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Miles to go?

Friday the Cards announced that they had declined to offer contracts to Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson, and Aaron Miles. Flores, of course, was no surprise and there’s little doubt in my mind that his days in a Cards’ uni have come to an end. The decision on Johnson was a mild surprise as this was his first year of arbitration-eligibility and he didn’t pitch at all last year. How much could the salary increase have been? Maybe it tells us something about how likely he is to play this year. Miles, of course, has been through this before. Last winter we all thought that his days as a Card were over only to have Mo offer him a contract a few weeks later. He ended up making $1.4 M last season – presumably, a mild savings over what the Cards would have paid had he gone to arbitration.

Then Miles went out and had his best season last year. His slash lines of .317/.355/.398 were all career highs and he supplanted Kennedy as the regular 2B only to be supplanted himself after the acquisition of Felipe Lopez. It stands to reason that Miles is due for another raise this year, based on the fact that it’s his 3rd year of arbitration-eligibility and that he had such a good season last year. He might earn $2.5 or even $3 M in 2009. I’m under the assumption that Mo intends to do what he did last year – sign him to a contract for a little less than he would have received through arbitration. To me, it’s a little of a strange decision this year, though.

It’s true that Miles turns 32 tomorrow (Happy Birthday, Aaron. Here are your walking papers!) but how much are the Cards really looking to save here? I suppose it depends on the options. For one thing, considering Miles’ season last year it may be more difficult to bring Miles back. I had also thought that there were a number of teams looking for 2B but that may not actually be the case. The Mets, as we all know, are in the market but considering that the highest profile 2B is still on the market (Orlando Hudson), it seems unlikely that Miles will become a Met.

Still, if they intend to bring Miles back, they can’t be anticipating saving more than $1M or so. Is it really worth the risk? I suppose it depends on what else is available. The Cards need someone who can handle both 2B and SS, w/ 3B a plus in case Freese can’t make the roster. They also need someone who can hit lefties b/c this role player’s biggest role will probably come vs. lefties when Kennedy needs to sit. Kennedy’s career slash lines vs. lefties are .250/.305/.329. He’s awful vs. lefties and if the Cards are going to make the most of keeping Kennedy, they’re going to have to play him against righties and sit him vs. southpaws.

The list of free agent 2B and SS isn’t exactly filled w/ great candidates. Ray Durham’s never played SS and is pretty poor defensively at 2B. Same w/ Tad Iguchi. I always thought that Chris Burke was going to turn into a player but I guess not. There’s this Eckstein-guy. What do you think that conversation would be like? "Hi, David. We’d like you to come back to St. Louis and back up Khalil Greene and your former DP partner, Adam Kennedy." He’d have to swallow a big dose of humble pie but maybe it’s his best option for earning a paycheck. Still, that might really be an awkward situation. Here’s the list of the options and their career splits vs. righties and their career UZR/150 numbers at 2B and SS.

Willie Bloomquist .278 .339 .362 3.0 2.3
David Eckstein .285 .356 .383 -2.7 -2.5
Mark Grudzielanek .297 .348 .412 6.0 -7.9
Jerry Hairston, Jr .267 .323 .380 4.9 -15.2
Aaron Miles .284 .352 .352 -3.5 -18.0
Pablo Ozuna .304 .333 .407 -7.2 21.0
Luis Rivas .252 .299 .391 -4.6 -25.3
Angel Berroa .268 .307 .419 21.5 -5.7
Marcus Giles .275 .350 .438 2.6 n/a
Juan Uribe .262 .300 .449 10.3 2.3
Omar Vizquel .252 .312 .355 n/a 6.5

Some caveats: Pablo Ozuna has 359 career PAs vs. righties and 121.2 innings total as a SS. Angel Berroa has 16 innings total as a SS. Grudzielanek is 38 and has played fewer than 24 innings as a SS since 1999. Finally, UZR wasn’t calculated before 2001 so that affects Grudzielanek’s and Vizquel’s defensive numbers, particularly.

The first thing that stands out is how many former Cards are on this list. Geez, where’s Fernando Vina and Tripp Cromer? The next thing is that if you’re looking for hidden gems, well…don’t suffer from eye strain. They’re not there. Grudzielanek’s the best probably if he’s willing to accept a backup role (he may have to) and if he’s able to handle SS. Maybe Uribe’s ok but I fear that he’s insane. Berroa could probably handle 2B but is he really appreciably better than Miles? Marcus Giles hasn’t played in more than a year, has never played SS and hasn’t played well since 2006. Could he handle SS? Miles had never really played SS before coming to St. Louis. In a pinch, maybe but if Greene went down for an extended period, would any of you feel comfortable w/ Giles out there every day?

What about internal candidates? Well, there’s always Brendan Ryan who stunk so badly last year that they ended up sticking him in the OF at Memphis. There’s also Tyler Greene and Jarrett Hoffpauir. I’ve always liked Hoffpauir much more than Greene but he didn’t do much last year to convince me that he’s the solution. There’s also the rumor that Tony doesn’t like his defense at 2B. If that’s true, he likely won’t like him much at SS either. On top of that, he didn’t exactly stand out against AAA lefties last year.

I don’t really mind seeing if Ryan, Greene, or Hoffpauir can handle the job in the spring but I’d be surprised if someone else isn’t brought in just in case they can’t. Is anybody on that list above a distinctly better option than Miles? Would we save any real money that could otherwise be used to help the pen or the starting rotation?