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And Now, For Something Completely Different

First off, to keep things just a little bit light-hearted, let's start off with a joke, shall we?

Q: What's the difference between Memphis and St. Louis?

A: Memphis has a real centerfielder!

HaHaHa... Hmm. Not really all that funny, is it? I wonder if 'whackity schmackity doo' would have helped any? Yeah, you're right. Probably not.

Remember the days when the Cards simply could not find adequate playing time for all of their outfielders? Man, those were the days. We thought they would never end, and now, our wisdom, and our sorrow, is much increased.

By concentrating all of my willpower, I have managed to resist the urge to spew out a vitriolic rant this morning about why Colby Rasmus isn't with this team. I have decided, instead, to simply let that question go. One of two things has happened. Either a) Colby simply isn't healthy enough to be playing, and the few games he played for Palm Beach only served to illuminate that fact, or b) Rasmus has somehow already managed to build himself a doghouse with the manager and will, in all likelihood, be moved this winter due to the fact that he will never mesh well with our hall of fame grouch. (By the way, I am henceforth going to refer to this process as "getting Rolen'd".) I choose to believe that the health of Rasmus's knee simply isn't where it needs to be at the moment, because to believe otherwise, in spite of what Joe Strauss may say, would completely ruin my faith in this team and its brain trust.

So, in order to avoid being forced to begin watching the local professional football team, I choose to believe there is less subterfuge going on here than it may look like. I choose to laugh at the fact that Aaron *%$&# Miles was in center field last night. These are my choices, and I would thank you not to poke at them. I need my delusions to live.

Anyway, enough about all of that. As far as I am concerned, the offseason has officially commenced. I know, I know, I've been sounding the death knell for this team for months, you say, and I've been wrong every time. Well, whether or not I agree that I've been wrong (news flash: I don't), the fact is, it's all over now but the shouting. It was a fantastic run, and I loved most minutes of it. (I would say I loved every minute, but that just isn't true; there have been many, many moments this season that have tested my patience and belief as a Cardinal fan.) However, this team has been just a hair too snakebitten this year as far as injuries go to hang in there. We all knew coming in that absolutely everything had to go right this year for the Cardinals to contend. Instead, damn near everything has gone wrong, and yet they still played meaningful baseball in September. That's really all that you can ask. At this point, I honestly don't have a problem with them going in the shitter the rest of the way. Even though it may mean finishing below teams that I honestly believe are lesser teams than the Cards (Houston, I'm looking in your direction), maybe they can sneak into a higher draft pick or something. I don't expect them to just pack it in, mind you, but it isn't going to kill me if it just all falls apart now.

So, at least for me, the focus now shifts squarely to 2009. And when I look at 2009, I find plenty of reason for optimism. And, if I'm honest, I also find plenty of reason for concern.

There are two main areas of concern that, for me, need to be addressed in the offseason. The first is the middle infield. The Cards' middle infield corps this year has been one of the worst in all of baseball on offense. They've been pretty solid defensively, but not Ozzie Smith, Oh-my-god-did-you-just-see-that good to the point that you can consider any offensive contributions just a welcome bonus. This team's overall offense has been remarkably good, considering the number of free outs the Cards tend to give away on a nightly basis with these guys.

The other big concern, strangely enough, isn't really the bullpen. I look at the bullpen, and I actually like what I see these days. Izzy doesn't look like he'll be back, and Franklin has mostly been relegated to sort of a seventh inning role, it seems, which I can actually live with. I really like the Cards' chances with the guys they've got at the back end going forward. Perez closing, K-Mac setting him up, and Motte taking care of the outs just whenever you need them looks pretty damned good to me. I honestly don't know what will happen with Springer, but if he's back, huge bonus. Heck, Josh Kinney has looked wicked good since he's been back. I'm very leery of counting on too much out of Kinney, though. With that delivery, and the number and violence of sliders that he throws, I'm afraid he's always going to be walking on the edge of the abyss. As for the lefties, well, frankly, they suck. Still, you hope to see Tyler Johnson back next season, and you've got to think that Mo could find at least one solid lefty reliever on the market, don't you? Don't you? Why aren't you answering me?

No, the other big concern for me going into next season is the starting rotation. We've seen this year what happens when the starters are going good. It's called April. We've also seen what happens when they go bad. And let me tell you, the latter isn't pretty. The bullpen looks worse, the offense looks worse, the whole team looks worse, because they never really get into a position to win. There's a rhythm to winning baseball, and it breaks down in a hurry when the starters don't do their jobs.

