NL Central Preview: Starting Pitcher #2

We’ve been silent this last week at Redbird Dugout. I know I’ve been exceptionally busy, but with a little more time now I’m back to writing. So as Pitchers & Catcher’s Report on Monday, let’s continue with the Preview. Hopefully we can wrap this up this week and have some fun stuff to pay attention to as Spring Training begins to rev up this week. There were a couple pictures posted on the Redbird Dugout Facebook page this week though as we look at getting spring training going. I’m excited for 2011 like I haven’t been before.

On to the #2 pitcher. This is the guy on your staff that you hope is just your second ace. The best teams usually have a second ace, anyway. The Cardinals have been lucky in recent years to have this, but I think in 2011 the spots have finally swapped for the Redbirds.

6. James McDonald, Pittsburgh (3.51, 4-5 in 11 starts)
I almost put McDonald as Pittsburgh’s #1 because he was the best performing member of the staff in 2010, despite making just 10 starts. Before the 2009 season, McDonald was listed as the #59 prospect in baseball by Baseball America while in the Dodgers’ system. He was part of a deadline deal that sent Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers last season. He’s no stranger to that level of success either, posting a 4.00 ERA in 45 appearances for the Dodgers in 2009. He struggled in four appearances for the Dodgers in 2010 before being eventually dealt. At 26, he’s definitely a young pitcher I’ll be keeping an eye on.

5. Wandy Rodriguez, Houston (3.60, 11-12 in 32 starts)
Rodriguez performed well and was rewarded with a 3 year, $34 million contract with the Astros over the offseason. It’s become the norm for Rodriguez, who might be one of the underrated pitchers in the NL. You rarely hear his name in discussion of some of the best pitchers, but his last three seasons have been very solid for Houston.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati (3.64, 12-7 in 31 starts)
Possibly the most hated active player by Cardinal nation, though Brandon Phillips could be in that discussion too, I think. With a kick of the cleats, Cueto ended the career of Cardinals’ backup catcher Jason LaRue. Many will remember that game, but Cueto turned in a solid season and was rewarded by signing an extension of his own this season. 4 years, $27 million was the deal for Cueto who posted a career best year last year.

3. Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee (3.64, 13-8 in 31 starts)
He was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ #2 pitcher behind Roy Halladay, but an injury cost him his 2009 season. Then Halladay was traded and Marcum became the staff ace. He responded with 13 wins and in his first complete season, that was a great season. The Blue Jays rewarded him by trading him to Milwaukee, who has a much improved starting rotation this season. For Marcum it should be a good move. He’ll get a chance to contend for the NL Central title, whereas there was really very little chance of the Blue Jays sneaking into a playoff spot in the AL East.

2. Carlos Zambrano, Chicago (3.33, 11-6 in 20 starts)
I wanted to move him down the list because of his meltdown, but 11 wins in 20 starts for the struggling Cubbies last season and I couldn’t bring myself to. While researching these, I was surprised to find that he is just 29 years old right now. He used to be viewed as one of the top pitchers in the National League, but I think that last season’s tiff that result in him starting just 20 games has labeled him a bit unstable. I’m sure regaining that position as one of the top pitchers in the NL is one of his main focuses this year.

1. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis (3.22, 16-9 in 35 starts)
Though some of my fellow Cardinal fans have had their confidence shaken in Chris Carpenter last season, and I’ll admit I was worried too after watching his September fall off. But then I looked at the stats. He had a 2.92 ERA and was 14-5 in the first five months of the season before falling off in September, going just 2-4. He started an MLB high 35 starts and threw more innings than he had since 2005. Carpenter might not be the 240 inning workhorse anymore, but he’s still capable of being an ace pitcher in this league. He was my no doubt number 1 #2 pitcher.

And tallying up the results so far:

St. Louis — 44 pts
Milwaukee — 43 pts
Cincinnati — 41 pts
Chicago — 33 pts
Pittsburgh — 26 pts
Houston — 23 pts

State of the Cardinals Farm System – Recap/Overview

In the 4 part series we looked at the overall systems pitching, outfielders, infielders and catchers respectively. Now we will recap the system and give a brief write-up of the top prospects of each category. The trend across all categories is we have some exciting raw talent with minimal pro experience. Some of these guys will pan out, some will come out of nowhere to put themselves on the prospect map and some will flop. The thing about prospects is there is no such thing as a “sure thing”. Some of the most coveted prospects in baseball have never panned out (recent years look at Alex Gordon, Cameron Maybin and Brandon Wood to name a few). But the excitement for the next wave of young talent is undeniable and the best you can do is put together your best assessment based on in person scouting, video clips, other analyst write-up and anything else you can get your hands on to review the talent of a specific player. I love prospect hunting and hope the articles can get others excited as well!

