THE INSIDE PITCH
The Cardinals filled two of their several bullpen
openings by signing free-agent left-hander Ricardo Rincon to a two-year, $2.9 million contract
and then bringing back right-hander Braden Looper, a free agent who signed for
three years and $13.5 million.
With right-hander Julian Tavarez defecting to free agency,
left-hander Ray King being traded, right-hander Cal Eldred retiring and right-hander Al Reyes undergoing serious elbow surgery,
the Cardinals had four bullpen spots open,
meaning they still have more work to do.
But Looper, a former No. 1 draft
pick of the Cardinals who struck out three hitters in one
inning in his first big-league game for the Cardinals on Opening Day in 1998, gives them
protection at the closer spot for Jason Isringhausen. And he also gives them a
strikeout-type pitcher to bridge for as much as two innings between the starter
Looper, a member of the 2003 world
champion Florida Marlins, had 57 saves in the last two
seasons with the New York Mets but fanned just 27 hitters in
59 1/3 innings last season while pitching with some soreness in his shoulder. He
has had some cleanup surgery in the offseason but said he would be ready for
"He's young. He's proven. He's
healthy," said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, who
increased his original offers of one year and two years to keep Looper from
going to another team like the Philadelphia Phillies. "We think he'll be an ideal setup man for
Izzy -- a guy who, if Izzy is unavailable on certain nights, then can close."
Looper, 31, said, "I'm much more
developed as a pitcher (since 1998). I may not be throwing as hard, but I'm a
lot better now."
The Cardinals had Looper for only part of the one
season the first time around. They included him in the deal to acquire shortstop
Edgar Renteria from Florida after the 1998
The 35-year-old Rincon, who worked
in 67 games last season for Oakland and allowed just 10 of 46 inherited runners
to score, will assume King's late inning role as a left-handed specialist.
GM Walt Jocketty is still searching
for an outfielder but isn't optimistic that one on the free agent market will be
available in his price range. He said that player more likely would have to be
acquired through trade but added, "There really aren't many alternatives in the
trade market, either."
RHP Matt Morris, who was offered only two
years at $13 million and then a club option for the third year, went to San
Francisco at $27 million for three years but left with no outward bitterness. "I
appreciated what Walt and ownership did. They treated me like gold from Day
One," said Morris.
RHPs Octavio Dotel and Felix Rodriguez, both free agents, still are on the
Cardinals' radar although Dotel won't be
ready at the start of the season after undergoing elbow ligament surgery last
Jocketty said he didn't mind making
a lot of offseason changes, even with a team that won 100 games. "I think you
need to turn the roster over," he said. "I think turning a percentage of the
roster over every year is healthy."
INF Hector Luna, who hit .285 as a part-timer
last season, probably will get first shot at the starting second base job.
RHP Alan Benes, 33, has been signed to a minor
league contract. Benes, a promising pitcher for the Cardinals in the late 1990s, has been
trying to battle back after having had several shoulder surgeries.
GRADING THE PLAYER
RHP Braden Looper (free agent from New York Mets), A-
The Cardinals did what they had to
do to get Looper back and it comes as good news for the fans waiting for
something to happen. He should excel working again with pitching Coach Dave
Duncan and Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa.
2B Aaron Miles (trade with Colorado), &
OF Larry Bigbie (trade with Colorado),
Miles and Bigbie came over in the
trade that sent Ray King to the Rockies. Both will be given a shot at making the
club in spring training, Bigbie probably has the biggest upside. The Cardinals
wanted to get rid of King in spite of what was being reported in the local
newspapers about kissing and making up and by gones being by gones. Personally I
thought they could do a little better than they did in dealing King
LHP Ricardo Rincon (free agent from Oakland),
Considering the market conditions
and the need to get some help in the bullpen the Rincon deal was a decent deal.
Fans expecting an improvement over the pitching of Ray King, will be somewhat
disappointed. Rincon only looks better than King if you are focusing on King’s
record the last two months of the season. Career wise, King is a much better
pitcher and he’s a few year younger.
C Gary Bennett (free agent from Washington),
Bennett is being called an upgrade
over Einar Diaz and perhaps he is, but like Diaz, he won’t get much playing
SS Deivi Cruz (free agent from San
Cruz will be a back up infielder
that may have trouble sticking with the club.
RHP Juan Mateo (Rule 5 draft from Chicago Cubs), B-
Not a risk for the team to pick up
Mateo and who knows he might become a member of the bullpen or worst case
scenario he’ll return to Chicago.
RHP Dennis Tankersley (minor league free agent from
Kansas City). C+
Tankersley, a former top prospect
will be given a chance in St. Louis to be a member of the bullpen coming out of
2B Mark Grudzielanek (free agent, signed with
Kansas City), D
The Cardinals didn’t make any
effort to bring Grudz back, regardless of what you have heard in the media.
