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Arms, Adam, and an Admonition

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The news that Carp had an MRI on his shoulder isn’t all that surprising in light of Will Carroll’s recent reports. For a baseball injury novice like me, there’s a whole lot of alphabet soup there but the concern seems to relate to something called plexitis. Now, these articles don’t make a lot of sense to me but there are passages that should concern us.

From Carroll:

The most worrisome aspect of plexitis is that it can cause weakness in the deltoid that can lead to subluxations of the humerus. A humeral subluxation can lead to labral tears, something you don't want happening to your ace. While I admit that I'm speculating here, it's based on a conversation with two physical therapists that I regularly consult with. One suggested the condition based on the symptoms, and the other concurred.
Carroll’s quote and the definition linked above use two words that are bothersome to me: "labral" (as in labrum) and "shoulder." These aren’t the same (not even close) as "bicep strain" and should be a genuine cause of concern for the Cards’ brass as well as its fan base. It’s time for Cards’ fans to acknowledge the possibility that we may never see Chris Carpenter put up meaningful innings again. He’ll be 34 in the first month of next season and has a history of injuries – and not just minor ones. TJ surgeries, problems w/ the labrum. These aren’t fluke injuries for pitchers. It’s entirely possible that Carp will pitch some innings here and there, maybe get 80-100 in a season – giving us hope that he’ll once again be the pitcher he was from 2004 through 06 – while never again being a meaningful contributor to our rotation. If that’s the case, and I sincerely hope it’s not, the Carp extension may become a more egregious albatross than the one given to this guy.

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So, Adam Kennedy wants to be traded, huh? Hell, he’s earned some more playing time w/ his stellar play over the past 2 seasons. Actually, though, it led me to ask myself: "self -- is there any conceivable way that some team might trade for him." My first inclination was that this was laughable. I’ve decided that, though I still don’t find it likely, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

As I’ll go into in a few weeks, Adam Kennedy has become an excellent defensive second baseman. He is, w/o a doubt, craptacular offensively but, while his excellent defense doesn’t negate his horrendous offense, it shouldn’t go w/o notice either. It occurred to me that, for this to actually happen, some team is going to have to decide that their defense at the keystone is so bad, and the rest of their offense so good, that they could stomach terrible offense from their 2B as long as he was a huge upgrade defensively.

This isn’t w/o precedent. It seems to me that there’s at least 1 major league team who, this offseason, decided that its defense at SS had been so bad that they were willing to sign this guy as a free agent to shore up their defense up the middle. The team decided his defense was so good that, despite his horrendous offense, they’ve given him 421 PAs so far this year. Setting aside whether or not this was a good decision, is there another team that might make a similar decision this offseason.

Now, that player was a free agent, signed to a 1 year, $2.85 M contract. Well, Kennedy will have 1 year and $4 M left on his contract. Someone would have to trade for him but I’d be willing to take a low-A ball, non-prospect prospect just to get his contract off the books next year. The other team could give us someone they’re going to release after next June’s draft for all I care – making Kennedy essentially a free agent to the team acquiring him.

So which teams might be that desperate for a solid defensive 2B?

Arizona – good chance they’ll lose Hudson; right now Augie Ojeda is the team’s 2B. They could sign Grudzielanek or someone but is Kennedy considerably worse than Ojeda? Still, with the D-backs offense struggling mightily all season, it’s hard to believe that Kennedy would interest them.

The White Sox – Ramirez has been terrible defensively (all my defensive judgments are based on numbers from The Hardball Times). Guillen is a "fundamental baseball" sort of guy so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But Ramirez’s offense has probably been too good. Now, it’s conceivable that they could take advantage of Ramirez’s offense this year to trade him for something they deem more valuable (3B, pitching, CF?) and replace him w/ a better defensive player. I’d call it possible, but highly improbable.

The Giants – seriously? They have no real 2B but they have so many holes that I can’t see them believing that all they really need is a little better defense up the middle.

Oakland, the Dodgers, and the Royals all will see their 2B become free agents this offseason. The Dodgers will probably replace Kent w/ Blake DeWitt. Oakland – does anyone really think they want a defensive specialist w/ a low OBP at 2B? Me, neither. The Royals – they’ve had a league average defense and have expressed interest in signing Furcal (more of an offensive specialist) to play SS, to then move Aviles to 2B. I’d think it unlikely.

The Mets – worst two defensive 2B (arguably, but in any case – they’re very bad) in the majors are Luis Castillo and Damion Easley. There has been lots written in the NY media about how disenchanted the team is w/ Castillo. The Mets have a lot of offense. Of course, they also have the money to sign Hudson or Grudzielanek but this is a team who, this past offseason, discussed signing David Eckstein and moving to 2B so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this could happen if they decided not to pony up for Hudson or Grudz.

