The clock is ticking and the Cardinals can feel every second as they try to find the right piece to add to their club. St. Louis wants a quality starting pitcher to help their thin rotation with Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse on the disabled list. Roy Oswalt seemed like the man, but his and Houston’s demands have killed that deal. Now, the Cardinals have turned their attention to other options on the market. The names aren’t as big, but they could be just as effective as Oswalt. The Cards need for arms is big, but in my opinion, it’s not their biggest hole. That distinction belongs to the middle infield, which has been shaky at best. Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker are scrappers who play hard every day. Last season, Ryan hit .292 and played a great shortstop. Schumaker hit .302 and .303 in 153 games each of the past two years and provided a steady hand at second. This year has been a different story, especially for Ryan. He’s toiling below the Mendoza Line at the plate (.196) and he’s suffered some hiccups with the glove too. The defensive struggles are likely mental and caused by his brutal year with the bat. Schumaker hasn’t been the same either. He is hitting .262 and has had long slumps that have hurt the team’s offensive production. The Cards should add a middle infielder who can replace Ryan and spark the team to the playoffs. Learn more about the possibilities on the mound and find out who I think would be perfect for the Redbirds need at short after the jump.
The Arms Race
Roy Oswalt: Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is not optimistic about a deal for the Astros ace or any arm at this point in the game. The Astros want too many top prospects for Oswalt on top of the fact that he wants the team to pick up his $16 million option for 2012. The deal would be far too expensive for the Cards in prospects and money. Oswalt isn’t worth the price tag. While he has been durable his entire career, that also means his logged a lot of innings. The mileage on his arm will certainly show as he gets older; he will not be the same guy he was in Houston, but the Cards would be paying him like a king. Upon further review, Oswalt is not the ace he is painted as in the media. In 2008, he was 17-10 with a 3.54 ERA. Last year, he went 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA. And in 2010, his ERA is climbing and currently sits at 3.42. The buzz around Oswalt is based on his hot start this season and his track record that includes fours seasons with sub-3.00 ERAs.
Another concern I have is his apparent reluctance to leave Houston. The Astros are clearly going nowhere fast. Houston will be a loser for the remaining decade of Oswalt’s career. Most guys would be dying to escape the basement for some fresh October air. It would be refreshing and provide a jolt for the rest of his career. The competitive atmosphere would make him young again. But Oswalt doesn’t seem to mind getting old in Texas. He will not back off his demand for the 2012 option. Money is more important right now to him than winning. While I respected Oswalt his entire career, this summer has caused me to question his desire to win. For a starting pitcher, that question mark is a huge red flag. All the best pitchers have the desire to win. Winning trumps everything for guys like Wainwright and Carpenter. Oswalt has seemed to lose sight of that in Houston and that’s scary. I don’t want a player who is concerned with money and location (Oswalt would prefer to stay in the South close to his Mississippi home). But why does he need to be close to home? During baseball season, there are few opportunities to go home. From April to September, home is the baseball clubhouse. Whether you play in Seattle or Houston, Mississippi is not on the itinerary. He can spend October or November to February in Mississippi. That’s part of being a ballplayer. It’s a small sacrifice. And so is his $16 million. Oswalt has made millions and he’ll make plenty more before he retires. Now, he should follow Roy Halladay’s path: Thank Houston for a great run and head to St. Louis or another contender to chase after a title. Unforunately, he isn’t likely to do that and he will remain in Houston.
For many of the reasons above, I saw Dan Haren — not Oswalt — as the ideal addition to the Cardinals rotation. Ignoring his stroke of bad luck in his Los Angeles debut, I think Haren would have been great for S.t Louis. He is younger and more motivated. The move to St. Louis would have been perfect. He’s not available though, so the Cards will have to turn their attention to others. Here were my thoughts a few days ago, now up on Call to the Pen.
The Cardinals are finally starting to look like the team that was predicted to steamroll the competition in the NL Central. Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals are 6-0 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies — the teams that battled it out in the NLCS the past two Octobers. The Dodgers and Phillies haven’t been the same teams, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is how the Cardinals are playing. Without Ryan Ludwick, the offense has been firing on all cylinders. Albert Pujols is leading the way, even Randy Winn is chipping in with some power, and the young guys Jon Jay and Allen Craig are hitting like machines. With everything going so swimmingly, the Cards should just stand pat and sail into October with the group they have, right?
As much as first-place St. Louis would like to believe this team has gotten over the hump and found the chemistry to match its talent, the Cardinals need some help. Before the All-Star break, the Cards trailed the Reds in the standings by a game and dropped four of six to the Rockies and Astros. This team has been up-and-down all year and now is not the time to be content. The Reds are a good baseball team and they aren’t going away. Cincinnati’s offense is tops in the league and their pitching staff is loaded.
