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The Team Stripped Bare By its Suitors, Even

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Well, seeing as how the World Series remains in a complete holding pattern, locked in the sixth inning of game 5, I'm freed up to do something I was going to hold off on until the real baseball was over.

See, last week, I put up the second part of my look around at what trading chips the Cards have. I covered the minor leagues last week; I did the majors the week before, if you're interested.

Anyhow, the reason I bring this up is that, as I was reading over the comments section later on, I was fascinated by all the different interesting trading scenarios that various posters had. Not necessarily the deals themselves, but the overall philosophies that they implied. There was mention, as there pretty much always is when the subject of roster construction is discussed nowadays, of the work that Billy Beane has done in building a ball club that is competitive nearly every year, while sporting one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball.

What I found most interesting of all, in fact, was that there were some individuals who seemed interested in moving players that I look at as absolute cornerstones, guys like Troy Glaus and the like. Well, that got me to thinking: if one were to look at the Cardinals from a purely value-oriented standpoint, and attempt to fill up your roster with the lowest cost players possible, what would that end up looking like?

Now, please don't think that I'm advocating for this approach, or saying that I think this would be any kind of good idea. I'm simply interested in seeing what would happen if the Cardinals were to suddenly go all Florida Marlins on everybody and just trade off all the pieces they could and go bare bones.

Okay, so let's say that the Cardinals decided tomorrow that they wanted to cut payroll to the absolute bare minimum. They could couch this as a simply payroll based move, or they could present it to everyone as some sort of experimental efficiency idea. I don't particularly care why they're doing it, just say that they are.

So anyway, let's put together a starting roster of players that fit this profile. Players who make either the league minimum or damn near it, players with virtually no service time. We'll go position by position. I'm going to use the ZiPS projections that Dan Szymborski does over at Baseball Think Factory, both because they just came out and also because they're significantly more pessimistic than the Bill James numbers. I don't want to look at some numbers that may be too rosy; on the contrary, if I'm going to err, I want to err on the down side. I was also tempted to drag up some MLE's for some of these guys, but I decided instead to just use one projection method across the board, rather than picking and choosing whichever one I like best.

Note: I'm not doing pitchers, only position players. I may try the pitchers down the road somewhere, during a slow news week, but for now I'm just going to leave that whole thing alone.

Anyway, beginning with catcher. The Cardinals trade away Yadier Molina and hand the 2009 starting job to Bryan Anderson. Anderson makes league minimum, of course, as a first year player.

At first base, you move Brett Wallace over from third base to first and bring him up. He's nearly a finished product already; he's just going to have to finish a bit quicker than expected. Of course, this means that you get to trade Albert Pujols. Think you can get a good return for him?

Second base is a tough one. The Cards really sort of lack a good option at this spot, but going by the ZiPS projections (which I'll be using later), you probably go with Jarret Hoffpauir. He projects to hit better than Brendan Ryan, and his glove projects to be pretty average for a second sacker. Guys like Aaron Miles are okay, and project to hit better, but Miles, Kennedy, and Lopez are all just too damned expensive for our Second Depression ready Redbirds. Kennedy will be moved, Miles gets his walking papers.

Third base is actually one of the simpler spots on the diamond. You move Glaus and just drop David Freese right in. Now that Jim Edmonds deal really means something, eh? The interesting thing is that Freese, while certainly not a highly touted prospect, looks like he could very well play a pretty league average third base next year, and of course, he's damn near free. Awesome.

Note on third base: Allen Craig also projects well at third, and actually looks like he could be a slightly better hitter. However, Freese played at a higher level last season, and possesses a better glove by most accounts. Believe it or not, I am actually trying to keep this as realistic as possible, so I have to go with the advantages that Freese offers.

Oy. I'm not going to lie; it's ugly at shortstop. Of course, we all knew that coming in; the Cards' farm system is glaringly empty in the middle infield. The best of a bad bunch appears to be Brian Barden. Personally, I've been a big fan of Barden as a utility type player since the Cards picked him up on waivers; in this scenario, though, he becomes our starting shortstop. It isn't an ideal situation, obviously, but hey, he's cheap, I hear mostly positive reviews of his glovework, and his glove is significantly better than that of Brendan Ryan, who would appear to be the next best option.

To be honest, I think that Tyler Greene would at least warrant some consideration here, but I'm just going by the numbers. If I were to do this based on what I personally think would be best, I would probably stick Barden at second and Greene at short, but hey, I'm going by the numbers here, and the numbers say Barden and Hoffpauir.

Brendan Ryan, based on his ability to play multiple positions at least fairly well defensively and nothing else, becomes your utility infielder. Greene could probably get some consideration here as well, but Ryan has been at the major league level already, so I think he's probably the best choice for the job.

