1) Chris Carpenter
2) Anthony Reyes
3) Kip Wells
4-5) Pick two of the following:
-(gulp) Braden Looper
... Introducing the 2007 Cardinals starting rotation (as of today). Anyone nervous yet?
I don't think it's time to panic quite yet, but by now one thing is a near certainty: the 2007 rotation will be more of a question than an answer. That's not necessarily a bad thing (remember that the 2006 rotation was billed as an answer), but it is cause for concern. Now that the Cards' are reportedly out of the Miguel Batista sweepstakes (and rightfully so at his going rate), let's quickly look at the remaining options on the FA/trade markets, keeping in mind that the Cards have no assurances behind Carpenter in the current rotation, along with my predictions:
1) Jeff Suppan: The Cardinals would love to have Suppan back. From the beginning of the offseason, he was the closest to a sure thing of any of the "Tier 2" pitchers on the market. Over the past 3 seasons, Suppan has averaged 15 W's, a 3.95 ERA, and 191 IP. With Suppan, you know what you're getting: a durable, control pitcher that shows up consistently in the 2nd half and postseason and provides a positive clubhouse presence. However, on the flip side, Suppan also has/had one of the lowest ceilings of the "Tier 2" pitchers; he lacks overpowering stuff and is highly dependent on his defense (his peripherals are less than stellar). At Miguel Batista money (3 years, $24-27 M), I think this deal would already be done. However, in this market, with contenders such as the Astros, Blue Jays, and Giants still looking for a rotation stalwart and former teams (KC, Pittsburgh) bidding for his return, it's unlikely that Suppan will be had for less than Ted Lilly money (4 years/$40 M). Jocketty may still blink, but I just don't see a return engagement at those prices (and other than in perhaps SF, I don't expect Suppan will be the same pitcher).
-Prediction: Astros (4 years, $42 M)
2) Jeff Weaver: I have to admit, I am somewhat surprised by the Cardinals' relative lack of interest in Dream Weaver (or at least of that perception). He seems to be the exact type of pitcher the Cards would jump at re-signing. Save for two horrific years (2003 w/ the Yankees and 2006), Weaver has consistently been a durable, middle-of-the-rotation guy who displays occasional flashes of #2 potential (see the 2006 postseason) ... and he will only be 31 late next season. Even with the off-years included, Weaver has averaged 11 W's, a 4.58 ERA, and 195 IP over the past 5 seasons. Remove 2003 and 2006 from the equation and the line becomes an impressive 13 W's, 3.93 ERA, and 214 IP. Then consider, despite his postseason brilliance, Weaver seems somewhat undervalued in this hyper-inflated market (or perhaps it's because his agent is focusing on bigger clients). Weaver is certainly not the answer that Suppan is, but he also has a much higher ceiling. Towards the end of the regular season and into the postseason, Weaver looked more and more like the #2 starter he is genuinely capable of being. By challenging hitters on both sides of the plate instead of nibbling (which he did not do when he first arrived in STL) with both fastballs and breaking balls from a variety of arm slots, Weaver was downright exciting to watch. Weaver-STL Part II just makes too much sense for both sides. Weaver is a high-celing veteran who is willing to listen, perfect for Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa.
-Prediction: Cardinals (3 years, $29 M)
3) Mark Mulder: I've covered this topic with some thoroughness. I think the Cards would like to have Mulder back, but only with a club option for '08. Maybe this stance will change if Jocketty & Co. lose out on both Weaver and Suppan. The safe bet is that Mulder goes west (AZ, SF), but in the end I think he ends up joining his buddy Zito (you better believe Minaya will overstock on pitching this time around).
-Prediction: Mets (1 year, $6 M)
4) The Rest of the Heap (Mark Redman, Tony Armas Jr., etc.): Who really knows where these types will end up? Revisiting my domino theory argument from before, it will be highly dependent on how needs are filled by teams such as
1) Brad Penny: Following the Schmidt signing, Penny has seemingly become a much hotter commodity. The Dodgers can either retain Penny and bank on a potentially dynamite rotation or trade Penny for an impact bat. The problem for the Cards is: what impact bat do they have to trade? Barring a Walt Jocketty special ...
