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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ALSO-RANS Yesterday issued its list of the 100 biggest stories of the year. Coming in at #24, right in-between fan violence and Michelle Wie, is our man Albert Pujols. ESPN says that his 2003 "may have been the greatest non-MVP performance in league annals."

I love barroom argument-starters like that, so I decided to do a little research. First I excluded all seasons before 1931, the year MVP voting became normalized. Then I looked up all players who had as many Win Shares in one season as Pujols did in 2003.

Did Alberticus have the best season among those who lost out for the MVP Award? Well, according to Win Shares, he could make a claim on the top ten, but there are a few folks who also fell short in the balloting but had better numbers. The complete list:

48 Mickey Mantle, 1961 (.317 avg, 54 homers, lost out to teammate Maris)
46 Ted Williams, 1942 (Triple Crown, 145 walks, 141 runs, lost to NY's Joe Gordon)
44 Will Clark, 1989 (.953 OPS in a pitcher's year in a pitcher's park)
.....Ted Williams, 1947 (second MVP-less Triple Crown)
42 Norm Cash, 1961 (.361, 41 homers, also finished behind Maris)
.....Sammy Sosa, 2001 (64 homers, 160 RBIs in the year of Bonds-mania)
.....Dizzy Trout, 1944 (27 wins, 2.12 ERA, finished behind staffmate Hal Newhouser)
.....Ted Williams, 1941 (.406 batting average, 2nd in MVP behind DiMaggio)
41 Hank Aaron, 1963 (his usual 44 jacks, .319 average)
.....Dick Allen, 1964 (80 xbh's as a rookie thirdbaseman)
.....Jeff Bagwell, 1996 (31 homers, 135 walks, finished ninth in MVP vote)
.....Lou Gehrig, 1934 (210 hits, 165 RBIs, won Triple Crown, finished 5th for MVP)
.....Reggie Jackson, 1969 (47 homers as a 23-year-old)
.....Mickey Mantle, 1955 (37 dingers, .431 OBP, .611 SLG)
.....Willie Mays, 1962 (49 homers, 141 ribs, flawless CF)
.....Mark McGwire, 1998 (70 homers, 162 walks)
.....ALBERT PUJOLS, 2003 (only Top 5 MVP finisher first three years in league)
.....Frank Robinson, 1962 (.342 avg, 51 doubles, 39 homers)

So Pujols' runner-up season isn't as historic as ESPN claims. But before you start fretting about Bert's credentials, consider this: according to the Win Shares system, he had a better season than anybody who's ever played for the Mets, Padres, Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers (!), Blue Jays, Rangers, Mariners, Devil Rays, Royals, or Angels. Looking at it that way, you can say that Pujols' only flaw this past season was his timing.

Monday, December 29, 2003

YEAR-END BOOKKEEPING Here are a few items to toss in the dustpan as you're sweeping up pine needles and torn wrapping paper:

1. New and Improved Redbird Nation: We've finally updated our links on the lefthand side of this page. Might be a good time to drop in on some of our fellow basebloggers. You'll also notice that we have a new "Best of RBN" section -- our best writings from the past year, or at least the ones that hold up best over time. If you're new to the site, these pieces offer a good starting point.

2. Todd Walker: Just last week we put him on our Christmas list, but instead our stockings came up empty. Worse, the dreaded Cubbies -- you know, the rich kids who live up the street -- got him instead.

Okay, that's just weird. For several reasons:

(a) Walker signed for one year, only $1.75 million.
(b) A couple weeks back he reportedly rejected the Indians' offer of one year, $2.4 million.
(c) The Cubs already have a secondbaseman, Mark Grudzielanek, who they re-signed this offseason for $2.75 million.

What's going on here? Walker says he signed with the Cubs because he wants to play for "a team that had a chance to win the World Series." But I'm not sure I buy that. If that were the case, why wouldn't he just re-sign with Boston? Or start for the A's in place of Mark Ellis? And is a chance at a world title more important to Walker than starting every day and losing untold millions in future salary? Call me a cynic, but it seems to me we're not getting the whole picture here.

Speculation is that the Cubs will trade Grudzielanek or Alex Gonzalez and plug in Walker as either their everyday 2B or SS (although an up-the-middle defense of Walker and Grudzielanek would be a collander). Or they'll ship one or more of those guys, sign Rich Aurilia as a free agent, and reunite Dusty with his old San Fran shortstop. Either way it's a great deal for the Cubs. If you take Walker and Grudz's platoon splits from last year, they project as a .312/.372/.452 second-sacker. And the Cubbies' infield gets stronger...

3. The Cardinals' payroll: Could we have afforded Walker? You'd like to think so. And if not, you have to wonder about Jocketty's approach to roster construction. As things presently stand, here's our resource allocation by position:

C Matheny $2.75 million
1B Gall or Cox $300,000 - $375,000
2B Hart $300,000
3B Rolen $11.25 million
SS Renteria $5 million
LF Pujols approx. $6.5 million
CF Edmonds $9 million
RF Sanders $3 million
Ace Morris $12.5 million
#2 Williams $8 million
#3 Suppan $1 million
#4 Carpenter $500,000
#5 Marquis $525,000
Relief Ace Isringhausen $6.75 million

That means half of our 2004 starters' salaries will be tied up in just three players -- Morris, Rolen, and Edmonds. And just five players constitute over 2/3rds of our guaranteed payroll. That's a terrible anchor around our necks, especially if it prevents us from signing a legit 2B or LF/1B.

4. Bye bye, Orlando? Orlando Palmeiro declined the Cards' arbitration offer, making him a free agent. That means he and the Cards have until Jan. 8 to negotiate a contract for 2004, or O-Pal will be ineligible to sign with the team until May 1st. The Cardinals still wish to sign him, although the Angels are reportedly interested in re-obtaining him as well.

Here's what's annoying about following the Cardinals: on one hand I'd love to have a guy like Palmeiro on the bench -- he's got a .357 lifetime OBP and hits righties rather well. On the other hand, the fear is that if we do sign him, our front office will actually try to make him our starting LFer. Assistant GM John Mozeliak said in regard to signing Palmeiro, "clearly we need a left fielder. Somebody has to step up and do that."

That's the gameplan? Sign a 35-year-old benchman with no power to start in left because, well, you know, somebody has to do it. Frustrating...

5. Kerry Robinson Mania: I don't get it. Mozeliak says "hopefully, Kerry can compete for the [starting] left-field job." Post-Dispatch beat writer Dan O'Neill agrees, suggesting that "perhaps it makes sense to give Robinson a legitimate shot in left field." His colleague Bernie Miklasz chimes in by naming Robinson one of the 5 most underrated athletes in St. Louis sports.

Folks, this is nonsense. K-Rob is a likable enough guy, especially if you close your eyes and picture him as the last dying ember of the Cards' Runnin' Redbirds legacy, but I'd venture to say he's not among the top 800 players in baseball. As Lee Sinins points out, Kerry Robinson has tied a dubious major league record among outfielders -- most consecutive years with an OPS at least 100 points below average. Recent players on that list include lightweights Doug Glanville, Herm Winningham, and Chuckie Carr. Yeesh.

(By the way, are you getting the impression that our new assistant GM, this Mozeliak guy, is a total clown? His public statements, both here and elsewhere, have not been encouraging.)

6. Bert "Be Home" Blyleven: That was the first Chris Bermanism I ever heard, and to this day it's the only one that doesn't annoy the hell out of me.

When you think of Hall of Famers, you usually think of guys like Ruth, Mantle, Mays. But Blyleven? Yes. If you're not already convinced, check out Rich Lederer's argument.

7. G-Steve Update: Remember after the 2002 NLCS, when Garrett Stephenson decked that obnoxious Giants fan up at Pacbell? Stephenson is now being sued for $11.5 million. Worse yet, he's unemployed.

8. Offseason Power Rankings: lists teams according to their winter upgrades. The Cardinals come in at #20, but the writer adds that they "could be aggressive in the January market." For who? John Mabry? Keith Osik? About the only good players left are I-Rod, Sidney Ponson, and Vlad Guerrero. Can you see any of them wearing the birds on the bat?

(That ESPN list, by the way, is fairly ridiculous. For example, the Astros, who lost Billy Wagner and added Andy Pettitte, came in at #4, while the Yankees -- who added Kevin Brown, Tom Gordon, Gary Sheffield, Paul Quantrill, and Javier Vazquez -- come in at #25. Go figure.)

