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Monday, December 22, 2003
Options, Options, Options....
I was reading yesterday on the Stltoday.com Cardinals forum, and someone there posted the ancient axiom, "pitching and defense win championships". Normally I would despise such trite a saying, it makes it's argument under the false auspices of "widsom" - the response to the challenge it presents is easy. However, in the case of the 2003 vs. 2004 St. Louis Cardinals - I believe that this shoe fits, and Walt would do well to wear it.
(My apologies for the above paragraph)
During the Jocketty/LaRussa regime, the Cardinals have consistently finished as one of the top offensive teams in the National League. Last year was no exception. Do Not let it be said that the reason for the Cardinals lack of Post-Season presence was the fault of our offense. Consider the following:
1.) The Cardinals finished second to Atlanta in OPS for the NL - the were first in OBP. (STL was 5th overall, it's interesting to note that TORONTO was third)
This despite the following:
a.) Average (at best) production from 1b
b.) Average production when healthy from JD Drew
c.) A horrible OBP hole at the top of the lineup.
2.) STL lead the league in most of the fielding statistics (note: I find fielding difficult to accurately quantify - however a team that leads the league almost across the board can be said to be a good defensive team, I believe). Note that FLA was second.
3.) STL was by almost all measures horrible at pitching. from ERA to GDPs, we sucked. It's also interesting to note that FLA, PHIL, and ATL was just beneath or at league average. 3 of the top 5 pitching teams (LA, HOU, and AZ) didn't even make it into the post season.
So given the moves we've made and still need to make, let's discuss each of these aspects of the Cards overall game.
THE OFFENSE >>
1.) The core of our offense remains intact. In fact, at this hour, many of the same deficiencies remain. The key at this point being Reggie Sanders. For those who don't follow Mr. Sanders career numbers as closely as those of us who were advocating his employment earlier this fall - Reggie has a tenedancy to follow a good year with a poor one. Last year was his best year ever, let's hope this year isn't his worst.
If Reggie Sanders has an "on" year - we can expect *better* offensive numbers. If he has an off year I think we can postulate that he'll at least match Drew or Tino's production. Gall, Cox, and Luna/Butler at this point should be able to provide enough depth for STL to sufficiently fill in for a short injury.
So as we sit, most fans believe that there still remains a couple of holes in our offense. Namely:
a.) A left handed hitter. Let me dispell the myth that we must have a LH hitter right off. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO OBJECTIVE PROOF THAT IT MATTERS. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to suggest that the presence of Tino and maybe Drew had any tangible affect on how we approached pitching staffs last year. Would it be nice? Of course. A power LH hitter sandwiched in the middle of the lineup would be excellent.
b.) The leadoff spot. There is definately an issue at this point. The logical choice is to move Renteria into leadoff, but from what I understand, Edgar is "uncomfortable" hitting 1st and Tony won't force the issue (as well he shouldn't - when you have one of maybe the 25 best offensive shortstops in the history of the game - just let him hit).
However, I d caution against over reacting by signing Alomar or E Young to play 2b. Neither of them offer THAT much OBP over Bo Hart (and yes, Bo's numbers were skewed by his first trip round the bigs) but Bo comes in about 1/10th of the salary.
c.) OF/1b. Here's the largest "hole" in our lineup, IMHO. To match last year's production, we would at least need to match the combined Drew/Marrero output. This isn't difficult, any league average .750 OPS guy could do it. Unfortunately for STL, neither Robinson, nor Taguchi (or even Palmiero if we re-sign him before the 8th) can match those numbers. An alternate would be to continue to play Albert in the OF, and find an average 1b (Cox or Gall or a platoon with both/either of them) could do that easily. Heck, Galarraga or McGriff may be a cheap substitute that would give Gall another year of grooming. I don't believe this latter option is what Tony wants, however.
Either way - if STL does nothing and saves what's left of the budget for pitching, I don't think our production would suffer terribly. That is to say, it doesn't warrent overpaying for Walker, Alomar or Young - or to do much outside of an average OF/1b.
