What's Left on the Open Market?

As spring training nears, there are still plenty of quality free agents on the open market.

Though it is less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the St. Louis Cardinals have still not solidified positions the team identified as priorities at the beginning of the off-season. The middle infield, left-handed relief, and closer were identified as areas of improvement that General Manager John Mozeliak set off to upgrade. "Mo's" success in filling, or not filling, his team's needs has been debated all over the world wide web. But there is still time to make an impact and improve a team that finished with 86 wins.

The team went into the winter hoping to upgrade the middle infield and has been halfway successful. In a trade with the San Diego Padres, Mozeliak was able to bring in the enigmatic Khalil Greene. The shortstop provides solid defense while providing tremendous power potential. After losing playing time, Adam Kennedy asked for a trade and was told the team would oblige him. When the Cardinals refused to pay part of his salary, interest in the 32-year-old dwindled. So, the team decided that it did not need to upgrade and Kennedy was their man.

The team has added a potpourri of left-handed relievers, appearing to choose quantity over quality. To be totally fair, the team has added an interesting lot but the two best left-handers going into the off-season are still available.

Recently, manager Tony La Russa identified the ninth inning as his number one priority. While no one doubts Chris Perez or Jason Motte's ability, the future Hall-of-Fame skipper would appear to be much more comfortable with someone who has experience getting the final three outs. Though the upper echelon closers are gone, there is a couple of what appear to be low cost options that have put up big save numbers in the past.

In part one of a two-part series; we will look at the middle infielders and relievers still available on the free agent market. Here are the remaining free agents in alphabetical order.

The Middle Infielders

Mark Grudzielanek

The former fan favorite would make a nice platoon partner for Kennedy and would likely come at a fair price. The 38-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted a line of .299/.345/.399 in 331 at-bats. Against lefties, he hit .395/.459/.523 in 86 at bats. The Cardinals have struggled against southpaws over the past few years and a.982 OPS would be a welcomed addition.

His 2008 season ended prematurely on August 1 due to a sprained right ankle. During the 2007, he played through two knee surgeries so maybe a platoon would enable the 2006 Gold Glove winner to stay on the field. Even though Bill James is predicting a slight drop off, he would still have a lot to offer considering his defense and ability to hit left-handers. "Grudz" is a Type B free agent who was offered arbitration.

Orlando Cabrera

One of the better shortstops in the game, he is coming of a season in which he hit .281/.334/.371. Cabrera consistently puts up solid numbers and plays steady defense. Another consistent is his name in the lineup everyday. Over the last eight seasons, he has averaged 156 games per season.

Due to the slow moving market, it has been reported that the Colombian would play second base if needed. Another player hurt by the compensation system, he is a Type A free agent who was offered arbitration.

Nomar Garciaparra

Once one of the faces of MLB, Garciapara is now just another face looking for a job as spring training quickly approaches. Injuries have derailed the once promising career but he would seem to have a lot to offer if a team could limit his exposure.

Nomar hit .339/.424/.643 against left-handers in 2008. That 1.067 OPS is a vast improvement over the .753 OPS the Cardinals posted against southpaws last season. Now with the news that Troy Glaus could miss 12 weeks or more, he could be a viable option at third if one of the in-house options fails to step up.

Orlando Hudson

Going into the off-season, Hudson was considered one of the top free agents on the market. It was reported that he was looking for a large multi-year, big dollar deal. Then the weather got colder as did the offers for the switch-hitter. Right now, it looks like most of the contenders are set at second base leaving the multiple Gold Glove winner looking for other options.

When averaging James, Marcel, and Zips, Hudson is projected to hit 286/.358/.428 with an OPS of .786. Hudson, who missed part of the 2008 season with a wrist injury, offers speed and pop at the top of the lineup. Another drawback for Hudson is that he is a Type A free agent that was offered arbitration by the Diamondbacks.

Ty Wiggington

It is somewhat hard to believe that a player coming of a 23 home run-season and not expecting a bank busting deal is still available. If he were still able to play second base, he would be a superb addition but it is doubtful that he could still play the position.

Wiggington hit .340/.424/.631 with seven home runs in 107 at bats against southpaws last season. Cardinal second basemen had seven home runs total in 2008. James, Chone, nor Marcel sees a power drop for the 31-year-old in 2009. He could have a big impact if he were capable of playing the middle of the diamond.

The Relievers

Luis Ayala

Before the 2008 season, Ayala had a career ERA under three. Unfortunately for the right-hander, he experienced the worst season of his career before hitting the free agent market. The 30-year-old was 2-10 with a 5.71 ERA between stops with the Mets and the Nationals. He was able to log nine saves in 11 opportunities for New York after being traded from %%MATCH_17%%. Bill James predicts that he will be good for 78 appearances and a 3.94 ERA.

