Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Eckstein Signging

I've been dragging my feet in regard to writing my thoughts on the David Eckstein signing. Personally, I was expecting the announcement of his double play partner to be announced by now as well, allowing me to discuss both at once. However, since it's now been almost a week since the David Eckstein era began, I decided I'd better get to it.

Offense

As has been mentioned many times, Eck has a career OBP of .347. Not mentioned quite as often is the fact that he hasn't had an OBP that high since the 2002 season, when Eckstein helped take the Angels to a World Series championship. In that season, Eckstein had a career high .363 OBP along with 21 stolen bases, putting him in a position to score 107 runs. In the two following seasons, Eckstein only got on base at a rate of .325 and .339 respectively.

In some of the various articles and message boards I checked out after the signing, I began to read some things that - in my mind - made a little sense. Some of the posters on Baseball Think Factory pointed out that Eckstein had actually been very good at drawing walks while in the minor leagues. Their reasoning for his lack of walks in the majors was simple - the Anaheim Angels and hitting coach Mackey Sasser preach against drawing walks. This did not seem completely out of line for me, as I remember many Rob Neyer types during the 2002 playoffs talking about how much the Angels depended on hitting rather than getting on base. The theory then was, if the bats cooled down they were sunk. As it ends up, they didn't, so they weren't. (Of course, they haven't won a playoff series since 2002.)

So - is that true? Was Eckstein better at getting on base in the minors? I looked up his numbers on The Baseball Cube, which I might add is a great resource for minor league and college numbers. What did I see? Quite an improvement. While in the Red Sox system, Eckstein actually drew 87 walks over 503 at-bats in A ball, followed up by 89 walks over 483 at-bats in AA. Unfortunately, however, TBC doesn't have hi by pitch stats from the minors, and thus they do not have minor league OBP values. So....I made some predictions. Based upon his career HBP numbers, I calculated Ecksteins minor league OBP's.

1997 (Low A) - 68 games, .400 OBP
1998 (High A) - 135 games, .425 OBP
1999 (AA) - 131 games, .435 OBP
2000 (AAA) - 134 games, .369 OBP

Interestingly enough, we see (in my estimation) an increasing OBP from level to level until he hit AAA, in which his OBP fell. Of course, those are estimations on my part that could change greatly depending on how many times he was hit by pitch. So, let's just look at his walk rate, which I'm calculating as BB divided by AB (even though a walk doesn't count as an AB).

1997 - 13.3%
1998 - 17.3%
1999 - 18.4%
2000 - 14.6%
2001 - 7.4%
2002 - 7.4%
2003 - 8.0%
2004 - 7.4%

That is quite a drastic change between 2000 (last year in the minors) and 2001 (rookie campaign.) I think that it is in fact quite possible that Eckstein was changing his approach at the plate once he reached the major leagues. Whether is was an edict from the Angels, his own choice, tougher competition, or a combination of the three? Well, we may never know. However, it's hard to imagine a guy that was able to walk around 15% of the time suddenly becoming so overpowered by opposing pitchers that his walk rate fell off by a factor of two. I personally think that this is encouraging. Hopefully, the Cardinals and new hitting coach Hal McRae will encourage Eckstein to get on base more often via the free pass. If so, maybe an OBP of .350 or greater will not be out of the question after all.

Defense

The other thing that seems to be of concern about Eckstein is his lack of range and throwing arm. I think most have heard that Eckstein had the fewest errors at short last year with just 6 on the season. However, I also think that many have read that he was very low in regard to range factor, which is true. I'm not sure the story ends with those two statistics, though.

Fielding Percentage - .988 (1st in the majors)
Range Factor - 3.83 (22nd in the majors)
Zone Rating - .859 (6th in the majors)

What do we see here? A guy who makes plays on the balls that he gets to, but who has a mixed review in regard to his range. Range factor claims he has horrible range. Zone rating, however, tells another story. Which is true?

