The Birdhouse Annex
Articles | Interviews | Game Notes | Reader Mail

Welcome to Brian Walton's St. Louis Cardinals blog!

News and commentary about the past, present and future state of the St. Louis Cardinals. 
 
Note that all new St. Louis Cardinals-related content will be posted on the new Birdhouse site, stlcardinals.scout.com, rather than here.  An explanatory note is below. 
 
Search the archives, listed by week and month, at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Unit Owns the Central

 

Though there is no new news on the trade discussions between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks, I decided to look up some pertinent statistics to help pass the time. 

 

We all knew Randy Johnson is good.  A future Hall of Famer, right?  Well, it gets even better as we move closer to home.  As a result, some of the questions about the Cardinals’ motivation as they consider adding Johnson to their rotation should be answered. 

 

Johnson has limited every one of the National League Central Division teams to a lower batting average than his already-microscopic .213 average to all teams.  In addition, Johnson has registered an ERA lower than his career average against every one of the National League Central teams with the exception of the Brewers, whom he faced often earlier in his career before they moved from the American League Central to the NL Central in 1998.

 

To top it off, Johnson has a career 16-0 record against the Cubs and Astros combined and his overall winning mark against the Division’s teams is 120 points better than his career mark versus all other teams (.759 vs. .639)

 

Here are some of The Big Unit’s career numbers.  It is pretty safe to say that Johnson has dominated the NL Central teams, with the exception of the Cardinals.  Will he get another chance to continue this NL Central domination up close and personal in 2005?

 

Randy Johnson career

Starts

Win-Loss

ERA

Opposing Batting Average

vs Cubs

13

12-0

1.98

.189

vs Astros

5

4-0

2.50

.182

vs. Reds

9

3-3

1.51

.168

vs. Brewers

29

18-6

3.36

.204

vs. Pirates

12

7-5

2.28

.203

vs. Central Division (ex StL)

68

44-14 (.759)

2.75

.194

 

 

 

 

 

vs. all other teams

411

202-114 (.639)

3.18

.216

vs. all teams

479

246-128 (.658)

3.07

.213

 

 

 

 

 

For comparison:

 

 

 

 

vs. Cardinals career

12

5-6

3.87

.256

 

(Note:  Johnson registered a 10-1 record with a 1.28 ERA during the last half of the 1998 season as a member of the Houston Astros.)

 

Taking this a bit further, let’s look at the Cardinals, and specifically their top five starters this past season.

 

 

Starts

Win-Loss

ERA

Opposing Batting Average

Cardinals team 2004

162

105-57 (.648)

3.75

.251

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 starters Cardinals 2004

154

72-39 (.649)

4.06

.263

Chris Carpenter

28

15-5

3.46

.245

Jason Marquis

32

15-7

3.71

.275

Matt Morris

32

15-10

4.72

.266

Jeff Suppan

31

16-9

4.16

.265

Woody Williams

31

11-8

4.18

.262

 

 

 

 

 

Randy Johnson (Arizona 2004)

35

16-14

2.60

.197

 

Is there any doubt that the Cardinals could use an upgrade to their 2004 rotation and that Johnson could be that upgrade?  The only open question is whether the cost is worth it.  The potential benefit is crystal clear.

 

6:04 am est

Monday, November 29, 2004

Monday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Neither Cabrera nor Renteria Likely in Beantown

The Boston Herald reports that the Red Sox will not entertain a three-year or longer deal for shortstop Orlando Cabrera or any other shortstop, for that matter.  There is still a chance that Cabrera will be tendered, with the Sox willing to risk a one-year deal decided by an arbitrator.  The paper calls a long-term deal like Cabrera wants “next to impossible to imagine”.  Instead, the team is expected to go after a veteran stopgap like Jose Valentin or Barry Larkin until top prospect Hanley Ramirez is ready.  This means Edgar Renteria, with similar demands as Cabrera, will clearly not be in the Sox plans.  However, it does enhance Cabrera’s viability as a replacement if Edgar is not signable by St. Louis.

 

Woody to Astros or Retirement

I have confirmed, as reported earlier, that Woody Williams wants to pitch for the Cardinals or Astros in 2005 or will simply retire.  Even with the Cards apparent disinterest in having him return, Williams’ decision is on-hold, pending Roger Clemens’ answer as to whether or not he will come back to the Astros for one more season.  That is not expected until sometime around the holidays.

 

Matheny Looking for Three and Out

Free agent catcher Mike Matheny is looking for a three-year deal and when he gets it, color him gone.  Pittsburgh seems to be the current front-runner for his services despite conflicting information as to whether he is in their price range.  The Chicago Tribune also calls Matheny a “perfect fit” for the White Sox, but implied his price tag of “two years for $5 million, maybe more” might be too high.

 

Price of Pitching Up

The New York Daily News offers this interesting observation. “The Mets retained Kris Benson with a three-year, $22.5 million deal and a fourth-year team option. But the contract led to a scolding of the club by Commissioner Bud Selig's salary police, according to a source, because it inflated what free-agent pitchers across baseball expect to get this winter.”   Can you spell “collusion”, sort of?

 

Womack Ante Too High?

The Chicago Tribune says Tony Womack increased his minimum salary to $1 million with incentives last season with the Cardinals, but a two-year, $5 million deal may be too rich for the Cubs.

 

An Interesting Second Base Option?

Jeff Cirillo, known as a third sacker his entire career, is playing second base in Mexico this winter.  Cirillo, who is a free agent, will be paid over $7 million next season in the last year of a guaranteed contract he signed before his career hit bottom in Seattle and San Diego.  If Cirillo makes a major league team next spring, that team would owe him only the $300,000 major league minimum.  In his first 32 at-bats with Los Mochis, Cirillo is hitting .250 with six RBI in 32 at-bats.

 

And Another…

Toshihisa Nishi is a 33-year-old second baseman from the Yomiuri Giants with a .274 career average and great range in the field, with four Gold Gloves won.  He is recognized as an excellent leadoff man, but hit only 2-for-17 (.118) in the recent MLB Japan Series.  Nishi was quoted as saying he will stay in Japan unless he is offered $1 million a year to come to America.  So Taguchi, anyone?

 

Considerable Cards Canuck Contingent

The Toronto Sun reports the Cardinals are tied with the Blue Jays, Orioles, Twins and Dodgers for the second-most number of Canadians, two, on their 40-man rosters.  The #1 team with three is the Atlanta Braves.  The Cards’ two are Larry Walker and Cody McKay.

 

4:45 pm est

La Russa Return Stuck on Pitching?

 

A source very close to the Cardinals has reported an interesting rumor.  The prevailing feeling among some insiders is that part of the reason that Tony La Russa may not have come to terms on his expected contract extension is due to the ongoing uncertainty about the make-up of the 2005 pitching rotation.

 

Here is the line of thinking.  Long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan is said to be pushing hard for a trade for Randy Johnson.  In fact, it was clearly stated in a Joe Strauss Post-Dispatch story on Wednesday that Duncan actually wants two power arms added to the rotation for 2005.  La Russa was represented as being in agreement with Duncan’s stance.  Walt Jocketty acknowledged what the two want, but admitted that "in an ideal world we'd like to see that, but it may not be possible." 

 

Duncan has both professional and personal motivation to see an improvement in his charges next season.  It was reported that Duncan was irritated that on the final day of the season the Cardinals bullpen cost him an incentive bonus due if the team had finished #1 in ERA in the National League.  The Redbirds came in just behind Atlanta in ERA at 3.75 to 3.74. 

 

Still, Duncan should not be hurting for spending money.  When Rudy Jaramillo was re-signed to a three-year contract as the Texas Rangers hitting coach last week, it was widely reported that Jaramillo’s new salary eclipsed Duncan’s $500,000 yearly salary as the highest coach in baseball.  An interesting comparison point is the $575,000 that Jim Tracy earned last season as the manager of the National League Western Division Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.  It goes without saying that Duncan’s return in 2005 is directly tied to La Russa’s decision. 

 

Since the Cardinals did not win the World Series, La Russa’s offer to manage the team for free is unfortunately a moot point.  And his urging to the players (and himself) to put talk of new contracts aside during the season to focus at the task at hand has expired.  La Russa reportedly made about $2 million per year on his 2000-2001 two-year contract and that was upped to the $3 million per season range for his just-ended three-year deal.

 

No one is suggesting that La Russa won’t be coming back in 2005.  He’s already made his plans to return for a tenth season at the helm of the Cardinals very clear.  In fact, the last time his contract was up, three years ago, La Russa’s extension was not announced until January 22.  In addition, La Russa reportedly has never signed a new contract while the old one was in force.  So, the delay could just be business-as-usual. 

 

Still, the late January contract signing timing is most interesting if it is repeated this off-season.  By then, a lot more will be known about the 2005 Cardinals.  Contracts will have had to be offered to all returning players, those heading to arbitration will have had to exchange amounts with the team and those offered arbitration, but rejected it (Edgar Renteria?) will have either had to sign or will be unable to do so until May 1.  By the way, no word if La Russa and Duncan have offered to defer salary to help pay for the proposed pitching additions.

 

Let me make it clear that I did not ask any of the principals about this rumor.  After all, would Jocketty, La Russa or Duncan ever validate it, even if was true?

 

So, believe it or not, the speculation is that Duncan and La Russa may be using what leverage they have to push Jocketty into initiating some big moves and ownership into letting him do it. 

 

As long as the future is not mortgaged in the chase for Johnson, why not?

 

6:45 am est

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Sunday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Cards Measure up Well

The San Diego Union-Tribune uses the Cardinals as a yardstick to measure the Padres against and needless to say, the Cards come out on top.  Here’s a sample.  “Yet the guiding philosophy and payroll disparity between the two midmarket ballclubs suggests more dramatic differences. It suggests the Cardinals are bold where the Padres are timid. It suggests that the Cardinals are chasing championships while the Padres are hoarding profits.”  A good read to remind us to be thankful as Cardinals fans.  http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20041127/news_1s27sullivan.html

 

Now Pirates Can’t Afford Matheny?

Conflicting with a report from another area paper, the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette says free-agent catcher Mike Matheny is priced too high for the Pirates.  They are in need of a catcher now that Jason Kendall has been traded to the Oakland A’s.

 

Seabol a Deer Again  

Just as in 2003, third baseman Scott Seabol joined the Mazatlan Deer of the Mexican Pacific League.  However, this time he joined the team a month into the season.  In three games to date, Seabol is hitting .308, 4-for-13, with three of the hits doubles.  Last year, Seabol hit .271 with eight home runs and 30 RBI in 35 games before being replaced by John Gall midway through the Deer winter season (no shots were fired).  Seabol was recently added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster.

 

Cairo Likely Back to Yanks

Former Cardinals utilityman Miguel Cairo (2001-03) expects to come to terms to return to the New York Yankees for 2005, says his agent Alan Nero in the New York Post.  Cairo made $900,000 last season and won the starting job at second base for the pinstripers.  Wonder why he is good enough to start for Joe Torre, but not for Tony La Russa?  When Cairo re-signs, that means one fewer second baseman is remaining on the market.

 

Mr. Rogers Pegs Unit Offer

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers (so consider the source) thinks the Cardinals are offering a package including former Diamondback Reggie Sanders and John Gall for Randy Johnson.  That ain’t gonna be nearly enough. 

 

Rogers on Woody

Mr. Rogers goes on to speculate that Woody Williams could return home to end his career in Houston, but it depends on Roger Clemens’ plans first.  Plausible, but unsubstantiated.

 

Nieto Leaves for Mets

New Mets manager Willie Randolph named former Cardinal catcher Tom Nieto (1984-85) as his major league catching instructor.  They had worked together previously for the Yankees.  Nieto was most recently the manager of the Palm Beach Cardinals in 2003-2004.

 

Witt to Japan

After playing in Memphis for the Cardinals last season, Kevin Witt became a free agent.  Rather than hook on with another major league club, Witt instead signed for 2005 with the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Central League at a salary of $400,000.

 

Arizona Fall League Recap

Check out The Cardinal Nation for final stats and a thumbnail sketch of each player. http://www.thecardinalnation.com/aflrecap.html  Having seen these players in action, I generally agree with The Nation, and therefore didn’t do my own recap.  But, I will add the following comments:

Andy Cavazos:  Yet to impress at any level.  Far too many walks.

Reid Gorecki:  Recently added to the 40-man roster.  Keep an eye on him.

Gabe Johnson:  The Nation calls his fall “bad”.  Actually, Johnson’s .259 average in the AFL is 33 points higher than his career minor league average.  Still, hard to get excited about.

John Nelson:  Some risk of being selected in the Rule 5 draft and lost to the Cardinals.

 

8:00 am est

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Veteran Leadership Can be Overrated

 

Recently, I’ve read and heard a number of strong concerns, taking exception to comments similar to the ones I expressed the other day in my column elsewhere on this page entitled “So Long to Matheny”.  Self-assigned monitors of team leadership are appalled that people like me are not up in arms, organizing letter-writing campaigns and protest marches targeted at 250 Stadium Plaza. 

 

Instead, me and my type are inexplicably resigned to the fact that players and recognized team leaders like Mike Matheny and Woody Williams will be leaving the Cardinals.  These agitators have apparently convinced themselves that Matheny and Williams must remain Cardinals in 2005 or the team will fail.

 

As these leadership monitors consistently seem to do, for this discussion, we will put aside any unimportant issues of team finances and priorities.  Even though that may be unrealistic, we will assume the Cardinals could afford to bring back both if they wanted to.  In all fairness, that should be balanced out by also not dwelling on the emotional issue of loyalty, either by the player or the team.  That is rare in today’s major leagues; a true exception in what is clearly a business.

 

So, let’s get back to leadership.  How these rabblerousers can even try to pretend to report or even hazard a wild guess as to what happens behind the closed doors of the clubhouse or on team flights or in the dugout is beyond me.  But, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are referring to leadership of the team as it performs on the field. 

 

Their logic says that without Williams, there is no way the inexperienced Chris Carpenter and the unproven Jeff Suppan can lead the staff.  Without Woody there to guide them, Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel will be lost babes in the woods.  Apparently, long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan is disinterested or busy elsewhere.

 

Behind the plate, only Matheny can handle the breaking ball in the dirt at that crucial point in the big game.  A youngster like Yadier Molina lacks the confidence and experience to handle the staff and they allegedly lack confidence in him.  So report the leadership police.

 

Simply put, I’m not buying any of it.  In my book, having the base level of talent to excel and establishing a habit of winning is what matters.  The Cardinals have both, whether Williams and Matheny are here or there.  Don’t get me wrong.  The two contributed to the winning attitude, but it will remain long after they are gone. 

 

Talent has a way of speaking for itself.  Look at the Oakland A's a few years ago.  In 2000, when Tim Hudson was still in his first full season in the bigs at the ripe old age of 24 and Barry Zito and Mark Mulder were both up for the first time as 22-year-old rookies, who was the leader of their staff?  How about Kevin Appier?  At that point Appier was in his 12th big league season, but apparently he needed the three youngsters’ help to get him into the playoffs for the very first time. 

 

The next year, 2001, Appier was gone and the A’s veteran #1 starter was Gil Heredia.  Heredia made his only career playoff appearance in 2001 and his big league career concluded with that season.  As the winner of 57 games total in his ten MLB seasons, I am pretty sure that Gil didn’t have much to offer to the Big Three of Hudson, Mulder and Zito, either. 

 

After all, Appier and Heredia are not exactly guys who are well-known as leaders.  Maybe that’s unfair.  Maybe they’re both stand-up guys.  But fair or not, maybe a lot of the reason they are not recognized as leaders is because they spent a majority of their careers on teams that did not win consistently.

Winning breeds confidence.  From it, leadership emerges.  But, without winning, it all seems like hollow and empty actions and words. 

 

But, those A’s delivered.  Not only did they make the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, winning 91 and 102 games respectively, they did it again the next two seasons, too.  By then, Appier and Heredia were long gone.  

 

Oh yeah, let’s not overlook the fact that Oakland's catcher for all four of those playoff seasons was Ramon Hernandez, who was all of 24 years old during the 2000 season.  His backup was 28-year-old Sal Fasano.  Wonder from where Hernandez got his leadership fix?

 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not necessarily saying that Marquis, Haren and Ankiel will be mistaken for Hudson, Mulder and Zito anytime soon.  Nor am I asserting that Yadier Molina is yet as talented as Hernandez.  But there are a lot more similarities than there are differences between the circumstances surrounding the batteries of the A’s early in this decade and the potential ones for the 2005 Cardinals.  For the first time in a long while, there are several young players on the Redbirds who have a chance to grow up together and become special, if only given that opportunity.

 

Let’s face reality, folks.  Eventually, good players who were a big part of past successes will need to be replaced, due to age, injury, ineffectiveness, finances or a combination thereof.   Whatever the reasons, for Williams and Matheny, that time has apparently come.  But, don’t despair.  As they move on, others will step up to take their places, just like has happened in the history of the game countless times before.

 

8:03 am est

Friday, November 26, 2004

Friday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Leiter Fluid

The Newark-Star Ledger reported that Mets free-agent pitcher Al Leiter, who already has a $7 million one-year deal from the Florida Marlins on the table, also has the Cardinals’ attention.  “…Cardinals are said to be very interested, but Leiter is not keen on leaving the East Coast."  In my opinion, the 39-year-old lefty Leiter is a pricey option and is obviously late in his career. 

 

Luis Martinez Sighting

I watched Estrellas del Oriente vs. Tigres del Licey Wednesday night.  Former Cardinal farmhand Luis Martinez pitches for Estrellas and was called in with two runners in scoring position and no outs and fanned the side, using a nasty 12-to-6 curve that the hitters just flailed at.  Martinez was claimed by the Cardinals last winter after the Brewers waived him following a gun incident in the Dominican.  Martinez spent much of 2004 in Tennessee before moving to Colorado in the Larry Walker trade.   He is now a minor league free agent.  I am not sure if the Cards are down on him, but it looks to me like Martinez can pitch.

