Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The More Things Change...

Last year about this time, when this blog was beginning its meteoric rise into the oblivion, we talked about the Cardinals quest for ‘power’ arms. Our return (prompted by getupbaby’s link to our year-old ruminations on Wade Miller) finds the Birdinals in the same place they were last year; unfinished business in the postseason, with a need to add some juice to the pitching staff.

Do they really need some power arms? They certainly think so. They went hard after AJ Burnett and his atomic fastball. They reportedly were in the hunt for Octavio Dotel, who was once part of the Houston bullpen that struck out nearly every batter they faced. Now they’re after F. Rodriguez, who throws some heat.

I think the Dotel pursuit was a worthy one. The Cardinals are a team looking for a way to get over the top in the postseason. They’re adept at the grind of 162, but haven’t fared as well as we had hoped (WS win) in the postseason. A lot of that may be due to luck, but you still look to improve.

The market for all pitchers is nuts this year—or at least out of whack with what the Cards are willing to spend. I don’t see anyone on the free agent market that puts us over the top or provides us value. (Well, maybe Jason Johnson, in need of some DuncLove). So rather than spend it on the rotation, I’d rather see them build a bullpen that is lights out.

Duncan and LaRussa like having a staff that embraces their groundball-machine philosophy. Over the course of the long season, the Cardinal starting pitchers have benefited under this notion of ‘pitching to contact’. A ground-ball inducing staff keeps the ball in the park, keeps your defense from getting terribly bored (and out of the steamy STL heat), and prevents your pitchers from having to throw 135 pitches to get through the 6th inning. (And on a team where the manager values getting his starters the ‘W’, this can’t be understated. Witness 2005’s Jason Marquis and the Quest for the Holy 10th Win, which featured a brutal 7 game stretch with the ‘W’ odometer stuck on 9, only to find enlightenment in a sinker-induced haze in Washington.)

While that works very well for the starters, I’m not sure it serves the bullpen to the same extent. Consider that relief pitches are often called into situations where the starter has left some unfinished business—say runners on base in scoring position, less than two out. In cases like this, it’s nice if your pitcher can keep the ball in the park, but it’s even nicer if he could throw the ball past the hitter entirely. (I mean, keep in mind that John Rodriguez and Larry Bigbie are going to be shagging flies next year.)

This bullpen could use a strikeout arm or two. Izzy-man used to be that guy, but he’s no longer good for striking out a batter per inning. (And he’s the closer.). What about the 7th and 8th innings? Braden Looper, caught up in a terrifying attempt to completely undo the Edgar Renteria trade, enters in as the new Julian Tavarez, bringing with him the added bonus of that thing called ‘sanity’. But he’s not really a strikeout guy either, and he’s coming off an injury.


What does that leave us? Jocketty and LaRussa have shown flashes of creativity over the course of their careers. In the most recent string of playoff appearances, Jocketty has shown a willingness to find cheap and short-term solutions at certain positions to complement the Pujols-Rolen-Edmonds core. (See 'door, revolving - 2nd base'.) LaRussa has experimented with all sorts of combinations in the field and in the bullpen.

Why not take a flyer on Wade Miller and stuff him into the bullpen? He has that power arm, the ability to strike ‘em out, and mixed with those nagging durability issues, seems prime for a ticket to the ‘pen. He may be looking to start, and if that’s the case, I’d first try to sell him on the merits of becoming a closer. Going rates for a good one is quite nice (provided he could establish his value this year). You work shorter hours and still maintain the nice health plan and 401k.

If he insisted on starting, I’d still make an incentive-laden offer. This changes the ‘power up the bullpen’ plan slightly. In Plan B, Wade tries his hand as a starting pitcher again, and Anthony Reyes moves to the bullpen. This has multiple benefits. One, Reyes also has a power arm and can provide K’s from the pen. Two, Reyes saves his arm for awhile and slowly breaks into the rotation. He would theoretically be fresh for the postseason (if we make it), meaning his best innings might come out in October rather than May. The team should keep in mind the fact that he’s young and has a history of health problems. The Caridnals have a long-term interest invested in him, if only to be the first Cardinal pitching prospect since Matt Morris to not be traded for a spare part during a pennant run.

Of course, Miller might stink it up in the rotation and get hurt. But then Reyes could slide into the rotation. Or, we could go to Walt’s new backup plan:

Sidney Ponson.

Too many jokes to use here, so just insert your own.

Thanks Danup, for the link. More coming later on a recent evening I spent with Tony LaRussa, Buzz Bissinger, and John Grisham and a few hundred other people.

Posted by David @ 12:29 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

That Time of Year - 'Trade Jimmy'

See the Edmonds for Cano and CM Wang rumor? I think it's a terrible idea, not because Edmonds is untouchable, but because the return is minimal at best.

Cano - Dude had to put up a 1.000 OPS in September just to get his season OPS to .780. Never walks, can't field - kind of a poor man's Soriano. OK, he's young and cheap. So am I. We can probably get the same production out of D'Angelo Jiminez without giving up a power-hitting center-fielder.

CMW - Some people are ooohing over his extreme groundball tendencies - tell me how this augurs well with an up-the-middle defense of Eckstein, Cano, and Taguchi/Wilkerson/etc. Did I mention his K/BB was 47/32? Maybe if they also threw in Philip Huges (http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/H/philip-hughes.shtml), but their cupboard is pretty bare.

The other thing with trading Edmonds is this - everyone assumes that the freed up money will translate into Giles or Burnett. Everybody wants those two - I don't know that we can sign either, and if we can, whether the salary relief from unloading Edmonds would cover the difference.

Yeah, Edmonds is trending down, better to trade a year too early and all that. If you can net a Haren-Calero-Barton haul, do it. But if you're only going to get Dan Meyer, Charles Thomas, and Juan Cruz (or T.J. Mathews, Blake Stein, and...that third guy), you're just giving away talent.

Posted by Ryan @ 8:35 PM 1 comments

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Wrong Beer

Maybe if his name was Wade Michelob he'd have landed in the Lou. But he descends from a lesser brewer, and as a result, he's in Boston. Evidently Samuel Adams didn't care so much.

Wade Miller was non-tendered by the Astros, probably because they didn't want to pay a potential $6M for another season where the Wadester spends half the time on the bench. The Sox are paying him a base of $1.5M with incentives that can make it $4.5M, provided he doesn't get hurt.

It would have been nice if the Cards could have taken a look at him, considering he's in the 'power' category they've been yapping about all offseason. But, this is a good example of the difference between a team with a $140M payroll and one at $85. Those 'poor' Bostonians can afford to sink $1.5 into an experiment. The Cardinals cannot. Although, perhaps we should be careful when we ask for those experiments. While they brought us Chris Carpenter, they also brought us So Taguchi for $3M. (Now he was re-signed for a much more reasonable $550k).

Regardless, Miller's agent noted that the reason Wade signed with the Sox was because of their approach:

"The Red Sox were right on it from the beginning," Garber said. "They flew him to town and made him feel welcome. That's what Theo Epstein does. He makes players feel wanted, and they want to come here."

I'm sure the money that Theo has doesn't hurt either. Maybe Walter needs to pick up a gray hooded sweatshirt and learn how to party-down with the players. You know, develop a little street cred--become chums. Then he might be better fit for this whole wooing stage.

Most of the Cardinals big signings go to players after they've played for the team. They get their standard standing ovation for tripping over the baseline or whatever, turn around, and there Walter stands with a fresh contract extension before they know what's happened to them. (See McGwire, Edmonds, Rolen, Pujols...) Likewise, the team doesn't ever seem to make a big splash in the free agent market. Maybe it's because they can't pay market value. Or maybe it's because Walt hasn't learned how to make multimillionaires feel wanted.

Perhaps someone could send him a book on the subject. Or to cotillion.

Posted by David @ 5:26 PM 7 comments

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Beaned?

The Cardinals added a tall, extremely talented left handed pitcher to headline their 2005 rotation. This one, however, comes without Randy Johnson's dashing good looks.

So who got the better deal here?

The Cards get Mulder, who is clearly better than anything they previously had in the rotation in 2004. He's 27, holds a career 81-42 record (over 5 seasons), and holds a ground-ball/fly-ball ratio (around 2.0) that even the 2004 Cards heavy-ballers can be proud of.

