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i'm happy spiezio will be back. yeah they overpaid for him, and yeah he's gonna slide back from that .850 ops he posted last year. but i don't care; i agree with what jocketty said, viz. "he's a winner." as far as i'm concerned, the guy got the cardinals' two biggest hits of the season: the triple vs milwaukee on september 30, and the triple off mota in game 2 of the nlcs.

joe strauss dropped an interesting little sentence into his article about the signing:

Thursday's deal suggests the Redbirds see more than a bench role for Spiezio next season.
what role could that possibly be? he's not gonna be starting at 1st base, and i can't believe they'd be serious about using him regularly at second, a position at which this management team has always (rightly) emphasized good defense. they could platoon him in the outfield, but again his defense undercuts him; a shaky left-fielder with a .775 ops (spiezio's career ops is .748) is not a valuable player. . . . . .

they wouldn't be thinking of speezer as a replacement for rolen, would they?

indulge me in a little fantasy. the ensuing narrative is pure fiction --- surmise piled upon speculation piled upon conjecture. it'll never happen in a gazillion years. so please spare me the comments explaining why this is not a realistic scenario for this organization at this time; i already know it isn't realistic. i mean, the cardinals could attempt something like this if they so chose, but it's not their style; too free-wheeling. i'm not presenting it as something that can or should happen; don't take this too seriously. this is merely as an exercise for a friday in november when there's no real news to report.

this month, the angels were ready to open the vaults for aramis ramirez before he re-signed with the cubs. at the trade deadline last year, the angels made an urgent play for miguel tejada --- not to play shortstop, where they already have a big investment in orlando cabrera; they were going to plug him in at third base. obviously, they are rather eager to acquire a right-handed power hitter to play 3d. the angels' offer for tejada (as reported by ken rosenthal) comprised starting pitcher ervin santana and top-flight prospect erick aybar; suppose they'd offer the same package for scotty rolen? would / could the cardinals dare pull the trigger?

before we go on, let me make it clear that this idea doesn't take into account the "feud" between rolen and la russa; that's not a factor at all. the objective of such a trade would be to restructure the st louis payroll and rebuild the pitching staff around a young pitcher, limiting the cardinals' exposure to the hazardous free-agent arms market for years to come. santana, 23, has a year and 122 days of service time; he won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2008 season, and can't become a free agent until 2011. the cardinals would have him under control for five seasons, at a total investment of right about $12m --- the same amount, coincidentally enough, they'll be paying rolen every season from now through 2010.

is santana any good? here's his career line. last year he went 16-8 with a 4.28 era and had the second-lowest hits/9 ratio in the american league; as a rookie in 2005 he famously won game 5 of the nlds vs the yankees, throwing 5.2 innings in relief of bartolo colon. his #1 comps are ben sheets (at baseball-reference.com) and jake peavy (at baseball prospectus), both ace-type pitchers. and santana is said to have ace-like stuff, a mid-90s fastball and a hard-breaking slider. he dominated guys all the way through the minors, racking up 10 strikeouts a game; in 56 big-league starts he has averaged 6.4 ks per 9 innings.

dan szymborski's well-regarded ZIPS projection system (whose track record is almost as good as pecota's) foresees the following line for santana in 2007:

w-l era ip h bb so hr
14-11 3.91 198 178 65 151 22

that projection is park- and league-specific; translate it to the st. louis ballpark and national league opposition, and we're looking at about a 3.60 era. for reference, ZIPS projects dontrelle willis to post a 3.77 era; jeremy bonderman, 3.60; justin verlander, 3.91; jonathan papelbon, 3.66; and erik bedard, 3.84. so by ZIPS' lights, santana's right in there with some of the best young pitchers in the game. that is probably overstating things a bit; i don't think santana is as good as all of those other guys. but i do think dontrelle willis is a fair analogy --- similar peripherals, similar age. dontrelle, you might remember, finished 2d in the cy voting last season. . . . .

