Monday, November 29, 2004

Randy Johnson Update

According to The Mercury News of San Jose, CA, the Cardinals are still in the hunt for the Big Unit.

"The Cardinals appear to be offering Reggie Sanders in a package that probably includes 26-year-old first baseman-outfielder John Gall, who hit .292 with 22 homers at Triple-A Memphis."

I have to wonder if this rumor is any more reliable than the one I mentioned before that included Dan Haren, Rick Ankiel, and Kiko Calero. Of course, in many ways the deal makes more sense from the Cardinal perspective. Sanders is an aging corner outfielder who would frankly be somewhat easy to replace. And I've already outlined why I think that Gall is a prime trade candidate. I'm just not certain that Sanders makes a lot of sense as the key piece of a trade between the Diamondbacks and the Cardinals.

The Diamondbacks already have Shea Hillenbrand and Luis Gonzalez under contract for next season. Hillenbrand will likely be playing 1st base for Arizona, while Gonzo patrolls left field. Sanders could obviously start in right field, but that would leave Gall in the minors. Assuming of course that the Diamondbacks don't turn around and deal Gonzalez to free up more payroll, which could work.

From the Cardinals standpoint, as I mentioned, replacing Sanders the player would be no problem. Replacing Sanders the person, however, seems more complicated. I'm not a big fan of team chemistry being important - in my mind, winning leads to chemistry as opposed to the opposite being true. But it still does not seem to fit the Cardinals character as an organization to deal away a player like Reggie Sanders after signing him to his first multi-year contract since the 1997 season.

Look at Tino Martinez as an example - they stood by him after a disappointing 2002 season in St. Louis even though it was obvious he was overpaid and essentially not what he used to be. They gave him the 2003 season to further prove himself (or not). When it didn't work out, they traded him to Tampa Bay - where he grew up.

Sanders, on the other hand, is signed somewhat cheap, and played to expectations in 2004. Granted, Randy Johnson would improve the team over Sanders greatly. It just doesn't seem like the kind of thing Walt Jocketty would do. He would essentially be banishing Sanders to a season with a horrible team, after which he would probably retire.

Obviously, the bottom line is that Major League Baseball is a business. Players look out for their best interests more often than not, and teams do the same. What do I take away from this article more than anything else? The Cardinals are still interested in Johnson, the price for him seems to be dropping, and rumors are nothing more than speculation until the deal is done.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Free Agent Options - Starting Pitchers

Today, we'll discuss free agent options for the starting rotation. Before we get into that, however, let me point out a few things from a St. Louis Post Dispatch article from yesterday. I have plucked out the highlights - quoted word for word - and placed them below.

1. The Cardinals project a 2005 payroll of approximately $87 million but already have $60 million committed to players under contract. Jocketty said a trade is possible to free additional money.

Comment - My projection of $21 million to spend looks to be about right, if not slightly conservative even considering raises to players like King and Marquis.

2. "Is there a No. 1 guy out there from a free-agent standpoint? I don't think so. Is there a guy out there from a trade standpoint? Yeah, I'd say so," pitching coach Dave Duncan said.

Comment - I find this comment interesting. This leads me to believe that Duncan is 100% sold on Johnson, since he's ignoring players like Pedro Martinez, Matt Clement, and Carl Pavano.

3. Jocketty recently trashed print reports that the club had offered pitchers Dan Haren, Rick Ankiel and Kiko Calero for Johnson. La Russa said Tuesday that the report "shouldn't be taken with a grain of salt but with a package of salt."

Comment - this is good news.

4. Retaining Renteria is an organizational priority and the club is crafting a heavily back-loaded offer believed to be for at least four years and worth about $8 million per season.

Comment - This appears to be a realistic contract, and tells me the Cardinals are willing to pay a little more for Renteria than might make sense, but aren't going to bet the farm on him.

5. A lot depends on how much Edgar wants to stay here and how he wants to structure," La Russa said. "Whatever we do for pitching is going to be expensive. If you bring in a veteran, he's not going to pitch as long as Edgar plays. There has to be cooperation from the pitcher and from Edgar."

Comment - This is very, very interesting. The Cardinals appear to be ready and willing to do something for pitching that is going to be expensive.

With those comments out of the way, let's talk a little about some free agent starting pitchers. Obviously, Dave Duncan doesn't feel like there is anyone out there as good as Johnson - which, of course, is true. However, I do think that there are several players available that could be picked up that would improve the rotation should they not be able to land the Big Unit.

Pedro Martinez

Pedro was not himself this year. After posting ERA's of 2.89 or less for 7 years in a row, he posted a 3.90 ERA in 2004, giving him an ERA+ of 125. Martinez, 33, had 17 win shares, 5 WSAA, and pitched 217 innings - and made $17.5 million!

Even with an off year, Pedro would have been the best starter on the Cardinals staff last season. Will he revert to pre-2004 form next year? I would say last year was probably a bit of a fluke, although it's hard to imagine him reverting all the way back to his 200 ERA+ range. Whatever the case, the Red Sox have supposedly offered him a 2 year, $25.5 million contract. Would the Cardinals be offering Pedro enough extra dollars or years to bring him to St. Louis? It's hard to imagine.

Carl Pavano

Somewhat out of nowhere came Mr. Pavano this season. The soon to be 29 year old posted a 137 ERA+ last year, giving him the 9th best mark in the NL on the season. He also posted 20 Win Shares, 9 WSAA - both marks putting him on par with Roger Clemens this season. His 2004 salary was $3.8 million. Side Note - in 1998, Pavano gave up Mark McGwire's 70th home run.

My biggest concern about Pavano is - I'm not certain that this season wasn't a fluke. Over 7 major league seasons, it was just the 2nd time he was above average. His career ERA+ is 100, suggesting that thus far in his career he's been exactly league average. And if you look at his strikeout rate, walk rate, and hits allowed in 2004 vs. 2003, there is not much difference, leading me to wonder how in fact he improved his performance so much.

My suspicion is that the price tag on Pavano is going to be somewhat high, although not as high as that of Pedro Martinez. Personally, I don't think he's going to be worth the gamble that last year was the "real Carl Pavano."

Matt Clement

Matt Clement put together a career year in 2004, posting a 123 ERA+ with 11 Win Shares, 2 WSAA. Last year he made $6 million, and this year he'll turn 30 in August. Clement was the victim of poor run support in 2004, as he posted a 9-13 record despite his 3.68 ERA. He also struck out more batters (190) than he had innings pitched (181). And while this was Clements best season, he has posted an ERA+ of over 100 for the last 3 years in a row.

In my mind, Clement could be a great pick-up for the Cardinals, although no one should expect him to come in and be the staff ace. Compare his numbers to those of Chris Carpenter (121 ERA+, 11 WS, 3 WSAA), and you'll see that they had very similar seasons, with the obvious difference being that Carpenter had more wins (thanks to the team he was on), Clement more strikeouts.

If the Cardinals truly think they need to bring in a pitcher who can strike batters out, Clement might be a nice Plan B if the Randy Johnson/Mark Mulder trades don't work out. In fact, if they could afford it he would be a nice addition to the rotation with Johnson or Mulder.

Odalis Perez

For some reason, I haven't heard much talk about Perez this off-season. Here's a guy who throws left handed and will not turn 28 until June. Last season, he posted a 127 ERA+ with 12 WS, 3 WSAA. Much like Clement, Perez was the victim of poor run support as he only had a 7-6 record to go with his 3.25 ERA over 196.1 innings. Last season he made $5 million.

Perez does not fit the mold of what the Cardinals are looking for, which is supposedly a power pitcher. However, here is another guy that was about as good as Carpenter last season. And there would be an advantage to adding a left handed starter to the rotation, if the Cardinals don't think Ankiel is ready or Johnson will be coming over. Other than the obvious fact that it forces the other team to think about left handed pitching, it also provides more balls hit in play to the left side of the infield. Any time you have a glove like Rolen playing the hot corner, you want to see as many balls as possible hit his way.

Brad Radke

Radke, 32, posted a 136 ERA+ with 19 WS, 6 WSAA. He was the 3rd best pitcher in the AL last year, but just the 2nd best on his own team. Just goes to show you - pitching wins championships. (Oh, wait...) He is beyond durable, as he's thrown 212 or more innings in 8 of the last 9 seasons. Radke made $10.75 million last year.

Most likely, 2004 was a season in which he will not be able to repeat in 2005. However, he does have a career ERA+ of 114. That, combined with his durability, will make him a valuable pitcher to a team next season. Considering that he is not a strikeout pitcher, however, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals going after him.

Eric Milton

I only included him on this list because according to Jayson Stark the Cardinals are "going after him hard." I guess my question is - why? In 2004, the 29 year old lefty posted a 92 OPS+ with 8 win shares and -1 WSAA. All that for $9 million - what a bargain.

Milton has a couple of things going for him in that he's young and left handed. Of course, he's older than Odalis Perez and he stunk last year. What's more, he threw 201 innings. Why is that a problem? Well, he only threw 17 innings the season before, making me leery of him from an injury standpoint in 2005.

If they could sign him at a reasonable cost, he could be a nice Duncan project. Bringing in Milton to "right the ship" of the rotation, however, is not a good idea.

Kevin Millwood

Millwood, unlike some on this list, actually had a career worst season. For the first time in his career, Millwood posted a sub-100 ERA+ as he had a 90. He also battled some injury problems, only posting 141 innings (a career low), and thus holding his WS to 5, WSAA at -2. He made $11 million last season. (Let's see, the Phillies paid $20 million to Millwood and Milton last year - why were they so bad again?)

Over the last 5 years, Millwood has had one very good season (2002), 3 average seasons, and 1 below average season. He is, relatively speaking, a decent strikeout pitcher. Furthermore, he does fit into the Chris Carpenter project mold. Once again, however - he is not the kind of pitcher that is going to come in and instantly improve the staff without a doubt.

Conclusions

There are a few other starters out there that I could have mentioned. Russ Ortiz, Jon Lieber, Derek Lowe, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Wilson, Paul Byrd. Heck, even Matt Morris. But all of these guys, along with many on the list above, have something in common - none of them are head and shoulders better than Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan. I guess Dave Duncan's comment early in this article make a bit more sense in hind sight.

Personally, I think the Cardinals should be on the market for a starting pitcher regardless as to if they are interested in making a trade or not. This would provide two things. One, it would put them in a position so that they would not have to make a trade if the prices got out of hand. Two, it would provide them will a little extra trade bait to actually pull off a trade if they have an "extra" pitcher.

