Braden Looper: To sign or not to sign?

by on September 26, 2008 · 60 comments

That is a question on many a Cards fan’s tongue as the season winds to a close.

As Braden Looper prepares to take the mound tonight, in the Cardinals’ final series of this wildly entertaining (and similarly frustrating) season, it could be his final appearance wearing the Birds-on-the-Bat.

It can be argued that Looper’s conversion from reliever to starter has been a rousing success.  Braden has posted a 24-26 record over the last two seasons, sporting a 4.49 ERA.  Perhaps just as importantly, Looper has averaged 183.1 IP over two seasons, a number that is obviously certain to increase based upon tonight’s start.  Durability has become a very valuable commodity among starting pitchers, and Looper has been durable while at times showing flashes of brilliance.

Looper is 33 years old, not young by any stretch, but by today’s pitching standards certainly not ready to hang ’em up either.  Again, even at age 33, Looper has shown no signs of serious arm trouble, fatigue, or losing his stuff.  In fact, it could reasonably be argued that Looper is still settling in to being a starter, still learning how to manage a game, etc.

The Cardinals find themselves in an all-too-familiar precarious position heading into 2009.  It is safe to say that most Cardinal fans have adopted Adam Wainwright as the de facto ace of this pitching staff, with Chris Carpenter’s status again up in the air, depending on his pitching shoulder.  That leaves Joel Pineiro and the arbitration-eligible Todd Wellemeyer as the only remaining holdovers from this year’s rotation.  That means there are two spots to fill, because I will go ahead and pretty much guarantee you that John Mozeliak is not going to pay what Scott Boras wants for Kyle Lohse after the Cards resurrected his career in 2008.

So what to make of Looper in the situation?  It would be foolish at this point, given history, for the Cardinals to count on Carpenter for any sort of contribution in 2009.  They were burned by that premise this season, and can ill afford to do so again.  So that leaves Waino, Pineiro, and Wellemeyer.  The Cardinals have indicated that a top-flight starting pitcher is atop their wish list this off-season, and with a lot of expiring salary to spend, one would hope they could accomplish that goal.

So assuming that they sign someone to fill a #2 or #3 slot in the rotation, that still leaves one more open slot.  Jaime Garcia seemed to have the inside track to the best shot at filling it, but he is now facing a long-term absence with a Tommy John elbow procedure.  Mike Parisi didn’t impress starting at the big-league level.  Mitchell Boggs could fill the spot in a stopgap role, but I’m not sure the Cards are ready to hand him the job full-time just yet.  Chances are that someone could impress at Spring Training a la Kyle McClellan, but by that time the ship will have sailed on most other available free agent starting pitchers.  (Notice that I’m not even giving any credence to the idea of McClellan starting?)

So again I ask, how does Looper potentially fill in?  I have to admit that I hated his deal when the Cardinals originally signed him.  I thought they were paying far too much to a guy who wasn’t going to be a closer, and for that matter hadn’t been 3 years/$13.5 million worth of impressive as a reliever period.  In hindsight, his deal (from Cot’s Baseball Contracts):

Braden Looper rhp
3 years/$13.5M (2006-08)

  • signed as a free agent 12/05
  • 06:$3.5M, 07:$4.5M, 08:$5.5M
  • $1M annually in performance bonuses (GF & other categories)

hasn’t been too bad.  Obviously, had Looper known he was going to be starting those last two seasons, he may have negotiated differently.  Therein lies a big part of the problem with resigning Looper, however.  Loop is bound to command far more than the $5.5M he’s earning this season as a starter next year.  He has professed his preference to remain a starter, and I’m sure some team, whether the Cardinals or not, is sure to oblige.

So what could Looper be looking at for a payday?  Given his age, I can only assume he’d be shooting for another three year contract.  Certainly within reason.  The money is a bit more cloudy.  He has, after all, only been a starter for two seasons.

One quick comparison that is easy to make is Pineiro.  Joel has struggled this season both with injuries and on the mound.  He has given the Cardinals far less than Looper at around the same payday ($5M for Pineiro).  The difference is that Pineiro has another year on his deal at $7.5M.  So let’s assume that’s at the very least a jumping off point for Looper.  Can the Cardinals afford to sink that much into a guy at the back end (maybe #3) of their rotation?  I’ve argued all season that the Cardinals have more needs to fix than just one or two arms or positions (please stop with this ridiculous ‘Cardinals should sign Francisco Rodriguez stuff).

So is it worth the Cardinals to give Loop somewhere from $7.5M-$9M for the next three years?  I’m not sure what I think, but I know Looper has earned my respect by how he has taken on this new challenge in his career.  It’s soon to make him a much more wealthy man.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

A triple tonight? That settles it for me. Sign him.

