Boy, sometimes I still really like watching J.D. Drew swing the bat. What a beautiful swing! It's the 2nd to last postseason series and finally one is competitive. I love game 7's though they're easier to digest when the Cards aren't actually playing. I'm also easier to get along with around the house. And, how about this - the starting pitchers include a home-grown pitcher (pitch-to-contact pitcher, as well) vs. a high-priced free agent acquisition.
Entering next season, the 3 OF positions seem to be pretty muddled. Edmonds' injuries and lack of productivity in '07 make him a question mark for CF. Ankiel's limited major-league (and, indeed, minor-league) experience lead us to wonder whether he'll play 140 games or 80. And, Duncan is probably our most valuable trading chip. With a number of holes to fill, it may become necessary to find Duncan another home and import a new LF. Nothing seems certain.
What we have:
In a perfect testament to how last season went, the worst outfielder (though it's a photo finish w/ Taguchi) was (naturally) the highest paid and, barring a big free agent acquisition, will be again this year. All of these should be under the control of the Cardinals (assuming we offer Ludwick a contract). The Cards hold a $1.1 M option on Taguchi.
If there are no OF acquisitions this offseason, the Cards likely will open the season w/ Duncan in LF, Edmonds in CF, and Ankiel in RF. Aside from Edmonds' noticeable drop-off in production, all 3 are lefties. Interestingly, for the first time in some years, the Cards were actually MORE productive vs. lefties than righties last year (.751 OPS vs. .739). However, some of this is due to the fact that the least-likely to return was the Cards' best hitter (in the OF) against lefties (omitting Ankiel's ridiculously low 51 PA's). If Taguchi doesn't return, someone will have to take those PA's against lefties. The natural assumption is that Ludwick would play more against lefties, but he was hardly a lefty-masher - "producing" just a .684 OPS in 139 PA's. This was not an anomaly as his career OPS vs. lefties is .704. Many have argued for Duncan to get more PA's against lefties, with good reason as he has just 142 for his career, but he's been downright feckless in those 142 PA's - offering up a robust .632 OPS. It's not a huge sample, of course, but it should cause us to question whether he'll ever be even marginally effective against southpaws.
Many have pointed to the competition between Schumaker and Taguchi for the 5th OF role as being one between 2 players with the same skill set. Wouldn't it be nice to let the 37 year old move on down the road and see what the youngster offers? To some degree, the Cards did this in '07 and Schumaker impressed. He can play all 3 OF positions and produced a 111 OPS+ in limited PA's. The best thing Taguchi brings to the table is his ability to hit lefties, as he became the primary platoon partner for Edmonds b/c of his .760 OPS against lefties. In the last 3 seasons, Skip has a .723 OPS in 270 minor-league AB's which doesn't exactly elicit a ton of confidence in his ability to regularly spell Edmonds, Duncan or Ankiel. Plus, we know what a beautiful couple Tony and So make so it's difficult to envision a divorce, assuming Tony returns. Still, Skip is out of options and stands to earn the minimum whereas So's option would guarantee him $1.1 M. I would find it difficult to justify the spending the extra $700,000 or so.
What we lack: Even so, it's difficult to fathom that the team will begin the year w/ Ankiel, Duncan, Edmonds, Ludwick, and Schumaker in the OF. 4 lefties and 1 righty who doesn't particularly hit lefties well? - doesn't sound like Tony's sort of team and doesn't sound like the makings of an offense that stands to be very competitive against southpaws.
There seems to be a need, therefore, for at least 1 right-handed hitting OF who hits lefties well. The need for a starting pitcher and the lack of a great number of good trading chips may lead to Duncan being traded, as many have already discussed. Also, considering questions abound regarding Rolen's ability to return to being a productive, middle of the order hitter, there is some speculation that the team may look to add one of the (relatively) big free agent outfielders on the market this offseason.
The Duncan option: It may become necessary to trade Duncan (or possibly Ankiel) in order to receive some young starting pitching. Aside from Pujols, he's the probably the one middle of the order hitter the team can reasonably count on for '08. He also probably has more trade value of anyone not named Pujols or Wainwright who is currently on the 40 man roster.
Duncan is under the Cards' control for 4 more years - he isn't even arbitration-eligible yet. He earned just $400,000 last year while being worth almost $9 M according to MORP for his play last year - when he spent almost half the season injured. It would be the height of irresponsibility to trade a productive, middle of the order hitter for a "proven veteran" with just 1 year left on his contract - i.e. Renteria or Jon Garland. There's been talk of A.J. Burnett being on the market and there's every reason to believe the Cards would be interested if that were the case. But even though Burnett still has 3 years on his contract, he can opt out of it after '08. Should he be considered a player who, like Renteria or Garland, only has 1 year left on his contract? If he pitches well, he could hit another jackpot next offseason.
