Tag Archive | "Term Contract"

Salvador Perez May Be Making Crucial Error

The Kansas City Royals made a strong case last year that Salvador Perez was worthy of a long term contract extension.  After sustaining an injury in the spring, Perez returned to action during the season and seemingly proved that the organization was right.  A rebuilt pitching staff puts a larger focus on Perez’s ability behind the plate in 2013.  As the season looms in the horizon, Perez is preparing to leave the team to play for the Venezuela World Baseball Classic team.


Perez will be counted on to provide the Royals with two key components to the 2013 season.  He will provide an offensive threat in the lower part of the lineup, a consistent bat that can provide some pop and some run production beyond the middle of the order.  Secondly, and probably most importantly, Perez will be a field general and a leader on the defensive side of the field.

Perez has proven his presence on the field commands respect.  He has shown a strong work ethic and an ability to handle a major league pitching staff at a high level.  He did this last year while working with, primarily, players that he had a strong relationship with prior to the season.  The pitching staff and the young catcher seemed to be on the same page and working very well together.

This season, however, the team has taken drastic moves to improve the starting staff.  Early projections figure that the opening day rotation for the Royals will feature at least four players that were not on the opening day roster last season.  One of those pitchers, Jeremy Guthrie, pitched for the Royals in the last half of the season.  James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana have joined the team during the offseason and will be looking to Spring Training to get better acquainted with their new surroundings.

To paraphrase Stan Lee, with new pitchers comes great responsibility.  In essence, that is what Spring Training is about for most catchers.  Getting to know the pitching staff, their habits and tendencies as well as learning to watch the player to ensure that you know when he is struggling or cruising along is a key component to a successful battery.  Perez is highly regarded for his work in this area but for the first time in his career, he is faced with a challenge of working with players that he does not know and have vastly more experience then he does.

In the midst of this important Spring Training exercise, Salvador will head out to play for the honor of his country in the World Baseball Classic.  One can hardly fault the young man for taking this opportunity to play for national pride on such a large stage.  Many of the other players that will participate, however, have publicly stated that they felt it was a good time to do so based on their current role with their team and the familiarity with the current makeup surrounding them.

Perez will serve his country well.  The question is, does it serve his role with the Royals well to choose to participate in this exhibition?

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Felix Hernandez megadeal should actually help St. Louis Cardinals in Adam Wainwright negotiations

The St. Louis Cardinals enter spring training this week with another star player entering the final year of his contract just two years after the Albert Pujols contract circus. But the Cardinals suddenly have leverage in these negotiations they never got with Pujols.


Adam Wainwright will be a free agent at the end of the season if he and the Cardinals can’t agree on a long-term contract before the end of the season. This sounds similar to the Pujols situation, but the Cardinals should suddenly be more optimistic this time around thanks to an American League team on the West Coast.

The Seattle Mariners are close to signing pitcher Felix Hernandez to a huge contract that could range from five to seven years and $135 million to $175 million. Either way, Hernandez is going to be a very rich man, but he probably helped the Cardinals in negotiations with their own ace pitcher.

Hernandez could make somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million to $27 million annually, which is close to the price tag many people figured it would take to keep Wainwright in St. Louis beyond this season. However, the Cardinals have a few good reasons not to pay Wainwright that much money, or at least not for that long.

See, Hernandez is just 26 years old even though he’s pitched in the big leagues for eight seasons, but he has never had a major arm injury. Wainwright is 31 years old, missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and struggled at times in 2012 to regain his dominant form.

The bigger concern for the Cardinals was when the San Francisco Giants signed righthanded pitcher Matt Cain to a six-year, $127.5-million contract extension before the beginning of the 2012 season. Cain was 27 years old at the time he signed the deal, but he also had a career record of 69-73.

Granted, the deal worked out last year as Cain led the Giants to a World Series title with a 16-5 record and a perfect game along the way, but Wainwright still looked like the better pitcher at the time.

Maybe it’s been good for the Cardinals to let negotiations with Wainwright drag on into the final year. The constant questions about the contract won’t be pleasant if they don’t get a deal done before the season begins, but the Cardinals would’ve certainly had to pay more for Wainwright if they had signed him to an extension two years ago, and probably even last year. There was a chance Wainwright could have made between $25-30 million per year up until the Hernandez deal.

Wainwright could still shoot for that type of money as a free agent in the offseason if he has a Cy Young Award-caliber 2013 season, but teams will likely be much more unwilling to give a 31-year-old pitcher with a history of arm problems more money than a 26-year-old pitcher who has never spent an appreciable amount of time on the disabled list.

Of course, time will determine if the Mariners made the right decision to sign their righthanded star pitcher. Hernandez could have a Cain-type season, or he could turn into Barry Zito, who hasn’t pitched above .500 since the Giants signed him to a $126-million deal in 2007.

No matter the long-term outcome, news of the Hernandez deal should make Cardinals fans more optimistic their team’s own righthanded star pitcher will take the mound at Busch Stadium in a Cardinals uniform to open the 2014 season, and God-willing, several more seasons beyond that.

