Wow. That was quite an All Star Game last night, wasn't it? What pitching performances! And the home runs, from all those guys! Wow. Words fail one.
Note: The author of this piece did not watch the AS Game. In fact, it was actually written a couple of hours before it even began, so the above statements may not, in fact, be true.
Anyway, the 'second half' of the season is just about to start. The Cardinals find themselves in second place in the division, well back of the Cubs, and just a hair up on the Brewers for the Wild Card. There's been a lot of talk lately about the Cards making a move to try and compete this year, or move some players as sellers to plan for next year, and all these other things. Well, I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and you know what? The Cardinals can do both. They can build a team to make a run this year, without tearing apart what they have going forward. You say that you want to be a winner? Well, I'm going to tell you how. Now, please don't thing I'm advocating this without reservations. I do, however, think I have a pretty decent plan.
First off, the Cards probably need some more runs. This offense has been plenty iffy at times, and worse than that at others. Unfortunately, the positions that the Cards really need upgrades, namely in the middle infield, don't really have upgrades available that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. So instead of trying to fill a specific spot on the diamond, we're just going to get the best bat available. So, first off, you sign Barry Bonds. Now, before everyone out there gets all upset, I don't particularly like the idea either. I've long been on the side that despises Bonds for all he's done to our precious game, and all of that. In fact, I was just discussing the notion of Bonds in a Cardinal uni the other night, and everyone pretty much agreed it would be a travesty. However, the longer I think about it, that's kind of a BS way to look at it, even if it's mostly the way I still feel.
The Cardinals already have PED users in uniform every day. Our very own golden boy, Rick Ankiel, purchased HGH, and he's the most heartwarming story any of us have ever seen. But HGH wasn't against the rules at the time, you say? How about Ryan Franklin? He tested positive, and served a suspension for, steroid use. None of us boo him every time he comes on the field. Well, technically, some of us might, but that's not for the steroids, that's because we think he's going to give the game away. Troy Glaus was named in the Mitchell Report; we don't have a problem with him. I realise that Bonds really bugs a lot of us, but to single him out as the face of the steroid era, and try to turn him into a pariah, is hypocritical, when it has become increasingly clear that a pretty large percentage of the players in the past fifteen to twenty years were juicers. Okay, enough soapbox. I still don't necessarily like the idea, but we're trying to win here, right?
Right. We sign Bonds. He has gone on record as saying that not only would he play for the league minimum, but that he would donate his salary to charity. He may be a jerk, but it's pretty clear that the guy really does want to play baseball. So, he costs you the prorated portion of league minimum, which in baseball terms, literally doesn't exist. He costs no talent to bring in, so he's as close to a free player as you're going to find. He also becomes the teams' second best hitter in all likelihood. At this point, you need to move Chris Duncan, so you either send him down to Memphis to work on his swing some more or you just package him with a minor league reliever to try and bring in a LOOGY from some team that's out of it.
All right. With Bonds in place in left field, your every day outfield becomes Bonds, Ankiel, and Ludwick left to right. Mather and Schumaker are your fourth OF/ defensive replacement guys when you need them.
Okay. Take a look at the middle infield. The thing is, Aaron Miles has pretty much done exactly what we've needed him to do this season, and he needs to be starting every day at 2B. I realise that Kennedy is hitting a bit at the moment, but Miles has been much better on the season. So Miles is your everyday 2Bman. Unless, of course, you can come up with something better.
Enter Ray Durham. You look around the league, and he's really the only name that pops up that gives you what you're looking for. Guys like Brian Roberts or Dan Uggla are awesome, yes, but they're also going to cost you, big time. The Giants seem to want to move Durham, partially just to get his salary off the books, but also because they are a team in full rebuild mode, and as such, need as much opportunity for auditions and so on as possible. Durham could easily be had for a middle of the road prospect, I think.
