First off, I want to say congratulations to the San Francisco Giants and their aged shortstop Edgar Renteria. That makes three trips to the World Series for Edgar and three outstanding performances. It's a shame one couldn't find some way of hypnotizing him into believing it's the postseason all season long.
I suppose the ultimate lesson you have to take away from watching the Giants win this year's title is that if you can pitch, you can win. It sounds simple, I know, but it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves every now and again of one of the more elemental truths of the game. Pitching can cover for a lot of ills. (Hell, look at our own 2010 squad. They were in it up 'til very nearly the bitter end despite several extended stretches during the season when they just couldn't hit at all.
I'm in a terrible hurry today, and don't really have time for a full column, so I'm just going to leave you with one discussion question and then take my leave.
The Cardinals likely have room in the budget for only one free agent signing of real note. I'm not talking about going out and finding a guy who throws with his left hand and tossing him a million bucks; I mean one player whose name most people know and who is going to make a notable difference on the club with whom he signs. So, given that monetary limitation, you can have your choice of either Orlando Hudson or Jake Westbrook. Both will come on two-year deals (hypothetically), and while I'm sure Westbrook will be a little more expensive, I doubt the difference in salary will be huge. So that's your choice.
Hudson would immediately upgrade the team's greatest position of need, second base. He's not the player he was a few years back, but he's still a solid keystone. Hudson is coming off a season in Minnesota in which he posted an OPS+ of 93; before that he posted four straight seasons better than 100. He's 32 years old and will not be offered arbitration due to a clause in his contract. (By the way, I wonder if we're going to see more and more of those clauses as time goes on. I kind of think we will.) UZR likes him as a +9.8 run fielder in 2010 (UZR/150 of 12.0), but that follows four straight seasons of negative defensive performances. He looks better by +/-, saving 17 runs in 2010 (ranked number 1, in fact), and has had only one negative season in the past six. Hudson is coming off two straight ~3 WAR seasons.
Westbrook is a little more familiar to the Cardinals, having pitched a decent chunk of the season for them after being acquire via trade, so we have a pretty good idea what he looks like taking the mound for our redbirds. Like Hudson, Westbrook is 32 years old. He's coming off a 2.2 WAR season, his first healthy campaign since 2007. Health isn't really a huge issue, though, considering the recovery record of Tommy John survivors and the fact he's a couple years out from the procedure now. He posted an ERA+ of 113 for the Cards and a 2.29 SO/BB ratio. While he doesn't address an area of such serious need as what Hudson would, keeping Westbrook around lends much-needed stability to a rotation high on talent but low on innings. Westbrook essentially brings you some predictability; you can count on him to throw a bunch of innings at a solid rate. He's also a good fit for this club in particular, since they can't seem to say goodbye to the pair of sinker-obsessed old men in the dugout. I think going forward you can probably count on 180-200 innings from Westbrook, with an ERA in the 3.80-4.20 range. Call him a 4.00 ERA pitcher in the NL Central, I would say.
So that's your choice. You can afford to add one of these two guys. Neither will cost you a draft pick. They're approximately the same age. One upgrades what you had in 2010 in a big way but opens holes elsewhere; the other solidifies a position of strength from last year's team but forces you to look elsewhere to find some help in the middle infield. Which player do you want? Argue the players on their merits, argue a player on philosophy, or argue which option would be easier to replace through other sources, but remember we're assuming they'll be at least similar in terms of cost.
The Baron's Playlist for the 3rd of November, 2010 -- the first six songs that popped up when I put my iPod on shuffle
"Heaven Help the New Girl" - the Long Blondes
"This Year's Girl" - Elvis Costello
"Lazy Eye" - Fruit Bats
"Splish Splash" - Bobby Darin
"Just a Test" - Beastie Boys
"Come On With the 'Come On'" - Cab Calloway