According to the newspapers in both cities, the St. Louis Cardinals have acquired shortstop Khalil Greene from the San Diego Padres for a pair of pitching prospects.
The Cardinals’ addition of Greene is clearly a case of “buy low” for the club from the production perspective, though perhaps not financially.
How good of a deal this is or can be for St. Louis is dependent on several factors, including whether or not the Cardinals have to cover all of Greene’s salary, the yet-to-be identified prospects given the Padres for him as well as the biggest question of all, can he recover from a horrid offensive season in 2008?
The now 29-year-old limped home with a line of just .213/.260/.339 (BA/OBP/SLG) in 105 games last season while clearly wearing out his welcome in cost-cutting San Diego. There is hope that in St. Louis the solid defender can rediscover his past hitting prowess, such as when he slammed a career-best 27 home runs in 2007.
One line of thinking is that the 2002 first-round pick became a lame duck Padre the moment he rejected a team offer of a four-year, $29 million deal last off-season. That would have covered Greene's final two years of arbitration eligibility, 2008 and 2009, and his first two free agent years.
Instead, then heading for arbitration, the Padres curiously offered Greene only $4 million coming off his best season, while the player asked for $4.9M.
Just prior to the scheduled February arbitration hearing, the Padres and Greene settled for two years, $11 million. As a result, in 2009, his base salary will be $6.5 million but he lost the chance at another half-million for this season because he missed all his plate appearance bonuses last year.
That should not be surprising since Greene has taken the field in more than 140 games only once in his five full seasons as a major leaguer. Last season’s injury was an embarrassing broken hand suffered in late July when the frustrated shortstop impetuously punched a storage chest.
Depending on who you talk with, Greene’s reaction came from an intense player who cracked, while others believe Greene had not consistently been putting out maximum effort.
The already bad story turned worse when the Padres refused to pay the injured player. That dramatic and telling indication of how the organization felt about Greene put the final nail in his San Diego coffin.
The buzz in San Diego was that Greene’s offensive approach is flawed with the player unable or unwilling to alter it. Too often, runners were not advanced and a strikeout ensued instead. Though the Cardinals need top-of-the-order help, their new shortstop clearly isn’t the answer.
Over his career, Greene has struck out at a fairly-consistent rate of 22% and worse, draws a walk in only seven at-bats out of every 100. As a result, his career on-base percentage is a very substandard .304. As a point of reference, the much-maligned Cesar Izturis posted a .319 OBP in his only season as a Cardinal.
Greene enjoyed his standout season in 2007, when he hit 27 home runs and drove in 97, gaudy stats for a shortstop. Even so, his on-base percentage that year was still a measly .291.
The optimism I have seen expressed about a Greene offensive rebound reminds me a bit of similar hopeful comments made one year ago about Izturis. In the case of the latter shortstop, the return to past offensive usefulness didn’t happen.
Greene does have a better track record with the bat, at least prior to 2008. He played his home games at San Diego’s cavernous PETCO Park, where his career OPS was only .658, compared to a respectable .802 on the road.
Greene is clearly going to need to warm up to his new home in St. Louis. His career bating mark in 11 games at the two Busch Stadiums is just 8-for-35, .229.
Defense should not be an issue for Greene, with a reputation as a solid defender. He has only average range, but positions himself well. Greene has a quick first step and can make the long throws from the hole.
As a result, the Cardinals should not see a noticeable drop off from the level of play in the field from the defensively steady Izturis. That is very important given the groundball philosophy of the Cardinals and the uncertainly remaining over who will fill the opening at second base.
If for some reason Greene doesn’t bounce back next season, the Cardinals may have committed $4 million more for him in 2009 than they spent on Izturis in 2008 for a similar or worse player. The good news is that if doesn’t work out, the two parties can part ways after next season.
Conversely, if the combination of a change in scenery, the escape from PETCO Park and some good-old Cardinals magic leads to another 2007-like year, maybe GM John Mozeliak can convince Greene to forego his chance at free agency to stick around St. Louis a while longer.
In that case, if there was ever one, the “buy low” option will have passed, though.
Update (1:00 pm CST Thursday): The Padres MLB.com site reports one of the two minor leaguers heading west is disgruntled reliever Mark Worrell, with the second "to be named later". MLB rules stipulate a PTBNL transaction must be completed within six months.
(3:00 pm CST Thursday) The San Diego Union-Tribune says a club official told the paper that the MLB commissioner's office may need to approve the deal. That implies the Padres are sending at least $1 million to St. Louis along with Greene.
(8:07 pm CST Thursday) The Cardinals officially announce the trade - Greene for Worrell and PTBNL. No word on money yet.
(10:00 pm CST Thursday) SI.com reports no money is changing hands. The PTBNL can be one of three players from a pool of one position player and two pitchers. Pads GM Kevin Towers notes the club has until April 1 to make their selection and may wait until he sees spring training results before deciding.
To read another take on the trade from Scout.com's Padres expert Denis Savage on MadFriars.com, click here.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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