PHE September 26, 2008

Heh. What about Kennedy?!?!

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

No, he can go.

PHE September 26, 2008

Heh. What if they turned him into a starting pitcher?

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Hmmm… Dave Duncan does like a challenge.

PHE September 26, 2008

Yeah – I’m sick of him having all these easy ones like Looper, Lohse, etc.

Let’s give ole Dunc a real challenge!

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Actually, I may have to take back everything I’ve said about Adam. Two triples could earn him a second chance.

PHE September 26, 2008

I’m kind of creeped out by it, personally. It’s just weird how he has turned it on like a switch.

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

It is. I don’t trust him now. Let’s get rid of him.

Oh, wait.

PHE September 26, 2008

Hey – either way, this sudden change of ability to hit has to be good for the Cardinals, right?

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

It’s just too bad he didn’t decide he wanted to be traded BEFORE we were eliminated from contention. We could’ve made a run.

PHE September 26, 2008

Good point – maybe if the Cardinals elect to keep him, Kennedy can demand to be traded on the first day of every month?

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Or change up his demands. Like a heated toilet seat in the locker room. Or someone to clip his toenails for him.

PHE September 26, 2008

I reckon any of those demands would probably make him hit better. Heh, before the last week or two, I’d have believed ANYTHING could make him hit better.

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Not to change the subject, but I hate Ryan Franklin. How much do you suppose it would cost to have him mulched?

PHE September 26, 2008

I wish Franklin would demand to be traded.

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Ha ha! Maybe we could send them somewhere together.

PHE September 26, 2008

Maybe they should try moving Franklin back to being a starter – at least then they would have a fighting chance when he got chased in the 4th.

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Good point. I know Izzy was always a liability (when he was hurt, anyway–and ps, why couldn’t he have told someone?), but Franklin has caused a fair amount of damage himself.

PHE September 26, 2008

With Motte, Kinney, McClellan, Fuentes (please, please, please) all ahead of Perez in the pen next year… there’s really not just room for Franklin.


Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Sure thing!
I wonder if he can play any infield? I mean, if we’re working AK into the rotation…

PHE September 26, 2008

Oh goodness, the middle infield? Franklin couldn’t handle *that* kind of pressure.

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Good one! ‘Cause there’s no pressure closing, right? Right.

Well, turns out he was just setting up a walk-off for Glaus. That Franklin. He sure knows when a little tension can make for a good ballgame!

PHE September 26, 2008

Maybe he works for MLB. Gotta keep those ratings up!

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

No win for Looper. (sigh)

Good game, though. Now let’s interview Kennedy about how hot Albert is. That’s not insulting.

PHE September 26, 2008

Oh sweet Mary – what in the world would happen if Albert demanded to be traded? Would he hit every single pitch he saw?

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

You mean he doesn’t already? Oh, that’s right, he walks half the time.

For him to get any better, he’d have to pitch to himself.

PHE September 26, 2008

Heh – even at that, he’d probably be a good enough pitcher to strike himself out every so often.

Sarah-bug September 26, 2008

Albert IS good at everything.

Have a good evening! Thanks for the banter!

PHE September 26, 2008

Same to you Sarah – cheers!

StLCards September 26, 2008

I would like for the Cards to resign Looper as he seems to keep getting better, but in reality he is no better than a 5th pitcher on the team. 7+ mil for that seems to be too much. I would push to have McClellan start and if it doesn’t work out then move him back to the pen. He has too many pitches not to be starting.

Carpenter is likely toast so we just need to move on without him in the plans whatsoever. Let’s not make the same mistakes in the past like we did by projecting Mulder, Clement, and Carpenter as cornerstones of our rotation.

Let’s just go out and sign some studly pitching and be done with it. Right now I say go out and get in the market for CC, Dempster, Burnett, Lowe or whoever else is going to be in the market and prove that you are serious about signing a pitcher. I also think signing a lefty starter is a must.

PHE September 26, 2008

Well, as I mentioned, they’re already paying Pineiro $7.5M next season, so $7M for Looper seems a bargain, no?

I’m not ready to write Carpenter completely off yet (if for no other reason than the Cards owe him a PILE of cash), but I don’t think they can count on him to be more than an expensive 5th starter. 🙂

The Cards will not be able (nor do I think they should) to compete for CC, Dempster, or Burnett. Lowe is a possibility, as is someone like a Randy Wolf, or Brad Penny.