What does it mean, besides a season full of bad X-Files references? Mulder clearly ins't a power pitcher in the strikeout/throw it by 'em sense. He's never struck out more than 160 guys in a season and averages about 6 whiffs per nine innings. Of course, this doesn't mean he's not effective. Between 2001-2003, hitters managed to reach base against him at less than a .300 clip, putting him consistently in the top 10-15 of all Major League Pitchers.

His first half of 2004 followed this pattern. Before the All-Star break, Mulder went 12-2 with a 3.21 ERA, opponents hitting around .240 against him. He even pulled down the honor of starting for the AL in the All-Star Game.

But after the break, he hit a wall...and we're talking Berlin/Great Wall of China type wall here. His post ASB record was 5-6 with a nasty 6.13 ERA. Opponents hit almost .300 off of him. Ace he was not. Heck, Brett Tomko (v.2003) he was not.

So was he hurt? Mentally weak? Tired? He says it was none of these things--and all reports say he's healthy (although his 2003 hip injury should concern us a little bit). A pessimist would argue that Mulder was hiding some sort of injury (a la Matt Morris) and attempting to pitch through it all. I'm going to trust the Oakland and Saint Louis physicians who say this isn't the case...assuming their medical degree means more than my idle speculation. An optimist muses that everyone has a bad day...or week...or second half of the season every once in awhile. Once Mulder steps in front of the Sea of Red, the juices will start flowing again and the deity will return.

Since I like new toys and it is the holiday season, I'm going to lean closer to the "Mulder is going to be a top notch pitcher again next year".

Was he worth it though? We lost Danny Haren, Daric Barton, and the current coolest name on the roster (Kiko Calero, following in the footsteps of Bo Hart, Matt Duff, and Stubby Clapp).

Calero is the most expendable in my opinion. While his numbers last year were fantastic, he largely relied on one pitch--his devastating slider. His 91 mph fastball was OK, but if hitters were laying off that slide-piece (as Joe Morgan likes to call it) Calero wasn't able to rack 'em up at nearly the same rate. Boston particularly exploited this well, and as Calero becomes more exposed to the rest of the league, I imagine he'll see some of his success drop.

Haren is a big loss for several reaons. First, he provided a possible power arm in the rotation for 2005--and even if he wasn't good enough to crack it, he made the bullpen that much stronger. He has the competitive attitude and stuff to go with it. Moreover, if he panned out, he would be able to provide quality innings at a cheap price--something the Cards need to remain financially viable as a mid-market team. However, he's not a sure-thing. He consistently struggled to make it through the order of an opposing team the third time around, showing little consistency in getting out of the sixth inning. But he's still learning, and I'm guessing he puts up pretty good numbers for the A's this year.

Daric Barton is the reason the deal got done. He's a 19 year old slugger, apparently without a position. He posted an OBP of .455! in A ball this year, plate discipline that is almost unheard of at that level. He's listed as a catcher but will likely be moved around. You never know exactly how prospects will turn out, but Barton has a bright future ahead of him. My wild speculation, complete without firsthand knowledge of any sort says that Barton will be a huge success. All we can do now is wish him luck.

Does this make it a bad trade? I don't think so, as long as we know what we're getting. While Pujols and Rolen are locked up for awhile, the rest of the team is constructed in a 'win-now' mode. Edmonds and Walker aren't getting any younger and Reggie Sanders is about to receive his AARP membership card. It's only a matter of time before the arms of Izzy and Matty Mo fall off completely. While I think Haren could have been a big contributor this year, Mulder is more of a sure thing--and certainly has shown the ability to be the #1 pitcher the Cardinals have needed. He's more likely to put up that year than anyone else on the 'Birds roster.

This is a trade for the now. I give Walt credit for rolling the dice and giving it a shot.



Posted by David @ 9:17 PM 0 comments

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Capulets and Capitulation?

Ryan is right about Edgar. Great guy. Nice player. But he’s not Juliet—the type of girl you stand outside a window all night charming with sonnets while risking the wrath of your family. Edgar may have been looking for the Romeo treatment, but we can tip our hats to Walt Jocketty for instead imposing the, “Uh…you have a great personality,” approach instead. Edgar, we loved having you. It was a great run, chock full of sunny days and happy thoughts. We had our ups and downs, but in the end, your tastes were just a little bit too expensive for us, even with our Capital One No Hassle Deferred Payments. Enjoy the chowda. You can satisfy your toasted ravioli craving during interleague.

Meanwhile, members of the Cardinal media and the Nation itself seem ready to give up on the 2005 team—and certainly management. Bryan Burwell, preaching patience a week ago has ended his quest for that virtue, instead visiting the same apothecary as his colleague, Jeff Gordon. Internet boards are a-twitter with frustration over the inaction of the team.
What, Einar Diaz isn’t the marquee pickup you were hoping for?

Our economics classes remind us that for those who care about how they spend their money (or the money of the rich men who own their favorite baseball team), marginal value is an important concept. Edgar Renteria’s 2004 season, as Ryan notes, was a little above average—and you shouldn’t pay WAY above average money for average performance, no matter what nickname the manager gives out or what ‘clutch’ reputation is acquired. At least not if you have any aspirations of winning on any sort of budget. (New York fans, ask your mid-western brethren what this is.)

Now, if you’re one who was hoping for lots of early action from the team out of the Cardinals’ offseason, you should probably take your Prozac right now. (Some should take valium.) Renteria is gone. Matheny is gone. Woody is gone. Where’s that ace everyone is clamoring for? Randy is headed for the big lights. Hudson is headed for the boringly successful Bravos.

A snap-judgment might tell you that the only franchise having a worse offseason is the Washington Nationals, who might be on the move yet again.

Of course, Cardinal fans might be forgetting that little National League Pennant now flying over 250 Stadium Plaza. How quickly we turn.

Everyone seems ready to scrap the method that made us the toast of the NL last year. That nasty World Series showing seems to have clouded the collective judgment of "Baseball’s Best Fans" ™.

While the P-D and others clamor for the Renteria money to be spent on an ‘ace’, I wonder who that might be. Who wants Matt Clement for $11M/year? Really, do we need to see that nasty facial hair every 5 days—and even root for it? We’re not trying to scare the kids here. Is he better than what we have? Maybe. Is he $5M better than what we have? I don’t think so. (Update: Clement signed for about $8M/year, better than I would have thought. Still too pricey for the ‘birds, but it wouldn’t have been a horrible option.)

How about an Eric Milton, for $8-10M? Well, reports are that he throws hard (94mph), but so does Esteban Yan. (Sidebar: I was at Yan’s first game as a Cardinal. I believe the first official ball he threw hit the batter. A foretaste of what was coming…Also, has anyone ever seen a baseball player sweat more profusely than Stevie Yan?) Milton is also left-handed. But so is Donovan Osborne.

I guess it all goes back to the mantra of “you can’t win the World Series without a shuttemdown pitcher.” That's completely wrong. You can't win a World Series if the other team scores more runs than you in every game that you play.

Besides, it’s not like there exists some magical ‘Ace Pitcher Tree’ in the middle of the jungle where some daring GM can pluck them off at his leisure.

So what’s a Cards fan to do? First, breathing is good. Second, we should re-visit that patience thing. Obviously the market this winter is proving to be much hotter than anyone anticipated. For goodness sakes, Jeff Suppan is looking like a steal at $4M.

To be sure, Walt Jocketty has his work cut out for him. As he’s making out his Christmas list, we’re hoping that Santa brings him a capable 2b and SS combo, some more depth (or quality) for the rotation, and someone other than Jo Mabruchi to man the outfield on days when Larry/Reggie/Jimmy are feeling the pain.

Cards fans better leave out some nice cookies and milk to humor the jolly fat man. They should note that while the offseason has been slow thus far, that glass is probably half-full, rather than half-empty.

Posted by David @ 11:08 AM 1 comments

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

End of an ERa

Unless these guys know something we don’t, Edgar Renteria has defected to the Red Sox. The Crimson Hose outbid us by $2 million a year ($10x4 vs. our $8x4) and apparently threw in an option for good measure. No word yet as to whether the option is player, team, or mutual.

