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BenFred: Pham is Cards' true leader; Grichuk not thrilled by bench role; Waino fights back

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APTOPIX Rays Cardinals Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals' Tommy Pham, second from left, is is congratulated by teammates after hitting a walk-off two-run home run to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 in a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)


A few closing thoughts now that another Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up has come and gone ...

Greg Holland is ... not going to be a Cardinal. At least that's how Cardinals chairman Bill Dewitt Jr. made it sound when asked by a fan.

"I was asked a question on the stage when you all were in here, ‘Why don’t you go out and sign Greg Holland? He’s a proven closer. Or get a closer,'" Dewitt said during his stop in the media room. "My comment was, I’m not saying who we are going to sign, or not sign. I’m not going to get into that argument or discussion. First of all, I’m not allowed to, and secondly, we’re not going to say who we're interested in and who we're not interested in.

"But, closers are not guarantees. Year to year, you can see someone who has pitched well as a closer for two years in a row, and then all of a sudden he gets a long-term contract. That doesn’t mean the contract prevented him from being a good closer. It’s a hard job. You go over the history of closers, and it’s not particularly guaranteed that you’re going to get longevity, which you think you'll get out of a starting pitcher."

I asked DeWitt a follow-up. Is the hesitancy to acquire an established closer tied to the notion of not blocking up-and-coming pitching prospects who could turn out to be closers, or is it the financial risk of betting on a volatile position?

"It’s a value proposition," he answered. "Whomever you want to mention who is, quote, an established closer, is that player going to be an effective closer for us, and if so for how long? And what is your level of certainty there, and are you willing to give up resources — whether it’s players or dollars — to make that bet. We’ve got finite resources, but we have a lot of resources. I would rather give up dollars than players. But there are always opportunities to improve a club with dollars and players and you need to pick the right ones in my view, and in Mo’s view, and not get carried away (thinking) if I have this guy he’s going to take me to the end, because if there was certainty of that, that would be great. But there is always risk — high risk in many cases."

Tommy Pham is ... now a true leader for this team.

"There’s just no fake about him," Matt Carpenter said. "He’s just truthful and he’s gonna tell you how he feels. That’s a good thing for a clubhouse to have a guy like that."

Pham's unvarnished honesty is not new. But now he has the results and the starting spot to make more of an impact.

"Nobody wants to hear from the guy who’s hitting .200 and not playing," Carpenter said. "When you’re in the lineup and you’re out there every day and you’re competing and having success, your voice definitely is heard more. It takes a special player to not be successful as a player and also have a voice in the clubhouse. There’s not many guys like that. But the proof is out there in the pudding when you play well and he (Pham) has certainly done that."

Adam Wainwright is ... more motivated than ever before.

"There are a lot of dudes in this room that are thinking I’m at best the fifth guy in the rotation," Wainwright said. "I was reading some of that. I’ve stopped reading it, y’all. No offense. I just can’t think that way. It doesn’t do me any good to think that I’m fighting for a rotation spot. In my mind, I’m fighting to be the No. 1 pitcher in the game, still. That’s what I want to be. That’s how I want to think of myself, and my talent, and my abilities. And I get the most out of it thinking that way. Now, I know that I have some things to prove, because last year didn’t go well, and I was injured during the second half of that year. Just was ugly. I understand that. I get a lot of it. I also know that proving other people wrong is not as important as proving to myself that I can still be great."

Father Time is undefeated. But few will put up a more impressive fight than Wainwright.

"I’ve got one more year under contract," he said. "To put it plainly: I have one more year under contract that I’m going to give every single thing that I have to, and we’ll see what happens."

Here's a good sign: Wainwright has a sense that the velocity that dipped last season should be back again after a surgical cleanup of his elbow. He does not incorporate a radar gun into his offseason training -- few do -- but he likes the way the ball feels coming out of his hand when he throws, which could be foreshadowing to what he reads on the radar gun this spring.

Marcell Ozuna is ... going to be a hit with the fans, especially those who sit near him in left field.

Miles Mikolas is ... going to be a great quote.

"I’m going to go out there and pitch my ass off for five, six, seven, eight, nine innings," he said. "However long I have the ball, I like to leave it all out there on the field. Do anything I can to win, whether it’s pitching, laying down a bunt, fielding my position, cheering guys on from the dugout. I want to win."

