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trade and true

that's quite the competition between thompson and reyes to grab the inside track for next year's #5 rotation slot, eh? they're both rapidly pitching themselves out of the team's plans for 2008, while mark mulder is experiencing shoulder soreness that team trainer barry weinberg described as "not a good sign." that leaves wainwright and looper as the only sure things in next year's rotation; for the 2d straight year, the team will have to extensively rebuild its rotation over the winter.

the recent aj burnett diary got me thinking about the trade market for pitchers in the off-season to come. it looks to be a lot stronger than the free-agent arms market, a thin group made up mainly of very old guys (schilling, kenny rogers, jon leiber, david wells), midcareer mediocrities (kris benson, livan hernandez, kyle lohse, jeff weaver, kip wells), and damaged goods (jason jennings, john thomson, freddy garcia, bartolo colon). here's a mostly complete list of free-agent arms.

the trade market, by contrast, promises to be robust. nearly a dozen high-priced pitchers will be in their walk year in 2008, and walk-year pitchers are prime trade candidates. several of'm changed jerseys last off-season, including freddy garcia, jason jennings, jaret wright, and rodrigo lopez. the list of guys who are or will be entering their final contract year in 2008 includes

  • brad penny
  • jon garland
  • john lackey
  • derek lowe
  • matt morris
  • jake peavy
  • oliver perez
  • johan santana
the roster of possible tradees also might include aj burnett, who is signed through 2010 but has an opt-out clause in his contract that he can exercise after next season, making him a free agent; and dontrelle willis, if anybody still wants him.

this is a pretty tasty group, and some of them almost surely will move. garland's name has been in circulation since july of this season; penny was thought certain to be dealt this past winter (although given his stellar year and jason schmidt's injury, he probably isn't going anywhere now); morris already has moved once and might do so again, as the new pirates management begins soaping off the stink of dave littlefield; burnett is at odds w/ the management in toronto; and willis' name has been cycling through the rumor mill almost nonstop since march 2006.

out of the group, i like burnett the best; i wanted the cardinals to sign him two winters ago, and i think he'd be a perfect fit for this team. for one thing, he strikes people out and throws the sinker; each fan would be able to love him for his/her own reasons. there's also the fact that he's pitching his ass off --- since returning from the dl on august 12, he has gone 3-1, 1.78 in 7 starts, with an opponent average of .146. if he manages to squeeze past the innings threshold for era title qualification, he'll likely finish in the top 10 in the league. his contract pays $12m in 2008 and (if he doesn't opt out) the same amount for 2009-10. burnett has never had an era above 4.00 in a season where he threw at least 100 innings; in two years in the hitter-friendly skydome in the difficult al east, he has compiled a 3.69 era. at busch iii he could easily have an era in the 2s. . . . of course, if that were to happen he'd opt out of the contract and sign for $15m a year somewhere. for that reason, the cardinals can't really afford to pay full value for the guy; no team can, really. so the blue jays probably will have great difficulty moving him, if'n that's even what they want to do.

let's face it: the guys most likely to be dealt are the guys who are performing the worst, ie morris willis and garland. willis appears to be washed up; he's 9-15 with a 5.34 era this year despite pitching in a run-stifling environment, and his opponent averages (.304 / .373 / .490) are worse than kip wells'. he seems to have thrown too many innings in his early 20s, an age when a pitcher should be shielded from 200+-inning workloads. as for morris: bless his heart, he'll compete. he'll be great with the fans. . . . . and he'll soak up a big chunk of payroll while posting an era in the high 4.00s or low 5.00s. as much as i adore him, i don't think he has much left to offer.

that leaves garland, who has thrown at least 190 innings for 6 years in a row; shades of suppan. garland this year has notched only half the wins he logged in 2006, despite a very consistent performance year to year:

w-l era w/9 k/9 hr/9 avg obp slg
2007 9-12 4.47 2.6 4.3 0.9 .277 .327 .429
2006 18-7 4.51 1.8 4.7 1.1 .294 .328 .450

those figures remind me of mulder, circa 2005 --- not really good enough to support an 18-7 record, but much better than 9-12. garland used to have pronounced groundball tendencies, but this year his fb/gb is nearly dead even. oddly enough, his BABIP has increased as his groundball rate has decreased; usually it's the other way around. one imagines that the cardinal coaching staff (were the current one still in place) would try to get garland's groundball rate back up to its former level. his 2008 salary is $12m.

what would it take to get him? when the white sox dealt freddy garcia last winter under similar circumstances, the cost was a couple of young arms, gavin floyd and gio gonzalez. floyd at the time of the trade was in a position not unlike that of anthony reyes --- a heralded prospect who advanced quickly through the minors and received a rude welcome to the major leagues. gonzalez was 20 years old at the time of the trade, also a heralded prospect coming off a down year --- in this case, a rough transition to double A. the most comparable guys in the st louis system are jaime garcia and blake hawksworth.

i'm certainly not endorsing that trade, ie reyes and either garcia or hawksworth for one season of jon garland. i think it would be disastrous, and i can't believe the cardinals would make it. of course, it might be possible to get garland on less expensive terms --- garcia was coming off a 17-9 season when the phillies traded for him (albeit with a similar era) and faintly bore the #1 starter tag. if all it took was reyes, or reyes plus a lesser prospect, then maybe it'd make sense. . . . but the inescapable conclusion of this exercise is that the trade market really isn't much more promising than the free-agent market, as far as the cardinals are concerned --- because the cardinals remain poorly positioned to compete in the trade market. if it's uncertain whether they can afford jon garland, they certainly can't afford any of the better pitchers who might become available.

in the end, they might be looking at matt morris after all --- reliable, well liked within the organization, not too expensive talentwise. the cards almost had him in july; if the new pgh gm has any sense, his first phone call will be to walt jocketty.