a baseball blogger asked me this week if i thought the cardinals should go after brian roberts during the winter. i wrote back:
my opinion: since roberts can be a free agent after the season, it only makes sense to trade for him if the cardinals think they can make a serious run at a championship in 2009 (doubtful) or if they can extend him for a few years as part of the deal. the orioles' demands will be very high ---- they can get two 1st-rounders for roberts if they simply let him play out his option, so their baseline asking price will start at two very good prospects ---- and then they'll want at least one more good player on top of that, because they'll be foregoing the last year of roberts's contract. so it would probably take a minimum of 3 good, young, cost-controlled players to acquire 1 year of brian roberts; as good as roberts is, that probably is a bad trade for the cardinals. it would depend on which players the orioles would accept in return, but i don't think baltimore would part with such a valuable player unless they got at least one premium prospect; they might want two. and if the cards are going to trade somebody like rasmus or bryan anderson, they'd have to get back more than 1 year from a great player.
roberts definitely is a great player, and he's a perfect fit for the cards in 2009, but if it takes as much future value to acquire him as i think it would require, then they could only contemplate this if if the deal included a 2- or 3-year extension for roberts at a decent rate --- and even then it might not be worth it. the cardinals need to be seeking a long-term solutions, not guys who can parachute in and star for a single year.
after hitting "send," i got curious enough to check out the orioles’ needs and try to gauge their wish list. mind you, i’m not recommending that the cardinals ought to be contemplating this type of transaction; but i also don’t think they should categorically rule it out. roberts might be worth 5 extra wins. he’s under contract for $8m next year, which makes him a great bargain. if he’d agree to a three-year extension for, say, $14m a year, that salary would go onto the books at just the point troy glaus’s salary comes off. the cards would have him for his age 31 through 34 seasons. . . . .
this is the type of move walt jocketty used to make routinely --- ie, it represents the philosophy of the past, so i don’t think it’s particularly likely. besides, jocketty operated in a different environment, in which teams tended to undervalue their draft picks; the phillies could have gotten a higher return for scott rolen if they’d simply let him walk and taken the picks, but most teams didn’t tabulate their balance sheets that way in 2002. jocketty would have offered the orioles skip schumaker, mark worrell, and allen craig, and the orioles might have said "ah, what the hell" and pulled the trigger. you can’t get away with that in 2009.
so what would it take? well, let’s start with what the orioles don’t need. they don’t need a 22-year-old future-star centerfielder, because they just acquired one last year (adam jones) in the erik bedard deal --- for that reason, they might not value rasmus as highly as another team. they also have an excellent young outfielder at one corner (nick markakis). the orioles also don’t need a catcher like bryan anderson, because they have matt wieters --- one of the five best prospects in baseball at the moment. according to tim dierkes at mlbtraderumors.com, the orioles’ prime off-season needs are young middle infielders and pitchers, plus a slugging first-baseman (which they’ve been seeking for a couple of years now). the cards can supply a first baseman --- duncan, mather, and allen craig all fit the mold to varying degrees. they can supply young pitching --- any of boggs, mortensen, todd, or mcclellan might be a candidate for the baltimore rotation next season. as for middle infielders --- if the orioles still like pete kozma (and most scouts do) despite his up-and-down year, why not? with nico vasquez now on the scene, kozma is less of a priority for the cards.
so let’s add this up. does a package that looks something like duncan, todd, boggs, and kozma get it done? i have a difficult time believing that it would, because there are no real blue-chippers in that package, but with the orioles you can never tell. let’s put that side by side with the package they accepted for the last two years of miggy tejada’s contract:
|for tejada||for roberts|
|luke scott||chris duncan|
|mike costanzo||pete kozma|
|matt albers||mitchell boggs|
|troy patton||jess todd|
these are actually pretty comparable packages. scott and duncan are very similar players, late-blooming left-handed sluggers. kozma is a better prospect than costanzo, and boggs / albers and todd / patton are more or less washes. the throw-in of dennis sarfate is not insignificant ---- he throws a zillion miles an hour, and he picked up 80 innings in the baltimore bullpen this year. and the other, perhaps most pertinent, difference here is that the astros’ offer for tejada also included payroll relief: they took $26m off the orioles’ books. the cards would not be providing a similar value if they traded for roberts, in which case the orioles might (probably would) demand more value in the form of talent.
but let’s just say they didn’t; let’s say they’d give roberts to the cardinals for the 4 players listed here, and the the cards could extend roberts for another 3 years at the market rate. good move? bad move?