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Should Soria stay, or should he go?

Last week, the Royals declined closer Joakim Soria‘s $8MM 2013 option and invoked a $750,000 buyout, making him a free agent. This wasn’t a surprise move, seeing Soria spent 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery and he’s not expected to pitch until May or June of 2013.

The Royals would like to sign Soria to a lower cost deal with performance bonuses. But his agent, Oscar Suarez, claims eight MLB clubs have an interest in the closer. Soria would also be open as a setup man for the New York Yankees, if they were interested. So far, the Yankees haven’t haven’t contacted Suarez or Soria.

It’s still early in the offseason and Soria doesn’t have any serious offers yet. Whatever the offer, it’s likely to be a low cost deal with performance bonuses. Soria is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, but he still would generate a lot of interest.

Over his five year Major League career, Soria has 160 saves, a 2.40 ERA and a 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio, making him one of the better closers in the Majors. He did struggle in 2011 with a 4.03 ERA, 28 saves and 3.53 SO/BB ratio, prompting the Royals to briefly move Soria to a set-up role early in the season. His 2012 spring wasn’t much better before the Royals shut him down due to his elbow injury.

There’s some uncertainty how Soria will pitch when he does come back. Will he be the Soria of 2007-2010, or the Soria of 2011? There’s enough uncertainty where a team is unlikely to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract.

Is Soria worth the Royals trying to re-sign him? After he when down, the Royals used Jonathan Broxton as their closer before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in late July. Then Greg Holland took over, who had 16 of 20 save opportunities, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 2.68 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals say they’re comfortable with Holland being the closer, despite the small sample size of August and September. Holland will be 27 this month, just a year and a half younger than Soria, so age isn’t an issue. However, the team has Holland until 2017, so he could be a long-term solution as the Royals closer if Soria doesn’t come back or only stays a season or two.

It’s safe to say if other teams take a chance signing Soria to a two plus year contract, the Royals will let him walk. A healthy 2012 Soria could have made an already good bullpen that much better, but with Holland’s performance as closer and club-friendly salary, the team figures they could get close to Soria-like results with Holland. Even if Soria signs a one-year, club friendly deal, there’s a good chance they will let Soria walk after 2013, especially if Holland has a great season.

If Soria was a starting pitcher, there’s a good chance the club would pay the $8MM option and hope he would contribute to the starting rotation. But the Royals believe they have a capable, low-cost closer in Holland and while having Soria in 2013 would be nice, he’s not essential. The team will make an effort to sign him, but they’re not going to be too disappointed if Soria goes elsewhere.

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“Our Time” To Question “The Process”

After a 6-16 start, Royals fans should no longer give this organization the benefit of the doubt.

This column was supposed to be about Albert Pujols’ slow start and how that might affect the Royals’ ability to sign Eric Hosmer to a long-term contract. However, that idea will be saved for another day. Going into Tuesday night’s game, the Royals had won 3 out of their last 4 games, and fans were given reason to believe that things were looking a bit more positive after the 12 game losing streak the team had just snapped. And then tonight happened. The Royals were blown out 9-3 by the Detroit Tigers, while Luke Hochevar had his 2nd historically horrific first inning of the young season.

Royals fans have taken the organization to task for this year’s slogan, “Our Time”. But is this really any different than any of the other BS that has been spewed to the fan base over the last 20 years? “The Process” is appearing to be nothing more than another meaningless phrase used to dupe a naive fan base that has endured so much misery that they are willing to latch onto any positive sign that may present itself, even if it happens to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

The Royals can use whatever catchy, feel-good phrases and buzzwords they want to use. Royals fans will not be falling for this anymore, nor should they. There isn’t much more to say at this point. The Pujols/Hosmer column may or may not be written. If things continue down this road, it won’t matter whether Pujols is making Hosmer more sign-able. Because he will be ready to hop on the first bus out of town when his contract is up, just like Johnny Damon, Zack Greinke, Carlos Beltran, and pretty much every player worth keeping that has come through Kansas City in the last 20 years has.

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Who’s the next guy?

Matt Holliday re-signed in 2010.  Albert Pujols is gone.  Yadier Molina re-upped with the St Louis Cardinals last week.  So who’s the next future Cardinal free agent in line for a long-term deal?

Is it Lance Berkman?  Despite the legions of converts to Pumania based on his 2012 season, Berkman is still more closely identified with Houston than with the Cardinals.  Interestingly last season (by OPS+) was the best year of his career.  He signed a one-year deal for 2012 for a symmetrical $12 million, but will be 37 before the 2013 season starts.  St Louis might bring him back on a 2 or 3 year contract, depending on how this season goes, but he has passed the point in his career where a 5+ year deal makes sense.

