Q: I was at Friday night and Sunday's game, and saw Saturday's game on TV. Two questions. Phelps looked good in a couple of pinch-hit chances -- What does his future with the Cardinals look like? Also, Felipe Lopez had a bunch of hits and seems to be playing great.
Leach: Josh Phelps is a very nice player for what he does, but he also has his limitations. It's hard to see him having any bigger a role next year than he did this year -- i.e., it's hard to see him starting on the big league roster. So while I'm sure they'd love to have him back for another season as insurance at Triple-A, I'd have to think he would want to go someplace where the opportunity was greater.
As for Lopez, it appears that your question was cut off, but I'm guessing it was the same sort of thing. And with as well as he's hit, I definitely can see bringing him back in some capacity for 2009. Likely not an infield starter, but maybe a 350-400 at-bat super-sub. He's definitely helped himself a lot with how he's played since coming here.
Q: Thanks for the great mailbags. Any talk of a Lohse extension yet? He's been so valuable, even with a late-season slump.
Leach: Thanks for the kind words. The Cardinals typically don't negotiate in-season, and it's my understanding that no real inroads have been made. I'm sure they'll talk to him, but it's uncommon for deals to get done quickly with Scott Boras clients.
Q: What are they going to do with Izzy?
Leach: Let him walk, most likely. He's eligible for free agency, and it seemed fairly clear even before his injury that a change of scenery would likely be in everyone's best interest. It's unfortunate that it ended this way; I hope when people look back at his tenure here, they appreciate that he was a central figure in a great era.
Q: It sure seems like there are more prospects than in the past. ... Is the Cards' farm system making a turnaround?
Leach: Absolutely. It's still not at the top of the rankings yet, but recent drafts have yielded a lot more than the previous few did.
Q: Will the Brewers fold down the stretch?
Leach: It's hard to imagine them completely flatlining, but the signs aren't good right now, and it's asking a lot for Sheets and Sabathia to go nine innings every single start.
Q: Is Kyle McClellan suffering from overuse?
Leach: It looks to my eye like he's fading, and fatigue is certainly a worry. I don't know that I'd say overuse, though, because that implies something that I'm not willing to imply. I think, for the most part, they've tried to be pretty careful with him. It's just that the adjustment to a full six-month season is a tough one. They've definitely used him less often recently, due to that very concern.
Q: Non-Cardinal question: Right now, who is the favorite to win the World Series?
Leach: Every team who gets in has about a 1-in-8 shot. Seems to me, though, that the Cubs and Red Sox have the fewest weaknesses to exploit in their respective leagues.
Q: Will Ryan Ludwick get MVP optimism?
Leach: He'll get some down-ballot votes, but I think his case is fading rapidly as Pujols continues to rake at a ridiculous rate. Braun, Wright and Pujols look like the most likely guys to my eye. (I'd vote Pujols without hesitation, whether the Cardinals make the playoffs or not, BTW).
Q: Do you see the Cardinals going after another No. 1 starter with the uncertainity of Mulder?
Leach: I'd say Mulder is no longer an uncertainty. He's pretty certain not to be in the picture next year. I'm not sure how many guys rate as No. 1s in this free-agent market. Probably only Sabathia, and it's going to be hard to justify giving him the contract I think he's going to get.
Q: What do you think of a back end of the bullpen of Motte and Perez in 2009?
Leach: I'd say more likely 2010 for those two guys going the eighth and ninth back-to-back. I'm very high on both of them, but I'm not convinced that immediately is the time. Put it this way: Perez is much more likely to be the guy in the ninth next year than Motte is to be the guy in the eighth at the start of the year. Motte will likely be in the mix, but I suspect they'll bring him along somewhat carefully at first.
Q: With Ankiel, Ludwick, Mather and, hopefully, Easmus all getting playing time in the outfield next year, are the Cards looking to trade Chris Duncan? If so, what kind of value does he have left after this year?
Leach: Seems to me that it's pretty much impossible to trade Duncan at this moment, given his injury status. I do think there's a good chance of a deal involving one or more outfielders this winter, though.
Q: Hey, I read on ESPN that Mr. Pujols is thinking about surgery this offseason. What have you heard? Do you think it will happen?
Leach: Hopefully, you read it on MLB.com, too! Unfortunately, I can only go on what he told Channel 5 yesterday, which is all that any of us have until we get to the ballpark this afternoon. But I wouldn't think he'd bring it up unless he were thinking seriously about it. Obviously, if the team defies the odds and makes the playoffs, the equation changes. Stay tuned. Hopefully, we'll all know more in a few hours.