My choice of the above pitchers would be Matt Clement. Here is a strikeout pitcher who has been solid for 3 years in a row, yet is still young. What's more, it would be great to use him to stick it to the Cubs. Disclaimer - any Cardinal fan wearing one of those ignorant tape-on-goatees during a Clement start should be removed from the stadium. With Clement, the Cardinals rotation would look something like this.

Carpenter
Clement
Suppan
Marquis
Ankiel/Haren

Between Ankiel and Haren, the one not starting could be in the pen and available for emergency relief. In the case of Haren, he could additionally be in AAA getting extra work.

Should the Cardinals sign Clement, they could further use Jason Marquis as trade bait without jeopardizing the depth of their team. Since we're in a theoretical world here, let's assume that the Cardinals could in fact land Randy Johnson or Mark Mulder with Marquis involved in the trade. That would provide a 2005 rotation looking like this.

Johnson/Mulder
Carpenter
Clement
Suppan
Ankiel/Haren

That, my friends, would be a deep rotation. Could the Cardinals afford it? It's hard to imagine this happening along with Renteria being brought back. However, if the Cardinals were to sign Polanco and Walker for $7 million as I suggested yesterday, the above scenario could in fact happen. Matt Clement would have to take a deal that only paid him $4 million next year. That could work, since the following year the Cardinals would free up the salary owed to Jeff Suppan. Randy Johnson is already due to make around $10 million next year, as $6 million of his salary is deferred.

Overall, it would take some creative accounting. However, with all of the young pitching the Cardinals have coming up through the system it does not appear to be an impossible dream.



Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Free Agent Options - Middle Infield

Let's recap the last few weeks worth of articles.

  1. The Cardinals have - by my back of the envelope calculations - approximately $21 million to spend on free agents this off-season.
  2. They need to sign starters at 2nd base and shortstop.
  3. A starting pitcher is needed to go with the current rotation.
  4. Four bench slots need to be filled.

Obviously, there are a lot of assumptions going into those statements. If you want the background behind them....well, read all of my articles since the end of the World Series.

The Cardinals can fill these holes by various means. Calling up prospects is one method, which we talked about last week. That leaves two other options - free agency and trades. I'll discuss players being bandied about in trade talks another time. For now, let's take a look at the free agents available for the Cardinals to use to address their needs. And rather than looking into every open slot from a free agent perspective, let's focus on 2nd base, shortstop, and a starting pitcher. Today, we'll just deal with position players.

Second Base

This is a position in which the Cardinals got a decent amount of production for very little money in 2004. I suspect that the amount of money they spend at this position in the 2005 season will have a lot to do with who they can sign to play shortstop. Here are a few of the players that are available this off-season that the Cardinals could look at to address 2nd base.

Jeff Kent

Kent made $10 million last year for the Houston Astros, posting a 124 OPS+, 23 win shares, and 7 win shares above average. Based on win shares and WSAA, Kent was behind only Mark Loretta in the majors among all 2nd basemen. And oddly enough, he had more defensive win shares at the position than anyone else in the NL. In fact, his 7.4 defensive win shares made him more valuable with the glove than either Rolen or Edmonds. Which makes me wonder if there is an error with his calculation. I mean - come on! How many ground balls up the middle did the Cardinals have in the NLCS that should have been outs, but were instead singles? But I digress.

Kent turns 37 in March, and has spoken of retirement in recent years. While I wouldn't mind him becoming a member of the Cardinals, the only way it would happen would be if he were willing to play for about half of his 2004 salary. And regardless of what The Hardball Times says about his defense, the Cardinals would have to have a defensive replacement available for him. I'll say Kent is a long shot, and not really a good fit for the team.

Placido Polanco

Mr. Polanco has played some solid baseball since being traded to the Phillies in the Scott Rolen trade back in 2002. In 2004, he posted a 101 OPS+ with 17 win shares, 2 WSAA. He made $3.95 million last year, and will turn 30 in October.

Personally, I think Polanco would be a great signing for the Cardinals for many reasons. He is a great defensive player at 2nd, short, and 3rd base. His offense over the last two years has been very solid - in fact he's been better with the Phillies than he was with the Cardinals. And what's more, Polanco and Pujols were good friends when they were teammates back in the day. You have to think that he is still close with the big guy.

In my opinion, the Cardinals should be focusing a lot of effort on signing Polanco as we speak. In bringing him back to St. Louis, the Cardinals would have more flexibility in addressing their team needs as he could be counted on as the opening day starter at either middle infield position. What's more, he would provide an offensive upgrade over the 2004 production of either Renteria or Womack, and would further provide a defensive upgrade if he were to end up starting at 2nd base. What would it cost to bring in Polanco? I'm not at all certain. I would like to think, however, that he would garner something in the neighborhood of $5 million per season.

Todd Walker

A more cost effective option at 2nd base could be in Todd Walker, who made $1.75 million for the Cubs last season. On the year he posted a 105 OPS+ with 14 win shares, 3 WSAA. He'll turn 32 in May.

Walker, a left handed bat, was supposedly given up on by the Cubs in order to address defense at 2nd base. Walker's defense, however, is very similar to that the Cardinals received from Tony Womack last season. (Which is interesting, since rumors have the Cubs interested in Womack - go figure). And Walker, unlike Womack, has a history of getting on base, having a career OBP of .347.

If the Cardinals are able to bring back Edgar Renteria, signing someone like Todd Walker would likely be a great move. He should be affordable, and would give the team an upgrade at the position.

Mark Bellhorn

This guy got plenty of publicity during the playoffs, and for good reason. Interestingly enough, he's a free agent this off-season. In 2004, Bellhorn posted a 107 OPS+ with 21 wins shares, 5 WSAA. His 21 win shares made him the best 2nd baseman in the AL, 3rd best in the majors. Bellhorn, a switch hitter, made just $490,000 last season, and will turn 31 in August.

Boston gave Bellhorn a chance to play every day in 2004, which no team would do during the 2003 season - and it paid off. Theo Epstien was willing to look past the large number of strikeouts and accept the good OBP and above average power that Bellhorn brings to the table. His defense this year was average at worst.

If you look at Bellhorn and Walker, you'll see essentially the same player. The biggest difference, of course, is that Bellhorn got a lot of spotlight time in October this year. I suspect that Bellhorn will get a decent payday this off-season, whereas Walker likely won't. It's unlikely the Cardinals will be in the market for Bellhorn.

Shortstop

Orlando Cabrera

Cabrera is another player who is looking at cashing in after playing for a World Series winner. In 2004, he split regular season time between the Expos and the Red Sox, posting a 79 OPS+ with 12 win shares, and -6 WSAA. In other words, in his playing time he created 6 fewer win shares than an average shortstop. He made $6 million last year, and just turned 30 this month.

Cabrera's career high for OPS+ was 97, which he did in the 1998 season. In fact, he's only posted an OPS+ in the 90's twice in his 8 season career. Cabrera's career OBP is .316. Tony Womack's, for a comparison, is .319. His perceived value is deemed to be his glove more so than his bat, and he did in fact win a gold glove in 2001.

Some rumors have the Cardinals interested in Cabrera as a low cost alternative to Edgar Renteria. I'm not convinced, however, that he's low cost enough to make him a worthwhile signing. As far as I'm concerned, Polanco would be a better signing at shortstop.

Nomar Garciaparra

As Orlando Cabrera was joining the Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra was leaving. Splitting time with the Red Sox and Cubs, the two time batting champion posted a 112 OPS+ this season with 11 total win shares, 2 WSAA. Nomar will turn 32 in July, and made $11.5 million last season.

Nomar was a complete monster during the 1999 and 2000 seasons, posting OPS' over 1000 out of the shortstop position. Ted Williams was so impressed that he stated that Nomar was going to be the next player to hit .400 in a season. Then Nomar only played 21 games in 2001, and has never been the same.

And while his offense has been trending down, his defense is in question as well. In fact, the moves the Red Sox made at the trade deadline were all intended to improve defense, which included the dumping of Nomar and the acquisition of Cabrera. After July 31st, the Red Sox saw their unearned runs allowed plummet, while the Cubs' skyrocketed.

Nomar is likely looking for a one year deal in which to prove himself. And supposedly, he would like for his chance to take place on the West Coast. The Cardinals probably are not going to be a good fit for Nomar this season for multiple reasons. One, barring a major earthquake St. Louis is not on a coast. Two, the Cardinals don't need a one year solution at this position. But if the market for shortstops dries up and Nomar is looking for a home, St. Louis could end up with a 1 year bargain with a large upside.

Jose Valentin

Valentin had an off season in 2004, posting an OPS+ of 88 with 14 win shares, 1 WSAA. He did, however, hit 30 home runs over just 125 games played. Not bad for a shortstop. Valentin, just turned 35, made $5 million last year.

For the first time, Valentin was made into a full time left handed batter rather than switch hitting - which was a good move. As a right handed batter in 2002 and 2003, he only posted a 410 OPS. This season, against left handed pitchers, he had a 666 OPS. With the glove, Valentin has always been underrated. He tends to make a lot of errors, but at the same time he has great range.

The biggest concern with Valentin is his declining hitting numbers, as his OPS+ has now declined 4 consecutive years. What's more, giving a regular lineup spot to a player who posted an OBP under .300 in 2004 would make me nervous. But if the Cardinals were to sign a solid player at 2nd and were able to sign Valentin cheap, he could provide a solid glove with some serious pop out of the bottom of the lineup.

Conclusions

This year there are several options available in the middle infield for Walt to consider. The Cardinals say - and I have no reason to doubt them - that Edgar Renteria is the #1 target this off-season. Of course, supposedly the Red Sox and Cubs are also interested in Edgar, which doesn't bode well. Those teams do, of course, have a little more cash to work with than the Cardinals do.

If the Cardinals are able to sign Renteria, it will likely cost them somewhere in the $8 to $10 million per season range. Can the Cardinals afford to pay him that much at the same time they shell out big bucks to Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds? I'm not certain. Especially when you factor in their desire to bring in an "ace" starting pitcher this off-season. If they do in fact bring back Renteria, you will likely see someone like Bo Hart, or another re-tread like Womack in 2004 starting at 2nd base next year. Someone that is cheap and that management hopes can not hurt the team.

