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April 2, 2004

Can Of Corn

Bleeding Cardinal Red

by Dayn Perry

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I'm going to write about the Cardinals today. I've been a ruthlessly devoted fan of the Cards since I was old enough to eat bugs, so know that I embark on this exercise while holding more stake than usual in the outcome. Time was when I would pick the Cardinals to win their division every single year, but since I began pontificating on baseball for modest pay and an audience, I've had to adopt more of a clinical remove when talking about them. That's why, as things stand, I think they're the third best team in the NL Central (although the recent flurry of decisions and happenstance on the North Side of Chicago have me dreaming fond dreams of second place).

Grumpy about this, I'm going to brazenly second guess all that has passed before the eyes of Cardinal Nation this off-season. It'll be one part bang-spoon-on-high-chair sense of entitlement and one part desultory wallowing in what might have been. I call it "What My Favorite Team Should Have Done This Winter." I'll try to avoid indulging in castles-in-the-air schemes like: Sign Vlad! Trade for A-Rod! Swap Bo Hart for Marcus Giles! Additionally, I'll attempt to maintain some semblance of fiscal verisimilitude in what I recommend.

With bullet points, for the busy executive...

  • Rather than sign the St. Paul Saint in major leaguer's clothing Tony Womack to play second, find a reasonably priced platoon situation. Signing Mark Bellhorn and either Roberto Alomar or Todd Walker (I prefer the latter) could've been a productive solution, provided they were religiously platooned.

  • Don't make the J.D. Drew trade with Atlanta. While I do admire the fact that Adam Wainwright promptly becomes the best prospect in the system, I'm less enthusiastic about the over-hyped Jason Marquis and the prospect of health and performance finally intersecting for Drew on someone else's watch. Will Carroll has told me more than once that moving Drew to center might actually help his bum knee; it's the stopping and starting required of a corner outfielder that really bothers him. Moving him to center and having Jim Edmonds slide over to left or right (thus allowing him to concentrate on what he truly does well these days-knock the snot out of the ball) makes sense.

  • Flesh out the rotation with Miguel Batista and John Thomson. I've already burned an ample amount of bandwidth on how I think Thomson could make serious strides outside of Arlington, and I think he'd make a fine fourth man for the Cards. As for Batista, his signing by the Jays was one of the most underrated moves of the winter. Despite pitching in a fairly hostile environment last season in Arizona, Batista posted a 3.54 ERA in 193.1 innings, logged a 2.37 K/BB ratio and 2.04 GB/FB ratio and also allowed only 13 homers. Considering the progress he made with his command last season, I expect him to take another step forward in '04. He'd have certainly made a fine third starter in St. Louis. I realize the Cardinals are staring years of stadium debt service in the peepers, but if Toronto can afford the outlay, well, anyone can.

  • Keep Tino Martinez. Yes, you heard me. He's laughably overpaid and not among the top tier of first baseman by any stretch of the imagination. However, he is still a quality defender, and his 2003 line against right-handers (.281/.358/.446) wasn't unspeakably horrible. That said, Eduardo Perez should've been retained, and there should've been a city ordinance mandating that Tino not be allowed on the field when a lefty is starting for the opposition. Considering what the Cardinals came up with to replace Albert Pujols in left after he was dispatched to first, a Martinez/Perez platoon would constitute an upgrade over what the '04 model will be trotting out.

  • Make Eli Marrero the starting catcher. He was a capable defensive backstop in his day, and he's certainly a better hitter than Mike Matheny. PECOTA's weighted-mean projection for Marrerro calls for a line of .253/.316/.414/.257 EqA, while Matheny projects to a line of .245/.314/.344/.239 EqA. Advantage, Marrero, who would still be a Cardinal based on my first recommendation.

  • Put Jeremy Lambert on the 40-man roster. For a team saddled with one of the worst bullpens in the game last season, the Cards certainly played fast and loose with their best relief prospect. Lambert, despite eating the Southern League alive last season (41.1 IP, 56 K, 15 BB, 2.18 ERA) wasn't added to the major league roster and was thus granted minor league free agency. You can certainly marshal a case that he wasn't quite ready to contribute at the highest level, but he likely would've been after, say, six weeks of seasoning in the PCL.

  • Fortify the bench. Jettisoning Kerry Robinson was a fine idea, but not if it means dragging Brian Hunter howling from the vaults. The addition of Bellhorn and retention of Perez is a fine start, and hanging on to Jon Nunnally, who toiled in Memphis last season and is now a Brewer, as the fourth outfielder and top left-handed pinch hitter would have been another sage move. How about shoring up the infield by signing the eminently utile Tony Graffanino? With the Cardinals perhaps poised to carry three freaking catchers (none of whom is particularly useful), So Taguchi and a Rule 5 selection on the roster, this is going to be a mortifyingly weak corps of reserves. Is this the worst bench in the National League? That I'm even driven to ask this about a nominal contender really says it all.

  • Improve the pen. Jason Isringhausen and Kiko Calero will be quality relievers (although the latter will, for some reason, open the season in the minors), and Jason Simontacchi can be a serviceable, low-leverage long man and spot starter. Call up Lambert by June, and spend your Rule 5 selection on a bullpen-ready arm like Ray Aguilar or Josh Stevens instead of a roster spot-sucking tools poop like Hector Luna. Cal Eldred was reasonably successful last season, and his solid peripherals portend of further adequacy. And how about an Earl Weaver-inspired season of middle relief for the underrated Dan Haren? Haren struggled last season as a starter in the majors, but his minor league numbers are uniformly excellent. A bullpen intermezzo might help the Cards in the later innings and ferry along nicely his development as a future rotation stalwart. While I'm not wild about the decision to re-up with Steve Kline (take a look at his declining peripherals), he can possibly be helpful so long as his role is ratcheted down to lefty specialist/fourth or fifth man out of the pen.

And with that, I'm done. Here's what my Cardinals would look like:


C  - E. Marrero
1B - T. Martinez/E. Perez
2B - T. Walker/M. Bellhorn
3B - S. Rolen
SS - E. Renteria
LF - A. Pujols
CF - J.D. Drew
RF - J. Edmonds

SP1 - M. Morris
SP2 - W. Williams
SP3 - M. Batista
SP4 - J. Thomson
SP5 - C. Carpenter

RP1 - J. Isringhausen
RP2 - K. Calero
RP3 - R. Aguilar
RP4 - C. Eldred
RP5 - S. Kline
RP6 - D. Haren
RP7 - J. Simontacchi/J. Lambert

Bench - M. Bellhorn
Bench - E. Perez
Bench - J. Nunnally
Bench - T. Graffanino
Bench - M. Matheny

There. I promise not to talk about the Cardinals until I next talk about the Cardinals.

In closing, I'd like to remind readers of the upcoming pizza feed/book signing here in Austin on April 6 at 7 p.m. The Barnes and Noble in Westlake is the place to be. Free pie, and BP '04 is a head-slapping bargain at $17.95. Get the details right here. Hope to see you there!

Related Content:  Bench,  J.d. Drew

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