The worst part was I really believed in this team.
I'm actually of two minds, really; the analyst side of me, the part that studies the game and writes about it for a living, never honestly thought this team a legitimate title contender. I always said the offense was undependable and the bullpen just didn't have the kind of shutdown arms that lead to postseason success. You can go back and read the published record, too; I always thought the Cards had a chance, yes, but I never bought into them as a juggernaut in the 2004 mold.
The problem comes when you consider the other side, the fan side, of the equation. The fan in me didn't see those things, didn't fear the bullpen. In my heart, I thought the Cards could would most definitely absolutely will turn it on come playoff time. Tony La Russa teams don't get knocked out in the divisional series, after all; La Russa's overall postseason record may not be the stuff of legend, but his record in the NLDS certainly is. In my mind, the Cards' offense was wildly inconsistent and capable of being shut down at any moment; in my heart, the holy trinity of PujolsHollidayLudwick would crush the spirits and WPAs of any and all opponents. In my mind, Ryan Franklin had saved only a single game in the final month of the season and was looking more and more like fodder for the glue factory; in my heart he was ready to etch his name indelibly into Cardinal lore with a strikeout and a photograph as teammates leapt and capered on their way toward the victory pile on the mound.
So when I say I believed in this team, understand I mean it halfway, and somehow that's worse than all the way. If I had thought this team the greatest of all time and then watched the collapse, perhaps I could mourn properly; begin with shock and disbelief, then move right on through anger at the shoddy play and the zombified end to depression for the end of the season and finally to acceptance of our fate as a team not quite as good as it looked. But this halfway belief is awful; I know I should have known better because I did know better, yet I was still just as shocked and horrified when I turned out to be right. I'm left feeling vindicated and miserable in vindication.
But any way you wish to slice things, the season is now over. The time has now come to look ahead, not back, to move forward, not sideways, and always whirling, whirling toward the future. But before we can look forward, we have to do just a bit more hindsighting.The 2009 season will be forever defined, for better or for worse, by the trades that were made. The Cards went all in this season, only to see it all fall apart when the playoffs arrived. That's the problem with going all in, of course, and the reason so many of us (myself included), weren't huge fans of the Matt Holliday deal long before he became Public Enemy #1 in Cardinal Nation for trying to catch a humpback liner with his genitals; going all in is great if you win, because flags do in fact fly forever, but if you come up a little short, there is no Plan B.
So what, exactly, did the Cardinals gain, and what did they lose? Let's do us a little redux here of the deals made and see where we stand at the end of this ultimately frustrating 2009 season, shall we?
The Khalil Greene Trade
I'll be the first to admit it: I was a huge fan of this deal at the time. I was. I thought Greene to be a significantly undervalued player whose numbers were being artificially suppressed by his home ballpark. Add in a truly brutal 2008 campaign that no ballpark could have made look any better, and you had a player ripe for a renaissance. I felt like the inclusion of a player to be named later in the deal made the price a bit on the high side, considering just how awful Greene's numbers were, but I was still quite excited about the Cardinals' new shortstop.
Well, see, there's a little problem with that.
We were all, of course, unaware at the time Khalil's problems went a little deeper than a declining slugging percentage. For the life of me, I still can't quite figure out if I should blame Johnny Mo and Co. for not being more aware of Khalil's penchant for long sleeves and Bauhaus records or not. On the one hand, you want to be pissed they didn't do their due diligence and somehow missed the thing, but on the other, psychological problems aren't like a frayed rotator cuff. There's no magical scan that reveals when someone is hurting on the inside, and it isn't as if his teammates were jumping at the chance to talk about how messed up Khalil is.
Okay, so we can put this one solidly in the loss column. Worrell clearly had no place in the organisation after he aired his dirty laundry publicly last offseason, a factor which helped make me even more positive on the deal when it was made. Unfortunately, the player to be named later turned out to be Gregerson, a guy plenty of prospect-watchers really liked, and he turned out to be pretty damned good.
In 75 inning this season, Gregerson was absolutely brilliant, posting a 2.50 FIP for the Padres. He is pitching in a park which heavily suppresses home runs, so he does get a bit of a boost there, but he also struck out over eleven batters per nine innings, which so far as I know is at least fairly okay. What hurts worse is the fact the Cardinals biggest weakness by the end of the season, right-handed relief, just happens to be the exact demographic Gregerson belongs to. (You're going to notice a pattern here.) Any and all contributions the Padres receive from Mark Worrell are secondary at this point; San Diego already received a full season of essentially closer-level production for free in exchange for the Marquis de SAD.
The Future: The Cardinals get nothing when Khalil walks. Not so good, Mo.
