Tag Archives: Cliff Lee

Hitting the trade markets

The second half of the baseball season is about to begin and the trade deadline is right around the corner. Already newspapers, blogs, message boards, and twitter feeds are rife with trade rumors as everyone has a keen eye on watching how their teams will perform in the second half. So where are the Cardinals and what could they be looking to add to shore up the team as they drive towards another playoff berth?

I think a good way to get an idea of where the team’s weaknesses lay can be found by a quick glance at the team statistics. With 462 runs scored in 93 games, the offense is currently ranked third in the majors and first in the National League. On the opposite side of the ball, the starting rotation finds themselves with a 3.33 ERA which is good for second in baseball behind division rival Pittsburgh. Their bullpen, on the other hand, has a 3.56 ERA and is only good for 16th.

So a quick glance points you towards the bullpen which has rebounded nicely from an atrocious start with thanks to Edward Mujica‘s step into the closer’s role which he has taken and held onto. Trevor Rosenthal settled into the 8th inning and has once again in the discussion for best relief pitcher in baseball. However, the rest of the bullpen has been a big question mark with most of the rebound behind fueled by great performances by rookie pitchers fresh out of Memphis. Continue reading

The search begins in Miami

For Cardinals fans and Albert Pujols, the ball has begun to roll. While there are reports that the Cardinals were unwilling to boost their pre-season offer to Pujols, he has already scheduled his first tour and meeting of the offseason.

The Miami Marlins are looking like they are considering making big moves this offseason. They’ve already talked to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, two of the top free agents at their positions, and now they have added Albert Pujols to the mix. Pujols will receive a tour of their new ballpark today before meeting with their administration tomorrow.

2012 is all about new for the Miami Marlins. Yes, the Miami Marlins. As part of their deal to build a new ballpark closer to Miami in an effort to draw in more fans, the Marlins will be changing from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. With that comes new uniforms and logo, which were to be announced today.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s new General Manager Jerry Dipoto has apparently also expressed their interest in both Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. You can bet that at some point Pujols will be making a trip to Anaheim to take a look at their facilities and meet with them.

Meanwhile Nolan Ryan said that he’d be surprised if the Rangers were big players in either Fielder or Pujols while giving a vote of confidence to their current first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland, 26, hit .259 for the Rangers last season with 16 homers and 51 RBI. But Moreland isn’t and will likely never be a true impact player in the league. But he doesn’t have to be because the Rangers have guys like Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre.

As a Cardinals fan I’m torn by this news, but know that it’s the way it has to be. Pujols has to do his due diligence and check out the other interested teams, if just to confirm to himself that he is in the best place.

I don’t think the Marlins will play a critical role in the Pujols negotiations simply because they already have a pretty capable first baseman as it is. They would have to make room for him and if they do it before, they risk Pujols not signing. If they do it after, they risk not getting any return on him. It would be a difficult place to be in.

I think the move is more to generate media mentions about the Marlins. Get the new name out in public and let everyone know that these will be the new look Marlins, not the one that trades away all their good players. They hope to have increased payroll next year, but I think for them to go and triple that payroll is expecting a bit too much. However, they need to compete with the Miami Heat (which is easy right now because there is no NBA right now) and they need star players. Pujols and Reyes can both fit that mold. The two of them? Well that’s almost on the same level as the Heat.

The Marlins actually have a pretty prime opportunity. They already have the basis of a solid team. However, contending in the NL East right now, with Philadelphia and Atlanta having the rosters that they do, is going to be difficult. They could basically add in a few guys who could completely turn the face of the franchise around because their existing payroll is so low.

They have the flexibility that the Cardinals would have going into 2013 if Pujols doesn’t return.

Until contract numbers start flying around, don’t get too excited about Pujols visiting other teams. It’s something he has to do to prepare for the decision he has to make. I think we still have a long way to go until that decision is made. Like, somewhere closer to two months.

But it should be very interesting to see who is in and who is out. And will a mystery team come in and make waves at the last minute, much like the Phillies did with Cliff Lee last year?

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Who are Pujols’ most likely suitors?

