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 trades.
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 on.
Free agents lost
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.
Free agents gained
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 bench.
Saying goodbye via arbitration
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 change.
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 days.
King turns 32 next month. While that is not ancient, his peak year may already be behind him.
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 Grudzielanek.
Miles hit .281 with
two home runs and 28 RBI in 99 games for the
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 75.
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
With every player coming from
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 play.
Overall, Bigbie is a
career .268 batter with 31 home runs and 136 RBI in 375 games with
Can Bigbie replace Sanders? I
think so. Reggie averaged 20 home runs and 60 RBI in his two seasons in
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 opinion.
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 still out.
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.