If it were up to me? I'd be attempting to lock up Placido Polanco and Todd Walker. I think it's extremely likely that the pair of them could be had for less than what it's going to cost to get Renteria alone. On top of that, I think it's possible that Polanco and Walker could both hit better than Renteria in 2005 anyway, with Polanco's glove not much of a downgrade from Edgar. If the market were to dry up on Renteria after those signings, he could still be brought in, with Walker relegated to a utility role and Polanco being made the starter at 2nd.

The other great part of signing Polanco and Walker is the extra flexibility it would afford Walt to address the other needs of the team. If Polanco would sign for $5 million a year and Walker $2 million, that would leave the Cardinals roughly $14 million of payroll to lock up a starting pitcher, as well as 4 more bench players. That should be more than enough room to work with. As a result of my theoretical free agent signings, the Cardinals lineup would look something like this next year (with 2004 statistics listed).

1. Polanco (SS) .298/.345/.441

2. Walker (RF) .280/.393/.560

3. Pujols (1B) .331/.415/.657

4. Rolen (3B) .314/.409/.598

5. Edmonds (CF) .301/.418/.643

6. Sanders (LF) .260/.315/.482

7. Walker (2B) .274/.352/.468

8. Molina (C) .267/.329/.356

That lineup would be an upgrade over 2004, with Walker, Polanco, and Molina providing more offense than Womack, Renteria, and Matheny. Additionally, it would be a similar team from a defensive standpoint and would not tie up a large portion of the team's payroll with just 4 players.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Filling in More Gaps

Yesterday, we dealt with internal pitchers the Cardinals could call upon to plug holes on the 2005 roster. Today, we'll deal with position players. First, however, I would like to post some Park Factors that I found for minor league stadiums.

A simple google search resulted in this link from Baseball America. It's not the most detailed list of park factors ever, and the information isn't very descriptive. However, we can guess a couple of things from the web page.

I assume that 1000 would be neutral. Therefore, the Pacific Coast League (not the International League) inflates offense by 7%. At the same time, however, the Memphis Redbirds play in a park that retards offense by roughly 5%. I am not going to take the time to break down the games of the AAA club in order to figure out if Haren's numbers were helped by his home park or hurt by his road schedule - I just wanted to post what I found in a limited amount of time for anyone that may be interested.

OK, back to the point of this post. Let's look to see what, if anything, the Cardinals have in their farm system which might be used to fill out this year's roster. Specifically, what position players could the Cardinals call upon?

Starting Middle Infield

As mentioned previously, the Cardinals are on the market for starters at both 2nd base and shortstop. St. Louis is going to try to bring back Edgar Renteria, but he may not be affordable when the dust clears. Unfortunately, the Cardinals aren't exactly stacked with major league ready talent up the middle. They do, however, have a couple of options if they find themselves in a pinch financially.

Bo Hart

We all know about Hart, the guy who plays with a lot of his last name. He didn't get much of a chance to play in the majors this season, posting a -1 OPS+ over just 13 at-bats. In the minors, however, he wasn't half bad. Over 116 games with Memphis, Hart hit .299/.351/.440, giving him a 791 OPS. What's more, Hart played 21 games at shortstop during the season, making him quite flexible.

Of course, a 791 OPS in the minors doesn't translate well into the majors. What's more, Hart only drew 25 walks over 445 at-bats, which is not a good sign. Hart's defense can make up for his offense, but only to an extent. In my opinion, Hart would not be a great option to start for the Cardinals at 2nd base this season, unless the Cardinals have managed to lock up both Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson and need to save some money. He could, however, be a viable backup middle infielder.

Scott Seabol

Since I don't follow the minor leagues intently, I was surprised to see that Scott Seabol actually played 44 games at 2nd base this season in Memphis. On the year, he hit .304/.356/.539, 895 OPS with 26 doubles and 31 home runs. The bulk of his playing time was at 3rd base rather than 2nd.

Seabol will turn 30 this May, and the former Yankee prospect only has 1 major league at-bat in his career. (He made an out.) Could he be a viable option for the Cardinals to start at 2nd this season? Would his extra power over Hart offset the probable drop off in defense? And for that matter, would he be any worse defensively than Womack or Anderson? It sounds like a long shot for Seabol to be starting for the Cardinals at 2nd base in 2005. If anything, he may have a shot to make the bench as the right handed power bat the Cardinals should be looking for.

Bench

I expect the Cardinals to be looking for 4 bench players this off-season. This assumes that the Cardinals will bring back John Mabry, who will join Roger Cedeno who is already under contract. This leaves the Cardinals shopping for a backup catcher, backup centerfielder, backup middle infielder, and a utility player and/or power hitting right handed bat.

As far as middle infielders go, Bo Hart is the only true candidate in the Cardinals system that would be ready to step into that role. From a utility player standpoint, Scott Seabol really appears to be the only obvious player the Cards have that could come up and play multiple positions. That leaves us looking at backup catchers, backup centerfielders, and power hitting right handers.

Backup Catcher

Cody McKay

In a word? Horrible. That's what McKay was in limited time on the end of the St. Louis bench. In fact, if his name was Cody Williams, I doubt he would have even been on the roster this season. Over 74 MLB at-bats, McKay posted a 39 OPS+. Yes, he was only 61% worse than an average hitter last year. He did fare a little better in the minors, hitting .278/.323/.444, 767 OPS over just 90 at-bats.

McKay's potential value is in the fact that he can not only catch, but play 1st and 3rd plus provide a left handed stick off of the bench. Considering, however, that Mabry and Cedeno already give the Cardinals left handed bats, and that Mabry also plays 1st and 3rd? That's a moot point. What's more, McKay's defense last year was suspect, especially at 3rd base. My recommendation? Convert him into a full time knuckleball pitcher.

Mike Mahoney

Hitting ever so slightly better than McKay for Memphis last year was Mike Mahoney. The 32 year old Cub retread hit .300/.357/.422, 779 OPS. As a major leaguer, he has 40 career at-bats with a 63 OPS+.

Mahoney isn't a much better option than McKay. He hit slightly better, but at his age isn't likely to improve whereas McKay could. McKay also provides a bit more flexibility to the bench. Personally, I'd rather not see either one of them on the roster next year. If someone were going to poke my eye with a stick to make me choose, I'd potentially take the stick.

Backup Centerfielder

Colin Porter

So far as I can tell, there's really only one internal option for this. Porter got 35 at-bats for the Cards this year, posting a 93 OPS+. Over his career, he has 68 major league at-bats with a 50 OPS+. In the minors this year, Porter was actually a worse hitter than Hart or McKay, amazingly enough. He hit .261/.316/.424, 740 OPS. His bright spot in the minors was the fact that over 94 games in the outfield, he only committed 1 error.

Porter has a few things going against him. Obviously, his offense doesn't look very impressive if he had problems out hitting Hart and McKay. He turns 29 next week, making it unlikely that he'll ever be a very good major league hitter. And he's yet another left handed bat. If (heaven forbid) the Cardinals were in fact to use McKay as the backup catcher next year, Porter would be minimally the 4th left handed bat on the bench.

Right Handed Power Bat

John Gall

Gall's name came up a lot last season between the All-Star Break and the trade deadline. The Cardinals kept talking about wanting to add some power from the right side, while Cardinal fans kept asking "why not John Gall?" Some in Memphis claimed the guy's power reminded them of Pujols. Of course, once Larry Walker was acquired all of the Gall call up talk seemed to go away.

On the year, Gall hit .292/.350/.490, giving him an 840 OPS. Over 506 at-bats, he hit 34 doubles and 22 home runs. He also drew 48 walks and struck out 68 times. While I'm not seeing Pujols type power here, he did put up respectable numbers. And while his walk numbers aren't as high as you would like to see, his strikeout totals were pretty low for a guy with 58 extra base hits.

Gall has multiple things working against him. One, he turns 27 next year and doesn't have a major league at-bat. That doesn't bode well for his future. Two, his natural position is 1st base, and the Cardinals have a guy there that they kind of like. Three, apparently his defense in left field is so bad that they didn't trust him enough to call him up in September.

At this point, I think Gall should be considered to be a prime candidate for a trade. The Cardinals have other options at the positions that Gall plays, and it's likely that his production in the majors may never match his hype at this point.

Dee Haynes

Haynes is similar to Gall - he's an outfielder who hits right handed, turns 27 early next year, and has never had a major league at-bat. I am not certain as to why (injury rehab?), but Haynes started out this season in AA Tennessee. Over 103 at-bats, he hit .243/.328/.350, with just 5 extra base hits. He was then promoted to AAA Memphis where his fortunes turned around a bit. Over 182 at-bats, he hit .335/.359/.593, giving him a 952 OPS.

There are plenty of concerns due to his hitting last year in Memphis, despite that nice looking OPS. For one thing, he only hit 5 doubles. For another thing, he only drew 7 walks. And like Gall, his age concerns me, as by now he should have been in the majors at some capacity.

Conclusions

Unlike the pitching side of things, the Cardinals still have a weak farm in regard to hitting options. With John Nelson still a year or more away from being ready, the Cardinals do not have a legitimate player ready to take over at shortstop in 2005. At 2nd base it's not much better, as Bo Hart and Scott Seabol could be used as starters, but would both likely be below average at the position.

Internal options for the bench appear to be even worse. For a backup catcher, the Cardinals should focus on free agency. Even if Mike Matheny isn't willing to sign somewhat cheap, the Cardinals could probably find someone for the league minimum that would be better than McKay or Mahoney. For a backup middle infielder, Bo Hart could suffice, assuming he was not given many at-bats.

For a centerfield backup, the Cardinals would probably best be served to work on Roger Cedeno this Spring. He did play there as recently 2003, and is roughly an average defender over his career in center. If Edmonds does happen to go down due to a long term injury, Porter could be called up to serve as an emergency option.

Finally, there is the issue of a right handed power bat. I personally don't think that Gall or Haynes are going to do the trick. They are unlikely going to be able to get the kind of production we got used to from the Eddie Perez' of the world prior to 2004. What's more, they'd be fighting with John Mabry and Roger Cedeno for scraps of playing time behind Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders. Yes, I said in a previous post that there would be at least 80 starts available for backup outfielders, but that's not a lot of playing time if you split it between 3 or 4 players. In my opinion, the Cardinals should be on the market for someone that can hit for power from the right side. What's more, Gall and Haynes should be trade bait. I wonder if Arizona would be interested in a power hitting corner outfielder or two?

That brings us to the following outlook for the 2005 Cardinals at these vacant positions.

