My sources tell me that the St. Louis Cardinals badly want to have a left-handed pitcher as a part of their 2007 starting rotation. This isn't a big stretch to believe, as it is a hallmark of a balanced staff anywhere and a consistent La Russa-Duncan desire, as well.
Now, I am not talking about 1998, a time when the Cardinals had three lefties open the season in their five-man rotation (Kent Mercker, Darren Oliver and Donovan Osborne), but more often than not in the years before and since, they've had their lefty ready to go every fifth day.
The last two seasons, that role has been played by now-free agent Mark Mulder. The big left-hander has elicited a lot of interest around baseball despite the recovery from his recent shoulder surgery expecting to carry well into the 2007 regular season.
Whether or not the Cardinals offer arbitration to Mulder on Friday, odds remain better than 50-50 that he will be wearing another uniform come 2007.
For those who think Chris Narveson has a good chance to make the rotation next season, you may be too optimistic. Righthanders Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright (if he is returned to starting) will experience enough growing pains for one manager and pitching coach to stomach as it is.
As one would expect, the Cardinals have reportedly already been working on left-handed starter alternatives. The purpose of this piece is to widen the nets to see if we can surmise who Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty might be considering.
While what left-handed suspicions that have been voiced elsewhere have mostly been about free agents, I remain less convinced the Cardinals can compete there. With the amounts involved in each free agent signing more absurd than the ones preceding it, I am not sure the Cards can land one of the top lefties on the open market. And, to be honest, I am not sure I want them to overspend by the amount necessary to do so.
Top free agent lefties
In addition to Mulder, the top four left-handed starting pitchers on the market are Andy Pettitte, Barry Zito, Tom Glavine and Ted Lilly. Three of the four, except Lilly (Type B), are Type A free agents, meaning the signing team will likely forfeit a first or second round draft pick as compensation.
Each of these players' situations has its own idiosyncrasies, making the free agent unlikely to become a Cardinal.
Zito, a former member of
Pettitte, late of the Houston Astros, has been afflicted with the same indecision disease that his close buddy Roger Clemens has suffered from in recent years. Will he come back or will he not? Fact is that according to the Elias Rankings used by MLB, Pettitte is the top-ranked free agent at any position across the entire game this off-season. It won't be Zito money, but it will be big.
Tom Glavine says he wants to either come back to the Mets or return to his original club, the Atlanta Braves. Turning 41 before next season and just ten wins away from 300 in his illustrious career, Glavine deserves to do just that and retire to a likely Hall-of-Fame bid.
Ted Lilly, formerly of
OK, so if Walt can't (or won't) sign a portsider, from where will he get one?
The trade market
The most likely source is via trade. With most of the rest of his 2007 roster locked up and money still to spend, Jocketty could go after a big-bucks free-agent righty and trade for his lefty. His primary bargaining chits may be a bullpen arm or two plus disgruntled outfielder Juan Encarnacion, whose contract with two years remaining has become a relative bargain.
So, where do we begin? Well, my crack research assistant Woody identified 31 left-handed starters from across the game who are not free agents.
We have broken them down into the following categories:
Too important – anchors their team would likely not trade (8):
Too inexpensive – young guns not yet arbitration eligible their team will want to keep (10):
Recently re-signed a big contract extension, so probably not moving (3):
Not good enough, too old or injury-prone to matter (6):
Sadly, most of the lefties are removed from consideration, but there are a few decent names remaining. Let's look into each of this last group further.
Mark Buehrle, Chicago White
Sox – All things
On the downside, 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 has having pitched almost 230 innings per season on average over the last six years taken its toll?
The 27-year-old 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.
So, there you have it. Either Jocketty tries to sign an expensive free-agent, or he blasts a decent middle-of-the-rotation starter loose via trade. I am betting on the latter.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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