The St. Louis Cardinals have had a pretty quiet offseason. I asked one of their most verbose fans, Deadspin emeritus and “God Save the Fan” author Will Leitch, what he thought of the team’s inactivity and here’s what he had to say:
Honestly? I have no problem with what they’ve done so far. A lot of fans are angry, but I don’t want them to make a move just to make a move. There are still bargains out there. I see no problem with waiting. Now, do I wish Troy Glaus wasn’t so dumb as to not notice a shoulder problem until about a week ago? Yes. But David Freese will be just fine.
Of course, Leitch is right — the Cardinals are going to be fine in 2009. When you’ve got Albert Pujols on your team, the glass is always half full.
But the problem is the Cardinals were fine in 2008, finishing 10 games over .500, and it wasn’t nearly enough. The team ended its season in fourth place.
So what has St. Louis done this offseason to improve? They traded for Padres SS Khalil Greene, who hit 27 HR in 2007 but only 10 last year to go along with a .250 OBP. The Cardinals are gambling that Greene will return to his 2007 form, but don’t put any money on that. Of course, it’s not like teams expect a ton of offensive production from the shortstop position, but Greene doesn’t offer much defense either. In 2008, he prevented 8.9 fewer runs than the average shortstop.
The Cards tried to trade for Yankees’ 2B Robinson Cano, but the Bombers’ asking price was prohibitively high. So Adam Kennedy and his declining skills will most likely live to see another season.
Some young kids might get a shot at everyday action in St. Louis in 2009. Outfield prospect Colby Rasmus is said to be a candidate to start in center, even though he had a tough 2008 in the minors. Here’s what ESPN’s Keith Law had to say about Rasmus in his annual rankings of the top 100 prospects (Rasmus was #12):
Don’t hurt yourselves jumping off the Colby Rasmus bandwagon, OK? Rasmus played his entire injury-plagued 2008 season in Triple-A at age 21, and by the time he made a few adjustments and started hitting, he hit the disabled list twice and played just five more games before the season ended. (After an 0-for-22 stretch in mid-May, Rasmus hit .336/.444/.517 over 171 plate appearances until he hurt his groin on July 1.) The scouting report on Rasmus hasn’t changed: He still has quick hands and gets the bat to the ball quickly, projects to have plus power, is an above-average runner, plays a solid center field, has the arm to play right, and shows a generally advanced feel for the game given his age. He also has a history of good plate discipline and solid contact rates. So, please, before you send him off in endless trade proposals, remind me again what’s not to like here?
Rasmus isn’t the only rookie looking at a shot at the bigs. Troy Glaus is out until mid-April and in his place David Freese will man the hot corner. Freese hit .306 with 26 HR in 105 AAA games last year. Like Leitch says, he’ll be fine (and if he’s not it’s only a couple of weeks).
On the pitching front, the Cardinals brought back SP Kyle Lohse, signing him to a four-year $41MM contract. Lohse is a useful pitcher who threw 200 innings last year. Fan Graphs valued him at $14MM in 2008, $9.9MM in 2007 and $5.9MM in 2006, so this was a pretty fair price. There’s also still a chance that St. Louis will land Randy Wolf or bring back Braden Looper, who threw 200 innings for St. Louis last year. Another reliable arm would go a long way towards stabilizing a rotation that currently leans a little too heavily on Joel Pineiro and prospect Jaime Garcia.
Now to the bullpen, where the Cardinals will look in-house for a closer. This year La Russa will be choosing from veterans Ryan Franklin and Trever Miller, two prospects (Chris Perez and Jason Motte), second-year righty Kyle McClellan and Josh Kinney, who has seven Major League appearances since the 2006 World Series. Oh, and there are some who think injured ace Chris Carpenter should be the closer. I won’t pretend to know who should close for the Cardinals. But I do know that Jason Isringhausen, Franklin, McClellan and Perez blew 24 saves last season. In save situations, opposing teams had a .813 OPS against St. Louis’ bullpen. That’s gotta be some kind of a record.
Offseason grade: C
Additions: Khalil Greene, Trever Miller, Royce Ring.
Losses: Mark Worrell, Jason Isringhausen, Mark Mulder, Cesar Izturis, Braden Looper.
Projected lineup, rotation and closer:
C Yavier Molina
1B Albert Pujols
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Khalil Greene
3B Troy Glaus
LF Ryan Ludwick
CF Colby Rasmus/Skip Schumaker
RF Rick Ankiel
SP Adam Wainwright
SP Kyle Lohse
SP Todd Wellemeyer
SP Joel Pineiro
SP Jamie Garcia
CL Chris Perez/Somebody else
It’s worth noting that the Cards seem set up to swoop in at the last minute and grab a free agent bargain. Wolf would be a good fit. Bringing back Looper wouldn’t be the worst move ever, assuming the team could sign him to a one-year deal. The Cardinals have also been rumored to be in on Craig Counsell, who would be a decent utility man. Even if the Cards don’t make any more moves, the good news for the fans is that, while St. Louis hasn’t gotten much better this offseason, two of the teams that finished ahead of them in 2008 (the Brewers and Astros) have gotten noticeably worse. The Cubs seem all but untouchable, but the Cards should have a realistic shot at the wild card.