The downside is that most every team in baseball will be attempting to do the same. Plus, trading away prospects will no longer be the status quo as the front office has dedicated itself to player development. So much to do and the Cardinals haven't named a new general manager to replace Walt Jocketty.
So, let's take a look at the pitchers who may be available via trade. Let me stress, no one on the following list has been confirmed to be available but all have been rumored to be in the past 12 months. I'll also take a look at some of the names thrown around on The Birdhouse's message boards.
The best pitcher in baseball is going into the final year of his contract and with the Twins unwilling to offer an extension comparable to what the 28-year old will command on the open market, he should be available. Even though his won-loss record was mediocre in 2007, Santana was still his dominant self with a 3.33 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 219 innings. The Venezuelan is due $13.25 million in the last year of his contract. It is going to take an unbelievable package to get Santana. Anyone up for a package of Rasmus, Perez, and Anderson to begin with?
Having been almost dealt the last two off-seasons, the former first-rounder is going into the last year of his contract and seems to be the White Sox' best chip as they try to rebuild after a disappointing 2007. Although not flashy, Garland eats up innings, averaging 207 per season since becoming a full-time starter in 2002. In the final year of a $29 million contract, the 29-year-old is due $12 million in 2008. It is rumored the White Sox want two relievers in return, a position where the Cardinals are well-stocked currently.
Jose Contreras (Chicago White Sox)
Another starter rumored available as the White Sox rebuild. The soon-to-be 36-year-old had his worst season since coming to the South Side, posting a 5.57 ERA while batters hit .304 against him. Contreras was so bad during one stretch that he was moved to the bullpen. The Cuban is due $20 million over the next two years. For the money he is owed, Contreras has to be considered the biggest gamble on this list.
Joe Blanton (Oakland A's)
The 26-year-old made only $380,000 in his third full big league season. As the A's look to rebuild, Blanton could prove to be a valuable chip as he is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.95 ERA in a career high 230 innings while also posting the best walk and strikeout rates of his career. The stout right-hander already adheres to the Cardinals' pitch-to-contact philosophy as it is instituted by the Athletics as well. Blanton will get a hefty raise in his first year of arbitration but he is not eligible for free agency until after the 2010 season. At the trade deadline, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers offered three top minor leaguers but the A's were not satisfied.
Wakefield has the most interesting contract of all the pitchers on this list. The Red Sox have a recurring $4 million club option on his contract and could renew it forever if they wanted. Even though the Red Sox could move their rotation in a new direction, it makes a lot of sense for them to pick up Wakefield's option and get something back in a trade. A pitcher coming of a 17-win season and making only $4 million is a valuable commodity no matter if that pitcher throws a knuckleball or not.
Do you think that new Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington would like to undo this horribly absurd deal made by Dave Littlefield during this past July's trade deadline? At a salary of $9.5 million, Morris makes up almost 25% of the Pirates' payroll. Morris left the Cardinals after the 2005 season and has not posted a winning record in the two seasons since leaving the Gateway City. Morris posted a 4.89 ERA and batters hit close to .300 against him in 2007. The Cardinals were rumored to be in talks to bring Morris back before the deal was made to send him to the Pirates. The Pirates hold a $9 million option for 2009 with a million dollar buyout.
Rich Harden (Oakland A's)
Possibly the most talented pitcher on this list is signed for a very affordable $4.5 million in 2008 with a very friendly team option of $7 million in 2009. The problem is that Harden has not stayed healthy enough to live up to his vast potential. Shoulder problems limited him to only 25 innings for the A's in 2007. Harden, who will turn 26 in November, appeared in 46 innings in 2006 due to a strained elbow ligament and back problems. After the 2005 season in which he pitched 128 innings, Harden had left shoulder surgery. With a high nineties fastball, Harden is a very interesting target but with the Cardinals having two injured pitchers under contract, he seems like a long shot.
Willis signed a one-year, $6.45 million contract to avoid arbitration and that number will likely increase even though 2007 was his worst season to date. Willis posted a career-high 5.17 ERA but he was still able to eat up 205 innings. It is very possible that a driving under the influence arrest distracted the young left-hander. Willis has experienced a slow descent since finishing runner up for the Cy Young Award to Chris Carpenter in 2005. In spite of his struggles, Willis will be on the top of most teams ‘wish list if he becomes available, as he will be only 26 when the season begins and has five seasons under his belt. Willis will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season.
