Happy New Year Sports Fans.
From their 25-man playoff roster last season, the Cardinals have only 14 players remaining.
Here is a rundown of the Hot Stove League moves to date with my pithy comments.
12/23 Juan Encarnacion (RF) Signed as Free Agent (2006-2008)
Encarnacion gets $3.5 million next year. $5 million in 2007 and $6.5 million in 2008. He hit .287 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs last season for Florida, the best season of his eight-year career, and is a career .268 hitter with 128 homers and 119 stolen bases. He's not as good as some of my friends think, but he is a decent right fielder, considering what was available on the market.
Encarnacion was the deal with an outfielder that I thought Cardinals GM, Walt Jocketty, had in his hip pocket for weeks and he pulled it out of his pocket just before Christmas. It was an early Christmas present for hungry fans looking for good news from the Cardinals' general manager.
Jocketty said earlier this winter that he planned on trading for a right fielder, while at the same time, I was reporting the Cardinals would probably go the free agent route and hold onto their pitchers.
Once again, who are you going to believe? Walt Jocketty or me? (I'm kidding)
12/23 Junior Spivey (2B) Signed as Free Agent (2006)
Spivey was the Brewers' opening day second baseman for the second straight season, appearing in 49 games before being traded to the Nationals on June 10. He will be the fourth starting second baseman in four years for the Cardinals if he wins the job in spring training. The smart money is on Spivey, in spite of earlier comments about the Cardinals wanting to give Luna a chance to play there everyday. Luna's chance diminished significantly with the signing of Spivey. If healthy, Spivey could hit in the #2 hole and be an adequate replacement for Mark Grudzielanek, for a lot less money.
12/21 Brian Daubach (1B) Signed to a Minor League Contract
Agreed to terms on a split contract with the Cardinals. The left handed hitting, Belleville, Illinois native, Daubach, had a good year at Triple-A for the Mets in 2005, hitting .325 with 16 homers and 62 RBI. He will try to take the spot that John Mabry filled for the Cardinals the last two seasons, pinch hitting and playing first base and the corner outfield spots. We'll be pulling for the hometown boy to make good. At this time I don't see a place on the roster for him.
12/21 Sidney Ponson (P) Signed as Free Agent (2006)
The Cardinals are obviously taking a gamble that Ponson can turn around his once-promising career. He will compete for a spot in the rotation, which means rookie Anthony Reyes may have to wait another year if fellow starter Jason Marquis isn't traded for an outfielder.
Don't look for the Cardinals to move Marquis unless Ponson is showing he can get the job done.
Personally I take Reyes over Ponson, but I agree it's a low risk gamble that may pay off.
I'm surprised by those who think they would rather have Ponson on the mound over Matt Morris. Ponson is a couple of years younger, but isn't in the playing condition of Morris. Here is a look at the three year averages of both pitchers.
You'll have to excuse me if I am not that excited about Ponson coming to St. Louis, but I remain hopeful.
12/21 John Riedling (P) Signed to a Minor League Contract
Riedling will get an invite to spring training where he will compete for a bullpen spot. He had arm problems last season. Riedling split time last season between Florida and Triple-A Albuquerque with a record of 4-1 for the Marlins and a 7.16 ERA in 29 games. There is very little chance he'll make the club, but with a 95 MPH fastball, he clearly has the potential to be successful. If he can get on his game, he could still be a very effective setup man. Odds are he won't but they improve by playing with the Cardinals and their exceptional coaching staff.
12/20 Larry Bigbie (LF) Signed (2006) (avoids arbitration)
Bigbie had a very disappointing season, in part due to injury, but his power drop off is a concern. He'll get a chance to right the ship in St. Louis, who needs an outfielder to replace Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders. It appears the starting job in left field is his to lose to either John Rodriguez or So Taguchi. If necessary Bigbie could spell Edmonds in center field on occasion.
Two years ago he hit .280 with 15 home runs and 68 RBI for the Baltimore Orioles. If he can do that for St. Louis, well, that would be a good thing.
12/20 Bo Hart (2B) Not Offered Contract and Became Free Agent
Bo Hart is one of those players who I'll always pay money to watch. He gives you 110% and you can call me crazy, but I'll miss him.
Bo will always have 2003 to remember and the fans won't forget, when he was here, he gave it his all.
12/20 Mike Lincoln (P) Not Offered Contract and Became Free Agent
No surprise here. It has been over 19 months since Lincoln has thrown a pitch in a major league game. The Cardinals may be interested in talking with him at a later date. Elbow surgery ended Lincoln's 2004 campaign just in time. He wasn't exactly lighting it up with a 5.19 ERA in 13 games.
There are some Cardinal fans who still hope Lincoln will return and help lead St. Louis to a World Championship. The more time passes since he last pitched, the better the pitcher he was, before he was injured. If he stays out a couple more seasons he could be a Hall of Famer.