Range factor, for those that may not know, is calculated by simply adding together a player's putouts and assists, then dividing by the number of innings they play in the field (multiplied by 9.) This is a great rough calculation to measure the value of a defender. After all, it does stand to reason that a player with a lot of range should in fact have more assists and putouts than a lesser player. Of course, it does have its limitations. What if a player is on a team that contains a lot of strikeout pitchers, thus having fewer outs required by the defense? Or what if a team is heavy in regard to flyball pitchers, thus making infielders look worse than they are?

In 2004, the Anaheim Angels had the 4th most strikeouts in the major leagues, having a rate of 7.2 strikeouts per 9 innings of play. The Cardinals, for comparison sake, had a rate of approximately 6.4 K/9. St. Louis fielders had almost 1 extra ball hit in play each game in which to affect the fielders Range Factors. What's more, I have read that the Angels staff was a flyball staff, although I have not been able to confirm this despite looking at several web sites.

What does that tell us? Eckstein played on a team that struck out many batters, giving fewers balls in play. Furthermore, they were supposedly a team that gave up more fly balls than an average team, meaning fewer fielding chances for the infield. Those things, combined with Eckstein's above average zone rating, tell me that Eckstein may in fact be a slightly above average fielding shortstop who could flourish on a groundball staff. Here are the 2004 fielding stats of the guy Eckstein is replacing.

Renteria
FP - .983 (5th)
RF - 4.41 (12th)
ZR - .855 (9th)

There is a chance that the Cardinals may in fact have a player in Eckstein who will end up with similar defensive output to Edgar Renteria when the dust clears after the 2005 season - which we actually saw when comparing defensive win shares per 9 innings in a previous article.

Contract

My first instinct on this signing was that it was for too much money over too many years. Overall, Eck received a $250,000 signing bonus, along with $2.25 million in 2005, $3.5 million in 2006, and $4.5 million in 2007 giving the deal a total value of $10.5 million over 3 years. My personal feeling was - why? Here is a guy that would probably have been happy to have signed with the Cardinals for 1-year at $1 million or less. After all - can you name any other team with playoff potential in 2005 that was looking for a starting middle infielder? I honestly can't. A 1 year deal would have allowed the Cardinals to get a feel for Eck, and allow Eck to gain appreciation for St. Louis, thus potentially signing for less money.

But the more I thought about the signing, the more I was ok with it. The Cardinals are, in essence, getting a player very similar to Orlando Cabrera. Of course, they're getting him for 1 less year and $22 million fewer dollars. Furthermore, they are paying Eckstein over the next 3 years essentially the same amount of money they were willing to pay Renteria in 2005 alone. The Cardinals could pay Eckstein his $2.5 million for this year, put another $5 million in investments to draw interest and not even have to worry about coming up with his paycheck through the end of his contract.

Eckstein's contract doesn't even seem to be way out of line until the 2007 season, in which he is due $4.5 million. Of course, as I already mentioned - the Cardinals will likely have the money on hand at that point if they are smart right now. On top of that, they will be coming out of their first season in the new stadium at that point. Revenue's should be a bit higher at that time, making his contract very small potatoes. Right now, it's hard to imagine this contract coming back to "Tino" the Cardinals. And if Eckstein really does re-discover how to draw walks? He could be an absolute bargain.

Conclusions

Eckstein, in my opinion, was the best option for the Cardinals at shortstop in the current market. I would have loved to have had Renteria back, but $10 million a year is too much in my mind. I was never fond of Orlando Cabrera, and would much rather have Eckstein at 30% of the cost. Polanco would have been a nicer option, in my mind - and maybe it's still not too late? Time will tell....

Regardless, the Cardinals have a guy at short that should be adequate. He may not make Ozzie Smith type plays at short, but he's not going to hurt the team. He's never going to display power, but is not in town to carry the Cardinal offense.