 

Matheny to Pitt?

The Beaver County Times reports the Pirates have interest in Mike Matheny.  They are without a regular backstop now that Jason Kendall is being shipped off to Oakland.  The Times also notes there aren’t many catchers left.  “Matheny is one of only five catchers on the free-agent market who caught at least 90 games last season. The others are Henry Blanco, Jason Varitek, Dan Wilson and Gregg Zaun.”

 

Gebhard Reassigned before Move

The Rocky Mountain Times reported that former Jocketty special assistant Bob Gebhard had been reassigned to the post of West Supervisor of Amateur Scouting before leaving the Cardinals.  Could that have had something to do with his departure?  The story goes on to say that Gebhard’s new boss, Joe Garagiola, Jr. is on thin ice.  New CEO Jeff Moorad is already interviewing candidates to replace him as GM.  No word on how this might affect the Randy Johnson sweepstakes, either.

 

Jaramillo Measures Up to Dunc

As was previously announced, the man who is recognized as one of the best hitting instructors in the game, Rudy Jaramillo, is returning to the Texas Rangers for 2005-2007.  The new news is that his contract exceeds the $500,000 per year that Dave Duncan makes as the Cardinals’ pitching coach, making him the highest paid coach in the game’s history.

 

Buck Not Getting BCS Plum

Not that the man can be everywhere anyway, but the New York Post reports that Joe Buck will not be named the lead broadcaster when Fox takes over college football’s BCS coverage in 2007.  Fox Sports President Ed Goren wants a fresh look and sound.

 

St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner Set

The 1985 and 2004 Cardinals teams will be honored at the Millennium Hotel on January 18.  Tickets are $125.  More info here.  http://www.belleville.com/mld/belleville/sports/baseball/mlb/10237837.htm

 

Rule 5 Eligibility Correction

Lefty reliever Tyler Johnson, is in fact, eligible to be selected in this year’s Rule 5 draft.  He just completed his fourth year of play and is not on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster.  With so many roster spots open, it’s hard to see why he was left exposed.

 

Mo, Williams Gone

Not the Vikings running back, the two Cardinals starters seem to be history.  Though in a Wednesday story, Joe Strauss of the P-D reports that the Cardinals do have “some interest” in retaining Matt Morris but only if he is willing to sign a one-year deal.  Not likely, as Morris will surely get a longer, better deal elsewhere.  Jocketty pretty much agreed with that when he said, “Morris is gone. Williams is gone. We have to replace those two guys."  http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/cardinals/story/6E73EAC29BDA1B2E86256F5700224C24?OpenDocument&Headline=Cards'+plans+exclude+Woody

 

Haren and Ankiel in Starter Mix

In the same P-D story mentioned above, it was finally acknowledged that both Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel are potential starter candidates for next season.  The previous P-D report, which made no sense at all to anyone who can count to five, had them both in the 2005 bullpen.

 

Ankiel Start #2 Shaky

On Wednesday, Rick Ankiel had his second start of the season for the Carolina Giants of the Puerto Rican League.  He was roughed up a bit, allowing eight hits and four runs in five innings.  Ankiel struck out eight, walked one and hit another batter.  Teammate Yadier Molina is in a hitting slump that has seen his average drop down into the .230s.  But, the season is only in its second week.

 

Mo Likely to the Lake?

Having filled one of their biggest needs with the re-signing of closer Bob Wickman, word out of Cleveland via USA Today is that the Indians are now expected to pursue a quality starter.  Matt Clement, Jon Lieber, Russ Ortiz and Matt Morris are among those reportedly drawing interest from the team.

 

11:06 am est

A free agent option to consider...

Second Baseman from the Land of the Rising Sun 

 

It’s that dead period when everyone is waiting to see which players are non-tendered on December 7.  The top free agents haven’t seen their best deals yet and are in no hurry to act.  The hot stove rumor mill percolates along with the latest news and if there is none, no problem.  With a few keystrokes, a whole new set of possibilities are presented to the eager baseball world as if they are fact.

 

Rather than rehash the same old names, I’m looking at some new, unfamiliar ones.  Yesterday, it was Korean outfielder Jong-Soo Shim.  Today, it is a player from the island of Japan about whom I first reported right here one year ago, second baseman Tadahito Iguchi.  He is recognized as the strongest of a small crop who hope to head from Japan to the US in 2005.

 

Iguchi has been a shortstop and second baseman for the 2003 Pacific League Champion Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.  While the right-handed Iguchi came into 2003 as only a career .259 hitter, he had a breakout season that year, hitting .340 with 27 home runs and 109 RBI.   That season, Iguchi led the league with 42 stolen bases and 112 runs scored.  It was his second stolen base crown.  Iguchi has been selected as an All-Star four times and finished fourth in MVP voting in 2003.

 

At 29, the same age as last year’s prime Japanese middle infield free agent Kazuo Matsui, the lesser-known Iguchi could actually be a better choice for US teams.  Comparing stats from the 2003 season, their last together in Japan, Iguchi stood out as the superior offensive player.

 

Matsui whiffed 124 times in 140 games, while Iguchi struck out only 81 times.  Iguchi also had a much better on-base percentage than Matsui (.438 to .365) and a higher slugging percentage (.573 to .549).  The biggest question was whether or not Iguchi could maintain his new-found success in 2004.

 

Well, he came through again.  This season, Iguchi hit .333 with 24 home runs and 89 RBI during a season when Japanese baseball was in turmoil.  First there was a corruption scandal, then debt problems, which spawned a contraction proposal that led to a first-ever players strike.  Still, Iguchi didn’t let it bother him.  One standout season might be called a fluke or a career year, but two in a row looks more like a trend.

 

Twelve months ago, Iguchi's family sought the advice of coaches and executives around the Japan League on the feasibility of him moving to America.  It was reported that Iguchi met with the Daiei Hawks’ team president and asked that a prior agreement between them that would allow Iguchi to be put up to bid to American teams be honored.  However, his request was denied.

 

Now, a year later, Iguchi has completed his contract commitment and is a true free agent, with no compensation required to the Daiei Hawks.  Usually, Japanese players wanting to come to the US must go through a posting process which requires payment to the former team in addition to the player himself.  For example, four years ago, to acquire Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners’ winning bid required them to pay the Orix Blue Wave $13 million for the exclusive rights to negotiate with Ichiro for his initial MLB contract.

 

In Japan, Iguchi only earned about $1 million per season.  What he might make in America remains to be seen, but a comparison point is the three-year, $20 million deal Matsui extracted from the Mets a year ago.  The lesser-known Iguchi will likely command less and could be a great addition to a team in need of a reasonably-priced second baseman.  Can anyone think of such a team?

 

After all, this year’s second base free-agent population is very thin.  Certainly Houston's Jeff Kent is the premier player available.  After that, the Phillies’ Placido Polanco and the Cardinals’ Tony Womack get mention.  So do Pokey Reese of the Red Sox and Miguel Cairo of the Yankees.  The Cubs’ Todd Walker and Mark Grudzielanek are also possibilities.  Others may become available after December 7, the deadline for teams to offer arbitration.

 

Now that Iguchi has thrown his hat into the ring, why shouldn’t Walt Jocketty try it on for size?

 

7:36 am est

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Free agent "Hercules"

Korean Slugger Shim Looking for a Home

 

Roughly a third of all major league players hail from outside the United States and the number is growing.  Look at some of the places MLB players call home:  Aruba, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Taiwan and Venezuela.  Speaking of Venezuela, under VP Jeff Luhnow’s direction, the Cardinals are investing in a developmental league there as they dip their toe back into the Caribbean waters. 

 

As we look to the future, expect some of the emerging countries in terms of baseball maturity to become more important as a source for future players.  Think about the prospect of China, for example.  We’ll see an increased focus on baseball internationally as its World Cup gets underway in 2006. 

 

One such locale that is further along in terms of development is Korea.  There is ongoing debate over comparison of the level of play to the US.  If Japan is Triple-A caliber, then the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is likely Double-A. 

 

Still, there were at least six Koreans playing in the big leagues this past season.  Other than disappointing Dodger first baseman Hee Seop Choi, the other five are hurlers.  Byung-Hyun Kim, Jae-Weong Seo, Sun-Woo Kim, Chan-Ho Park and Jung-Keun Bong each had their barriers to success, but there is no dispute that they made it to the pinnacle of the game.   

 

After being claimed on waivers from Montreal, pitcher Seung Song was outrighted to Triple-A by the Toronto Blue Jays, but is expected to be in spring training.  Seattle’s Shin-Soo Choo is not viewed to be far away.  In fact, the outfielder was just added to the Mariners’ 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. 

 

Staying with hitters, two powerful sluggers emerged over the past few seasons in the KBO, Seung-Yeop Lee and Jong-Soo Shim, called the Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of Korea.

 

Both players spent Spring Training 2003 with the Florida Marlins in Jupiter with dreams of eventually becoming big leaguers and were viewed to be legitimate by then-manager Jeff Torborg and other observers.  

 

Five-time KBO MVP Lee returned to Korea to set the Asian single-season home run record in 2003 with 56 in a 132-game season.  Rather than come to the US, Lee played in 2004 under former Rangers and Mets skipper Bobby Valentine for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines.  However, Lee struggled, and was actually sent to the minor leagues for a time in an attempt to get him going.

 

The other Korean hitting star, the 29-year-old Shim, also impressed in the spring of 2003, hitting over .300 with a home run and three RBI in limited duty for Florida.  Returning home, Shim had a standout 2003 season, when he logged a .335 average, 53 homers and 142 RBIs.  Defensively, Shim is very strong.  His arm is recognized as best in the KBO and he has won two consecutive Golden Glove awards.

 

After the 2003 season, for the second consecutive year, Shim unsuccessfully requested for his contract to be posted, making him available to the Major Leagues.  Korean rules lock players into a seven-year contract before they can be posted and nine years before they can become a free agent.  As a result, Shim remained contractually-bound to the Hyundai Unicorns for the 2004 season.

 

So, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Shim, nicknamed Hercules, stayed home.  After missing the first two months with a knee injury, he registered a .256 average with 22 home runs and 74 RBIs.  His .385 on-base percentage shows excellent plate discipline for a power hitter.  Shim helped to lead his Unicorns to a repeat as KBO champions this past season.

 

Most importantly, this fall, Shim completed his contract, enabling him to negotiate with any team with no strings attached.  Shim, already fluent in English, has retained the SFX agency to represent him.  Other SFX free agent clients include Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez.

 

Shim is no stranger to the Cardinals.  In addition to appearing in Spring Training with the Marlins in 2003, he did the same with the Cubs in 2002 and also spent 50 games with the Cardinals’ Florida Instructional League team way back in 1994. 

 

If he stayed in Korea, even remaining the highest-paid player in the game, Shim would likely fetch under $1 million.  He made the equivalent of $500 thousand last season.  Instead, Shim longs for a chance to play in the majors. 

 

Are the Cardinals among the five major league teams who have allegedly shown interest in Jong-Soo Shim?  Could he truly play soon at that level and be the power bat off the bench that the Cardinals need?  Could Shim be another Hideki Matsui or would he be another So Taguchi-type disappointment? 

 

(Tomorrow, I’ll take another look at a player I first profiled last winter, Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi.)

 

12:23 pm est

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Wednesday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Roster Update

Baseball America posted the final pre-Rule 5 rosters for all teams, including the Cardinals.  There 32 names, one less than previously.  Added were outfielder Reid Gorecki, coming off a nice Arizona Fall League campaign and 32-year-old career minor league catcher Mike Mahoney (why bother?).  Off are Jason Simontacchi, Marlon Anderson and Josh Pearce.  http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/features/40man1104.php?team=STL

 

Strauss’ Scoop

The P-D’s Joe Strauss has an informative story about the Cards’ plans, as he spoke with Jocketty, La Russa and Duncan.  Here is a summary:

 

87/60 – The 2005 budget is $87 million and only $60 million is supposedly committed to players currently under contract.  That is substantially better then the $15 - $20 million I had projected was remaining and of course, is good news.

 

No proposals to Matheny or Womack – On one hand, it was said that no proposals have been given to either free agent Mike Matheny or Tony Womack.  However, later in the story, the previous one-year offer to Matheny was acknowledged. 

 

Johnson less than 50-50 odds, but talking – Jocketty and Arizona counterpart Joe Garagiola, Jr. are at least talking, but of course, it would be a complicated deal to make Randy Johnson a Cardinal.  Jocketty said he’d want Johnson for more than one year.

 

Jocketty and La Russa trash Calero, Ankiel and Haren trade rumors for Johnson (just like I expected they would).

 

Still interested in Pedro – but unlikely to be able to match Boston’s offer.  No surprise.  Other stories now say the Mets are getting involved.  Forget it for St. Louis.

 

Renteria situation “difficult” - Offer in range of four years, $8 million per year with backloaded money.  Renteria supposedly “unimpressed” because of Pujols’ extension.  Strauss speculated that other teams are waiting until after December 7 to see if the Cardinals offer Renteria arbitration before making offers.  (again, as expected)

 

Little interest in Williams and Morris returning.  Phillies might be interested in Morris if arm checks out ok.

 

Specifics here:  http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/cardinals/story/407FA41626A8A6D786256F56001E16B4?OpenDocument&Headline=For+Cards+to+get+Unit,+%22things+have+to+fall+in+place%22

 

Johnson-Vazquez Deal Possible

Arizona papers report that a Yankees deal for Randy Johnson is hung up on the $34.5 million remaining on Javier Vazquez’ contract that he signed with the Bombers last off-season, but that the D’backs are interested.

 

9:15 am est

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Tuesday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Gebhard to Arizona?

The Arizona Diamondbacks appear to have selected Cardinals’ special assistant and former Colorado Rockies General Manager Bob Gebhard as vice president and senior assistant GM.  With a strong scouting background, Gebhard helped in player evaluation and advised on multiple baseball operations fronts.

 

Hudson Hurler

That fine publication, Newsday, includes the Cardinals, but excludes the Yankees and Red Sox as a possible trade destination for Oakland A’s ace Tim Hudson.  The east coasters allegedly lack the prospects that the A’s require.  Other teams mentioned in the speculation are Florida, Anaheim and Philadelphia.   Hudson has one year at $6 million remaining before he cashes in big-time in the free agent market.

 

Kline Has Pinstripe Competition

According to the New York Post, the Yankees have targeted left hander Ron Villone, most recently with the Seattle Mariners, because they believe he is more durable than Steve Kline.  However, Villone is a Scott Boras client.

 

Womack Delay in Chi-Town

The Chicago Tribune says that second baseman Tony Womack expects to get a better offer than the one presented him by the Cubs.

 

Miller to Miller Park

Wisconsin resident and catcher Damian Miller is expected to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers for three years at roughly $9 million.  The deal for the 35-year-old will be a good market barometer for Mike Matheny’s value and also eliminates the #1 contingency for the Red Sox if they are unable to re-sign Jason Varitek.

 

9:24 am est

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Sunday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Ankiel Starts Well in P.R.

Rick Ankiel made his first Puerto Rican start with Carolina on Saturday.  He went four innings, allowing no runs on three hits and a walk.  Ankiel fanned three, but also hit a batter. 

 

Molina Starts Hot

Ankiel’s batterymate Yadier Molina had a pair of singles in four at-bats Saturday and raised his average to .375, which is just short of the league top ten.  However, the league is still in its first week.

 

A Good Complement to Yadi?

If the Cardinals need a backup catcher for Molina next season, there is a decent free agent who has flown under the radar screen to date.  Florida’s Mike Redmond has been in that organization his entire 12-year career, but the Marlins are apparently not interested in having him back.  The 33-year-old has a .284 career batting average and a career fielding average of .994.  Even with a raise over his $840 thousand salary in 2004, Redmond will be a bargain.  He’s a Type C free agent, with no compensation required to the Marlins if he signs elsewhere.

 

Luna in D.R.

Playing part time, Hector Luna is hitting .250, 8-for-32, for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Republic.  He’s fanned seven times, has yet to take a walk and has had just one RBI.  Luna has appeared in 12 of Aguilas’ 23 games, playing second base and shortstop.  His team is 19-4 and in first place by seven games.

 

Cubs Closer Quandry

The Cubs lost out when free agent closer Troy Percival signed quickly with the Detroit Tigers last week for two years, $12 million.  As an alternative to paying what is reported to be as much as $24 million over three years to the last decent closer remaining in the market, Florida’s Armando Benitez, the Cubs are looking elsewhere.  Sources report that the Cubs were trying to trade for Brewers closer Danny Kolb, however it looks unlikely.  Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin says the Brewers are not inclined to move Kolb unless the deal knocks them over.

 

Womack to Cubs?

TSN’s Ken Rosenthal says the Chicago Cubs are “getting closer” to a deal with second baseman Tony Womack.  The Cubs cut loose Todd Walker, who shared the job with Mark Grudzielanek last season over concerns about his defense.  Seems a bit odd the Cubs want Womack again after they picked him up in August, 2003 but ended up leaving him off their postseason roster due to his elbow injury. 

 

Clement to be Offered Arbitration?

Starting pitcher Matt Clement is expected to be offered arbitration by the Chicago Cubs, reports the Chicago Tribune.

 

10:31 pm est

Is the Noose Tightening on Edgar?

 

On the surface, it seemed like a relatively minor deal.  Friday, the Anaheim Angels traded outfielder Jose Guillen to the Washington Expos / Nationals for outfielder Juan Rivera and shortstop Maicer Izturis.