9. Cardinals Buy Busch II Like the Giants and Pacbell, the Cardinals -- and not local taxpayers -- will foot most of the bill for our new stadium. The $387.5 million pie will be sliced up like this:

52% from bonds sold by the club
23% from the Cardinals owners
12% loaned from St. Louis County
8% in state tax credits
3% from the Mo Dept of Transportation to reroute an interstate ramp
1% from the repeal of an entertainment tax on Cardinals tix

Will Carroll's take: "I don't know if the park and the bonds will be a "problem" in the way it is for San Francisco. Sabean and Magowan have had to be creative to field a solid team -- and that Bonds kid helps -- but I'm unsure Jocketty has shown that kind of creativity."

10. Will the Cards be any better for 2004? O'Neill seems to think not, and I agree with him. Where's our starting secondbaseman? Our starting leftfielder? The bottom of our rotation? Anyone home?

Saturday, December 20, 2003

HAPPY HOLIDAYS Redbird Nation will be on vacation until the end of next week. Here's wishing you and yours peace, holiday cheer, and a nice fat present or two under the tree...

Friday, December 19, 2003

TODD ALMIGHTY Reader Greg Simons sends along the following question:

What are your thoughts on Todd Walker for 2B? A ubiquitous 2-year, $6 million (or maybe less) deal seems about right. Put him and Renteria at the top of the order and watch the runs cross the plate. That has to be better than Robinson and Hart at the top of the order.

You're right, Greg -- Robinson and Hart at the front of the lineup would be about the same as Rodgers and Hart at the front of the lineup. Compared to that option, I'd take Todd Walker any day of the week.

But I still have some questions about Walker's chops. Specifically: his numbers seem inflated by the parks he's played in. Over the last three years his home batting rates have been lights out -- .323/.382/.502. But on the road he's a different creature altogether -- only .243/.283/.355. In other words, in cushy climes like Coors, Cinergy, and Fenway, he hits like Jeff Kent. In neutral parks -- and Busch is about as neutral as they come -- Walker morphs into Alex Cora.

My other concern about Walker is that he didn't reach base that frequently last year. Sure, he scored 92 runs, but that's almost soley a bi-product of the scoreboard-blitzing Red Sox lineup in which he was hitting. His OBP was .333, or 16th among 23 secondbasemen with over 400 at bats last year. In fact, that OBP places Walker squarely between Eric Young and Roberto Alomar, two other free agent leadoff-type 2Bmen whom the Cardinals have rightly soured on in recent days.

Of course, you could argue that Walker merely had an off-year -- after all, his lifetime OBP is a more respectable .346. But I'm still wary of a guy who produced his best on-base averages before age 30, in some great hitter's parks, then saw his OBP drop after reaching the wrong side of 30. Add in Walker's decidedly lackluster defense, and the picture gets even muddier.

So is Todd Walker the best leadoff secondbaseman in the world? Obviously no. But -- and this is more along the lines of Greg's question -- is he the best guy available for an affordable price? Maybe so. Let's take a look at the free agent secondbasemen still out there, sorted by runs created:

1. Todd Walker 81.7
2. Eric Young 64.2
3. Roberto Alomar 62.4
4. Jeff Reboulet 28.3
5. Denny Hocking 19.7
6. Chris Gomez 14.1
7. Pokey Reese 8.4

Of course, you can add Bo Hart to the list too -- he'd come in at #4 with 37.5 RC. (And you should probably take off Pokey Reese; apparently the BoSox are dotting the i's on his deal.) So by this measure it looks like Walker is the best option out there. He's been the most productive available second-sacker, plus he's 5 years younger than both Young and Alomar, and he complements Bo Hart well at second base (Hart is not an everyday player, but his OPS against lefties was over a hundred points higher than Walker's).

So the question becomes: can we afford Walker? Well, he recently rejected the Indians' offer of one year/$2.4 million, so you figure you'd have to throw in a couple more years, and maybe an extra $600K per, to lock him up. I'm not sure if the Cardinals have this kind of cash sitting around or not, but if not then we have an even tighter budget than I thought. I say we go get the guy, despite my reservations, and put him in the 6- or 7-hole. Hopefully whatever you lose in salary you can make up in playoff ticket sales.

ROLEN BACKWARDS Sizing up defense is one of the most difficult aspects of baseball analysis, which is why most casual observers base their opinions on a mixture of hearsay, gut impressions, and hocus pocus. Fortunately, a few outfits are making some inroads into the morass, and Diamond Mind Baseball is one of the best out there. Unfortunately, if you at all trust what they say, you might find this recent review of Gold Glove winners somewhat disconcerting:

Scott Rolen is a perennial standout who has made far more plays relative to the norm for his position than any other NL fielder over the past five years. But his performance showed a marked decline in 2003. His range factor and STATS zone rating were slightly below average. His double-play numbers, normally a strength, were down. In our net plays analysis, we're accustomed to seeing him come in at 40 plays above the league, but he was in the middle of the pack in 2003.

It's possible that injuries are at the root of this decline. In the 2002 playoffs, Rolen collided with a baserunner and sprained his shoulder badly enough to keep him out of action for the rest of the postseason. He has a history of back problems and missed games in 2003 with stiffness in his neck and back and soreness in both shoulders.

Still, we're puzzled by the sudden drop in his defensive numbers. Rolen had a very good year at the plate, so his ailments couldn't have bothered him too much, at least not while he was batting.

All in all, it appears that Rolen may have gotten this Gold Glove on reputation, not performance.

THE STRAW THAT STIRS ST. LOUIS Reader Adam Buckley passes along his thoughts about the Redbirds' new rightfielder:

About Sanders, can't argue w/ picking up a .912 OPS guy for a couple million bucks. I think I read somewhere that he had as many xbh as Sosa last year in fewer ABs. Can't argue w/ that. One thing that came to mind when I was thinking about Sanders, and you mentioned it as well -- he has trouble with a good, hard high fastball. And he'll see plenty of those from his Central Division rivals (Miller, Oswalt, Clemens (?), Dotel, Wood, Prior, Clement, Zambrano, Cruz, Farnsworth, etc). Sure enough, his numbers against most of those guys aren't good. Now, he played in the Central and got by just fine last year, but he was playing for Pittsburgh then. I doubt there were many times when his at bats... well... mattered.

Another thing i was thinking about: the top three teams in the division will be extremely right-handed -- offensively and pitching-wise. Each team has ONE good left-handed bat (Berkman, Edmonds, Patterson), and each team is led by good righthanded pitching. I think that will neutralize the three teams' above-average offenses (I guess I'll call the Cubs' offense above average, though that's probably a stretch).

Good points -- the top teams are extremely righthanded. That's one of the reasons I'm not too worried about the Cardinals going head-to-head against Pettitte, for they hit lefties about as well as any team in baseball.

A-ROD, TEXAS RANGER Sports law professor Paul Weiler of Harvard explains why the MLBPA did the right thing by blocking the proposed salary cut from Alex Rodriguez's contract: "It's a basic feature of collective bargaining that's to stop the bosses from insisting that one of the workers take less money in order to keep a job."

Thursday, December 18, 2003

AN UNHOLY MESS My favorite baseball writer is at it again. Joe Sheehan cuts through the fog of conflicting opinions and presents what is, to my mind anyway, the definitive take on the Alex Rodriguez affair.

(While you're over at Baseball Prospectus, be sure to read Derek Zumsteg's piece on Pat Gillick. These two articles are as good an illustration as any that BP is the prime seamhead source on the web -- or anywhere, for that matter.)

HAIL THE CONQUERING HEROES Sean McAdam of lists the Cardinals among the top 5 "winners" of the offseason (the others are Baltimore, Boston, Kansas City, and New York). I'm not so sure. I think Jocketty has done an admirable job given the constraints under which he was working. But considering that he was largely responsible for those constraints (leaving us shorthanded when it came to internal replacements or trading depth) I don't think you can be so generous. I'd say Walt scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth of a game he was losing by four.

LEFTY KILLER Reader Rob Haneberg sends us the following email:

You quoted:

"Cox never hit lefties in the majors, and Gall struggles with them currently, so expect the team to sign a LF that can hit southpaws, and Pujols will move to first on those days."

Last season Gall hit .378/.439/.588 in 119 at-bats against lefties.

Thanks, Rob. We should have done our homework -- Gall mashes lefties. Hopefully that'll earn him a spot on the team as a replacement for Eduardo Perez.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT Our friend the Baseball Crank compares two Nebraskans who later pitched for the Cards, Bob Gibson and Pete Alexander. Old Pete may be the most underrated player in baseball history. I know, I know, last summer we said the same thing about Mel Ott. But Alexander was every bit as good as Christy Mathewson or Cy Young, but never got the same name recognition.

Well, that's not quite true -- Alexander was hugely popular back in the Teens and 20s, especially after he struck out Tony Lazzeri to seal the 1926 World Series (the rumor was that he was drunk at the time; he wasn't). Later they made a movie about Alexander's battles with alcoholism. (Wonder whatever became of the main actor?) Nevertheless, I think it's fair to say that Pete Alexander is amond the two or three greatest hurlers of all time -- certainly in the All-Time starting rotation -- and whether he was popular or not while he played, his reputation has suffered massively over the years.

