Tuesday Morning Rumor Mill

Word on players the Cardinals may be trying to acquire and others they may be in danger of losing.

Matt Morris

Morris has a deal on the table from the San Francisco Giants reportedly in the three year, $24 million vicinity. It remains to be seen if the Cardinals would be willing to match that kind of commitment. Certainly, the plans of A.J. Burnett come into play here.

 

The Giants make a lot of sense as a destination for Morris. First of all, he stays out of the American League, where there is one more strong hitter in the lineup every day who is capable of launching those home runs that invariably seem to sink Morris as the least opportune moment.

 

The other reason the Giants look so appealing is one Mike Matheny behind the plate. Barring a trade, Morris would be assured of working with his former batterymate for at least the 2006 and 2007 campaigns. Remember that these two worked together for Morris' best seasons. Seeing that friendly face in Matheny could be a major factor for a pitcher who has never changed organizations in his entire career.

 

San Francisco fans are reportedly also excited about the prospect of Morris in a hometown uniform. In fact, local kayak shops and fishing supply stores have experienced a run on watercraft and fishing nets as locals are preparing to stake out McCovey Cove in record numbers in anticipation of Morris being on the mound for the next three seasons.

 

Brian Giles

The Cardinals' offer of three years, $27.5 million apparently has not been increased nor withdrawn, nor has it been accepted. As reported elsewhere, Giles and his agent, Joe Bick, seem content to wait out the Cardinals' flirtation with Burnett.

 

The final negotiation points may not be base salary, but instead the signing bonus and extent of the no trade clause. After all this, the last thing Giles would want is to be traded to the Yankees!

 

At this point, don't expect anything to happen with Giles any time soon.

 

Willie Harris

The White Sox backup second baseman has been the subject of inquiries by the Cardinals, say my sources. Whether or not there is mutual interest is unclear at this time.

 

Harris, 27, is the perennial prospect that has never seemed to take the next step to securing a regular starting job and keeping it. In 2005, despite a career .240 batting average, he came into Sox spring camp in the lead at second base. But, soon he lost his chance as Japanese import Tadahito Iguchi took over, never to look back.

 

It has been that way his entire career, as last winter, a frustrated Harris asked to be traded, only to be convinced by general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen to stay. After having spent all of 2004 in the bigs, Harris was actually sent down to Triple-A for the entire month of August as the Sox staggered toward the finish line this season.

 

In another selling point to Tony La Russa, the speedy Harris can also play centerfield, though the White Sox have increasingly concentrated him on second base the last two seasons.

 

Certainly, Harris would be a more salary-friendly second baseman than incumbent free agent Mark Grudzielanek, although Harris is eligible for arbitration for the first time this off-season. In 2005, Harris' major league contract was for $365,000.

 

Defensively, Harris seems to have promise. His career range factor at second base is 4.31, a reasonably positive comparison to Grudz' 4.58, especially when considering that Grudz' RF was lower than 4.31 in two of his last three seasons before joining the Cardinals. It took a serious jump in 2005 and perhaps Harris would experience the same effect.

 

But, can he handle it offensively? He had the potential. Back in 2003, Harris batted .380 with a .470 on-base percentage in Triple-A. Since coming up, he is an impressive 49-for-61 in career steals. Yet, Harris' career big league batting average is just .242 now and his on-base percentage is .308. Not exactly the consistency of which leadoff hitters are made.

 

Damaso Marte

One of Ozzie Guillen's strengths is that he speaks his mind. However, that also leads to a larger than average doghouse on the South Side. One of its inhabitants is the talented left-handed set-up man Damaso Marte, another player in whom I have learned the Cardinals have interest.

 

Two seasons ago, Marte had been tried as a closer, but blew half of his save opportunities before sliding back into his set up role, from which he made 74 appearances in 2004. He has three pitches – a fastball in the 92-93 MPH range, as well as a slider and a cut fastball.

 

Despite coming into the 2005 season with a career 3.10 ERA, Marte struggled at home this year, and was subjected to considerable booing as a result. Marte posted a 5.49 ERA in 34 appearances in Chicago but registered a solid 2.45 road ERA with 29 strikeouts in 25-2/3 innings.

 

Late in the season, Marte got into hot water with Guillen because of a sore neck and late arrival to the ballpark that led to Marte being sent home. There were implied threats that he would be left off the playoff roster in punishment. That didn't happen and Marte ended up as the winning pitcher in Game Three of the World Series against the Astros, otherwise known as the "Geoff Blum" game.

 

The 30-year-old Dominican Republic native is under contract for next season at $2.25 million. His deal includes team options for 2007 and 2008 at $3 million per season. Compared to Julian Tavarez' original deal, for example, that sounds expensive. However, the three year, $11 million contract that Scott Eyre fetched from the Chicago Cubs last week seems to have redefined the market value of set-up men.

 

While recent press comments attributed to Walt Jocketty imply that incumbent lefty Ray King's spat with the team over not being used in the playoffs has cooled off, don't be so sure.

 

The strength of Tony La Russa's negative comments about King was startling. Sure, they may have been made in the heat of the moment, but even the suggestion that "not a single member of the team" wanted King back cannot be forgotten.

 

It could easily be the equivalent of Steve Kline's bird, which caused him to flip to Baltimore. Perhaps Williams and Jocketty might be considering swapping each other their troubled lefties. King is due $2.45 million in 2006.

 

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

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