The Cardinals staff is not loaded; it’s top heavy. Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Jaime Garcia arguably form the best trio of hurlers in baseball. Three can win in October. But you need five to get you there especially when the division race is this tight. So, who are the other two? Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse are on the disabled list and could struggle when they return. Jeff Suppan is not the answer.
With Dan Haren recently traded to the Angels, the Cardinals should continue the raid in the desert by rescuing Stephen Drew, who is there for the taking, from Arizona. Drew is a talented young shortstop who would be a huge upgrade for the Cards biggest hole in the field. Brendan Ryan isn’t getting the job done. Period. He can’t hit and his defense has been shaky. It’s a complete 360 from last year, but St. Louis can’t afford to stick by him. Drew is a solid bat with a career line of 0.269/.328/.439 and a great glove. He has only made four errors in 83 games. That’s Gold Glove-worthy. At 27, Drew’s best years are ahead of him and he could flourish with a move to the great baseball town of St. Louis. He has shown the potential to hit 0.300 with 20 home runs and he is a great shortstop.
If the Cards can acquire Drew and locate some back of the rotation help along the way, they will move to the front of the line in the National League.
So, how does St. Louis move to the front without Oswalt or Haren? The front office has to get creative and do some more scouting. A solid group of starters are being floated around baseball. Who should the Cards go after now?
Fausto Carmona: Haren’s youth along with proven success was a big draw for me. The same ingredients come together in Fausto Carmona. And in many ways, the prospect of landing the youngster from the Dominican Republic is even more exciting. I say youngster because Carmona is only 26 years old. That’s the exciting part too. The risk is higher with him, but the reward is well worth it. Carmona hasn’t come close to his breakout season in 2007 when he went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA. He has some of the best stuff in the game — electrifying stuff that impressed Joe Posnanski like Strasburg is today. Carmona hasn’t learned how to use it yet and until he does, he will be a one-hit wonder. The good news is that he has time. At 26, he is in his prime and he will be for the next seven or eight years. If he learns, he will become an elite pitcher in the game. If he doesn’t, he will only scratch his potential and scouts and baseball will be left scratching their heads and wondering, “What if?”
So, “What if Carmona comes to St. Louis?”
The “What ifs?” may stop if he lands in Busch Stadium. St. Louis is the perfect place for him to start over. Dave Duncan would teach him and mold him into a big-time pitcher. Yadier Molina would make it easy on him behind the plate. Wainwright and Carpenter would be great mentors and keep his competitive juices flowing. The offense with Pujols and Holliday in place would be above average and would support him much better than Cleveland. This picture is what makes Carmona the new ideal pitcher for the Redbirds. Not only would he help out during this stretch run, but he would be part of the winning formula and nucleus already in place. Fausto Carmona is the now and the future. His best would make the Cardinals a championship contender for the next decade. Oswalt would only lift St. Louis for three or four years.
With the present and the future in mind, Fausto Carmona is worth the gamble. The wins would pile up like poker chips in the casino. And St. Louis would certainly cash some of those in come October.
Jake Westbrook: Carmona’s Cleveland teammate is another intriguing name. Jake Westbrook, 32, has baseball excited about his potential after winning 14 games in 2004. He was 26, which only makes the case for Carmona stronger. Westbrook was viewed as an up-and-coming hurler in the game. Carmona has already been around and a new start in the right place would be refreshing for him. Looking at Westbrook, he went on to win 15 games in 2005 and 2006, but he never took the next step. The success stopped in 2007 with a 6-9 season and he then missed most of 2008 and all of 2009 with arm troubles. Westbrook needed Tommy John surgery and rehabbed to come back and stay healthy this season. At 6-7 with a 4.65 ERA, he is only a mediocre pitcher on the market. He is as old as Oswalt with injury problems. He is not the answer for St. Louis’ playoff aspirations and future plans.
Ted Lilly: Ted Lilly plays for the Chicago Cubs. That’s a problem. Teams rarely trade within the division and with even less frequency to their biggest rival. The last thing St. Louis wants to do is trade some prospects to Chicago to help their rebuilding phase. If one of those players turns into a star, the Cardinals will never forgive themselves. With that said, the probability of St. Louis getting Lilly is one in a million. Plus, the Cubs are showing some life. Chicago may hold on and try to shock the Reds and Cards for the division. Unlikely but not impossible. Lilly is an attractive option. Since becoming a mainstay in rotations around the majors in 2003 at 27, the crafty lefty has simply won games. He doesn’t blow you away with stuff. He hovers around 90 mph and throws a good curve. Basically, he’s a younger version of Jamie Moyer. Smart and accurate, but not afraid to challenge hitters inside. That formula has worked for Lilly and won him 17 games in 2008. He brings experience and veteran leadership that is always a plus and makes him a coveted option as the deadline nears. But the Cardinals may only covet him from afar and silently. He won’t be wearing Cardinals red anytime soon.
