The off-season is fast approaching, with a mere few weeks left in the regular season. Of course the playoffs is the middle-man in this all, but the off-season is right around the corner.
Teams use the off-season to rebuild the roster that they currently have. The desire to recharge the roster and hopefully add a piece or two that takes the roster from pretender to contender is there. Other teams use the off-season to rebuild the farm system by trading veteran pieces.
The St. Louis Cardinals need to be apart of both groups to get back to champion status.
Now while the Cardinals did get exposed on two fronts, starting pitching and third base, this season thanks to injuries, there really was no way to avoid that. Your bench is there to help on occasion, not supply a key offensive cog for a whole season.
And the rotation? Only teams with great depth at the higher Minor League levels actually can take the kind of hits that St. Louis endured. In case you forgot, that would be losing Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse on consecutive days, and the former top draft pick Adam Ottavino succumbing to an existing shoulder problem (though his future was likely in the bullpen anyway, a la Mitch Boggs).
This off-season, John Mozeliak needs to get creative. And by that, I mean REALLY creative. The system has improved following the 2010 Rule Four draft, but those prospects are untouchable until June-August of 2011 due to the Pete Incaviglia rule.
With that rule making it harder to trade higher ceiling prospect, Mozeliak has to use Major League resources to his advantage.
The list that should be pinned up on every wall in Mozeliak's office this winter should consist of the following:
- Third baseman
- Right fielder capable of playing center field
- NOT trading Colby Rasmus
- Signing Albert Pujols long-term
While many believe that signing Pujols to a long-term contract should be on the front-burner, I'm of the select few that believe that it isn't necessary to focus every aspect on that one item.
Remember last off-season? Mozeliak basically focused on signing Matt Holliday. As a result, he couldn't jump at several free agents that would have been good signs because he wasn't sure what he could spend or what he needed to do.
That led to signing Brad Penny...and no one else.
That cannot happen this year.
Remember also that there are options with Pujols that didn't exist with Holliday.
First and foremost, Pujols can be traded to alleviate payroll concerns, improving the system depth, and leaves an open spot at first base that can be filled in the short-term by just about anyone you can think of (Adam Dunn tops that list). Holliday couldn't be traded because of being a free agent.
And there weren't many alternatives to Holliday. Jason Bay, sure, but he was never really an option to play under the Arch's shadow.
You also have to remember that by Pujols' own accounts, he loves St. Louis and never wants to leave. He's not represented by some jackass (Scott Boras in case you didn't know who I meant) that thinks in dollars and cents, instead of comfort and sense.
And there's also the fact that Pujols would hit the market with the Yankees not in the bidding. Yes, you read right. They would not be bidding.
How do I know? Think logically.
Pujols will not be a full-time DH. He is a first baseman, and one of the best fielding first baseman around.
At last check, the Yankees have a pretty good fielding first baseman in Mark Teixiera. Splitting those two between first and DH would likely work, but would you really want to pay $250 for six seasons of two part-time first baseman (assuming Pujols would sign for over $25 million in his first five seasons, matching up with Teixiera's last five)?
Also remember that the Yankees would still owe Alex Rodriguez over $170 million (assuming he breaks home run records) in that same time period. Oh, and CC Sabathia would be making over $60 million in base salary in that same time frame.
And just to put the icing on the cake, the Yankees have $107 million committed to 2012 (the first year of Pujols' new contract) as of right now. That doesn't include Derek Jeter's new contract, Mariano Rivera's new contract (if he doesn't retire), Andy Pettitte's new contract (assuming he doesn't retire) arbitration raises for Joba Chamberlin and Phil Hughes, or Robinson Cano's two options.
New York won't be bidding. Not even the Yankees could pull off, what I am educated guessing to be, $85million tacked on to that number, plus filling out the other roster spots on the team.
And remember that I'm guessing Pujols would make $25 million. I'm sure it would be higher than that if he hit the open market.
With the Yankees likely out of any bidding, unless Brian Cashman is so focused on an All-Star roster and is willing to pay that amount of money on two part-time first baseman, Pujols hitting the open market won't be as dramatic as many try to make it.
Think of this logically. The Yankees (presumably, as I don't put anything past Cashman) won't be bidding. The Boston Red Sox will be right there, as will the Cardinals. And...
The Nationals could make a push, but Pujols isn't dumb. He wants to win.
The Atlanta Braves couldn't afford Teixiera, so it is highly unlikely that they would swing enough payroll space for an even bigger contract of Pujols.
The Baltimore Orioles made a push for Teixiera because of the hometown hero angle. Pujols doesn't fit that.
You can also remove the bottom-dwellers that have little to no money: Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians
If you're counting (removing the Yankees, Cardinals, Nationals, and Red Sox from the list, since they have been mentioned already), that leaves: Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels or Anaheim as the only teams left.
