All posts by Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.

Cardinals minor matters – February 8

Not counting anyone out

The other day, I gave a nod to Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle as the result of an article he wrote for the Sporting News in which he advised not to count out the 2009 Cardinals. I did that, overlooking his fearless prediction that “The Cardinals might win 90 games or lose 90.” Way to stick your neck out, Richard.

I spoke too soon as Justice is apparently writing a series of similar articles, just substituting the team name. His latest: “Don’t count Astros out in spring training”. This despite the fact he clearly stated that Houston “gotten worse” this season in the earlier article.

Let’s see. Worse than third place means what? Contention? Guess he has to appease the hometown readers.

It is certainly the right time of year to accurately suggest that no team is out of it. Keeps all the bases well-covered that way, I imagine. I am guessing Justice is having a big stack of waffles for breakfast this Sunday morning.

Series ends

Congratulations to the Aragua Tigres of Venezuela for winning the 2009 Caribbean Series with a 5-1 record. The Mexican club, the Mazatlan Venados, finished in second at 3-3.

The Tigres actually clinched with a victory over Mexico on Friday, making Saturday’s game meaningless. Venezuela’s Brad Knox, a free agent formerly from the Oakland system, got the Saturday nod. Knox, a starter I mentioned over on on Friday (subscription required), was hammered for eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings. He had tossed a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings his first time out.

The main pitcher I profiled there, Edgar Gonzalez, previously a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is rumored to be close to signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Too bad if that happens, as he would have been an intriguing add for the Cardinals.

Cards Mexican Pacific League recap

Also make sure you hop on over to Cardinals Best News Links to check out Josh Jones’ summaries of winter league action by Cardinals players past and present. Just posted was a recap of the Mexican Pacific League season.

Wolf signs with Dodgers

Arguably the top left-hander on the market, Randy Wolf, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with Joe Torre’s Los Angeles Dodgers. That was very bad news for still-free agent Braden Looper, widely considered to have been the Dodgers’ second choice.

Looper seems destined to be a second choice kind of guy. Most Cardinals observers would admit that the difference between Looper, who was sent packing, and Kyle Lohse, who was offered four years and $41 million to stay, was not that huge.

Now, it is Looper who will likely have to accept a circa 2008 Lohse-ian deal someplace. (Lohse did not have a home this time last year, signing a cut-rate one-year contract with a base of $4.25 million with the Cardinals in mid-March.)

Not that the Cardinals were serious suitors, but one part of me is relieved that Wolf did not sign with St. Louis. I don’t think I could survive an entire season listening to Hungo pronounce the pitcher’s name as “woof”.

Torre and A-Fraud

Speaking of Torre, the timing of the release of his new book, “The Yankee Years”, last Tuesday was impeccable. All week, the furor was at a fever pitch over Torre supposedly savaging his old club, while the grandfatherly skipper hit the talk show circuit carefully explaining his intent. A great way to sell books. One controversial reference was to “A-Fraud”, though not necessarily attributed as a direct Torre quote.

Seems the A-Rod steroid allegations have knocked any lingering rage at Torre off the back page of the New York tabloids while reinforcing the unfortunate nickname of the embattled third baseman.

MLB Network – the other side

One of the places where Torre was most visible was the fledgling MLB Network. His co-author of the book, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, already works there. A great way to sell books. Hmmm.

Yet, the most visible face there has instantly become Bob Costas, who left behind his cable deal with HBO to move over to the MLB Network, also just last week. His first interviews were with Torre and Verducci.

Costas, who has become sports’ answer to Dick Clark, America’s oldest teenager, does have a reputation that enables him to ask at least marginally tough questions, something that is badly needed at MLB Network.

While I like their programming, their four-person roundtables are terribly boring, with four yes-people all agreeing on how good such-and-such signing was. In all fairness, they can hardly be critical of teams and of MLB while ripping their bosses in the process. I guess it was unrealistic to hope the Network would be any more hard-hitting in their coverage than, the flagship mouthpiece for the empire.

It must be frustrating for the writers and broadcasters, who are likely intelligent, opinionated people, to be unable to fully speak their minds. Heck, when MLB employees blog, they do it via a company-run blog site. How independent can that be? Big brother is always watching.

It is clearly high-stakes big business for MLB. I wonder if there will be editorial pressure to downplay the new A-Rod steroids scandal on MLB Network. I surely hope not, but have to wonder. Biting the hand that feeds you rarely turns out well.

Cookie WHIPped

Speaking of MLB Network, I spent much of my evenings last week watching the Caribbean Series there. One of the rotating color men used daily was former MLB player and manager Cookie Rojas.

He is clearly old school. When an ESPN graphic popped up the Venezuelan club’s ERA and WHIP, Cookie explained WHIP as hitting with runners in scoring position. Ouch!

Old school, new school contention remains

Since it is time for the fresh start of the new season, a logical column for the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss to write is the annual “Tony La Russa is re-energized” tome.

Buried in it was La Russa’s not-so-subtle reminder that he is still not totally in synch with the new wave Cardinals organization.

“I believe analysis from a computer is useful but should be secondary to what you observe. That may not be the opinion of the people in charge,” La Russa told Strauss.

It’s not a news flash, as La Russa has made similar comments in the past, but it is discouraging to see the organizational tension remains at a level such that the manager feels the ongoing need to discuss it publicly.

Congrats to Worrell

Former Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (pictured) was among the 14 inductees into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Springfield.

The now-49-year-old was a standout as a closer and set-up man for the Cardinals from 1985 through 1992 and has given back as a former player. An excellent choice.

DiFelice retires

Former Cardinals catcher Mike DiFelice (1996-97, 2002) has retired as an active player to manage the Mets’ rookie team in Kingsport, TN. The K-Mets are an Appalachian League adversary of the Johnson City Cardinals.

The 39-year-old DiFelice spent most of 2008 in Triple-A but did get a final cup of coffee (with dessert?) with the AL champion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He did not appear in the post-season.

Lefty swapping

The same article linked to above notes the Rays are signing Brian Shouse, apparently to replace now-Cardinal Trever Miller for the left side of their pen. It will be interesting to see which club turns out to have made the best decision. To say I am nervous about the Cardinals’ 2009 relief lefties is an understatement.

First arbitration case decided

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Shawn Hill won his salary arbitration case and will receive $775,000, instead of the $500,000 the team was offering. For the Cardinals, Rick Ankiel is up first, this coming Thursday, with Ryan Ludwick scheduled the Tuesday following, on the 17th.

Gorgen shoulder surgery good news

On Saturday, I had a long phone conversation with right-handed pitching prospect Scott Gorgen. He has a most interesting story about the evolution of his shoulder discomfort through surgery last week. The news is good – out eight weeks instead of the entire season. It is subscriber-only content, but worth the listen if you are a member.

Remember that you’ll continue to see several feature articles each week from me at, so make sure you check there regularly, too.

Cubs lead Cards in Koreans, 4-1

Recently, ran a feature about the Chicago Cubs’ increase in worldwide scouting, noting the club has invited three young Korean prospects to minor league camp along with another player from that country that was also under contract last season.

The Cardinals signed a Korean of their own last week, Hyang-Nam Choi, assigned to Memphis and also heading to minor league spring training. The 37-year-old cannot be considered a youth any more, however.

Last spring, the Cards had another Korean pitcher in minor league camp, Jai Chul Chung. The then-25 year old stayed around into extended spring training, but did not make a team.

A-Rod: So Sad

What is that old line? A rising tide lifts all boats?

Perhaps the opposite is happening with Saturday’s disclosure by two Sports Illustrated writers that then-Texas Rangers slugger Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids use in 2003.

For ex-St. Louis Cardinals first-baseman Mark McGwire, refusal to talk about the past may have been incriminating all right, but far less so than formal test results, if the SI report is true. Now, another prominent name may be sitting next to him in the ever-expanding baseball writers’ penalty box.

This disclosure makes me sad for several reasons:

1)    As I understand it, the 2003 testing was to be anonymous and confidential. While I am not defending A-Rod in any way, even suspected juicers have rights and his were violated.

2)    We know 104 players were tested and failed. That means there are at least 103 other supposed guilty players in the report. Yet, only the name of the biggest, juiciest juicer is leaked. It is a sad indication of the ambulance-chasing society we have become.

3)    Accusations that Players Union COO Gene Orza tipped off A-Rod that a test was coming. The baseball culture is one of extreme sticking together, but there is no way to defend behavior that allegedly includes being an accomplice.

4)    Yet Orza is likely just one big name of dozens, probably hundreds that could be fingered. Like A-Rod, he has a big name to knock down.

5)    This further besmirches the already-tarnished image of a game that looked the other way for too long.

Yet Rodriguez has the chance to be bold where McGwire was timid. Much ink is already being spilled about how this disclosure will taint his pursuit of the all-time home run crown as well as scuttle what seemed a lock induction into the Hall of Fame.

A-Rod needs to learn from his former teammate Jason Giambi and fess up to past mistakes and try to let it pass. McGwire has proven the stigma will not go away even if ignored, and he was already retired when he bungled his House testimony, not an active player in New York, of all places.

Giambi, unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens apparently did, did not lie and as a result, paid a small price compared to the other two. A-Rod has already disappointed so many. He needs to nip this in the bud.

With an apology, the self-righteous sportwriters that have drawn a line in the sand will be pulled one step closer to taking a middle ground position regarding an issue that simply cannot be treated as black or white any longer.

I hope Big Mac is watching.

Cardinals arbitration history – 1974-2008

As I noted earlier in the week, the St. Louis Cardinals are heading toward arbitration hearings with Rick Ankiel (February 12) and Ryan Ludwick (February 17) to settle on one-year salary amounts for each player for the 2009 season.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the club’s arbitration record since the process began. While most who watch this area may be familiar with the fact that the club last went to hearing in 1999, when they defeated pitcher Darren Oliver and his agent Scott Boras, the Cardinals’ history in arbitration goes back much farther.

Fortunately, the late Doug Pappas, long-time chairman of SABR’s Business of Baseball Committee, kept detailed hearing records all the way back to 1974. The basics of what follows is sourced from his work.

Since the process began, there have been almost 500 arbitration hearings across MLB. Of course, many more players filed, but came to terms prior to the actual date. As one of 30 clubs now (though there were fewer teams back in 1974) one might expect the Cardinals to have had no more than about 3% of the cases. That is the approximate actual number, 15. The club’s record against players is very close to the overall MLB historical mark, around 60%.

Through 2008 Hearings Club win Player win % club win
MLB 484 279 205 58%
Cardinals 15 9 6 60%
StL percent of MLB 3.1% 3.2% 2.9%

However, most of these Cardinals cases were held during the 1980s, nine of the 15 to be precise. Five more followed in the 1990s, but four of them occurred prior to 1995. Since then, there has been just one, Oliver.

Cardinals cases Hearings Club win Player win % club win
1970’s 1 0 1 0%
1980’s 9 6 3 67%
1990’s 5 3 2 60%
2000’s 0 0 0 NA

Gregg Jefferies: Last to beat the Cards in arbitration (Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)
Gregg Jefferies: Last to beat the Cards in arbitration (Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)

Ironically, the busiest year for the club was at the end of the boom. In 1994, three players went to arbitration, with the club going 2-1. They lost to first baseman Gregg Jefferies (pictured) and defeated starter Bob Tewksbury and third baseman Todd Zeile. As a result, Jefferies holds the distinction of having been the last player to defeat the Cardinals in a hearing.

And here we sit today, with two players heading toward a showdown with the club over their 2009 salary amounts. The Cardinals could double their total number of hearings in the last 15 years over the span of just six days later this month.

Below are the detailed hearing results, offering a most interesting view of how salaries have risen over the years.

As you will see, some of the most prominent stars of the club during the 1980s and early 1990’s participated in the process – Ozzie Smith, Danny Cox, Jose Oquendo, Vince Coleman and Terry Pendleton among them.

Having just returned to the Cards from the Mets in the Joe Torre trade, pitcher Ray Sadecki was the first-ever case for the club back in 1975. On one hand, the difference between the two sides was just $5,000. On the other hand, it was about 10% of the player’s salary – an amount worth fighting for. The left-hander was traded to Atlanta just three months after winning his case.

In the table, I added to Pappas’ base data the date when each player last suited up for the Cardinals and how he left. There were rumors that some owners did not take kindly to players fighting them over salary. If only the arbitration process had existed in 1972, another lefty, Steve Carlton, might have become a Hall of Famer as a Cardinal instead of as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

I include that information not because there is any proven correlation between an arbitration case and the player leaving St. Louis.

Yet do pay special attention to the timing of trade activity, especially in the early years of arbitration. Four of the first five players that took the Cardinals to arbitration didn’t even last through that season before having to pack their bags. Later, the players exerted their financial independence via free agency.

Even as trade rumors swirled around both Ludwick and Ankiel this winter, this data is offered as an interesting conversation piece about which to speculate over what might have been.

Year Player* Club* Club win Player win % club win Left StL Reason
1975 Ray Sadecki 52 47 X May-75 traded
1980 Will McEnaney 125 65 X Mar-80 released
1981 Tony Scott 225 180 X Jun-81 traded
1982 Ozzie Smith 750 450 X Sep-96 retired
1983 Doug Bair 450 325 X Jun-83 traded
1983 Lonnie Smith 580 500 X May-85 traded
1986 Ricky Horton 275 215 X Feb-88 traded
1987 Danny Cox 875 600 X Oct-90 free agent
1988 Jose Oquendo 360 275 X Sep-95 retired
1989 Vince Coleman 950 775 X Nov-90 free agent
1990 Terry Pendleton 1850 1000 X Nov-90 free agent
1994 Gregg Jefferies 4600 3700 X Oct-94 free agent
1994 Bob Tewksbury 4500 3500 X Oct-94 free agent
1994 Todd Zeile 3250 2700 X Jun-95 traded
1999 Darren Oliver 4150 3550 X Oct-99 free agent
total 9 6 60%
2009 Rick Ankiel 3300 2350
2009 Ryan Ludwick 4250 2800
* amounts in $K

February 2013 update: “Can Freese learn from the Cardinals’ 2009 arbitration cases?”

Cardinals first-year players and rookies – 1996-2008

In late December in the first article of this series, I broke down the 11 first-year players that debuted with the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals. In the final section, part three, I will look forward to 2009.

Here in part two, I will review past first-year players and rookies each season during the Tony La Russa years. One addition from last time is a designation of whether or not the player exhausted his rookie qualification that season. That separates the cup of coffee guys from those that stuck around long enough to probably contribute.

As a reminder, here are the rookie qualification guidelines: More than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or more than 45 days on the Major League active roster during April-August, excluding time on the disabled list.

Among last year’s rookies, four – Brian Barton, Joe Mather, Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez (pictured) – met one or more of the guidelines.

The table that follows summarizes the first-year player introductions by the Cardinals over the last 13 years. To the left is the total number of first-year players, then with pitchers broken out between those that were up long enough to exhaust their rookie eligibility during their initial season and those that did not, labeled cup of coffee players, or “Cup of java”.

Debuts Met rookie qual Pitchers Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Met rookie Cup of java
2008 11 4 7 2 5 4 2 2
2007 6 2 4 1 3 2 1 1
2006 4 1 3 1 2 1 0 1
2005 6 2 3 1 2 3 1 2
2004 3 2 1 0 1 2 2 0
2003 5 3 4 2 2 1 1 0
2002 6 2 5 2 3 1 0 1
2001 6 2 3 1 2 3 1 2
2000 8 0 5 0 5 3 0 3
1999 4 0 3 0 3 1 0 1
1998 7 1 4 1 3 3 0 3
1997 12 3 6 3 3 6 0 6
1996 5 1 2 0 2 3 1 2
total 83 23 50 14 36 33 9 24
avg 6 2 4 1 3 3 1 2
pct 28% 60% 40%

Here are some associated factoids.

On the average

  • During an average season, six rookies make their Cardinals debuts, 60% of whom are pitchers with position players making up the other 40%.
  • Only two of them stay around long enough that season to exhaust their rookie eligibility, or 28% of the total.
  • The two are made up of one pitcher and one position player, on the average.

Yearly trends

  • In La Russa’s first five years, 1996-2000, only five first-year players in total saw enough time during their initial season to use up their rookie status.
  • In the eight years since, 18 players have met the criteria.
  • In only one year did the number of first-year hitters exceed the new pitchers, 2004.
  • In only two years did the number of hitters that used up their rookie qualification exceed the number of pitchers, 1996 and 2004.

Top year

  • The 11 first-year players in 2008 was second only to 1997.
  • Four of the 11 in 2008 exhausted their rookie qualification as opposed to 1997 when only three of the 11 players did.
  • The 2008 total of four qualifiers is the highest count in the La Russa era.

Now, here’s the player detail by season.

Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2008 7 Chris Perez Mike Parisi 2008 4 Brian Barton Nick Stavinoha
Kyle McClellan Mark Worrell Joe Mather Rico Washington
Mitchell Boggs
Jaime Garcia
Jason Motte
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2007 4 Kelvin Jimenez Dennis Dove 2007 2 Brendan Ryan Brian Esposito
Troy Cate
Andy Cavazos
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2006 3 Anthony Reyes Josh Kinney 2006 1 John Nelson
Chris Narveson
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2005 3 Brad Thompson Tyler Johnson 2005 3 John Rodriguez John Gall
Adam Wainwright Chris Duncan
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2004 1 Carmen Cali 2004 2 Yadier Molina
Hector Luna
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2003 4 Dan Haren Jim Journell 2003 1 Bo Hart
Kiko Calero Kevin Ohme
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2002 5 Jason Simontacchi Josh Pearce 2002 1 So Taguchi
Mike Crudale Kevin Joseph
Matt Duff
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2001 3 Bud Smith Jason Karnuth 2001 3 Albert Pujols Stubby Clapp
Chad Hutchinson Bill Ortega
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
2000 5 Britt Reames 2000 3 Chris Richard
Justin Brunette Keith McDonald
Jose Rodriguez Luis Saturria
Mike Matthews
Gene Stechschulte
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
1999 3 Rick Ankiel 1999 1 Adam Kennedy
Rick Heiserman
Curtis King
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
1998 4 Rich Croushore Jose Jimenez 1998 3 Joe McEwing
Cliff Politte J.D. Drew
Braden Looper Mark Little
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
1997 6 Manny Aybar Brady Raggio 1997 6 Eli Marrero
Rigo Beltran Sean Lowe Luis Ordaz
Matt Morris Tom McGraw Micah Franklin
Scarborough Green
Mike Gulan
Jeff Berblinger
Pitchers Tot Met rookie Cup of java Hitters Tot Met rookie Cup of java
1996 2 Mike Busby 1996 3 Miguel Mejia Dmitri Young
Eric Ludwick Aaron Holbert

At the suggestion of DizzyDean17 in the comments below, I have broken out the cup of coffee players in the above table into two groups. The names not in bold have not reached 130 major league at bats or 50 innings pitched, so they might be considered true career cup of coffee players – at least so far. In contrast, the names in bold did reach that rookie qualification mark – over a subsequent season or seasons. This adds a career perspective beyond the original single-year view of this article.

Debuts Met rookie qualification in debut year Met rookie qualification later
2008 11 4 TBD
2007 6 2 0
2006 4 1 0
2005 6 2 3
2004 3 2 0
2003 5 3 0
2002 6 2 1
2001 6 2 0
2000 8 0 4
1999 4 0 3
1998 7 1 6
1997 12 3 4
1996 5 1 3
total 83 23 24
avg 6 2 2
pct 28% 29%

This data shows that 56% of the new players eventually earned 50 innings / 130 at-bats as major leaguers. But what I find most interesting is the concentration of players that reached the milestone after their debut year. 20 of the 24 “met rookie qualification later” players came from the first five of the La Russa years, 1996-2000.

Since 2000 however, just four players have accomplished that. The jury is still out on the 2008 cup of coffee pitchers. In other words, they still have a chance to get those necessary innings in 2009 or beyond. Most of the other cuppers from 2007 and earlier are already gone from the organization, so even if they do make it later on, it won’t help the Cardinals. Josh Kinney and Nick Stavinoha remain as 2009 possibilities.

This data seems to add support to a theory that the Cardinals are placing less emphasis on September call-ups of prospects in recent years. At least to me, the recent data seems to show that either the players come up and get significant time pretty quickly or they have their cup of coffee and fade away.

Cardinals minor matters – February 5

The Hunter is being hunted

Memphis outfielder Amaury Cazana Marti, labeled “The Hunter” during his successful summer campaign in Mexico, is competing against the country in the Caribbean Series. The 34- (or 30) year-old played winter ball for Licey in the Dominican Republic and his club is representing the nation in the Series.

Through his first four games, Marti has struggled badly, looking very anxious at the plate, often overswinging. After starting the series batting #5, he has been dropped down to the #7 spot and has just one single, one walk and six strikeouts in 16 plate appearances. His 1-for-15 mark translates to an .067 average. Defensively, the Cuban émigré has seen time at both corners.

The regular winter season was a different story. Against Dominican League pitching, the right-handed hitter posted a .314/.390/.535 line for Licey. He hit seven home runs and drove in 34 over 172 at-bats. However, Marti fanned 42 times.

While the 2006 draftee remains under Cardinals organizational control for 2009, he was not invited to major league spring camp as he was in 2008. Unless he is added to the 40-man roster by next winter, Marti will be eligible for the December 2009 Rule 5 Draft.

( subscribers, be sure to check the site on Friday for my view of some potential starting pitching targets coming out of the Caribbean Series. “Playing a Hunch: Edgar Gonzalez to St. Louis?“)

How Larry Bigbie Became the Most Important Man in Baseball

A very, very interesting read about how a reserve Cardinals outfielder inadvertently opened up the government’s steroid investigation.

Skip at second a serious matter’s Matthew Leach is turning up the heat on the Skip Schumaker to second base story. He does not mention that this move does not address the left-handed splits problem, however. Neither Adam Kennedy (bad – .596 OPS last year) nor Schumaker (really terrible – .423 OPS in 2008) can hit lefties. So a platoon makes no sense.

They would never say it this way, instead pointing to 2010 potential, but the immediate benefit is all about making roster room for Colby Rasmus, while quietly exiting Skip from the starting outfield picture. I think it is incredibly optimistic to think Schumaker could become a major league starting-quality second sacker, but maybe a credible reserve level of play can be achieved.

If the experiment works, the five bench guys would seem to line up as Jason LaRue, Chris Duncan, Skip, Joe Mather and Brendan Ryan, with Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick and Rasmus starting in the outfield.

That seems to be the plan as I interpret it.

Lefty to the left coast

The Seattle Mariners announced on Thursday that they have signed left-handed reliever Tyler Johnson to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training camp.

The 27-year-old had been non-tendered by the Cardinals after missing all of 2008 and part of 2007 due to shoulder problems. Overall, Johnson pitched in 116 games for the Cardinals with a 3-5 record with a 4.32 ERA. He allowed 67 hits, struck out 65 and walked 42 in 77 career innings.

Johnson’s primary claim to fame was playing a major supporting role in the 2006 post-season. He fanned a dozen in just 7 1/3 playoff innings on just one earned run for a 1.23 ERA with the eventual world champs.

Cardinals “walk year” results: fact or urban legend?

The term “walk year” is commonly defined as the final season of a player’s contract prior to when he becomes free agent eligible. The view is that the player can walk away from his current team and ostensibly join a new, higher-paying one – if the results are there.

Just prior to training camp and before the very first injury is reported is the time of the year when optimism is at its peak – and when “walk years” get tossed around as a potential reason for players to improve their performance.

Reporting on a recent discussion with St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan the other day, the Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz turned the phrase in question when referring to number five-by-a-thread starting pitcher Joel Pineiro (pictured).

“Duncan didn’t say this, but I will: remember, Pineiro is pitching for a new contract. He’s in his walk-year of a two year deal,” Miklasz offered.

After letting that sink in a bit, I went looking for some fact-or-fiction justification addressing walk years, sort of like I do whenever my brother-in-law emails me another idiotic urban legend that he thinks is real – you know, like the old yarn about earthworms in McDonalds hamburger meat.

I did find a 2003 study at ESPN, written by an author of Baseball Prospectus. Since it was a BP author after all, he couldn’t resist using their PECOTA predictions instead of actual results. To top it off, he compared players to other players instead of to themselves over a single year.

Other external factors like injury, role changes, schedule differences and Father Time are acknowledged as variables that cannot be properly accounted for, a valid point for any method used, in my opinion.

The headline of that story: ‘Hitters love the ‘walk year’. It’s conclusion:

“… this quick statistical glance does indicate that there might well be something to the motivational effect of the walk year, at least for hitters.”

Hardly conclusive, but I was amused by the most-valid point made that at its essence, hopes of walk year success is fueled by a basic belief that if only the player tried harder, he would perform better. Sort of like the old Janis Joplin tune, “Try Just a Little Bit Harder”, which ironically popped up on my satellite radio receiver just as I was typing this.

Instead of hope, I’d like to grab onto something more meaty, or should I say, substantial.

What I am going to do here is compare the stats of former Cardinals players for the duration of their Cardinals career prior to their walk year with their walk year itself. I strongly believe that for relevance, a player needs to be compared to himself, not to a body of other players as in the ESPN study.

My ground rules are simple: The player had to have been a Cardinal for at least three seasons, had a multi-year contract and departed via free agency, as opposed to trade, release or retirement. The idea behind three years is to have at least two years of results prior to the walk year. A multi-year deal is required to ensure not every comparison year was a walk year, too.

The Cardinals saw 12 such walk year players depart the organization in the last six years.

For pitcher stats, I selected ERA+ as the measurement, which takes into account performance relative to the league each season. For the hitters, I used OPS+ for the same reason.

I am showing each player’s St. Louis high- and low-water marks but am using the average ERA+ or OPS+ to compare against each player’s walk season. The bar isn’t that high, in my opinion. All the player has to do is post an above-average year. Either the walk season is higher than his previous average with the club or it isn’t.

walk year walk ERA+/OPS+ average previous year StL high StL low
Jason Isringhausen 2008 75 164 177 198 75
Braden Looper 2008 102 107 89 125 94
Mark Mulder 2008 39 71 36 116 36
David Eckstein 2007 93 90 81 99 81
Jason Marquis 2006 74 109 102 115 74
Jeff Suppan 2006 108 111 119 119 103
Matt Morris 2005 103 126 90 167 90
Mike Matheny 2004 65 67 79 79 51
Edgar Renteria 2004 88 99 130 139 77
Woody Williams 2004 102 151 106 189 102
Steve Kline 2004 239 155 108 240 108
Fernando Vina 2003 82 92 79 100 79

The story is pretty compelling.

The results of ten of the 12 players or 83% DECLINED in their walk year over their previous years’ Cardinals average. Only two players, David Eckstein in 2007 and Steve Kline in 2004, improved in their final season.

Lowering the criteria to simply improving in one year – in the walk year compared to the previous single season – delivers slightly better results. In that case, six of the 12 or 50% showed improvement in their final season over their second-to-last with St. Louis.

The six improvers are Braden Looper (2008), Mark Mulder (2008), Eckstein (2007), Matt Morris (2005), Kline (2004) and Fernando Vina (2003).

However, Mulder’s numbers were so bad in both years (39 vs. 36 ERA+) that calling his 2008 season a step up over his 2007 would be a cruel joke. Putting him aside would drop the walk year-to-previous year success rate to 5-of-11 or 45%.

Further, three of the 12 walk year performances represented the player’s absolutely WORST year as a Cardinal. They include Jason Isringhausen (2008), Jason Marquis (2006) and Woody Williams (2004).

On the other hand, not a single one of the dozen players had their BEST year in St. Louis during their final season there.

You can pick your favorite reason as to why, but the data has spoken. Considering the most recent six years at least, expecting walk year improvement for impending St. Louis Cardinals free agents, whether pitchers or hitters, is a low odds proposition at best.

Sorry, Joel, but it looks like there is a very good reason Duncan didn’t say it.

After publishing, I recalled that Jim Edmonds was in his walk year in 2006, just before then-GM Walt Jocketty surprised both the player and the Cardinal Nation by ill-advisedly offering Jimmy two more years. As we know, the Cards ate $2 million just to get out of year two.

walk year walk ERA+/OPS+ average previous year StL high StL low
Jim Edmonds 2006 110 153 137 170 110

Anyway, Edmonds just reinforces the conclusion already made, as his 2006 “walk year” was his worst as a Cardinal up to that point. (He posted an OPS+ of 88 in his final St. Louis season, 2007.)

There may have been other mid-Cardinals career walk years that I missed here, but I think the point has been adequately made.

Cardinals minor matters – February 4

Ankiel and Ludwick arbitration dates set

You heard it here first. The dates for the arbitration hearings for St. Louis Cardinals outfielders Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick have been set. In a schedule that only MLB could devise, the two hearings will be held in Phoenix five days apart – on February 12 (Ankiel) and February 17 (Ludwick).

If I was a betting man, I would put my money on February 12 happening while the 17th would be made unnecessary by a pre-hearing agreement with Ludwick. Whether the latter would be a simple one-year deal or a multi-year contract is unclear.

The last arbitration hearing the Cardinals actually had, back in 1999, they defeated agent Scott Boras on behalf of pitcher Darren Oliver. This time, Boras represents Ankiel, the pitcher-turned outfielder. The two sides come in separated by almost $1 million in their respective views of the player’s 2009 value.

More information from my previous reports here and here. (Also be sure to read the comments below the posts.)

Korean is day-to-day, just like the rest

Regarding the contract of Hyang-Nam Choi, the 37- (or 38) year-old reliever from Korea signed by the Cardinals (reports vary on his exact age), a Korean news source reported the deal is a month-to-month agreement, somehow implying out-of-the-ordinary terms that put the import on less-firm ground than his minor league counterparts.

Not so.

Choi is signed to a standard one-year Memphis contract, and will be in minor league camp when it opens on Monday, March 9. The “monthly” aspect is standard for all minor league contracts, in that players are paid a monthly amount, rather than having it expressed as an annual salary.

Apparently the Korean writer was unfamiliar with that. That’s ok, as many of us Americans are confused by Korean names. Choi is the player’s family name followed by his given name, listed as Choi Hyang-nam in Korean sources.

Think Hee-Seop Choi, the then-Dodgers Korean first baseman whose 2005 collision with Scott Rolen‘s shoulder changed everything. On the other hand, let’s not think about that after all.

Also, Choi the pitcher has been added to my Cardinals roster matrix as its 307th player.

Rosenthal: Cards out of money

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports had this sobering comment about the Cardinals in a Wednesday column.

“Club officials are telling agents that they are out of money, a stunning development considering that the team will host the All-Star Game this season.”

The reporter speculates that ticket sales and revenues are not being boosted by the presence of the All-Star Game and that the Cards are not in the hunt for free agent Braden Looper, or apparently anyone else that requires a major league salary.

I haven’t revisited the math of the Cardinals total payroll with a set roster, but it would seem to be somewhere in the low $90 millions, which could be as much as a 10% reduction from 2008. Of course, as noted above, Ankiel’s and Ludwick’s salaries could swing the 2009 total by as much as $2.4 million one way or the other.

Gorgen’s shoulder surgery?

Via a post on a social networking site (nothing seems to be private anymore), our Cardinals Minor League Rookie Pitcher of the Year with Batavia last season, Scott Gorgen, mentioned recently that he required surgery on his shoulder. I have not yet been able to reach the 22-year-old right-hander to confirm this but I will post if so.

Since the Cardinals have not yet received their signed HIPAA waiver forms which enable them to discuss 2009 player injuries, the organization is unable to comment publicly at this time.

Houston Justice served

In case you missed this good news story the other day, Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, writing for the Sporting News, offers a positive spin on the 2009 Cardinals. It is nice to see from a writer from an opposing city, especially considering some of the biased junk that has come out of Chicago in recent years.

Justice should have a good eye for bad situations as the Astros have decimated their once-strong farm system both in staff and players and despite finishing just ahead of the Cardinals last year, are an organization seemingly trending in the wrong direction.

Tough Decisions: The Cardinals 2009 Rule 5 Draft – Part 2

Note: This post has been superseded by more current information as of November 28: link to updated Cardinals Rule 5 list.

In part one of this article, we looked at recent St. Louis Cardinals history with respect to the Rule 5 draft and began to consider the increased problem that will be facing the organization this coming winter.

As part one concluded, I disclosed the current number of Cardinals farmhands that would become Rule 5 eligible this December is 59. That is just two short of the total number of players they exposed over the prior three Rule 5 drafts combined.

Here they are, broken out into several groups. First, we will start with the 14 players that rank among my top 40 prospects in the Cardinals system. These would seem to represent the most likely candidates for protection as of now.

The columns include the player’s date of birth (DOB), the year the player was drafted and the round, the year and age at which the player first signed, my top 40 ranking and the working roster assignment for the player heading into spring training.

Player Position DOB Draft yr/rd Signed Age Rank Team
Colby Rasmus OF 08/11/1986 2005 1 2005 18 1 Memphis
Bryan Anderson C 12/16/1986 2005 4 2005 18 3 Memphis
David Freese 3B 04/28/1983 2006 9 SD 2006 23 5 Memphis
Daryl Jones OF 06/25/1987 2005 3 2005 17 6 Springfield
Jon Jay OF 03/15/1985 2006 2 2006 21 12 Memphis
Adam Ottavino RHS 11/22/1985 2006 1 2006 20 15 Springfield
P.J. Walters RHS 03/12/1985 2006 11 2006 21 17 Memphis
Allen Craig 3B 07/18/1984 2006 8 2006 21 18 Springfield
Francisco Samuel RHR 12/20/1986 2006 19 21 Palm Beach
Tyler Herron RHS 08/05/1986 2005 1a 2005 18 25 Palm Beach
Shane Robinson OF 10/30/1984 2006 5 2006 21 27 Memphis
Shaun Garceau RHS 08/28/1987 2005 20 2005 17 29 Palm Beach
Luke Gregerson RHR 05/14/1984 2006 28 2006 22 30 Springfield
Jose Martinez 2B 01/24/1986 2004 18 37 Springfield

Next are the 13 first-time eligibles from the 2006 draft that are not ranked among my top 40 prospects. There are certainly some prominent names in this list that could move up if they can put together solid 2009 seasons.

Remember that the organization’s 2008 Minor League Player of the Year Daryl Jones (pictured) was absent from top prospect lists just one year ago. Now I have him ranked number six and I am not alone!