That is the question that I will endeavor to answer over the next little bit of your read along. Though Daniel over at C70 at the Bat tackled this topic in a post of his own on Wednesday, I’m going to take a team-by-team approach to it. I’ll analyze each team’s current position and whether or not they have the place and the means to be a player in the Albert Pujols negotiations.

To really answer this question we need to discuss what is important to Albert. There are two things that really stick out. First, his desire for a winning team. Second, his desire to be recognized for his performance over the last 11 seasons. In professional sports, there is usually one way to determine who the best players in the game are and that is by looking at their paychecks.

So I have three criteria that I’ve evaluated each organization with. First, the team will have to be a winning team or have a young core of highly talented players ready to play in the major leagues. Second, the team will need to be able to pay him well. Third, I’ve assumed that he’d rather play first base everyday rather than be a DH for an American League team.

What do the grades mean. F means no chance. D means an outside chance if they make moves to make some room. C means the team meets a couple of the requirements, but he doesn’t quite fit their plans. B means a team may have the means, but maybe not the motive. A means that they have the cash and meet the requirements and should be players.

With that said, let’s jump in.

Atlanta Braves (Grade: F)
The Braves will not be a player for Pujols. They have the young Freddie Freeman who hit .282 last season with 21 HRs and 76 RBI, and that was just his rookie season. Freeman is likely there in Atlanta for the long haul as a foundation player for their future. They don’t have a need to go spend the necessary cash to bring in Pujols.

Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade: B)
The Diamondbacks could be a team with an outside shot at Pujols. They have a young core of players like Ryan Roberts, Chris Young, and Justin Upton as well as a really solid pitching staff with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. They’ve dealt away a lot of their talent in return for pitching production. Their payroll was the second lowest it’s been in a decade and is nearly half of what they were spending in the Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling years. They could have some money there to sign a player like Pujols, and having a premiere player of Pujols’ caliber in their lineup would change the face of the division. Would they be willing to pony up to be automatically penciled in as the best team in the NL West for the next few seasons? I’d be doing the math if I was in charge.

Baltimore Orioles (Grade: D)
The Orioles have money to spend and are in need of a first baseman for their organization. Many believed that their 1 year deal with Derrek Lee last year was specifically so they could chase Pujols in free agency. Except the big problem is that they aren’t a winning team nor are they expected to really be one any time soon. Plus, the team is currently searching for someone to lead the team as General Manager (I am currently unemployed and would love to). If it comes down to a pure money offer the Orioles could have a chance, but given that I feel Pujols is going to balance winning and his payday, the Orioles certainly don’t offer what he wants.

Boston Red Sox (Grade: F)
Adrian Gonzalez is pretty much coming off a career year both offensively and defensively. If we assume that Pujols doesn’t want to DH, Boston is out of the running.

Chicago Cubs (Grade: B)
The Cubs fans would love to steal Albert Pujols away from their rival Cardinals and believe Theo Epstein is the GM to do it. While I expect the Cubs to be in the discussion, they lose points on the winning category. They have the opening at first base and the money coming off the books, but have other flaws that need to be fixed. I would hope that Pujols wouldn’t go to the Cubs. That’d be like Jeter going to the Red Sox. Cardinals fans would go stupid crazy in the event he signed with the Cubs and I’d certainly hate to be the owner of that new Pujols statue in St. Louis because I doubt it would remain untouched.

Chicago White Sox (Grade: D)
The White Sox have Paul Konerko signed for two more years to play first base and is coming off of a year where he hit .300 with 31 HRs and 105 RBI. While they might want him, they have no need of him. Especially with Adam Dunn signed through 2014 to DH. If they could deal off Dunn, maybe they could play in the Pujols sweepstakes, but I don’t see that happening where they don’t eat a large chunk of Dunn’s contract.

Cincinnati Reds (Grade: F)
The Reds might even have a backlog of talent at first base to deal with. Joey Votto is signed for two more years and their young prospect Yonder Alonso needs a position to play. They have no need, nor a desire, to go sign Pujols.

Cleveland Indians (Grade: D)
While they have some money coming off the books and a need for a first baseman, I don’t see the Indians being a major player for Pujols. Many of their younger players will hit arbitration for the first time and will likely absorb that extra money.

