I sit here and ask myself why I
seem to be in the minority this offseason in not being overly upset about
Cardinals actions in any one of five different areas of consideration –
continuity, free agents lost, free agents gained, arbitration-driven losses and
First of all, like seemingly every offseason, I read commentary on our site and others about the importance of keeping
the current players together year after year. Twelve months ago, it was not
losing Woody Williams and Mike Matheny or the team would be leaderless.
Recently, it has been worry over the departures of Mark Grudzielanek and Reggie
Sanders. When the subject is raised again and again, sometimes I disagree
loudly, other times I mutter something to myself and move
Next, the big-name free agents
come along – players who can surely help the team improve. Yet, the price is
high and as a result, I can never get fully behind the idea, whether it be
offense (Brian Giles) or pitching (A.J. Burnett). We’ve all seen how strong
emotions can be on this subject.
Third, some non-descript free
agents are added – role players like Deivi Cruz and Gary Bennett - and some
people freak out. It’s as if folks think these are the only new players who will
grace the roster next season or something. Somehow these players appear to be
considered by a few as very poor consolation prizes for losing the big names
instead of what they are – guys potentially just filling end seats on the
Saying goodbye via
Next are the arbitration
decisions. With Wednesday’s announcements, the pain of separation becomes more a
reality as the fate of popular players like Grudzielanek and Sanders are sealed.
As noted in the continuity section above, I am not against
Finally, the trades begin,
starting with Ray King for Larry Bigbie and Aaron Miles.
I seem to again feel lonely as I
happen to think that this trade is just fine. As writers and message board
posters alike rant and rave, questioning the intelligence of the general manager
and accentuating the flaws of the newcomers, I see it differently.
Here are four reasons why –
politics/chemistry, money, upside and playing time. I will look at each, then conclude with a
drill-down on both of the new Cardinals.
I have said it all along and still
believe it today. Once Ray King had his public blow up at season’s end and Tony
La Russa counterattacked, King became unrepairable damaged goods. And I am not
even talking about his results on the mound. In the heat of battle, La Russa
made very strong public comments about King that strangely disappeared from
online sources shortly thereafter.
Next, we heard from Walt
Jocketty, La Russa and King himself that everything was fine and the lefty was
wanted back in 2006. In my opinion, it was all smokescreen, folks - an act to
maintain as much value as possible in King until he could be moved.
King was slated to make almost
$2.5 million in 2006. Bigbie earned $380,000 in 2005, but is arbitration
eligible, so should get a decent raise for 2006. But, as an aside, it will be
nothing like the $4 million or more that Reggie Sanders will make
somewhere. Plus, Bigbie can't be a free agent for three more years.
Miles’ 2005 salary was just
$326,000, just above minimum and he is still a year away from arbitration. So,
the Cardinals can set his 2006 contract value and have little to lose.
From a financial perspective then,
this deal is no worse than a wash for the Cardinals in 2006 and could be an
improvement, based on the amount Bigbie settles for.
Consider Sanders, age 38, versus
Bigbie at 28 and Grudzielanek at 35 versus Miles at 29. The two new Cardinals
seem to be coming into their prime years as players. On the other hand, the main
question surrounding the previous pair was how to avoid giving them multi-year
contracts because of them nearing the end of their playing
King turns 32 next month. While
that is not ancient, his peak year may already be behind
Granted, the 2006 bullpen is
unsettled. However, there are other options from the left side to try to cover
King’s appearances, including Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson and Carmen Cali.
Bigbie and Miles are each proven
major league starters. Sure, due to injuries, they both had off years in 2005,
but each has a decent chance to contribute to the Cardinals in 2006. I like the
“buy low” strategy. It sure worked with both their predecessors, Sanders and
Miles hit .281 with
two home runs and 28 RBI in 99 games for the Rockies last season, making
69 starts at second base. The switch-hitting infielder is a career .289 batter
with eight home runs and 77 RBI in 241 games with the Rockies (2004-05) and
Chicago White Sox (2003). The 5’7”, 180-pound Miles batted .293 in 134 games
played for Colorado in 2004, which was
tops for any NL rookie that season.
Miles turns 29 next week and has
been a professional for 11 years, nine of which were spent in the minors. As a
rookie in 2004, Miles had 153 hits, 10% more than any other MLB rookie that year
and also scored the most runs compared to all first-year players with
While characterized as a “go the
other way, slap hitter”, Miles is not patient with the bat. Despite leading off
much of his time at Colorado, Miles may be more suitable as a
#2 man. That is a spot that needs filling after Larry Walker’s
With every player coming from
Colorado, the question is always asked.
“How much of the player’s success is due to altitude?” Miles’ splits are not
great. He has a .255 road career batting average versus .321 at
Miles is considered an average
defensive player for the position, with his arm a plus and his range and
footwork needing improvement.
An interesting footnote is that
Miles was drafted by the Astros in the 19th round in 1995 and joined
the White Sox in the minor league phase of the 2000 Rule 5 draft. Two years ago,
he was traded by the Sox for Jose Uribe.
Bigbie has a good
glove, a decent arm and is versatile. In fact, he has posted a career .996
fielding percentage with just three errors, while playing both left and center
field. The 6’4”, 208 pound
outfielder was the Orioles’ first-round draft choice in 1999. He was traded to the Rockies this last
July and appeared in just 23 games for Colorado after suffering a strained right
Achilles tendon that caused him to miss almost three weeks of
Overall, Bigbie is a
career .268 batter with 31 home runs and 136 RBI in 375 games with
Colorado (2001-2005). The
lefthanded hitter combined to bat just .239 with five home runs and 23 RBI in 90
games with the Orioles and Rockies in 2005. He hit
.280 with a career-high 15 home runs and 68 RBI for the Orioles in
Can Bigbie replace Sanders? I
think so. Reggie averaged 20 home runs and 60 RBI in his two seasons in
St. Louis and is almost ten years
Bigbie’s career mark against
lefties is .243, quite a bit lower than his .277 mark against right-handers.
However, that does not necessarily imply an automatic platoon situation, in my
The Cardinals made one of a number
of moves that will occur this offseason with the King for Bigbie and Miles
trade. As a standalone deal, it looks fine to me. As part of a larger body of
changes as the 2005 Cardinals morph into the 2006 entry, of course the jury is
I did not touch on the Cardinals’
overall player payroll here. Clearly, there is a lot of money left in the 2006
salary budget. My vote on the effectiveness of this offseason will depend a lot
on how that remaining money is spent. Not burning it on left field or second
base at this point doesn’t bother me – yet.
Brian Walton can be reached via
email at email@example.com.