Sources who want to remain anonymous say there were special circumstances
surrounding the departure of Grudzielanek, for what that is worth. (to me
nothing) Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty said it was a baseball decision to let Mark
go, if that was the case, then I think it was a bad one. He signed a one year
deal with Kansas City for $4-million, it’s hard for me to believe he wouldn’t
have accepted a two year deal for $6-million to stay in St. Louis.
3B Abraham Nunez (free agent, signed with
Nunez earned a shot to get a better
contract with another team than what St. Louis would have been willing to pay to
keep him on as a role/bench player. Good luck to him and we’ll miss his defense
and arm before it’s over in 2006, I’m afraid.
Personally, if the Cardinals were
not going to sign Grudzielanek, I think I would have made more of an effort to
keep Nunez in St. Louis. I would rather have my option at second base be Nunez
or Luna, rather than Luna or Miles.
RHP Cal Eldred (retired), A
Best wishes a true
RF Larry Walker (retired), A
Best wishes here as well. The
Cardinals still need to find someone to play in right field. As far as I’m
concern they haven’t done it yet.
RHP Matt Morris (free agent, signed with San
It became clear early on the
Cardinals were not serious about bringing Morris back for next season. The idea
that he was a backup plan, which was not the direction I would have taken. The team
offered him arbitration at the deadline, by that time it was about a month too
late to try to get him signed to a deal, to stay in St. Louis.
LHP Ray King (traded to Colorado), C
I told you he was gone, when I
told you not to believe all the propaganda in the local media about the
Cardinals and King, kissing and making up. I thought the Cardinals could have
done better in dealing King away and I also think that the bullpen is not going
to be as strong, without him. FYI - I know about August and September last
OF-INF John Mabry (free agent, signed with Chicago
Mabry leaves St. Louis for a third
time and I would guess for the last time. The second half of last season,
Mabry’s bat was basically useless. The Cardinals have some players in the system
that will get a chance to make the team with Mabry gone.
They need to get younger in the
outfield. For sure, a regular right fielder and left fielder are required with
the retirement of Larry Walker and the defection to free agency of
LF Reggie Sanders. The bullpen, the deepest in
the league, has had to be retooled because of free agency and injury defections,
and there is no surefire regular at second base.
LHP Randy Flores (left elbow surgery) will be
out six eight to weeks but should be ready for spring training.
3B Scott Rolen is rehabilitating after a
second shoulder surgery and should be ready for spring training.
RHP Al Reyes, who probably will be
re-signed as a free agent even though he isn't able to pitch, might be back by
August after offseason Tommy John surgery.
TOP REMAINING FREE
There are still a lot of well-known
names in the free agent market. Here is the top 20, listed
Player Pos. 2005 Team
Jeromy Burnitz OF Cubs .258, 24 HR,
Roger Clemens RHP Astros 13-8, 1.87
Johnny Damon CF Red Sox .316, 10
HR, 75 RBI
Juan Encarnacion OF Marlins .287,
16 HR, 76 RBI
Nomar Garciaparra SS Cubs .283, 9
HR, 30 RBI
Alex Gonzalez SS Marlins .264, 5
HR, 45 RBI
Kenny Lofton OF Phillies .335, 36
RBI, 22 SB
Jason Johnson RHP Tigers 8-13, 4.54
Jacque Jones OF Twins .249, 23 HR,
Kevin Millwood RHP Indians 9-11,
Bengie Molina C Angels .295, 15 HR,
Mike Piazza C Mets .251, 19 HR, 62
Reggie Sanders OF Cardinals .271,
21 HR, 54 RBI
Sammy Sosa OF Orioles .221, 14 HR,
Frank Thomas DH White Sox .219, 12
HR, 26 RBI
Brett Tomko RHP Giants 8-15, 4.48
Jarrod Washburn LHP Angels 8-8,
Jeff Weaver RHP Dodgers 14-11, 4.22
Bernie Williams OF Yankees .249, 12
HR, 64 RBI
Preston Wilson CF Nationals .260,
25 HR, 90 RBI
Key dates for baseball fans to
remember prior to the start of spring training.
• Monday: Last day for free
agents offered salary arbitration to accept or reject the offers.
• Tuesday: Last day for
teams to offer 2006 contracts to unsigned players.
• Jan. 5-13: Salary
arbitration filing by players.
• Jan. 8: Last day until May
1 for free agents who rejected arbitration offers to re-sign with their old
• Jan. 10: Hall of Fame
• Jan. 17: Exchange of
salary arbitration figures.
• Feb. 1-20: Salary