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The Young and the Restless

Today’ll be a little bit of a mish-mash as there are a lot of little things to discuss and no big things to discuss. First of all, yesterday, the Cards signed a middling Japanese left-hander to a minor-league contract. It’s not very noteworthy; in fact, it’s probably noteworthy in that the Cards signed Maekawa rather than Kawakami, Uehara, or even Takashi Saito. If it turns out he can get lefties out, maybe he has a role. If he can’t – no harm done (and please, no drunk-driving jokes!). Erik over at future redbirds has more on him here.

The link at the top of the post is to a Joe Strauss article from Wednesday where he discusses the fact that the Cards are considering making an offer to former Japanese-leaguer and Dodger Takashi Saito and current Japanese league starters Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara. Saito’s been sensational for the Dodgers for 2 2/3 seasons before getting hurt last summer and being left off the postseason roster. Saito was recently non-tendered by the Dodgers due to concerns about his elbow and an experimental procedure used to used to attempt to patch it together.

Kawakami and Uehara are starting pitchers who are first-time free agents here in the U.S. Both pitchers are 33 years young. The link above has Straussian scouting reports on the two pitchers. Erik’s got some video (as Dan pointed out yesterday) of the two pitchers and likes Uehara a little better than Kawakami. Strauss seems to think that Duncan would like Kawakami a little better. Fuentes or no Fuentes, IMO it cannot be underscored how important it is to get into the bidding for these two pitchers. I sincerely doubt that either is the savior or the difference between the Cards making the playoffs or not, but the Cards have fallen woefully behind other clubs in competing for Japanese talent (So Taguchi notwithstanding). The bottom line is that there are a lot of good players in other parts of the world and the Cards need to be seen as players in the game – potential landing spots for this talent. Presently only a handful of teams are really seen as being part of this market and the Cards need to be players. The only way that’s going to happen is if we begin to actively compete for the talent. If we simply decide we have no chance to sign the players and never call the agents or make offers, we will forever be seen as non-competitors in the market. The Cards need to be seen by Japanese players as possible landing spots along w/ the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners and Mets and the only way to do that is to get in there and start making offers. Let’s start w/ these guys – even if the likelihood that we sign either is minute.

(As an aside, will somebody please tell me WTF is wrong with that godawful p-d website that closes the window every time I try to access a page!!!!!! Do you guys actually want us to read anything you print or not? What a horrendous site!)

Whew!!! Unbelievably I finally got one to work! Derrick Goold is smack-dab in the middle (in fact, he’s on the other side of the hill) in his trek through the Cards top 30 prospects and yesterday’s thread discusses a little known Cards’ prospect named Roberto De La Cruz. He is a 3B who has yet to actually play a game in the Cards’ system. They hope to have him play rookie ball this summer. Why should we care? B/c, as Goold points out, only 2 current minor leaguers in the Cards’ system have received larger signing bonuses than De La Cruz – Brett Wallace and Pete Kozma – the Cards’ two most recent 1st round selections. He was signed for more money than uber-prospect Colby Rasmus. Granted, a couple of years have passed since Rasmus signed and there’s some inflation involved, but it’s safe to assume that the Cards think pretty highly of De La Cruz. He just turned 17 years old. That article is definitely worth a read (as Goold’s stuff almost always is).

Contrast that w/ the Rick Hummel Q&A which I thought might be halfway interesting since its title referred to Rasmus and the current OF backlog. I suppose it was that. When asked a question about acquiring Jon Garland, Hummel remarked that "Garland’s not a bad call." Ugh! Yes he is Rick. Volumes have been written (or typed) on what a bad call Garland would be. Let’s hope the phones don’t work should Mo decide to make that call. Then, when asked about a potential Ankiel for Ian Kennedy trade, Hummel commented that we would "hate to trade a fairly proven product in Ankiel for an unproven one in Kennedy." Comments like that make my brain hurt. Apparently, trading an OF – our deepest position – who is 1 year away from free agency for a young, cost-controlled SP -- one of our shallowest positions -- who is 5 or 6 years away from free agency is a bad idea b/c one player is "fairly proven" and the other is "unproven." You know, Rick – at one time Albert Pujols was unproven also. (In fact, Ankiel was, too – twice!!!!!) You know how one gets to be "proven"? He plays!!!!!! I’m not necessarily arguing the merits of trading for Ian Kennedy. I’m simply arguing against the notion of disqualifying somebody b/c he is "unproven." It’s a terrible way to run a franchise – particularly a mid-market franchise – b/c it can’t survive by signing the best free agents every year. Stuff like that almost makes me glad that the website is so profoundly dysfunctional!!

So, back to the Fuentes drama. Mo has been pulling the petals off his Fuentes-flower for a few days and has heard "He loves me not" more times than he prefers and is almost down to the stem and stamen. If Mo does decide to move on, the plan (apparently) is to pursue a starting pitcher (whew!). The question then becomes – well, I guess there are two:

  1. How good does the starter have to be in order to be more valuable to the team than Fuentes would be? And…
  2. Which starter(s) can we get for the (roughly) $10M the team was willing to spend on Fuentes?

Fuentes is probably, at most, a 2 win upgrade over someone like Russ Springer or whatever other middle reliever would be brought in to help bolster the pen if Fuentes chooses to sign w/ someone else. Therefore, the Cards would have to add at least 2 wins to the rotation in order to get the same amount of benefit that they would get from Fuentes. If we look at the free agent starters currently on the market and see what they brought to their respective teams last year, we see that Sheets, Lowe, Johnson, and Pettitte all were worth more than 20 runs above replacement (2 WAR). Considering the fact that the new starter would be replacing some Boggs/Pineiro hybrid (if/when Carp returns, he would undoubtedly take Pineiro’s turn in the rotation), it’s fair to say that the new starter would be replacing a replacement-level player. Therefore, anyone worth more than 2 WAR would be worth more than Fuentes to the team.

Could any of them be had for Fuentes’ $10M? Johnson could, I’m certain, and maybe Pettitte. It’s difficult to say but I’d still say the likelihood of him signing w/ the Cards is about the same as the Cards giving me $10M to pitch for them next season. Sheets and Lowe will cost more than $10M. Could we afford either if we decide to go w/ someone like Barden, Thurston, or Ryan in the utility IF role rather than Miles and trade Ankiel? Looking at the roster matrix, that saves us another $4.5 M or so. Now Sheets or Lowe is affordable. Of course, if we trade Ankiel, can’t we trade him for a young pitcher thus eliminating the need to sign someone like Lowe or Sheets?

One thing I haven’t yet seen addressed (though perhaps I missed it) is the question about Mo’s Fuentes strategy. Presently his strategy seems to be that – if he signs Fuentes, he trades Ankiel for a young starter. If he doesn’t, he trades Ankiel for a reliever and signs a free agent starter. Why is it a given that he has to sign someone to a $10M contract? Those lesser starters on the free agent list should be non-options, regardless of whether or not Fuentes is signed. The return won’t be high enough to justify the cost. If we don’t sign Fuentes, can’t we sign Ohman, Beimel, or Springer and trade Ankiel for a young starter? Sure, I’d like to have Sheets, Johnson, or maybe even Lowe but how likely is it that that will happen?

As I said, the Wolf/Oliver Perez/Looper/Garland crowd should be considered non-options – Fuentes or no Fuentes. If the best SPs then can’t be had, Mo should trade Ankiel for a young starter and get 5-6 years of value from him and ignore the fans who complain about DeWitt’s frugality. Just b/c Garland costs more doesn’t make him a better option. In fact, he’d be much worse.