Mariners and Rangers likely don't have the room in payroll due to scaling back and focusing more on farm systems rather than investing large amounts of money into their teams.
The Phillies have Ryan Howard. The Mets have Jason Bay in left field, so Ike Davis is stuck at first base, unless he would be traded. Of course, big investments have killed the Mets recently, so wanting to spend on Pujols with both of those bogging them down are unlikely.
The Giants have a strong foundation of youth, but could be in the fray. The Dodgers, though, are out because the divorce case of the McCourt's will be going on for years, or until they sell the team. Both of which put them too late into the race for Pujols and keeps them out.
The Tigers have been cutting money and have Miguel Cabrera locked up long-term. While a Pujols and Cabrera 3-4 would look good, the Tigers have a lot more problems to adjust than moving Cabrera to DH.
Never count out the Astros on big-time names, but with their sell-off of long-time franchise faces Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, the Astros won't likely be in.
The Reds. Joey Votto and mid-market. Only five words you need here.
The Angels have a lot of big contracts already on the books with more soon to come. They have also been reluctant to get into bidding wars for big-time free agents, so they're out.
The Cubs? Well, sucking for over 100 years puts you in the market for a big bat. And with some bigger contracts expiring soon, the Cubs could give Pujols a contract.
Recap: after all of that text, we have the following teams that will bid for Pujols: Cubs, Giants, Cardinals, Nationals, Red Sox. Maybe the Yankees.
Since the Yankees are a maybe, they're left out this next part. Teams Pujols would sign with: Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox.
Cardinals are home. Cubs are close to home. Red Sox are traditional rich, like the Cardinals and the Cubs.
See why I'm not really worried? There's three teams that can really sign Pujols.
He'll be back.
Now onto more pressing matters.
Third base, here we come.
David Freese isn't going to return until the end of Spring Training at the earliest. Consider him out of the race for Opening Day third baseman.
Outside of recently drafted Zach Cox, the Cardinals don't really have any good third base prospect. Daniel Descalso could slide over to the hot corner, but he's a better bet to stick at second base and upstage Skip Schumaker next season.
Matt Carpenter is a 25 year old at Double A. That isn't horrible, considering he wasn't drafted until after he graduated college, but still, not that impressive. Allen Craig Jr, basically.
Speaking of Craig: he isn't trusted at the hot corner. Cross him off the list.
Tyler Greene wouldn't be horrible, but I, like many, like him for upstaging Brendan Ryan next spring and taking over shortstop.
Not much depth.
In steps Alex Gordon. Yes, Alex Gordon.
Gordon isn't look at as favorably in Kansas City anymore. There have been rumors that Kansas City may look into trading him.
Why not to the Cardinals?
Changes of scenery work all of the time, and Gordon is still extremely talented. If given the proper coaching and enough time, he will put it together.
And of course, if Gordon doesn't put it together, Freese will be healed and ready to go by May. The duo could even platoon if maximized both of the players.
The deal would be tricky. There are several factors:
- Gordon will only be making $2-2.5 million in 2011 if he goes to arbitration
- The Royals will still want a decent package for Gordon, as they are very unlikely to non-tender him and let him go for free
This leads to this proposed package:
3B Alex Gordon for RHP Kyle Lohse (with St. Louis paying $22 million of the $23.75 million still owed), RHP Adam Reifer, and 1B/RF Allen Craig
Now hear me out before I get completely verbally bashed by all of you readers.
Lohse, will ineffective, needs to get out of St. Louis (so don't worry about that no-trade clause). Even if pitching for the Royals, he will do better in Kansas City than in St. Louis, a town that flat-out does not like him.
A new environment, like with Gordon, could also reinvigorate Lohse. Of course, it might not as well, and if it doesn't, oh well. Release him. Paying him $1.75 million over two seasons isn't bad, even if he doesn't pitch well.
Craig would add a power right handed bat. If given actual, uninterrupted playing time, Craig will hit. He has everywhere in the minors, and he even flashed good batting skills when given steady time in St. Louis. With well less than a year of service time and a lot of shuttle time between the majors and minors, Craig would offer a good, cheap bat for three seasons (shouldn't be a Super Two).
Reifer, a power right handed bullpen arm, would match up with Joakim Soria extremely well. Reifer has had some slight control problems in his Minor League career. And it isn't because he can't hit spots. It is because he throws that hard. Throwing hard with movement and controlling it at that high velocity is difficult.
And I'm not done pleading my case. Think of what a trade of Gordon would do:
- Mike Moustakas can start at third base on Opening Day
- Eric Hosmer can start at first base on Opening Day
Gordon, playing both of those positions, can be used an excuse not to play the young power duo on Opening Day. By shedding Gordon, you also shed the excuses, and add some decent quality in return for Gordon.