But read the Baseball Crank on Old Pete. There's some meaty stuff in there.

THE BIG BOYS Where would an A-Rod, Manny, Nomar, Magglio trade rank among the biggest trades of all time? Surely it'd be #1, but here's an interesting list of blockbusters.

BASEBALL AMERICA has this to say about enigmatic hurler Jason Marquis:

Marquis, a 25-year-old righty, could be a key for St. Louis in this trade and could crack its 2004 rotation. But the Braves also had grown frustrated with the 1996 supplemental first-round pick, who didn't take a demotion to the bullpen well and didn't get along with pitching coach Leo Mazzone. He split time between Triple-A Richmond and Atlanta in 2003, going 0-0, 5.53 with one save in 21 games (two starts) in the majors. Despite owning a lively mid-90s fastball and a tough slider, he posted just a 19-18 K-BB ratio and .270 opponent average. He did pitch well in Richmond, going 8-4, 3.35 in 15 starts, but must improve his changeup and command if he's going to succeed as a big league starter.

THE NEWEST BENGAL Remember this guy? Still pains me that we let him slip out of our system.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

STOCKING STUFFER Remember when we were all ready to cut ties with Jimmy Edmonds? Aaron Gleeman reminds us why we should be thankful for what we have: the best centerfielder in baseball.

THE GALL OF IT ALL Bryan Smith of Wait 'Til Next Year peers into the crystal ball to give his read on the Cardinals' LF/1B situation:

I believe John Gall will play first base for the Cardinals in 2004, while Albert Pujols will remain in left field. Cox will play a similar role to the aforementioned Brent Butler, providing Spring Training competition for the youngster, Gall. If Cox has a great Spring Training the team can give him a chance, or they can see if he’ll recreate those 1999 numbers [.341 with 25 HRs in AAA] in Memphis. Cox never hit lefties in the majors, and Gall struggles with them currently, so expect the team to sign a LF that can hit southpaws, and Pujols will move to first on those days.

CLASS REUNION It's Old Timer's Day at Busch Stadium!

DAVID PINTO explains why Reggie Sanders is Charlie O' Finley's dream come to life.

GUILLEN'S TRAVELS Maybe we could have had this guy after all. We don't have $3 million lying around? I bet Nixon could find that much money under the couch cushions in the Oval Office.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

SANDERS AND SUPPAN The Cubs staff is composed almost entirely of #1 starters (Prior, Wood, Zambrano), the Astros are chock full of #2 starters (Miller, Pettitte -- Oswalt would be a #1 were it not for fragility), and with the signing of Jeff Suppan the Cards have now cornered the market on #3 starters. (Okay, that's not really true -- Morris is a bonafide ace, but I'm not one to let facts get in the way of a good pity party.)

Don't you have this sneaking suspicion that guys like La Russa -- that is to say, old school sorts who largely scorn objective analysis -- build their rosters based on impressions, glimpses, and hunches? Take Jeff Suppan. Back on July 28th he shut out the Birds by scattering seven hits and one walk. I remember that game -- Suppan was getting his sharp curveball over the plate and basically making our lineup look silly. But I have a feeling that La Russa remembers that game even better than I do. And if Suppan's performance that day was an audition for the role of #3 Cardinals starter, well, he got the part.

Or how about this game: Reggie Sanders knocked in five runs in one inning as the Buccos deep-sixed the Cards 14-0. Did that image of Reggie trotting around the basepaths burn itself in the brains of Tony and Walt? Is that why they went out and grabbed him?

Maybe, maybe not. But let's go past impressions and ask ourselves if these signings made sense. (And, for the record, you can more or less include them in the Drew/Marrero trade. We saved six million by unloading those two players, and we'll pay about that much for Suppan and Sanders for 2004. So the deal is now Drew and Marrero for Marquis, King, Wainwright, Suppan, and Sanders... Not bad.)

Suppan is no big whup. His ERA was about twenty points above the league average last year; for his career it's merely average. But two good things about Suppan: one, he's 29 years old -- old enough that he doesn't need to be coddled, and young enough that you shouldn't expect him to start breaking down. And two, he's sturdy, logging over 30 starts and 200 innings each of the last five years. The Cardinals need a guy like this given that Morris had injury issues last year, Woody is showing his age, Carpenter is recovering from a lost season, and Marquis has never pitched an entire year in a major-league rotation. What's more, every inning Suppan can eat as a starter will be taken off the plate of our so-so bullpen.

So it looks like the Cardinals are rounding out their rotation not with blue chips -- you won't, for example, see Sidney Ponson wearing the birds on the bat -- but with warm bodies, guys who can hold the fort. The question is, can the Cardinals get by with average pitching and great hitting? It worked for the Braves last year, but then again the Braves scored huge numbers of runs last year (given their league context, they were historically good). Is the Cards' lineup that good?

Enter Reggie Sanders. Reggie Sanders has never been my type of player. He's a free swinger (a 110/38 K/BB ratio this past year), and I've always had the impression that he feasts on bad pitchers and flat fastballs (after all, those two homers he hit against us back in August came against Jason Pearson and Esteban Yan). But to be fair, the Cards didn't have much money to spend, and there weren't a lot of free agent outfielders left (the other day I argued for Jose Guillen, but my cousin Mark pointed out that Guillen isn't La Russa's type of ballplayer at all). Among available options, Sanders may have been the most serviceable.

One bad trend, however: Sanders, who is playing for his seventh team in seven years, has been consistently inconsistent. He's established a pattern where he's good every other year. Check out his slugging percentages since 1995:


Incredible. Almost every year his slugging percentage drops or raises by a hundred points. If you charted it on graph paper, it'd look like a little kid's drawing of waves on the ocean. Unfortunately, 2004 isn't a "crest" year for Sanders -- although, admittedly, there's probably no deep reason for this phenomenon (probably just coincidence, although it's possible Sanders gets lazy in the offseason if he's coming off a big season and trains harder if he had an off-year). Reggie figures to hit about .280 with 25 bombs and 80-85 ribs -- or, as reader Mark Stewart points out, he basically replaces Tino Martinez offensively.

I'm hoping for bigger things, of course. He is 36 years old, and he's never played more than 140 games in his entire career, but a .567 slugging percentage is still nothing to sneeze at (although even if it was a really low slugging percentage, I don't think I'd sneeze at that either). What's more, my girlfriend once said that Reggie Sanders may be the most handsome man in baseball, so if this signing gets her watching more ballgames, I'm all in favor of it.

BURGER KING, THE MARQUIS DE SADE, AND LOUDON WAINWRIGHT'S OTHER SON David Lee of the baseblog site BravesBuzz proposed a little exchange program with Redbird Nation -- we'd pass along our thoughts about Drew and Marrero, and he'd give us the inside scoop on the three newest Redbirds. (Well, actually Suppan's the newest Redbird, but you get the idea.) Go check out BravesBuzz if you want to read our elegy to J.D. and Eli, and read on to hear more from the home of the Braves. Take it away, David...

Jason Marquis has disappointed many people many times. He first came into the system as a first-rounder in 1996, and had a ton of potential. Now he's been through 75 major league games, has a career ERA of 4.28, and Braves fans are still waiting on him to reach that potential. I think Bobby Cox has lost his patience, along with most fans. He has appeared in an Atlanta uniform the past three years, but he couldn't keep his spot any of those years. He was even moved to the bullpen this past year because Cox lost faith in him starting. His control kills him at times, which is why I think he's better in the rotation. Some still think he's got that potential, but I think the best he'll ever do is be a #4-5 starter.

Most people will miss Ray King because he was the butt of all the jokes. People loved calling him Burger King and other lame names. (Well, the Burger King name was ok, but let's not get into that.) I really don't think he's that bad, but some Braves fans won't agree with me. He had control problems at times, mostly very crucial times, that didn't help the Braves too much. Bobby Cox seemed to take him out after the first batter every game, which I can see because he's left-handed, but I think he can pitch against righties just as well as lefties. He's a pretty good setup man if he can control his pitches, but that always seems to be a problem. You Cards fans should enjoy him.

Ahhh... Adam Wainwright. He was ranked as the #1 Braves prospect last year, I believe. This past year he dropped to third, I believe. He is a very tall 6'6". (That's what BravesBeat said) I think he's taller. His tall, lanky frame could cause arm injuries down the road, as proved by many tall, lanky pitchers in the past. He has overpowering pitches and an intimidating presence on the mound. He could have a very good career in St. Louis under the guidance of your coach Duncan, or he could have arm troubles that cost him his career.

That's my take on the three players that ya'll will be watching in 2004, unless one of them gets traded or something. But, I seriously think the Braves got the better of the deal. That's my opinion.