Jeremy Guthrie: Guthrie is stuck in Baltimore, perhaps the darkest place in baseball today. The Orioles came into the season as a darkhorse pick to breakout much like the Cincinnati Reds. But unlike the Reds, the O’s have nested at the bottom of the AL East once again. Super-prospects Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz have failed to live up to the hype. Wieters had a solid start last year but is only hitting .251 with 32 RBI in 79 games in 2010. He is no Joe Mauer. Or Buster Posey for that matter. Back in April, Matusz was a shoe-in for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Matusz will enter the 2010 season as a heavy favorite to win the rookie of the year award, which would make him Baltimore’s first individual award winner since Cal Ripken won the MVP Award in 1991.
It’s as if he already won the award and the Orioles had already taken the turn necessary to leave losing behind. Instead, the 23-year-old lefty is 3-11 with a 5.22 ERA. Not exactly the season he or anyone else envisioned. There is still hope for him. But the point is, nothing has gone Baltimore’s way in 2010. This season is a lost cause and the Orioles can only cross their fingers that it all comes together in 2011. That’s quite some time for a team that’s moving in slow motion. The trade deadline is a time for them to speed things up and to continue to add pieces to that young nucleus in hope of finding the right mix.
Jeremy Guthrie is a right-hander who has generated interest at the deadline. Guthrie’s numbers aren’t exciting, but he can throw smoke. He has been clocked at 98 mph consistently since the All-Star break. Heat always grabs attention and some teams could use a hard-throwing righty at the back of the rotation or in the bullpen. Tim Marchman ranks Guthrie as fourth among the least appreciated players in baseball today.
Guthrie led the league in losses last year, and he’s doing it again this year. How can a pitcher who’s 13-27 over the last two years be underhyped? Simple — whatever his winning percentage, he’s reliably average and pitches his six innings every five days. The lack of a pitcher as good could cost a team such as the Phillies the pennant this year; it’s not Guthrie’s fault that he plays for a team that can’t score any runs.
While I don’t exactly agree with Marchman (5.04 and 4.46 ERA in 2009 and 2010 have little to do with Baltimore’s offense, and a lot to do with his inability to get outs), Guthrie is a decent option for a team in need. The Cardinals do not need him. He doesn’t fit and honestly, he’s not worth the prospects. Guthrie is below average and he is not better than anyone they have now.
Brett Myers: Myers is an interesting candidate. The fiery right-hander has actually been better than Oswalt this season. He is 7-6 with a 3.24 ERA in his first year in Houston. He spent the rest of his career in Philadelphia, splitting time as a closer and starter. He never reached his potential as an ace, largely due to his lack of mental toughness. Myers let his emotions get the best of him at times and it held back his development. He still has a good fastball and wicked curve that could make someone very happy in August and September. They just need to be ready for an adventure. Sometimes, he was pretty funny in Philadelphia. And he definitely has a desire to win.
Forget about Roy Oswalt. Fausto Carmona would be an awesome addition to the Cardinals. He was an All-Star this year (10-7, 3.51 ERA). He would love pitching in a baseball-crazy town like St. Louis after playing in Cleveland where the seats were always empty. He would flourish under Duncan. There would be no pressure as the fourth pitcher behind Wainwright, Carpenter, and Garcia. With his dynamic stuff, he could return to his winning ways and make the Cards rotation a monster for years to come. If he doesn’t pan out, the risk was worth it. I’d take my chances with Dave Duncan and Yadier Molina working with Carmona.
The Man in the Middle
With the need in the rotation covered, let’s look at the middle infield need. The need is there as I said earlier. The answer isn’t so easy. Pitchers are always being shopped. Middle infielders are hard to find. Good ones are even harder to find. This year, though, a good young shortstop with loads of potential is on the market: Stephen Drew. He is one of the best in the game but goes unnoticed on a bad team in Arizona. The 27-year-old leads the NL with a .988 fielding percentage and a +3.2 UZR. He is a top defensive shortstop and a perennial Gold Glove candidate in the making. He’s better than Brendan Ryan with the leather. And it’s no contest at the plate. He is hitting .265 and is second in the NL with seven triples. He also has shown the potential to hit for power and a better average. He hit .291 with 21 home runs and 44 doubles in 2008. Drew can reach that productivity again. St. Louis would improve dramatically with him entrenched at short.
There isn’t much buzz for St. Louis to get Drew, but there should be. He and Carmona would inject some youthful energy into this club and improve need areas in all facets of the game.
It’s up to the front office to make something happen. Drew and Carmona would be the perfect something.