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Saturday, December 31, 2005

 

You're Grounded: Cards' Bullpen and the Ground Ball

Okay, so I'm a few hours late on it, but here's the G/F chart for the Cardinal bullpen. Included are a few guys without significant major league experience (Cali, Johnson, Mateo); they are on this because they project to be a part of the bullpen in some role next for the 2006 season. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us You can see very similar conclusions here as with the starters, and that should be fairly obvious. The bullpen pitcher, with his limited role and limited arsenal of pitches is brought in to make just a few outs (except on those occasions when the ground ball starter can't locate his pitches and a pen guy has to make 9 outs in a game). For this, he comes in and throws some variant of a fastball and his out pitch. The easy ground ball out is a highly desired outcome for guys in this role, so I'm not surprised to see Duncan and TLR employ ground ball pitchers for bullpen roles. Signing Looper parallels the situation with Tavarez to some extent. Both were signed as established ground ball pitchers, both came to Cards after seasons in which they have struggled to get strike outs; Tavarez was getting 4.10 K/9 in 2003 before he came to the Birds. With Looper, I suspect they see a ground ball pitcher, a strength they can build on, and if this plan works out, Looper's abilities will be tuned up top the point where statheads see an increased K/9 ratio and TLR sees an effective guy for the 8th inning. Tavarez experienced career highs in K/9 ratios during his time with the Cardinals, so let's hope the precedent continues. Way back when the Cardinals were first rumored to be interested in Looper, I noted his career 2.00 G/F was certainly attractive to the team. I still think it's safe to say that Looper's $15M for the next three seasons is certainly more for his ability to get the ground ball versus his ability to power past hitters. The chart above alludes to an idea much bandied about in Cardinal nation: that Izzy is nothing particularly special, rather a solid pitcher that has been turned into an effective closer by a good pitching coach and an emphasis on the strengths the good lord giveth him. For some more circumstantial evidence around Izzy and the Cards' G/F philosophy, think about how many games last season ended with a short toss from Eckstein to Pujols. Izzy struck out one fewer batter per 9 last season compared to his last season with the Cardinals, making his save opportunities that much more harrowing. It will be interesting to watch Brad Thompson progress over his career. Will he survive on that +2 G/F ratio and so few strike outs? Anyway, just some more dust to chew on. Clearly the Cardinals bullpen is as prized for their ground ball inducing ability as the starting rotation. Now, still as confident in the Spivey/Miles tandem at 2B?

Friday, December 30, 2005

 

You're Grounded: Cards' Pitchers and the Ground Ball

I wanted to say that there's not much to write about now, but then the writer's conscience starts whispering to me, "good writers can always find something to write about." Ugh. I've said before that I think the Cardinals look at a pitcher's propensity for the ground ball as part of organizational philosophy. In fact, I think our management is more selective of ground ball pitchers than lots of the organizations that pitch in the band boxes across the league. It may seem boring to the fantasy leaguer, but finding ground ball specialists when seeking out pitchers is a pretty solid approach for a major league team. The ground ballers minimize damaging homeruns, allow the defense to stay sharp and get two outs instead of just one, they allow a minimal number of runners to get on base, make for an inexpensive way to acquire more modestly talented hurlers for the rotation, and take away the physical impact of forcing more expensive arms to throw hard fastballs over and over again to get a strikeout (i.e. the Dusty Baker, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior law). You can add other reasons to the list that make the case for insisting on a good G/F ratio from your pitchers. What I wanted to do in this last weekend of 2005 is to see just how this theory applies to the team by taking a look at the emphasis on the ground ball/fly ball ratio of each pitcher. Today, I went through the Cardinals 2006 staff for a review of their G/F ratio compared to their K/9 ratio. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us What the numbers here seem to indicate is that LaRussa and Duncan place an overt emphasis on inducing the ground ball out. Duh. That's nothing we didn't already know via every announcer that has ever covered a Cardinals game. What I do find interesting here is that each pitcher (Ponson & Reyes excluded) has seen an increase in their G/F ratio with the Cardinals over their career G/F ratio. The numbers confirm what you thought might be just banter from the media types. Interestingly enough the numbers above also show that emphasizing the ground ball out does not come at the expense of the strike out. Carpenter and Supe have experienced increased K/9 ratios since joining the Cards. Marquis' K/9 ratio and G/F ratio in 2004 were way above career numbers, but took a huge hit in 2005 as the kid experienced a pretty rough season until relatively late. Mulder's a little bit of an exception. He experienced great success with the G/F ratios, but his K/9 declined for the third year in a row. Mulder's fate this year largely rested on the ground ball. It is safe to say that more than a few of Mulder's ground ball outs happened as a result of lucky grabs by the fielders behind him. And here's the rub with a good G/F ratio: I, along with some actual baseball experts, tend to think that a pitcher has have a higher K rate to be effective, 'cause if that luck runs out... A pitcher also needs to be able to dependably employ the strike out as an outcome against the hitters they face. Mulder's never been a big strike out pitcher; his career K/9 was 6.90 in 2002. I don't believe that the organization should make a long term deal with him if he can't start striking out batters again. Anyway, there's a look at the starters for 2006. The jury's out on Ponson and Reyes, but Duncan's success with those two will in part be measured by his ability to get them to induce ground ball outs. Ponson has show an ability to do this in past. As for Reyes, he's certainly more of a power, strike out pitcher, and it will be interesting to see what his G/F looks like as he progresses in the major leagues. [side note: if anyone knows where I can find career minor league numbers for G/F, let me know, even if it's a pay site. I got the 2005 numbers from Baseball America. Thanks.] I have a chart for the bullpen, and I'll post that here later today, as soon as I finish updating it. Through the weekend, I will compare our starters to the staffs on other teams.
 

On Having Returned

I'm back baby! Wow, consecutive Frank Costanza references, it truly is a Festivus Miracle. Speaking of, I hope everyone had/is having a nice Festivus season. Having just returned from holiday fun in the motherland, my energies are currently devoted to processing the insane amounts of food I consumed over the last week. Only on holiday vacation can you enjoy cookies at 8:00 a.m.! I didn't think much about all the exciting player acquisitions made in the last month, so as not to risk heartburn while devouring that much food. Some of my peers in blog-land seem to think the Spivey signing is a good deal. I'll say that it's okay, especially for another "project" at second base, but the newest glass-jaw to join the infield will have to win me over with some good play starting in March before I jump on that bandwagon. I still think missing out on Brad Wilkerson was our biggest mistake, but too late to worry about it now. More to come later today. I'll also provide you with some easy reading content over the weekend as you nurse those hangovers. If you're like me, the nasty headache that comes from those things makes reading on the web painful, so we'll stick to short posts that will hurt your head in other ways.

Friday, December 23, 2005

 

Serenity now!

Serenity now! Serenity now! The Diaspora will be silent from December 24 - December 29, barring any unexpected news, and let's face it, there probably isn't going to be any major signings this week, next or the week after, etc. Face it, outside of a 35 year old Edmonds, our starting OF consists of Larry Bigbie and Juan Encarnacion...exactly. If there are anymore junk guys signed this week, I probably won't break radio silence in an attempt to ignore it and enjoy the one week this year the wife and I get to spend with our families. This isn't the last post of the year, so I'll save all the thank yous till next weekend and there'll be plenty of new stuff to read while you nurse those hangovers on the 1st. To maintain high spirits, the Diaspora is providing you with some "greatest hits" links: Relive Game 5 of the NLCS. Remember when Mark Mulder got his K back? Let's hope he gets those K rates up next year. Anthony Reyes should be starting for the Cards, remember this? Cards play one, two, three games in DC, and how 'bout that Marquis in game 2? Wondering about the youth movement? Check out the fine stock in Springfield. And learn more about the new AA franchise here. Be sure to go back and read the great stuff on all the other top-notch blogs from the best bloggers in baseball. Enjoy the holidays everybody! Be back on Dec. 30.
 