Official Redbird Nation summary --

Marquis: flaky
Wainwright: lanky
King: fat

DEREK ZUMSTEG weighs in on the ludicrous court decision that upheld the Cubs' right to scalp their own tickets:

There's a law on the books in Illinois that says if you hold an event, you can't scalp your own tickets. The Cubs and their parent company, the Tribune Co., seeking to get around this law, set up a shell company, Wrigley Field Premium, with their own people, their own accountants running the books. They allowed the shell company to buy $1 million in tickets, then sell them at insane prices. Now, I don't practice law, but that's illegal. It's also Chicago, though.

Monday, December 15, 2003

FUBAR Why are the Cardinals so strapped for cash? Part of it is the lousy revenue-sharing system implemented by MLB. As this article notes, the Phillies -- you know, the team that plays in the sixth largest media market in the United States -- were awarded $42 million from MLB's revenue-sharing pool since 2000, including $9.5 million in 2002 and $8.8 million in 2003.

As Doug Pappas points out, "the $9.5 million payment in 2002 equaled the 2003 salary of the club's biggest offseason addition, free agent Jim Thome." Obviously there's something wrong with a system that compensates clubs based on revenue rather than market size, for you end up with teams like Philadelphia who essentially get rewarded for incompetence.

Pappas underlines the problem by contrasting the Phillies to a team that may be dear to your heart:

[C]ompare the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Though both play in 30-year-old stadia, the Redbirds generated $50 million more in local revenue despite playing in a market less than half the size of Philadelphia. For their trouble, the Cardinals paid more than $8 million into the revenue sharing pool, while the Phillies collected almost $12 million.

$8 million. Think we might be able to use that right now?

WILD RUMOR OF THE DAY From the Boston Herald:

The Red Sox hope to deal Scott Williamson to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Jason Marquis and then could package Marquis with [Manny] Ramirez for [Alex] Rodriguez.


Please tell me that ESPN or one of the local TV stations prefaced the news about the Drew deal with a video montage of JD highlights set to "Midnight Train to Georgia." Please. Did that happen? Did it? No? Then why trade him? That would have been the best thing about this deal. Well, that and getting Loudon Wainwright's son.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

THE NATURAL "Our internal recognition was that we needed to have a quality right-fielder. One in hand is way better than two in the bush. And we had one in hand with this deal." -- Braves GM John Schuerholz

This may be the first time since his college days that J.D. Drew has been characterized as a known commodity. Those of us in St. Louis know him by many adjectives -- frustrating, eye-popping, mercurial, cursed, blessed -- but never predictable.

I know some of you out in Redbird Nation never cared much for David Jonathan Drew. In fact, hating J.D. was practically a cottage industry in some parts of the greater St. Louis area. But I'll admit, I'm sorry to see the guy go. It doesn't really matter who it is, when you watch a guy play day-in and day-out (although with Drew it was more like day-in and a couple days out), you can't help but get attached to him. I must have seen 250 of J.D. Drew's games, maybe a thousand of his at-bats, and I pulled for him every time. So you'll forgive me if I get that weird wistful feeling next April when I catch highlights of him in a Braves uniform, just like I was sad to see Jordan wearing the Flying Tomahawk, or Lankford decked out in mustard and brown.

My favorite Drew memory? 2001 NLDS, Game 5, D'backs clinging to a 1-0 lead over the Cards, Curt Schilling just mowing us down. It's two out in the 8th, the hometown fans going nuts, Schilling looking invincible, when J.D. took an 0-1 pitch and just willed it over the rightfield wall to tie the game. I can still see him blowing a bubble as he rounds second base, all the while looking straight ahead, expressionless, as if he just hit a ground-rule double in the Grapefruit League. That's the thing about Drew -- he may be personalityless, but for me that's part of his allure: the mystique of the raw specimen athlete.

Favorite Drew memory runner-up: May 16th of this year, Drew cranks a 514-foot homer off the top of the right-centerfield scoreboard in Busch. That may well be the prettiest home run I've ever seen, a towering line drive that managed to be both ferocious and majestic at the same time. I replayed it over and over on my TiVo (and many more times since in my head). The other day I asked my cousin Mark what he'd rather do, if just once in his life -- jack a 400-foot homer or slam dunk a basketball. Mark took the dunk, but I'd take the homer. There's nothing quite like hitting a baseball square on, with that jolt of electricity that runs up your forearms and down your spine. I mean, if I could get enough wood on the ball to put it about 15 rows back in a major-league ballpark -- that seriously might make up for a year's worth of heartaches. That's what J.D. Drew did on that night back in May, only more so. He hit a ball perfectly. Perfect mechanics, perfect pitch, perfect timing. There are very few perfect things in this world, and J.D. pulled off one of them.

In a way that'll always be J.D.'s legacy in St. Louis -- a collection of staggering athletics feats that never added up to a full season. (In fact, back in May I said that this failed potential made Drew the ideal poster child for the 2003 Cardinals.) The man put up some mighty fine numbers, but he was always judged by what he could do rather than by what he did do. And every time he walked back to the dugout after flailing at another #%$!# curveball, there'd be the ghost of that 514-foot homer hovering over his shoulder. I wish the guy well -- at least until the next time we play him.

NOW, ONTO THE TRADE Opinion seems to be split over who got the better of this one. David Pinto and TwinsFan Dan think the Cardinals got a good deal. Joe Sheehan seems to think the Braves came out on top. One NL scout called the deal "a steal for Atlanta" -- but in the next breath he called Eli Marrero "very good," so I don't think we need to fret about his opinion all that much. My opinion? I've gone back and forth. So rather than ask the big question -- was it a good deal? -- I'd rather ask a series of smaller questions and hopefully arrive at some kind of conclusion.

1. How much longer would we have had Drew? As with most trades, it's important to remember what we don't know. There are all kinds of behind-the-scenes assessments that we're not in great position to make. We know that there was one year left on Drew's contract with the Cardinals. But did he like St. Louis? Did he plan on re-signing? Would the Cardinals have enough money to afford him?

These questions are crucial. If Drew was gone after '04, then we didn't trade away his career. We only traded away one year of his career -- and got in return at least one year of Ray King, two years from Jason Marquis, and six of Adam Wainwright.

The way I see it, the Cards were in a Catch-22. The Cardinals may have had enough money to re-sign Drew next year, but only if he had a so-so season. But if he had had that monster season we've all been waiting for, well then he'd have been unaffordable for '05 anyway. Of course, a monster season from Drew might have given us a pennant in the meantime, but Jocketty was probably right to convert Drew's last year here into some talent while he still could.

2. Which Drew did we trade? As you know, there are not one, but many, J.D. Drews. There's this J.D. Drew:

G: 135
R: 61
HR: 18
RBI: 56
AVG: .252
OBP: .349
SLG: .429

That's the J.D. Drew of 2002, the one with tendonitis in his knee, the one who's more or less an unacceptable corner outfielder.

And then there's this J.D. Drew:

G: 162
R: 119
HR: 40
RBI: 108
AVG: .323
OBP: .414
SLG: .613

That's what J.D. Drew's numbers would have looked like in 2001, as a 25-year-old, if he had been able to stay healthy for the whole season. And I gotta be honest, when I heard about the trade yesterday, it was this J.D. Drew -- the Drew of our dreams -- that I thought we had traded. After all, they told us last year that it might take him a good 18 months to fully recover from his tendonitis surgery and regain his strength. Aren't we coming up on 18 months? Wasn't he due to put it all together?

Maybe. And maybe he will with a fresh start in Atlanta, close to his family in southern Georgia. But I can't help thinking about what Will Carroll says about injury cascades -- how, as he puts it, "one thing breaks and then in trying to compensate, other things break." A lot of people think Drew is lazy, but I think it's more likely that he's just caught in an injury cascade, where different parts of his body fall like dominoes. Sure, he might stay healthy one of these years, but we know that unhealthy players tend to stay unhealthy, and making personnel decisions on hopes and dreams is usually a recipe for disappointment.

3. How good is Wainwright? Plenty. He's only 22 years old, and his numbers in the Southern League were solid -- a 3.37 ERA, 128 K's against 37 walks (and only 9 homers) in 149.2 innings. He throws some fairly serious heat, cranking it up to 96 at times on the radar gun, and he's struck out over a man per inning during his minor league career.

Of course, as Baseball Prospectus is fond of pointing out, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect. But it may be more accurate to say there's no such thing as a Cardinals pitching prospect. This deal gives us one.

On the downside, Wainwright suffers from two basic problems -- he wears out easily (he's been a poor second-half performer), and he tends to lose his rhythm (over five starts last June he allowed 21 earned runs in 22 1/3 innings). Both of these are young-man problems, but they might also be related to his lanky frame. He's still growing, still building his stamina, and still ironing out his mechanics.

