Cubs in talks with Scott Boras about Prince Fielder

Milwaukee Brewers designated hitter Prince Fielder sits in the dugout before a MLB spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Phoenix, March 5, 2011. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Whoever had Prince Fielder going to the Cubs in their MLB free agent office pool should have an extra spring in their step today.

No, the North Siders haven’t signed the big money free agent to a contract but according to ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine, the Cubs are indeed in talks with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras. Manager Dale Sveum and team president Theo Epstein told reporters on Friday that they haven’t had direct contact with the first baseman but the lines of communication definitely seem to be open.

Ken Rosenthal said on Friday that the Cubs were the favorites to sign Fielder, although the FOX writer was speculating more than reporting. Rosenthal feels as though the Cubs make “far more sense” than a club like the Mariners because Epstein is expected to eventually build a winner in Chicago, even if it takes a few years. Reports state that the Cubs prefer to sign Fielder to a shorter deal than the 10-year contract that Albert Pujols received from the Angels, which could make it difficult to sign the soon-to-be-former Brewer.

In related news, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is speculating that the Cardinals could make an attempt to sign Fielder, but only if it were to a short-term deal. St. Louis has also emerged as a potential landing spot for Carlos Beltran, who is finally starting to receive interest from multiple clubs. (The Rockies are reported to be in pursuit of Beltran as well.)

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What’s the root of the issue in the Pujols/La Russa spat?

With two outs in the eighth inning during a game last Friday night, Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa gave Ryan Ludwick the steal sign with slugger Albert Pujols up to bat. Ludwick, who has been unsuccessful in all of his steal attempts this season, kept his streak alive and was thrown out at second base, effectively taking the bat out of Pujols’ hands.

This angered Pujols, who then threw a tantrum in the dugout. During the midst of his meltdown, La Russa barked at his star first baseman that, “I know how to (expletive) manage.” Once word of the exchange was made public, Pujols quickly defused the situation and nothing more was made out of it.

But St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell suggests that the issue lies deeper than just a star player getting into a spat with his skipper.

Of far more significance is the reason La Russa saw fit to essentially take the bat out of Pujols’ hand. The fact that the manager felt the need to attempt to manufacture a run in that situation tells you that he knows how much is favorite player is struggling.

That’s what makes his most recent well-documented struggles so puzzling. Over the last 10 games, he’s without an RBI, and he has only five in the last 20 games. Through his last 11 games, Pujols is batting .222 (eight for 36) with only six runs scored, and two extra-base hits (one double, one homer) and two RBIs.

Even more alarming is his last 22 games this month, with a .256 average, one homer and 10 RBIs. So when we see a man who has been a hitting and run-producing metronome for so long, it raises several obvious questions like “why” and “what’s wrong”?

I don’t think we’ll ever hear it from Pujols’ mouth that he’s struggling physically, but La Russa needs to find a way to wake up his bat. I don’t know if that means sitting him down for a mental (or physical) break, or if the manager has any more psychological tricks up his sleeve. He is a master at finding ways to bring out the best in his players. He has spent most of the first few months nursing along Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker and Holliday with varying degrees of success.

Pujols is right in that he’s spoiled everyone with his consistency over the last 10 years. He’s been a robot when it comes to production so when he falls into a slump this bad, everyone immediately hits the panic button.

But he’s not immune to slumps, bouts of frustrations or (gasp!) poor play. He’s the best hitter in baseball and he’ll figure it out – he just needs time to work through it. And I don’t know if there’s anything La Russa can do, or needs to do.

Baseball has a way of humbling players. When you’re in the midst of a slump, you feel like it will never end. But it does and Pujols isn’t the only marquee hitter that’s struggling. Prince Fielder is also off to a slow start and Pablo Sandoval saw his average drop nearly 80 points since the month of May started. Slumps happen – even to robots like Albert Pujols.

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John Smoltz to sign with Cardinals

Starter John Smoltz has found a new team in the St. Louis Cardinals.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Free agent pitcher John Smoltz will accept the Cardinals’ offer to join the club as its fifth starter after clearing waivers at noon (St. Louis time) today, barring an unforeseen waiver claim, multiple sources said Tuesday.

Smoltz, the only pitcher in major-league history to achieve both 200 wins and 150 saves, becomes eligible to join his new club after clearing release waivers. The Boston Red Sox designated the former NL Cy Young Award winner for assignment Aug. 7 before placing him on waivers Monday. Teams have 48 hours to place a claim in the unlikely event they are willing to assume the balance of Smoltz’s $5.5 million contract.

Since the Red Sox released him, the Cardinals will only have to pay the prorated portion of Smoltz’s contract, which is roughly $100,000.

This isn’t a bad signing for a club that is trying to add talent to make a World Series run. While Smoltz certainly looked washed up in his brief stint in Boston, he might be rejuvenated pitching in the NL again and is certainly worth a look considering the other fifth-starter candidates for the Cardinals are Todd Wellemeyer, Brad Thompson, P.J. Walters and Mitchell Boggs.

There’s also speculation that Smoltz could wind up being a potential setup man for Ryan Franklin in the bullpen.

Cardinals acquire Mark DeRosa from Indians

One of the more coveted veterans on the trade market has officially been snatched by the Cardinals, as the Red Birds acquired super utility man Mark DeRosa from the Indians in exchange for pitcher Chris Perez and a player to be named later.

The versatile DeRosa was a very sought-after player, especially by National League clubs. He can fit as a third baseman for the Cardinals. The Giants, Mets, Braves and Cubs were other teams believed to have had some interest. The Indians have been shopping him for a couple weeks.

DeRosa, who the Indians acquired from the Chicago Cubs in a trade last offseason, was hitting .270 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs.

Perez has a 4.18 ERA in 29 appearances with a 1-1 record and one save.

Both teams essentially get what they wanted with this trade. Cleveland coveted a young pitcher (Perez is only 24) in exchange for DeRosa (who becomes a free agent at the end of the year) and St. Louis wanted to add another bat to protect Albert Pujols in the lineup. They also needed help on the left side of the infield, which DeRosa can certainly offer.

Kind of rough market when Mark DeRosa is one of the more coveted players, although that’s not a dig at DeRosa, who can play almost every position and is a solid hitter. But one year ago CC Sabathia was the top name making its rounds on the rumor mill, while two years ago it was Mark Teixeira. DeRosa doesn’t really compare to those names now does he?

Cardinals to go after Tejada?

According to a report by Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals have their eyes on Astros’ shortstop Miguel Tejada.

The Cardinals have expanded their search for an additional hitter to include Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada. Tejada fits the profile of what the Cardinals are seeking — an offensive deterrent capable of playing multiple positions. The Astros are experiencing financial problems and could part with a player owed $13 million this season. Tejada entered Wednesday leading the NL in batting with a .357 average and 21 doubles. He ranked third in the league with a .354 average against righthanded pitching. … Khalil Greene managed three hits Wednesday night in his second game on a rehab assignment with the Memphis Redbirds.

It’s amazing how the Cards are scrambling to add a shortstop after being excited about picking up Khalil Greene this offseason. When I interviewed Tony La Russa before the season regarding his “ARF” Foundation, he mentioned Greene’s name several times in reference to how St. Louis was glad to have him in their lineup. Greene has missed time due to “anxiety-related issues,” but maybe he can bounce back and St. Louis won’t have to make a move in the end.

Tejada has some tread on his tires, but the guy can obviously still hit. The Cards need to do something if they want to eventually separately themselves in a tight NL Central.

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