, $75-million deal with the Cardinals during spring training.
The New York Yankees are just one of the teams looking for a catcher. Mike Napoli has a three-year, $39-million deal with Boston, but won't be the catcher. Russell Martin signed a two-year, $17-million deal with Pittsburgh. Throw into the mix that outfielder B.J. Upton, who plays a premium defensive position and does so with nowhere near the offense production Molina had in 2012, commanded a deal similar to Molina's extension.
• Mike Matheny is scheduled to meat with the media masses this afternoon at 4 p.m. St. Louis time. We will have an update from his session.
HAGEN WINS SPINK AWARD
Paul Hagen, who covered major league baseball for 25 years for the Philadelphia Daily News after doing the same in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and in San Bernadino, Calif., was named the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and will be honored in Cooperstown, N.Y., next July.
Hagen, who now works for mlb.com, was the winner over retired writers Jim Hawkins of Detroit and Russell Schneider of Cleveland.