Why Durham? Well, given that he's 36 years old, I can understand you asking that question. However, he's a free agent after this season, meaning that you aren't tied to him long term. More importantly, even at 36, he's currently putting up an OPS right at .800 in one of the toughest pitcher's parks in the game. The move to Busch might actually bump his SLG numbers up a bit. Even if they don't move any, an .800 OPS from a second baseman isn't anything to sneeze at. Even better than that raw number is the OBP chunk of it. He's carrying a .385 on base percentage, which is, as those of us in the biz like to say, not too shabby. Durham doesn't have much in the way of wheels anymore, but I don't look for him to be in a situation to run much anyhow. You trade any one of Garcia, Todd, Mortensen, and Boggs, I think you net Durham easily, and still have a pretty good shot of at least one productive major league pitcher out of the three you hold on to. You trade a guy like Garcia, I would hope you could get maybe a decent throw in prospect as well. Honestly, I think you could probably fetch Durham without giving up any of those guys, but even if you do have to include one, it isn't the end of the world.
I'm not sure where Durham would fall in the free agent classification. However, since it's based on a three year average, we can safely assume he would be at least a 'B' for service time alone. He's OPSing .800 this year, which is pretty damned good for a 2B. Last year he was awful, posting a .638, but the year before that he was the man, with an OPS near .900(!). .891, to be exact. Based on those numbers as a second baseman, I would think he has a very good chance of being a Type A, so there's a decent chance you could get two draft picks for him anyway.
With his on base abilities, I think you could slot Durham right into the top of the lineup immediately. He would be an upgrade, and a pretty decent one, but not massive, so if the price is too high, it doesn't kill you to pass on him.
At this point, you need to rearrange your assets in the lineup to maximize what you get out of them. Here's your new batting order:
- Durham/Miles 2B
- Molina C
- Pujols 1B
- Bonds LF
- Glaus 3B
- Ankiel CF
- Ludwick RF
- Izturis SS
I know, Molina is kind of an odd choice for the second hole, but I think it works. He makes contact well enough to be an excellent hit and run combo with Durham or Miles, and you don't run ahead of Albert anyway, so speed at the top of the order is essentially wasted on this team. The only concern with Yadi, of course, would be his penchant for grounding into double plays, but he doesn't hit into an enormous amount, particularly when you consider just how slow afoot he is. At the very least, he should get on base a fair amount ahead of the big boppers.
Okay. That's the lineup taken care of. Time to shore up the pitching staff. Go out and trade for Jarrod Washburn. Lb made all the important arguments for Washburn yesterday, so I won't go back over them here. Personally, I'm not all that excited about the prospect of dealing for Washburn, but as a salary dump, he wouldn't cost any kind of real prospect, and he has only limited no trade protection, so you could potentially move him after the season if you really wanted him out of town. For now, though, he provides some protection in the rotation, and frees up one of our current starters to potentially be dealt if you want. (Braden Looper, I'm looking your way.) There's been plenty of talk about A.J. Burnett, and I agree he would help you more, but I'm not sure I want to give up what it would probably cost to bring him in from Toronto, plus dealing with the whole opt out thing? Feh.
I wouldn't give up a better prospect than, say, a David Freese type guy for Washburn, since we're talking about pretty much a straight salary dump here. If you're taking on the guy's contract, you won't give up a top 20 type talent to the Mariners. That makes your every day rotation look something like this:
When Wainwright or Carpenter come back, you simply flip Looper to a team looking to bolster the back end of the rotation. Again, what you're looking for is bullpen assistance, particularly of the lefthanded variety. If both of them come back, you might even consider moving Pineiro. He could bring a pretty solid return, I would have to think. Hopefully, by the middle or possibly the end of August, you're looking at a rotation of:
Of course, at the end of the season, you either let Lohse walk or trade Washburn and sign Lohse, opening up at least one rotation spot for Garcia/ Boggs/ Todd/ Mortensen/ McClellan/ whoever. It's not a cheap rotation, but particularly if you move Lohse, it's one that doesn't tie the Cards' hands long term.
So that allows us to potentially trade Chris Duncan, Braden Looper, Adam Kennedy, and possibly Joel Pineiro from the big league squad. In addition, I would be willing to trade any one of Jaime Garcia, Jess Todd, Clayton Mortensen, or Mitchell Boggs, even outside of the trade for Ray Durham I already mentioned specifically. In this particular scenario, I don't see a reason to trade Bryan Anderson, so I wouldn't. If you move Anderson, I think it needs to be for a guy who's going to be a big piece of the future, and I'm not describing any of those sorts of deals at the moment. Again, I think you could move one of the four pitching prospects simply because there are four of them, and I think they all have a pretty similar chance of making it to the majors. Note that I did say similar, not exactly equal.