The Mark DeRosa Trade
This one I had mixed feelings on from the very start. I felt the Cardinals did a fine job of identifying an area of weakness and acting to bring a player in to address that weakness, but I also felt they gave up far too much in return for said player. (Again, you may notice a theme in this vein.) DeRosa seemed like such an ideal fit, though, that I mostly kept such concerns to myself. The Cards needed someone better than Thursty Joe at third base, and Mark DeRosa plays third base, among other things. The Cards needed help hitting left-handed pitching, and Mark DeRosa has typically murdered lefties. On top of that, he had a reputation as an outstanding clubhouse guy, and his interviews are pure gold.
Sadly, DeRosa simply wasn't very good for the Cardinals. His OBP was atrocious, he struggled to do anything but hit home runs the first month or so, then went whole hog and struggled to do that, too. His defense wasn't bad, but it wasn't really all that good, either. Bottom line, Mark DeRosa in a Cardinal uniform just wasn't as cool as a lot of people thought it was going to be.
Oy. This one really hurts. The Cards sent Chris Perez and Jess Todd to the Indians in exchange for Mr. Of the Rose, and once again, those two players fall squarely into that category of "Guys the Cards Sure Could Use More Of Now." Both are right-handed relievers, and both are solid bets to be very good pitchers going forward, I do believe.
Perez in particular is a painful loss, as he has better stuff than anyone in the Cardinal bullpen as it stands right now, and showed plenty of signs of putting it all together for the Indians. He had a truly remarkable run for almost two months, as he didn't surrender a single run from the 8th of July through the 5th of September. Perez appeared in 20 games during that time frame, covering 20.2 innings, and walked only 5 hitters. He didn't issue a free pass for almost a month, from the 9th of August to the 5th of September. Unfortunately, Perez did have a rough September overall, particularly in the middle of the month, but that doesn't change the fact he was essentially untouchable for the two months prior. We could debate why Perez didn't have more success here until the cows come home, but the fact remains he was an extremely valuable reliever for Cleveland, and I expect big things from Perez as soon as 2010.
Jess Todd, formerly slated to become Destroyer of Worlds for St. Louis, had a bit of a rough go in his first couple tastes of the major leagues. We all saw what happened to him when he made his major league debut with the Cardinals, and it didn't get appreciably better for Todd with the Indians, as he posted a 7.40 ERA in 20.2 innings with them. That does come with a 4.31 FIP and a BABIP of .431 (Huh. What an odd coincidence.), so improvement should come even if Todd does the exact same thing next year he did this season. Of course, I personally don't expect him to do the exact same thing next season, I expect him to adjust to the big leagues and take off as an excellent setup reliever. He doesn't have the stuff of Perez, nor is he going to post the gaudy strikeout totals of Gregerson, but I see Todd in an eighth inning role sometime in the near future, and I see him doing a hell of a job at it.
The Future: This is actually the best part of the deal, as DeRosa is a Type B free agent. The Cards offer him arbitration and he signs somewhere else, they receive a supplemental round draft pick, which, incidentally, is the round in which Chris Perez was selected to begin with. So there is some value at least coming there. (Of course, DeRo could screw the pooch on that one by accepting arbitration, but hey, you pay your money and you take your chances.)
The Matt Holliday Trade
Ah, and now we come to the big one. (Did I hear a That's What She Said in the back? I believe I did! Hallelujah!) The deal for Matt Holliday is, so far, the defining moment of Mozeliak's tenure as GM; the moment in which Mr. Mo made his mark. What that mark may be exactly is still to be determined, but for those who complained all through Mo's first year-plus of stewardship that he hadn't really done anything, here you go. He certainly did something this time.
I won't lie; I didn't really like the Holliday deal when it was made, and I don't like it all that well now. I know I was in the definite minority back in July, but I thought the Cardinals massively overpaid for Holliday's services. That being said, the man is still the best left fielder in the game and represents a potent complement to Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup.
What Was Given Up: Brett Wallace, 3B Shane Peterson, OF Clayton Mortensen, RHP
Let's start with the biggest component, both literally and figuratively: Brett Wallace. There's been an extraordinary amount of ink and bandwidth both used already to discuss the Walrus, and the song remains the same: at the plate, he's a hell of a hitter. As a third baseman, he's a hell of a hitter.
The thing about Wallace is this: we always knew he was drafted to be traded at some point in time. Even the few scouts who liked his chances of sticking at third were careful to specify only in the short term; the man was moving across the diamond eventually. Even so, if he had managed to play third at anything less than a Bruanian pace, Wallace's bat would make him a very, very valuable player.
And for what it's worth, Total Zone Rating (the only defensive metric we really have for minor league guys), had Wallace as almost exactly an average defender at the hot corner this season. I know, I know, that can't possibly be right, because I saw him play there one day and he didn't get to a ball to his left he should have, and my brother said he misses those all the time and his best friend Todd said he talked to Wallace one time and he said he hated third base so much because he was so bad at it he was considering retiring rather than continue to embarrass himself on a nightly basis. Regardless of what we might think anecdotally, the numbers have Wallace as something less than a total disaster, and when it comes to defense, I trust the numbers more than my own eyes. Defense is just too hard to judge. So what we have is a player who has a bat that should carry him wherever he wants to go, and who should be able to play third base for at least a couple years at a level far short of that Braunian pace I was speaking of earlier. Sounds about right, doesn't it?