Q: How likely is it that Dave Duncan will be back next year?
Leach: Clearly, you are a Viva El Birdos reader. I think in the end it's likely that they'll make it work. But my personal opinion is that he won't come cheap, and it won't be an automatic. I'd put the odds at something like 1-to-2.
Q: In your opinion, are there any other NL managers who could even challenge La Russa for Manager of the Year this year?
Leach: Absolutely. Jerry Manuel in New York will get consideration, as will (and should) Lou Piniella. The Marlins' fade has probably knocked Fredi Gonzalez out, but if they even finish above .500, he might be my top choice.
Q: How did you get your job at MLB.com, and growing up, were you a Cardinals fan?
Leach: I grew up in Florida as a Braves (nearest team) and Red Sox (no real explanation) fan. And I think that's for the best -- I don't think it works well to have somebody covering a team who is a fan of the team.
As for the story of my getting this job, it's long and winding, but the short version is that I was an editor at NASCAR.com, then an editor at the old MajorLeagueBaseball.com, then a columnist at MLB.com and moved to the beat in 2002.
Q: How long do the Cardinals have Schumaker under control? He's one of my favorite Cardinals and seems to be a good player.
Leach: Schumaker is under the team's control through 2012.
Q: How do you rate Mozliak to date? B-ish?
Leach: I think that's fair, but I also think a truly fair grade can't be given for at least one more offseason, and maybe two. The mandate was a very tough one -- stay competitive while increasing flexibility, and both have been achieved.
But that's only the first part. Now the second part comes over the next year or two. Given that flexibility, use it to build the next excellent Cardinals team. Not just competitive, but excellent. I preached patience last winter, but with that caveat. I stand by it.
Q: When, if at all, will the Cardinals see David Freese?
Leach: Ideally, late next year, with an eye toward figuring out whether he's Glaus' replacement in 2010.
Q: What are the odds of the Cardinals trading for some middle-infield help? Maybe a Renteria reunion? There are a couple of other free agents out there who are far superior than Adam Kennedy. Please tell me the Cards plan to acquire someone.
Leach: They're quite sure to try, though even on a one-year deal, I don't really see Renteria as viable at this point. His bat and his glove have both headed in the wrong direction, to the point where I just don't see him as an everyday option.
It seems that second base and shortstop should be interlocking, to some extent. If they can secure a bat at second base, then you can go defense-first again at shortstop. There need to be two priorities: upgrade at least one of the two positions offensively while at least maintaining the level defensively. The infield defense has been a big part of why the starters have looked good this year.
Q: With all the money coming off the books, what do you see us doing with free agents? Obviously, CC would be nice, but if we can't get him, what do you think about Lowe, and Furcal from the Dodgers, as well as a lefty in the bullpen?
Leach: We'll start with the last part. Personally, I'm really opposed to spending big dollars and multiple years on anything but truly elite relievers, and I suspect the front office feels the same way. They will look to upgrade the LHRP though.
I touched on Sabathia already; I just suspect somebody's going to give him a terrifying contract, the kind that could ruin a franchise for years if he's anything shy of magnificent and bulletproof. Furcal seems like a good name to me, and A.J. Burnett is also a name that I wouldn't be surprised to see come up again.
Q: How long do we have control of McClellan and Perez? Will McClellan convert to a starter in the offseason?
Leach: McClellan is under the team's control through 2013, Perez through 2014. McClellan's future will be a source of some discussion, but my guess is that he stays where he is. That may just be my bias talking, though -- I think he should stay in the 'pen.
Q: Any Gold Gloves in the St Louis defense this year? Glaus', Molina's and Pujols' chances?
Leach: Pujols is probably the likeliest. I suspect David Wright wins it at third base, and if Molina didn't win it last year, I suspect he may have a hard time this year with lesser defensive numbers.
All right, folks, it's been a lot of fun, but I need to go and start getting ready for work tonight. Thanks for stopping by, and keep checking out stlcardinals.com as well as YoureNotAGolfer.MLBlogs.com. Be excellent to each other.
Be sure to join us for our next CHAT on stlcardinals.com, when Jeff Luhnow, vice president of player development, stops by to chat at 12 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Sept. 24. Thanks for joining!