In fact, I kind of like the idea of letting Robinson get 450 ABs. H wouldn't be that much worse than Vina last year or EY/Alomar/Hart this year, but he would placate 1.) The ravenous pro-KRob fan base that remembers whiteyball without understand how the game has changed in the past 15 years, 2.) put a LH bat in the lineup, and 3.) For those teams out there foolish enough to worry about opposing teams with "speed" at the top of their lineup, we'll scare the crap out of them. The main reason I like it is because it wouldn't really hurt us that much, and gives KRob enough rope to hang himself. A half-year of this experiment and it should be obvious to everyone that he either can or can't make it full time in the big leagues. Come July 31st, we can see what kind of bargains we can pick up if he fails miserably.
The other reason to fill the OF/2b with Robinson/Hart is to spend more money on our obvious problem, pitching.
THE PITCHING >>>
PLEASE NOTE: THOUGH HE WAS NON-TENDERED, MARK REDMOND WAS NEVER AVAILABLE.
You don't just sign guys in 12 hours. He already had a deal with OAK in place when they non-tendered him. Yes, I would have liked to have had him in our rotation, yes he was the best option available, but no, it was never a possibility. Ownership finding Walt the budget to sign Maddux is more of a possibility (slim as it is).
Let it be said that we don't absolutely have to have a LH in the rotation. Quotes like "The Cardinals didn't win the NLCS because they couldn't start a Left-Hander on the mound" are the excuses and mythos of McCarvers everywhere.
So let us find the best starting pitcher (regardless of which hand he uses to drink his beer) possible, and sign him for the smallest and shortest contract possible.
I don't think that person is Greg Maddux. I think at this point that's Sidney Ponson. Now I'm not sure what Mr. Ponson and his agent are demanding, and I'm not sure how much Walt has to spend. But the overtures of "Sidney's first choice would be St. Louis" seem genuine enough. Ponson is NOT a true #1 and maybe not even a #2, but he would help us match up well against the pitching in our division, and at least allow us to post MUCH better numbers than we currently are.
A case can be made for Maddux, and if he and Scott Boras weren't FRICKIN' NUTS I think he'd be a great pickup. But anything over, say, $7million is a luxury, something better left to the pissing match between NYA and BOS.
I'd still like to see us pick up a quality right handed reliever (Looper, anyone?).
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Reading Joe Strauss' "Cardinals are vastly improved" article from Stltoday.com is like a kick in the face.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that Sanders and Suppan will now be playing under the arch for the majority of their games, it's some of the other gems that are killing me.
What upsets me the most is what's most noticeably absent - ANY talk of another outfielder. In ICQ yesterday, Steve, you said that you hoped we gave Jon Gall his shot - well if our other option is Mr. .300 OBP Robinson or So-so Taguchi - I hope we give Gall a shot, too.
I was going to lead off today's column with a big "Oh no, Raul Mondesi is on the front page of the Cardinals MLB.COM site". However, 1.) That's no longer the case and 2.) Again, if the other option is Robinson, I'd welcome Mr. OverratedOverpayed.
So before I launch into how much I like the Suppan/Sanders deals - let me talk about some interesting things in that Strauss article.
1.) It's all about the snaps for Carl Everett. We offered him the same deal we offered Sanders (apparently he was our 1st choice) and he took $1.5 million more over 2 years to play in Montreal. You know what? That's fine with me.
2.) We tried to sign Suppan in 2002. I should put an excalmation mark there. I NEVER heard any such item last year, and he played for only $3.8 million.
3.) Both Sanders/Suppan contracts are heavily back-loaded. Who is up for FA next year that we're counting on not bringing back? Hmmmm.....
4.) This Infuriates me : "In December 2001 the Redbirds contemplated signing Sanders to play left field while shifting Albert Pujols to first base. But rather than agree to Sanders' $1.8 million asking price, the club signed first baseman Tino Martinez to a three-year, $21 million deal and let Pujols remain in left field."
5.) For those of you who are hoping we DON'T sign Greg Maddux - He's visiting suitors next week and has no plans to be in St. Louis.
6.) Walt maintains his close relationship with Scott Boras by being "interested" in his clients - translation - we're a leverage-enhancing "rumor club" for Boras agents when they're hoping to sign elsewhere.
