Increased opportunities and the Khalil Greene trade

by on December 10, 2008 · 18 comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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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chetthejet December 10, 2008

Good stuff, PHE.

I’ve been scrounging every Cards’ source I can find in an attmept to garner some intel on Vegas.

This is like waiting for Troy Glaus to commit an error.

Guess we’ll just wing it on the air unless you have some prep.

PHE December 10, 2008

Thanks Chet. I’ve been obsessively refreshing Twitter waiting for updates from Derrick Goold and the like – been the best source of up to date info so far.

chetthejet December 10, 2008

I just hooked up to Goold’s Twittering less than an hour ago.

Guess we’ll just have to play GM, and maybe a little TLR as well.

PHE December 10, 2008

I like playing GM. I’d have a team full of All-Stars by now. 😉

chetthejet December 10, 2008

Flash: Leach is reporting on STL official site that TLR says that Fluentes is definately #1 priority.

chetthejet December 10, 2008

STL-PD is confirming Goold’s twitters and believe Goold and Strauss will be speaking with MO soon.

PHE December 10, 2008

Yeah – TLR held a chat with the writers out in Vegas – Goold had that on his Twitter. 😉

StLCards December 11, 2008

“but free agents are seemingly not going to get nearly what they would’ve expected back in September”

Don’t tell that CC and his monster deal with the Yankeees who are reportedly also now offering Burnett a mere 5 yr $80M.

Edwin Jackson has now also been traded so I doubt any of those Rays pitchers will be available now. Cameron was just traded to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera.

No way would I trade Ludwick for pitching, unless, somehow we were upgrading Ludwick. Ankiel can’t protect Pujols and really Ludwick can’t either as long as they both strike out so much. Really the Cards would be better off with Pujols protecting them.

I just got an email alert from AZ that Lopez signed a 1 year $3.5M deal to play 2nd base as well.

StLCards December 11, 2008

Forgot to mention Putz to the Mets in a multi-team trade as well.

PHE December 12, 2008

If Ankiel+ wasn’t enough for Putz, Mo was wise to move on.

StLCards December 12, 2008

I had a whole post written up and then my IE crashed while researching something. Maybe that post just wasn’t meant to be.

But, if Mo was offering Ankiel for Putz then I question if he knows what he is doing. You don’t offer an older player that will be a free agent the following year and that has Boras as his agent to a team that is rebuilding on the cheap. Putz is a stud closer and would easily be worth Ankiel. I never really considered the Cardinals contenders for Putz figuring they would have to give up too much in the way of young talent, ie not Ankiel, in order to get him, and that Mo is following his hardcore line of building from within. Maybe if Putz didn’t have the arm issues last year you could consider giving more for him. In reality penciling any closer in for even 3 years is risky at best. I still think he will be a stud and far better than Fuentes, who TLR likely wouldn’t use as the everday closer anyway being a lefty, but I would be, and I assume most Cardinal fans, be happy just to see the players we have been building from within, allowed the chance to step in and take on the role, ie Perez with Motte as a backup.

Right now, besides Fuentes, there is Hoffman still on the market. The Angels are interested in Fuentes, so his price probably just went back to the out of reach range for the Cardinals. I would give Hoffman a $4-5M contract, but not likely he would pitch for that.

Looking at the Cardinal roster you can pencil in 1B, 3B, SS, C as filled and Rasmus is going to be the CF unless he falls flat on his face. That leaves LF, RF, SP, RP as possible moves. I would argue that it will be hard to improve on Ludwick, Schumaker, and Ankiel as the 4 outfielders without having to trade young talent, which isn’t going to happen. It’s not like we are going after Abreu or Ramirez for instance. However, if we could trade for a Willy Taveras or maybe sign Podsednik, I’d be willing to give that a try. Barring that, if I were the GM, I’d be trying to sign Lowe as a SP. His sinker is perfect for Duncan and he’d be a great fit. Sign him while the focus is still on Burnett. Then I’d have to try to find a 2B. We probably don’t get Hudson if the Nationals are going to throw big money at him when they don’t sign Teixiera. Maybe I’d consider signing Ray Durham to a 1 year deal and platoon him with Miles. Kennedy would be traded for bullpen help or a minor leaguer to build the farm system. I think we missed out on a nice ‘project’ player in Ryan Freel. He is a hard nosed player that could play lots of positions. Maybe could have earned the 2B spot and batted leadoff.

Guess we’ll just wait and see what happens.

StLCards December 12, 2008

I see that the D’Backs won’t be tendering an offer to Chris Burke now that they have signed Lopez.

