State of the Cardinals Farm System – Part 4

In the first 3 parts we looked at the overall systems pitching, outfielders and infielders respectively. In 4th and final part we will focus on the catchers. Overall we have great depth and upside with the catchers in our system. We have a mix of offensive and defensive oriented catches along with a few that will be solid on both sides. Here’s a closer look into this category…

Rating System:
5 Birds – The elite of prospects. These prospects will be stars in the bigs AND have enough body of work in the minors to justify the top rating. From a category perspective this would be a rare rating if the system had quite a few 5 Birds Rating Pitchers. Basically the elite of elite in a category.
4 Birds – Prospects that will have a solid body of work in the minors and will be above avg players in the bigs OR prospects with the upside of a 5 Birds Rating but not enough service time in the minors to justify the rating. From a category perspective this would be a category with a number of 4 and 5 Birds Ratings players. It would require a balance of depth and stardom.
3 Birds – Prospects that will be a regular in the bigs but won’t be a significant piece to the ball club. These prospects won’t be All-Stars nor will they be top of the rotation or middle of the order players. From a category perspective this would be a middle of the road category with few 4-5 Birds Rating players and plenty of 2-3 Birds Ratings.
2 Birds – Prospects that will be role players in the bigs. These prospects will bounce around from AAA to the bigs and most likely will play for many franchises over the years if they are fortunate enough to stick around. From a category perspective this would be many role/utility type players in the category with little to no star power.
1 Bird – Prospects that will be career minor leagues and may get a cup of coffee in the bigs. From a category perspective this is the ultimate insult. If you get a 1 Bird in any category you basically have very few players in the category that could even be role players in the bigs.

Catchers:
Star Power – 4 Birds
Depth – 4 Birds
Overall – 4 Birds

I am impressed with the overall catcher category for the Cards. I have 3 catchers in my Top 30 (Perez, Stanley and Anderson) with Steven Hill just missing. Perez has the chance to be the real deal on both sides and to me is our catcher of the future. Still a number of years away but definitely exciting. Stanley is the next best prospect and he tends to project as a solid defensive catcher and should hit enough to be a productive starter in the bigs. We all know the story of Bryan Anderson. Unfortunately for him I see him more as trade bait (if he comes out of the gates well this year) since we passed on him for the backup catcher in the bigs this year. He has improved behind the plate but still leans more on the offensive side. Hill is a very intriguing prospect that has a solid mix of average and good power. Problem is I don’t see him sticking at catcher. I also want to point out I haven’t mentioned Robert Stock as I don’t feel there is any way he sticks at catcher. He is a much more attractive prospect as a pitcher. Also as a side note we have a Jesus Montero as a catching prospect…unfortunately he is nothing close to one of the best prospects in baseball in Yanks catching prospect Jesus Montero!

What is Albert Pujols worth?

Thanks to some insomnia, there’s going to be an early morning post here at Redbird Dugout. I’m going to try to answer a question, what is Albert Pujols truly worth? I’ve been doing some research and consideration on this topic for months now, but I recently came up with something that I felt could value him as accurately as possible. But maybe I just wanted to find a spot in Pitchers Hit Eighth’s Daily Pujols for today!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Geez, another Albert Pujols post. Can I go a day without seeing one? Probably not, and I apologize. But I hope to add something to the Albert Pujols discussion with this post.

It’s a difficult thing to figure out and everyone has an opinion on it, but where are the facts? We have many people saying he’s worth $30 million per year and we have Bobby Cox saying he’s worth $50 million per year. With so many big numbers thrown around, many of which no teams can really afford while keeping a winning ball club around him. Truth is though, no information as to what both sides are looking for has come out.

There have been rumors that Pujols is looking for 10 years, $300 million. Meanwhile the Cardinals are rumored to either be willing to give 10 years or the $30 million average annual value, but not both. Whether these are true, we may never know.