12/20 Mike Mahoney (C) Not Offered Contract and Became Free Agent
Mahoney received the bulk of playing time behind the plate in Yadier Molina's absence, but the fact remains that a career minor-leaguer with a .161 average in 26 games and little power was not going to be returning to the club in 2006.
12/20 Scott Seabol (3B) Not Offered Contract and Became Free Agent
Who will ever forget Seabol's first major league home run? Seabol hit his first career homer in a win over the Yankees. The pinch-hit homer was a two-run shot that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. That wasn't enough and Seabol didn't help his chances to stay with the club, hitting just .219 with that one home run and 10 RBI in 59 games for the Cardinals. The Cardinals really like Seabol but just not enough to keep him on the 40 man roster.
12/15 Braden Looper (P) Signed as Free Agent (2006-2008)
The Looper deal is one of the better deals completed this winter. He should make a good setup man for Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen and he could close if he has to. He struggles against lefties; hopefully the Cardinals' coaching staff can help him in that area of the game. On a Tony La Russa team, Looper will be put in situations that will give him the greatest opportunity for success.
12/12 Ricardo Rincon (P) Signed as Free Agent (2006-2007)
The Rincon deal is only a good deal, if you dropped the ball and traded Ray King away. Once King was gone, I can live with the signing of Rincon. But trust me sports fans, Rincon is no Ray King but he should be effective enough to get the job done, but he's not as dominant as Ray King is when he was on his game.
12/7 Larry Bigbie (LF) Traded From Colorado (with 2B Aaron Miles for LHP Ray King)
In my opinion, the King trade was a mistake. It'll come down to Bigbie being the everyday left-fielder to make it a decent trade. King will be back and pitch much better than he did the last two months of last season with St. Louis. Fans tend to forget the first half of the season when King was having perhaps one the best halves in his career. Miles is probably already out of a job at second and like I said from day one, the Cardinals could have done better dealing King - actually they should have kept him.
12/7 Aaron Miles (2B) Traded From Colorado (with OF Larry Bigbie for LHP Ray King)
Miles may have a hard time making the team out of spring training with the signing of free agent Junior Spivey. There is only so much room on the bench and Miles will be competing against Deivi Cruz and Hector Luna for a job. The fact that Miles basically just plays second base doesn't help his chances a lot.
12/5 Deivi Cruz (2B) Signed as Free Agent (2006)
The 33-year-old Cruz hit .265 in 101 games last season for San Francisco and Washington with five homers and 20 RBI. He is expected to be used in a utility role by the Cardinals but could earn an additional $50,000 for playing 120 games and $50,000 each for 300 and 350 plate appearances next season. Over the past three seasons, he has played 274 games at shortstop and only 51 at second base, so you'll have to excuse me if I think of him as a shortstop. He's only played six times in the last three seasons at third.
12/2 Gary Bennett (C) Signed as Free Agent (2006)
Bennett may or may not be the back up catcher for next season. I would go with Michael Hernandez for the job but the veteran Bennett will probably get it. It's doubtful that the Cardinals would carry three catchers north to start the season.
11/29 Dennis Tankersley (P) Signed to a Minor League Contract
Tankersley was 9-8 with a 4.24 ERA in 23 starts for the Royals' Triple-A Omaha farm team last year. He would have little to no shot to make the Cardinals' rotation next season, leaving him at Triple-A or possibly in the bullpen.
He'll be only 27 when the season starts. A former top prospect with the San Diego Padres, he could be one of the most interesting players to watch in spring training. He can throw four pitches for strikes and his slider that was once considered one of the best in the minors, sets up his fastball very well. He may be a dark horse going into spring training, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the bullpen at some time during the season.
11/27 Cal Eldred (P) Retired
Cal Eldred retired to spend more time with his family and to help with home schooling. We wish him the best of luck.
11/9 Larry Walker (RF) Declared Free Agency (team option declined) / Retired
Recently Walker's agent indicated that Larry may consider returning to baseball next season. I projected this a couple of months ago. While it's unlikely he would return to St. Louis, it seems possible that he would be willing to DH and play some outfield for an American League team.
Again when he announced his retirement it was hard for me not to say "Who are you going to believe, Larry Walker or me?"
Larry is still having some problems with his neck at this time, which will
keep him out of baseball if his condition doesn't improve quickly.
11/8 Michel Hernandez (C) Signed as Free Agent (2006)
The Cardinals signed Hernandez and placed him on their 40-man roster. Hernandez hit .288 with three homers and 31 RBI for Triple-A Portland in 2005. He will compete for the backup catcher job in St. Louis. The Cardinals will probably go with Bennett as the backup catcher, as he has over 450 major league games under his belt compared to about a half of dozen games by Hernandez.
Hernandez will probably be the third catcher on the team when the rosters expand in September.