I’m sad to see him go. Whether you view him as a linchpin, a parasite, or something inbetween, Renteria was a fixture during the Cards’ recent five-year stretch of success. Sure, he showed up a year before the 2000 renaissance – after we nabbed him from the Marlins for Armando Almanza, Braden Looper, and Pablo Ozuna – but he has since anchored a constantly-changing yet usually productive infield. Over the years, he’s thrown to Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Tino Martinez, and Albert Pujols, and split DP combo duties with Joe McEwing, Placido Polanco, Fernando Vina, Bo Hart, Tony Womack, and Hector Luna.

[Scrolls Trivia Note: With his departure, the only two remaining Birdnals from the 2000 team are Jim Edmonds and Matt Morris – and no, I’m not counting Rick Ankiel.]

He gave us a fair share of memories too. My personal favorite was his three-run jack off the Cubs’ Antonio Alfonseca to complete a six-run ninth-inning comeback win in 2002. (I had the good fortune of witnessing that one in person, as I got into most 2002 games by virtue of a part-time gig hawking P-D subscriptions at Busch.)

Performance-wise, Renteria was all over the place. His first three years with the Cardinals were, on the whole, putrid: .275/.334/.400 (1999), .278/.346/.423 (2000), .260/.314/.371 (2001); he did swipe 37 bags in 1999 but only managed 38 in the next two years combined. Of course, Ed-gah then posts OPSs of .803 and .874 in 2002 and 2003, thieving a tidy 56 bases to boot. A guy who two years earlier had just wrapped up a .685 OPS campaign was now getting mentioned in the same breath as Jeter and Nomar.

Then 2004 happened. .287/.327/.401. Second-lowest OBP of his career, second-lowest SLG of his tenure in the Lou. Thrown out stealing (11) almost as many times as he got away with it (17). During the summer, when the Cardinals won something like 58 of 60, Renteria was hot too, putting up an OPS of .840 in June and .852 in July. Then again, he bookended the summer with a .569 OPS May and a .561 September. According the Hardball Times, Edgar was worth 17 Win Shares – somewhere between Khalil Greene and the Floridian Alex Gonzalez, and closer to the latter.

So MLB GMs had to pick their fluke – 2003 or 2004? Theo Epstein guessed the latter. And my completely unscientific prediction is that he wrapped up the surest bet on this off-season’s shortstop market to produce at an above-average level, offensively and defensively, for the next two to three years. Given the switch to the AL and Fenway, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up a string of 2002-like seasons.

That said, I’m glad the Cards didn’t match the offer. You get different answers to the “Is Renteria worth $40 million over his age 30-33 seasons?” question depending on your payroll. In our case, we can’t afford to shell out eight-digit paychecks for merely above-average players, particularly when we already have three Cards (Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds) making similar money for the next two seasons. Benefiting from revenue streams of what have to be historic proportions, the Sox can make a larger offer with less relative risk. And just like that, the Edgar Renteria era comes to a close.

One thing that makes our newfound shortstop vacancy so interesting is that, with the exception of the Tripp Cromer Experience in 1995, the Cardinals tend to man the position with the same guy for extended periods of time. Before Edgar it was Royce Clayton, then Ozzie, then Garry Templeton, each for at least five seasons apiece. I wonder if this little mini-tradition will continue – and with who?

Posted by Ryan @ 3:26 PM 3 comments

Monday, December 13, 2004

Asleep at the Wheel

The results on the Rule 5 draft are in, and the Cardinals have effectively made their first trade of the off-season, swapping lefty K-artist Tyler Johnson to the Oakland A's for a cool $50,000. The Cards then declined to select any player.

How bad does this suck? Let me count the ways...

Losing Johnson

I'm sure I know less than the Redbird brass, but I can't come up with any explanation (based on logic, anyway) for exposing Johnson. 2004 was his worst season by far, and that was a 56.1 inning stint in which he whiffed 77. Sure, he posted a 4.79 ERA (admittedly bad), a 1.51 WHIP (see ERA), and 37 walks, but he's historically been better than that, and while his career walk rate is high (4.3/9 IP), his K rate is higher (10.37). I'm not saying the guy is destined for stardom, but when I get my own baseball franchise, I swear I'll have more patience for 23-year-old lefty power arms with solid if unspectacular track records.

It's not as if it would have been difficult to protect Johnson. We could've put him on the 40-man roster instead of Mike Mahoney - a destitute man's Cody McKay - and left Mahoney exposed in AAA with zero chance of losing him. So there's no 'didn't have the roster space' argument to be made.

The only thing I can come up with is that our scouts, for whatever reason, might view Johnson as a health risk. To my knowledge, he has no major injury history. And maybe it's just paranoia, but the fact that the team that selected Johnson was the Oakland A's leads me to believe the guy is probably OK.

EDIT: Apparently, I've missed the most obvious rationale for leaving Johnson unprotected - plenty of people believe he won't play well enough to merit a spot on the A's 25-man roster, forcing Oakland to offer him back. Fair point, but two quick responses:

1) He's got a helluva lot better chance of sticking than Mike Mahoney.
2) Johnson doesn't have to pull a Johan Santana (the best recent player to pass through the Rule 5) to stick around, he only has to be good enough to be the last guy out of the bullpen. As noted by All-Baseball's Wait 'Til Next Year, this means - under Oakland's current bullpen - he only has to be better than Tim Harikkala (4.74 ERA, 4.31 K/9 IP) or Justin Lehr (5.53 ERA, 4.41 K/9 IP). I know that's not a given for a guy who's never been higher than AA before, but as the second lefty out of the pen - Ricardo Rincon is Oakland's only other bullpen southpaw - it's not like he'll have to clean the Augean stables to earn his keep.

For what it's worth, Rotoworld called Johnson the most likely to stick out of any draftees. Technially, I disagree - the Royals will hang onto Andy Sisco no matter how badly he tanks - but I'm not the only one who thinks the Cards may have guessed wrong here.

The A's pick up a low-cost bullpen arm.

If there are two GMs that can make anything happen, it's probably the combination of Billy Beane and Walt Jocketty. But it seems to me that Oakland's acquisition of Johnson makes it that much more difficult for the Cardinals to have any shot at Hudson now, or at least one where the Cards don't get fleeced. Since we can't offer the A's anything in the way of a second baseman, the only major-league ready chips we have to offer are pitchers. With Johnson in the fold, it seems less likely (if there was ever a chance in hell at all) that Beane would take a shine to someone like Calero, Cali, or some other bullpen arm.

The Cardinals stand pat.

I don't get it - the Cards pick up $50,000 for the loss of Johnson, why not turn around and use that cash to pick up another player? They could've grabbed Blake McGinley from the Mets - a lefty reliever with a nearly identical career K rate (10.30) and a much better walk rate (2.24). No dice. Marshall McDougall (IF - OPS of .857 in AAA last year and .899 in winter ball), Mark Kiger (2B/SS, career OBP .366), and Jake Gautreau (2B/3B, like Kiger with worse OBP but more pop) all lingered on the shelves as well.

I know any Rule 5 draftees have to stay on the major league roster for the full year. But I fail to see the harm in drafting one of these guys, giving him a good look in Spring Training, and if he tanks, offering him back to the original team for $25K. In the end, the worst-case scenario is that the Cards pay 25K to audition a reasonably-talented minor-leaguer whose old team might take him back if he doesn't work out in the bigs. Given that we're currently shopping half our bullpen and we don't have a starting middle infield - let alone reserves - I can't understand how why guys like those listed above and here weren't given a look.

I'm probably just excessively cranky due to inaction by the front office. And for the most part - refusing (thus far) to overspend on Renteria or mediocre pitching - the stance seems like a smart one. But when low-risk opportunities for improvement appear to slip by unnoticed as well, I wonder what they're waiting for.

Posted by Ryan @ 1:00 PM 3 comments

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ratcheting Up the Spending

According to people who analyze ballpark menus months in advance, the current Busch stadium will offer “organic hot dogs” next season. Concessionaires are reportedly still undecided as to the presentation/appearance of the new dogs, with the key decision-makers torn between two options: ketchup, mustard, and relish on freshly-baked buns, or unprocessed horse hooves. Either way, the organo-dogs will retail for 12.99 each, or 14.99 with a souvenir backup catcher. As a promotional effort, a trimmer, more health-conscious organo-dog mascot has entered the Brewers’ mid-game luncheon meat runs and has promised to kick the shit out of both Vienna Sausage and the decidedly non-organic Randall Simon.