The first thing we need to realize when looking at the Albert Pujols situation is that we are not a winning team right now. In the last four seasons, the Cardinals have made the playoffs once. They got swept by the Dodgers in 2009. This is probably the worst opening day roster we’ve had from 2007 until now. I would consider putting the 2008 Cardinals below the 2011 team right now simply because we knew we were going to miss Chris Carpenter for the first half of the season.

So we can’t say that we need Albert Pujols to stay a winning ball club because the Cardinals simply aren’t winning right now. I think that’s something that’s easily missed in these discussions. Now, onto some valuation numbers.

When you look at player comparables, you have to look at the biggest contract in baseball. That would be Alex Rodriguez’s 10 year, $275 million contract he signed in December of 2007 at the age of 32 years old. So just how comparable are Rodriguez and Pujols?

In Rodriguez’s 10 years prior to signing his 10 year, $275 million contract, his numbers break down to a 162 game average of .304 batting average, 48 home runs, 133 runs batted in, 130 runs scored, a .394 on base percentage, a 151 OPS+, and an average WAR of 7.6.

In Pujols’ first 10 years in the league, his numbers break down to a 162 game average of .331 batting average, 42 home runs, 128 runs batted in, 123 runs scored, a .426 on base percentage, a 172 OPS+, and an average WAR of 8.6.

The numbers are pretty close. Albert was the better hitter and Rodriguez provided more thump in the lineup. The OBP difference is pretty much absorbed by the difference in batting average as well. Once you take into account the market Rodriguez plays in and the fact that he plays a position where defense is at a slightly higher premium than first base, the contract is pretty much the perfect comparable.

You also need to consider that, in baseball, you are only as good as your last year. It’s why Adrian Beltre keeps getting big contracts. He puts up a great year during a contract year and pulls in far more than he’s worth and then rides. Now, maybe that’s unfair to him, but looking at the stats the correlation is definitely there.

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez posted a 9.9 WAR. In 2010, Albert Pujols posted a 7.2 WAR.

Personally, the $27.5 million average annual value would be my limit in negotiations with Albert. If I needed to sign the 2007 Alex Rodriguez or the 2010 Albert Pujols, I would sign the 2007 Rodriguez. He’d played better up until that point, and played a premium position that would allow me to get a guy who really can’t play defense but can hit the lights out of the ball to play first base or outfield, the two positions you traditionally put a player who can’t play defense.

However, thanks to our friends the Philadelphia Phillies, we also have to consider the new contract of Mr. Ryan Howard. Howard is nowhere near the player that Pujols and Rodriguez are, yet there he is with a freshly signed 5 year, $125 million contract that goes into effect in 2012. I guess that the buyout of $10 million is included in the contract because his salary averages $23 million over those five years according to our friends at Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

I’ll agree with the crowd that claims that we have to make Albert Pujols the highest paid first baseman in the league. Even though Howard is being overpaid by the Phillies, we are pretty close with Mark Teixeira’s 8 year, $180 million deal he signed with the Yankees in December of 2008 that pays him, on average $22.5 million per year.

So using comparables, I can see that a fair price for Albert should be between $23 million and $28 million.

This also stands up against other comparables from this season’s free agent signings as well.

What I did was take some of the top free agent signings on ESPN’s free agent tracker and break them down on average annual value and the Wins Above Replacement of that player. I ended up with a total of 25 signings. I broke it down three different ways in the end.

The first thing I did though, was remove the outliers. The five highest and five lowest Dollars/WAR were removed. We can all agree that we aren’t going to give Albert $13 million per WAR as the Yankees did with Derek Jeter, and we can all agree that we aren’t going to give him $357,000 per WAR like the Giants did with Pat Burrell. This ensures that we get a good, solid average.

First, I took the average cost for the top-10 in WAR. I figured that as your WAR got higher, your Dollars/WAR would decrease. This held true as it came out to just over $3 million per WAR.

Second, I had an age defined average. I took the players that were within two years of age of Albert and figured out that, and that was the highest valuation at $3.7 million per WAR.

Third, I took the straight up average for position players, which was $3.5 million per WAR.

