The Cardinals “Let ‘em Go” Team

Monitoring some of the squabble over on the message board over the St. Louis Cardinals letting players go like utility infielder Aaron Miles, reliever Russ Springer, starter Braden Looper and even closer Jason Isringhausen seems an extension of the grilling general manager John Mozeilak has received at the Winter Warm-up fan fest this weekend.

Like so many of the off-season concerns expressed recently, they aren’t new. Yet over time, the facts seem to support the view that the Cardinals have done a pretty good job of letting players leave before they hit bottom.

The jury will be out for some time as to the wisdom of any of the recent departures including Miles’ case, the one that currently seems to be most anger-causing.

In the meantime, I thought I would put together a Cardinals “Let ‘em Go” Team from this decade, just to remind us all that the guys in charge of the team generally do seem to know what they are doing.

To qualify for this team, the Cardinals player had to leave St. Louis as a free agent since 2000 and sign a subsequent contract with a new organization. In some cases, the Cardinals may have been in the bidding, but at some point, another club bested their offer. Other times, St. Louis may never have made a serious bid for the player to return. In selecting players, strong preference was given to players that turned out to be overpaid and underperforming in their new locales.

With the late addition of first baseman John Mabry, I was able to build a full lineup, including five starting pitchers and a reliever throwing from each side. Given the middle infield churn in recent years, it wasn’t surprising that five of them are on the team. Outfield was the biggest challenge to fill, but ultimately, three examples could be found.

While most of these moves occurred on the watch of former GM Walt Jocketty, Mozeliak was previously his top assistant and seems to have adopted a similar stance in such matters.

I’ve been around long enough to remember each one of the situations listed below and recall at least some considerable segment of the Cardinal Nation complaining about the team’s loss every single time. Yet the reality is that it is a necessary part of the game.

In StL New tm New team $ Comp pks Results
Matt Morris 1997-05 SF + 3 yrs/$27M Perez Went 20-30 with a 5 ERA in 2+ years before abruptly retiring.
Woody Williams 2001-04 SD + 1 yr/$3.5M Went 29-32 with 4.66 ERA for 3 years before retiring at 40.
Jeff Weaver 2006 SEA + 1 yr/$8.3M Went 7-13 with 6.20 ERA for ’07 Mariners. Now in minors.
Jeff Suppan 2004-06 MIL 4 yrs/$42M Mortensen 22-22 with 4.78 ERA in 2 years; 15 ERA in one playoff game.
Jason Marquis 2004-06 CHC + 3 yrs/$21M More of same with CHC; booted from rotation & traded to COL.
Julian Tavarez 2004-05 BOS + 2 yrs/$6.7M Left off BOS ’06 playoff roster, now a journeyman free agent.
Steve Kline 2001-04 BAL + 2 yrs/$5.5M Unpopular in BAL after wishing he’d stayed in StL.
Mike Matheny 2000-04 SF 3 yrs/$10.5M Herron Due to concussions, played in just 181 games before retiring.
John Mabry 2004-05* CHC + 1 y/$1.075M Hit .205 for ’06 Cubs, got 34 ABs with COL in ’07 and retired.
Fernando Vina 2000-03 DET 2 yrs/$6M Hit .226 in 115 ABs for DET in ’04. Later comeback failed.
Craig Paquette 1999-01 DET 2 yrs/$5M DET got 280 ABs at a .189 rate before he retired.
Tony Womack 2004 NYY 2 yrs/$4M Lasted 108 gms in the Bronx. 28 more G in ’06 & was done.
David Eckstein 2005-07 TOR + 1 yr/$4.5M Already on 3rd team since StL. Signed w/SD for $850K for ’09.
Edgar Renteria 1999-04 BOS + 4 yrs/$40M Rasmus BOS paid $11M to get ATL to take him. On 4th team since StL.
Abraham Nunez 2005 PHI + 2 yrs/$3.35M Hamilton Batted .221 next two years in PHI. Trying to get back to MLB.
Reggie Sanders 2004-05 KC 2 yrs/$10M Only 408 ABs in KC due to knee and hamstrings, then retired.
So Taguchi 2002-07 PHI + 1 yr/$900K .220 avg in just 91 ABs for ’08 world champs. Now a Cub.
Eric Davis 1999-00 SF 1 yr/$1.5M Batted .205 in 156 ABs for ’01 Giants before hanging them up.

+ denotes having played with multiple clubs since leaving the Cardinals

* third and final stint with St. Louis

In many cases, the big savings was in money not spent. Matt Morris (pictured – $27 million) and Edgar Renteria ($40 million) are good examples of this.

For other ex-Cards, the savings came in the form of negatives avoided as the player’s results on the field dropped off badly upon leaving St. Louis. For example, among the starting pitchers, only Jason Marquis had an above-.500 record after leaving the Cards and he was recently booted out of the Cubs rotation before being shipped to pitching purgatory, otherwise known as Colorado. The Cubs also paid the Rox $875,000 to take him.

Other benefits were gained down the line in players received via compensatory draft picks. For example, the reason Chris Perez is the favorite to become the Cardinals closer is because the team received a supplemental pick when Morris signed with the San Francisco Giants. Even better is top prospect Colby Rasmus, selected with Boston’s first-round pick in 2005 forfeited when the Sox signed Renteria.

Finally, some gains were achieved in roster savings such as when popular outfield reserve So Taguchi departed, making room for a younger, more talented player such as Skip Schumaker.

Not all the divorces were amicable, as several of the departing players grumbled about having been left in limbo by the organization. In other words, their feelings were hurt over not being told their services were no longer required as the club evaluated alternatives.

Still, with the full benefit of hindsight, when looking at the end results is there a single player on this list that the Cardinals should have kept?

So rather than complain about Miles and the other 2008 Cardinals that are gone for 2009, at least wait until next season is over to pass judgment.