Cards Non-Tender Flores, Johnson and Miles

The handwriting was on the wall for Randy Flores and fellow left-hander Tyler Johnson.

The two had lost precious ground in their attempts to seize the two left-handed spots in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen and as a result, were among three players non-tendered by the club at Friday’s midnight EST deadline. Infielder Aaron Miles was the other.

There were two other important reasons for these players being cut loose. One is money and the other is roster spots. These players three could have each earned several million via arbitration while there are replacements coming up behind them still making only six figures.

Two lefties gone

Flores, 33, had his time in the St. Louis spotlight, playing a headline role while pitching in 185 games for the Cards from 2005 through 2007, but began to decline in the second half of 2007.

Last season, his fifth in the organization, was a complete washout between injury and ineffectiveness. Flores passed through waivers unclaimed last summer on his way to a demotion to Memphis.

Despite over three years of major league service time, the injury-prone Johnson has only pitched in 77 big-league games. Once a top organizational prospect, the 27-year-old was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft, but was returned to St. Louis during spring training.

Since, he has been slowed by a myriad of arm problems. Johnson’s St. Louis highlight may have been his team-leading ten appearances and four holds during the magical 2006 post-season.

Left-handed relief alternatives aplenty

In recent weeks, the Cardinals have added a host of others from the left side. They include Charlie Manning via waivers from Washington, the former free agent from Tampa Bay, Trever Miller, and minor leaguer Ian Ostlund, also invited to major league camp.

The Cards have stated they are still in search of another lefty, with former Colorado closer Brian Fuentes a prime target. All will compete for likely two roster spots at the major league level this coming spring.

Miles also gone (again)

Of the three non-tenders, Miles was perhaps the biggest surprise, but perhaps not.

The switch-hitting infielder, who will turn 32 on Monday, was in the same situation one year ago and was also non-tendered by the Cardinals. That way, the team could avoid the arbitration process with Miles, where the club could end up being forced to overpay to keep him. Surprisingly, the two sides reunited in January when Miles was given $1.4 million to return to St. Louis for 2008.

After a solid year backing up the middle infield and even getting starts in the outfield, I thought Miles would be asked back in 2009. Perhaps that could still happen, but not via the arbitration process.

Nick Punto
Nick Punto: Over $4M per year

Market realities

Though I had projected that the Cardinals would tender Miles a contract, I second guessed myself as recently as Friday. That is when the Minnesota Twins re-signed their utility infielder Nick Punto to an eye-opening two-year, $8.5 million deal.

The 30-year-old Punto, playing a comparable role to Miles for the Twins, has a career line of .252/.319/.332 over the equivalent of roughly five MLB seasons. Miles’ line is .289/.329/.364 over his time with the White Sox, Colorado and the Cardinals.

So, if Punto can fetch $4.25 million per year on a two-year deal, isn’t Miles worth at least $5 million? Considering that view of the current market, I can see why the Cardinals took the cautious route here.

Miles is a handy player to have around, but not at that kind of price.

Infield alternatives

While they may still go outside for a Miles replacement if he does not return, the Cardinals do have alternatives. Several younger, cheaper and less-experienced in-house players already on the 40-man roster include Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden and Tyler Greene.

Ryan has the most time in the majors of the three but lacks consistency. That translates into less confidence shown by the coaching staff. The 26-year-old has no minor league options remaining, which means he has to either make the big league club in the spring or pass through waivers before heading back to Triple-A.

The Olympian Barden was originally claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks late in the 2007 season. It doesn’t seem the Cardinals can decide about the 27-year-old. Last spring, they took him off the 40-man, when he went unclaimed, then later re-added him. Barden has yet to impress in two end-of-season call-ups. Despite a decent season in Memphis, Barden received a grand total of nine September at-bats with St. Louis in 2008. Not inspiring.

Greene, taken just two picks after top organizational prospect Colby Rasmus in 2005, has long been touted for his potential, but had yet to deliver until 2008. The shortstop had a decent season between Springfield and Memphis and for the first time as a professional, was moved all around the infield during his stint in the Arizona Fall League where he looked fine defensively. That tryout was surely not coincidental.

Second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir also still sits on the 40-man roster, likely on the strength of a .407 OBP put up in 2007 between Springfield and Memphis. His 2008 mark was a more realistic .352, but any future shot at St. Louis seems unclear.

What’s next?

All three non-tendered players, Flores, Johnson and Miles, are officially free agents, available to sign with any team with no penalties or restrictions, including the Cardinals – if both sides are willing.

As expected, five other Cardinals were tendered offers for 2009 by the deadline, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson. These players are bound to the Cards for next season, with the amounts of their salaries still to be negotiated over the next two months.

With these moves, the Cardinals 40-man roster is currently at 34 players. This gives the organization plenty of flexibility to make other moves as the 2008-2009 hot stove season continues.