The St. Louis Cardinals enter the offseason in a frustrated, yet excited state.
They were just swept out of the playoffs. Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, Joel Pineiro, Rick Ankiel, and John Smoltz enter free agency. Tony La Russa and the entire coaching staff are free agents.
But, the Cardinals did make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, and have a great base of young talent brewing.
What should the Cardinals do?
I am here to help.
First off, the Cardinals need to break from tradition and not go down to the wire with their arbitration eligible players. They will have two players that are eligible for arbitration, and both need to be signed right away.
Skip Schumaker, who enters his first year of arbitration, and Ryan Ludwick, in his second, are this year's arbitration players. Both can be signed.
Schumaker just made the rough switch from career outfielder to average defensive second baseman, and therefore deserves a good amount of money.
A $1.5 million salary should not be seen as low, considering 2009 was Schumaker's second full season, and may be too high. Still, it's a good number for an integral part of the team.
Ludwick may be tougher. Ludwick and the Cardinals agreed to $3.7 million for the 2009 season. After a regression, due in large part to injuries and a lack of playing time, Ludwick is still due a raise.
The question is how much? The answer is a contract worth $5 million. If Ludwick takes the offer, which he should as the arbitrator would rule for the club, he can set himself up for a long-term contract after the 2010 season.
Why? He would be affordable, and if he produces a line somewhere between 2008 and 2009, he would be one of the better bats to come to the Cardinals in some time.
The other players that could be up for arbitration are Brad Thompson, Josh Kinney, and Joe Thurston.
What to do? Cut them. All three of them.
Thompson has proven to not be the pitcher many thought he was going to be coming through the system and after the 2006 postseason. The same goes for Kinney.
Thurston hasn't really been anything for the Cardinals, except maybe a player taking time away from more deserving players.
All three can be, and for the most part have been, replaced by others.
If the Cardinals can trade all three players, great. More than likely, all three will be non-tendered and become afterthoughts.
This will also clear a congested 40 man roster that has been filled to an almost full 39 players.
Speaking of the 40 man roster, Matt Scherer needs to be removed. He is right handed relief, something the Cardinals have plenty of, and is no special talent. He is a journeyman reliever in the making.
This leaves us with the actual free agent market. The Cardinals will have nine free agents (before non-tenders) leaving the team. They are: Troy Glaus, DeRosa, Smoltz, Todd Wellemeyer, Pineiro, Ankiel, Holliday, Khalil Greene, and Jason LaRue.
What should the Cardinals do with their newfound wealth of open roster spots and money?
Many fans will tell you that Holliday and DeRosa have to be re-signed for the team to compete. I am here to tell you that is false.
Sure, Holliday and DeRosa are great players and would keep the Cardinals lineup a force, but those days of spending unwisely are behind the Cardinals.
Now, it is all about the up-and-coming talent. This year, the Cardinals will use it to their advantage.
The team needs to sign three free agents. Read that again: three.
Hideki Matsui, Smoltz, and B.J. Ryan.
Matsui will be a free agent (the New York Yankees will not re-sign him) and will be looking for a job this offseason. He has been labeled as a designated hitter, and has mentioned he would be willing to try first base.
Not needed in St. Louis.
The left field job is open and Matsui has two important qualifications: run producer and bats left handed.
Sure, he hasn't played the outfield on a regular basis since 2007, and 2005 was the last season he started 120 or more games in the outfield.
This is where the up-and-coming talent helps Matsui with his Cardinals career, and could save the Cardinals some money.
Allen Craig is a right handed hitting force and can play the corner infield and outfield. He represents a strong pinch hitter off of the bench, and a utility type player.
Mixing and matching between Matsui and Craig in a platoon could produce some very strong results. Neither will be over-matched, in theory.
How will the Cardinals attain this type of platoon? By signing Matsui to a club friendly contract with incentives that turns it into a player friendly contract.
The base salary of the contract would be $5 million, with $6.345 million incentives available. No option would be attached, so Matsui could either negotiate an extension with the Cardinals or reenter the free agent pool after showing he can play the outfield everyday still.
Win-win for both sides.
The incentives would be:
|Up to 700, every 25||$400,000|
I hope that is easy to understand. The incentives are more complicated than other contracts like it because Matsui has played 171 games in the outfield over the last four seasons.
As you can see, though, a full season from Matsui would earn him a lot of money, especially if he is traded. That clause should be added in case the Cardinals have another 2007 season, and Matsui is playing well enough to garner trade deadline calls.
For Smoltz, the contract is almost similar. The two differences, one more obvious than the other, is that he is a pitcher (obvious) and not a health liability (hopefully).
Smoltz's contract would too be worth a $5 million base salary, but he could obtain $5.95 million in incentives.
His contract incentives would be set up as follows:
|Up to 33, every 1||$350,000|
|Up to 230, every 10||$500,000|
Smoltz's incentives are setup for him to be a number five starter, and can raise up to ace level. Again, club friendly contract which can turn into player friendly by the end of the season.
Ryan will take some explaining and convincing.
The good news is that Ryan was effective in 2008, a year removed from Tommy John surgery, and effective for the Cubs at their Triple A affiliate.
The reason the Cardinals should sign Ryan is for insurance issues. Ryan is a closer and would represent insurance to a Ryan Franklin blow up, or when Franklin needs a rest day.
He would also serve as left handed insurance to Miller and Reyes, so they do not have to come in almost every game. Not to mention Ryan would serve as bridge insurance to Franklin, since the young pitchers are more prone to faltering as the year goes on.
Basically, Ryan fills many needs and on the cheap.
Should his being cheap mean the Cardinals should sign him at the Major League minimum? No, that would be an insult at the start of a season.
Ryan is still owed $10 million from the Blue Jays, so he would only have to be signed to a $400 thousand contract.
Ryan, if he is indeed signed, should be signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. This protects the Cardinals from spending money in case Ryan does not look like his normal self.
If he would make the roster, Ryan would achieve a $400 thousand contract with a club option for 2011, worth $1 million ($200 thousand buyout). His incentives would be setup as follows:
|Up to 80, every 5||$75,000|
|Up to 50, every 5||$50,000|
He has a chance to earn $970 thousand in incentives, and has bonuses worked into the contract in case he takes the closer job away from Franklin, whether by performance or injury.
His club option would be setup as:
His option will go on the rise if he achieves full year marks, and if he becomes the closer. Both years could bring great value to the Cardinals if he pitches up to his normal ability.
Are these three players the best options for the Cardinals? No.
Are they the best players available for their positions? No.
Does signing these three show the want to win, while not financially crippling the franchise by signing players to outrageous contracts that could have a large ripple effect within the organization, which could end with Albert Pujols leaving after the 2011 season? Yes.
These three represent the best way to improve the team for 2010 in many ways.
First off, performance. If all three perform the way they can, the 2010 Cardinals could be the best in the National League.
Secondly, they are stop gaps for young players. Since Smoltz and Matsui can leave after the season, they can pave the way for young players to be major factors in 2011 (Craig and Hawksworth at the top of that list).
For Ryan, he represents another experience voice in the bullpen for young pitchers.
Thirdly, they are on the cheap and only get expensive as they perform, which is how contracts should operate.
In case you were wondering how the roster would shape up, based on signings and minor league players, here is how I have it envisioned:
Not a bad configuration for the 2010 Cardinals.