(I should point out a rumor that I read over on Dave Pinto's site. Apparently the Braves were a bit alarmed about Wainwright's growth spurt -- he shot up from about 6'6" to 6'9" over the last year or two -- and the organization thought it might monkey with his delivery, if it hasn't already. Could this be why Schuerholz was suddenly so willing to part with Wainwright after declaring him off-limits a few weeks ago? I doubt it -- it probably has more to do with a couple bad outings in the Arizona Fall League -- but if you're looking for reasons to stay up at night...)

Overall Wainwright is probably one of the dozen or two top pitching prospects in baseball, and figures to be a #2 or #3 starter down the road. There should be no real hope of him joining the Cards rotation in '04, but with La Russa mixing and matching pitchers and Jocketty leaving us chronically short-handed, I wouldn't be shocked to see him pitching for us some time this year.

4. How good is Jason Marquis? Who knows? A couple years ago he was one of those lights-out can't-miss guys who, er, missed. His career ERA: 4.45, and that's under the tutelage of baseball buddha Leo Mazzone.

My guess is that the Cardinals have just acquired for themselves another Brett Tomko. That is, a guy with superior stuff (he throws a mid-90s heater and a good hard slider) who gets lost somewhere between his cerebral cortex and his frontal lobe. Marquis admits that he has a tendency to think too much about his mechanics while on the mound, and apparently he's stubborn and slow to make adjustments on the mound if he's being hit. Such attributes are typical of guys who were hotshots at an early age, as Marquis was.

One good sign: over his career Marquis has a respectable 4.18 ERA in 40 games as a starter (as compared to a 5.22 ERA out of the pen). Perhaps he's able to work past his head games as gets settled in. And there can be no doubt that with the Cardinals weak rotation, he'll be thrown out to the mound over and over and allowed to work through whatever hangups he might have.

5. How's our bullpen looking? So far it's Izzy and Kline (doesn't that sound like a vaudeville act?), Eldred, Calero, Ray King, Simontacchi, maybe Journell, and, I guess, Evan Rust. That's actually not bad. Those first four guys (and Journell) can all bring it, which wasn't true of the hanging-curveball artists who gave up 68 homers out of the pen this past year (yes, you're reading that right; 68 homers by our bullpen).

I mean, Ray King is nothing to swoon over. In fact, yesterday my brother, who plays in an incredibly sophisticated fantasy league, said "I had Ray King on my team all season, and trust me, the guy fucking sucks." Indeed, his numbers are only league-average, at best. But he's an innings-eater, and he sure beats the pants off of Fassero, Yan, Painter, Ownbey, Kepshire, and whoever else La Russa trotted out this year.

6. Who takes Drew's place? Please let it be Jose Guillen. I mean, who else is left? Jose Cruz Jr. was picked up for only $3M a year by the D-Rays; the Tigers nabbed Rondell White; the Mets landed Mike Cameron; Vlad is about to win the 2004 Peter Angelos Sweepstakes. If you're going to use the money saved on Drew and Marrero (approximately $6.5 million difference between their salaries and the new guys' for '04), then he's the only real guy left.

Now, I know Guillen is a headcase. And, frankly, one of the biggest assholes in the game. But unless you're going to trade (trade what?), the alternatives on the market are John Mabry, Ben Grieve, and Juan Gonzalez. And Albert Belle. And, okay, Reggie Sanders too (fine slugger; fine old slugger). And maybe Kenny Lofton -- but you know how I feel about Lofton.

No, the Cardinals need to get Guillen. He may have been a fluke this past year, but he's always had the potential to bust out, and maybe this time his performance is more permanent. And it'd be fun seeing his cannon out in rightfield. Besides, if we don't go out and get somebody legit, what are we left with? Taguchi in left, Kerry Robinson in right? Come on, somebody clean up this mess...

The Bottom Line: Was the Drew deal a smart one? Let's face it, the Cardinals aren't as strong as the Astros or Cubs right now, as least not on paper. But the nucleus of our team is still mighty solid -- in fact, it's not too much different from the team that won 97 games just a year ago. Which means that the Cardinals could easily compete in '04.

But I doubt we're going to compete much beyond that. Not with our barren farm system, not with Edmonds breaking down as he reaches his late 30s, not with Woody Williams riding off into the sunset, and Morris, Pujols, and Renteria due for some serious fat-ass paydays. If you come to the conclusion that the Cardinals are more competitive now than they figure to be in '05 or '06, then it doesn't really make sense to trade Drew, who can pay dividends now, for projects and prospects like Marquis and Wainwright.

That being said, on a pure talent-for-talent basis, I think Walt Jocketty did the right thing trading a year from Drew and Marrero for several years from pitchers with high ceilings. And in the grand scheme of things it could end up a good deal for the Cardinals if, and only if, they find a couple good corner outfielders to fill the void. So for now I'll cop out and call the deal promising, depending on what other rabbits Walt can pull out of his hat.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

THE DEAL The Cardinals just traded J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero to the Braves for pitchers Jason Marquis, Ray King and Adam Wainwright.

My preliminary reaction: I love Wainwright (he's the Braves best pitching prospect, could be a #2 starter in a couple years), I like moving Marrero (I'm not big on him, plus he's in a walk year and likely to leave at the end of '04), but I don't care much for Marquis (if Mazzone couldn't do much with him, do you think Duncan can?) and I still think Drew will slug .550 with a .370 OBP in 140 games next year. Hopefully the salary differences here can help us make up for the loss. (But I doubt it.)

Remember playing with a Rubik's Cube? How every time you finished one side, every other side would get all jumbled up? I like how we beefed up our starting and relief pitching, but now we have holes in left and right. Such are the travails of following a team with a shallow talent base...

CARDINALS ELIMINATED FROM 2004 RACE Reader Andy Downs passes along this exchange from an chat with former Reds GM Jim Bowden:

Matt, Madison: Who is going to win the NL Central?

Jim Bowden: You mean between the Cubs and Astros?


Friday, December 12, 2003

REINFORCEMENTS Will the Astros become the L.A. Lakers?

DAMN. This is the guy I wanted.

ALL DREW ALL THE TIME From the L.A. Daily News:

Initial published reports had the Dodgers interested in trading Weaver to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder J.D. Drew, but sources said those rumors came from previous conversations that centered on the Cardinals possibly receiving Brown, not Weaver.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

THE LATEST FROM ROTOWORLD "After acquiring Jeff Weaver from the Yankees, the Dodgers could ship him to the Cardinals for J.D. Drew."

This is not a rhetorical question: can someone please explain the fascination with Jeff Weaver? The way I see it, he's had one good half-season during his 5-year career, and even that was with a so-so K/BB rate, in the best pitchers' park in the AL. He's a headcase, he costs $15.5 million over the next two years of his contract, and he's even less predictable (if you can believe this) than J.D. Drew.

THE NEWEST ASTRO So Houston essentially swaps out Billy Wagner for Andy Pettitte -- a good move for them, a bad move for the Cardinals dimming hopes for next season.

That being said, this deal doesn't freak me out. Pettitte is one of the more overrated pitchers in baseball (according to one measurement, he was the luckiest starter in baseball last year, a 21-8 pitcher last year who would have been more like 12-11 for an average team). Plus I don't think that fast-approaching leftfield wall at Ex-Enron Field is going to help him or the Astros.

The deal does help them, however, by shifting pitching talent from the Astros bullpen (where they're rich with good arms already) to their starting staff (which is shallow and frontloaded with fragile types like Oswalt and Miller). Pettitte had a sore back in '02, but otherwise he's been a workhorse, a solid #2 or #3 starter for a contending team who pushes Villone/Linebrink/Robertson/etc. out of the rotation.

(By the way, the AP headline about this deal is hilarious -- it's almost purely from the Yankees' POV, as if their Plan B is more important than the Astros' Plan A. To most people who log into, I suppose it is...)

INTERESTING CHAT over with Will Lingo over at Baseball America, about the Cardinals' farm system. A few highlights from Will --

About filling the Cardinals' most pressing needs with call-ups from the minors:

There is not a lot of hope for filling holes from within right now. You can probably plug in a few pitchers, but I can't really think of a position player in the system who I would want to be starting a big league game for a winning team in the next year or so.

About the prospects of a return from Rick Ankiel:

[Y]our guess is as good as mine. He's still on the 40-man, so the Cardinals still see something that gives them hope. But at this point it would qualify as a miracle if he returns to his previous form.

About the Cardinals' most recent picks in the amateur draft:

You have some potentially good bats in there, led by [#1 pick, catcher Daric] Barton, but I'm not sure why they took so many catchers.