After being shipped to the Mets, it was reported that Ayala had requested the trade due to personal problems. Before the 2008 season, he took a shotgun pellet in his non-throwing shoulder during a hunting trip. With new scenery and a fresh outlook, he could be primed for a bounce back year. Ayala is a Type B free agent who was not offered arbitration.

Joe Beimel

The 31-year-old is coming off a career year in which he posted a career best 2.02 ERA pitching for the National League West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. A situational lefty, Beimel made 71 appearances totaling just 49 innings. Left-handed hitters posted a .271 average against him.

Bill James, Chone, and Marcel predict a coming back to earth for the Pennsylvania native, with projections of an ERA around four. Beimel is a Type B free agent who was not offered arbitration.

Chad Cordero

If the Cardinals are going to role the dice on a player coming off of an injury, I hope this is the guy. The 26-year-old is coming off a torn labrum that caused him to miss most of the 2008 season. To date, reports on when he will be ready to pitch in 2009 are inconsistent.

Before his injury, Cordero was one of the top closers in the game. Beginning in 2004 until 2007, the Cal State Fullerton product racked up 128 saves. During the 2005 season, he saved 47 games while allowing an anemic 1.82 ERA. It was six years ago that the team took a chance on another pitcher coming off a torn labrum, Chris Carpenter.

Juan Cruz

Always revered for his live, loose arm, Cruz has quietly established himself as one of the most consistent middle relievers in the game. The 30-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted a record of 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA. He showed his dominance as well with 71 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Over the last two seasons, Cruz has 158 whiffs in 112.2 innings or a mark of 12.6 K/9 IP.

Cruz is a Type A, who was offered arbitration. This is probably the only reason a player with Cruz' upside is still available. I know the organization has interest though it does not appear like the Cardinals are willing to sacrifice their first round pick.

Keith Foulke

Former closer for the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, Foulke came back from retirement to put together a respectable season for the Oakland A's. He posted a 4.06 ERA and one save in 31 appearances. The 36 year-old struck out 23 while walking 13. Going into his final appearance of the season, his ERA stood at 3.30.

Of course health is an issue with Foulke. He had two stints on the disabled list with neck stiffness and a right shoulder inflammation, and his 31 innings pitched were a career low. But if the team is looking for someone to bridge the gap maybe a player with 191 career saves might be the answer, especially, if he were agreeable to a minor league deal.

Eddie Guardado

Could the once heralded Guardado be a poor team's Brian Fuentes? The 38-year-old saved four games for the Rangers before he was traded to the Minnesota Twins. He was experiencing a career resurgence with 3.65 ERA in 55 games for the Rangers before he was traded to the Twins on August 25. After returning to Minnesota, the wheels fell off. In seven innings, he was tagged for a 7.70 ERA.

Overall, "Everyday Eddie" held left-handed hitters to a .210 average even after his return to the Twin Cities. A strong veteran presence that works well with young pitchers, Guardado could be another option for the cost-conscience Cardinals.

Will Ohman

Considered the prize by some as far as left-handed relievers, Ohman enjoyed a fantastic season with the Atlanta Braves in 2008. Overall, the 31 year old was 4-1 with a 3.68 ERA. In 83 games, the Pepperdine alum held left-handed hitters to a .200 average while right-handers hit .256 against him.

Al Reyes

The former Cardinal saved 26 games for the Tampa Bay though his ERA was close to five in 2007. While the Rays were experiencing a magical run last season, Reyes found himself on the outside looking in partly due to off-field issues. In 2008, Reyes posted a 4.37 ERA before being designated for assignment at the beginning of August. While with the Cardinals in 2005, he posted a 2.15 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 62.2 innings.

Dennys Reyes

One of the best left-handed relievers on the market, Reyes would be a fine pickup for a team that made strengthening the left-handed side of its bullpen a priority at the start of the off-season. The hefty Mexico native held left-handed hitters to a .202 average while finishing his season with a 2.33 ERA in 75 games.

During the 2006 season, the 31 year old was especially stingy. In 66 games, he posted an incredible 0.89 ERA. Reyes is a Type B free agent that was offered arbitration.

Brian Shouse

Finishing up a one year-two million-dollar contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. Quietly put together a solid season in a shaky Brewer bullpen. In 69 games, Shouse went 5-1 with a 2.81 ERA. The Effingham, Illinois, native was brutal to left-handed hitters, holding them to a .180 average. Shouse is a Type B free agent who was offered arbitration.

Next up, Part Two: The Starters

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