Scrolls’ Editorial Note: Unless this means Barry Zito is coming to town, this represents the darkest day for Cardinals’ concessions since…well…ever.

Posted by Ryan @ 11:26 PM 1 comments

Hudson Hawk

The Cards are rumored to be banging down Oakland’s door in hopes of landing Tim Hudson to become Team Ace.

Is this a good idea? I mean, sure, Tim Hudson pitching for the Cardinals is a great idea, but it comes with costs. Everything into account, should we pursue it?

What we’d be getting:

Hudson has been a member of the “Holy Trinity” for the past three years. Let’s steal ESPN’s scouting report for a moment:

Hudson's focus on the mound is nearing legendary, as he brings his grit, along with a fastball that hits 92 MPH, and a great splitter. He basically has his way with hitters. Hudson also works a change and slider into the mix, but it is that splitter that makes the other pitches work so well, along with a consistent delivery that does not allow hitters to gauge a pitch upon release. Even so, Hudson just will not give in.

ESPN likes him. According to them, his ‘out’ pitch is his splitter, and he compliments it with a good fastball, change, and slider. Note that there is quite a bit of attention paid to his presence. He’s tough. He’s focused. He’s gritty. He doesn’t give in. What does that make you think? I mean, besides the fact that Tony LaRussa (or any of us) loves those types of guys.

How about, “Does his attitude have a huge affect on his pitching ability?” I’m not saying it doesn’t, but we don’t want to get into a habit of making that the centerpiece of our reason for acquiring a player. I mean, Cal Eldred is gritty. Tino Martinez had presence. Attitude may affect a player’s performance, but so too, does talent.

So, let’s take a look at his performance here.

The first glance is awfully nice, isn’t it? Hudson pitches deep into games, averaging nearly 7 innings per start. He strikes out a decent amount of guys (until this year) although won’t be confused with Randall Johnson. He typically gives up fewer hits than innings pitched and maintains a low ERA. Oh yeah, and he wins a lot. Much is made of his 92-39 career record (and his .709 winning percentage). (Please, no arguments at this point on whether he is the cause or the benefactor of these wins.)

Ok, so let's dig a little deeper. Look at the rate stats. What do these tell us? Well, while Hudson pitches deep into games, he does so efficiently. He averages around 100 pitches per start. He has kept a pretty consistent strikeout to walk ratio, striking out more than two for every one he walks. Also, look at the last column. He’s a heavy groundball pitcher, even more than our own one pitch wonder, Jason Marquis. That obviously plays well into our strong infield defense (unless the keystone is replaced with someone horrid).

But there are some alarming trends. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings has fallen steadily and dramatically so last year. His K/9 from 1999 to 2004 fell from 8.71 (strikeout pitcher) to 4.91 (Jeff Suppan territory). It is not to say he’s ineffective. But his effectiveness isn’t coming from heaving it past hitters.

Hitters hit .267 off of him last year. That’s a big change from his dominating 2003, where they hit .223. Note the OBP and SLG against increases, too--another disturbing trend. However, his OPS against is fairly consistent, hovering in the .650-.700 range. (Hitters who hit in that range include Endy Chavez and Hector Luna.) That puts him in the top 15 of MLB pitchers of 2004. If you look at 2003 Tim Hudson, you get a devastating .585 OPS against, which is Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, Jason Schmidt country.

But in case you wonder where he’d fit in the Cardinals rotation if he pitched for us in 2003—that’d be in the number two slot, right behind Chris Carpenter.

Look at Carpenter's 2004 numbers.

Hudson and Carpenter both missed time with injuries. Carpenter sat out at the end of the season due to a pinched nerve in his biceps. Hudson missed the entire month of July with a Woodyesque oblique muscle strain. Tim pitched well in his August comeback but bombed in September, posting an ERA over 6.

First, this shouldn’t make us down on Tim Hudson. It should make us better appreciate Chris Carpenter, who was also in the top 15 of all pitchers in 2004. Not only was he the Cardinals ace, he allowed few base runners and struck out guys at a very good rate (21st amongst all major league starters). So while we search for the ace who could have taken down the Red Sox, we shouldn't forget the one that was sitting on our bench.

What these declining numbers should do is make us feel a little cautious about Tim Hudson. And that brings us to the questions we should ask before acquiring him:

Is he healthy enough to pitch like an ace (2003) again?

Is the oblique issue the reason for his down performance? I don’t know. But for whatever reason, he is gradually striking out fewer batters each year. We don’t want to buy damaged goods here.

Does he fit the bill of what we need?

That depends on what we say the need is. If it’s a top tier pitcher who has the ability to keep the opponent off of the bases and increase his own team's chances in the win column, then absolutely. Especially if we get the 2003 vintage.

However, he’s not the strikeout ‘power’ pitcher that Tony and Dunc have been asking for in the papers. He gets outs, but if you look at his stats, it’s not because he’s causing a lot of whiffs—it’s because when they do hit the ball, it’s either not very hard (check that low slugging percentage) or it’s right at someone.

I’m not quite sure you can put him in the dominating category of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Jason Schmidt, but you can pitch him in a big time game and expect he gives you every opportunity to win. I'd put him a half a step below them.

“Would we have beaten the Red Sox with him?” you say. Obviously, we don’t know. If you’re in the camp that says we needed a strikeout pitcher to beat those Sox (I’m not), then no, Tim Hudson wouldn’t have helped us beat them, because he's clearly not a strikeout pitcher. But I don’t believe that was our biggest problem. But that’s a topic for another day.

But he is a starter who has a history of pitching very very well, and dominating in the sense that he allows few runs or extra base hits. While he won't make the radar gun explode, he will get you outs--and lots of them--without giving up runs. Any team can use a guy like that.

What do we give up to get him?

No one knows, exactly, but rumors have named Haren and Marquis in one trade. I’m not sure that will be enough. Oakland is looking for a starter, a reliever, and a second basemen. (Hmm. We’re looking for some of those too…) We definitely can’t fill the second base need for them, so it might take a third team.

Regardless, any trade for Hudson is going to cost the Cardinals an Ankiel or a Haren and/or a Marquis. Those guys all make close to minimum wage, and are further from free agency than Hudson. One would think that a mid-market team like the Cardinals needs to utilize the services of young talent in order to balance the payroll—especially considering our long term commitments to Rolen and Pujols.

What does he cost?

Well, his contract for this year calls for $6.5M. This is cheap for the numbers he has been putting up—especially in this free agent market. But he is granted free agency at the end of the ‘05 year, so if we’re trading for him, we should probably sign him to an extension as a part of that trade happening. What would that cost? Well, if we’re using the market now, probably 3-4 years at $10-14M/year.

I’m not sure the Cardinals can be in the business of acquiring another big money, long-term contract like that. In 2006, Rolen-Pujols-Edmonds will be making $36M between the three of them. Throw in $12M for Hudson and it gets a little scary. Nearly $50M of the payroll would be bottled up in four players. If we’re to continue to field a playoff team in 2006 and beyond, the shiny new Bush III better be generating a heckuva revenue stream.

Dealing with Billy Beane

Billy Beane is one of the best general managers in baseball today. In Moneyball, (the book he wrote about himself to demonize and slander baseball scouts while glorifying geeks with laptops and fat men who couldn’t talk good but could hit the snot out of the ball), Billy mentions that he doesn’t necessarily subscribe to a zero-sum game. That is, he doesn’t believe all trades have to be rip-offs—both teams can benefit. (In fact, if you’re going to build long-term relationships with people in a confined market, like, say, major league baseball, a reputation of taking but never giving won’t help you make a lot of friends.) While I’d be wary of trading with Beane, I wouldn’t close my eyes and walk away. He has goods that we desire. We get the opportunity to negotiate an exchange. No one is forcing us to give up the farm (and the farmhouse) for Mr. Hudson.

But trading with Billy Beane also means he’s probably not going to take Jeff Suppan off of our hands, as much as we try. Or succumb to Bo Hart Fever. Or recognize that maybe Reggie Sanders could provide veteran leadership for the Athletics. You gotta give something to get it.

Why I’d really be concerned is that Beane seems to have a knack for knowing when to hold onto his players and when to let them go. He sees the same thing we’re looking at here. Is Hudson on the decline? Or is it just that he’s more expendable because the A’s have a factory of power arms waiting to take his slot (and he won't be able to afford the extension)?

