Ranking Prospective Non-Tenders

Breaking down one list of possible non-tenders as to their potential fit with the Cardinals.

In an article at MLB.com on Saturday, writer Jim Molony offered a list of 16 names of arbitration-eligible players who he thinks may not be offered 2006 contracts by this Tuesday, the 20th.

If a contract is not offered, the player becomes a free agent. This was the method by which David Eckstein left the Angels and joined the Cardinals one year ago, so decent players are cut loose at times in this fashion.

You might wonder why teams would non-tender players who still have considerable value. The answer is simple, as always. Money. Teams are fearful of being taken into an arbitration hearing where the player's view of what he thinks his salary should be for the next season conceivably has a 50-50 chance of being accepted.

The good news for the Cardinals is that they only have three arbitration-eligible players unsigned. They are pitchers Rick Ankiel and Jason Marquis plus newly-acquired outfielder Larry Bigbie. All are expected to be tendered contracts by the deadline. Whether or not they will accept what is offered is a different question, but that will be addressed in a future article.

Do expect the Cardinals to free up space on the 40-man roster this coming week to enable them to potentially add some of the players non-tendered or other players. Again, those on the bubble may include Bo Hart, Rhett Parrott, Scott Seabol and Mike Mahoney.

I mentioned in my "What's Next?" story yesterday that the Cardinals have apparently developed their own projected non-tender list and are not excited by the names of the reportedly 25 players on it. Still, I decided to take Molony's list and assess this group of players' fit with the 2006 Cardinals.

Past salaries are not a primary concern, as the Cardinals would not be bound by last year's contract value if a player from another team is non-tendered. However, I am still listing each player's 2005 salary as a reference of what their current team was previously willing to pay them. That gives a starting point to understand what the current market value of the player might be.

 

For the Cardinals, offering a deal like Abraham Nunez received last season, which was a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, is a very low-risk proposition. That might work with a Willie Harris, for example, but a more proven quantity like Junior Spivey would likely be able to garner a spot on some team's 40-man roster.

 

I attempted to take this into account when making my rankings. Based on my view of their fit with the Cardinals, I grouped the players into four categories: high, medium, low and pass.

 

If I was the GM, I would realistically only spend time on the "highs" and maybe a few of the "mediums".

 

High (major league contract, substantial salary)

 

Junior Spivey, second base, Washington.  

2005 salary: $2.125 million (plus incentives)

Spivey, 31 next season, came over from Milwaukee mid-year after losing his job to top prospect Rickie Weeks and was injured much of the time in the Nation's Capital. With Alfonso Soriano and Jose Vidro already in house, the Nats are overloaded at second base.

 

However, to get Spivey, it could take a two year, $5-6 million-kind of deal. I am not sure the Cardinals would be willing to make that level of commitment, though I would surely look into it if I were them.

 

Kyle Lohse, right-handed starting pitcher, Minnesota.

2005 salary: $2.4 million

The 27-year-old Lohse has a sub-.500 career record with a 4.72 lifetime ERA in five years with the Twins. He has won as many as 14 games in a season (2001) and is coming off a 4.18 ERA 2005.

 

Lohse is one of the handful of players who actually went to arbitration last year and won $2.4 million in the process. He battled shoulder problems and injured his finger in an outburst after a particularly bad outing late in the 2005 season, then had a spat with his manager. Sound familiar?

 

Still, some team, the Cardinals included, could do a lot worse with a fifth starter. This is a name I would surely look into. As with Spivey, the question is at what price, however? For two or three million, I would give Lohse a go.

 

Corey Patterson, outfield, Cubs.

2005 salary: $2.8 million

Personally, I find it hard to believe that the Cubs would non-tender Patterson. I do think they should have traded him before they acquired Juan Pierre, however, as their current bargaining position is weaker. But, they should still get something for Patterson and agent Scott Boras must surely agree.

 

So, I disagree with Molony in his forecast that Patterson will be non-tendered. But, if the Cards could really acquire Patterson for a song, I would do it. I am not talking Lou Brock here, but Patterson could still be a very serviceable major leaguer if he could put it together. Perhaps a change of scenery could help make it come about.

 

Medium (possible major league contract, low salary with incentives)

 

Joe Borowski, right-handed reliever, Tampa Bay.

2005 salary: $2.3 million

The former Cubs closer has pitched very well at times and very poorly in others. He is coming off a decent 2005 second half, but is also ending his previous closer-level contract. As a result, he looked to be overpaid as a set up man, at least prior to this crazy offseason.  If the Cardinals can't get their other reliever options, JoeBo could be worth a quick look.

 

However, at this point, with the exception of Rule 5 signee Juan Mateo, I think the Cardinals have ridded themselves of all their ex-Cubs (Mark Grudzielanek, Julian Tavarez and Ray King). Since Mateo has never appeared in the majors, I don't think he should count. The ex-Cub factor might just matter. Why risk it?

 

Dan Kolb, right-handed reliever, Milwaukee.