Colorado Rockies (Grade: F)
The Rockies will need to look at filling first base and replacing the 37 year old Todd Helton at some point, Helton still hits fairly well and is signed through 2013. The Rockies are also about at the top of their payroll over the last decade and they just signed Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to longterm, expensive deals.

Detroit Tigers (Grade: F)
The team has Miguel Cabrera signed through 2015 and many consider him to be the most dangerous hitting first baseman in the American League. While he is a defensive question mark, the Tigers also have Victor Martinez signed through 2014 to DH for them.

Houston Astros (Grade: F)
The Astros have been shedding payroll as of late, have a new owner, aren’t in any shape to contend, and have a long road back to contention. No way.

Kansas City Royals (Grade: B)
The Royals are the team that I’ve expected to be a dark horse for Pujols. He spent his first years in the United States there. However, the emergence of Eric Hosmer, unless they decide to move Hosmer to DH, severely diminishes the chances of Pujols finding his way to the Royals.

Los Angeles Angels (Grade: C)
While on the surface the Angels may appear to be a great contender for Pujols, they are going to find themselves in a bit of a salary crisis. Especially when they are paying Vernon Wells over $25 million a year for the next three years. Rookie Mark Trumbo also emerged this season as a viable first baseman. I think the Angels aren’t as big a threat as many think they will be.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Grade: F)
With the financial troubles this team is undergoing and the potential auctioning off of the team, I don’t see the Dodgers making a play for Pujols at all. They are looking like they’ll try to lock in Matt Kemp, however, after his breakout season.

Miami Marlins (Grade: C)
This is another team that people think could be a sleeper. They are moving into a new ballpark and expect to make some more money from it being better located in the city, instead of a good drive out of town. They have Gaby Sanchez at first base, so they would likely have to trade him in order to make it work. Sanchez could have some serious value, seeing as he has only used up two years of eligibility, he is under team control for four more years. But the Marlins have yet to show that they want to spend money in free agency, so I doubt they’ll start now.

Milwaukee Brewers (Grade: F)
If the Brewers were going to sign an expensive first baseman out of free agency this season, they’d be going after Prince Fielder. With the extra money spent on the pitching staff last year, I think they went all in in Prince’s final year and now will scale back a bit. I’d be surprised if they made a big splash in free agency at all.

Minnesota Twins (Grade: F)
The Twins are all screwed up right now. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were both signed to big contracts and both spend most of last year injured. With those two on the roster, they don’t have a need to bring in another high priced player and I don’t know if they could afford one.

New York Mets (Grade: F)
The Mets have their own financial problems and are unlikely to make any big moves in free agency.

New York Yankees (Grade: F)
With Mark Teixeira at first and projecting Jesus Montero at DH for the future, they have no need to bring in Pujols. Besides, pitching is a far greater concern to the Yankees at the moment than bringing in another offensive threat.

Oakland Athletics (Grade: F)
While they have an opening at first base, they aren’t likely to spend much more on their team than they are right now. Plus, I don’t see Pujols being all too interested in playing for them.

Philadelphia Phillies (Grade: F)
The Phillies have $50 million invested in the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, not to mention another $20 million in Ryan Howard, their first baseman, I don’t see the Phillies even calling up Dan Lozano to kick the tires.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Grade: D)
The Pirates only have $6.6 million committed to 2012, and just about half of that is going to Kevin Correia. They do have 10 players due to hit arbitration and many more still under team control, so it’s not like they don’t have anyone to field a team next year, but they do have plenty of financial flexibility at this point to do what they think they need to. They don’t have anyone to play first base and have a young core of talent coming up. I doubt, though, that their ownership is ready to invest what would likely be nearly half their payroll into a single player.

San Diego Padres (Grade: F)
The Padres new ownership is still cutting payroll. Their highest paid player last season was Heath Bell, their closer, making $7.5 million. I doubt they will pick up for the phone to Lozano either. Pujols doesn’t fit with their organizational strategy.

San Francisco Giants (Grade: F)
The Giants are currently at their highest payroll of all time and broke $100 million for the first time this season. They have Aubrey Huff to play first base for at least one more year and young Brandon Belt who was expected to take the role. They’ll be spending their money to retain as much of their pitching staff as possible and they won’t be in the Pujols discussions.