About silver linings:

If the goal of player development is to help produce a winning major league team, the Cardinals have done that. The trades for players like Renteria, Rolen and even McGwire to go back a few years, have worked out very well. And the players they hold on to generally turn out to be cornerstones, though Ankiel and Hutchinson were major disappointments and Drew continues to be an enigma.

WINS VS. PAYROLL A White Sox blogger named Jim Laffer has a cool post about the legacy of Jerry Reinsdorf, in which he examines the realtionship between bang and buck.

He also includes a wins vs. payroll table for all 30 major-league teams. The Cardinals come out pretty well by this measure, with an on-field performance slightly above average in light of what they spend.

GENERATION Z Want to know who the next crop of GM's are likely to be? Baseball America has the goods. If the Jocketty/LaRussa regime crumbles in the next year or two, and you'd have to say it's legitimate possibilty, then you may want to study this list.

REDBIRD NATION got a nice shout-out from Aaron's Baseball Blog this morning, so it's a good time to repay the favor and visit his site, which may be the best baseblog out there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

THE MEMORY OF WHAT MIGHT BE I was reading a mailbag column today by my favorite football writer -- Paul Zimmerman, or Dr. Z -- and I immediately thought of our old friend in rightfield, the oft-maligned J.D. Drew:

Here's a good one from Nat of Guelph, Ontario: "At what point do you look at a guy who might be an impact player but is rarely healthy and say, 'That's it, I'm cutting my losses, he's gone? Financially, it's just not worth it.'" Usually guys like this stay around too long. Even though the team might do a work-up of how much actual impact he has had, the memory of what might be is very strong, as is the constant fear of the guy going somewhere else and staying healthy and being a superstar. It only takes one player like that to send the holy trembles throughout every front office in the league, because the press never lets the club that let him go forget it.

I think it's clear that J.D. Drew is not the next Mantle -- it's too late for that, even if you assume it was ever true to begin with. But there's always that hope that he could be the next Larry Doby, the next David Justice, the next Billy Williams, and that keeps you coming back. It's sorta like dating a girl where the first few weeks are bliss. Then things go downhill, but you keep the relationship together, and it drags on and on, far past the expiration date, because you keep hoping you're going to turn the corner and get back to those fun early days where everything was perfect.

THE LOWDOWN ON SHEFF I heard the following anecdote this morning from a high-level baseball exec (sorry, I've got to keep his name anonymous):

Gary Sheffield, as you know, made a handshake deal with Boss Steinbrenner in which he agreed to play for the Yankees for $38 million over three years, with much of that money deferred to the back-end of the contract. But Sheffield, as you also know, is acting as his own agent, and he didn't quite realize that the deferred salary wouldn't be accruing interest (or at least not interest that would end up in his pocket). So, according to this exec, when Sheffield walked into Steinbrenner's office to sign the deal with Big George, he told him he wasn't initially aware of how the deferred payments worked, and to make things square the Yankees should just tack on an extra million dollars in salary per year. Steinbrenner got up, walked across the room, opened the door, held it open for Sheffield, and said, "Goodbye."

According to this exec, there is "zero percent" chance Sheffield will end up playing for Steinbrenner. I'm not so sure about that, but it does explain some recent activity. For example, in a Baseball Prospectus roundtable this morning Dayn Perry asks,

The Braves didn't offer arbitration to Sheffield. Why? He has a deal in place with the Yankees. Is there really a meaningful chance he'd walk away from three years, $38 million to accept the Braves' offer of arbitration?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

THE NEWEST REDBIRDS Time to pop the champagne corks. The World Series is coming to St. Louis.

J.D. R.I.P.? From the Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal:

The Cardinals will trade outfielder J.D. Drew. What choice does St. Louis have? G.M. Walt Jocketty has talked about reconfiguring his payroll so he can spend more on pitching. He discussed trading center fielder Jim Edmonds, a center fielder, earlier this offseason, but the possibility of moving Edmonds, who is owed $34 million over the next three seasons, no longer is realistic because he recently underwent shoulder surgery.

Drew's injury history is its own deterrent, raising questions about his reliability. He will be paid about $5 million next season, then become a free agent. The Braves like him but might prefer to sign a free agent rather than lose talent in a trade. The Diamondbacks offered closer Matt Mantei for Drew, but the Cardinals wouldn't bite. The Expos probably will keep Livan Hernandez now that they've traded Vazquez.

Jocketty faces a daunting challenge: He needs to restock his entire pitching staff. The rotation -- headed by Matt Morris, Woody Williams and Chris Carpenter -- isn't nearly good enough.

CHRISTIAN RUZICH points out that the D'Rays will have the same platoon at first base -- Tino and Eduardo Perez -- that the Cardinals had this past season. (And we're footing most of the bill!)

I was really bummed to see E-P go, but he was right to choose the $1.7 million he got from the City of Tampa. My idea was a platoon of O. Palmeiro and E. Perez in left, but that's a tall order considering it would have involved offering arbitration to both guys. And there's no way we could have risked Perez accepting $2 million or so in arb when he's coming off a career year that very likely represents his peak as a ballplayer.

BELTH/VERDUCCI Alex Belth of Bronx Banter has a cool habit of interviewing guys in and around baseball for his weblog. A couple months back he did a Q&A with the Yankees organist; later he did one with author Pat Jordan. Today he has a great interview with Sports Illustrated beat writer Tom Verducci. My favorite excerpt:

Bronx Banter: One aspect of rooting for sports that eludes me is how resentful many fans are about the money athletes make. But they don’t hold other entertainers up to a similar standard. If Kevin Costner’s latest movie flops, he isn’t getting less for his next picture, and the man on the street doesn’t have his salary memorized or seem to hold it against him. Same goes for Mariah Carey of whoever it is.

Verducci: I just read in the paper recently that David Letterman pulled down $31 million a year. You know what? I never knew that before. But you can walk down the street, stop ten people, and probably nine of them know that A Rod is making $25 million a year. I’m not sure that your analogy can’t extend to the other sports, outside of baseball. I mean it’s tough to quote salaries from the NFL or the NBA or the NHL. But for some reason with baseball the monetary element sticks with fans. I think part of it is that most people have played baseball in some shape or form. And they consider it a game they are familiar with. Where as if you are under six feet, how do you relate to the NBA? Or if you are under 250 pounds, how do you relate to the NFL? I think people relate to baseball players. And that’s not a bad thing. I always thought that was one of the things that baseball has going for it. That people DO hold it to a higher standard, and are emotionally connected to it. I think if people lose that, baseball will have really lost people.

VONBOKEL ON VAN POPPEL Reader John VonBokel passes along this funny tidbit about the sorry state of the Cards' '03 pen:

I'm sure you guys read Lee Sinins' ATM Reports, and today there was a section about Todd Van Poppel being signed:

Van Poppel is close to the record for worst career ERA, vs. the league average, among pitchers with 300+ games --

1 Mike Munoz -.93
2 Pat Mahomes -.91
3 Todd Van Poppel -.90
4 Lance Painter -.87
5 Herm Wehmeier -.82
6 Scott Bailes -.80
7 Russ Springer -.78
8 Brian Bohanon -.76
9 Esteban Yan -.73
10 Jamie Easterly -.71

Of course, you'll notice that 3 of those guys were in our bullpen last year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

WELCOME BACK, KLINER Lord knows we need pitching, but signing Cal Eldred and Steve Kline for a combined $2.7 million isn't exactly the way to go, especially in this "market" (provided you believe MLB is a free gathering place for buying and selling goods, and not a government-sponsored oligopoly).

Don't get me wrong -- Eldred and Kline are serviceable guys to have around. Mediocre, sure, but as we've argued several times, the Cardinals can get by just fine with a bullpen staff composed primarily of mediocre arms (what we were missing last year were league-average relievers, i.e., a couple more Eldreds rather than Borbons and Fasseros, er, Fasseroes).

No, what bothers me is (a) the pricetag -- you could build almost an entire set-up staff for $2.7 million (hell, with Octavio Dotel, Mike Gallo, Brad Lidge, and Ricky Stone, the Astros have done just that); and (b) Kline and Eldred aren't the sturdiest guys in the world. Both have suffered a variety of pings and pangs the last few years, and at ages 32 and 37, respectively, they're what Will Carroll would generously call "yellow lights." I just wish Jocketty would think outside the box for once and actually implement some kind of proactive gameplan for this franchise. He seems to be traveling down the same old wagon ruts.

ALOMAR? Here's Jeff Gordon on our plan for the hole at second base: "the Cards may take a shot on Alomar and hope that he's not another Tino Martinez." Could that really be Walt Jocketty's gameplan? Sign a veteran and hold his breath?

The fact is Roberto Alomar, a possible Hall of Famer, is no longer Roberto Alomar. He's barely even Sandy Alomar. The last two years he's been a very consistent .260/.330/.360 player, no matter the month, no matter the league.

