The St. Louis Cardinals spent Day 1 of the Winter Meetings where they've spent most of the 2012-2013 offseason so far: At the margins, working themselves into those trailing-off "PLAYER X is also coveted by TEAM A, TEAM B, and the Dodgers" comments that get appended to more concrete rumors. Monday's news was that the Cardinals were TEAM B or TEAM C in the bidding surrounding Scott Hairston.
I've noticed a trend this year, which is a credit to the Cardinals' existing depth: There's a class of free agent and trade option who makes a lot more sense for the Cardinals than the Cardinals would probably make for him.
Scott Hairston is a mediocre center fielder who can't hit right-handers. He'll also be 33 next year. But he's coming off a few seasons running as a league-average outfielder, and those weaknesses are kind of baked into the very concept of a lefty-mashing bench bat that can stand in center every so often. The Cardinals have a lefty center fielder and a bunch of sluggers who might not play full seasons, so it's easy to see how he'd improve their bench.
But it's hard for me to see why Hairston would sign with the Cardinals, given his other options, because he has the opportunity to play a larger role than that elsewhere. Last year he earned nearly 400 at-bats with the Mets; with Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams in Memphis he'd have a much harder time doing that in St. Louis, and I'm not sure why he'd cash in on his 20-homer, .500 slugging percentage season by sitting on the bench. As we went to press [the "schedule post" button] the Detroit Tigers had begged off, though reports they offered a two-year contract first were apparently inaccurate.
That depth is what makes most of the Cardinals' various needs hard to fill with competent veterans. As we belabored earlier in the offseason, why would an above-average backup catcher agree to back up Yadier Molina? The optimistic way to phrase it, of course, is that most of the Cardinals' needs are minor, and some of them aren't needs at all.
Wild Tuesday guesses:
1. The Cardinals will be connected to an infielder, finally. The one Cardinal need that would be incredibly easy to fill with a competent veteran is in the infield, where a shortstop could easily carve out a starting job in front of Daniel Descalso at second and behind Rafael Furcal at short.
Some vague indications that the Cardinals were in on Stephen Drew hit Twitter just before the Winter Meetings began. He's the prototypical Cardinals free agent—30 years old, coming off the worst season of his career, looking to answer questions about his health—so it'll surprise me if we don't hear more about him before the meetings end.
Unfortunately I am not in Nashville, so nobody will be around to spread rumors about the Cardinals finally just signing Hiroyuki Nakajima and getting it over with.
2. We'll know how serious the Cardinals are about their southpaw obsession. This might have been the most portentous tweet of the night, in terms of the Cardinals' modest stated ambitions—
Mozeliak says the lefty relief market is moving and he expects most free agents to sign before the end of the Winter Meetings.— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) December 4, 2012
Sean Burnett rumors were in short supply on Monday, but the top of the relief market was already moving—Joakim Soria and the Rangers agreed to two years and $8 million. (I realize Soria's coming off elbow surgery, but his contract makes me doubt the reports about Burnett looking for four years.) If the Cardinals don't bid for a name-brand veteran in the next few days, I expect to start hearing really great things from the organization about how Sam Freeman's coming along.
Meanwhile, at the World Baseball Classic, the Jaime Garcia story is building itself up to the moment he reveals his father is Tony Rasmus. Here's John Mozeliak sounding like he's really trying to sound excited for him:
Mozeliak on Garcia pitching in World Baseball Classic: "I'm encouraged that physically he feels like he can compete."— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) December 4, 2012
Personally I enjoy the World Baseball Classic enough that I don't really care about its effect on the MLB season, but John Mozeliak isn't really in a position to agree with me.
In any case, I'll believe Garcia is ready to pitch for the WBC (in early March) when it's actually happening—and if it does happen, that sounds like unmitigated good news to me, as a Cardinals fan. The idea of a potentially injured pitcher coming off an abbreviated, unsatisfying season getting ready to pitch a month early strikes me as somehow less frightening than a completely healthy pitcher doing the same thing.