I just can’t see a team with so many needs to fill as the Cardinals spending $20M on a CC, or $15M on a Dempster (who is both unproven and highly unlikely to leave a friendly situation in Chicago), or $18M on Burnett (who despite a good recent track record is still an elbow time bomb waiting to go off).

Sarah-bug September 27, 2008

I hadn’t thought about Penny. He needs a home, doesn’t he? Apparently he told reporters that he played hurt this season because the Dodgers wouldn’t extend his contract. That could explain the poor performance, I guess.
I just worry about his shoulder. We don’t really need another on again-off again pitcher.

PHE September 27, 2008

I agree about not taking on more injured pitchers, but the Penny situation seems like there’s more there than the naked eye can see. I think he’s been upset with the management there for a while.

StLCards September 27, 2008

Personally I would stay far away from Penny. He can never stay healthy and his fastball has lost some zip. No need to sign another pitcher that ‘used’ to be good, is injury prone, and is notorious for falling apart in the second half of a season.

I am tired of reclamation projects. Burnett is another injury prone pitcher, but between the two I’d go with Burnett. The best fit in my mind would be Lowe, as he is the groundball pitcher that the Cardinals want. If the Cardinals aren’t willing to pay big money to a starting pitcher, then we’ll just be hoping and praying that whoever they sign is able to ressurect their career here. Wolf would be a good 3rd or 4th pitcher, but I’d get rid of Piniero.

Last pitcher I remember with a nerve problem with the Cardinals (not counting Ankiel type nerves) was Alan Benes. When you have no feeling in your hand it is pretty hard to pitch. If we go into the year saying Carpenter is a viable option as a starting pitcher for ’09, then we’re just hearing more of the same.

First priority in my humble opinion is to sign a true stud starting pitcher and go from their. Going in to a playoff series I would feel comfortable with Wainwright starting. After that?

PHE September 27, 2008

Agreed – obviously Penny would carry risk, something we Cards fans are impatient with after this year. I’m just not sure how many top flight SPs are going to be within the Cards’ wheelhouse, despite the strong overall market.

The Birds have been hesitant to go beyond 3 or 4 years for a starting pitcher, and given the return so far on their making an exception for Carp, it’s probably a prudent move. Are they going to be able to get a Burnett or CC for less than 5 years?

StLCards September 29, 2008

Sounds like the days might be numbered for Looper as I heard they would sign one of either Lohse or Looper and now it looks like the Lohse deal is going to be finalized today.

I’m definitely happy with them signing Lohse as I just think he has more upside than Looper. Actually I’d probably rather have Looper than Piniero but Piniero is already under contract so that isn’t an option.

So our starting 2009 rotation is looking like Wainwright, Lohse, Wellemeyer, Piniero, ?

While I like Wainwright a lot, I still think signing someone to be the ‘Ace’ makes a lot of sense, or at least someone comparable to Wainwright and have co-aces.

Sarah-bug September 29, 2008

I, too, am very happy they’re “close” to a deal with Lohse, but I think I’d like to have Looper back, too. It seems like he’s been steadily improving since having been converted to a starter, and next year could be his best yet.
That is, unless they can bring in someone like CC, in which case, screw him.
(Yes, I know there’s zero chance of that happening.)

PHE September 29, 2008

I think you’ll see Looper command somewhere between Pineiro’s $7.5m and Lohse’s $10m per season. If that’s the case there just wasn’t room for him in what I’ve read was a $15-16m overall budget for starting pitching.

Lohse gets the nod over Looper on age if nothing else, but I believe the Cards think they can get Lohse to consistently repeat 2008, which would be low-2/high-3 performance.

Now, if the $15-16m number is right, that probably means another high-risk guy or they are depending on a fill-in from Memphis or Carp. Kinda scary…

Sarah-bug September 29, 2008

I wouldn’t hang my laundry on Carp at this point, but you know the Cardinals are.

Maybe now that we know Lohse is only getting $7 million (or so) next year there’ll be room for Looper after all.

StLCards September 29, 2008

I thought Lohse was getting $10M which is an increase of about $6M. Wellemeyer is arbitration eligible. Will he get Pineiro type money?

PHE September 29, 2008

Per Cot’s, Lohse got 09:$7.125M, 10:$8.875M, 11:$11.875M, 12:$11.875M.

He also received a $1.25M signing bonus.

The big surprise? Full no trade clause. Not sure I’m on board with that, but the general terms of the deal don’t seem so bad.

I actually believe this deal, as structured, could leave room for a 2-year deal for Looper. Just depends on how badly he wants to stick.

As for Welley – I’m pretty sure arbitration looks at several past seasons, in which case, his relief would still come into play. Wellemeyer might figure to $3M-$4M after playing for $1M in ’08 (obviously, purely my opinion).

