congratulations to the rockies on succeeding the cardinals as nl champs.
it's not the pineiro contract itself that's disheartening; it's not pineiro himself. it's the organizational disease, of which this signing is yet another symptom --- a deadly lack of imagination. there's a hole in the rotation? alrighty, then --- locate the nearest free-agent mediocrity and fork over some millions; problem solved. but of course, the problem's not solved --- no more than the right-field problem was solved when the cardinals signed juan encarnacion, or the setup-man vacancy was filled when they signed braden looper, or the chasm at 2b was eliminated when they signed adam kennedy. taken in isolation, each of these acquisitions might have been defensible at the time; taken as a group, they've made the team old and slow and leaky. there's only so much mediocrity you can lock in before the roster calcifies under the sheer mass of it. the cardinals are well beyond that point.
there are other ways to go. the VEB community has set forth any number of ideas for how to freshen up the composition of the team, adding flexibility and growth potential. some of the proposals we generate are less realistic than others, but at least there's always creativity in the thought process --- a cataloguing of assets and needs, and an attempt to deploy the former efficiently in service of the latter. that is what's been lacking during the cardinals' last 2 off-seasons --- and we already see the same lack this off-season in the hasty re-signings of so-so players from the terrible 2007 roster. when we bemoan the re-signing of joel pineiro, we're really bemoaning the organization's embrace of stand-stillism. the cards are just treading water, casting about for lifelines --- "think this guy might be any good?" "maybe; what other choice do we have?" --- instead of charting a course.
pineiro represents another lifeline on a roster that's already got too many of them. without question he's an upgrade over kip wells; he increases the odds that the team will win 84 games next year. but he decreases the odds that they'll win 94. that's what mediocrities do --- they drag you under just as much as they buoy you up. of late in st louis, the drag has outweighed the loft; the cardinals came within a few runs of having the worst run differential in the league last year. they don't merely need to be tweaked around the margins. they need to be worked over but good. risk will be involved. we haven't seen any sign so far that the club a) recognizes this, or b) has a plan for what to do about it. it's still early in the off-season; things might improve, particularly once the new gm is in place. but every new roster spot the cards commit to a mediocre player hardens the status quo --- which, last october aside, ain't too good.
i believe pineiro reminds the cardinals of a couple reclamations they had success with in the not-distant past. one is woody williams, a post-deadline acquisition in 2001 who, like pineiro, made 11 starts after joining the cards. both pitchers stabilized wobbly rotations and helped lead moribund clubs back into contention; in williams' case, the cards closed the deal and got back to the playoffs. that off-season, st louis re-signed williams to a rich 3-year deal, one that proved to be worth every cent. but williams had a lot more than 11 good starts to recommend him; he'd posted a 3.75 era just one year before the cardinals got him, and in an 8-year career he'd only once posted a worse-than-average era (park adjusted) --- and he was within 0.03 points of average that year. he was an extremely consistent pitcher with a strong recent record; pineiro doesn't have that type of resume.
the other recent salvage job who pineiro vaguely resembles is chris carpenter. both pitchers were successful in their early 20s (pineiro far more so than carp), then suffered elbow injuries at age 24 that drastically worsened their performance. carpenter managed one good season after the injury (2001, his best year up to that time), but only after shoulder surgery and 18 months of rehab did he come back as an effective pitcher. fortunately, he was still only 29 years old --- the same age pineiro will be next season. . . . . . but the analogy only goes so far. when carpenter broke out for the cards in 2004, he was only 2 years removed from his most recent good year; pineiro is 4 years removed from his last effective season. and, probably more important, carpenter had signed for $500,000; pineiro signed for $13m more than that. so the cases aren't really similar at all; forget i brought it up. pineiro ain't very likely to be the next chris carpenter.
he might be the next jason marquis, though; that's who baseball-reference.com lists as pineiro's #1 most comparable pitcher. when you've finished retching, realize that marquis was a league-average pitcher in 3 of the last 4 years. . . . but also realize that he pitched himself clear off the playoff roster twice in that span, and out of the playoff rotation a 3d time; with his horrible performance down the stretch in 2007, he may have pitched himself out of the cubs' plans for 2008. typical mediocrity --- he buoys you up, he drags you down. other top-10 pineiro comps include kyle lohse (4.62 era in 2007), steve trachsel (4.90), and eric milton (5.17). the only good pitcher on the list is brad penny.
there's a reasonable chance this guy will be about as effective as marquis or lohse --- a .500ish pitcher with an era between 4.50 and 5.00. but the cards already have two roster spots committed to pitchers of that caliber (looper and franklin), and roster spots are finite resources. for all the discussion about dewitt's tight-fisted spending, the bigger problem with this team has been profligacy --- the extravagant waste of roster spots on players with limited abilities and little development potential. (say it with me, everybody: opportunity cost.) as for pineiro's salary, it might be that a rump-of-rotation pitcher is worth $6.5m a year these days; perhaps that's a reality of the market. but it's a dead-end market, frequented by teams that are going nowhere. kris benson in baltimore, eric milton in cincinnati, tony armas in pittsburgh, steve trachsel and ramon ortiz in whatever towns they happen to find themselves in a given year --- that's the circuit pineiro travels on. it's not a loop any of us wants to see the cardinals get trapped in.
it's this prospect, not joel pineiro per se, that has me and so many other VEBbers feeling blue in the wake of this signing.