rostermania V: the scrap heap

aggressive move on the north side: cubs sign LOOGY scott eyre for three years, $11 million. pretty good player; the last two seasons eyre has held hitters to a .200 aggregate average. hendry overpaid, but he got the only useful left-handed setup man on the market. after sitting around all winter last year, waiting for the sosa thing to play out, the cubs are moving with considerably more urgency this time around -- they've already re-signed rusch and neffie to overgenerous pacts, and now this. their next target is said to be furcal, which would solve their leadoff problem; and if they also acquire juan pierre via trade, suddenly they're rather dangerous at the top of order -- so much so that not even dusty baker is likely to screw things up.

the cardinals by comparison are moving with much greater deliberation. brian gunn pointed out in a comment yesterday that jocketty has never won a free-agent bidding war, and the pursuit of giles is heating up; yankees heavily involved, yadda yadda. sanders grud'k and morris are making the rounds; all may land elsewhere. there may be outfielders available in trade -- we've discussed vernon wells, kevin mench, austin kearnes, brad wilkerson -- but that market is even more complicated and uncertain than the f.a. market. so let's assume the worst -- giles slips away, some other team agrees to overpay sanders and grud'k, and jock can't swing a reasonable trade. how then do the cards fill their needs?

there would be pressure to tie up long-term dollars in mediocre free-agents such as encarnacion and jacque jones. but jocketty did that once with tino martinez and seems to have learned his lesson. so if we rule out that class of player, we're left with the scrap heap -- the aged, infirm, and unwanted. the names i'm about to toss out are sure to draw objections and derision, but remember: two offseasons ago, after making the drew trade, the cards had to fill the same three lineup holes they carry today -- 2b and both corner outfield slots -- and they filled two of them off the scrap heap: 2b (womack, anderson) and lf (lankford, mabry, cedeno). chris carpenter also came off the scrap heap -- signed for less than $1 million after hurting his arm. the cards' needs are not great; they need a second baseman who can field, and an outfielder who can get on base and bat second. players like that are the scrap heap's stock in trade. some options:

matt lawton is 34 years old, a busted juice abuser, and coming off a weak 2d half. all those considerations make him unlikely to find more than a one-year deal, and he's likely going to have to accept a low base with incentives. i for one was impressed with his handling of the situation: he admitted guilt, apologized unconditionally, and eschewed the excuse-making and dishonest side-stepping exhibited by every other implicated player. dude is going to be seeking redemption, and he can hit -- his career on-base avg is .370, and he murders right-handed pitching; unless you think his career line reflects juice more than ability (and i don't), he would seem to be a reasonable alternative to sanders. maybe better -- younger and cheaper. i bet he'd sign for $1.5 mill plus another $1 mill in incentives. the cards could pair him in a left-field platoon with another of my scrap-heap favorites, eric young -- no pop left but can still get on base, still run.

if you don't like lawton, the cards could bring back orlando palmeiro for less than a million. again, compare him to the scrap-heapers they trotted out for the 1st four months of 2004; no pop, but he's a reliable .340 on-baser and hence has his uses as a part-time stopgap. the cards went six weeks last season with a corner-outfield rotation that included rodriguez, taguchi, mabry, and luna -- and did it with rolen on the shelf. so can they get away -- with rolen back healthy -- with mix-matching rodriguez, taguchi, lawton/palmeiro, e.y., luna, gall, et alia for the first 12 weeks of 2006, until the midseason trade market shakes something out? not the most attractive option, but i can imagine much worse ones.

another guy i might take a flyer on is 2bagger d'angelo jimenez, who played 152 games for the reds in 2004 but last year -- at the age of 27, with nearly 2000 major-league at-bats under his belt and a career obp of .350 -- was inexplicably sent to double a last may and abandoned there for the remainder of the season. you have to wonder if steroids might be implicated there too; he hit 12 homers in 2004 (a career high) but last spring, with the new testing rules in place, got just 7 extra-base hits -- all doubles -- in 105 at-bats. then again, the reds also sent austin kearnes back to the minors last year, so perhaps they simply have a punitive front office. whatever the case, jimenez has on-base ability, can steal bases, is a slick fielder, and is only 28 years old; he took his demotion manfully and played well at (snicker) chattanooga. he made $3 million last year but would probably be thrilled at this point with a half-million base with incentives. i think he'd do no worse than womack, and given a much less important offensive role (ie prob'y batting 8th) he'd carry little risk.

other scrap-heap 2bmen who do at least one thing well, can be had for cheap, and hence represent (in my opinion) viable fallbacks: rich aurilia, mark bellhorn, damion easley, and tony graffanino. for that matter, our very own hector luna might be ready to platoon at 2b; he's got a strong arm and plenty of range, had a .750 ops in limited time last year and did hit left-handers well. . . . .

let me repeat the caveat: i am not endorsing the acquisition of any of these players. i'm not proposing that any are desirable targets. i'm saying they're the best of the scrap heap, and the cardinals may have to resort to that to fill out the starting lineup. i think these players have more going for them than womack, lankford, mabry, etc had in the 2003-04 off-season -- and if the choice is between using scrap-heapers to plug holes for half a season, vs making tino-like mistakes on jacque jones or his ilk . . . . . pretty clear to me which of those evils is the lesser. let's matricize it:

2006 ROSTER MATRIX
SCENARIO #6: THE SCRAP HEAP

STARTING 8 BENCH ROTATION PEN
molina c
~$600K
e.y. of
$800K
carpenter rhp
$5m
is'hausen rhp
$8.5m
pujols 1b
$14m
rodriguez of
$350K
mulder lhp
$7.5m
dotel rhp
$4.5m
jimenez 2b
$750K
palmeiro of
$800K
marquis rhp
~$4.5m
king lhp
$2.3m
rolen 3b
$11m
luna if
$335K
suppan rhp
$4m
hawkins rhp
$1.5m
eckstein ss
$3.5m
fick c
$650K
an reyes rhp
$320K
thompson rhp
$320K
lawton lf
$2m
gall 1b-of
memphis
wainwright rhp
memphis
flores lhp
~$500k
edmonds cf
$9.5m
schumaker of
memphis
ty johnson lhp
$320k
taguchi rf
$1m
seabol 3b
memphis
lincoln rhp
rehab
TOTAL
$42.4m
TOTAL
$3m
TOTAL
$21.3m
TOTAL
$18m
OVERALL PAYROLL: $84.7m

since our theme is players who've fallen on hard times, i plugged latroy hawkins and octavio dotel into the relief roles. they're not true scrap-heapers in that neither one will probably come particularly cheap. their inclusion pushes the payroll to $85 million, which would give the cards room to acquire help at midseason. players who will become free agents after 2006 (and hence might become available in june or so) include luis castillo, fonzie soriano, and ray durham at 2b; and ofs raul ibanez, dave delluci, randy winn, jay gibbons, and frank catalonotto, among others.

oh, barry zito will probably be on the trading block too . . . . . and mark buehrle might be.

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