Player Position DOB Draft yr/rd Signed Age Team
Brad Furnish LHS 01/19/1985 2006 2 2006 21 Springfield
Mark Hamilton 1B 07/29/1984 2006 2a 2006 21 Springfield
Gary Daley Jr. RHR 11/01/1985 2006 3 2006 20 Quad Cities
Eddie Degerman RHR 09/14/1983 2006 4 2006 22 Palm Beach
Tyler Norrick LHS 09/27/1983 2006 6 2006 22 Palm Beach
Luke Gorsett OF 05/28/1985 2006 7 2006 21 Palm Beach
David Carpenter RHR 07/15/1985 2006 12 2006 20 Johnson City
Amaury Marti OF 09/02/1978* 2006 18 2006 27* Memphis
Brandon Buckman 1B 02/14/1984 2006 19 2006 22 Springfield
Mark Shorey OF 08/13/1984 2006 31 2006 21 Springfield
Isa Garcia 2B 08/20/1984 2006 34 2006 21 Springfield
Jim Rapoport OF 06/25/1985 2006 35 2006 20 Springfield
Kyle Mura RHS 11/24/1984 2006 42 2006 21 Springfield
* add four years?

There are another nine players from earlier Cardinals drafts, almost all of whom have been previously exposed to the Rule 5 draft. One exception is Mike Parisi, removed from the 40-man roster after the season and potentially lined up for his first Rule 5. Instead, it is possible that he will be re-added to the roster following his recovery from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, but if he does, it will be at the expense of one of these other players. Another first-timer is oft-injured hurler Tyler Leach, part of the teenaged signing group from 2005.

Player Position DOB Draft yr/rd Signed Age Team
Mark McCormick RHS 10/15/1983 2005 1a 2005 21 Springfield
Trey Hearne RHS 08/19/1983 2005 28 2005 21 Springfield
Casey Rowlett OF 02/08/1983 2005 32 2005 22 Springfield
Kenny Maiques RHR 06/25/1985 2005 37 2005 20 Palm Beach
Tyler Leach RHS 09/08/1986 2005 39 2005 18 Johnson City
Mike Parisi RHS 04/18/1983 2004 9 2004 21 Memphis
Mike Sillman RHR 12/03/1981 2004 21 2004 22 Memphis
Brandon Yarbrough C 11/09/1984 2003 5 2003 18 Memphis
Matt Pagnozzi C 11/10/1982 2003 8 2003 20 Memphis

The final group of 23 includes those signed as free agents, whether as minor league veterans such as Ian Ostlund, non-drafted free agents like Brandon Dickson, a minor league Rule 5 pick up (Russ Haltiwanger) as well as those that were originally signed to play in the Latin American academies. This group includes such standouts as Donovan Solano, Domnit Bolivar and Elvis Hernandez. A number of these players also have a chance to step up during 2009.

Player Position DOB Signed Age Team
Russ Haltiwanger RHR 04/21/1984 2005 21 Memphis
Jon Mikrut RHR 11/22/1982 2005 22 Memphis
Joe Rogers LHS 07/19/1981 2001 19 Memphis
Justin Knoedler C 07/17/1980 2001 20 Memphis
Joe Thurston 2B 09/29/1979 1999 19 Memphis
Ian Ostlund LHR 10/17/1978 2001 22 Memphis
Donovan Solano SS 12/17/1987 2005 17 Springfield
Brandon Dickson RHS 11/03/1984 2006 21 Springfield
Marco Gonzalez RHR 05/28/1984 2006 22 Springfield
Jose Mateo RHR 08/31/1986 2005 18 Palm Beach
Elvis Hernandez RHS 04/27/1985 2005 19 Palm Beach
Domnit Bolivar SS 05/12/1989 2005 16 Quad Cities
Edwin Gomez OF 03/10/1988 2005 16 Batavia
Jairo Martinez OF 05/27/1987 2005 17 Batavia
Jaime Landin 2B 04/19/1983 2005 22 Batavia
Carlos Gonzalez RHR 08/31/1988 2005 16 Johnson City
Andres Rosales RHS 06/13/1988 2004 16 Johnson City
Ivan Castro C 11/17/1987 2005 17 Johnson City
Senger Peralta LHS 08/14/1987 2004 17 Johnson City
Jose Rada RHS 04/13/1988 2005 17 GCL
Omar Javier RHS 10/04/1987 2005 17 GCL
Julio Castellanos LHR 06/11/1987 2005 17 GCL
Carlos Noguera RHS 04/21/1989 2005 16 VSL

Puts and takes

Obviously, not all 59 of these players will require protection. Some will also get added to the 40-man sooner than this coming fall. Third baseman David Freese is a good example. Yet all that will do was “use up” a roster spot a few months early. It doesn’t change the bottom line problem.

Simply put, there just isn’t going to be enough room on the 40-man roster for all these players. The Cardinals have averaged only four fall additions in recent years. It would be difficult to expand that exponentially, even if there were to be an extraordinarily large number of exits from St. Louis at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

Looking at the current roster of 35, I count nine potential free agents following this coming season. A number of these players have prominent roles, including four starters from the infield and outfield (Adam Kennedy, Khalil Greene, Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel) along with two members of the rotation (Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro). Assuming that none would be kept for 2010 or at least replaced by another veteran would be unreasonable, but it is surely the outside, or most extreme case.

There are at least three players on the 40-man today who have yet to contribute at the major league level that might painlessly be removed between now and then, Blake Hawksworth, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Nick Stavinoha. Even so, that would still leave 23 players on the 40-man roster (35 minus nine minus three).

In other words, under this set of assumptions, at most only 17 (40 minus 23) of the 59 potential Rule 5’ers could be protected by late fall.

One might argue there are other younger players currently on the roster that could also be jettisoned, such as Brendan Ryan and Brad Thompson. I truly feel that the assumption of the club letting all nine veteran free agents leave without replacing any of them from the outside is unbelievable enough already.

Fantasy trades are often just that

Another popular option among fans to provide relief is trading minor leaguers, something the Cardinals have avoided like the plague since the disastrous Mark Mulder for Dan Haren, Daric Barton and Kiko Calero robbery over four years ago. Still, packaging up a group of prospects for one proven major leaguer would seem ideal given this impending problem.

If only it were so easy. Finding one such trade partner for a deal that would seem fair is difficult enough, let alone the inherent challenge in engineering the multiple trades that would probably be needed to put a real dent in the problem. Obviously, any one-for-one swaps of prospects for veterans (unless they are rental players in their walk year) would do nothing to relieve the roster jam.

Doubt me? If we are to take the Cardinals front office comments at face value, they couldn’t even land a reliever to help the struggling 2008 club down the stretch without having to give up “too much” prospect value in return. Well, the time may be coming to seriously rethink that stance.

On the other hand, if the spin is valid and the Cardinals truly have only a very few prospects that are coveted by other organizations, then those who suggest the improving minor league system has been overhyped may be proven correct.

Making it worse

While the number 17 is unrealistically high, it could be eroded from another source. We must also consider that some fast-rising players not yet close to being Rule 5 eligible may break out early, effectively using up one or more of the potential 17 “spare” roster spots “prematurely”.

Brett Wallace, Jess Todd and Clayton Mortensen are among those potentially in this situation. Knowing the roster logjam that will be occurring this fall, the Cardinals may very well decide instead to keep one, two or all three of these players (and others in a comparable status) in the minors for the entire 2009 season, including not calling them up in September.

This would be entirely disconnected from what the three might do on the field in 2009 and regardless of whether or not they could actually help in St. Louis. It would be done only so that the players don’t use up precious roster spots too soon.

Before you scoff at the idea, consider Freese, our Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year in 2008. Why do you think he did not receive a most-deserved September promotion to St. Louis? To keep him off the 40-man roster, of course. Instead, journeyman Josh Phelps got the coveted call instead.

How does that short-sighted decision look now that Troy Glaus is out for the first few months of the 2009 season? Wouldn’t it have been better for the 2009 Cardinals for Freese to have had a month of familiarity in the big leagues instead of taking it from a fire-hose as the interim starter at third base this spring? How is Phelps helping St. Louis now that he is with San Francisco?

Same with catcher Bryan Anderson and former major leaguer Mark Johnson. Tell me which player in St. Louis in September would have more greatly benefited the team’s future. It is no contest. (Hint: Like Phelps, Johnson is already gone from the organization.)

Point being that roster issues sometimes inhibit sound baseball decisions. If I was Wallace, I wouldn’t be picking out a new house in the St. Louis suburbs just yet.

One other related point. As you evaluate the “aggressive” moves made (or not made) within the Cardinals system during the 2009 season, keep this list of 59 players in mind. As I said in part one, I believe the organization is going to do everything possible during this upcoming season to sort out the keepers from this group, as they should. For many, time may be running out.

Can’t stash them all

Once the Rule 5 date approaches, there is a further consideration for those players that cannot be kept on the 40-man. The organization can place no more than 38 non-40-man players on the Memphis roster submitted for the Rule 5 draft. These players, eligible to be selected in the Major League phase of the draft, would require the claiming club to keep them at the MLB level for the entire 2010 season if taken.

On the other hand, players rostered at Double-A Springfield and below for Rule 5 purposes are not required to be kept at the major league level by the claiming organization if selected. In other words, if any decent prospects at that level or below are exposed, chances are good they will be lost. The price is just $12,000 or $4,000 depending on the level.

Cody Haerther is a recent example, left on the Double-A roster for the December Rule 5. Since the claiming Toronto Blue Jays can keep Haerther off their 40-man roster and in the minors, they have absolutely no reason to consider returning the outfielder to St. Louis in the spring.

Dual challenges

I bring this up to suggest that the Cardinals may have two sets of decisions coming this fall. The first, and most important revolves around which players to add to the 40-man roster to secure full player protection. The second, selecting those to put on the Memphis “reserve” roster for Rule 5, could also become a bit of challenge.

As a point of reference, in the December 2008 Rule 5 Draft, the New York Yankees were the big losers. Six of their farmhands were selected by other organizations, including four off their Triple-A roster, lost in the Major League phase.

Still, for a Rule 5 player to be claimed by another team in the Major League phase, that organization must have 40-man roster space to put him. There is a legitimate reason to wonder if many other clubs may also have troubles with having more qualified players than room on their rosters.

This might keep the projected Cardinals Rule 5 losses next December down a bit, but there are a lot of gyrations required between now and then. It is a bit of a two-edged sword, as the more of these 59 at-risk players that excel during the 2009 season, the more difficult the organization’s decisions will become.

At what point does something that is generally considered to be a “good problem”, minor league depth, become a “real” problem? I think we will soon find out.

Tough Decisions: The Cardinals 2009 Rule 5 Draft – Part 1

Note: This post has been superseded by more current information as of November 28: link to updated Cardinals Rule 5 list.

I am amused when I read about writers praising the St. Louis Cardinals for their aggressive minor league promotions, as if the organization has discovered some new brand of baseball wisdom.

Here’s the reality. They are doing it because they have to.

They need to move their players up through the system more quickly in order to determine which ones are keepers before they start to risk losing them at what could soon be an unprecedented rate for the franchise.

Do I have your attention yet?

There is potential trouble on the horizon, which may first manifest itself in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft this coming December, of all places.

The Rule 5 Draft, which occurs each year at the Winter Meetings, is of only mild interest at best to the average fan. After all, it is sort of a baseball version of a flea market. There could be good merchandise available, but it may take some shopping to find what you want and more likely than not, you may come home empty-handed.

For players that may feel buried in their current organization, Rule 5 can offer the chance for a fresh, new beginning. For clubs, the draft represents an opportunity to mine a diamond in the rough at pennies on the player-development dollar.

Not everyone is in love with Rule 5, however. Those clubs blessed with more top talent than they can protect view the event with some trepidation. After all, for every organization that gains a player via the process, another club takes a loss, saying goodbye to a player in whom they’ve likely invested a lot of time and money in development.

The qualification

Players that have been professionals for four or five years must be added to their club’s 40-man roster or be exposed for possible selection by one the 29 other clubs in the Rule 5 draft.

Organizations have five years of exclusive control of players that signed their first professional contract at 18 years old or younger, but it drops to four years for those that signed at 19 or older. The relevant date for this calculation is when the first contract is signed, not when the player initially takes the field.

The current example – 2005

This line is currently drawn at the 2005 draft, one of the Cardinals’ best in recent years. This is both a blessing and a curse, as will be further explained later.

Five players from the class of 2005 would already have been Rule 5 eligible in December 2008. This is due to their being at least 19 years old when having first signed and having passed four years as a pro.

The group was led by first-rounder, shortstop Tyler Greene and supplemental first-rounder, pitcher Mark McCormick. Trey Hearne, Kenny Maiques and Casey Rowlett were the other players originally drafted in 2005 eligible to have been selected. Greene was added to the 40-man prior to the draft and the other four were not taken.

Other members of the 2005 draft class were excluded from this most recent Rule 5 draft for the final time. That group of high-flying teenage draftees was headlined by top prospects Colby Rasmus, Bryan Anderson, Tyler Herron and Daryl Jones, all selected in the first four rounds that year. Other later-round 2005 drafted exclusions include Shaun Garceau and Tyler Leach, signed at the age of 18 or younger.

Unless protected, all of the 2005-drafted players will be eligible to be taken in the December 2009 Rule 5 Draft – with the exception of one individual. (Don’t you hate all the exceptions?)

Pitcher Blake King was selected as an 18-year-old in 2005 and was a draft-and-follow player. Under a since-abolished rule, clubs could control the rights to certain players up until the next draft. King did not sign his first contract until May 2006, after he turned 19. That gave the organization his services for four years, or through the 2010 season.

Coming up – 2006

If you thought 2005 was bad, wait until you see the college-heavy draft of 2006. Without action, 20 members of that class still in the organization will become Rule 5 eligible this coming fall. Only nine younger players from that draft can remain under Cardinals control for an additional year.

The 20 at-risk include some very prominent names such as Adam Ottavino, Jon Jay (pictured) and P.J. Walters. Does that help you understand why Jay was invited to major league spring training when others were not?

Free agents, too

It isn’t just drafted players that figure into the Rule 5 mix. Free agent signings, including players from the Latin American academies, also come into play.

Jose Martinez, Francisco Samuel and Domnit Bolivar will be among those potentially exposed for the first time this coming winter.

The history

In recent years, the Cardinals have been relatively quiet in terms of Rule 5 activity. Yet this past December, they actually had a player taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, their first since Tyler Johnson in 2004.

Reliever Luis Perdomo, who came over to St. Louis last summer in return for Anthony Reyes, was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Perdomo may still end up back with the Cardinals if he is unable to stay on the Giants’ 25-man active roster for the entire 2009 season.

The previous year, the Cards selected Brian Barton from the Cleveland Indians, but did not have any players taken. The outfielder remained with the Cardinals during all of 2008 so is now St. Louis property.

In the major league phase of the 2006 draft, the Cardinals were neither buyers nor sellers. The previous year, they selected, then returned Cubs pitcher Juan Mateo. Johnson was the only Cards major league Rule 5 transaction in 2004.

The population

If the recent past is any indication, things will get interesting as the December 2009 draft nears.

In November 2008, the Cardinals added two players, reliever Matt Scherer and shortstop Greene, to their 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection. The two years prior, they added six and five players, respectively.

Those remaining behind became Rule 5 draft eligible. In 2008, that totaled 16 players, after 18 the year prior and 27 in 2006. However, one must remember that minor leaguers signed as free agents each fall prior to the Rule 5 draft are also unprotected.

Taking that into account, the number of true prospects that were eligible to have been taken in the last three drafts were 13, 16 and 20.

40-man adds R5 avail R5 avail prospects lost
2008 2 16 13 2
2007 6 18 16 0
2006 5 27 20 0
Total 13 61 49 2

Of them, only Perdomo and Cody Haerther left via the Rule 5 draft. In the case of the latter, the Cardinals seemed to purposely leave him at the Double-A level, making it easier for another organization to select and keep the outfielder.

St. Louis Cardinals recent Rule 5 Draft and related results

MLB taken Return MLB lost Return MiLB taken MiLB lost 40 man adds
2008 none Luis Perdomo (SF) TBD Russ Haltiwanger (KC) Cody Haerther (Tor) Matt Scherer
Tyler Greene
2007 Brian Barton (Cle) no none none none Kyle McClellan
Jason Motte
Joe Mather
Mike Parisi
Jarrett Hoffpauir
Mark Worrell
2006 none none Omar Falcon (Pit) none Troy Cate
Jose Contreras (Was) Dennis Dove
Blake Hawksworth
Cody Haerther
Andy Cavazos
2005 Juan Mateo (ChC) yes none Iker Franco (Atl) Tim Hummel (CWS)
Vince Harrison (Bos)
2004 none Tyler Johnson (Oak) yes Matt Demarco (Fla) Tony Granadillo (Bos)
Jose Garcia (Tex) Josh Teekel (Fla)
Justin Knoff (Cin)
2003 Hector Luna (Cle) no none Rayner Laya (Mon) Jesse Roman (SD)
Jackson Paz (Min)
2002 none Blake Williams (Cin) yes

The future

With rosters as of today, the number of Cardinals farmhands that would be Rule 5 eligible this December is an amazing number – 59. This is very close to the total number of Cards players that were eligible in the last three Rule 5 drafts combined!

In the second part of this article, we will look into how they are distributed and consider what the Cardinals might be doing over the next ten months to protect as many as possible.

Cardinals television update – 02/03/09

Note: See updated schedule information here in my February 22 post.

I didn’t expect to have another of these reports so soon, but the remainder of the St. Louis Cardinals spring and regular season television broadcasts are now filled in on

This post is an update of my January 8, January 19 and January 31 reports.

The news of the regular season television telecasts on Fox Sports Midwest are not a big deal, as they are as expected – basically the 130 games that were not already announced on ESPN, big FOX or KSDK-5. Still, it is good to see them down in print.

The best new news is that FS Midwest’s spring schedule includes five telecasts, including three that were not already scheduled on the away team’s network. This group includes the Friday, April 3 exhibition against the Triple-A Redbirds in Memphis.