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.

Overall:

Star Power – 2.5
Birds Depth – 3 Birds
Overall – 3 Birds

The Cards overall Farm System has a mix of just about everything but definitely has some weaknesses as well. Catchers and power relief RHP is the strength of the system. MI, LHP and advanced OF are the key weaknesses of the system. 2010 was a critical year to restock talent after making a number of trades to deplete our system depth. The Cards Brass did a solid job of providing an influx of talent but we still lack star power. If there is one thing that will be exciting to watch over the next year is how some of these raw talents in our lower minors progress. If many progress well it will give our overall system a boast. Another critical stage of our systems growth will be another aggressive year in the 2011 Draft and IFA process. I don’t see us making any significant trades of MLB talent to get more talent in the system (Pujols WILL NOT be traded under any circumstance IMO). The 2011 Draft is being touted as one of the best and deepest draft class in recent memory. That bodes well for us being able to obtain high end talent to add to our depth. Below is a look into the top talent in each category. Enjoy!
Top Pitching Prospects:
1)Shelby Miller (RHP) – A true ace in the making. He has everything you look for in a pitcher: mound presence, maturity, intimidation, work ethic and most importantly a solid array of pitches. He won’t arrive before late 2012 and most likely 2013 but we should see him finish the year in AA with maybe a taste in AAA to finish the year. As exciting as a Cards pitching prospect since Rick Ankiel
2)Carlos Martinez (Matias) (RHP) – One of the biggest splashes the Cards have taken in the International Market (2010). A RHP with FB and command that is extremely advanced for his age (19). He throws mid-upper 90’s with movement and solid command of both sides of the plate. His secondary pitches are underrated. CB and CH project as plus pitches and his SL will be either avg or above. Still many years away.
3)Eduardo Sanchez (RHP) – To me the closer in waiting. The difference in Sanchez from Perez, Motte, Boggs, etc is his control of dominate stuff. He provides a combination of a mid-upper 90s FB to go with a hard biting CB. Should be a mainstay in the STL bullpen starting early to mid-2011.
4)Lance Lynn (RHP) – A polished workhorse from the 2008 Draft that will have a chance to get a spot start or 2 in the bigs this year. Lynn has a 4 pitch arsenal (FB, CB, SL, CH) with no pitch that will overwhelm you but all are at least avg offering. His control is iffy at times and he will give up more long balls than you want but a solid #3 SP ceiling. Has a chance to have a long career as a middle-back of the rotation asset.
5)Tyrell Jenkins (RHP) – One of the exciting 2010 Draft picks for the Cards. A raw talent that is extremely athletic. Bought him out of a football scholarship as a QB to Baylor. He was a 4+ sport athlete in HS so he never focused on one sport. Now that he has chosen baseball I anticipate the raw tools being refined and he will show what the excitement is all about. A fluid motion with a plus FB with movement. His secondary pitches need work and refinement. A true high risk/high reward prospect…something the system was lacking.
Best of the Rest (in no particular order): Adam Reifer, Deryk Hooker, John Gast, Seth Blair, Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Swagerty and Joe Kelly

Top Outfield Prospects:

1)Nick Longmire – A product of our 2010 Draft. He can play all 3 OF positions but projects best as a RF in the bigs. He will have above avg or above D skills across the board. He has both gap and HR power and plays the game the way fans and coaches love…max effort all the time. He needs to cut down on his Ks and be a little more selective but that should come with experience. Has a chance to go as high as AA if all goes well in 2011.
2)Adron Chambers – Projects best as a CF with his speed and solid D but is currently blocked by Rasmus. I am higher on his ceiling that most and see him as a solid regular in the bigs with solid leadoff hitter potential. I see him as a .280-.285 hitters with an OBP of .360+ and 30+ steals. Unfortunately with an abundance of OF in the bigs fighting for playing time I see him more as trade bait unless we deal others to make room for him. One way or another he will provide value to the Cards whether it be via trade or production in the bigs.
3)Oscar Taveras – A unique talent with plenty to like as a prospect. His stance and swing are a bit awkward and sometimes gets his rhythm out of whack. His natural ability says he could be a .300+ hitter with power but he has a lot to prove and clean up over the next few years. One of many exciting prospects in our lower minors.
4)Tommy Pham – Very athletic OF that started to put it all together in 2010. He showed a great eye at the plate in 2010 with an OBP of just under .400 between High A and AA. He will never be a power hitter but his speed will allow him to have plenty of doubles, triples and SBs. Could arrive for a cup in Sept of 2012 with a chance to make the club out of ST in 2013. Exciting talent for sure.
Best of the Rest (in no particular order): Tyler Henley, Daryl Jones, Virgil Hill, Reggie Williams Jr and Chris Edmondson

