Let's pull that Ryan Franklin quote again—
I'm not saying that either one of us ([the Cardinals and their fans]) have been on too much of a high but it brings you back down to where you're supposed to be."
Yeah, that sounds about right.
This mini-crisis is a great time to considerwhere we are now as to where we were back in April—now that the Cardinals are not completely invincible it's worth thinking about. The bullpen, for instance:
Where we were then: I couldn't find a quote quite representative enough, so if I may channel myself, circa March—
I love this bullpen. Love love love love. There are about a million players in it, and they're all young and cheap, and maybe we should trade Ryan Franklin for a season ticket package or just put him on a bus somewhere with all the other old people so that I can watch all these cost-controlled, thoroughbred right-handers compete for the closer's role. These guys are so crazy and awesome that they flip out ALL the time.
Where we are now:
I'm not saying that either one of us ([the Cardinals relief pitchers, opposing batters]) have been on too much of a high but it brings you back down to where you're supposed to be."
The Cardinals' vaunted relief Whiz Kids have seen attrition from both sides; on one, Jason Motte struggles with throwing the ball past opposing hitters and Kyle McClellan has trouble throwing it near them, and on the other several pitchers are throwing the ball for other teams.
Taken in isolation I can't really argue with either of the major deals that siphoned off relief depth; Mark Worrell and (erstwhile throw-in) Luke Gregerson was a small price to pay for what seemed like an upgrade at shortstop, and Chris Perez and Jess Todd was the going rate for a guy who, for a brief time, seemed like he would upgrade multiple positions at once.
But I don't think either of these trades can be seen as a win for Mozeliak, or even as an extenuating-circumstances draw; these are flat-out misses. In the Khalil Greene deal—my favorite of the two moves, even now, for its ingenuity—Mozeliak bet some of his bullpen strength on a cheap way to upgrade for this year. In that way it resembles a deadline deal, only with a full year of that deadline-deal magic (you know, Al, it really does); there's no potential future benefit to hedge against the flags flying forever. I'd argue that it was a gamble the Cardinals were justified in making, but so far they've gambled wrong on both sides; Khalil Greene hasn't turned into Khalil Greene, and Luke Gregerson—78 K in 65 innings, a .434 OPS against righties—has turned into Russ Springer.
The DeRosa deal has to be looked at in its very fleeting context—after the Greene deal and the Motte/McClellan problems were noticeable, before the Holliday and Lugo deals rendered his positional versatility basically useless. That they cancel each other out seems only fitting for a deal that's a complex win or a complex loss.
The Greene deal meant that the Cardinals could no longer trade from the bottom of their relief deck; the fungible relievers weren't quite so fungible anymore. But their subsequent dealings might be more damaging to the DeRosa rationale; as a straight replacement at third base DeRosa, especially the one they got, was a major offensive improvement but not a worldbeater. During his time with the Cardinals he's been worth a little less than a win over Thurston's year-to-date offensive levels. (Defense—charitably—has been a wash.) That's a good upgrade, as far as deadline deals go, but it's not the one they paid for.
The upgrade they paid for was three-headed—they could put him at third against right handers and pair him with Khalil Greene to spell Skip Schumaker or the Duncan/Ankiel Platoon of Despair that was stuck in left field. Then they traded for Julio Lugo to spell Skip Schumaker; they they traded for Matt Holliday to replace the P.O.D. Then he was the starting third baseman. I appreciate not having to watch Joe Thurston every day, but Chris Perez has proven what we really knew anyway—he's the best of the Cardinals young relievers, and he was traded at a moment when the Cardinals realized they needed them more than they'd thought.
Now the Cardinals have to worry about Ryan Franklin, who is not, it can be said, at this point, finding some new talent level. Over the course of his last two seasons as a Cardinal he's proven himself to be a Pretty Good reliever. Unless some new information comes to light in the next two weeks, that's probably what he's going to be. It's tough having him as your top right-hander, but that's different from having to worry about him if you carry a lead into the ninth inning—most relievers will save most games most of the time. He's not going to go oh-fer a series. The problem is getting the lead to him with the pitchers that are left.
But if you're worried that Franklin might be totally cooked now, your real concern ought to be the rotation—it's Franklin writ large, but with much better players. Certainly Wainwright might really be this good; certainly Carpenter was once this good and this healthy; certainly Joel Pineiro, uh, has had a fine season. But all at once? That's how World Series teams are made, to be honest—lots of players peaking at once, some who you never thought had it in them. But it's only clear that those players kept it together long enough to see their Norm Cash years through in hindsight.
Tonight, of course, Todd Wellemeyer—the stopper—makes it clear that there's no need to worry.