 

There is no doubt that the primary driver was for the Angels to rid themselves of Guillen, who is making his seventh move in just five years.  The man can hit, having driven in a career-high 104 runs in 148 games in 2004.  But, Guillen wore out his welcome on Anaheim after three separate incidents last season.  His year ended early as he was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.

 

Washington took on a $3.5 million attitude problem in Guillen and Anaheim picked up a couple of youngsters.  So, what?

 

Well, Maicer Izturis is what.  Maicer, 24, is the younger brother of Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis.  Prior to the surprise signing of Cristian Guzman by the Expos last week, Izturis was expected to be the Nationals’ starting shortstop in 2005.  Scouts say he has plus speed and arm strength slightly less than that of his sibling, who beat out Edgar Renteria for the National League Gold Glove this past season.

 

Just like his brother, at least prior to Cesar’s breakout 2004 season at the plate, the main question about Maicer was whether or not his bat is of major league caliber.  That is starting to be proven.  Before being called up to the bigs for a late season cup of coffee, the switch-hitting Maicer batted .338 in 99 games with Triple-A Edmonton. 

 

As a result, the Angels might have found their 2005 starting shortstop.  In announcing the trade, Anaheim general manager Bill Stoneman said Izturis will be given the opportunity to win the job in spring training.  Incumbent Angels shortstop David Eckstein is slated to move to second base until Adam Kennedy returns from a knee injury that may sideline him until perhaps midseason.

 

Prior to the Izturis trade, the Angels were expected by some to be a player for Nomar Garciaparra and/or perhaps Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera.  However, recent reports state the Angels’ priorities are clearly elsewhere.  They are preparing to make a run at a high profile center fielder, likely Carlos Beltran.  Their other stated needs are for a designated hitter and a front-line starting pitcher. 

 

The LA Times estimates that even after the Guillen trade, Stoneman has just $9 - $19 million with which to work to meet owner Arte Moreno's desired 2005 Angels’ payroll of $90 - $100 million.  And if that front-line starter’s name just happens to be Johnson, Stoneman’s kitty could be shot in one hand.

 

As a result, do the Angels sound like a team that would make it a priority now to drop $10 million per season on a multi-year contract for a free-agent shortstop?  Now, are you starting to see how all this Angels talk affects the Cardinals?

 

What began as a sellers market for shortstops has quickly become a buyers market instead.  And, that is not good news for Renteria and his agent. 

 

Let’s look at those teams who came into the off-season looking for help at the position.  The Expos are set and now Angels may be, too.  After losing out on Omar Vizquel to the Giants, the White Sox have decided to stay in-house.  Same for the Indians, who have prospect Jhonny Peralta ready to step in for Vizquel.  Arizona is reportedly on the verge of signing Royce Clayton.  Colorado has highly-touted rookie Clint Barmes waiting in the wings.  Same with the Twins, who are ready to give the job to top prospect Jason Bartlett, replacing Guzman.

 

The only teams seemingly remaining who might be willing to pay the kind of money that the “Big Three” of Nomar, Edgar and Cabrera want just happens to be the Cardinals, Cubs and perhaps the Red Sox. 

 

The latter case is unclear, as there have been conflicting reports coming out of Boston.  The Sox’ #1 prospect, Hanley Ramirez, is a shortstop, but is likely a year away.  Some believe the Sox will go with a short-term fix like Pokey Reese or Barry Larkin until Ramirez is ready.  Others point to the Sox’ efforts in trying to get Cabrera to re-sign as a signal they are willing to spend on the position.  In the past couple of days, Renteria’s name has hit the Beantown rags.  I think that conveniently happened to push Cabrera into making a deal, but we shall see.

 

Either way, the fact remains that the lesser names, such as Vizquel, Guzman and Clayton, have grabbed available shortstop gigs, leaving fewer and fewer places where the remaining “Big Three” big money free agents might land.

 

As a result, maybe, just maybe, Renteria will find the best deal out there is to remain a Cardinal, after all.

 

7:53 am est

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Don't count on it...

Milton, the Cardinal Monster?

 

From ESPN on Friday:  St. Louis was thought to be eyeing a trade for Randy Johnson, but ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark cites a source who says "the Cardinals are in on Eric Milton, hard."”

 

The Yankees were rumored to have him signed last week, but Milton’s agent discredited those reports.  The former All-Star with the Twins (2001) earned $9 million as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies last season.  Beacause he missed most of the 2003 season, Milton is a Type C free agent, requiring no compensation to be provided by the signing team.

 

I asked Stark about the temperature of this situation Friday night.  His reply: “Who wouldn’t want to play for the Cardinals?”  He went on to explain that Milton has a lot of teams on his list, not just St. Louis.  So nothing is assured.  In fact, Stark “guesses” that Milton will ultimately end up signing closer to his family in the east.  Milton is from Pennsylvania.

 

The 29-year-old could be the late-blooming lefty that so many seek or just another garden variety pitcher who won a lot of games one season (14) despite poor underlying numbers (4.75 ERA and 43 home runs allowed). 

 

For those who might try to wash away the homers as a by-product of the new ballpark in Philly, think again.  Milton actually surrendered more dingers on the road (23) last season than he did at home (20).  Makes Matt Morris’ 35 look slightly better, huh?

 

Still, perhaps Dave Duncan could work his magic on Milton, who has had some serious knee problems in the past (like Randy Johnson).  His main problem over the years has been consistency.  He has a 94-MPH fastball, a hard slider and a solid curve and can be devastating when he mixes them well and keeps the ball down. 

 

Maybe Milton would be a better student than Morris and maybe not.  Maybe he would be that dominating starter the Cardinals seek, but probably not. 

 

However, it may not matter.  Based on Stark’s clarification, I wouldn’t expect to see them clearing out space in the Cardinals’ locker room for Milton just yet.

 

8:45 am est

Friday, November 19, 2004

So Long to Matheny

 

It is time to say “good-bye” to an old friend and loyal Cardinal.  Catcher Mike Matheny is said to be quietly attracting considerable interest as a more reasonably-priced alternative to this year’s premier catching free agent, Jason Varitek from Boston.  Through despised super agent Scott Boras, Varitek is looking for a five-year deal with no-trade protection at $10 million per season.

 

While that alone certainly doesn’t mean the end for Mike wearing the Birds on the Bat, what comes next surely does.


It's believed Matheny is looking for a three-year deal in the $12-14 million range, according to ESPN Insider's Jerry Crasnick.

 

Think about it.  Can you envision committing say $4 million next season, then $4.5 million in 2006 and $5 million in 2007 for Matheny?  That is the kind of money we’re talking about here.  Gone is the chance to sign Mike for a hometown discount in the $2.5-3 million vicinity for a single season, if it ever really existed.  Matheny is preparing to move uptown.

 

It is believed that Matheny has had a one-year offer on the table to return to St. Louis since the spring.  In addition, Walt Jocketty was recently quoted as saying he would consider a two-year deal for Matheny.  But, this asking price is in a whole ‘nother league.

 

How can any of us really blame him, though?  Matheny is nearing the end of his career and this may be his last chance for a big payday.  After all, he’d be 37 at the conclusion of a three-year deal, which is getting to be a ripe old age for a catcher.  On the financial side, as recently as three seasons ago, Matheny made just $900,000.  To this point, the most he’s ever made in one season was $4 million this past season.  Is it realistic to think he would sign for less? 

 

There may be ample bidders out there.  Crasnick goes on to speculate that the Pittsburgh Pirates might enter the Matheny sweepstakes if they can finally trade Jason Kendall, though that remains a challenge given the three expensive years remaining on his contract.  Crasnick also thinks the Philadelphia Phillies could have some interest if they deal incumbent backstop Mike Lieberthal.  Other sources mention the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and the Red Sox as likely suitors.

 

Matheny joined the Cardinals as a free agent, five years ago, in December, 1999.  In 1998, he left his original team, the Brewers, after playing in their organization eight years, signing with the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent.  After a career-worst 1999 season, the Jays cut him loose. 

 

This past season, the three-time Gold Glover hit .247 with five home runs and 50 RBI, a career high.  His fielding percentage, .994, is the best of all time for Cardinals’ catchers who appeared behind the plate for at least 300 games.  That puts Matheny ahead of notables like Tony Pena, Tom Pagnozzi and Tim McCarver.  (stats courtesy of www.baseball-encyclopedia.com)

 

At this point, the only mystery remaining is whether the Cardinals will offer Matheny arbitration.  Given the size of the one-year contract he’d likely get, it remains a risk for both sides.  For more on this aspect, see my article from last week called “Six Year Free Agents Made Simple(r?)”.


Is there any doubt remaining that the Cardinals need to prepare to go with Yadier Molina behind the plate and use the remaining free agent money to acquire starting pitching help via trade or free agency and re-sign free-agent shortstop Edgar Renteria?

 

For Mike Matheny, the greener pastures will clearly be on the other side of the fence.  Let’s agree the Cardinals need to move on without him.  It’s time to thank Matheny for five solid seasons and wish him nothing but the best in the future.  That’s baseball.

 

8:21 pm est

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's a bit like playing telephone...

Tracing the “Hot” Johnson Rumor Mill

 

Regular reader Shawn Puckett asked me about the trade rumors swirling around Randy Johnson and the reported price in young players it would take to get him. 

 

What may have been the initial report was not even a report.  It was carefully worded speculation; yet it has been repeated and repeated and enhanced again.  As far as I can tell, it began with an item posed over a week ago by Peter Gammons-lite, also known as Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News.  No one credible has been quoted here.  They just keep rehashing the same rumor.  I attach no credence to the specific names mentioned.  Read and decide for yourself.

 

Rosenthal (11/11):  In this article, Rosenthal simply suggests that Arizona “likely would demand” Haren and Ankiel.   http://msn.foxsports.com/story/3146358

 

Dayn Perry, TSN (11/11):  “Such a trade would likely mean the Cards would part with Ps Rick Ankiel and Dan Haren and a prospect.”  http://msn.foxsports.com/story/3147160

 

Newsday (11/16):  “It is believed” that Haren, Calero and Ankiel are part of a package proposed by the Cards for Johnson.  No information was provided on WHO believes that.  http://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/yankees/ny-spyanks164044040nov16,0,4282978.story

 

Post-Dispatch (11/17):  Nothing new reported.  It would have been nice for the local paper to provide some insight.  No such luck.  http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/cardinals/story/FABDD8BCEDECB7C586256F4F004A835A?OpenDocument&Headline=Big+Unit+Update%3A+Yanks,+Cards,+White+Sox+in+the+running

 

But, wait.  Bernie Miklasz of the P-D did speak with Walt Jocketty on the 14th.  While is it not a direct quote, here is what it implied as to Jocketty’s thinking.  “Jocketty is reluctant to part with pitchers Dan Haren, Rick Ankiel or Anthony Reyes, or catchers Yadier Molina or Daric Barton.”  Perhaps Bernie is being used to enhance Walt's negotiating position, but I don’t think so.  I believe these are among the guys who Walt wants to keep.  Good idea.   http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/cardinals/story/0B597F0D0AD7978186256F4C003F9449?OpenDocument&Headline=Big+Unit+is+a+good+fit+for+Cards

 

Jayson Stark, ESPN (11/18):  “…they would have to give up Danny Haren. No doubt about that. Tough to forecast the rest of the package yet, since they haven't even talked. But there are indications Randy is willing to go to St. Louis, and the Cardinals would make a major run at him if that's the case. But Arizona's price would be really high - at least three young "sure things" and maybe four. The Cardinals might not be able to meet that price. In fact, no one but Anaheim might be capable of meeting that price.”  http://proxy.espn.go.com/chat/chatESPN?event_id=6530 (subscription required)

 

Expect the unexpected.  If Walt pulls off a deal, it will be for someone like Barry Zito or a name that has even been less frequently reported than that.  Walt has never tipped his hand to the press and isn’t about to start now.  He knows he needs to carry out due diligence on Johnson, but I bet in his heart, Walt is well aware that Johnson isn’t coming to St. Louis.

 

Bottom line, Walt knows what he is doing.  I don’t think TSN or Newsday have the slightest idea. 

 

11:24 am est

The 40-man, free agency and Rule 5

Making Roster Room

 

It is the time of year when teams sometimes have to remove players from their 40-man rosters when they would prefer not to in order to make room for free-agent acquisitions or to protect younger players instead.

 

For example, this happened to the Cleveland Indians just last week.  Billy Traber, once considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Cleveland organization and in all of baseball, is no longer Indians property.  The 25-year-old left-hander was claimed by the Boston Red Sox when the Indians tried to put him through waivers and remove him from their 40-man roster.  According to reports, Traber’s left elbow has been slow to recover following Tommy John surgery.  By the way, I feel the need to point out that any similarity to Rick Ankiel is completely coincidental.

 

Anyway, let’s check the current state of the Cardinals’ 40-man. 

 

Nine openings were created since the end of the regular season as nine Cardinals declared free agency – Cal Eldred, Steve Kline, Ray Lankford, John Mabry, Mike Matheny, Matt Morris, Edgar Renteria, Woody Williams and Tony Womack.  Even with the recent addition of third baseman Scott Seabol, there are only 33 players on the 40-man at this time, leaving the Cardinals in good shape.

 

So, the initial conclusion is that the numbers seem to work out ok.  The Cardinals shouldn’t have to take a Traber-like risk to complete their 2005 team.  End of story, right?


Well, not so fast.  There is another consideration.  What about the Rule 5 draft, to be held in conjunction with next month’s Winter Meetings?  As much as people complain about the lack of quality of the Cardinals’ system, there are some youngsters in the minors who the team would surely not want to expose to potentially be taken by another team.

 

As a result, let’s take another, closer look at that 40-man.

 

Here are the youngsters already protected by their placement on the 40-man roster: 

Carmen Cali

Jimmy Journell

Rhett Parrott

Josh Pearce

Evan Rust

Adam Wainwright

John Gall

Scott Seabol

 

There are also some veterans on the 40-man with between three and six years of service who could be non-tendered by the Cards to avoid the prospect of having to go to arbitration with them.  If these players don’t work out deals with the club, their roster spots will be vacated:

Mike Lincoln

Marlon Anderson

(Jason Marquis, Al Reyes and Ray King are in this group but are expected to return in 2005.)

 

In addition, there are those minor league veterans on the 40-man who could come in danger of losing their spot:

Jason Simontacchi

Cody McKay

Randy Flores

So Taguchi

 

So, if the Cardinals needed to free up six or so more spots on the 40-man, that seemingly could be accomplished without sacrificing the team’s future.  Even if the team wanted to keep some of the final six names on the lists above, perhaps a fading prospect such as Pearce or Gall, who turns 27 in April, would be risked instead.

 

But, why would extra 40-man roster spots be needed?  The most obvious reason would be if the team was to sign more than eight free agents to major league contracts; either their own or from other teams.  Another reason would be if the Cardinals were to again be active in selecting one or more Rule 5 players from other teams this December.  Any major league Rule 5 selections must immediately be placed on the roster.

 

The other reason to potentially free up 40-man roster room would be to protect Cardinals’ youngsters.  Let’s take a look at the Cardinals’ minor league system and see who we’d want to make sure we keep among those who might be selected in Rule 5. 

 

Here are the eligibility guidelines for the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.  Players who are not on the 40-man roster and have more than three years of minor league service (four years if they signed when they were younger than 19 on the June 5 immediately prior to their signing) are eligible to be selected.

 

I am including this paragraph only for the purposes of being complete.  In the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, minor leaguers not protected on specified reserve lists at the Double-A and Single-A levels can be chosen.  As a result, for this exercise, we will assume the right players will be protected at the lower levels of the system.  Note that none of the players mentioned below are on Memphis’ Triple-A roster.

 

Therefore, we will focus our risk analysis on those standouts with more than three years of service.  I have split a list of prominent Cardinals prospects into two groups based on what I believe to be their eligibility for this year’s Rule 5 draft.  The eligible ones would need to be added to the 40-man to be protected.

 

Major League Rule 5 Eligible

Shaun Boyd – five years service, signed June, 2000 @ age 18 (four years eligible)

John Nelson – four years service, signed June, 2001 @ age 22

Skip Schumaker – four years service, signed June, 2001 @ age 21

 

Not Major League Rule 5 Eligible

Daric Barton – two years service, signed June, 2003 @ age 17 (four years eligible)

Travis Hanson – three years service, signed June, 2002 @ age 21

Blake Hawksworth – three years service, signed May, 2002 @ age 19 (four years eligible)

Tyler Johnson – four years service, signed May, 2001 @ age 19 (four years eligible)

Stuart Pomeranz – two years service, signed July, 2003 @ age 18 (four years eligible)

Anthony Reyes – one year service, signed August, 2003 @ age 21

Brendan Ryan – two years service, signed June, 2003 @ age 21

Brad Thompson – two years service, signed August, 2002 @ age 20

 

Of the three eligible, none seem to be at serious risk to be Rule 5 selections by other organizations.  Remember that the selecting team must have the intent of keeping the selected player on their 25-man major league roster all season, as the Cardinals did with Hector Luna in 2004.

 

Nelson is coming off an injury-prone year and has yet to prove he is back.  Like Nelson, Schumaker will likely get his first taste of Triple-A in 2005.  Former #1 pick Boyd has yet to demonstrate that he can handle even Double-A pitching.  But, even if the Cards wanted to add one or more of them to the 40-man, it appears they could do it without incurring too much pain.

 

In conclusion, the Cardinals’ 40-man roster situation looks good and as a result, no unpleasant roster-driven surprises should be expected.

 

7:07 am est

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

How Not to Make Free Agent Signings

 

The frenzy has begun.

 

Shortstop

The rush to first sign Omar Vizquel by San Francisco for three years, $12.25 million and now, Cristian Guzman by Washington for four years, $16.8 million is quite surprising to me.  Guzman can’t take a walk and needed the spongy turf of the Metrodome to excel.  Maybe the new Washington team brass thought they were still back in Olympic Stadium. 

