Well, I am officially snowed in. Here in picturesque downtown Barnhart, Missouri (I think this is downtown. Or maybe the 7-11 is downtown? Tough to say, really.), we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-14 inches of snow on the ground. (Then again, being a man, it's also entirely possible I'm way overestimating that; we tend to do that when speaking in terms of inches.) Thus, I will be staying in today. If I were just a bit younger, I might go out and build a snowman, but I suppose I should really have outgrown that by now. On the other hand, if any of the neighborhood kids would like to have a snowball fight, I will bury them with an avalanche of snow and rage.
It's been an odd January, hasn't it? I honestly don't recall if it's ever happened before, but when someone says the word "Cardinals", they generally aren't talking about the baseball team. Not the usual state of affairs at all.
Really, though, it isn't just January that's been odd in the baseball world. This whole offseason has been exceedingly strange, at least from a perspective of who and what has been signed vs. what is still available on the market. For instance, thanks to ESPN, I am now aware that Manny Ramirez is still a free agent. Now, I realise that statement probably sounds like I'm being facetious, but I assure you, I am completely serious. I had honestly forgotten that Manny was still out there. Ditto Adam Dunn. I mean, I know that Manny is a Grade A asshat and Dunn is the sworn enemy of J.P. Ricciardi, but still. Has there ever been an offseason when so many potentially game-changing players were still unsigned just three weeks before pitchers and catchers report day?
As this bizarre, chaotic offseason goes on, I think it's becoming more and more apparent that not just one, but several free agent pitchers are going to end up being this year's Kyle Lohse. I remember, back at the beginning of the offseason, there was quite a bit of debate here and elsewhere, over which pitcher was going to be that guy, or if anyone was. To my eye, there are about four pitchers who are all going to end up somewhere on, most likely, one year deals, trying to make good this season and see if the payday will be out there for 2010.
Personally, I'm still on the Ben Sheets bandwagon; in fact, I consider myself one of the founding members. (By the way, look at that: 800+ comments in the middle of December. Weird.) However, as time goes by, I think we're seeing that the Cardinals have pretty much no interest in Sheets whatsoever. Now, whether that's a good thing or not is debatable, as well as what reasons the Cardinals may have. Regardless, what isn't debatable is the fact that Ben Sheets in a Cardinal uniform looks to be an extremely long shot at this point.
Thus, I thought we might take a look at the other one year options that could very well still be out there. Well, the acceptable one year options, anyway. Oh, and minus Pedro Martinez, seeing as how I have no idea what's going on with that guy.
Pros- Durable, so should throw plenty of innings. Has worked with Dave Duncan before. Is already known to the team, so clubhouse issues should be nonexistent. Should come plenty cheap.
Cons- Approaching the age when health concerns become magnified. May or may not have hard feelings toward the club for the way arbitration was handled.
Bottom line- With Looper, we know pretty much what we're going to get performance wise. The debate is really over his health. You have to weigh his durability the past couple of season against the large number of innings he's logged, which we tend to forget was a huge jump over his previous totals. Has had arm surgeries in the past as well, adding to those concerns. Overall, I wouldn't have a problem with Looper again. i just wonder if he would want to come back.
Pros- Most talented member of this group. Left-handed. High strikeout totals indicate plenty of stuff.
Cons- Wildly inconsistent. K totals and velocity have never returned to 2004 levels, and probably will not. Seems to be a little tough to work with from a coaching standpoint. Scott Boras client, so may not be easy negotiation. Crazy as hell.
Bottom line- Oliver is definitely the most talented pitcher on the market outside of the aforementioned Mr. Sheets, but comes with a ton of baggage. How many times in his career have we heard that so and so has finally figured out Oliver's delivery, only to see him make three good starts, then fall back apart again? At this point, the Boras Factor is probably not a huge issue, but it still has to be a consideration. Personally, I like Perez; he's got excellent stuff and is fun to watch in that Joaquin Andujar sort of way, but I wonder whether or not he would mesh well with the Cardinals' coaching staff, not to mention the players. By which I mean Albert.
Pros- Left-handed. Has put up good K numbers, indicating his stuff is still good enough. Was surprisingly good down the stretch last year for the Astros. Appears healthy again after multiple injuries.
Cons- Health issues cannot be completely ignored. Seems determined to play on the West Coast somewhere, and has spurned Cardinal offers before. Tends to be a bit of a fly ball pitcher.
Bottom line- I think Wolf would be an excellent choice, having posted solid FIPs each of the past two seasons. While you still have to worry about his health concerns, the time away from the game could also be interpreted as giving him a fairly fresh arm. Unfortunately, I just don't see Wolf coming here. He seems set on pitching back out west again.
Pros- Durable. Really durable. Ground ball pitcher. Still relatively young at 29. Oh, did I mention he's durable?
Cons- Not that good a pitcher. Strikes out literally no one. Peripherals in general are all heading the wrong direction.
Bottom line- Garland is basically the exact same pitcher as Braden Looper, only about five years younger. Neither one of them strike out many batters, but the also don't walk a whole lot. In front of a defense like the one the Cardinals should field this year, either could be pretty solid. I've ranted against Garland before, but when it comes right down to it, the Cardinals could do worse.
In the end, I really think that the Cards are going to end up with Jon Garland on a one year deal. Something probably in the five-six million dollar range. And you know what? I would probably be okay with that. He's a Type B, so he doesn't cost the Cardinals their first rounder next year, and he's as good a bet as there is in baseball to make every start. Now, I am not, repeat not, saying that Garland would be my choice. I would take Wolf or Perez either one over Garland on a one year contract. However, if the choice comes down to bringing back Braden Looper for one year or signing Garland for 1/$6 mil, I think I would have to go with Garland, mostly due to the simple age difference.
On a side note, it truly pains me to say that Joe Strauss may, in fact, be right about something. Although technically, he did say that he would take Garland, which I still vehemently disagree with. Still, I think the Cardinals quite likely end up with him about a week and a half from now.
So how about it? Garland, Wolf, Perez, or Looper? Or, of course, you could always go with none of the above. I will say, though, that none of the above scares me, mostly because it means that El Pinata will be in the rotation pretty much no matter what, and if Carpenter again goes down, we could see both Jo-El and someone like Mitchell Boggs forced to take 50-60 starts. That's not so good. I actually like Boggs, and I think he could very well end up being a solid #4 starter in the fairly near future. I do not, however, want to be forced to rely on him this season, nor do I wish to see the Mike Maroth Show, version 2.0.
Stay warm, all.
Oh, and I still want Ben Sheets. Just putting it out there.
Edit: Sigh. My timing, as usual, is flawless. Apparently Garland signed with Arizona right about an hour before I posted this. Kind of nice to have dodged a bullet there, but also remarkable irritating to have not written it at least a little earlier in the morning. -RB