The market for Hudson makes me more nervous. There were tons of reports out yesterday that the Cardinals wanted to make a deal with the A’s for Beane, and were in fact close to doing so. This isn’t Walt Jocketty’s M.O. He likes to make his deals on the sly (remember the Edmonds or J.D. Drew trades). These reports, along with the interest from other teams (Atlanta, Philly, LA, whoever) do nothing but drive up Hudson’s price. (Jocketty was quoted as being ticked off yesterday when informed of the explosion of the rumors. I’d speculate that part of his anger isn’t that stuff is flying all over the place, but because that it all reduces the Cards’ chances of landing Hudson.)

The Cardinals aren’t in a position where they can or should be out-bidding these teams. They have to be creative in their acquisitions, be it by finding undervalued players or getting superstars that are willing to forgo the top dollar to play in a place that not only gives them a chance to win but showers them with unconditional love on a daily basis. If it comes down to which team can offer more for Hudson straight up, we better hope that we’re not that team.

Where does that leave us?

If I’m Walt Jocketty, I continue to talk deal, but also continue to make plans in other areas. Hudson at any cost is too pricey of one. And if management's theory is correct--that we need an ace to win in October--we still have until July or August to make that decision.

Besides, Jocketty doesn't have the pleasure of working in a vaccuum. A decision needs to be made on Renteria. A second basemen needs to be found. And I believe a very solid outfielder, capable of stepping in and starting in the event of an injury, needs to be procured.

In other words, don’t call that press conference quite yet.

Posted by David @ 4:29 PM 2 comments

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Grading the Scrolls

Arbitration offers went down on Tuesday. Let’s see if the Cardinals took any of our advice:

The Auf Wiedersehens

Tony Womack

Tony Womack is a Yankee. Raise your hands if you saw that one coming. I’m not sad to see him go, because I doubt his ability to re-peat his last season at the age of 36 and with no prior history of performing like that. We should be thankful for his efforts and performance last year, but let’s not blow it out of proportion. He managed a career high OBP of .349 and rarely saw a walk. Cards fans no doubt will bemoan the loss of his legs in our never-ending quest to squeeze one more drop out of the 80’s glory, but he’s replaceable. I would not be comfortable with the Cards paying him $2M/year for 2 years.

Woody Williams

Woody Williams was not offered arbitration and subsequently signed with the Padres. I wish Gregory the best, and he should perform well in that Petco Pitcher’s Paradise ™. In the eerie department, the famed 2001 trade has now been completely reversed, with Woody returning to the friar’s haunt. (Sweet Ray Lankford returned home last year.) You can’t help wonder though if Kevin Towers, Padres GM, is trying to get back some of what he lost in hopes of balancing out what turned to be a ridiculously one-sided trade. Or he’s like the kid who gives away his Hypercolor shirt before it becomes popular, only to buy it back from his friend as the fad has come to an end. Hopefully for the Woodman he’s got a little pink to blue left in him.

Steve Kline

Steve Kline was not offered arbitration. He’s a little hurt by not getting a chance to come back, but the sure-to-come multi-year contract ought to cheer him up shortly. I wish they would have offered him arbitration—even if he didn’t sign elsewhere and you’re stuck with him, you’ve got a lights-out reliever. And Tony likes his relievers. But obviously, cost was prohibitive.

Ray Lankford

Lankford was not offered arbitration. He’ll probably retire a Cardinal, and that’s a good thing. Get Up Baby laments the exit of Lankford, however, I’m not as passionate about the whole thing. While I’m a big Ray fan, he doesn’t really have a place on the 2005 team. He is 37, struggled to stay healthy in 2004, and would be asked to back up our other aging outfielders with injury histories. The Cards need a legitimate fourth outfielder that can play almost everyday in the event that Larry is out for awhile, Jimmy gets the ouchies, or Reggie plays like he did in 2004 again. Ray isn’t that guy.

Thank You, I’ll Have Another

Cal Eldred

Cal re-signed for a reported $600K. I’m not crazy about having Eldred around for another season, but you can’t really argue with the numbers he put up last year. If that’s your worst guy out of the pen, you can’t complain too much. Sure, it’d be nice to start breaking in some of our young pitching talent into the bullpen, but Eldred is a known quantity, can still get outs, and can pitch several innings if need be. And don’t forget, he “has guts”.

John Mabry

John Mabry, Moneyball hero, re-upped with the organization that reared him for $750K. Obviously Walter was listening to us. Mabes can play (in the Tony LaRussa sense) 1B, 3B, LF and RF. And yes, he took a few throws as an emergency catcher last year. He’s versatile, which Tony likes, and he can hit with a little pop from the left side. As long as he’s not the backup plan if Matheny leaves, it’ll be good to have Mabry back.

Matt Morris

Matt signed a one-year deal with hopes to re-establish his value and play it into a big contract in ’06. He’s making more in a base than I had suggested, but it’s not a terrible deal—and it’s not like the free agent market is tame thus far. He will be taking down $2.5M in base salary with incentives that can increase the contract value to $7M. It appears the incentives are based on number of starts. I’d prefer they’d have been tied to innings pitched, but if Morris rebounds nicely, we should see a good return on our investment. If he doesn’t pitch at all, that $2.5 mil is pricey. If he pitches like he did last year (quantity but not quality) we’re on the hook for $7M. That's not as nice, and not the steal that it might seem. The best thing you can say for that is, “at least it’s not $12M”. However, I’m going to go with my gut and say Morris is better than last year. Fortunately, since it's not my money, I can afford to do that.

In Limbo

Mike Matheny

Our trusty backstop gets a little time to procrastinate to see if anyone wants to pay more than the Cards are offering (2 year deal) and give up a first round draft pick.

My guess is he stays and continues the role of Yaddy’s Daddy. Hopefully Tony will use them in a 50-50 sort of pattern to enable the kid to gain more experience while keeping Matheny fresh.

Edgar Renteria

Bernie Mikalsz on his internet board reports that Jocketty and Renteria are close on reaching a deal, though the Detroit Tigers are in on the bidding now. I don’t worry about Renteria jumping for the cash in Detroit unless it’s ridiculously more than the Card’s offer. It has been reported several times that Edgar likes being in Saint Louis and playing for this team. Remember his terrible 2001 campaign? Tony repeatedly had to reassure Renteria that the team wasn’t going to trade him. After the trade deadline and he knew he was staying put, he hit .323 in August and .303 in September, despite finishing the year at .260.

It looks like he’ll be back, and unless the Cards can either find a second baseman who can lead off or trade Reggie Sanders and acquire a left-fielder who can lead off, Edgar should be pushed into that role. Maybe it’s my memories of his .396 OBP of 2003 or his .333/412/533 line as a leadoff hitter in the World Series. But think about this lineup:

Renteria
Walker
Pujols
Rolen
Edmonds
Reggie
2Bman
Matheny/Molina
Pitcher

If the team can’t find a legit leadoff hitter for 2b or LF, they ought to convince Edgar the role should be his.

In other news, the Cards are after Tim Hudson. More on that later.

Posted by David @ 6:45 PM 1 comments

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Arbitration Situation

"Be just and if you can't be just, be arbitrary." – William S Burroughs

On Tuesday, December 7, the Cardinals have to decide if they will be offering arbitration to their nine free agents. I have a feeling we should be arbitrary in several of these cases, rather than just. (Especially if ‘just’ means four years and $40M for Edgar.) Arbitration is one of those tricky baseball off-season events that has many different rules and procedures. I don’t have the qualifications to truly interpret all of the intricacies, but that’s never stopped me before from pretending that I know what I’m talking about. I’ve borrowed most of this information from other sites, mainly Cardinals mega-board Birds on the Bat as well as Baseball Primer.

Here goes nothing:

There are two types of arbitration in baseball. One involves a grievance being filed by a player when they feel that the Collective Bargaining Agreement has been violated. This isn’t as common and we’re not going to talk about it here.

The other type of arbitration is the kind we’re concerned with, and it comes in two forms. The first is used to insure that young players not having qualified for free agency and thus still controlled by the franchise are able to receive increased compensation based upon their performance. Jason Marquis will be eligible for this type of arbitration this year. This is the type of arbitration that the Cardinals opted out of last year with Albert Pujols, instead choosing to sign him to a long-term contract before they were required to do so.