Top Infield Prospects:

1)Zack Cox (3B) – Our 1st Rd pick from the 2010 Draft was the most advanced hitter in the draft but fell to us due to signability issues. Some think he might be a 2B but I just don’t see it. Will be an avg D 3B but will hit for a solid avg and have a high OBP. His power will be modest and he won’t provide speed. Even though there are no sure things from a prospect perspective it would be hard to imagine him not becoming a productive big leaguer. Should arrive for a cup in 2012 and will be fighting for a spot on the roster out of ST in 2013.
2)Matt Carpenter (3B) – Carpenter advanced very quickly after we drafted him in 2009. I guy I was high on in College and thought he was a 5-7 Rd type of guy for the draft…we snagged him in the 13th Rd which is showing to be quite a bargain. He has shown an advanced approach at the plate with a good eye. Don’t see him being an all-star caliber player but will play a solid 3B and have a high OBP with moderate power. With Freese, Cox and Carpenter all in the mix for 3B it will be interesting to see how the Cards handle all 3 of them. I see Cox with the highest upside with Carpenter close behind and Freese as the guy keeping the position warm.
3)Daniel Descalso (2B) – Got a taste late in 2010 and will be battling for a utility spot in 2011. He won’t wow you with any of his skills but will be avg across the board. A lefty hitting 2B he is avg on D and will be a doubles hitter with a .285ish avg. Nothing special but could be a cheap option to replace Skip in 2012.
Best of the Rest (in no particular order): Ryan Jackson (SS), Pete Kozma (SS), Mark Hamilton (1B), Niko Vasquez(3B) and Matt Adams (1B)

Top Catching Prospects:

1)Audry Perez – A solid combination of defense, hitting avg and raw power. All he needs now is experience to develop his overall game. Put on the prospect map by KLaw in 2010 when he put him as the Cards 10th best prospect…no one knew anything about him at the time. After his 2010 campaign anyone paying attn to Cards prospects knows him now. Be patient as he is many years away.
2)Cody Stanley – Another 2010 Draftee that has solid skills across the board. His D is solid and he calls a nice game. He will hit for decent avg and have decent pop. Can definitely see him being a solid regular in the bigs for a long time but never make an all-star game.
3)Bryan Anderson – Everyone that remotely follows the Cards prospect scene has heard of Anderson. He was always young for his level and has played a roller coaster from his projections from year-to-year. What you like about him is he bats lefty handed and has potential to hit for a good avg with pop. The question with him continues to be his defense…will he be good enough to stay their long term? To me he will have to get traded to find out what he can do unfortunately.
Best of the Rest (in no particular order)**NOTE – I view Robert Stock as a Pitching prospect and not a Catcher**: Steven Hill, Charles Cutler and Juan Castillo

Meet the Contenders (for the bench)

It’s Friday! I was all prepared to sit down and write the NL Central Preview for Starting Pitcher #2, but all my research and notes are on my desktop computer. And seeing as I’m traveling this weekend visiting my parents, I don’t have access to it. So I sat and wondered what might Cardinal fans be interested in reading. So how about meeting your bench players for the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals?

First off, I’m going to start with the people we know are due bench spots and move down the line to the more questionable and competitive spots. Presuming that we’ll carry 13 position players, that leaves 5 bench spots to be filled.

C Gerald Laird
Gerald Laird is about the only lock of the bench players. With $1,100,000 being spent on him, it’s one of the two factors as to why that is. The other being the heavily rumored proposition that Duncan, LaRussa, and one of the Cardinals’ starting pitchers doesn’t really like the way Anderson handles the game behind the plate.

After John Mozeliak telling the media after the season that they wanted a backup catcher with offensive potential, my mind immediately when to Bryan Anderson who has had a decent bat in the minor leagues and has potential to do more with it. Apparently, that wasn’t going to happen and Gerald Laird was eventually signed. It was put to me on the CardsClubhouse forums, if Laird is good enough to be Jim Leyland’s (LaRussa’s buddy) everyday catcher, he’s good enough to be Tony LaRussa’s backup. That made the move ultimately make sense.

