Monday, December 04, 2006

Waiting For The Dominoes ...

It's that time of year again. As aspiring analysts, we've run all the numbers and made all the projections; we know what Walt Jocketty should do. But then, so does Walt Jocketty. It's just an issue of which plan to enact: A, B, C, or ... Z. It's time to wait for the dominoes to fall.

The first major domino in the pitching market may have fallen today, although it wasn't the domino that most experts expected. Cy Carpenter agreed to a 5-year contract extension worth $65 M with a 6th year (2012) club option worth $12 M. Carpenter's salary figures for 2007-8 remain essentially the same as in his pre-existing deal at $7 and 9 M respectively. The 2009-2011 seasons are worth $49 M combined at an average of $16.3 M per season. The extension ensures that Carpenter will be a Cardinal through at least his age 36 season.

Good deal or bad? How about a necessary one. It became blatantly apparent last offseason that the combination of Chris Carpenter's current bargain deal and the eventual need to extend his contract was hanging over negotiations with other free agent pitchers (see AJ Burnett). Today's extension eliminated that problem in an acceptable way. It maintained the cost-effectiveness and payroll-flexibility of Carpenter's existing deal, while at the same time extending him at a Zito-like, market value rate. Given Carpenter's injury history, the true 3-4 year extension from 2009-12 at $49 - 61 M (an average of $15.3 - 16.3 M per) is a considerable risk; retrospectively, it may be an overpay. However, in today's market, you have to overpay for practically everyone, and who better to bet on than Carpenter. So ... Good? Yes. Bad? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.

So for the Cardinals, what is the next domino? In all honesty, who knows. If Jocketty and Co. truly believe that Schmidt is the #2 they've been seeking (I have my doubts), then the Carpenter deal removes intra-organization financial impediments that could make St. Louis Schmidt a reality. Given what's been reported, this would make a lot of sense.

And what if the Cards get priced out on the Schmidt Sweepstakes? Despite my inclinations, it seems that Ted Lilly will be a Cub. Although I have yet to post about it, my #2 preferred option, Vicente Padilla appears headed back to the Rangers (although Bernie reports the Cards have made him an offer, as also with Schmidt). Within FA, that basically leaves Meche (and Duncan already has his project in Wells) and our own guys. I believe that Jocketty/La Dunc would love to retain Suppan and/or Weaver back, but at what price? Suppan at $10 M+ per ... not likely. Weaver at a Scott Boras price ... pass. Mulder ... the ephemeral wild card. That leaves a guy like Batista. He's old with some control issues, but he'd be a relatively affordable, durable, ground ball machine. Don't forget that name: Miguel Batista.

Don't forget, there are still two spots to fill. With Izzy's advanced recovery, maybe Wainwright will be a starter after all. He's cheap with a high-ceiling and could let Walt wait for (and afford) that #2 next offseason in the form of Mark Buerhle. Or maybe that pitcher (or pitchers) will come via trade?
Jason Jennings ... for who, Juan + prospect? Brad Penny ... for who, Juan/Blooper/Duncan? Duke/Gorzelanny/Maholm ... for who, Duncan? And can we even afford to trade Duncan for a non-outfielder?

Don't even get me started on Gonzo or Nixon vs. Juan (who would be moved) or who will be the utility outfielder (P. Wilson, J. Cruz, etc.)? There are so many plausible scenarios and then scenarios upon scenarios as you go down each path (pitching, hitting, and otherwise). As fans and aspiring experts (who are not idiots), we should take comfort in the fact that we will have (in theory) legitimate Cy Young and MVP candidates for the next 5 seasons. Beyond that, what happens next ... it all depends on the dominoes. Enjoy.

UPDATE (9:00) Padilla re-signs with Rangers for 3 years/$34 M with a rumored team option 4th year. That's definitely an overpay for Padilla, but the Rangers almost had to after losing Lee, Matthews Jr., and Derosa already. In line with the Padilla figures, Meche is now reportedly seeking and receiving 4 year offers around $40 million total. The market has officially gone insane (as if it hadn't already).

Here's my vote for the Cards to sign Batista as quickly as possible ... he could probably be had for around $5 M. He's consistent and relatively durable and would perform well with the Cards' plus defense as a #4/5. Worst-case, the Cards could still afford to re-sign either Weaver/Suppan (even having to overpay) and would trot out a rotation of Carpenter, Weaver/Suppan, Batista, Reyes, Wells (with Wainwright and Narveson in the wings), which would be servicable. Best case, the Cards could probably still afford to sign both a Weaver/Mulder at more reasonable contracts giving the rotation/bullpen added depth (as Batista is extremely versatile).

Also, my brother's idea of having Jose Cruz Jr. as our utility outfielder has been officially shot down. He signed with the Padres for 1 year, $650 K. You would think we could have matched that figure, but thinking realistically, he a) probably has more chance to play with the Padres, b) seems to have a prediliction for the West Coast, and c) oviously never interested the Cards too much, as they could have had him for essentially nothing late last year and still passed.

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