The other form is that which is offered to the players that are eligible for free agency. The Cardinals have nine such players in 2004.

The club must offer its free agents arbitration on or before December 7, and players must decide if they are going to accept it by December 19. If the player declines the offer to go to arbitration, the team cannot negotiate with the player from January 8 to May 1.

If a free agent is not offered arbitration by his team, the team does not receive any compensation in the event some other team signs him. If the free agent is offered arbitration and is signed by another team, the team losing the free agent is eligible to receive compensation from the signing team by way of draft picks.

If the player is offered arbitration and he accepts it, the case goes before a panel of arbiters.

That panel is then presented two compensation figures, one from each the player and team. The arbiters then hear arguments from both sides on which figure is the most appropriate for the next season. The number ultimately agreed upon is considered compensation for a one-year contract.

Still with me?

The panel is supposed to consider variables such as the player’s contributions to the team in the previous season (which can range from ‘leadership’ to actual performance), career performance, past contracts, contracts of comparable players, mental stability, physical health, and stance on drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

After the arguments are made, the panel must choose either the team or the player figure. They are not permitted to come up with their own number that balances out the two submitted amounts. The idea is to encourage the two parties to come up with reasonable (cough, gag) figures. If the team significantly low-balls the player, they run the risk of paying the player’s asking price--and vice versa.

This 50-50 risk that faces players and management alike typically drives them to make a deal.

One more thought. The Elias Sports Bureau releases rankings of all baseball players at the end of every season and these rankings are used to determine compensation for the teams that ‘lose’ their free agents. Players fall into four classes within their position; A, B, C, and ‘not worth the clothes he’s wearing’. Which class they fall into determines the potential draft pick compensation that ‘losing’ teams will receive in the event of the free agent’s departure.

Class A free agents are good for the first round pick of the signing team and a supplemental pick, which occurs between the first and second rounds. (So, if, say, Steve Kline goes to a team like, say, the Yankees, the Cards get the Yanks’ first round pick in addition to their own. And they also get a bonus pick in-between rounds one and two.) Class B free agents don’t land the supplemental pick. Class C players only land a supplemental pick between Rounds 2 and 3. The last group of guys in the Fourth Estate is relegated to mopping floors and fetching Budweiser for the upper crusts.

It gets plenty more complicated, (say if a team goes Free-Agent-Wild and signs several hired guns, they don’t have multiple first rounders to give up…) but we’ll boil it down to something simple: Losing a free agent that has been offered arbitration means more draft picks, no matter how you slice it. It can be a good tool to help re-stock the farm system quickly.

Below I’ve compiled a list of the Cardinals’ 9 Free Agents and included information about what type of free agent they are, how much money they made the previous year (rules of arbitration dictate that players can only be forced to take a slight pay cut) and a little commentary. Information came from Dugout Dollars and Mlb.com.

Cal Eldred – Type A, 37th ranked reliever
1 year, $900K


I’m still trying to figure out how Big Cal is considered Grade A Angus. Tony likes Cal as a person and as a competitor (but evidently not as a trusted reliever, noting 2004 postseason usage). They should offer him arbitration under one condition—he agrees to never accept it. We don’t need to spend $1M on a long reliever who isn’t getting any better. Would he do this for us? Chuck Finley did after the 2002 season. But as mothers everywhere would ask, if Chuck Finley would jump off of the Eads Bridge would you?

Kliner – Type A, 26th ranked reliever
1 year, $1.7M

Kline certainly earned his ranking in the top reliever tier. He’s insane. He’s overweight. He has finger problems. (Not that finger.) Oh yeah, and lefties can’t hit a lick off of him. (143/263/190--Wow.) It has been rumored that George Steinbrenner wants to add him to his Zoo in the Bronx. While I’d hate to see Kline go, we ought to take advantage of getting a few draft picks for him. Sidebar: Steve Kline was once the elected players union rep for the club. Does anyone else find this farcical?

Ray-Ray – No compensation
1 year, $650K

Ray Lankford made a strong case for being Mr. Cardinal of the 1990’s. People often forget his good years with the team, beginning as an athletic, speedy centerfielder with some pop, and then his transition to perhaps their best overall player on the team for most of the decade. (He was there all 10 years.) He will go down as the all-time HR leader at Busch Stadium. Thanks for the memories, Ray. I can’t say ‘arbitration’ but I can say ‘personal services contract’.

Mabry – Type C
1 year, $600K

Offering Mabry arbitration would be foolish. Signing him to another one-year deal for the bench is another story. That can be figured out later. Don’t call us, John. We’ll call you.

Matheny – Type A, 7th ranked catcher
3 year, $8.75M (2.5, 3.5, 2.75)

Tough call. I’d offer it, with the hopes he either signs the one-year deal we’ve been offering him or goes elsewhere. But if he doesn’t do either of these things, he’ll have to accept the arbitration. He’ll likely request $5M in those hearings (gold glove, gold heart, golden leader) and the team will counter with $2Mish (no bat…uhhh…too nice?). Risky, but roll the dice and hope you can make a deal for some Yaddy-tutoring.

Edgar – Type A, 1st ranked shortstop
4 years, $20M; (7.5 in 2004)

It’s a risk, because if it goes to arbitration, he stands a chance of winning a $10-12M judgment. But it’s a calculated risk, and the team needs the time it’ll buy them to continue to negotiate. What happens if he can’t find a deal to his liking, with the Cards or someone else? Walt Jocketty will have to employ the “Edgar Renteria, besides being mentally unsound and of foul odor, curses at nuns and kicks little puppies” defense, in hopes to convince arbiters that he isn’t worth what his agent is asking.

Woody – Type A, 16th ranked starting pitcher
$6M in 2003; $8M in 2004

Gregory, you’re a nice guy. Enjoy the winter with your family. If you’ve got the itch come springtime, give us a call in February and we’ll see if a ‘veteran leader’ contract is available. (This would most likely happen if the spring reports we hear are ‘Carpenter Still Unsure of Injury’, ‘Haren May Not Be Ready’, and ‘Ankiel Hits Mascot With Errant Fastball’)

Tony Womack – Type C
1 year, $500K

Whether or not Tony Womack should be on the roster in 2005 is a story for another day. All we need to know for December 7 is that he shouldn’t get there by arbitration. I say that because I’m afraid it means the team will end up retaining his services—and I don’t think T-Dub can hit those same numbers again next year. According to Joe Strauss, the team is leaning towards a Womackian Encore.

Morris – Type A, 18th ranked starting pitcher
3 years, $27M (4-10.5-12.5)


Morris has an agent now. If the Cards are foolish enough to offer him a chance at a one-year deal worth $10M guaranteed, they deserve to pay it. But they’re not that foolish, and every indication is that they’re not even considering the arbitration route.

If the front office follows the above plan, they could land up to 8 draft picks towards the top of the 2005 draft. Some teams are moving towards a strategy of giving up their top round draft positions (ahem, SF), citing exorbitant sums going to players that often don’t make it to the Bigs. The Cardinals shouldn’t choose this model. It’s lazy management, essentially saying: “We aren’t smart enough to make good decisions, so we’ll just avoid having to make them at all.”

Instead they should look into using those draft picks in a more efficient manner. (Jeff Luhnow, are you there?) After all, no one put a gun to our heads to choose the Shawn Boyds, Cal Hayes, and Justin Popes of the baseball world. And if the Cards are going to have reasons to celebrate in their new shiny yard, they’ll need a little help from the low-cost kids. They probably won’t get all of those draft picks, but something is better than nothing.

Posted by David @ 3:57 PM 1 comments

Thursday, December 02, 2004

I'd Like to Solve the Puzzle

"With discomfort in his arm and uncertainty in his head..."

Quick, name what that statement describes. A warrior, in the heat of battle? A college student, playing a game of 'trading punches' with his buddies after having a couple of drinks? A husband, after saying the wrong thing to his wife?

Wrong. What you meant to say was, "Matt Morris on the mound".

That's how the P-D is describing Matty Mo and his current situation. They are reporting that he will be having a little 'clean-up' done on his right shoulder in the coming weeks. By 'clean-up' they mean to use sharp objects, not loofahs and Old Spice Body Wash.