2nd base - Hart, Seabol, Free Agent
Shortstop - FA

Backup Catcher - Matheny, FA
Backup Middle Infielder - Hart, Luna, FA
Bench Slot 5 - FA
Bench Slot 6 - FA

The 5th and 6th slots of the bench would be to replace So Taguchi and Marlon Anderson, either of who could be back. Basically, in my opinion, one of those slots should be used to acquire a guy who kills left handed pitching, and does so for power.



Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Filling in the Gaps

Now that the 2004 season has been reviewed, we can look towards 2005. As documented in previous posts here, the Cardinals are in need of filling the following positions.

2 Starting Pitchers (To replace Williams and Morris)
2 Relief Pitchers (To replace Kline and Eldred)

1 Starting Shortstop (To replace Edgar Renteria)
1 Starting 2nd Baseman (To replace Tony Womack)

1 Backup Middle Infielder (To replace Hector Luna)
1 Backup Catcher (To replace Mike Matheny)
1 Backup Outfielder (To replace So Taguchi)
1 Bench Player (To replace Marlon Anderson)

When I say "To replace Player A", that does not mean that I am ignoring the fact that said player may be re-signed by the team. Edgar Renteria may in fact be back in 2005 (Although, if the Christian Guzman and Omar Vizquel contracts are any indication, he could be expensive.)

Rather than address every option in today's post, I'm going to only cover internal options the Cardinals have to consider heading into 2005. After all, the easiest way to replace departed talent on a major league team is to simply bring up a player already in the farm system when possible. They will have low salaries, and will not require giving up players in a trade. What's more, I am going to focus on pitching today, rather than hitting all 10 positions with needs. Later articles will deal with free agent and trade options.

Starting Pitchers

Internally, there are really only two options for the rotation in Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel. Adam Wainwright could be a long shot for 2005, but for the purposes of this post I am not going to consider him.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren was solid for the AAA Memphis Redbirds in 2004, although there were some blemishes. First, the negatives. Over 128 innings, he had a 4.15 ERA and gave up a whopping 19 home runs. While 4.15 isn't horrible, it's not the kind of ERA you want to see out of a player in AAA who you are considering as a rotation candidate. However, park factors are not as readily available for minor league teams. Does the Memphis club play in a hitters park or a pitchers park? Is the International League tough on hitters or pitchers?

The answers to those questions are most likely available with some digging, but I'm not going to take the time here. Rather, I will focus on three key statistics in which can tell us something about Haren regardless of park or league factors: Innings pitched, walks, and strikeouts.

Over those 128 innings, Haren struck out 150 batters while walking only 33. Rule of thumb to evaluate a solid pitcher in the minors is to strike out more than one batter per inning (check), walk less than one batter every three innings (check), and strike out a minimum of 2 batters for every one batter walked (check). In fact, Haren's K/BB ratio of 4.5 is very impressive.

For St. Louis, Haren pitched 46 innings with a 4.50 ERA. In his time in with the big club, he gave up 4 home runs, struck out 32 batters, and walked 17. While his strikeout rates and walk rates were both worse than he experienced in the minors (as expected), his home run rate did in fact improve.

As a reliever, he had a 2.61 ERA over 20.2 innings. As a starter, he had a 6.04 ERA over 25.1 innings (5 starts). If we take away Haren's first start of the season against the Cubs, in which he gave up 10 earned runs over 3.2 innings, then his starter's ERA actually drops to 2.78. While I usually do not advocate ignoring certain statistics, especially in the case of small sample sizes, I think the emergency start for Jason Marquis truly does qualify as an outlier in this case.

Overall, I do believe that Haren is ready to be given a shot at a rotation slot this Spring. Some argue that he has a better future as a relief pitcher, and they may in fact be right. But I personally feel that Haren has shown that he is ready to step into the rotation, and will likely be better for the Cardinals in 2005 than Morris was in 2004.

Rick Ankiel

While there wasn't much playing time to base an opinion on, Ankiel was so good in the minors this season that he made me drool. 23.2 innings, 0.76 ERA. He struck out 23, walked 2, and gave up 9 hits. That's a WHIP of 0.46. In his lone AAA start, he only gave up 1 hit and 1 hit batsman over 6 shutout innings.

In the majors, Ankiel wasn't as dominant, but was still very impressive. Over 10 innings, he posted a 5.40 ERA, striking out 9 while walking just 1. Of the 6 earned runs he gave up this season, 5 of them were in one game at Coors Field. Not exactly something to be worried about.

We only have a total of 33.2 innings from Ankiel in 2004 in which to make assumptions for the 2005 season, which obviously is not a large body of work. With that being said, it's hard not to be optimistic about his chances to make a comeback to the rotation in 2005. I suppose the biggest question would have to be - how many innings could he safely pitch without running the risk for injury? By opening day of 2005, his Tommy John surgery will have been roughly 18 months in the past. He should be healthy enough to start, but would likely need to have a somewhat light workload during the season.

Bullpen

There are always multiple options to fill out a bullpen each and every season. This is especially the case for the Cardinals in 2005, where they have 4 above average relievers returning in Isringhausen, King, Tavarez, and Calero. For the sake of simplicity, I'm only going to focus on three options - Al Reyes, Randy Flores, and Carmon Cali.

Al Reyes

For Memphis, Reyes went 2-2 with 23 saves over 39.2 innings, posting a 2.95 ERA. He struck out an impressive 47 batters, walking just 14. Reyes then got a late call up with the Cardinals and really turned it on, posting a 0.75 ERA over 12 innings pitched. He struck out 11 batters, while only walking 2, and posted a 558 ERA+. Yes, I realize that he only got 48 outs, but a 558 ERA+? Unreal.

Reyes has been around the block, having pitched every season in the majors since 1995. Here's what I don't understand, though - the guy doesn't seem to stick anywhere.

2001 - Los Angeles, 25.7 innings, 104 ERA+
2002 - Pittsburgh, 17 innings, 163 ERA+
2003 - New York (AL), 17 innings, 138 ERA+
2004 - St. Louis, 12 innings, 558 ERA+

You would think that a guy posting those kinds of numbers, especially in 2002 and 2003, would have been playing in the majors the entire 2004 season. Instead he was a AAA closer, playing for the league minimum, and an eventual September call up (who did, of course, get to pitch in the World Series.)

To me, Al Reyes should be a no-brainer signing for the Cardinals. To have the ability to replace Cal Eldred with Reyes automatically improves the bullpen, and would help offset the likely decline in production that will be seen from Julian Tavarez. What's more, Reyes would help give the Cardinals the flexibility to trade Calero, if the Randy Johnson trade rumors have any substance.

Randy Flores

Flores, a lefty, was a teammate of Al Reyes in Memphis this year, posting a 3.82 ERA over 122.2 innings. Flores pitched in 36 games, including 15 starts for the AAA club. He struck out 99 batters, walked 46, and gave up 10 home runs. With the Cardinals in September, Flores was impressive. Over 14 innings he posted a 1.93 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 217 ERA+.

Flores, who will turn 30 next year, appears to have been a success in the majors this year due to small sample size. Even with his 217 ERA+ this year, his career mark is now at 83 over a mere 43 major league innings. Flores could be an ever so popular LOOGY for the Cardinals - Lefty One Out GuY - since his OPS allowed to lefties was 610 over a mere 17 at-bats. If he would sign cheap, he would be worth the risk (as he was for the 2004 season.)

Carmon Cali

Cali, another lefty from the farm, had a solid 2004 campaign. In AA for the Smokies, Cali posted a 2.91 ERA over 46.1 innings, striking out 47 batters while walking 19. Moving on up to Memphis, Cali got another 20 innings with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 20 and walking 4. Overall, that gave him 66.1 minor league innings with a 2.83 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning, a 2.9 K/BB ratio, and one batter walked per 3 innings - all good numbers.

With the Cardinals, Cali wasn't quite as successful. Pitching in 10 games and getting 7.1 innings of work, Cali had an 8.59 ERA, 49 ERA+. Righties killed him, lefties killed him - it just wan't all that pretty. Basically - Cali was likely hurt by small sample size as much as Flores was helped by it. This was his first chance to play in the majors, as he just turned 26 this month. And unlike Flores, the Cardinals have the rights to Cali in 2005.

Conclusions

I personally believe that both Haren and Ankiel could be big parts of the rotation in 2005, and that they could combine to be better for the Cardinals than Woody and Morris were in 2004. Both pitchers have a history of getting strikeouts, which is supposedly one of the goals the Cardinals have this season - to add a power pitcher to their staff. Compared to Matt Morris (2004 version), Rick Ankiel would in fact be a power pitcher. Ditto for Haren compared to Williams.

This brings us to the issue of team depth, however, If Ankiel and Haren are in the rotation along with Carpenter, Marquis, and Suppan - who do the Cardinals have in the minors to use in the event of an injury? Will Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson, or Anthony Reyes be ready next year? Can the Cardinals even go into Spring training counting on Ankiel not to have a relapse?

In my mind, counting on Ankiel, along with the afore mentioned prospects, is risky. Yes, it could work out great. And it could all explode in the Cardinals face. As I mentioned in the rotation review, I think the Cardinals would be wise to bring in a free agent starting pitcher to bolster the rotation. I don't think it would necessarily have to be someone of the quality of Pedro Martinez. However, a proven starter would provide stability to the rotation, and allow room for error should Ankiel not make it back, or Carpenter to continue struggling with his injury problems.

From a bullpen standpoint, I really liked Al Reyes this year. The Cardinals should in fact attempt to sign him, potentially for a couple of years. He's proven himself more than once over the years and would provide the Cardinals with an upgrade over Cal Eldred.

For the 2nd lefty in the pen, I feel that the Cardinals have a couple of decent options. Cali was great in AA and AAA before hitting a road block in the majors. I suspect, however, that he would be fine as the 2nd lefty out of the pen, with the potential to be very good in the future. What's more, if the Cardinals do in fact add a free agent starting pitcher, then someone has to be bumped into the bullpen. In my mind, Ankiel is likely the natural choice for that. One, it would allow him a full season in the majors with fewer innings pitched, allowing him to build up arm strength. Two, it would provide the Cardinals with a 2nd lefty in the pen that has proven MLB success, albeit in the past for the most part.

Plenty of arguments could also be made for Haren to be the starter pushed into the pen. He was great in relief this year, and allowing Ankiel to start would give the Cardinals that lefty starter that they were missing the last 2 years. Either way, the team would be deeper with either Ankiel or Haren in the bullpen, as they could be used in emergency starts or long relief roles.