Jocketty's eBay Shopping Spree

With the holidays here, I have to confess that I am an eBay addict. There's not a flea market in the world where you can by such great junk. I also by myself stuff on that site, but always with a little cautiousness. One time, I remember buying an "autographed" 1987 Cardinals team baseball. I was autographed alright, by someone in a Malaysian sweatshop who ran the stamp machine for the novelty baseballs. I got ripped off, such is the risk when you buy junk. Walt Jocketty went on his own eBay shopping spree this offseason, bringing in way more than the team's usual share of "reclamation project" players, i.e. "junk" when they don't work out well. Fans shouldn't mind one or two players looking for a second chance on the team; that's how a good GM rounds out the roster. So, a guy looking to turn things around can often fit in nicely as a 5th starter, filling a role out of the pen, or even to hold down a position on the field. But like a closet full of clothes from eBay, you, and those around you, can only tolerate so many. Project reclamation, Operation eBay, or whatever you want to call it includes, so far: Aaron Miles, Larry Bigbie, Sydney Ponson, Braden Looper (the best of the bunch), Juan Encarnacion (not so much reclamation as junk), John Riedling (got a minor league contract), and Junior Spivey (a guy injured more than Scott Rolen and to whom I think my blogging peers are being too generous in their assessments). There might be some others, but you kind of get point. All of this leaves the Cardinals more than capable of competing, but definitely not capable of winning a championship. Over at VEB, lboros sees a team that can muster 90-95 wins. I think that's pretty generous. 95 wins is probably a best case scenario that depends on a few external factors: none of the top three starting pitchers miss more than five cumulative starts; the core bats of Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, and Eckstein (didn't we used to have more core bats?) don't miss any significant time with injury; none of those core bats experience a slump; at least one of the new position players performs above career norms; Izzy being healthy; and finally, all of the reclamation projects working out. There's probably even a few more external factors the fates and Dusty Baker's pitcher management system will need to take care of for us as well. I'm going to put my guess at 87 wins, 90 tops. I think we can still compete for the division; although, if the Cubs pull of the trade for Tejada, I'll loose some sleep. I'm not giving up either. While I may piss and moan about the new additions, I have faith in Jocketty to make some magic happen before the end of the summer at least. In fact, a tight race for the division might be a Festivus Miracle in disguise, necessitating a bold mid-season acquisition, which hopefully could be done for something less than our small pool of young talent. But hey, that's a mad rambling for another time. It's the Holiday season! Go enjoy your gifts, even the stuff that someone got for you on eBay should be entertaining for a little while - it might even turn out to be of some value, if you're lucky.
 

Junk, Junk, Junk

Juan Encarnacion. Well, at least that last name is fun to say. Signing him at $15M for three years seems kind of stupid. We can get someone with that posts a .750 OPS from our bench for much cheaper. Between Rodriguez and Taguchi the corner outfield would have been AT LEAST at the level it will be if Bigbie (who apparently is going to be a .300/30HR/100+RBI guy according to some unquestioning fans) and Encarnacion start in the corner spots. I don't want to get my blood pressure up thinking about the Junior Spivey possibility. I hope Colorado comes through and offers him some stupid contract before we add another junk second baseman to our rapidly expanding collection.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

 

Taking Stock: The Bullpen

The one on the right is one on the left and the one on left is... so it wasn't Johnny Cash's best song, but it's a good segue into an extremely early look at where things stand for 2006 in regards to the Cardinal bullpen. I started with the bullpen because, so far, the most significant moves from the Cards front office has centered on filling out the bullpen. Below I’ve gone through each guy we have in the pen so far, and a few others that should be seen as likely members at some point this season. Please note, I have left off several guys placed on the 40 man roster recently, Chris Narveson for example, that are likely to remain in the minors through September, IMO. While it’s quite likely that either Cali or Johnson will be in the minors as well, I added both of them because at various points throughout the season one or the other will certainly be in the pen for LOOGY duty. On the right: Jason Isringhausen In spite of all the Cardinal fans unable to exhale through 9th innings, Izzy remains a solid presence as the pen’s anchor. Last season, he remained effective, but saw his K/9 and K/BB ratios take a hit. His ground ball/fly ball ratio went up (1.38 in 2004) which accounts for some of the reduced strike outs. It was in the first half of the season, when he was having injury issues, that his K rates really suffered, and he returned to form as the summer progressed. 2005: 63 G, 59 IP, 43 HA, 4 HR, 27 BB, 51 K, 39 SV, 2.14 ERA, 7.78 K/9, 1.89 K/BB, 1.73 G/F Here is Bill James’ 2006 prediction for Izzy. 66 G, 62 IP, 49 H, 4 HR, 24 BB, 57 K, 36 SV, 10.8 BR/9, 2.99 ERA Looks pretty good, eh? James sees his K ratios going back up to about 8.27 K/9 and 2.38 K/BB. His ERA goes up and he posts three fewer saves over three more innings. I would guess that with the team lineup as currently constructed, Izzy will have fewer opportunities to earn a save. When he does get the opportunity, it will be the same old Izzy we’re used to, except maybe less of a nail biter. The Cards’ closer reminds us that you don’t necessarily have to be a lights out, power arm to be effective; you just need to get three outs. He's just 33 years old, so he's definitely got a few years left to pitch. His injury history is cause for some concern, and I suspect TLR and Duncan will be a little understanding when his arm hurts since they signed... Braden Looper The newest addition to the bullpen will be setting up Izzy, and putting management's minds at ease if Izzy needs to take a week off. There were some groans when the Cards signed Looper, but even after a poor 2005 closing in Queens, Looper can serve handily as a setup man. Let's look at his stats: 2005: EqERA 4.74; VORP 5.3; 4.10 k/9; 1.23 k/BB; 9.89 h/9; 1.06 hr/9; 1.79 G/F Career: 5.61 k/9; 1.73 k/BB; 9.12 h/9; 0.72 hr/9; 2.00 G/F For Looper, TLR and Duncan see that G/F ration and see a pretty solid 8th inning guy that can close in a pinch, see the rule above about not needing to be lights out, just needing to get three outs. Here's his 2006 projection from Bill James. 58 G, 58 IP, 59 H, 5 HR, 20 BB, 36 K, 35 SV, 12.6 BR/9, 3.91 ERA This prediction was made assuming Looper would be the Mets' closer again, so take it for what it's worth. One thing to note is that James' projects a K/BB rate of 1.80, slightly above his career norm. I think Looper will be fine. He's not going to be a world beater when he faces lefties, but I think Duncan can get him back to a respectable form. The key to that, as far as the Cards are concerned, is getting that G/F ratio above 2.00 again. Brad Thompson Thompson had a nice rookie year, giving the Cards a solid right handed presence to effectively eat up the middle innings of games. 2005: 40 G, 55 IP, 46 HA, 5 HR, 15 BB, 29 K, 2.95 ERA, 4.75 K/9, 1.93 K/BB, 2.40 G/F He kept both lefties and righties to an OPS under .650. What he lacked in striking out batters, he achieved through getting the ground ball outs. He's 23 years old, looks like he's 12, and doesn't take up much salary space at all. What's not to like about him? For 2006, there's no reason to think he can't remain as effective as last year, and a solid year of major league experience should help him out for next year. I do, however, wonder about his low K totals, but he's probably in for a nice career in middle relief. Juan Mateo Mateo is our Rule 5 draft pick out of the Cubs organization. His seasonal age for 2006 is 23, the same age as Brad Thompson last year. He's got three years of service time in the minors, pitching for the Cubs' Daytona Class A affiliate last year. Here are his minor league career totals: 102 G, 217 2/3 IP, 197 HA, 14 HR, 60 BB, 218 K, 9.01 K/9, 3.63 K/BB, 0.58 HR/9 This guy has talent. However, it's a big jump to majors from where he's been, so he has to be successful enough for the Cards to keep on their roster all season or else he's a Cub again. I desperately want the kid to be this year's version of Brad Thompson, in no small part due to the fact that I'd hate to give him back to the Cubs so Dusty could wreck his arm before he turns 28. Spring Training will be a key to Mateo's future with the team. I had originally intended to put Adam Wainwright in here, but it's pretty tough to make a guess on his status. I suspect he'll start the season in Memphis, unless he blows everyone away in Florida this spring. Supposedly, the Cards want to make him a starter, so they won't promote him to any full time gig as a long reliever. If any of the starters or other righties gets injured, then Wainwright will probably join the team for until that pitcher makes a recovery. Last year in AAA, he posted a 10-10 record, 4.40 ERA, 7.27 K/9, 51 BB, 147 K, 2.88 K/BB. Very respectable. He may also wind up as trade bait. The pen still needs another solid righty. They seem to be pursuing Felix Rodriguez, and there are other options out there. I'll try to get to the left side tomorrow.
 

