After a surprising season in which the St. Louis Cardinals finished 10 games over .500 and contended for much of the year, optimism is abound in the Gateway City.
With over $30 million in cap space opening up, the Cards finally have some flexibility to work with on the free agent market.
Big signings in the past have treated the Cardinals both ways. Locking up Albert Pujols to the first $100 million dollar deal in franchise history has been great, but inking Chris Carpenter to a long-term deal has been a total bust thus far.
Here are five intelligent, but aggressive moves that will make the Cards a much better team in 2009.
5. Russ Springer (projected salary: $2,500,000)
Springer, who made $3.5 mil last year, would be a nice, but not crucial signing.
With youngsters like Chris Perez, Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, and Jess Todd showing so much potential last season, getting Springer at a bargain would be great.
But I don't think a lockdown right-hander is the team's biggest priority. And Springer will be 40 next season, so the Birds shouldn't give him more than three mil, taking into account that he might break down sooner or later.
4. Felipe Lopez (projected salary: $5,000,000)
Lopez and the Cards have had a tough time reaching an agreement thus far, so it's looking less likely that Lopez ends up back in St. Louis. However, I really think he'd be a good fit. I think Lopez would play hard every day if he's with a contender with a great fanbase, and you have to love his .384 average with the club at the end of 2008.
The Cardinals need a stud in the middle infield. The other one doesn't have to be above average. Lopez can play both middle infield spots, third base, and even dabbled in the outfield last season. He's got the versatility and contact bat to be a good fit with Tony La Russa and the Cards.
Alternate: If the Cards could bring in Marcus Giles for less, DO IT. Giles' hustle and swagger would be fantastic in St. Louis, and if he could regain his old form, he'd be a bargain.
3. Oliver Perez (projected salary: $7,000,000)
I doubt the Cardinals would give Perez this much money, but if they can somehow bring him in for an incentive-laden deal to work with pitching wizard Dave Duncan, Perez could finally gain that edge he's always lacked.
Perez is still young at 27, and getting away from the pressures of New York might do wonders for his confidence. The Cardinals don't need another starter, but Chris Carpenter should NOT be counted on, until he shows his arm is healthy.
Alternate: I would really like to see the 'Birds sign Freddy Garcia to a Matt Clement-esque deal. He was decent in his three starts with Detroit last season, and Freddy has proven to be talented when he has his head on straight. Dave Duncan can do that for him.
2. Jeremy Affeldt (projected salary: $3,000,000)
I know this seems really high to rate a guy that only threw 78.1 innings last year and is very unheralded, but Affeldt is another guy that would be a fantastic fit in St. Louis. He's like a left-handed Brad Thompson, who Dave Duncan is seemingly in love with.
He can start, be a lefty specialist, and is relatively cheap.
Call me crazy, but I think Affeldt would be a great fit in St. Louis, especially with Dave Duncan helping him truly harness his stuff. He comes much cheaper than Brian Fuentes and other lefty options, and has the arm to eat the middle innings if need be.
1. Orlando Hudson (projected salary: $7,000,000)
Hudson will probably be looking for a raise from the $6.25 million he got last year, but he's been relatively quiet so I'm not sure what he'll demand after injuries have ended his last two seasons.
But he's relatively young, has an amazing glove and bat for a two-bagger, and St. Louis would LOVE his flair.
Hudson is at the top of the second base market, no doubt. But the Cardinals have the money to make this move, and Tony La Russa have to would rotate him in and out enough to keep Hudson fresh late in the year.
Hudson could provide major protection in the middle of the lineup and doesn't strike out much. PLEASE JOHN MOZELIAK, GET THE O-DAWG!!
If the Cards made every one of these moves (which they might not make any of), they'll still only spend $24.5 million on these five guys.
Combine that with the fact that they're actually saving $1 million if Springer signs the deal I proposed and the fact that Adam Kennedy might be traded, and they could still be left with over $10 million.
The Birds have NO excuse not to be substantially better in 2009. Don't let us down J-Mo.