Apparently, Ace Morris was pitching hurt all season. That sound you hear is the dropping jaws of shocked citizens of Cardinal Nation everywhere.

For most of 2004, nobody knew what to make of our longest tenured Cardinal. He would pitch well, then poorly. Then worse. Whispers began about his health. P-D scribes were running out of words used to describe the condition of his arm. 'Cranky'. 'Tight'. 'Mechanical'. 'Dead-Arm'. 'Not loose'. 'Not fluid'. 'Bad mechanics.' (Not to mention, 'whiplash', considering the 35 dingers he gave up.)

His velocity was down, evidenced by the manager's request that the home team not show the radar gun readings on Matty's heater. Not that it mattered. It seems his Laclede Natural Gas had been replaced by one of those unreliable 'lectric heat pumps that Ernest told us so much about. Morris was serving up grapefruits.

Perhaps it was just a pitcher getting older? After all, not everyone is Roger Clemens. Much was made about Morris' evolution into a control-type pitcher. Dave Duncan, obviously receiving some sort of per-use royalty for patenting the cutter taught Morris (in addition to seemingly every other pitcher on the staff) how to throw the infamous pitch.

Anyone watching the games this year saw it didn't really work. Morris never looked comfortable. His stats for the year were not terrible, but certainly not great, especially for someone who just a couple years ago was considered one of the league's best.

No matter, he is now seeking the knife in order to fix the problem at its root. It is described as a minor procedure, but you tell me how minor it is when the man in the white coat takes a knife to your shoulder. Guys seem to come back from elbow problems with regularity these days but shoulder ailments prove to be more troublesome. We can only hope that Matt's comeback follows the path of Chris Carpenter and not Alan Benes.

And if he is successful with this procedure, what should the Cards do? Morris is a free agent and stands no chance in getting the big money that he was seeking to tack onto his last contract. However, the Cards could make a low cost/low risk gamble on Morris and give him a heavily incentive laden contract, with a small base pay. If he's good to go on opening day, your rotation (as of today) would be Carpenter-Marquis-Suppan-Morris-Harnkiel. Of course, that rotation has more question marks than exclamation points.

If the surgery is successful, Morris might be a good risk at a sub $1M base salary with plenty of incentives to increase the value if his performance correlates. Would that be enough to get a deal done? Hard to say. There has been no chatter on Morris in the free agent market thus far, and the recent news of his impending hospital visit doesn't bode well for his value.

But it should pique the interest of the Birdinals. Jocketty has to examine those players who might be undervalued by the market. He did well in the Carpenter approach last year and will have to continue to pursue those sorts of deals in order for the Home Team to stay competitive. Mid-market franchises have to look for value wherever they can find it, and while it would be crass to celebrate Morris' injury, it does provide an opportunity for the Cards that would not have existed before. The injury decreases his market value and gives the Cards a chance to get him on the cheap. There is a growing trend to sign a pitcher when he is still hurt in the hopes of getting a discount on a rehabilitating player (Dempster, Burnett, Lieber, Carpenter), but I don't think it's yet at the point where Morris will get a $4-5M guaranteed contract from someone betting on a turnaround.

Of course, you usually get what you pay for. What if Morris is as bad as he was this year? Well, then he becomes the Cal Eldred of the team, working as a long reliever, eating up innings in blowouts, and serving as senior statesman of sorts.

Think about it. It could be worse. Matty Mo could have accepted our 2-year extension offer for $15M at the beginning of last season.

I'm quite sure if that was the case, I'd be advocating excommunication, not rehabilitation and reconciliation.

Posted by David @ 1:39 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Next Hector Luna?

I’m sure everyone enjoys their post-Thanksgiving, tryptophan-induced comas differently. If you’re like me – and who isn’t – you spent at least a little time wondering how the hell we’re going to get two starting pitchers, a second lefty for the pen, a middle infield, and a fourth outfielder while keeping the payroll around $87 million.

Enter the Rule 5 (or Rule V, if you’re feeling Roman) Draft, MLB’s attempt to prevent Lockean spoilage. To prevent the Yankees from fielding the Devil Rays as their AAA affiliate, players with a certain amount of service time – 4 years if signed at 18 or younger, 3 years if signed after 18 – must either be moved to the 40-man roster by late November or be exposed to the roving eyes of other teams. For $50,000, a franchise can pilfer any unprotected player.

Two things keep the Rule 5 from degenerating into a mad scramble for B-grade prospects. First, any team selecting a player through the Rule 5 must keep that player on the major-league roster for the full year. If the team wants to send their new prize to the minors, they must first offer the guy back to his old team for $25,000. (I think the demotion process also involves other teams, waivers, and the theory of relativity, but I’ll leave that for the front office to figure out.) So, unless you can find someone to contribute meaningfully in a reserve role, you burn a roster spot on a project that can’t contribute at a major league level and stunt his development to boot.

Secondly, while any player selected earns only the major league minimum for their year of pine-riding, they continue to receive the major league minimum even if they’re demoted to the minors for a year of seasoning. For example, even though Hector Luna will be spending 2005 (please God) in the minors, he still banks a tidy $300,000, meaning that in two years’ time, the Redbirds will have shelled out over half a million for a welcome-to-the-big-leagues homer and the rights to a possibly-decent middle-infielder in 2006.

Can the Cardinals gain from this year’s Rule 5? Possibly. According to MLB, they currently have only 32 players on their roster, and while some free agents will hopefully fill up these slots, it looks like the Cards have the roster flexibility to add someone if they want. On the flip side, the worst team picks first, and the team with the most regular-season wins – that would be us – picks last. Some teams don’t have any roster space, and others might opt to pick no one, but the cream of the crop will be gone by the time the Cards are up.

The Cardinals are in a win-now mode; at a minimum, they’re not in a position to waste a roster slot on a raw but overmatched 21-year-old who’s never seen anything more than high-A ball. However, a bullpen arm or a reasonably qualified bench player could help the Cards out and ease the payroll equation for free agent signings. You can find extensive lists of available players here and here, but below are a few players that the Cards might be able to use.

(NOTE: I’ve never seen any of these guys play, and the info below was cobbled together from various web sources. If you know something about any one of them that I don’t – Player X lost his non-pitching arm in a freak cooking accident or something – let me know.)

Position Players

Jake Gautreau, 2B/3B, 25, San Diego
Gautreau is a former first-rounder who was doing pretty well in A ball until being diagnosed with colitis in 2003. His 2004 was better: he only hit .266 splitting time between AA and AAA, but he posted a .344 OBP and jacked 19 homers. Could be a useful middle-infield reserve with some pop.

Mark Kiger, 2B/SS, 24, Oakland
Another possible IF reserve. Kiger had a decent year in AA last year - .262/.367/.355 – and while he has virtually no power, has a career minor-league OBP of .366.

Marshall McDougall, IF, 25, Texas
According to my not-so-exhaustive research, this guy isn’t a defensive standout but has experience at all four infield positions. Oh, and he hit .282/.349/.508 in AAA last year, followed by a .291/.379/.520 line in the Mexican Winter League.

Brian Stavisky, 24, OF, Oakland
Reportedly, this guy is competent enough in the field to handle all three outfield positions in a backup role. And while he was old for A ball, he absolutely destroyed it this year, to the tune of .343/.413/.550 – a tidy .963 OPS. But as long as we’re paying Roger Cedeno $1 million to be our fifth outfielder, I don’t know if we’d have room for Stavisky.

Pitchers

Colt Griffin, RHP, 22, Kansas City
Nuclear arm, no control. Griffin gets his fastball in the mid- to upper-90s but doesn’t know where it’s going, evidenced by near identical career K/9 and BB/9 rates. Part me of thinks “Dunc’s ultimate reclamation project,” and part of me thinks “Kyle Farnsworth, circa 2000.”

Luke Hagerty, LHP, 24, Chicago Cubs
This is a guy who torched A-ball in 2002 to the tune of a 1.12 ERA (0.98 WHIP) and 50K/15BB in 48 IP. Injuries are the issue here, as he’s getting over Tommy John surgery. Unless I’m mistaken, I think that means we could just stash him on the DL for awhile. (Anybody know if he could then rehab in the minors?) I doubt he falls far enough for the Cards to take him, but if he does we could do worse. (Chadd Blasko is another recovering Cubbie with promise.)

