This is one in a series of posts where we grade the GMs on their shrewd winter maneuvers and lambaste them for their moronic trades and signings.
In 2009, the Cardinals ran away with the NL Central. This winter, many of the team’s best players entered free agency and fans were left to wonder, “will 2010′s team pack the same punch?”
Players eligible for free agency included: LF Matt Holliday, RHP Joel Pineiro, 3B Troy Glaus, CF Rick Ankiel, RHP John Smoltz and RHP Todd Wellemeyer.
The Cardinals also had room to upgrade at second base, where converted outfielder Skip Schumaker was adequate, but far from Sandbergesque, posting a WAR of 1.3 and playing below-average defense.
The biggest move St. Louis made this winter was signing Holliday to a seven-year, $120M contract, a deal Fangraphs’ Matt Klaassen says is in line with his market value, but far from a screaming deal:
[W]hen a team gives a player a contract this long, it not only guarantees their “control” over the player, but also gives him a higher degree of security through his likely decline years. For this reason, players usually give something of a “discount” for that security. The Cardinals did not get such a discount. Moreover, the no-trade clause inhibits the Cardinals’ flexibility down the road — and even if Holliday is willing to waive the clause, that is almost always just another negotiating ploy for more money.
Of course, this being the Cardinals, every move is viewed in terms of “how will this impact the team’s ability to resign Albert Pujols?” If the Cards are going to give Pujols the megadeal that he and his agent covet, they are going to need to avoid overpaying for other players. They didn’t avoid that here.
Elsewhere on the diamond, the Cardinals upgraded at second base, signing Felipe Lopez to a contract that will be worth a maximum of $2.2M, provided Lopez reaches a number of incentives. Here, the Cardinals did get a screaming deal. Lopez had a monster season in 2009 (4.6 WAR) and while he’s unlikely to repeat that performance, he’s still a valuable guy. Landing him on a cheap one-year deal was a great move.
On the pitching front, the Cardinals signed Brad Penny to a one-year, $7.5M deal, replacing Joel Pineiro, who signed with the Angels. Fangraphs says Penny has been worth at least that much in six of the last seven seasons, so this signing seems like a smart one, especially considering that Cards’ pitching coach Dave Duncan has a knack for coaxing career years out of his pitchers.
Finally, the Redbirds let Rick Ankiel sign with the Royals, which was no big loss since St. Louis already has his replacement in second year player and future stud Colby Rasmus. The team also said goodbye to midseason acquisitions John Smoltz and Mark DeRosa. The latter’s departure, along with the departure of Glaus, opened up a hole at 3B, which will be filled by rookie David Freese, provided he can make it until opening day without another DUI.
In short, St. Louis has an excellent chance of repeating as NL champs in 2010, and could take a step forward this season, presuming continued improvement from Rasmus and a typically awesome year from Holliday, who will be in Cardinals red for a full 162 games. Holiday’s contract could hamper the organization in the long run, especially if the outfielder gets injured or his performance slips. But the signing should make the Cards the frontrunners in the NL Central for at least two years, so it’s understandable that they were willing to break the bank.
Notable additions: Felipe Lopez, Brad Penny, Charlie Zink.
Notable subtractions: Joel Pineiro, John Smoltz, Mark DeRosa, Todd Wellemeyer, Troy Glaus.
C Yavier Molina
1B Albert Pujols
2B Felipe Lopez/Skip Schumaker
SS Julio Lugo
3B David Freese
LF Matt Holliday
CF Colby Rasmus
RF Ryan Ludwick
SP Adam Wainwright
SP Chris Carpenter
SP Kyle Lohse
SP Brad Penny
SP Jamie Garcia/Kyle McClellan/Rich Hill
CL Ryan Franklin