Is it Adam Wainwright?  Much more likely.  Although on the DL at the end of 2011, which would have allowed the Cardinals to decline his option, that option was picked up, meaning he’ll be with the club through the end of next season.  There is much risk to keeping Wainwright for another 5 or more years.  He’s on the wrong side of 30 (will be 32 after the 2013 season) and has now had Tommy John surgery, meaning his career could end on his next pitch.  In his favor, and helping mitigate that risk, is the fact he has learned at the feet and via the example of Chris Carpenter the past 7 years.  Carpenter is no stranger to arm issues himself, but has learned how to prepare himself in-between starts to minimize the chances of re-injury.  Wainwright is one of the elite pitchers in the NL and it would make lots of sense to retain him.

Is it Jason Motte?  He is also on a one-year deal for 2012, and has two years of arbitration ahead of him before hitting the open market in 2015.  Motte has already been anointed the Cardinal closer by new manager Mike Matheny, a position he capably filled during last year’s magical stretch run and post-season.  St Louis might consider signing the 29-year old to a long-term deal, but given the short useful lifespan closers not named Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman enjoy a lengthy contract could turn into money thrown out the window.  I don’t think St Louis will lock up Motte for more than 3 years at a shot.

Is it David Freese?  Like Berkman, David is on a one-year deal. Unlike Lance, Freese is only making $500K this year, is only 28, and appears to have arrived (based on his performance both during last season and the post-season).  The Cardinal front office is probably waiting to see if he can play 100 games for the first time in his career before entering serious negotiations.  His defense is decidedly average, but his bat is superior at a traditional power position.

I think we have a winner.

If you the fan is looking for the next player to obsess over regarding a long-term extension, direct your energy towards David Freese.

Mike Metzger is a freelance writer based in San Diego.  He also blogs about the Padres.  Follow him on Twitter.

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One signature a “sign” for the future

Not many Major League baseball players have to opportunity to sign a long term contract after playing only 51 games above the AA level.  That is exactly what Kansas City Royals catcher, Salvador Perez, got the chance to do this past week and he took it and ran with it.  The financial security for him and his family played a big part in this deal obviously but it also gave the Royals the chance to lock up a potential all star with an back end heavy contract that will allow the Royals to do many things.

First, it allows them to reward a player that they believe to be able to develop into an all star.  With the talents that he has shown at every level in which he has played many are comparing his abilities to a young Yadier Molina. Molina as a young catcher, like Perez, was sought after for his stellar defense but was not a highly touted hitting prospect.  Over time he has proven that his development at the Major League level paid off for the St. Louis Cardinals. If Perez pans out like the Royals think he will, this non high risk contract could end up being one of the biggest steals in franchise history.  Just after Perez sign his contract with the Royals, Molina signed his own 5 year deal worth, reportedly, up to 75 million dollars.  If Perez if able to live up to his potential then the two contracts could be a good comparison in the years to come and show the Royals how much money, say 68 million dollars, they saved by signing an all star leader like Perez early. Signing such a incentive latent contract means that Perez has to perform.  If he does not work out in the long run than they only spent seven million dollars. This gives the Royals the security both financially and on the field because they can use this as motivation not only for Perez but for other young players on the ball club.

What this kind of a contract does to the psyche of the young players on the Royals roster is as positive as it gets.  While Perez has not played as much as a Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, or Lorenzo Cain, the signing shows that if these young guys step up to the plate do what they are ask and perform, the Royals are ready and willing to reward them for the actions. Though, the deals for these players may not be as club friendly as the Perez deal but if the three previously mentioned players are performing to a high enough standard that they require big money to play then that means this team could be winning some ball games and a lot of them. These are the types of things that if the Royals prove that they are willing to lock players up with long term contracts, the young players will not only want to play in Kansas City but that they will need to play in Kansas City. As evident by the tweet of one pitcher Danny Duffy stated, #burymeaRoyal which took Royals fans, following Duffy on twitter, by storm. Could this be the sign that these young guys not only want to win but that they want to do it in Royal blue? This is a question that can be answered over the next 5 years on the field and in the size of the Glass family checkbook.

The final accomplishment are the fans.  The fans are the ones who get to enjoy the play on the field.  They are the reason that sports are possible because without fans the money would not be there.  So, for Royals fans, a deal like Perez’s could be the sign that they may want to go all in on the Royals regime.  But not so fast my friends, this is just one deal and yes it is a good sign for the future but this is a signing of a 21 year old from a small town in Venezuela who would have loved nothing more than to be able to take care of he and his family.  His new contract does that and will provide him with a great life after baseball. But, Scott Boras may have something else to say when his clients start hitting the negotiation table with the Royals.  He is what I call a bleeder.  Although his client may be happy with the team and happy with the contract that has been offered, he is going to bleed every last penny out of an organization until they are seeing the bright light and then he will sign. So as fans yes encouraged is a good thought to have right now with the way things have started in early Spring but will the Royals put their money where their mouth is when the time comes and goodness how much money that will have to be.

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The Long and Short ”Stop” of It

The Kansas City Royals have been slightly active again this week.  They have signed all of their arbitration eligible players except for Alex Gordon.  It will be interesting to see if the Royals are able to sign to a long term contract.  There have been rumors of this in the media, but only time will tell.  This week, will start our look at the American League Central infielders by reviewing the shortstops of each team.  The following statistics will give us a view of each player’s 2011 season.



