I saw "The Happening" directed by M. Night Shyamalan last night. It was a rather suspenseful and intense movie. The mysterious "cause" throughout the plot was a bit lame and the script had a few glaring hiccups ("Look everyone there's a house!", says Mark Wahlberg in a painfully poor segue.) but it was a nice 90 minute escape after a bad day. I've been thinking about Mark lately. No, not Mark Wahlberg (and yes, this is only a marginally better segue than the one in the movie) but Mark Mulder. With a recent spate of articles by both Joe Strauss and Derrick Goold, I've been reminiscing about this love/hate relationship I have with Mulder (used to love him. . . . not so much anymore).
I wish I could say I didn't like the Mulder trade when it happened, but I can't. I recall hearing that Tim Hudson had gone to the Braves and was quite disappointed that the Cardinals had let him slip by. I wasn't as well versed in baseball stats as I am now; I was much more of a casual but still informed fan. I knew who the "Big Three" were in Oakland and I knew that there were rumors that they were about to be split up. I wanted the Cardinals to acquire a top of the rotation pitcher and at the time I approved of the deal. There were obviously vocal critics and, in hindsight, I'd certainly love a do over. If you transport me back in time and erase my memory, I can't say that I wouldn't make that deal again though.
Regardless, Goold does a fine job of tracing the assets that Oakland received stemming from the Mulder trade and I'm not really here to relive that. Fastforward from the trade to 2006 offseason when Mulder was resigned by Walt Jocketty (January of 2007) for 2 years with a club option on the 3rd. $13 million dollars is nothing to sneeze at but his salary wasn't going to cripple the team by any means. A lot of people had wizened up to Mulder by then and it would appear rightfully so. But I'm not really here to relive that either.
It's 2008. Three years after the trade. 18 months after the extension. The Cardinals are contending for the wild card in the National League and the Brewers are hot on their heals. It's not 2005, 2006 or 2007. It's 2008. Just to repeat, in case the front office missed that, it's 2008.
The talk of Mark Mulder possibly pitching for the major league club in the very near future nauseates me a little bit. There's really only a few reasons why this would be justified:
- The club needs to recoup on it's investment.
- Mulder has proven himself in the minors and is ready to step into the rotation.
- There are no better options internally.
- They need to see what they have in Mulder.
Let's address these in order. The first one is probably the strongest and most discussed justification that I've heard. It's too bad that it's patently false. John Mozeliak has no reason to try and recoup on this investment. He has the perfect excuse (blame Jocketty) and there's no real return to be had unless reasons 2 or 3 are met. It's not as if the Cardinals get money back in their pocket if Mulder pitches. Mulder isn't a crowd draw at this stage in his career. The 13M has been spent -- there's no way to put it back in the club's coffers.
If the club was looking to "recoup" that would probably be best achieved if Mulder pushed the club over the hump to the playoffs. That requires him to be able to pitch at the major league level. A prerequisite to pitching in the majors is being able to pitch in the minors. On the 19th, he surrendered 6 ER in 3.2 innings allowing 10 hits. Add the random back stiffness that Mulder has had and he can neither retire minor leaguers nor stay healthy enough to attempt to retire minor leaguers. His outing on June the 14th was good (5IP, 5H, 0ER, 3K, 0BB) so at best you can make the argument that he's inconsistent. If the best Mark Mulder can offer the big league club is inconsistency, then he doesn't need to be pitching for them unless there are no better options internally.
Internal options exist though. In fact, there are quite a few. Mitchell Boggs seems to be the most logical counter to that justification. Boggs certainly hasn't been exceptional in St. Louis but he's gotten groundball outs and he hasn't been blown out of any games yet. He's got a good not great minor league track record. Or maybe you really want a lefty in the rotation. Jaime Garcia went 6.2 innings allowing 3 ER on 6 hits and no walks last night. O ya, he also struck out 10 batters while recording 8 groundouts against 2 flyouts. Is Mulder really a better option than Garcia right now? Because that's what I think the club should be worried about. Right now. 2008.
But maybe they aren't. Maybe they're also looking ahead to that 11 million [/gag] dollar option. We know there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that that isn't getting bought out for 1.5 million. Still, they could be evaluating Mulder for a Matt Clement type incentive based contract (because Clement has worked so well). Is it possible that the Cardinals could evaluate Mulder in the majors without (basically) committing a game to his hands in the form of a start? I mean, is it possible that there's a way he could pitch for just an inning or so at a time in low leverage situations? Or maybe hone his craft against a few lefties just to get his feet wet? We haven't had any left handed relievers hit the DL recently have we? And by the same token, can't the Cardinals look at young players like Garcia or Boggs as well to see what they offer in the future? Those players are "free" so it would be nice to know if they can be penciled in for 2009.
But again, it's 2008. The Cardinals are contending. They aren't running away with the wild card and there's plenty of time to mess it up with silly roster moves like putting unproductive players in the starting rotation. There's no viable and compelling reason for the Cardinals to give Mulder a start. He hasn't earned it. It shouldn't be given to him in some poor attempt at saving an ex-employee's reputation. He's had to totally revamp his mechanics. Sure he says he's feeling good when he's pitching but didn't he also "feel fine" when his shoulder was in threads? The Cardinals have better options for now and the future.
I'll never forget that 10-inning complete game he threw against the Astros with Roger Clemens opposing him. That was an awesome game in 2005. But enough is enough. End the charade. Don't try to grease the wheels for his probably disastrous return. Call us when you can retire AAA batters. It was nice knowing you Marky Mark.