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Free Agent Friday

First, from the quote of the week dept., Derrick Goold has Ryan Ludwick responding to his well-deserved Silver Slugger award:

"I think it's an honor just to be named in the same place as Matt Holliday," Ludwick said Thursday. 

It's an honor just to be typing in the same place as that quote.

Meanwhile, some interesting stuff in the Hummel piece about the opening of FA season. Most of it's speculation, but there's a quick remark in the Felipe Lopez paragraph mentioning that "the number of years desired by the Lopez camp could be a factor." Look, Lopez camp, I'm not trying to do your job or anything, but if you want I can put you in touch with the Weaver camp, circa 2006—you guys would have a lot to talk about. 

The Commish names Rafael Furcal, Edgar Renteria, and Orlando Hudson as other possible middle infield options, and all of those sound like considerably better moves than giving Felipe Lopez his desired nine year, $134 million deal. (In his camp's defense, he did hit .385! last year.) 

I never would have imagined this after watching the Cardinals go into the 2008 season with Adam Kennedy and Cesar Izturis in the starting lineup, but the middle infield is just begging to underachieve in 2009, even if the Cardinals throw money at it. These are the worst kind of fluke years—they weren't good enough to push the team into the playoffs, but they're just good enough that without them the Cardinals might end up regressing when they replace the flukees.

Izturis had his best season with the bat since 2004, when he was actually an excellent player, and still managed to be exactly replacement level with the bat. But his defense made him, more or less, an average shortstop. Meanwhile Kennedy combined a late season batting surge with what was, according to all the defensive metrics that have come out so far, an outstanding year with the glove to also approximate average after his disastrous 2007. But it was his first good year with the glove in some time, according to John Dewan's +/- system, and there's still the worry that his creaky bat might throw up another .570 OPS, so keeping him penciled in in 2009 seems like a risky move.

Here are some pertinent statistics for the Hummel MIFers, the last three numbers coming from that Beyond the Boxscore series of a few weeks back—more specifically, I guess, from the same place they got them, On Baseball and the Reds—that was instrumental in revising a lot of VEBer opinions of the 2008 middle infield. It's offensive runs above replacement level, fielding runs above average plus a positional adjustment, and then the resulting total value.

Adam Kennedy 32 .280 .321 .372 2 17 19
Orlando Hudson 30 .305 .367 .450 17 -4 13
Felipe Lopez 28 .283 .343 .387 11 -3 8
Cesar Izturis 28 .263 .319 .309 0 20 20
Edgar Renteria 32 .270 .317 .382 7 -2 5
Rafael Furcal 07 30 .270 .333 .355 6 4 10

See? How terrible is this? The Cardinals finally have some money coming down the pipe to spend on a middle infielder—this after relying on the kindness of strangers to fill the positions for the past three or four years—and the free agents might not end up being an upgrade on the production they somehow managed in 2008! Sometimes astute free talent pickups and luck are wonderful, and they make me feel good to be a baseball fan; other times they make it difficult to upgrade an 86 win team, and I just feel bad. 

Of the players mentioned I think the most interesting is Orlando Hudson, whose numbers here are depressed by what seems to be a flukishly bad defensive season and a broken wrist that ended his season at 107 games. Furcal might be better, but he will certainly be more expensive—and lost in the glow of his great recovery from a scary back injury this year is that in his last full season he wasn't all that spectacular. 

So let's discuss: what would make this a successful free agent off-season, in your eyes, for the Cardinals? A reliever and Furcal? A starter and Hudson? No less than a C.C. Sabathia/Mark Teixeira/Felipe Lopez spending orgy?