Jack Flaherty is ... so young. The 22-year-old made everyone in the media room feel ancient when he revealed the first NFL game he remembers watching was Super Bowl XXXVI between the Rams and the Patriots in 2002. And before we could recover from that blow, Flaherty revealed that game turned him into a Tom Brady fan. Ouch.

Carlos Martinez is ... committed to strengthening his focus and mental fortitude. He's convinced it's the only thing holding him back now, and guys like Yadier Molina and Pedro Martinez agree. I've said it before and I'll say it again.  It's OK to say Carlos is really stinking good, but could be truly great. He agrees.

Tyler O'Neill is ... jacked. You have to be a rather well-put-together individual to provoke a question about the size of your biceps during a media session. Yes, this is a real thing that happened.

"I don’t know," the 5-foot-11, 210-pound outfielder said when asked. "I haven’t measured for a while. They’re big enough."

Big enough to hit 31 home runs, 26 doubles and slug .499 in 130 games at the Class AAA level last season, the final 37 of which came in Memphis after the Cardinals traded for the Mariners' former third-round pick.

"Playing baseball in Canada, you have to stand out somehow, and for me, that was getting a little bigger, being stronger than other guys, being able to hit the ball out of the park in cold weather," O'Neill said. "I’m sure you guys know all about the cold. That was my calling card ever since I was in 10th, 11th grade. I’m not going to change my identity. That has been what’s carried me to the point where I am today."

The power is appealing. The 27 percent strikeout rate last season gives pause.

"Strikeouts are going to be a part of my game," O'Neill said. "That’s just the way it is. The progression process is just about keeping them cut down, taking my walks. Walks are a big thing. And really focusing on my on-base plus slugging. I think that’s going to be a big number for me and I’m going to improve that as best I can."

Jose Oquendo is ... appreciated more than ever before. Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone. That applies here.

He will help the baserunning that has eroded. He will help an infield defense, and specifically Matt Carpenter, who is expected to be on the move more than last year. He will add an accountability that went missing under his watch.

Brett Cecil is ... genuinely excited about the fresh slate that comes with his second season.

"You sign this big contract, and you come over and you have an OK year," Cecil said. "That’s not what you’re expecting, that’s not what people are expecting. I feel like I’ve almost given the people the wrong impression of myself and hopefully I can change it and show them the real me for the next three years."

Kolten Wong is ... willing to bat anywhere in the lineup, even ninth. I actually like that idea. Instead of a pitcher -- no offense to Silver Slugger Adam Wainwright -- feeding into the Cardinals' potentially potent top-six, why not have Wong set the table from the bottom? He had a career-high .376 on-base percentage last season. It would not be a dig on Wong's ability. It would be a compliment to the on-base skills that shined last season.

Randal Grichuk is ... not thrilled about coming off the bench. That's a good thing.

His message to those ahead of him on the depth chart?

"I hope they feel confident in themselves, and you don't want anyone doubting themselves, but hopefully they know I'm there," Grichuk said. "And if I get an opportunity, I'm going to try to make the best of it and not look back."

Jedd Gyorko is ... the starter at third base if the season starts today. And just a quick reminder: Fielding Bible's Runs Saved scored him at 16 runs ABOVE average there last season. That ranked third in the majors.

Willie McGee is ... going to be one very busy coach. Outfield. Hitting. Baserunning. Manager Mike Matheny wants Willie's fingerprints on almost everything.

Carson Kelly is ... sticking to the company line when it comes to how much he will play this season. He's baseball's top catching prospect. But he's playing behind a likely Hall-of-Famer who just said he's planning to retire -- after three more years. Kelly points out that he's still just 23, and that there's plenty he can learn from Molina.

"We’re going to figure out what’s going to give us the best chance to win every single night," Matheny said when asked about how the playing time will be divided.

Luke Gregerson is ... respected for his slider and his sinker.

I lost count of the Cardinals who mentioned the two pitches.

"He’s going to be there every day when you need him, throw that great wipeout slider, and he’s got that great sinker that will work off of that," Adam Wainwright said.

"I know he’s got one hell of a sinker," added Brett Cecil. "I’ve been watching him for a couple years. He was with the Astros when we were playing them, so I know he’s got the good sinker. He’s a groundball pitcher. I think he’ll be a great addition."

This team is ... more optimistic about the upcoming season than some of its fans.

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