Seattle Mariners (Grade: F)
While the Mariners are a team in dire need of a consistent offensive threat in their lineup, their payroll has remained pretty steady over the previous few seasons and they don’t have that much money coming off their books in 2012. Plus, they may be considering paying up to retain Felix Hernandez with an extension after his contract expires at the end of the year.

Tampa Bay Rays (Grade: F)
The Rays struggle to find money to pay their own talent. Their owner was in the press complaining that the lack of attendance makes it difficult for them to bring in and retain their talent because they need to run the business inside their budget to make a profit. And I feel for him. He’s provided them a playoff team in 3 of the last 4 years (only the Phillies have made it 4 times and the Yankees are the only other to make it 3) and still they struggle to bring fans to the stadium.

Texas Rangers (Grade: A)
The Rangers might be the biggest threat for the Cardinals through the negotiations. Mitch Moreland played the most first base for them and Pujols will definitely out perform him. You can also assume that since they didn’t spend the money they were chasing Cliff Lee with last season that they have some to spend. While I still see Prince Fielder as the better fit for the Rangers as he will ultimately cost less and be more willing to slide into the DH role as he ages, Pujols might enter their radar. While Fielder might command nearly the same money, he will likely get fewer years which lessens the investment required for a team.

Toronto Blue Jays (Grade: C)
Toronto has gone about building a young core of players over the last few seasons, so that is the #1 reason I can’t see them pursuing Pujols. While they might have a team capable of battling the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays with a couple of additions, I don’t see Pujols fitting in with their strategy. They potentially have the money to spend too.

Washington Nationals (Grade: D)
The Nationals could step in and make a play for Pujols with the thought of moving Michael Morse back into the outfield, but the young Morse is a defensive liability wherever he plays. That is an unlikely move, however, with Jayson Werth in right field and left field likely penciled for Bryce Harper. Morse enjoyed a breakout season, hitting over .300 with 31 home runs for the Nationals. They are deservedly high on him and he’s still under team control for two more years.

* * *

And with that we reach the end. So according to me, I expect the biggest competition to the Cardinals to be the Texas Rangers. Beyond them, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Arizona Diamondbacks should all be in that next tier of players.

The big problem for Pujols is that there is a younger first baseman on the market who will put similar numbers up. Fielder will likely be the first one off the market. Once that happens, Pujols’ market will be more defined, but the problem is that beyond the Cardinals it really only makes sense to just a few teams to seriously consider signing him. I’m not even sure it makes sense for the Cubs beyond the “let’s screw the Cardinals” rhetoric.

It’ll certainly be the issue that will divide the fan base this offseason and be the source of much discussio and debate. Even more so than the managerial search. Do we spend the money and keep him, do we not and invest it in shoring up the team’s holes? It is potentially the single largest free agency decision that the Cardinals have had to make in my lifetime.

Whatever happens, given the right move this season to shore up the team for the playoffs… in Mo we trust.

Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website at unitedcardinalbloggers.com.

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A tale of two starters

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Chris Carpenter v. Roy Halladay. While it may be the Game 5 pitching matchup for the National League Divisional Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, it also shows the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, a quick thought indicates three Blue Jays draft picks pitching in NL Divisional Series’ (Shaun Marcum in Milwaukee would be the other).

Drafted in the first round of the 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Carpenter was fresh out of high school. He was joined in the Blue Jays’ minor league system two years later by Roy Halladay, who was also drafted in the first round as well. Carpenter and Halladay were supposed to be the Blue Jays’ 1-2 punch in the rotation, with Carpenter as the #1, as they flew to success in the American League East.

Going into the 2002 season their hopes were high. The 26-year-old Chris Carpenter and the 24-year-old Roy Halladay were poised to take over their roles at the top of the rotation. With Luke Prokopec and Brandon Lyon as young guys set for the rotation, the team had high hopes for their pitching staff and an offensive lineup that included Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Shannon Stewart, and Vernon Wells.

Hinske would win the American League Rookie of the Year that year, hitting .279 with 24 HR and 84 RBI.

Halladay, in his first full season in the major league rotation, would post a 2.93 ERA and 19 wins for the Blue Jays.

