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leave it to lieber . . .

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in a rare sunday filing, Baseball Prospectus dropped this tidbit of gossip:

Philadelphia General Manager Pat Gillick made the quick trip from Clearwater to Dunedin to scout Toronto's Grapefruit League opener and was likely there to scout Blue Jay outfielders Alex Rios and Reid Johnson. Speculation persists that the Phillies will trade excess starting pitcher Jon Lieber to Toronto for an outfielder, then deal center fielder Aaron Rowand to San Diego for set-up reliever Scott Linebrink.
if the jays are truly willing to part with rios -- a 27-year-old outfielder who posted .302 / .349 / .516 in a breakout 2006 (and made the all-star team) --- the cardinals can't match the offer. but reed johnson, they might be able to compete with. johnson had a breakout of sorts last year too at .319 / .390 / .479, all career highs. but his gains are easily explained away by his freakishly high .367 batting avg on balls in play; he also profited from playing in the hitter-friendly skydome, where he batted .342 last year (.296 away) and reaped an 84-point edge in OPS. (that's a career-long split; over four seasons, reed has a .728 OPS away from skydome, vs .815 at home.) this player'sbatted-ball data at fangraphs don't suggest he hit the ball appreciably better last year --- he put up his typical gb/fb/ld percentages and his usual rates of hr/ab and hr/fb. without having seen this player, i would guess he just had a run of good luck; he profiles as somebody who's likely to regress to his league-average self in 2007. johnson's right-handed, 29 years old, due to make $3m this year (his first season of arb eligibility), and just good enough with the glove to pass for a centerfielder . . . .

how much do i sound like a used-car salesman? the case i'm trying to build, you have probably guessed, is that reed johnson is merely juan encarnacion by another name. he's a couple years younger and coming off a better season, which might make him more attractive superficially; but the cardinals have other spare parts they can toss in (relievers, bench outfielders) that might tip the scales. the phillies, you may recall, bid heavily for braden looper's services last off-season --- they were the reason the cardinals had to commit three years to looper. they're desperate for right-handed bullpen help . . . kinda looks like a fit, no? the phils have a logjam in the rotation, the cards in the bullpen and among their reserve outfielders . . . . each seems to have what the other needs.

it's purely wishful thinking, and probably futile; as i said, if the jays do make rios available the cardinals can't really match the offer (although the jays' own website deems it "unlikely that the Jays would part with Rios" --- scroll down to the item slugged "just a coincidence?"). even if toronto won't give up rios, it may simply be that pat gillick thinks he can do better than juan encarnacion --- who is, after all, not healthy and at the age when a ballplayer's skills usually start to degrade.

whatever --- lieber's a reliably league-averagey starting pitcher (here's his career line) who'd slot well into the st louis rotation and is known to be available; someone to keep an eye on. he hasn't thrown a pitch yet in spring competition; makes his debut today. one hopes a st louis scout will be watching.

hey, speaking of trade-available rhp who've been mentioned in connection w/ the cardinals: carl pavano made his spring debut yesterday and reportedly threw well and pain-free.

within the st louis camp, the pitcher who's piqued the scouts' interest is kelvin jimenez. per matt leach:

Right-hander Kelvin Jimenez has caught the attention of La Russa. The skipper noted that Jimenez's command has been very good in workouts and in his first game appearance. Jimenez faces a tough road to make it into a crowded bullpen, but any good impression with the manager helps.
he is due to pitch an inning today, following wainwright and mike smith. the cardinals signed jimenez as a minor-league free agent in december; he spent all of last year and most of 2005 at triple A. here's the back of his baseball card. after struggling as a starting pitcher he converted to relief two years ago, but the change didn't dramatically improve his results. his control, never particularly good, has gotten progressively worse as he's moved up the minor-league ladder. judging from the hr rates, he looks like a groundballer; his breakdown at Minor League Splits confirms as much, although the tendency isn't as pronounced as i'd thought it might be. the oklahoma city ballpark is pretty spacious, which probably explains why opposing hitters only slugged .319 off jimenez in home games but .494 on the road. the cardinals have gotten mileage out of players like this one before; al reyes and randy flores both come to mind (key difference, though --- those two came to the cardinals with big-league experience, which jimenez lacks). hard to imagine him making the opening day roster, but the manager likes him, and he evidently has some important things going for him, ie the ability to miss bats and make 'em hit it on the ground. if he can continue to throw strikes maybe we'll hear from him later this season.

every year, it seems, at least one important member of the bullpen by season's end is a guy who didn't make the team out of spring training. last year kinney and tyler johnson did it (and wainwright, you'll recall, claimed the next-to-last bullpen spot in a crowded camp); in 2005 that guy was brad thompson, in '04 kiko calero. so pitchers like jimenez, cate, cavazos, and falkenborg have a lot to gain by making a good spring impression, even if (as seems likely) they all start the year at memphis.

here's today's gameday link. you might also want to check out GO magazine's blog, which will be posting daily updates from jupiter over the next few days (see effin fisk's diary for details).