By simply building from within the organization, the Cardinals could post a pitching staff in 2005 that looks like this:

Rotation
Carpenter
Suppan
Marquis
Haren
Ankiel

Bullpen
Isringhausen
King
Calero
Tavarez
Reyes
Cali

My only personal suggestion for the team, as mentioned, would be to sign a free agent starting pitcher who could provide a bit of organizational depth. That would make the staff look more like this:

Rotation
Carpenter
Free Agent
Suppan
Marquis
Haren/Ankiel

Bullpen
Isringhausen
King
Calero
Tavarez
Reyes
Haren/Ankiel
(Cali in the minors)

We'll address the candidates for the free agent rotation slot at a later time. For now, what you see is a very deep rotation, which likely would be slightly better than the 2004 version. What's more, the bullpen would also be deeper, with one difference - you might end up with just 1 lefty in the pen instead of 2 under this scenario. While that wouldn't be the end of the world, two left handed relievers worked very well for the Cardinals in 2004. Regardless if the Cardinals had 1 or 2 left handers to relieve, though, the bullpen should be a strength yet again next season. All of this by simply re-signing Al Reyes, and landing just one free agent starting pitcher.

(Note - this entire analysis goes out the window if the Cardinals give up Haren, Ankiel, and Calero for Randy Johnson. If that were the case, the Cardinals would have Reyes and Cali in the pen, and would have to additionally find another starting pitcher to replace Haren/Ankiel).




Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Johnson Rumors

Now that I've gotten all of the reviews out of the way, I can focus on the present a bit. Tomorrow, I'll be writing an article on what I think the Cardinals should address. For now, though, I'd like to briefly call your attention to this little news article from Newsday.com. Namely, the following portion:

"It's believed the Chicago White Sox have offered first baseman Paul Konerko and righthander Jon Garland, and that the St. Louis Cardinals have proposed a package featuring lefthander Rick Ankiel and righthanders Kiko Calero and Danny Haren."

I like Randy Johnson, I really do. And I'd love to see the Cardinals featuring him at the front of their rotation next season. But Haren AND Ankiel AND Calero? Isn't that kind of nuts?

Yesterday I mentioned how fond I am of Calero, and that he has closer potential. Haren is young, cheap, and has the makings of a solid #2 or #3 starter. And we all know that Rick Ankiel still has great potential, even with the high risk of him ever truly coming back.

Last season, Randy Johnson had 25 Win Shares, compared to Calero having 5, Haren 1, and Ankiel 0. So yes - last year, Johnson was more valuable than all three of those guys combined. However, he will turn 42 during the 2005 season, while Haren, Calero, and Ankiel will all likely be on the Cardinals roster the entire year and thus having more value. (None of them were on the active roster the entire 2004 season). What's more - Johnson will make $16.5 million ($4 million deferred) next year, while the other three will combine to make less than $2 million.

Is one year - two years max - of Randy Johnson worth the 5 more years of Haren, 4 more of Calero, and 1 more of Ankiel? I just don't see it.

I don't think that any of the players in this trade rumor should be considered untouchable. A GM should always keep his options open. With that being said, I'll be upset if the Cardinals let more than two of them go to acquire Johnson.

(Disclaimer - I did not want the Cardinals to give up both Jimmy Journell and Bud Smith for Scott Rolen in 2002 when those rumors surfaced. That trade alone should show me two things. One, Walt may be as hesitant to give up too much young talent in a trade as I would be. Two, prospects are never a sure thing, as Journell being out of the system wouldn't have been a bad thing at all, while Smith has never been the same since the 2001 season.)

2004 Bench Review

John Mabry
.296 Average, 867 OPS, 125 OPS+
9 win Shares, 1 WSAA
2004 Salary - Unknown (Minor League Contract)
2005 Salary - Unknown

I looked and looked for salary information for Mabry with no luck. All I know is the Cardinals signed him to a minor league deal in February. I don't even know if that means he's a free agent or not right now.

What I do know is this - Mabry was far and away the best player off of the bench for the Cardinals this year. With the bat, he was the 5th best hitter on the team if you look at rate statistics instead of cumulative stats. Better than Renteria, better than Sanders. His 125 OPS+ was a career high - even better than the half season he spent with Oakland when he made Beane look like a genius (yet again) for trading away Jeremy Giambi for him. His 240 at-bats was the most playing time he received since he was with the Mariners in 1999. His 13 home runs? Matched his career high that he set as a starter for the 1996 Cardinals when it took him 543 at-bats to get there.

With the glove, Mabry wasn't great anywhere. However, the fact that he could hold his own at both corner outfield positions, as well as both corner infield positions, made him even more valuable.

Mabry, who has a career 93 OPS+, is unlikely to match the production he provided the Cardinals in 2004. However, the Cardinals should attempt to bring him back if they don't have him locked up already. He was an important part of the Cardinal team in 2004 who would have likely been even more valuable had the Cardinals still been in the hunt for a playoff race when Rolen was injured late in the season.

So Taguchi
.291 Average, 756 OPS, 97 OPS+
6 Win Shares, 0 WSAA
2004 Salary - $1.2 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

This was So's worst season in the majors. Which, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone. It's the first time he's had more than 54 at-bats in a year, getting 179 chances this season.

Some would think his value was as a right handed bat, giving Edmonds the occasional day off against a left handed starter. Unfortunately, he had reverse splits. His OPS vs. right was 836, vs. left was 683.

Others will say that his value was with the glove. In centerfield, that seems to have played out, although no other backup received more than 10 innings in center. If you look at Range Factor, Fielding Percentage, and Zone Rating in the corner outfield slots, however, Taguchi wasn't much (if any) better than other fielders available off of the bench. In fact, Sanders was better in left field than Taguchi, ending my understanding of why So started in left in Game 1 of the World Series - but I digress.

Taguchi was an average bench player in 2004. Was he worth $1.2 million? Hard to imagine, considering how well Colin Porter did in limited action. Taguchi was a better hitter than Cedeno off of the bench, but both only hit right handed pitching. I'm not convinced that Taguchi's glove in centerfield is worth bringing him back next year.

Roger Cedeno
.265 Average, 702 OPS, 84 OPS+
6 Win Shares, 0 WSAA
2004 Salary - $1 million (Paid by St. Louis)
2005 Salary - $1 million (Paid by St. Louis)

You know a guy has worn out his welcome when a team is willing to pay more than 80% of his salary for 2 years in a row just to dump him. It wasn't all that long ago, 1999, that Cedeno posted a .396 OBP and stole 66 bases in a season. For some reason, though, he forgot how to get on base.

In 2004, Cedeno improved slightly over his previous two seasons. His OPS+ ticked up from 82 in 2003, 80 in 2002. Cedeno was a decent hitter against righties (735 OPS), horrible against lefties (553). And for a guy who's weapon used to be speed, he hardly showed it this season as he only stole 5 bases in 6 attempts.

Cedeno will be back next year, unless he is traded yet again. I suspect that what we saw out of Cedeno in 2004 is pretty much what can be expected again in 2005. Hopefully, he'll take more chances to steal a few bases this year to up his value slightly.

Yadier Molina
.267 Average, 684 OPS, 80 OPS+
5 Win Shares, 0 WSAA
2004 Salary - $300,000 (League Minimum)
2005 Salary - Unknown

In limited playing time, Molina was a better hitter than Matheny, with a better glove. Do I really need to say any more? As far as I'm concerned, the future is here. Molina made $2.45 million less than Matheny, giving the Cardinals room to negotiate. If Matheny wants to finish his career with St. Louis, that's fine. But he needs to realize that Molina is already better, and thus the Cardinals do not need to overpay for Matheny's coaching abilities, as valuable as they may be.

Hector Luna
.249 Average, 668 OPS, 75 OPS+
4 Win Shares, -1 WSAA
2004 Salary - $300,000
2005 Salary - Unknown

Considering that he was a Rule 5 (or Rule V, if you prefer) player, Luna did a great job in 2004. He was only 25% below average with the bat, and provided just 1 win share below an average player at his defensive positions. Since he had time at 2nd, short, 3rd, and even some in left and center, that's saying a lot.

I personally expect that we will see Luna playing every day in 2005 - for Memphis. I don't think he's ready to be an everyday major leaguer, even though some argue that he should be starting next year at either 2nd or short. A full year in AAA will do him good, and he may in fact be ready to contribute for the 2006 season. I don't know that Luna will ever be a great major league baseball player, but the Cardinals were not hurt in keeping him on their bench for the entire 2004 season.

Marlon Anderson
.237 Average, 649 OPS, 68 OPS+
4 Win Shares, -3 WSAA
2004 Salary - $600,000
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Absolutely horrible is the nicest way I can put it. Nonetheless, he received more at-bats in the playoffs than John Mabry. Probably the biggest beef I have with Tony all season, in fact. Whatever the case, it's not certain that he'll be back next year.

If the Cardinals do decide to bring him back, there are a couple of things going for him. One, he should be cheap. Two, last year was the worst season of his career by far, making it likely he'll rebound this year. His OPS+ was the worst he had posted since he had a 48 with Philly in 2000. His .269 OBP was a career low, much worse than his career .311 OBP.

Overall, Anderson was a flop in my mind. If the Cardinals want to bring back a left handed hitting, below average defensive 2nd baseman - I hope they only bring back one and not both Anderson and Womack. In my mind, they are interchangeable.

Conclusions

Roger Cedeno is the only member of the bench who is certain to return in 2005. Along with Cedeno, the Cardinals should make sure to bring back the MVP of the bench in John Mabry for another year, even though he is likely to digress a bit from his 2004 performance. Should the Cardinals re-sign Mike Matheny, that would leave the Cardinals needing 3 more bench players, including at least one that could play middle infield.

The Cardinals should attempt to have one guy off of the bench in 2005 that can kill left handed pitching, ala Eddie Perez or Eric Davis. That was sorely missing in 2004. Hopefully, the Cardinals can fill the remaining holes without spending a lot of money, potentially giving guys like Colin Porter or John Gall a shot to actually play in the majors.








Monday, November 15, 2004

2004 Bullpen Review

This is only my 6th post in the last 2 and a half weeks. On the one hand, that's more than the 1 post per week I promised in the off-season. On the other hand, I'd like to post more. Here's hoping the real world doesn't keep me from posting any less than I have been.

My plan is to cover the bullpen today, the bench tomorrow, and wrap up recommendations for the Cardinals on Wednesday. I would like to have thinks laid out as to what I would like to see before the Cardinals start signing players.