So how to shore up the starting rotation? Well, there is one option, and really only one option, that I like. I think both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets will end up costing more than they're worth, even though both are definitely worth quite a pretty penny. Sabathia, especially, but hey, the Yankees are, in all likelihood, going to make this guy the richest pitcher in the game. It just ain't happening here. I realise that a lot of people here are big fans of trying to pick up A.J. Burnett, but I'll take a big ol' pass on that one, too. I wish the Cards would have stepped up to the plate and signed the guy three years ago, because I thought it was a good idea then. Now, though, with where the Cards' farm system is, and the extra years and miles on Burnett's arm,
 no thank you. With the problems in Burnett's delivery, I just think he's heading for another significant injury in the next year or two. No, what I want is a guy who will take the ball every day, give you the innings you need, along with the chance to win that you crave. Luckily, while looking at Burnett, you only have to shift your eyes slightly over to one side to see the guy that I'm really talking about.

They call him Doc.

It's fairly well known by now that Roy Halladay just isn't all that happy in Toronto. He's frustrated with his team being a perennial also ran, to the point that he has finally allowed his frustration to come out in the media a couple of times. And this isn't some problem child, spouting off every chance he gets, mind you; this is a competitor struggling with the knowledge that the best years of his career are slipping away whilst toiling for a second division team. The Red Sox, Yankees, and now even the Rays are much, much better teams than the Blue Jays, and Doc Halladay is tired of it.

There have been indication that Toronto is willing to at least listen to offers for Halladay. If so, this is the guy to cure, if not all, then at least many of our ills. I know he's on the wrong side of thirty, but as Azruavatar put it so eloquently not too long ago, Halladay is like a fine wine, becoming better with age. The guy throws a complete game every third time out, and his team is pretty much never out of it. If there were on pitcher I would be willing to bet the farm on (and that's essentially what we're doing here), it is Roy Halladay.

So, what would it take to get a guy like this? Well, I'm glad you asked. The thing is, I've been one who, all along this year, has advocated for holding on to the Cards' prospects. This is a transition year, I've said, let's not blow up '09 and beyond to try and improve this year's squad. And, by and large, I think that's been the correct approach. Next year, though, I think the Cards find themselves in a different situation. They've let their prospects mature for a year, and it has certainly been a fruitful year. Unfortunately, the pitching depth doesn't look as good as it did a year ago, but the positional depth is vastly better than we all thought. Another solid looking draft (at least so far), has the system continuing on the path to excellence. I think it's time to stop being gun shy and make a move. The ghost of Dan Haren is never going to go away if we don't exorcise him.

First off, I thought I would start with the deal the Metropolitans gave for Johan Santana last season. The CC Sabathia deal, while for a comparable talent, simply isn't that similar of a trade. Midseason acquisitions come with a different set of postulates, so I think the Santana deal is the one to go with. Now, at the time, there was a lot of people, myself included, who thought the Twinkies could have, and probably should have, done better. Well, after looking at the way that young, cost controlled talent is currently being valued in the game, I think that may have been a bit premature. Teams are simply putting far more onus on prospects than in the past. With that in mind, let's look at just what the Mets gave up.

First off, they gave up Carlos Gomez, a young, speedy outfielder. Gomez is a legitimate five tool player, although not all of the tools seem to show up at the same time. The most comparable player in the Cards' system would likely be Daryl Jones. Jones is only twenty one, put up huge numbers in High A and Double A this season, and has tools to spare. And, as strange as it sounds to those of us who follow prospects, Jones' approach at the plate is much more advanced than that of Gomez. Honestly, I think Jones may actually be a slightly better prospect, but I think Gomez had a bit better track record at the time of the deal. We'll call it even.

Next, Philip Humber. Humber was a big time prospect at one time, after being a first round draft pick out of Rice. Unfortunately for Humber and the Metropolitans, Humber has had a lot of arm issues since being drafted, and simply hasn't lived up to his billing, even when healthy. He was still rated somewhat highly, but that was largely the effect of being in a very weak system. Closest comp? Probably Adam Ottavino, though that's not a perfect one. I think Ott is a little better bet at this point, simply because he hasn't had any major arm injuries. Personally, I think this would be a nice deal for Ottavino; he's from the Northeast originally, so going back up that way might be more comfortable for him, and he has seemed to struggle at times with the Cardinal organisation's groundball first philosophy.