7.) "The Cardinals remain interested in free-agent second basemen Eric Young, Roberto Alomar and Ron Belliard." Now if we're "interested" in Bobby Alomar - this distrubs me. There are a few teams out there who need second basemen. Teams with more money that we have to spend. This means Bobby Alomar isn't interested in a 1 year contract for >$3 million.
Now I've been down on Ron Belliard in the past. But of EY, The Spitter, and Belliard - which one had a .35 OBP last year? That would be Ron. Which one is on the right side of 30? That would be Belliard. We could do a lot worse...
8.) Walt leaves New Orleans with $2million more than he came with. I simply don't understand our budget. I'm not privy to what Morris and AP expect to get in terms of new contracts. I'm sure it's a TON. But if you hit the Cardinal page under ESPN.COM and do the math, after giving Tino away, and assuming we can spend as much as we did last year, Walt had/has $30 million to play with. With the Drew deal thrown in that's somewhere over $30 million. Either the ESPN.COM page is wrong, or I'm just not getting the big picture as to how much Walt has to spend. If YOU have a clue, email me and let me know, because I just don't get it.
Finally, I'm kind of happy to see that we're signing Lil' Benes again. I hope something works out there.
Now onto the signings. I do like Suppan. His STATS/ESPN scouting report is scared of him being a "crafty-righthander" but since '97 he's been the very definition of "league average". His stats in Pittsburgh were an abberrition, but he seems like the kind of guy who can and will do well under Duncan.
I'm also pretty happy about the Reggie Sanders signing. Now that people don't expect him to become the "next Eric Davis" or play 3b, he's slowly becoming, well, the next Eric Davis. I liked the dig "the same number of extra-base hits as Sammy Sosa" in the Strauss article, but all in all having him at #6 or #7 in your lineup is a testament to a good lineup.
Now the problem is that Sanders, like everyone in our lineup except Jimmy, is right handed. There's not a lot of quality left handed outfielding left out there. Belliard is RH, too. Kerry "hometown hero" Robinson is LH. So here's hoping we find a quality Left handed OF-1b 1 year contract for not a lot of money from someone.
Monday, December 15, 2003
Now that JD Drew has been traded, let me go ahead and make my first prediction for 2004:
JD Drew will win the NL MVP.
Now, on with the rest. Even though I'm thoroughly convinced that JD is going to have a monster season, I do like this trade. Despite TINSTAAPP, the Cardinals were able to get a good minor league pitcher from the Braves. So, by trading Drew and Marrero (I'm disappointed to see Marrero gone. I don't think he ever got a fair shake from La Russa.), the Cardinals were able to help themselves out now (Marquis and King), and in the future (Wainright).
I think your comparison of Marquis to Tomko is a good one. But, we may not have to worry about that. I saw a rumor somewhere (on Primer most likely) that Marquis might be flipped for Scott Williamson. In order for me to know if I'll like that deal, I'll need to figure out what the Cardinals need more of now, starting pitching or bullpen pitching.
One thing is for sure though, the trade of Drew and Marrero leaves two empty spots in the outfield. Well, that's not entirely true. Tony can always plug Kerry Robinson in right and So Taguchi in left, and pretend that he has an outfield. But, even with Edmonds still patrolling center, that would not be a good outfield.
There are still a few adequate outfielders available that the Cardinals can sign. Unfortunately, Jose Cruz Jr. isn't one of them. The Devil Fishies signed him. Out of the rest that are available (Mondesi, Gonzalez, Guillen, Sanders, and Lofton off the top of my head), I'd like to see Jose Guillen in right, and Reggie Sanders in left.
Finally, I think Koch would be worth a spot in the 'pen, but not at his current salary. And if the Cardinals sign Jeff Suppan, color me happy.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Billy Koch + Dave Duncan - a match made in heaven?
It's long been rumored that Billy Koch really needs a good pitch after his triple digits fastball. Dave Duncan has revived more than one career by teaching a new, easily picked up pitch. If Koch can be had at a non-closer salary - wouldn't he make a heck of a lot of sense?
Rondell (You can't spell Rondell without DL) White apparently took the Tiger's 2 year $6 million deal that Reggie Sanders was offered. Sanders is now "off the table". I hope he's on ours.
