Fifteen players potentially available

Like ‘em or not, here are some names that could surface in the upcoming days

As I mentioned in a recent Reader Mail item, the final player on the Cardinals' 25-man roster could be an import – a player who was dropped from another team or otherwise made expendable by the superior spring play of another.

I admit right up front that this is a questionable exercise, as few of these decisions have been made. Yet, these are my educated guesses as to both their odds becoming available and their potential fit with the Cardinals.

Potentially available

Jeff Cirillo. Odds = medium, Fit = medium. The former Brewer returned home this spring, having collected four seasons of over 80 RBI, including one in Colorado at 115 RBI five years ago. Cirillo is hitting .364 this spring, yet may not earn a roster spot behind three guys who can play third – Russell Branyan, Wes Helms and Bill Hall. As a result, Cirillo could become available.

As a fit on the Cards, I rate him medium. Cirillo is most comfortable at the corners. In addition, he can be an emergency second baseman, and yes, last season, Cirillo made his first-ever appearance in the outfield. His presence on the Cardinals could free up John Mabry for full-time outfield duty.

Wily Mo Pena. Odds = low, Fit = high. Pena is only 23 years old and got his chance last season as the Reds starting outfield each took turns on the disabled list. Pena made the most of it, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 66 runs in just 336 at-bats.

However, this spring, Pena is struggling with the bat and seems to have lost the right field contest to Austin Kearns. He has reportedly attracted trade interest from several teams, including Washington. Still, given the medical history of the players in front of him, the Reds would be ill-advised to move Pena.

The Cards could obviously use a young outfielder with a power bat off the bench. With less than two years of experience, Pena would also be cheap. He'd be great if he could be acquired.

Bobby Higginson. Odds = high, Fit = low. Higginson is like a power version of his former Detroit outfield partner, Roger Cedeno. He used to be a good player, but it's been a long time since he was productive. Higginson drove in 100 runs twice; but the most recent time was five years ago. Frankly, I see no reason to believe his recent results would improve with a change in scenery.

One positive thing is that Higginson is a lefty hitter. The downside is that he has a huge contract, just like Cedeno. As a result, the only way anyone would take Higginson would be to pay the minimum salary for him and ensure the Tigers eat the rest. Still, avoid.

Rob Mackowiak. Odds = low, Fit = medium. Here's another lefty hitter who just happens to be hitting the tar out of the ball this spring (.392). On top of it, Mackowiak is a versatile player, ability to step in for all three outfield positions, the corner infield spots and yes, second base. And, even better, he is a Pittsburgh Pirate, meaning that Jim Leyland has likely been giving the Cardinals glowing reports about Mack.

Unfortunately, the price of the 28-year-old may be at its peak. Mackowiak is coming off career highs in home runs and RBI last season with 17 and 85, respectively. As a result, the Cardinals might have to pay a decent price to get him, but he'd be a nice fit. Mackowiak is not at risk of being waived, as he is too valuable for that.

Ben Grieve. Odds = high, Fit = low. Grieve's days as the American League Rookie of the Year were a long time ago – 1998. Since then, his career has hit bottom several times. Grieve has moved from Oakland to Tampa Bay to Milwaukee and the Cubs last season.

This spring, Grieve is in the Pirates camp, meaning that Leyland has not yet seen him in the Gold and Black. While he is hitting over .400 this spring, Grieve is alleged to have left his glove back home and is at significant risk of not making the Pirates roster.

Grieve hits from the magical left side. The only problem is that he doesn't hit the ball where fielders aren't standing often enough any more. I have a real doubt that Grieve is an improvement over the guys the Cardinals have now.

Felipe Lopez. Odds = low, Fit = medium. The 24-year-old has lost his job as starting shortstop for the Reds to veteran Rich Aurilia. Lopez is primarily a shortstop, but can also play second and third. While the Reds would be wise to keep Lopez, perhaps he could be had for the right offer.

The question is whether or not the Cardinals should care about a guy with a .235 career average, as well as whether the Reds (or the Brewers or Pirates, for that matter) would trade with the powerhouse team in their own division.

