Cards Free Agent Targets and Elias Rankings

Rafael Furcal

Lining up the St. Louis Cardinals' 2009 needs by position with potential players available via free agency.

Last weekend, I highlighted the status of the impending St. Louis Cardinals free agents as defined by the Elias Rankings. These rankings determine the compensation paid to the former club and in some cases, by the signing club if these players change teams via free agency.

To summarize, here are the compensation guidelines:

Type A First-round pick from the signing club or (if in first half of draft) a second-round pick from the signing club instead plus a sandwich pick at end of first round
Type B Sandwich pick only (between first and second rounds) 
Others No compensation

This article's focus is on players the Cardinals may choose to target via free agency. I do issue a caution, however. The last Type A free agent the Cardinals plucked off the open market was closer Jason Isringhausen six years ago.

In fact, that was reinforced in a chat last week organized by the Post-Dispatch, where general manager John Mozeliak remained guarded as he discussed his club's use of free agency. "I do think there will be reason to be aggressive on the trade market and patient on the free agent market," warned the GM.

One important indicator of being patient is to wait until after December 1. If the current club does not offer arbitration to the player by then, they can be signed for no compensation. Alternatively, jumping the gun to sign a Type A free agent now would be a foolish move, assuring the Cardinals' loss of their first-round pick in 2009.

Still, there is much discussion and interest over these free agents, so let's look at them based on the Cardinals' primary positional needs. In the tables, the type of free agent (A, B or blank for no compensation), their major league service time (MLS) and current team (Club) are listed.

Middle infield

A trade request from disgruntled second baseman Adam Kennedy along with free agency declarations by incumbents Cesar Izturis and Felipe Lopez leave the Cardinals exposed up the middle. The club has stated a desire for more offense, especially from the shortstop position.

Lopez is in a relatively-strong position. He is neither a Type A or B, meaning he can be signed with no compensation required and is coming off a strong finish to 2008 with the Cardinals backed by a good 2005 season in Cincinnati.

Type MLS Club Pos
A Cabrera, Orlando 10.123 CWS SS
A Hudson, Orlando 6.068 AZ 2B
A Renteria, Edgar 12.143 DE SS
B Grudzielanek, Mark 13.129 KC 2B
B Kent, Jeff 17.000 LAD 2B
B Loretta, Mark 13.011 HO 2B
B Uribe, Juan 7.089 CWS 2B
Castro, Juan 11.127 BA SS
Cintron, Alex 6.060 BA SS
Cora, Alex 9.161 BO SS
Counsell, Craig 11.037 MI SS
Durham, Ray 14.000 MI 2B
Easley, Damion 15.117 NYM 2B
Eckstein, David 8.000 AZ SS
Everett, Adam 6.091 MN SS
Furcal, Rafael 9.000 LAD SS
Hairston Jr, Jerry 8.127 CI SS
Izturis, Cesar 7.047 SL SS
Lopez, Felipe 6.027 SL 2B
Martinez, Ramon E 9.045 NYM 2B
Punto, Nick 6.051 MN SS
Rivas, Luis 6.006 PI SS
Vizquel, Omar 19.130 SF SS

Other interesting possibilities include the Type A Orlandos, Hudson and Cabrera, and the Dodgers' speedy Rafael Furcal, with the latter carrying a surprising "NC" ranking, coming off two injury-plagued seasons. These three may be priced out of the Cardinals' range, but any would be a nice addition.

A player that might meet the Cardinals' past profile of end-of-career second base stopgaps is Milwaukee's Ray Durham. With decent speed and pop, he was brought in from San Francisco at the deadline to back up Rickie Weeks. Durham turns 37 later this month.

Among others on the list are ex-Cardinals Mark Grudzielanek and David Eckstein.

Closer

Most Cardinals fans are well aware of the struggles of the 2008 closers, starting with Jason Isringhausen to Ryan Franklin to Izzy again, to Chris Perez and finally back to Franklin.

While Franklin is set to return, he is not closer material. Perez is deemed not ready and Izzy is coming off some concoction of injury and ineffectiveness and is a free agent to boot.

An idea candidate for this role would be Troy Percival circa 2007 – a closer with past experience, but lesser expectations later in his career. Izzy could meet those criteria – if he is physically and mentally able to accept it – far from a sure thing.

So, let's look at other possibilities. This is not the entire list of free agent relievers, but instead I picked out ones with closing experience at some point.

