To summarize, here are the compensation guidelines:
|Type A||First-round pick from the signing club or (if in first half of draft) a second-round pick from the signing club instead plus a sandwich pick at end of first round|
|Type B||Sandwich pick only (between first and second rounds)|
This article's focus is on players the Cardinals may choose to target via free agency. I do issue a caution, however. The last Type A free agent the Cardinals plucked off the open market was closer Jason Isringhausen six years ago.
In fact, that was reinforced in a chat last week organized by the Post-Dispatch, where general manager John Mozeliak remained guarded as he discussed his club's use of free agency. "I do think there will be reason to be aggressive on the trade market and patient on the free agent market," warned the GM.
One important indicator of being patient is to wait until after December 1. If the current club does not offer arbitration to the player by then, they can be signed for no compensation. Alternatively, jumping the gun to sign a Type A free agent now would be a foolish move, assuring the Cardinals' loss of their first-round pick in 2009.
Still, there is much discussion and interest over these free agents, so let's look at them based on the Cardinals' primary positional needs. In the tables, the type of free agent (A, B or blank for no compensation), their major league service time (MLS) and current team (Club) are listed.
A trade request from disgruntled second baseman Adam Kennedy along with free agency declarations by incumbents Cesar Izturis and Felipe Lopez leave the Cardinals exposed up the middle. The club has stated a desire for more offense, especially from the shortstop position.
Lopez is in a relatively-strong position. He is neither a Type A or B, meaning he can be signed with no compensation required and is coming off a strong finish to 2008 with the Cardinals backed by a good 2005 season in Cincinnati.
|Hairston Jr, Jerry||8.127||CI||SS|
|Martinez, Ramon E||9.045||NYM||2B|
Other interesting possibilities include the Type A Orlandos, Hudson and Cabrera, and the Dodgers' speedy Rafael Furcal, with the latter carrying a surprising "NC" ranking, coming off two injury-plagued seasons. These three may be priced out of the Cardinals' range, but any would be a nice addition.
A player that might meet the Cardinals' past profile of end-of-career second base stopgaps is Milwaukee's Ray Durham. With decent speed and pop, he was brought in from San Francisco at the deadline to back up Rickie Weeks. Durham turns 37 later this month.
While Franklin is set to return, he is not closer material. Perez is deemed not ready and Izzy is coming off some concoction of injury and ineffectiveness and is a free agent to boot.
An idea candidate for this role would be Troy Percival circa 2007 – a closer with past experience, but lesser expectations later in his career. Izzy could meet those criteria – if he is physically and mentally able to accept it – far from a sure thing.
So, let's look at other possibilities. This is not the entire list of free agent relievers, but instead I picked out ones with closing experience at some point.
|* club option|
The Cardinals will surely shy away from the big-bucks boys like Francisco Rodriguez. Though lefty Brian Fuentes would meet several needs, his price also may be too high. Same with the Cubs' Kerry Wood. Career saves leader Trevor Hoffman would be very interesting, but the (almost) career Padre has to be considered a long shot.
There are many on the list with baggage, injury or other, such as Eric Gagne, Eddie Guardado and Izzy.
Brandon Lyon, deposed in Arizona after picking up 26 saves for the Diamondbacks this season, is an interesting name, as is a personal favorite of mine, lefty Jeremy Affeldt, who many people forget collected 13 saves for the Royals in 2004. Former Pirate Damaso Marte could be in play if the Yankees decline their $6 million option on him for 2009, as expected.
Left-handed relief pitching
2008 lefties Ron Villone (free agent) and Randy Flores (arbitration eligible) did not get the job done. If Tyler Johnson can return from an injury-ruined 2008 and compete, it will help some, but there seems no one ready in the minor league system to help close the gap. So, it is clear this is an area that requires strengthening from the outside.
|* club option|
In addition to Fuentes, Marte and Affeldt mentioned above, there is certainly quantity, even if uneven quality. Joe Beimel, another former Buc, late of the Dodgers and ex-Cubs and Braves port-sider Will Ohman may attract interest.
Starting pitching depth
The Cardinals only seem poised to act here if December's examination of ace Chris Carpenter returns bad news. In the more likely event that we are told he is "progressing nicely", expect the Cardinals to do nothing – at least until spring training. At that point, they could look to snatch another Kyle Lohse-like bargain off the discount rack.
With so many other pressing needs still open, this seems a low priority for the club at this time, so names are offered without editorial comment. At this point, it is just too difficult to determine who will be left standing when the music stops.
|B||Looper, Braden L.||10.012||SL|
|# May opt out|
|* Club option|
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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