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the last pennies in the jar

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the signing of matt holliday was the cap on the pinnacle of the 2009-2010 off-season, or probably, several seasons of management of the cardinals.

however, while the signing may be the cap on the off-season, it's surely not the end of the off-season. recent guesses suggested a $6-7M remainder for the cards, due in part to the deferred money in the holliday contact. this money will probably go to some mix of a 3rd baseman, a LH bench bat or 4th OF, a reliever, and a starting pitcher.

i think the case has been made well that a 5th starter with high-upside like smoltz, bedard, or sheets is probably the best expenditure the cards could make, though we might not even have the money to complete a deal for one of those pitchers. if we could afford one, i think the signing would eat up most of our available funds. i would not mind signing jon garland, even though he does not have the high ceiling of the first two pitchers. the sharp defense in the field, with ryan, pujols, freese, and (a hopefully defensively improved) skip should match well with his skillset. garland seems like someone who might gain us at least a pick as a type B free agent at the end of the season. for a salary payout of $5-6M, netting a pick worth $2M or so is a reward well worth looking for.

the relievers have already been discussed as well. russ springer and kiko calero make a lot of sense and wouldn't cost much in the way of money or picks. poaching chad gaudin off the yankees in a trade might well be worth it as a third bullpen option, with a nice swingman upside.

i want to take a quick look today at the available options for those remaining two slots: the 3b and LH PH/4th OF slots. most of the names are familiar to you, but some of them have complex enough histories that they're worth rethinking.

on the 3b front, miguel tejada, felipe lopez, and joe crede are the primary suspects. felipe and miguel present some similarities -- both made their names as shortstops but have grown increasingly incompetent at that position. sound like a scary-eyed individual on our club already? he gets a little treatment later. projecting their defense at 3b is thus a challenge.

luckily, felipe lopez has not had the mammoth bat or the mammoth contract that has made coaches avoid moving him off the shortstop spot. he has average numbers in 2400 innings at 2b, with relatively good numbers in a few hundred innings at 3b. this is tempered with what i thought was a well-taken comment from sleepy that lopez made a number of mental errors while in STL that wouldn't show up in a UZR analysis -- failing to keep the runners on, making throws to the wrong base that made an out but allowed a run to score. it may well be that UZR overestimates lopez by paying attention to range but ignoring some factors like the above. still, i think it's a decent guess to project him as average at third and second.

his hitting has been terribly inconsistent, however, with flashes of brilliance (wOBAs of .360 in 2005 and .356 in 2009) and dismality dismalness sucking (wOBA of .295 in 2008, including a split season .234 with WAS; and .274 in 2006). his bat has improved recently, having a stellar year split between the MIL and ARZ teams.

how much of that is illusion and how much is real improvement? that's a tough, tough question to answer. checking out his stats, he recently started hitting a lot more line drives. he averaged more than 22% in both MIL and ARZ, as well as pulling down a 20.2% in his half-season with STL in 2008. his BABIP went sky-high during this time: .452 in his half-season in STL, .350 with the d-backs, and .372 with the brewers. obviously, a lot of luck has gone his way.

however, he's making his own luck to a certain extent. in 2008 (overall WAS+STL stints) his xBABIP was .303 (actual full-season BABIP - .331). in 2009, with his improved 22% LD, his xBABIP was .337 -- still less thanhis actual .360 for the year, but not nearly as luck driven as such a high number might be. if lopez has really learned to hit better in the last year and a half, learned to drive the ball more, then his projections will underestimate his likely production in 2010. 

tejada has had a similarly up and down career recently, though both conventional wisdom and statistics suggest his shortstop defense is on the way out. he is 36 years old (?) and few shortstops retain the range of their youth at that age. more concerning, his bat appears to be on the decline. specifically, his walk rate has dropped over the past several years. he posted a concerning 2.9% walk rate in 2009. he hit .313, yet only posted a .340 OBP. like lopez, he has a varied LD%, posting a 23.4% in 2008 (oddly enough, the year he posted his worst batting stats since 1998) and a 17.0% in 2007. it's difficult to point to any particular factor, other than that appalling walk rate and associated loss of plate discipline (with O-Swing rates jumping from the conservative range of 18-20% from 2002-2004 to 34% and 32% in 2008 and 2009), that otherwise explains his varying offensive performance. he has the O-Contact rate to sustain such wild swings (71% & 76% in 2008 & 2009), but this is a skillset with a foundation built on sand. should his vision or timing start to slip with his age, tejada's offensive production could collapse in a melvin mora-type way.