Gary Knotts. Odds = high, Fit = low. It has been rumored that the Tigers' have contacted the Cardinals about their right-handed swingman. Knotts is 28 with two years of service and registered a 7-6, 5.25 ERA campaign in 2004, starting 19 games. He was great against lefties (.215), but is no mystery to right-handed hitters (.322).

Knotts seems to be a possible alternative to Kevin Jarvis, but just not a very good one. All I can say is that I hope the price is very cheap if Walt Jocketty bites on this one.

Michael Restovich. Odds = medium, Fit = high. The talented outfielder is out of options with the Minnesota Twins and continues to be logjammed there by players who are only marginally more skilled. The Twins have been reluctant to trade their outfield surplus in the past, but may have no choice now.

The 26-year-old is a career .285 hitter in the minors with a decent OPS of .856. He's registered one 100 RBI season and drove in 98 in Triple-A in 2003. His main bugaboo has been the strikeout.

Here is a diamond in the rough and is a better hitter than John Gall. I'd like to see the Cards give Restovich a shot. They could use a young, hot flychaser.

Ryan Ludwick. Odds = low, Fit = medium. Like Restovich, Ludwick never seems to get a chance in Cleveland. The right-handed hitter is behind Grady Sizemore in the outfield pecking order and both are now stuck behind Juan Gonzalez. The 26-year-old Ludwick can play both right and center. With the bat, he's put up a career batting average of .275 with an OPS of .864. Ludwick has also logged a 100 RBI minor league season.

I have no idea if the Indians would move Ludwick, but he'd be worth a look if he became available.

Carl Everett. Odds = low, Fit = medium. The moody, talented, but oft-injured in recent-years outfielder may not come available until the return of Frank Thomas. At this point, it is unclear when that will happen. Everett was interested in joining the Cardinals after the 2003 season, but was miffed when the Cardinals dropped him in favor of Reggie Sanders. Everett then signed with Montreal and was traded back to the White Sox.

When healthy, the 33-year-old can mash the ball, having put up 100 RBI seasons twice and 92 just two years ago. On the Cardinals, he'd fit right in with the other aging outfielders. His attitude drops him to a medium fit at best.

Kenny Lofton. Odds = medium, Fit = medium. Anyone who is not familiar with Mr. Lofton will learn little from this blurb. The 37-year-old is not well-liked in Cardinal Country, but still has a little speed left.

Lofton is notorious for complaining about playing time, so in the chance that top prospect Ryan Howard would need room to play, Lofton might bet bumped. Still, I'd rather not see Lofton in Cardinals colors.

Already released

Doug Glanville. Odds = high, Fit = low. The 34-year old former Phillie, Ranger and two-time Cubbie outfielder was cut by the Yankees this past week, hitting .213 this spring. He has some speed, having swiped over 30 bases twice.

At this point, the man who is primarily a centerfielder would be a comparable to So Taguchi. I am not sure that is a problem that needs to be fixed and that Glanville would be a solution, anyway.

Denny Neagle. Odds = high, Fit = low. The former 20-game winner has hit rock bottom after being arrested in Colorado last winter on a sex charge. Neagle had missed most of 2003 and all of 2004 trying to recover from elbow and shoulder injuries. He signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays this spring, but was cut last week.

Q: Do the Cardinals really want Tampa Bay's pitching rejects? A: No.

Homer Bush. Odds = high, Fit = low. The former Yankees second baseman returned to the team this spring but could not beat out Tony Womack and Rey Sanchez for a spot and was released. Again, Bush is no better than Abraham Nunez for sure.

On the positive side, Bush is a native of East St. Louis. Maybe he can work out with Ray Lankford if he wants, but that's not enough.

Already released and resigned

Alex Sanchez. Odds = low, Fit = low. The speedster is a totally one-dimensional player, having 52 steals two years ago, yet has no idea what a glove is for. As a result, he was dropped by the Detroit Tigers two weeks ago. However, Sanchez was snapped up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last week, where he is expected to stick and start for several months while Rocco Baldelli is out.

Sanchez might become available again later, but would not be a decent solution then.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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