This could be a guy to take a look at. He was drafted 10th overall in the 2001 draft by Houston and was a very higly rated prospect but was blocked by Biggio at 2B. He finally earned some playing time in the outfield but never really got a fair shot. He wound up in Arizona but not as an everyday player either. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cards sign him to a one or two year deal, stick him at 2B and see what he can do in his natural position with an everyday role. If nothing else he could be a nice utility guy. Was supposed to be a 20/20 type player IIRC.

PHE December 15, 2008

For better or worse, I think the Cards are set on giving Kennedy the opportunity to lose the 2B job…

StLCards December 15, 2008

How about Willy Taveras leading off or even as 2nd leadoff? He is now a FA after not being offered a contract by CO. He brings something that the Cards desperately need, speed. 68 bags last year and that was a down year for him as far as obp. I would love to have this guy on the team. Trade Schumaker or Ankiel and then have Taveras try to earn the CF job in spring training. If nothing else he would be a terrific 4th outfielder that you know would get playing time. Wasn’t too long ago he was R.O.Y. or at least in the running for it IIRC.

I thought the lack of speed last year was a killer and now we don’t even have Izturis who stole the most bases for us.

PHE December 15, 2008

I completely agree that the lack of speed is a bad thing – but I don’t think that adding speed at an already over-crowded position is necessarily the answer either.

In a perfect world, they’d have ponied up for Furcal to play SS – but I think his injury history is going to wind up making him a bad addition wherever he lands.

I wouldn’t mind seeing one of the outfielders they have now traded for a young, cheap starting pitcher – and then let Rasmus play CF and lead off.

StLCards December 15, 2008

I still say batting Rasmus leadoff would be the biggest mistake ever. Did he even bat leadoff in the minors? Bat the guy 2nd in front of Pujols and let him have success. I’m sure that is what Tony will do. Rasmus batted about .250 last year and I’d guess will be about a 15 stolen base guy. Taveras would put insane pressure on starting pitchers. Taveras, Rasumus, Pujols. That could be wicked.

Why we won’t do it. Too much depth in the outfield. Tony is saying there are 6 outfielders right now, Ludwick, Ankiel, Schumaker, Duncan, Mather, and Rasmus. Sounds like if Rasmus isn’t playing great then he won’t be an everday player, and if he isn’t an everyday player then he goes back to AAA. In that interview on the birdhouse, Tony goes so far as to say Rasmus is still just a baby. Kind of hints at ‘management’ maybe is leaning on him to play Rasmus more than he would like. Also it sounds like we can expect to see Duncan back in the outfield. Don’t worry though, TLR assures us he will be terrific. I could get behind Duncan as a bench player backing up Pujols at 1B, but not in the OF, yet again. Seattle is looking for a left-handed first baseman and/or DH. Sounds like a perfect fit to me. There must be some pitcher there we could trade for.

Right now I would trade Rasmus + whoever for Peavy, sign Taveras to play CF, and sign Fuentes or some closer to keep Tony happy. I’d make some kind of offer to Smoltz too if the Braves don’t sign him. He was pitching great last year before he got hurt and he is tough and smart and won’t come back if he can’t pitch. At least that’s my read on him. Don’t get me wrong on Rasmus, I’d love to have the guy on the team, but I just don’t think he’s going to mesh with Tony. He wants to play and be the star and Tony wants him to do as he’s told. I’m almost thinking of Rasmus as a JD Drew now. Lots and lots of talent, but will he ever live up to all the hype? Guess I’m just getting frustrated. To me the holes are glaringly obvious and yet they go un-addressed.

Also in that interview it sounds like TLR isn’t about to turn the 9th inning over to Reyes or Motte either. Fuentes or find somebody else or maybe have Carpenter close.

chetthejet December 15, 2008

Spend the Fuentes kitty on a solid #5 rotation and upgrade at 2B if the Cards use Carp as closer.

PHE December 16, 2008

Yeah, all the back and forth at this point is just getting frustrating – but at the same time I have to keep reminding myself that save for the Yankees throwing their cash around – no one else is really making moves either.

If I were GM:

1. Let Perez and Motte split the 9th inning duties. Just always go with the hot hand out of the two.

2. Give Trevor Hoffman a year at $6m if for no other reason than to mentor the young arms in the pen. He doesn’t have to close, he barely even has to pitch as far as I’m concerned, but have him around those young guys.

3. Ink Randy Wolf for a year at around $8m. Should be enough, unless someone is throwing a crazy multi-year offer at him. Avoids long-term commitment, but still maximizing the use of resources.

4. Sit back and wait, just like the Cards did with Lohse last season, and see who shakes loose at the end of the winter. There are sure to be bargains to be had in this market for the patient GM. If you can’t make a worthwhile add at that point, leave yourself around $6m wiggle room for a trade deadline acquisition (and this time actually make one).

Keith Law has called the Cardinals ‘sneaky-good for 2009’ – so there’s something there, they just need to be able to add the right part here and there when it’s necessary.

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