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go with the kids

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although jason schmidt remains unsigned in an official sense, for all intents and purposes he's gone. the cardinals never had a realistic shot at him to begin with; he wanted to stay on the west coast and was never serious about going anywhere else. credit the hendricks brothers for a good job of agenting; they induced the cardinals and cubs to make serious offers, drove up the bidding, and ended up with the deal they wanted from the team they wanted. well played, gents.

as for the cards, they haven't really lost anything; schmidt never was theirs to lose. i would have loved to see him come to st louis; he'd have been the true #2 jocketty has long sought. but with him and zito bound elsewhere, there are no #2-type arms left on the free-agent market; just very expensive rotation filler. but don't despair; there are pitchers available who are capable of playing big roles in the 2007 rotation. they're already on the roster; their names are wainwright and reyes.

erik already wrote a long, detailed analysis of wainwright on sunday and established that adam's a safe bet to succeed as a starting pitcher. (here's another post about wainwright, now nearly a year old, from yours truly.) so i'll spend my time here on reyes, whom i think we've all been selling a little short this off-season. he's penciled in as a #4 or #5 starter, but reyes has way more upside than that --- as his game 1 win in the series attests. reyes has been the organization's #1 prospect (and a top-100 prospect in all of baseball) for two years running; his minor-league numbers have always suggested that he has front-of-rotation potential. but he pitched below his abilities for much of 2006. even so, as i pointed out ad nauseum during the summer and fall, reyes ranked 2d among the 7 st louis starting pitchers in k/9, k/bb, whip, and opponent average; only carpenter was better. reyes also had the rotation's 3d-best era --- he was better than weaver, ponson, marquis, and mulder. and although he finished the year with a 5.06 era, that's misleading; before the ill-advised short-rest start la russa forced him to make on the last day of the season --- a game reyes wasn't even told he would pitch until he arrived at the ballpark --- the rookie compiled a 5-7 record with a 4.68 era.

for a lot of reasons, we can expect him to pitch better in 2007. for one thing, he won't be throwing the two-seamer under duress next year. more important, he won't be getting yanked back and forth between the majors and minors; a little rhythm and consistency might go a long way toward settling this performer. a 12- to 15-win season with an era in the low 4.00s lies well within reyes' range of ability. just think back to danny haren, who in his first year as a full-time big leaguer went 14-12 with a 3.73 era. the previous season, haren had gone 3-3 with a 4.50 era for st louis in 46 innings --- and posted a 4.15 era in the minor leagues. reyes pitched better than that last year; there's no reason to think he can't step forward in the same fashion haren did.

let's compare reyes' 2006 stats (again, leaving off the last game of the year) to those of some prominent free-agent pitchers --- the main candidates to come in as a #2 or #3 starter for st louis. jeff weaver's numbers in this table are for st louis only:

ERA whip k/9 w/9 k/bb opp
avg
schmidt 3.59 1.26 7.6 3.4 2.3 .239
padilla 4.50 1.38 7.0 3.2 2.2 .268
reyes 4.68 1.33 7.4 3.6 2.1 .249
woody 3.65 1.29 4.5 2.7 2.1 .271
lilly 4.31 1.43 7.9 4.0 2.0 .259
meche 4.48 1.43 7.5 4.1 1.9 .258
weaver 5.18 1.50 4.9 2.8 1.8 .297
eaton 5.12 1.57 6.0 3.3 1.8 .299
suppan 4.12 1.45 5.1 3.3 1.5 .279
wolf 5.56 1.69 7.0 5.2 1.3 .283
redman 5.71 1.59 4.1 3.4 1.2 .300

the pitchers are ranked here by k/bb ratio; reyes ranks 3d among the 11 pitchers on this list. he's also 3d in whip, and he's 2d in opponent batting average and 4th in strikeout rate. his era ranks in the middle of the pack. now, these figures aren't park- or league-adjusted, and they're small sample sizes --- just one year's worth of data, a partial year in some cases (including anthony's). but even taking those caveats under advisement --- if all these guys are thought to be #3-type starters, why is reyes considered a #4 or #5? some will point to his durability, but he threw 170 innings last year between st louis and memphis, plus another 12 in the postseason. and, perhaps most important, he pitched extremely well in big games against tough competition --- not just game 1 of the world series, but also sept 27 vs san diego, and aug 10 vs the reds, and of course the 1-hitter he threw vs the white sox in june. he held his own in game 4 of the nlcs against the mets, pitching for the first time in 15 days.

so i would submit that the #2 might already be on the roster --- just as he was two off-seasons ago, in the person of dan haren. the cards missed that opportunity, but they can learn from the experience. reyes and wagonmaker are both power pitchers with high k/9 and k/bb figures, and both now have a proven ability to pitch well in the postseason; isn't that the profile the cards have been shopping for on the f.a. market? it would be a reasonable option, if you ask me, to wade back into the shallow end of the free-agent / trade pool and fish out one more reliable arm --- batista, kris benson, somebody of that caliber --- to round out the rotation. you'd have carp as a #1, and then the other four (reyes wainwright wells and, let's say, batista) would sort themselves out over the course of the season; somebody would emerge out of that group as a 15-game winner with a sub-4.00 era. the cards already have narveson and brad thompson available as fill-in starters if anybody goes down, and hancock also can start; if the team runs short of innings at midseason, they can always find another jeff weaver on the trade market.

and, oh yeah, there's always (cough) looper . . . . . .

if the cardinals insist on leaving wainwright in the bullpen, then another option, almost as attractive, would be to sign batista and add tomo ohka or tony armas. the cards can probably get two guys of that caliber for less money than the dodgers had to spend on jason schmidt. the cards also still have the chance to land somebody like kris benson in a trade. the pirates' deal for adam la roche has fallen through, so they're still looking for a lh slugger; maybe duncan for duke could still happen. the tim hudson option is probably gone now that the braves have dealt away horatio ramirez; no loss. much as mulder got outpitched by haren in 2005-06, there's a good chance that hudson will get outpitched by reyes and wainwright from this point forward.

in october, la russa wisely and bravely put his faith in the kids --- wainwright kinney and tyjo --- over the high-priced veteran free agent, ie looper. for more than a year the cardinals have been saying, in word and deed, that they're going to make a greater commitment to player development in the future --- promote from within, trust the young players who come up through the ranks, win or lose with'm. might as well get started on that project right now. a rotation of carpenter, batista, reyes, wainwright, and wells is a viable option --- maybe the cards' best for 2007.

p.s. --- for more in this vein, see red baron's diary. great minds think alike . . .