Eckstein is the type of player that the press is going to go nuts over. He plays hard, "knows how to play the game," and "does all of the little things." I'm pretty certain that I'm going to get sick of reading articles and seeing reports along those lines by the middle of Spring Training. Of course - I also like to watch guys that play hard. (I prefer guys that play hard with Scott Rolen's talent, but they don't come along every day.)

Worst case scenario? The Cardinals have a hard working, fan favorite type player who is overpaid by 2007, if not 2006.

Best case scenario? Eckstein starts getting on base more like his minor league days, providing the Cardinals with the best leadoff hitter they've had since the 2000 version of Fernando Vina, while providing gold glove caliber defense at shortstop. And I realize I'm biased - but I don't think that's a long shot.






Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Are we there yet?

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

Cardinals Middle Infield

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

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

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

National League Central

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Stadium

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Slim Pickin's

Polanco accepted arbitration from the Phillies (much to their surprise.) And Jerry Hairston - as far as I can tell - was not non-tendered by the Orioles. (Or is that - he was tendered?). The Cardinals could still end up with either or both of those guys, of course, but not without making a trade. What other options are left at this point?

David Eckstein

With the Angels overpaying for Orlando Cabrera, David Eckstein got the boot from Anaheim. Eckstein, who will turn 30 next month, is a scrappy shortstop who is the proud owner of a 2002 World Series Ring.

No one is going to mistake David Eckstein for Alex Rodriguez. But considering the options the Cardinals have left, he may be a nice fit for the team. Eckstein, a right handed bat, has a career .347 OBP, with a career OPS+ of 87. Of course, the OPS+ is misleading, as he's only exceeded 87 one of his four major league seasons when he had a 103 in 2002, thus skewing his average up. Eckstein has led the AL in hit by pitch twice in his career, and finished in the top 6 all 4 years. He's also stolen 16 or more bases in every season he's played, with a career success rate of 75%. With the glove, however, he leaves a little to be desired.

Fielding Percentage (Career)
Eckstein - .980
League Average - .973

Range Factor
Eckstein - 4.00
League - 4.11

Essentially - his range his slightly below average, while his error rate is slightly above.

What could you expect out of Eckstein? Think Bo Hart with a little more talent. Or maybe a combination of Fernando Vina and Rex Hudler. Nothing spectacular, but probably a fan favorite. And considering he made $2.15 million last year, he should be affordable as well.

Alex Cora

With the signing of Jeff Kent, Alex Cora became expendable, and thus was non-tendered by the Dodgers. Cora is a left handed hitting 2nd baseman who will turn 30 in October.

From an offensive standpoint, Cora has been hard to figure out recently.

OBP
2002 - .371
2003 - .287
2004 - .364

OPS+
2002 - 120
2003 - 68
2004 - 98

Will the real Alex Cora please stand up? Similar to Eckstein, Cora finished 4th in the NL in hit by pitch last year. (The Cardinals could have the 2005 version of the bruise brothers - just a different style than Canseco and McGwire.)

Defensively, Cora is right around league average.

Fielding Percentage (Career)
Cora - .981
League Average - .983

Range Factor
Cora - 4.18
League - 4.34

Last year, which was just the 2nd season that Cora was a regular 2nd baseman instead of a shortstop, Cora showed progress as he was above average both in fielding percentage and range factor. His 5.1 defensive win shares at 2nd was 5th best in the NL. (Womack had 4.5 for comparison sake.) Over his career, Cora has played 338 games at short and 335 at 2nd, making him a versatile player. Cora made $1.3 million last season.

Conclusions

The Cardinals, in my opinion, could do a lot worse than Eckstein and Cora in their middle infield next season. Offensively? Last year Cora was a better hitter than either Womack or Renteria. Of course, he could revert to 2003 form. Then again, he could revert to 2002 form, making him a great asset. Eckstein will likely post a better OBP than Womack in 2005, but probably won't match Tony's 2004 mark of .349.