Carpenter, who won 11 games in 2001 with a 4.09 ERA, was the team’s opening day starter and was supposed to be their #1 starter. Instead, he started just 13 games in 2002. He hit the disabled list three times for shoulder issues. He would have shoulder surgery in September that ended his season and would cut into his 2003 season. When Toronto removed him from their 40 man roster, they offered him a minor league deal with incentives. Chris Carpenter declined.

Chris Carpenter

The Blue Jays loss was the Cardinals’ gain. The Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a contract for 2003 with an option for 2004 in the hopes that he’d be ready for midseason of 2003. The Cardinals paid him the major league minimum, but apparently were one of the few teams that were willing to give him a major league contract. Shoulder problems, as a pitcher, can typically be a death sentence. Hence, the Blue Jays’ action to remove him from the roster.

Carpenter would miss all the 2003 season, but he would show his potential in 2004 as he posted a career year. He wasted no time establishing himself as the Cardinals’ ace. He started 28 games and won 15 of them with a 3.46 ERA for the Cardinals as he helped lead them to a 105 win season. The Cardinals would make their first World Series appearance since 1987, but Carpenter would miss it. Again with arm problems, this time a nerve issue in his right bicep.

In 2005 he established himself, not just as the Cardinals’ ace, but as one of the best pitchers in the National League as he posted a 2.83 ERA, had a 21-5 record, led the league in complete games, and won the National League Cy Young Award.

Since he donned a Cardinals uniform for the first time, he has been the pitcher the Blue Jays expected him to become. Unfortunately those injury issues would reappear as Carpenter made just 5 starts between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Cardinals, however, remained loyal to him. And why not? In his time in Cardinal red, Carpenter is 95-42 with a 3.06 ERA. He’s been a three-time All Star and finished in the top-3 in Cy Young voting three times.

After twirling a 2 hit shutout of the Houston Astros on the final night of the regular season to put the Cardinals into the 2011 Major League Baseball Playoffs, Carpenter started Game 2 against Cliff Lee on short rest. Unable to settle in on the mound, Carpenter allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks over 3 innings. The Cardinals, however, were able to come back and win the game. With a Game 4 win last night, the Cardinals set up this matchup of former Blue Jays.

Roy Halladay

After that 2002 season, Roy Halladay wasted no time taking over that top spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. In 2003 he would lead the major leagues with 22 wins and 36 games started. Combined with his 3.25 ERA and he would win the first of his two Cy Young Awards.

In 2004, he developed shoulder issues. The problem was discovered to have existed through most of the season due to a preseason workout regimine. That would explain his 4.20 ERA in 21 starts, the worst season of his major league career.

In 2005, Halladay would again miss a portion of the season. This time it was a line drive that broke his leg shortly before the All Star break that would force him to miss the remainder of the season.

For his next four years in a Blue Jays uniform, Halladay was solid. He went 69-33 from 2006 to 2009 along with a 3.11 ERA. He threw over 220 innings in each of those seasons. You can’t ask for much more of a workhorse than what Halladay gave the Blue Jays.

After the 2009 season, the Blue Jays knew they weren’t going to be able to retain Halladay through his free agency at the end of the season and ultimately traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for some prospects.

The Blue Jays

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they were never able to capitalize on their 1-2 punch. Carpenter spent the good part of his career in a Cardinals uniform and Halladay never had the right supporting cast around him.

The Blue Jays won 87 games in 2006 and finished second in the American League East. That was their best season through that run.

The organization is now working on 18 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. Their last time, 1993, they won the World Series.

As a young Canadian kid (though I was living in North Carolina at the time), I’d been raised with the Toronto Blue Jays. Joe Carter was my favorite player. I can still remember my parents letting me stay up past my bedtime to watch the games of that World Series (heh, I just aged myself). Then what else happens, but Joe Carter going deep with a walk-off three run home run to win the Blue Jays’ second consecutive World Series.

The NLDS

Back to 2011. Here stands Chris Carpenter as the de facto ace for the Cardinals without Adam Wainwright. On the other side stands Roy Halladay, the ace of a staff full of aces. At stake is a berth in the NLCS and a chance at the 2011 World Series.

For the Blue Jays, it was supposed to be Carpenter and Halladay giving them the chance at the World Series, but now they face each other, pitching for other teams, trying to get them there instead.

How things can go so wrong.