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writing at the Hardball Times, my SB Nation colleague jeff sackmann (Brew Crew Ball) concludes that 4 years / $40m for jeff suppan would be right in line with the going rate for starting pitchers. "Given the high cost of starting pitching in this year's market," sackmann writes, "there's an easy way to judge whether a signing has the potential to be a good one: does the team have a shot at contending? . . . . As bizarre as it may have sounded even a few months ago, if the addition of Jeff Suppan turns a team into a Wild Card winner, he probably will have been worth $11 million."

the cardinals might well be in that position. if (as surmised here) their current rotation is good enough to get them to the mid- to high 80s in wins, then replacing brad thompson (the putative #5 at this point) with suppan might nudge the team into the range of 90 victories --- which is where the nl wild-card winner has been the last three or four seasons. so if we only look at the first year of the deal, it might make sense for st louis to spend $11m on suppan.

but what about years 2 through 4? that's where the idea breaks down. even if he stays in st louis, with dave duncan and a good defense to help prop him up, suppan is an excellent candidate to decline over the next few seasons. PECOTA thinks so, anyway. here's how the system projects him to perform over the next four years:

age inn w-l era k/9 bb/9
2007 32 176 10-11 4.49 4.6 2.6
2008 33 153 8-10 4.58 4.4 2.6
2009 34 136 7-9 4.79 4.4 2.7
2010 35 99 5-7 5.10 4.1 2.8

for whatever it's worth, PECOTA nailed suppan's projection in 2006: 11-11, 4.10 era, 193 innings (vs the actual totals of 12-7, 4.12 era, 190 inn). it doesn't therefore follow that he is destined to perform at the levels PECOTA projects for 2007-10; but he's gonna have to outperform that projection by a considerable margin to be worth the trouble.

the cardinals' standing this year vis-vis the rotation is almost identical to where the team stood 12 months ago vis-vis the outfield and bullpen. they had suffered massive defections at those positions --- both corner outfielders gone, along with three right-handed relievers (tavarez reyes and eldred) --- and, with the new year looming, hadn't addressed the vacancies. with their options running short, the cardinals panicked and signed 3-year contracts with looper and encarnacion; they're now trying to get rid of both players. and it's not as if either one was particularly bad in 2006; both more or less filled the hole they were signed to fill --- for one year. but years 2 and 3 of both deals are burdens the team would rather not bear.

and the hell of it is, the cardinals had suitable replacements right under their noses. chris duncan and scott spiezio turned out to be the answer at one corner outfield slot; we all would have laughed at that notion 12 months ago, much as we laugh today at the idea that brad thompson might make a suitable 5th starter. likewise, adam wainwright, josh hancock, and josh kinney turned out to be the answers in middle relief; at this time last year, every cardinal fan would have been aghast at the thought of relying on such players.

encarnacion and looper seemed like safe options then, much as suppan appears to be now. like en'cion and looper, supps might help prop things up for a year, but it's likely that by year 2 of the contract --- and even more likely by years 3 and 4 --- he'll be dead weight, soaking up payroll (he'll be making at least as much as looper and en'cion combined) and blocking the path of better pitchers who have moved up through the minor-league ranks (e.g., blake hawksworth and jaime garcia).

that, more than the money, is the price the cardinals can't afford to pay for jeff suppan.

* * * * * * * * * * *

the reports about john thomson's shoulder must not be so good; i can't think of another reason the cardinals haven't swooped in on him by now. like kip wells, he represents a buy-low option and is available on a short-term deal. he was ready to sign a one-year deal with the mariners at the beginning of the month, before the m's dealt for horacio ramirez. that in itself is a red flag --- ramirez is no great shakes, but the m's apparently deemed him a better bet than thomson.

but insofar as there's money to burn in that putative $100m payroll, why not offer thomson 1 year at $6m? if there's even a 50-50 chance he is healthy, it'd be worth taking a flyer. line him up against kip wells over the last three seasons; if wells is a reasonable bet, then surely thomson is.

inn w-l era k/bb gb/fb
thomson 04 198 14-8 3.72 2.56 1.43
wells 04 138 5-7 4.55 1.76 1.45
thomson 05 99 4-6 4.47 2.18 1.53
wells 05 182 8-18 5.09 1.33 1.33
thomson 06 80 2-7 4.82 1.44 1.24
wells 06 44 2-5 6.50 0.95 1.74
thomson 04-06 357 20-21 4.39 2.14 1.41
wells 04-06 364 15-30 5.07 1.43 1.42

like mark mulder, thomson injured his labrum; it was diagnosed as fraying, rather than a tear, and he has not had surgery. that might explain why the cardinals are keeping their distance. since the mariners backed off, thomson apparently hasn't gotten any nibbles; at least, i haven't heard of any. just the same, i'll be keeping my eye on him . . . .