 

In a market where there is ample supply of free agent shortstops, why be in a hurry to sign anyone, especially these two?  Guzman is a Type B free agent, so the penalty is a second round pick.  The 37-year-old Vizquel cost the Giants a first-rounder as a Type A selection. 

 

Giants GM Brian Sabean is generally considered one of the more saavy general managers in the game.  I have to admit this deal is causing me to really question that.  Why get into a bidding war with the White Sox over a shortstop who will be 40 years old at the end of his contract?  I liken Vizquel to Ozzie Smith late in his career.  Certainly a good player, but not worth all that.

 

Edgar Renteria and his agent have to love the panicking that could turn a buyers market for shortstops into a sellers market.

 

Third base

2004 National League RBI leader Vinny Castilla agreed to a two year, $6.3 million deal with Washington.  He’d better sign quickly before they come to their senses.  The first thing I thought of was Detroit’s signing of Fernando Vina last December for two years, $6 million.  And, we all know how that worked out so far.  Vina played in 29 games in 2004.

 

Unless they figure out a way to import the mile-high thin air to the Nation’s Capital, Washington’s acquisition of Castilla will be a bust.  Last season, here were Vinny’s numbers away from Colorado: .218 batting/.281 on base/.493 slugging.  Ouch! 

 

Vinny is a Type A free agent, meaning a first round pick will be surrendered.  Would someone get some ownership in place in D.C. who knows what they are doing?  Former Reds’ general manager, and new Washington GM, Jim Bowden is clearly out of control.

 

Pitcher

After bouncing among four teams in three years, the Philadelphia Phillies re-signed 32-year-old right handed free agent pitcher Cory Lidle to a two year, $6.3 million contract.  Another healthy contract for a very average player.  Lidle has a 4.52 career ERA and is coming off a 4.897 ERA in 2004.  Maybe the Phillies think they have their version of Jeff Suppan here, as Lidle the Phillie was better than Lidle the Red and Lidle the Blue Jay, but not as good as Lidle the Athletic.

 

Anyway, Matt Morris may just get some decent money somewhere somehow. 

 

So, where’s Walt? 

He is right where he ought to be.  Smart teams will wait until after the December 7 non-tender date to see who may become available without compensation.  Remember, there will be a number of three to five plus year players whose teams will not offer them a contract over fear of being taken to arbitration. 

 

Walt is doing what makes the most sense right now.  That is, he is apparently focusing on re-signing his own players as they begin to understand their market value.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I don’t want to see the Cardinals make any big free agent signings until after December 7.  And if they make a big free agent signing where compensation is required, the return had sure as heck better be a lot more than tired iron like Omar Vizquel or Vinny Castilla.

 

Be patient, folks.

 

11:20 am est

Monday, November 15, 2004

Looking for Luna on a Sunday Afternoon

 

You know you’re either a real baseball fan or your fantasy football teams are toast or both when instead of catching the 4pm NFL games on Sunday, this entry catches your eye:

 

Liga Dominicana de Béisbol
Aguilas Cibaeñas vs. Tigres del Licey
El Estadio Quisqueya Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana

 

That’s right.  The baseball season didn’t end.  It just shifted venues.  Play is underway currently in Venezuela, Mexico and of course, the Dominican Republic.  The Cards have farmhands playing in Venezuela and Rick Ankiel and Yadier Molina get underway in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, all leading up to the Caribbean Series.

 

So, goodbye NFL and hello ESPN Deportes.  Now, I have to admit that as a Cardinals fan, I was there to catch a view of infielder Hector Luna in action.  But, as luck would have it, Luna didn’t get the start.  Still, I didn’t shift over to football. 

 

Here are a few of my game observations:

 

Boston’s #1 prospect and their shortstop of the future, Hanley Ramirez, was playing third base for Licey and literally airmailed a throw toward first that went far over everyone’s heads and into the stands on the fly.  Surely he can hit and has a strong arm, but it’s not accurate, at least based on this small sample type.  FYI, Ramirez had 23 errors in total at three different levels this season.  Granted, the kid is only 20 and he’s being groomed for shortstop, not third, but this is really the reason the Red Sox won’t give Orlando Cabrera more than a one-year offer?

 

Washington’s John Patterson started for Licey and dominated, tossing seven innings of one run ball.  He looked even bigger than his listed 6’ 5”.  I think he gave up only three hits and I know he fanned five Aguilas’ hitters, walking none.  After the game, Patterson was interviewed, saying he originally planned to stay in the Dominican until December 1, but he was having so much fun, he was thinking about staying longer.  Patterson missed almost three months of the 2004 MLB season with a groin injury, but is a player to keep an eye on next season.

 

Raul Mondesi is alive and well playing for Aguilas. He has a funny hairdo, with long, curly brown hair on top and cut short of the bottom.  However, he can still play ball, hitting a home run on this day.  Despite Mondesi’s past baggage, which is considerable, some team needing inexpensive hitting help will probably take a chance on him.  Still, in the Dominican season to date, Mondesi is hitting just .206 with that one homer and 10 batted in.

 

Miguel Tejada was shown several times in the stands watching the game.  No word if or when the Orioles shortstop plans to suit up.  Typically, major league stars join their teams later in the regular season or in the Caribbean Series.

 

Talk about a weird sighting!  Fox commentator and former MLB player Steve “Psycho” Lyons was most visible in the Aguilas dugout, for whom he serves as a coach.  As far as know, he kept his pants on.  Still, he gives the term “moonlighting” new meaning.  (Lyons’ claim to fame was dropping his pants to shake the dirt out of them after a slide while standing at first base when with the White Sox.)  Speaking of…

 

Can you believe that Luis Polonia is still playing ball?  It is true.  Though the 41-year-old appeared in his last game in the majors four years ago, he is still active on the diamond, playing the outfield for Aguilas.

 

Back to the moon, Luna actually did make an appearance at a crucial point in the game.  He came into the contest hitting just .190 on the season.  With his team down by two, with two on base in the top of the eighth, Luna stepped in against Atlanta Braves reliever Juan Cruz.   Cruz fanned Luna, who stayed in the game and did turn a nifty pivot on a double play in the home eighth.

 

Dodger Yhency Brazoban came in for the ninth and gave up a home run to former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Reggie Taylor to make the score closer at 3-2.  Brazoban did get the final outs to earn the save for Patterson, his fourth of the season.  Taylor spent the 2004 MLB season in Triple-A, ending with the White Sox affiliate in Charlotte.

 

That’s it for today, but I’ll again report on more Caribbean league action soon; maybe on the next full moon...

 

7:08 am est

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Another arbitration - free agent flavor

The Class of “Super Twos” 

 

As I tried to rest on my laurels following my acclaimed (by me) mini-series about free agency, I was brought back to reality by a gentle reminder.  “What about Super Twos?  Why didn’t you mention them?”  Therein lies the genesis of yet another article.

 

From the 2003-2006 Basic Agreement, Article VI, Section F:

“In addition, a Player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if: (a) he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season; and (b) he ranks in the top seventeen percent (17%) (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.  If two or more Players are tied in ranking, ties shall be broken consecutively based on the number of days of service accumulated

in each of the immediately preceding seasons. If the Players remain tied, the final tie breaker will be by lot.”

 

OK class, any questions?  Now, I understand why MLB is so lousy marketing itself.  They spend all their cash on lawyers.  The “Basic” Agreement, from which the above paragraph was extracted, is 223 pages.  Can you imagine what the “Deluxe” version would entail?


In Simple English, please

Anyway, let’s translate the above.  The top 17% of the two-year players, as measured in days of major league service, are treated just like three-to-five year players.  Meaning, either they must be tendered a contract by December 19 or they become free agents.  And even if they are tendered a contract, if they don’t like it, they can take their team to arbitration. 

 

It’s Just a Place in Line

Note this qualification as a “Super Two” player has nothing to do with ability, performance or results; simply it has to do with how long the player was on his team’s 25-man roster.

 

Why Can’t Everyman Know?

Where the rub lies here is in determining the days of service for each player.  Apparently this information is held extremely close to the proverbial MLB vest.  After all, they are lawyers first and marketers second. 

 

What do we know?

 

One service year = 172 days.

 

Service time is accrued even if the player is suspended or on the disabled list.

 

The exact cutoff line for the top 17% varies each year.  Usually it has been around two years, 128 to 130 days of service time, but it could be as high as 140.  It all depends on the population mix that season.

 

Another thing we know is that savvy teams know this, too.  As a result, they ensure they don’t finish the season with players who might end up in this Super Two group.  How can they control that?  By timing when players are called up.

 

Or, on the other hand, a team with a Super Two player could conceivably be taken to arbitration four consecutive years before the player would be granted free agency.  Of course, the team could always non-tender the player, making them a free agent instead. 

 

Good Example

If you look at the Oakland A's recent history, you’ll see that they brought up then-highly-touted rookies Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Rich Harden in June or July.  That was early enough so that the A's could get basically an extra-half season of pre-free agency service time out of these players but late enough to ensure they never reached Super Two status.  Sure, all the papers said “not ready, blah, blah, blah”.  The fact is, the A’s knew exactly what they were doing.

 

Bad Example

On the other hand, we have the Pittsburgh Pirates, who several years ago, called up shortstop Jack Wilson in April, sent him down, only to call him back just in time to spend most of the season in the majors doing very little.  Specifically, he hit just .223 and drove in 25 runs in 109 games back in his initial season, 2001.

 

As a result of the accrued service time, last February, Wilson secured a raise of over $1.5 million dollars for 2004 as a barely over-the-line Super Two.  Making matters worse, he had to take the Pirates to arbitration to get it.  It was Pittsburgh’s first loss in arbitration in 11 years.  Still, don’t you think the Pirates would have had a better use for their time and cash elsewhere and would have preferred to avoid the risk of ill-will that by definition results from an arbitration hearing?

 

Who are they?

So, who are the Super Twos this season?  My previous example, the St. Louis Cardinals, have no players who qualify as Super Twos now.  Instead, let’s take a look at the Cardinals’ National League Central Division rivals, the Houston Astros, and the American League Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Each team has a pair of Super Twos among their arbitration-qualifying class.

 

Team

Super Two Players

Service Time (years.days)

 

Also Arbitration Eligible

Houston Astros

Tim Redding

2.151

 

Lance Berkman

 

Brandon Duckworth

2.150

 

Mike Lamb

 

 

 

 

Wade Miller

 

 

 

 

Peter Munro

 

 

 

 

Roy Oswalt

 

 

 

 

 

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Jesus Colome

2.166

 

Rob Bell

 

Jorge Sosa

2.156

 

Geoff Blum

 

 

 

 

Jeremi Gonzalez

 

 

 

 

Toby Hall

 

 

 

 

Travis Harper

 

 

 

 

Julio Lugo

 

 

 

 

Trever Miller

 

 

 

 

Damian Rolls

 

It will be interesting to watch what happens next.  There are five options:

 

1)  The team “pre-tenders” an offer to the player in attempt to induce the player to sign, with the implication that if the player does not accept, he could be non-tendered.

 

2)  The player is non-tendered, making him a free agent.

 

3)  The player accepts the team’s contract offer. 

 

4)  The two parties prepare for arbitration, submitting their salary amounts, but settling somewhere near the midpoint, eliminating the need for a hearing.

 

5)  The matter goes to arbitration, where the arbitrator selects either the player’s or the team’s amount.

 

It should be noted that a vast majority of the cases that head toward arbitration are settled in advance, as in #4 above. 

 

While none of these four Super Twos are front-liners, some of the other arbitration-eligible players may present a challenge in negotiations.  New Astros general manager Tim Purpura inherited an especially-tough situation, with at least three key players, Berkman, Miller and Oswalt, on the eligibility list.  

 

In conclusion

While there aren’t many of them each season, remembering about Super Twos is an important part of general manager team salary budget management.

 

8:34 am est

Friday, November 12, 2004

A look back and a look ahead...

2004: The Cardinals’ Year in Review

 

It is unfortunate that much of the world may think of the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals as a colossal failure, due to their four-game demolishment at the hands of the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.  That’s just not fair.  After all, there were 15 other teams who fought for six months in a futile attempt to achieve that which only the Cardinals can claim:  2004 National League Champion. 

 

Even with the storied history of the franchise, the Cardinals themselves had not reached that height since 1987.  This team was picked by most to end the season in third place, yet improved by 20 wins from 2003.  They won 105 games during the regular season and subsequently defeated the Dodgers and the Astros in the NLDS and NLCS, respectively.  Those 105 wins were the most registered by any team in the National League since 1998.

 

What Went Right?

 

Being a mid-market team, with a fair sized budget, $85 million, the Cardinals were carefully constructed.  Their lack of depth was unexposed with no major injuries until late in the season.

 

This team found its groove after sliding into the Memorial Day weekend with a middling 24-22 record, good for fifth place in the NL Central.  The rest of the way, they played at an incredible .700 clip (81-35) to steamroll their divisional competition, winning the Central by 13 games over Houston and 16 games over the Cubs.

 

This Cardinals pitching staff, with a solid, but unspectacular group of five #3-level starters, scared no one, yet with a fearsome offense led by three MVP candidates, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, they got by just fine.  As opposed to their bitter rivals, the Chicago Cubs, who were undermined by bad chemistry and turmoil on and off the field, this Cardinal club was, for the most part, a group of quiet professionals, led by a veteran coaching staff.

 

Make no mistake about it.  The 2004 Cardinals were a very, very good team and earned their championship on the field.  The offense led the League in hits, runs, doubles, batting average and slugging percentage.  They were third in home runs and surprisingly, second in stolen bases.  The pitching staff lost the NL earned run average title on the final inning of the final game.  Their bullpen, led by closer Jason Isringhausen (47 saves) and set-up men Steve Kline, Ray King, Kiko Calero and Julian Tavarez, was a major difference-maker for the team compared to past seasons. 

 

The defense was recognized, too, with three repeat Gold Glovers; Scott Rolen, Mike Matheny and Jim Edmonds.  Edmonds and NLCS MVP Albert Pujols were named Silver Sluggers, too.  Pujols especially had another monster season, leading the NL in runs (133), extra-base hits (99) and total bases (389).  He was second in home runs (46) and slugging percentage (.657) and third in RBI (123).  He may again come in second to Barry Bonds in the MVP vote, but deserves to win, in my book.

 

The stellar on-paper rotations of preseason favorites Chicago and Houston were decimated by injuries during 2004, creating an opening.  To their credit, the Cardinals took advantage.  However, they can’t count on guys like Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Andy Pettitte, Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt missing considerable time every season.  Next year, it could just as easily be the Cardinals who are bitten by the injury bug.

 

What Went Wrong

 

I don’t need to dwell on the 2004 World Series, as the entire world saw what happened as the Cardinals threatened in the early two games, but were dominated by superior pitching, in conjunction with a hitting slump that engulfed seemingly the entire team and a strange aura of tightness that may have emanated from their intensely-driven Manager Tony La Russa. 

 

La Russa is a man who elicits great debate among fans.  He is a survivor, having presided over 2114 wins in a quarter-century as a big-league manager.   On the other side of the coin, no manager in the history of the game has won nearly as many games, yet as few World Championships.  This post-season failure will continue to dog La Russa.  Granted, he has five first place finishes in his nine years in St. Louis, but prior to 2004, La Russa-managed teams hadn’t appeared in the Series for 14 years.  While not yet under contract, La Russa has stated his intent to return for a tenth Cardinals season in 2005.

 

Though it was not the difference in the Series, there is no doubt that the loss of #1 starter Chris Carpenter in September due to a biceps injury was a serious blow to the team.  Yet, the Cardinals stitched together seven post-season wins without him.  Coming off two arm surgeries, Carpenter was rightfully named the NL Comeback Player of the Year, exceeding everyone’s expectations.  In fact, his .750 won-loss percentage (15-5) was second best in the League.  However, some think that Carpenter may have been overused, pitching too deeply into less-meaningful second-half games instead of being conserved for the post-season.  

 

The two men who were expected to be the front line starters for the Cardinals had off years.  While his 15-10 won-loss record looked decent, former #1 starter Matt Morris struggled all season long.  With a 4.72 ERA, over a run higher than his career mark, Morris was a bust, given his $12.5 million salary, and is not expected back.  37-year-old Woody Williams went north from spring training recovering from a sore shoulder.  It took much of the season for Williams to get back into form, though he was also victimized by poor run and bullpen support.  Williams is also a free agent and will likely not return either, unless it is at a much reduced rate.

 

The Moves They Made

 

There was a reason that Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty was named 2004 GM of the Year in MLB.  Jocketty did not win the award by building the best farm system or making the best free agent signings.  Sure, the Cards are sometimes in the hunt for big names, but almost always sign the bargain-basement guys instead, some of whom always seem to come through.

 

At the completion of the 2003 campaign, Jocketty had a whopping 16 free agents.  He basically re-tooled his team, as he ended up re-signing just four of them.  None of the players who were signed made more than $2 million last season.  Granted, Jocketty had already assembled a strong core of players with Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, and all, but he added just the right low-cost ingredients to the mix. 

 

Jocketty’s reputation was built via the trade and that was strengthened in 2004.  Who would have believed that Tony Womack, coming off Tommy John surgery late last season, would have a career year at age 35?  Jocketty picked him up in spring training for a marginal Double-A pitcher.  He signed 16-game winner Jeff Suppan, paying him just $1 million last season.  He added starter Jason Marquis, who went 15-7 and lefty specialist Ray King, who made 86 appearances, from the Braves in the J.D. Drew trade.  He replaced Drew with the steady Reggie Sanders. 

