Have the Cards really missed on any free agents?

by on January 8, 2009 · 21 comments

Today brought us some great posts across the Cardinal blogosphere, not so indirectly focused toward an article that appeared yesterday in the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

I don’t have a lot to add to what Pip and C70 have already said regarding the venom being spewed toward Cardinal management, nor about the media’s involvement in provoking and/or further exacerbating the fans’ perception of reality for this ballclub.

What I *would* like to do, is take a different approach to this story.  Who should the Cardinals have signed?

There is clamor and calamity among Cardinal fans everywhere that the front office isn’t doing enough to improve the team, the ownership is bilking the fans, and Bill DeWitt eats kittens.  Ok, maybe not the last one, but you get the point.

To my point, below is a list of free agents that have already signed during this off-season.  I realize it is somewhat incomplete, as there are players not on this list who have agreed to deals but have yet to officially finalize their contracts.  Many thanks (again) to ESPN.com for the knowledge from their free agent tracker.

The list:

Player Status Old Team New Team Years Dollars
Mark Teixeira, 1B Signed (A) LA Angels NY Yankees 8 $180,000,000
CC Sabathia, SP Signed (A) Milwaukee NY Yankees 7 $161,000,000
A.J. Burnett, SP Signed (A) Toronto NY Yankees 5 $82,500,000
Ryan Dempster, SP Signed Chi Cubs Chi Cubs 4 $52,000,000
Francisco Rodriguez, RP Signed (A) LA Angels NY Mets 3 $37,000,000
Raul Ibanez, LF Signed (A) Seattle Philadelphia 3 $31,500,000
Milton Bradley, DH Signed (B) Texas Chi Cubs 3 $30,000,000
Rafael Furcal, SS Signed LA Dodgers LA Dodgers 3 $30,000,000
Kerry Wood, RP Signed Chi Cubs Cleveland 2 $20,500,000
Edgar Renteria, SS Signed Detroit San Francisco 2 $18,500,000
Casey Blake, 3B Signed LA Dodgers LA Dodgers 3 $17,500,000
Brian Fuentes, RP Signed (A) Colorado LA Angels 2 $17,500,000
Pat Burrell, LF Signed Philadelphia Tampa Bay 2 $16,000,000
Jamie Moyer, SP Signed Philadelphia Philadelphia 2 $13,000,000
Juan Rivera, RF Signed LA Angels LA Angels 3 $12,750,000
Damaso Marte, RP Signed NY Yankees NY Yankees 3 $12,000,000
Kyle Farnsworth, RP Signed Detroit Kansas City 2 $9,250,000
Nick Punto, SS Signed Minnesota Minnesota 2 $8,500,000
Jeremy Affeldt, RP Signed (B) Cincinnati San Francisco 2 $8,000,000
Randy Johnson, SP Signed Arizona San Francisco 1 $8,000,000
Willy Taveras, CF Signed Colorado Cincinnati 2 $6,250,000
Jason Giambi, 1B Signed NY Yankees Oakland 1 $5,250,000
Cesar Izturis, SS Signed St. Louis Baltimore 2 $5,000,000
Aaron Miles, 2B Signed St. Louis Chi Cubs 2 $4,900,000
Arthur Rhodes, RP Signed Florida Cincinnati 2 $4,000,000
Felipe Lopez, SS Signed St. Louis Arizona 1 $3,500,000

We can safely write off the first four players on the list.  The Cards weren’t going to spend upwards of $15mm per year on any player, and Ryan Dempster wasn’t going anywhere (he resigned with the Cubs with little doubt).

We can write off the outfielders on the list, based upon the Cardinals’ relative glut of capable players there, most of them cost-controlled, an additional bonus.  (Not to mention the joy I derive from seeing a player the Cubs plan to employ in their outfield every day, Milton Bradley listed as a DH.)

Interest in shortstops was nullified by the acquisition of Khalil Greene, which was at a minimal cost (as far as we know now – that PTBNL still looms).  The Cards kicked the tires on Rafael Furcal and Edgar Renteria, but the cost again was probably prohibitive, especially on Renteria (enjoy that one, Giants!).  ESPN has Felipe Lopez listed at SS, which is probably misleading, I would’ve liked to see him re-signed to play 2B for the Cardinals, but alas, Boras is Boras.

Eliminate 3B Casey BlakeTroy Glaus is entrenched there for 2009, and the Cards have promising prospects behind him in David Freese and Tyler Greene.

Additionally, in terms of guys we can eliminate from Cardinal consideration, I submit Jason Giambi.  There is just no way the Cards could use the guy.  Agreed?  Good.

Now, explanation of my thought process here – CBS Sportsline lists the 2008 MLB average salary as $3,154,845.  For the sake of this little project, assume that number won’t change.  I’ve cut my list off at players who were signed for more than the league minimum, with a few exceptions (I kept the three former Cardinals: Aaron Miles, Cesar Izturis, and Felipe Lopez on the list – as well as reliever Arthur Rhodes, a lefty who fit the Cards’ needs well).

Why cut it there?  “Low hanging fruit,” my friend.  If we’re trying to appease the masses here, I think it safe to assume the masses wouldn’t be interested in competing to ink the Carl Pavano’s and Russell Branyan’s of the league.

That being said, there is some “low hanging fruit” of note:  SP Daniel Cabrera, RP Alan Embree, RP Joe Nelson.  I would’ve been intrigued enough by any of these three to welcome a flyer by the Cards, but they all went elsewhere.  Oh well.