Second Chances and Tempered Expectations

Commentary from Cards fans spans the spectrum of reactions, with some being particularly harsh, with several seeming to think it's a bad signing based solely on his off-field problems. Here's the thing. Yes, I'll make the occasional drinky-drinky reference, but it really sounds like the guy is sincere about wanting a second chance. Right now, we have to take him at his word on that. It's also a positive sign that he seems willing to admit his behavior was a problem, unlike Leonard Little who just kind of got to walk away from manslaughter without admitting any sort of personal culpability in the matter. Ponson could have easily blamed his problems on some other demon and waited for the players union to reach a settlement for him against Baltimore for cutting their ties with him and then retreated to some Aruban beach to drink umbrella drinks the rest of his life. There is no shortage of cliches you could insert here, so let me just say that it takes something extra to admit you screwed up and harness a sincere desire to overcome those mistakes. Giving people who are willing to earn one a second chance is one of the more admirable planks of our cultural foundation. I am willing to grant him that as a human being, and I sincerely hope it works out for the best, as a human AND as a Cardinals fan. Now, let's remember what role Ponson is being expected to assume. Clearly we have signed ourselves a 5th starter, not an ace, not even a middle of the rotation guy. This isn't someone that needs to go out there and post 8 K/9, he needs to go out there and give the team a chance to win the game. The fifth starter doesn't need to put up a sub-3.00 ERA, he just needs to throw the ball over the plate for six or seven innings without giving up 6 runs every time he starts. At $1M guaranteed, he's way below the market for 5th starters this year, and if he reaches the incentives for $2.5M all the better for us because he'll still be an incredibly cheap option. Welcome to St. Louis Sydney, let's hope it's for the best.
 

Broken Pitchers Seeking New Homes

St. Louis Rams' defensive end Leonard Little has a new drinkin' buddy in town, Sydney Ponson formerly of the Baltimore Orioles and the penal league. The drunk drivin', judge punchin' Ponson can hopefully get in turned around with a fresh start in St. Louis. What does this mean? The obvious answer is that Jocketty can now use a starting pitcher as a trade chip, and if if he were able to get Coco Crisp for Marquis, I'd gladly watch Ponson start 30 games for the Cards. However, given the size of the question mark hovering over Ponson's head, I have a stronger inclination to think that they'll wait and see how he does before shipping out a known commodity like Marquis. If things work out okay, Marquis or Suppan gets shipped out in July for an outfielder. Reyes then assumes a starting role with the added benefit of adjusting to the majors in half a season and, probably, goes into the playoffs (another if) as a bullpen pitcher. I don't feel strongly either way about Ponson's signing, but I hope he works out. Otherwise we'll ship him back to Aruba to search for that missing girl. There's also talk of the Cards having an interest in Wade Miller. BUYER BEWARE! Stay away from him unless he's willing to take a minor league contract. He will not recover in time for much of the 2006 season, and it sounds an awful lot like he won't recover much at all. He's one of those pitchers that has to have a hundred little things right in order to pitch well, and having all those things in order (his delivery style is a big part of that problem) is like...because I can't find a PG analogy...herding cats.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

 

Go Vote!

Looking for something to do while you puruse the web killing time at work in the days before you take a holiday break? Go vote at Red Reporter's Blog Awards contest. Vote for all your Cardinal favorites. Cardinals' blogs got a lot of nominations for Best MLB Blog, so let's go support them with our votes. Also, while you're there, please consider giving the Diaspora your vote in the Best Newcomer category. Regardless of how you vote, you'll find links to lots of cool sites to visit while pissing away the work days that you should probably have off anyway.
 

Crisp-y Future for the OF?

If Jocketty pulls off a Marquis for Coco Crisp trade, I'll take back all (some) of the bitching and moaning I did on the Cardinals feeble week at the winter meetings. Viva El Birdos has the scoop, from someone named "Hawg Wild." I don't know how much stock I put in someone that willingly assumes the moniker "Hawg Wild," but it's hard not to get excited about a deal like this. Coco's 26 years young, a switch hitter, and just getting ready to peak as a major leaguer, a phenomenon usually occurring around a young man's 27th year. (Ahh, 27...I remember my 27th year...sort of). Last year he posted a solid line of .300/.345/.465/.810, showing steady improvement over the last three years. If he learns to take the walks a little better, he's a sure bet to up his OBP north of .355. Facing the lefties he suffers a bit, .696 OPS compared to a .869 OPS against the righties. I don't know why the Indians would want to get rid of him, but this wouldn't be the first time they tried. They tried to swap him in 2004, and I'm writing this without performing a cursory review of their farm system. They're down a starting pitcher with Scott Elarton signing with the cross state powerhouse Royals, and I would think they'd see some value in Marquis, who would be a solid upgrade from Elarton. Crisp would be a good fit in the number two spot, having a little more power and taking fewer walks than Eckstein. He's also a good bunter. I'm also promising myself and everyone in Cardinals nation that if we do get Crisp, I WILL NOT make any of the obvious and oh so trite cereal jokes. Although it is funny that Coco Crisp and Milton Bradley used to play on the same team; I bet the kiddies had a hell of a giggle at those games. None. Zero. No cereal jokes. ---- The Cards outfield got a de facto improvement today as Jacque Jones signed a 3 year, $16 million with the Cubs. That's good for us, Chicago gets a $5M per year for a platoon hitter; .616 OPS versus lefties. Rincon, Flores, Ty Johnson, Cali just got an easy way to earn their money.
 

Under the Hard Cap

If we want to stockpile a collection of aging and/or mediocre second basemen on the roster, then management might want to think about Rich Aurilia. He declined Cincy's arbitration offer, and with Ryan Freel and Tony Womack, they likely don't need him anyway. If they want to stick to the theme of picking up second basemen in the autumn of their careers, Aurilia, 34, would fit the bill nicely. In the middle part of his career, he put up solid numbers, even hitting 37 home runs for the Giants in 2001 (flax seed oil, cough, cough). He wound up relegated to utility duties by 2004, starting the season with the Mariners and being acquired by the Padres as a veteran fill-in for Sean Burroughs. Last year, he started the season in Cincy in the back up role, but got pressed into full time duties as injuries befell their infield. When he started playing full time, his numbers soared and fans caught a glimpse of the Ghost of Aurilia's Past. 2005 post All-Star: .315/.377/.481/.858 Career: .276/.330/.436/.766 Those really aren't bad numbers for a second baseman. His numbers against righties and lefties were quite similar, with his slugging taking the only noticeable drop. His numbers are also better than Aaron Miles' numbers, who posts a career sub-.700 OPS. So his age, skill set, and circumstances seem to fit the Cards' m.o. for second base, but the biggest requirement would likely be salary. Aurilia made $500K last year, and turned down an arbitration offer that likely would have made him a little richer. My spot analysis says that he would definitely fit into the $2 million "hard cap" handcuffs given to Walt for filling the keystone bag. Aurilia makes a nice option, nothing to get excited about, but he certainly seems like a solid pick given the restrictions put on filling that position.

Monday, December 19, 2005

 

Reyes' Xmas Sweater

I meant to post over the weekend, but, since we ship most of our gifts, all Xmas shopping had to be finished by Sunday afternoon. Then the wrapping, the boxing, the labeling, etc. It's way more exhausting than it sounds. Yesterday, while waiting in line in a pet store watching people buy fleece and cashmere sweaters for their dogs I started thinking about the Cardinals' starting rotation, and Anthony Reyes in particular. No, I don't think of Kid Reyes as a dog or in need of a cashmere sweater (but who doesn't look good in cashmere?), rather I was thinking of protecting the talented young hurler with a penchant for injury. Talk, speculation, rumors repeatedly bubble up about the team looking to sign another starting pitcher, be it Kirk Reuter, Jason Johnson, Jamey Wright or someone else suited to the end of the rotation. While the main reason for this is to give us a trade chip, there's another benefit to getting a low cost, league average starter. They could share starts over the course of the season with Kid Reyes, keeping him from throwing upwards of 200 innings in his first season. It's a luxury no doubt, and probably not all that realistic of a scenario. Let's look at the case for it anyway. Reyes, without a doubt, is ready to pitch in the majors. However, he's got a history of injury and has never pitched more than 140 innings in a season. His elbow buggered him his senior year in college and he missed three weeks in 2005 with a strained shoulder joint. Of course, the organization should be working with him on conditioning to make sure he's in top notch shape, but the risk of putting him on the mound for 200 or even 190 innings next year is too great given the value of young, talented starters we've seen in the current market. Another inexpensive starter could take the hill for us in 12 or 13 games, and Reyes could start around 21 games, a gradual increase in the number of innings pitched. This way he doesn't get the Dusty Baker treatment, and burn out three or four years from now. Of course, there's no reason to think Reyes can't go out there and start 30 games in fine fashion, and I hope he does. Another veteran starter probably wouldn't be willing to sign and have themselves relegated to that duty anyhow, and it probably wouldn't be wise to eat up the roster spot with a cashmere sweater for our top rookie. Now watch LaRussa really put a kink in our 2006 roster fantasies by signing another starter, not trading Marquis, and keeping Reyes in Memphis.

