Baseball BeatOctober 30, 2006
St. Louis Cardinals: Onward Ho!
By Rich Lederer

While the Redbird Nation rightfully celebrates its World Series championship, I'm going to jump ahead and take an in-depth look at the future of the Cardinals.

The fact that St. Louis won the World Series shouldn't have come as a complete surprise to anyone. The Cardinals made it to the Fall Classic in 2004 and the National League Championship Series in 2005. Before the season began, the Cardinals were the heavy favorites to win the NL Central and appeared to have the easiest road to this year's World Series of any team in baseball.

The club's roster was lined with several stars, including Albert Pujols, the best player in the game today, and Chris Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner. The Cards also had veterans Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, possessors of 14 Gold Gloves between them and still among the best at their positions in the league, as well as a solid #2 in Mark Mulder (16-8, 3.64 in 2005) and a proven closer in Jason Isringhausen (2.14 with 39 saves).

If anything, the Cardinals were a bit top heavy going into the season. The team was noticeably weak at 2B, LF, and the 5th SP. Junior Spivey was signed in December but had a terrible spring (10-for-68 with only 2 XBH and 20 SO) and was cut. Manager Tony La Russa then turned to Aaron Miles and utilityman Hector Luna as a stop gap until GM Walt Jocketty acquired Ronnie Belliard at the trading deadline. So Taguchi and John Rodriguez took turns in left during the first half, while rookie Chris Duncan, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and Scott Spiezio split time down the stretch.

Sidney Ponson was given first crack at the #5 spot in the rotation but was released in July. St. Louis picked up Jeff Weaver, who put up numbers (5-4, 5.18, 1.50 WHIP) more similar to Ponson (4-4, 5.24, 1.62) than not, yet survived the season and wound up winning one game in each of the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series.

As things turned out, it wasn't so much that the Cardinals won it; rather, it was how they won it. Pujols slugged 25 HR in April and May, then went on the DL and missed 15 games with a strained right oblique. Rolen, who was relatively healthy in the aftermath of an injury-plagued 2005, played with a bum shoulder in September (.227/.299/.398) and was benched twice in the playoffs. Edmonds was sidelined for six weeks with post-concussion syndrome and World Series MVP David Eckstein sat out more than a month, not starting 35 of the final 40 games of the year.

Mulder missed all of July, came back and got ripped in two abbreviated starts in August and underwent shoulder surgery in September. Isringhausen went down with a bad hip and also had a season-ending operation the same week as Mulder.

It took everything the team had just to hold off the Houston Astros at the wire and put itself in a position to win the city's first World Series championship in 24 years. Suffice it to say that more people saw it coming in April than in September.


With that backdrop, let's drill down into the roster and examine how things stack up for next year. The Cardinals have eight players under contract for a total commitment of $58.2 million. (The team's opening day payroll in 2006 was approximately $89M.)

Player              Salary   Status
Albert Pujols      $15.00M   Signed thru 2010 (club option for 2011)
Scott Rolen         12.00    Signed thru 2010
Jason Isringhausen   8.75    Signed thru 2007 (club option for 2008)
Chris Carpenter      7.00    Signed thru 2007 (club option for 2008)
Juan Encarnacion     5.00    Signed thru 2008
Braden Looper        4.50    Signed thru 2008
David Eckstein       4.50    Signed thru 2008
Ricardo Rincon       1.45    Signed thru 2008

The Cardinals also control a number of players, including pitchers Randy Flores, Josh Hancock, Tyler Johnson, Josh Kinney, Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, and Adam Wainwright; catcher Yadier Molina; infielder Aaron Miles; and outfielders Chris Duncan, John Rodriguez, and So Taguchi. Other than Taguchi ($825,000), all of the above players earned no more than $400,000 (with 10 of the 12 within 10% of the minimum salary of $327,000). Only Taguchi and Miles are eligible for arbitration.

Based on the above, the Redbirds - absent trades, non-tenders, or outright releases - could return 20 players from the 2006 championship team. With the minimum salary increasing to $380,000 next season, the Cardinals are already on the hook for roughly $65M in 2007. This figure is based on the $58.2M plus the following estimates:

Player              Salary
So Taguchi         $1.000M
Yadier Molina       0.800
Adam Wainwright     0.650
Anthony Reyes       0.500
Chris Duncan        0.500
Aaron Miles         0.500
John Rodriguez      0.425
Randy Flores        0.425
Josh Hancock        0.425
Tyler Johnson       0.425
Josh Kinney         0.425
Brad Thompson       0.425
Flores, Hancock, Johnson, Kinney, and Thompson should all draw similar salaries, somewhere in the range of $400-450K. In the meantime, I doubled Molina's and Wainwright's 2006 salaries and bumped up Reyes and Duncan by 50%. If one player makes a little bit more or less than these projections, it won't have much effect on the team's total.

