I'd like to kick off this week, underwhelmingly enough, with some words about Joe Thurston. Normally those words would be: can't get on base, kind of fast, probably won't make the big club.
But that makes it two years in a row the Cardinals have signed a minor leaguer who is inextricably linked with the first Baseball Prospectus (2003) I ever bought, so once again I find myself thinking about my sabermetrics apprenticeship.
Last year it was Josh Phelps, the last of the cursed Prospectus coverboys. When the book came out he'd just hit 39 home runs between AAA and the majors. Their comment, at the time: "His time as an imposing big league hitter has just begun." Obviously that didn't work out, and his Cardinals tenure was a little too brief for me to wallow in sabermetric-education nostalgia.
But Joe Thurston... this was just as I was getting serious about baseball, and internet baseball culture, and Joe Thurston was a big deal. Baseball America was in love with him; he could run, he could field his position, he'd hit .334 with 13 triples across an increasingly rare full season at AAA.
A complete minor league neophyte at the time, I thought: well, alright. Sounds pretty good.
But BP did its whole Challenge-to-Baal thing on him that year, and suddenly the publications I had started reading were in open competition. Excerpt:
The Dodgers love Thurston. Scouts love him, his coaches love him, even the ice-cream vendor slips him a cone from time to time... Thurston's talented enough to fare well in the minors by hacking at the first good pitch he sees. But 25 walks in 631 plate appearances won't cut it once he leaves generous Cashman Field for stingy Dodger Stadium... He'll get his chance with Grudzielanek now a Cub. Expect a rough ride...
And then it happened, exactly like that, and he's barely been heard from since. I was awestruck, at the time. I had no idea how PECOTA worked, I kept flipping back to the front of the book to see what VORP was, et cetera. But they'd knocked Thurston right out of the sky, and after that I thought there had to be something to all of it. They might as well have rained down lightning upon the poor guy.
Six years later he's basically the same player he was then, doomed to wander the earth until he hits .300 with a really cool-looking triple or two during some lucky big league April. He's probably of more concern to Jarrett Hoffpauir than he is to Tony La Russa. But it was weird to see him come up again, so long after I would have killed to have him.
At Future Redbirds they've begun counting down the top Cardinals prospects, starting with the honorable mentions, and their list has me thinking about how many right-handed relievers the Cardinals have bubbling up.
Mark Worrell is gone (and with him, presumably, one more of the pitchers discussed today), but that still leaves Francisco Samuel, Adam Reifer, and Fernando Salas in the opening sections of their list alone. And then there's Luke Gregerson, well-regarded last year and competent in AA this year; Mark McCormick and Blake King, who could emerge as interesting relievers if they ever manage to strike out more batters than they walk; Josh Kinney and Kyle McClellan, in limbo for various reasons. And then Jason Motte and Chris Perez, atop the pile.
Obviously most of these pitchers will not turn out. Not only are they pitching prospects, they're relief pitching prospects—they fail as often as your favorite topical economic reference. But inasmuch as cheap right-handed relief pitching exists as a predictable commodity, it's safe to say that Mozeliak and the Cardinals were faced with a glut of it headed into this off-season.
So on this uneventful day, with the evidence of their handiwork staring at us from the top of a prospect list, a tip of the cap to the Cardinals. However Khalil Greene plays, they managed to do something often clamored for but rarely executed: they traded from a strength while it was still a strength.
Odd news on the Japanese starters front over the weekend. Rosenthal: Kawakami might want >$36 million over three years. Meanwhile, on Scout.com: the Rangers offered Koji Uehara $10 million over three years.
Something's got to be wrong with this picture; Kawakami's probably more desirable, at this point, since he doesn't have the year in the bullpen to explain, but no one could look at these pitchers' stats, or even watch their YouTube reels, and imagine a $25 million difference between them.
Even assuming that one of these rumored salaries is completely wrong—probably Uehara's—I think they serve as convenient markers for the Cardinals' involvement. At the bottom, $3 to $5 million a year, the Cardinals would be crazy not to be involed; by $12 million a year the risks start to price the Cardinals out of the market for these two.
In that wide middle, where both pitchers will probably sign, you have a team that suddenly seems less likely to have a pricey reliever on its roster than it did a week ago. I'm not ready just yet to pull out my Baseball Prospectus certainty language and declare it sure-as-Joe-Thurston-won't-hit-in-the-majors, but if this is the range of salary expectations for Uehara and Kawakami, it seems increasingly likely that the Cardinals will be involved.