Now that Tony LaRussa’s self-proclaimed primary focus in the free agent market has signed on for several millions with the Los Angeles of Anaheim, Orange County, California, USA Angels – where do the Cardinals turn next?
The Cardinals have, at least in the opinion of this humble scribe, several holes yet to fill as they emerge from the bitter cold of winter. Let’s take a look at some of the remaining names on the market and see who might pique the interest of Mr. Mo.
Using ESPN.com’s list of remaining free agents, in their (albeit subjective) ranked order – we find that there are 64 of the top 100 free agents still unsigned. Two, (Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux, have announced their retirement. Inexplicably, players 22, 25, and 42 in their rankings are not listed. So who’s left?
10. SP Oliver Perez
Rumors have indicated Perez is looking to get a contract that is just ludicrous, something like 3 years, $50mm if I recall correctly. If and when he ever comes off of that cloud, I’d hope Mo would take a look. You’ll notice a distinct pattern in my list below, there are a lot of starting pitchers.
Hudson figured to be a top target of many teams heading into this winter. The ice-cold market has changed everything. While the O-Dog may have been sniffing around the $10mm per level at the end of the 2008 season, now I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off the table for around $6mm per. Obviously there’s the Adam Kennedy situation to deal with, but if this guy got into “too cheap to pass up” territory, I’d hope they give him a call.
20. RP Brandon Lyon
Lyon is one of the few remaining relievers in the market with closing experience. He posted 26 saves for Arizona last year, and might be persuaded to come on the 2 year or less contract that the Cardinals are insisting on.
23. SP Ben Sheets
Another guy who originally seemed to be out of the Cards’ reach, suddenly the market on Sheets is coming back to them, especially if reports that they were willing to go to around $10mm per on Brian Fuentes is true. There are certainly some concerns about Sheets’ past health issues.
24. SP Randy Wolf
I’ve been stumping for a Wolf signing for a while. Same as Sheets, it would seem as if Fuentes signing with the Angels leaves the Cards with a war chest to spend on something else. Here’s hoping it’s starting pitching.
26. SP Andy Pettitte
Pettitte seems almost destined to return to the Yankees, but surely he’d at least listen to offers elsewhere, right? Pettitte still figures to be looking at a $10mm per salary, and that might push him out of the Cards’ range if they hope to fill other holes as well. Pettitte is no spring chicken either.
36. SP Jon Garland
All Garland does is take the ball every fifth day. Garland has averaged over 200 innings pitched per season for the last seven seasons. I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who thinks the Cards could use a guy like that.
38. SP Paul Byrd
Not much to say about Byrd here, other than he is a starting pitcher that is better than other options the Cardinals have (probably including Joel Pineiro who is currently holding a spot by default).
43. SP Braden Looper
Has the ship sailed on this one? Looper presents an interesting option, having both starting and bullpen experience. Looper has expressed his desire to remain in a rotation, but in a pinch, would he setup or close games if the Cardinals asked him? Likely looking for a three year deal, which again, might not be in the Cards’ plans.
51. RP Will Ohman
Low on the ESPN list, but very high on my wish list for the Cardinals. With Fuentes now in the rearview, the Cardinals would do well to lock up Ohman as a top-notch lefty out of the bullpen. It was, and largely still is, one of the Cardinals’ most glaring weaknesses in 2008.
Another guy like Looper who can provide maximum versatility and slot into multiple roles. Hard to believe that it has been four seasons since Smoltz closed games for the Braves, but one would think he could slot back into that role pretty easily. Cards could theoretically get him on a short-term contract, but what sort of dollars?
62. RP Dennys Reyes
If Reyes could put up another season with an ERA under his weight**, he would represent an improvement for the Cardinal bullpen.
** Assuming he hasn’t gotten too deep into the Krispy Kreme’s this off-season.
67. 2B Ray Durham
Durham would likely have to accept a role as a backup, at least at the time of signing. Could be worth it to handcuff Kennedy?
72. RP Joe Beimel
Another guy I jumped on the bandwagon with as soon as he became available. If the Cardinals are looking for someone to bridge the gap to Chris Perez and/or Jason Motte, who better than one of the better closers of all time? The kids could theoretically learn a lot from Hoffman, and he might well come cheaper than $5mm.
80. SS Omar Vizquel
Would Omar accept a job as a backup in the twilight of his career? Vizquel would be a valuable defensive tool in a LaRussa style musical chairs lineup, whether getting spot starts or coming into the late innings with a lead.
Another guy where I don’t know if the ship has sailed? Would Eckstein return to the Cardinals after they let him go? Eckstein could be the new Aaron Miles, but obviously would depend on cost. I don’t think there’s a need to spend a big pile of money to replace Miles.
See Eckstein above. Many (myself included) would argue the Cardinals should’ve never let Grudz go to the Royals the first time around.
Now, obviously Schilling is trying to come back from some health issues, and probably represents another pitcher that the Cardinals have steadfastly stayed far away from this off-season, but you may remember Curt’s post at his personal blog indicating a couple seasons ago that he would pitch for St Louis if the circumstances dictated. I’m just saying it’s an option.
There you have it. Obviously I’m just spouting off here, but the Cardinals have specific holes and there are players on this list to fill those holes. Will they spend ANY money on free agency anymore? Are there trades in the works that Mozeliak is keeping to himself? Let’s hope the ice cracks soon…
Who’s on your list?