Blake McGinley, LHP, 26, New York Mets
Another candidate to be taken well before the Birdnals are up. A lefty reliever who struck out 112 in 91.1 IP in AA and AAA last year. Great career K rate too – 10.39/9 IP. It’d be nice to get him to replace…

Tyler Johnson, LHP, 23, St. Louis
Yes, you can claim your own players – the Braves chose their own Ben Rivera in 1988. In the unlikely event that Johnson is still on the board when the Cards can select, they’d be wise to take him. There are multiple rounds of the Rule 5, and someone will claim him if we don’t, since there’s not a system out there that can’t use a lefty reliever with a career K/9 rate of 10.37. He walks too many batters – 37 in 56.1 IP last year – but he’s young enough to straighten that out, and last I checked, we didn’t have left-handed power arms coming out of our ears. Why Walt thought it necessary to protect Mike Mahoney and Scott Seabol but not Johnson is beyond me.


Andy Sisco, LHP, 22, Chicago Cubs
Minor miracle if he lasts until the Cardinals select. Former uber-prospect whose fastball dropped to the high 80s last year. All the same, a 4.21 ERA and 134K/65BB in 126 IP was his worst season by far, and he’s only 22. The scary thought is this – Sisco’s only available because the Cubs have so many other prospects.

Royce Ring, LHP, 24 New York Mets
Rotoworld says he’s “lost velocity,” but I can’t find anything that states to what number he fell. Splitting time between AA and AAA last year, he kept his ERA in the mid- to upper-3s and struck out 45 guys in 63.1 IP, walking 23. He wasn’t terribly sharp in the Arizona Fall League, posting an ERA over 5 while only striking out 10 in 15.1 IP. Doesn’t look as appealing as some of the other candidates out there, but might work as the second lefty out of the pen.

Shawn Kohn, RHP, 25, Oakland
Great K/BB ratio, as he struck out 106 while only walking 11 in 85.2 innings between A and AAA last year. But he also gave up 7 jacks in his 42.2 inning stint in AAA.

Brad Knox, RHP, 22, Oakland
Probably too young, but 174K/24 BB in 156.1 IP makes you think. I know it’s generally a really bad idea to move someone from A ball to the bigs, but does anyone know if it’s marginally less bad if you’re just putting a flamethrower into a bullpen role?

Buddy Hernandez, 26, RHP, Atlanta
Here’s one with an off-chance of being available to us. Hernandez was fantastic in the low minors but leveled off in AAA over the past two years. Until last year he struck out over 10 per 9 IP, and last year’s 60K in 67 IP wasn’t too shabby either.

Help from Within?

In deciding whether the Cardinals should pick up a player in the Rule 5, one closing consideration is the current state of our own farm system. Random Redbird Reasoning points out that the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of positional prospects. We need middle infield help and some lefty power from the bench, but:

John Nelson (SS, .301/.396/.524 as a 25-year-old in AA) was left unprotected, and hit an anemic .172/.289/.344 in the AFL, committing 5 errors in 20 games for good measure.

The aforementioned Scott Seabol probably isn’t a middle infielder.

Bo Hart was decent last year in AAA - .299/.351/.440 - but I'm betting I'm not alone in not wanting to count on him to play a big role in 2005.

John Gall might be the lefty bat we need – but without a major-league at-bat to his name, and his reported utter inability to play defense, he’s a roll of the dice at best.

Reid Gorecki (just-turned-24 OF) had a nice campaign in high-A ball this year (.320/.370/.440) and absolutely tore up the AFL (.363/.449/.569 in 102 AB). But he’s a right-handed batter and could probably stand to see a pitch or two in AA before taking on the Priors, Oswalts, and Sheets…s of the world.

Long story short, the farm doesn’t have anyone decidedly better than some of the options available in the Rule 5. As for bullpen arms, Random also notes that we’re better off here, but given Carpenter’s shoulder, Ankiel’s mindframe, and the possibility of moving half our stockpile for a mulleted savior, the flexibility of another option wouldn’t hurt.

I won’t rank these players, as I don’t really know how I’d compare them other than by the numbers I’ve already listed. But to some degree I think almost all of the above could potentially be of use, and given the relatively low-risk involved, might be worthy of a pick.

Posted by Ryan @ 6:02 PM 5 comments

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thankful--Except for the Bad Pie

It's Thanksgiving--a time to reflect on the things that we have. As Cardinal fans, we have plenty of reason for gratitude, with a feast of a 2004 season recently completed.

It all began with Grandma's ho-hum lime green Jell-O salad interspersed with canned pears. It's expected to be average. Mediocre. Nothing great. Nothing terrible. But certainly less than we were hoping for. Strangely, it tasted a lot like the same disappointing garbage we ate for most of 2003.

But then something spectacular happened. After a subpar appetizer, the rest of the meal was replaced by Uncle Jim's perfectly roasted rosemary turkey (with mango chutney). And Uncle Albert's gourmet garlic mashed potatoes (with a twist of cayenne). And Cousin Scotty's roasted corn on the cob. And yes, even a little of that good old green bean casserole with Uncle Larry's smoked Canadian Bacon that we all love so much. Pops LaRussa even had us swilling the good Pinot, perfectly complimenting the meal.

We were feasting like royalty. Winning became second nature. It wasn't whether or not the dinner would be good--but how good. What creative way would our palette be satisfied today? The Iron Chef himself couldn't have executed a better main course. (Although perhaps he could have accented So Taguchi with a little Ichiro!)

But then it came time for dessert. And apparently, someone took the pie out of the oven too early.

I don't know about you, but I had decided that I would completely ignore that World Series debacle-thingy that supposedly featured our Birds on the Bat. It was actually 'Space Jam' come to life. The talent of our superstars had been mysteriously sapped by some alien being. (Note to self: Contact Oliver Stone to investigate whereabouts of one Constantino Martinez on or around October 23 and following.) Jeff Suppan did his own unique Loony Tunes impression and most of our hitters made like Michael Jordan....the baseball player.

But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we should burn into our memory the things that went right, namely bringing home the pennant: Jimmy Baseball's Game 6, 12th inning jaunt into Redbird history. His subsequent game-saving catch the next night. And Scotty Rolen's Game 7 blast, sending the NL Cy Young winner and his Texan compadres home for the winter. You should be feeling warm and fuzzy now. And full. You've been well-fed. Be thankful for what you have been given. You don't always need that slice of pie at the end to be happy, do you?

Ah, but if you're like me, you have a terrible sweet tooth. While you're really, really glad that you're not one of those starving children in Arizona, Milwaukee or Pittsburgh, you're also secretly hoping that for next year, Grandpa Walter finds enough dough for a legit pastry chef.

Posted by David @ 1:55 PM 6 comments

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Stadium Construction Update

I haven’t followed news surrounding the construction of Busch II all that closely, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just ran a couple of pieces that are equal parts amusing and depressing. Some highlights:

The Fire Department denied the Birdnals a permit necessary to continue with a certain phase of the new stadium’s construction due to safety issues. (The stadium and Highway 40 were too close – who knew?) The specific nature of the denied permit? “Construct baseball stadium per plans.” I’m hoping we don’t have the same lawyers working on free agent contracts: “Hey, Odalis, 3 years at $19 million. How ‘bout it? Love, Walt.”

The front office wasn’t entirely oblivious to how close the highway was, because they’ve included a 100 foot wall in case a driver tries to pull a Jerry Bruckheimer and ramp off 40 into Upper Terrace Reserved.

Meanwhile, St. Louis County has its own fiscal/political hijinks to address. The bonds with which the county hopes to foot its share of the stadium bill were just downgraded in rating and assigned a negative outlook to boot. Whatever that means.

The downgrade apparently stems from the recently-passed measure requiring the county to submit the funding proposal to voters in early April for approval. Politics aside, I’m just amused by the sides. On one hand we have the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums, who, if things get heated, I fully expect to run a TV spot complete with wolves, swift boats, and Craig Paquette. On the other hand, we’ve got the stadium backers, who have filed suit to simply declare the whole measure null and void. I never really paid attention in Government class, but that’s a legal argument I’d like to hear. (“Objection...It’s damaging to my case!”)

Feel free to correct me on any of this if I’m wrong. First time for everything…

Posted by Ryan @ 11:52 AM 0 comments