Cardinals should turn focus to Carmona with Oswalt off the market


Roy Oswalt was the target. He is a proven winner and veteran presence that would have been great for the Cardinals. He wanted to pitch in St. Louis. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Oswalt was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday for J.A. Happ and two minor league prospects. The Phillies front office worked their magic again, getting the Astros ace for next to nothing and convincing Houston to eat $11 million of his remaining salary.

Coming into the season, I viewed Philadelphia and St. Louis as the top teams in the National League. Both came into 2010 with complete lineups and solid rotations. But both have also underachieved. Along the way, wild rumors about a trade involving Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols made for some fun. Howard’s big contract provided a baseline for Pujols’ deal this winter. The intersecting rivalry tangled again at the trade deadline with Oswalt up for grabs. Philadelphia made the first move, but St. Louis was his preferred destination. Talks cooled in Philly and St. Louis after learning the Astos and Oswalt’s demands. The Phillies jumped back into discussions and got their man. The Cards, a division rival of Houston, may have never had a chance.

But they still have a chance to make a splash before Saturday’s deadline.

They should follow the Phillies hot stove one more time. When Roy Oswalt appeared destined to stay in Houston, Ruben Amaro and Co. turned their attention to the Cleveland Indians Fausto Carmona.

The Cardinals should do the same. […]

Forget about last night’s debacle against the Yankees. It’s irrelevant. Carmona would shine in St. Louis. A change in scenery, a move to the National League, and the amazing pitching staff would make Carmona into a new man — a better man — on the mound. Dave Duncan has a history of helping pitchers find another gear and fixing all their problems. The 26-year-old has already been at the top of the game, winning 19 games and wowing the baseball world three years ago for the Indians. He lost it soon after and the losing stigma of Cleveland hasn’t exactly been helpful in finding it again. A move to St. Louis, the best city in baseball, and he would immediately feel refreshed.

"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."

A Closer Look

The risk is there. But it’s not as big a gamble as it appears. Carmona has pitched well in 2010. He was an All-Star and he has won 10 games for a bad Indians team in a depressed sports city. The investment is a cheap one. He is making $4.9 million this year and he will get $6.1 million next year. The next three years of the deal are club options worth $7 million, $9 million, and $12 million, which takes us to 2014. That is very affordable even for the Cardinals who just signed Holliday to a big deal and have the Pujols contract to work out. Carmona is far cheaper than Oswalt and his potential is a big plus.

A quick return to the Phillies for some inspiration and the hypothetical deal is that much sweeter. The Phillies have been busy over the last year, wheeling and dealing for ace pitchers. And getting them at cheap prices. Cliff Lee came from the Indians in a fast deal that no one saw coming. It was quietly put together, but the impact was too large to ignore. The Phillies stole Lee. This year, they stole Oswalt. The Phils didn’t have to give up their prized prospects in either deal (Kyle Drabek and Domonic Brown). Drabek was later traded for Roy Halladay, but he is Roy Halladay. If the Indians didn’t ask for the farm and then some for Cliff Lee, they can’t ask for that for Carmona. If Carmona is out there, the Cardinals can get him without giving up the Shelby Millers and Jon Jays of the organization. The jewels can be protected while landing the big name. Cleveland isn’t the hardest organization to deal with and that is a nice positive for St. Louis.

The Phillies had plans for Carmona, which means they knew they could land him at the right price. They could steal him. Now, the Redbirds should follow their lead so come October they aren’t left watching Philadelphia win a third straight league title.

Tale of the Tape

Carmona’s statistics since breaking into the big leagues:

5 Seasons4345.4894.5413710612520666.2688366336552835404

*2007: 4th in voting for Cy Young; 23rd in voting for MVP

*2010: American League All-Star

Carmona’s Arsenal

The right-hander employs a heavy sinker in the mid-90s as his out pitch. The sinker is among the best in the game and baffled hitters during his best season. He also has a changeup and slider. When he has them all under control and moving, he’s nearly unhittable. That was the story in 2007. And it could be again. It should be again. And it should be written in St. Louis.

Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia, and Carmona would be a force for the next four years in the National League.