Friday, December 16, 2005

 

Meet Your Springfield Cardinals, Part 2

On a day that began with news of the Cardinals re-signing a former first round draft pick, traded away seven years ago, it seems appropriate to take a look into the Cards current crop of youngsters. On Wednesday, Springfield Cardinals' beat writer Kary Booher, of the Springfield News-Leader, gave us a closer look at the AA Springfield Cardinals and their place in a new community as well as in their larger role in the Cardinals' baseball organization. Today, we take a closer look at the young (and a few not so young) guys who spent some time playing for the Springfield Cardinals last summer. Take note, as you may be seeing a few of these players in the Cardinals' lineup in a couple years or so, and some you may not ever even see in a AAA lineup. Either way, these are names fans should get to know. And, of course, Rick Ankiel watchers will be satisfied. In the comments section of this post, I would like to invite you to leave your thoughts on some of these players. The analysis provided here is pretty thought provoking, and I think will stir your thoughts on the team's future lineup as the debate about filling out the '06 lineup takes place. There are also probably a number of readers out there who have had the opportunity to see these guys play, whether in Springfield or with another team in the system; if you have, readers would love to hear you thoughts and impressions of the players mentioned here. Without further delay... meet your Springfield Cardinals, part two. In Baseball America’s recent ranking of the Cards’ top 10 prospects, Chris Lambert was ranked #4, the highest Springfield player. What’s your scouting report on him? It seems like his numbers took a hit in the move up from Palm Beach, do you credit that to adjustment to AA? What does 2006 hold for him? Lambert, like I said, hit a wall in midseason. He admitted that after the final game of the year, and it was to be understood. I agree with what Baseball America said about him, that he has to learn how to work in his offspeed stuff to succeed from Double-A on up. He relied too much on his fastball in the Texas League and I think he saw why this is the proving ground of the minors. I expect he’ll come back and tear it up next season. The guy is a competitor and, even though he signed for $1.5 million, he’s not one of those flashy types. That’s a good sign. Sometimes you see guys who are overly worried about headlines and buying the best cars and they are the ones who don’t figure it out. Tell us about Travis Hanson. What kind of things did you see from him this year? Will he start the 2006 season in Memphis? What about his future beyond Memphis? How’s his defense? Hanson will start the year in Memphis and was put on the 40-man roster the other day. I wondered if he was even going to make it in Double-A after April, when he was hitting about .200. But Hanson had three good games in a row in early May, and that changed everything. He got his confidence back and ended up hitting 20 homers and driving in 97 runs, second-most in the Texas League, and did all this after missing most of last year with an ankle injury. The thing is, that ankle problem cut into his defense, and he made 36 errors. But he started getting better near the end of the season and didn’t make any errors in the Arizona Fall League. I think the Cardinals may have something with him. Cody Haerther is also usually mentioned as one of the Cardinals’ top prospects, give us a little insight into his season in Springfield. His stats look good (.298/.333/.500), and he’s young. Is this a player to be excited about? Where does he play in the OF, and how does arm look? Haerther tore up August, and it was impressive. He hurt a knee in mid-June right after getting called up from Palm Beach and that kept him from being consistently in the lineup. But once he got healthy, he did well. I’d still like to see him for a full season in Double-A before I get too excited about him. There’s enough to like, for sure, but he has to improve his defense in left field. He’ll get the chance to do that. The Cardinals didn’t re-sign Papo Bolivar, meaning the job is Haerther’s to lose. Will Stuart Pomeranz start the 2006 season in Springfield? He’s young, so what does he need to do to continue his development path? I expect Stu to return here, but his stay may last only a half season if he pitches like he did at the end of this past season. He was hard to figure out early on, but he went back to his high school delivery — he brings his hands over his head — and was a completely different pitcher in his last five or six starts. If he can work on his offspeed stuff, he’ll be tough this year and can find his way to Memphis, his hometown. Of course, no discussion of the Springfield Cardinals could be complete without a question about Rick Ankiel. How was he received by fans in Springfield? His stats from his second stint in Springfield got pretty significant attention, give us a peak behind the stats. How does he look as a player? Does he start 2006 in Memphis? I’m surprised Ankiel hasn’t gotten more attention by the St. Louis writers now that Walker is gone and it looks like they won’t be able to re-sign several guys. Amazing how not signing A.J. Burnett changed the dynamics of their offseason. Rick hit 21 home runs in 321 at-bats between Low-A and Double-A last year, and 10 of those came in his final 28 games here. People here loved him, of course, because they think of him as a true Cardinal, having been drafted by them and having led them to the brink of a pennant. And now he is on the 40-man roster but is still out of options. That means the Cardinals would have to go through the same waiver wire worries they had last year if they want to option him to the minors out of spring training. But I could see him as their starting right fielder — especially now that Giles is staying in San Diego — but he could be used as a pinch-hitter, as La Russa had in John Mabry. He still needs to work on his defense, but Ankiel is athletic enough to correct it. What I like about Rick is that he only cares about winning. Even though this was Double-A, he would be uspet if they lost. The guys loved him because he was their biggest cheerleader. It didn’t hurt that he also left his new stereo in the clubhouse when he was sent to Quad Cities. He probably needs more seasoning as an outfielder, but I wouldn’t put anything past this guy on a baseball field. In regards to Ankiel, what was it like for fans and his teammates especially having him on the team given his well-know story? I think at first it was kind of odd, especially when he played in the spring training games on the fields away from Roger Dean Stadium. A lot of people want him to succeed, but when he struggled in May here there was a sense that it may not work out. When he returned, it was obvious he had found his confidence. I think Rick saw this as a way to leave the past behind. When he was first optioned to Double-A, I wrote about his past and all that. But when he arrived here, I focused on the work that waited ahead of him. I remember starting the story with his thoughts on the plane ride here, and he said something to the effect that he just wanted to have fun. I thought that said a lot. What’s the latest news on Alan Benes’ comeback? Benes came here in August and pitched decently. I think the Cardinals want to see what he can do for a good chunk of next season before making a decision. He’s only 33, so there’s the possibility he could be in St. Louis’ bullpen down the road. We tend to know the prospects, but who are some of the other important players on the Springfield Cardinals and what roles do they play? Keep an eye on shortstop Brendan Ryan, who was promoted in late July from Palm Beach. He’s a good-looking player, and I can see him being moved to second base. If he makes the roster, first baseman/DH Juan Diaz is a guy to watch in Memphis next year. He reported here weighing 300 pounds and hits the ton out of the ball. If he can get in better shape and heal his ankle, he’ll be fun to keep track of. Who are some of the new faces we’ll see on the Springfield Cardinals in 2006? I’m looking forward to seeing Eric Haberer, a pitcher who was drafted out of Southern Illinois. I’m holding out hope that somebody from their June draft will make it here, too. If Greene can hit at Palm Beach, he might be the first. Where does the team stand in relation to their Texas League competition in 2006? I thought Arkansas had the most talent last year, and Midland was pretty solid, too, what with Daric Barton at first base. Overall, it seemed like the other teams had more true athletes than the Springfield club, but that’ll be changing in the years to come. I can’t wait to see what talent they get out of the Domincian Republic now that they have a new academy down there, and their June draft looked pretty nice. Who would you say the team’s top position player this year? Pitcher? What kind of impact did they have on the team? [ed. note: this question also appeared in part I] Top position player was Travis Hanson, the third baseman. A super nice guy, one of those players you pull for. He was also the hardest worker, staying long after games to do work in the weight room. Hanson not only gave them a left-handed bat, but he also impacted the team by never wanting to come out of the lineup. That went over well in the clubhouse. The top pitcher was left-hander Randy Leek, a guy from Long Island. He is pushing 30, but he showed the younger guys that you don’t have to have a 100 mph fastball to win. He changed speeds and knew when to use his fastball. And two years after Tommy John surgery, he’ll be coming back. ------ Once again, I want to thank Mr. Booher for taking time out of his schedule to do this interview.
 

Springfield Cardinals Update

I will be posting part two of the Springfield Cardinals update this afternoon. I wanted to let the Looper news sink in and digest a little first. It'll be up by 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.
 

