Do you hear the birds chirping yet, over the sound of the snowplows? Has the smell of newly mown grass begun commingling with the smell of road-salt slowly breaking down the clear-coat on your car's rear quarter panels? That's right—three more "notes" Tuesdays until pitchers and catchers report. (Thanks to the MLB Important Dates calendar I know that it's also Asian World Baseball Classic Players Report day, which probably won't catch on quite so well.)
Free Agent Pitching watch, day 300: There goes Pettitte, and with him any hope I had of learning to spell his name with the correct number of T's on a regular basis.
Nothing the Cardinals could do here; from the looks of his final deal Pe-two-ts-i-two-more-ts-e was not going to go anywhere but New York, and in the end he folded pretty seriously from his initial demands for the privilege. In the end he traded what was rumored to be a guaranteed $10 million offer from the Yankees for a deal that could, if everything breaks right, be worth $12 million—that sounds less like negotiation and more like coming back, on bended knee, to Brian Cashman.
It makes sense for him, if you've ever imagined a player, mid-career, as thinking about his "legacy"; as a Hall-of-Very-Good pitcher, the more he stays in one place—particularly if that place cares enough about its Storied Past to make a cable TV network about it—the better remembered he is by posterity. It's the difference between being Kevin Appier or Jimmy Key and, well, Andy Pettitte.
You'd think that would make the Cardinals a little more "in" on the Ben Sheets race—in the afterglow of that week or so when the Yankees signed C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, and some other players, New York was momentarily considered Sheets's top suitor—but a simple Google News search will let you know that the Rangers seem to be ahead of the pack at this point.
Of course, a simple Google News search for "St. Louis Cardinals", at this point, will also make it seem like they're in talks to acquire Kurt Warner. But scroll down a little and you will find one of the early indicators of the coming Spring Training season, the canary in our Hot Stove coal mine: the first full-on "I'm in the best shape of my life" article of the season.
Nothing says Spring Training like players being in the best shape of their lives, and while it was somewhat heartening to see Ludwick and Rasmus boast during the Winter Warm-up of their off-season weightlifting, Yadier Molina losing his ten pounds is a more conventional form of baseball's second-oldest story. (The oldest, as any obsessive reader of Bill James's Historical Baseball Abstract will tell you, is the one that begins "Baseball players in my day were just... different, somehow.")
As to the best-shaped in question, it certainly can't hurt for Molina to be in the best shape of his life, since he plays so punishing a position and is held from a higher batting average by the parachute trailing from his back. But as far as wearing down over the course of the season goes, there isn't much to suggest it in Molina's batting numbers. His OPS is, in fact, a little higher in the second half. (Much of that can be attributed to Aprils 2005 and 2006; if you add those OPSes together, to form his April 2005-6 OPSPOPS, you get .738, which is three points lower than his OPS from last season.)