Team Player Avg. OBP SLG OPS H 2B 3B HR RBI SB
Chi Alexei Ramirez .269 .328 .399 .727 165 31 2 15 70 7
Cle Asdrubal Cabrera .273 .332 .460 .792 165 32 3 25 92 17
Det Jhonny Peralta .299 .345 .478 .824 157 25 3 21 86 0
KC Alicdes Escobar .254 .290 .343 .633 139 21 8 4 46 26
Min Jamey Carroll .290 .359 .347 .706 131 14 6 0 17 10


The Chicago White Sox will start one of the more proven commodities at shortstop.  Alexei Ramirez in his four full seasons with the White Sox has been a consistent performer on offense.  Ramirez has a career .279 batting average.  Alexei has always had a consistent power stroke averaging 19 home runs, 26 doubles a season.  Alexei will provide the White Sox a solid offensive contribution and will play a solid short stop.  The White Sox know what they are getting from Ramirez and should be excited.

The Cleveland Indians will be starting Asdrubal Cabrera.  2011 was the best all around offensive year of Cabrera’s career.  Cabrera has hit for a solid average in each of his first five seasons, a .281 career average.  Asdrubal has always had the ability to hit for some power as he has average 36 doubles a season.  He had never found that home run stroke until last year when he hit 25 home runs.  His previous career high had been 6.  Did Cabrera finally develop some home run power?  This season should be interesting.  If Cabrera can hit like he did last season and add a injury free season from Sizemore and Hafner, the Indians could once again be a surprise team in the central.

The Detroit Tigers will start Jhonny Peralta at shortstop.  Last season Peralta had one of his best offensive seasons.  In nine seasons Peralata had a career .268 batting average.  Last season his average jumped thirty points higher than his career average as Peralta hit .299.  Peralata has always had good power for a shortstop.  Peralta averages 34 doubles, 19 home runs, and 83 rbi’s a season.  With all the power bats in the Tigers lineup, Peralta will slide into the 6 or 7 slot and continue to produce as he has throughout his career.

The Kansas City Royals will start Alcides Escobar.  In his second full big league season, Escobar showed signs of greatness with his glove.  His bat on the other hand showed signs of Tony Pena Jr.  At times Escobar showed signs that his bat could provide a spark when he gets hot.  Escobar’s biggest issue at the plate is his patience.  With an average of .254 and an OBP of only .290, obviously Escobar needs to improve this number.  If Escobar is able to hit .260 and have an OBP in the .330 neighborhood and continue to play what I thought was Gold Glove caliber defense, he will be an asset to the Kansas City Royals.

The Minnesota Twins will begin the season with Jamey Carroll at shortstop.  Carroll is an aging shortstop who has always been a decent hitter for average.  In his 10 major league seasons, Carroll has hit for an average of .278.  In his last two seasons with Dodgers in 2010 and 2011, Carroll posted a .291 and .290 average.  Carroll has never shown any power.  His career high in doubles is 23 in 2006.  His career high in home runs is 5 also in 2006.  Since then Carroll has not even come close to those numbers.  Carroll will definitely struggle hitting in Minnesota and as he has aged his first step is slowing and he is trending downwards.

Now that all shortstops have briefly been discussed, I will rank them from 1 to 5 in my point of view as to how their overall production for the 2012 season will stack up.

  1. Alexei Ramirez
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera
  3. Jhonny Peralta
  4. Alcides Escobar
  5. Jamey Carroll

From my point of view, Alexei Ramirez will continue to produce the way he has his entire major league career and provide a solid bat in the White Sox line up.  If Asdrubal can show his power stroke was not a fluke, he could definitely be the #1 shortstop by a long shot.  Was last season a fluke?  This season could answer a lot of questions with the Indians.  Jhonny Peralta will be Jhonny Peralta, a decent average, but a player who will be helped a ton by the bats around him.  As for Escobar, his offense shows room for improvement, but he will play a gold glove caliber shortstop.  If he can improve his plate discipline Escobar could also move up this list.  As for Jamey Caroll, what is there to get excited about?


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Line ‘Em Up

With Spring Training looming in the curtains, the stage of the 2012 season is soon going to be a reality. The Kansas City Royals, although some being young and still inexperienced, have solidified a pretty easy realization of who will be playing on the field this coming summer.

Having a few newer faces in the dugout to choose from manager Ned Yost will have a bevy of options for a line-up on opening day. With veterans like, left-fielder Alex Gordon, right-fielder Jeff Franceour, and designated hitter Billy Butler, Yost will have players to build a full Major League line-up around.

A projected line-up for opening day may go as follows:

1. Alex Gordon -Left Field
While having a career year last season, Gordon stamped his name into the leadoff hitter for Royals of present and hopefully, with a long-term contract, teams of the future. His switch to left field and leadoff hitter took the pressure off and the nerves went away.

