I consider "packing it in" to mean players would be traded away for one or a combination of two basic benefits – gaining more financial flexibility (to sign free agents or trade with other teams later) and/or securing younger, cheaper talent.
Let's move to timing. Even after the Cardinals lost two of three at home to the lowly Washington Nationals this past weekend, it is still too early to schedule a memorial service for the 2007 season, in my opinion. A lot of baseball remains to be played between now and July 31, the trade deadline. As a result, nothing discussed here should be considered immediate.
On the other hand, the stark reality of the current situation has the Cardinals on a .432 trajectory, which continuing to October projects the season to a 70 win, 92 loss disaster. That would not only be the worst record of a Cardinals team during the Tony La Russa era (since 1996), but also the second-poorest showing in La Russa's 29-year MLB managerial career. (His 1993 Oakland A's went 68-94, .420).
A potential 92-loss team is the kind of team ripe for trading.
Generally speaking, the asking price and therefore, the return for individual players should go up as the season progresses. Other clubs will get off the fence as to whether they want to make a push to win in 2007 or not, with the Wild Card keeping more teams in the hunt than previously. While the sheer number of teams potentially interested in Cardinals players still may decline over time, the willingness of the ones remaining to do more than talk should increase inversely as the deadline approaches.
Having said that, let's look at categorizing the individual players on the Cardinals' current 25-man roster in terms of their possible trade status.
To do that, I created five categories, two under the "hold" description and three under the "sell" umbrella.
As already noted, I do not see the Cardinals in "buy" mode this season. In other words, it seems far more likely they will be looking to move veterans than to acquire them.
Yet, if the situation changes and the club rights itself enough to gain a legitimate chance to compete for the post-season, minor league prospects will be the primary bait to acquire veterans. Those prospects are outside the scope of this initial effort.
"Untouchable" – should not consider trading these players
"Keep Youth" - too inexpensive and valuable to move – potentially appealing to other teams, but also too important to trade
|Pitchers||Carpenter (DL) - 2011/12 - 5NTC (2H07)||Reyes - 2012 (A)|
|Wainwright - 2011 (A)|
|Johnson - 2011 (A)|
|Hitters||Pujols - 2010/11 - LNTC||Molina - 2010 (A)|
|Duncan - 2012 (A)|
"Trade bait" – veterans potentially appealing to other teams
"Add Money" – would become trade bait if money included – existing salary commitments may be too high to swap without the Cardinals covering some remaining salary
"Throw-in" – not enough value to justify a meaningful trade on their own
|Trade Bait||Add Money||Throw-Ins|
|Pitchers||Flores - 2010 (A)||Izzy - 2007/08 - 5NTC||Jimenez - 2013 (A)|
|Franklin - 2007||Wellemeyer - 2009 (A)|
|Looper - 2008|
|Mulder (DL) - 2008/09|
|Springer - 2007|
|Thompson - 2011 (A)|
|Wells - 2007|
|Hitters||Bennett - 2007/08||Rolen - 2010 - FNTC||Ludwick - 2011 (A)|
|Eckstein - 2007||Edmonds - 2008 - 5NTC||Taguchi - 2007/08|
|Kennedy - 2009||Encarnacion - 2008||Wilson (DL) - 2007|
|Miles - 2009 (A)|
|Spiezio - 2008/09|
Beside each player's name is a year, sometimes with a second, separated by a slash. The first is the year through which the Cardinals could control the player if they so chose. The second includes any option years on the player's contract.
Next to contract years are listed any no-trade clauses or NTCs. They can either be a full NTC or "FNTC", which means the player cannot be moved without his consent or a partial or limited NTC, "LNTC". In that case, the player can only be traded to certain teams.
There is an additional kind of NTC which is also applicable here. When a player has over ten years experience, five with the current team, he cannot be traded without his consent no matter what his contract states. These are called "ten and five" players. Both Jim Edmonds and Jason Isringhausen are in this category, designated as "5NTC".
Next to several players' years is the letter "A". That denotes the player is arbitration-eligible through the year listed. While the Cardinals can control the rights of that player through that season, the player can make more money via their right to take the team to arbitration for at least the final three years listed (fourth through sixth seasons in MLB). With six full years of service, the player becomes eligible for free agency.
Now, let's look into several of the groups.
I am not going to discuss the "Untouchables" in any detail, as I find it inconceivable that either Chris Carpenter or Albert Pujols will be traded this season. The 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player, respectively, should remain with the Cardinals indefinitely. As a footnote, Carpenter will become a ten-and-five man himself at the end of this season.
All one has to do is look at the years next to the "Keep Youth" names to understand why they were placed where they were. These five players can remain Cardinals for the next three seasons or more. Though at least the final three years for each would be at arbitration-driven prices, the Cardinals should be motivated to retain all five.
Some might argue that Anthony Reyes' recent difficulties mean the Cards should put him on the market. I do not agree. If the youngster improves his game enough to be of value to the rotation, he will be too important to trade. On the other hand, if Reyes doesn't improve, he won't deliver much in return.
Tyler Johnson's slider and left-handedness cements his placement. The return of Adam Wainwright's devastating curve would ice his selection. Emerging slugger Chris Duncan isn't going anywhere for a number of years, nor is defensive whiz Yadier Molina, a standout behind the plate and improving with the bat, too.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the five players in the "Throw-In" group simply lack experience or are nearing the end of their careers. As such, they have negligible trade value on their own.
Some believe Todd Wellemeyer has great promise, but I can also see a pitcher who has been designated for assignment twice in the last year and could be closer to journeyman status than stardom. Kelvin Jimenez and Ryan Ludwick were also available for the taking by any of the other 29 clubs in the off-season as minor league free agents.
Not only was So Taguchi a free agent this past off-season, but honestly, he is an aging .240 singles hitter whose primary value, defense, has eroded considerably over the last year. While the Cards have a 2008 option on him, it may have taken So's surprisingly solid 2006 postseason to have even bought him this year's deal. Likely, there won't be playoffs in Taguchi's 2007 future to redeem him.
Finally, Preston Wilson was once a feared hitter, but no more. He has bad knees and in the last 12 months was designated himself as well as tested free agency, only to return to St. Louis on a bargain-basement deal for 2007. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this became the final MLB season for both of these outfielders.
In the subscriber-only part two installment of this article, we will look into each of the remaining 16 players included in the "Trade Bait" and "Add Money" categories. Their contract status, service time, arbitration status and no-trade leverage will all be analyzed, with conclusions drawn regarding the trade appeal (high-medium-low) of each.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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