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baseball think factory is back up and running, and dan szymborski thinks the cardinals made out just fine with their free-agent signings. this in spite of some tepid ZIPS projections --- kennedy's forecast is an aaron miles-like .273 / .332 / .366, while wells' putative line is 6-9 with a 4.98 era. (i know --- they're only projections.) baseball prospectus' christina kahrl also thinks these were decent moves:

Kudos to Walt Jocketty for doing very nicely in what probably has to be called the down-market end of the free agent pool. . . . The possible combination of Wells--a pretty bright guy, and still a young vet shy of his 30th birthday--and pitching coach Dave Duncan makes for a significant amount of potential up-side. There's risk, of course, but happily, that's been minimized by making this only a one-year deal.

Similarly, I like picking up Adam Kennedy. A lot of his value offensively is in his line-drive stroke, and batting averages can move around, but he has a bit of doubles power, and he won't absolutely refuse to take a walk. His defensive skill-set is similarly understated but useful. . . . this was a solid pickup, certainly a better idea than re-upping Ron Belliard, and a more cost-effective idea than getting into the Ray Durham or Julio Lugo sweepstakes.

so far, so good. but the most important work remains to be done. barring the addition of luis gonzalez or some such, the cardinals essentially will return last year's everyday lineup and most of the bench--- and that's okay. as a group they play excellent defense and score in sufficient quantities. it's still --- as always --- about the pitching; that's what limited the cardinals to 83 wins last year, and it's what needs to improve in 2007. st louis finished 9th in the league in era at 4.54; in the last four months their era was 4.92, and the team went 49-59. that's the main problem jocketty has to solve this off-season --- and it's still staring him in the face as he heads down to the winter meetings. the current state of things:
2006 2007
15-8, 3.09
12-7, 4.12
14-16, 6.02
9-8, 5.21
5-8, 5.06

i've left mulder out of the table entirely --- his slot was, in essence, taken by anthony reyes, but it wouldn't be accurate to call mulder a #5 nor reyes a #2 so it didn't make sense to pair them on a single line. suffice to say that the loss of a lame-armed pitcher, wherever he's slotted in the rotation, can only help.

wells might be a little better than last year's tandem, and reyes should be better too --- slightly more settled in his major-leaguedom, no longer fighting for his rotation slot. the caveat is that neither can be counted on to make 30 starts; if narveson and/or some other replacement-level guys have to take some turns, then slots 4 and 5 may not improve much, or at all, over 2007. but that wouldn't be a disaster. the disaster would be failing to improve upon the combined production of marquis and supps, who finished 2d and 3d on the team in innings pitched and combined to go 26-23 with a 5.08 era. obviously, marquis bears most of the blame --- and how difficult could it be to improve upon him? hell, plug in miguel batista --- that alone will make the team 30 runs better. in truth, any pair of healthy starting pitchers will improve the rotation over last year.

one will probably come from the free-agent market; i suspect walt would like to trade for the other, and get a player with only a year or two left to run on his contract. you know all the players on the free-agent market; here's a summary of players known or rumored to be available via trade. some of these guys may not really be all that available, and others are probably beyond the cards' reach even if they are available. so don't take this all that seriously; i'm just trying to sketch out the parameters of the market and compile the most complete list possible. it's organized by team.

  • white sox: freddy garcia, jon garland, javy vazquez, and even mark buehrle have been rumored available. all four pitchers are between 27 and 32 had era's between 4.53 and 4.99 last year; buehrle and garcia are in their walk years, and the other two are signed through '08. the sox want to get brandon mccarthy into the rotation, which makes at least one starter expendable; they seem to want relief pitching, a centerfielder, or a pitching prospect in return. the cardinals made a very strong play for vazquez last off-season; he's due only $9.5m this year and would remain under club control for 2008.
  • indians: jake westbrook's name keeps coming up, but i'm not convinced he is truly available; paul byrd very well might be, however. he's signed for '07 at $7m, with an $8m option for 2008. the indians' greatest need is relief pitching; they currently have no closer and a wobbly setup corps.
  • pirates: are said to be willing to trade one of their talented young starting pitchers --- paul maholm, tom gorzelanny, maybe even zach duke --- for a left-handed power hitter to play 1st base or a corner. it's a logical fit --- duncan represents exactly what the pirates are looking for --- but dave littlefield is clueless and has been particularly difficult for jocketty to get together with. last year, you may recall, he was demanding anthony reyes in exchange for craig wilson . . . . but ended up giving the yankees a much better deal, trading wilson for shawn chacon. there's also the fact that many teams don't like to trade within their division, but the pirates have made big deals with the cubs and reds in recent years. a duncan-for-pitcher trade would make sense for both teams, but i don't think it's likely.
  • baltimore: another logical fit. the orioles have six starting pitchers, of whom two (rodrigo lopez and kris benson) are said to be on the block. the orioles need corner outfielders . . . encarnacion for benson? again, the cards could do worse. benson is in the last year of his deal ($7.5m), with an option for 2008. baltimore would probably prefer to give up lopez, who isn't any good, and they'd also probably rather acquire chris duncan, who would be too high a return.
  • rockies: they apparently are serious about moving jason jennings and need a cheap centerfielder; hard to believe they'd be desperate enough to move jennings for encarnacion. . . . . jennings can walk after this year, so despite being a very good pitcher is not worth giving up a lot of young talent for.
  • detroit: they need a left-handed relief pitcher and have a spare left-handed starting pitcher lying around, mike maroth; he sat out most of last year with a bum elbow. he's nothing special, a control/command guy who gets groundballs; under contract for about $3m this year. the cardinals could do worse, but it might cost them tyler johnson and then some. it's also rumored that detroit would trade jeremy bonderman (in his 2d year of arb eligibility, and two years away from free agency) if an offer bowled them over; i don't believe the cards possess the kind of surplus talent necessary to pull that off.
  • boston: looking to unload matt clement, who's in the last year of his contract and owed $9.5m. got beaned by a line drive in 2005, then missed the last 100 games of 2006 with a sore shoulder. when healthy, he gets groundballs and strikeouts but is considered a bit bullheaded . . . . a la marquis. he's a vastly superior performer to jason, but given his health status i doubt the cards have any interest.
  • florida: the dontrelle rumors won't die; conflicting signals coming out of south florida, which apparently is how the marlins want it. when the cardinals inquired last summer, the package that was discussed allegedly included reyes, rasmus, and another prospect. willis remains under club control (arb eligible) through 2008 and will probably make in the neighborhood of $7m this year, $10m next. probably not going anywhere.
  • braves: would like to dump tim hudson's contract, which guarantees him $27m in 2008-09 . . . . not a bargain, hence not a fit for the cards.
  • angels: ervin santana is available, but it would take rolen; discussed at length here.
  • dodgers: with the signing of wolf, they may have a surplus in the rotation but will only deal from the bottom of the deck, ie brett tomko or mark hendrickson . . . . .
who'd i miss? that's a pretty broad menu of options, especially when you consider how expensive pitching has become. it still won't be easy to get a deal finished, since the cards are cutting it so close to the bone talentwise; they just don't have any surplus to deal from. if they can get any decent pitcher for encarnacion, they might have to go for it and then bring in luis gonzalez as a one-year replacement.

today's the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their free agents, by the way; tomorrow could be a big day for signings.