Type MLS Club
A Dempster, Ryan 10.063 CC
A Fuentes, Brian 6.125 CO
A Hoffman, Trevor 16.000 SD
A Howry, Bob 9.079 CC
A Marte, Damaso* 7.122 NYY
A Rodriguez, Francisco 6.015 LAA
A Wood, Kerry 10.169 CC
B Affeldt, Jeremy 7.000 CI
B Ayala, Luis 6.000 NYM
B Embree, Alan* 14.059 OA
B Gagne, Eric 8.119 MI
B Hawkins, LaTroy 12.054 HO
B Isringhausen, Jason 13.031 SL
B Lyon, Brandon 6.142 AZ
B Rhodes, Arthur 16.016 FL
B Torres, Salomon* 8.129 MI
B Weathers, Dave 15.044 CI
Farnsworth, Kyle 9.100 DE
Foulke, Keith 10.094 OA
Gordon, Tom 20.026 PH
Guardado, Eddie 14.141 MN
Herges, Matt 8.071 CO
Jones, Todd 15.089 DE
Julio, Jorge 6.154 AT
* club option

The Cardinals will surely shy away from the big-bucks boys like Francisco Rodriguez. Though lefty Brian Fuentes would meet several needs, his price also may be too high. Same with the Cubs' Kerry Wood. Career saves leader Trevor Hoffman would be very interesting, but the (almost) career Padre has to be considered a long shot.

There are many on the list with baggage, injury or other, such as Eric Gagne, Eddie Guardado and Izzy.

Brandon Lyon, deposed in Arizona after picking up 26 saves for the Diamondbacks this season, is an interesting name, as is a personal favorite of mine, lefty Jeremy Affeldt, who many people forget collected 13 saves for the Royals in 2004. Former Pirate Damaso Marte could be in play if the Yankees decline their $6 million option on him for 2009, as expected.

Left-handed relief pitching

2008 lefties Ron Villone (free agent) and Randy Flores (arbitration eligible) did not get the job done. If Tyler Johnson can return from an injury-ruined 2008 and compete, it will help some, but there seems no one ready in the minor league system to help close the gap. So, it is clear this is an area that requires strengthening from the outside.

Type MLS Club
A Fuentes, Brian 6.125 CO
A Marte, Damaso* 7.122 NYY
A Oliver, Darren 13.127 LAA
B Affeldt, Jeremy 7.000 CI
B Beimel, Joe 6.053 LAD
B Embree, Alan* 14.059 OA
B Reyes, Dennys 10.039 MN
B Rhodes, Arthur 16.016 FL
B Shouse, Brian 6.133 MI
Eyre, Scott 9.088 PH
Fossum, Casey 6.118 DE
Guardado, Eddie 14.141 MN
Hendrickson, Mark 6.056 FL
Mercker, Kent 16.148 CI
Miller, Trever 8.095 TB
Ohman, Will 6.027 AT
Parrish, John 6.024 TO
Ramirez, Horacio 6.013 CWS
Rincon, Ricardo 10.028 NYM
Rusch, Glendon 9.156 CO
Villone, Ron 12.079 SL
* club option

In addition to Fuentes, Marte and Affeldt mentioned above, there is certainly quantity, even if uneven quality. Joe Beimel, another former Buc, late of the Dodgers and ex-Cubs and Braves port-sider Will Ohman may attract interest.

Starting pitching depth

The Cardinals only seem poised to act here if December's examination of ace Chris Carpenter returns bad news. In the more likely event that we are told he is "progressing nicely", expect the Cardinals to do nothing – at least until spring training. At that point, they could look to snatch another Kyle Lohse-like bargain off the discount rack.

With so many other pressing needs still open, this seems a low priority for the club at this time, so names are offered without editorial comment. At this point, it is just too difficult to determine who will be left standing when the music stops.

Type MLS Club
A Burnett, A.J.# 9.038 TO
A Lowe, Derek 11.100 LAD
A Moyer, Jamie 20.126 PH
A Mussina, Mike 17.066 NYY
A Perez, Oliver 6.034 NYM
A Pettitte, Andy 14.000 NYY
A Sabathia, C.C. 8.000 MI
A Sheets, Ben 8.000 MI
B Byrd, Paul 12.072 BO
B Garland, Jon 8.071 LAA
B Johnson, Randy 20.020 AZ
B Looper, Braden L. 10.012 SL
B Maddux, Greg 22.021 LAD
B Penny, Brad* 9.000 LAD
B Smoltz, John 20.072 AT
B Wakefield, Tim* 15.006 BO
B Wolf, Randy 9.115 HO
Colon, Bartolo 11.068 BO
Elarton, Scott 9.081 CL
Fogg, Josh 7.030 CI
Garcia, Freddy 9.012 DE
Glavine, Tom 21.052 AT
Hampton, Mike 15.073 AT
Hernandez, Livan 11.097 CO
Hernandez, Orlando 10.117 NYM
Jennings, Jason 7.039 TE
Martinez, Pedro 16.026 NYM
Pavano, Carl* 10.161 NYY
Perez, Odalis 10.027 WA
Ponson, Sidney 9.141 NYY
Prior, Mark 6.131 SD
Rogers, Kenny 20.000 DE
Schilling, Curt 18.134 BO
# May opt out
* Club option





Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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