See, so it isn't as horrible as it looks right away. Is this deal greater for Kansas City or St. Louis? That thumbs up goes directly to St. Louis because of trading Lohse and adding third base depth, but Kansas City doesn't make out horribly here. Paying less than a million a season for a back-end starter and opening spots for top prospects to play is a major win...even if that back-end starter is Lohse.
Would Kansas City make this trade? They would on my PS3, but I couldn't tell you (and neither can you readers, despite what you believe) for sure in this real world.
This third and last one (as not trading Rasmus is a note, not a section) is about finding a right fielder who can play center.
B.J. Upton, anyone?
Upton has struggled thus far in 2010 and didn't fare much better in 2009. With his payday likely to go over $5 million, the Rays would do well with shedding Upton.
Again though, it won't be free. Upton will not be non-tendered, and the Rays will expect fair value in return, which is understandable. Despite his offensive struggles, Upton has still put up decent numbers in 2009-10 and is still an above-average center fielder.
The addition doesn't stop with Upton, however.
Carl Crawford is a free agent at the end of the season and the Rays want to re-sign him. Of course, it isn't entirely necessary because of their top prospect Desmond Jennings being on the cusp.
To be able to re-sign Crawford, the Rays have to shed money. What better way of doing that than dealing a starting pitcher who is in line for a a good raise?
I'm not talking Matt Garza. I'm talking about James Shields.
Shields is a classic buy low case.
He is throwing a lot of innings, which is good. He isn't pitching well, which is bad.
His innings logs, however, from the 2009-10 season are a good indicator of what he can do.
Shields is well on his way to throwing over 200 innings yet again, but is also on his way to making a lot of money from 2011-2014 (guaranteed $4.25 million in 2011, and $28 million in three club options from 2012-14). By trading Shields, the Rays could replace him with Jeremy Hellickson on the cheap, but not lose the production.
So, in theory, by trading Upton and Shields, the Rays could save back more than $9 million for the 2011 season alone, giving them the financial wiggle room needed to re-up with Crawford. It would also put Jennings in his more natural spot of center field, rather than left field.
So without further ado, I present you the package of players that would go to Tampa Bay:
Upon first look, this looks more quantity than quality for Upton and Shields. And as that is sort of correct, read on.
Mulligan is a 22 year old flame thrower that has movement and control. A converted catcher, a la Jason Motte, Mulligan has a bright future in a bullpen. With the Rays constant bullpen woes, adding Mulligan could be vital.
The same goes for Samuel. Samuel is a walk machine, but throws hard. If given the proper guidance and a good handling catcher, his walk rate will improve. It will always be high, but so will his strikeouts. As a seventh or eight inning starter, he would be very good. As a firefighter, you might pull out some of your hair.
Castillo is a real add. Not even 20 years old yet, he doesn't get the coverage he should get. He has struggled thus far in the Florida State League, but will regain traction next season when he is more healthy. Not to mention he'll know how to pitch, not so much throw.
Castillo, if you don't know, was signed out of the Venezuelan Summer League. He hasn't actually pitched against real hitters yet, except in 2009 when he first entered the FSL. Luck contributed early on to that success he had in 2009.
As for Hamilton, he is the new Adam Dunn. He has a lot of power, is a decent average hitter, but isn't amazing with the glove (but he isn't nearly as bad as Dunn is). Another prospect that doesn't get the credit he deserves, Hamilton has raked in his Minor League career.
With Carlos Pena ready to hit free agency, Hamilton would be a good guy to take a look at to be the DH for the club. His left handed power would fit nicely in the middle-half of the Tampa lineup.
Jones is a former top prospect who has had knee problems. Best word to describe Jones: Crawford. He has speed, decent power, and is a good fielding left fielder.
Jones has stalled a little in Double A, but as I just said, knee problems contributed to that. He recovered nicely this season if you can avoid his average and OPS columns.
My normal disclaimer: would Tampa Bay make this trade? On my PS3, they would. In real life, who knows? You readers don't know (I'm tired of THOSE comments in the comment section), so just give opinions.
Also, I'm not even sure if the Cardinals have considered asking about Upton and/or Shields, but I do know that the Rays are looking to move one or both this off-season, along with Garza.
With all of this out there, let me give my roster for 2011 and call it a day:
2B - Schumaker
RF - Upton
1B - Pujols
LF - Holliday
CF - Rasmus
C - Molina
3B - Gordon
SS - Ryan/Greene
SPs: Carpenter, Wainwright, Garcia, Shields, McClellan
RHP: Salas, Sanchez, Motte, Boggs, Franklin (CL)
LHP: Miller, MacLane