PHE September 29, 2008

Erm… nevermind?

“‘Right now, it looks like we have a realy good rotation heading into 2009,’ Mozeliak said. ‘Right now we are comfortable where we are.'”

Sarah-bug September 30, 2008

So does that mean WITH Wellemeyer? Surely they won’t let him go to arbitration, right?

I don’t like that word “comfortable.” It’s too much like “status quo.” The status quo didn’t get us there this year, why would it make us happy for next year? Although, the starting pitching wasn’t the problem so much, I guess. Unless you count that big hole where Carp (can you believe I accidentally typed “Crap” first?) is supposed to be.

Sarah-bug September 30, 2008

Oh, that sounds bad.
Disclaimer: I love Carp. Love him, love him, love him. Just wish we had some insurance for that fifth spot.

PHE September 30, 2008

Wellemeyer won’t make it to arbitration. Mozeliak can’t be that stupid.

Unfortunately, it appears they’re counting pretty heavily on Carp at this point.

Could you imagine what might happen if Mang decided to go in and get that elbow worked on this off-season?

PHE September 30, 2008

Also, take into account (hopefully) a full season from Waino when evaluating the starting rotation. I firmly believe his presence would’ve meant a much different outcome for the Cards this season.

Sarah-bug September 30, 2008

Oh, you’re so right. A healthy Wainwright and we’re selling playoff tickets. I just keep having this horrible nightmare of a repeat of this year, and until Moze makes some more big moves, I’ll continue waking up in a cold sweat.
I guess I should focus more of my telepathic energy on getting him to shake up the ‘pen.
‘Cause just like Wainwright could’ve made a huge difference, a stable bullpen finishing off the games would have gotten us there too.

PHE September 30, 2008

I think I might be the only Cardinal fan playing ‘wait and see’ with the Lohse move. I have to believe that for the Cards to commit that kind of money (and a no-trade to boot), they think Duncan/Lohse can repeat 2008. That would be plenty worth what they are scheduled to pay him.

I’m beginning to believe more and more in this club’s chances to land Brian Fuentes. I think that would be a great step at improving the club, in more ways than one.

StLCards October 1, 2008

A full no trade clause for Lohse? and for 4 whole years? Not even a 4th year option? ugh. I don’t like that at all.

Couldn’t we have signed someone like Lowe for 4 years without a no trade clause for just a little bit more money?

I mean, I like Lohse, but look at his second half. And the year before nobody at all would sign him as a free agent. And now he gets a 4year contract with full no trade protection?

Sure hope he works out!

PHE October 1, 2008

I think Lowe will find a similar deal, if not more money. I have to believe that Lohse’s willingness to accept a fairly back-loaded deal had an impact on his overall value to Mozeliak.

PHE October 1, 2008

Um – also, Lowe is merely 6 years older than Lohse.

StLCards October 1, 2008

One difference I see between two players you’ve mentioned (Suppan and Lowe) and Lohse, is that they were both starting pitchers on World Series Championship teams and were clutch pitchers ni big games.

Hopefully Lohse will get his chances to shine as a starter on a WS team soon 🙂 The point is that players coming off a WS championship typically get paid more than they would have otherwise, because now they are proven commodities in big game situations.

PHE October 1, 2008

I’ll give you that to some extent.

But to argue just a bit, how has that worked out for Suppan?

PHE October 1, 2008

Heh, I shouldn’t re-read my own stuff…

“That means there are two spots to fill, because I will go ahead and pretty much guarantee you that John Mozeliak is not going to pay what Scott Boras wants for Kyle Lohse after the Cards resurrected his career in 2008.”

StLCards October 2, 2008

Actually it worked out quite well for Suppan, not so good for the Brewers maybe, but then again, they are in the playoffs and Suppan is scheduled to pitch Saturday vs Moyer, so I think the jury is still out on that one. They got him for his ability to win the big game in the playoffs and his expierence to help the younger pitchers.

PHE October 2, 2008

Right, I meant how well has Suppan’s deal worked out – the Brewers probably wish they could have that one back.

I think Soup’s panache is his ability to eat up innings, very similar to Lohse. Again, market demand for starting pitching is just nuts to begin with.

StLCards October 5, 2008

I was going to say that Suppan earned his money tonight and then realized it was Bush that started and won the game. We’ll see on Sunday whether the Suppan signing could still work out for the Brew Crew.

Certainly will be interesting to see how he does. At least he’s been there before.

PHE October 5, 2008

Suppan didn’t fare so well today. Brewers are out.

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