Looping Back, reprise

And your premier off-season free agent signing is... Braden Looper. Kind of anticlimactic, huh? I said Looper would be a good pick up, when I thought he was to be had for a one year deal for two or even three million. I didn't think the market would grant him closer money. Still, dance with them that brung ya, or whatever the saying is. I reviewed Looper's stats earlier in the week, given his peripherals and a ratio of ground balls to fly balls, Duncan might well get him back to his 2004 form. His weakness is lefties, but the NL Central isn't too bad a place to pitch if that's your Achilles heel. Yes, it is an insane amount of money, but there's probably not much use in complaining about it now. DanUp makes a good point though, in that the organization wasn't willing to spend $5M on a second baseman, but no problem dropping that on Looper? Birdos notes is as pound foolish, and that's probably a reasonable assessment too. I hope Duncan gets this kid pulled back together, because if he doesn't even the most forgiving fans in baseball will remember this contract. Conspiracy theory time. How much is this signing due to concerns about Izzy's health?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

 

M.I.A.

Sorry for the silence thus far today. Paying employment requires much of my attention this day, but there'll be more this evening. (Let me say this to our younger readers out there, make sure you don't let college binge drinking interfere with your plans to spend the rest of your life doing something you may actually find some passion for and avoid careers in marketing.) A HUGE thanks to Baseball Musings (Mr. Pinto's site was a huge inspiration to me) for the link today, kind of a bad day to be without content. At any rate, soak up the interview with Springfield Cardinals' beat writer Kary Booher, of the Springfield News-Leader, and prepare for heavy AA prospect talk tomorrow. Hint: There's some insight into Rick Ankiel and the Cards' outfield contained in part two. This weekend I'm going to be working on my own version of a "state of the team" series, unless the last minute rush of holiday gift shopping and manufacture (Crafts are still fun, and I assist my wife so I don't feel like a freeloader when we both sign the 'from' part of the card) totally consumes me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

 

Learning to Deal

I'm going to reluctantly admit to experiencing a decreased sense of panic from the Cardinals lack of activity thus far in the hot stove. Let me first assure you that it is not out of pure blind faith. Jocketty et al have proven to be smart, rational executives, but they're hardly infallible. However, they're smart not to be making signings now merely to be making signings (i.e. PR). If it's between paying Burnitz $5M for a season or letting the current crop of Rodriguez, Gall, Bigbie, etc. battle it out, then go with what we have. A Jacque Jones or Burnitz probably isn't going to be able to give you much more than those guys can in the field and at the plate. Honestly, I'd like to see what those young-ish guys can do given the opportunity. Taguchi, while not young has proven himself as a capable replacement. However, in spite of my reluctant acceptance (not approval), I refuse to blindly afford ownership a free pass, giving the GM a hard cap for empty roster spots and expecting his Midas touch with second basemen in need of reclamation is foolish. Probability tells us that at some point the reclamation project isn't going to work. And not allowing Jocketty to up the offer to Burnett (worth the risk IMO), within the market realities of today's MLB was a bad move. Fielding the current lineup as is, the Cardinals start off in a decent position within the NL Central. They must make upgrades along the way, and I'm sure something may yet happen this winter. Although Giles would have been nice, that level of a player may not necessarily be what the team needs; I don't recall Jermaine Dye being hailed as the most important signing by the White Sox last December. If nothing happens, they'll be a competitive team, but definitely not a championship team.
 

Meet the Springfield Cardinals, Part I

In the midst of all the hot stove hubbub, we get intently focused and wrapped up in the speculation about which superstar teams will be signing, or won’t be signing in the Cards’ case. Any thoughts of prospects are strictly limited to those mentioned as a possible bargaining chip. Pair this with all the talk of money and the enormous contracts, and it brings out elements of cynicism even in the game’s most ardent fans. Without getting into the “baseball as innocence” meme, I wanted to leave the free agent/trade speculation to the chat boards today and take an extensive look at the Cardinals new AA farm team, the Springfield, MO Cardinals. [Full disclosure: I still call Springfield home, even though I live in DC. I’ve tried to avoid my bias here, but I make no guarantees.] Recently, I was able to chat with the Springfield Cardinals beat writer Kary Booher, from the Springfield News-Leader about the team and the young players that represent the future of the Cardinals organization. Today’s post, the first of two parts, is focused on the team’s experience in its new home and its relationship with the larger Cardinals’ organizations. On Friday, the second part of the interview takes a more in-depth look at the players and prospects, with Mr. Booher giving us an idea about some of players that we might see in Springfield, Memphis, or even in St. Louis next year. Mr. Booher, a 1997 graduate of Oklahoma State University, has worked as a reporter for newspapers in Topeka and Pittsburgh, KS, where he covered Pittsburgh State University. Prior to joining the staff at the News-Leader, he worked in for four years in Jackson, TN, covering the West Tennessee Diamond Jacks, the Cubs’ AA affiliate. First of all, what was it like to cover the Springfield Cardinals and AA baseball? Amazing. I grew up an hour south of Wichita and would go to a lot of the Double-A games there in high school and college, and those experiences made me want to cover the minor leagues. I did get my chance in 2001 in West Tennessee to cover the Cubs Double-A club there, and that was a lot of fun. But the passion people around here have for the Cardinals makes this job even better, because the challenge is meeting their expectations of good baseball coverage. They don’t just want game stories and features. They want the stuff that goes with having a minor league team, like getting to the stories about the career minor leaguers as well as the prospects and how they exactly factor into the organization’s plans. The best part is that it’s Double-A baseball, the proving ground of the minor leagues. A number of visitors to this site are Cardinals fans scattered about the world; give us a little perspective into what this team means for Springfield. What was the community reaction like, finally getting a professional baseball team, especially one affiliated with the Cardinals? It figured that a lot of people would be interested in a new minor league team in town, especially one affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. But I don’t think anyone truly expected the team to draw more than a half-million fans in the first season. There was an independent league team here in the three years before the Cardinals came here, and they did well until people realized the level of play was very mediocre. You figured the Ozarks would go nuts for a Cardinals affiliate because the Ozarks are all about the Cardinals. In fact, this is their strongest base of support outside St. Louis metro, and that’s saying something for an organization that has fans from coast to coast. Springfield hadn’t had affiliated minor league baseball in 55 years, and that was a short stint with the Cubs in one of those low minor leagues. The Cardinals actually had an affiliate here in the 1930s and early 1940s, and it drew well before World War II came along and forced the cancellation of the league. It was too bad. Musial got his start here as an outfielder. How has the reception to the Springfield team been from the Cardinals organization? Instense, as you might expect. The Cardinals had wanted an affiliate here for a long time because Springfield is only three hours from St. Louis. They had strong ties with Little Rock, but that relationship soured a few years ago and led the Cardinals to take their Double-A affiliate to Connecticut and Knoxville. With their Double-A club here now, they are able to send guys out on injury rehab assignments here (Cal Eldred came here in June) and the farm director can drive from his office any time he wants. When the team was in Knoxville, they would have to take a flight out of St. Louis, then connect in Cincy. The thing is, they really did it right here. Hotel developer John Q. Hammons supplied the $32 million stadium, and the Cardinals put their best marketing people in Springfield to run the club. Honestly, it’s run like a big-league team. The professionalism from the front office makes my job so much easier because they don’t try to Mickey Mouse around or pull sophomoric stunts. They talk about representing the birds and the bat, and they mean it. It’s very refreshing for a minor-league beat writer because sometimes minor league franchises are run by people who are only out to make a buck and care little about their relationship with the local media. That’s not the case here. Any appearances from Walt Jocketty or other notables from the big club? If so, did you get the chance to talk to them some, and what was that like? Jocketty and assistant general manager John Mozeliak made visits here in mid-season. Jocketty came just a few weeks before the trade deadline and actually tracked me down just before a Sunday afternoon game to do an interview. I thought that said a lot, about Jocketty and the organization as a whole. When I was in spring training, it was tough to get an interview with Jocketty, what with all the circus atmosphere after Rick Ankiel’s decision and so many other things going on. Jocketty is a good baseball man. He wants to win and, when I interviewed him, he was honest about what the Cardinals hoped to get and what they could afford. In this business, where you interview notable names quite a bit, you can’t be awestruck because the job is to get information to the readers. Don’t get me wrong. It’s neat to be able to interview the general manager of the Cardinals, but I get a sense of accomplishment if I generate a solid story out of it. Tell us about some of the team’s most memorable games you experienced? What about some of the other things that made the season memorable? Obviously, the big-league Cardinals coming here for two exhibition games were the most memorable. I’ll never forget being in the clubhouse waiting for Albert Pujols and sitting in a chair to my left was Larry Walker. Walker gave me some good quotes in spring training about a funny episode when he was in Double-A baseball, but that day he was sitting there and telling me to interview Albert because, “I’ve had a terrible spring. You don’t want to interview me.” Looking back, that moment was very telling of what was to come for Walker, a player I always admired for his hard work and his love for the game. A few other games stand out. Rick Ankiel finished with 10 home runs in 28 games, and that home run binge started with a 13th-inning, walk-off homer. I’ll also remember a crazy game in early June when the Cardinals were playing the Royals’ Double-A affiliate and it ended on Juan Diaz’s walk-off homer. The place went nuts.It was also neat to see opposing players come through, too. Jared Weaver made a couple of late-season starts, and people need to remember the name Howie Kendrick. He’ll be the Angels second baseman before too long. Give us an idea about the relationship within the overall organization in regards to player development. How do they coordinate in regards to making player decisions? For example, how would the Cardinals organization work with the Springfield team to make a decision on shifting a young pitcher from a starting role to a relief role? Good question. This is the challenge of every farm system and I can tell you that the Cardinals put tons of thought into every decision they make. In the case of pitchers, the main thing is they give them every chance to succeed. I often remind our readers that the Springfield Cardinals are not playing for the Texas League championship but rather to improve to the point they can help the big-league team win the NL pennant. If a pitcher is struggling, they’ll keep sending him out there after maybe tweaking a thing here or there. If he can’t correct it, only then will they consider a move to the bullpen. I think we saw both sides of that this year. Chris Lambert and Stuart Pomeranz struggled after being promoted from Palm Beach. Pomeranz changed his delivery and had success in his final few starts. Lambert showed some signs of success, and it was unfortunate that he lasted only two-thirds of an inning in the final game of the year. Really, he hit a wall in mid-season and looked tired the rest of the way. But they’ll keep trotting him out to the mound so he can get a handle on Double-A, and I think he’ll be successful next year. Another example is Reid Gorecki. He struggled and struggled, and they kept giving him chances until it was clear that he needed to go back to Palm Beach. It was a good move. I think he got his confidence back and will come back here next year ready to do some damage. Who would you say the team’s top position player this year? Pitcher? What kind of impact did they have on the team? Top position player was Travis Hanson, the third baseman. A super nice guy, one of those players you pull for. He was also the hardest worker, staying long after games to do work in the weight room. Hanson not only gave them a left-handed bat, but he also impacted the team by never wanting to come out of the lineup. That went over well in the clubhouse. The top pitcher was left-hander Randy Leek, a guy from Long Island. He is pushing 30, but he showed the younger guys that you don’t have to have a 100 mph fastball to win. He changed speeds and knew when to use his fastball. And two years after Tommy John surgery, he’ll be coming back. -------------------------- Okay, be sure to check back Friday for Part Two; we'll really jump into the prospect talk. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you hear. And of course, lots more Rick Ankiel talk.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 

