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BenFred's 5: Ozuna-related anxiety exists for Cardinals as spring training nears

BenFred's 5: Ozuna-related anxiety exists for Cardinals as spring training nears

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Cardinals spring training

Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna throws during a spring training workout last February. (Post-Dispatch photo by Chris Lee)

Five topics from sports columnist Ben Frederickson that St. Louis sports fans should be discussing . . . 

1. Ozuna anxiety exists as spring training nears

The Cardinals Winter Warm-Up topic that generated the most Twitter traffic was, without a doubt, Yadier Molina's newfound beef with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. A more newsworthy topic seemed at risk of being lost, like tears in a river. Cardinals starting left fielder and cleanup hitter (we think) Marcell Ozuna has been, for the most part, absent from the Cardinals' so-called offseason of accountability.

Nearly every player at Winter Warm-Up shared a story or two about meeting with the team during the offseason, or having a member of the team come to check in, etc. But Ozuna, who was not at Winter Warm-Up, was described as being somewhat off the grid. Normally, that would not be a big deal. But when you are recovering from offseason surgery on a shoulder that was not handled as well as it could have been last season, people tend to worry.

"Anxious" was the word picked by Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch, and that's probably the best fit. No one is freaking out. And president of baseball operations John Mozeliak is headed soon to meet with Ozuna during an unrelated trip to the Dominican Republic for a graduation ceremony at the Cardinals' baseball academy there. But some of these quotes are telling.

Girsch: "I'm not sure we’re quite to the concern level, but anytime someone has offseason surgery sort of offsite, and our guys don’t have their hands on him, we’re sort of anxious to see when they come back where they are."

Mozeliak: "I think he’ll be ready to go in spring. I’m not overly concerned. He’s going to spend the remainder of his offseason in the Dominican Republic, which is not ideal in terms of our medical staff being able to get a firm grasp of where he’s at. But, I’m going to pop down to the D.R. a week from (Saturday) and so, hopefully, I can get a sense of where he’s at. But candidly, with three weeks remaining before we go there (to Jupiter), there’s not a lot you can do. He has promised me that he will be ready, so I guess I’ll have to take him at his word."

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina: "He told me he is feeling a little bit better. He wants to be ready for opening day. I told him to take it easy, don't push it. He wants to be there for us, so he's going to try to push it. Hopefully he is fine for opening day."

Manager Mike Shildt did say Ozuna is planning to arrive in Jupiter early this season. That's good news.

"We’re hoping for the first of February, somewhere in that earlier February range – so he can get in and get seen and on a consistent program with our group," Shildt said.

It seems fair to wonder why, during the offseason of accountability, Ozuna was not on a consistent program under the eye of the Cardinals from day one. But this concern will melt away faster than snow on a warm day if Ozuna hits for power.

Until then, anxiety.

2. Should there be more optimism about the Blues?

The roller coaster on ice continued Wednesday night, with a 5-1 Blues road win against Anaheim. They won two of their last three headed into the All-Star break! But they lost three of their last five! But they won five of their last eight! And so it goes with this up, down, but not officially out (yet) hockey team.

The good news? The Blues entered the break three points out of the second wild-card spot. The bad news? They are still sixth in the Central, with just a 32.1 percent chance of making the postseason, according to the model used at CBSSports.com. Here are the postseason projection percentages for the teams currently ahead of the Blues in the wild-card chase: Colorado (71.4 percent), Dallas (50.4 percent), Vancouver (49.6 percent), Arizona (17.4 percent), Anaheim (11.4 percent).

It's going to take more consistency to pull off an impressive comeback.

3. Bess deserves more love

I would like to report a crime. The midseason watch list for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award was announced this week, and SLU's Javon Bess is not mentioned. This must be a typo. An accident. A forgivable error — as long as it is corrected when this list is updated later this season.

A rundown of the nation's best college basketball defenders is a waste of time if it does not include Bess. Yes, he's the Billikens leading scorer (16.1 ppg) who also ranks second in rebounds (7.2) and third in assists (1.7), but the most beautiful aspect of his game is his defense, as captured here by Post-Dispatch colleague Benjamin Hochman. Every game, Bess puts clamps on the other team's best. He belongs on this list. Period.

4. NFL remains a joke

Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock is wowing NFL teams on and off the field as he prepares for Saturday's Senior Bowl, if the practice reports out of Alabama are accurate. One note caught my eye. One NFL team did so much research on Lock, it asked about a trip he made to the principal's office during his freshman year of high school. Lock admitted the incident revolved around cheating on a math test.

Keep this story in mind the next time an NFL team tells you it could not possibly be expected to find that report and/or video of a player assaulting his girlfriend.

5. MLS ownership group does not seem worried

The MLS news about the Sacramento expansion effort's newfound wealth did not seem to rattle the cages of the ownership group here in St. Louis. Carolyn Kindle Betz and Co. still feel strongly that they are in line for team No. 28. And remember, the league has said it is going to expand beyond 28 teams.

So, progress for one team does not necessarily mean a negative for St. Louis. The big question is the order. St. Louis very much likes its chances of being 28.


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