5 Ex-Cardinals Free Agents St. Louis Should Avoid at All Costs

Will GrapperhausContributor IIINovember 30, 2012

5 Ex-Cardinals Free Agents St. Louis Should Avoid at All Costs

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    The Cardinals as an organization generally avoid signing free agents of any kind (at all costs) so the title of this slideshow is a little misleading, admittedly.

    However, the club does like to work in the realm of the familiar—the known quantity—and like some middle-aged group of buddies in a garage band, sometimes they bring old friends back into the fold for one last gig.

    Even if they can't play a note.

    At age 35, Jeff Suppan returned in 2010 after taking his free-agent lumps in Milwaukee for three years, but only went 3-6 for the Cards.

    Ray Lankford came home in his final season in 2004 and somehow accumulated 200 at-bats. He only batted .255 and struck out 55 times, which was always one of his specialties.

    And our favorite example: Ken Hill.

    The plus-armed 25-year-old was included in a trade with Montreal to bring Andres Galarraga to St. Louis to fill their first-base vacancy.

    Galarraga was a bust while Hill won 16 games in two of three seasons for the Expos, even finishing second in the 1994 NL Cy Young vote.

    The Cardinals saw the chance to bring Hill back to anchor their pitching staff for the 1995 season. So of course he flopped again as he went 6-7 in 18 starts with a 5.06 ERA before being shipped off to Cleveland.

    To add insult to injury, he won 16 games for a third time the very next season with the Rangers.

    So while the team has very few holes to plug this offseason, the Cards always seem vaguely tempted to bring an old familiar face back into the fold.

    While there is little chance any of the following former Cardinals will be signed by John Mozeliak, in case he has a momentary lack of reason, here are the reasons why the team should pass.

Placido Polanco

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    Placido Polanco has had a nice career.

    He has accumulated over 2,000 hits with a career .299/.344/.403/.747 slash line, despite having hit just 103 home runs from a "power" position like third base.

    In fact, Polanco will probably pass Cardinals Hall of Fame icon Red Schoendiest in Baseball-Reference.com's career WAR list this year, assuming he finds a home in 2013.

    That means Plalcido is headed for Cooperstown, right?

    Well, probably not. For Cardinals fans, Polanco will only be remembered for being included in the trade that brought the star-crossed Scott Rolen to St. Louis.

    He probably doesn't have much in the tank now at age 37. In fact, Polanco batted just .257 this year with the worst on-base plus slugging percentage of his career at .629.

    Even though David Freese's health is not a given, the club has super-sub Matt Carpenter to plug in at third should the need arise.

Dan Haren

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    The Cardinals have plenty of pitching, so they clearly wouldn't be in the market for a top-of-the-rotation starter like Dan Haren.

    But come on—wouldn't that in some small way redeem the worst Cardinals trade in recent history?

    While Walt Jocketty and the Cards thought they were acquiring a starting ace in his prime in Mark Mulder, they actually traded away a starting ace just entering his prime who would win at least 14 games per year over the next five years.

    The Redbirds received a 22-18 record, 5.04 ERA and -0.4 WAR from Mulder over four high-priced years while Haren has averaged 12.5 wins per year over the past nine seasons, amassing a 28.8 WAR rating.

    Now at age 32, though, Haren's best years are long gone and he will in all likelihood not be a good investment for whomever he does end up signing with this offseason.

    And signing him now won't bring the Cardinals those hundred or so wins they lost when they sent him to Oakland on that dark day in December 2004.

Ryan Ludwick

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    For those that don't think confidence matters to professional athletes, look no further than Ryan Ludwick.

    After escaping baseball purgatory in San Diego, he rediscovered his Silver Slugging bat with the Reds this summer.

    Between June and August, Ludwick was one of the most productive hitters in the NL, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 51 in 72 games played.

    And don't think for a moment Luddy was a product of Great Homerun Ballpark—his splits were as balanced as ever as he slugged .555 at home and .505 on the road in 2012.

    But at age 34, Ludwick is looking for full-time work and a full-time paycheck, neither of which the Cards can offer, especially with top prospect Oscar Taveras waiting in the wings.

    The Cards could use a veteran power bat like Ludwick offers, but these two are not a match, at least not yet. Perhaps after his next contract expires, he'll retire as a Cardinal like Ray Lankford did.

Kyle Lohse

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    It's a good thing most Cardinals fans are not in John Mozeliak's shoes or Kyle Lohse may have already been extended four more years as the "ace" of the Redbird rotation.

    After all, Lohse just had the best season of his career by far, accumulating a 3.9 WAR rating in 2012 that blew away his previous best of 2.5 WAR in 2008, which earned him his last extension in St. Louis.

    Fortunately, it only takes a quick look at the list of pitchers most similar to Lohse found on Baseball-Reference.com—names like Brad Penny, Jason Marquis, Joel Pineiro and Ken Hill—to snap us back to reality as to what kind of pitcher Lohse has been throughout his career.

    Fans in St. Louis know quite well how inconsistent that group of hurlers were.

    The Cardinals rotation is in flux, caught between veterans with recent injury histories and young fireballers still wet behind the ears.

    A solid mid-rotation starter like Lohse may seem like a safe bet, but his 2.86 ERA looks completely unsustainable given that his advanced metrics are more in line with those of his rotation mate, Jake Westbrook.

    Signing Lohse would not be smart as he turns 35 near the 2013 All-Star break, and certainly not for the four-year deal he and Scott Boras are going to demand.

Lance Berkman

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    One must wonder what the Cardinals would have done with Lance Berkman if he had not been injured all year. There really wasn't room for him, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig to share two positions in the field.

    Perhaps John Mozeliak knew he hit the jackpot with Berkman in 2011, who was by all accounts the heart and soul of that World Series-winning team.

    Mozeliak also might have known it would be unreasonable to expect lightning to strike twice, and it certainly did not as Berkman missed virtually the entire year with injuries.

    There are so many reasons to bring a player like Berkman on board, even for one year. He's a big, switch-hitting veteran with power from both sides, never shies away from the media and readily coaches up younger players behind the scenes.

    But with so many young bats to find room for, and no guarantee that Berkman will ever be effective again, the team simply has to bid the fan favorite adieu.

    We expect it to be a quiet free-agent season for the Cardinals, but it is still entertaining to consider the possibilities.