SIDNEY PONSON: TheCardinals are no longer in the market for a starting pitching. I'm still trying to figure out why they were there in the first place. The Cardinals are taking a chance that the rewards outweigh the risk in signing often-troubled right-hander Sidney Ponson to a one-year contract after losing out on the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes.
I have to agree that the risk actually is a small one in today's baseball terms -- a $1 million guarantee for one year, with the possibility that Ponson, 29, could earn another $1.5 million through incentives. Ponson's personal history seems contradictory to the type of player who normally is on aCardinals roster and I still have my concerns about the alcohol-related driving violations, but hopefully he'll take advantage of this opportunity with St. Louis.
JUAN ENCARNACION: For weeks I have been telling you that I thought the Cardinals had their right fielder already lined up with the deal already in their back pocket.
"We have had Encarnacion at the top of our list among free agent outfielders this offseason," general manager Walt Jocketty said.
As I reported earlier, I didn't think they were going to have to actually trade a pitcher to get a right fielder and that turned out to be the case, with the Cardinals signing the free agent to a three-year deal for $15 million.
The Encarnacion deal comes as no surprise, other than perhaps, the 3rd year of the contract. You can expect him to play right field and while a lot of sites and sources are projecting him to bat sixth or seventh, I'm thinking he'll probably bat fifth in the lineup, behind Scott Rolen.
JUNIOR SPIVEY: The Cardinals signed Junior Spivey to a one-year deal Friday for $1.2 million, after he was non-tendered by the Nationals. Spivey struggled in 2005, hitting only .232 for the Brewers and Nationals before a wrist injury in July effectively ended his season. He holds a career .270 batting average and solid .354 on-base percentage in six seasons, and he becomes the frontrunner to win the starting second baseman job for the Cardinals in 2006, though it isn't a given or guarantee. If Spivey is healthy and starts hitting he could move up and bat second, behind SS David Eckstein. At $1.2 million, Spivey is a bargain, with the potential to be a decent replacement for the departing Mark Gruzielanek.
BRADEN LOOPER: At the end of last season, Looper underwent arthroscopic surgery, to repair a damaged AC joint in his right shoulder, which has bothered him since the end of the 2004 season. Looper chose to forgo the relatively minor operation last year, because he didn't want to miss the start of the 2005 season.
Looper's velocity was down from 93-94 MPH to the 88-90 MPH range all year and he converted just 28 of 36 save opportunities. He never let on that his shoulder was hurting. Our friend Rick Wilton from Baseball HQ points this out about Looper, "His velocity was inconsistent all season long, as was the command of his pitches. His K/9 rate currently sits at 4.1. By comparison, his K/9 rate was 6.4 last season. His WHIP is 1.47, his highest mark since 2000."
Looper is expected to be healthy when spring training begins and will be a setup man for closer, Jason Isringhausen and will be called on to close games when Izzy isn't available.
PLAYER MOVEMENT: Remember when I told you to ignore the stories in the mainstream media at the end of the season, about the Cardinals just needing a minor tune up? I was wondering at the time what team they were looking at? When the Cardinals take the field for the first time at the new Busch Stadium, nearly half of the roster will be changed from last season's team, which won 100 games. Here is a look at the arrivals and departures to date;
ARRIVALS: RHPSidney Ponson (free agent from Baltimore), 2B Junior Spivey (free agent from Washington), RF Juan Encarnacion (free agent from Florida), Braden Looper (free agent from New York Mets), 2B Aaron Miles (traded from Colorado), OF Larry Bigbie (traded from Colorado), LHP Ricardo Rincon (free agent from Oakland), C Gary Bennett (free agent from Washington), SS Deivi Cruz (free agent from San Francisco), RHP Juan Mateo (Rule 5 draft from Chicago Cubs), RHP Dennis Tankersley (minor league free agent from Kansas City), 1B-OF Brian Daubach (minor league free agent from New York Mets), RHP John Riedling (minor league free agent from Florida).
