So I’ve been banging these ideas, ‘theories’ if you will, around in my head since the Khalil Greene trade was announced late last week. I decided that some of them were just too ingenious to keep to myself.
Everyone knows and acknowledges that one of the Cardinals’ priorities heading into this season was finding middle infield help. Among adding bullpen help and bolstering the starting rotation, middle infield was among the top priorities for General Manager John Mozeliak as he headed into the off-season and, more recently, the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Obviously, one piece of the puzzle has been completed by bringing Greene on-board. I think this was a more shrewd move than Mozeliak is getting credit for. My thoughts specifically on the trade:
- His 2008 struggles aside, Greene is a low-risk, high-reward type of acquisition. He is not a budget-buster at $6.5m for 2009. Edgar Renteria, another rumored Cardinal target went off the board for two years, $19 million. Greene is not going to represent a $3 million downgrade from Renteria at that position. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least for Greene’s value in 2009 to exceed that of former Cardinal Renteria. So by my book the Cardinals are saving money at shortstop.
- Greene played in Petco Park for 81 games per season, obviously deflating his statistics. His road performances were markedly better than when hitting in San Diego. Many statisticians (read: folks smarter than I) are projecting that Greene will fare much better outside of Petco. I know I know, he can’t do much worse. At any rate, Mozeliak presumably found a bargain in Greene, even by the admission of San Diego GM Kevin Towers, who told Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune, “I probably sold low on Khalil.”
- The trade capital sent to San Diego was low. Obviously making the assumption that the player to be named later is not a significant part of the Cards’ future (and rumors abound that the Cards could get cash back in the deal, depending on the PTBNL), sending Mark Worrell in the trade was dealing from an organizational strength at right-handed reliever, not to mention unloading a player apparently unhappy with the organization. (Shameless plug: Tune in to UCB Radio tonight, when the author of the Worrell interview is on with us!)
So Mozeliak was able to get a player to fill the shortstop position that in theory saved money in their off-season budget, Greene is thought by many to have a bounce-back year while being a relative bargain compared to other shortstops, and the Cardinals were able to obtain him by trading from a strength without including their top trade chips.
How does this affect the Cardinals off-season and increase their opportunities going forward?
- The initial rumors about filling middle infield slots revolved around a Ryan Ludwick for Yunel Escobar or Kelly Johnson deal with the Atlanta Braves. By getting hold of Greene and holding onto Ludwick, the Cardinals now still have Ludwick in play for a starting pitcher. Or perhaps still for Johnson to fill the hole at second base (that I’m still not convinced the Cardinals are willing to hand to Adam Kennedy). Any way you look at it, Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, and Skip Schumaker, are the three most likely trade commodities the Cardinals can use to upgrade or fill other positions, and Greene was an upgrade at shortstop that didn’t cost any of the most valuable trade chips.
- By spending $6.5 million on a shortstop for 2009, instead of $9.5 million or in the neighborhood of $11 million (the area where Rafael Furcal is liable to wind up), the Cardinals are saving themselves precious payroll space beneath their reported $100-$110 million dollar range. Now that the closer market has been set by Francisco Rodriguez’ new contract with the New York Mets (and I still can’t believe the Cards were in on him, but it further illustrates my point) – Brian Fuentes has come back into play. The Cardinals were able to capitalize on obtaining Greene and now stand as stronger competitors in the free agent market.
- Contradictory to my first point, the Cardinals now also have the ability to hang onto Ludwick as their protection for Albert Pujols. Many still aren’t sold on Ludwick’s ability to repeat 2008, but we also have no proof that he can’t. So they couldn’t land Matt Holliday or another “impact bat,” but they still have Ludwick. I could think of worse players to put hope in. Meanwhile, the interest in Ankiel and Schumaker continues to increase, with names like Ian Kennedy, Andy Sonnanstine, and Edwin Jackson being bandied about. By dealing a lesser entity for Greene, the Cardinals have retained maximum trade flexibility.
- I would be foolish to discount the eventual possibility of a Cubs-Padres trade that would land Jake Peavy on the north side of Chicago, but at the very least I can offer this. When asked in the comments section on his blog whether the Greene deal offered the Padres more flexibility in keeping Peavy, Padres Executive VP Paul DePodesta said this: “William, Very simply, yes. We never wanted to be in a position to HAVE to move Jake Peavy, and now we’re not. We will still continue to explore opportunities, as we always do. Our hope is that any other deals we make this winter are pure baseball deals.” As mentioned, I’d be foolish to say that it will never happen, but at the least the move the Cards made to relieve the Padres of Greene’s salary has likely upped the trade price of Peavy, since the Padres do not have to be as anxious to move him.
- The entire market (at least until today’s big free agent deal) has slowed, almost to a stop. Mozeliak, in this scribe’s humble opinion, has seemingly played the market perfectly, similar to last year’s late signing of Kyle Lohse. Free agent asking prices are flucuating wildly by the day, but the fact that the Cardinals hopped into the KRod fracas indicates that the market is coming back to teams that have been patient under the intent of spending wisely and dealing prudently. The Cardinals have gone from being an outsider on a lot of big names to right back in the chase.
Please understand that I could be completely wrong in my assessments here, but I think the trade for Greene has positioned the Cardinals such that they can pretty much dictate certain things in this market. Obviously money makes the world go around in the free agent market – but free agents are seemingly not going to get nearly what they would’ve expected back in September. The Cardinals hold some outfielders that are very coveted in the trade market, giving them a strong bargaining position amongst several interested teams.
Ludwick and Schu and Ankiel and whomever else may be on other teams’ minds could wind up all staying with the Cards this off-season. But they surely will be discussed, and if the time is right, I’m confident Mozeliak will make the right move. It’s a great time to be a Cardinal (and baseball!) fan.