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Sign Ben Shee—Rich Har—John Smo—

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Down goes another blog favorite, this time to plausible-deniability retirement and a career in broadcasting:

"Joining Turner Sports' Major League Baseball coverage is a great opportunity for me to stay immersed in the game that I love and I'm really looking forward to this experience. Having worked with TBS and Peachtree TV before, I am thrilled about the start of the 2010 season," said Smoltz.

But is he thrilled about the middle of the 2010 season, and the 2010 playoffs? His reluctance to actually announce his retirement—he handicapped his odds at 50:1 in another article—means that he's as much a mid-season option for the Cardinals (and various other worried teams) as he ever was, but while he talks up hunting and fishing and seeing his kids more often the blog-talk about him necessarily quiets down. 

That this happened the day after Jaime Garcia struck out seven in three innings and pushed himself back into the fifth starter discussion—or at least, as the field seemed to narrow to two, forced La Russa and Duncan to continue said discussion—makes it a neat turning point. The Cardinals have gone deep into March (past 3/14, when Kyle Lohse was signed two years ago) without bringing in another external option; they seem satisfied with both the quality and depth of their fifth starter pool. If it's first a vote of confidence for Kyle McClellan, the presumptive front-runner, it's also a vote in favor of Jaime Garcia pitching some share of contingency innings in 2010. 

With Smoltz gone, Sheets hammered, Harden the victim of some negative 140-character publicity, the free agent landscape looks generally post-apocalyptic. If you're John Mozeliak—more specifically, if I'm John Mozeliak—the remaining options look a little like this:

1. Call Pedro Martinez's agent, leave some voicemails. I can't answer any of the following questions: does Pedro have anything left? Has he retired? Is he still crazy? To be honest, I don't think the means to answer those questions are available for anyone but Pedro Martinez at this moment. He pitched pretty well in 2009, until the World Series; before that he was only intermittently available, let alone effective, for the Mets. Even if he hadn't briefly been arguably the best pitcher who ever lived, a pitcher who's struck out 8.4 and walked 2.8 per nine innings in the four years since he last pitched a full season would garner serious scrap-heap interest. 

Pedro Martinez combines that scrap-heap charm with having been, briefly, the best pitcher who ever lived. If you have some so-so options and want to paper over them with a guy who'll pitch 20 times, if you're lucky, this is it. 

2. Stand down and wait for things to look different in June. Nobody but Pedro Martinez is going to be significantly better than the options the Cardinals are already looking at. Braden Looper? Maybe in the bullpen, if Russ Springer doesn't fit the ROOGY bill. Jarrod Washburn

The pitchers who are left—it seems there are fewer veteran pitchers than hitters left waiting for jobs in this market, which has been death to middling veterans, maybe because the pitching equivalent of Jermaine Dye is on shoulder surgery number two—are not sure things. Smoltz wasn't a sure thing, either, but he represented the possibility of better things in the fifth starter role. The remaining free agents have low upsides and are coming off, in some cases, significant risk. The Cardinals already have one of these guys. 

The Cardinals may be thin at the back of the rotation, but what remains is mostly replacement level—better to see if Kyle McClellan (or Jaime Garcia, or Rich Hill, for that matter) is a plausible multi-year option in the rotation than counting on the difference between any of them and Braden Looper over 25 starts. If that turns out to be a problem, there are others.