EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 23, 2013

Cherington's plan is what Cards do best

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — St. Louis fireballer Trevor Rosenthal was a Cowley County Community College (Kansas) infielder who didn’t pitch much as an amateur.

He considered himself a position player back then, but on the occasions he did pitch, he brought the heat (97 mph according to one scout who was the first to ever clock Rosenthal off a mound).

That said, Rosenthal had never spoken with any scout from the Cardinals before the organization called him on draft day 2009 and asked him if he’d sign if they drafted him in the 21st round as a pitcher.

His answer was simple. “Sure.”

When Rosenthal showed up to play in the Florida Gulf Coast League, his pitching coach was wowed by his velocity, but Rosenthal’s rawness also was evident.

“He wasn’t impressed by my offspeed stuff because I had nothing,” Rosenthal said. “Like a couple days before I headed down to Florida I made up a knuckle-curve that was terrible.”

Flash forward four years. The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2009 21st-rounder — who posted a 4.88 ERA in 14 relief outings with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in ‘09 — was developed by the his minor league coaches and instructors into an absolute star. The 23-year-old has been St. Louis’ closer this postseason and is 3 for 3 in saves chances.

The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals play Game 1 of the World Series here at Fenway Park today (8:07 p.m. start time), in a rematch of the 1946, 1967 and 2004 Fall Classics.

Whether or not you root for the Cards, you have to respect their tremendous organization led by senior vice president and general manager John Mozeliak.

Mozeliak and his staff do a heck of a job.

The Cardinals draft extremely well. They develop their pitchers and hitters extremely well. They spend money on free agents and veteran players extremely wisely.

All those variables have helped them win consistently. This is their second World Series appearance in three years and their fourth berth in the Fall Classic since 2004. During the past 10 years, the Cards have made six appearances in the National League Championship Series.

After Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington traded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers, he promised to build the next great Red Sox team by making the top priority drafting and developing young talent while also spending money wisely.

Little did Cherington know back then, that next great team would be the 2013 version.

Yes, Cherington did a fabulous job building this year’s team, a relentless group of high-character players who grind out at-bats, pitch well and never give up before the final out is made.

But if Cherington wants to continue to win each and every year, he needs to continue to do what he promised — which is what the Cardinals have been doing better than any other ball club for the past decade.

Want some proof?

Seventeen of the 25 players on the Cardinals’ World Series roster were drafted and developed within their farm system.

Game 2 starter Michael Wacha was the 19th overall pick in the ‘12 draft. Game 3 starter Joe Kelly was the Cards’ third-round pick in 2009, a fruitful draft for St. Louis that produced five of the players on this year’s World Series roster.

“There’s not a magic ball that tells you who to draft,” St. Louis pitcher Lance Lynn said. “They do a very good job at evaluating character before the draft — and maybe draft more on character than maybe on super talent. A guy with good character and good talent means he’s going to work hard. He’s going to do the right things and listen to people. And that’s what I’ve seen guys do and then they turn into guys who throw 100 (mph) all of a sudden.”

Because of all the homegrown talent, the Cardinals don’t have an outrageous payroll. They spent approximately $115.222 million on this year’s team, which ranks them 11th out 30 major league organizations, according to USA Today data.

They don’t sign players to outrageous deals. They did re-sign Matt Holliday in Jan. 2010 for seven years, $120 million. But that’s not an outrageous contract for a career .311 hitter with a .387 on-base percentage, .531 slugging percentage and .918 OPS.

St. Louis’ wisest decision in recent history was to ink Carlos Beltran to a two-year, $26-million deal during the same offseason it opted not to re-sign Albert Pujols, then the beloved face of the franchise, who left for the Angels via free agency.

Pujols signed a gigantic 10-year, $254 million deal and has hit a pedestrian .275 with a .338 on-base percentage in his two seasons with the Angels. Both years the Angels missed the playoffs while the Cardinals made the NLCS both seasons, including a World Series berth here in 2013.

Beltran has stroked nine more homers than Pujols during that span, while Pujols’ replacement at first base, Allen Craig (an eighth-rounder in 2006), had a .454 average with runners in scoring position in ‘13.

“The Cardinals do a good job of doing a lot of things well,” Craig said. “We signed some key free agents, made some key trades and developed a lot of players from the system and I think you can see that now.

“Pitching in the playoffs is probably the most important thing. We’ve had some young guys step up in the bullpen. You look at Carlos Martinez (22 years old). He’s our eighth inning guy right now. And Rosenthal is our closer. And you look at what Wacha has done and Joe Kelly and what Shelby Miller has done this season, it’s pretty impressive.”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB