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hurly buehrle

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according to USA today, 2 of the top 25 sports stories of the last quarter-century involve the cardinals. 2 of the top 6, actually: the paper ranks the 1998 mcgwire-sosa home-run chase at #6 and the red sox's long-awaited world championship at #1. interesting that baseball stories dominate this list, given that football long ago surpassed baseball as the nation's chief sporting preoccupation . . . .

lotta loose talk lately about mark buehrle's imminent departure from the white sox via trade. the chicago papers are full of such talk, and the prospect was also discussed in this diary at VEB and over at my SB Nation brother site, South Side Sox. without question, there's a realistic chance he'll be moved. the white sox have the same record as the cardinals, 27-33, but because they play in a much tougher division they have little hope of making a race of it: they are 9 games back and in 4th place, on the verge of falling hopelessly out of contention. these franchises are on somewhat similar paths: both won 100 games two years ago (the sox actually won 99, but who's counting) with rosters that were just at their peak, but have since sunk into decline as their core players aged. i think the cards are better positioned to rebuild --- there is no pujols on the white sox roster --- but the similarity is still there.

buehrle, a free-agent at the end of the year, is a logical trade chip if the white sox decide to give up on the season --- and it has long been thought that st louis is a logical destination for buehrle, a local kid and unabashed lifelong cardinals fan. without question, the cards will inquire when he hits the free agent market --- but will they be bidders if/when he hits the trade market?

let me start with this thought: if buehrle does get traded at mid-season, it will be a rare event. pitchers with his resume almost never change teams during the season. this is a guy who has thrown 200+ innings six years in a row, leading the league in that category two times. he has won no fewer than 12 games in each of those 6 seasons, with a single-season high of 19. his resume is peppered with top-10 finishes on the american league leaderboard for wins, era, complete games, shutouts, and whip; he has been named to three all-star teams and finished in the top 5 in the cy young voting two years ago. the last guy with an even remotely similar description who got traded during a season is freddy garcia, whom seattle dealt to the chisox in mid-2004. garcia was 29 years old that year (buehrle is currently 28) and, like buehrle, had a top-5 cy young finish on his resume and a string of seasons with 200 innings pitched and double-digit win totals. but he had only posted sub-4.00 eras twice in five years (despite pitching in a pitcher's park) and had struggled with arm trouble; he was good but still a cut below buehrle. another comparable case is bartolo colon, traded halfway through the 2002 season at age 29 from the indians to the expos. and we might also take a look at curt schilling, traded in july 2000 (at age 33) from the phillies to the diamondbacks. both garcia and colon were in the walk year of their contract; schilling still had a full year left to run on his deal.

that's it --- 3 guys during this decade; 3 marquee pitchers in their prime. all the other pitchers traded in-season since 2000 have been good/great pitchers at the end of their careers (e.g. jamie moyer and greg maddux last season, chuck finley in 2002) or journeyman in the midst of good seasons (e.g., jeff suppan and sidney ponson in 2003), or just plain journeymen (jeff weaver last season; woody williams in 2001) or guys with potential. so let's just start with the three comparable cases and see what the acquiring teams had to give up in exchange:

  1. freddy garcia and ben davis to the white sox; jeremy reed, miguel olivo, and mike morse to the mariners, july 27, 2004:
    jeremy reed was the white sox answer to colby rasmus --- a high draft pick (2d round) who had moved swiftly through the chain and was projected to be the centerfielder of the future. baseball america had him as the #25 prospect in the minors that year (rasmus was at #29 when this season began). at the time of the trade he was almost major-league ready, having spent half a season at triple A; after the trade he got a september callup and hit .397 for seattle in 51 at-bats. rasmus is a better prospect than reed was (he's younger and has more power), but then buehrle is a better pitcher than garcia was.

    miguel olivo in 2004 was a 25-year-old catcher with good power potential; hasn't had a great career, but catchers capable of slugging .440 aren't a dime a dozen. there is no comparable player in the st louis system; bryan anderson will probably be a much better hitter by age 25, while molina has far less power potential at roughly the same age. this guy lies somewhere in between those two.

    the 3d player in the package, mike morse, was a 22-year-old shortstop who was slugging .536 at double A. one year after the trade he became the mariners' everyday shortstop and hit .278 / .349 / .370, but in 2006 he tore up his knee. still only 25, he's currently at triple A and hitting .313 / .383 / .485. the cardinals don't really have a comp for him; picture tyler greene with good stats, and you've got a rough idea.

  2. bartolo colon and tim drew to the expos; grady sizemore, cliff lee, brandon phillips, and lee stevens to the indians, june 27, 2002:
    grady sizemore you've heard of. at the time of the trade, he was a 20-year-old guy in class A. a 3d-rounder in the 2000 draft, he hadn't shown much yet and hadn't appeared on any top-prospect lists, but after joining the cleveland system he caught fire and by 2004 was in the big leagues to stay. a rough comp for the cardinals might be john jay, who is one level higher than sizemore was but also is 2 years older.

    you're also heard of brandon phillips, who was the real prize of the package, a 21-year-old shortstop who slugged .506 at double A during the first half that year and had just earned his promotion to triple A about a week before the trade. he got in 31 big-league at-bats that september and opened the 2003 season as the 7th-best prospect in baseball, per BA. he washed out in that trial and scuffled for several years before resurrecting his career with cincinnati last season. rasmus is a fair comp --- young, premium position, great stats.

    and you've heard of cliff lee, who at the time of the trade was 24 years old and had a 7-2 record at double A with a 3.23 era --- slightly less valuable than blake hawksworth (who is currently 24 and at triple A) but more valuable than adam ottavino (who is 22 and in A ball).

    lee stevens was a throw-in --- roughly equivalent to preston wilson.

  3. curt schilling to the dbacks; omar daal, nelson figueroa, travis lee, and vicente padilla to the phillies, july 26, 2000:
    funny to look back on this one. the centerpiece of the deal was travis lee, a 25-year-old first baseman in his 3d major-league season. he'd been the second overall selection in the 1996 draft and made it to the big league in less than two years, hitting 22 hr as a rookie in 1998. he was thought to have superstar potential but never lived up to it. chris duncan might serve here as a comp; he's probably a bit more valuable than lee was at that time, because he has compiled somewhat better big-league numbers to date, but lee still carried an aura and expectation of greatness.

    vicente padilla was a 22-year-old rookie getting his feet wet as a reliever; he had a 2.31 era at the time of the trade in 27 innings. his value was roughly equivalent to adam wainwright's value at this time last year; two years after the trade he entered the philadelphia rotation and posted back-to-back 14-win seasons for them.

    omar daal was a quasi-established starting pitcher, one year removed from a 215-inning, 16-9 season. he stunk in 2000 (2-10 at the time of the trade with a 7.22 era), but the following year he would make 32 starts for the phillies with a 13-7 record. you could call kip wells a comp, i suppose; a better comp might be jeff weaver circa july 2006.

    the last player, nelson figueroa, was like a healthy version of chris narveson --- a quadruple A pitcher in his mid-20s. he actually was pitching extremely well at the time of the trade, with a 9-4 record and 2.81 era in the hitter-friendly pcl; the phillies kept him at triple A after the acquisition, but the following year they got 13 starts out of the guy. he bounced around and never amounted to much.

that gives you a rough idea of who the cardinals might have to give up to get buehrle: very good young players with loads of future potential. rasmus, duncan, wainwright, jay, hawksworth --- guys like that. i can imagine the cardinals parting with john jay or hawksworth, but i doubt they would be enough to land buehrle; surely some other team could/would top that sort of an offer.

it'd change the cardinals' prospects a great deal if mark buehrle joined the club; with him and a healthy carp in the 2d half, they might very well lay waste to the weak nl central, and no team would relish the thought of facing st louis in the postseason. but history suggests that such an acquisition would be very costly --- too costly, in all likelihood, to make this a realistic option.