Jayson Stark of ESPN is claiming that Jose Cruz Jr. is on our table. I'm hoping we don't overpay. He's about average, and in my mind doesn't command a premium (like the $6 million we just saved by getting rid of Eli and Drew). Sanders and Cruz, at that money would be fine, but not one of those players.
I also read that Jeff Suppan was expected to sign with STL shortly.
Stark also writes that Wainright grew three (!) inches last year (he's 22) from 6'6" to 6'9" and scouts are wondering if that will/isn't messing with his "mechanics".
Saturday, December 13, 2003
I've been meaning to write about the post season for a while now, but it looks like something significant has happened that can't let me wait to collect all my thoughts.
It's being reported that the JD Drew era in St. Louis is over. Drew and Eli Marrero are being sent to Atlanta for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and Adam Wainright.
Let me begin by saying that I think the fans, organization, and media gave up on JD too fast. I also admire Eli a ton for coming back from cancer.
That being said, I love this trade on face value. Considering just players for players in the trade, this looks like a good win for STL. I'd be much more ecstatic if I hadn't come to an axiom after the Braves got rid of Neagle, "The Braves Just Don't Get Rid Of Good Pitching". Yet I think maybe the lifespan of my axiom is over, Millwood last year was a clear faux paus - and the lack of a bat may have prompted ATL to get rid of some real talent.
Marquis is a question mark. Before last season, the publicly available scouting report (from ESPN.COM) was : "Marquis has one of the premier arms in the league and the overall ability to emerge as a power pitcher. His fastball has plus movement and sits in the 94-96 MPH range. He also throws a hard slider and a modest changeup, and does an adequate job of mixing those tosses. Marquis' problems center on a lack of control. He admits that he thinks too much about his mechanics while on the mound instead of focusing on the situation. He also tends to get stubborn and is slow to make adjustments, which resulted in extended troubles during his first full season as a starter. Scouts remain concerned that the torque he places on his arm could lead to problems down the road."
Last year, he bombed. In a big way.
By the end of the year he was in demoted to make way for Mike Hampton. With the "head mechanics" we see in the above report, I'm wondering if he isn't Tomko II, Return of the Nutjob. Even if he is Tomko, I still have to like the trade for the three reasons below.
The first of those reasons is Ray King, an overweight but very serviceable Left hander (see Wells, David). KHe has almost a 2 to 1 K/BB ratio and gave up only 46 hits in 59 innings. Given Kline and Ray from the left, KIKO!!! and Eldred should be enhanced with one more pickup from the right side IMHO.
More than Marquis, I like the fact that we got Adam Wainright. I'm still doing more research on him, but according to one report on Baseball Primer; "Wainright was listed by BA as the Braves #1 prospect before the season-- he's 22, had a good year in AA ball this past year, and seemed to get stronger as the year progressed."
The final reason I like this deal is the fact that we saved possibly as much as $6 million in salary with the departure of JD and Eli and the small salaries our new additions are making. Walt seems to be trying sincerely to sign Albert long term before he gets to arbitration. Albert, Edgar, and Matt Morris should all be priorities for contract extentions and raises - they are not easily replaced.
Let's face it, loosing JD and Tino's offensive production isn't a huge blow. Guys playing at league average don't warrant a combined $11 million in salary. And offense didn't keep us out of October this year.
I do HATE this trade for one big reason, no marquee (excuse the pun) pitcher pick ups are in the cards (see, I could write sports headlines!) for us. No Maddux or Millwood, Buehrle signed a long term contract with the Chisox and Ponson wants to come to STL but we're not going to spend the money (which I actually think is just fine in Ponson's case).
So what's left for STL - well, the outfield for one thing. As it sits right now Edmonds/Robinson/Taguchi/Palmiero just doesn't seem like what we hope to field on opening day. I'd like to see us go after Reggie Sanders, if the rumored offer by Detroit is to be believed, a $2.5 million means to replace Tino's production and them some. The Yankees seem ready to overpay for Kenny Lofton, which is just fine with me, but he would have answered our perceived need for a leadoff hitter. I've always wanted to see Jose Cruz Jr. wear the birds and bats, but he seems to generate a lot of interest for a league average hitter. Unfortunately, there's not much left via free agency. Oh, sure, there's Vlad and Juan Gonzalez, but after the top teir, there's the Mike Cameron or the return of Felix Jose.
