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same old same old

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fox sports' ken rosenthal --- a very reliable correspondent --- reports the cards are close to signing edmonds to an extension. that's not a surprise; the surprise is the money involved:

Edmonds' average salary in the deal is expected to be comparable to the $10 million he would receive if the Cardinals exercised his option for 2007.
if that's the case . . . . why not just exercise the option? edmonds' age and health make him a risk at 1 yr / $10m; guess i don't see the advantage in doubling down on that bet. there must be a bunch of deferred money involved here, so that edmonds sticks around without soaking up lots of present-day payroll; otherwise the extension seems bass-ackwards.

we'll know by no later than tomorrow; that's the deadline on the option.

assuming edmonds returns, the question becomes: where does the cardinals' offensive improvement come from? with jimmy back, the cards look to remain static at 6, possibly 7, of the 8 everyday positions:

2006 2007
molina c molina
pujols 1b pujols
belliard 2b ???
eckstein ss eckstein
rolen 3b rolen
duncan lf duncan(?)
edmonds cf edmonds
en'cion rf en'cion

this lineup finished 6th in the national league in scoring in 2006, the team's worst finish since 1999 --- the year before edmonds arrived. their 8th-place finish in slugging average also was the worst since '99; their #5 ranking in obp was the lowest since 2001. and the cardinals' raw 2006 run total of 781 was the weakest since 1997 --- the pre-mcgwire era.

the new second baseman, whoever he is, likely won't have a big impact on the offense. so where are the runs going to come from?

one possible answer is that the front office thinks the cards already score enough runs --- and that wouldn't be an indefensible position. the cardinals' offense did sag in 2006, but not by much; the cost probably only totaled 2 or 3 wins in the standings. the season went south because the pitching didn't hold up; that's where the most improvement is needed, and that's where jocketty will focus again this offseason --- as has been the case every winter since 2003-04. he told matt leach yesterday, "We're going to devote most of our time, energy and financial commitment to our pitching"; bravo. if the cardinals can get their pitching staff back to the top 1/4 of the league, then last year's level of scoring --- almost 5 runs a game --- should suffice.

another position is that the cardinals will score more runs next year simply by staying healthier, or otherwise getting better production from their current players. let's examine that argument. first of all, only two cardinal position players truly underperformed last year --- edmonds and molina. every other player either was at or above his career norms. at least one of them (duncan) seems unlikely to maintain his 2006 level of performance; if he reverts to .270 / .335 / .500 (still very good figures), the offense will take a hit. molina probably will improve in 2007 (he can hardly do anything but); rather than get bogged down in numbers and guesswork, let's just say his progress cancels out duncan's regression to the mean. a generous assumption; just go with it. pujols can't be expected to generate more offense than he did in '06; he set career highs in hr, rbi, and slugging pct, and was just .004 off his career high in ops. encarnacion matched his career production across the board; he's giving everything he is capable of. eckstein had a down year, but not drastically so; he might provide a little more sock. . . . . .

so now we're down to edmonds and rolen.

i think rolen will hit more homers next season; his 22 in 2006 represented his lowest full-season hr total since 1997, his rookie season. the shoulder will be stronger next year, and his knee is no longer a problem; he might be good for another 8 or 10 hr next year. and edmonds? i wouldn't count on him for much more than what he provided in 2006. as i noted last week, his decline as a hitter predates 2006; it's not as if last year represents a one-year blip. it's part of a natural trend, the erosion of an aging player's skills. moreover, there's no reason to expect him to stay healthy; last year he battled shoulder, abdominal, and braincase woes during the season; in october he had to take an injection to numb up his foot before every game. that's only going to continue. he's not a 1.000-ops hitter anymore, nor even a .900-ops hitter. as an .850-ops guy with a good glove in centerfield, he's still an extremely valuable player. but i don't think he's likely to provide a great boost to the cardinal offense next year.

we're leaving out one factor: the bench. so taguchi got more than 350 plate appearances last season and was terrible in them. simply by upgrading there --- acquiring a decent rh-hitting 4th outfielder to spell edmonds and/or platoon with duncan -- the cards might pick up 10 or 15 runs. a backup catcher who can actually hit would be a bonus as well. of course, the cards are likely to lose a few runs off the bench with the departure of spiezio; not a lot of .860-ops guys floating around on the waiver wire. . . . . .

ok, this is starting to come together. let's do a quick and very rough accounting, making some conservative guesses:

  • molina = +10 runs by sheer inertia; nobody can be this bad 2 yrs running
  • 2b position = +5 runs; again, couldn't do much worse
  • rolen = +10 runs as his hr power returns
  • 4th outfielder = +10 runs
  • eckstein = +5 runs by staying healthy
that's an extra 40 runs of offense, even without any return to form from edmonds. now we have to roll in the deficits:
  • duncan = -10 runs; regression to mean
  • supersub = -10 runs due to departure of spiezio
the case can be made that even without any "impact" acquisitions, the cardinal offense will improve marginally next year. if jocketty does make an impact move --- get a new rightfielder, say, and make encarnacion the rh-hitting 4th outfielder --- so much the better. but it doesn't sound as if that's jocketty's priority, and it shouldn't be. he's already got one of the league's top 5 or 6 offenses, a 90+-win group. it's not a juggernaut, but it should be sufficient.

i'd urge you all to read larry bowa's uproarious take on the postseason at Yard Work.