The Sunday Night Hot Stove League Report

The Cardinals have shifted focus and are now concentrating on starting pitching. Potential deals for Brian Giles and others have been placed on the back burner as the Cardinals wine and dine, starting pitcher A.J. Burnett.

JUST SAY NO!

Remember that Garth Brooks' song "Thank God for Unanswered Prayers?"

"Just the other night at a hometown football game
My wife and I ran into my old highschool flame
And as I introduced them the past came back to me
And I couldn't help but think of the way things used to be

She was the one that I'd wanted for all times
And each night I'd spend prayin' that God would make her mine
And if he'd only grant me this wish I wished back then
I'd never ask for anything again

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
'Cause some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers"

 

I can testify to the fact that some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. I have been to my 30 year high school reunion and thank God, he didn't always give me what I wanted or asked for in my prayers. Of course, my wife reminds me that there was probably somebody sitting across the room looking at me, saying the same thing.

Enough about me, back to baseball. The big Hot Stove League news this week, is the St. Louis Cardinals are focused on starting pitching, in the person of A.J. Burnett at this time and it appears that any imminent deal for Brian Giles or any other free agent outfielder is on hold until the Cardinals add another starter to the roster.

The headlines this week that garnered the most attention by Cardinal fans included;

Cardinals in running for Burnett

By Matthew Leach / MLB.com

Jocketty, La Russa talk with Burnett

St. Louis Post Dispatch

 

The reports stem from a visit by St. Louis Cardinals' General Manager, Walt Jocketty and Manager, Tony La Russa, both who flew to Florida to meet with the Marlins free agent, A.J. Burnett on Thursday.

Burnett is widely considered the best pitcher in this year shallow free agent pool. Let me add this, best pitcher in terms of his stuff and makeup, not necessarily his results. He finished this season with a 12-12 record, with the Florida Marlins and has a sub .500 career record of 49-50.

Over the next couple of weeks before the Winter Meetings in Dallas, I know I'm going to hear the word "potential" a million times. I never really cared about how much potential someone has, I'm more interested in what they do with what they got. President Harry Truman, from Missouri once said, "The worst thing you can say about anyone is that they meant well." I would suggest that the worst thing you can say about anyone is "They have or had potential."

If Burnett's asking price is too high (it is), 5 years for $50 million dollars, than you have to look at guys like, left-handers, Kenny Rogers, Jarrod Washburn, or Brian Anderson. From the right side you have, guys like Scott Elarton, Kevin Millwood, Paul Byrd, Sidney Ponson or Ismael Valdez available as free agents.

If you are going to go the free agent route to fill your pitching needs you have to wonder is any of these guys an upgrade over what we had in Matt Morris or will have in prospect Anthony Reyes, who could be handed the job as the fifth starter, with a strong showing in spring training.

If you come here to get what some people consider expert opinions, I'm reluctant to admit to you that I'm a little perplexed on what is going on in St. Louis and the comments coming out of Jocketty‘s office.

I know it's doubtful that our readership and subscribers here will grow much when you find yourself reading reports, analysis and commentary by someone, who by his own admission, is admitting to being confused.

The confusion started for me this week with comments from Jocketty that indicated that starting pitching was the team's priority at this time and talks with and for free agents like outfielders, Brian Giles, Jacque Jones or even members of the 2005 team, like left fielder, Reggie Sanders and second baseman, Mark Grudzielanek are on hold, or at least not on the front burner until the need for a starting pitcher is met.

Starting pitching?

My take from the very beginning was, that the Cardinals top priority this offseason was to get a very good if not a great outfielder to play in right field, someone who had the ability to hit in front of Albert Pujols next season or maybe, maybe even leadoff.

My confusion is based on;

With 81 wins this season, the Cardinals starting staff was the major league leader in wins and was the most by a Cardinals starting staff since divisional play began in 1969. They've become only the fourth N.L. team to have 80 or more wins from their starters since 1969; Atlanta (90 in ‘98), San Francisco (82 in ‘93) and Los Angeles (81 in ‘78).

St. Louis was the only team in baseball to have five starters each record 10 or more wins as the starting core recorded 97 quality starts during the year.

The Cardinals won 100 games, for a second consecutive season. You don't do that without great or at least near great, pitching.

The Cardinals pitching staff led the major leagues (not the National League, the major leagues) with a 3.49 ERA.

The Cardinals led the major leagues with 15 complete games.

The Cardinals finished 2nd to only the Florida Marlins in the major leagues with 14 shutouts.

The Cardinals allowed only 560 runs this past season, the lowest earned runs allowed by any team in the major leagues.