But after honking for an offensive catcher, the numbers tell us we got anything but. In his last two seasons in Detroit as the primary catcher, Laird hit .218 with 9 HR and 58 RBI in 224 games. His combined OPS+ was 61. Which is actually better than Houston’s starting catcher, Humberto Quintero’s 59. Not exactly the offensive player I was hoping for, but still better than Jason LaRue.

Laird is also no slouch behind the plate, posting a 1.6 defensive WAR over the last two seasons.

Can we say though, there is some hope for offensive production out of him. In 2006 Laird his .296 with 7 HR in 78 games and then in 2008 he hit .276 with 6 HR in 95 games. Those are his two best seasons in his 8 years as a professional baseball player.

What I was really hoping for in a backup catcher is someone who provided enough of an offensive punch that it made sense to give Yadier Molina more time off. After posting the most innings at catcher in 2009 and being close to accomplishing that same feat in 2010 until knee issues shut him down, Molina will eventually wear out and go down. Playing him in 120-130 games a season could delay that and extend his career. Not to mention, this could be a catcher making $7 million next season. Does he get a raise beyond that? That worries me.

More Cardinals bench players after the jump.

INF Nick Punto
Punto is the kind of player that Tony LaRussa will love. He plays several positions, he hustles, and he slides head first into first base. He’s like a better defensive version of Skip Schumaker.

Minnesota fans rejoiced when Punto wasn’t re-signed this offseason mainly because he was Gardenhire’s pet player, or so they claim. He got plenty of ABs in Minnesota and he seems to fit the mold of a David Eckstein. A scrappy player who works hard, which is a lot of what this Cardinals infield needs.

His $750,000 signing was my favorite new player acquisition of the offseason. Finally we have someone who can actually play above average defense in the infield. He’s a career .247 hitter who has 13 homers in 10 pro seasons, so he’s not here for his glove. In his career he averages a yearly +19 defensive RAR at third base, -3 at shortstop, and +3 at second base. So he’s pretty much the best defensive we’ll have in the infield this season. Plus, he’s a switch hitter who has 52 innings of experience in the outfield too? I give Punto about a 99% chance of making the roster.

OF Jon Jay
Jay was the surprise of 2010. He didn’t make the team out of spring training, but provided a good boost off the bench in May in pinch hitting roles. Then in July when given the opportunity to play everyday in July, Jay pounced on it. In the month of July he started 18 games and appeared in 5 more and hit .438 with a pair of home runs.

It was enough to help the Cardinals feel they could trade Ryan Ludwick and not lose much performance out of right field by handing Jay a fairly regular job. Unfortunately, Jay slowed down as the season went on. Hitting just .266 through August and then .218 in September. However, he still was buoyed enough by his July numbers to be officially rounded to .300 for his 2010 season.

I figure Jay is a lock to make the roster considering he can play all three outfield positions. The downside for him is that he is a left handed hitter and they are looking for a right handed hitter to backup in center field. Otherwise, that would lock him onto the roster. I’d give him about a 90% chance of making the opening day roster.

INF/OF Allen Craig
I don’t know what to list Allen Craig as on this list. Is he an infielder or an outfielder? Centerfield, shortstop, and catcher were the only three positions he didn’t appear at in the major leagues last season. In the minors though, he’s played 246 games at third, 133 in left field, and 93 at first base. So is he a third baseman or an outfielder?

For the longest time the talk was that he wasn’t good enough to play third base in the majors, so the effort was to make him into a player at another position. However, the news is that they’ve asked him to work out at third base in the hopes to give them another option at the position should David Freese go down again. The story is also that they aren’t happy with his arm strength while playing third base. If that’s the case, that should be fairly easily remedied by strength training, I would think.

Craig has plenty of potential. In 5 minor league seasons, Craig has hit .300 in the last four, and hit 20+ HR in three of them. He would have hit 20 homers again in 2010, but spent an increased amount of time with the big club that limited his minor league at bats. And while Craig struggled in the majors early, he was given the opportunity to play consistently in September and he responded. In 9 starts and 3 additional appearances he hit .382 in September with a pair of HRs. Showing just a glimpse of his ability at the major league level. Enough so, that several people (myself included) penciled him in as the opening day starter in right field. Then we signed Lance Berkman. I give Craig a 75% chance of making the opening day roster.