That comes out to an average cost of $3.4 million per WAR. So if you base his contract on his 7.2 WAR from 2010, since most free agents get contracts based on their last season, that’s a value of $24.48 million for Albert. If you base it on his career average WAR of 8.4, that’s a value of $28.56 million. That’s with valuations from this offseason.

That puts the value for Albert Pujols between $25 million and $29 million, pretty much on par with the last valuation.

Ultimately, I believe that every single Cardinals fan would like to see Albert Pujols back in a Cardinals uniform in 2012 and beyond. There is no doubt the if he stays he would be a legend in St. Louis for the rest of his life, much in the way that Stan Musial is today.

The question that remains to be answered is: What is too much for Albert Pujols?

Certainly the Cardinals could offer him a 10 year, $350 million deal and guarantee that Albert would be in Cardinal red for the rest of his career. In that situation though, he would likely be surrounded by the Memphis Redbirds for the rest of his career and the Cardinals would struggle as a team.

I’m all for re-signing Albert, but he is just one man. There are 24 other players on the team that will make or break this team’s success. We need to be able to maximize their quality with or without Pujols.

What kind of deal would I offer Albert?

Albert Pujols is 31 years old, but he’s shown signs of decline. His strikeout rate is up and his walk rate is falling. I don’t agree with the school of thought that you have to overpay him because we’ve underpaid him the previous 8 years of his career. Albert knew what he was doing when he signed that contract and he even said that he wanted to play it out and not renegotiate it early when he could have had the chance. He was also the second highest paid first baseman at the time he signed that contract.

Management also has to look beyond just 2012. They will need to make a decision on whether to give Chris Carpenter his $15 million option next season. They’ll also need to figure out how to keep Adam Wainwright, who has pitched like a pitcher who will command a $20+ million contract. Meanwhile you have key young players like Jaime Garcia and Colby Rasmus who will likely both hit arbitration next year.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision and say, “We need Albert Pujols to win.” But the truth is that we haven’t won the last four seasons with Albert Pujols in the lineup. Because it’s the players around him that are lacking. And if we can’t put those players around him while he’s making $16 million, why would we suddenly be able to when he’s making $30 million?

The fear for some Cardinals fans, and I agree with it, is that the Cardinals will turn into the Texas Rangers after they signed Alex Rodriguez. After putting that $25 million on the books, they struggled to build a team around him and ultimately spent the better part of that entire contract as a losing team. Until this season, the final year of that contract, where Rodriguez helped send the Rangers to the World Series when he got the final out of the ALCS for the Yankees.

I really can’t know what I would offer Albert. I would love to offer him an 8 year, $225 million contract that would give him an MLB record $28.125 million in average annual value, placing him just above Roger Clemens’ 2007 contract. But can the Cardinals truly afford that?

When you look at the list of highest average annual values, there have been 14 contracts handed out to players that are worth more than $20 million per season. Three were given outside the top-4 media markets. One was given outside the top-10 media markets. That other one, the $23 million per season deal given to Joe Mauer before last season by Minnesota, the #15 media market. The Cardinals come in #21 on the media market size list.

His contract is certainly deserving of being at the top of the average annual value list. His individual on field performance backs that up. I don’t think you can go much higher than $28 million. I understand that he’s the best player in baseball right now and perhaps all-time, but you can’t pay him based on his position in the history of the game. Pay him for the on-field production and let history make it’s own judgements. His being the best player in baseball isn’t winning us any extra games.

So where are we now?

I don’t know. Same place we were before I started writing this an hour ago. Hopefully I haven’t rambled on and I’ve actually contributed something to the Albert Pujols discussion.

I want Albert Pujols back in Cardinals’ Red for the rest of his career. What I worry about is whether the Cardinals can truly afford to do that. I would much rather see the Cardinals win than Albert Pujols playing for us.

I’m a Cardinals fan. I was before Albert, I am during Albert, and I will be after Albert.

NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #1

Starting Pitcher #1. The Ace of the staff. The guy you look to after a short losing streak who will step up, pitch well, and be the “stopper.”