Should Bill DeWitt, Jr. choose to maintain a payroll in the neighborhood of $90 million, it will mean that the organization can spend approximately $25M to fill out its roster. Let's take a peek at which holes need to be filled before speculating as to where the money should be spent.

 C: Molina
1B: Pujols
2B: Miles
3B: Rolen
SS: Eckstein
LF: Duncan
CF: Taguchi
RF: Encarnacion
SP: Carpenter
RP: Isringhausen
One of the first orders of business is to make a decision on whether or not to exercise the option on Jim Edmonds. The Cardinals can re-sign the 36-year-old center fielder for $10M or buy out his contract for $3M. As such, the real cost to bringing back Edmonds for one more season is $7M. Can Walt Jocketty find a suitable replacement offensively and defensively for that kind of dough? I highly doubt it. As a result, I believe it makes sense to keep Edmonds in the fold.

The club also needs to decide Wainwright's future. Should they keep him as the closer or convert him to a starting pitcher? If Wainwright can be successful throwing at least 100 pitches per outing, wouldn't it be a better use of his talent to make him a starter? Sure, he may not be able to throw that hammer curve and a 94-mph heater all game, but 91-93 with a "plus-plus" breaking ball should work just fine.

Once Wainwright's fate is determined, management will know how many starting pitchers are needed. Re-signing Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver may be the path of least resistance although I would be surprised if the budget is such as to accommodate both. Suppan is an average pitcher who could easily command a three-year, $21-24M deal as a free agent in a market that is ripe with cash. Weaver is represented by Scott Boras and is likely to seek a similar deal even though he would have been hard pressed a couple of months ago to find a team that would be willing to give him anything more than a one-year, $3-4M "take it or leave it" offer.

A starting rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright, Suppan, Reyes, and a low-cost option would be a reasonable fivesome. The bullpen is a different matter. Isringhausen, 34, is coming off his second hip operation in two years and may not be ready when the season opens next spring. If Izzy is healthy, the Cardinals should try and get one more year out of him. Otherwise, Jocketty might be well served to trade the defensively challenged Duncan to an AL team for a set-up man who could step into the closer role if given the opportunity. Brian Gunn has suggested Pat Neshek or Fernando Rodney as the type of relievers the Cardinals may wish to target.

OK, let's see where St. Louis stands with respect to that $25M in discretionary funds. Give $7M net to Edmonds and $7-8M to Suppan, leaving $10-11M for three other players - a starting 2B, a #5 SP, and perhaps a LF (to replace Duncan if traded).

Ronnie Belliard made $4M last year. I don't think the Cardinals will allocate more than that for a second baseman. Belliard didn't hit too well in his stint with the 'Birds but should be good for .270/.330/.400 type production. Other options include Craig Biggio, Ray Durham, Adam Kennedy, and Mark Loretta. Biggio, Kennedy, and Loretta all made between $3-4M last year.

With the remaining $6-8M, I might be inclined to offer Luis Gonzalez $5M for one year with a club option for 2008. Gonzo supposedly wants to stay in the NL and may value the opportunity to get back to the World Series one more time. He is obviously in the decline phase of his career but still hit .264/.345/.427 on the road. Another slightly younger and more athletic possibility would be Jay Payton (.296/.325/.418), who might be able to command a 2x5 offer.

As far as the fifth starter goes, reaching out to Mulder with an incentive-based deal seems like a prudent course of action to me. If he doesn't pan out, Jocketty could try to pick up someone else off the scrap heap or give Brad Thompson a shot. The latter throws strikes and induces a lot of groundballs. There are worse options than him.

Shake it all up and it's possible that the 2007 Cardinals could be just as good as the 2006 model. Such a team, if healthy, should win more than 83 games but not necessarily another World Series championship.


Update: For more on the Cardinals, be sure to read Brian Gunn's How the Cardinals Shocked the World and Won the World Series at The Hardball Times and Larry Borowsky's Right as Rain post at Viva El Birdos that details how the pitchers stepped up during the playoffs.


Jocketty doesn't have to do anything to improve the club really. Ever since 2004 all I've read on blogs is fans bashing Jocketty for subtracting from the club and not adding anything. However, it turned out to be a winning strategy this year. The smartest thing the Cards could do is dump Suppan if his demands become too unreasonable, signing average players who become postseason heroes to large contracts is nearly always a bad move.