Superhumans like Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson have given many fans the impression that we're living in a new age of Dorian Grays, with athletes seemingly immune to aging. But in the vast majority of cases, thirty-six -- Alomar's age come February -- is old, at least in ballplayer years. Heck, Scott Cooper is 36. So is Geronimo Pena. Not everyone stays strong into their late 30s, even with the latest medical and training advances, and Bobby Alomar is no exception.

THE SIX ZILLION DOLLAR MAN Is A-Rod worth it? Chaim Bloom has some fascinating ideas on the topic. Money quote:

There seem now to be four widely held opinions about Rodriguez and his contract:

a. "No baseball player should make $25 million a year! My third-grade teacher was wonderful, and she makes $15,000 plus benefits."

b. "A-Rod is overpaid, and the Rangers suck. It's too hard to win a championship when one player is making so much money."

c. "$25 million is too much to pay any one player, but A-Rod comes closest to being worth it, and he would help any team toward a championship, as long as the team spent the rest of its money well."

d. "A-Rod is worth every penny, and one of the best possible ways to spend $25 million."

Opinion A, though widespread, is irrelevant. Your third-grade teacher might be helping more people than A-Rod, but nobody's signing a $250 million cable deal to televise her classes. Among baseball fans, Opinion B is perhaps the most popular, but it's also wrong--it's obviously not A-Rod's fault that the Rangers wasted the other $75 million they plowed into various Chan Ho Parks.

The 'learned' view is Opinion C. Most baseball fans who have thought reasonably about this question defend this stance, and it seems to make sense.

What about Opinion D? Read the rest of the article to find out.

MORE BEANEBALL A nice (if belated) review of Moneyball over at Reason online (one of the better think mags on the web). It doesn't tell you much you don't already know, but it makes more sense than Redbird Nation's review of Moneyball, which compared Billy Beane to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, and John Adams.

MOST FAVORED NATION Does MLB pamper the Red Sox? Alex Belth raises the question over at Bronx Banter. Consider that Sox owner John Henry, an old bud of Bud Selig's, was okayed to buy the Sox after a cushy arrangement with the commisioner's office. Then consider that MLB pulled a few strings to let Cliff Floyd come to Boston, then pulled a few more strings to allow Kevin Millar out of his Japanese League contract and play for the Sox, then just last week let Henry negotiate with Alex Rodriguez, thus waiving a longstanding rule prohibiting teams from discussing business with players under contract.

Boston likes to paint itself as eternal sufferers under the scourge of Major League Baseball. But isn't this sorta like filthy rich movie stars bitching about the trials and tribulations of being a celebrity?

GREAT INTERVIEW with Mike Carminati, he of Mike's Baseball Rants, over at Rick Lederer's weblog. My favorite passage:

We, even we sabermetricians, use numbers out of context or assume that because we adjust for the league, era, park, etc. all things are equal.

We take OPS and divide it by the league average and then divide it by the park factor. OK, that's a great stat, but how do we know that we can compare accurately across eras, especially when OPS's meaning has changed over time. Using OPS+ for 19th century players, it looks like Lip Pike, Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, and Dave Orr were almost as good as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.

The Pythagorean winning percentage, which uses runs for and against to calculate the expected number of wins for a team is a great tool, but it can be swayed by a team that scores a lot of runs in just a handful of games. I did a study about this last year. The Red Sox expected won-loss was over 5 games higher than the actual, and by isolating 8 games in which the Sox won by over 10 runs, I accounted for the shortfall.

Even when you try to compensate via standard deviations from the norm, you get unexpected results. Rob Neyer did this with his dynasties book a few years back. He took leagues of different sizes and compared the best teams' standard deviations above the norm. Well guess what? The teams from the expansion era looked better than the '27 Yankees. That's because as you add more teams, your standard deviation gets smaller. It has to. So the 1986 Mets look really great. You can't compare standard deviations across populations of different sizes.

Anyway, stats are tools and we should treat them as such. Some are better for certain situations and some are not. Look at another tool, a hammer. It's a perfect tool for what it does, but it does diddly for screws.

Friday, December 05, 2003

JUST LIKE PARIS HILTON AND NICOLE RITCHIE, Baseball America takes a trip to the farm. The Cardinals minor-league system, as we know, is like a bare cupboard, but it's not totally empty. Here's BA's top 10 prospects worth watching:

1. Blake Hawksworth (RHP)
2. Chris Narveson (LHP)
3. Yadier Molina (C)
4. Jimmy Journell (RHP)
5. Travis Hanson (3B)
6. John Gall (1B-OF)
7. Rhett Parrott (RHP)
8. Daric Barton (C)
9. Tyler Johnson (LHP)
10. Shaun Boyd (OF)

About our #1 prospect, Baseball America says:

Hawksworth has the highest ceiling of any St. Louis pitching prospect since Rick Ankiel. His fastball usually ranges from 90-92 mph, but it was clocked at 96 in the seventh inning of one start... He can pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone but doesn’t always do so consistently. In part that’s because, while his mechanics are smooth, his release point varies. Hawksworth needs to pitch a full season, not only to prove he’s healthy but also to soak up the experience that only innings can bring... [H]e’ll likely spend a good portion of the season in Double-A Tennessee. One Midwest League manager said Hawksworth would be in St. Louis in no more than two years, and that’s not an unreasonable prediction. He projects as a front-of-the-rotation starter in an organization that desperately needs pitching help.

OUR COMPETITION Since the Cardinals brass isn't doing much this offseason, let's check in on the Cubbies once again. Wait Til Next Year has a fantastic interview with Christian Ruzich of the Cub Reporter. Ruzich is incredibly clear-headed about the Cubs to-do list this winter.

Also, the Cubs took a step closer to landing I-Rod after today's developments (although it could just be posturing on Boras' part). Cubs GM Jim Hendry is also looking into acquiring Jason Kendall and/or Jose Vidro. Shudder.

IS THE SOX-YANKS RIVALRY GOOD FOR BASEBALL? Two ancient rivals. Tons of cash on the table. Only one winner. I'm not talking about the showdown between Bostonian Ben Affleck and New Yorker Willie Garson in the finals of the Celebrity Poker Showdown. I'm talking about the escalating arms race between the Red Sox and the Yankees: "I see your Schilling and raise you a Sheffield and a Vazquez." "I see your Sheffield and Vazquez and raise you a Foulke... Or maybe make it an A-Rod..." And on and on.

Is any of this good for baseball? No less than three journalists -- all reared or working in the greater Boston area -- felt the need to assure the rest of us that, yes, this is a swell day for sports. There's Peter Gammons on SportsCenter a few nights ago talking about the latest East Coast maneuverings; "it just shapes up," he said, "baseball is better when those two teams are at war." There's also Sports Illustrated's Daniel G. Habib opining "I think it's good for baseball when two of the most widely followed teams are also among the most successful." And then there's's Bill Simmons (who frankly makes the most persuasive case of all) chiming in with the observation that Sox-Yanks is "the last great feud in professional sports."

But what about the rest of us? How do those of us in the other parts of the country -- you know, outside Big Media, in the flyover the states (or, if you will, the red states) -- how do we feel about this clash of the titans? Old TV execs used to size up a show's chances by asking "how does it play in Peoria?" Let's ask that question of the Sox and Yankees' rivalry: how does it play in Peoria?

There's no doubt that we Midwesterns have an inferiority complex when it comes to our coastal competitors. While the Yanks and Sox are loading up on holiday portions of free agents and megastars, the Cardinals shopping list includes leftovers like Jeff Suppan and Jose Lima. About as appetizing as week-old cranberry sauce. And have you heard that the Yankees figure to spend more money on their bullpen than the Brewers spend on their entire team? Those poor, poor Midwesterners...

(Hell, just yesterday I was reading about the Cardinals new stadium plans and I started feeling sorry for our little city by the river. Yeah, Busch II looks spiffy and all -- I like it -- but it still feels like we're late to the party. The new ballpark is yet another of those familiar, red-brick-style HOK Sport specials. I thought we might with come up with something progressive, some cool design featuring state-of-the-art materials, like that kick-ass stadium they'll have in Arizona (that no one will go to) -- but alas, we're gonna get Camden Yards, Vol. XIII. That is to say, nice, quaint, family, ho-hum. East Coasters like Peter Gammons can continue to call us the "Best Baseball Town in America," but there will be something vaguely folksy about it, like we're not a real metropolitan city and more like one of those faux-storefront towns they have in Branson, Missouri (with animatronic Stan Musial, perhaps?).)