Jason Isringhausen
4-2, 47 Saves, 2.87 ERA, 146 ERA+, 75.1 innings
12 Win Shares, 4 Win Shares Above Average, 579 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $7.25 million
2005 Salary - $9.25 million

Isringhausen was one of the better relievers on the Cardinal staff this season, even though he probably garnered less confidence out of your average fan than the guys setting up for him. With Izzy back in the pen, the Cardinals did not have the same early season struggles that they did last season trying to close out tight games. And let's be honest - the Cardinals likely would be trying to make the playoffs for the 6th year in a row in 2005 had Izzy been healthy in the 2003 season.

On the good side, Isringhausen set a career high with 47 saves, besting his previous high of 34 from the 2001 season with Oakland. Of course, a closer for a 105 win team should rack up a large number of saves. Izzy also posted a career high for relief innings pitched, throwing 75.1 frames. His previous high in relief was once again the 2001 season, in which he threw 71.1 innings.

Of course, it wasn't his most dominant season with the Birds on the Bat. His 146 OPS+ was his lowest since he posted a 125 in the 2000 season. What's more, as most noticed, he gave up many more extra base hits this year than in years past. In his 75.1 innings, he gave up 16 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 home runs. In his previous two seasons with the Cardinals he had pitched 107.1 innings and only given up 16 doubles, 0 triples, and 2 home runs. In fact, if you look at his SLG allowed over the previous 3 seasons, you see a trend that isn't great.

2002 - 242
2003 - 277
2004 - 319

And at the same time, his strikeout rate is decreasing. (K/9IP)

2002 - 9.4
2003 - 8.8
2004 - 8.5

Both of those trend are pretty slight, I'll grant you that. Izzy is still striking out almost a batter per inning, and his SLG allowed isn't exactly horrible. However, those numbers are still moving in the wrong direction - which isn't something you want to see out of a guy due to make just south of $10 million next year.

Ray King
5-2, 31 holds, 2.61 ERA, 160 ERA+, 62 innings
7 Win Shares, 3 WSAA, 539 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $ 1 million
2005 Salary - Unknown (Arbitration Eligible)

Ray King was great this year, posting his best season since 2000 when he only pitched 28.2 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers. He posted career highs in both holds and wins. His ERA, ERA+, and OPS allowed were all the best King had put up since 2000. In fact, his OPS allowed over the last 4 years is very encouraging.

2001 - 729
2002 - 682
2003 - 601
2004 - 539

While I wouldn't expect this trend to continue for King next season, I do not think that it would be unrealistic to see him repeat his 2004 numbers again next year, giving the Cardinals one of the best left handed relievers in the majors again next season.

Julian Tavarez
7-4, 4 saves, 19 holds, 2.38 ERA, 176 ERA+, 64.1 innings
8 Win Shares, 3 WSAA, 620 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $1.6 million
2005 Salary - $2.6 million

When the Cardinals signed Tavarez during the off-season, I was personally less than impressed. Here was a guy who was known to be a head case that had pitched above average in just 5 of his 11 seasons in the majors. He was coming off of a season in which he was just 16% better than average for a bad Pittsburgh team, and the reason cited for picking him up was his low home runs allowed total (1 over 83.2 innings in 2003). But when you look at his 2002 numbers, in which he posed a 5.39 ERA for the Marlins as a starter, it appeared to me as if 2003 was likely to be a fluke. A 2 year, $4.2 million deal to a reliever coming off of just 1 good season out of his last 3? Not good.

Well, Julian proved me wrong for the most part. Yes, he was in fact a head case. However - the guy was lights out this year. His ERA+ was the best he had posted since 1995 when he was a 22 year old reliever for the AL Champion Cleveland Indians. He had 19 holds, which was the most he had posted since he had 26 for the Giants in 1997. His OPS allowed was very similar to the numbers he put up for Pittsburgh last year. And his walk total dropped, while his K total improved.

So, why was he so much better this year? Was it luck? Was it easier to concentrate while playing for a winner? Was their really some magic in that old soot hat he wore? I don't know. I will say this, however. Based on the last 4 seasons, Tavarez is much better out of the pen than he is starting games. He will likely be an above average pitcher again during the 2005 season. Most likely, however, it won't be at the same level that we saw in 2004.

Steve Kline
2-2, 3 saves, 15 holds, 1.79 ERA, 234 ERA+, 50.1 innings
6 Win Shares, 3 WSAA, 581 OPS Allowed
2004 Salary - $1.7 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Kline rebounded nicely in 2004 to have what I would consider to be his 2nd best season with the Cardinals, just barely worse than 2001 in which he had a 579 OPS allowed, 240 ERA+. His injury in September may have kept him from having his best overall season ever.

As good as Kline was last season, he has a few things working against his chances of coming back to St. Louis. More than you can count on his middle finger, in fact. For one thing, as good as he was, the Cardinals still have the rights to Ray King this year. For another thing, the Cardinals also have the rights to Randy Flores, Rick Ankiel, and Carmon Cali for the 2005 season. None of those 3 players are likely to cost as much as Kline. When you factor in the uncertainty surrounding his return health wise along with the fact that Kline could revert to 2003 form next year, and I think it's unlikely we will see Kline pitching for St. Louis next year.

Kiko Calero
3-1, 2 saves, 12 holds, 2.78 ERA, 151 ERA+, 45.1 innings
5 Win Shares, 2 WSAA, 546 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $310,000
2005 Salary - Unknown (Arbitration Elligible)

Calero is probably my favorite reliever for the Cardinals. To me, he is the perfect example of why closers should not be paid multiple millions of dollars to rack up saves. Here is a guy making $310,000, posting numbers similar to Jason Isringhausen who was making 23.4 times more money.

The most important stride made by Calero this year was his walks allowed. In 2003, he walked 20 batters over 38.1 innings. This year, he only walked 10 over 45.1 innings. The end result was his K/BB ratio skyrocketed from an already impressive 2.6 to an awesome 4.7. When you have a reliever holding hitters to a .176 average, striking out more than 1 batter per inning, and rarely giving up walks? You have the makings of a great closer.

I look for Calero to be solid once again this season, potentially having a breakout year. He'll be a bargain at whatever price he's likely to make this year, and may in fact be the Cardinal closer as soon as the 2006 season.

Cal Eldred
4-2, 1 save, 9 holds, 3.76 ERA, 111 ERA+, 67 innings
4 Win Shares, 0 WSAA, 779 OPS allowed
2004 Salary - $900,000
2005 Salary - Free Agent

As poorly as the season started for Cal, he actually ended up having a respectable year. His ERA+ matched his 2003 campaign, with his OPS numbers slipping by 36 points. Cal is a great example of 2004 vs. 2003. In 2003, he was the 2nd best guy out of the pen. In 2004, posting similar numbers, he was the 6th best guy.

I like Eldred, and came to not worry about him coming into games by the middle of the season. Ignoring the playoffs, of course. I'm sure he could be signed cheap for the 2005 season, but let's be honest - is he a better option than Al Reyes at this point? Likely not. I suspect he'll be gone.

Conclusions

Izzy and Tavarez are the only players that are under contract for the 2005 season. However, It's all but certain that King and Calero will be retained as well with increases in salary. Those 4 players give the Cardinals the beginnings of another dominant bullpen next year. Cal Eldred, I suspect, will be gone and replaced by either Reyes or Dan Haren. If Steve Kline was guaranteed to repeat his 2004 numbers, he would be a great player to bring back at the right price. However, I think the Cardinals would be better off saving some money by using Ankiel, Flores, or Cali as the 2nd lefty out of the pen. All three of those guys can be had for under $1 million, and are just as likely to be solid next year as Kline.

The Cardinals bullpen was a large part of the success of 2004. For 2005, the Cardinals bullpen has a chance to be even deeper and better.


Monday, November 08, 2004

2004 Outfield Review

Jim Edmonds
.301 Average, 1061 OPS, 173 OPS+
36 Win Shares, 19 Win Shares Above Average
2004 Salary - $8.6 million
2005 Salary - $9.8 million

Jim Edmonds was in the running for the MVP, but in my opinion his late season slump kept him from coming as close as he could have. Of course, the numbers Edmonds put up in September and October were very similar to those he posted on April and May, so maybe he was just reverting to normal. Consider this - of his career high 42 home runs, Edmonds posted 23 of them in July and August. If he could put together an entire season of hitting home runs at that pace, Edmonds could actually make a push for 70. Of course, we all know that he's a streaky hitter, so that's unlikely to happen.

Overall, streaky or not, he had a career year. His 36 win shares was 6th most in the majors, and his 6.5 defensive win shares was the best in the NL, right behind Johnny Damon (7.1) for the most in baseball. His 173 OPS+ was the best of his career, as was his home runs (42), RBI (111), and SLG (.643). He was just off of the mark for career highs in walks and OBP. One would think that at his age - he'll turn 35 in late June - that he would begin to trend down. However, his play since coming to St. Louis has actually been trending up. By simply looking at his OPS+ since playing for the Redbirds, we see an interesting trend.

2000 - 148
2001 - 150
2002 - 163
2003 - 161
2004 - 173

Every season other than 2003, he has set new career highs in OPS+. While it would be unrealistic to expect that trend to continue for a couple of more years, I do think that it is likely that Edmonds will still be a very large part of the St. Louis attack next season. Most likely, his production will decrease slightly from his 2004 numbers. However, I would have said the same entering 2004.

Larry Walker
.298 Average, 1013 OPS, 152 OPS+
13 Win Shares, 5 WSAA
2004 Salary - $4.2 million (paid by St. Louis)
2005 Salary - $5 million (paid by St. Louis)

What a great shot in the arm this guy was. He provided another tough out in the lineup, gave the Cardinals another power lefty to go with Edmonds, stabilized the bench, and gave the Cardinals a slight upgrade defensively all in one fell swoop.

Since Walker played for Colorado in recent history, it's hard to tell just how good he's actually going to be in St. Louis. Looking at OPS+, his 152 during the 2004 season was the best he had performed since 2001, when he posted a 160. From a power standpoint, I really don't know what to expect out of Walker next season. Consider is SLG over the last few seasons.

