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Winter Warmup Round-Up Part 2

Covering the pitchers, catchers, and some owner talk

Syndication: Peoria Journal Star MATT DAYHOFF/JOURNAL STAR / USA TODAY NETWORK

With my Winter Warmup experience, I managed to capture the absolute closest feeling I will ever get to what an MLB player feels like when they experience their first ever gameday. If it’s remotely close to what I felt, I don’t understand how any debut goes well. I was intimidated, I was overwhelmed, I was extremely nervous, and it affected my body physically to the point where I was effectively frozen even though I could move. I don’t really know how to explain it.

And no, this is not me feeling like I don’t belong there, that I haven’t earned it, for some reason that’s been the first reaction by more than a few people when I share that. It’s just me being a lifelong Cardinal fan who once wanted to be a Cardinals reporter and realizing I didn’t really like beat reporting, and I’d probably be looking at 10-20 years of doing jobs I didn’t particularly enjoy so maybe a St. Louis website or newspaper one day might hire me to follow the Cardinals. Truth be told, I really wanted to do what I’m doing now, effectively writing columns, not beat reporting.

“If the other team hates you, you’re doing your job.” - Lance Lynn

One element of the starting pitcher signings I hadn’t really considered was that the Cardinals effectively signed two starting pitchers that match Willson Contreras’ energy. Both Lance Lynn and Sonny Gray are both highly competitive and dedicated to winning. (Kyle Gibson was not there for an interview and was mostly not talked about, so I can’t rule out him being the same)

“When you look at Sonny Gray, you can’t say enough,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “He’s just a competitor. He wakes up and wants to kill.” Sonny Gray will probably get along with Contreras just fine.

“He’s a highly, highly competitive guy, which I like,” Gray said. “We’ll be on the same page with that. He seems to be high energy, which I like. Conversations have been great. He seems to want to work, he seems to want to get better, he seems to want to learn, and every time we talk, he is looking forward to bringing a championship back to St. Louis.”

Lynn, being an opponent of Contreras, has not necessarily liked him in the past. But you know the saying “player you hate when he’s on other teams, love it when he’s on your team?”

“When you play against a guy and everybody hates them, that usually means he’s a good competitor and he’s good,” Lynn said. “I remember playing against him in Chicago, and that’s what it was — you just don’t like the guy. But talking to him and getting to know him over the years since leaving, he’s got a passion for the game, he’s got a passion for winning, and he’s a great teammate and great person.”

“Well I know Lance because we faced each other and he has the same attitude I have when I’m playing,” Contreras said. “He has that f attitude, which I love.” (He literally said f attitude, I assume unfiltered it would be “fuck you”)

There are two big changes to the catcher situation entering 2024. A new backup and Yadier Molina in an advisory role.

“I wanted him around as much as possible,” Marmol said. “At the end of the day, we have a good relationship with Yadi, respect him a ton, we worked well together. My hope was to have him in our dugout often. Time is not right for that just yet. But having any bit of Yadi is definitely a good thing.”

Contreras welcomes work with Yadi, but he knows he’s not going to be Yadi. “Nobody will replace Yadier Molina. Nobody will. That’s a Hall of Famer. I’m not trying to copy his mind, the way he played. I’m going to be me. That was my problem last year when I signed last year. I’m trying to be myself.”

It doesn’t seem to be a concern that Yadi’s presence will dominate the conversation. “Willson at the end of the day just wants to get better and he wants to get better everyday and he sees Yadi as someone who can do that,” Marmol said. “So there’s not an ego here of ‘I’m replacing him.’ It’s simply this is a guy that did it well for a very long time so there’s a lot of things you can learn from him.”

As for the second thing, Contreras is sad to see Knizner go, but ready to help Herrera in anyway he can. “It really surprised me how much he improved,” Contreras said. “He improved from spring training to getting called up in the big leagues. I always told him anything you need, anything you want, anything want to ask me, just ask me. Because that’s really important for me to have my partner be on the same page.”

