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looking grim

espn says the cardinals' chances are fading after their long session with the burnettians broke off last night; similar story from ken rosenthal at fox. prob'y know for sure in the morning.

you'll notice i took down the picture of burnett's agent that was originally in last evening's post . . . . had to do it because it turns out that dude wasn't burnett's agent at all. that slickster is toronto's gm. here's the picture again:

i forgot that they are actually putting frat brothers in charge of baseball teams now. am still operating under the put-to-pasture paradigm in which gms look like walt jocketty --- round balding and white-haired. the blue jay fans got a kick out of my gaffe, but surely not as much of a kick as the one i'm getting out of the fact that their gm looks like a "survivor" contestant or something. but i'll give the kid this -- he's got some balls. brains? ask me again in september. or in 2010.

asap, i'll put together some semi-organized thoughts about the options post-aj: sign another pitcher? keep marquis? lay our heads down and weep? but for the moment, i can offer only these unsorted musings about non-burnett players (they really exist!). none of these guys is an "impact" player, but they all might be available, affordable, and able to address one or more of the cardinals' needs. their names haven't been heard very much (if it all) over the last few weeks' giles-burnett din.

we begin with an ode to san diego's dave roberts, who has been made expendable by the pads' acquisition of mike cameron and the re-signing of giles. ken rosenthal speculates that roberts may be moved; wouldn't even shock me if the padres non-tendered him. he will be 34 next year and is likely to draw in the $2.5m range via arbitration, becomes a free agent after 2006. roberts has spent most of his career in pitcher's parks (la and sd) but still has a .340 career obp; his road obps the last two seasons are .386 and .360. he gets on base enough to make a serviceable #2 hitter, and since he can steal bases maybe he would even bat leadoff, with eckstein dropping to 2d. sufficient with the glove. roberts would be affordable and has one important skill (on-base ability), hence is worth considering. there are worse options out there (viz jacque jones).

maybe roberts (or johnny rod) could platoon in left with jeff conine, the proverbial "professional hitter." a free agent, he was initially thought likely to re-sign with the marlins -- but now that the marlins have become a triple a team he is deemed likely to pull up stakes. conine is pushing 40 and no longer has sock (.403 slugging avg last year was a career low), but he can still get on base; career obp is .350 (like roberts, largely in pitcher's parks), and last year he was at .374. he made $3m last year and surely won't command more this season.

another on-base specialist, bill mueller, appears not to be bound for st louis. which is just as well. i never understood the cards' interest; allegedly they considered him a candidate at second base, but mueller has only 43 career starts at the position, and his zone rating at the position not surprisingly stinks -- .750. more to the point, the idea of moving mueller to 2b blatantly violates bill james' theory of the defensive spectrum, viz: as players age they move to less and less demanding positions on the field -- from centerfield to left, from shortstop to 2d or 3d, from 3d base to 1st. but a move from 3d to 2d would put mueller in a more demanding defensive position -- and, as james showed years ago, the empirical evidence makes such moves extremely inadvisable. they almost never work out. if mueller lacked the mobility to play 2d at 27, he sure as hell isn't mobile enough to play there at 34. and with the cardinals' groundball staff, they need a 2b who can cover some ground and turn the double play. has it on good authority that the cards are interested in braden looper. it's thought that it won't take one of those crazy setup-man contracts that are being bandied about; his value is currently low after a subpar year, so he prefers a one- or two-year pact so he can build his price back up and re-enter the market. looper also had off-season shoulder surgery, which the cards hope will enable him to return to form . . . . . trouble is, his form was never really that good. he has never gotten left-handed hitters out, even when healthy. over the last three years ~450 plate appearances) lefties have hit an aggregate .307 / .360 / .466 / .826 against him, which probably explains why he has been dumped from the closer's role in two of the last three years. even in his best seasons looper didn't profile as a power pitcher; k/9 topped out at 6.6 in 2001. last year his k rate dropped to just 4.1 per 9 innings. looper also got murdered away from shea last year -- 5.25 era, 1.58 whip, .859 ops against.

mlbtraderumors intimates that looper won't cost more than $1m or so, and at that price he might be worth a flyer. but strictly for middle relief; even if healthy he'd be nothing special as a primary setup man.

another player who may be non-tendered is cleveland's david riske, discussed in last friday's post. if he does shake free, he might be a better option than looper -- but prob'y won't come as cheap.

in due time, a look at the two players jocketty signed yesterday: gary bennett and deivi cruz. you'll all be holding your breath for that, i am sure.