“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away and know when to run” ~Kenny Rogers (The Gambler)
Those words of wisdom probably apply just as well to free agency as they do to poker, and there are certainly some parallels to be drawn. You can’t win every single hand, but you want to be in on the “big one”. You never play against someone named “Lefty”, “Doc”, or “Ace”. Finally, you really do need to know when to hold, when to fold, and when it’s time to leave the table. Free agency is the same way, and it’s never too early to start keeping an eye on players that MIGHT be free agents in the near future. After all, each one has some potential to wear the Birds on the Bat. Even though some have more potential than others, you still want to do your due diligence, because the practical definition of luck is the meeting of preparation and opportunity.
Some players have a few years left on their contracts, but maybe they play for teams could be looking to dump a little salary soon. Some may be set to become free agents after the 2011 season. A few might simply be long shots that you yearn to see play in the Gateway City. Then there are some that just make no sense at all, but they will be available anyway. With that in mind, remember that this is simply a list and not necessarily a wishlist.
- Chris Carpenter – Sure, I mentioned that he could be traded off for prospects in 2011 only to return as a free agent in 2012. Don’t do it, though.
- Pretty much all the prospects in the organization – Lance Lynn, PJ Walters, Zack Cox, Adron Chambers, Daniel Descalso, and Brandon Dickson are all included in this group. Some can already play close to the major league level, and the rest are hopefully headed that direction. Every success story one of these guys represents equals one expensive free agent that the team doesn’t need to sign. Keep these guys. Okay, thanks.
- Mark Buehrle – P, White Sox. Avoid that $15M poison pill in his contract. IF he doesn’t get traded during the 2011, he’ll become a free agent. Considering the potential price, is he really a better alternative to what the Cardinals have in-house for 2012?
- Jered Weaver – Pitcher, Angels. Weaver isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season, but it’s worth keeping an eye on him. He went 13-12 with a 3.01 ERA and 233 strikeouts in 224 1/3 innings in 2010, and he would be a nice compliment to Garcia, Wainwright, and a few current “Baby Birds” in 2013. Just thinking ahead a bit for when Westbrook and Lohse are no longer on the payroll. Unfortunately, Weaver is in this category, because I don’t think he’ll make it to free agency without a truckload of money being pushed his way.
- CJ Wilson – Pitcher, Texas Rangers. 2010 was Wilson’s first season as a starter, and he went 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 204 innings with a 1.245 WHIP. If he repeats that performance in 2011, the Rangers almost have to re-sign him to a long-term deal. If they don’t, then plenty of teams will be waiting with big contracts for the 30 year-old to autograph. Free agent after 2011 season. I’m Wilson fan, but the price tag is going to be big. We’re not talking “newest Jordans” big, either. We’re talking “newest Louboutins” big. We’re talking about the difference between a Kia Soul and a Ferrari “big”.
- Jose Reyes – SS, New York Mets. Yes, he’s under contract for $11M this season. Yes, he’s battled some injuries. What if he’s available at the trade deadline, though? What if the Cardinals don’t have to give up a lot to get him? He’s a legitimate leadoff guy with speed. It’s just a thought. Just a thought. Free agent after 2011 season.
…and then there’s….well, that’s about it. Seriously, there are actually over 200 names on the list of potential free agents, but many of them will likely be removed by the end of the season. Some will retire, many will sign contracts with their teams, and others will have their team options exercised. Many of the rest are players that you probably don’t want to hear about like *cough* *cough* Randy Winn, or some you’d rather not see on the list (HINT: Plbert Aujols). The harsh reality is that the pickings are slim. That fact and the potential price tags that accompany the top-shelf free agents that are available combine to underscore the value of the homegrown talent
Just imagine a couple years from now looking down at the 25 man roster for the Cardinals and seeing that the projected starting pitchers for the Cardinals are named Wainwright, Garcia, Lynn, Walters, and Dickson. Yeah, that’s a huge stretch, but that’s the ultimate payoff of the talent pipeline created by good drafting and keeping the minor league system intact. Best of all, a team built around homegrown pitching can afford to spend lavishly on superstar talent to provide run support for those pitchers. *hint* *hint*
“You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done” ~Kenny Rogers (The Gambler)
Yeah, but what if you count it, and there’s enough to make a deadline deal?
TIDBIT: Admittedly, I’m not much of a “riverboat gambler”. I just go for the food, because I know how much THAT will cost me.
MORE BITS OF TID: A few good spring training outings do not a big leaguer make. I’m excited about the future of the “Baby Birds”, but I’m not “ZOMG send them all to Stl excited” yet. I want to see a much larger sampling, and then I’ll