Bargain Shopping, the Cardinal Way

Categories: Cardinals
Ah, January. Bringer of frigid temperatures, NFL playoff games, and suicides by the bucketful. 

The holiday season is officially over. Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year has been rung. Truly, these are the darkest days of all for the retail industry. Thus, one other thing always comes with January: sales.

Miniskirts_in_snow_storm.jpgFor bargain shoppers, January is a holy time, second only to the period between 4 to 6 a.m. on Black Friday. January is the time when all of the merchandise that didn't get bought during the Christmas season is just sitting around, and retailers begin doing whatever they can to get it moved, taking huge discounts just to find a home for their products. 

It's the same in the baseball world. Every year, all the free agents who haven't found a home yet begin to scramble, just a little bit, to try and find a home. The closer you get to spring training, the deeper the discounts get. Of course, at a certain point, the crappiness of the merchandise overpowers the awesomeness of the discount, but hey, such is life. 

And so, as you venture out into the world and consider that set of Noritake china with only seven cups and the saucer with the big crack in it, take a look over to your left. Chances are, you might just see the Cardinals poring over some of the same slightly iffy merchandise.

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Ben Sheets, RHP: I know what you're thinking. "You said you were going to talk about bargains, and then you're going to toss out the name of a guy who's likely going to get eight figures a year! The hell, man?" I've said before I thought Sheets was a good deal, and he may be an even better one now than he was then. 

I already went over all the reason before why I thought that Sheets would be a good deal, so I'm not going to rehash the whole thing over again. In short, I think that, because he does have injury concerns, Sheets will be available on something like a two year deal. A deal that short can't really cripple you; it simply isn't long enough to do real damage. (That's what she said.) 

But now, Sheets may be an even bigger bargain. The Yankees no longer appear interested in his services after signing every other player in the world. The Red Sox just brought in Brad Penny on a one year deal to see if he'll be healthy enough to contribute; with Penny, their rotation is full as full can be. The Angels have a bunch of depth in the rotation, and I kind of doubt they'll be in heavy on Sheets. That's the three biggest spenders out of the market, with only the Mets still really representing the big money teams. In other words, the market for Sheets just isn't going to be full of a bunch of large market teams in a bidding war, driving the price up. Put all of that together, and Ben Sheets, possibly the second best pitcher on the free agent market this offseason, could end up being a big time bargain for some team. 


Kenshin_Kawakami.jpgKenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara, both RHP: Another pair of pitchers I've talked about before. Take most of the stuff about Sheets above (shorter deal, big money teams out of the market, etc.), and add in the fact that neither of these two pitchers will cost you a draft pick to sign. Of course, I also doubt that either will be quite the level of pitcher in 2009 that Sheets will, but both could still be very effective, I believe. 

It looks, in fact, as if the Cardinals are on the final list of teams that Kawakami (pictured) is considering signing with. Count me as a huge fan of this sort of deal. I like Kawakami's stuff a little better than Uehara overall, and the idea of a big name Japanese talent coming to the Cardinals is very exciting to me. 

Both of these pitchers are bargains, in my opinion at least, for the same reason: they only cost you money. And while yes, it will be a fair amount of money, talent is far more valuable, and much, much tougher to replace. 

trevor_hoffman.jpgTrevor Hoffman, RHP: Admit it. You forgot Trevor Hoffman was even on the market, didn't you? Don't feel bad. There doesn't seem to be virtually any real interest in offering the all-time saves leader a contract, by pretty much anyone. 

The lack of interest, to me at least, is kind of weird. Hoffman actually had a remarkably strong season in 2008, though his ERA didn't always reflect it. He put up excellent peripherals, though, indicating he should be able to put up a comparable performance going forward. Of course, Hoffman is also getting to that age when players do occasionally just fall off the map, so there may be serious concerns about his physical soundness. But Hoffman would certainly take only a one year deal, there would be no draft pick surrendered, as he was not offered arbitration, and a steadying, veteran influence at the back of the 'pen would both 
placate Tony and provide both insurance and a great example for the young guns to follow. 

