What Next? The Possibilities Remain Endless

A view of some of the options the Cardinals may be considering as they continue assembling their 2006 squad.

Understand that what follows is a view of what some think is going on or has gone on behind the scenes in the Cardinals camp. They are not predictions or promises of anything. For those who understand some or all of this may never come to pass, read on. For those who expect 100% clarity in predicting the future, this isn't the place for you.

 

Non-tenders

Based on their intelligence of other team's plans, the Cardinals' staff is putting the final touches on a list of who they think will be non-tendered on Wednesday. They have at least 25 players listed as suspects but find no one to be especially interesting. Of course, that could change when the real names become known.

   

Pitching

 

Carl Pavano

Reportedly, the Cardinals have had multiple discussions with the Yankees about starter Carl Pavano, who signed a $39.95 million, four-year deal a year ago. However, the Yanks are apparently not interested in trading Pavano at this time, but might change their mind by spring training. The Cardinals may or may not wait that long to find out.

 

This came up around the time the Cardinals were working with Arizona on a deal for Javier Vazquez. He was eventually traded to the White Sox instead, after the Cardinals felt they would end up paying too much of the $24 million owed Vazquez over the next two seasons.

 

Jarrod Washburn

As one would expect, the brass have talked about the top free agent pitchers on the market, Kevin Millwood and Jarrod Washburn, but the cost and years are too high for the Cardinals' liking.

 

I am told that while in Dallas, Walt Jocketty met with Scott Boras, agent for Millwood, Washburn and Jeff Weaver, and the two have stayed in contact since.

 

A long-term deal with Washburn had reportedly been pushed by Boras as a hedge for the Cardinals in case fellow lefty Mark Mulder cannot or will not be resigned beyond the 2006 season.

 

It is a fair point that a 2007 and 2008 deal for Washburn now may be cheaper than a 2007 and 2008 deal for Mulder later. One might also argue that Mulder is the superior pitcher, however. Plus, it is unclear whether or not the Cardinals have engaged Mulder's representative with talk of an extension and if so, that would they not be conducive to it.

 

It just seems early to make a major commitment now on another player based on a guess about what Mulder may or may not do in 12 months. Too many things can change.

 

While I was told that Boras intimated that Washburn would like to play in the Midwest and might take less from the Cardinals to do so, that could simply have been standard negotiating jargon, used by Boras to try to get Jocketty in on the active bidding.

 

Though I have not been able to confirm it, the Cardinals may have, in fact, put an offer on the table for Washburn. However, even if so, odds are high that it was nowhere near the amount that Boras is alleged to be looking for. In fact, more recent news is that the Mariners are close to signing Washburn for $36 million to $38 million for four years.

 

Jason Marquis

At least some on the coaching staff may prefer to see Marquis traded, but that might not be possible until January. There is worry that his impending arbitration eligibility will kill his trade value, especially if it looks like he could be in line for a big award as the result of a possible February arbitration hearing. 

 

Arbitration figures between player and team must be exchanged by January 18. If it gets to the actual hearing, a one-year deal is all that can result at either the player's amount or the team's amount. For these reasons, the Cards have even considered offering Marquis a multi-year contract, but there are some in important roles who are very vocal in expressing their concerns about the associated risks.

 

Jeff Suppan

Suppan is in-play on the outfield deals noted below. Apparently, a number of teams like him better than Marquis since he is locked in to a salary for 2006 that looks to be lower than Marquis may get via arbitration. The Cards don't really want to move Suppan, but realize they might have to in order to get their outfielder.

 

The bullpen

As reported elsewhere, the Cards expect to sign either Octavio Dotel or Felix Rodriquez next week to fill out the bullpen.

 

Prior to signing Braden Looper, the Cards inquired about closer Danys Baez and outfielder Aubrey Huff from the Devil Rays. The Rays wanted young pitching, which at first blush is a good match. However, they apparently wanted a lot of it.

 

Outfield

 

Consistent with his public comments, Walt Jocketty is trying to trade for an outfielder. But especially without Marquis as a trading chit, the options are very limited at the moment. As has been speculated, until another starter can be found, the team is not ready to trade Marquis.

 

Austin Kearns

Supposedly, the Cardinals have had a tentative understanding for almost six weeks now with Cincinnati about an exchange of a starting pitcher for Austin Kearns. The Reds want to improve their rotation and have money to spend. However, they have been rebuffed in recent attempts to add pitching, including a last-minute run at Matt Morris before he signed with the Giants.  