2001 - .662
2002 - .602
2003 - .476
2004 - .589

Furthermore, his SLG in St. Louis was .560 this season. Very good, but not the numbers he was posting in his prime in the thin air of Coors Field. However, there is one thing that I believe we can count on out of Walker. His OBP has not been below .400 since 1996, when he posted a .342 at the age of 29. In fact, over the last eight years he has a .437 OBP. Granted, some of that is due to playing in Colorado. The large field increases base hits, the thin air produces more home runs, and also causes pitchers to walk a few more batters. What's more, Walker's high OBP's have been created in large part by his high batting average, as he has never drawn more than 100 walks in a season, with his average being around 58 per year.

With that being said - Walker showed in his limited time in St. Louis that he will in fact draw walks when he feels he is needed to. His walk rate of 0.18 per at-bat was higher than his career mark of 0.13. To add to that, take a look at his 2003 numbers. His power numbers were very low, and Walker drew a career high 98 walks, 18 more than he had ever drawn in a season. That appears to me to suggest a player who did not think he could contribute as much with power, so he was getting on base more to create opportunities for his teammates.

Other than playing in a hitter's park, the other problem Walker has had is staying healthy. Walker has only managed more than 500 at-bats twice in his career, and has only played more than 143 games once, when he played 153 in 1997. Of course, it's no coincidence that he won the MVP in the one year he was able to play the most. Walker turns 38 next month, so there is no reason to expect him to suddenly be a player that can be counted on to play more than 130 or so games next year, and even that may be pushing it a bit.

Reggie Sanders
.260 Average, 797 OPS, 105 OPS+
16 Win Shares, 2 WSAA
2004 Salary - $2 million
2005 Salary - $4 million

Sanders did about what should have been expected out of him this season - posted slightly above average numbers for a corner outfielder by providing a little pop, and stealing a few bases when the opportunity arose. Much like Walker, Sanders has been a bit injury prone over his career, but that did not provide any problems this season. Sanders played in 135 games, 3rd highest in his career and just 5 games off of his career mark.

The most interesting thing to note about Sanders for the 2005 season, to me anyway, is this; will he continue to play better in odd years? Look at his OPS+ pattern.

1994 - 110
1995 - 155
1996 - 115
1997 - 121
1998 - 99
1999 - 130
2000 - 76
2001 - 119
2002 - 111
2003 - 134
2004 - 105
2005 - ???

For eleven seasons in a row, he is consistently better in odd seasons, worse in even. I have always considered this to be a fluke, and I still can't explain it. Let's just hope it happens again this year. At his age, it's unlikely that he will improve much over this season. In fact, we should expect him to decline slightly. However, if he has any of his "odd season mojo" left over, the Cards might get a left fielder that can hit 15 to 20% better than league average, providing some extra, unexpected spark out of the bottom of the lineup.

Conclusions

Edmonds, Walker, and Sanders should provide the Cardinals with an above average hitting and fielding outfield again in 2005, despite them all getting a bit long in the tooth. I personally expect Edmonds to be in the hunt for his 8th gold glove, and to provide one of the best bats in the NL yet again. Walker should minimally be able to provide a .400+ OBP out of the two hole, with the potential to still hit 25 to 30 home runs not being out of the question. And Sanders will likely be posting very similar numbers to this year, with an outside shot of him reverting a bit to his 2003 form.

Overall, however, the Cardinals shouldn't count on more than 120 or so games from each of their corner outfielders. This opens up an opportunity for others to get starts in a minimum of 80 games during the course of the season, as I would assume that both Sanders and Walker will be given off one day per week during the year. Whether those extra starts are given to guys already on the team, in the minors, or a free agent remains to be seen. I will address the #4 outfield slot in a future article.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

2004 Infield Review

I was going to review the entire starting lineup, but the rotation review ended up being so long that I decided that A, writing an article that long is a lot of work and B, it's probably too long for most people to want to read anyway. So, my next two articles will consist of the starting lineup, broken down into infield and outfield.

I'll be using statistics that you are used to evaluate the starting infielders, other than OPS+. OPS+, like ERA+, is a stat that is available at baseball-reference.com, and is basically adjusted OPS for league and park effects. With that out of the way, let's get started.

Albert Pujols
.331 Average, 1072 OPS, 175 OPS+
40 Win Shares, 21 Win Shares Above Average
2004 Salary - $7.05 million
2004 Salary - $11 million

I could use dozens of more stats to point out how awesome Pujols is, but you've likely heard most if not all of them. Something you may not have seen, however, is similarity scores from baseball-reference.com. For the 4th year in a row, the player most similar to Albert Pujols through the first 4 years of a career is Joe DiMaggio. What's more, 7 of the 10 most similar players through their 1st four years of play ended up in the hall of fame. Not bad, to say the least.

So, we know he's awesome. Most interesting of all, he should actually improve for another year or two if history is any indication. Most players don't hit their peak until 26 or 27 years old, with Pujols turning 25 in January. His 175 OPS+ was slightly lower than the 189 he put up in 2003, indicating that he may have actually been slightly "off" this year. His walk totals have increased each of his first 4 seasons, just as his K totals have decreased. And to top off the offense, we all saw how great he was with the glove this year. I assume that a gold glove or two will be in his future, especially if Todd Helton ends up in the AL at some point. It's great that the Cardinals have this guy locked up for years to come.

Scott Rolen
.314 Average, 1007 OPS, 160 OPS+
38 Win Shares, 21 WSAA
2004 Salary - $6.18 million
2005 Salary - $9.75 million

Rolen had a career year with the bat, plain and simple. He posted career highs in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, HR, RBI, and OPS+. His career OPS+ is 132, with his previous high being 139 back in 1998. For him to post a 160 in the 8th year of his career, at the age of 29, is pretty impressive.

As far as negatives go - I don't see much to get upset about. He played the fewest games (142), since the 2000 season, but the injury he had should not be a recurring problem in the future. It would be nice to see his doubles numbers go back up. After hitting a career high 49 in 2003, he only hit 32 this year. Additionally, his stolen base total dropped from 13 to 4.

Defensively, he was great again this year, picking up his 6th gold glove at 3rd base. Looking at defensive win shares, he deserved it as well as he just edged out Adrian Beltre in my mind.

Rolen - 5.6 Win Shares, 142 Games, 0.394/Game
Beltre - 6.1 WS, 156 Games, 0.391/Game
A-Rod - 5.8 WS, 155 Games, 0.374/Game

I realize that A-Rod is in the AL, and thus couldn't have taken the GG away from Rolen. However, he was the only other 3rd baseman in the game to have more defensive win shares than Rolen at 3rd. Not bad for a guy playing there in his first season.

Overall, it was a great year for Rolen which could in fact end up being the best one of his career. I suspect that we'll see Rolen revert a bit to his career numbers in 2005. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you - that would mean the best defensive 3rd baseman in the game posting a 900 OPS. And him putting up similar numbers to 2004 is not, of course, out of the question either.

Edgar Renteria
.287 Average, 728 OPS, 90 OPS+
17 Win Shares, -1 WSAA
2004 Salary - $7.5 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

While Rolen was having a career year, Renteria wasn't. He posted his lowest batting average since 2001, his lowest OBP and SLG since 2000. We also saw his walk totals decline, his K totals increase, and his steals evaporate from 34 to 17 in just one year. From a defensive standpoint he also declined, with 6 players in the NL having more defensive win shares than the 2 time gold glove winner.

Some people point out that the last time Renteria had a bad season was 2001 - which also happened to be the last time his contract was running out. During that season, Renteria's production improved greatly after the trade deadline, as he was no longer worried about getting dumped. Could Renteria have been pressing this season, thus affecting his play? Absolutely.

Renteria will turn 30 during the 2005 season. At this point in his career, he's not likely to improve much over what he's done to this point. The main question is - was 2004 a fluke, or were his 2002 and 2003 seasons the ones that were out of place? The truth of the matter is, his 2004 batting average was just 2 points lower than his career average, with his SLG 1 point higher than his career average, and his OPS+ within 6 points of his career average. I'm not convinced that Renteria is worth a large contract based upon those factors.

Tony Womack
.307 Average, 735 OPS, 93 OPS+
18 Win Shares, 2 WSAA
2004 Salary - $300,000
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Womack was above and beyond anything I could have ever predicted for him this season. His best previous OPS+ for a full season was 82, and he posted that 7 years ago. Career highs in average, OBP, SLG, and on and on. Let's put it another way. Womack had more win shares, a higher OPS, and OPS+ than Edgar Renteria at 4% of the cost.

Do I think Womack is likely to repeat this season? No way. He only drew 36 walks the entire year, and has only drawn more than 50 once over his career. Unless Womack has suddenly become a .300 hitter at the age of 34, his OBP is going to plunge next season, most likely near his career average of .319. That's acceptable for a no-hit defensive whiz hitting 8th in the lineup, but not a guy that is supposed to be a table setter who is below average defensively.

Mike Matheny
.247 Average, 640 OPS, 67 OPS+
10 Win Shares, -2 WSAA
2004 Salary - $2.75 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Mike Matheny is a guy that I have a lot of respect for as a man. As a baseball player, however, I'm not as impressed. Let's start with offense. His OPS+ of 67 was his worst since the 2001 season, in which he posted a 51. Much was made of his career high 50 RBI this season. Of course, since RBI are a team dependant stat I don't personally give it much credence. Most discouraging of all was his walk total, which at 23 was the lowest total during his stint with the Cardinals. He's tried working out with Albert Pujols during the offense, he's tried working out with Andy Van Slyke (who tried making him a switch hitter.) Nothing has worked.

Most people will cite that Matheny is still worthy of a starting job, however, because of his defense and pitch calling abilities. Defensively - the guy was great this year. His 8.2 defensive win shares was 2nd most in the NL, right behind Brian Schnieder of the Expos who had 10.6. No one in the AL had more defensive win shares than 7.9 (Damian Miller.) Matheny may have won the gold glove due to his reputation and not playing in Montreal, but he didn't exactly steal it.

Pitching calling wise? Maybe he's good at it, maybe he isn't. I'm not certain that it's as important as some claim it is, but at the same time I don't think it can be ignored. During 2004, pitchers had a 3.88 ERA when Matheny was catching. When Molina was catching, they had a 3.64 ERA. Matheny did catch 3 times as many innings, but you still see what I'm getting at.

Summary

Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen will be the cornerstones of this team for years to come. I think that next season they will continue to be among the best players in the game, both putting up great offense and defense from the corners of the infield. Personally, I think Pujols is likely to improve a bit over this season, with Rolen likely to see a slight decline in offensive production. Overall, I think any decrease in production from Rolen will be offset by an increase from Pujols, making the changes irrelevant.

