Tony LaRussa has retired. Mike Matheny is now manager of the Cardinals and while Mike Matheny certainly has his own opinions, it was clear at the time of his hiring that his relationship with general manager John Mozeliak was different than the former manager's. John Mozeliak is in charge now. So why is everything business as usual?
The Cardinals sign J.C. Romero to a 1-year $750k deal
With Marc Rzepczynski under team control, the Cardinals had at least one left handed reliever under contract for the 2012 season. It's common place for teams to have two lefties in the pen. At this point, it's almost heresy to have fewer but J.C. Romero is a lefty in name only. The fallacy of this signing isn't Romero but the agreement to tender Kyle McClellan a contract as well. Over the last three years, Romero has held left-handers to a .658 OPS. That is a respectable number but it is also 50 pts higher than McClellan's .607 OPS against versus left handers.
The point of a lefty in the pen is often to neutralize same handed hitters. Rzepczyinski is capable of that (.573 OPS over last three years against lefties) but the inability to identify that Kyle McClellan's only real role on the club is to retire left handers is a failure. The Romero signing is problematic not because Romero is terrible -- though he's certainly not good -- rather because he and McClellan combined prevent the Cardinals from carrying a better pitcher.
Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs and Lance Lynn all project as better pitchers than Kyle McClellan. Interestingly they are all cheaper players as well. Beyond those five right-handers that already have major league experience, ZiPS will tell you that Chuckie Fick is better as well while Jordan Swagerty is comparable. Even if you're disinclined to trust the ball to a rookie in the pen (if we learned anything last year, you shouldn't be), it is clear that the Cardinals will not enter the season with the best seven relievers in the bullpen.
(I'm disinclined to listen to arguments of depth about Lynn with players like Shelby Miller, Maikel Cleto and Brandon Dickson all so close to the majors as well. The risk associated with losing McClellan or having to utilize him as a starter is mitigated by those players. The Cardinals should ere on the side of their best seven relievers to start the season in this case. Should a need arise, someone in the minors will have made a convincing case that they can step in at that time.)
The Cardinals sign Skip Schumaker to a 2 year, $3M contract
Let's revisit ZiPS as tom touched on this yesterday. Skip Schumaker is rated as a poor fielder at second and centerfield and an average fielder in the corner outfield positions. He projects for an 86 OPS+, which is only nominally better than Eric Komatsu and Adron Chambers. When both players have better defensive ratings at centerfield (an obvious depth need for the Cardinals right now), it becomes apparent that Skip Schumaker is a redundant player.
Redundant players are not inherently bad but the Cardinals have committed $1M in 2011 and 2012 more than they needed to in order to obtain the skillset that Schumaker provides. Even assuming that Schumaker also can play second base, the Cardinals should be disinclined to give him at bats there over either Daniel Descalso or Tyler Greene who are better and roughly equivalent offensive players respectively.
There is no obvious need for a player like Skip Schumaker on the 2011 Cardinals. He is a left handed bat on a team flush with left handed hitters. He is a poor defender at second on a team with good defensive infielders on the bench. He is a poor defender in the outfield on a team with good defensive prospects ready for the majors. Skip Schumaker is being paid an extra million dollars a year (admittedly not a major dollar amount) to be a really great cheerleader for the club. This is an argument of opportunity cost and it's one that seems to be missed annually.
Questions the media (and fans) should ask
As the Cardinals enter a new phase of their franchise with new leaders, everyone should have real concerns and questions about the utility of these moves. These are the moves around the margin -- the Miguel Batistas, the Aaron Miles -- that have plagued the Cardinals for years. They were often driven by Tony LaRussa and it was supposed that John Mozeliak was, in some ways, an unwilling accomplice to these kinds of signings.
Now, he looks feckless as well. Certainly a decision on his competency as a GM should not be built on these signings (read that line again vivaelpujols) but these decisions should be questioned. What utility does Skip Schumaker serve? What is Kyle McClellan's projected role with the addition of JC Romero? What makes the Cardinals believe that Romero can be effective again after an abysmal 2011? (Why haven't we signed Carlos Beltran yet? Seriously, go look at ZiPS again and tell me that Carlos Beltran isn't the perfect fit for this team.)
The most important question that remains unanswered to this point is: What is John Mozeliak's vision for the St. Louis Cardinals as an organization with the departure of Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols and Jeff Luhnow?
While we question the moves at the margins of the 2012 club, that's the question that should remain first and foremost in our minds. So far, it's business as usual.