Thursday, November 09, 2006

2007 Free Agency Preview (Part 2)

Today, as I have some free time and Veteran's Day off (that's tomorrow - a Federal Holiday. You know, one where the Government says you should not work. Remember to pass that along to your parasitic boss.), I'm going to look at the Cardinal infield and their choices therein for improving through free agency. This wholly unscientific look will be much more incoherent than, say, Jerry Crasnick and Peter Gammons' take, but I'm a fan, I'm not getting paid to do this, so if you don't like it stick it! HAH!

Planning out the infield for my Redbirds is pretty easy (which is why I'm starting there). AP, Rolen, and Eckstein are all signed through next year; AP and Rolen through 2010. So the only holes are 2B and C.

Catcher is a no-brainer. Re-sign Yadier Molina. He is the reason perennial Gold Glove Mike Matheny was allowed to leave and become a Giant (how's that working out, Mike? At least you get to see the circus every day). According to published reports, Molina is not signed for next year. He needs to be. Yadi will never tear it up at the plate; I think if he becomes a .250 hitter (and he should have a world of confidence now following the 2006 playoffs) it's a benefit. Expect him to hit 7 or 8 in the order. He's the everyday catcher because of his defense. And he needs to be signed to a reasonable contract. I think 3 years for about $5M per would be appropriate. I'll say that his first year will be the $3.5M variety, and I'll use that number in my total payroll calculation.

Second Base is a tougher story altogether. StL used (with Hector Luna now in Cleveland) Miles and Belliard for the majority of starts at 2B. Here's a sampling of their work from last year:

Miles (30): .291 (v. Lefties)/.256 (v. Righties), .975 FP, 5.50 Range Factor, .822 Zone Rating (I don't know what ZR means, but I'll throw it in for fun).
Belliard (31): .220/.295, .984/4.97/.794.

Miles is also a switch-hitter which helps him in my opinion. You see that Belliard is better defensively although Miles has more Range (which seems like a ridiculous statement after watching the playoffs). Miles made $350K last season, Belliard $4M. These are the folks Walt Jocketty is looking to improve on next season. I miss Mark Grudzielanek.

As of 0001 (that's midnight for those of you with cushy CIVILIAN jobs) this morning there were 10 (less Belliard) declared Free Agents who listed their primary position as 2B: Adam Kennedy, Mark Loretta, Lou Merloni, Eric Young, Kaz Matsui, Tony Graffanino, Jose Valentin, Chris Woodward, Todd Walker, and Ray Durham.

Let's break down the list:
Merloni: 35. Has been a utilityman throughout his career. Only had 19 At Bats at the ML level in 2006 (Cleveland).
Young: Actually old (39). Played mostly LF for San Diego and Texas. Cannot hit right handed pitching anymore (.134 last year).
Matsui: 31. Rumor mill has him playing in Japan next year. WAY too expensive ($8 mil last season). Can't hit lefties (.119).
30. Left handed hitter, not so good vs the southpaws (.193). .984/4.47/.805 compares favorably with Belliard's numbers. Made $3.5M last season. Former teammate of Eckstein and Spiezio.
Loretta: 35. Professional hitter. .274/.290; .994/4.88/.805 for last year. Lots of interest from the Mets may make him expensive. Made $3.25M with Boston in 2006.
Graffanino: 34. Another utility guy most of his career. .275/.274, .989/4.35/.849. $2.1M last year.
Valentin: 37. Had a career year with the Mets. Can't hit lefties (.219). other numbers look good (.288 vs righties; .988/5.52/.873).
Woodward: 30. Will be coming off surgery in spring training. Not much of a hitter (.226/.209).
Walker: 33. Ex-Cub. Played a lot of 1B this season with the Pads. Death to righties (.302), a sacrifice against lefties (.204). .978/4.57/.835 with the glove.
Durham: 35. Other than Matsui the most expensive guy on the list - made $7M last year with SF. Switch hitter (.341/.277). .982/4.85/.808 with the glove.

Let's start the elimination round!

On a team that struggled against left handed pitching last year I don't think we want another guy who can't hit a decrepit, half-blind lefty. So that eliminates Kennedy, Matsui, Woodward, Belliard, and Walker right off the bat. Salary will be a concern, so Durham's probably out too - I don't see him taking the 'StL pay cut' to play for the world champs. Valentin had a career year (as mentioned), and he's old; great bench guy, not your everyday second baseman. Did I describe a guy my own age as old?!? Yikes. EY is even older, so he's out. Merloni - playing out his career. Out. That narrows the list to: Loretta and Graffanino.

Loretta would be a major upgrade at the position, but he will be expensive. I figure $3.25M will be a starting point, and with Minaya (Mets GM) in play that number will go up to, say, $6M per year. Graffanino is an acceptable alternative - he's relatively cheap, he had a good year at the plate in 2006, he's a defensive upgrade from Belliard and Miles (although his range is not as good as Miles'). Maybe $2.5M per year if we sign him.

In a perfect fan world, though, I'd pursue Loretta. It would fit into their plans if they decide to let Edmonds go and go after, say, Dave Roberts, as their everyday CF. Pursuing Roberts would mean that the team would need another bat in the middle of the lineup - because let's face it, Roberts does not carry Edmonds' power bat, and Encarnacion is too slump-prone to hit #5 behind AP and Rolen. Loretta as your #5 hitter is pretty darn attractive.

Unfortunately, Cardinal ownership hasn't shown any willingness to pay second basemen these kind of salaries. Remember Grudzielanek (I spelled it that time from memory) wanted $1M per year and they told him to get lost? I don't think the team will spend this off-season for a 2B either, not while needing to fill 3-4 spots in the rotation. This means we're looking at a lost-cost alternative, and Aaron Miles will probably be penciled in as the starting 2B come spring training time. He's due a raise from last year's contract; $750K probably isn't out of line for a one-year deal.

So at this point our salary number looks like this:
Starting point (AP, Rolen, Izzy, Carp, Encarn, Eck, Rincon, Loop): $58.2M.
Add Molina and Miles: $4.25M

TOTAL: $62.45M (10 players).

Next, we'll look at the outfield. Comments to this post are always welcome.


Anonymous said...

yadi isnt arbitration eligible is he? if not, he wont come near that kind of salary

The Angry Rant said...

Three years of service makes a player eligible for arbitration. A player with between 2 and 3 years service can be arbitration eligible if he had at least 86 days of service the previous season and is in the top 17% of players (in terms of service time) for those with between 2 and 3 years of service. Based on that, Molina is probably not arbitration eligible. My thought is that the Cardinals lock him up for the long term since he is their catcher for now and the foreseeable future. I still can't find any data that says he's signed through 2007, so as far as I can tell he's a free agent. Good question.

Liam said...

Molina's under club control and isn't yet arbitration eligible, so the Cards can offer him whatever contract they want, probably the new league minimum at $380,000. They'll try to avoid arbitration next offseason and sign him to a long-term contract then.

You mention Eric Young, who is old. His son, Eric Young Jr., led all minor league second basemen with 87 stolen bases in 2006.

That's just insane.