INF Tyler Greene
Tyler Greene is one of those players that might best be described as a AAAA player. Great in AAA, but can’t find it in the Majors. He has a .264 batting average in the minor leagues and has shown definite power potential, but he’s been unable to find any of it in order to stick in the major leagues.

The last two seasons he’s gotten cups of coffee at the major league level. 116 plate appearances in ’09 and 122 in ’10. He’s been a consistent .220 hitter with 2 homers in each of those seasons. In fact, looking between the two seasons he has been remarkably consistently with his performance. The only major change in 2010, his walks went from 4 in ’09 to 13 in ’10. A big change.

Some hope might be given that Greene got a chance to play nearly everyday with 14 starts in the month of July and hit .286 with a .400 OBP. However, for me, Greene has a lot to prove in order to make his glove worth it.

That’s always been my downside with Greene is that he’s not a plus defender at any position. His fielding percentages are low and so are his range factors, two defensive statistics that I look at. Are you getting to balls (range) and are you making solid plays when you do (fielding percentage)? But Greene looks to be the next pet project of Tony LaRussa as there’s talk of him being the backup center fielder to play the tough lefties when Colby Rasmus sits. Outfielders playing infield and infielders playing outfield, only on a Tony LaRussa ball club. I give Tyler a 75% chance of making the opening day roster.

Now those are my top-5 and my expected bench for the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals opening day roster, but there are some other names that you should be aware of as Spring Training moves forward.

INF Daniel Descalso
The minor league second baseman, many are hoping that he plays well enough to displace Skip Schumaker at second base. However, when he got the September callup, Descalso played mostly third base. A position he hadn’t played since 2007 in low A ball.

In his 11 games with the major league club, he hit .265 with a .324 OBP. He also played 9 games of perfect defense at third base. In Memphis last year, he hit .282 with 9 HR and a .350 OBP. He’s also been viewed as one of the Cardinals’ top infield talents in the minor league system from what I can tell.

It was good to finally get a look at him in the major leagues, but I don’t expect him to stick on the major league roster out of Spring Training. He will likely be one of the final ones sent out and one of the first to be brought up. I expect him to have the Tyler Greene role this season. That if they need an infielder for a few weeks, they’ll bring Descalso up to fill that role. I give him a 25% chance of making the opening day roster. If someone’s going to jump someone else onto the roster, it’s probably Descalso.

INF/OF Jim Edmonds
Who can forget Jim Edmonds and how instrumental he was viewed to the 2006 World Series run. Or his position in the MV3 of the mid-2000s. News came out earlier this week that Walt Jocketty, who Edmonds played for with the Cardinals and then last season with the Reds, was leaning towards retirement. Edmonds was saying that he was looking for a backup first baseman role or he was going to look at retiring.

Then, not an hour ago, it was announced that Edmonds signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals and will receive an invitation to Spring Training. The 40 year old Edmonds is going to try to make a go of it with his former team.

His outfield defensive stats are still pretty good, but once again he’s a left hander, which doesn’t make him the favorite to have any kind of platoon with Colby Rasmus. He hit .286 with 8 HR in 73 games with Milwaukee this season before being dealt to Cincinnati, where he hit just .207 with 3 solo homers in 13 games.

This could be viewed several ways. Personally, I lean towards the idea that it’s just a ceremonial invite. He’ll play and get one final chance in Cardinal red before retirement. I would also love to see him take the young Colby Rasmus under his arm and mentor him a bit during Spring Training, and hopefully Rasmus will be receptive to it. Either way, I’ll give him about a 5% chance to make the opening day roster. Because I could see him getting an Opening Day start as he heads to retirement with a first week roster move to bring someone else up.

Some 1% chance guys as well.

3B Zach Cox was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick and signed a major league contract. He also participated in the Arizona Fall League, usually one of the last stops for players on their way to the majors in short order. He totalled .262 in 18 games in the AFL, but started just 1-for-17 before putting it together after having essentially not played since the college baseball season ended. He is one player who could make a strong case during Spring Training for a spot on the roster, but I don’t foresee that as long as David Freese stays healthy through the spring.

OF Adron Chambers is a guy that is much beloved, from what I can tell, by the resident Redbird Dugout minor league expert. Jerry described Chambers as the outfielder in our system that’s the closest to being major league ready. He has speed and gap power, plays solid D with some highlight reel potential. Jerry also says he has leadoff hitter tools and has skills that we haven’t seen from a prospect in some time. Personally, I’ve not heard much about Chambers but Jerry knows his stuff.

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.