Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Are we there yet?

As we wait on pins and needles for Walt's next move, I just wanted to put down some things to keep an eye on over the next few days. This is more for my own benefit than anyone that will be reading this. And please - feel free to add any comments to this article for discussion purposes.

Cardinals Middle Infield

Tony La Russa was on the radio here in St. Louis yesterday. I personally missed the interview, but heard the radio announcers talking about it at a later time. According to them, Tony said that the Cardinals have a specific trade target in mind for the middle infield, along with a couple of options on the free agent market. Obviously this doesn't tell us much more than we already know, but it does lead me to believe that Placido Polanco or Julio Lugo may be more prominent in the plans than I had previously thought.

Look for the Cardinals to make a trade for one of those 2 guys to start in the middle infield in 2005. I think either will be available for, in essence, a salary dump by either the Phillies or Devil Rays. I would prefer Polanco, who was (in my opinion) the top middle infielder available in the free agent market. Furthermore, I'd prefer him to start at short - but I could handle him at 2nd as well. With Polanco (hopefully) in hand, the Cardinals will likely then sign one or two of the group of guys out there. Eckstein, Cora, Larkin, Reese, Alomar, Relaford. Most of the guys on that list would be an upgrade over Hart and/or Luna. If the Cardinals could manage to get Polanco, Cora, and Eckstein, they would be in great shape (for less money than it would have cost them to sign Cabrera by himself.)

Speaking of Eckstein - here is a good blog article I found yesterday from an Angel/Dodger fan.

National League Central

Peter Gammons has already stated that the Cardinals are the best team in the NL right now, thanks to the addition of Mark Mulder. While I'm going to hold that thought until we see who the double play combination ends up being, I am optimistic about the Cardinals making another run at the World Series right now. One reason for my optimism is the state of the Cardinals. Another reason, however, are the moves being made by the Astros and the Cubs. Or rather - the lack thereof.

The Astros, who finished 13 games behind the Cardinals last year, have so far lost Jeff Kent to free agency, followed by the non-tender of Wade Miller. Miller may or may not be back with the Astros, and apparently he'll be somewhat injured even if he does come back. Houston is still trying to re-sign Carlos Beltran, but he's generating interest from the Yankees. And we know that no team wants to get into a bidding war with George.

Lance Berkman is going to start the season on the DL, providing the Astros with an opening day outfield of Craig Biggio, Orlando Palmeiro, and Jason Lane. And, of course, both Biggio and Bagwell have been in a constant state of decline for several years which is unlikely to reverse course in 2005.

Roger Clemens may be back - if he thinks the Astros are going to compete. If being able to compete is his barometer? I doubt he's back. That could conceivably give the Astros an opening day rotation of Pettitte, Oswalt, Backe, and....who else? I'm not sure. Their bullpen was a one trick pony in 2004, and looks to be the same this year. It could be a long year in Minute Made Park.

Then there is the Cubs. Over their 2004 team - which finished 16 games behind the Redbirds - Chicago has lost Matt Clement and Moises Alou. Alou led the team in Win Shares last year (26), while Clement was arguably the #2 starter on the team. What have they replaced them with thus far? No one.

Glendon Rusch was signed to a somewhat reasonable contract, but he is very unlikely to repeat his 2004 season. And the Cubs have been actively trying to trade Sosa in order to afford to make a run at a big name outfielder. Of course no GM in his right mind is ready to take on the baggage associated with Corky, not to mention his contract. And at the same time - Drew is off the market and the Yankees are circling Beltran, as mentioned above. Rumor has it the Mets are still interested in a big bat as well, which may further complicate the Cubs ability to sign a corner outfielder.

Jim Hendry, Cubs GM, has managed to lock up a nice middle infield with Nomar ($8 million plus incentives) and Todd Walker ($2.75 million). And we all know that Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and (to a lesser extent) Michael Barrett are solid hitters. But right now it's hard to imagine their offense being any better than last year, if that good. Furthermore, the Cub bench is not looking good (yet again), and their bullpen is essentially the same as last year, minus Kent Merker.

If Beltran lands with the Yankees, the Cubs will have to focus their energy on signing Magglio Ordonez - the guy who cancelled his workout to prove he was healthy because "it wasn't needed." Uh huh.

Of course, either the Astros or the Cubs could end up winning the Central. Heck, the Reds were in first place in June in 2004. Anything can happen. But right now? Even though the Cardinals don't have anyone to start at 2nd and short (other than Hart and Luna), they are still in better shape than anyone else in the division.

New Stadium

Finally, I thought I should just mention that the iron work on the new stadium is really taking shape. Every day I drive by, and it's slowly coming together. Currently, they are working on the upper decks in right field, laying out the framework for the stands. You can see the ramps to get from the field level to the upper level coming into form out there as well. It looks to me as if the new stadium is going to have walls by the time we hit opening day in April.


At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with your analysis of the Astro's but have a question about the Cubs. I think that everyone in the Windy City would talk about injuries being a big factor in their poor season. I'm not that familiar with the Cubs problems but I know that they had several key guys (Prior, Wood, Ramirez etc...) that did not play to their potential. Any perspective on what injuries cost them in 2004 and how that plays out for 2005?


At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking the exact same thing. If Prior has another season like his 2003 (which I'd say is more likely than a repeat of '04), and Zambrano continues to improve (and, since it's not happened with other Cubs pitchers -- he remains healthy)... the Cubs might improve in 2005.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Cardsgem said...

Cubs Sp might be ok, but really who knows if it will happen. Maddux should start to decline before long, they still have no closer. Also really rameriz had one of if not his best year ever, who knows if that is going to continue. So while they might be better in some area's others are going to decline also.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Robb said...

I'll post a more detailed article on the NLC Central, including the health of the Cubs in 2005 vs. 2004. Obviously a completely healthy Wood and Prior would be huge for the Cubs. Will it be enough? It very well could be - although my current guess is it won't be enough without a little better offense. Rusch was great when he stepped in for Wood, making it unlikely he was truly missed. Prior is the wild card.

I'll also speak at a later time in regard to the Eckstein signing. Obviously I don't mind it, since I more or less asked for it. However, 3 years at $10.25 million seems a bit steep to me. We'll see.


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