Of course, at this point we all know that the offense is going to perform based on Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, and Walker. Any offense received out of the middle infield is just a bonus. So the more important question is - How would the team fare defensively? In an attempt to answer this question, I looked up the defensive win shares for Eck, Cora, Renteria, and Womack in the 2004 season, along with the number of innings each played in the field. I then calculated the number of defensive win shares each player created per 9 innings in the field. The results surprised me a bit.

2nd Base
Cora - .042 Defensive Win Shares / 9 Innings
Womack - .034 DWS/9I

Shortstop
Eckstein - .033 DWS/9I
Renteria - .033 DWS/9I

As expected, Cora was better than Womack with the glove. Surprisingly, though, Eckstein was just as good as Renteria. Obviously, defense is hard to measure with statistics. However, if Renteria really is awesome and Eckstein a chump, you would expect to see some separation there.

The bottom line? If the Cardinals could add Eckstein and Cora to their middle infield, they would likely - at worst - be a slight downgrade defensively over the 2004 Cardinals. What's more, they should be very similar from an offensive standpoint, with the potential to provide a slight upgrade if things fall just right. And considering they could likely be signed for less than $4 million total, the team would still have financial flexibility at the trade deadline to upgrade in weak areas.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Agent Mulder - The Truth is Out There

Am I the only one who was blind-sided by this trade? After missing out on Tim Hudson and Randy Johnson, not to mention Matt Clement, I was certain that the Cardinals were going to be forced to head into 2005 with essentially the same pitching staff of 2004. You know - the one good enough to win 105 games? And honestly? I was fine with that. Morris should be better, Haren should have been better in 2005 than Woody was in 2004, and Ankiel would be waiting in the wings. That should have put the Cardinals in a situation to trade for extra help in July, when they are all but certain to still be within striking distance of the playoffs. So far for what I thought.

First, Mulder. Last year, he wasn't quite himself. On the season, he posted a 106 ERA+, which would have actually made him just the 3rd best starter on the Cardinal staff. However, last year was an off-season for Mark.

2001 - 126 ERA+
2002 - 134
2003 - 136
2004 - 106

If he can only slightly revert to pre-2004 form in 2005 - which I think is likely - then he will have a great shot at being the top starter on the staff this year. He also has been durable, pitching 186.2 or more innings in each of the past 4 years. And maybe most interesting of all, Mulder will give the Cardinals their first veteran lefty starter since 1999 when Daren Oliver went to Spring training with the Redbirds. To have this guy locked up for 2 years at a price below current market value is a good thing. He should be a good addition.

Now, the losses. I honestly hate to see all 3 of the players given up - Haren, Calero, and Barton - leave the organization. But, as is almost always the case with younger players, the true losses won't be known for some time.

Haren has the potential to be a solid #3 starter. However, many believe that he is better suited to be a bullpen pitcher, which would downgrade his value greatly. Calero is a favorite of mine, with the potential to be a closer in the future. However, he turns 30 next month, and was a 6 year minor league veteran before the Cardinals gave him a shot last year. Al Reyes will likely be able to replace Calero nicely in the bullpen this year. And Barton was considered to be the best prospect in the Midwest league last year by many. However, there is a lot of doubt as to if he can stick at the catcher position from a defensive standpoint. If he moves to corner infield, the Cardinals don't have much use for him for the next 5 or more years. If he moves to corner outfield, he may just be one of many solid hitters at that position.

So, the Cardinals did in fact give up a lot in this trade. But if a few small things happen - such as Haren being converted to a reliever and Barton to a left fielder - then this trade starts to look really good for the Cardinals. Assuming, of course, that Mulder does in fact become the #1 starter for the team next year.

Where does that put the Cardinal rotation for next year?

Mark Mulder
Chris Carpenter
Jason Marquis
Matt Morris
Jeff Suppan

That, my friends, is a list of 5 guys that won 15 or more games in 2004. On top of that, the Cardinals will have Rick Ankiel (hopefully) ready to step in and start in the event of injury. What's more, Adam Wainwright and Antony Reyes could in fact be ready to pitch in the majors by the All-Star break this year, providing the Cardinals with yet more chances to upgrade the team if need be at the trade deadline.