Second base still remains an issue. I'd rather underpay for Eric Young than overpay for Bobby Alomar - but the Ron Belliard rumor I read this AM almost made me loose my Frosted Mini-Wheats™. After 2nd base, and if we aren't going to pick up a Suppan for rotation insurance, the last hole left is the aforementioned RH reliever. While good options remain, it's not like we're going to go with a 2 closer model by picking up Urbina (not that I'd want him specifically).
All in-all, I like this a ton more than Drew for Odalis Perez (or *HACK* Jeff Weaver) straight up.
Saturday, September 06, 2003
My boss is a Cubs fan. Although not the baseball fanatic that you and I are (he calls runs "points". "How can you lose a game when you hit a grand slam? That's four points right there." It's annoying, yet funny at the same time), but he still keeps tabs on how the Cubs, Cardinals, and Astros are doing.
Anyway, after the Cubs handed the Cardinals their asses on a silver platter earlier this week, I vented my frustration to him, basically telling him what I posted back on Wednesday. So today, when I saw that the Cardinals were winning 10-3, I went up to him and told him. He asked me why I cared. I told him that I was telling him because he would want to know. Again, he asked me why I cared. So I said:
"Well, it's kind of like a bad car accident. You don't want to look, but you just can't help it."
So, they won 13-6 today. That's one of the great, yet frustrating things about baseball. A team can make a stiff like Todd Van Poppel look like Cy Young one day, and then the next day, tee off on the opposing pitchers like they're, well, Todd Van Poppel. Frustrating, yet great all at the same time.
Since I'm not expecting the Cardinals to make the playoffs, I'm already looking to next season. Alex, do you know of a place where there's a listing of this offseason's potential free agents? I'd like to see who might be available, and then get upset when I realize that the Cardinals are going to say they're too poor to go after some of the available pitching. Also, that will let me see what pitchers are older than 37, and I'll then know who will be on the Cardinals pitching staff next year.
Maybe I shouldn't look to next season. At least not now. I just ate.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
TINSTAAPP. I'm inclined to agree, until I see Mark Prior. I think that if there is a such thing as a pitching prospect, only guys like Prior qualify.
Does it make me less of a fan if I say that I hope the Cardinals don't make the playoffs? I've fucking had enough of this sucking black vortex of doom known as the 2003 St. Louis Cardinals bullpen. Why the fuck should they have the priviledge of playing October baseball when they have a bullpen that rivals the 1998 Seattle Mariners 'pen? Yes, if they make the playoffs, it will be the first time in Cardinals history that they've made the postseason for four consecutive years. But I'm sorry. You can't get me excited about that, because with this god-awful excuse of a bullpen, the Cardinals would be nothing more than a sacrificial lamb for either the Braves or the Giants. I don't want another postseason that ends without the good guys taking home the big trophy with all the little flags on it. And if they're playing baseball in October instead of golf, that's EXACTLY what's gonna happen, because Matt Morris will pitch 8 shutout innings, and leave with a 2 run lead, only to have this god damn bullpen blow the god damn game for him. Then the same thing will happen to Woody Williams, followed by whoever is run out to the mound after him.
So, to hell with it. I want the Cardinals to have buy their tickets if they want to go to the playoffs.
I'm not done yet. Why the fuck was Woody Williams called on to pitch today? What good is expanding the rosters if you're not going to take advantage of it? Where was Jimmy Journell? Why wasn't Josh Pearce available? I don't care what the reason is, there isn't a good one that explains why there wasn't a FRESH pitcher available today when the rosters expanded two days ago. And you know what? This piss-poor roster management falls squarely on the shoulders of Tony La Russa. I don't think I'm quite to the point where I want his head lopped off, but I think it would be nice if Walt Jocketty has Davey Johnson's number in his PDA. Or Larry Dierker.
I'll bet you a dollar that the Cardinals keep Hitchcock around for next season.