Any and all AAAA roster filler can also be moved; guys like Mike Parisi, Anthony, and so on. Randy Flores can be moved, too, if anyone seems interested in him as a throw in. If you simply can't move Kennedy, either just DFA him or send Brendan Ryan back to the minors. It would leave the team thin on third basemen, but that's not a prohibitive downside, in my opinion.
Out of all those players to be moved, you need to turn them into one good left handed reliever. You want to turn the rest of them into a promising young MI prospect, but that's not really the point of this. For this exercise, I'm only interested in this year. Find a team that still believes in Chris Duncan's bat (if there are any), and try to get their best LOOGY. Depending on whether they're in contention or out of it, you'll probably need to try and create a package of either Duncan and Looper/Pineiro or Duncan plus, say, Boggs. You can try to pry one of the Pirates' lefties away, or look at a guy like Jimmy Gobble from KC, maybe. (I think he has good lefty splits, but I don't feel like looking it up at the moment, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.) Arthur Rhodes of the M's would be a good target, too. Point being, just find the best lefthanded reliever you can and try to get him. Villone can serve as LOOGY if need be, if you simply can't find a guy, but Tony seems set on using Ron for whole innings, much to my dismay. So, try to get someone else.
The one real downfall to this plan, aside from the fact that you may not like the idea of Bonds here, is the money. This would require ownership to take on some extra salary this season. Not a prohibitive amount, and I think they would probably be willing to do so. I'm sure that some will argue they won't take on any salary, no matter what, but the point of this exercise is to demonstrate something, namely that you could turn this team into a big time contender, I think, without mortgaging the future too very badly.
So, we've got our big bat to slot in the middle of the order. He can't play defense too very well, but he's not any worse than Chris Duncan, I don't believe, and far better than a guy like a Manny Ramirez. You can make Bonds work on this team. The salary is so low there's no real risk to the clubhouse, either. He creates a problem with the team, just release him. As I said, in baseball terms, 200K or whatever it would cost to get him right now almost doesn't exist.
We upgrade in the middle infield, at least from an offensive standpoint. You may take a bit of a hit here on defense, too, and that does concern me. Kennedy has been quite good with the glove; Miles, just okay. Durham is pretty average, so you lose a bit in regards to Kennedy, but the extra offense definitely offsets it, in my opinion. You have a new high OBP guy for the top of the lineup. No speed at the top, obviously, with Durham and Molina, but this team doesn't run with those guys anyway. You do have some speed further down, with Ankiel and Ludwick, and they're in a better position to use that speed and be a bit creative with the bottom of the order up.
You help to upgrade the rotation for right now, and don't have to go overboard committing to the guy long term. Again, Washburn has only limited no trade protection, so I'm sure you could move him if you really, really wanted to.
With the amount of players you would have free to trade, I'm sure you could come up with at least a little bit of bullpen help. The 'pen is probably going to be a bit of question mark this year, though, pretty much no matter what, so I think we may all just have to live with it. Still, one more lefty reliever isn't too much to ask, is it? You've got to be able to get one of those for what you have to give up.Guys like that are out there, you just have to be willing to give up a little bit to get them sometimes.
Bottom line, you could do all these things and not spend much of anything in the way of talent. It would cost you something in money, but money is much less valuable than talent. You can trade one of your four pitching prospects and stil have a pretty good chance that one of the other three will become something useful. This utilises mostly talent that's very nearly freely available, and there's really very little risk or opportunity cost lost going forward.
I've gone on record as saying that I think this team should just wait, sit tight with what they have, and give it a run. The pipeline of talent they've managed to develop to this point is just too valuable to blow up, in my estimation. You go with this sort of a strategy, though, and you can turn the team into a real contender without doing so.
Do I think they should do it? Hell, I have no idea. Do I think it would work? Absolutely. If I didn't, I wouldn't have wasted your time with it.
Second author's note: Apparently, I have the absolute worst luck in the world when it comes to picking which games I should and should not watch. The 20-2 Phillies shellacking? Totally saw that. The Boston epic? Nope, not even an inning. Thus, it figures that I skipped the greatest All Star game ever. It's really beginning to get on my nerves.