World Baseball Classic

Having been so focused on the Cardinals and their various roster issues, I confess to having paid little attention to all the news surrounding the World Baseball Classic. I like the concept, and it certainly seems like a good idea, even though it smacks a bit of Selig-esque marketing zaniness. The biggest question I have concerns the risk to players getting paid oodles of money by their respective MLB teams getting hurt in the tournament. It's probably nothing to worry about, but I doubt fans of team whose star gets injured and their season tanks will look back very fondly at the World Baseball Classic. It's also a pretty significant distraction to Spring Training. However, on the positive side, it's really important for lots of major league players who will have the first chance to represent their countries in a meaningful way. I'm sure for a lot of guys that outweighs the risk involved.
 

Hot Stove Haiku Contest Winners!

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, The Hot Stove Haiku Contest Winners! We put out a call for entries in two categories, Cardinals related and all MLB related. In the first category the winner gets a 1985 Fleer Terry Pendleton rookie card; in the second category, the winner gets a 1977 Topps Bruce Sutter rookie card. In the Cardinals related category, the winning entry comes from Eric M. urinals for sale busch III, a cash cow for sure all for deivi cruz In the all MLB category, the winner comes to us from Doug G. a sun burns many hands the pitcher gets richer still Manny weeps alone Many congrats to the big winners. Of course, everyone who sent us a haiku is a winner; consider yourself enriched. We had about a hundred or so entries when it was all said and done, which is way more than we expected. (Quite frankly, we're thrilled to know that a hundred people even bother to read this site.) I guess the lure of $2 worth of baseball cards ignited the fires of creativity within you all. Huge thanks to Deadspin, Viva El Birdos, and Bellyitcher for posting the contest announcement. We'll be contacting the winners shortly, just in time for you to give the gift of baseball cards.
 

Looping Back

Oh uh, don't look now, but it seems the Cubs and Jacque "I'm Not French" Jones have some interest in each other. They must have wanted a big upgrade from Burnitz. As a Cards fan, you have to hope this works out, especially with all of the lefties we have in the pen now. Jones 2005 vs. LHP: .201/.247/.370 -------------------- If Braden Looper were to accept an offer from the Cards (you have to think Philly's reported interest would be more lucrative though), it would be something of a homecoming for the right hander. The Cards picked Looper in the first round (third overall pick) of the 1996 draft, and you were meticulous about keeping your scorecards from 1998, you'd see his name on them in four games (3.1 innings pitched) that season. Looper went to Florida in the deal for Renteria after that season, where the Marlins accelerated (detrimentally, IMO) the 24 year old's development by working him for 83 innings in 1999. If Looper were to sign with the Cards for a decent salary and if he were to pitch well for us, it would be kind of a weird, karmatic situation in a year that saw Renteria traded from Boston after being a $10M bust. Maybe it's a stretch, but still... Looper's 2005 flopped, especially in light of a career year in 2004. Let's go to the stats. 2004: EqERA 3.12; VORP 24.8; 6.48 k/9; 3.75 k/BB; 9.29 h/9; 0.54 hr/9; 2.70 G/F 2005: EqERA 4.74; VORP 5.3; 4.10 k/9; 1.23 k/BB; 9.89 h/9; 1.06 hr/9; 1.79 G/F Career: 5.61 k/9; 1.73 k/BB; 9.12 h/9; 0.72 hr/9; 2.00 G/F Looper struggled with his control last year, walking more, striking out fewer, and getting killed by the long ball. LaRussa and Duncan must like that he's a ground ball pitcher and believe they work with him and get him to cut down on his walks. The Cards, and other interested teams, view him as an 8th inning set up man, but he'll have to fare better against lefties going forward than he did last year, .336/.408/.578 against. He's never been particularly effective versus the left-side hitters, but he did manage to limit their effectiveness to a .765 OPS in 2004, .754 in 2003, and .753 in 2002. He's a project for sure, hence his willingness for the one year deal in a season of five year deals, but at 31 the former Cardinal draft pick is hardly finished. It will be interesting to see what kind of offers he is getting. Has anyone out there heard anything regarding dollar values being discussed? I've said before that I am a firm believer in relievers being prone to the really bad year (and the really good year for that matter) from time to time. When you also consider Duncan's track record with guys in this situation, and removing the pressure of closing (and doing it in NYC), I'm inclined to think this guy might not be a bad addition. He made +$5M last season, but I would think he'd command less for 2006, the most risky assumption of all in the current market. At the right price though, he could replace Tavarez and have an important role in a year without Al Reyes. Your thoughts?

Monday, December 12, 2005

 

Two Cents for Clemens

This is hardly recent news, but since it likely impacts that NL Central, I'll comment on it. Props to the Astros for not offering Clemens arbitration. Of course, as a Cards fan I had hoped they would, tying up precious resources in one of the game's oldest, greatest, and most self-important player. They would have been committing terrific amounts of resources to keeping Clemens happy catering to the myriad of demands in his contract. In the lead up to the arbitration deadline, Roger had done his usual dance about whether or not to retire, whether or not a team might make it worth while for him to stay in the game, yada yada yada. What a diva. Now a free agent, the rumors have begun in earnest about where he might wind up, New York, Boston, Arlington, etc. Now we can say thanks for the cheapness of the Cards ownership, not to mention the sound management policies of Jocketty, and take comfort in the fact that he won't be wearing Birds on Bat next year. [p.s. if you start that rumor, I will personal find you and make you listen to a non-stop week of sports talk radio, heinous torture not even fit for Abu Gharib] Don't take too much glee in the fact that we might not face him as an Astro next year, though. It sounds like, since they signed Ausmus, that he might just rest his old bones till May 1, and in order to have some gas in the tank come October. Of course, I can't imagine he'd comeback even then for free.
 

