It’s one thing to look at the 2011 Cardinals and think about tweaking one thing here or making an adjustment there. Rebuilding is an altogether different approach, but few people really want to think about the “R” word right now. What about looking at the team by deconstructing it first? It’s like taking apart your favorite toy and putting it back together. C’mon, it will be fun…..or it will be like that Rubik’s Cube that you once disassembled only to find out that you lost a corner piece. Regardless, I’m taking the plunge in 3…2…1.
Who is here to stay for the long haul? Basically, consider players who have long-term contracts, really bright futures at low costs, or are projected to contribute soon.
- Matt Holliday – You could do worse than try to build a team around this guy for $17M / season.
- Colby Rasmus – Rasmus is just 24 and a little over 1000 plate appearances into his career. That’s 2/3 of a really productive outfield right there.
- Yadier Molina – When you have a 2-time All-Star catcher with 3 consecutive Gold Glove awards, you hold on to him.
- Kyle McClellan – He’s been stellar out of the bullpen. Don’t mess with a good thing. If he can become a shutdown closer, then even better. It’s cheaper to create a closer from within your own organization than to obtain one via free agency.
- Jason Motte – If Motte does develop another pitch, then he’s your Mo Rivera to McClellan’s John Wetteland. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea. If you can own the last 2+ innings on a consistent basis, then you can completely change the other team’s strategy prior to the 8th inning.
- Lance Lynn and PJ Walters – Don’t trade them away. Even if you don’t project either one to be the next Waino or Carp, don’t trade them off. Paying the major league minimum for your 4th or 5th starters in 2012 and 2013 beats the heck out of paying $8M for them.
- Allen Craig – Whether he’s a starter or not, he’s an inexpensive option with some power.
- Jon Jay – There’s always a place for a guy who can hit both LHP and RHP for a decent average, especially when that guy doesn’t take up a lot of space on the payroll.
- Mitchell Boggs & Fernando Salas – Reliable bullpen arms at reasonable costs are always welcome.
- Jaime Garcia – At just 24, I’d argue that Garcia is the one guy right now that the team can build the staff around for the next 5 years. That wouldn’t have been my stance a few weeks ago. Sad, but true.
- Tyler Greene – This may be overly optimistic, but I’m still hopeful that Greene has something more to offer than just potential. If ever there was a year to fulfill that potential, this is it.
So, who are the transient beings? I’m looking at the players who for one reason or another might only be here a year or two.
- Ryan Franklin – He may retire, or he may simply be replaced by someone else.
- Kyle Lohse – It’s hard to imagine Lohse being around after his deal expires in 2012. If he does stick around, his next contract should include a base pay reduction, some “common sense” clauses, and a very good insurance policy.
- Ryan Theriot – Even if Theriot has a good year, I just don’t see him as a long-term solution. SS is a position that needs an upgrade of some sort. Maybe that upgrade is already on the roster, though.
- Trever Miller – Huge fan of Miller. Just can’t imagine him pitching forever, though. All good things come to an end (or so I’m told).
- David Freese – If he continues to struggle with health issues, I just don’t see him holding down 3B for very long. If he stays healthy, then he moves up into the first group (above).
- Jake Westbrook – This is a “maybe”. Westbrook might still have enough gas in the tank to go past his 2 year deal, but the jury is definitely still out. He’s at least penciled in along with Garcia for 2011 and 2012, though.
- Skip Schumaker – If the “Skip Schumaker Experience” continues at 2B, I’ll admit to being a little disappointed. I still think that the money spent on Berkman would have been better spent on upgrading 2B. If Skip proves me wrong with a stellar year at both the plate and in the field, I’ll be thrilled to eat my words. Still, I can’t help but wonder how Skip figures into the long-term plans. He’d be a great bench player with has ability to play both 2B and OF, but that’s just my small view of the world.
- Lance Berkman – At age 35, he probably doesn’t have many NL years left in him, so he’s probably not a long-term buy for the Cardinals unless “he who shall not be named” does no sign another contract with the Cardinals. That said, I’d still rather see the team go with a less expensive option at 1B in the event that happens.
Big, huge, ginormous question marks?
- Albert Pujols – This issue has been beaten into the ground, but it’s not even the most important one in my mind now. Lost offensive production can be replaced by upgrading a few different positions. An ace pitcher is nearly impossible to replace, especially on short notice.
- Chris Carpenter – So Carp wouldn’t block a trade. That’s old news. Would he be willing to restructure his contract for 2012 and accept less than $15M that is called for in his team option? That’s a bigger question in my mind.
- Adam Wainwright – By the time he returns, the year will be 2012, and the Cardinals might have another legitimate starter in addition to Carpenter, Lohse, Westbrook, and Garcia. The more the merrier, right? Would the team consider bring back Waino in the bullpen in order to limit his innings for 2012? It might be the safe, conservative route, but I’m all for doing whatever it takes to protect Waino.
So, what’s the point in deconstructing the team this way? Consider the players in the top section. If you were building a team starting with that group, you would have a solid outfield with a productive middle-of-the-order group. You would have at least 1 really good starting pitcher and some really good bullpen pieces. If Freese is healthy and Westbrook is solid, you’ve got another pitcher and an entire infield (including an All-Star catcher). If guys like Lynn and Walters can contribute soon, then you’ve got most of a starting rotation. Before you throw in Pujols, Carpenter, and Wainwright, you’re talking about a relatively young but promising team with a relatively low payroll. Take the perspective that Albert Pujols is a free agent at that point. Is he the final piece that puts the team over the top? Is Carpenter the veteran presence in 2012 that steadies the ship and provides the leadership that solidifies the starting rotation? Is it worth taking a gamble on a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery as your “ace of the future? Sure, it’s a different way of looking at things, but why not?
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