Add the two games on KSDK and that makes seven Cardinals spring games available locally. Including two other games on opponent clubs’ networks makes a total of nine televised games planned so far.

Redbird Roundtable on FS Midwest

Fox Sports Midwest postgame analysts Rick Horton and Jack Clark give their takes on the 2009 season in Redbirds Roundtable, a 30-minute special taped at the recent Cardinals Winter Warm-up.  The show debuts Tuesday, February 3 at 10 p.m. CST on Fox Sports Midwest. Schedule details here.

Replays of Fox Sports Midwest’s Winter Warm-up recap shows are also continuing. Schedule details here.

Radio note:
The KTRS radio schedule below is now confirmed. 20 spring games, all on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday plus the Friday night exhibition in Memphis on April 3.

TV notes: Second SportsNet New York (SNY) Mets game on 3/3 added to the schedule as well as the 3/19 game on Fox Sports Florida. That brings the total to 11 televised games, seven on home and six on away networks including two games simulcast by home and away networks.

2009 St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Television Schedule (as of 2/17/09)

Wed 25-Feb-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Florida Marlins
Thur 26-Feb-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals
Fri 27-Feb-09 1:05 New York Mets St. Louis Cardinals SNY
Sat 28-Feb-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Washington Nationals KTRS
Sun 1-Mar-09 1:05 Florida Marlins St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Mon 2-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays
Tues 3-Mar-09 1:05 New York Mets St. Louis Cardinals KTRS SNY
Thur 5-Mar-09 2:05 St. Louis Cardinals Dom Republic WBC KTRS
Fri 6-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals New York Mets
Sat 7-Mar-09 1:05 Houston Astros St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Sun 8-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Florida Marlins KTRS
Tues 10-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Detroit Tigers KTRS
Wed 11-Mar-09 1:05 Florida Marlins St. Louis Cardinals
Thur 12-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Boston Red Sox KTRS
Fri 13-Mar-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals
Fri 13-Mar-09 7:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles
Sat 14-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Atlanta Braves KTRS KSDK 5
Sun 15-Mar-09 1:05 Philadelphia Phillies St. Louis Cardinals KTRS My Phl 17
Mon 16-Mar-09 1:05 Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest
Wed 18-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles
Wed 18-Mar-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest
Thur 19-Mar-09 1:05 Tampa Bay Rays St. Louis Cardinals KTRS FS Florida
Fri 20-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Philadelphia Phillies
Sat 21-Mar-09 1:05 Washington Nationals St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Sun 22-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles KTRS KSDK 5
Mon 23-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Washington Nationals
Wed 25-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Houston Astros FS SW/Midwest
Thur 26-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals New York Mets KTRS
Fri 27-Mar-09 1:05 Boston Red Sox St. Louis Cardinals
Sat 28-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles KTRS
Sun 29-Mar-09 1:05 Minnesota Twins St. Louis Cardinals KTRS FS No/Midwest
Mon 30-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Florida Marlins
Tues 31-Mar-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Wed 1-Apr-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals New York Mets
Thur 2-Apr-09 1:05 Florida Marlins St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Fri 3-Apr-09 7:05 Memphis Redbirds St. Louis Cardinals KTRS FS Midwest
Sat 4-Apr-09 1:05 Memphis Redbirds St. Louis Cardinals KTRS

How about some relief around here?

As every St. Louis Cardinals fan already knows so well, one of the major disappointments of the 2008 club was its relief corps.

There are plenty of reasons assigned to the problem, including the collapse of Jason Isringhausen, the struggles of the left-handers, relievers being used out of their roles, late-season fatigue, rookie inconsistency and many more.

I have no reason to argue about any of them, yet I wondered whether the starters might have been putting more pressure on the bullpen by not going as deep into games. Here are basic numbers for the starting pitchers over the last six seasons.

Games Total IP Starters IP IP/start
2008 162 1454 955 5.9
2007 162 1435.7 889 5.5
2006 161 1429.7 941.7 5.8
2005 162 1445.7 1048 6.5
2004 162 1453.7 996.3 6.2
2003 162 1463.7 979.3 6.0

While the Cardinals starters last season fell just short of six innings per outing, that mark was actually better than achieved in either of the prior two years. Not surprisingly, the high water marks in recent years of well over six innings were established by the triple-digit win clubs of 2004 and 2005.

There seems nothing obvious that can be pinned on the starters so let’s look at the relievers themselves. The most frequently-quoted measurement is their 31 blown saves, tied for worst in the majors. Here are the other traditional measures.

Save opps Saves Blown Holds
2008 73 42 31 115
2007 45 34 11 82
2006 57 38 19 90
2005 65 48 17 86
2004 73 57 16 102
2003 71 44 27 77

Those looking for the bright side in the pen’s performance can point to the 115 holds, which is the top number in recent years. That offers the major difference between 2008 and 2003, the season closest to last in terms of bullpen ineffectiveness.

Despite all the troubles, the 2008 bullpen was presented with 73 save opportunities, tied for the most during this period. (Though not material, I couldn’t help but notice that 2008 and 2004 would have been almost identical if 15 blown saves last season could have been moved to the saves column instead. Of course, had that happened, the team could have won as many as 101 games and everything would have been different!)

Here is where I decided to dig a bit deeper with the help of the stats available from

One of the many splits available is starters vs. relievers. Every pitch, every at-bat all season long was made by one or the other, right? The next split is between relievers in a save situation (SS) and those not in a save situation (NSS). Again, every relief appearance has to be one or the other.

To look at the difference in results achieved between these two situations, I selected one traditional measurement, ERA, and another newer one, OPS+ of the opposing hitters facing the Cardinals relievers.

Save sit ERA SS OPS+ Non-save sit ERA NSS OPS+
2008 5.01 132 3.83 101
2007 3.28 88 4.25 95
2006 3.94 92 4.09 96
2005 2.59 98 3.41 90
2004 1.96 55 3.48 81
2003 5.20 132 4.65 115

A couple of things stand out. Most obvious is the increase in ERA and OPS+ in save situations in 2008 over previous seasons and the disparity between the 2008 results in the non-save situations vs. the save situations. In only 2003 and 2008 were the numbers worse when there was a small lead to protect.

Another observation is that the size of the 2008 gap based on the situation is larger than in any of the other years in this study. Why was that? Why did this pen do ok except when the game was on the line?

Relief IP Rel appearances Save situations SS IP Non-save situations NSS IP
2008 499 506 189 156.3 317 342.7
2007 546.7 516 113 104.3 403 442.3
2006 488 469 127 109.7 342 378.3
2005 397.7 436 158 118 278 279.7
2004 457.3 469 164 142 305 315.3
2003 484.3 461 146 128 315 356.3

The 2008 bullpen made over 500 total appearances for the second consecutive season, but what really catches my eye is the extraordinarily high number of save situations presented the pen at 189.

I initially wondered if that 189 number could have been increased by many short, ineffective appearances that required additional relievers to be deployed. Yet, the high number of innings pitched under those conditions, 156 1/3, tends to discount that.

Next, let’s look at the percent of the save situations and save situation innings compared to the total workload of the bullpen.

Relief IP Rel appearances Save sits SS % appearances SS IP SS % IP
2008 499 506 189 37% 156.3 31%
2007 546.7 516 113 22% 104.3 19%
2006 488 469 127 27% 109.7 22%
2005 397.7 436 158 36% 118 30%
2004 457.3 469 164 35% 142 31%
2003 484.3 461 146 32% 128 26%

Not only were the absolute numbers large, but the 37% of pen appearances occurring in save situations was substantially greater than in either 2006 or 2007. Same with innings pitched.

Could that mean that the 2008 relievers just weren’t able to handle the frequent pressure situations they were placed in? As crazy as it first sounds, would their overall results have been better if they had been presented with fewer save situations to protect?

The 2008 percentages at least did not vary much from 2004 and 2005, though the results in the win column between 2008 and those seasons were quite different.

My final step is to put this together. Remember that inherent in the definition of a save is that at most only one can be had per win. For example, during last season, Cardinals relievers pitched 189 times in save situations over no more than 73 different games. Of those 73, 42 saves were converted and 31 were blown (42%).

(Not to overly complicate, but there could be multiple blown saves in a single game if the bullpen loses the lead more than once.)

That 42% blown save rate in 2008 is the highest in this six-year period. Yet when considering the total number of pitchers that were put in a save situation, the blown save rate of 16% across all of them does not stand out nearly as much compared to other years.

Of course, none of these gymnastics change the bottom line.

Save situations Save opps (~games) Blown saves Blown save % – opps Blown save % – situations
2008 189 73 31 42% 16%
2007 113 45 11 24% 10%
2006 127 57 19 33% 15%
2005 158 65 17 26% 11%
2004 164 73 16 22% 10%
2003 146 71 27 38% 18%

I am going to stop there and ask you, the readers, what you think. Does this work say anything to you? What do you conclude? What if anything might be missing?

At the request of DD17 in the comments that follow, I factored out Jason Isringhausen’s 2008 stats. Interestingly, he appeared in an equal number of save and non-save situations. I guess it is not surprising that his removal helped the club’s save situation ERA, but he actually had a positive impact on the non-save ERA.

What I did find interesting is that Izzy’s save conversion rate of 63%, while not very good, was still better than the rest of the club with him excluded (56%).

In save sits G W L S BS Sv % IP ERA
Team 2008 189 5 13 42 31 58% 156.3 5.01
Izzy 21 1 4 12 7 63% 17.7 10.70
Team w/o Izzy 168 4 9 30 24 56% 138.7 4.28
In non SS G W L S BS Sv % IP ERA
Team 2008 317 17 18 0 0 0 342.7 3.83
Izzy 21 0 1 0 0 0 24 2.16
Team w/o Izzy 296 17 17 0 0 0 318.7 3.95

While I redid the team totals, I am not comfortable with them. To do it properly, it would have required me to make an assumption about whether or not another reliever could have converted the saves that Izzy couldn’t. Instead, I just took out his numbers.

Save sits Save opps (G) Blown Blown Sv % Blown save sit %
2008 total 189 73 31 42% 16%
2008 w/o Izzy 168 73 24 33% 14%

Going beyond three years just feels wrong

At the end of September, negotiations between the St. Louis Cardinals and right-handed pitcher Kyle Lohse culminated in an announcement that the then-29-year-old would remain a member of the club for four more seasons. The price, negotiated by agent Scott Boras, was $41 million.

The player wanted the security of a multiyear contract and the opportunity to remain in St. Louis. As a result, Lohse pressured Boras to deviate from the agent’s standard operating procedure and close a deal prior to the pitcher re-entering the free agent market.

I am amused when I read some revisionist views of these events, crediting Boras for outsmarting the Cardinals in getting the deal done early, before the market softened. Truth is that Boras made it very clear at the signing press conference that he was not in favor of it, but deferred to the pitcher’s demands. Dumb luck is sometimes better than no luck at all.

At the time of the announcement, many of us had at least mild concern over the deal for several reasons. First, the price felt like no bargain for a middle-of-the-rotation starter with a solid, but unspectacular record. Now with the full benefit of hindsight, the market decline has exposed the Cardinals as having paid more than they should have due to their haste.

The second area of general discomfort is the no-trade clause present for the entire term of the deal and finally, the fourth season just feels like one too many years.

I know. The use of the term “feeling” is about as subjective as any comment can be.

Here’s why. Let’s look at the other most recent contracts for a period of over three years initiated by the Cardinals with players that would have been free agent eligible.

Chris Carpenter, December 2006

Their ace was coming off his most two recent seasons in which he won one Cy Young Award and placed third in the other year to go along with a World Series victory. The Cardinals were trying to sign one of the top free agent starting pitchers, Jason Schmidt, so the club negotiated a massive extension with Chris Carpenter as well.

The Cardinals did this despite the fact they had one year plus a club option remaining on Carpenter’s then-current contract. The amounts due the pitcher for the 2007 and 2008 seasons would have been $15 million under that pre-empted deal.

Instead, the Cardinals paid $19 million over the last two years as part of their renewed five-year, $63.5 million commitment to Carpenter, plus they also hold a 2012 club option. That leaves just $44.5 million of guaranteed money to go.

An unstated reason to do the deal when they did was to maintain the salary structure of the club as Schmidt was in line to fetch almost $16 million per year. The Cardinals wanted to ensure Carpenter’s compensation was in line with the highest-paid pitcher on the team. They and the Dodgers reportedly offered Schmidt comparable contracts, but the free agent opted for the West Coast. Whew!

In the two years since, Carpenter and Schmidt between them have earned about $1 million per inning pitched – a total of 47 innings while drawing over $44 million and counting.

Scott Rolen – September 2002

Shortly after coming to the Cardinals from the Philadelphia Phillies that July, new third baseman Scott Rolen received an offer he couldn’t refuse, eight years and $90 million. (Rolen and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. are shown on signing day.) After productive early years, including a run for the top as part of the 2004 MV3 and a 2006 World Series crown, the relationship ended prematurely last January.

Upset with Cardinals management over his treatment and with his shoulder weakened by multiple surgeries, Rolen wanted out of Dodge. Amazingly, then-new sheriff John Mozeliak found a taker in the Toronto Blue Jays.

Troy Glaus moved to St. Louis as the unhappy Rolen headed to the Land of the Great White North, where his offensive struggles continued. The Cardinals-Glaus marriage, while solid in its first year, will end after the 2009 season, while the Jays will still be bound to pay a declining Rolen $11 million in 2010.

When considering the Carpenter and Rolen deals along with what might have been with Schmidt, is there any reason the Cardinals shouldn’t be concerned about making a long-term commitment to any player?

It just so happened that Kyle Lohse was next in line.

: Not included here are three long-term deals put in place under different circumstances – to buy out young players’ arbitration-eligible years and beyond.

These contracts were given to Albert Pujols in 2004 (seven years, $100 million plus a team option for year eight), Yadier Molina in 2008 (four years, $15.5 million plus a team option for year five) and Adam Wainwright (four years, $15 million plus team options for years five and six).

Pujols’ deal is clearly a bargain but external pressure is already mounting to extend his current contract – despite the fact its final three seasons still remain – two contract years plus the club option.

While year one of both Molina’s and Wainwright’s contracts have been favorable for both sides, good player health for each is key to the club getting full value for the risk taken in issuing the long-term deals earlier than required.

Cardinals television and radio update – 01/31/09

More news of television schedules for all major league clubs continue to trickle out. Not surprisingly, my primary interest is where they intersect with the St. Louis Cardinals. This post is an update of my January 8 and January 19 reports.

Since last time, the slate of St. Louis Cardinals spring training games confirmed to be televised has grown to six.

Local television

St. Louis KSDK Channel 5 will be tuning up for their Sunday regular season broadcasts with a pair of spring training telecasts from Jupiter, Florida. They will be showing the home games against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, March 14 and the contest when the Cards welcome the Baltimore Orioles the following Sunday, March 22.

In addition to those two contests, the schedule for the 20-game regular season portion of KSDK’s 2009 Cardinals coverage is also posted on

Opponent television

The other new additions to my schedule below are from the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros. Along with the previously-announced Minnesota Twins game on March 29, each of these three clubs will be televising one Cardinals spring game.

Sportsnet New York will have the earliest game, the Friday, February 27 game from Port St. Lucie. The Phillies will carry the Sunday, March 15 contest while FOX Sports Southwest will pick up the Wednesday, March 25 tilt as the Astros invade Jupiter. See details below.

How to get them

In recent years, I have always tracked all spring televised games. In this age of satellite television, enterprising Cardinals fans thirsty for all the action they can get often find a way to pick up the opposing broadcasts. I know I do.

Now if MLB Network delivers on their still not fully-defined plans to televise three spring games per day, it should prove to be even easier here in 2009. (It sounds like a cheesy commercial, but I am serious. If your system doesn’t offer the new MLB Network channel, start making calls and writing letters.)

Local radio

Last point. A friend at The BIG 550 KTRS, radio home of the Cardinals, tells me that he believes their spring radio plans for Cards games will continue as in the past. That means Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday games during camp. Though this is NOT confirmed yet, I am tentatively listing the broadcasts here.

The station will have on-air staff in Florida doing reports from February 11, starting even before pitchers and catchers report! As you probably know, they have a live internet stream. If I can get schedule information, I will pass it along.

Winter Warm-up embers still hot

Don’t forget to catch the two episodes of Fox Sports Midwest’s coverage from the Cardinals Winter Warm-up that are still being re-run on FS Midwest. Here’s the link to the schedule. Among the things you will learn is that Khalil Greene is one serious dude, the anti-Jim Hayes.