Scott Olsen (Florida Marlins)
The young, talented lefty would not be considered here if not for his off the field troubles. The 23-year-old was fined for making an obscene gesture at fans in June. In July, Olsen was suspended by the Marlins for insubordination due to an undisclosed incident. Later in the same month, Olsen was arrested for driving under the influence, resisting an officer with violence, and fleeing and eluding an officer. After the arrest, Marlins president David Sampson seemed to alienate Olsen and his agent Matt Sosnick after stating that Olsen would not be on the team if convicted of the July incident, so maybe a change of scenery is in order. Also of note, Sosnick represents Cardinals minor leaguers Tyler Herron, Clayton Mortenson, and Nick Webber, so there is a relationship in place. Even after all his troubles, Olsen had 133 strikeouts in 177 innings after posting 166 strikeouts in 181 innings as a rookie. Olsen is not eligible for salary arbitration until 2009 and will not become a free agent until 2012.
The 26-year old Cabrera is an imposing figure on the mound, standing 6-foot-7 and possessing a high nineties fastball. The trouble is that Cabrera doesn't know where the pitch is going and could very well be wearing out his welcome in Baltimore. In 2007, Cabrera walked 108 batters and was charged with a league-leading 18 losses. He made $1.825 million last year and is due salary arbitration this winter and quite possibly a raise. Cabrera will not be able to file for free agency until 2011 so the team will have him under control for three more years. With all signs pointing to the return of Dave Duncan, maybe the new Cardinals general manager could give him a project with the incredible upside of Cabrera.
The Indians have an $8 million option on Byrd for the 2008 season. The soon to be 37-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons, but with the Indians having lefties Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers and Chuck Lofgren waiting in the wings, Byrd could be expendable in the right deal. In the past two seasons, Byrd has 25 wins and over 370 innings. Byrd seems to be the style of pitcher the Cardinals like; veteran, low walk rate, pitches to contact, good clubhouse guy.
The 29-year old is coming off a season in which he went 16-4 with and ERA just over three. The burly right-hander has 32 wins against only 13 losses the past two seasons. In today's market, the $8.5 million he is due in 2008 and the $8.75 million club option is very affordable with those types of results. The price would be steep if the Dodgers do make him available.
Burnett has appeared in only 46 games the past two seasons after signing a five-year/$55 million contract before the 2006 season. It was widely rumored that the Cardinals finished as the runner-up to the Blue Jays for Burnett's services. The soon to be 31-year-old will make $12 million the next three seasons (he can opt out after this upcoming season) and with his injury history he is a huge gamble.
Names from the thread titled "What top of the rotation arms could ACTUALLY be acquired?" not covered above:
User easton714 lists the following:
Matt Garza (Minnesota Twins)
The Twins' number one prospect is making the league minimum and not eligible for arbitration until 2011 (2010 if he is considered a Super Two). Garza will become even more valuable to the Twins after Johan Santana leaves. The chances of him being available are very slim.
Santana really struggled in 2007 but will make near the league minimum in 2008 before being eligible for arbitration in 2009 and under the Angels' control through 2011. He posted a record of 7-14 with an ERA of 5.76 after winning 16 games in 2006. What is amazing about last season is that he went 1-10 on the road. With so much success the previous year, it is hard to believe the Angels are ready to give up on him, especially with Bartolo Colon's return unlikely.
Like Ervin Santana, Jackson will make near the league minimum in 2008 before being eligible for arbitration in 2009 and under the Devil Rays' control through 2011. The 24-year-old with his high nineties fastball was once considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball but has never been able to put it together. With few of the Rays' pitching prospects ready and Jackson's value being at an all-time low, I would think that the Rays' will probably hold on to him for now.
User KylMss thinks with the Tigers' glut of young pitchers, Nate Robertson would be a good fit.
Nate Robertson (Detroit Tigers)
Nate Robertson is a fiery competitor and would provide the Cardinals' with a lefty power arm. The 30-year-old did post a 4.76 ERA so Detroit could put him on the market. Robertson will make $3.26 million in 2007 and is eligible for arbitration this winter and for free agency after the 2009 season. But with Jeremy Bonderman struggling and Kenny Rogers being a free agent, the Tigers will probably hold on to the 30 year-old.
Bicyclemike wonders if Aaron Cook might be an option with the recent development of Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklyn Morales in Colorado.
Aaron Cook (Colorado Rockies)
Cook was not part of the Rockies' incredible comeback due to an oblique strain but could appear on the World Series roster. Cook made just over $3 million in 2007 and the Rockies hold a $4.5 million option for 2008. I am quite leery of Cook's injury history as he has only one season of 30 starts and logging over 200 innings.
Noah Lowry (San Francisco Giants)
Noah Lowry just completed the first year of a 3-year/$9.25 million contract. The 27-year-old is due $2.25 million in 2008, $4.5 million in 2009, and the Giants hold a $6.25 million option for 2010. The lefty was shut down in the beginning of September due to a mild strain of his elbow. I really believe it would take more than Duncan to pry him away from the Giants after Lowry posted 14 wins and an ERA under four and is signed to an incredibly affordable contract for the next three years.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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