The point is that I wouldn’t consider trading Kennedy an impossibility, but the skies are going to have to open and the seas are going to have to part for it to happen and the Mets may be the most likely possibility.

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The only thing worse than playing Kennedy in RF and Lopez at 2B (didn’t I just say that Kennedy had turned into an excellent defensive player? Would you believe he’s been worth the 3rd most runs saved among all 2B – despite being basically a part-time player?), is batting Lopez CLEANUP – between Pujols and Glaus, Kennedy against a lefty, and Izturis in the leadoff spot (career OBP vs. lefties -- .303). I’m not one who believes that the lineup order makes a ton of difference but Tony clearly does – and he’s playing Kennedy against a lefty, putting a guy who can’t get on base in the leadoff spot, and separating Pujols and Glaus w/ a guy who was released by the offensively inept Nationals. It might be understandable against a righty – to make the lineup go righty, lefty, righty. Against a lefty it just means 3 righties in a row and the one in the middle is Felipe Lopez.

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Next, this year’s version of Joel Pineiro is…drum roll, please … Felipe Lopez!!!!

Pineiro ERA h/9 bb/9 k/9
career pre-Card 4.50 9.38 2.98 5.92
07 pre-Card 5.03 10.85 3.71 5.29
07 as a Card 3.96 9.75 1.70 5.65
2008 5.24 11.34 2.06 4.71

The team was, apparently, led to believe that the 63.2 innings they received from Pineiro last summer represented a distinct, and permanent, change in ability. Many Cards’ fans told us that Dave Duncan had made such an impact on Pineiro as a pitcher that those 63.2 innings were a better predictor of his ability than were the previous 1030. On that basis, the team signed him to a 2 year, $13M contract -- $7.5 M of which is guaranteed next year to fill one of our rotation spots.

This July, the team signed Felipe Lopez and he’s been terrific at the plate since the acquisition. He’s also played 5 different positions since becoming a Cardinal. Here’s what his numbers look like:

Lopez BA OBP SLG
career pre-Card .258 .325 .396
08 pre-Card .234 .305 .314
08 as a Card .350 .398 .496

Last offseason, the team made the decision that Pineiro’s 63.2 IP were more indicative of his true ability than the previous 1030 innings were. Now, with the team’s 2B situation in limbo, the team is evaluating Lopez’s performance to see what role he might fit (if any) for the team next season. Conspicuously absent from any and all discussions about Lopez’s performance as a Cardinal, however, is credit to Hal McRae for remaking Lopez at the plate. Should we expect Lopez to hit this well next year since McRae will (presumably) be his hitting coach again if he returns?

The point here is not that the team shouldn’t bring Lopez back for 2009. The point is that Lopez’s previous 3421 PAs are more indicative of his true ability than the 128 he’s had as a Cardinal. Hopefully, the organization will not be fooled into thinking that Lopez is now a dramatically different player or that Hal McRae is a miracle worker. Is he a better 2B than Aaron Miles? Perhaps. Should we expect him to be a top of the order (or cleanup) hitter next season? No. He is, at best, a slight improvement over what we had before signing him and, considering his defensive shortcomings, there’s a good chance he’s not even that. Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson from the Pineiro signing.

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Bernie says that the Cards need to go all-in in the free agent market for pitching. There are lots of pitchers on the market. He mentions Sabathia, Sheets, Jon Garland, Lowe, Lohse, Looper, Dempster, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, and Paul Byrd. It’s ironic that he doesn’t want any "el cheapo deals for rehabbing pitchers, medically risky pitchers, broken-down pitchers" yet he, apparently, considers Randy Wolf to be a good option.

What he doesn’t include is any mention of which of these pitchers are worth a 3, 4 or 7 year deal. DeWitt needs to open up the wallet. For whom? He doesn’t say. Which of these is worthy of 4 years and $50 M or more? (crickets) Only 3 of these guys are on the right side of 30 and one will receive a 7 year contract making him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history, one has one of the lowest K rates in the big leagues and the other (Perez) averages nearly 5 BB/9 IP. (Oliver Perez may, actually, be the best bet on this list, however.)

Does anyone really believe Paul Byrd is better than Mitch Boggs or that Mike Mussina might sign w/ the Cards? Apparently Bernie does. Now is not the time to evaluate all these starters, but if the over/under on the number of these pitchers who are worth the contracts they receive is 4, I’m taking the under.

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Lastly, congrats to the Cubs and the Rays. The Rays, particularly, are a tremendous story. I’m hoping they get healthy enough to really challenge in the AL. I’d like to see how well they can do if they’re at close to full strength. And, FWIW, I’m glad yesterday’s Cards game was at Wrigley, rather than in Busch.