2. Johnny Giavotella -Second Base
Having started his rookie season off slow, Giavotella gradually became a better hitter although his defense still needs to be improved. With his swing he can become someone who hits, with some power, but more importantly a hitter whom can move people into scoring positions for the heavier bats in the line-up.

3. Eric Hosmer -First Base
Not much needs to be said about Hosmer. He going to hit, he is going to hit with power and he is going to play acceptional first base for the Royals. Fans have not yet seen what this man can accomplish but in years to come the ceiling is through the roof and into the clouds.

4. Billy Butler -Designated Hitter
Butler has proven to fans across Kansas City that he can hit for average and has double power. This season may be a little different with Butler though, while foreseeable future has him cutting his average down but hitting with more power. Also, batting behind Hosmer allows him to still hit the doubles in the gaps and drive in people with more speed unlike batting him in front of Hosmer and only getting to third base on a double.

5. Jeff Francoeur -Right Field
Franceour is going to give you his all everyday. As long as he keeps the average around .270 with average power he will stick around in this position in the line-up. With his defensive abilities having him out of the line-up is just not an option for long stints of time.

6. Mike Moustakas -Third Base
Having to fill the George Brett shoes will still be on the mind of this young Royal but with the displays that he has shown at every level, fans should expect nothing more than for him to continue hitting the way he did at the end of the 2011 season. If he does continue this his spot in the line-up will be beneficial for the amount of wins this team earns in 2012.

7. Salvador Perez -Catcher
Arguably one of the best defensive catchers in the Major Leagues, Perez will be given some slack of his bat which by all accounts will not live up to the accomplishments of last season. But if they do, everyone better watch out because this young player may be getting national recognition soon.

8. Alcides Escobar -Shortstop
What you see is what you get. Outstanding defense and a below average bat. If he continues to focus on hitting the ball to the opposite field then he will be able to become an average hitter. What Escobar lacks with the bat, he makes up for tenfold with his glove.

9. Lorenzo Cain-Center Field
Not many have seen or even know what Cain is about. From the Brewers to the Royals was a quick transition of which he hit for power, stole bases and ran down just about every ball in the outfield. Hitters will have to just thread the needle to get it passed this speedy center fielder.

The Royals need two things in their line-up. They need the continued effort of verteran hitters and they need the young guns to step up and get runs on the board. If this happens then the success of the Royals sits on the hands of this pitching staff. Which we all know is as up in the air as a Boeing 747.

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Recent History of Cardinals’ Free Agent Acquisitions

Historically, the St Louis Cardinals have never been big spenders in the free agent market; that is, before they signed Matt Holliday to that huge long-term contract about a year or so ago; and before they potentially sign Albert Pujols to his gazillion dollar long-term pact. Word out of the Pujols camp is “It’s going take a gazillion dollars to keep Albert in St Louis.”

That is a lot of money (I googled it to be certain), but the Cardinals can afford it, despite the front office rhetoric we usually hear about the team’s modest financial wherewithal. Certainly, the Cardinals normally avoid the top-dollar superstars testing the free agent waters, but I think they will make an exception with Mr Pujols – the game’s greatest player. He has become almost as big an institution in St Louis as Stan Musial; and that is saying a lot.

As far as the team’s “financial strength” is concerned, I think we can all rest a little easier knowing that Forbes Magazine recently appraised the St Louis Cardinals franchise at a cool $488 million. Fifteen years ago, when Bill DeWitt and his partners purchased the team, they shelled out $150 million, and in that package came a couple of parking garages, which they promptly sold for $75 million. According to my brilliant accounting calculations, Cardinal Ownership is up $413 million from their original cash outlay; I wish my investment portfolio had the same kind of return over the past fifteen years; how about you? The “bean counters” out there may say my accounting guidelines are flawed; that the team’s “liquid assets” are nowhere near $413 million, blah, blah, blah. Maybe that is true; still, I think they can somehow scrape up enough dough to keep Number Five in a Redbird uniform for another seven to ten years. Knowing that makes me feel warm and fuzzy; and confident the “money issue” with Pujols will be a “non-issue”.

Perhaps the team’s apparent solid financial position made Ownership giddy enough to splurge on free agent-former Astros Cardinal killer-Lance Berkman for a one year deal worth a paltry $8 million – “chump change” by today’s salary standards. This move may seem insignificant to some casual observers who feel Berkman is over the hill, fat, and a defensive liability in left field or right field; or wherever he may be stationed. I disagree. He may not have a Gold Glove in his future, and he may need to shed a few pounds, but I think a return to the National League Central in 2011 is just what he needs to get his bat going again. This is a guy who has averaged over 100 RBIs, 30 home runs, and just under a .300 bating average in his career; not to mention an on-base percentage over .400 (4th best in MLB among active players).

