Morning Thread: Pre-Arb Production and the Cardinals

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 14: Jason Motte #30 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates the win against the Pittsburgh Pirates with teammate Yadier Molina #4 on September 14, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Cardinals defeated the Pirates 3-2. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

In honor of Moneyball being reborn as the upcoming film Moneyball: The Jeremy Brown Story (and sponsoring SB Nation's various enterprises, including this post [disclaimer: Any gushing about Brad Pitt's dreaminess might be a part of this campaign]), I thought it'd be worth taking this deadline-related morning thread opportunity to look at the Cardinals' performance over the last few years in what strikes me as the 2011 equivalent to the Great OBP Rush of The Early Aughts—players who aren't yet eligible for salary arbitration. 

2011: 12.7 bWAR: Per bWAR (Yes, I know the difference; yes, I'm using it on purpose) the Cardinals have gotten the most impressive just-about-free mileage out of their long-awaited surplus of minor league relievers; Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, and Jason Motte have all been extremely useful out of the bullpen, though Motte will be arbitration-eligible coming off this particular extremely useful season.

With nearly every useful piece in the bullpen—Salas, Motte, Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn—still making $400000 (give or take one to two times my annual income) the Cardinals avoided overpaying in one of the areas where it happens most frequently; I don't mean to count my cheap relievers before they implode and vanish forever, Mike Crudale-style, but Heath Bell hasn't yet put on a Cardinals uniform. And with Jaime Garcia in the rotation, Jon Jay and Colby Rasmus amounting to a fine center fielder, David Freese starting at third, and Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso doing whatever Tony La Russa wants, the Cardinals managed to earn above-average performance at several positions without, say, relying on Ryan Theriot for six times the price. 

2010: 11.7 bWAR: This was a better group if you're not willing to dock the Cardinals' B-team -2.3 wins for the combined performance of P.J. Walters, Adam Ottavino, and Blake Hawksworth. Colby Rasmus played like an All-Star—remember that? Wasn't it just the best?—Jaime Garcia was excellent, and the Cardinals managed to cheap out at shortstop, third base, and fourth outfielder while they were at it. Kyle McClellan had a career-year in his final season before arbitration, which I think is a warning to keep Jason Motte out of the starting rotation, at least after April's over. 

Baseball-Reference also awards Steve Hill 0.1 WAR. If you're going to just get into one game before your team sends you back to AA for no reason, it doesn't hurt to leave behind an OPS+ of 331. (I hope he knows what OPS+ is, especially if he has Google Alerts for "Steve Hill.") 

2009: 7.9 bWAR: Is it really true? Did the Cardinals really once have a 27-year-old shortstop who was worth 3.4 WAR and also gave really funny post-game interviews? A 22-year-old center fielder worth 2.8? A—okay, the next guy on this list is Skip Schumaker, who had a fine year as a cheap second baseman but does not quite merit elegy. 

The cheap pitching hadn't quite arrived in 2009, not that the Cardinals really needed it after Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Joel Pineiro. Blake Hawksworth and Kyle McClellan were effective, but Jason Motte, Josh Kinney, and P.J. Walters were not. 

But what's striking about the Cardinals' farm system is just how much cheap pitching could be on the horizon, even after Motte starts earning saves and beard-endorsement deals, and that could be crucial to their payroll sanity after the Day of Albert Pujols Reckoning. If you can avoid paying pitchers, who do annoying things like damage elbow ligaments and retire to become outfielders, in the middle of the rotation and the bullpen, that $15-20 million in Jake Westbrooks and Kyle Lohses and Ryan Franklins can pay for, say, a real shortstop. Or Albert Pujols's pleasuredome. 

But one thing's for certain: Brad Pitt is the dreamiest man I've ever laid eyes on. 

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