I have to say, the outfield looks much, much more promising. In fact, it's downright easy to project an outfield composed entirely of league minimum players that could, in fact, turn in a pretty respectable performance, I think.

In left, I would go with Brian Barton. He makes no money, has less than a year of service time, and could probably give you production pretty close to what you would expect to get from Skip Schumaker. Maybe a little less on the batting average, but more speed, a little bit better plate discipline, and maybe a hair more power. Maybe not on the power; Barton didn't hit for a whole lot of power last season, but I think there should be more in there than what we've seen so far. I also personally think Barton has better range in the outfield, but Skip has a better arm. All in all, I would call it about a wash.

In center, it's easy. Just plug in Rasmus. He projects to be pretty much a league average player already with the bat; the BA is low, but the rest of his line looks very appealing. Add in the glove, and Colby could be a real asset to the team, even before you consider that he'll make literally no money.

Right field goes to Joe Mather. You know, the more I look at Joey Bombs, and the more I look at what some of the projection systems have to say about him, the more I like the idea of him starting for El Birdos in 2009, even if they don't do anything crazy like what I'm talking about here. Anyway, Mr. Bombs falls into the 'fair' category in the ZiPS system, which isn't bad at all considering the fact that he only has around a third of a season worth of ML at bats. Add in the fact that ZiPS likes him to have above average range in right field, and I think Mather makes a really nice choice here.

All three of the 2008 primary outfield starters get dealt in this scenario, leaving three players who will all make league minimum salary. To be fair, Schumaker, Ludwick, and Ankiel actually all represent pretty exceptional bang for the buck. However, the Cards could get even younger and even more efficient in '09, and probably do so with less of a dropoff in performance than you might think.

So anyway, this gives us a lineup that probably looks something like this:

  1. Brian Barton, LF
  2. Jarret Hoffpauir, 2B
  3. Brett Wallace, 1B
  4. David Freese, 3B
  5. Colby Rasmus, CF
  6. Joe Mather, RF
  7. Bryan Anderson, C
  8. Pitcher
  9. Brian Barden, SS

Now, I'm sure you could move that lineup around in some various ways, but that's a fair stab at it.

So, just what kind of production could one expect to get from such an offense? Well, using the ZiPS projections that I mentioned earlier, and the oh-so-simple lineup tool over at Baseball Musings, I can answer that for you. (Note: for the pitcher's spot, I simply put in an OBP of .200 and a SLG of .300. Close enough for our purposes here, I think.)


According to the lineup tool, this offense would score 4.087 runs as it's currently constituted. The optimal arrangement would net us 4.125. Interestingly- to me, anyway- every single lineup on the 'good' list had Brian Barton in the leadoff spot. Maybe you don't think that's any kind of intriguing, but I sure do.

If we take just the 4.087 that I got with my lineup above, the 2009 Cardinals, playing with all league minimum players, would score 662 runs. (662.094, to be exact.) For context, this year's team scored 779 runs. That 662 number would have placed the Cardinals fourth worst in the NL this year, immediately behind the Dodgers, who scored 700 runs, and ahead of the Nationals, Giants, and Padres. Clearly, this would not be an offensive juggernaut.

Unfortunately, I also think most of the projections are pretty believable on these players, too. I would quibble a bit with Colby's projection; the .237/.314/.401 line that ZiPS pegs him for seems a little low to me. The power seems fairly accurate, but I think Rasmus, given the solid batting eye we've seen from him in the minors and in (admittedly limited), spring training action, would probably put up a better batting average and, thus, a higher on base percentage. I think Mather is a little bit better than his projection, but then again, maybe not. Still, though, I really can't quibble a whole lot with many of the numbers.

Of course, while it wouldn't be a powerhouse, it would be cheap. The above lineup would cost somewhere in the range of right about four million dollars, total. More importantly, it would also net the Cardinals a trading surplus that would look something like this:

  • Albert Pujols
  • Yadier Molina
  • Troy Glaus
  • Adam Kennedy
  • Ryan Ludwick
  • Rick Ankiel
  • Skip Schumaker

I don't know exactly what kind of a return you could get for that list of players, but I have to admit to being mighty curious.

As I said before, I'm not advocating this. But when we're talking about the whole paradigm of trading players with high price tags in favour of players who are going to be much more cost-efficient, it's certainly worthwhile to look at this sort of idea.

So, if the Cards were to just blow it up utterly and move everyone making more than, say, half a million dollars, they would rank around fourth worst in the league in scoring and have have the above seven players to trade for young talent.

I have to ask, if you were to start with this team, and move Albert and Yadi and Luddy and the rest, do you think you could build a better team than the one we saw on the field this year?

Be honest. You probably could.

Is it crazy? Yes. Will it happen? No. Is there a method to the madness? Absolutely.