Finally, I’ll eliminate the two players left who signed with their previous teams.  Jamie Moyer and Damaso Marte likely weren’t headed anywhere else but re-upping with the Phillies and Yankees.

Now then – back to the players we have left.  There are eight.  Only eight.  Sure, I’ve probably been a bit liberal in my criteria for cutting the list down, but I feel all the cuts made are legit, and at worse defensible.

Francisco Rodriguez – Rumors had the Cardinals in on him late in the game, once they realized he wasn’t going to command near the price he was hoping for in September.  Rodriguez marked the likely beginning of the down market, while at the same time probably making a shrewd move in taking the largest deal he could get early on, before the market turned even worse.  Rodriguez likely wasn’t going to settle for less than a three-year contract, which didn’t necessarily fit the Cardinals’ plans, yet they surely would’ve made an exception for the single-season saves record holder.  Questions abound about whether KRod’s arm will be able to hold up after several seasons of abuse.  It also deserves mentioning that signing Rodriguez would’ve cost the Cardinals a first-round pick as compensation, something the organization is not keen to lose, as they strive to make the organization self-sufficient.

Kerry Wood – Certainly a name to knock around, as the Cards were/are looking for a closer solution.  Wood’s injury history had to be a big factor in how the Cardinals evaluated Wood as a potential signing.  Injury risk has burned the Cardinals in past deals and has clearly been a concern during this off-season as players are evaluated.  Chances are good the Cards were never realistically considering a Wood signing.

Brian Fuentes – For most Cardinal fans, or moreso front-office and ownership bashers, this is the big fish that got away.  Fuentes was the answer to every Cardinal problem.  Fuentes could probably play a mean second base and throw a complete game if necessary, depending on which Cardinal fan you ask.  In reality, Fuentes was never too interested in straying far from the West Coast.  Reports have the Cardinals increasing their offer to Fuentes to include more cash than he eventually signed for, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  Being one that has stumped for a Chris Perez and Jason Motte tandem to close out games in 2009, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but it’s hard to deny what Fuentes could’ve brought to the team’s most glaring weak spot from 2008 – the bullpen.  Again, worth noting that Fuentes was a Type-A free agent, requiring the forfeiture of a first-round draft pick for signing him.

Kyle Farnsworth – I hope it’s ok with the readers if I just don’t give this one much thought.  There is a reason why Kansas City can’t seem to figure out the small market game, and Farnsworth embodies that.

Jeremy Affeldt – Affeldt has had two quite successful seasons as a reliever, in 2007 and 2008, and was a name much bandied about by Cardinal loyalists coming into this off-season.  Affeldt likely flew under the radar of the Cardinals, signing early while most focus was still on the big names and taking care of the role players that needed to be resigned within the organization.

Randy Johnson – Still a name that intrigues me, but one who still commands a premium price, despite his advancing age.  Johnson is likely to earn victory number 300 this season, which will be a great story unto itself, but what can he realistically offer a team that hopes to contend?  Johnson still threw 184 innings last season, he still had an ERA under 4, he is still better than Joel Pineiro.  This is where I think back to a bit I read that indicated Mozeliak was more interested in cost-controlled pitching than investing more money in his rotation.  After all, they have a ton of money locked up in Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, and Pineiro.  Something to the tune of $30mm-$35mm if I recall off the top of my head.  Problem with that thinking is Pineiro is seriously overpaid and cost-controlled pitching has become the holy grail in MLB.  It might cost the Cards two of their outfielders for one decent cost-controlled starting pitcher, where everyone expects Mo to magically pull off a Skip Schumaker for Tim Lincecum deal.  Note to the Cardinal front-office haters: MLB GMs value the Cards’ outfielders about 1/6 as much as you do.  Adjust accordingly.

Aaron Miles – This one has really been beaten to death since his signing with the Chicago Cubs.  I will refer you to Matthew Leach.

Arthur Rhodes – The Cards were certainly involved here as well, with an offer that was redacted when the Trever Miller signing finally went through.  The Cards have seemingly taken a “throw ’em at the wall and see who sticks” approach to their LOOGy’s this season, and perhaps with good reason.  In my view, nothing points to Rhodes being glaringly more worthwhile than Miller (short of injury concern), yet Rhodes is getting $4mm guaranteed.  The Cardinals played their hand correctly with Miller on this one, in my opinion.


So who then, should the Cards have locked up?  Who was the no-doubter?  Hindsight always being 20-20, perhaps Rodriguez was a great value.  I don’t think Fuentes ever really believed he would wind up in St Louis.  Wood has a history as damaged goods.  I could go on.

What shouldn’t be lost in this discussion is that of the 25 players that qualified for this discussion, 17 of them signed with large-market teams.  Yankees, Cubs, Mets, Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, Angels.  The majority of the money has been spent by teams that can get away with virtually anything in a bad economy.  The Yankees have committed per season money to four players that would’ve been the 24th highest payroll in the league last season (there are 30 teams, for those keeping score).

I don’t count myself a front-office/ownership apologist, and I don’t want to be pegged as such.  But I am an optimist, and more than that, a realist.

Who should the Cardinals have signed out of the list above?

I ask only because there are still plenty of unsigned free agents on the market, most of which will be going hungry if they made their 2009 family budget in August or September of 2008.

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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