As for what happened last year, it’s time to look forward. “It’s not about me,” Contreras said. “It’s about the team. That’s why I took it like a man and didn’t say anything about it. This year, I know what they’re asking for and we’re on the same page.”

“I’m the youngest guy on the staff. I’ll be 33 in May. So that’s kind of cool” - Steven Matz

This is obviously an old rotation. I understand why Matz thinks it’s cool he’s the youngest, but that would probably not be the first adjective most fans would use to describe that fact. But it does have its’ strengths.

“These are guys that have been tested,” Marmol said. “That understand the ins and outs of competing at this level. They aren’t wide-eyed. They’ve been around. They’ve had success, they’ve also taken their beatings. They don’t ride the emotional rollarcoaster that a rookie would ride.”

One important thing that became clear listening to the players talk about the rotation. They do not think like fans. They don’t think of aging curves, that the Cardinals could have gotten somebody better, they see three proven vet starters signed to bolster the rotation.

“I’m really excited,” Contreras said. “I think those are three great additions to our rotation. Experienced guys, veterans guys, they know what they’re doing and of course, they have ownership. They’re gonna own it if they do something wrong. They’re not going to point fingers at somebody else.” (I physically raised my eyebrow when I heard the end of this quote)

It’s here where I would share other quotes by players praising the rotation, but I didn’t know I was going to make this point so I didn’t jot those quotes down, but I assure you that you do not get even an inkling that the players have a problem with the offseason moves. So for those of you who think Nolan Arenado is thinking some great injustice has been done to him and that he should have opted out, I really, really doubt it.

One of those rotation additions, Lance Lynn, never expected to be back. “Once your stint is done with a place, you kind of think it as ‘this was fun.’ You really enjoyed it, obviously this was the place that gave me a chance to be a big leaguer, gave me a chance to be a professional baseball player. It holds a place in my heart. When you leave, you kind of think about what’s next, you don’t think about where you’ve been.”

“But baseball’s a weird game. It’s got a weird sense of humor. I’m coming back, I’ve got Descalso as my bench coach, my manager is Oli - I played with Oli in Low A and High A, so no, I never thought I’d be back in St. Louis with Descalso as my bench coach and Oli as my manager.”

Lynn was asked what he said when Mozeliak called. “I asked him how he got my new number.” There were at least rumors that Lynn had no interest in ever returning to the Cardinals. “I created a lot of good relationships with a lot of people that are still in this building that are still close friends so I don’t think it was ever a thing where no I’ll never go back there. It was just hey it was a fun time when I was there, on to something else.”

“..hand me the ball whenever needed, I love that.” - Oliver Marmol

In less flashier ways, the Cardinals also improved their bullpen. And the flexibility of the new arms added was emphasized at Winter Warmups.

“I’m excited to meet the new guys, I think we got a lot of guys back there with a lot of versatility, you know pitched in big moments,” Ryan Helsley said.

When speaking of Andrew Kittredge, it was pointed out to Marmol that he had pitched in every inning in the 2021 season.

“Just being able to say Hey just pitch me the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, just hand the ball whenever you think is my time to help, then that’s good to have. He’s been tested, he’s thrown high leverage innings and he knows what that looks like and he can handle the pressure.”

He later added, “To not have an ego and just say hand me the ball whenever needed, I love that.” That appears to also apply to the Cardinals’ players with unknown roles. Among the relievers who said they’ll do whatever role was asked of them included Andre Pallante, Zack Thompson and JoJo Romero.

“I can throw wherever they tell me,” Romero said. “Being consistent with everything I do allows me to be in those roles.”

Helsley also said that he’d pitch in whatever role is asked of him. “I feel like for me in the past, I’ve always been a guy who throws multiples (innings). I feel like whichever they want me to do, I can be that guy. If they want me to throw everyday, I can be that guy, or if they throw multiples too, I can be ready for that too. I just want to help the team win, that’s all I care about.”

As for additions to the bullpen, well I don’t know how to read the following quote in any other way than they appear to want to get another reliever.