 

But, the 2004 deal from Jocketty that shocked baseball was the August trade for former MVP and batting champion Larry Walker from the Colorado Rockies.  The Rocks not only paid a majority of Walker’s salary, but the prospects they received in return were not the Cards’ best.  Even though the Cardinals were comfortably in the lead at that point, the addition of Walker showed that ownership was committed to winning.

 

The Moves They Didn’t Make (But Should Have)

 

Unfortunately, it was proven in the World Series that the Cardinals did not need more offense as much as they needed a dominating starter or two.  While they flirted with Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks, they were unable to make a mid-season deal.  Instead of the trade for Walker, getting a studly pitcher could have been a difference-maker in the Series.  While the Cards are in the process of rectifying that gap in the off-season, it is obviously too late for 2004.

 

Where Now?

 

It might appear that I am cheapening the considerable accomplishments of the Cardinals to call them fortunate.  I don’t intend that.  However, in reality, they were.  The Cubs and Astros will be back with a vengeance in 2005 and the Cardinals cannot rest on their laurels, not that anyone expects them to.

 

Clearly, as one of the older teams in baseball, the Cardinals want to make the necessary adjustments needed to make another World Series run in 2005.  They have ten openings on the 25-man roster, including five front-line positions; catcher, second base, shortstop and two starting pitchers. 

 

As mentioned earlier, incumbents Matt Morris and Woody Williams are not expected back.  Other 2004 starters who are free-agents include multiple Gold Glove winners Edgar Renteria and Mike Matheny plus Tony Womack.  One or all could return for 2005. 

 

If Matheny does not return, 22-year old Yadier Molina of the famous Puerto Rican catching clan seems about ready to step in.  He is catching enigmatic left-hander Rick Ankiel in winter ball in Puerto Rico.  If they produce up to their capabilities, this duo would provide an unexpected and welcome boost to the 2005 team. 

 

Any replacement for Womack would preferably also be capable of leading off, as the Cards need table-setters more than anything on offense.  Renteria does not relish that role, though he has the capability.  However, the Cardinals lineup is already loaded with proven RBI men.

 

Coming off a sub-par season, re-signing Renteria is still the team’s top priority.  But, he could price himself out of a job if his rumored $10 million per year demands are real.  If Renteria doesn’t return, there are less-expensive free agent shortstop options available and the team could apply the unused cash toward that power-pitching ace. 

 

The problem is there aren’t many aces available, especially at the level that the Cardinals can afford to pay.  While the team is again interested in Randy Johnson and flirting with Pedro Martinez, they probably cannot afford to exhaust the resources it would take to get them.  Plus, it would be a major mistake for the Cards to trade away young arms like Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel for the 41-year old Johnson.  The Cardinals need young, inexpensive starters to balance out their rotation and budget.  Instead, if the past is any indication of the future, look for Jocketty to pull off a surprise trade for a less-expensive Ben Sheets-like pitcher to head his 2005 rotation without giving up his most valuable young starters in the process.

 

In 2003, the Cardinals spent more on two starting pitchers, Morris and Williams, then the Cubs and Astros spent on their entire rotations.  That’s right; the Cardinals’ two cost more than their ten.  Granted, raises have occurred since then, but it should not be lost on the Cardinals that their chief opponents were able to develop budding stars such as Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt in-house.  That enabled them to add proven winners like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Greg Maddux later to finish the puzzle.

 

While I already touched on the character of the 2004 Cardinals, I want to return to that point.  While no one went onto the field for the World Series with bloody socks, the Cardinals were still beaten up.  No fewer than three Redbird stars are going under the knife as the result of injuries sustained during the season; yet all three played until the end.  Specifically, they are Jason Isringhausen (hip), Albert Pujols (plantar faciitis in foot) and Scott Rolen (knee).  All are expected to be ready to go in the spring.

 

The Cardinals are a talented and powerful unit, but even with expected changes for next season, they will again need everything to fall just right to return to the World Series.  But, what team doesn’t?  This group still has as good of a chance as any in baseball with Pujols, Rolen and crew just as hungry as they were in 2004.

 

3:23 pm est

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Thursday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

It’s November 11

Do you remember what that is?  Yes, Veterans Day, but that is not what I mean.  It is the last day that teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents.  I am not expecting any last minute re-signing surprises, so starting at midnight tonight, the price of poker goes up.

 

Spring Training Schedule Announced

Hooray!  First game will be March 2.  Details here. http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/stl/schedule/tentative_2005_spring_schedule.jsp

 

Japan Series Game Six

MLB lost its first games of the set Wednesday and Thursday.  In Game Six, Ray King retired both batters faced in the eighth inning. 

 

Pedro Turns Down Deal

From the Boston Herald:  “The club has offered a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $25.5 million with an option year worth $13 million, which Martinez, to no surprise of the Red Sox, turned down.”  On one hand, that sounds like a lot of money.  On the other, the yearly salary is about what the Cards paid for Matt Morris last season.

 

Brenly’s Presence Putting Heat on Dusty

No, actually, his stupidity causes pressure to be put upon himself.  Anyway, another Cubs story explaining how new TV color commentator Bob Brenly could be the team’s next manager.  Brenly’s booth contract is for four years, $3.5 million.  But, what I especially like are references to the “Uneasy Confines” and “the Little Blue Machine”.  Worth a read.  http://www.dailysouthtown.com/southtown/columns/ladewski/x11-lad1.htm


One Less Closer Available

Rather than file for free agency, Pirates closer Jose Mesa re-signed for $2.5 million.

 

Strauss Provides News

You can decide what you think about this.  While there are some things that regular readers here already know about, there were some new nuggets, too.  However, be aware this comes from the same reporter who has at least twice stated that Molina and Ankiel are playing on a non-existent team, Catalina, in Puerto Rico

 

Strauss #1 - $3.25 million deferred for Izzy

Apparently, the team used Izzy for a really big loan that has now come due.  Whether it was budgeted in previous seasons or comes out of this season’s $85 - $ 86 million budget is unclear.  I know which one we hope for.

 

Strauss #2 – Haren and Ankiel in Pen

According to the story, Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel are going to be in the bullpen in 2005.  Now, given their preference for veterans, I do not doubt that is what Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan prefer.  However, I think this is just a smokescreen to minimize pressure on the two – players, that is.  Ankiel will be a starter in the Puerto Rican winter season that begins next week.  Without asking, I am sure the party line is that he is starting to build his arm back up.  If he continues to pitch well this fall and next spring, there is no way he is in the pen in 2005.  Mark my words.

 

Strauss #3 – Cards After Kent

The Cardinals are listed among the potential pursuers of Jeff Kent; however, it is more likely they may return to former favorite Placido Polanco…”  I don’t know where that is listed, so I have to take Strauss’ word.  This is the first time I have seen the Cards mentioned as a suitor for Kent.  Frankly, I don’t see it at all, based on nothing else other than a price that is not affordable.  How many times have the Cards been rumored to be in the running for top free-agents, only to back out when the prices escalate through the roof?  Just like how I play poker.  Polanco, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense if you can get over giving up a first-round draft pick to get him. 

 

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/cardinals/story/5C48E0EF40EC701286256F49001E071A?OpenDocument&Headline=Analysis%3A+Cards+will+shop+in+players'+market

 

8:29 pm est

Don't count on it

King as King?

From reader Mike Newton:  “I thought Completing the Masterpiece was a wonderful and highly educational article. I have a question though. If Izzy was traded why not Ray King as the Closer? He is durable and could close every other night if needed, he might even be one to challenge 100 games pitched if given the chance.”

 

Walton’s take:  Thanks, Mike.  I chose not to make an already-long article even longer by dwelling on a very low odds situation.  As much as I like the potential, realistically, I don’t think Izzy is going anywhere.  Thursday’s bombshell that he is owed $3.25 million more than his $9.25 million contract in 2005 because of deferred payments makes Izzy impossible to move without the Cardinals having to assume a big chunk of his salary.  In that case, why move him at all, unless he can be part of a deal trading off an even bigger salary?

 

But, let’s look at your question, anyway, because it is a good one and might be relevant next off-season, if not this one.  Let’s look at six factors:

 

1)  Experience.  King is 30 years old and has been a professional for ten years now.  While he’s never closed regularly, King has collected a handful of saves seemingly every year.  He keeps his slider, high 80’s fastball and an occasional splitter down in the zone very effectively.  But, he doesn’t have that dominating pitch.

 

2)  Results.  Over most of five MLB seasons, King has registered a career ERA just a tad over three (3.08), while limiting hitters to a .225 batting average.  However, while King’s ERA with the bases empty is just 1.11, with runners on, it balloons to five.  Compare that to Izzy, who has been over a run tougher with baserunners on (3.89 career ERA).  In addition, King’s strikeout to walk ratio is just 1.7 to 1, again pointing out the fact that King while King is effective, he is not dominant.  In all fairness, Izzy is only slightly better at 2:1.

 

3)  Left-handedness.  Based on the fact that a majority of hitters are righthanded, lefties are rarely given the opportunity to complete games.  However, over his career, King has been quite effective against righties (.249), primarily due to that splitter, as well as dominant against lefties (.197).  While there are few lefty closers, Seattle’s Everyday Eddie Guardado could be an inspiration for King. 

 

4)  Impact elsewhere.  Especially on a Tony La Russa team, having two situational lefties ready for match-ups late in the game is crucial.  In any scenario with King as a closer, keeping Steve Kline is a must, as would be getting a situational replacement for King.  Clearly, if he doesn’t start, Rick Ankiel is an option, as is Carmen Cali.

 

5)  Durability.  As you point out, this is one of King’s strengths.  In 2003, his 80 appearances with the Braves was just one short of the team record.  He averaged 79 the previous two years in Milwaukee and his 86 appearances for the Cards in 2004 was the team’s second highest all-time, after Steve Kline’s 89 games in 2001.  (Stats courtesy of www.baseball-encyclopedia.com)

 

6)  Salary/contract.  King has over 4-1/2 years’ service time, meaning that while arbitration-eligible, he will not have a chance to test the free agent waters until after the 2006 season as long as the Cardinals tender him a contract each of the next two seasons.  However, the Cards have to be willing to risk arbitration with King both off-seasons.  If King were to be given a shot at closer, the team would be wise to lock him up in a long-term deal first.  As it is, he should expect a decent raise over his $900 thousand deal in 2004.

 

So, there you have it.  Could King close?  Yes.  Would he be ideal?  Probably not.  Will it happen?  I don’t think so.

 

1:37 pm est

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Wednesday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Neyer Calls Out Polanco         

ESPN’s Rob Neyer calls free-agent second baseman Placido Polanco the “best buy” among free-agent infielders, but attaches the caveat that it all depends on his agent.  Fair enough.  But, Polanco’s chances are hurt by being a Type A free agent, since a signing team would forfeit their first round pick.  Personally, I only see Polanco as an option for the Redbirds if Renteria does not return and a lesser shortstop is signed.  Preferably one who can lead off.

 

Cox Big Over TLR

Atlanta Braves’ Bobby Cox (140 points) was named NL Manager of the Year by a decisive margin over Tony La Russa (62) and Jim Tracy (52).  Interestingly, Cox was the only manager named on all ballots.  I wonder which four baseball writers slighted Tony and why?  Of course, La Russa has won four other times, so he shouldn’t be crushed.

 

Cards Eighth in Attendance

The Cardinals were eighth in MLB in both total attendance (3,048,427) and average attendance (37,634) in 2004.  The Cubs and Astros were sixth and seventh, respectively.  As you might expect, the Yankees are #1 in both categories.

 

Cardinals Graphical 2005 Schedule Posted

Home and away.  http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/stl/schedule/tentative_2005_season_schedule.jsp

 

NJ Cards Announce 2005 Schedule

The New Jersey Cardinals, who play in the New York-Penn League, announced their home schedule Wednesday.  Play begins on June 21 – before you know it!  http://www.njcards.com/

 

Cardinals Consultant to Court

BaseballHQ.com’s Ron Shandler, whose company is a hired consultant to Cardinals VP of Baseball Development Jeff Luhnow, has sued a competitor that allegedly is using a similar domain name and offers similar features to Shandler’s.  http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke%5C13514.html

 

Pedro Finds TLR Acceptable

In the Boston Globe, free agent pitcher Pedro Martinez mentions the Giants’ Felipe Alou, his former manager in Montreal, would be “like a father to me”.  Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa were given due as “acceptable” managers.

 

11:26 pm est

Completing the Masterpiece

 

As we did together last off-season, it is again time to jump into the budget waters.  After all the returning players are taken into account, in rough numbers, the Cardinals seem to have somewhere between $15 and $20 million dollars remaining to spend to complete their 2005 team.  That varies depending on whether or not you believe Larry Walker is in the base plan and with a new stadium just around the corner, how much ownership might allow a budget of roughly $85 million to be tweaked upward.

 

I am not going to get into all the plusses and minuses from year-to-year here, but suffice it to say that while some large salaries (Morris, Williams) are exiting, many more players have automatic raises built into their contracts.  Others will see potentially sizeable raises due to arbitration (or the impending threat of it). 

 

Still, $15 – $20 million provides a lot of maneuvering room.  But, before we get into how to spend that all that cash, let’s look at the roster in terms of players who are already committed to return and ones who aren’t.  My assumption is an 11-man pitching staff (sorry Ray Lankford).

 

25-man Roster Position

Returning

Open

Free Agent

Likely in-house Replacement

Catcher

 

x

Matheny

 

Backup catcher

Molina

 

 

 

First base

Pujols

 

 

 

Second base

 

x

Womack

 

Shortstop

 

x

Renteria

 

Third base

Rolen

 

 

 

Backup corner infield

 

x

Mabry

 

Backup middle infield 1

 

x

Anderson

Hart

Backup middle infield 2

Luna

 

 

 

Left field

Sanders

 

 

 

Centerfield

Edmonds

 

 

 

Right field

Walker

 

 

 

Backup outfield 1

 

x

Taguchi

 

Backup outfield 2

Cedeno

 

 

 

Starting pitcher 1

Carpenter

 

 

 

Starting pitcher 2

 

x

Morris

Haren

Starting pitcher 3

 

x

Williams

Ankiel

Starting pitcher 4

Suppan

 

 

 

Starting pitcher 5

Marquis

 

 

 

Swing

Calero

 

 

 

Long relief

 

x

Eldred

Reyes

Short relief

Tavarez

 

 

 

Lefty specialist 1

King

 

 

 

Lefty specialist 2

 

x

Kline

Cali/Flores

Closer

Isringhausen

 

 

 

 

So, what does this say?  Well, first off, 40%, or ten of the 25 roster spots are in play.  Of the ten, five are front liners:  three positional starters (catcher, second base and shortstop) and two starting pitchers.

 

Front Line Openings

 

Catcher:  If the Cardinals decide they cannot afford Mike Matheny, the team could save money by promoting Yadier Molina into the starting job and signing an inexpensive veteran backup.  Cost: $0.5 million

 

Second base:  I am not among those who think Tony Womack can repeat his surprising 2004 campaign.  If he does not return, however, a new lead-off hitter is also required. Cost: $1 million.

 

Shortstop:  Assuming Renteria really wants $10 million per season, can the team afford to spend anywhere from half (if $20 million) to two-thirds (if $15 million) of their remaining cash on one player, leaving peanuts for the other nine?  At this point, I am assuming “yes”, even though I really believe Renteria can be signed for maybe $8 million.  If there is any extra, it could be used on a better second baseman/leadoff man.  Cost: $10 million

 

Starting pitchers (2):  Haren and Ankiel are the front-runners.  Each has the added advantage of being relatively inexpensive. Cost: $0.7 million

 

The other five open positions are supporting players:  three positional backups and two relief pitchers.

 

Supporting Player Openings

 

Backup position players (3):  Mabry, Anderson and Taguchi will either re-sign or be replaced by comparably-priced players.  Cost: $2 million

 

Relief pitchers (2):  Reyes plus either Cali or Flores have the inside edge.  Cost: $0.7 million

 

The Total

Summing up what we’d spend to complete the team in this example, we get $14.9 million for ten players, which is at the conservative end of our remaining budget.  We could finish the job, approaching $20 million, by instead re-signing some combination of Matheny, Eldred or Kline.  In fact, we might be able to squeeze all three of them in at the $20 million mark.  Or, we could take the final bit of money to pump some more life into the bench.  Then, we’re done! 

 

Wait!  Where’s the Dominating Starter?

Still not happy, are you?  You want that power-pitching starter.  How about that guy who costs $16 million per year, right?  Here are some options that could help you get there.  Note this is the worst case, where the Cards would have to cover the entire salary of the incoming player.  Any salary relief provided by the sending team would only make this story better:

 

Passing the Hat

1)  Save that final $5 million or more that could have been spent on Matheny, Eldred and Kline.

 

2)  Sign a less-expensive shortstop instead of Renteria.  Assume Christian Guzman @ $4 million, saving $6 million.

 

3)  Trade away an already-signed player to free up additional salary.  Save $5 million.

 

So, there you have it.  A $16 million war chest collected.  Not so fast, you say?  Exactly where did that last $5 million come from? 

 

If you get that main line starter, you won’t need one of the other starters already penciled in.  Most assume that youngsters would have to be the centerpiece of any deal to acquire that stud.   But, if the Cards are able to hold onto Haren and Ankiel, they could free up Jeff Suppan, who has so far only collected $1 million of his two-year, $6 million contract signed last off-season.  So, there’s your five mil right there.

 

It’s not that I am down on Soup.  Quite the contrary.  However, if you’re going to do it, you have to trade guys at the peak of their value.  Anyone remember how well that worked with Kent Bottenfield just five years ago?

