not to bury cesar, not to praise him

i'll weigh in on izturis in a second. first, a proper sendoff for eckstein.

while i'm glad they didn't overpay to keep him on board for another few years, i'm even more grateful that eckstein was a cardinal for 3 seasons. what an incredible signing. on a $10.5m investment, he returned production worth somewhere between $20m and $30m on the open market. he may only have been the 8th- or 9th-best player on the team in an absolute sense, but dollar for dollar he was nearly as valuable as pujols and carpenter. and on that basis (ie, dollar for dollar), he was vastly more valuable than the player he replaced, edgar renteria. his 3 years weren't as productive as the 3 years edgar posted for st louis from 2002-2004, but he was nearly as good as edgar from 2005-2007:

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG WSAB WARP1 WPA
eckstein 2005-07 1564 216 465   67   8 13 115 .297 .357 .375   17 12.5 0.01
renteria 2005-07 1715 287 511 106   7 34 197 .298 .360 .427   16 12.3 4.03
renteria 2002-04 1717 257 528 120   3 34 255 .308 .362 .440   n/a 15.6 4.43

almost the same player for 1/3 the price; that's value. it's too bad the cardinals didn't do a better job of cashing in the $15m eckstein dividend; instead of taking a chance on a potential difference maker like aj burnett or rafael furcal, they blew that chunk of change on safe mediocrities like looper and encarnacion. given eckstein's current age, shaky health, and deteriorating fielding, he wasn't a solution moving forward; but he was a great solution in the 3 years he was here. st louis got the best of his career; thanks for ev'ything, ya little squirt. i hope eckstein is able to find a situation that works for him --- although, come to think of it, one situation that might work for him is in wrigley field, where there's a hole at second base. . . . . .

now, to izturis. he's not a good player; we all agree on that. he's probably not any better than brendan ryan; most of us agree on that too. is there any reason, then, not to hyperventilate and rend our clothes and burn mozeliak in effigy? well, i'm not doing any of those things. i don't like the acquisition, but i also don't hate it; to me, it's the least of the possible evils. i didn't see any good options out there on either the trade or free-agent markets; there were some players available who might have been slightly less terrible than izturis, but they would have required a multiyear commitment and possibly the expenditure of prospects. none of them would have made the cardinals into contenders; they merely would have prolonged the era of mediocrity and reduced the team's ability to improve in the long run --- ie, they would have set the organization back. a one-year deal to izturis won't do that; it won't keep the cardinals from upgrading in the future. that's the chief virtue of this signing.

it's also the reason i've been advocating that brendan ryan get the job --- he'd hold the spot warm for cheap until a truly good option came along. ryan and izturis are pretty much the same player --- both in their late 20s, competent fielders, and capable of posting a .650ish ops, maybe .700 in a good year. so izturis is no worse than the option i have been pimping for several months --- a few million bucks more expensive, but there's no opportunity cost (ie, no good opportunity foreclosed because of the $3m expended on izturis). and even if the cardinals had followed my advice and given ryan the job, they still would have needed a plan B. i'd have preferred somebody like ben zobrist, ie a player with some actual upside; with a different field manager, maybe that would've been possible. . . . . but that's a lament for a different day. with izturis and ryan, the cards now have two versions of the same player as plans A and B; i'm assuming that aaron miles is out of the picture, and that ryan / kennedy / izturis will divide the MI at-bats in 2008. if miles stays on the roster and ryan goes back to triple A, then i'll hate the signing.

but let's assume that miles is gone. in 2007 the cardinals had two 30-or-over shortstops (miles and eckstein) who couldn't field the position; now they've got two 20-something guys who are at least adequate with the glove. none of the 4 players hits much. the team probably has lost a little bit of offense compared to last year, but they've made it up in run prevention; on balance they've held their ground at the position while getting younger and cheaper and keeping their options open moving forward. so it's a sound decision. no, it won't get the cardinals back to the glory days of 2004-05, nor even to the 95-win level of 2000-2002 --- but if that's your expectation you're in for a lot more disappointment. those days are over. the cards will get back there, but it's not going to happen in one off-season. to put this more bluntly: this is a terrible signing for a championship-level team, but a typical signing for a mediocre team. the cards are mediocre --- and would be whether izturis, ryan, jack wilson, david eckstein, or ben zobrist were playing shortstop.

i haven't had time to sift through the flurry of trade rumors involving scott rolen and the milwaukee brewers, so no comment for now. here's a short Q+A with coulda-been stl gm chris antonetti; here's an article on clutch hitting which documents albert pujols' greatness in big situations.

p.s.: godspeed, john rodriguez . . . .

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