11/4 John Mabry (RF) Declared Free Agency
For the third and probably the last time, Mabry is gone. The Cardinals indicated in the past that it was a mistake to let Mabry go. This time it wasn't. After the All Star break, Mabry hit just .188 in 49 games for St. Louis. I wouldn't even keep my wife around if she was hitting .188.
11/3 Jeff Suppan (P) Signed (2006) (team option exercised)
Here was an easy one to call. I couldn't find anyone who wasn't for the Cardinals exercising their team option for next season. We called on the Cardinals to sign Suppan in the first place, calling him the "Best Bang for the Buck" during the 2003 off season. Two years later, as I look at some of the contracts being signed and he's still the "Best Bang for the Buck".
11/1 Einar Diaz (C) Declared Free Agency
For whatever reason, Diaz fell out of favor with the St. Louis Cardinals. He lost significant playing time to journeyman Mike Mahoney. It got to the point when I went to a game I took a catcher's mitt because it was likely I would catch in a game before Diaz.
11/1 Al Reyes (P) Declared Free Agency / Injured
Reyes underwent Tommy John surgery in October, which will force him to most likely miss all of the 2006 season. The Cardinals have expressed interest in retaining him after his recovery. Reyes was perhaps the Cardinals best reliever before his injury. In 85 games, 62.7 innings, he posted a 4-2 record with three saves and a 2.15 ERA. He'll be missed and I'm not sure Ricardo Rincon or Braden Looper can fill his shoes.
10/31 Scott Rolen (3B) Removed From 15-Day DL (Left rotator surgery - out for season)
Rolen is expected to be ready to play by spring training. I have a concern about an adequate back up at his position. The Cardinals need to sign another utility player that can cover third base.
10/28 Matt Morris (P) Declared Free Agency
Brian Walton said if better than I can in a recent report, "Morris was a fine pitcher for a long time for the Cardinals. Yet, last season, he was arguably the fourth-best starter on his own team. Letting him go was the right decision, but it should have been done more quickly. Morris can and will be replaced by players younger and far cheaper than the three years, $27 million he received from San Francisco. But, I felt the Cards strung him out too long."
I couldn't agree more with Walton. The Cardinals as far as I'm concerned made up their minds early not to sign Morris. It was clear, that at best he was a back up option if everything else fell through. That position from management isn't going to get you a home town discount.
Anthony Reyes should be able to take his place in the rotation.
10/28 Reggie Sanders (LF) Declared Free Agency
Reggie Sanders signed a two year deal for $10 million to play for Kansas City. I was wanting St. Louis to offer him a two year deal for $6-million, $4-million for 2006 and $2-million for 2007.
It's clear now that, that my offer suggestion wasn't going to keep Sanders in St. Louis, even though I think it is a more reasonable offer for the services of Reggie.
10/28 Julian Tavarez (P) Declared Free Agency
I was glad to see Tavarez go, then the Cardinals go out and sign Sidney Ponson. Go figure.
Tavarez has lost his mind. (No news here) He's seeking a four year contract. As far as I know the Mets have offered him a three year deal. Take my advice Julian, take the deal.
Now that I think about it, Tavarez has Super Agent Scott Boras for an agent, so he may not be so crazy after all.
10/27 Mark Grudzielanek (2B) Declared Free Agency
Again who are you going to believe? The Cardinals kept saying they wanted to sign Grudz but action speaks louder than words and he accepted a deal with Kansas City.
The thing that ticks me off is, I just learned to spell "Grudzielanek" and now he's gone.
10/27 Abraham O. Nunez (3B) Declared Free Agency
Nunez signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Phillies in November.
He's looking for a chance to play full time, but Nunez will most likely be a utility player next season with his ability to play third base, second base and shortstop. Nunez hit .285 with five home runs and 44 RBI last season with the Cardinals, playing at third base for the injured Scott Rolen.
Nunez surprised at least me with his ability to play third base as well as he did.
If the Cardinals were going to let Grudzielanek go, I think they should have made more of an effort to keep Nunez.
He would be an excellent back up for Junior Spivey at second and Scott Rolen at third. Currently I don't see any of the guys coming off the bench who could fill in for Rolen if they had to.
IN OTHER NEWS
The Cardinals' staff is still hoping to talk RHP closer, Jason Isringhausen out of competing for the United States squad in the World Baseball Classic in March. Isringhausen usually takes his time in the spring preparing for the regular season.
The development of Hector Luna as a possible regular second baseman figures to be impeded by the fact that Cardinals' coach Jose Oquendo, one of Luna's mentors, will be managing the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic.
The World Baseball Classic in theory isn't a bad idea, it's just that minor league players, college players or recently retired major league players should be playing, instead of major league players, under contract, who could potentially miss most of spring training.
The Colorado Rockies signed Willie Harris to a one-year deal this past week, according to a Rocky Mountain News reports. Harris will back up Luis Gonzalez at second base for the most part, perhaps earning a platoon role eventually.
The Cardinals had indicated they were interested in signing the infielder/outfielder, Willie Harris.