Spring schedule details

Mon 23-Feb-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals SLU Billikens (exhib.)
Wed 25-Feb-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Florida Marlins
Thur 26-Feb-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Fri 27-Feb-09 1:05 New York Mets St. Louis Cardinals SNY
Sat 28-Feb-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Washington Nationals KTRS
Sun 1-Mar-09 1:05 Florida Marlins St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Mon 2-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays
Tues 3-Mar-09 1:05 New York Mets St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Thur 5-Mar-09 2:05 St. Louis Cardinals Dom Republic WBC KTRS
Fri 6-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals New York Mets
Sat 7-Mar-09 1:05 Houston Astros St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Sun 8-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Florida Marlins KTRS
Tues 10-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Detroit Tigers KTRS
Wed 11-Mar-09 1:05 Florida Marlins St. Louis Cardinals
Thur 12-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Boston Red Sox KTRS
Fri 13-Mar-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals
Fri 13-Mar-09 7:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles
Sat 14-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Atlanta Braves KTRS KSDK 5
Sun 15-Mar-09 1:05 Philadelphia Phillies St. Louis Cardinals KTRS My Phl 17
Mon 16-Mar-09 1:05 Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals
Wed 18-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles
Wed 18-Mar-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals
Thur 19-Mar-09 1:05 Tampa Bay Rays St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Fri 20-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Philadelphia Phillies
Sat 21-Mar-09 1:05 Washington Nationals St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Sun 22-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles KTRS KSDK 5
Mon 23-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Washington Nationals
Wed 25-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Houston Astros FS SW
Thur 26-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals New York Mets KTRS
Fri 27-Mar-09 1:05 Boston Red Sox St. Louis Cardinals
Sat 28-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Baltimore Orioles KTRS
Sun 29-Mar-09 1:05 Minnesota Twins St. Louis Cardinals KTRS FS North
Mon 30-Mar-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals Florida Marlins
Tues 31-Mar-09 1:05 Baltimore Orioles St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Wed 1-Apr-09 1:05 St. Louis Cardinals New York Mets
Thur 2-Apr-09 1:05 Florida Marlins St. Louis Cardinals KTRS
Fri 3-Apr-09 7:05 Memphis Redbirds St. Louis Cardinals
Sat 4-Apr-09 1:05 Memphis Redbirds St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals minor matters – January 30

Albert to the DR

Albert Pujols arrived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on Wednesday, according to ESPN Deportes. His primary mission is to deliver over a thousand beds and other supplies aimed at benefiting disadvantaged people in his homeland. The linked to report also notes Albert will train with those World Baseball Classic players present in the country and will play as long as his elbow is ok. No mention was made of the earlier insurance problem that threatened to keep him sidelined.

Albert heats up his “Sign Manny” initiative

Meeting with the press while in the Dominican, Pujols returned to a subject that is obviously close to his heart – the Cardinals signing free agent outfielder Manny Ramirez. Albert broached the same subject earlier in the winter as well, back in November.

This time, Albert said he is speaking with Manny every three days and passed the phone number of the Scott Boras client on to manager Tony La Russa. Pujols addressed the inherent budgetary challenges by suggesting the support of St. Louis fans could be worth a discount.

Hold onto that thought for a minute.

Mo says “no Manny”

It was only Wednesday when the LA Times published a very short conversation with Cards GM John Mozeliak. Mo was asked if the Cardinals are a mystery bidder for ManRam.

“The answer is no,” Mozeliak told the paper.

Not a lot of wiggle room in that.

Déjà vu, Albert

Please read the following excerpt.

Albert Pujols wants a long-term contract from the St. Louis Cardinals, and he doesn’t plan to give them a bargain.

“What do you mean?” Pujols said Sunday at the team’s annual winter fanfest. “This is business. There’s no break here.

“You try to get what you deserve and that’s what I want. I’ve taken care of my business in the field the last three years and hopefully I get treated respectfully, that’s all I ask for.”

You read about that already, right? If the resulting message board anxiety could have been measured, a large segment of the Cardinal Nation has already been hospitalized and Albert is in the midst of looking for new houses in New York or Los Angeles, or maybe both!

The problem is that the above quote, while 100% real, is NOT from this Winter Warm-up. It is from January, 2004, prior to Albert’s current seven-year deal.

My advice to those with their undies in a bunch over the prospect of a Pujols free agency in three years, is to calm down, please!

Now, back to Manny. Albert seems to have the same disease that strikes fans all over baseball – the tendency to want to spend other peoples’ money.

If Albert says he won’t take a hometown discount with his own team, how can he expect someone that has never even played there to do so?

Right. It’s all just talk, so take it for what it is worth.

Bissinger on Pujols

Article from ESPN the Magazine on El Hombre with a 2005 perspective, yet a good reminder of the greatness of Albert.

Amaury the Hunter

Even as the outfielder was not among those invited to major league spring training this year after scoring an invite in 2008, Amaury Marti is having a solid winter playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic. He and his Tiger teammates should be on the tube starting next Monday as the MLB Network covers the Caribbean Series from Mexico. (Check out daily reports on the Series on Cardinals Best News Links.)

A recent article from the Dominican paper Listin Diario does not beat around the bush about Marti’s age, calling him the same 34 years old at which he was listed in Cuba. The Cardinals, at least publicly, still have their collective heads in the sand, asserting Marti is 30.

One other tidbit is that the well-traveled outfielder acquired a nickname this past summer while playing in Mexico – “El Cazador” or “The Hunter”.

So it shall be!

La Russa booking

In news of the weird, Tony La Russa will be autographing phone books this Saturday afternoon in Concord, CA. Turns out, TLR and one of his daughters are featured on the cover of the local phone directory, honest!

Try framing that!

The good news is that La Russa is working cheaply, with signatures just $10 a pop, all for charity of course. That is just a third of what it took for his autograph at Winter Warm-up.

Benson only “so-so”

The “most consistent interest” in 34-year-old Kris Benson is from the Dodgers, Rangers and Cardinals, says Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal’s sources. Benson is trying to come back from rotator cuff surgery two years ago. According to the report, Benson looks only “so-so” in his throwing sessions. “Better than expected,” an MLB exec said, “but not great.”

Pass. Please.

Springer signs for perhaps a small raise

Former Cardinals reliever Russ Springer signed a one-year deal with the Oakland A’s for $3.3 million with another $0.3 million in incentives. That could take his 2009 take just slightly over his $3.5 million salary with the Cards in 2008. The 40-year-old moved to his eighth team in his 16th season because St. Louis had no room for him in 2009.

Best of luck to Springer, a genuine nice guy.

Izzy still waiting

With the signing of former Arizona closer Brandon Lyon by the Detroit Tigers, ex-Cards closer Jason Isringhausen may have lost his ideal landing location for 2009. The Detroit Free Press had been actively campaigning for Izzy, obviously to no avail.

Few if any other clubs have open closer jobs without candidates already in house. Early in the month, there were supposedly six teams interested in Izzy, but as of now, he is still unemployed.

Looper back on O’s plate

With Baltimore already having signed ex-Cards shortstop Cesar Izturis, they are getting back around to considering starting pitcher Braden Looper. They were linked with the free agent earlier in the winter, but that time, interest was not confirmed.

Looks to me like it could be a good fit. (The Dodgers are also said to have interest.)

A Giant Thrill

Former Cardinals first baseman Will Clark has returned to his old club, the San Francisco Giants, as a special assistant. After coaching with the Cardinals in spring training three years ago, Clark spent the last two with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A Mac Holliday

Almost Cardinal and now Oakland A’s outfielder Matt Holliday not only credits disgraced ex-Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire for helping him develop his power, but he actually moved to Southern California this off-season specifically to work out with Big Mac.

How’s that for tight?

Boras comes up in ‘roids talk

Admitted steroids supplier to baseball players Kirk Radomski spoke to ESPN. Among his comments is one that money for PEDs on behalf of Kevin Brown allegedly arrived in an envelope from agent Scott Boras’ office. Boras denied involvement, of course.

Boras unethical to clients

A very interesting lawyerly-focused treatise on Boras’ ethics with the conclusion that his clients are the ones that suffer.

The changing face of Cardinals NRIs – Part two

In the first part of this look at the St. Louis Cardinals non-roster invitees, the changing balance between veterans and prospects was analyzed. Here in part two, we’ll review the NRIs that made the team each year out of spring training since 2001 as well as some of the prominent names that came up short.

2008 NRI made 25-man Casualties
Ron Villone Juan Gonzalez
Rico Washington * Cliff Politte
* 1st MLB action Dewan Brazelton

Last spring, lefty NRI reliever Ron Villone signed late, on February 19. Tyler Johnson always seemed a month away from being ready. Tyler’s late March cortisone shot opened the door for Villone and by Johnson’s May surgery, Villone was firmly entrenched for the remainder of the season. Villone was not asked to return to the Cardinals in 2009 and remains a free agent.

Rico Washington made his first major league roster after almost a dozen years in the minors when Brendan Ryan suffered a strained oblique during spring training. After a month of hitting under the Mendoza Line, Washington was back in Memphis. He is now a minor league free agent.

Among the players that tried and failed to make the team include former two-time American League Most Valuable Player Juan Gonzalez and ex-Tampa Bay pitcher Dewon Brazelton. Neither made it through the month of March. In what may have been his final season, former Cards pitcher Cliff Politte reported to Memphis, but spent most of the season on the disabled list.

2007 NRI made 25-man Casualties
none Eli Marrero
Jolbert Cabrera

Though 19 tried, not a one of the 2007 NRIs made the opening day roster.

Former Cardinals catcher Eli Marrero tried to catch on as a third string catcher and backup outfielder but instead opened the season on Memphis’ DL due to elbow problems. He played in all of one game there before bad feelings not only ended the business relationship but apparently also Marrero’s career. (After being out of the game in 2008, Marrero is playing winter ball in Puerto Rico this off-season, but is not under contract with an MLB organization.)

Ex-MLB infielder Jolbert Cabrera was allotted 53 spring at-bats and did nothing, batting .151/.211/.189. Well, check that. He did lead the team with four spring errors. Cabrera missed part of the season with Memphis before getting his appendix removed and it went downhill from there.

2006 NRI made 25-man Casualties
Josh Hancock Alan Benes
Scott Spiezio Brian Daubach
Jeff Nelson

2006 camp brought a large batch of former major leaguers on minor league contracts. They included first baseman Brian Daubach and pitchers Blaine Neal, John Riedling and Brad Voyles. They all failed. Not an NRI though he should have been, second baseman Junior Spivey had a roster spot, but stunk it up so badly in the spring (.147, five errors) that he was outrighted to Memphis. There he continued to earn a major league salary through DL stints.

Alan Benes made one last try to reclaim his pre-injury glory but ended his career with Memphis. Infielder Deivi Cruz was the only spring hitter worse than Spivey (.146) and was taken off the roster and released before March was out. Reliever Jeff Nelson, a former four-time world champion with the Yankees, pitched well in March, but lost out in the numbers game.

Two that made the club were a pair headed for future disasters – former Cincinnati pitcher Josh Hancock, who posted a spring ERA of 1.80, and infielder Scott Spiezio, kept on the roster despite hitting just .194. Hancock died in a 2007 automobile crash while Spiezio is out of the game due to ongoing substance abuse problems.

2005 NRI made 25-man Casualties
Bill Pulsipher Bob File
Abraham Nunez Raul Gonzalez

Jason Isringhausen’s former comrade with the Mets’ Generation K, lefty Bill Pulsipher, was a surprise winner of a 2005 roster spot. Hamstring problems almost immediately put him on the DL and he was outrighted to Memphis by early May. He went to indy ball from there.

Former Pirates infielder Abraham Nunez was a one-year success for the 2005 Cards, covering third base while Scott Rolen missed 106 games. He turned that into a two year, $3.35 million contract with Philadelphia for 2006-2007 but washed out and is now trying to get back to the majors.

Among those that didn’t make it that spring were former major leaguers Bob File and Raul Gonzalez. The former, a pitcher, retired while the latter, an outfielder, went to Memphis, where he spent the season.

2004 NRI made 25-man Casualties
Tony Womack Kevin Witt
Ray Lankford Emil Brown
Cody McKay Greg Vaughn

In one of the biggest NRI showings in recent years, three players made the 2004 team, including second baseman Tony Womack, who went on to hit .307 that season, former Cards great, outfielder Ray Lankford, back for a curtain call after a year away from the game, and catcher Cody McKay. Lankford retired for good following a pedestrian season during which he was slowed by a wrist injury while McKay called it quits after 19 games with Memphis in 2005.

Former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Kevin Witt was among those that didn’t make the team, but went on to have a fine season with Memphis. Outfielder Emil Brown lasted only 19 games in Triple-A, but since has become a four-year MLB starter with Kansas City and Oakland. On his last career legs, Greg Vaughn, with 355 major league home runs, was reassigned to minor league camp at the end of March and the outfielder retired the next day.

2003 NRI made 25-man Casualties
Cal Eldred Kurt Abbott
Lance Painter Jon Nunnally
Russ Springer
Kiko Calero *
* 1st MLB action

Four relievers, all NRIs, made the initial 2003 bullpen. Cal Eldred re-invented himself as a valuable reliever and Lance Painter would close out his career after pitching in 22 games for the Cardinals. Russ Springer had his initial stop in St. Louis, while Kiko Calero made his first MLB roster after having been signed as a minor league free agent prior to the season.

Though neither were NRIs, reliever Al Levine and starting pitcher Joey Hamilton, the latter with almost 200 MLB starts under his belt, were brought in amid some fanfare. Neither MLB veteran lasted the month of March before being released just prior to the deadline at which their entire contract amounts would have become guaranteed.

2002 NRI made 25-man Casualties
Eduardo Perez Al Martin

Two NRIs were among the combatants fighting to augment Albert Pujols in the 2002 outfield, though it would not be until 2004 that the full-time switch was made.

One NRI made the club out of camp, infielder/outfielder Eduardo Perez. Tony’s son returned to the Cardinals after having played in Japan in 2001. He was a previously a Cardinal in 1999-2000. Outfielder Al Martin, long time of the Pirates, had come over from Seattle. He ended up not playing that season due to injury, his only stop with the organization.

2001 NRI made 25-man Casualties
John Mabry Shane Andrews
Jeff Tabaka Bernard Gilkey
Albert Pujols*
* 1st MLB action

Among the final cuts in 2001 were veteran outfielder and former Cardinal Bernard Gilkey and third baseman Shane Andrews, both in camp as NRIs. Gilkey moved to the Braves for his final season while Andrews stayed around to hit .218 for Memphis that summer.

Three non-roster invitees did make the club, however. You may remember at least one of them.

Reliever Jeff Tabaka is a name some Cardinals fans would rather forget, having posted a 7.38 ERA in his career swan song in 2001. First baseman/outfielder John Mabry was back and made the club for his second stint, but didn’t stay long. He was traded to Florida after appearing in just five regular season games.

The unanimous choice as NL Rookie of the Year, Albert Pujols started at four positions that season – first base (32), left field (37), right field (33) and third base (52). Albert not only was not on the 40-man roster coming in, he burst onto the scene having had just 14 regular season at-bats above A-ball.

In closing:
In what was clearly a unique situation, Albert made the jump from spring NRI to the majors in one big step. Just because he did, it doesn’t mean Colby Rasmus, David Freese and Brett Wallace and the others vying for a 2009 roster spot will be assured of doing the same, however.

Yet the developing conditions are favorable for it to perhaps happen again.

Is reducing the Cardinals payroll unreasonable?

An overly-simple measure of quantity (rather than quality) of a baseball organization’s financial commitment is the oft-quoted total salary of the players that make up their major league roster.

There are many variations to these numbers, depending on whether one is looking at the total salaries of the players regardless of which club is actually paying for them (hello, Jim Edmonds!), the timing of the view (start or end of season), how compensation elements such as salary deferrals and incentives are accounted for and more.

A changing 2009 picture

Yet, using any measure, current course and speed, the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals are currently on a trajectory to open the season with a lower total salary commitment than they expected last fall.

In October, general manager John Mozeliak told me to expect a 2009 payroll “north of $100 million”. As has been reported time and time again, things have changed.

Now, in a report I first referenced here the other day, Yahoo Sports is forecasting a $91 million total for the ’09 Cards, considerably below the $99.6 million they quote for 2008 (a season-opening count as well).

Who’s spending more and who’s spending less?

I am not here to nitpick the numbers, but I do want to look into them, as there is a lot more than first meets the eye. Fortunately, a regular on the message board, “Oquendo11”, already did much of the initial research.

Using the Yahoo series of articles as a consistent guide, with 22 teams having been covered so far, Oquendo noted that the number of clubs apparently increasing payroll in 2009 is equivalent to the ones cutting back.

I extended that several steps further to add their ranking from 2008. This can help us better understand which clubs are moving in which direction. In other words, are the big spenders planning to spend more while the small spenders are spending less?

2009 vs. 2008 2008 rank Avg rank Avg 2008 $
Increase (9)
Chicago Cubs 8
Philadelphia 12
Houston 14
Cincinnati 18
Baltimore 22
Kansas City 24
Oakland 28
Tampa Bay 29
Florida 30
Avg ’08 rank/$ 21 $67.7 M
Decrease (9)
New York Mets 2
Detroit 3
Boston 4
LA Angels 6
Seattle 9
Atlanta 10
St. Louis 11
Toronto 13
Pittsburgh 27
Avg ’08 rank/$ 9 $117.7 M
Flat (4)
Texas 21
Washington 26
NY Yankees 1
Milwaukee 15
Not included (8)
Chi White Sox 5
LA Dodgers 7
Cleveland 16
San Francisco 17
San Diego 19
Colorado 20
Arizona 23
Minnesota 25

Meet you in the middle

Nope, it is just the opposite. The two extremes are coming in toward the middle. The clubs that were spending the most in 2008 are the ones cutting back in 2009 while the lower-spending clubs are generally planning increases.

The average rankings illustrate this even better. The cutting teams averaged ninth in payroll last season or just into the top third, while the increasers averaged 21st in spending across MLB last year, just into the bottom third.

Taking the rankings even closer to reality, last season’s ninth-highest spending team dropped $117.7 million on players, while the 21st-ranked club spent a whopping $40 million less. Even with an increase on 2009, the 21st ranked club would have a long way to travel to come anywhere near reaching parity.

To make sure I am clear, what this shows is that in terms of their 2009 payroll planning, the Cardinals are behaving very much like the other clubs in their financial ballpark.

Consider how the money is being spent

I want to reinforce one point that has been made over and over again. There is no sure correlation between spending more money and winning more championships. The top payroll in baseball year after year comes from the New York Yankees, a club that missed the playoffs last season and hasn’t won a World Series since 2000.