Luck and Our Own Left-orium

Some good news for Cardinals fans today, as Orioels SS Miguel Tejada states that he would prefer to stay in Baltimore. This is good news because the Cubs, as noted around the web, were the frontrunners to acquire him, scamming the Orioels by swapping Mark Prior (lemon alert) or Carlos Zambrano (soon to be lemon). Our line up stands pat, and the Cubs go with the unreasonably priced Neifi. Then again, they don't have Aaron Miles at second base. Best of luck to you Matty Mo. Enjoy San Francisco, and $9M a season. Turn on your love light Giants fans. So we signed a big LOOGY in Ricardo Rincon. While his performance last year, even against lefties, probably made people in Oakland hock-a-loogy and think about spitting it at him, he has had success sending lefty hitters back to the dugout frustrated. His 2005 aside, he had good numbers AS A LOOGY in 2004, allowing only 18 hits (1 HR) and .200/.247/.278 while facing 90 hitters standing on the left side of the plate. Personally, I am of the mind that relief pitchers, especially highly specialized ones, are highly susceptible to a stinker season every so often, with luck figuring into that equation to a degree. His peripherals last year were consistent with his career numbers, and his ground ball/fly ball rate actually improved. (Do you think that the Cards' organization really emphasizes the value of the G/F stat?) Anyway, as cynical as I have been about the junk players we've picked up this fall, I think he might actually be a decent one for us, as long as he's never allowed outside of the LOOGY role. Now, with the season still almost four months away, the Cards have four lefties in the bullpen: Cali, Flores, Tyler Johnson, and Rincon. So we have Flores and Rincon (Rincon based on age, experience, and TLR's disdain for young arms) as the top two lefties in the pen, with Cali and Johnson as the young replacements. I don't know how the organization views Cali, but in two short stints with the big club in 2004 and 2005 he didn't fair well. Cali, 27, and Johnson, 25, may both get opportunities with St. Louis next summer, but will probably start in the season in Memphis after Spring Training.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

 

National Scam

As you've probably heard by now, Washington, DC (where I live) has tentatively agreed upon a lease for a new baseball stadium. I don't roll out the soap box very often here, but in an effort to keep my blood pressure down, I'm making an exception. Let me first say that Major League Baseball belongs in DC. There's a historical precedent for it, and fans are ready for a team. I have no hard and fast personal rule when it comes to public financing of stadiums. I would say that I am generally against it, as owners who build the stadium out of their own pockets get enough corporate welfare in the way of tax breaks, easements, and other things (ahem, Busch Stadium III) that the public always shares a little bit of the cost. Before baseball was allowed to return to DC, Selig forced the city to approve a stadium deal, a negotiating chip made that much more powerful by the fact that the team was owned by MLB. Mayor Condo, er I mean Williams, adamant that baseball be his legacy and political calling card, obliged. Skip forward a year, after some contentious wrangling and woefully inadequate cost estimating work, and here we are. Okay, okay, why am I pissed off? How exactly will the public foot the $535 million bill (likely to be more)? From the Washington Post:
"The bulk of the money would be paid through a gross receipts tax on businesses as well as taxes on utilities and stadium concessions."
Hmm, I'm perfectly willing to let money collected from the beers (which constitute an ample number) I purchase at the games go to paying for the stadium. However, I am not particularly excited to see an increase in my utilities, and the effects that tax increase will have on numerous other expenses. An additional tax on businesses hits the wallet as well, making all the crap we buy even more expensive. DC is an incredibly expensive place to live, and I've lived in Aspen, Colorado. Finding a one bedroom apartment here that rents for less than $1100/month is damn near impossible. But the expenses are not limited to that, groceries are costly, and the fuel prices are among the most expensive in the nation, and throughout the summer they were THE most expensive. For many people here, heating oil and gas are used to heat homes. Taxing utilities so that baseball and whatever owners wind up winning Bud's lottery is ridiculously unfair. Niether my wife or I could afford to live here are all on just one of our individual salaries. However, we are among the relatively fortunate here, as most residents in the city work in the service sector for low wages that can't keep up with the rising costs of living. Poverty is incredibly high, and the cost of living makes it very difficult for working people to join the ranks of the middle class - and they can forget about ever owning a place of their own. Anyway, without delving further into urban sociology, guess who really gets hit with a tax on utilities? The very people that can rarely afford to go to the Nationals games, except as folks making $6/hour selling concessions or cleaning the stadium. It's a rip off, pure and simple. MLB and the new owners are going to make a mint off of owning a stadium and a team, MLB even gets a cut of the parking dollars for chipping in a paltry $20 million and guaranteeing the rent in case of strike or terrorist attack, true patriots, only supporting the greater good if they can benefit from it. I don't suppose the new owners and Bud would chip in for my rent, utilities, and transportation costs, so can get to work and back to make the money I'll need to pay the taxes for the stadium. Fortunately, we live in a democracy, and as a citizen I can make my voice heard before the city council votes on the deal this month. Yap, I can make my voice heard at the public hearing to be held Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., when, like most people, I'll be at work. Yessir, democracy is a great thing! Maybe the we can get the cities homeless population, numbering around 30,000, to fill the hearing, except they'd have to register by 5 p.m. on Monday to attend the meeting. I really pulled for baseball to be in DC, and I still think it should be here. However, I won't have Selig, the new owners (who you know Seilg has already selected), and the city government hold me upside down and shake out my pockets in order to get baseball to stay here. Fuck it. Move the team to Las Vegas if this is how it has to be done. As a Cardinals fan, it adds a little salt to an open wound, as the owners stand to make some money on this, money that could well have been used to upgrade the team's roster.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

 

Festivus Calls

I should probably just stop thinking about filling the holes in the Cards' roster, relax enjoy the Holiday season, write some seasonal cards to friends and family, enjoy a hot toddy, or two, watch the Charlie Brown Christmas show for the 29th time...you get the idea. But I can't, alt dot nerd dot obsessive. The big free agent targets are off the market, and throwing out absurd rumors like the team trading for Tejada, Abreu, A-Rod, Cabrera, etc. wastes time and energy that might be better used on other delusional pipe dreams. Now you have to get creative. Letting Taguchi, et al fill one of the outfield spots works fine. For the other spot, here's something I wouldn't be terribly upset to see: trading for Milton Bradley. If they can still get him cheap, the rumored swap with the Cubs for Todd Walker may well make his price too high, and by too high, I mean Jason Marquis or Wainwright. Maybe they'd take Chris Duncan or Scott Seabol or a player of the middling AAA/major league ready variety. Bradley's a headcase and questionable injuries have dogged him, but it's a high risk/high reward situation. Although if we could get him with a suggestion like those above, the risk would be mitigated somewhat by the low cost. Anyway, mull that over. Send in your poems, and check back here on Tuesday to see the winning entries. There's another treat coming up next week, an inside look at the Springfield Cardinals, our AA affiliate.

Friday, December 09, 2005

 

Reconsidering MaMo

I keep thinking that should read MoMA, but anyway... I just had a thought about the resigning of Matty Mo. I've been firmly in the camp that thinks resigning him is a bust; however, I just got the crazy idea that it might be useful. If the Cards really could get him to take a "hometown discount" and if the contract did not include a "no-trade" clause, he might be useful as another trade chip. I know, I know, this is a real long shot, but if teams are really as ready to make a move for them as they seem to be, he could garner at least one of the lineup cogs we need. Think about it, given the conditions above (big ifs), you might trade him for a solid, Wilkerson-esque outfielder. Teams might take a little more risk with regards to his abilities given a salary reduced from the $8M he's likely to garner on the open market. Even if they wait until the season starts, he could put up some early success with a little rest and recoup time in the offseason, a la 2005, giving us the option to sell high. Of course, he's pretty much declared his lack of interest in playing for the hometown discount.
 

Discount City

From today's Post-Dispatch: Jocketty said at this week's winter meetings that he hoped Morris might extend a "home team discount" to the Cardinals. He reiterated the stance Thursday, saying, "I hope Matt would sign for less here than somewhere else. He may not. But we'd like to have him back." This statement has all kinds of things wrong with it. First, as a Cardinals fan, I'm just not sure I would feel very optimistic about having Morris back in 2006. You remember the two sides of Matty Mo last year; do you really want to risk signing the guy the who lost five in a row last after the All-Star break? He was never steady after July, and his curve ball just got listed on the striped down oil industry version of the endangered species act. Not to mention he won't be setting up very many batters with his 88 MPH fast ball. The second part of the that statement is the sheer insincerity of it. "Sure, Matt we wanted you back all along." Just as soon as they made a run at two other pitchers before DeWitt yanked the (golden) choke chain. "Oh, and by the way, would mind taking a discount? Come on, we got a great new sauna in the locker room." Why wouldn't he take the pay cut? I really couldn't blame Matt for taking a discount and heading out to SF for bigger bucks. Hey, Brett Tomko's available, might take the "you played here once hometown discount." Someone might want to pass along that the hometown discount usually only works when the ownership is really committed to winning. Final thought on the Lukewarm Stove. Yesterday, a friend of mine who shares a similar obsessiveness about baseball sent me an email that read, "Happy Holidays...who's that out in front of you, oh it's the Cubs." It might be a long summer. Big thanks to Deadspin for the link to Hot Stove Haiku this week. The entries are pouring in, so you had better send yours right away. I'll be posting almost all of them on the site through the winter...publish or perish you know. I also wanted to direct your attention to the latest member of the Cards web family, Seeing Red (apologies to Joe over there for not getting a link up sooner).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

 

Is It Bleak Yet?

