The Sunday Night Hot Stove League Report

This year's Winter Meetings in Dallas move from a weekend to a weekday schedule, beginning on Monday, Dec. 5, and ending on Thursday, Dec. 8. St. Louis fans are looking for Cardinals' General Manager, Walt Jocketty to start making some deals, starting Monday.

Breaking News?  None

The old saying 'No News is Good News' doesn't necesarily apply here.  Again for about the fourth week in a row, there is no news, but that won't stop me from reporting it anyway.

Fans across Cardinal Nation are growing increasingly concerned about the challenges facing the Cardinals. The questions that keep coming in to us from fans here at Birdhouse @, are all about, just who is going to be wearing the Birds on the Bat for St. Louis next season?

Last season the Cardinals finished with a record of 100-62, and were the National League Central champions, losing the NLCS to Houston Astros.  The Cardinals won 100 games back to back seasons for the first time since the Billy Southworth (should be in the Hall of Fame) led the Cardinals to three consecutive 100+ win seasons from 1942-1944.  In five seasons at the helm of the Cardinals, a Southworth team never won less than 95 games.

The Cardinals may be hard pressed to finish with another 100 wins in 2006 if Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty doesn't start pulling the trigger on some deals soon.  The Cardinals have already missed out on a deal with free agent Brian Giles, who signed with San Diego and they missed getting Luis Castillo from Florida this week when he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for a couple of players you never heard of before the trade.

The Cardinals, who are looking for a starting pitcher and help in the bullpen, must be stunned by some of the contracts already signed this winter.  Relievers like B.J. Ryan (five years, $47 million from the Blue Jays), Billy Wagner (four years, $43 million from the Mets), Scott Eyre (three years, $11 million from the Cubs) and Bobby Howry (three years, $12 million from the Cubs) all signed for mega-bucks already. 

Wagner four years for $43 million?  Where are the people today who thought the Cardinals might sign Wagner as a setup man for Isringhausen?

The only free-agent starter to sign so far this offseason is Esteban Loaiza, who on Monday got a three-year, $21.3 million contract from the Oakland A's.  If you think the Cardinals are going to get Morris back, they will have to at least match this offer and really, Morris and his agent are expecting more money than Loaiza got, so don't look for Morris to be back in St. Louis in 06.

Going into the winter meetings in Dallas, the top remaining free agents include starting pitchers, A.J. BurnettKevin Millwood, Paul Byrd, Matt Morris, Brett Tomko, Jarrod Washburn and Jeff Weaver; relievers Todd Jones and Trevor Hoffman; infielders Rafeal Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller; catchers Mike Piazza, Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina; and outfielders Johnny Damon, Jacque Jones, Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa.

How many Cardinal deals do you see in this bunch?

Forget about Kevin Millwood sports fans.  It always seems Millwood is in the mix when talking about starting pitching coming to St. Louis.  Millwood is looking at a five year deal and he won't get that in St. Louis.


St. Louis Free Agents 

The Cardinals have a lot of holes to fill for next season with the mass exodus of the following players:

C Einar Diaz - Cardinals will not sign

RHP Cal Eldred - retired to spend more time with family and to help with home schooling.

2B Mark Grudzielanek - several teams are interested in Mark, to include the Mets who are determined to sign him. The Kansas City Royals initially are not willing to give Mark a three year deal and cut off talks, but that can be fixed with a single phone call and the St. Louis Cardinals are still in communication with Mark and his agent, but a three year deal from the Cardinals is highly unlikely.  Somebody has to play second but it could come down between Kansas City and New York as to who Mark turns double plays for next season.

IF/OF John Mabry -  who hit .240 with eight homers, signed a guaranteed deal with the Chicago Cubs. This is the third time Mabry has left St. Louis to play for another team.  Hitting under .200 the second half of the season didn't help his chances in returning to the St. Louis.  The Cardinals were not willing to offer him a guaranteed contract, so the versatile Mabry signed with the Cubs. It is like Bizzaro World around here, Mabry in a Cubs uniform.

RHP Matt Morris - unlikely to return to St. Louis.  Refuses to visit Texas at the request of the Rangers and is kicked back at home, for the holidays.  The San Francisco Giants are considered the front runners for Morris, who has spent his entire career with St. Louis.  With the contracts being signed early on, it's highly unlikely that St. Louis will match the offers Morris is sure to receive this winter.

