With a thin free agent class this off-season, the Cardinals may be better served saving their dollars for a much deeper class in 2009.
So far, this winter has been very slow for the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans. Coming off a sub .500 season and a third-place finish, the Cardinals are in need of upgrades at multiple positions. The rotation needs a major overhaul and the team has a glaring weakness at shortstop. On the offensive front, the Cardinals lack a true leadoff hitter. Also, the Cardinals have so far not fulfilled one of its off-season goals, acquiring an impact bat to better protect Albert Pujols in the lineup.
To be fair to the Cardinals, the 2008 free agent class is lacking in both quality and depth. Teams are already overpaying the few quality players that were available. The Angels gave Torii Hunter a five-year/$90 million contract. Hunter will turn 37 before the contract expires. The Dodgers gave Andruw Jones a two year/$36 million contract. Remember, Jones is coming off a season in which he hit a career low .222/.312/.413.
In the first of a two-part series, we will look at the free agent class of 2009. First up are the position players. With a glaring weakness in the middle infield and a possible opening at third base if Scott Rolen is traded, the Cardinals will have some interesting names to look at to help shore up their lineup. With Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, the newly acquired Brian Barton, and Colby Rasmus on the way, the Cardinals seem set in the outfield. But this list includes an interesting outfielder that would give the Cardinals their first legit leadoff threat in years.
Mark Ellis (
Ellis is a solid player who isn't flashy but could be an affordable alternative for the Cardinals if the others on this list overprice themselves. Ellis posted career highs in home runs, 19, and RBIs, 76, during 2007. Those 19 home runs would have ranked third on the Cardinals in 2007 while his RBI would have ranked second. The 31-year-old is only a career .270 hitter, but he does own a lifetime .340 on base percentage. Ellis is an above-average defender who committed only five errors and posted a .994 fielding percentage in 2007.
will be the final year of Adam Kennedy's three-year deal, but the Cardinals
could really upgrade their defense with
This time next year Cabrera will have just celebrated his 34th birthday, so a short deal could be offered. The Cardinals looked at Cabrera as a replacement for Edgar Renteria before he signed with the Angels after the 2004 season. Cabrera hit .301/.345/.397 and won the Gold Glove in 2007 for the Angels. A leader and a strong clubhouse presence, he could be a welcome addition to what could be a young locker room.
After a career year in 2006, Furcal slipped some in 2007. To be fair, he did miss 24 games due to a leg injury. Furcal is the youngest of the three shortstops listed and might be the most exciting. With a great arm and good range, he also provides a speed threat at the top of any lineup. The Dominican will only be 31 going into free agency and may be looking at a three to four year deal, something the Cardinals could shy away from.
known to Cardinals fans, Renteria was
Tigers hold an $11 million option with a $3 million buyout for 2009. With a decent 2008 under Jim Leyland,
Renteria will likely remain in
Hank Blalock (
During the Winter Meetings, the Cardinals were rumored to have inquired about the left-handed hitter. The 27-year-old hit .293/.358/.543 while limited to 58 games due to multiple injuries. Even though his power production has declined the past few years, he is only three years removed from hitting 35 home runs. Lefties have owned Blalock over the past three years to the tune of a .216 average.
The Rangers hold a $6.2 million option with a $250,000 buyout for 2009.
Joe Crede (
2009 would be the Crede's first opportunity to test the free agent market. The 29-year-old played in only 47 games due to a back injury in 2007. In 2006, he had a career year, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 94 runs. Crede is a superb defender and good clubhouse guy. The opportunity to acquire Crede could be sooner rather than later as he is a non-tender candidate during this off-season.
Troy Glaus (
Glaus missed 47 games in 2007 due to a foot injury. The 31-year-old was still able to hit 20 home runs and post a .211 isolated power mark. Looking over Glaus' career stats, he has a .246 career isolated power number compared Albert Pujols' career mark of .288. Glaus is injury-prone but he does provide an impact bat to protect Pujols if healthy.
Glaus holds an $11.25 million player option for the 2009 season. Unless he has a strong 2008, he would be wise to take it.
Carl Crawford (
Outfield may be the deepest position in the organization, but a player of Crawford's status would immediately cement the top of the Cardinals lineup for years to come.
The 26-year-old is an electric player that could come in and solve the Cardinals' problem of lacking a true leadoff man. Crawford hit .315/.355/.466 with 50 stolen bases in 2007.
The Rays hold a $8.25 million option or a $2.5 million buyout for 2009. In 2010, the Rays hold a $10 million option with a $1 million option. I feel the Rays will exercise these options no matter if they plan on keeping Crawford or not. A player of Crawford's ability will draw a lot of trade interest at that price in this market.
Up next, the pitchers.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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