Over the offseason the NL Central has become starting pitcher rich with the additions of Shaun Marcum and Zach Grinke in Milwaukee and Matt Garza in Chicago. They join Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Zambrano, and Yovani Gallardo among others. There is no shortage of quality starting pitching in the NL Central, unless you call Pittsburgh home, as most of their quality young arms are still a year or so away.

Now these aren’t the six best pitchers of the NL Central by far. What I have done is ranked projected starters based on their statistics and position on the team and projected them into a position in the rotation. These are my perceived #1 starters from each pitching staff.

After a short hiatus, let’s jump back into it.

6. Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh (5.10, 9-15 in 32 starts)
Yes, there are other Pittsburgh pitchers with slightly better numbers, but there is no doubt that Maholm is viewed as the leader on a Pirates rotation that only has a couple pitchers with potential to perform at a top level. For Maholm, he will be looking to recapture some success on the mound. In 2008 he posted a 3.71 ERA in over 200 innings in 31 starts. Since that point he has regressed since, posting a 4.44 in 31 starts in 2009 and then up to a 5.10 in 32 starts in 2010. As the go-to guy in the Pirates rotation, will he flourish or flop?

5. Ryan Dempster, Chicago (3.85, 15-12 in 34 starts)
Position #2 through position #5 on this list could go any way because their numbers are all pretty similar. However, I chose Dempster for position #5. After spending three years as the Cubs’ closer, Dempster moved back into the rotation in 2008 and has performed well since, getting an All Star nod and finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting in ’08. In his three years as a starter, he’s captured 43 wins. With Zambrano being unreliable, that made room for Dempster to move into the #1 starting pitcher slot for me.

4. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee (3.84, 14-7 in 31 starts)
The 24 year old Gallardo will get some backup in 2011 as ownership paid a steep price to acquire Toronto’s Shaun Marcum and Kansas City’s Zach Grienke to back him up. Gallardo received an All Star nod in 2010 as well. But not only can he pitch, he can also hit as he earned this season’s NL Silver Slugger for pitchers and any offense you can get out of your pitchers is a positive thing.

3. Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati (3.88, 17-10 in 33 starts)
I dropped Arroyo to third at the last minute because I felt his win numbers were high based on his team’s performance. The Reds were impressive last year and Arroyo is their #1 guy. Arroyo is one guy who has never gotten much attention, but has quietly put in a very solid career in the major leagues. In addition, he’s been reliable. He’s made 32 or more starts in each of the last six seasons.

2. Brett Myers, Houston (3.14, 14-8 in 33 starts)
Wandy Rodriguez might get more attention, but Brett Myers is the top pitcher in this rotation, especially after the year he put up in 2010. In his first season in Houston after spending the first 8 years of his career in Philadelphia, Myers had the best season of his career. He finished 10th in Cy Young voting this year too. At the last minute, I moved Brett up into second-place because I felt his overall season was more impressive than Arroyo’s. Better ERA and was only 3 wins shy on a much worse ballclub.

1. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis (2.42, 20-11 in 33 starts)
The undisputed #1 pitcher in the National League Central. There’s really no other way to say it. He and rookie teammate Jaime Garcia were the only two starters to post sub-3 ERAs in 2010, but Wainwright has been a Cy Young contender for the last couple seasons and hopefully this year will be the year that he finally breaks through and earns one. He also was the only NL Central starter to earn 20 wins as he established himself as St. Louis’ #1 pitcher, taking that position from Chris Carpenter. Hopefully it will be a role that he will occupy for a long time.

Now to total up the points earned:

Milwaukee — 39 pts
Cincinnati — 38 pts
St. Louis — 38 pts
Chicago — 28 pts
Pittsburgh — 25 pts
Houston — 21 pts

What’s next for this series? We’ll finish out the projected rotations and the team’s closers. I’m also looking at doing something on each team’s bullpen as a whole as well and that should give me the picture of the entire division.

State of the Cardinals Farm System – Part 3

In Part 1 and 2 we looked at the overall systems pitching and outfielders respectively. In Part 3 we will focus on the infielders. Overall we have some attractive infielders but most of them play the same position – 3B. We are lacking on talent up the middle and 1B is always hard to predict since many big league 1B came up playing another position. Let’s jump right in.