IF Abraham Nunez - work his way out of a job with St. Louis, by doing his job.  Nunez stepped in when 3B Scott Rolen was lost for the season after the second of his shoulder surgeries, he signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia. Nunez only shot at being a regular for the Cardinals this season with Rolen returning,  was if he would be willing to move to second base.  The Cardinals were not going to matched the $3.35 million guarantee he got from the Phillies.  Nunez for his career, nine seasons in the majors is a career .248 hitter with only a .314 on base percentage and that won't get you multi year million dollar contracts in St. Louis. 

RHP Al Reyes - will miss most of next season if not all of it.  There were some reports again, that he could be ready by as early as August, but I still think that is too optimistic.

OF Reggie Sanders - Cardinal fans are hoping Sanders will come back for at least one season.  It looks like Sanders will get multi-year offers by as many as four other clubs before it's over.  Kansas City has appeared to make Sanders their top target this winter.  Sanders and his wife recently visited KC.  The Twins, Marlins and Mariners have also expressed in interest in Sanders.  He is sure to take a two year guaranteed contract.

RHP Julian Tavarez - the Mets are likely to announce the signing of Tavarez to a two or three year deal soon. 


Deals so far: 

The Cardinals exercised their 2005 option on RHP Jeff Suppan; declined 2005 option on RHP Larry Walker, who retired; purchased the contracts of IF Brendan Ryan and IF Travis Hanson from Double-A Springfield; signed C Michel Hernandez to a Minor League contract, then added him to the 40-man roster; signed RHP Dennis Tankersley to a minor league contract.

Before the Cardinals originally signed Jeff Suppan to a contract, we had suggested, reported and named Suppan as the "Best Bang for the Buck" in the free agent market in the winter of 2003.  Two years later and exercising their option on Suppan, he is still the "Best Bang for the Buck" among pitchers this year.

RHP Dennis Tankersley was signed to a minor league contract. Tankersley, a St. Charles, Mo., native, formerly pitched in the major leagues with San Diego and was 9-8 with Kansas City's Triple-A Omaha team last season. Pitching coach Dave Duncan, thinks he can get Tankersley ready to play a role in the bullpen next season.

C Michael Hernandez will be given a chance to back up regular everyday catcher Yadier Molina.  Hernandez is considered a slight upgrade over catcher Einar Diaz.

Infielders Brendan Ryan and Travis Hanson, while added to the 40 man roster, are at least two seasons away from playing in the majors.  Both have been projected in the past as being potential players off the bench at the major league level.  I have a little more faith in them and would expect them to be playing somewhere at the major league level by 2008.

The retirement of Larry Walker leaves a big hole to fill in right field.   To fill it, it looks like Jocketty will have to make a trade that would most likely include parting with starting pitcher Jason Marquis, to get an everyday right fielder.


Free Agent News:

RHP Octavio Dotel - The club still is pursuing free-agent Dotel, who missed most of last season with Oakland after having elbow surgery. Dotel has made it clear that he won't be ready to start pitching till after the All Star break.  Earlier reports indicated he might be ready for spring training, as usual these reports about the return of a pitcher from surgery were somewhat overly optimistic.

OF Brian Giles  - Personally I think too much time and attention has been focused on Brian Giles and A.J. Burnett, with all the holes that the Cardinals have to fill before the season starts.  Like many people, I never really thought Giles was going to leave San Diego.  Not returning Joe Torre's phone calls, please. 

SP A.J. Burnett - The other day I got an outbid notice from E-Bay on an item that I had placed what I later determined a foolsiish bid on and I was thinking, "Thank You".  I can only hope that the Cardinals are beat out by some other team in the bidding for Burnett.  It's not that Burnett isn't a decent pitcher with some potential, but five years in the $50 million dollar range.  Am I missing something here? 

Much to my amazement and to that of many other Cardinal fans, after having dropped out of the Brian Giles sweepstakes before the outfielder re-signed with San Diego, the Cardinals are still concentrating their energies on Burnett. 

Ownership, which seemed to prefer that the Cardinals go after a high-powered arm rather than an outfielder, anyway, was pondering how to offer up the requisite five-year contract with backloading involved. 