 

Other Trade Candidates

It is almost sacrilegious to bring this up again, but Jim Edmonds is at an age (34) and a salary ($9.8 million including deferred), where he has reached the final peak of his value.  However, in reality, Edmonds’ trade window has just passed.  At the completion of the 2004 season, Edmonds became a “ten-and-five” man, meaning that he has ten years service time as a major leaguer, the last five with one team.  Prior to that, the window was at least slightly open, as Edmonds’ contract stipulated that he had to supply a list of eight teams yearly to which he would accept a trade.  No more.  Now Edmonds cannot be traded without his consent (i.e. lots and lots of money)

 

Jason Isringhausen is another name I suggested moving as far back as 12 months or more ago and numerous times since.  While Izzy’s $9.25 million due this coming season would scare off any prospective takers not named Steinbrenner, the fact is that this off-season is a weak market for closers.  Armando Benitez is considered the top name out there, with Troy Percival and Jose Mesa the others of note.  Each has his skeletons.  On the buyers’ side, there are many more teams in need of a closer than there are closers on the market.  Izzy’s impending surgery may actually be a selling point, as it helps to explain his lack of dominance in 2004.  Still, it is high odds Izzy will be back in a Redbird uniform in 2005. 

 

The Risks

For the Cardinals, there would be risks.  Even with the $16 million man safely in-house, there would be two unproven starters in the rotation in Haren and Ankiel.  And, how many more games could the big guy win than Suppan would?  If Izzy could be moved, it would mean that the team would have to rely on Kiko Calero or bring in a less-proven pitcher than Izzy to finish games.  That is most unlikely, but not unheard of, in Tony La Russa’s world.

 

The Bonanza, or is it?

Thinking crazy for a minute, wouldn’t it be great if two large contracts, say Suppan’s and Izzy’s, could be moved as part of a deal for the $16 million man?  In that case, you would still have enough cash to be able to keep Renteria.   Even if the other team, who is probably more interested in rebuilding, would take those two in trade or thinking really, really wildly, a three-team trade could be engineered, the simple question of whether you would do any of it for a 41-year old pitcher remains a most nagging concern.

 

A More Realistic Sight

Surely if we could work through the logic to accommodate the big guy, we can easily come up with scenarios where a lesser-salaried, yet studly pitcher could be added without working up a sweat.  Even without moving Izzy, I’ve shown above that $9 or $10 million could be collected while still keeping Renteria and covering the rest of the team’s salaries.  That’s enough to pay for a pretty good upgrade to Suppan.

 

The Key

Though it has been implied to this point, I will state it clearly.  The key to this strategy is keeping low-priced pitchers who can balance out the budget.  Regular readers may recall an article I wrote this spring about how the Cubs (Wood, Prior, Zambrano) and the Astros (Oswalt, Miller) were able to improve to the next level with young, inexpensive, quality starters.  In fact, in 2003, Matt Morris and Woody Williams together made more than the sum of the salaries of the entire Cubs and Astros rotations.  That’s right – St. Louis’ two were paid more than their ten!  As you likely recall, both teams finished ahead of the Cards that season, so a winning staff can be assembled for less than the Cardinals have been spending if the right pieces are available. 

 

In Closing

If I’ve accomplished nothing else here, I hope I’ve demonstrated that while Walt Jocketty has a lot of question marks, he also has a number of options as he assembles the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals.   He won’t be afraid to make a move to improve, or not bring back an old favorite if it is the best thing for the team.  After all, remember that last winter, Walt re-signed only four of his 16 free agents and paid no more than $2 million last season for any one of them.  And, we all know that turned out pretty well, as evidenced by the 2004 campaign. 

 

Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch.

 

6:58 am est

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Tuesday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Jocketty TSN Exec of the Year

At the GM meetings in Florida, Walt Jocketty was named MLB Executive of the Year by The Sporting News, gaining 20 of the 60 votes placed by fellow major league executives.

 

2005 Schedule Announced

Cards open in Houston, play the Cubs in September.  Yankees and Red Sox visit Busch.  http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/stl/news/stl_news.jsp?ymd=20041109&content_id=912091&vkey=news_stl&fext=.jsp

 

Astros Complete Staff

After coaching for 11 years in the Brewers organization, Cecil Cooper was named Phil Garner’s bench coach.  Doug Mansolino was also named third base coach.  Mansolino, who coached for Garner in the past in Milwaukee and Detroit, and Cooper fill the two coaching jobs vacated by John Tamargo and Gene Lamont, who were not retained.   The remainder of the Astros coaching staff, which includes Jose Cruz, Jim Hickey, former Cardinal Gary Gaetti and Mark Bailey, remains.

 

Keeping Sosa on Ice

This is good, as the longer it takes to resolve Sosa’s future, it also limits Cubs GM Jim Hendry with what he can do with Nomar Garciaparra and getting a new closer, not to mention whether or not he can make a run at Carlos Beltran.  Here’s hoping Sosa ties Hendry up all winter long.

 

Obie to Mets Staff?

The New York Post mentions former Cardinal third baseman Ken Oberkfell as a possible candidate for new manager Willie Randolph’s Mets coaching staff.  Oberkfell managed the St. Lucie Mets before taking over Double-A Binghamton in 2004.

 

Girardi to Yankees Bench Coach?

Former Cardinals catcher Joe Girardi is the leading candidate to replace Randolph as Joe Torre’s bench coach in the Bronx.

 

Kline to Pinstripes?

Add the Newark Star-Ledger to those who see Steve Kline as a high-priority signing for the Yankees.  However, they also note the Yankees may be competing with the Boston Red Sox for Kline’s services.

 

Low Interest in Morris?

I have read literally dozens of articles about team’s plans for free agents.  Whether they are mentioning top-end free agents or mid-level ones, I have yet to see Matt Morris’ name mentioned.  While it is early, the signs are not favorable for Matty Mo.

 

Clemens Lucky 7

Houston’s Roger Clemens earned his seventh career Cy Young Award.  It was his first in the National League after having been recognized six times in the AL previously.  Now, the waiting will begin as Clemens again tries to decide if he will pitch next season.

 

King and Kiko K

Ray King and Kiko Calero each pitched a shutout inning during the fourth straight win for MLB in the Japan Series on Tuesday.  Each fanned a batter, while Calero also yielded a harmless hit.  Game Five is Wednesday.

 

5:49 pm est

A look back at...

Hungo’s Highlights

 

It has been over a month since the conclusion of the regular season, and therefore, the end of FSN Midwest’s 110 Cardinals broadcasts during 2004.  Recent news reports say that Joe Buck is already under contract for 2005, with Dan McLaughlin and yes, Al Hrabosky, being asked back, too.

 

To help me through the withdrawal, I decided to take a look back through my daily Game Notes from this past season to share again some Hungo chestnuts.  Besides, it’s easier to recreate old material than develop new this time of year, anyway. 

 

Either I listened harder at times or for some reason, these just seemed to come in bunches.  I did not take the time to see if they aligned with the phases of the moon.  Granted, they’re not Shannonisms or anything, but I still hope you enjoy them.

 

Opening day - Marquis #2?

Hrabosky equates the fact that Marquis is starting game two of the season to him being the #2 starter.  If you say so, Al. 

 

April 28 - RoboHitters?

Al came up with this novel idea as to why the Cards can’t hit unfamiliar pitchers.  They watch so much film of the opposing pitchers that when they have to see a new guy for the first time live, they don’t know how to adjust and “don’t trust their own eyes”.  Anyone buying that?

 

May 23 - Did Al Really Say That?

On a shot past the Pittsburgh’s first baseman’s head by John Mabry, Hungo said, “It’s a good thing that (Daryle) Ward got his lips out of the way.”

 

June 1 - Waffles for Dinner

Surprisingly, Jeff Suppan hit for himself in the eighth, despite experiencing problems in the seventh and having thrown 107 pitches to that point.  Dan McLaughlin tried to put Hungo on the spot by asking him if he was surprised that Suppan stayed in.  Hungo waffled, saying that he doesn’t believe in pitch counts.  Nor in answering questions, apparently.

 

June 11 - A “Cerebrial” Matchup (from a “Cerebrial” Analyst)

As interleague play got into full swing, Hungo coined a new word to describe the brainpower and pre-game lineup maneuvering between fellow geniuses and managers Tony La Russa and Buck Showalter of the Texas Rangers. 

 

June 22 – Womack and Ozzie a Likely Pair

Womack (or the man impersonating him) made his second strong defensive play, diving to his right, jumping up and throwing out the speedy Corey Patterson at first.  Hungo said Womack’s bouncing to his feet was reminiscent of Ozzie.  Ugh!  Then, with two out in the ninth and Jim Edmonds pinch-hitting, Buck and Hungo both wondered why Marlon Anderson wasn’t selected to hit instead.  Good idea, guys.  Save Edmonds for some other day!

 

June 28 – Catch as Good as Losing No-Hitter

With two outs in the seventh and Jeff Suppan working on a no-hitter, Pittsburgh’s Craig Wilson hit a ball to deep right that John Mabry missed by about a foot.  A faster outfielder could have caught the ball.  Dan put Al on the spot, asking him if the ball should have been caught.  Al wanted no part of that, instead rambling on about La Russa considering playing Edmonds in right.  The next inning, Mabry made a nice running catch in right that Hungo said “made up for the other play.”  Right, Al.  If you didn’t care about the no-hitter, that is…

 

June 30 - Hungo a Stiff?

Al explained he heard from the Houston broadcasters that Pirates starter Kip Wells addressed numbness in his pitching fingers in a very unique manner.  Hungo reported that Wells has been taking “male enhancement” medication to improve circulation “right down to his fingertips”.  Dan quickly asked Al if he was going to try it, as he has been pitching batting practice lately for the Cards. 

 

June 30 - Womack and Hungo Getting Tight?

Homer Al deftly worked into the discussion the fact he and Tony Womack are playing golf together on Thursday.  My first thought after getting past the self-serving nature of the comment was a question as to how he can be objective while being pals with the team.  Then I realized how absurd my question was, so I quickly stopped right there.

 

June 30 – Mabry’s Fragile Confidence

In a tie game with the bases loaded in the seventh, Mabry was allowed to hit with two outs even though he had ground into two double plays and struck out to that point.  Dan was “shocked” that Scott Rolen didn’t pinch-hit, but Hungo sagely countered with the observation that Joe Torre once ground into a four double plays in one game.  Was that supposed to make us feel better, Al?   Hungo blabbered on about the importance of Mabry staying in to maintain his confidence, as if Mabry is a 22-year-old high potential rookie with a fragile ego instead of the 11-year, nine stop journeyman that he is.  Note: Mabry fanned again to end the threat in a game the Cards lost by one run and he personally stranded 11 runners that day.

 

June 30 – Defending Macho Starter Syndrome

In a 4-4 game, Matt Morris surprisingly hit for himself in the eighth in a move that Dan immediately questioned.  Al brushed it off, saying all he was surprised about was that Morris’ pitch count was as low as 90.  Neither commented on the eleven baserunners Morris had allowed up to then.  Again, I agree with Dan, but again, I am not surprised.  The Cardinal starters continue to be kept in the game too long, putting them at risk later in the season, plus the excellent bullpen is not used.  (The Cards eventually lost the game 6-5.)  Al went on to say that La Russa is going to ride his starter “horses” and the goal may have shifted from wanting them to go six innings to wanting them to go eight.  Al explained that “makes the bullpen all that more effective”.  I can’t believe what I am hearing.  I am surprised that Hungo is not spinning like a gyro at this point. 

 

July 6 - Tipping Pitches or Making Excuses?

During a game with the Astros, Joe and Al seemed consumed with the idea that Morris might be tipping his pitches.  Hungo’s always sage rationalization was that Jeff Bagwell had told him that Morris tipped his pitches the entire season when Morris won 22 games.  That’s as close to criticism that I can remember having come from Al, though I strongly suspect he didn’t mean it like it sounded. 

 

July 7 - History According to Hungo

As Ray King entered the game, Hungo called him a “Dave Duncan reclamation project”.  Say what?  While King has had a fine 2004 season to date, it is clear that Hungo is unfamiliar with King’s past.  In his first full season in Milwaukee, 2000, King posted up numbers almost identical to his current stats.  King has never posted an ERA higher than 3.60 in his career.  He’s always been solid.

 

July 20 – Twelve Inches to the Mile

In the eighth, incredible as it seems, So Taguchi hit a Kyle Farnsworth 3-1 offering onto Waveland Avenue to tie the game.  Al added his conservative version of an old line, saying “If you give this Cards team an inch, they’ll take a foot.”  The Wrigley crowd is stunned (by the homer, not by Al’s ability to turn a phrase). 

 

August 3 - It’s that Montreal Heat

As Jason Marquis and Steve Kline were having trouble against the lowly Expos, Hungo explained the Cards may be tiring due to having not played in the heat while in San Francisco during the previous series.  Should we assume that the Expos, who play a majority of their games in an air-conditioned dome, were better prepared because they had two games over the weekend in Florida?  Anyone buying this particular rationalization?

 

August 12 – Ringer of a Scouting Report

As Hungo was sharing Florida hurler A.J. Burnett’s accomplishments, he mentioned his high socks look, which he called “throwback”.  Dan chimed in, pointing out Burnett’s nipple rings.  Al called that “throwback”, also. 

 

September 20 - Playing Too Well is Bad

Hungo sagely rationalized the importance of the recent poor stretch of play.  He said that he is glad the team did not play .700 ball all season long because that would mean they would not do well in the playoffs.  Has anyone actually checked the facts on whether this has happened more often than not in the past?  All I am sure of is that Al hasn’t.

 

September 20 – Rolen Better MVP because Injured

Al and Dan agreed that Rolen being hurt improved his MVP chances because voters can see his value to the team – while he is out, they are struggling.  However, the two also quickly agreed that Rolen won’t win, anyway.

 

September 20 - Morris’ New Agent?

Dan coined the dreaded term “innings eater” when describing Matt Morris in 2004.  Sorry, but “innings eater” is a term reserved for #4 starters, guys like Jeff Suppan, who make $2 million per year.  Of course, the term for Morris should be “ace”.  After all, that is reserved for guys making more than $12 million.  Hungo brushed all the troubles away by pointing to Morris’ won-loss record.  Apparently, the two are angling to take over for Morris, who has served as his own agent in the past.

 

September 20 - Hungo Squirms Yet Again

In passing, Dan innocently asked Al which team he thought might win the NL Wild Card this season.  After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Hungo uttered this classic line.  “It’s just speculation, but it’s hard to say.”  After blabbering about the upcoming Giants – Astros series and the Cubs’ favorable schedule, the burning question was never answered. 

 

September 22 - Hungo the Player vs. No Hungo the Analyst

Finally, I have put my finger what may be the root cause of my primary problem with Al Hrabosky the analyst.  In the pre-game opening, Dan asked him on camera for at least the second time in the last three days, “Which of the possible playoff opponents do the Cardinals match up best against?  Simple enough question.  Incredibly, again Hungo answered politically and totally noncommittally.  Then it hit me.  Hrabosky replied just as if he was still a player instead of giving insightful analysis as would be expected from an expert commentator.  Does Al really think his comments would ever end up on an opposing team’s bulletin board no matter how candid they were?  (For the record, Hrabosky last played in the majors 22 years ago.) 

 

September 30 - MVP Vote, Maybe

Dan selected Scott Rolen as his choice for MVP.  He pushed Hungo hard for his choice before Al finally said Pujols, sort of.  Of course, then Hungo tried to quickly wishy-wash it away.

 

September 30 - News Scoop from Hungo

“Albert is trying to get as many runs scored as possible”, sagely observed the Hungster.

 

October 1 – Ankiel Starting in the Playoffs?

And finally, the comment that was so stupid, I had to write a whole separate column about it.  Hungo hinted that Tony La Russa might put Rick Ankiel on the postseason roster, not to take Kline's spot as a set-up man, but as a starter.

 

In closing, I didn’t really set out to ride Al.  It’s just that it’s so easy.  Now, in fairness, Hungo also made some astute observations during the course of six months.  I did find at least one, right at the start of the season and another, right at the end.  There were probably some in-between, too.  I guess I must have missed them.

 

April 6 - Pujols’ Golden Glove?

After a hard shot in the third that Albert Pujols gloved handily, Al Hrabosky proclaimed that Albert “will win some Golden Gloves someday”. 

 

October 1 - Al Makes Sense

Hungo said that if he were commissioner, teams would be forbidden to pay players’ salaries while they are suspended; noting the current practice is to pay them.  I wonder if the Player’s Association would get a vote.  Still, it is a good idea.

 

6:42 am est

Monday, November 8, 2004

Monday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

10:1 on Pedro in Red

Proving that people will bet on anything, an offshore gaming site called Wagerweb.com issued a press release for their new scheme.  In it, they set odds on where Pedro Martinez will be pitching on opening day.  The Red Sox lead at 1:3, followed by the Yankees at 2:1.  Other teams mentioned are Mets, Giants, Marlins and Indians before the Diamondbacks and Cardinals, who are both listed at 10:1.  Note:  I am not condoning betting here, just sharing my amusement.

 

GMs Talk Turkey Starting Today

The annual MLB General Managers' meetings kick off today in Key Biscayne, FL and run until Friday.  However, do not expect many deals to be announced there.  More likely, discussions will begin, to be completed later this off-season.  For example, last year’s meeting is when Arizona and Boston started the Curt Schilling to the Red Sox discussion that concluded with a much-publicized Thanksgiving dinner between Schilling and Sox GM Theo Epstein.  The Winter Meetings next month in Anaheim, CA, will be another source of action.

 

Percival to Cubs Heating Up?

As reported last week, there seems to be interest on both sides in making this deal happen.  Troy Percival would give the Cubs a proven commodity in the closer role with over 300 career saves and 20 or more in nine consecutive years.  However, Percival, 35, has missed time recently with a degenerative hip and elbow problems.

