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alright, so that’s over with; the depths of mark mulder’s value have been plumbed, and he has made the cardinals’ leadership look blind for the final time. at an individual level, i feel bad for mulder; he’s put a lot of effort into his comeback, and apparently it has all been for nothing. but the guy did get fair compensation for his labor, to the tune of $13 million, so i’m not brimming over with sympathy. at a team level, i’m glad they resolved this question without having to suffer through another 20-run pounding (or 3); of all the incredibly ill-advised c’mon-mulder starts we have witnessed over the last 3 seasons (last night’s was the 6th, by my count), this one inflicted the least amount of pain upon cardinal fans. they actually had a decent chance to win the game.

joe strauss says jaime garcia will get the call to take mulder’s roster spot and, presumably, take a few turns in the rotation. the cards hit the all-star break in 4 days, so they won’t need a 5th starter until july 21 at home vs milwaukee; we’ll probably see garcia pitch in relief between now and then (he last pitched on july 6). and there’s no guarantee that jaime will be the 5th starter when one is needed; he has pitched beyond the 5th inning in only 5 of his 12 starts at triple A, and his control has gotten progressively worse --- 2 walks per 9 innings in may, 3.5 per 9 in june, and almost 6 bb per 9 so far in july. he’s got big-league talent, but the stats suggest he still isn’t quite ripe. hopefully the stats are missing something . . . .

strauss also reports that tony is pushing for a trade to counter the cub / brewer moves; he purports to speak for the clubhouse. the article says he "emphasized the need to better protect first baseman Albert Pujols within the lineup during a meeting last week with Mozeliak and Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr" (matt holliday, cough cough). to me, that’s not the most pressing area of concern. at the time he went out, albert was having a pretty typical season --- 1.106 ops, isolated power close to .300, on pace for 35 homers, 100 runs, 100 rbi --- and while the injury left his counting stats a bit light, his rate stats remain close to his career norms. the cards are getting what they need from el hombre; it’s not clear how better "lineup protection" (if you believe such a thing even exists) will translate into better production from him and more wins for the team. moreover, where is this protecting bat going to play? presumably the outfield, unless la russa has in mind a 2b or ss who can bat cleanup. cardinal outfielders continue to excel offensively; they rank 2d in the league in homers, 3d in rbi, 3d in slugging average, and 3d in isolated power. two of their outfielders are already on pace for 30 homers . . . . so where is the marginal gain in adding a slugging outfielder to "protect" albert? i don’t see it.

ok, maybe they could use a right-handed platoon bat to prop them up vs southpaw pitching; any time you have to be aaron miles 6th (as the cards did last night vs the lefty rookie), you’ve got some issues. may i propose milton bradley, whom i coveted during the off-season signing market? he is slugging .690 against lhp this season and has slugged well above .500 vs them cumulatively over the last 4 seasons; his ops away from the hitter-friendly arlington ballpark is a healthy .867. coming off a knee injury, bradley was confined to dh’ing for the first 2 months of the year, but he now has made 20 starts in the outfield, most of them since june 1. the rangers got him on a 1-year deal, and because of his limited playing time over the last few years he won’t be a type A free agent when he walks at the end of this season; might not even be a type B. that’ll lower his price on the trade market; he still won’t come cheaply, but it’s very possible the cards can get him without giving up a major prospect. if they can get him for something along the lines of reyes and duncan (and maybe that’s wishful thinking), he’d make the team better.

if he’s too costly, then how about the rockies’ ryan spilborghs? slugging .603 vs southpaws this year, .586 vs them in 2007; ops above .800 away from coors field in both seasons. he could platoon w/ skip schumaker, come off the bench, plays all 3 outfield positions decently . . . . but no thank you to clint barmes, another rhb from the same roster. his name always seems to come up, and he does play shortstop, but he’s a coors field mirage --- ops is just .720 at regular altitude this year and was .635 in 2005, the only other good season that barmes has had.

given that the greatest need for offense lies in the middle infield, may i propose (as i seem to do every year) rich aurilia, who still has some life in his bat at 36 years old? (pauses to let hisses die down. . . . . .) he has mostly played 1b this year, but aurilia made 18 starts in the middle infield last year and 30 starts there 2 years ago; he surely could play 2b as well as scott spiezio, who made 4 starts at 2b last season. aurilia is a career .492 slugger vs left-handed pitching; this year he’s slugging .500 vs them in 76 at-bats. and overall he’s hitting .306 / .373 / .479 away from run-smothering pac bell park. the trouble is, to fit him onto the roster you’d have to get rid of miles (which tony will never allow to happen) or send brendan ryan down to memphis (shouldn’t happen).

personally, i still think the team would be best served by adding another starting pitcher. the formula that worked for them early in the year --- consistent starting pitching, superior defense, and just enough offense --- has broken down since wainwright and wellemeyer got hurt; wellemeyer has shown no signs of regaining his april-may form, and wainwright still won’t be back until august 1 or thereabouts. there’s carpenter too, but he is a crapshoot --- even if he returns to the rotation this year, we should assume he’ll need some time to get used to the new elbow and shake off some rust. imho, the only way to get back to where they were is to add a stabilizer for the rotation. they don’t need to add an ace --- that’ll cost too much in the way of prospects. but they need somebody who’s healthy and reliable --- who’s not adjusting to the big leagues, as boggs / parisi / garcia are, nor pitching impaired. randy wolf tossed a pretty game the other night vs the marlins; he’s averaging 6 innings a start this year, hasn’t missed a turn, and boasts a FIP of right around 4.00 for the last two years. or maybe (probably not, but one can hope) they can buy low on aj burnett, who is pitching much better than his 5.23 era suggests; his FIP is only slightly worse than cc sabathia’s. it’s hard to imagine them landing burnett without giving up a lot of talent, but you never know; burnett can walk after this year, so the blue jays don’t have a lot of leverage. suppose mo could get him for bryan anderson plus boggs or mortensen, plus maybe a lesser piece, and in exchange burnett agreed to waive his opt-out clause. anybody biting? i’d be pretty tempted. . . . no way of knowing what the blue jays are asking for a.j., but i certainly hope the cards are inquiring.

as far as the offense goes: their fundamental numbers remain pretty sound. they’re going through one of those stretches where they struggle with RISP and rack up ugly left-on-base totals (12 in last night’s game), but that’s probably just a random thing; for the season as a whole their RISP split is pretty close to their overall batting line, and they are right in the middle of the NL pack in both batting average and ops with RISP. not an ill with a prescribable cure; they just have to ride it out. the good news is they continue to rise in the categories that correspond to repeatable skills --- now up to 6th in homers and 5th in slugging, holding the line at 2d in obp. could the offense be better? absolutely. but pitching wins --- and since wainwright / wellemeyer went down, the cards have been scuffling. i don't see it ending until they get the rotation shored up.