Not a bad move. Now if the Cardinals can just get Placido Polanco, along with some stiff to start at short or 2nd they should be ready for 2005.

Friday, December 17, 2004

2004 Shortstop Win Shares

Miguel Tejada - 30
Derek Jeter - 26
Jimmy Rollins - 26
Cesar Izturis - 25
Michael Young - 25
Jack Wilson - 23
Carlos Guillen - 23
Khalil Green - 21
Rafael Furcal - 21
Julio Lugo - 20
Omar Vizquel - 17
Edgar Renteria - 17

Well, he was tied with Vizquel to be the 11th best shortstop in baseball last year...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Winter Meetings

Walt has been to and from Anaheim for this year's winter meetings with nothing to show for it other than the departure of Tyler Johnson. (Don't worry - I suspect he'll be back.)

Of course, a couple of things did happen over the last few days.

Mike Matheny

The Giants signed Matheny to a 3 year deal worth $10.5 million, plus an option for a 4th year at $4 million. Holy cow! I've always liked Matheny, but that deal is beyond crazy. We're talking about a guy that's never posted an OPS+ above 80, and who's career mark is 63. As in, he's 37% worse than an average major league hitter. And now he gets to play half of his games in a park that (other than last year) is tough to hit in.

Yes, I realize he has 3 gold gloves. He's supposedly a good game caller, works well with his teammates, etc. But can anyone honestly say that he was worth $3.5 million per year (on average) through the 2007 seasons with Molina apparently ready to go now? Molina will likely be on par with Matheny with the glove in 2005, and will probably be out-hitting him no later than 2006 - for less than $500,000 each year. And the Cardinals get a compensation draft pick to boot? I like seeing the Cardinals improve without giving up anything.

And on a side note - Brian Sabean has now added Omar Vizquel at $3 million a year and Matheny at $3.5 million. In a pitchers park. Yes, their defense should be a little better this year, but how many automatic outs can one team afford? Maybe Barry can arrange for some arthritis cream for his new, younger teammates...

Edgar Renteria

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jocketty has informed Renteria (or his people, if you will) that the Cardinals are standing firm with their 4 year, $32 million back loaded contract offer. No more years, no more money. Which, I have to say, is fine with me.

Renteria circa 2003 would be somewhat of a bargain at an average salary of $8 million per year. We're talking about a guy who hit .330 with a .394 OBP, 34 stolen bases, 100 RBI, and gold glove caliber defense. That season he was 31% better than an average hitter - which is amazing for a middle infielder.

Renteria circa 2004 would be ripping off the Cardinals making $32 million for the next 4 years. I can live with the defense and the .287 average, but he only got on base at a .327 clip and saw his OPS plummet by 146 points over the previous year. He was 10% worse than average. Still not bad for a middle infielder, but elite? Hardly.

The Cardinals are doing the right thing here. If Renteria walks, good for him. He can make tons of extra money while playing for a great franchise. And the Cardinals can use the extra cash to address their team needs, plus garner two extra draft picks for their trouble. And if he takes it? Hopefully he'll revert to 2003 form and make the team even stronger in 2005.

And what kind of shape will the Redbirds be in should they lose Renteria? Well, that depends on who they are able to plug into their middle infield. I still hear lots of talk about Placido Polanco and Jerry Hairston, Jr. Polanco is a free agent, while I've heard that Baltimore is likely to non-tender Hairston in the next couple of weeks. I haven't heard if the Cardinals are thinking of playing Polanco at short, but I certainly am. Would that work?

Offense

2004 Stats

Renteria - .287/.327/.401
Womack - .307/.349/.385

Polanco - .298/.345/.441
Hairston - .303/.378/.397

Based on last year, you'd improve both from an OBP and a SLG standpoint by picking up Hairston and Polanco.