 

Campaigning for Kline in California

The Orange County Register is pushing for Anaheim Angels GM Bill Stoneman to make a run at free agent pitcher Steve Kline.

 

Extension for The Unit?

Newsday speculates that if and when the Diamondbacks arrange a deal for Randy Johnson, the lefthander will ask for an extension to his current contract, which runs through 2005. Given that he's 41, he'll take a deal for 2006 -- for about the $16 million he currently makes -- in return for waiving his no-trade clause.  The price of poker is going up - $32 million for two years.

 

Lieber to Cubs?

Newsday also reported that Yankees starter Jon Lieber was angry that they didn't pick up his $8 million option for 2005.  They suggested he might be looking for a reunion with the Cubs, for whom he played from 1999 through 2002.

 

10:20 am est

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Sunday Edition

Walton’s Weekend Wanderings

 

Pujols to Have Surgery

Later this month, Albert Pujols will undergo a surgical procedure to alleviate plantar fasciitis in his left foot.  The procedure is intended to clean out the source of irritation to the tendon running along the bottom of the foot.  Pujols will be in a cast for about six weeks, but will be ready for spring training.

 

Izzy, too

Jason Isringhausen will have surgery November 15 to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, a condition that affected his mechanics and led to a temporary shutdown of a nerve in his shoulder last season.  Isringhausen said that he began experiencing discomfort in the area in 2003 and that the discomfort increased significantly last season, according to the P-D.

 

More Unit Smoke

Add the New York Daily News to those who see the Cards as the “best bet” to acquire Randy Johnson because of their “young, expensive pitching talent”.  Perhaps Peter Gammons moved to New York after his Red Sox became champs.  http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/story/250230p-214318c.html

 

O’Neill Overhyping Again

In the midst of fretting over the potential free-agent losses that are inevitable in today’s game, the P-D’s Dan O’Neill goes over the top.  He manages to insult team leaders such as Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds in the process.  Says Dan-O, “If the Cardinals put all their chips on a starting pitcher, if they sacrifice Renteria, if they choose Molina and not Matheny, if they allow both Williams and Morris to go, they will all but gut their heart-and-soul department.”  Sheesh!

 

O’Neill’s Love for Womack

He says this about the 35-year old Tony Womack, who had a career year in 2004.  “Can the club afford to give him a multiple-year deal with a hefty raise? Can it afford not to?”  My answer to Dan's last question is “YES!”.  http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/columnists.nsf/danoneill/story/CD005FBC6446F6D186256F45002213BF?OpenDocument&Headline=At+Large%3A+Cardinals+must+retain+character,+not+just+talent

 

King Picks up Marquis in Japan Series Game Three

Jason Marquis was touched for three runs in an inning of work and was tagged with a blown save for the Dodgers’ Kaz Ishii.  However, Ray King got the win when MLB’s bats re-took the lead.  King retired both men he faced.  Game Four is Tuesday.

 

Schumaker LVBP Player of Week

Outfielder Skip Schumaker, playing for the Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, was named the league’s Player of the Week for the week ending Sunday, October 31.  He is currently hitting .361, tied for seventh best in the league, with two home runs and ten RBI in 22 games.  Remember, this is the player who made Colin Porter expendable.

 

11:36 pm est

Saturday, November 6, 2004

Saturday Edition

Walton’s Weekend Wanderings 

 

Luna Playing Winter Ball

On Monday, Hector Luna reported for winter league play with Las Aguilas Cibaeñas in the Dominican Republic.  Wearing his familiar #7, he played his first game Friday, at shortstop, going 0-for-4 at the plate.

 

Cardinals Fielding Prospects Team in Venezuela

Jason Scott of The Cardinal Nation reports the Cardinals have a developmental team of young Latin American players playing in Venezuela this fall.  More info here.  http://www.thecardinalnation.com/news.html

 

Shannon Wants TV Gig?

According to Dan Caesar of the P-D, “Several sources have said that longtime Cards radio broadcaster Mike Shannon has expressed an interest in moving to the FSN Midwest television booth next season, but that is not expected to happen.”  Joe Buck is the only member of the FSN team signed, but the others have been asked back (Hungo and Dan McLaughlin) and are expected to return in 2005.

 

Hitting Coach Search On

Rick Hummel of the P-D reports that Jack Clark asked for the job and Hal McRae has been interviewed.  Other candidates are Cardinals minor-league hitting instructors Tommy Gregg, Steve Balboni and Gene Tenace.  Mark McGwire, Will Clark and Mike Schmidt are not expected to be interested.

 

More Outs for Cubbies in ‘05

The Chicago Cubs re-signed renowned outmaker and shortstop Neifi Perez to a one-year, $1 million contract.  He’ll remain a back-up.  To whom remains the question.

 

Sosa to La-La-Land?

According to the LA Times, the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers will be discussing a proposed Sammy Sosa for Shawn Green trade during next week’s General Manager Meetings.

 

Berkman Hooped Out

Houston’s injury woes continue.  Astros outfielder Lance Berkman tore his ACL playing basketball and will miss all of spring training and the first month of the regular season.  Rocco Baldelli went down with a similar ailment, but he was playing baseball at the time.

 

MLB Wins Game Two in Japan Series

Manager Bruce Bochy is using Kiko Calero just like Tony La Russa does.  In Game Two, Kiko again pitched to one batter, this time bailing out Dontrelle Willis.  But, unlike Game One, Calero did not get the win this time.  Game Three is Sunday, Japan time.  Jason Marquis and Ray King have yet to appear in the eight-game series.

 

11:16 pm est

Friday, November 5, 2004

Three-to-Six Year Free Agents

by Brian Walton with Jerry Modene

 

To provide a complete view of the Cardinals situation for 2005, we also need to look at more than just the six-year marquee names who are free agents.  As regular Birdhouse contributor Jerry Modene points out, there is another very important group - players with three to six years of major league service who are not under contract for 2005.  This group is eligible for arbitration, but cannot yet file for free-agency.  Yet, if the team refuses to offer them a contract valued at least 80% of the previous year’s, then the player becomes a free agent. 

 

However, before we get into that, let’s review the broader roster situation.  Like most teams, when looking at contract status, the Cardinals have a mix, with many players in play, listed here in the middle two columns.

 

Under contract

Six-Year Free Agents

Three-to-Six Year Players

Less than Three Years

Jason Isringhausen

Chris Carpenter

Ray King

Rick Ankiel

Jeff Suppan

Cal Eldred

Mike Lincoln (DL)

Kiko Calero

Julian Tavarez

Steve Kline

Jason Marquis

Danny Haren

Albert Pujols

Ray Lankford

Al Reyes

Yadier Molina

Scott Rolen

John Mabry

Marlon Anderson

Hector Luna

Roger Cedeno

Mike Matheny

 

So Taguchi

Jim Edmonds

Matt Morris

 

 

Reggie Sanders

Edgar Renteria

 

 

Larry Walker

Woody Williams

 

 

 

Tony Womack

 

 

 

Teams like the Cardinals often have dilemmas with these three-to-six year players.  They can keep them, but it could get pricey in the process.  These players are sometimes overlooked as the money chases the big-name, six-year free agents. 

 

With these three-to-six year guys, teams have three primary options.

 

Offer a one-year deal

The team presents a one-year offer to the player, who can either sign or if he does not like the offer, has the right to instead take the team to an arbitration hearing.  Remember that because the player is arbitration eligible, the offer can be no less than 80% of the previous year’s salary.

If the hearing is actually held, then both parties are bound to accept the arbitrator’s ruling, no matter whether the player’s amount or the team’s amount is selected.  It is one or the other. 

 

Sign them to a long term deal

If the three-to-six year player is really good, such as Albert Pujols last season, teams realize they may have to ante up huge raises as a result of an arbitration hearing.  So, to avoid that every-season salary escalation and the ill-will that could ensue from a contentious hearing, instead they lock the player up for some number of years with a multi-year deal. 

 

Cut them loose

In other cases, the three-to-six year player may be deemed too expensive, and therefore instead of being offered a contract with the possibility of arbitration, he is cut loose, or non-tendered.  This year’s deadline for teams to make that decision is December 7.  If the player is not offered arbitration, he is free to seek employment elsewhere.

 

Three-to-Six Year Players

Expected to be tendered 2005 contract

Ray King

Yes

Mike Lincoln (DL)

No

Jason Marquis

Yes

Al Reyes

Yes

Marlon Anderson

No

 

Anderson gone

Of the Cardinals’ group of five, we expect Marlon Anderson will be non-tendered.  The same thing happened to him each of the past two off-seasons, with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. 

 

Three pitchers staying

We expect that Ray King, Jason Marquis and Al Reyes will be tendered contracts and will remain Cardinals in 2005.  Without seeing the amounts offered, it is impossible to predict if any or all will go to arbitration before signing. 

 

Lincoln gone unless flexible

Mike Lincoln could go either way.  The Cards want him back, but because of his operation, Lincoln is not supposed to be ready to pitch until mid-season.  If the team tenders him a contract, the offer has to be at least $800,000, since he made $1 million this past season, after having been non-tendered last winter by the Pirates.  The Cardinals likely prefer to sign Lincoln to a contract that would pay major league minimum plus incentives that could allow him to approach his former contract levels, and Lincoln might be agreeable to that (much as Chris Carpenter was after his injury season in 2003), but the Cards would have to non-tender Lincoln to make such a contract offer, with the risk that some other team could jump in with a guaranteed contract offer.

 

What about So?

So Taguchi’s contract is up.  He doesn't yet have the three seasons of service time in the majors to be arbitration-eligible, much less the six years to be free agent-eligible.  Therefore, he is in the "less than three year players" column.  (Thanks to Jason Scott of www.thecardinalnation.com for checking this out.) 


A source of new players, too

Those players non-tendered by other teams can be signed without compensation.  As a result, teams look forward to seeing the non-tender list with the hopes of picking up some interesting players. 

 

For example, in addition to the aforementioned Anderson and Lincoln, the Cards also signed Mike Matheny and Kent Bottenfield that way after they were non-tendered by the Blue Jays and Cubs, respectively.  Even more important than the 18 wins Bottenfield registered in 1999 was his spring training 2000 trade to the Angels along with Adam Kennedy that fetched Jim Edmonds.

Do you really want more?
I was again quite pleased to stop here, but Jerry reminded me there are more flavors of free agency.  In addition to the non-tendered free agents, we have the released free agents, the refused-assignment-to-the-minors free agents, the minor-league free agents and the undrafted free agents. 

 

Examples of those five classes would be Mike Matheny (non-tendered in the winter of 1999/2000 by the Jays and signed by the Cards), Al Reyes (signed by the Cards after he was released by the Tampa Bay organization in mid-2004), Steve Lake or Chris Widger (signed by the Cards in 1987 and 2003, respectively, after they refused assignment to the minors by the Cubs and Yankees, respectively), Kiko Calero (signed by the Cards in the winter of 2002/2003 as a six-year minor-league free agent from the Royals), and most of the players coming out of Latin America (plus Ken Oberkfell, who signed with the Cards in 1975 after going undrafted).

 

The point is that there are a lot of ways to lose players and just as many ways to acquire them.

 

A parting shot

Is it too early to start to look at those six-year free agents who may be in the spotlight next off-season?  The four in that situation are Roger Cedeno, Reggie Sanders, Julian Tavarez and Larry Walker.  In addition, Jason Isringhausen and Jeff Suppan have team options at the end of their current deals that the team will have to make decisions about before we know it.

 

7:41 pm est

Friday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

More Gammons Mongering

Or maybe it is only mongering when we don’t like what he hear.  But, ESPN’s Peter Gammons is at it again.  Last week, it was Jason Marquis and others to Arizona for The Big Unit.  Last night, his newest idea was Pedro Martinez to the Cardinals as a free agent.  I just can’t see Tony as Pedro’s Daddy, can you?

 

Carp as Comeback Player of the Year

As I predicted could happen last December, Chris Carpenter was named 2004 National League Comeback Player of the Year.  Let’s hope his latest comeback, from his biceps problem, will be complete next spring.  A key indicator is whether or not the Cards pick up their $2 million option on Carpenter for next season.  If they don’t, the problem is obviously more serious than reported.  Otherwise, look for him back in the 2005 rotation.

 

Calero Wins in Japan

In the first game of the Japan All-Star Series, Kiko Calero relieved Roger Clemens with one out in the fifth, struck out his only batter faced and collected the win.  Timing is everything.

 

Lankford Very Busy

Ray Lankford was just sued in a second child support case.  He already has one other child out of wedlock.  Insert your own punchline here.  http://www.kmov.com/localnews/stories/kmov_localnews_041105_cardslankfordsued.2886a5e3.html

 

TLR, Walt, Izzy Recognized

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum named Tony La Russa and Walt Jocketty as NL manager and executive of the year, respectively.  Jason Isringhausen was named co-reliever of the year.

http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/news/mlb_news.jsp?ymd=20041104&content_id=910186&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp

 

Thompson Starts

Brad Thompson started Thursday for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League and gave up five hits and two runs in three innings.  Check back over the weekend for my new interview with Thompson.

 

Yanks Looking over Tino

I didn’t think Steinbrenner would take Tino back, but three years changes a lot of things, I guess.  http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/story/249723p-213851c.html

 

No Beltran in Chi-Town?

Chicago Sun-Times’ Jay Mariotti believes both Chicago teams will pursue Astros free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran and both will fail.  He specifically mentions the Chicago Tribune Company, owners of the Cubs, will not want to have the game’s richest contract on their books.  Beltran, through agent Scott Boras, is allegedly looking for a ten-year deal at $20 million per season.  http://www.suntimes.com/output/mariotti/cst-spt-jay05.html

 

Wally World in Arizona Closed

Former Mets player Wally Backman was ushered out the back door in Arizona when his background came to light between the time of their announcement of him as their new manager and the contract signing.  The press brought to light a DUI conviction and domestic violence incidents in the recent past as well as a bankruptcy.  The embarrassed D’backs did an about-face and hired deposed Mariners manager Bob Melvin instead.

 

New Website for Pfrustated Phillie Pfans

The firing of Larry Bowa as Philadelphia Phillies manager was not enough.  Now, there is a new website, www.fireedwade.com that is campaigning to depose the Phillies’ GM, too.  Note:  A quick check shows there are no similar sites, such as www.firewaltjocketty.com or www.firewalt.com or www.firejocketty.com.   Good thing.

 

5:12 pm est

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Easy as A, B, C...

Six-Year Free Agency Made Simple(r?)

 

OK, most folks understand the basics.  A player’s contract is up.  He either signs a new one here or he goes there.  But, as you might expect, it is quite a bit more complicated than that.  So, this article is intended to explain matters for those players with six years or more of service.  I will be back to discuss the three-to-six year players in a subsequent piece.

 

Free Agent Types

First of all, there are four types of free agents; Types A, B and C and others.  They have been designated in this manner since the settlement of the 1981 strike.  The intent is to ensure the former team is compensated for losing key players.

 

How Players are Rated

The Elias Sports Bureau runs statistical calculations for each league based on two-year results in areas like batting average, home runs, RBI and starts, innings, ERA, strikeouts and saves.  First, they place every player into one of five position groupings, then based on the comparative results of the calculations for each grouping, into one of the four Types; A, B, C or other.

 

Elias Position Groupings

First base / Outfield (plus Designated Hitter in AL)

Second base / Shortstop / Third Base

Catcher

Starting Pitcher

Relief Pitcher

 

How Arbitration Plays

The former team has to offer arbitration to any Type A, B or C player in order to receive any compensation in return if the player signs elsewhere.  However, the risk is that the player accepts the arbitration offer and wins a large contract from the former team as a result of the hearing.  As a result, many teams decline, making the player a free agent without compensation.

 

So, there is risk in both losing a player as well as a cost in signing a restricted free agent.  Keep the latter point in mind when drooling over other teams’ free agents.  They may come with a hefty additional cost down the road in lost draft picks.  In fact, the Cards faced that situation in the past, losing potentially important draft selections for the signings of Jason Isringhausen from Oakland and Tino Martinez from the Yankees prior to the 2002 season.

 

Compensation by Player Type

 

Compared to all players in that position grouping

New team compensation to former team if arbitration was offered (or if the player signs by December 7)

Additional compensation

Type A

Top 30%

First round pick or (if in first half of draft), a second round pick instead

Supplemental (or extra) pick at end of first round

Type B

31 – 50%

First round pick or (if in first half of draft), a second round pick instead

 

Type C

51 - 60%

Supplemental pick after second round

 

Others

61 – 100%

No compensation

 

 

Cardinals Free Agents by Type

In terms of the Cardinals’ free agent ratings, there were some surprises.  You’ll note that next to the players’ names, I have added my forecast as to whether arbitration will be offered, and if so, accepted.  In most every case, I am quite sure that arbitration will not be offered by the team.

 

Name

Elias NL Rank within Position Grouping

Likely to be offered arbitration by Cardinals

Likely to accept arbitration if offered

Type A Free Agents

Cal Eldred

Steve Kline

Mike Matheny

Matt Morris

Edgar Renteria

Woody Williams

 

37 of 148

26 of 148

7 of 38

18 of 100

4 of 87

16 of 100

 

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

 

N/A

N/A

Yes

N/A

No

N/A

Type B Free Agents

Chris Carpenter

 

41 of 100

 

No*

 

N/A

Type C Free Agents

John Mabry

Tony Womack

 

65 of 117

48 of 87

 

No

No

 

N/A

N/A

No Compensation

Ray Lankford

 

87 of 117

 

No

 

N/A

 

* Team expected to exercise 2005 option on Carpenter

 

Mike Matheny Stays?

Let’s take Matheny as an example.  The Cards would probably prefer to bring Mike back on an inexpensive, one-year deal to give Yadier Molina another developmental season.  On the other hand, Matheny would likely want a fatter multi-year contract, reflecting his Gold Glove status and his advancing age. 