Perhaps, now you can see how it gets a little confusing, looking at the numbers and the results this past season and now it appears that the Cardinals are shifting their focus to starting pitching when that seem to be the Cards strong suit in 2005.

The focus of the attention this week was on Burnett. A.J. Burnett, the 28 year old right hander has the stuff that dreams are made of, or at least the stuff that dream contracts are made of. (Do you have any idea, how much potential costs these days?) For all the stuff he has, he has yet to harness it. His career won-loss record of 49-50 with a 3.73 ERA is less than impressive and taking a look at his most recent history, he's just 19-18 over the past two season. Compared that to Matt Morris, over the past two seasons, Morris record is 29-20 with a 4.41 ERA and we don't like the idea of paying him $6+ million per year and Burnett is asking for $10 million a year for five years.

Of course Matt Morris doesn't have a 98 mph fastball like Burnett, at best Matt's fastball tops out at 90-92 mph and he depends much more on his breaking stuff and sinker to be effective. I'm not saying we should sign Morris again, even over Burnett, personally I say thank you very much for your time and service in St. Louis and bid him a fond farewell and let him walk.

But I am saying, under no circumstances would I sign A.J. Burnett to a five year deal for $50 million, as just as a matter of principle. Somewhere, someone has to stop the insanity.

The headlines and news this week would suggest that the Cardinals are serious suitors for Burnett, but I don't care if Jocketty and La Russa took the Columbia Space Shuttle to Mars to meet with Burnett, let alone flying to Florida to meet with him and his agent. The Cardinals are not going to sign any pitcher to a five year deal, let alone a five year deal for $50 million dollars.

With the news coming out this week about the focus on pitching and the wooing of Burnett, what does the all this mean?

It could mean a couple of things.

The announcement that the Cardinals are shifting their focus to pitching from offense, could be an effort to drive down the ridiculous demands for this class of free agents.

Giles at 35, hoping to get a three year deal for $30 million is not likely to be patrolling the outfield in the new Busch Stadium next season.

Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafeal Furcal, is reportedly seeking a five-year contract worth around $50 million and that is inflating some demands from other free agents.

Boston outfielder, Johnny Damon is looking for a seven year deal for $84 million and that will cure the return of any curse.

Paul Konerko, the first baseman of the World Champions, Chicago White Sox has reportedly turned down a deal from Chicago for four years for $52 million. Apparently a World Championship Ring and $52 million, doesn't go as far as it use to.

And finally, the Cubs signing 32 year old utility infielder, Neifi Perez, to a two year extension for $5 million, doesn't help the market much. At this rate, at 50, I should be able to demand the major league minimum. I played second base in 4H.

While the Cardinals are not in the hunt for these guys, they do impact the market place and effect the prices of free agents everywhere and that has an indirect effect on what the Cardinals are going to be able to do, in terms of pursuing free agents to address the needs of the ball club.

Here is what I think is happening behind the Jocketty's closed doors, in St. Louis. Forget about the trip to Florida to meet with Burnett. Walt and Tony probably went to Disney World while they were there, just to make it worth the trip.

Now this is speculation only, so don't be adding words to anything I say or misquote me. I can always defend what I say, sometimes it is hard to defend what people say I say.

I think Jocketty has a trade in mind that he can pull the trigger on at almost anytime, that will bring to St. Louis the outfielder he wants to play in right field next season.

This trade most likely will include starting pitcher, Jason Marquis and a possible Cardinal prospect depending on the outfielder that is going to be a part of this deal.

This would explain the Cardinals need to find that starting pitcher. It's one thing if you are down one starter going into spring training, with Anthony Reyes waiting in the wings for his chance to make the rotation, but it's another thing if besides Matt Morris leaving as free agent, you also have Marquis earmarked to be traded for an outfielder.

That leaves you with rotation that includes just three starters, Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder & Jeff Suppan.

This could explain the Cardinals shift in focus from a Brian Giles, to an A.J. Burnett and other pitchers. The Cardinals have two holes to fill in the starting rotation and they may not have the confidence in Reyes filling one of them, for sure he can't fill both holes.

If Jocketty has a deal for an outfielder, in his back pocket, ready to go soon, who could it be for?

Among the outfielders the Cardinals may be considering include these potential free agents following the 2006 season;

Aaron Rowand - from an earlier "Insider's Report" from our own Brian Walton; "reporting from the General Managers Meetings, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tabs White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand as potentially available via trade. While others point to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with their glut of fly catchers as a good trade source, the Sox also have some good young prospects coming up through their system.