 

Kevin Mench

Texas' Kevin Mench appears to be an alternate plan from Kearns. While the Cards haven't tried to close a deal with the Rangers using a starting pitcher for the reasons mentioned above, they believe they could get Mench if they decide to go in that direction.

 

Jose Vidro/Ryan Church 

The Cards have reportedly discussed second baseman Jose Vidro and outfielder Ryan Church with the Nationals.

 

After losing out on A.J. Burnett and others, rumors are that the Nats are trying hard to sign Millwood. The problem is that they don't have enough money. Shedding Vidro would enable them to free up enough cash to make a run at Millwood.

 

I've discussed Vidro before, so I will make my comments brief. He is a very good player. The question is his health. If he could pass a physical exam and could really play, then I hope the Cards would take a hard look despite his $7 million salary.

 

What is unclear is whether the Nationals traded for Alfonso Soriano because of fears that Vidro cannot recover from his knee injuries. I have seen that concern in print, but I still consider it rumor, rather than fact.

 

However, Vidro did decide not to have surgery and has agreed to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in March.

 

Church is an intriguing possibility. Since he is new to the rumor mill, I will dig in a bit.

 

Church is 27 years old and has played all three outfield positions for the Nationals, but is best suited for right field because of his strong arm. The left-handed hitter has eaten up lefty pitching to the tune of a .367 batting average and a 1.075 on-base-plus–slugging percentage last season.

 

He was signed by the Indians in 2000 as a 14th rounder and was part of a trade to the Expos two years ago. As a minor leaguer, Church was projected by Baseball America as a potential .275, 25 home run per season hitter in the majors. Limitations noted were Church not going the other way enough and a lack of plate discipline.

 

Church has but 132 games of major league experience over the last two seasons, so would remain an inexpensive player for at least two years more. He drove in 42 runs and hit .287 for the Nats in 268 at-bats in 2005. Church fanned 70 times, while earning 24 walks.

 

Ryan Church would be a very intriguing addition to the Cardinals. It can't hurt that Marquis tossed his best game of the 2005 season at Washington, a two-hit complete-game shutout on August 27.

 

Larry Bigbie

A lot of people are not looking beyond the quotes about the Cardinals' new outfielder.

 

Here's my view of the situation. The Rockies have a glut of good outfield prospects. They were stuck with Bigbie mid-season when the three-way trade with Baltimore and Boston for outfielder Eric Byrnes and catcher Kelly Shoppach was aborted part-way through.

 

Bigbie was injured in 2005 and is now arbitration-eligible for the first time. So, Colorado wanted to move him. The Cardinals, knowing full well that any and all glowing comments about Bigbie could get thrown back in their face in an arbitration hearing in the next few months, low-keyed their enthusiasm over their acquisition.

 

Step back and think about it. Why would they want to drive up the price they have to pay for Bigbie next year before he ever dons the uniform?

 

Miscellaneous

 

Mitchell Page

The Washington Post reported that along with Nationals manager Frank Robinson returning for next season, hitting coach Tom McCraw joined four other coaches who are being let go. The Nationals finished last in the National League in 2005 in batting average, runs scored, RBI, hits and slugging percentage, so one could see why a change was made.

 

Mitchell Page, the Cardinals' former hitting coach, is considered a top candidate for the job. Page served as a roving minor league instructor with the Nationals last season. Here's hoping Page gets another chance.

 

Mark Grudzielanek

Cardinals' consultant Mitchel Lichtman has recently mentioned several times at Baseball Think Factory that the decision by the Cardinals to let second baseman Mark Grudzielanek go was driven by non-financial reasons. "There were other reasons besides money why Grud was not resigned. I am not at liberty to disclose them," said one of Lichtman's posts.

 

At this point, I don't care. Grudz got a nice deal from Kansas City that could be worth $7 million over the next two years. Best of luck to him.

 

Walt Jocketty/John Mozeliak

With Jocketty apparently heading out on vacation this coming week, the team would like to make some more headway on their Christmas shopping list. However, that may or may not come to pass, more dependant on players and their agents than the readiness of the Cardinals' front office.

 

Those who invariably accuse Jocketty of ignoring his job while taking his family on holiday demonstrate their ignorance of how things really work. To even imply that Jocketty does this all alone is incredibly naïve and insulting to the other hard-working members of the staff. One such person is Assistant General Manager John Mozeliak, who Jocketty has begun to tout publicly as being ready for his own shot at a GM job.

 

In closing

Now, one more time. These are rumors, not fact. No one has been signed or traded or fired or any of that. Not yet, anyway.

 

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

 

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