Agent Darek Braunecker said, "We're moving forward with many clubs. The Cardinals are still in this thing, but I wouldn't want to imply or comment on the level of their (interest). That's the prerogative of the club."

Braunecker said he had received multiple offers for his client -- each of them for five years -- and the asking price reportedly is $10 million a year.

Indications are that the Cardinals are discussing their willingness to offer a five-year contract to Burnett although it has been their practice not to offer a contract of that length to pitchers.

Braunecker said Saturday his client "could have a decision within 48 hours," meaning by Monday afternoon, Peter Gammons reports. Toronto, St. Louis and Texas are the frontrunners to sign Burnett, although the Mariners, Cubs and Nationals remain in the mix.

Burnett, the most sought-after starter in this fall's crop of free agents, has a 95 mile an hour fastball and a 49-50 career record.

Matt Morris - The Rangers have made a formal two-year offer to Morris, one of two offers Morris has received. San Francisco also is wooing the right-hander, and the Dodgers are expected to get involved now that their front office is more set. According to The Seattle Times, Morris's agent said Mariners GM Bill Bavasi called him this week.

Barry Axelrod, the agent for longtime Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris, said he had the impression the Cardinals' interest in his client depended on their other pursuits.

"I've talked to (Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty) about Matt and (free agent Mark Sweeney), and as with other teams Walt has his pace for these things," Axelrod said. "It's an approach that is tried and true.

"Last year it was, 'How can they sit there and watch Edgar Renteria leave and then get David Eckstein off the non-tender list? How does that happen?' It's been my view of things after dealing with them over the years that they can be laid-back, that Walt holds things very close to the vest, and it's how they approach it.

"You can't argue with the results."

2B Luis Castillo - As far as I'm concerned the Cardinals missed the boat here.  Everyone knew the Marlins were getting ready to dump him.  It was public knowledge for at least 48 hours that the Minnesota Twins were in the process of offering two minor league pitchers for Castillo.  The switch-hitting Castillo, 30, batted .301 last season, including a major league-best .423 against left-handers, and won his third consecutive Gold Glove. For crying out loud, could not the Cardinals have made a better offer for Castillo?

Here is what went to Florida for Castillo, and I don't mean offense to the two young players, "Bless their Hearts"  (For the record you can say anything about anybody as long as you add "Bless their Hearts" at the end.  Try it.)

Travis Bowyer, 24, went 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA in eight games with the Twins this past season, after going 4-2 with 23 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 59 games at Triple-A Rochester. He went 0-2 with one save and a 9.39 ERA in 10 games for Grand Canyon in the Arizona Fall League.

Scott Tyler, 23, went 7-8 with a 3.95 ERA in 23 starts with Single-A Fort Myers.


Players Who Might Be Traded

Among the St. Louis Cardinals who might be traded, Jason Marquis name keeps popping up the most.  Other players that could be included in a trade to bring an outfielder or second baseman to St. Louis, include  pitchers Jeff Suppan,  Ray King, Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson or Tyler Johnson.

You can disregard those riduculas rumors you heard about Jim Edmonds going to the New York Yankees.  Edmonds has to approve any trade and he's not going to the Yankees.

Elsewhere, others that could be traded in my opinion, include; Arizona righthander Javier Vazquez; Phillies outfielders Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell; Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano; Milwaukee first baseman Lyle Overbay; Toronto's Orlando Hudson; Arizona third baseman Troy Glaus; Florida catcher Paul Lo Duca and centerfielder Juan Pierre; Boston pitcher Matt Clement and rightfielder Trot Nixon; Angel's outfielders, Darin ErstadSteve Finley and second baseman Adam Kennedy, Texas outfielder, Kevin Mench; Tampa Bay's catcher, Toby Hall and outfielder Joey Gathright; and   Oakland pitcher Barry Zito


That's all for this week's Hot Stove League Report be sure to check back next Sunday night as we bring you up to date on the News and the No News. 

This week we will be covering the Winter Meetings around the clock so check back throughout the day for the breaking news from Dallas.

I'm out of here, I'll see you at the ballpark - I'll be taking my glove to opening day. If something doesn't happen soon, I may get to play in right field or at second base. I have done both if Jocketty is reading this.


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