Once you have established any modicum of success in the majors, it can follow you around for years and years to come. Horacio Ramirez was signed by the Royals yesterday despite the fact that he's a well below replacement level pitcher. He had a couple of seasons with the Braves where he was a servicable pitcher but that ended in 2006. He was finally let go by the Mariners during Spring Training this year and now the Royals have picked him up. I don't know the Royals pitching situation but unless they are sending Ramirez to AA (with no expectation of calling him up) than they might as well light their money on fire. If they plan on calling him up, they might as well light their money on fire and shoot themselves in the foot while watching it burn -- it might hurt less than actually letting him pitch in the bigs.
I'm constantly amazed by teams that do this. Notice to any MLB team that needs a starter right now -- take a look at Jack Cassel. I should be this guy's agent at this point as often as I go out of my way to write about him. The Astros optioned him down to the minors since they think that he's not one of their best 12 pitchers -- they're probably wrong about that but I don't care to belabor the point. Cassel has made four starts since then including last night when he went 8 innings allowing 9 hits, 2ER, 5Ks and 1 walk. More importantly, he had 12 groundouts against 6 flyouts. Cassel has always had ridiculously high GO:AO ratios -- he's pushing 3:1 right now. The Astros would probably take some PTBNL for him and yet teams will sign guys like Ramirez over Cassel. Because they were in the majors previously. Stupid. Just stupid.
How does this relate to the Cardinals? Well, I'm not expecting them to try and acquire Cassel (they missed that when they let the Astros sign him for peanuts during the offseason). Instead, I want to give the Cardinals some credit and some criticism for the roster management this season.
The Cardinals recongized, relatively quickly, that Isringhausen was having problems this season. Instead of letting it drag on for months and months (see 2006), they put him on the DL with a -- sort of -- fake injury. The hand laceration isn't really the reason he's on the DL. He's on the DL because he's pitching like crap and no one is sure why. Until he gets some things straightened out, he won't be off the DL. The Cardinals deserve a lot of praise for calling up Chris Perez as rapidly as they did and for inserting Kyle McClellan into the bullpen at the beginning of the year and Mike Parisi a month later. We've watched them languish over these decisions extensively at times and they certainly could have kept someone like Cliff Politte or Kelvin Jimenez on the roster. Instead, they went with the more talented hurler and it's served them well thus far.
The depth in the minors certainly has something to do with this trend and hopefully it gives the Cardinals some confidence that if Ron Villone or Russ Springer continue to struggle, they can just pull the plug. There's still a handful of pitchers at AAA who could be major league relievers right now if called upon -- Mark Worrell and Jason Motte from the right side and Jaime Garcia from the left. That really applies to the pitching in general -- the starters like Pineiro and Lohse should realize that guys like Jaime Garcia or Mitchell Boggs aren't all that far behind. But, on balance this year, the front office deserves a lot of credit for managing their pitching corp. They stockpiled both depth and talent and it's let them weather injuries to Tyler Johnson, Brad Thompson, Mark Mulder, Russ Springer, Jason Isringhausen and Matt Clement that in past years could have undone the team.
If only I could say the same for the middle infield. A month ago, I cited my worries about the middle infield. Disregarding that not a single one of our 4 options (Ryan, Miles, Izturis and Kennedy) are hitting for power, at least they are maintaining respectable OBPs. Except for Kennedy that is. On the 25th of April, he was hitting .315/.367/.333 in 54 PAs. Since then, he's hit .203/.261/.266 bringing his overall line to .254/.310/.297. If we look at his numbers as a Cardinal during 2007 and 2008 (about 400 ABs), we can see that he's been hitting .229/.290/.292. Even if he's a good defender, he'd have to be Adam Everett good (i.e save like 40 runs a year with the glove) to be worth having around. But he's not that good defensively. Outside of the month of April in 2008, Adam Kennedy has shown that he simply can no longer hit the ball.
La Russa has taken the right first step in giving some of his at bats to Ryan and Miles at 2B but it's time to just cut bait. I know we still owe him around 5M dollars but we can owe him 5M dollars and let him post a sub-.600 OPS or we can call up someone like Joe Mather (who hit another HR tonight), pay him league minimum, and get some actual production. 5M dollars for crap of 5.4M dollars for not crap -- the team has taken the uncomfortable but necessary step when working with the bullpen and now it's time to apply the same rules to the middle infield. Don't hang on to a player for nostalgia or because you owe them money. If they aren't helping the team on the field, they don't belong on the team.
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It looks like the Cardinals may face Clayton Kershaw on Saturday. I hate these stupid West Coast games because they're so bloody late but I'll be staying up for that one. As a 20 year old in AA, Kershaw has been ridiculously good posting a 3:1 K rate and groundball tendencies. He's not someone that I'd relish the Cardinals facing but it should be interesting.
Tonight the Cardinals are going up against Derek Lowe. After being signed to a 36M/4Y contract in 2005, Lowe has been extremely durable and effective for the Dodgers the last three years. He's gotten somewhat overlooked given how good his numbers have been. He'll face off against Adam Wainwright who looks to right the ship after the last few outings. Wainwright claims that he hasn't been as focused lately between starts. Hopefully, he can be more like the pitcher he was in April than the one he's been in May.