Last season was not a good one for Lance, who hit a mere 13 home runs for the Astros in 85 games, before being shipped off to the Yankees, where he would hit only one more home run in limited duty. He obviously did not like American League pitching and/or playing for the Evil Empire. How many standing ovations did the Yankees fans give him when he strolled to the plate? My educated guess: Zero. Playing in front of fans who are notorious for giving former adversaries “standing ovations” on a regular basis has to be worth something. My educated guess: Over 20 home runs and close to 90 RBIs. Sure, he’ll probably botch a few balls in the outfield, but his bat should make up for any defensive liabilities; if he stays healthy. If he magically returns to the type of production closer to his career averages, that $8 million contract will be one of the biggest bargains the Cardinals will ever receive; and the team will likely be playing deep into the post season; perhaps “World Series deep”.

As I mentioned earlier, the Cardinals are normally quiet on the “free agent front”; the players they have signed in the past have typically been solid performers over their careers, but not the big name superstars. My curiosity got the better of me today, so I looked back on the team’s recent free agent acquisitions (since 2000) to see how things played out. Not surprisingly, most of the players who came on board via the free agent route were quite productive during their stints with St Louis. After all, the Cardinals have the best record in the National League since 2000; it was not an accident.

Here is a quick look back on the deals over the past ten years:

January 7, 2000 – Andy Benes returns for a second tour of duty with the Cardinals (from the Diamonbacks), posting a decent 24-20 record in three seasons, helping the team reach the post season each year.

February 3, 2000 – Shawon Dunston (formerly of the Mets) is acquired (one year deal), and also does his part to help the Cards make it into the post season.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Cards also made a sensational trade with the Angels, acquiring Jim Edmonds for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy. Holy cow!

January 5, 2001 – Bobby Bonilla (from the Braves), Bernard Gilkey (from the Red Sox), and John Mabry (from the Padres) are signed. Nothing spectacular, but solid role players who fit in nicely.

December 10, 2001 – Cards sign closer Jason Isringhausen (from Oakland); in seven seasons through 2008, he racked up a franchise record 217 saves. How about that?

December 18, 2001 – Oops, the Cards sign former Yankee Tino Martinez to play first base in the wake of Mark McGwire’s retirement; he responds with a disappointing .267 batting average and 37 home runs in two seasons with St Louis; plus, he didn’t even like playing for the greatest fans in the world. Jerk.

December 13, 2002 – Bingo! The Cards sign a 27 year old sore-armed pitcher by the name of Chris Carpenter (from the Blue Jays), who had a career 49-50 record. He would miss the entire 2003 season, following shoulder surgery, but since 2004, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning the NL Cy Young Award in ’05, and coming close every other year. That’s a winner!

December 17 – 18, 2002 – Catcher Joe Girardi (formerly with the Rockies) and pitcher Cal Eldred (formerly with the White Sox), climb on board and do little to help their new team. Girardi apparently learned enough to become a pretty good manager, however.

December 16, 2003 – Reggie Sanders (formerly with the Pirates) and Jeff Suppan (formerly with the Red Sox) climb on board in time to help the Cardinals reach the World Series; ironically, against the Red Sox, where Suppan would put on a clinic in Game 3 on how to not score from third base on a ground ball to second base. I was fortunate enough to have witnessed that travesty, first-hand; to this day, I still don’t believe what I saw!

January 9, 2004 – Sentimental favorite Ray Lankford returns to the Cardinals (from the Padres), and plays quite well in limited action for the pennant winning Redbirds.

December 23, 2004 – After losing shortstop Edgar Renteria to free agency (the Red Sox), the Cards sign future ’06 World Series hero David Eckstein (from the Angels) to replace him; he becomes a fan favorite right off the bat, hitting .294 as a lead-off hitter, while playing solid defense up the middle. Nice commodities!

January 6, 2005 – Former Cubs second baseman Mark Grudzielanek gives the Cards a solid bat (he’s the last Cardinal to hit for the cycle) and adequate defense, to boot. I hated to see him leave.

December 13, 2005 – Ricardo Rincon (formerly with Oakland) signs a two-year deal for under $3 million, then disappears, while still dressed up like a Cardinal. The pay scale has edged up slightly over the past five years, eh?

December 15, 2005 – Braden Looper (formerly with the Mets) signs a three year deal ($13.5 million) to try to save a few games every now and then. I actually witnessed, first-hand, one of his saves in ’06, against the mighty Diamondbacks. They needed that save; otherwise, no post season; no World Series. Thanks, Braden!

December 23, 2005 – In the wake of Larry Walker’s retirement, the Cards sign Juan Encarnacion (formerly with the Marlins) to a three-year, $15 million contract, and earns his keep; especially in ’06. They also signed Junior Spivey (formerly with the Nationals) to a one year deal to play second base, after Mark Grudzielanek signs with Kansas City, of all teams!

February 17, 2006 – Former Mariners third baseman, Scott Spezio hooks on with the future World Champions, and plays a huge role in helping the Cards reach The Promised Land; with late-season and post season heroics, which made Spezio and his little red goatee a folk hero in St Louis.

