rostermania IIa: more a.j.

it was a lot easier to construct multiple variations on a brian giles signing than has been to do likewise for an aj burnett signing. the addition of $5m or so to the starting-rotation budget takes all the "give" out of other portions of the roster. you can't anticipate the cards getting much cheaper in the everyday lineup than the $44 million postulated in yesterday's post, as the five players already under contract cost $38.5 million (and none is a realistic candidate to be moved), and the bench outlined yesterday exceeds the collective minimum salary by only about $700K. that leaves the bullpen, where the cardinals might save a few pennies with the right set of moves. in all of the giles scenarios and yesterday's burnett scenario, the bullpen is rebuilt at retail -- ie via veteran free-agent pickups. but jock might be able via trade to assemble young, cheap arms who are at least as good as the loopers, eyres, motas, et al of the free-agent market.

one rich source of such arms is toronto, which happens to be looking for starting pitching. justin speier (pronounced "just inspire") had his best season in 2005 --.198 average against, 2.57 era, 4:1 strikeout-walk ratio -- and over the last four years combined (276 innings) has an era of 3.51 and per-9 figures of 7.5 hits, 2.7 walks, 7.2 strikeouts. those are very good numbers in any circumstance, and considerable improvements over julian tavarez's aggregate numbers in cardinal red; when you consider that speier spent half of that four-year span toiling in coors field, he looks so much the better. speier is very tough on left-handers and has 17 career saves; he's in his walk year and owed $2.25 million. if toronto would sweeten the pot with a grade B prospect (and i don't know their system) i'd let them have marquis in exchange.

another, even cheaper blue jay arm is jason frasor, who saved 17 games in 19 opps as a rookie two years ago and followed up with a strong 2005. he stranded 40 of 46 inherited runners, leading the majors percentagewise, and ranked 30th on baseball prospectus' expected wins added chart -- two slots ahead of al reyes, and eight ahead of tavarez. he too is tough on left-handers, and he has a career strikeout rate of 7.3 per 9. speier looks like the better pitcher to me, but frasor served as toronto's primary setup guy last year and is much cheaper -- only made $330K last season and isn't arbitration eligible. their VORPs were similar -- 22.8 for speier, 17.9 for frasor (compare reyes at 23.3, tavarez at 12.1.)

here's another guy who might be available: the rangers' joaquin benoit. i've linked to his split-stats page, because his overall line isn't very impressive -- but the rangers, who need starting pitchers, have miscast this player as a starter and thereby messed up his stats. they finally gave it up last year and used him mainly in relief; he responded with some truly eye-popping numbers, viz a 1.30 era and a .139 batting avg against out of the pen. for his four-year career his relief era (135 innings) is 2.46, with per 9s of 6.0 hits, 3.4 walks, and 8.1 whiffs and a batting-avg against of .187. i have no idea what the rangers' plans for him are -- and to judge from my SB Nation colleague adam morris at Lone Star Ball (a pretty big benoit fan; go to his search page and type in benoit), the rangers have no idea either. they already have a closer (francisco cordero) and are desperate for starting pitching; as far as i'm concerned they can have him straight up for marquis, but if the rangers don't value him we might be able to get him for ray king or brad thompson; one never knows.

since we're only doing this for fun, let's say the cards can get both frasor and benoit for marquis, king, and adam wainwright. that a) improves the bullpen and b) shakes about $4 million free from the budget. what then?

BURNETT VARIATION #1: JACQUES

STARTING 8 BENCH ROTATION PEN
molina c
~$600K
taguchi of
$1m
carpenter rhp
$5m
is'hausen rhp
$8.5m
pujols 1b
$14m
luna if
$350K
mulder lhp
$7.5m
frasor rhp
$1m
grud'k 2b
$2.5m
rodriguez of
$320K
burnett rhp
$10m
benoit rhp
$500K
rolen 3b
$11m
nunez if
$900K
suppan rhp
$4m
eldred rhp
$750K
eckstein ss
$3.5m
stinnett c
$650k
an reyes rhp
$320K
flores lhp
~$500k
sanders lf
$3m
duncan 1b
Memphis
thompson rhp
$350K
edmonds cf
$9.5m
gall 1b-of
Memphis
ty johnson lhp
$320K
j jones rf
$5.5m
schumaker of
Memphis
cali lhp
Memphis
TOTAL
$49.5m
TOTAL
$3.2m
TOTAL
$27m
TOTAL
$12m
OVERALL PAYROLL: $91.7m

under a scenario like this one, i could imagine the organization bringing jose mesa into camp as an insurance policy, either in addition to or instead of eldred; he's a terrible player and all that, but you know how these things work (veteran, proven record, blah blah blah). i'm not suggesting i favor this type of acquisition; i'm acknowledging that it might make a cautious organization like ours slightly more comfortable with the risks of having a young and "unproven" setup corps. at his age and level of performance, i doubt the guy goes for more than a million bucks on the market; then at midseason we dump him on some wild-card "contender" for an A-ball batboy prospect.

i'm making numerous wild assumptions in this scenario, but let it serve as a template rather than a specific prescription; maybe instead of frasor and benoit it's two other young, inexpensive hard throwers whose names i haven't come across. the point is this: the cardinals don't have to go out and spend $6 million to rebuild their setup corps. it may be possible for them to get both better and cheaper there, direct the saved money into a corner outfield slot, and go after the premier starting pitcher on the free-agent market. don't forget, the white sox just won a world title with a bullpen comprising one "reliable veteran" (hermanson) and a bunch of career scufflers -- bobby jenks, neal cotts, cliff politte, luis vizcaino. given the quality of the cards' rotation as projected here, and isringhausen's more or less steady presence at the back end of the 'pen, i wouldn't think this approach leaves the team at great risk of a 2003-like bullpen meltdown.

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