Next up, Kevin Mulvey. Mulvey was a polished college product out of either Villanova or Vanderbilt, I honestly don't recall which at the moment and am too lazy to look it up, and featured four average pitches and decent control. Seen as a back end of the rotation sort of starter, the Cards have comparable players in spades. A guy like, say, Tyler Herron is probably a good comp to Mulvey at this point in their careers. Both are guys with a lot of polish and average repertoires, who make decent bets to contribute at least something at the big league level. Mulvey was probably a slightly better prospect, simply because he had had success at a higher level than Herron, who struggled this year with the jump to Double A before rebounding after a demotion to Palm Beach.

Lastly, we have Deolis Guerra. Guerra is very much a boom or bust pick, a young Latin kid pitching in the FSL at 19, I believe. Tons of eventual upside, but all kinds of potential potential pitfalls along the way. This one is kind of tough, honestly, because the Cards really don't have a player all that similar to Guerra. I think the most comparable player would likely be Richard Castillo. Castillo, like Guerra, is very young, being only 19 also, I believe, and did pitch in the FSL this year. Unlike Guerra, he threw relief in Palm Beach before being moved to Quad Cities (Low A), to work as a starter. The thing about these two that doesn't really match up is that I don't have a clue what is thought about Castillo's long term prospects. I like him a lot, personally, going so far as to toss him into my top seven Cardinal prospect list not long ago, but honestly, that was somewhat of a fun pick. I would have a very hard time actually justifying that if, say, I were writing for a national publication rather than doing an off the cuff list for a blog that plays it fairly fast and loose at times anyway. Guerra is seen as having legitimate top of the rotations potential down the road; I don't know if I can say that about Castillo. Advantage here definitely has to go to Guerra.

Okay. We have four relatively comparable players, I think. I think two of ours would be slightly better than the ones New York gave up, and I think two would be worse. Now, though, I think we ought to look at how we might change this to make it work a little better.

First off, the Cards have a ton of depth at third base suddenly. With David Freese already knocking on the big league door and Brett the Hitman Walrus coming up close behind, Allen Craig looks a bit like a lost man in this system. Just glancing at the Toronto system, I don't see that many hitters. They have Travis Snider at the top, but not a whole lot of depth. I could be wrong, as I don't honestly know a ton about the Blue Jays' system, but I would think a guy with Craig's bat might be very appealing to them. I would think you could probably substitute Allen Craig for Tyler Herron and actually make it a better package, while dealing more from your own depth. Now, I would say that Craig and Mulvey are equivalent. Actually, looking at Craig's numbers this year, I think he might be a slightly better prospect, but I could see it going either way. Craig can play third or left field, and you can always DH the guy, so I don't see the Jays having any real objections to Craig; you're getting him for his bat.

Now, the last one. Guerra vs. Castillo. I just don't like this comp, as I really have no idea if the two are all that similar or not. So, what I say is, try to make the deal better. Whenever looking at a trade scenario, I always try to envision a trade that the other team couldn't possibly object to on the grounds that they got hosed. So, as I said, make the deal better.

There is one player in the Cardinal system that looks to be truly in limbo. A player with no real future in this organisation, despite the fact that he certainly has proven himself capable of contributing an intriguing skillset, at the very least. I speak, of course, of Bryan Anderson. Now, I am truly loathe to include Anderson here, as I think he's going to end up being a very, very good player down the road for somebody. It has become more and more obvious, though, over the past year and a half, that Anderson doesn't really have much of a spot in the Cards' future plans. Besides Yadier Molina being adored by the Cardinal staff, he has even transformed himself into a good enough hitter that people like me who think catcher defense is wildly overrated can really object too much to his presence on the team. Anderson is, in a word, expendable.

So, substitute Anderson for Castillo. At this point, I think this package is much, much better than the one the Mets gave for Santana. Lighter on the pitching, of course, but significantly more value overall, I think.

So that's about what I would offer for Roy Halladay, I think. I purposely avoided including Rasmus, because I think the Cardinal system is good enough at this point that you could get a deal like this one done without using your top guy. It's a lot to offer, I know. But for what you could get in Halladay, and I tried my level best to deal players that aren't going to have a huge negative impact on the Cards by their absence. It hurts me sorely to include both Anderson and Jones, two players that I really, really like, but sometimes you just have to give up good stuff when you want something special in return.

So how about it? Am I crazy? Is that too much to give up for a pitcher on the wrong side of thirty with a whole lot of miles on  his arm? Or does that sound reasonable? Come on, I can take it.