October 28, 2006 – The day after winning their National League record tenth World Series championship, the Cards sign second baseman Adam Kennedy (formerly with the Angels) and pitcher Kip Wells (formerly with the Pirates); both deals backfire; Kennedy hit .219 in ’07, while Wells went 7-17 with an ERA of 5.70. “Good luck” went on a temporary hiatus after the Cards knocked off Detroit in just five games, huh?

December 1, 2006 – But wait! The Cards sign free agent Ryan Ludwick to provide some home run power, and he responds with 37 dingers in an otherwise dreadful ’07 season for the team. Everything seemed to go wrong that season for the Redbirds.

October 31, 2007 – Jason LaRue (formerly with the Royals) signs a contract as back-up catcher for the Cards, but his career is now over; thanks to an injury sustained in last season’s August brawl in Cincinnati.

March 14, 2008 – Pitcher Kyle Lohse (formerly with the Phillies) is added to the roster; he responds with a 15-6 record and 3.78 ERA in his first season with the team. It’s been all downhill since for Kyle.

For the most part, the Cardinals have fared well when dabbling in free agency, spending wisely and generally receiving good value for their millions. When this season is over, I hope we can look back on the Lance Berkman deal and say, “I knew he could still play! Hooray for the World Champion Cardinals, and hooray for gazillionaire Albert Pujols for agreeing to stay in St Louis for something less than ‘top dollar’!”

Is this a great team, or what?

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Looking Toward The Offseason

We feature a guest writer from time to time. This week, I turn to one of the people out in the Cardinals’ blogoshpere that is highly respected and devoted to his craft. He is also on loan from our parent site, BaseballDigest.com for a day.

Hello, I am Daniel Shoptaw. You may know me from such work at C70 At The Bat and Baseball Digest. Bill needed a replacement, so he walked out to the mound and called for the righty. Whether that was the good Ryan Franklin or the bad Ryan Franklin, well, you will have to be the judge.

I suppose, to be a true fan, you should never count out the Cardinals, never say it is over until the x goes up next to Cincinnati in the divisional standings and the y next to whomever wins the wild card. However, when a team goes 3-10 against Pittsburgh, Washington, Houston and Milwaukee, it seems reasonable to start making some wintertime plans.

Even if they pull out some sort of miraculous rally, though, most of the issues of the offseason are going to be the same. This has the potential to be an offseason of turmoil and upheaval or an offseason of more of the same. The following questions have to be asked. Their answers will shape 2011.

Question 1: Will Albert Pujols sign an extension?

The winter revolves around this question.

As everyone knows, Pujols’s contract is technically up at the end of the season, though there is an option year for 2011 that the club will pick up as a no-brainer. Albert Pujols will be playing in St. Louis Opening Day, 2011, but the question is, for how long?

Last off-season, there was talk about making it a priority to sign Pujols to a long term contract. While there was a lot of rumor and speculation, it doesn’t appear that the two sides really got down to business and then Pujols announced in Jupiter that, if it was not done before the season, it would have to wait until after. It was not, so it has.

In my mind, you can not wait until next offseason, when Pujols is an actual free agent, to sign him to a deal. It has to be done this winter, for two reasons:

1) You have to know that, if Pujols walks, you are getting something for him. Which means that, without an offseason deal, AP is possibly on the trade market next July. Does anyone really want to go through that? The rumors, the speculations? You thought the Tony La Russa-Colby Rasmus stuff was bad, just imagine a struggling Cardinal team and an unsigned Pujols.

2) Good teams do not go year to year, they plan for an extended length of time. Pujols’s contract situation throws a lot of uncertainty into that planning process. Will he be here? Does the front office need to find a replacement? What kind of money are we going to have? Everything that has been done in the last couple of years has been done with an eye on keeping him. Nothing big can be done this winter unless the Cardinals know that they will.

My opinion is that Pujols stays with the team, signing some sort of creative contract but one that pays him around $25 million a year. I don’t think he tops Alex Rodriguez’s record, because his recent comments during the Rasmus kerfluffle seem to me to indicate a man that really wants to stay here and really wants to win. He is not going to push for every last dollar, especially if they let him in on what that extra money will be used for. I think it would be great if he got some sort of option for ownership when he stopped playing or a 7 year contract with a perpetual option of the sort Tim Wakefield has. While baseball is about winning, it is also about connections, stability, and traditions, and having Pujols in a Cardinal jersey his whole career plays directly into those concepts.

Question 2: Will Tony La Russa return?

This one may depend on the answer to number one. Conversely, the answer to this may influence the answer to number one.

It is not a secret that La Russa and Pujols have a mutual admiration society. Pujols has never known another manager, while La Russa often says that Pujols is the best player he’s ever had the privilege of managing. The two men seem close, as evidenced by the apparently controversial Glenn Beck rally, when La Russa not only introduced Pujols, but was the go-between to get Albert there.

If the Cardinals resign Pujols early in the offseason, or at least give La Russa signs that they are going to be able to do that, TLR may decide to come back for another go-round or two with his favorite player. If TLR walks, Pujols may not be as willing to come back, since he is going to have to deal with a new manager no matter.

