I understand the frustration with the Piniero signing. I share some of it. But I've been trained as an economist, and we have in rule in that profession: when asked whether a given economic decision is wise, the first response should always be "compared to what?"
This seems to be the most pressing question. If the Cards didn't sign Piniero (at a below-market rate, no less), what would you have liked to see? The other options seem to be:
- Hope for the best with Mulder, and give 60+ starts to Reyes/Thompson/Wellemeyer/Maroth.
- Hope for the best with Mulder, and sign somebody else, like Carlos Silva (presumably for a lot more money and years than Piniero, plus foregone draft picks), plus give 30+ starts to Reyes/Thompson/Wellemeyer/Maroth
- Assume the worst for Mulder, and be prepared to give 90+ starts to Reyes/Thompson/Wellemeyer/Maroth.
- Assume the worst for Mulder, sign somebody like Silva, and give 60+ starts to Reyes/Thompson/Wellemeyer/Maroth.
- Throw '08 away, and hope for the best in '09.
- Trade Duncan for a pitcher (e.g. Noah Lowry), who may not be appreciably better than Piniero, but will be cheaper.
This also disregards the likelihood of injury, which is a strong possibility. Mulder is an obvious candidate, but Looper's arm may have taken on extra strain this year, Wellemeyer was injured for part of last season, and Wainwright has never thrown as many innings as he did in '07. This staff looks very fragile to me, and has no in-house replacement options.
There is another option, of course: converting Franklin into a starter. he might provide similar production to Piniero at a lower cost. This is, by the way, still an option; he would simply take 30 starts away from Reyes/Thompson/Wellemeyer/Maroth. We could certainly use both, if they could each provide 180 league-average innings (or something close to it). we'd have a very-average starting staff, but there are certainly worse fates.
Not only that, but signing Piniero does not preclude a trade or other signing. It is still possible that Duncan could be traded. Several teams, like SanFran, have a need for OBP and power in the OF position, and some young pitching to trade. if such a move could be followed by trading Reyes + mid-level prospect to Philly for Bourne (or a 3-team trade with Tor.?), then several birds are killed. the Piniero trade doesn't make this impossible. in fact, it makes it more likely, since Reyes becomes a bit more expendable.
it is still possible for the Cards to contend in '08 in the NL Central, esp. if Rolen rebounds, we get any production out of 2B, Ankiel contributes at least 80% of his Aug./Sept.'07 level, we get something approaching league-average pitching, and we stay relatively healthy (i.e. no long DL stint for Pujols).
in my opinion, Piniero moves us closer to that goal, not further away. and his signing doesn't mortgage the future. yes, it's an uninspired signing, but that doesn't mean its impact won't be positive.
so I ask: what should the Cardinals have done, rather than signing Piniero? Or, if you prefer, what should they do now that they have signed him?