Rowand, 28, is signed for 2006 at a decent price, $3.25 million, with a mutual option for 2007. He has a career on base percentage of .337 and is very good defensively – good enough to take over in center for Jim Edmonds some day."

Walton went on to add, "While I don't know for sure if the Cardinals have inquired about Rowand yet, I am positive his name has come up in past discussions internally. So, it wouldn't be a stretch at all to see them take a run at him. It would be a good step in making the outfield younger, something that a Giles signing alone would not do appreciably."

Steve Finley - it has been mentioned in the press, that the Cardinals have made inquiries about him.  At 41 on opening day next season, Finley is not going to help out for much more than another season or two. He certainly isn't the direction you take if you are trying to make the outfield younger, but he isn't going to hurt you in the meantime.

Finley, isn't your typical 41 year old, next to future Hall of Famer, Roger Clemens, Finley may have the best personal training regimen in the majors. He can still play center field with the best of them, as demonstrated by his 2004 Gold Glove in 2004, and he still has an excellent arm.

Shannon Stewart - of the Minnesota Twins, career norms are a .304 batting average and a .380 on base percentage. He has decent speed and can bat leadoff. His arm isn't strong enough to play right field, but he could come in and play in left and bat leadoff for St. Louis. I haven't heard anyone talking about going after Stewart from St. Louis, other than the voices in my head.  This is pure speculation on my part of a potential deal. The Twins may be willing to move Stewart if they don‘t trade, their center-fielder, Torii Hunter at the winter meetings in Dallas starting December 5th.

Torii Hunter -  the outfielder, from Minnesoto has been rumored to be on the trade block this offseason.

According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Star Tribune, Hunter has sold his home in Minnesota and believes he may be traded this winter . He's set to make $10.75 million in 2006 and $12 million in 2007.

Twins GM Terry Ryan says he's not actively trying to trade Hunter this offseason. "I've heard about that, and I've read about it -- it makes for good print," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I don't say anybody's untouchable. I'm not out there pursuing things for him, but if somebody comes with something, I'm going to listen."

Hunter at 30, could be the guy St. Louis could plug in the outfield for the next three or four seasons and not worry about. He batted .269 (100-372) with 24 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 56 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 98 games this season for the Twins. He has a career fielding percentage of .991 (2422 TC, 22 E) with 59 outfield assists. He was limited to 98 games after suffering a fractured left ankle on July 30 at Boston. Hunter did manage to lead the Twins in stolen bases and was tied for second in outfield assists in 2005.

If he can stay healthy, he's a potential 30 -30 player who can drive in 100 runs. Few guys in the majors have his combination of speed, power and fielding ability. In spite of playing in just 98 games this season, Hunter still won the 2005 American League Rawlings Gold Glove, for the fifth consecutive season.

He was hampered with hamstring problems in 2003 and fractured his left ankle this past season that kept him on the DL for 60 days. According to reports out of Minnesota, he is expected to be near 100% when spring training begins.

Of course if you bring Hunter to St. Louis, what do you do with Edmonds? Who goes to right?

  

The bottom line? It always seems to come to this, that is the bottom line.

A.J. Burnett, for 5 years for $50 million dollars?

No thank you. Even if it is the first step in a series of moves, to bring Burnett to St. Louis and trade Marquis for an outfielder. Walt, Just say no.

And for you Cardinal fans, hoping and praying that Burnett comes to St. Louis, just remember this, some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

 

In other Hot Stove news;

The Kansas City Royals will always give you a job if the Cardinals let you go. This past week they signed contracts with former Cardinals or Cardinal prospects to include; C Alberto Castillo, OF Emil Brown, 3B Mike Coolbaugh, 1B Chris Richard, and OF Kerry Robinson.

Reggie Sanders, has at least a couple of offers on the table for two years. The Royals may try to bring him to Kansas City, along with all the other former Redbirds.

Mark Grudzielanek, is drawing some interest from the Mets.

Brian Giles, is still the subject of a lot of discussions. He has been playing phone tag with New York Yankee Manager Joe Torre. It will be funny, if after all of this, he returns to San Diego next season.

Matt Morris continues to draw a lot of interest from General Managers in both leagues, yet there doesn't appear to be a deal on the immediate horizon. The Cardinals have maintained contact with Morris and are still open to him returning to St. Louis in 2006.

Among the other free agents from St. Louis, there has been very little on the wire reports or information that we can develop.

Don't expect for a lot of things to happen before the four day winter meetings in Dallas, that begin on December the 5th.

That's it for the Hot Stove League Report for this week.

 

 

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