Some people say paranoia is the condition of modern life, but Thomas Pynchon thought it was more like anti-paranoia. If the paranoic has a sense of being persecuted, the anti-paranoic has as sense of being disconnected, ignored. That's what it's like to follow baseball in the Midwest -- this constant feeling that your team is flying under the radar. I mean, how else to explain the outcry last summer when scores of Cardinals commentators made the claim (ludicrous, in my opinion) that Albert Pujols was a nobody, totally underrated.

The upshot of this anti-paranoia is that Midwesterners are always longing for attention from the media centers of New York and Boston, always wanting to run with the big boys. This is the context of our attitude about the Red Sox, the Yankees, and all their offseason moves. The chattering classes can replay the Schilling signing til the cows come home, and they can ask whether the Vazquez-Nick Johnson deal is turning the Yankees into a bloated, top-heavy ocean liner headed for an iceberg (and, I must admit, there are some fascinating discussions to that end, particularly from Buster Olney and Alex Belth). But for me and many of the Cardinals fans I talk to, our primary reaction to all these wheelings and dealings is one of anger, or disgust, or jealousy.

I know that reaction isn't really rational -- after all, there have always been haves and have-nots in baseball (and by the standards of the NL Central, at least, the Cardinals are certainly 'haves') -- but I can't help it. I see the rich getting richer and it brings out all my bleeding-heart notions about opportunity and injustice. So it's worth asking ourselves whether it means anything that the last Midwestern team to win a World Series was Minnesota in 1991. Or if we're being petty by pointing out the following stat:

Number of World Titles Since 1991:
Eastern Time Zone - 9
Mountain Time Zone - 1
Pacific Time Zone - 1
Central Time Zone - 0

Yeah, those numbers are sorta flukey -- I mean, it's not like the '97/'03 Marlins are East Coast giants, nor were the '92/'93 Blue Jays. But it's grist for geographical warfare anyway, the type of thing that gets us wondering if the World Series Trophy will ever come back to St. Louis, or Kansas City, or Detroit, or Minneapolis-St. Paul, as it did in the 1980s.

I guess what we're really talking about is competitive balance, an ideal chased by too many solemn sportswriters (who think balance is achieved by unthinking Selig-style socialist leveling) and disdained by end-runners like Billy Beane (who know that balance can be had with pluck and resourcefulness). But if this offseason hadn't already convinced you, competitive imbalance is real, and it's been getting worse since the mid-90's (as Andrew Zimbalist showed persuasively in his book May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy). Yes, the Curt Schilling signing surely won over a bunch of young Sox fans up in Beantown -- but how many young fans did it win over in outposts like Detroit or Tampa or Kansas City?

The answer, quite truthfully, is: a lot. At least I think so. If I can see past my Midwestern persecution complex (or maybe it's anti-persecution, anti-paranoia, whatever), I have to admit that there's an argument to having strong teams, even superpowers, in baseball. Overall I prefer the turnover of the NFL, where teams like the Rams or Bengals need not suck for too long, and nearly every team has hope at the beginning of the year. But as Joe Sheehan has pointed out, MLB isn't the NFL -- the football players union is much weaker than baseball's, plus the NFL enjoys a national, supra-regional TV contract that has no parallel in baseball.

One of the best ways for MLB to grow the national pie is by encouraging superpowerful ancient regimes to do battle on the biggest stage possible. It's no secret that playoff ratings were the best in years this October because popular teams like the Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees were vying for prominence. What's more, this kind of competition increases MLB's central Internet and national television revenues, builds national sponsorship, and gives everyone -- even those outside the Eastern seaboard -- something to get fired up about. Consider that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are flush with cash in large part because of lucrative regional TV packages. Well, one of the best ways to combat that is to build baseball's national following, and it'd be disingenuous for me to claim that Yankees vs. Red Sox is just a local product. The rivalry has national appeal.

Besides, these East Coast machinations give the rest of us something to bitch about -- and it'll make things all the sweeter when one of us poor Midwestern franchises actually wins it all one of these years.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

THE CARPENTER DEAL Smart move by Jocketty to lock up Chris Carpenter for another year. What has Carpenter done for the Redbirds so far? Virtually nothing. What are the Cardinals risking by signing him? Virtually nothing.

Incentive-based earnings make more sense in individual sports like tennis or golf, where the players don't have to commit to a team. But even in team sports, I'm still surprised that so much money is guaranteed up front (especially in baseball, where individual performances are so much easier to extract and measure than, say, football or hockey). The Carpenter deal is a break from the norm. It's loaded with bonuses:

Carpenter is guaranteed $300,000 next season and $500,000 if he is added to the active roster. He can earn an additional $500,000 next year: $50,000 for 10 starts, $100,000 for 20 starts, $150,000 for 30 starts and $200,000 for 34 starts. The option for 2005 is worth $2 million and contains a $200,000 buyout. He can make an additional $2.55 million in 2005: $300,000 for 10 starts, $400,000 for 20 starts, $450,000 for 25 starts, $500,000 for 30 starts and $550,000 for 34 starts.

If Carpenter steps up and peforms, then he's well worth the extra payments. If he doesn't (and his track record makes him a big question mark), we're not on the line for much. That's a win-win for the Cards.

THE SEXSON DEAL I can understand the Brewers unloading Richie Sexson (who they can't keep beyond 2004 anyway) for a bunch of cheap, young talents, particularly with big guns like Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks in their pipeline. But the talent they got in return isn't necessarily young (only one of the 6 new Brewers is under 25), and they're not too cheap either (their salaries total about $6 million, compared to Sexson's $8 mil).

Perhaps the Brewers are looking to flip their new acquisitions yet again (the way Whitey did with Rollie Fingers back in 1981). Considering the Cardinals could use a catcher who isn't a disaster against righties, plus a second baseman who'll give us more production than Bo Hart, then Chad Moeller and Junior Spivey could be decent pickups.

THE SCHILLING DEAL Nice breakdown by our sister site, Sox Nation, about the addition of Curt Schilling to the Sox staff.

THE VINA DEAL Why in the world would teams like the Tigers and Mets, who are ostensibly committed to getting younger, vie for a guy like Vina? I don't think they'll land him, though. Dusty and Vina are made for each other like Rogers and Astaire.

THE HAWKINS DEAL The Cubs get even stronger. $11 million is a lot to commit to a middle reliever, but the Cubs still end up with a nice arm to set up Borowski. Hawkins' ERA over the past two seasons: 2.00 on the nose. Next year will be the first preseason in quite awhile that virtually no one will predict the Cardinals to win the division.

Monday, December 01, 2003

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Here's how Big Mac is spending his winter -- hitting golfballs 957 feet and one-upping links stars like Greg Norman and Paul Azinger.

COWHIDE VS. PIGSKIN has a roundtable of sportswriters arguing about baseball vs. football as the #1 sport in America. I happen to think baseball is the greatest sport on God's green earth, but I'd be lying if I claimed it was still the American Pastime. Think of it this way -- there are only three national holidays that are nearly universal throughout the land: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl. Football seems to bind people more than baseball does (partly because it's rhythms are better suited to the work week), but it's around this time of year I'm thankful not for baseball vs. football, but baseball and football. George Carlin memorably sized up the differences between the two sports:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up?

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog...
In baseball, if it rains, we don't go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!

INTERVIEW WITH A MEDHEAD Rich Lederer has a fascinating interview with Will Carroll up on his site. Too many interesting tidbits to quote her. You should check it out yourself.

SHOPPING SPREE "The Yankees should have a dollar sign struck through their NY logo. It's money that makes their world go round -- and they use it to keep players away from other teams, most notably the Red Sox." -- Red Sox fan Dan Ilario

"The Yankees are not good for baseball. [Their] payroll is not good for the sport." -- Leslie Epstein, father of Boston GM Theo Epstein

"[The Yankees'] payroll is ludicrous in comparison to any other." -- Scott Gleason,

"It's not a fair fight." -- Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, on the Red Sox rivalry with the Yankees

Selected Red Sox salaries for the 2004 season:

Damon.................. $8 Million
Garciaparra........... $11.5M
Lowe..................... $5M
Martinez................ $17.5M
Nixon..................... approx. $6M
Ramirez................. $20.5M
Schilling................. $12.4M
Timlin..................... $2.75M
Varitek................... $6.7M
Wakefield.............. $4.35M

In related news, Peter Gammons reports that Gary Sheffield has agreed to a 3-year contract with the Yankees, for between $36 and $38 million. The Yankees have reportedly signed free agent Tom Gordon to a 2 year, $7 million contract, and could be close to signing Paul Quantrill to a 2 year, $6 million contract.

And here's an excellent commentary on baseball's weird attitude about rebuilding and thrift.

BIRDS IN THE HALL The Baseball Writers announced the newest crop of candidates for the Hall of Fame. A lot of ex-Cards on the ballot: Dennis Eckersley, Keith Hernandez, Terry Pendleton, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Bob Tewksbury, and of course, Fernando Valenzuela.