The signs are all there, though, for a La Russa retirement at the end of the season. He is on a year-to-year contract. He checked things off his “bucket list” such as getting Mark McGwire back in the game, having Matt Holliday in St. Louis and getting to work with Brad Penny. Assuming he had some influence on the mid-season moves, it looked like he wanted a last attempt with some of his favorites, such as Aaron Miles and Jeff Suppan.

La Russa has said he would always step aside if he thought his message wasn’t resonating in the clubhouse or the players didn’t want him back. With the less-than-inspired baseball this team has played all season and, to some degree, all the way back to 2006, it may be that the hard-nosed, fiercely competitive atmosphere of the clubhouse is wearing on some of the players and not getting the results TLR is used to.

My guess is that he joins Joe Torre, Lou Pinella, and Bobby Cox in the sunset this season, and in five years they have a special “manager induction” to put them all in Cooperstown.

Question 3) What happens to Colby Rasmus?

As the season crumbled around the Cardinals, some of those involved started hurling the bricks.

It boils down to whom you believe and what you take with a grain of salt, but it seems to be that Colby Rasmus, the young centerfielder for the Cardinals, asked for a trade both last year and this year. The relationship with his manager and his irregular playing time seems to have been the cause of the demands.

With that kind of controversy surrounding the gifted youngster, there is no doubt that, if Tony La Russa does decide to return, rumors will swirl all winter about Rasmus being available in the right deal. If La Russa steps down, of course, it tends to put to rest a lot of these topics.

However, the Cardinals can not afford to trade Rasmus, due to the looming Question 1. If Pujols does get significant money from the Redbirds, there is a lot of money wrapped up in him, Holliday, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. They will need young talent that can produce at a multi-million dollar level while getting paid much less than that. So unless they are able to package Rasmus for a player or two of his quality and salary at a different position, I can’t imagine trade discussions get too far.

According to Joe Strauss, Pujols approached Rasmus in a more positive way after Pujols’s initial public comments. Perhaps the whole thing will help Rasmus grow a little bit and be a little more resilient, even if La Russa returns.

Question 4) Who stays, who goes?

There is no doubt that the 2010 version of the St. Louis Cardinals has been disappointing, to say the least. The problem comes in that there may not be a large amount of difference between them and the 2011 squad.

Of course, players like Brad Penny, Aaron Miles, Jeff Suppan, Pedro Feliz, Mike MacDougal and Randy Winn will not likely be resigned, which for the most part is part of the problem with this year’s team. Dennys Reyes and Felipe Lopez are also free agents, and with their struggles this year they will probably be allowed to leave as well.

Jake Westbrook is a free agent at the end of the season as well. However, unlike some of the other expiring contracts, Westbrook will probably be contacted by the Cards after the season is over. While his record doesn’t reflect it, he has been a solid starter since coming over as part of the three-way trade that sent Ryan Ludwick out of town. If he will return at a reasonable price, the Cards would likely be happy to make that happen.

That still leaves a majority of the team that so underachieved this year. Albert Pujols will be at first, Yadier Molina will be doing the catching, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Colby Rasmus will man the outfield barring some strange and major move. Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse will take care of the starting rotation, while many of the bullpen arms are of the young and cost-controlled variety, so players like Fernando Salas, Blake Hawksworth, Kyle McClellan and Jason Motte will probably return as well.

The questions for the Cardinals will be whether they can find a free agent or a trade that will upgrade the middle infield. While Brendan Ryan played much better in the second half, especially with his defense, he did not enough to raise his batting average or, more importantly, his on-base percentage out of the doldrums. Second base turned into a bit of a carousel, with Skip Schumaker’s offensive struggles giving other players a chance to play at the keystone as well. He also improved in the second half, but whether it was enough to save his job still remains to be seen.

The middle infield options on the free agent market leave much to be desired. J.J. Hardy has not exactly jump-started his career in Minnesota and there are a lot of former Cardinals (Edgar Renteria (if his option is declined), Julio Lugo, Cesar Izturis) that don’t really need a reunion tour. To upgrade that position, it will either take Tyler Greene being installed at a position and proving he deserves that or a trade with another team.

The problem with a trade is that the chips are limited. The minor leagues are having a stellar season, with most of them making the playoffs. That said, there are not a lot of top-notch, exciting prospects in the organization. Shelby Miller is off limits and the 2010 draftees can’t be moved at all. It is possible, though, to see 2-3 of the second-tier guys sent off for someone like Dan Uggla, whose contract expires after next season.

Third base will also be a question mark. David Freese will likely be considered the top guy, but after his surgeries on both ankles, his health is a significant factor. There has been a lot of talk about Matt Carpenter this season, so it is possible that he could get a shot in spring training to make the team. All in all, though, John Mozeliak is in quite a corner when it comes to revamping this team.

As I said before, this offseason has the potential to blow everything up with a major trade, one that we cannot foresee, or even the signing of Pujols and the retirement of La Russa. Or it could be one where the same pieces come back, including the manager, and the specter of Pujols leaving still hangs over the team. It will be fascinating to see which road is chosen.

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