DEPARTURES: 3BAbraham Nunez (free agent, signed with Philadelphia), RHP Cal Eldred (retired), RF Larry Walker (retired), RHP Matt Morris (free agent, signed with San Francisco), LHP Ray King (traded to Colorado), OF-INF John Mabry (free agent, signed with Chicago Cubs), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (free agent, signed with Kansas City), C Einar Diaz (free agent, signed with Cleveland).
BIGGEST NEEDS: The bullpen, the deepest in the league last year, has had to be retooled because of free agency, and there is still maybe one right-handed job remaining. In my opinion, that slot could be taken up by Sidney Ponson. Other pitchers who will be competing for that position, include; Rule 5 draftee, Juan Mateo, RHPs Dennis Tankersley and John Riedling, both who are signed to minor league contracts.
After failing to sign Octavio Dotel, the Cardinals are still eyeing right-handed reliever, Felix Rodriguez, who had his best years with San Francisco.
The Cardinals can't get enough of utility type players, along with Hector Luna, Aaron Miles, Deivi Cruz and Junior Spivey, the club is still looking at INF/OFWillie Harris, a backup for the world champion Chicago White Sox. "He would be a perfect guy for Tony (La Russa)," said Jocketty.
Bret Boone, is still a wild card, who could get a spring training invitation to compete for a job at second base. The Washington Nationals have expressed some interest in Bret, but a minor league contract is likely the best offer they would be willing to make. The Reds also made some initial inquiries, that haven't led to a contract yet.
INFLATION: Talk about inflation we get Reggie Sanders for two years for $6 million dollars in '03 and in '05 we sign Juan Encarnacion to a three year deal for $15 million. By the third year of the contract the money due to Encarnacion will likely seem like a bargain, even though it doesn't look that way today.
FREE AGENTS: RHPJulian Tavarez, RHP Al Reyes, OF Larry Walker (announced retirement).
NOT TENDERED CONTRACTS: CMike Mahoney, RHP Mike Lincoln, INFs Scott Seabol and Bo Hart all were not tendered contracts.
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: RHPJason Marquis is the only likely arbitration candidate, but general manager Walt Jocketty is hopeful of signing him before the matter gets to arbitration. I'm sure a lot of fans thought Marquis would be gone in order to find a right fielder. I would now be surprised to see him leave, if he does, before the All Star break.
IN LIMBO: Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis are the two names most often mentioned in potential trade talks. Marquis probably would bring the most value in the trading market, but theCardinals won't be quick to move him or Suppan until they're sure about RHP Sidney Ponson's condition.
MEDICAL WATCH: LHPRandy Flores (left elbow surgery) will be out six to eight weeks but should be ready for spring training. 3B Scott Rolen is rehabilitating after a second shoulder surgery and should be ready for spring training. RHP Al Reyes, who probably will be re-signed as a free agent even though he isn't able to pitch, might be back by August after offseason Tommy John surgery.
IF THE SEASON STARTED TODAY - MY PROJECTIONS
Projected Starting Lineup
RF Juan Encarnacion
2B Junior Spivey
UTL Hector Luna
INF Deivi Cruz
OF John Gall
OF So Taguchi
C Gary Bennett
SP1 Chris Carpenter
SP2 Mark Mulder
SP3 Jeff Suppan
SP4 Jason Marquis
SP5 Anthony Reyes
LH Randy Flores
LH Ricardo Rincon
RH Braden Looper
RH Sidney Ponson (?)
C Jason Isringhausen
You can expect the Cardinals to still try to sign a right handed reliever and perhaps another utility player. Right now they are looking at RHP Felix Rodriguez and INF/OF Willie Harris.
I don't see another deal for an "impact" player coming soon.
You will see some more minor league contracts completed soon after the holidays and perhaps some non-roster spring training invitees, announced. This is the norm for this time of year.