Bring back Weaver, bring back Marquis on the cheap, Reyes, rely on the Carpenter-Pujols-LaRussa magic show and the Cardinals can probably win again. Aside from the Padres and the A's I'm not sure I can think of a team that does more with less - guys like Abraham Nunez and Tony Womack leave the Cards after successful seasons and go on to do nothing.

I think Marquis is the one player you cannot bring back. His demeanor and results at the end of the year speak for themselves.

Marquis is a goner. Neither side wants the other.

I think you have to go out and get one big name free agent. Or make one big trade. To show the fans and the other teams your serious bout contending. Lets face it....this is great they won it all, but the team was not that good in the regular season. Look for a lefty to join the rotation...Wolf, Pettite, Mulder, Redman. D-rays need a power hitting 1 st baseman. Duncan fits that role and Carl Crawford needs to be a Cardinal. Make that work somehow.

S.igh Yadier for $4 Million. Make the right statement to the team and the league

Who knows how this will play out, but I suspect it will be somewhat different then the analysis here. Regardless of how it eventually does, my greatest wish is to see a significant offensive upgrade in one of the OF corner spots or at 2B.

What we learned in the postseason is that there are no great pitching staffs in baseball today. We have some good, inexpensive options in Reyes, Wainwright, and hopefully Mulder, who along with Carpenter, should give us plenty of options for a nice staff next season. We may need to add some bullpen arms, but it should be mentioned that we have some nice, young talent there as well, in addition to the possibility of Ricardo Rincon returning.

We'll still be solid in the IF, except for 2B, and maybe 3B if Spiezio becomes unafforadble. Miles is a nice backup at 2B and SS, but has already proven himself incapable of holding a starting position. If Belliard is too expensive, then we'll have to find a replacement for 2B.

Our OF corner spots lack defensive skills and solid offensive production. Upgrading one of these spots would seem to have the greatest potential for overall team improvement. I have no idea if there will be any players available for the right price, and since this is an area that we can hold off on, I'd wait until the right deal comes along, but it seems that upgrading a corner OF spot would make the biggest difference for next season.

I hope the Cards don't look at 2006 as the product of some kind of winning "strategy". Basically they threw a lot of retreads out there and by some miracle it worked. This year's Mets team, because of their starting pitching woes, and the Tigers, because of their mediocre lineup and inexperience, were much worse than the '05 White Sox, the '05 Astros, or the '04 Red Sox.

The Cards got lucky. They need to package Duncan, Reyes, and some of the young bullpen arms for a top starting pitcher or a corner outfielder.

Also, Eckstein is FA after next year, not 2008.

Excellent stuff Rich. I think we need to try to keep either Suppan or Weaver, but can't afford both. I'm still on the fence about Wainright, but I like the idea of him as a starter if Isringhausen is healthy.

Jimmy's option needs to be picked up. My greatest fear for this offseason is that the Cards will try to low-ball him with a restructured extension, and he'll be offended and leave. Pick up the option first, then talk to him about extending and maybe spreading out some of the $10mil over a couple extra years.

Btw, Ricardo Rincon? I totally forgot about him. Just looked him up on, and was surprised to see he even pitched at all this season. I had remembered him as going on the DL in spring training, but I guess I was wrong. Obviously the young lefties will have to prove in Spring Training that their playoff run wasn't a fluke, but it will be interesting to see what effect that has on Rincon's status.

I have loved watching Jim Edmonds roam centerfield for the Cardinals. And I will never forget his home run to win the game in the 12th inning against the Astros, or his catch against them in the same series. I think Edmonds is very close to being a Hall of Famer and might become one, with a couple of more good years. That said, I don't believe he is a $10 million/year player. I would love to see them extend Edmonds for two years to the tune of about $14-15 million. He's worth that, and his leadership in the clubhouse in the playoffs was instrumental. Let him get healthy and he may put up exceptional numbers for that price tag.

I agree, he's not worth $10mil for next year, but you obviously feel he's worth $7-7.5mil, so considering the buyout is sunk, you might as well pick up the option (as a show of good faith, if you will) and then talk about restructuring and extending with a 2yr deal like the one you mentioned, maybe adding some sort of option (mutual?) for a 3rd year if need be.

Regarding Edmonds,

The Cardinals don't need to think of that situation as a decision about keeping him for $7 million. That option is very tradable, especially given his playoff performance. If the Cards are going to let him go elsewhere, they could try to work out a trade that he would waive his NTC for.