aybar, a shortstop, was rated the 46th-best prospect in baseball last year by baseball america; john sickels lists him as a B+ prospect, 5th best in the well-stocked anaheim system. (#4 was jered weaver.) here are his career minor-league stats; baseball prospectus lists his top 4 comps as jimmy rollins, jose reyes, garry templeton, and paul molitor. anaheim is willing to part with him because they have two better middle-infield prospects, brandon wood and howie kendrick (who both ranked in the top 12, per baseball america). aybar is only 23 and probably ready to play everyday; the cardinals might let him compete for the second base job in spring training, but they can afford to give him another season at triple A to refine his game, groom him to step in after next year when david eckstein (likely) moves on. if nothing else, aybar would give jocketty a valuable trading chip --- the kind of guy who might be packaged up with reyes and duncan in a bid for, say, vernon wells.

for the sake of simplicity, let's leave aybar out of the picture for 2007; rolen's gone, santana's in the rotation, aybar is at triple A. now what?

  1. overpay for jason schmidt. give him 4 years and $60 million. santana would allow them to take on that contract. i look at it this way: in that four-year span, the cards would be paying roughly $16m per year combined for two pitchers, santana and schmidt. that works out to $8m per pitcher per season, which is a flipping steal in this market. i'd rather be paying the $8m a year to those two guys than to, say, jeff weaver and randy wolf.
  2. sign soriano to play third base. i know, i know --- the whole premise of this exercise was strauss's intimation that spiezio might have an enlarged role next year, which i presumed to mean a larger role at 3b. but the loss of rolen would create a need for another right-handed bat, and there's money in my make-believe budget for one --- indeed, for the most heavily pursued one on the market. alfonso has never played third before, but it's within his skill range --- a rightward shift on the defensive spectrum from his natural position (second base). he wouldn't be winning any gold gloves, but with the pitching staff rebuilt around strikeout pitchers the cards wouldn't need to rely on defense so much. let's call soriano's deal 6 years, $96 million --- two years of $14m, three years of $15m, and one year of $16m, with a $5m signing bonus or something, so that alfonso's salary never surpasses albert's. a tremendous cost, obviously, but the cards already have 4 yrs / $48m invested in rolen, so the escalation is incremental.
  3. get kip wells or some such for the back of the rotation.
now here's your team:
lineup rotation
eckstein ss carpenter rhp
duncan lf schmidt rhp
pujols 1b santana rhp
edmonds cf reyes rhp
soriano 3b wells rhp
encarnacion rf
molina c
platoon 2b

at the end of the day, you've essentially traded rolen's payroll slot for santana, aybar, and soriano --- and then you've leveraged santana's low salary to pick up jason schmidt. a pretty good return on scotty. now, to reiterate ---- this is not happening. we don't even know whether the first step, ie the trade for santana and aybar, would be achievable --- we don't know if the angels covet rolen as highly as they covet tejada; we don't know if they would agree to that trade. even if they would, the suggestion that the cardinals --- the humble, small-market, patched-overalls-wearing cardinals --- would sign the two biggest names in a market this crazy is just ludicrous. hell, it's ludicrous to suggest the cards would sign one of those two players, let alone both.

in any case, i hope i've entertained you; i certainly have amused myself. here's the roster matrix:

2007 ROSTER MATRIX
SANTANA FANTASY SCENARIO

STARTING 8 BENCH ROTATION PEN
molina c
$600K
cruz of
$750K
carpenter rhp
$7.8m
wainwright rhp
$350K
pujols 1b
$15m
spiezio ut
$2.3m
reyes rhp
$350K
looper rhp
$4.5m
graffanino 2b
$1.5m
bennett c
$600K
e santana rhp
$400K
kinney rhp
$350K
soriano 3b
$14m
miles if
$400K
k wells rhp
$3m
johnson lhp
$350K
eckstein ss
$4.5m
j-rod of
$400K
schmidt rhp
$15m
flores rhp
$500K
duncan lf
$350K
schumaker of
memphis
narveson lhp
memphis
hancock rhp
$350k
edmonds cf
$8m
aybar ss
memphis
---
---
thompson rhp
$400k
en'cion rf
$5m
ryan 2b
memphis
---
---
rincon lhp
$1.5m
---
---
---
---
---
---
is'hausen rhp
$9m
TOTAL
$49.0m
TOTAL
$4.4m
TOTAL
$26.5m
TOTAL
$17.3m
OVERALL PAYROLL: $97.2m