If one remains unconvinced, just look at the 2008 Seattle Mariners. They became MLB’s first-ever $100 million payroll club ($117.7 million at #9) to lose 100 games (101, to be exact – second-worst in baseball). It’s clearly not how much you spend as much as it is how you spend it.

If disgruntled Cardinals fans want to engage on that point – how the player payroll money is spent – then I can understand completely.

Another reality that is difficult to measure is the impact of a stronger farm system. Common sense tells us that a rookie will always have a lower salary than a veteran. What is far less clear is what percentage of the money saved by replacing an older, more expensive player with a younger, less costly one should be plowed back into upgrading another position at the major league level. Also, should that be a linear relationship, i.e. does it change based on the number of youngsters vs. veterans?

Some fans would say “100% of money saved should always be spent on other major leaguers, of course!” Yet the owners are in business to make money. Why should they not be entitled to reap some of the benefits from efficiencies gained via their smart investments in player scouting and development?

What if a club decides to spend more in the international market or on draft bonuses? Do fans think that is new money or realistically, does it have to be reallocated from somewhere else?

I don’t pretend to know the proper mix or how to measure it, but I am pretty sure that the folks on the far ends of either side of this equation – the “alls” as well as the “nothings” are too extreme for reality.

E:R can neither be fully understood nor ignored

Expanding this one step further, let’s consider the revenue side of the equation. We do not know the actual revenue the Cardinals generate each year, though respected industry watchers like Forbes do their best to make educated estimates.

The Cardinals are clearly signaling they expect down revenue in 2009. Given all that is going on around us in this world, it is not a surprising conclusion to draw.

Still a doubter?

I just read this headline on CNN: “More than 10,000 job cuts announced Tuesday”. The day before they screamed: “Bloody Monday: Over 71,400 jobs lost” on the heels of 40,000 cuts the week prior.

If you don’t think there are scores of Cardinals fans working for these affected companies – Midwest employers like Caterpillar, John Deere, The Home Depot and Target – then you are hopelessly out of touch.

Let’s face it. For most of our country, baseball is a luxury, not a necessity. It is entertainment, not sustenance. When times get tough, we trim the fat before hitting the bone.

Here is a question I challenge everyone to consider.

In any endeavor, including running a baseball team, isn’t it wise to try to keep revenue and expense in balance?

Where can they cut?

One can certainly debate how a club goes about achieving savings. The Arizona Diamondbacks, for example, ranked 23rd in player payroll last season, recently laid off 31 front office personnel, or 9% of their staff.

Is that better for the organization than cutting player expenditures? How could we ever answer that from our perspective? Instead we have to assume ownership carefully weighed their alternatives and did what they thought was best for the organization overall.

One can also debate when cutting expense finally hits the bone – leading to a further decline in revenue and sending the organization into a financial death spiral.

Yet I cannot see how a reasonable, rational person cannot appreciate the most basic financial relationship presented above – if take in less, then I should spend less. The only reason to deviate is if I can determine a valid way to make more by spending more.

Whether we consider it this way or not, the responsible ones among us follow this simple E:R guideline in our own daily lives. Why should we expect others to act differently?

In conclusion

As noted above, the real challenge is in how the Cardinals actually execute their revised 2009 game plan, both on their financial spreadsheets and on the field of play.

In the meantime, let’s see if the club makes any further investments as camp begins and prices on players drop. Let’s see if the younger players step up and contribute. Let’s see if they decide to upgrade the team in-season if they contend in 2009. Let’s see if the Cardinals can weather the economic downturn or if fans stay home in record numbers.

In closing, I am not suggesting that everyone should agree with ownership and management. I disagree with them frequently on any number of specific issues.

However, I am saying that is both unfair and inaccurate to assume that a cut in payroll also represents a move to increase profits and a reduced commitment to putting a winning product on the field.

Those who still don’t get it need to open their eyes and look at what is happening all around them.

Should the Cardinals fear Boras in arbitration?

Recently, I reported on the pending arbitration cases of a pair of St. Louis Cardinals outfielders, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick. In reply, a reader asked if I feared the prospect of the Cardinals having to face Scott Boras, Ankiel’s agent. After all, the ex-Cardinals minor leaguer carries the reputation as the game’s most powerful agent and a tenacious negotiator.

I took answering the question from the perspective of the club. My somewhat curt reply was that I am not concerned about Boras in arbitration, but do fear him in an even more important role – the one he will be playing for Ankiel after the 2009 season – as the representative of a free agent.

In that act, Boras can play clubs off against each other by inflating the value of offers and the number of suitors pursuing his client and if necessary, even burn some bridges to get the best possible deal. While there are rules governing the free agent process, the freedom is there to decide where to go, how much to ask and how many years to demand.

And if the situation warrants, the criteria can change at a moment’s notice. Just ask Boston owner John Henry how he feels about the recent Mark Teixeira negotiations. From the Boston Herald last month:

“The Sox, meanwhile, are, at least for now, done with Boras. One well-placed source said the club will never deal with him again unless it can be guaranteed that talks are being conducted honestly. We would take that threat a little more seriously if Boras’ clientele list were to shrink dramatically, but since that is not realistic, we will take it as a sign of just how badly the club felt it got stung by lies from Boras. They are in a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” mode right now, with the Teixeira talks feeling like the last straw to them.”

On the other hand, the original question asked me was not about free agency, where Boras’ force is unquestioned. After all, like it or not, barely one month later, these same Red Sox are reportedly close to a two-year deal for their captain, Jason Varitek. Guess who represents the catcher?

Back to the point. The thinking behind my original reply was that the arbitration process has a very defined set of rules that limit the amount of “creativity” possible, even for an agent as notorious as Boras. The two salary amounts for the arbiters to consider – player and club – have already been set. The one-year term is also fixed.

All that remains are the cases the respective agent and club can make in support of their position at the hearing. Boras can come into the room with his famous binders stuffed full of persuasive information, but many clubs are skilled in presenting arbitration cases, too.

As an aside, remember that player and club can come to terms on any deal of any duration before the February arbitration hearing. In fact, that is what usually happens.

Only 12% of all filed cases actually make it to a hearing and many more situations are resolved prior to the filing date. For example, just eight of 110 players who filed last year went to a hearing, while all the other eligible players came to terms ahead of time. The Cardinals haven’t participated in a hearing in ten years.

On Monday morning, I read this article about Tal Smith Enterprises, where the owner, also a long-time Houston Astros executive, discussed his role representing clubs in arbitration hearings. Smith said with an apparent straight face that he doesn’t keep score (yeah, right!), but knows that over the years he is batting over .500.

That renewed my interest in this article. As such, I decided I should analyze the data and determine if my original knee-jerk answer in not fearing Boras in arbitration is supportable. With hearing results from The Biz of Baseball website coupled with player-agent information already in hand, I looked at the last six years of arbitration hearings in terms of winners and losers.

2003-08 Total cases Club win Player win Player %
38 25 13 34.2%

Over the most recent six years, players have won just over one third, 34%, of the hearings. I guess, just like a good hitter, an average of .333 has to be considered pretty respectable.

I then split out the non-Scott Boras clients from the Boras ones. Over the six years, Boras had eight of the 38 hearings. First, here are the year-to-year results for the non-Boras clients.

Excluding Boras Cases Club win Player win Player %
2008 6 5 1 17%
2007 7 4 3 43%
2006 4 3 1 25%
2005 2 2 0 0%
2004 6 3 3 50%
2003 5 3 2 40%
Total 30 20 10 33.3%

The players won exactly one-third of the time, 10 of the 30 hearings held from 2003 through 2008.

Now, looking at the Boras subset, we see that his record is slightly better on behalf of his clients compared to the other agents at 37.5 percent, but remember that we are talking about a population of just eight cases. Just more one win turned to loss or vice-versa would swing the result wildly, from 25% to 50%.

Boras Cases Club win Player win Player %
2008 2 1 Felipe Lopez 1 Oliver Perez 50%
2007 0 0 0 0%
2006 2 1 Sunny Kim 1 Kyle Lohse 50%
2005 1 0 1 Kyle Lohse 100%
2004 1 1 Eric Gagne 0 0%
2003 2 2 Carlos Beltran 0 0%
Bruce Chen
Total 8 5 3 37.5%

In summary

Based on the data from the last six years at least, the arbitration success rate of Scott Boras compared to other agents is negligible.

To gauge whether Ankiel and Boras can beat the odds and defeat the Cardinals in a hearing, a better assessment could be made on the basis of analyzing the two salary amounts submitted.

In my earlier work, I took an approach similar to the arbitration process, looking at players with comparable experience and statistics – as best as possible considering the true uniqueness of Ankiel’s late-blooming career change in becoming an outfielder.

Subsequent to that, here is how the submissions fell, with the two sides coming in almost a million dollars apart:

Ankiel: $3.3 million

Cardinals: $2.35 million

Midpoint: $2.825 million
My earlier estimate: $3.25 million (which will almost certainly end up too high if they settle pre-hearing)

At least based on this work, Boras would seem to be in a strong position. Though not relevant to Ankiel’s case in an actual hearing, the comparable salaries were set in a different economic environment, a factor that could be the slogan of this already-stormy Cardinals’ off-season.

Lohse and Pettitte – One timed it right

News item
: Andy Pettitte, boxed in on his 2009 contract and destination, settled on a one-year contract with the New York Yankees for $5.5 million with an additional $6.5 million in incentives – $4.5 million based on innings pitched and $2 million based on days on the active roster, according to the AP.

Earlier in the off-season, the Houston native turned down a $10 million guaranteed deal from the Yanks, his feelings hurt over being asked to take a cut from his 2008 salary of $16 million.

Since that time however, the Yankees went on a spending spree, landing free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, and withdrawing their original offer to Andy in the process. Pettitte, 36, still made it clear he was interested only in returning to the Yankees, eliminating much of his leverage.

Why am I bringing this up on a St. Louis Cardinals-focused site?

I couldn’t help but notice a few parallels with the often-forgotten, yet biggest move by far of the 2008-2009 Cardinals’ off-season, the signing of Kyle Lohse to a four-year, $41 million contract at the end of September.

  • Like Pettitte, Lohse told his agent that he wanted to remain with his current club and to get a deal done.

  • Like Pettitte, Lohse settled for a deal that could deliver between $10 million and $12 million per year (on the average).

  • Like Pettitte, Lohse turned down a bigger deal early. It was last off-season, a three-year offer to remain with Philadelphia. He later had to settle for a much-reduced one-year, $4.75 million deal with St. Louis for 2008.

  • But unlike Pettitte, Lohse moved quickly this time, before the economy went into its deepest slide. September was a time when $41 million sounded like a decent deal. Now, it doesn’t feel quite as good from the club’s perspective.

I understand the two are totally different situations, but for just a moment, consider if Lohse had turned down a deal worth $10 million or more per year last fall like Pettitte, gambling the market would improve, as agent Scott Boras advised.

Modeling Lohse’s hypothetical deal after Pettitte’s, a four-year deal with an average base of $5.5 million would have guaranteed Lohse just $22 million instead of $41 million. On the positive side, if all incentives were hit, he could actually bring home more, $48 million.

Though not entirely realistic, if nothing else, this offers a view of how the market has shifted since last fall. If Pettitte’s deal is any indication, free agent pitchers, at least those in the second tier, seem to be getting less and/or are having taking on more risk.

This time, Lohse played it right. Likely tired of hassles after two consecutive years of arbitration hearings, then being traded at two consecutive deadlines, followed by a 2007-2008 off-season in which he received no offers between November and March, Lohse found a home in St. Louis and made his big deal to remain.

Yet is there any doubt that the Cardinals wouldn’t do such a contract today? Timing is everything.

(Footnote: Those hoping for improved odds of a Rick Ankiel trade to the Yankees for a young starting pitcher due to the Pettitte signing should note Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s comment in the AP article. He doesn’t expect to be making any more significant moves for the remainder of the off-season. Boras, who also represents Ankiel, is probably more disappointed about that in the context of still-homeless superstar Manny Ramirez than for the Cardinals outfielder.)

Cardinals unnecessary second and third base intrigue

In a winter that has grown increasingly contentious across the Cardinal Nation, the St. Louis Cardinals front office has made some curious moves in recent days.

How the Troy Glaus injury situation was handled has already been well-analyzed by others, so I won’t excessively beat that horse further.

I will say that it is impossible for me to come up with a scenario where management allowed this to happen on purpose. After all, how could the club benefit by Glaus missing up to two months of the season? It’s not like they think they will play better without him and they do still have to pay him, either way.

Still, the investigative journalist side in many people will not seem to be happy until proper blame can be laid on someone. By default, that always seems to be management. In this case, it seems partially valid at least, in terms of how the communication was handled.

I find it disappointing that during the Winter Warm-up fan event, just a few days prior to the surgery announcement, both the club and player covered up the problem, likely to avoid having to answer tough questions. That is not the way to foster trust with an already-wary wary fan base.

No matter whose fault it is, it provides yet another opportunity to criticize ownership and management at a time when the fan’s confidence level in them seems to be following a George Bush popularity trajectory. Hmmm, maybe that is explainable, since Bill DeWitt, Jr. and “43” are buds.

One positive that may come from this injury is the chance to find out early on if David Freese has what it takes to become a major league third baseman. With Glaus’ contract up following the 2009 season and if the “powder dry” Cardinals continue on their cost-cutting trajectory, Glaus will most likely be playing elsewhere in 2010.

Already on a very aggressive schedule since being drafted in the first round just last June, Brett Wallace would have to wow the coaches in camp to become a serious factor to open the season in St. Louis. Yet, crazier things have surely happened.

Speaking of crazy, let’s move on to second base, home of Adam Kennedy and some very unsettled plans.

One of my pet peeves was recently surfaced in the news. If I had a dollar for everyone who thinks Player A, who apparently isn’t good enough to start at his current position, can magically convert to second base overnight, I would be most wealthy. Trying it at the major league level is even more risky.

Yet, that is precisely what Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak offered up for the Cardinal Nation the other day in a chat at The subject was Skip Schumaker.

“Schumaker was drafted as an infielder but has not played there since making the move to the OF. I have spoken with Tony on this and we have included Oquendo in these talks as well. Skip may get a look there this spring to gauge how comfortable he would be with trying to move back to the infield. He had a good offensively (sic) and we always look for creative ways to get players more playing time,” Mozeliak said.

Up until that point, I refused to believe the scuttlebutt about Schumaker, just as I did about the earlier rumors about outfielder Shane Robinson, who did not see action during the Arizona Fall League at second base, by the way. (As an aside, Jon Jay received a spring training invite and Robinson did not. Consider that an indication of the outfield pecking order.)

Since Mozeliak had discussed the idea of trying Schumaker at second with Tony La Russa and Jose Oquendo as he says he did, why didn’t any of them actually discuss it with the player, too? Couldn’t they have gotten the player some reps in winter ball to test the idea and increase the odds of success?

Of course, the player needs to be sold on the idea first. Earlier, at WWU, Schumaker seemed lukewarm at best, joking that there was likely a reason he hadn’t been put at second base since college in 2001 and prior. Probably knowing he had to be politically correct, the outfielder also said he would try to do whatever the coaches ask.

Why Mo divulged the idea about Schumaker in the manner he did now seems a bit odd. It may not be completely fair, but it felt to me like the GM is trying to generate hope any way possible no matter how unlikely it seems as this increasingly-long, tiring and frustrating off-season continues.

What was unsaid is that if Skip is able to cover second, that creates more outfield room for top prospect Colby Rasmus. In a season with not much new to be excited about, at least so far, more and more signals are pointing to Rasmus as becoming a 2009 focal point – if he makes the team, that is. (An indicator of the hope is the assignment of number 28 to Rasmus this spring, something that stands out among all the number 70s and 80s assigned to the other non-roster invitees.)

Joe Mather, who hasn’t ever played second, recently commented that he would be excited to get the chance to try to play there, too. La Russa had previously laughed off the idea, noting the 6-foot-4 Mather would be one of the tallest second basemen ever. Seems to me that in camp Mather ought to be concentrating on becoming a credible third base reserve, anyway.

Stop! Let’s get real here. This is the major leagues, not some rookie tryout camp. The Cardinals already had two other proven second basemen and they let them walk.

They watched Felipe Lopez leave because he supposedly wanted a multi-year deal. Yet he signed just a one year contract with Arizona for just $3.5 million. They ran Aaron Miles, who was still under team control, out of town because they were scared of arbitration. Miles signed with the Cubs for an average of $2.45 million for the next two seasons, hardly a king’s ransom.

If the Cardinals want another real second baseman, just go get one now, for Pete’s sake. Waiting until camp to determine if any of the in-house candidates are capable is a gamble. Perhaps some decent right-handed hitting second basemen will be available then, but perhaps not.

Among the second basemen still on the market today are Orlando Hudson and Ray Durham. Hudson is a Type A free agent, so his price may be too high due to the compensatory first-round draft pick lost. Former Cardinal Mark Grudzielanek is also out there and any of the three could be a serviceable Kennedy alternative from the right side of the plate. (AK is a left-handed hitter as is Schumaker, another reason the proposed switch seems questionable.)

Since the Cardinals were willing to pay Matt Holliday and Brian Fuentes, there must be a little dry powder that could be spared to acquire a decent second baseman if the club wants someone who is actually proven at the position. Yahoo Sports’ most recent projection has the Cardinals coming in with a $91 million payroll in 2009, an almost 10 percent drop from 2008.

Instead, are we really supposed to feel confident about the idea of Skip Schumaker playing second base?