Jeremy-Sowers.jpgJeremy Sowers, LHP: Now, this one is a little bit more complicated. Sowers isn't a free agent; he's a young pitcher in the Cleveland Indians' organization. In fact, Sowers is a little bit like the Cleveland version of our own Anthony Reyes: highly touted pitching prospect who came up to the big leagues, had immediate success, then struggled to find firm footing to build on. The Indians have seemed to sour on him as well (pun most definitely intended), and Sowers could very well see himself receiving his walking papers in spring training this coming season. 

So why would we want this guy? Because he's still only 25 years old. Because he has a low stress, easy delivery that I think would make him very durable. And mostly because of the same reason the Indians were willing to make the deal for Reyes: there's not a lot of downside. 

The Cardinals and the Indians match up very well in trade terms. The Indians' corner outfielders are just flat out awful, with players like Franklin Gutierrez and Shin-Soo Choo failing to develop as hoped. A guy like Skip Schumaker would be a rather significant upgrade. Now, Schumaker would be too much to give up for a player like Sowers, but if the Cards could swing a deal for Sowers plus a prospect, the math changes. 

Sowers is never going to be a top of the rotation, dominant pitcher. But with a better defense behind him, and a chance to start over and escape the problems with nibbling that have largely been his downfall in his brief major league career, I think he could very well end up a better than league average starter, which, as we've seen the past few years, certainly has quite a bit of value. 

adam_everett.jpgAdam Everett, SS: I want to get this out of the way up front: with Aaron Miles now donning the Cursed Cubbie Blue, I think Brian Barden should be first in line to serve as the Cardinals' utility infielder this year. He's a solid defender in the middle of the diamond, can play third quite effectively, and has a better bat than Brendan Ryan. 

Okay, now that I've said my piece there, let's talk about Adam Everett. Let's face it, Adam Everett is a terrible hitter. I mean really, really bad. But Adam Everett is also an exquisite fielder, one of the best I've ever seen. He may not be quite as flashy as an Omar Vizquel, but Everett has the kind of range and hands that turn hit after hit in to outs. We all saw how important the Cards' infield defense was to their pitching staff in 2008. While he certainly won't hit enough to be much of a plus with the bat, having Everett around as a defensive utility player wouldn't be the worst thing the Cardinals could do. 

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Rocco Baldelli, OF: Ha! Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you? 

Of course, there's really no reason why you would see that coming. I've specifically tried to limit my list to positions that the Cardinals actually have some need at, so why am I now trying to bring in another outfielder? 

Well, to be completely honest, mostly because Rocco Baldelli just happens to be one of my favorite players. When he came up with the then Devil Rays, Baldelli looked like the second coming of Joe Dimaggio. Then, of course, the injuries started piling up. Never anything serious, but always just a little pull of a quad here, or a sore hammy there. All of that culminated in Baldelli being diagnosed in 2007 with a rare mitochondrial disorder that prevents his body from properly producing energy. Suddenly, the muscle problems all made sense: his body was basically starving all the time. 

Baldelli was out almost all of 2007 and '08, as he and his doctors worked to get the disorder under control. He came back down the stretch for the Rays last season and played pretty well, but was protected a bit in his usage. Again, why am I listing this guy? 

Because, apart from him being a personal favorite, the talent that Rocco Baldelli possesses  is immense. He also happens to be only 27 years old. (Hard to believe, I know, because he's been around so long already.) 

Right now, the Cardinals have an absolute logjam in the outfield. There are, by my count, about seven or eight outfielders competing for five spots right now. However, that surplus also means that any deals the Cards make would likely involve one or more of their flycatchers. If that surplus leads to a couple of deals, then suddenly a fourth or fifth outfield spot just may be available. A guy like Baldelli would be low risk, and if he can prove to be healthy enough to carry a full load, the upside is certainly still there for him to be a star. 

Bottom line, if bringing in Baldelli would be at the expense of a guy like, say, a Joe Mather or Brian Barton, then no thanks. We'll be okay with what we've got. But if a couple of those type players suddenly find themselves heading to other organizations between now and spring training, then Baldelli might just be an intriguing option. He's got the glove to be a solid fourth outfielder, and his bat is only a question because it's been in storage for so long. I would certainly prefer seeing Baldelli patrolling the outfield a couple times a week to watching Chris Duncan windmill into the walls again. 

Plus, Rocco Baldelli is probably one of the four or five greatest baseball names ever. And you just can't put a price tag on that. 



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