I know the Winter Meetings are still a week away, but I am already frustrated and confused by the Cardinal's off-season activity. The moves they have made and the talk coming from John Mozeliak have made no sense to me, and neither meshes with what the Cardinals have said they were going to do this off-season. Is there a plan?
Yesterday was just another example, when they declined to offer arbitration to free-agent Braden Looper. How does this make sense? First, Looper is coming off two productive seasons as a starter and is almost assuredly going to get a multi-year offer from someone, so he would very likely have turned down the Cardinal arbitration offer. That's fine....the Cards would then get a compensatory draft pick to help build the future. If he did take the arbitration and came back, he would add depth to a rotation that SORELY needs to be upgraded. Are the Cardinal's so unwilling to spend that they were afraid of the arbitration amount that Braden Looper would get?? This is not a Cy Young caliber pitcher that is going to break the bank in arbitration....it's Braden Looper. Solid, reliable, durable......and a major upgrade over Joel Pineiro or the untested Mitchell Boggs on the back end of the Cardinal rotation. Offering Looper arbitration was win-win for the Cardinals....they would either get a compensation pick or they would have added depth to a rotation that greatly needs it.....so why did they decline?
Another confusing area is the shortstop situation. Although he is limited offensively, Cesar Izturis provided great defense in 2008. With a Dave Duncan pitching staff that is trained on the pitch-to-contact philosophy, a stellar defensive shortstop such as Izturis is a must. Naturally, the Cardinals then, have shown no interest in bringing him back, and seem to have no target at SS other than Edgar Renteria. Brilliant. Have a left side of the infield comprised of Troy Glaus and Edgar Renteria. Both are competent defensively, (and Glaus played very well defensively in 2008), but have limited range. This pairing would almost certainly lead to more groundballs getting through the infield and a higher ERA for the pitching staff. The reasoning to go after Renteria is apparently to upgrade the production of the middle infield, but that is unnecessary and the sacrifice defensively would be too great. They can upgrade the offense by re-signing Felipe Lopez to play 2B, and bringing back Izturis to play SS. This would allow Mozeliak to focus on his biggest need........the pitching staff.
The off-season moves to date do not jive with management talk, either. For two years, we have heard about how the 2008-09 offseason would be the Cardinals time to make "impact" moves with the large amount of payroll that was being freed up. Instead, they have declined to even get involved in the Jake Peavy discussions and have shown no interest in going after Brian Fuentes, who would help solve their BIGGEST need.....upgrading the left side of the bullpen.
More double-speak from John Mozeliak: when the Cardinals bought out Mark Mulder shortly after the season ended, Mozeliak was very clear about how the Cardinals had learned their lesson and were not going to rely and count on injured starting pitchers any more. I took this to mean that upgrades would be coming and that the Cards would not rely on Chris Carpenter for the 2009 rotation. Instead, they have done just the opposite. Every time Mozeliak is asked about adding depth to the rotation, he brings up that they are waiting to see how Carp progresses. I can tell you that I want Carpenter to be healthy and effective more than anyone.....but I seriously doubt that he will be. If he is, GREAT.....but if he's not, then Mozeliak is just doing exactly what he said he WOULDN'T do anymore when he released Mulder. If Mozeliak waits too long, any impact starter that could be available will be gone, and we'll be subjected to a patchwork rotation for 2009.
The 2008 Cardinals greatly surprised everyone by contending until Mid-September. Several players stepped up and filled voids, and made the team competitive. A couple of significant tweaks would put us on equal footing with the Cubs to contend for the Central in 2009, and given the payroll flexibility, I fully expected the Cards to be major players for guys like Fuentes, and Peavy once it was apparent he was available. Instead, the Cards have focused on more bargain basement signings and avoided looking at impact players. I hope I am being overly concerned, and I hope that there is a plan in place to make the upgrades we need to catch the Cubs and compete for the pennant. As currently constructed, this team is not as good as Chicago. They still need upgrades to the rotation and the left side of the bullpen. Middle of the road signings like Trever Miller, Arthur Rhodes and Edgar Renteria are not going to get us there.
Please, John.....prove me wrong over the next several weeks.