Some notes on a used scorecard:
1. It's fascinating to see how well former Cardinals have fared on the free-agent market this winter:
• Utility infielder Daniel Descalso received a two-year deal worth $3.6 million from the Colorado Rockies. That's a generous contract for a player that has a career OPS+ of 81, which is 19 percent below MLB average.
• Reliever Jason Motte signed a one-year deal for $4.5 million to pitch for the Chicago Cubs. Incentive clauses could push the total value to $7 million. Motte is coming off a difficult 2014 season, struggling to return to form after missing 2013 due to Tommy John elbow surgery. Motte had a 4.68 ERA and was torched for seven homers in 25 innings pitched. His velocity was noticeably down. Motte should improve in 2015. But by how much?
• Reliever Pat Neshek was paid $12.5 million to pitch for the Houston Astros over the next two seasons. After signing a bargain $1 million contract with the Cardinals just before the start of 2014 spring training, Neshek drove up his earning power with a terrific '14 season in which he crafted a 1.87 ERA. But Neshek ran out of gas late last season, an indication of his 2014 possibly being an outlier. But that didn't slow the Astros' enthusiasm.
• Starting pitcher Justin Masterson was the recipient of a one-year deal for $9.5 million by the Boston Red Sox. Last season Masterson had a 5.51 ERA in 19 games with Cleveland and got even worse after the trade to St. Louis, posting a 7.04 ERA in nine games.
I'm personally happy for all four guys, especially the two longtime Cardinals.
Descalso was a good teammate who delivered some big postseason hits in 2011 and 2012. Motte was an exceedingly generous man in his dedication to charitable and community-related causes. Neshek and Masterson were new to the team in 2014 but impressed everyone with their personalities.
It seems that their association with the Cardinals paid handsomely. (Masterson excluded; he was paid handsomely by Boston, but I don't think it had much to do with being a Cardinal. Masterson wasn't here that long, and pitched poorly.)
That's what intrigues me. For all of the snickering over the so-called "Cardinal Way" -- much of it justified -- it seems to have currency with other baseball organizations.
Motte and Descalso were respected for their leadership here, and they were members of Cardinals teams that competed in four consecutive NL championship series, winning two. And both made significant contributions to the 2011 World Series champion.
In all, Descalso, Motte and Neshek appeared in a combined 61 postseason games for the Cardinals.
GMs and managers are always looking to add "winning" players.
Some baseball people are hung up on intangibles.
The quotes from Rockies manager Walt Weiss were telling.
"We're trying to get the right type of guys involved here, and that's a big reason why we're bringing Daniel in," Weiss told the Denver Post. "In short order, he's built a reputation in the game as a tough, smart player. We talk about those things all the time.
"We're striving to get better and better in those areas, and he's going to add to that. He's played a prominent role on a big stage."
That's high praise for a career .243 hitter with a .313 onbase percentage and .341 slugging percentage.
Rockies GM Jeff Bridich told the Denver Post that Descalso has "a really solid, professional understanding of who he is as a major-league baseball player. Daniel's baseball IQ is very high. His skill level in a lot of ways is very high. That'll be a welcome addition to the ballclub."
The Cubs praised Motte -- the person -- in announcing his signing on Twitter.
So go ahead and laugh at the Cardinal Way stuff. I don't blame anyone for doing that.
Number one, the true meaning of the so-called Cardinal Way (a baseball manual) has been distorted and turned into something else, anyway.
And number two, it's annoying. It took me too long to realize that, but it's true.
But for the ex-Cards, the Cardinal connection seems to have increased their value, and paid off in a nice way.
2. The Cubs obviously believe Motte will bounce back strong — or they wouldn't have signed him at this price. The Cardinals weren't so sure about Motte's return to his past form — or they would have tried to keep him. But the Cardinals didn't even make an offer to Motte. The Cubs believed he's worth at least $4.5 million. I do expect Motte to be better in 2015. But who's right in their assessment here? Cardinals GM John Mozeliak or Cubs GM Jed Hoyer?
3. Say what you want about Descalso, but I respected what he did for the Cardinals. Not that he should have played more; his offense and defense were limited. But in his first 20 postseason games for the Cardinals Descalso batted .314 with a .543 slugging percentage and came up large in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series and Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. Because small samples can jump all over the place, Decalso wasn't nearly as good after that; in his final 24 postseason games with St. Louis he batted .143. It's easy to get rid of Descalso. It's easy to insist that the Cardinals can do better than Descalso in a utility role. And I agree. But ... have they done better? Does anyone really know what to expect from Dean Anna and/or Ty Kelly? Have the Cardinals really upgraded the bench? Maybe with Mark Reynolds and his RH power. But what about the middle-infield backup roles?
4. In a related note, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that the Cardinals were among the teams interested in free-agent middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. First of all, put this in the immense pile of rumors with all of the others. No one knows if the Cardinals are, in fact, interested. Cabrera is still out there — at the time I wrote this, anyway — and it makes sense to place a call to his agent. But that doesn't necessarily convey genuine interest. I feel stupid for attaching anything serious to the rumor pile, but Cabrera would be a solid addition. He's a switch-hitter. He can play SS or 2B. Over the past three seasons he has a .711 OPS vs. LH pitchers, and a .723 OPS vs. RH pitchers. But I would think Cabrera is looking for a commitment of playing time.
5. I'm surprised that Mozeliak is so cavalier about his team's catching situation. The Cardinals lost Yadier Molina for seven weeks last season, No. 2 catcher Tony Cruz was quickly exposed as inadequate in a starting role, and the mini-crisis left the GM scrambling to go dumpster diving in search for free-agent help. The Cardinals, right now, have left themselves vulnerable (again) should Molina go down for a considerable period in 2015.
Thanks for reading ...