Regarding Duncan,

I know he is the son of Dave, but it would be best to trade him now. I think 30-35 homers may come from his bat one day, but at what expense in the field? This may be the time to package him up and send him to DH/1B in the American League, like a David Ortiz or Jim Thome type.

The Crawford situation is interesting, although not likely. I would like to see him play center. If he could be had for Duncan + Reyes, it might be worth it. I would have no problem with an OF of JuanE, Crawford, and Taguchi/J-Rod. The complaint would be a loss in power from Edmonds as he is averaging about 35 homers a year the past 5 seasons. His slugging and OBP are down, however, over the past 2 seasons, and his clutch hitting is nowehere to be found. And as we saw this season he is an injury risk. He does play balls to the wall out there, but Crawford could patrol just as well. What Jim may have in experience, Crawford can cover with speed.

I love Jim, but it may be time to move on.

Finally, the bullpen looks good. I dont even like Izzy, but I feel the rest of the young guys clicked down the stretch. With Rincon and big Al Reyes back, it could be better than this year.

Picking up the option on Edmonds seems like a no-brainer. Getting rid of Encarnacion would be addition by subtraction, even if Cards have to eat part of his contract. At best he's a platoon player with Duncan and really he should be on the bench. RF calls for a true "big bat" type of performer. Is it in the budget? Is that player out there and available. Not sure.

First choice for 2B would be Loretta as he is smooth in the field, solid at the plate and seems to fit Cardinal Baseball like a glove. Would make a great DP combo with Eckstein. Probably too expensive, though. Second choice is keeping Belliard (and his bad hair), but if Grudz was too expensive to keep, I suspect Belliard is, too.

It will be interesting to see how Walt shapes up the pitching staff. Carp, Reyes and Wainwright are probably penciled in the rotation. An incentive-laced Mulder would likely be a good call. Sure would like to see Suppan back. Weaver would be an idiot to take more money to go somewhere else in my opinion, but he has Boras as an agent, so I expect him to bolt. If both Suppan and Weaver are lost, can cards pony up for a legit No. 2 starter?

Personally, I'd rather keep Wainwright as closer and have Izzy as an expensive set-up man in his "old age." If he proves to pitch well, he could be good trade bait come deadline time.

I really hope Weaver has enough sense to stick with a team and a pitching coach that turned his career around when he had hit rock bottom - Scott Boras be damned.

As far as Suppan goes, there is no better time for him to make his money. He was clutch at the right time and teams are desperate for dependable pitching in a thin free agent class. Somebody will overpay him in desperation.

I fully expect Suppan to get Kris Benson type money. I don't know if a #3/#4 rotation guy is worth ~$8 mil per year, but that seems to be the market at this point. Given the choice between him and Weaver, I'd take Suppan every time.

Jeff Weaver 2006: 8-14 5.76 ERA 1.51 WHIP

God knows there are plenty of GMs who will ignore those numbers and instead look at what the guy did over 29 innings in mid October. I think Jockety will know better.

Regarding the Mark Loretta comment, I'm puzzled why he's been so overrated lately. He has the "slick fielder" tag yet he's now a below average defender. He's got little speed, and he has no power. I don't know why anyone would think a below average defender with little speed likely to put up a .720 OPS is "too expensive." I'll be very surprised if he gets more than $3 million.

The only team the Cards have to worry about is the Astros, as to me, it looks like the Brewers are one player away from being a division winner and the Cubs' 2007 is over with the loss of Aramis Ramirez, and the Reds, I just plain don't think that team is so good. So Jocketty can well afford to screw around some more.

Marquis got kind of an unfair shake if you ask me, but he's easily replaced.

How about trading looper and juan e for burhele from the sox they picked up his option. What about narveson in the 5 hole and leave waiiwright in the closer role.

A lot of what happens in that division depends on Pettitte and Clemens. If they both walk, I don't know who's going to challenge the Cards, unless the Brew Crew puts together a Tigers-type year.

And I'd stick Wainwright in the rotation ASAP; it's what he was groomed for all year until Izzy went down. I've always thought that if a guy can start, he should be starting. Basically the same case as Papelbon.

Regarding Isringhausen:

Plain and simple. Izzy needs to leave. Wainwright is our hero!

We don't need any more heart attacks next year due to Izzy "closing" out games

HOw about trying to move some of the bigger contracts like looper enc and Izzy. teams do need relievers and if it is just a payroll wash that would free up some money for a big bat or a upgrade in pitching..If you could package a deal for a legi@t 2nd starter and then sign back end like redman and williams place reyes between the two and put wainwright in the pen. Then move duncan to rf if not traded and Keep edmonds sign a dave roberts or gonzo that would even out the left and right batters in the line up.