12/09/2004: Cardinals Free Agent Watch
Unfortunately, I've been too busy at work to do more than just watch (i.e., unable to pontificate) on what was going on. We're a couple days past the deadline for MLB teams to offer arbitration to their declared free agents, and now we have a feeling for what the team is trying to get done. Even though it's information that can be found elsewhere, let's do a quick rundown on the Cardinals' declared free agents and what was done with them at the arbitration deadline.
Woody Williams, RHP: Not offered arbitration. Woody hung in there nicely, all things considered (and all things included the fact that the first month or so of his 2004 season he was basically on extended spring training, since he was still working his way back to full health from an injury). Unfortunately, we've got some good arms potentially coming up I-55 from Memphis (Haren, Ankiel) and several coming back (Carpenter (whose contract option was picked up for this year), Suppan, Marquis) who are at least adequate, and it's generally thought the organization is trying to trade or deal with a free agent to acquire a power pitcher for the No. 1 slot in the rotation. I've loved what Woody has done for us, but he's become expendable. I hope he lands somewhere good and puts in a good year or two before retirement.
Matt Morris, RHP: Signed to a one-year contract calling for $2.5 million, with incentives potentially worth $4.5 million. Last year, Matty Mo made $12.5 million. Quite a salary cut, there. In one sense, the organization lucked out on this one; IIRC, before or at the beginning of the 2004 season there was an offer on the table to Morris that would have guaranteed him a salary at or above the level of his 2004 salary (ok, I'm too lazy to go hunting the details right now; so sue me). Morris managed to put together a decent W-L record this year (15-10) but for the first time in his career he fell to a below league-average ERA of 4.72 (league average in 2003 was 4.18; Morris's ERA+ (a park adjusted figure) came out to only 89 (an ERA+ of 100 indicates a pitcher that is league-average that season)).
Of course, as we found out about a week ago, Morris finally acknowledged that he was pitching most of last season with a shoulder injury, and it's pretty obvious that this admission was going to cause a precipitous decline in his value on the free agent market. Basically, the buzz out there (which I tend to agree with), is that this is a good deal for the Cardinals. Morris is having surgery this off-season, and he's publicly expressed confidence that with the surgery he'll be able to come back and become something approximating the staff ace he once was. At worst, the organization is probably thinking that Morris could work in a spot starter/long relief slot in the bullpen, and at best (if Morris rebounds from the surgery and shows the talent he once had), we get a good-to-very-good starter in the regular rotation for a pretty bargain basement price, even with the incentives. MattyMo has been a damn good asset for the Cards in the past, and I'll be pulling for him to come back. This has the potential for being a win-win deal for both parties.
Cal Eldred, RHP: Signed a one-year contract for $600,000. Another player taking a pay cut. I have to confess guarded neutrality about this one; Cal's appeared to have been a slightly above average reliever during his tenure with the Cards. The fact that he's willing to come cheap may be disquieting me; what does he know that I don't? :-)
Steve Kline, LHP: Not offered arbitration; currently unsigned by any club. Sorry to see Steve "Stinkhat" Kline go, as he added a certain amount of color to the bullpen:
Speaking of Kline, it is clear that his service with the Redbirds has ended. I understand the business necessity, but will miss his unique personality and love for the fans. Kline's gesture (no, not THAT gesture) when the man fell on the little kid in Arlington, Texas chasing a foul ball is legendary. While everyone else was heaping gifts on the kid, Kline sent a shirt to the ruffian inscribed with the words "Tough Guy – Ball Stealer". You’ve gotta love this guy, and I wish him well.Unfortunately, he appears to be the "victim" of having a pretty damn good walk year (I should be victimized like that) and the question of a few character issues (e.g., the incident where he flipped off TLR after being warmed up but not used during one game). Given that he's probably going to up his salary considerably on the free-agent market (2004 salary: $1.7 million; projected free-agent price I've seen has him commanding something in the area of about $3 million/year when the dust clears) this is probably a good move. Another one I'll wish well in his post-Cardinals tenure.
--Rex "The Wonder Dog" Duncan
Edgar Renteria, SS: Offered arbitration. Pretty much everyone's of the opinion that it's a major goal of the Cardinals to nail down Edgar to a deal during this offseason. For a while there, some of the free-agent shortstop deals (Omar Vizquel's deal with the Giants, and Cristian Guzman's deal with the Washington Nats) were making it look like Edgar was going to hit a bonanza in the free-agent market, but with the Cubs coming to terms with Nomar it's looking like the market may be less profitable than originally thought. Past experience seems to be that Renteria does better when he doesn't have unfinished contract business hanging over his head; so with the offer of arbitration there's hope that Cards and Edgar can work out a deal that will avoid the need for arbitration and which will let Edgar concentrate on the job at hand.
Mike Matheny, C: Offered arbitration. At this point, all I can say is that this situation bears watching. A lot of folks would be happy enough to see Matheny leave and the Cardinals give his lineup slot to Yadier Molina. I'm wondering if the organization wants to let Matheny season Molina for another year, or if they're thinking that we're going to lose Matheny anyway, and want the draft pick as compensation.
John Mabry: Signed to a one-year contract worth $750,000. Mabry wanted to stay in St. Louis, and I for one am happy to see him stay.
Tony Womack: Not offered arbitration by the Cardinals; signed by the New York Yankees for a two-year contract worth $2 million. There's something that looks wrong about this deal. Lee Sinins, in his daily email newsletter, puts it politely:
After -23 RCAA/.678 OPS and -34 RCAA/.558 OPS seasons, Womack had a career year, hitting .385 SLG, .349 OBA, .735 OPS, 3 RCAA in 145 games with the Cardinals. He has a .681 career OPS, compared to his league average of .777, and -125 RCAA in 1167. It's a bad sign when a career year only gets you 3 RCAA, which was the first time in his career that he had a positive figure (other than a 17 game small sample size in 1996). [Emphasis added. "RCAA" = "Runs Created Above Average", a sabermetric stat which is a good measure of a player's offensive worth. Basically, a positive RCAA value means that the player is an above average contributor to his team's offense, and of course the higher the figure the better; conversely, a negative RCAA figure means that the player represents a sucking sound in his lineup slot, and the smaller the number (i.e., the greater the absolute value of that negative RCAA) the louder that sucking sound. --LRC]An email correspondent puts it even more bluntly:
Yankees ink Womack to 2-year deal (suckers!)Ray Mileur, at The Cardinals Birdhouse has been insistent that he wanted to see Womack resigned as a reward for his contribution to the team's stellar 2004 season (see, e.g. here). Frankly, all I can say (and I say this with respect for Ray's baseball acumen) is that I wonder what Ray's been smoking, and I hope that whatever it is it doesn't show up on his Army (?) Reserve urinalysis tests.... :-) I acknowledge Womack's contribution to the Cardinals 2004 NL Pennant, but basically we're looking at a big potential for regression to the mean, if the mean being regressed to is Womack's mean, that represents a loud sucking sound in his lineup spot.
Of course, that does raise the question of what is Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner smoking (or maybe they're just drinking themselves into a stupor over the failure of the Big Unit negotiations), but since I'm not a Yankees fan that doesn't concern me.
Ray Lankford, OF: Not offered arbitration. Not a surprise here. Ray had an average to below average year, even though he did contribute to the 2004 campaign. The organization probably feels that they can make a significant improvement on the bench for not much more money than Ray Ray would cost us. Sort of a shame, as Lankford's been something of a fan favorite in St. Louis over the years, but them's the breaks.
Len on 12.09.04 @ 09:11 AM CST