Rating System:
5 Birds – The elite of prospects. These prospects will be stars in the bigs AND have enough body of work in the minors to justify the top rating. From a category perspective this would be a rare rating if the system had quite a few 5 Birds Rating Pitchers. Basically the elite of elite in a category.
4 Birds – Prospects that will have a solid body of work in the minors and will be above avg players in the bigs OR prospects with the upside of a 5 Birds Rating but not enough service time in the minors to justify the rating. From a category perspective this would be a category with a number of 4 and 5 Birds Ratings players. It would require a balance of depth and stardom.
3 Birds – Prospects that will be a regular in the bigs but won’t be a significant piece to the ball club. These prospects won’t be All-Stars nor will they be top of the rotation or middle of the order players. From a category perspective this would be a middle of the road category with few 4-5 Birds Rating players and plenty of 2-3 Birds Ratings.
2 Birds – Prospects that will be role players in the bigs. These prospects will bounce around from AAA to the bigs and most likely will play for many franchises over the years if they are fortunate enough to stick around. From a category perspective this would be many role/utility type players in the category with little to no star power.
1 Bird – Prospects that will be career minor leagues and may get a cup of coffee in the bigs. From a category perspective this is the ultimate insult. If you get a 1 Bird in any category you basically have very few players in the category that could even be role players in the bigs.
Infielders:
Star Power – 2.5 Birds
Depth – 2.0 Birds
Overall – 2.5 Birds

Overall we are lacking solid depth in the infield. We have a few exciting guys that play 3B (Zack Cox and Matt Carpenter) and both are not that far away. They are also the only 2 infielders in my Top 20. Looking past those 2 I have 5 other infielders ranked between 21 and 30: Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson (SS), Daniel Descalso (2B), Mark Hamilton (1B) and Niko Vazquez (3B). Matt Adams (1B) just missed out on my Top 30. Out of this group of players none projects to be a 5 Birds talent and only Cox would get a 4 Birds rating. Carpenter is probably a 3.5 Birds rating and everyone else is 2.5 Birds or less. Needless to say it’s hard to get excited about this category as a whole. There has been talk of Cox giving it a try at 2B if that gets him to the bigs quicker but I just don’t see it working out. Carpenter could be on the fast track if he gets off to a hot start and Freese either falters or gets injured. I wouldn’t say it’s crazy to think we might see Carpenter as early as mid-season. Descalso has a chance to stick in the bigs starting in 2011 and be an avg 2B. So if Skip falters you could see plenty of the left handed hitting 2B this year. Hamilton is stuck behind Pujols but got a taste at the end of 2010. Unless we lose Pujols to FA Hamilton won’t be in the plans for the Cards. The rest of this group won’t get a look in 2011. The only other player that has a chance to get a Sept callup is Kozma since he is already on the 40 man. Let’s hope that the Cards look for infield depth and star power in their 2011 venture into the draft and IFA process. It would be great to have a SS prospect to get excited about as it has been a long time.

My favorite Cardinals picture

I take another quick break from my NL Central Previews for a thought about my favorite picture. Many may recognize this moment. This was Albert Pujols’ home run off Brad Lidge in the top of the 9th in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Now, it was a game winning moment and ultimately the Cardinals lost the series, but the range of action in this picture is amazing.

Lidge is knelt down, watching the ball fly out of the park. Pujols struts and admires his home run having not even left the batter’s boxes. The home plate umpire is still in his crouch. Looks of dismay on the faces of Astros fans. The lone Cardinal fan with his arms raised in victory. All the while, Brad Ausmus is already asking the home plate umpire for another ball.

It is one of my favorite Cardinals moments. What’s yours?

UCB Project: Five Headlines of 2011

This month’s project comes from the mind of Tom at CardinalsGM. He suggested that we jot down five headlines that we expect to happen during the coming year. Not necessarily what we want to happen, but what we think will happen. You can check out the other United Cardinal Bloggers’ five headlines of 2011 at the UCB site.