Add to Wallace Clay Mortensen and Shane Peterson, and you begin to have a pretty remarkable haul of talent going out for Matt Holliday. Mortensen himself will likely never be anything more than a #5 starter (though I still think there's a chance he could be better), but a #5 starter for free is still all kinds of valuable. As long as he can keep himself out of trouble with Johnny Law I think Mort should be fine.
More interesting to me, honestly, is Shane Peterson. I was never much of a fan of Peterson, to be honest (I never really likedhis swing; funny hand load and all), but since the trade I've gone and taken a closer look, and I think I may have missed the boat here. Peterson began the year in High-A Palm Beach, and posted an OPS near .800, no mean feat in that ballpark and that league. He moved up to Springfield and did alright in limited time there before he was traded. He went to Midland, the A's Double-A affiliate, and hit fairly well, with an OPS of .727. Certainly not a world-beating performance, by any means, but also not bad for a 21 year old playing in Double A for the first time.
Peterson is a guy who isn't going to hit for a ton of power, particularly of the over-the-fence variety, but he should hit plenty of doubles. He isn't a burner by any means, but he's got the wheels he could probably play center if necessary. He has just enough arm to play right field, though he' s played mostly left in his pro career. His walk rate is decent but not great, but you would think a coaching staff who stressed a good approach at the plate could be helpful with that. In short, Peterson doesn't do anything outstanding, but he does most things pretty well. He's literally almost the perfect Oakland player. I fully expect him to do very well in the A's organisation, where the value of getting on base will be heavily stressed.
The Future: When (or if, I suppose), Holliday heads out for the territories, he will do so as a Type A free agent. The Cards will receive the first round pick of whatever team signs him, unless said team picks in the first fifteen. Then it becomes their second round pick, and the whole thing just takes even one more step downward. Still, the fact Holliday could potentially bring back a first round pick and one in the supplemental goes a long way toward removing some of the sting of the package given up for him. Well, maybe not a long way, but some ways, anyway.
I'm just going to skip over the trade involving Chris Duncan and Deathgaze. The Cards got a free infielder with a decent bat and bad range, and the Red Sox got the chance to ensure Dave Duncan will never try to force his way into their organisation. Win all around.
So to sum up, the Cardinals this year gave up four right-handed relievers, two of whom could be real impact guys int he near future I think. Todd may be an impact guy too, but I think it might be another year or two before he gets there. We look at the big club's bullpen for 2010, and I have to say I'm a little concerned you might be able to build a better 'pen from guys the Cards traded away this year than what they still have.
The Cards also gave up their number one prospect, and the player most likely to make an impact playing at third base in 2010. David Freese is now the likely front-runner for the job, assuming both Troy Glaus and Mark DeRosa are gone, and while Freese is severely underrated by many, I think, he's no Brett Wallace.
So once again I'll say it: this is the problem with going all in. The Cards went all in this season trying to take advantage of the fact Chris Carpenter was fully healthy after two seasons on the shelf and Adam Wainwright was pitching at a Cy Young level, and I can't really blame them. The farm system was in plenty good shape to absorb the hit, and the big club looked ever so close to being a real contender. Now we have most of October left to consider how much talent left the organisation this year in return for the chance to pay free agents to do the same job in 2010 the kids we traded away could have done for free.
In the end, I said I can't blame them, and that's exactly what I mean. I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing (except I wouldn't have; in fact, i would always err on the side of holding on to my prospects, and would probably be a terrible GM who could never quite get over the hump), but the reality is this: the bullpen is an areaof huge concern for the Cardinals, and they trade three players who could help with that next year. Third base is a less pressing concern, but of no less import; the lineup needs production, and if Holliday walks I'm a little unsure where it's going to come from.
So I ask you all, without going down the road of how much we all hate Matt Holliday for making an error and having the temerity to take bad at-bats for three whole games, was it worth it? Was the remarkable run the Cardinals went on in August worth seeing Brett Wallace knock around AL West pitching for the next couple years? Was ruining the Cubs' good time at the top of the division worth seeing Ryan Franklin try to close out games a month past his expiration date, all the while knowing he was the Cardinals' best option still in a Cardinal uniform? Does the promise of extra draft picks take the sting out for you, or do you wish for a 'Bird, maybe not in the hand, but at least near enough to reach out and grab if necessary?
Was it worth it?
Oops, and I forgot a playlist.
The Baron's Playlist for the 14th of October, 2009
"The Ghost" - Deer Tick
"Actor Out of Work" - St. Vincent
"It Just Is" - Rilo Kiley
"My Funny Valentine" - Gerry Mulligan Quartet w/ Chet Baker