2005 salary: $3.4 million

The Brewers recently reacquired Kolb from the Braves after his failed 2005 stint as Atlanta's closer. Milwaukee likely made the move with the hope Kolb can play the Braden Looper role for them. However, his price tag may be out of the Brew Crew's comfort zone, which is why he is on this list. With Looper in-house, I don't see Kolb as a viable option for the Cards.

 

Gil Meche, right-handed starter, Seattle.

2005 salary: $2.535 million

Meche has been a perennial disappointment and has battled injuries each season on top of it. His only season with a sub-4.50 ERA was way back in 2000. However, someone will sign the 27-year-old Meche as a fifth starter. The Cardinals probably won't want to pay what it might take to get Meche - $3 or $4 million, I imagine. I think I'd agree.

 

Jason Phillips, catcher/first baseman, Dodgers.

2005 salary: $339,000

Phillips has some pop in his bat and some versatility. As a backup catcher/backup first baseman/pinch hitter, Phillips would be a nice bench addition. The problem is that some other team may offer more money and a better chance for playing time. I don't see Phillips as a good fit for the Cardinals, especially with Gary Bennett already on board.

 

Willie Harris, second base/outfield, White Sox.

2005 salary: $365,000

The speedy Harris has been a prospect for a long time. He's learned the outfield in addition to second base, and while proven his versatility, has never been able to hold down a starting role in the majors. When I think of Harris, I often wonder if I am not looking at Hector Luna in three or four years down the road.

 

If Harris came really cheaply, I don't think he'd hurt to be thrown into the second base mix. But, I don't see him as standing above the other candidates the Cardinals already have. Realistically, the Cardinals might better use the roster spot on someone else.

 

Russell Branyan, third baseman, Milwaukee.

2005 salary: $800,000

Branyan has never been quite good enough to be a major league starter but has value off the bench as a left-handed hitter with some pop. He fits the profile of the John Mabry role for a team, both offensively and defensively. Perhaps it could be the Cardinals, but I suspect Branyan will get a better offer from another team.

 

If the Cards wouldn't pay Mabry a million, they probably won't pay Branyan that either and I don't blame them. However, if had any doubts about Scott Rolen's shoulder, I might bump Branyan or an equivalent up on my shopping priorities.

 

Low (non-roster invitee, minimal salary)

 

Jim Brower, right-handed reliever, Atlanta.

2005 salary: $1.125 million

Brower was a bust after coming over from the Giants to the Braves during last season. Still, he is a breathing reliever, so someone will probably give him a major league deal for a million bucks. Likely not the Cardinals, however.

 

Ryan Franklin, right-handed starter, Seattle.

2005 salary: $2.4 million

Now 33 years old, Franklin has never been able to put it together for the Mariners and has gotten progressively worse the last couple of seasons. In his favor, he has averaged over 200 innings the last three campaigns. They just weren't good innings. Frankin's record the last two seasons was 12-31 with an ERA right at five. No reason for the Cards to jump, unless it was a bargain-basement deal.   

 

Hee Seop Choi, first base, Dodgers.

2005 salary: $351,500

With Nomar Garciaparra coming to town and sabermetric darling GM Paul DePodesta now unemployed, it looks like the man Dusty Baker called "Big Choi" in Chicago will be cut loose. The good news is that he will come very cheaply. The bad news is that Choi is only a first baseman, severely limiting his value to the Cardinals. He would probably be better in the American League, anyway, both for his sake and that of Scott Rolen's shoulder.

 

Ramon Ortiz, right-handed starting pitcher, Cincinnati.

2005 salary: $3.55 million

Ortiz won 44 games as a starter with the Angels from 2001-2003. Coincidentally, Ortiz' career ERA is identical to Lohse's at 4.72. However, Ortiz had a dreadful year in the Queen City in 2005, posting a 5.32 ERA and allowing 34 home runs. He's never been a ground ball pitcher and at this point, likely never will be. At 33 years old next season, I would not make a serious offer to Ortiz. All I keep thinking of is Brett Tomko and I don't think that is a good thing.

 

Pass (don't even bother)

 

Geronimo Gil, catcher, Baltimore.

2005 salary: $342,500

The Cardinals already have four catchers on the 40-man roster. While Gil might be better than two of them, he is not enough better to matter.

 

Willie Bloomquist, second base, Seattle.

2005 salary: $385,000

Bloomquist has been around a long time, and like Harris, never seemed to be able to seize his chance. He's been supplanted by younger middle infield prospects in Seattle and could probably be had on a minor league deal. In his favor, Bloomquist has played every infield position and some outfield, too. Still, I don't think Bloomquist is worthy of consideration. However, I would have said the same thing about Abraham Nunez 12 months ago.

 

Henry Mateo, second base, Washington.

2005 salary: $318,000

Being the fourth-string second baseman in Washington is not a great place to be. Mateo has been hanging around the Expos/Nationals since 2001, but has never shown much of anything. Will get a minor league deal somewhere, but that is likely about it.

 

In closing

I tend to agree that there are not many exciting names on this list. However, there are a few potential gap-pluggers here that might be worth trying to sign – if the price and terms prove to be right.

 

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

 

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