I'm sad to see Joe Mather go, and especially to Atlanta, where Brian Barton was last seen before he went off to look for Frank Poole in the pod bay. Mather didn't recover especially well from his wrist problems, and the period between the moment he appeared to finally get it and the moment he was injured was so small that it's hard to predict how good he'd be even if he were in perfect condition.
But he was a lot of fun to watch, because he looked so much like a baseball player. Female members of Viva El Birdos: I don't get the whole Skip Schumaker thing, but Joe Mather I understood. Everything he does on a baseball field—I can't and won't speak to what he does off of it, aside from appearing in a truly hilarious series of videos with Best Bro Forever Brendan Ryan—looks a little more athletically demanding and graceful when he does it.
He's a great example of how difficult it would be to evaluate baseball without keeping score: Watch Chris Duncan in 2006 and Joe Mather in 2010 and tell me who's the better player. I get the feeling losing Mather will be more like losing Terry Evans than the more optimistic Jayson Werth comparison, but I can't say I would mind if the Cardinals got burned on this one.
In summary, I can think of no better eulogy for Mather's time in St. Louis than the following excerpt from this really creepy spam blog:
Saye ye Uerses euery Roodmas and joe mather Hallow's Eue; and joe mather if ye Line runn out not, one shal bee in yeares to come that shal looke backe and joe mather use what Saltes or Stuff for Saltes you shal leaue him
This was on the left-hand wall as one entered the room
Both were plainer and joe mather more hideous in the great pillared hall than anywhere else, and joe mather carried a vague impression of being far below, even in this dark nether world of subterrene mystery
And now, a moment of silence for Boog and Bombs, the sitcom pilot that never quite was. Also, Nick Stavinoha is still on the roster. So there's that.
I don't think the Cardinals are the kind of team to bid $16 million for the right to talk to a starting pitcher—as is apparently the case with Hisashi Iwakuma, the latest Japanese pitcher to be posted ahead of his official free agency—but he exists, in the event that the Cardinals decide to show the Rams how to be interesting, for once. (So many SB Nation St. Louis pageviews left on the table, and all because the front office was somehow surprised to learn that a football player was a jerk. But I digress.)
It's hard to figure out who will adapt well to American baseball and who won't; things seem a little more predictable than among hitters, but Daisuke Matsuzaka had better numbers and better stuff than any successful Japanese import this side of Hideo Nomo before turning into a nibbler. Iwakuma, like Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara prior to the 2009 season, looks most like Hiroki Kuroda—he's a forkball specialist who gets a lot of groundballs, doesn't walk anybody, and has a good-enough fastball.
Iwakuma is coming to the majors much younger than those guys—he'll be 30 in 2011. Iwakuma distinguished himself in Japan by putting together a 21-win season, which is exceedingly rare over there; he did it by allowing three home runs in 201 innings to go with 159 strikeouts and 36 walks. Since then his home runs have normalized but stayed pretty low, which distinguishes him from Uehara and Kawakami.
He's going to disappoint any team that signs him remembering the 21-win season and his big World Baseball Classic performance, but in a free agent market that's light on sure things he's better than anybody this side of Cliff Lee. And he's a groundball pitcher! It's the universal language.
I'm fine with Jake Westbrook being the first and most likely option as the Cardinals' fourth starter of the present, but I think the back of the rotation remains one of the positions on the current roster most amenable to upgrade. Iwakuma's almost certainly out of the team's price range, but a member of the rehab brigade we discussed Tuesday makes perfect sense as a hedge against Kyle Lohse's continued ineffectiveness.