 

If the Cards offer Matheny arbitration, he might win a bigger 2005 salary than they want to spend.  However, if they don’t offer him arbitration, then they lose the chance to pick up basically two first-round picks in return.  On the other hand, with Matheny being a Type A, other teams will be less inclined to offer him a big contract, when they know they lose their first rounder as a result of signing a good, but not great, player.

 

So, my educated guess is that the Cards might offer Matheny arbitration.  That way, they can be assured of getting him one more season, even if at a higher price than they’d prefer to pay.  On the other hand, Matheny will be hoping they don’t make the offer, so he can more easily chase a longer-term, bigger-buck contract elsewhere.  Still, I think if Matheny were offered arbitration, he would accept it and stay in St. Louis at least one more season.

 

Note: Even though arbitration is accepted, the team and player often try to work out a deal before the actual hearing occurs and could end up agreeing to a multi-year pact.

 

No Arbitration for Morris or Williams

Matt Morris, on the other hand, will surely not be offered arbitration, though he would accept it in a flash if he were given a choice.  The Cardinals will be too scared that as a Type A, Morris will get an arbitration award far more than his value should dictate.  In fact, Morris would be assured of it, as the rules state that the largest salary decrease a player can take in arbitration is 20%.  Who in their right mind would sign Morris for $10 million for next season?  (2004 salary of $12.5 million x .80)

 

Same idea with Woody.  $8 million x .80 = $6.4 million.  A better deal, but still far too pricey.

 

Yes and No for Edgar Renteria

On the other hand, Renteria may be worth the gamble.  For that reason, I have forecast him as the only player other than Matheny with whom the Cards might risk arbitration.  However, the desire for a multi-year deal and the knowledge that there are teams that would not bat an eyelash about giving away a first round pick for him should lead Edgar to turn down an arbitration offer if tendered, in my estimation.  As a result, Edgar leaves and the Cardinals get the two picks, at least.

 

The Window is Not Closed - Yet

Finally, remember that even if arbitration is not offered or offered and not accepted, the player can still return.  Of course, the player is also free to negotiate with any other team.  But, in the latter case, when offered but rejected, the two parties must hurry.  For example, if the Cards offer arbitration to Edgar and he declines, they have only until January 8 to make a deal.  In this scenario, starting on January 9 and until May 1, Edgar can only sign with another team, not the Cardinals.

 

Key Upcoming Dates

December 7 - Last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to their former players who become free agents.
December 19 - Last day for free agents offered salary arbitration to accept or reject the offers.
January 5 - 15 - Salary arbitration filing.
January 8 - Last day until May 1 for free agents who rejected arbitration offers to re-sign with their former teams.
January 18 - Exchange of salary arbitration figures.
February 1 - 21 - Salary arbitration hearings.

 

Don’t Expect Signings Until After December 7

Note the December 7 date mentioned twice above.  Don’t expect any team to sign another team’s Type A or B free agents until after that date.  If they do, it is considered just like if the former team had already offered arbitration, and therefore, the new team is obligated to provide the draft pick.  Instead, teams who will be buyers will wait to see what the former teams decide about arbitration before making their moves.

 

In Closing

Congratulations if you got all the way through this story and understand it all.  On the other hand, if you just want the bottom line, keep coming back right here.  We’ll keep you updated on Cardinals free agent matters all through the off-season.

7:55 pm est

Thursday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

More Cards Free Agents

As expected, Steve Kline, Cal Eldred, Matt Morris, John Mabry and Tony Womack filed for free-agency.  They join Edgar Renteria, Mike Matheny, Ray Lankford and Chris Carpenter (team option), who filed earlier.  Woody Williams (team option) is the only one of the ten eligible Cardinals who has yet to do so and has until 15 days after the end of the World Series (or November 11) to file. 

 

Manager Merry-Go-Round Slows

The “interim” tag was deservedly removed from Houston manager Phil Garner’s title.  Charlie Manuel got the Philadelphia job and Willie Randolph is the new skipper of the Mets.

 

Cubs’ Bomb Explained

An old grenade shell was found imbedded in the right field turf at Wrigley Field.  It was not confused for regular inhabitant Sammy Sosa.  A police spokesman said, “It's a dud, just like the Cubs were.”  http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ap-wrigleyfield-grenade&prov=ap&type=lgns

 

Nomar Looking to Clean Up

A day after it was reported here, many sources are now reporting the Nomar to second base rumor.  Whether or not it is true is irrelevant.  It wouldn’t surprise me to have been hatched to drive up Nomar’s perceived value on the open market.  Any time the Yankees are involved, the price of poker goes up.  Since they have two shortstops already, make Nomar a second baseman to at least create the opportunity that New York might want him.  Shrewd if true.

 

Pavano Gets Offer

No, not from the Cardinals.  Before he filed for free agency, one of the top pitchers available, Florida’s Carl Pavano, was offered a three-year, $21 million offer by the Fish.  This deal begins to define the shape of the 2004-2005 market for top pitching.  Pavano won 18 games last season.

 

Jaramillo to Yanks?

Ten-year Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who interviewed for the Mets’ managerial job, is rumored to be a candidate to become hitting coach for the Yankees.  Jaramillo has an excellent reputation.  Wonder if he’d like St. Louis?  It is all probably low odds anyway, as Jaramillo says he’d prefer to return to the Rangers if he doesn’t get a manager job.

 

Bad Allen Flashback

While there are conflicting reports as to whether or not Yanks pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre is going to retire, his rumored replacement is their Triple-A pitching coach Neil Allen.  Yes, he’s the same guy who was traded from the Mets to the Cardinals for Keith Hernandez back in 1983.  The fact the Cards also got Rick Ownbey hardly matters.

 

Ex-Cardinals in the News

A pair of former Cardinals who were on the 2004 San Francisco Giants look to be parting ways.  Starter Brett Tomko’s (2003) option was picked up, but lefty reliever Jason Christiansen’s (2000 – 2001) was bought out, making him a free agent.

 

5:29 pm est

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Walton’s Wanderings

 

Two Cards Silver Sluggers

Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds are the two Cardinals 2004 Silver Slugger Award winners.  The award formula includes batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.  Adrian Beltre edged Scott Rolen at third base.  Last year’s winner at shortstop, Edgar Renteria, was supplanted by former Redbirds farmhand and current Pittsburgh Pirate Jack Wilson.  This was Pujols’ third award, each earned at a different position.  It was Edmonds’ first selection.  http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/news/mlb_news.jsp?ymd=20041102&content_id=909367&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp

 

NL Gold Glovers Announced

Three Cardinals repeated from 2004.  Jim Edmonds, Mike Matheny and Scott Rolen.  Only Edgar Renteria missed his chance for what would have been his third straight award.  He was beaten out by Cesar Izturis of the Dodgers.

 

Schedule for Remaining Postseason Awards
Monday, November 8 - AL and NL Rookie of the Year
Tuesday, November 9 - NL Cy Young
Wednesday, November 10 - AL and NL Manager of the Year
Thursday, November 11 - AL Cy Young
Monday, November 15 - NL Most Valuable Player
Tuesday, November 16 - AL Most Valuable Player

 

AFL Games on Radio

For those who aren’t ready for baseball withdrawal, the Cards’ minor leaguers’ team in the Arizona Fall League, the Mesa Solar Sox, will be featured on free internet radio broadcasts by MLB.com on the next three Tuesdays, November 2, 9 and 16, along with Thursday the 11th.  All games start at 3pm EDT.  More details here.

http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/radio/mlb_radio_index.jsp

 

Nomar to Yankees?

According to the New York Daily News, Nomar Garciaparra has told friends he would consider a position change, making him a candidate for second base with the Yankees.  Wouldn’t King George like to get back at the Red Sox fans that way?  The Cubs lose their exclusive negotiating rights with Garciaparra on the 12th, though GM Jim Hendry says he is working on a deal.

 

Caray Adds to Cubs Flames

Mild-mannered former Chicago broadcaster Chip Caray defends former partner Steve Stone against Cubs players and brass.  What a mess.  http://www.dailyherald.com/sports/col_rozner.asp?intid=38290158

 

Bowden Named Washington GM

Former Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden was given the interim GM tag for the former Montreal Expos franchise.  Previous Expos GM Omar Minaya returned to the New York Mets as their GM the final week of the regular season.  Bowden was quoted as saying he wanted Manager Frank Robinson to return.  The Washington team still lacks an owner (other than MLB) and a name, but Commissioner Bud Selig promises to fix the former by year-end.  Honest.

 

Tino Untethered

As expected, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays declined the $8 million option for 2005 that they assumed when they took first baseman Tino Martinez in trade from the Cardinals prior to last season.  The buyout was $1 million, and even when added to the $500 thousand they had to pay him in 2004, still made the deal a sweet one for the Jays.  They may re-sign Tino at a lower, much lower rate.

 

Percival to Cubs?

In clear need of a reliable closer, the Cubs are among those teams mentioned by the L.A. Times as a possible destination for 35-year-old Troy Percival, cut loose by the Anaheim Angels after ten seasons there.

 

Purpura and Scrap Talk

At the urging of owner Drayton McLane, new Houston Astros general manager Tim Purpura and interim manager Phil Garner sat down for a face-to-face meeting to “decide if they could work with one another”.  Seems odd, since Purpura is a veteran of the organization.

 

Hot Stoves Stoked

Trade rumors will really start to heat up big-time as the general managers gather for their annual meetings next week in Key Biscayne, FL.   That will be followed by the Baseball Winter Meetings, which will take place in Anaheim, CA from December 10 -13.

 

12:10 pm est

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

The need for...

A Dominating Starter

 

Joe Mammy asks:

If the Cards are looking for a "power pitcher" who are the likely candidates that we can actually afford?  Do you think that lacking a power pitcher hurt us in the playoffs/World Series, because I'm inclined to think the loss of Chris Carpenter probably hurt us more than not having, say, Randy Johnson...

 

Walton’s take:  Personally, I care less about a power pitcher and more about a dominating pitcher.  The real problem, as I see it, is that without Carpenter, the Cards trotted out a group of #3 and #4 starters.  Solid guys; but not proven, dominating winners.  You don’t have to have Randy Johnson.  A guy like Greg Maddux in his prime would be just fine.

 

Still, one man is not a panacea.  Even the best pitcher will win only slightly more than half of his starts.   That is what we saw from Clemens, Oswalt and Carpenter this season, for example, as each of the three won in an almost identical 54-55% of their appearances.  Granted, they also keep their team in more games and that can approach 70% for team wins.

 

The top free agent hurlers include Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, Brad Radke, Matt Clement and Eric Milton.  One could argue that none of them, except Pedro perhaps, is dominating.  Others that have been rumored to perhaps be available via trade include Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.  The problem is that these guys will be in high demand, the price to get any of them will be steep and all have their potential warts.

 

Whether the Cards could afford any of the free agents or trade targets is less of a salary issue than the cost elsewhere.  There is enough money to pay any one of them, but what else would have to be sacrificed?  For these big bucks guys, Renteria might have to go, for example, to fit the new pitcher’s salary into the budget.  In a trade, a package of top prospects would have to depart.  For the best free agents, their cost would be a #1 draft pick in addition to covering their pay.

 

There are so many combinations and permutations that I am not ready to even hazard a guess as to which scenario is more likely at this point.  But, if I had to declare, I could most clearly envision a rotation that includes Rick Ankiel and Dan Haren replacing Matt Morris and Woody Williams.  That is clearly the past of least resistance. 

 

But, can Ankiel again dominate?  If so, the team’s best solution might be toiling this winter in Puerto Rico.  The season begins in two weeks, on November 16, and there will be a lot of eyes trained on what transpires.

5:29 pm est

Monday, November 1, 2004

Monday Edition

Walton’s Wanderings

 

While I was away, the Cardinals-related news didn’t stop.  Here is a capsule of action over the past few days.

 

Page Paged Out

Mitchell Page is done as Cardinals’ hitting coach.  He is in the midst of a battle against alcohol and is stepping out to get his life back in order.  The team asked him a year ago to get straightened out, but it didn’t happen.  Page admitted he lost his relationship with some of the players in the meantime.  Hence, while the Cardinals are supporting Page, the change needed to occur.  Wishing Page the best in the future.

 

Page’s Replacement Not Will

Former Cardinal Will Clark, a favorite of many Cardinals fans and one who has emerged as a sentimental favorite to replace Page, is instead rumored to be the next hitting coach in Arizona.  Clark is rumored to be the personal selection of his former agent and new D’backs CEO Jeff Moorad.

 

Free Agents File

Mike Matheny and Edgar Renteria formally filed for free agency.  Starter Chris Carpenter filed conditionally, awaiting a decision as to whether the team will pick up their 2005 option on him or try to renegotiate.  Other filers expected include John Mabry, Tony Womack, Cal Eldred, Matt Morris and Woody Williams (conditional). Ray Lankford also filed.

 

Scoop:  Power Pitcher Sought

Confirming what every single person who saw, heard or read about the 2004 World Series, Manager Tony La Russa agreed with pitching coach Dave Duncan’s assessment that the Cardinals need to add a “power”, “impact” pitcher to win in the postseason.  We have all winter to debate whether that option is on the roster already or has to be brought in via trade or free-agency.

 

Kline Under the Knife Soon

The P-D reports that lefthanded reliever Steve Kline will undergo surgery on November 11 for the torn flexor tendon on his left index finger.  Kline is not expected back in 2005.

 

No Dates for Rolen or Pujols Repair

Scott Rolen will reportedly have surgery on his knee.  Nothing new on Albert Pujols’ heel, but earlier reports stated surgery was a definite possibility.  No dates on either.

 

Honchos Contracts Expected

GM Walt Jocketty, Manager Tony La Russa and the entire coaching staff (with the exception of Page) are expected to be offered new contracts in the next couple of weeks.

 

Minor League Free Agents

Baseball America reported the following Cardinal minor leaguers are now free agents:  Alan Benes, Jason Bowers, Gary Burnham, Daryl Clark, Javier Colina, Cristobal Correa, Doug Creek, Brad Cresse, Corey Erickson, Nathan Espy, Tim Lemon, Mike Mahoney, Todd Moser, Chad Paronto, Danny Patterson, Colin Porter, Chris Prieto, Mark Quinn, Nerio Rodriguez, Stephen Stemle, Kevin Witt, Mike Wodnicki, Steve Woodard, Tim Young.

 

Marquis, King, Calero to Try Real Sushi

The three Cardinals hurlers are part of an MLB squad facing a Japanese All-Star team in a series of exhibitions in Japan November 5th through the 14th.  Albert Pujols was originally part of the team, but backed out, likely due to his sore heel.

 

Leyland Remains in Play

Cardinals scout Jim Leyland remains a front-running candidate for managerial openings in Philadelphia and with the New York Mets.

 

NL Central Division News

 

Sosa Spouts Off

In continued whining, Cubs rightfielder Sammy Sosa complained of being poorly treated because he was dropped to sixth in the batting order.  He apparently chose to ignore his .253 batting average.  The rumor mill says the Mets and Rockies are possibly interested in taking Sosa on.

 

Cubs Bring Back Dempster

The Cubs exercised their 2005 $2 million option on pitcher Ryan Dempster, after his injury-wrecked 2004 season.  Some think he will slip into the rotation if Matt Clement does not return.  Others can even imagine Dempster being tried as closer, a sore spot for the Baby Bears last season.

 

Alou and Grudz to Clean Up Elsewhere

The Cubbies declined options on left fielder Moises Alou ($11.5 million) and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek ($2.5 million).  Each received buyouts.  Alou is believed to be the more likely of the two to return at a much lower salary.

 

Nomar No Mas?

As expected, Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra filed for free agency.  While public comments have been that the Cubs want him to return, read this quote from The New York Times and see what you think.  “We have some interest in re-signing Nomar," General Manager Jim Hendry said, "and hopefully we can move forward on that. If that's not possible, we'll see what our other options are." 

 

Stone Thrown from Booth

Broadcaster Steve Stone is leaving WGN in Chicago after being criticized by Cubs players and officials for suggesting they look in the mirror before complaining about their 2004 season.  Had Mark Grace gotten the Diamondbacks manager job, Stone would have been the front runner to replace him on Arizona broadcasts.  This comes on the heels of his former partner, Chip Caray’s departure for the Atlanta Braves.  Former D’backs manager Bob Brenly is one name mentioned as Stone’s replacement.

 

GM Hunsicker Quits

According to reports, Houston Astros General Manager Gerry Hunsicker has resigned, staying on as an advisor.  His replacement is expected to be Assistant General Manager Tim Purpura, an 11-year member of the organization.

 

Kent Cut Loose, Biggio Stays

The Astros declined their $9 million option on second baseman Jeff Kent, still an offensive force, but a defensive liability.  However, he could still return to the team at a lower salary.  The team did pick up their $3 million option on former second sacker and shaky left fielder Craig Biggio for 2005.  There could be a connection.

 

All-Star Beltran Files

All-World player Carlos Beltran filed for free agency.  The Houston centerfielder is expected to be pursued by the Yankees and others, but the Astros want him back.

 

Reds Re-Elect The Mayor

The Cincinnati Reds picked up their 2006 option on first baseman Sean Casey a year early.  While the move seemed odd on the surface, Casey had guarantees in his contract that made his return highly likely anyway.  This way, the team gets the positive PR by taking the proactive action themselves.

 

4:40 pm est

2005.02.13 | 2005.02.06 | 2005.01.30 | 2005.01.23 | 2005.01.16 | 2005.01.09 | 2005.01.02 | 2004.12.26 | 2004.12.19 | 2004.12.01 | 2004.11.01 | 2004.10.01 | 2004.09.01 | 2004.08.01

Last updated on

The Birdhouse Annex