“I know Mo and his group are looking particularly at the reliever market, so it would be nice if we could acquire some additional help on that front,” owner Bill Dewitt Jr. said.

“I want to hire somebody who could replace me. - Marmol

The Cardinals seemingly hired two candidates who could take over Marmol’s job. Marmol is not concerned with that. “It’s a high-stakes environment. If you’re insecure, then this seat’s not for you. You want the best people around you at all times and that means you’re hiring people who can one day do your job.”

Marmol in fact thinks Descalso will be a manager and that was a point-in-favor of hiring him for bench coach. “You want to surround yourself with people who can challenge you. Descalso’s going to manage at some point. I’m constantly looking at that position as one: do they have the qualities to be a manager?”

Descalso left what was basically a cushy gig, where he could make his own schedule, to a much more demanding position. “I think the combination of working with Oli who I have a relationship back to 2007 coming to a place where I played where I have a history and getting some of the players here who I played with. I think all those factors made the opportunity even more appealing and ultimately something I couldn’t let pass.”

He’s also not worried about the potential awkwardness of being a bench coach for multiple players who he was teammates with, including Lynn. “I think with those guys that are on this team that I played with, I think they know me well enough, that i’ve earned their respect and trust, and they know what I’m about and they know I have their best interests at heart. And it’s not going to be about me, it’s going to be about them. I’m just here to help facilitate them in their career and I think it’s going to be fine.”

Marmol’s job does not appear to be in danger. “We’re very positive on Oli as our manager. We’ll see how this year goes, but I have full expectation that after this year he’ll continue as our manager,” Dewitt said. This is notable because this is the last year of Marmol’s contract, so they would have to re-hire him.

Marmol was asked about last year and what effect that had on him. “It tested my character. It made me sit back and really think through what went well, what didn’t and what I need to do different. And the reality is I need to be better. My staff needs to be better. But that starts with me.’

“It’s a fresh look” - Bill Dewitt Jr.

The Dewitts talked for 40 minutes and close to half of it was talking about the TV situation. And most of that conversation is outdated already. Amazon is investing in Diamond Sports and the Cardinals may very well have to honor to the end of that contract. Which is good for me, because this article is getting lengthy already.

Another point of emphasis was the hiring of Bloom. Both Mo and Bill Dewitt Jr. saw the firing of Bloom and independently thought he would be a good addition to the organization.

“When I saw that Chaim had been let go in Boston and Mo saw it as well, I immediately thought you know we could probably use someone like that whose been with a small market, big market, very smart guy to kind of help see what’s going on with our organization,” Dewitt said. “Interestingly, Mo thought the same thing. We’re on the same page there which is great.”

Dewitt, however suggests there is no hidden agenda to hiring Bloom. He was asked about the timeline of Mo leaving with the hiring of Bloom. “Mo has said that that’s a potential timeline for him and the sequence of Chaim Bloom coming on I wouldn’t say necessarily was a part of that. It was to get another asset on our baseball op’s group. It’s a fresh look. And if it turns out that Mo is moving on or wants to go in a different direction in a couple years, then we’ve got a more beefed up staff than we would have had otherwise.”

And well, they are pretty consistent in not blaming the TV situation for impacting the payroll nor the choice to sign 1-year deals to two starters.

“No, we were pretty committed to do what we’ve done, the kind of payroll we were going to have.”

It’s at least moderately interesting that they didn’t really raise payroll after a lot of talk that they would, and then didn’t, and then say that’s been the plan all along. It’s interesting because they have a built-in excuse: the uncertainty of the TV situation.

But the real reason for the disparity is that the Dewitts said they liked to have a little bit of “dry powder” available at the deadline. They don’t want money to get in the way of a move they can make. Also, apparently they might sign another reliever?

(I would actually still not be surprised if they don’t sign anyone)

There may very well be a part three. I covered just about everything I wanted to cover, with one exception and if I flesh it out a bit more, it would make a good post on its own.