I am not big into playing the blame game myself, and have been trying to wait to pass judgment until the off-season is complete, but Cardinals management isn’t doing anything to help their standing in the court of public opinion. Lately, it seems just the opposite.

The changing face of Cardinals NRIs – Part one

Non-roster invitees are an interesting sort. On Friday afternoon, I posted at the list of the 20 such players invited to participate in the St. Louis Cardinals 2009 spring training camp. They join the 35 players that are already on the club’s 40-man roster. All will be vying to be among the 25 players that will be the season-opening members of the 2009 major league team.

What is unusual about the 2009 crop of NRIs is not the size of the population. 20 is just three players below the average in camp over the last seven years, but also remember the Cardinals still have time to make some additional player invitations if they so choose.

Opened camp 2009x 03-08 Avg 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003
Roster 35 39 40 40 38 38 38 40
NRI 20 23 29 19 23 20 24 23
Total in camp 55 62 69 59 61 58 62 63
x as of 1/25/09

Speaking of player additions, the 40-man roster is at quite a historically low rate to open camp, at just 35, or four below the 2003-2008 average. It is the lowest total since at least 2002. While the Cardinals could sign another major leaguer or two, they may be holding some of the spaces for a few of those NRIs that may come through in the spring.

Recent history tells us that several non-roster invitees typically do make the 25-man roster at the end of training camp each March. As the data below indicates, on the average two players earn their way both onto the 40-man roster and the 25-man active roster to start the season. In one year, 2007, no NRIs made the team.

2009 Avg ’08 ’07 ’06 ’05 ’04 ’03 ’02 ’01
NRI made 25-man TBD 2 2 0 2 2 3 4 1 3

All NRIs are not created equal, however. Traditionally, I group them into three broad categories:

1) Veterans trying to catch on. These could be major leaguers or minor leaguers that had to sign minor league contracts to get a camp invite, but do it to try to secure that all-important upgrade to a big-league deal if they make the team.

2) Extra catchers. Usually Double-A and even a few Single-A level catchers score an invite to camp solely for the purpose of catching all the pitchers in camp early on. Traditionally, the Cards have at least eight catchers in uniform when camp begins. Some of these could become top prospects later on, but none are ready yet and therefore have no chance whatsoever to make the club.

3) Prospects. Some of the best prospects at the highest levels of the system have been around long enough that they had to be added to the 40-man previously. The others here typically represent the best prospects at the top two levels of the system that are not yet on the 40-man. Obviously, none of them have appeared in the majors to date.

To illustrate the latter point, take a look at this table.

2001-08 Made 25-man 1st timers %
NRIs 17 3 18%

Of the 17 NRIs to have made the Cardinals since 2001, a span of eight years, only three were making their MLB debuts in the process. The other 13, or 82% of the NRIs to open the season on the 25-man roster had already been to the bigs previously.

The two most recent of the three first-timers were not even products of the Cardinals farm system. Reliever Kiko Calero was on the 2003 opening day roster after having been signed by the Cards as a minor league free agent. Last spring, a career minor leaguer like Calero, Rico Washington, made the Cardinals only because Brendan Ryan was out due to injury.

Think about that for a minute. Last year when a third baseman went down, Washington was the answer. This year, it is David Freese and Brett Wallace instead. Quite the difference, isn’t it?

So, what is the identity of the third NRI to make the Cardinals out of spring training with no prior MLB experience, you ask?

That would be none other than Jose Alberto Pujols, the only Cardinals player to have made the leap from home-grown NRI to major leaguer in one huge bound during this period, back in 2001. (We’ll likely never, ever see Pujols wearing uniform number 68 again!)

While regular readers of my articles know all too well, I often use the past to help project the future. In doing so, my ground is made firmer by the long-run of the Tony La Russa regime in St. Louis and in this case, some fairly consistent roster behavior during that period.

Yet for NRIs in 2009, the landscape is clearly changing. As a first illustration, here is my take as to the split of this spring’s 20 NRIs into the three categories noted above. My rank of the players in our Cardinals top 40 is also included.

2009 Cardinals NRIs (20)
Minor league deals (3) Extra catchers (4) Rank Prospects (13) Rank
Ian Ostlund Steven Hill 34 Colby Rasmus 1
Justin Knoedler Tony Cruz 36 Brett Wallace 2
Joe Thurston Luis De La Cruz 36(’08) Bryan Anderson 3
Matt Pagnozzi NR David Freese 5
Jess Todd 7
Clayton Mortensen 11
Jon Jay 12
Adam Ottavino 15
P.J. Walters 17
Allen Craig 18
Francisco Samuel 21
Tyler Herron 25
NR = not ranked Fernando Salas 31

As you can see, 13 of the 20 2009 NRIs are legitimate top prospects and even two of the extra catchers made my personal top 40 ranking this year. One other, Luis De La Cruz, only fell off this time due to an injury-ruined 2008.

This is a very different dynamic from past seasons. For example, let’s look at the NRI list from just 12 months ago.

2008 Cardinals NRIs (29)
Minor league deals (11) Extra catchers (5) Rank Prospects (13) Rank
D’Angelo Jimenez Nick Derba NR Colby Rasmus 1
Josh Phelps Gabe Johnson NR Jaime Garcia 2
Rico Washington Matt Pagnozzi NR Bryan Anderson 3
Mark Johnson Brandon Yarbrough NR Chris Perez 4
Dewon Brazelton David Carpenter NR Adam Ottavino 5
Hugo Castellanos Clayton Mortensen 6
Ron Flores Tyler Herron 7
Cliff Politte David Freese 11a
John Wasdin Mitchell Boggs 16
Ron Villone P.J. Walters 17
Juan Gonzalez Stuart Pomeranz 23
Nick Stavinoha 25
NR = not ranked Amaury Marti NR

Starting on the right, the 2008 NRI prospect list is of the same length (13 players) as 2009 and they are pretty comparable in terms of prospect ranking. Yet, none of the extra catchers made my 2008 top 40 prospect list.

The primary difference between the 29 NRIs last year and the 20 this year is in the veteran minor league free agent column on the left. Gone this time are the journeyman roster fillers clearly destined for Triple-A Memphis.

Take a good look at the names of those 11 2008 NRIs. With the exception of Ron Villone, who made the big league club out of camp because Tyler Johnson couldn’t answer the bell, none of these players contributed to the 2008 Cardinals.

I submit that with the improving Cardinals prospect pipeline, the 2009 Memphis Redbirds will be a competitive team even without the John Wasdins and D’Angelo Jimenez’s on the roster.

Even better yet, the lucky 13 prospects slated to arrive in big league camp in just three weeks should receive more instruction, more innings and more at-bats as they strive to impress the staff and perhaps make their first major league roster.

The cream of that prospect crop, players like Rasmus, Wallace and Freese, just might have what it takes to join Pujols in that very elite club of NRI spring achievers.

Bottom line, I am all for the slimming down the non-roster invitee list for 2009 in terms of quantity and excited about the quality.

In part two of this article, I will look at NRI highlights from past Cardinals spring camps each year from 2001 through 2008.

“Frankie and the Teenagers” to play in St. Louis

While one of my non-baseball interests is classic rock-‘n-roll, I am not announcing a new greatest hits package by the 1950’s doo-wop hit-makers and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

Instead, I hereby re-apply the moniker to the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, headlined by veteran Ryan Franklin, aka Frankie. The nine-year veteran is the leader of the band with over 1000 career innings in the majors.

The group behind Franklin when the club breaks camp from Jupiter, Florida at the end of March could include six far less-experienced relievers. While veteran left-hander Trever Miller and righty Brad Thompson have accrued over 700 big-league innings of work between them, the other four are greener than the infield grass that surrounds Busch Stadium’s mound.

While not true teenagers anymore, the quartet is certainly made up of baseball teenagers, with a total of just under 130 career MLB innings among them. They are lefty Charlie Manning and right-handers Josh Kinney, Jason Motte and Chris Perez. The fresh-faced Thompson could also fit right in with the Cards’ budding kiddie corps.

2009 Career IP subtotal
Ryan Franklin 1047.7
Trever Miller 422.3
Brad Thompson 305.7
subtotal 1775.7
Charlie Manning 42
Chris Perez 41.7
Josh Kinney 32
Jason Motte 11
subtotal 126.7
total 1902.3

Noticeably absent from this initial group is Kyle McClellan. The club’s Rookie of the Year last season when working out of the bullpen is fully preparing for spring as a starter. Yet the right-hander has just 75 2/3 career MLB innings himself. So the 2009 picture wouldn’t change if he was inserted instead of one of the others.

Lefty Royce Ring could also be considered instead of Manning. He has managed to stay up only long enough to have pitched 65 2/3 big-league innings over his four-year career. That is not much difference from Manning’s 42.

Since 1900 total pen innings are tough to put into perspective standing alone, I looked the Cardinals’ top seven relievers last season in terms of innings pitched and their total MLB experience coming into 2008.

2008 Then-career IP
Ron Villone 1069.3
Ryan Franklin 968.7
Jason Isringhausen 864.7
Russ Springer 747.3
Brad Thompson 241
Randy Flores 182.3
Kyle McClellan 0

As you can see, last year’s group in aggregate came into the season with over double the number of MLB mound innings than the projected 2009 gang. Of the four pitchers with over 700 career innings, three are gone for this coming season.

Not only are the experience levels dramatically different from season to season, Franklin and Thompson are the only carryovers from the top seven 2008 pen workload leaders.

To make sure that 2008-2009 wasn’t a fluke, I extended my analysis back each season in the La Russa years, again looking at the aggregate experience coming into that year by the seven that would become the busiest relievers.

“Leaders of the band” denote the team’s most experienced reliever while “Roadie” designate the one of the seven with the fewest career innings pitched coming into that season.

Bullpen Career IP YTY Leader of the band IP Roadie IP
2009 1902.3 -2171 Ryan Franklin 1047.7 Jason Motte 11
2008 4073.3 1427 Ron Villone 1069.3 Kyle McClellan 0
2007 2646.3 1139.3 Ryan Franklin 888.7 Kelvin Jimenez 0
2006 1507 -2127.7 Jason Isringhausen 741 Adam Wainwright 2
2005 3634.7 9.7 Cal Eldred 1331 Brad Thompson 0
2004 3625 -855 Cal Eldred 1264 Kiko Calero 38.3
2003 4480 2209.3 Jeff Fassero 1738 Kiko Calero 0
2002 2270.7 527 Mike Timlin 698.7 Mike Crudale 0
2001 1743.7 -732.7 Mike Timlin 626 Mike Matthews 9.3
2000 2476.3 678 Heathcliff Slocumb 562.3 Gene Stechschulte 0
1999 1798.3 -108 Heathcliff Slocumb 500.3 Rich Croushore 54.3
1998 1906.3 -2044 Jeff Brantley 723.7 Rich Croushore 0
1997 3950.3 -2475.3 Dennis Eckersley 3193 Rigo Beltran 0
Brady Raggio 0
1996 6425.7 Dennis Eckersley 3133 Cory Bailey 23.7

There’s a lot to consume here, but what jumps out at me first is the experience drain of 2171 innings from last year to this. That represents the pen’s biggest year-to-year decrease since 1997, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan’s second season in St. Louis.

Surprisingly, “Frankie and the Teenagers”, aka the projected 2009 pen, isn’t the least experienced combo in recent Cardinals seasons, though.

That mark belongs to the group of 2006 relievers, ironically during what became the World Championship regular season. That year, beyond Jason Isringhausen and Braden Looper, the other five relievers each had fewer than 100 career innings on the big mound. The man who would become the post-season star, interim closer Adam Wainwright, had collected just six major league outs coming into the year.

That reminds us there is much more to the end game than just innings pitched.

It remains to be seen whether this summer Cardinals fans will be crying, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” about this 2009 version of “Frankie and the Teenagers” or whether they’ll be filling the aisles while touting them for a different Hall of Fame.

(As always, special thanks to Lee Sinins’ “Complete Baseball Encyclopedia”, a fast and efficient way to look at players’ partial careers and to answer a million other “what if?” questions, too!)

Could Glaus miss two months?

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Troy Glaus may miss up to five weeks of the 2009 regular season, not two as the club claimed, due to surgery to smooth or debride a muscle that runs from his upper chest to his right, throwing shoulder, according to Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch on Friday. An earlier report that the labrum was involved was later corrected.

Since then, I have heard back from my injury expert, Rick Wilton of With a long history in the area of baseball injuries, Wilton has an update of his own after spending part of the day Friday chasing down information.

It isn’t good.

Wilton has confirmed the labrum was not involved in Glaus’ surgery, which is positive, but notes there aren’t many similar muscular cases against which to refer.

“The good news is it does not include the labrum. The fact it does involve the muscle makes it a bit more complicated, only because there is not a lot of examples of this type of surgery involving only the muscle,” Wilton told me Friday afternoon.

The fact that it is a recurrence of an earlier problem is a major part of the reason for Wilton’s concern.

“Considering the fact he had issues with the same shoulder late last year tells us it is a chronic situation,” he explained.

Wilton has seen the club’s 12-week estimate and wonders if that may be a hitting/throwing milestone and further suggests even the five weeks to return to the lineup is most likely optimistic.

Considering the recurrence, type of procedure, recovery and rehab time, which could easily include some period in the minor leagues, Wilton summed up his view of when Glaus will be back this way:

“I’m guessing he will miss up to two months (or return in late May),” Wilton concluded.

Ouch and double ouch!

The 2008 All Ex-Cardinals Team

Several days ago, I unveiled the St. Louis Cardinals’ “Let ‘em Go” Team, made up of 18 players that were allowed to leave by the Cardinals via free agency this decade. The common thread was that once out of St. Louis, most all of the players were paid more money than they were worth and delivered less results.

I received some comments about the choice of the team, questioning whether I wasn’t ignoring several players the club let go that did better after leaving.

I would say that sticking to the original criteria of free agency, the answer is “no”. When also including players involved in trades, the list of solid players increases slightly in size, but the ultimate conclusion remains the same. One must also remember that those traded Cardinals did not represent a total loss to the organization, since players also came in the other direction.

Major league losses

In creating the “2008 All Ex-Cardinals Team”, the goal was to be complete by listing every former Cardinals major leaguer that suited up for any one of the other 29 major league clubs in 2008. With considerable assistance from Cardinals Best News Links’ Josh Jones, I was able to identify at least 41 such players.

I then selected my starting nine, noted in
bold below. I submit that only four, Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew and Dan Haren (pictured) would be starters if they were members of the 2009 Cardinals. Yet, only one of them left St. Louis as part of what I would now call a bad move.

With the benefit of hindsight, of the four, only Haren was a deal that I would not do today. Of course, he went to Oakland with two other players for
Mark Mulder prior to the 2005 season. Haren has all the makings of being a star for years to come.

The others ultimately worked out fine for the Cardinals, as Polanco was part of the price of
Scott Rolen. Rolen was once an All-Star, but was significantly outplayed in 2008 by Troy Glaus, who the Cardinals received in trade for him from Toronto.

Renteria went into a decline and didn’t earn his $40 million, while the Cards picked up 2006 World Series MVP
David Eckstein instead at about half the price plus got top organizational prospect, outfielder Colby Rasmus as part of the compensation for losing Edgar.

Drew went to Atlanta for just one season as the Cards received
Adam Wainwright as part of the take. Cardinals fans still thank you very much, John Schuerholz!

Including my other five “starters” in
bold below along with the remainder of the 41 names, there are few that would even make all that great of reserves on the 2009 Cardinals. In other words, the majority of the still-active players that have left St. Louis aren’t that badly missed.

Player Pos Yrs StL 2008 MLB
Infield Gary Bennett C 2006-7 Dodgers
Mike DiFelice C 1996-7,2002 Rays
Mark Sweeney 1B 1995-7 Dodgers
Dmitri Young 1B 1996-7 Nationals
Marlon Anderson 2B 2004 Mets
Ronnie Belliard 2B 2006 Nationals
Miguel Cairo 2B 2001-3,7 Mariners
Mark Grudzielanek 2B 2005 Royals
Placido Polanco 2B 1998-2002 Tigers
David Eckstein SS 2005-7 Blue Jays/Dbacks
Hector Luna SS 2004-6 Blue Jays
Edgar Renteria SS 1999-2004 Tigers
Russell Branyan 3B 2007 Brewers
Abraham Nunez 3B 2005 Mets
Scott Rolen 3B 2002-7 Blue Jays
Fernando Tatis 3B 1998-2000 Mets
Outfield J.D. Drew OF 1998-2003 RedSox
Jim Edmonds OF 2000-7 Cubs
So Taguchi OF 2002-7 Phillies
Starters Dan Haren SP 2003-4 Diamondbacks
Jason Marquis SP 2004-6 Cubs
Matt Morris SP 1997-2005 Pirates
Jamie Moyer SP 1991 Phillies
Anthony Reyes SP 2005-8 Cardinals/Indians
Sidney Ponson SP 2006 Rangers/Yankees
Jeff Suppan SP 2004-6 Brewers
Brett Tomko SP 2003 Royals/Padres
Kip Wells SP 2007 Rockies/Royals
Relievers Kiko Calero RP 2003-4 A’s
Brian Falkenborg RP 2006-7 Dodgers/Padres
Ray King RP 2004-5 Nationals
Mike Lincoln RP 2004 Reds
Kent Mercker RP 1998-9 Reds
Darren Oliver RP 1998-9 Angels
Troy Percival RP 2007 Rays
Al Reyes RP 2004-5 Rays
Ricardo Rincon RP 2006 Mets
Jorge Sosa RP 2006 Mets
Julian Tavarez RP 2004-5 Red Sox/Brewers/Braves
Mike Timlin RP 2000-2 Red Sox
Jamey Wright RP 2002 Rangers

Minor league losses

In addition to the 41 former Cardinals major leaguers above, another 15 ex-Cardinals minor leaguers appeared somewhere in the majors during the 2008 campaign.

