The Giants' off-season has been pretty interesting, given how epochally terrible they were supposed to be last year. They're the kind of team I love to play as in Baseball Mogul: they're bad, but they had such big, sucking holes at defined positions that acquiring second tier players can improve them tremendously. Replace Omar Vizquel (43 OPS+) and Kevin Correia (72 ERA+) with Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson, even on the way down, sign somebody—even Josh Phelps—to play first, hope your top prospect sticks at third... you might luck into 85 wins.
Of course, I don't know if it's a good plan, just an interesting one; if you'll remember their ZiPS projections from last month, their best hitter is forecast to be "Even" Josh Phelps, with an OPS barely over the league average. That's right: batting cleanup, a 31-year old minor league free agent. Getting your best hitter out of the minor league free agent value bin is impressive, in a way; it's almost a willful disregard for offensive competence.
But I was sad to see them get the Unit, who was such a perfect fit that I experienced total cognitive dissonance every time Moz or some other Cardinal rep dismissed him out of hand. One year, $8-13 million is right in line with—even a little lower than—the deals handed him by Hot Stove GMs the country over. As for Penny, I was never all the way on that train; $5 million isn't a high price to pay, but it just makes it even more superficially similar to the Kip Wells deal, and I refuse to be fooled twice in a row by once-nifty non-aces with vague and serious arm complaints.
Here's what's left of the starter market; apologies if I leave off your favorite.
The last of the big-money starters, Lowe entered the offseason with a reported five year, $90 million demand, which will end up competing with Manny Ramirez's avowed desire for nineteen guaranteed years for the most ridiculous contract idea to be floated entering the Winter Meetings. He'll probably get the years, but he'll be lucky to get half the money, and the Cardinals don't seem like a very good fit for a guy who wants to make $10+ million in his age-40 season. By then the sinker might not be sinking, and the innings might not be eaten, and meanwhile the Cardinals will be looking behind every couch cushion in the DeWitt estate looking for Albert Pujols money. Pass.
I hesitate to ascribe anything to the Average Fan, because it just can't be done without sounding pretentious, but I think it's fair to say that the Average Fan does not realize that Ben Sheets is among the best control pitchers in Major League Baseball. For the four years in the table only five pitchers who've thrown at least 500 innings walked fewer batters per nine innings. One is Roy Halladay; the other four—Jon Lieber, Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, Carlos Silva—could hit the bottle pyramid at a carnival booth square ninety-nine times out of a hundred but probably wouldn't scare the carnie doing it.
What I'm trying to say is that Ben Sheets, even with the declining strikeout rate and increased walks of the last two years, is an extremely rare breed of pitcher. His K:BB ratio is second in this time span to Johan Santana, and for a brief moment in 2004 he was that kind of pitcher.
He's had elbow problems and shoulder problems, but this is an ace pitcher, and those elbow and shoulder problems are the reason he's anywhere near the Cardinals' price range in the first place. This guy shouldn't still be here; hopefully Moz will take advantage of the fact that he is.
OKAY, SECOND AND A HALF TIER
Like Sheets, Pettitte's value to the Cardinals is enhanced by his weird contract situation; it makes no sense at all that Derek Lowe will probably end up making $30 million over three years more than this guy, but Pettitte seems content to move from one year deal to one year deal at this point in his career, which is great for any prospective suitors.
Once upon a time Pettitte has arm problems and was regarded as a fragile pitcher, but after four years in a row of 200-inning ball he seems about as sturdy as any pitcher in baseball.
I have a soft spot for Oli, who at this point is basically a disembodied slider. He strikes out a lot of people, he walks a lot of people... worst case scenario, he is Randy Wolf without the multiple surgeries; best case scenario, he is still unbelievably young for someone who struck out Ruben Sierra twice in his major league debut.
Of course, if the Cardinals signed him he would be throwing his indiscriminate four-seamers in front of Dave Duncan once a week, which adds the possibility of a new worst case scenario: mid-game deathmatch.
The much-discussed Japanese pitchers, Uehara and Kawakami, probably also belong here.
Are you intrigued by Ben Sheets's injury history, but put off by his history of brilliant pitching? Randy Wolf will probably be cheap, but that's because he's an average fifth starter who isn't likely to pitch enough to keep the below-average fifth starters off the roster for the whole season. With Randy Wolf's help, your team's Mike Parisi might start five games instead of ten.
Bloop is a little less interesting now that the Cardinals can't hand him a guaranteed one-year deal, but he was healthy and just effective enough in his two years as a starter, which is what the Cardinals, at a minimum, need out of the bottom of their rotation. The Brewers and the Orioles are interested in him now, and not at all as a reliever—you win this round, Dave Duncan. I thought you were nuts, and so did everybody else in baseball, but now it's taken for granted that Braden Looper—who can't strike anybody else, who spent most of his career as a ROOGY—is a starting pitcher. Well played.