-Prediction: Remains in LA
2) Pick Your White Sox Starter (Garland/Buerhle): First of all, I'm not totally convinced the Garland to the Astros talks are dead ... I think Houston wants a young #2 to plug behing Oswalt rather badly (see Jennings). Secondly, I don't think the Cards even have the necessary trading chips to fit with the White Sox unless they trade Reyes (Reyes, Encarnacion, multiple prospects ... maybe ?), which is both unlikely and (in my opinion) unwise. As for Buerhle, I've also covered him rather in depth. If he does hit the market (which the White Sox really can't afford to do if they do trade both
-Prediction(s): Both remain in Chicago
3) Jason Jennings: Although his statistics don't really support it, I think Jennings could become a borderline #2 starter in STL; I've been impressed with his stuff every time I've seen him pitch. However, the only way the Cards get a shot at him is if the Astros do indeed get
-Prediction: Astros (with extension)
4) Jon Lieber: I've never been a huge fan of Jon Lieber, because his performance seems so uneven from start to start, but in this market he could be a find (as he's definitely on the trading block). Over the past 5 seasons, he has put up a very respectable average line of 13 W's, 4.18 ERA, and 187 IP. The Phillies are said to be looking for a right-handed outfielder ... maybe Encarnacion would do the trick. However, given the cost of FA pitching I think Gillick will end up doing better.
5) Carl Pavano: For the first time in years, the Yankees are now dealing from a position of a pitching surplus. With Wang, Pettite, Mussina, Johnson, and Igawa slotted for the rotation and Hughes and Sanchez waiting in the wings (and don't discount the possibility of a mid-season Clemens addition), Pavano may be the odd one out. However, on the other hand, given the age of the rotation, Cashman could hang onto Pavano as an insurance policy. In the end, though, my gut feeling is that Pavano will likely be dealt. Despite how dismal his Yankee career has been thus far (the highlight was probably the picture above), he actually has some value as a trading chip given the combination of his potential/past healthy pedigree and the relative dearth of affordable, high-ceiling FA pitching. From the Yankees perspective, even if they are forced to eat a substantial portion of Pavano's contract, they are saving 1.5 times the amount paid by the receiving club, due to the luxury tax. Even for the Yankees, $15 M (b/c of the luxury tax) is a lot to pay for a safety net. From the Cards' perspective, injuries aside, Pavano was a guy they heavily pursued following the '04 season. The important clause is "when healthy" (reports are that he is), but when healthy in '03-04, Pavano was a #2 pitcher with #2 stuff and a Duncan-like G/F ratio; those two years, he posted an average line of 15 W's, a 3.62 ERA, and 211 IP. The Cards should do their due diligence on his medical status, but if healthy, Pavano could be a #2 workhorse (he just doesn't strike out as many batters as you might think, similar to Verlander). The Yankees won't just give him away, but for a Brad Thompson type, the Cards could very well get Pavano for $5-7 M/season. I think Jocketty takes the gamble, knowing that Wainwright and Narveson are waiting and ready.
-Prediction: Cardinals (with money included)
6) Mike Maroth: I've already discussed Maroth at length. He'd likely be the equivalent of Mark Redman, except via trade. Given the Tigers desperate need for a left-handed reliever, I could see a trade of
-Prediction: Traded elsewhere (not STL)
Thus, your 2007 rotation then becomes (and well within budget):
1) Chris Carpenter
2) Jeff Weaver
3) Carl Pavano
4) Anthony Reyes
5) Kip Wells
5a) Adam Wainwright/Chris Narveson
(and Blooper stays in the bullpen) ... breath easier. Keep your fingers crossed.