After raises due to Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick, the Cardinals should have around seven million dollars to spend according to various outlets. That should be an adequate amount to fill the remaining roster holes. The team still is in search of a fifth starter, bullpen help, a fourth outfielder, and possibly a third baseman.
Even though there is an arctic blast hitting us here in the Midwest, soon the journey to Florida will begin and the Cardinals will begin their journey into the 2009 season. As we draw closer to the date that pitchers and catchers will report, the price on many free agents will begin to fall. If general manager John Mozeliak is patient, and he has shown the propensity to do just that, the team could find some bargains to find the remaining holes.
The Cardinals have stated that the fifth starter competition will come from within. I am not sure if manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan will be completely comfortable with that. Jaime Garcia presents the most intriguing option but Duncan has stated that he is not sure the team could count on Garcia since he is coming back from injury.
Mitchell Boggs has now logged 15 career starts and has an ERA over five in those contests. In his nine career relief appearances, he has shown a high nineties fastball that appears to be good enough for late inning pressure situations. With a two-pitch arsenal, Boggs might be more suited for the bullpen.
There are a couple of high risk, high reward pitchers still on the free agent market. Both Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard have filled the role of ace on their respective teams and each is coming off injury. In fact, Sheets did not pitch a single inning in 2009. Both would look great on one-year deals and St. Louis has been a launching pad for such pitchers. But both appear to be looking for high dollar deals and that is something the organization is not looking to do in terms of a fifth starter.
Another interesting option returning from injury is former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang. The soon to be 30-year-old is coming off back-to-back injury riddled seasons and succumbed to shoulder surgery this past July. He will not be ready until May at the earliest but is a player Dave Duncan has expressed interest in.
John Smoltz seemed to reinvent himself when he came to the Cardinals after struggling in the American League East. There is mutual interest in him returning to St. Louis as either a member of the rotation or a late inning reliever. Smoltz, who turns 43 in May, would be an option to start the year in the rotation to limit Garcia's innings before moving to the bullpen to limit the wear-and-tear on his right shoulder.
Honestly, I have always wanted to see the future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez with the Birds on the Bat across his chest. After sitting out most of the season before signing with the Phillies, the 38-year-old went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA down the stretch for the National League Pennant winners. Like Smoltz, Martinez cannot be counted on to pitch a whole season but a plan similar to the one listed for Smoltz could be beneficial.
Something the Cardinals' rotation has lacked in recent seasons is a southpaw. There are several on the market whose price tags are falling. After bouncing back from thyroid cancer in 2008, Doug Davis posted an ERA of 4.12 in 203 innings for the Diamondbacks in 2009. He struggled with his control but would be an interesting option from the left-side.
Two once promising left-handers are still available. Former Giant Noah Lowry was considered to be one of the up-and-coming prospects in all of baseball in 2003 and 2004. After the All-Star break in 2005, he posted an 8-4 record and a 2.43 ERA. Following that season, San Francisco awarded him with a contract extension and he has struggled to stay healthy since. Lowry has not thrown a pitch in the majors since 2007 but is reportedly now healthy after multiple surgeries. A very interesting pick up if he came on a minor league deal.
Rich Hill was once considered to be the top prospect in the Cubs' system. After a superb 2006 in which he posted an 11-8 record and a 3.92 ERA, he has bounced back and forth between the majors and minors and was eventually traded to Baltimore. If healthy, he has the type of talent that Duncan could really work his magic on.
The team is said to be looking for a late inning reliever who has experience in the closer's role. To me, that defines Octavio Dotel. Now 36 years old, he still flashes a dominant fastball and slider that enabled him to rack up 75 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings for the White Sox. It is not known if he is looking for a multi-year deal but he appears to be the ideal candidate for the Cardinals bullpen.
Most Cardinals fans remember the Dan Haren trade but some forget that reliever Kiko Calero was included in that deal. In 2009 for the Marlins, he was fantastic. The 35-year-old posted a 1.95 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 60 innings. Though it would not ease the sting of Haren's loss, it might make it a little more tolerable if Calero returned to the Cardinals.
Mike MacDougal is another reliever with closing experience. The 32-year-old logged 20 saves for the Nationals in 2009 and has 70 in his career. Though he may have a mid-nineties fastball, he has struggled to miss bats along with struggling with his control. In 50 innings for Washington, he struck out only 31 while allowing 31 walks.
Another former Cardinal, Russ Springer, remains a possibility. The 41-year-old appeared in 74 games split between Oakland and Tampa Bay. He provided a stabilizing force in the Cardinals bullpen the previous two seasons and makes his home in the area.
Miguel Tejada and Felipe Lopez have been tied to the Cardinals this off-season. Each provides solid production but limited power at the hot corner. Both of their prices seem a little bit too much for the Cards to handle at this time but at least one of them will probably be looking for a job late into the winter.
Recently, Melvin Mora has been mentioned in conjunction with the Cardinals' third base opening. Mora, who turns 38 next month, saw his production decline in 2009. He may still have something left in the tank but at this point, I am not sure if he can be counted upon for a full season.
Another interesting option could be Joe Crede. A client of Matt Holliday's agent, Scott Boras, he was most certainly mentioned to Cardinals' brass after the signing of the team's left fielder. Crede has been unable to stay healthy in the past but he has been productive when on the field. If brought in on an incentive laden deal, the Jefferson City, Missouri native does provide exceptional defense and occasional power when he is able to be in the lineup.
My favorite for this slot would be former Brave and Met Ryan Church. He would give manager Tony La Russa a solid left-handed bat off the bench and has the ability to play all three outfield spots. The 31-year-old has good speed on the bases and good pop as well. In three of the last four seasons, Church has reached double digits in home runs.
Former Met Endy Chavez is said to be ahead of schedule in rehabbing from a major knee injury. The 31-year-old should be ready in May, but that is agent speak. If healthy, Chavez can provide depth at all three outfield spots.
Another intriguing bat who can play all three outfield spots is Reed Johnson. In 2009, he hit .324/.403/.500 against left-handed pitching, an area in which the team has struggled the past couple of seasons.
If the team is looking for a left-handed bat that hasn't played anywhere but first base in several years, Aubrey Huff would provide fantastic pop off the bench. Huff played 33 games at third base in 2008 and has not played in the outfield since 2006. If the team feels he could still perform in limited duty at the corners, the 33-year-old has slugged better than .440 in five of the last six seasons.
Filling the holes
In looking at the options available, I would like to see the team fire its biggest bullet for bullpen help. In a perfect world, the team would bring in Dotel to take some of the load off Ryan Franklin. Then bring in one of Hill or Lowry to compete with Garcia and Boggs.
If the team could also add Church to the outfield mix, I think they could call it an off-season. As far as the outfielders listed, if Church is not the man, I don't know that any of the other candidates would provide much more production than a combination of Jon Jay, Joe Mather, and Allen Craig.
I would rather see the team pay David Freese the league minimum than bring in one of the veteran free agents. If his troubles are behind him, Freese will play above average defense and will hit for power.
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