I already took my best shot at a 2007 plan for the Cardinals back in August. But, let’s do our usual Team Outlook analysis for the club. The Viva El Birdos article was more my recommendations, so here we’ll discuss more of what I think Walt Jocketty will do.
C – Yadier Molina – $0.4MM
1B – Albert Pujols – $15MM
2B – Aaron Miles – $0.35MM
SS – David Eckstein – $4.5MM
3B – Scott Rolen – $12MM
LF – Chris Duncan – $0.33MM
RF – Juan Encarnacion – $5MM
OF – Larry Bigbie – $0.9MM
OF – So Taguchi – $0.825MM
OF – John Rodriguez – $0.332MM
SP – Chris Carpenter – $7MM
SP – Anthony Reyes – $0.33MM
SP – Adam Wainwright – $0.327MM
RP – Jason Isringhausen – $8.75MM
RP – Braden Looper – $4.5MM
RP – Jorge Sosa – $2.2MM
RP – Ricardo Rincon – $1.45MM
RP – Josh Hancock – $0.355MM
RP – Randy Flores – $0.35MM
RP – Brad Thompson – $0.334MM
RP – Josh Kinney – $0.33MM
RP – Chris Narveson – $0.33MM
The Cards have roughly $70MM tied up after entering 2006 with an $89MM payroll. Should ownership be willing to go into the mid-90s in ’07, there will be some serious cash spent in St. Louis. You’ll notice I don’t list Jim Edmonds as the center fielder. It seems pretty obvious that the Cards won’t be picking up his $10MM option given La Russa’s comments. More on that later.
Catching: can Molina’s defense compensate for a .600 OPS? I’m not sure anyone’s defense has ever compensated for that kind of offensive futility. Nonetheless, the Cards don’t appear to be looking for a change. They’ll just bring in a backup.
Miles definitely won’t hit enough to play 2B every day; that’s why they brought Belliard in. I think the Cards will either re-up Belliard or snag a scrappy Mark Loretta/Adam Kennedy type. Said scrappy player will then be foolishly called team’s MVP by John Kruk despite presence of the best hitter of my generation at first base.
The $4MM or so that I can see going towards 2B would be better allocated to a backup plan in left. At what point is Chris Duncan no longer a fluke? On one hand, 20 HR in 291 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, Duncan’s home run every 14.55 PAs is tenth best in the game among those with 250 PAs. The Cards will likely bank on Duncan being league averge in 2007 – .279/.361/.481. His minor league record doesn’t support that, but you never know.
As I’ve said before, the Jocketty can help right the wrong that was the Encarnacion signing by moving him to center. He’s below average out there, but it’d be easier to stomach his bat. He’s also not terribly expensive. But if you move Encarnacion to center, you really need some defense in right. That means Jose Guillen or Trot Nixon. The more conventional approach would be to sign one of these guys – probably Gary Matthews Jr. or Dave Roberts – to replace Edmonds in center.
The pitching staff has problems as well. Where does La Russa want to put Wainwright? He’s mentioned using him in the rotation, and that seems most likely. It’ll be similar to the Papelbon situation – do you want a proven very good reliever or a guy who might hold up and be decent for 180 innings? I’d install Wainwright at closer.
Either way, the club needs to come up with at least two starters. I’m not really seeing the pieces for a good trade. The free agent market bears all sorts of projects and mid-level guys. Wade Miller may have something left as a finesse pitcher. Kip Wells still has potential. Mark Redman would probably love to return to the NL. The Ramon Ortizes, Miguel Batistas, and Tony Armas Jrs need homes.
The fan base will probably revolt if Jocketty doesn’t acquire someone a little better than that, though. Someone like Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla, Mark Buehrle, or Ted Lilly. In my crystal ball I see a lowball offer for Jason Schmidt and a Plan B three-year deal for one of the above as the "#2 starter."
The ’pen looks like a wreck, but I would hope Jocketty learned from the Looper signing. Find your relievers somewhere else. You’d hate to see another three-year deal for the likes of Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Darren Oliver, or Russ Springer. Such a move would not surprise me, however.
By and large, Walt Jocketty has made many brilliant decisions as GM. He’s leaned toward affordable finesse pitchers and it’s mostly worked. He likes to trade young talent for proven vets. He practices "buy low" strategies to much success. (All of that came courtesy of Brian Gunn’s fine article in the Hardball Times 2006 Annual.) Jocketty’s decision-making has slipped of late, and he’ll have to be at the top of his game to keep the Cards atop the division in 2007.