let's compare projections for our internal and external options.


chone wOBA

Bill James wOBA

chone wRC+*

Bill James wRC+*

chone WAR

Felipe Lopez






Miguel Tejada






Joe Crede






David Freese






Julio Lugo






Ruben Gotay






*please note: i have neither received nor paid any gratuity in exchange for using the latest fad in statistical analysis.

what should jump out at you is that freese is projected to have comparable value to all the free agent candidates. and he is basically free. probably none of the free agents make sense to bump freese to the bench. they could make sense as freese insurance, should you be concerned about the off-the-field problems (?) of mr. freese. me, i think he just needs to chill out.

tejada seems like he will be more expensive than his marginal value. crede seems like he could come pretty cheap, but his only function would be freese insurance. lopez may come surprisingly cheap  since he has garnered little attention, especially for a guy who turned in a 4.6 WAR performance last year. for reasons which are unclear, i read jeff gordon's chat transcript; he pinned lopez's value at $3M. i don't trust gordon's predictions, but should that be so, lopez could be a nice pickup. lopez has two other distinct benefits: as a switch hitter, he could provide nice versatility off the bench, and he could platoon with skippy from the right side. his splits have been pretty negligible. as a result of his versatility, we could sell high on lugo, who is projected to be below average, barely replacement value. compare his low projected wOBA's to his .330 wOBA from 2009. if we could get lopez for utility player money, he could be a 1+ win upgrade as a platoon and bench player.

still, the take home lesson is that nobody should really be concerned about going into spring training with freese as starting 3b. the projected value for gotay is also pretty stunning as a minor league free agent. lugo as a utility man, on the other hand . . . .

consider, on the other hand our outfield options. i put in three leading LH OF who play all three positions (you will recognize one), reed johnson who gets name-dropped occasionally as a RH platoon partner for colby rasmus, and two internal candidates.


chone wOBA

Bill James wOBA

OPS v. RHP (career)

OPS v. RHP (2009)

chone WAR

Gabe Gross






Ryan Church






Rick Ankiel






Jon Jay**






Reed Johnson#






Allen Craig#**






** for the minor leaguers, the mle's are used.

# for the RH hitters, the opposite split (OPS v. LHP) is used.

each time i have gone to compare gabe gross and ryan church, i have been shocked by how little daylight there is between the two. almost the same age. almost the same projections offensively. almost the same excellent corner OF defense with passable CF defense. the only thing i see here at all to differentiate them is that church would play a bench bat role better in taking advantage of the platoon splits. even that distinction is marginal.

ankiel fares okay by projection here, clearly a step down from gross and church, but i think the projections are overoptimistic because his terrible plate discipline has gotten more and more exploited by opposing pitchers. i would bet that he underperforms that projection. i have no idea why boras thinks he can get anything for rick when better players like church and gross are likely to go for $1M or so.

reed johnson simply can't be considered as an platoon partner to colby rasmus - not because he doesn't have a great platoon split (which he does) - but because he has a lifetime UZR/150 of -14.8 in CF.  we would be better off with luddy in center against LHP, and craig's comparably wicked split in right, should colby's platoon split remain significant this year.

based on this chart, though, i fail to see a strong reason to go into the season with anyone other than craig and jay as our fourth and fifth OF, especially if we can get a decent LH bat like gotay (career split mlb - OPS .719 v. RHP; minor league career MLE split - OPS .749 v. RHP) or switch-hitter like lopez in the infield. i don't worry excessively about our offensive performance against RHP, anyway. tony sometimes uses his LHB more as chess pieces to force the opponent to spend a pitcher or two than actually to produce runs. he managed to do this with thurston effectively long after thurston ceased being a serious threat to pitchers of either handedness.  my impression from the thurston experience was that the LHB had only to be marginally credible to get the other manager to swap up his pitchers. picking up a low-rent OF like gross or church wouldn't be the worst idea, but even at this stage where we grub for an extra win or two, it seems like the in-house options are strong, relative to what remains on the market. it seems unlikely that such a deal would move the team forward.