Cardinals Rumor Mill - November 18

Trades the St. Louis Cardinals are rumored to have been considering with a bit of free agent talk added in, too!

While there are many, many things we do not know, there are a few items we could almost peg as givens in this 2006-2007 free agent season.

 

First of all, the St. Louis Cardinals will ensure their name is linked to several name-brand free agents, only to ultimately lose out to other teams with deeper pockets. After all, the last front-line free agent pick-up by General Manager Walt Jocketty was Jason Isringhausen, which is almost ancient history - five years past.

 

I am not arguing with this strategy; just pointing out its reality. I really hope those fans pining for Alfonso Soriano to end up wearing the Birds on the Bat have a Plan "B".

 

Another almost-given is the liberal use of the trade to help re-stock the roster. This is a proven approach for Jocketty, having made at least one deal each winter in recent memory, starting with Edgar Renteria back in 1998, then Fernando Vina, Steve Kline, Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright, Mark Mulder and more.

 

To that end, the Cardinals' brain trust put out feelers to other organizations on potential trades prior to and during the General Managers Meeting held this past week in Naples, Florida, just as all their counterparts did.

 

Typically, the GM Meeting is mostly about tire-kicking and in some cases, laying the groundwork for trades to be consummated either at the December Winter Meetings or later in the off-season.

 

If the Cardinals can't come to new deals with at least two of their free agents - Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and Mark Mulder - look for something to happen in the range of days to a month.

 

Following are some of the names about whom I have been told the Redbirds have shown interest. Again, do not assume this means any particular trade (or signing) is imminent, as there is no assurance the other side was encouraging.

 

Still, it does help illustrate the types of players the front office may be considering.

 

Suppan-Weaver Insurance

 

Jake Westbrook, right-handed starter, Cleveland

 

The 29-year-old's 2007 option for $6.1 million was picked up by the Tribe last month. Testing the free agent market a year from now would seem to be in the future for Westbrook.

 

The 6'3" righty has won 44 games over the last three seasons, while pitching over 210 innings each year.

 

Tim Hudson, right-handed starter, Atlanta

 

Time Warner wants to sell the club. The payroll is constrained. This former member of Oakland's vaunted "Big Three" (along with free-agents Barry Zito and Mark Mulder) is due at least $33 million over the next three seasons. But, his 2007 salary of $6 million is most reasonable in today's market.

 

The 31-year-old Hudson could be a good buy-low candidate. His 4.86 ERA in 2006 was his highest by a run and a third since his second year in the majors. Overall, he has averaged over 15 wins over his seven seasons as a full-time big-league starter.

 

Jason Jennings, right-handed starter, Colorado

 

The 28-year-old won just nine games for the Rockies in 2006, but posted a stellar 3.78 ERA, almost a run below his career average.

 

Jennings is known for being a workhorse and sports a hard sinker that sits between 90 and 93 MPH, a profile that lines up well with the Cardinals organizational philosophy.

 

Like Westbrook, Jennings is one year away from free agency. His 2007 option for $5.5 million was picked up earlier this month.

 

Javier Vazquez, right-handed starter, Chicago White Sox

 

In 2007, the 30-year-old will be completing the final year of a four year, $45 million deal he signed after joining the New York Yankees from the Montreal Expos. After one year in pinstripes, Vazquez was then shipped to Arizona in the Randy Johnson trade.

 

The Cardinals were rumored to be interested in the Puerto Rican native before he was traded to the Sox a year ago in a deal for Orlando Hernandez and two others. Vazquez' 2007 salary is $12.5 million.

 

His career ERA is 4.34, but was a half-run-or-more higher in two of the last three years. Vazquez has never won more than 16 games or fewer than ten in a season, but his pay seems out of line with his results.

 

Mulder Insurance

 

Horacio Ramirez, left-handed starter, Atlanta

 

The lefty turns 27 next week and seems stuck in a yearly on-off routine. Ramirez first burst onto the scene as a 23-year-old in 2003, when he won 12 games and lost just four. However, after posting a stellar 2.28 ERA in the early going in 2004, he missed four months due to shoulder tendinitis.

 

While he won 11 games and pitched over 200 innings in 2005, the sinkerball specialist had three trips to the disabled list in 2006. First, he had a recurrence of a hamstring injury, then his season ended after 76 innings due to a finger tendon problem.

 

In addition to the injury woes, Ramirez might be trade bait since he made $2.2 million last year and has two more years of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent.

 

Mark Buehrle, left-handed starter, Chicago White Sox

 

The 27-year-old St. Charles native's admiration for the Cardinals is well-known, including by savvy Sox GM Kenny Williams. I don't think he will be inclined to play into the Cardinals' hands and give Buehrle away.

 

On the other hand, Buehrle is coming off a rough 2006 during which he posted his first-ever losing record (12-13) and worst ERA (4.99) by a substantial margin. Especially troubling was his 36 home runs allowed.

 

Buehrle has been known for his command and durability, but is it totally good to have averaged almost 230 innings pitched for each of the last six seasons?

 

Here we have is another player who is likely a year away from a big payday. His 2007 option for $9.5 million was picked up last month, but he will be free-agent eligible next fall.

 

Free agent talk

 

The Cardinals will not exclusively re-load via the trade route. They are reportedly being active in several free agent arenas currently.

 

Kip Wells, right-handed pitcher, free agent (Texas)

 

The 29-year-old endured four tough seasons toiling for the Pirates before moving to the Rangers at the 2006 trade deadline. This season, he endured shoulder and foot injuries and during last off-season, he had surgery to relieve a blood clot in his shoulder. Together, that limited him to just nine 2006 starts between the two clubs.

 

Interestingly, in August it was reported that the Cardinals almost landed Wells before the Pirates closed the deal with Texas. So, Wells is obviously someone the Cards have been looking at for some time despite a 57-74, 4.46 career mark. 

 

I have been told the two sides are not haggling over money as much as duration of contract. With some promising arms in the minor league pipeline, the Cardinals are apparently not excited about giving three years to a mid-rotation guy like Wells.

 

Jay Payton, outfielder, free agent (Oakland)

 

Payton turns 34 years old later this month. The right-handed hitter originally came up with the Mets, then moved to Colorado, San Diego, Boston and Oakland, where he spent the last season and a half. Payton's best year was 2003, when he hit .302 with 28 home runs and 89 RBI for the Rockies.

 

His 2006 season was good but not great offensively, as Payton hit ten home runs and drove in 59 while batting .296 in the five, sixth and seven spots for the A's.

 

Defensively, Payton's resume sounds a bit like that of Juan Encarnacion – can play all three positions; good speed, but not so good routes; strong and accurate arm, but suffers mental lapses at times.

 

The two sides have reportedly exchanged salary figures, though it is unclear if they are close. Payton made $4 million in 2006.

 

 

Stay tuned for more rumors from me, HawgWild and our other sources as this most interesting off-season continues for the defending World Champions.

 

 

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

 

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