Steve Hirsch: As Spring Training has started and the Grapefruit League begins in just a couple of days, what are your overall feelings on the team and where they stand going into 2013?
Will Leitch: I have to tell you, it’s a relief in a lot of ways to see grown ups in charge [laughing]…And I don’t mean to say Walt Jocketty is not a grown up…but it’s nice to see a plan…I like that there’s a plan in place and that there’s a front office that’s prudent, smart, and sometimes makes difficult but usually pretty good decisions It’s pretty amazing that in 2005, the Cardinals, according to Baseball America, had the worst farm system in Major League Baseball, and today they have the best farm system in Major League Baseball, and in that time, not only have they been competitive, but they’ve won a couple World Series. It’s cool to be a fan of that team…You look at the mess that a lot of other fans have to deal with with their team, I feel pretty lucky to have a team that is…not only competitive but building a product for the future. I’m pretty happy, and I’m pretty comfortable with where the Cardinals are at.
SH: It has now been about a month since Stan passed away. Did you ever get a chance to meet or interact with him, and what are general thoughts on his passing?
WL: I never met Stan…but the thing i love about Stan is that there’s a very specific thing about being a Cardinals fan. It’s bound in the idea you can do everything right and not make a big fuss about it…It’s hard to find players that Cardinals fans have booed. The whole Cardinals fan mentality is wrapped up in the idea of quiet success…That whole foundation of hard work and quiet excellence is stuff that Cardinals fans just inherently value…That’s why when you see someone like Carlos Beltran or Lance Berkman come to St. Louis, it just feels instantly right. It’s that kind of player that always thrives in St. Louis, and that’s all from Stan. That’s where the whole culture from. And that’s a hard thing for people to understand sometimes when you’re not from St. Louis…I feel like the Cardinals ideals are all founded in this notion of Stan, and we don’t even realize that we are reflecting Stan sometimes, but we are. And that’s what made his passing that much harder — the idea that even when we’re not talking about Stan, we’re talking about Stan.
SH: Chris Carpenter will most likely miss the entirety of the 2013 season. What was your reaction when you heard the news a couple of weeks ago, and who are the types of players that you expect to fill that leadership void that Carp will leave empty this season?
WL: It was one of those moments where I felt more sad emotionally than I did intellectually, because I don’t know how much you could have counted on Carpenter for this year anyway. The Cardinals showed last year that they can be okay without Carpenter, and certainly starting pitching is a position where the Cardinals have a lot of depth. Intellectually speaking, I think the Cardinals lose a little bit not having Carpenter, but there are more irreplaceable players like Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, or even Jason Motte in a lot of ways…To me, it’s the notion that it’s Carpenter and that he had this fierce, almost insane competitiveness…Another great thing about being a Cardinals fan is that other fans of teams might be furious that they paid all this money for a guy to not pitch for two years, and Cardinals fans just feel lucky that they had him at all…To me, Carpenter represents this era of Cardinals baseball…I was sadder emotionally than intellectually because I think Shelby Miller can fill in. And if he can’t, Joe Kelly can. And if he can’t, Trevor Rosenthal can. They have guys that can fill these spots…But, Carpenter is the one guy on this team, even more than Molina, who you know whose number will be retired on that wall some day.
SH: The Cardinals have a lot of top young prospects that the fans are really excited about. Is there anyone in particular out of guys like Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, that you’re really excited to see play in St. Louis?
WL: Pitching prospects always have a level of skepticism…and you’re always going to be suspicious…A hitting prospect is different. Once you start hearing “This guy’s Vladimir Gurrerro,” that’s an exciting thing. Another great advantage of being a Cardinals fan: we’re going to work into this. We’re going to do this the right way. We’re not going to shove him out there and see what happens…It’s a wonderful advantage that the Cardinals have had. It’s hard to imagine a guy that can’t miss across the board being one of our guys. So to me, I’m excited about Oscar Taveras more than anyone else.
SH: Lastly, if you’re John Mozeliak, what kind of deal would you offer Adam Wainwright that would ensure he stays in St. Louis following the 2013 season?
WL: I love Wainwright…but I would wait, to be honest. It’s pitching. And if we can lose Pujols, I’m prepared to lose anyone…While I think it was a wise decision for the Cardinals to make and a poor decision for Pujols to make, I’ve made my peace with it in a lot of ways. To me, if we can let Pujols go, we can let anybody go…There are analysts who think that Wainwright is another injury waiting to happen…You pay for hitting because hitting you can count on…And I love Wainwright, he’s a logical continuation of Carpenter, but if he wants six years, that’s crazy. I think he sees himself in the Felix Rodriguez class, and he’s not there. I don’t think he’s being a jerk about it, as another wonderful thing about being a Cardinals fan is watching how civil, totally cordial, and normal negotiations can be…But the Cardinals do have a lot of depth at starting pitching and a lot of guys coming up. I’m weary of putting a ton of money for an extended period of time to Wainwright, I’m worried about it. I’m someone who loves the guy…and I hope they can work something out.
He’s a second-tier ace. And even when he’s at his best, you’re still looking at a guy whose an injury waiting to happen. So, I hope they come to a deal on it, but to be honest, I would rather spend that money buying out arbitration years for Oscar Taveras and other position guys. I don’t want to lose Wainwright, and I hope they can come to a deal, but if the money starts getting crazy, then I don’t think they should give it to him.