Career Stats

Renteria - .289/.346/.400
Womack - .274/.319/.362

Polanco - .295/.339/.410
Hairston - .261/.334/.371

This is more of what one might expect - Polanco being a probable slight downgrade from Renteria, with Hairston being a probable upgrade over Womack. How about with the glove?

Fielding

Career Stats

Renteria - .969 Fielding Percentage, 4.25 Range Factor
Womack - .975 FP, 4.73 RF

Polanco - .982 FP, 3.57 RF (at shortstop)
Hairston - .981 FP, 5.05 RF

Once again, about what you would expect. A slight downgrade defensively at short, with a slight upgrade at 2nd. And, of course, both players would provide the Cardinals with a ton of flexibility. Polanco has played at 2nd, 3rd, and short, while just last year Hairston played all 3 outfield positions along with 2nd and 3rd base.

How much could Polanco and Hairston be signed for? I assume the Cardinals could easily land Polanco for $5 million per season for the next 3 years. Hairston might be willing to accept a low deal in 2005 for the chance to be a starter for a World Series contender, which could really work in the Cardinals favor from a long term perspective. Hairston will not turn 29 until the end of May, and over the last 4 years has had a great trend in regard to OBP and OPS+.

2001 - .305 OBP, 78 OPS+
2002 - .329 OBP, 89 OPS+
2003 - .353 OBP, 97 OPS+
2004 - .378 OBP, 100 OPS+

Both Polanco and Hairston have a realistic shot at being above average hitters in 2005 - which is more than Renteria and Womack did in 2004, and would thus improve the team.

Hopefully, we'll know something about the Cardinals middle infield by Christmas. Personally - I'm still excited about the possibilities.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hudson Rumblings

Take it for what it's worth, but supposedly Ken Rosenthal (The Sporting News) and Dan Patrick (ESPN) are both saying that the Cardinals are close to making a trade for Tim Hudson. Rotoworld.com has some theoretical particulars, but I'm not sure where they got them from. For now, let's ignore who the Cardinals may or may not be giving up and talk about Tim Hudson.

Hudson, a right hander, was 12-6 with a 3.53 ERA for Oakland last season, and his ERA+ of 133 would have made him the best starter on the Cardinal staff. He has led the Oakland staff in ERA 3 of the last 4 seasons, finishing in the top 10 in the league 5 years in a row. Additionally, his ERA+, WHIP, and complete games has been in the top 10 four years in a row.

From a "power pitching" standpoint, he finished in the top 10 in the AL in strikeouts the 4 years previous to 2004. That could in fact make him the power pitcher the Cardinals have been looking for. Of course, the question is - why did his strikeout rate drop last season? What's more, why did he post a 6.23 ERA in September? If you will recall, he was getting plenty of Cy Young buzz last year until he finished the year with a whimper. Declining numbers combined with Billy Beane's willingness to trade him make me a bit nervous.

Overall, Hudson could be a great pickup. He'd be worse than Johnson, but cheaper and less of a risk. He'll turn 30 in July, and could be a prime candidate for a long term contract - should things work out, of course.

Other statistics of interest include

Transaction Analysis

We finally have some Cardinal player movement to talk about, so let's get to it.

Matt Morris

The Morris signing, in my mind, was the best news of yesterday. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the contract is worth $2.5 million, which could reach $7 million with incentives based up on starts.

If you've been reading my blog for the last couple of months, you know that I didn't expect Morris to be back, nor was I exactly upset about it. However, with the revelation that he was in fact having shoulder problems combined with the low dollar amount of this deal? It should be a win/win situation. The Cardinals win by saving money, unless Morris hits incentives - which means the Cardinals have a healthy starting pitcher. And Morris wins by having a shot at proving he can still pitch, and thus improving his market value next year.

