Monday, October 26, 2009

UCB topic - Blogger Round Table

The United Cardinal Bloggers are in the midst of their semi-annual roundtable discussions. Our focus at this time of the year is on roster construction for next year. Or, at least, that's the gist the questions have taken.

Links to the transcripts for the first 4 questions can be found here.

Friday I posed the following topic for discussion:

Let's look at the starting rotation. Currently the Cardinals have 3 names penciled in for 2010: Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lohse. For the last two slots:

Do the Cardinals promote from within? Given LaRussa/Duncan's seeming preference for veteran arms in the rotation, is this a workable plan should they come back for 2010? Who has the best shot of winning a starting slot (and if you could estimate the odds or percent chance of someone making it, like Jamie Garcia - 80%, that'd be cool)?

Or, do the Cardinals sign a veteran arm on the cheap? How much would constitute cheap (years/dollars)? Who should they target?
It didn't generate as much discussion as I had thought/hoped, but anyway, here are some Cardinal Blogger opinions:

Dan (C70 at the Bat):I think, due to the two slots, the Cards do both.

I really think that John Smoltz is going to return to the Redbirds. If he wants to play, it'll be in St. Louis, probably on a one year deal. That takes care of your #4, at least initially. The odds of him making it through the whole season without some down time are pretty slim, but that's where he'll be Opening Day.

The fifth slot will be someone from within the organization. I think you are about right on with your example. I'd say there's at least an 80% chance that name is Jaime Garcia. He's the obvious frontrunner. It'll be interesting to see if bullpen stalwarts Kyle McClellan and Blake Hawksworth get a shot. I'd guess the odds of either one of them getting the job, though, are around 10%. There could be someone that impresses in the spring and wins the fifth starter slot, like a Lance Lynn, but I wouldn't count on it.

Nick (Pitchers Hit Eighth): In my mind, there are four names to fill the two slots. Jaime Garcia. Mitchell Boggs. PJ Walters. John Smoltz.

Garcia’s performance in his rehab from Tommy John surgery was very impressive, and another off-season of conditioning and preparation should put him in a fantastic position to win a rotation spot come spring. How nice will it be to have a lefty back in the rotation in St. Louis? I hesitate to be too bold, but I’d put Garcia’s chances of being in the 2010 rotation at about 95%.

Boggs and Walters are both in the same boat, in my opinion. Either one could put together a really strong spring and make a case for the rotation, or at least a Brad Thompson-ish role with long relief and spot starts out of the bullpen. Neither has created any distance from the other, nor really embarrassed. Chances of either one breaking camp in the rotation? 25%.

If Smoltz wants to pitch in 2010 (and it seems he does) and the Cards want him back as a starter, I envision it being an easy deal to get done. Probably a one year, $5mm contract or something similar. Smoltz could be a serviceable 4 or 5 while bridging the gap to some of the youngsters still developing (as well as providing some sage advice).

I hesitate to speculate on any other free agents that may be signed, because I feel like they have enough options internally or re-signing Smoltz that may preclude them from entering that market. As we are all aware, they are clearly focusing their payroll money elsewhere for the time being.

One wild card I want to throw out there… Mike Parisi. Parisi is also coming off of a Tommy John procedure, and is pitching out in Arizona. For some reason even unbeknownst to me, I’ve rooted for the guy since his first call-up with the big club. He apparently had the stuff at one time to warrant a promotion, and if his elbow is right, he just may surprise some folks. At the very least, expect his name to be discussed at spring training.

Following Nick's response, I followed up to the group with a specific question about going after Ben Sheets:

Just for the sake of argument, and realizing their money priorities are elsewhere, would Ben Sheets be someone they could consider? After a full year off, he might sign for $5M per year.
Unfortunately, no one had a chance to respond to that thought before we went to post.

Update: Josh from Pitchers Hit Eighth weighs in with:

For me the rotation is already set so I guess you can put my % at 99.9 just so I can be viciously laughed at in March.

I want Smoltz back in the 4th spot, just because he was one of the very few bright spots to the end the season. He is also a perfect player coach to keep Wainer grounded, Lohse thinking positive, and mentor for my fifth starter.

Garcia adds not only a lefty to the rotation but a shot of youth into a fairly vet-laden staff. Even Hawk has seemingly been around the Cards forever, so call it a competition with every and all Memphis starter for the remaining spot.

St. Louis a real chance to have all five starters in double digits with Garcia and a little luck on the health side. With that and LaDunc back in the fold, I smell a much longer run than just the NLDS.

Update #2 Matt from Fungoes adds:

While Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse are generally healthy, Chris Carpenter still represents a lot of risk in the injury department. As such, the Cardinals would be wise to hedge their bets with the rest of the rotation and aim for players without a lot of injury baggage (read: younger pitchers).

Furthermore, it seems doubtful that the team would be able to sign someone with as much upside as any of the pitchers currently in their system. Blake Hawksworth started a majority of his minor-league games, and though his BB and SO rates have declined in his last two minor-league seasons, he showed a Pineiro-like propensity for ground balls in his rookie campaign (53.8%). He'll need to improve on his BB rate and K/BB (1.33) rate, though, and his low HR rate was perhaps misleading due to a below-normal HR/FB rate (5.3%). Ditto Mitchell Boggs, who is in a similar position as Hawksworth and had a similarly unimpressive K/BB rate (1.39)

Jaime Garcia is probably the most talented of the in-system options, but may need some AAA time to sharpen his arsenal before returning to the bigs. If he doesn't come north out of camp, he'd be an excellent midseason addition and/or Carpenter fill-in. Another option would be for him to make the team as a midrange reliever.

Assuming Smoltz a) wants to pitch again, b) wants to do so for the Cardinals and c) wants less than his 2009 salary, he -- on an incentive-laden deal -- would be a fine choice for one of the open slots.

My personal thoughts on this are mixed. If John Smoltz really enjoyed his time as a Cardinal, and there's been nothing (to my knowledge) indicating he didn't, then bringing him back on the cheap is a distinct possibility. He signed a 1-year, $5.5M contract to play with Boston in 2009. I would think something in that ball park, with the $5.5M figure being as high as the Cardinals would go, would get him in the rotation for 2010.

However, as Nick accurately points out, the Cardinals intend to spend their money elsewhere this off-season, so there might not be enough cash available to sign Smoltz. In that case they build from within. Jamie Garcia is the popular name to throw out as an early front-runner for a slot, but it will come down to who performs in Spring Training. I would expect Kyle McClellan, Blake Hawksworth, Brad Thompson, PJ Walters, Garcia, and probably someone we don't know yet to compete for the two open slots.

Regarding my follow-up question: I think Sheets would need to be approached much like Smoltz might be - with a max salary ceiling of about $5M for a 1-year deal. I would think, after a year off, Sheets would want a short-term deal just to re-establish his bona fides as a legitimate Staff Ace, then seek fame and fortune elsewhere. Why not sign with a playoff contender?

As always, your comments are welcome.

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