Mike Matheny is a solid catcher who, in my opinion, does not deserve to start. As great as his glove is, his bat is so weak that overall he hurts the team. What's more, the Cardinals have a great young catcher in Yadier Molina who is deserving of more playing time as far as I'm concerned. I would have no problem with the Cardinals signing Matheny to a cheap 1 or 2 year deal to serve as a backup to Molina and doubles as a bench coach. However, if he isn't willing to sign in the neighborhood of $1 million or so per year, I personally don't think he's worth it. I have a feeling, however, that the Cardinals may feel differently than me.

Tony Womack is an interesting case. He was great for the Cardinals this season, providing a solid leadoff hitter for most of the year. What's more, he had a gutsy performance in the last 2 games of the NLCS, showing a lot of heart and determination that in part helped the team go to the World Series. With that being said, I'm not sure that Womack should be a high priority to be re-signed this off-season due to his historical performance.

Then there is Edgar Renteria. After the 2003 season, it appeared as if Renteria was one of the top shortstops in MLB. After this season, however, he appears to be much more of a gamble. On one hand, he claims that he wants to play for St. Louis for the rest of his career, and I have no reason to not believe him. On the other hand, he's supposedly looking for an average salary in the area of $12 million per year. Albert Pujols is going to make an average a salary of $12.7 million per year over the next 5 years, with Scott Rolen averaging $12.4 million over that same time span. That brings to mind two questions. Is Renteria is worth approximately the same salary as those two? And if so, can the Cardinals compete over the next 5 years with more than $36 million per year already committed to just 3 players?

I see the future of Womack and Renteria somewhat intertwined. I do think that the Cardinals should try to sign Renteria and hope that he reverts to pre-2004 form, but only if the price is right. Perhaps that means an incentive based contract. Whatever the case, anything more than $8 or $9 million a year would appear to be a large risk to me, and even that much might be too steep for him at this point.

If the Cardinals do sign Renteria, then they don't need as much offense out of 2nd base (hopefully), and they will not have as much money to address that position. Since I don't think Luna is ready to start next year, or that Hart ever really will be good enough, then signing Womack for a couple of cheap years might not be a bad idea as long as we're talking about less than $2 million per season.

On the other hand, if the Cardinals cannot come to terms with Renteria then things change. One, they will have much more cash available this off-season. Two, they will need a bit more offense out of 2nd base, assuming they are not on the market for Nomar Garciaparra. If that happens, I think the Cardinals need to seriously consider looking at players like Placido Polanco, Jeff Kent, Mark Bellhorn, and Todd Walker to take over at 2nd base and in part replace the offense that they would have been counting on out of Renteria.

In my mind, the three infield free agents are the biggest questions addressing the Cardinals this off-season. It will be interesting to see what actually takes place.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

2004 Starting Rotation Review

This is the first of a series of articles in which I will break down what the Cardinals have, what they might expect for next year, and what they may need to improve the team next season. Similar articles on the starting lineup, bench, and bullpen will follow in the coming days.

The stats I will be using below are pretty common, other than ERA+. ERA+, which can be found at baseball-reference.com , is a park and league adjusted stat. 100 indicates a league average pitcher. 110 indicates a pitcher that was 10% better than league average.

Chris Carpenter
15-5, 3.46 ERA, 182 IP, 121 ERA+
2004 Salary - $500,000 plus incentives
2005 Salary - $2 million plus incentives

Carpenter had to have been the comeback player of the year in the NL, as he became the obvious #1 starter on a 105 win team after not pitching for a year and a half. Picking up his option at this point is a no-brainer. However, there are some concerns.

First, the obvious fact that he didn't pitch in the playoffs due to nerve problems in his throwing arm. This injury, which is also being experienced by Brad Penny of the Dodgers, appears to be something in which nobody knows what to expect. While we can be optimistic about Carpenter based upon the fact that the Cardinals considered putting him in the bullpen for the World Series, there are still some uncertainties to any effects this might have on his arm next season.

Additionally, there is the fact that Carpenter went from pitching 73.3 innings in 2002, to 0 in 2003, to 182 in 2004. I have read in the past that pitchers throwing 40 or more innings from one season to the next are at a high injury risk the following season. (Think Mark Prior in 2004, after an increased workload in 2003.) However, I have not been able to track down this report on the internet, so you're going to have to trust me on this one.

From a performance standpoint, this is the first season that Carpenter has posted an ERA under 4.09. But, considering he's always pitched in the AL, that is of no surprise (and is a reason why I like using ERA+). Using ERA+, we see that his 2004 season was a slight upgrade over his last healthy season, when he posted a 116 over 215.7 innings in 2001.

Talent wise, I think Carpenter should be a solid #2, if not a decent #1 starter for the Cardinals next season. However, between the nerve problems and the increased workload, I personally think that Carpenter is a likely candidate to spend time on the disabled list during the 2005 campaign, and should be considered a bit of a risk to be counted on as the #1 starter next season.

Jason Marquis
15-7, 3.71 ERA, 201.3 IP, 113 ERA+
2004 Salary - $530,000
2005 Salary - unknown

Marquis was a pleasant surprise in 2004, stepping up to be the team's 2nd best starter during the middle of the season. At one point during the year, he won 11 consecutive decisions. However, many of us still have his finish on our mind in which is lost 3 of his last 4 regular season decisions, then had rough starts against the Dodgers and Astros in the playoffs. He did rebound slightly in Game 4 of the World Series, putting up the only quality start of the series for St. Louis. However, even in that start he struggled, giving up 6 hits and walking 5 batters, only striking out 4, over a 6 inning stretch.

From a performance standpoint, this wasn't actually the best season for Marquis. In 2001 for the Braves, he posted a 3.48 ERA, giving him an ERA+ of 127 over 129.3 innings. The following season, however, he nose dived to an ERA+ of 81 over 22 starts. Leo Mazzone never trusted him again, for whatever reason.

Overall, it was a good year for Marquis who we must remember is less than a year older than Rick Ankiel. However, His apparent fatigue late in the season, combined with the fact that he had never thrown more than 140 professional innings in his career, do make him an injury concern for 2005. He, like Carpenter, is likely to spend at least a limited amount of time on the DL next season.

Jeff Suppan
16-9, 4.16 ERA, 188 innings pitched, 100 ERA+
2004 Salary - $1 million
2005 Salary - $4 million

Suppan ended a streak of 5 consecutive years of 204 or more innings pitched. However, he missed no starts during the year due to injury and likely would have pitched 200 innings had the Cardinals been in the race down the stretch.

Suppan's ERA+ of 100 was a slight decline over 2003, in which he posted a 105. It was, however, the 5th time over the last 6 years in which he was at or above average in his league.

Jeff Suppan will likely be just as good, if not slightly better in 2005. He does not appear to have injury problems, although they can happen to anyone at anytime. With that being said, his workload this year including the playoffs is about what he is used to pitching during a season.

Woody Williams
11-8, 4.18 ERA, 189.7 IP, 100 ERA+
2004 Salary - $4.75 million
2005 Salary - $8 million if option is exercised, no buyout if not

Woody really turned his season around after a shaky start, during which he considered retirement. From an innings pitched standpoint, it was the 4th most he had ever thrown in his career. However, his ERA+ was his lowest since he posted a 99 in 1999, and just the 3rd time in his career he wasn't above average.

Woody turned 38 in August, and likely will never return to the form we enjoyed from 2001 through 2003. Spending $8 million on a 38 year old pitcher who was league average as a 37 year old isn't a very smart move, especially with guys like Danny Haren and Rick Ankiel waiting in the wings. I assume that the Cardinals will not pick up his option. If they do, I would hope for a one year deal for a low amount of money. If they don't, I will always remember Woody as a gutsy, hard working pitcher who was a great starter for the Cardinals over his short stay with the team.

Matt Morris
15-10, 4.72 ERA, 202 IP, 89 ERA+
2004 Salary - $12.5 million
2005 Salary - Free Agent

Take a look at the following trends for Matt over the last 4 seasons.

Year - ERA+, HR/9IP, K/9IP

2001 - 137, 0.5, 7.7
2002 - 114, 0.7, 7.3
2003 - 111, 1.0, 6.3
2004 - 89, 1.6, 5.8

What you see there is not exactly an encouraging trend. He's allowing more and more home runs, and striking out fewer and fewer batters. And as you would expect, his ERA+ is trending down over the same time span.

We heard many different stories out of the Cardinals and Matt Morris over this season. Early in the year, he was talking about how he could no longer rely on his fastball. The Cardinals took some heat for supposedly turning off the radar gun during one of his starts. He had a tendency to follow high pitch count starts with horrible outings. He also had a tendency to have his best outings after 5 or more days of rest. Shoulder tendonitis was blamed late in the season, but he was still taking the mound on 3 days' rest for Game 2 of the World Series.

Morris turned down an extension through the 2006 season prior to the start of this season. At the time, he thought that the dollar amount offered - rumored to be $15.5 million total - was lower than he could get on the open market. At this point, however, do you honestly think anyone out there will want to sign him to a contract that high? If so, I personally hope it's not the Cardinals that are interested.

Conclusions

Jeff Suppan is the only starting pitcher from 2004 that I personally trust to be healthy and effective in 2005. Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis had great seasons from which they can build upon, with the one caveot being that they may be prime candidates for injuries next season. And both Woody Williams and Matt Morris do not have much appeal to be signed for next year in my opinion - at least, not at the prices I assume they would want to work for.

In my mind the Cardinals have the opportunity to replace Woody and Morris with Haren and Ankiel in the rotation. Of course, you can't place too much faith in Haren, who is unproven, or Ankiel, who is a seriously huge question mark. And of course, there are always the even bigger gambles of bringing up guys like Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson, and Anthony Reyes. However, those guys are probably better suited to be options for the 2006 campaign.

Overall, I think the Cardinals would be best suited to pick up one more starting pitcher, either via free agency or trade. Having the extra starter would give the Cardinals a rotation of (in no particular order):

  • Chris Carpenter
  • Jason Marquis
  • Jeff Suppan
  • Free Agent/Trade
  • Dan Haren/Rick Ankiel

This arrangement would allow for Haren and Ankiel to compete for a rotation slot. The one that doesn't make the rotation could be used in the pen, available to step into the rotation in the event of an injury to one of the other starting pitchers. Wainwright, Thompson, and Reyes could all be used in the unfortunate event that two starting pitcher were to go down at the same time, which is entirely possible.