The Cardinals aren't done building for 2009...though you can make the argument that they haven't really started. I am not going down that road, as I have not determined General Manager John Mozeliak's potential, the team's potential, or what else can happen.
Here is what needs to happen. The Cardinals need to unclog the outfield. How that can come is by not so much focusing on a return, but what is going out. If that doesn't make sense, don't worry...it confuses me too, and I wrote it. I will, however, show you what I mean.
Bear with me, as you all know I like to make up these wild trades.
Chicago White Sox receive: 2B Brian Roberts, OF Rick Ankiel, RHP Joel Pineiro, cash ($1 million from STL for Pineiro)
St. Louis Cardinals receive: RHP Bobby Jenks, LHP Richard Zagone
Okay, let's break this down some. The White Sox would only add $6.45 million to their 2009 payroll. They dump Contreras (a free agent after 2009) for Pineiro (free agent after 2009 as well). A slight downgrade, but you have to give up something to get something.
The White Sox add power in Ankiel. Yes, he is a free agent after 2009, but with Jim Thome, Octavio Dotel, Pineiro, Roberts, and maybe even Jermaine Dye coming off the books after 2009 ($46 million between those five alone), they can afford to re-sign Ankiel and use him as a building block in their outfield.
Ankiel will only command $8-10 million over four or five years on his next contract (even with Scott Boras as his agent), and that is very affordable in today's market.
Roberts? No problem. Upon arrival, the White Sox can sign him to an extension, or work on one in the offseason. Locking Roberts up would leave Alexei Ramirez at short and give the White Sox one of the best up-the-middle defenses in the league. Roberts and Ankiel's signings would also leave $25 million+ on the table to bring in one or two top free agents for the 2010 season.
The Orioles would only take on $839K in this deal (plus Duncan's arbitration hearing, which should only raise it at the most by $400K). What they add is important. Duncan, if healthy, would add power to their lineup at either first base or the designated hitter spot. Lillibridge would add defense at second base and would provide average offense. He could also be a long-term answer at either middle infield position.
Contreras would be brought in at the same amount as Roberts ($8 million after the $2 million is sent from Chicago to Baltimore) and would be the veteran Baltimore is after to fill out their rotation. Also being a free agent after 2009, they aren't stuck with a bad salary.
Jay, Cassel, Lujan, Whisler, Lillibridge, and Duncan are not Gavin Floyd, but you don't need a star to replace a star. Look at the Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades of 2008. Each trade brought in complimentary pieces for the 2008 season and a few young prospects that can blossom in to good players. This does the same.
Jay could be ready for Major League duty in the second half (and would be a good leadoff hitter for Baltimore, while playing any outfield position), with Lillibridge and Duncan playing roles in 2009, then possibly a larger amount of playing time in the second half and certainly in 2010.
Cassel, Lujan, and Whisler would be ready for Major League duty in 2010 (could be a jump) or 2011 (more certain). Major addition by subtraction in this deal.
The Cardinals don't need Jenks, but getting him in this deal would set up a lot of falling dominoes. Stay with me on this.
In this deal, the Cardinals dump $7.289 million for the 2009 season (and lose two arbitration cases, while gaining one). It leaves open an outfield spot for Colby Rasmus, and leaves Skip Schumaker and Joe Mather as the lone backup outfielders.
It also opens up a guaranteed hole in the rotation for Kyle McClellan (now displaced by Jenks) to take over. A dark horse candidate (Jess Todd, Clayton Mortenson, or P.J. Walters) could also take the job.
Those dominoes just fell. It sets up the "young kids" to take a rotation job in 2009 and leaves another hole (Todd Wellemeyer after 2009) for another prospect to take a job in 2010.
The largest domino, though, would be David Freese. Freese has been projected by many "prospect ignorant" fans as the successor to Troy Glaus at third base. With Brett Wallace right on his tail (the true heir apparent at 3B), Freese would do better by moving to the outfield so he can make the club in 2009, rather than 2010.
Freese, while fully able to play 3B, is more agile than Wallace and is a perfect fit in left field. Being alongside Rasmus would help him adjust, as Rasmus can cover a lot of ground.
Think of this lineup.
I know that lineup doesn't follow LaRules, but it is by far the best lineup we could throw out there everyday. It is very balanced between power, streaks, strikeouts, on-base, left/right, and speed. The defense wouldn't look too bad either.
So, keep this article in mind. It won't happen, but it would be great to see it work. Just to watch Mozeliak make this trade and set up the prospects' entries into the Major Leagues would be great.