Morris flashed signs of his former self from time to time this season. And while it's hard to imagine him reverting to 2001 form (137 ERA+), I dont' think 2002-2003 type numbers (11 to 14% above average) would be out of the question. Those kind of numbers would likely make Morris the teams #2/#3 starter in 2005.

John Mabry

Mabry was another player that I wanted to see back. Granted, he had a career year last year that he is unlikely to repeat. But a left handed hitting corner infielder/outfielder with some pop is worth signing - especially when you can do so for $725,000. And he has been above average 2 of the past 3 seasons. Mabry joins Roger Cedeno as the current members of the Cardinal bench, giving them a good start.

Cal Eldred

I didn't expect Eldred to be back. Between his age and Tony's apparent lack of faith during the playoffs, I thought he was long gone. In fact, I was a bit concerned when I heard that the Cardinals were bringing him back. However, he's only being paid $600,000 next season. Not bad for a guy that posted a 111 ERA+ in each of the last 2 seasons, and who just turned 37 last month. Best case, he's only going to be expected to be the #6 guy out of the pen. Worst case, he's not as good this year and is replaced by someone from the minors, thus being released with the Cardinals eating his low salary. (Low in baseball terms, of course).

Arbitration

Edgar Renteria, as expected, was offered arbitration. I think that was the correct move, as they can still sign him for next year. The Cardinals might end up with him back next year at $9 or $10 million. The Cardinals might end up getting draft picks for losing him. The Cardinals might end up signing him for 4 years at a somewhat reasonable rate. I have no problem with any of those three options.

Matheny was also offered arbitration, which surprised me a bit. After all - I don't want the Cardinals to be stuck paying him $3 million or more next year to play half of the time. However, according to the Post-Dispatch (same article listed above) Matheny has already agreed to reject arbitration. He'll either be back next year under a multi-year deal, or the Cardinals will get some draft compensation. That's not so bad. And supposedly, the Cardinals are offering Matheny 2 years at $2 million per. I could live with that, if they can get it done.

Not offered arbitration were Steve Kline and Tony Womack. Neither of those moves surprised me. Ray King is the #1 lefty, with Carmen Cali likely ready to step in for Kline at a reduced rate. And the Yankees signed Womack for 2 years at $2 million each? I'm not exactly what they're thinking up there, but I can say one thing - I'm glad the Cardinals can't be tempted to sign him now. Bring on Polanco.

Other News

Randy Johnson, according to Newsday, has told the Diamondbacks that he'll take a trade to the Yankees and the Yankees only. Of course, they were the ones talking about the Cardinals giving up Haren, Ankiel, and Calero, too. Take it for what it's worth. Whatever the case, it's looking more and more like Johnson isn't going to be in St. Louis next year, unless he's wearing his road jersey.

The Yankees appear to be ready to sign Eric Milton to a 3 year, $24 million contract. First Womack, now Milton? The Yankees are being a big help this off-season.

Personal Predictions

I'm now expecting the Cardinals to end up signing Renteria and Polanco, with them apparently no longer needing to free up the ton of cash required to bring in Johnson. That would give the Cardinals an upgrade both defensively and offensively over the 2004 version of the team in the middle infield - which is nice.

The actual signings they've already made - Morris, Eldred, and Mabry - total $3.825 million, not counting incentives. That leaves the Cardinals with approximately $15 to $17 million to spend this off-season. That should leave them enough money to fill out the bench, sign Renteria and Polanco, and still have enough cash to acquire one more starting pitcher, either via trade or free agency. I suspect that the Cards first choice would be one of the "Big Three" from Oakland, with someone like Matt Clement being the backup plan.

And even if the Cardinals can't get that extra starter? I think they may be in good shape anyway as long as they do in fact bring in Renteria and Polanco. Their current rotation is Carpenter, Morris, Suppan, Marquis, and Haren/Ankiel. Personally, I expect Morris to be better next year, with Haren/Ankiel being an upgrade over Williams. And having both Haren and Ankiel around provide for depth due to injury.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Quick Hits

Posting has been limited lately, between a lack of Cardinal news and a lack of free time on my part. But I wanted to at least touch on some various items today. I'm not going to link to the articles I'm basing some of my writings on due to time constraints.