From Rich Lederer at The Baseball Analysts: "This offseason has been characterized as much by the moves the St. Louis Cardinals haven't made as the moves the San Diego Padres have made. It's a fact that the Padres have been busier than rush hour on the Interstate 5, and it's fiction to think that the Cardinals have done anything other than auction off a bunch of player lockers and urinals from old Busch Stadium." Rich's column offers some of the best insight into the off-season wheelings and dealings throughout the league. With a little insight from Cards fan/blogger HOFer Brian Gunn, the piece reserves a few paragraphs to examine what the Cardinals' lack of moves means, and the question "end of an era?" is posed to the reader. Go read it, and then start to wonder.
 

Miles from Nowhere

By now, you know that the Cards got Aaron Miles and Larry Bigbie for Ray King. The biggest looser in this deal is King, his .446 SLG against in 2005 will look awfully ugly at Coors Field. Bigbie figures to be a platoon outfielder who, hopefully, will never face a southpaw in his tour of duty with the Redbirds. Aaron Miles. Aaron Miles. I have to confess something here. Last spring, I drafted Aaron Miles in one of my fantasy leagues because there were so few second basemen I didn’t want to waste an early round pick on Jeff Kent or Soriano when I could be drafting sure-things Miggy Cabrera or Mark Teixeira. I thought, “Hell, he’s good for a few steady points each week at Coors Field.” In the early part of the season, I was right. He proved to be a more than adequate second baseman, the weakest link on an otherwise killer team, until he got injured, and I picked up Mark Ellis. (In the end, it was Carpenter’s terrible September that cost me the championship, how ironic.) In spite of my fantasy strategy, I don’t endorse the idea of Miles starting at second base on the team that has carried way too many of my hopes and dreams for almost thirty years. Hopefully, Miles’ role projects as nothing more than a steady replacement that gives the Cards a decent glove and a warm body to bat eighth when whatever El Cheapo relic we get to start at that position is injured. Hobbyists versus Realists Allover the American West, wealthy robber barons from all kinds of industries – from Ralph Lauren to Michael Eisner – sweep up massive chucks of land and call them ranches. For most, these are nothing more than expensive hobbies. Other folks of this ilk buy a baseball team. The team is a nice addition to a portfolio. Like the ranch, it’s a nice place to bring your friends AND make you a little money at the same time. Unfortunately, this mindset hogties (to keep the Western analogies going) the team’s general management, giving them the leeway to bring in 3.5 million fans and the money that goes along with it, but not enough to spend the money to make a championship team, that might potentially bring in even more money. It’s just a hobby, not a serious enough business to be risking “real” money. I am not advocating that the Cards take a Steinbrenner approach, doling out cash wherever they can, but occasionally investing a little bit more for the right player that would put your team over the edge hardly means plunking down $100 million for you starting rotation. Hell, even Billy Beene spends a little extra cash in the right situation to make his team a little more competitive. Okay, maybe Loaiza isn’t that guy but you get the point.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

 

Hurry Up and Wait!

Hey there, are you an aging second baseman in need of a major league roster position to turn his career around? Are you willing to take a one year contract in order to perform at a level more consistent with your early thirties in the hopes that you can then turn around and bilk another team out of two or three years and upwards of $12 million? A high risk for injury WILL NOT disqualify you for this position. Than have we got the job for you! Come man the keystone for the second most storied franchise in all of baseball. Fernando Vina, Brett Boone…the list of candidates to play second base for the Cards next year just keeps getting better and better. At this point, Grudzielanek is one of the better options for us, except he wants $3M and at least a couple of seasons and might well get that to play in Flushing. So, once again the Cards will be forced to grab someone off the junk heap, and, if you play the odds, their luck has to run out with that trick at some point. Remember, they considered Roberto Alomar, now retired, for the job last year. Hey, I bet Tony Womack could be had for a handful of beads and a sack of gunpowder. Whether or not you agree that Jocketty’s approach to the Burnett sweepstakes represented solid business management or not, you have to be a little frustrated with the same old tired “stick to the plan” approach. Waiting on Burnett (or Renteria) as the first in a chain of events to fill and improve the roster is also a risky and costly strategy. While waiting, the Cards could have easily proceeded on other fronts. It may have changed their plans in regards to Burnett, but might have improved the team significantly in other areas. Now, they scramble for a few has-beens to round out the roster for one more year staying within the financial guidelines spelled out by ownership. Brian Gunn, in the comments section over at Birdos, notes that we may look back next year from the perspective of a few games back in the division at the Luis Castillo to Minnesota trade with some serious regret. That might not be the only one we regret come October 2006, Brian.
 

Hot Stove Haiku: The Contest

Cards offer stays at four
blue jay sings a richer song
hot stove burns Jock's hand
We asked for your hot stove haikus, and you sent them to us. Now, in an effort to promote a more Zen-like approach to hot stove analysis, and less of the all-night internet binges marked with a zeal rivaled only by the most enthusiastic of Warcraft players, Cardinals Diaspora expands hot stove haiku mania with a contest, with real prizes sure to supplement your 401K. Here's how it works:

Get to work.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

 

The Biggest Cardinals News of the Day

Did you see old friend Steve Kline is headed to San Francisco in a swap for Latroy Hawkins? I wonder if Kline can pull it back together reunited with Mike Matheny? Highly dubious. Only Kline, to sound perfectly like a teacher, can straighten out Kline.
 

Now What?

Okay, so now we have to move on from the Burnett scenarios that shaped our expectations of the 2006 roster. In a cursory analysis, I think the rotation as is still allows us to be competitive; however, the secondary value of acquiring Burnett allowed us to trade Marquis to fill our outfield or second base needs. The lineup, as it now stands, most seriously impacts our ability to compete. Sure, with Eckstein, Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen, it’s still quite potent, but of those four, the only two we can really depend on for 150 games are Pujols and Eck. With Rolen back, the lineup is automatically better than last year’s mix and match version that rarely (ever?) included a healthy and fully productive Walker, Sanders, or Rolen in it. So we need to sign a free agent starting pitcher in order to free up another starting pitcher as a trade chip to improve the lineup – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Signing Giles might not have been such a bad idea after all, huh? Now what? The first question is whether or not to continue along this prescribed path of events. The best of the remaining free agent pitchers is Millwood, whose agent Scott Boras wants a five year deal, and given the deals for Byrd and Loaiza, you can just assume that Millwood costs around $10M per year. Reportedly, Seattle is close to signing him anyway. Jeff Weaver, also represented by Boras, is available, but you’d have to be smoking crack to sign him at the price he will demand. Washburn would be a good option, and a lefty, but he also calls Boras “daddy.” Ken Rosenthal thinks the Cards will be going after Vazquez, which would involve a trade with Arizona. Vazquez is also just 29 years old, and has two years and $24M left on his contract. Vazquez brings a nice 4.17 K/BB rate, 8.01 K/9, and a G/F ratio or 1.19 from Phoenix last year. Just what are they likely to trade for him? Assume Marquis or Suppan is part of that deal. My preference would be to keep the reliable Suppan. Supe is a $7M pitcher in the current market, and we have him signed for $4M. Who else? Wainwright maybe? Vazquez would be a better option than keeping Morris, who is now worth at least $8M per season and three or four years. Vazquez. Great. Now all of our trade chips are spent, leaving us with Taguchi and Rodriguez surrounding Edmonds in the OF, and a bench, solid with those two on it, featuring only poor depth. Oh, and who’s on second? Kind of getting depressing to think about all this, huh? I know it never made it past the speculation stage, but the idea of trading Edmonds to the Yankees for Cano and Wang (he he) sounds much better now. It fills our need at second, with quality for years to come, and gives us another starting pitcher, thus the depth to deal again. So the Cards make that trade, Cano slots in at number two in the batting order and they can trade Marquis (or whoever out of Jason, Supe, or Wang that brings the most return) for Wilkerson or another outfielder. They also still have cash to make free agent signings for the bullpen and/or the other corner outfield spots. Saying farewell to Jimmy would be tough, but there’s nothing like a winning a team to heal the pain of a broken heart.

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