Clearly, if Duncan is to be shopped this offseason, the Cards should be on the lookout for a young pitcher(s) and/or shortstop who would be under the Cards control for at least 3 years. LB discussed this at length back in September, about the possibility of trading him to the Giants. As I said, it's important that any trade of this sort result in young pitchers the Cards have under their control rather than someone like Garland.
The FA options:
- Barry Bonds
- Milton Bradley -- discussed at length here
- Kosuke Fukudome
- Luis Gonzalez
- Jose Guillen*
- Torii Hunter
- Andruw Jones
- Bobby Kielty - could work as a 4th OF to hit vs. lefties
- Aaron Rowand
- Shannon Stewart -- Yuck!
- Moises Alou*
- Bob Abreu*
- Adam Dunn*
There are few good options here. Fukudome might be, but the Cards tend to be too conservative an organization to give long-term contracts to players who are unproven (in the U.S.). The CF's are the best players on the list (non-Bonds version) but signing one of them to a 5+ year, $50 + million contract makes no sense given that the only top-notch prospect the Cards have is a CF and is probably less than a year from being ready. Bradley makes some sense, as LB addressed.
The difficulty of adding an everyday OF through free agency makes it more difficult to trade Duncan as well. If the Cards trade Duncan for pitching, they don't have a lot left to trade for OF help. So it seems that the Cards could only trade for an OF if that person is a 4th OF who has something to offer vs. lefties or if Reyes (or Reyes +) can be traded for a young OF who might be able to play every day but who might also produce the way Reyes has for most of the last couple of years.
LB has already raised the possibility of Reyes being traded for Michael Bourn, and maurerdj suggested a Reyes for Carlos Quentin swap. Either is a pretty good option. Bourn's a lefty so a righty would still need to be added as a 4th OF, but it would be better than adding Aaron Rowand.
Rowand is not a bad player, of course, but he does have only a career OPS+ of 106. He'll turn 32 in August and has played every season of his career in hitters' ballparks. His career OPS+ on the road is 97. It's likely he'll require at least a 4 year commitment, and possibly 5, which would mean the Cards would be on the hook for his contract - at $10-12 M per year - for until he's 36 or 37. PECOTA has him worth about $28 million for 2008-2011. Because of his style of play, he likely won't age well, either. Signing him may appear to make the Cards better on paper, but will only serve to block younger OF's while tying up payroll that will be needed to bolster the roster in the coming years. In short, he'll be outplayed over the length of his contract by younger players who will earn much less money over that period.
Bourn, on the other hand, would be under the Cards' control for 5 more years, as would Quentin, and they both earn the minimum. They would be blocking no one and would be entering the prime of their careers rather than being on the downside of their careers. These are the types of players the Cards need more of -- young players w/ lots of upside.
Trading Duncan will be a difficult proposition as there's no readily available replacement. Perhaps trading Ankiel makes more sense but, considering his defense and power, is his upside larger and trade value less? Has Duncan reached the peak of his trade value? If so, and the Cards decide to cut bait on him, they must maximize their return. Garland doesn't do that. Neither does Renteria. Burnett? Maybe.
The best option, if Duncan is traded, is to trade Reyes for some young OF or SS. Bourn, Quentin or perhaps, Lastings Milledge provide youth, financial flexibility, and a high upside that other, older players simply don't offer. Players like Rowand and Guillen, though productive now, are in their early 30's and will begin to decline sooner, rather than later. And they'll require 3-4 year commitments at $10-12 million per, at least. If the Cards really want to go for it next year w/o sacrificing long-term player development, they should sign Bonds to a 1 year deal for about $16 million. I doubt they will - Bonds isn't popular...anywhere outside of the Bay Area but he offers more next year than any other OF on the market and won't block any of our young OF's.
If Duncan stays, someone needs to be added who can spell the 3 lefties in the OF, and hit southpaws w/ some success - a 4th OF type. In that case, some of the best options (of players who might be available) are Reed Johnson, Jason Michaels, and Scott Hairston.
These players may be available through trade or might even be DFA'd. They're not household names, to be sure. But they do offer a history of good production vs. lefties, and an ability to play at least 2 of the 3 OF positions. Adding one of them to Duncan, Ankiel, Edmonds, and Ludwick would create platoon opportunities that should make the OF fairly productive. Adding one of these players would allow the '08 Cards to be reasonably productive in the OF w/o sacrificing the long-term player development this organization needs.
We'll truly be able to tell the direction the team is heading by what they do w/ Duncan's roster spot. If he's traded for someone like Garland so that Aaron Rowand can be signed - it's a significant step backward.
If he's traded for Lowry and Jonathan Sanchez, and then Reyes (and another) for Quentin or Bourn, we'll be witnessing the commitment Bill DeWitt recently referred to.