Arbitration Deadline

Today is the day. By midnight, the Cardinals have to make some decisions as to which of their departing free agents they would like to offer arbitration. Which, of course, is going to force some interesting decisions.

For those of you that may not be completely familiar with the arbitration process, it goes a little something like this. The Cardinals have until midnight tonight to offer arbitration to free agents. If they don't offer arbitration, they cannot negotiate contracts with said free agent until May 1st. (Think Andy Benes, circa 1997 deadline.)

If they do offer arbitration, however, a few things happen. One, the player has to accept or decline arbitration by December 19th. If they decline, then the offering team still has until January 8th to try to work out a contract with them. If they accept, then a panel of arbitrators will determine what the player is worth, unless the free agent signs a contract before the arbiters make a salary decisions. Regardless as to if the player accepts or declines, the team offering arbitration will be awarded a draft pick should the free agent sign with another team. Simple, right?

So, as I was saying - the Cardinals have some interesting decisions ahead of them. Should they offer Edgar Renteria arbitration? If they don't, he won't be back next year and the Cardinals won't end up with any compensation for his departure. If they do, he's likely to simply accept the 1 year contract (ala Greg Maddux heading into 2003) and thus get a raise on the $7.55 million he was making in 2004. If Renteria ends up making $9 or $10 million in 2005 rather than taking the back loaded contract the Cardinals are offering, they will have much less "wiggle room" to land that pitching ace they're after.

Basically, there are plenty of negatives for either option, and no matter what they do it will probably end up being questioned. I don't think there is any way they can not offer him arbitration. His desire to help the team will be put to the test once that happens.

Matt Morris is another interesting case. He's interested in signing a 1 year contract so he can "prove himself" after his off year. Coming off of surgery, I don't blame him. But if the Cardinals want to be the team to give him the shot, they will have to offer him arbitration. If he accepts arbitration, his 2005 salary is guaranteed to be no more than 20% less than his 2004 level, or $10 million.

I think the only way this happens, of course, is if Morris agrees to reject arbitration. This is the same thing that Chuck Finley did after the 2002 season.

Do the Cardinals offer Mike Matheny or Steve Kline arbitration? I'm sure they would like to have both back, but not at the salaries they were making last year - let alone at increased rates. It will be interesting to see what is left standing tomorrow morning when the dust clears.

More Free Agent Stuff

Of course, not only do the Cardinals have arbitration options today, but all teams do. From what I've read, the Cubs are trying desperately to lock up both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Walker today before the deadline. The Nomar deal is rumored to be 1 year for $8 million plus incentives.

Should Nomar sign with the Cubs, the shortstop market is going to be getting a little thinner, as Renteria will have one less potential destination to bargain with. And obviously Todd Walker being taken off the market will take away one more 2nd base target for the Cardinals.

Trade Talks

The tide seems to be shifting from Randy Johnson to the Oakland A's. I've read rumors of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder being traded away, and that the Cardinals have been actively trying to land one of them. Apparently, Hudson is the player the A's would most like to move, as he is only signed for the 2005 season. The Cardinals are using Jason Marquis for trade bait, which makes sense. It's just a matter of which prospects it would take on top of Marquis.

Randy Johnson appears to be so overpriced that it's going to take a miracle for him to pitch for the Redbirds next year. Unless, of course, Johnson's demands get louder and louder. I still think the teams most likely to land Johnson are the Cardinals, Angels, and Yankees.

Simulation Baseball

The Diamond Mind Baseball Organization - aka DMBO - currently has a GM opening. If any of you have ever wanted to join a simulation league, this is a good chance to get involved in one of the better leagues out there. For more information, go to DMBO.net. This will be my 4th season involved with the league, and it has ruined me from ever playing fantasy baseball again.