So in my first project participation of 2011 with the United Cardinal Bloggers, I’ve worked on the five headlines that I expect to see in the coming 11 months of baseball.

1. Albert Pujols remains unsigned as Pitchers & Catchers Report.
This one was really my easiest. Right now, both sides are playing a game of chicken (as my Dad put it while we chatted on the phone last night). Neither side wants to be the first to blink so it will very likely come down to the deadline. While my Dad believes that something will get done before Spring Training starts, I am not so sure. I think the possibility of heading into the season without a done deal for Albert is very real and very likely. I feel that if the two sides were that close on a deal, it’d already be done. No deal says they are nowhere near close and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I’ve written on Pujols several times. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cardinals will make a fair offer that compensates him well and probably in the top-3 players in the game. At that point, it will be a measure of how much Albert Pujols wants to be a Cardinal.

Both sides understand how essential it is to bring Pujols back after this season. That is what makes this negotiation difficult for the Cardinals. They are trying to keep it somewhat affordable to them to be able to pay players around him while both sides know that they really need to bring him back because there aren’t very many good options on the list of 2012 potential free agents.

On to the other four after the jump.

2. Waino isn’t bueno anymore, more like perfecto.
Yeah, I’m going to call it which probably automatically means it won’t happen. Last year was the year of the pitcher, but this is the year I’m going to call the Year of Wainwright. In 2009 he lost it to Tim Lincecum. In 2010 he lost it to Roy Halladay. This is the year he puts it all together and it will start with a perfect game sometime in May.

It will be the beginning of a strong year for Wainwright as he will take home his first Cy Young Award.

3. Motte relishing chance to close
It’s a contract year for Franklin and it’s well documented at CardsClubhouse that I’ve never felt that Ryan Franklin wasn’t true closer candidate. He’s a nice stop-gap, but he’s been that stop-gap for three years now. I believe though, that by June, Jason Motte will have established himself as the Cardinals new closer of the future. Making it easier for the franchise to cut ties with Franklin at the end of his current contract.

The organization has placed almost all of their eggs in the Jason Motte basket. His two system rivals who  came through the system with him and actually had closing experience, Chris Perez and Jess Todd, were dealt. The other popular closer prospect in the system, Mark Worrell. I’ve never been in the Jason Motte supporters. I’ve been known to turn games off, expecting a loss, after Motte is brought into games late. However, I’ll say that he impressed me last season with his performance and seems the best internal option to take that role over.

4. Cardinals sweep Brewers to take decisive advantage in NL Central.
I know, I’m not done my preview, but I believe that the Cardinals and the Brewers will be your top-2 teams in the NL Central. Hopefully the clubhouse chemistry changes will work their magic and the Cardinals will once again return to the top in the NL Central. The Cardinals have a history of getting up against the good teams and playing well (or at least Matt Holliday does, more on that at some point this weekend) against them.

The Cardinals will come into the September series against Milwaukee with a 3 game lead in the division with the Brewers able to make it tight through the remainder of the season. However, their bats will be silent while the Cardinals manage to put some runs on the board against the likes of Gallardo, Grienke, and gMarcum (I felt he needed a G at the beginning of his name too, it’s a team unity thing).

5. Phillies and Cardinals to matchup in pitching staff battle.
Wainwright v. Halladay, Carpenter v. Lee, Westbrook v. Oswalt, Garcia v. Hamels. Who woudn’t want to watch that? I’m a huge lover of pitcher’s duels, not only for the speed of those games either. Two pitchers going out-for-out all afternoon in a battle to see who makes the first mistake is just far more entertaining to me than to see an offensive slugfest.

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Leave a comment below and let me know why I’m wrong because, well, I probably am. Considering the last two I still personally highly doubt, but I’m being a homer for once. It happens. I can’t be ‘negative Nelly’ all the time.

Now that you’ve read mine, go read some others! Head over to unitedcardinalbloggers.com to find the links to the rest of the members’ January project.