We can’t quite field a full lineup from this group, as there is no third baseman, for example. In addition, the number of former minor league outfielders and starting pitchers that put on an MLB uniform last season is very small at two and one, respectively.

With the exception of
Jack Wilson and Coco Crisp, traded away almost a decade prior, eight and nine years ago respectively, there are no real impact players among this group. As such, any real damage the Cardinals caused by minor leaguers being traded away was initiated a long time ago.

For all the gnashing of teeth at the time over prospect
Daric Barton going to the A’s in the Mulder deal, to date Barton has arguably been as big of a disappointment in Oakland as Mulder was in St. Louis. As noted above, Haren was the big loss.

Player Pos Yrs StL Highest level 2008 MLB
Infield Robinson Cancel C 2005 Memphis Mets
Michel Hernandez C 2006 Memphis Rays
Danny Ardoin C 2007 Memphis Dodgers
Daric Barton 1B 2003-4 Peoria A’s
Edgar Gonzalez 2B 2007 Memphis Padres
Jolbert Cabrera 2B 2007 Memphis Reds
Jack Wilson SS 1998-2000 Arkansas Pirates
Outfield Coco Crisp OF 1999-2001 Potomac Red Sox
Emil Brown OF 2004 Memphis A’s
Pitchers Chris Lambert SP 2004-7 Memphis Tigers
Matt Ginter RP 2007 Memphis Indians
Joe Nelson RP 2005 Springfield Marlins
Vladimir Nunez RP 2005 Memphis Braves
Rich Rundles RP 2006 Springfield Indians
Les Walrond RP 1998-2003 Memphis Phillies

The newest ex-Cardinals

The final group presented is the new additions to the first list for 2009 – at least the ones that can find MLB jobs next season will be. This group of 15 players all saw action for the 2008 Cardinals (or were on the disabled list all year) but left the organization following the season.

Other than outfielders, of which there is only one,
Juan Encarnacion, a full lineup could be fielded from these departed 2008 Cardinals. One, Kelvin Jimenez, left via a waiver claim. Three, Rico Washington, Mark Johnson and Josh Phelps, became minor league free agents after they were also dropped from the 40-man roster. Two more, Aaron Miles and Tyler Johnson, were arbitration-eligible, but were non-tendered instead.

The other nine were granted free agency, of which six are pitchers, two are infielders and the last is outfielder Encarnacion, who suffered a career-ending eye injury late in the 2007 season.

Of the nine, it is most interesting to note that all six free agent pitchers are still looking for a place to play in 2009. The only two to have signed are the middle infielders
Felipe Lopez (Arizona) and shortstop Cesar Izturis (Baltimore). Non-tendered middle infield utilityman Miles also wasn’t out of work very long.

That seems to be a combination of a soft pitching market and the relative scarcity of decent middle infielders. Otherwise, it is pretty safe to say demand has been weak for the more recent group of departing Redbirds.

Player Pos 2009 organization
Infield Mark Johnson C Cubs
Josh Phelps 1B Giants
Aaron Miles 2B Cubs
Felipe Lopez 2B Dbacks
Cesar Izturis SS Orioles
Rico Washington 3B FA
Outfield Juan Encarnacion OF FA
Pitchers Braden Looper SP FA
Mark Mulder SP FA
Randy Flores RP FA
Jason Isringhausen RP FA
Kelvin Jimenez RP White Sox
Tyler Johnson RP FA
Russ Springer RP FA
Ron Villone RP FA

In conclusion

While there are a handful of still very fine players among the 71 ex-Cardinals organization players listed here, most are not difference-makers. Instead, for the vast majority, it is probably better both for them and the Cardinals that they are playing their future ball elsewhere.

Cardinals minor matters – January 22

Glaus surprise shoulder surgery held

The Cardinals announced Thursday that third baseman Troy Glaus underwent arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday, January 21 for the debridement of his right shoulder.  The surgery was performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles, California.  Glaus will begin physical therapy next week and his recovery is estimated by the club to be 12 weeks.

The late timing of the surgery in the off-season means Glaus will miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season. That opens the door for a pair of third base prospects, David Freese and Brett Wallace, to compete for a first-time ever MLB roster spot. Outfielder Joe Mather is also scheduled to see time at third base during spring training and though primarily a middle infielder, Brendan Ryan can also play there.

GM John Mozeliak will meet with the press this afternoon to answer the obvious question, “Why now?” Glaus just returned from last weekend’s Winter Warm-up, where there was no indication of injury or impending surgery.

Update: The Post-Dispatch reports Glaus had been troubled by the shoulder since last season and rest was prescribed. His discomfort returned as he began preparations for 2009 and he informed the club several weeks ago. A recent injection did not help, so surgery was set.

Templeton Golden again

The Long Beach (CA) Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League announced that former Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton will return to the league as manager of their team for the 2009 season. A former skipper in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (2001-02), Templeton also managed in the GBL from 2005-2007.

Laying down the prospect Law

In a Wednesday ESPN Insider article, baseball analyst Keith Law ranks the Cardinals’ system number six of the 30 MLB organizations. Comments are positive about three top “star” prospects, which include Colby Rasmus (#12), Brett Wallace (#19 – pictured) and Daryl Jones (#50). Chris Perez also made the list at #80. System depth and impact are complemented.

I did see one other thing worth noting. Law seems very excited about the (#1) Rangers’ integration of amateur, professional and international scouting along with their baseball operations staffs. He notes the Red Sox (#7) and Rays (#2) have also gone down this path. In what seems an oversight, Jeff Luhnow and the Cardinals are not mentioned, however.

Law’s remaining top 100 prospects have now been posted, with prospects #1-25 free and the remainder subscriber-only content, providing a welcome diversion during an increasingly-tedious off-season.

I’ll update this section later if I have anything more to say after seeing Law’s full descriptions.

Jay McGwire
squeals for cash

I had already posted this link on the La Russa/Mc Gwire thread, but wanted to call it out here, as well.

I’m not a fan of Deadspin’s brand of internet “journalism”, especially after they had to recant their slanderous steroid accusations against Albert Pujols’ trainer that therefore indirectly implicated Albert.

Now they have another Cards-related ‘roids story – this one about Mark McGwire’s brother Jay’s proposed new book. The estranged little brother and body builder seems to be in a debate with Jose Canseco over who injected Big Mac first.

It’s really sad what people will do for money…

Legends camp tightening security

Although I can’t imagine why other than the possibility of autograph hound control perhaps, the annual Cardinals Legends Camp being held this weekend in Jupiter, is being closed to the public. Family members will still be allowed, but that is it, according to the TC Palm.

The Mets’ nearby camp, running in parallel to the Cards’, is open to all, although I would imagine the over-30 fantasy campers themselves are not the attraction. Instead it would be the former major leaguers invited to coach.

For the Cardinals, the invitees included Lou Brock, Whitey Herzog, Jack Clark, Danny Cox, Ken Dayley, Bob Forsch, Tom Herr, Rick Horton, Al Hrabosky, Mike LaValliere, Dave LaPoint, Tom Lawless, John Mabry, Ted Savage, Scott Terry, and Todd Worrell. Of course, since camp is closed, we may not know which ones showed up!

For those considering this splurge next year, the prices this time around ranged from $4,295-$7,495 for five days of action. More info here.

Crusin’ again?

Another annual event that occurs after Winter Warm-up and Spring Training is the Cardinals Cruise. This year, the sold-out event departs from Ft. Lauderdale on February 1 and returns on the 8th. 2010 information is not yet available but I am told by the folks at Altair Travel and Cruises that their brochures will be available in one month.

Wainwright/Pence win Darryl Kile Awards

Over at, I saluted Adam Wainwright, this year’s winner of a rarely-noted, but most important piece of recognition voted upon by Cardinals players and run by the local Baseball Writers of Association Chapter, the Darryl Kile Award.

The Astros also initiated a similar “Good Guy” Award upon Kile’s passing with their first winner being his former Houston teammate Jeff Bagwell. This past weekend, outfielder Hunter Pence took their 2009 honor.

Vuch picks up award

Speaking of good guys,’s recap of Monday’s St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner mentioned another award winner, Cardinals Director of Minor League Operations John Vuch. He was given the Harry Mitauer Good Guy Award – a most appropriate choice.

“I would have been flattered if they just told me my name came up in the conversation, let alone being the recipient,” Matthew Leach reported the humble and talented Vuch as saying.

Congratulations, John!

Liga Paralela results

For those interested in the how the Cardinals recruits fared this winter in the Liga Paralela in Venezuela, check out Josh Jones’ series of detailed reports over at Cardinals Best News Links. He has covered the hitters so far, with the pitchers up next. This is information you can’t get anywhere else.

How Glaus began his professional career in Venezuela

News item:
Preston Gomez dies at 86; consultant was with Angels for 27 years

In a sad note, Preston Gomez passed away a few days ago. The former major league pitcher, coach and consultant had been a member of the professional baseball community since 1944, most recently with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In 1969, baseball pioneer Gomez became just the second Latin American manager in the history of MLB when he was hired to lead the expansion San Diego Padres. After his 1972 firing, he also managed the Houston Astros (1974-75) and Chicago Cubs (1980).

Prior to Gomez, the only other manager born in Latin America was a fellow Cuban, Miguel Angel “Mike” Gonzalez, who led the St. Louis Cardinals on an interim basis in 1938 and 1940, reported the LA Times.

Gomez first joined the then-California Angels organization in 1981 as their major league third-base coach. After four seasons in the role, he became a special assistant to the general manager in 1985.

Gomez was also very active in baseball in Latin America, first leading the La Guaira Sharks of the Venezuelan League back in the winter of 1972-73 and serving several stints in the role.

Fast forward to 1997 when UCLA shortstop Troy Glaus became the Angels’ first-round pick in the June draft, taken third overall. After long negotiations, he finally signed in September, receiving a substantial signing bonus of $2.25 million.

As a result of the late signing, Glaus first headed to Arizona for the Halos’ fall instructional league camp. There, in a most unusual move, Gomez convinced Glaus to travel to Venezuela to make his professional debut for La Guaira that winter.

It was feasible for Glaus to take such a step because of his advanced development as a player. He had been the San Diego Padres’ second-round pick coming out of high school in 1994, but did not sign. With the Bruins, he led his club to the College World Series, batted .344 over three seasons, was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and shattered Mark McGwire’s single-season conference home run record.

In the 1996 Olympics, Glaus was the starting third baseman for Team USA and among his accomplishments was hitting four home runs at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, then the Atlanta Braves’ home park. His minor league career would only last four months before his first call up to Anaheim in July, 1998.

Though the media guides of the various clubs for which Glaus later played do not acknowledge this, he became the first and only future major league player to make his professional debut when he suited up for La Guaira in the 1997-1998 Venezuelan Winter League, according to the Sharks.

As it turned out, Glaus’ memories of the event were not fond ones. According to reports at the time, Glaus battled stomach ailments during his stint in Venezuela and lost 25 pounds. Accordingly, his on-field results were less than stellar, as he hit only .233 with two home runs in 50 games.

The food and water were bad,” Glaus told the LA Times at the time, “but it made you learn how to try to be successful even when you don’t feel very well.”

Fast forward to today. Ironically, one of the top candidates to replace Glaus as the Cardinals third baseman in 2010, David Freese, was among organizational farmhands sent to Venezuela this winter.

Like Glaus, Freese’s Latin American stint was generally unfulfilling. The 25-year-old hit .235 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 14 games playing for the Caribes de Anzoategui of the Venezuelan League.

One report out of Venezuela was that Freese’s services were terminated due to results on the field. Another article hinted of a financial dispute. Freese himself attributed his early return home to a left wrist injury that required examination in St. Louis.

Whatever the reason, the Cardinals as an organization remain committed to Venezuela all year round.

Under the watchful eyes of former Cardinals Gulf Coast League manager Enrique Brito and Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dan Radison, a number of farmhands played there this winter, including Springfield’s Luke Gregerson and Jose Martinez. The Cards also had scores of younger players competing in a pair of winter minor leagues in the country.

The Cardinals have 38 players under contract on their Venezuelan Summer League roster, most of whom are natives. Up the line in the Cardinals system, there are another two dozen Venezuelans, including second baseman Martinez as well as a pair of exciting teenagers, pitcher Richard Castillo and outfielder Frederick Parejo. Former Cards shortstop Cesar Iztruis also calls the country home.

Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez told me this recently: “Our plan is to build an academy in Venezuela, operate in the same manner as we do in the Dominican Republic and our goal is to produce players. We feel there is talent to be had there,” Rodriguez said.

Note: For more details on Cardinals players competing in winter ball, make sure you check out the “Cardinals Winter League Notebook” at Cardinals Best News Links.

Arbitration update: Ankiel and Ludwick figures

Rather than start a new discussion, I appended Tuesday’s arbitration amounts for outfielders Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick and my reaction to the earlier post where I had predicted the final salaries for the players. This post is simple a reminder to join the discussion there.

A brief summary of Tuesday’s news:

Ludwick: $4.25 million, Cardinals: $2.8 million (midpoint: $3.525 million)
My earlier estimate: $4 million (will probably end up too high if they settle pre-hearing)
Actual salary: TBD

Ankiel: $3.3 million, Cardinals: $2.35 million (midpoint: $2.825 million)
My earlier estimate: $3.25 million (will probably end up too high if they settle pre-hearing)
Actual salary: TBD

Please click on the highlighted link to head over to the January 6 post entitled “What might Ludwick, Ankiel, Wellemeyer, Thompson and Duncan make via arbitration?” to read much more on the subject and comment there to keep the related discussion in one place. As always, your perspectives are encouraged.

In the arbitration process, the next steps are as follows:

  • Each player may continue to negotiate with the club if both sides so choose.

  • A hearing date for sometime during the first three weeks in February will be scheduled.

  • If there is no resolution prior to that date, both sides will present their case to a three-person team of arbiters.

  • The panel will select one amount or the other for a one-year contract – the amount the player submitted on Tuesday or the club’s amount – with no compromise allowed.

Mac declines La Russa’s suggestion to speak up

This spring, former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire has once again chosen to remain out of the spotlight, even as Tony La Russa continues to encourage him to return to the game. Now, his former manager has upped the ante on the heels of McGwire’s failed 2009 Hall of Fame candidacy and eroding voter support.

Knowing this story has not yet reached its conclusion, La Russa is now publicly advocating an approach to unlock the ex-slugger’s moribund Hall chances that I have pushed for years – speak up for yourself, Mark!

Having played the role of McGwire’s chief public defender since the player went underground following his embarrassing March 2005 Congressional testimony, La Russa has finally suggested the player answer questions about his past – precisely what Big Mac wouldn’t do four years ago.

Since then, the baseball landscape has changed with the Mitchell Report, enhanced testing and other players able to move on after admitting various PED-related activities in their pasts. Yet McGwire remains silent in his self-imposed purgatory.

Again this spring, La Russa invited McGwire to be a spring training coach, which would also offer the vehicle for McGwire to clear the air – the familiar and comfortable environment of the Cardinals complex in Jupiter, Florida, where access can be controlled.

In Monday’s New York Times, La Russa said this:

“I think if he came to spring training and was seen, so the writers and the fans could say, ‘There’s Mark,’ and answer whatever they want,” La Russa said, “I think that would go a long way, in my opinion.”

However, once again, McGwire has declined to come to Florida with the Cardinals in 2009. Undaunted, La Russa vowed to keep inviting him every year. With 12 more possible years on the HoF ballot, apparently McGwire is in no hurry.

Mac is still out there in the shadows. As recently as this past weekend’s Winter Warm-up fan fest, outfielder Skip Schumaker acknowledged his winter regimen includes hitting with McGwire in California. The ex-Cardinal told La Russa he is still in playing shape today, not that it matters anymore.

Big Mac’s long-time skipper reaffirmed his Hall support of his ex-player, noting the retired slugger’s numbers make him worthy.

“I believe this: His production, I think, is Hall of Fame quality,” La Russa asserted.

Of course, even Tony knows the real issue isn’t about numbers; it’s about refusing to discuss the past.

“If it’s a question of what did he do to make himself stronger that wasn’t legal, and that’s kind of a character-and-integrity issue,” La Russa said. “If it’s a character-and-integrity issue, how many guys do we know who did what Mark did?”

La Russa went on to cite the example of McGwire walking away from the game with money remaining on his contract as a character reference, as if that would somehow magically negate the steroid allegations.

Coach Dave McKay’s strength and conditioning programs were also again defended by the manager, asserting McKay ran a “100 percent straight” workout program in Oakland. Yet in what seems to be a moderation of past comments, La Russa admits lack of 24-hour supervision meant all may not have been known.

“Now, as José (Canseco) said, when you go to the toilet or you leave the ballpark, Dave didn’t control that,” La Russa said.

Previously, La Russa’s platform was that neither he nor his coaches saw any questionable activity by McGwire and because Mac said he was innocent, therefore he was. Instead, the above comment seems much more realistic, as any parent of teenagers might attest.

Speaking of control, there isn’t any more La Russa can do to control Hall of Fame voters to alter their lack of support of McGwire. With the exception of one or two comments perhaps, Tony has made these same points in defending McGwire many times.

For the first time in my recollection, and I have followed this story closely for some time, La Russa has publicly urged McGwire to clear the air.

I say “bravo” to that. McGwire belongs in the Hall, but it doesn’t look like he is going to get there unless he takes responsibility for change.