"With great reward comes great risk..."
I know it's Christmas Eve and everyone is supposed to be doing all those fun Christmas things, but after today's news, I can't stop thinking about baseball. Yes, while sitting in church and eating dinner with the grandparents, I spent the whole time thinking (and talking with my brother) about the Cardinals' rotation in 2007 and beyond - just don't tell the parents!
So we know that Jeff Suppan found a new home with the Brewers to the tune of 4 years / $42 Million (link), and thanks to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch (link), we now know the plan to fill out the rotation: resign Weaver and Mulder. I'll certainly miss Suppan - the guy wore the Birds on the Bat with pride, and who didn't love Soup's word of the day?
Now I know to a lot of people, this isn't very exciting. How does that make us better, you might say, or weren't they disasters last season? I think that if you're saying that, you're missing the big picture - steady and reliable are great, but as any businessman knows, the more reward you want, the more risk you have to take on. Steady doesn't win you the World Series, at least not in this playoff structure - remember it was the 83-win, 2006 team that won it all, not the 100-win 2005 team or even the 105-win 2004 team.
Let me first say that I know the risks. I know that Carpenter, Reyes, and Wells are injury concerns. I know that Mulder may never regain form, and I know that Wainwright could fizzle as a starter, but it's Christmas, and so today I'll be an optimist. Here's a look pitcher by pitcher:
Chris Carpenter - He's a legitimate #1, a true ace and about as reliable as they come. He'll pitch 200 innings, at least, in 2007 - you can mark that one down - and another Cy Young-caliber season is more likely than not. If you average his best two years (2005 & 2006), you get a 2.96 ERA. Even if you're in the camp that all those innings will take a toll, a little regression still leaves you with a dominant pitcher.
Anthony Reyes - After a rocky, inconsistent regular season, Reyes really came into his own in Game 1 of the World Series. In my mind, that 5.06 regular season ERA was a fluke. Bill James predicts Reyes will put up a 3.61 ERA. Thats very, very solid #3 if not borderline #2 material - not too bad for league minimum, don't you think?
Adam Wainwright - Wainwright was a stud during the 2006 regular season, but in my mind, the postseason made him a STAR. The guy went out there in the most heated, tense moments of the playoffs, and although it wasn't always pretty (except those Beltran and Inge strikeouts,) he got the job done. I've heard lots of doubts about him as a starter - that he doesn't have enough pitches or doesn't have the stamina. Whatever - Adam clearly has the competitive drive to hang with the best of 'em, and he flat out has BALLS. Bill James predicts a 4.01 ERA for him, not bad for a first year starter, and if nothing else, he will be certainly above average for a back of the rotation guy.
Kip Wells - Kip was just awful this year: 2 stints on the DL, only 2 wins, and an ERA over 6, but let's look at the positives. First of all, he WAS hurt this year and pitched for two AWFUL teams in Pittsburgh and Texas, so that was surely part of his pitiful performance. Plus, Wells has nasty stuff and Duncan absolutely loves the guy; he appears to be a classic Duncan rehab project. Let's also not forget that Kip has not once, but twice, put up an ERA under 3.6 (2002 and 2003.) If you put his best two years together and average them, you get a 3.44 ERA - and the guy's a veteran who's only making $4 million next year. Do I think he'll be that good? Probably not, but the guy's got nasty stuff and Duncan on his side, and keep in mind that his 1-year deal makes pitching well as important to him as it is to the organization.
Jeff Weaver - When Weaver first came over, he was an absolute mess - after a few innings the guy looked like he'd just plain given up. After several months of working with Dunc, we saw flashes of brilliance, and by the end of September, he put it all together and emerged a confident, dominant starter. Jeff has always been known to have great stuff, but also to be a head case and terribly inconsistent. Still, the guy will give you innings, and we know he can shine. In 2002, Weaver put up a 3.52 ERA, and if you factor the DH rule, the number seems all the more impressive. Maybe I'm over-optimistic, but it seems to me that DreamWeaver has emerged a new man, and with another year of Duncan by his side, a sub 4 ERA seems more of a certainty than a question, and a mid 3 ERA is definetly a possibility.
Mark Mulder - Cardinals fans everywhere are still fuming over the Mulder trade, and in hindsight, rightfully so. Still, I think the best way to do the trade justice is bring Mulder back. Despite all the criticism, Mulder's 2005 season was solid - a 3.64 ERA and 16 wins are nothing to sneeze at, especially when he's the SECOND best starter you have. Mulder was awful in 2006 but you have to give him his due - it takes a lot of gall to pitch hurt like that, especially in the contract year. Let's not forget that Mark has posted a sub-4 ERA four times in his seven years in the big leagues. The average of his top two years is even more impressive: a 3.29 ERA, which isn't even accounting for the DH in the AL. Is this realistic for Mulder in 2007? Probably not. Coming of such a serious shoulder injury, he'll probably have some struggles with control, but should be a solid contributer upon his return.
Stop for a minute and just consider the ridiculous upside of this rotation, both in terms of '07 and '08. All six of these guys could legitimately post a sub-4 ERA, and four of them (Carp, Reyes, Waino, and Weaver) probably will. And let's say hypothetically that Mulder comes back strong before the deadline - you can move Wells or Wainwright to the bullpen, or trade a starter (probably Reyes or Wells) for that final piece at the deadline. After the season, Wells will be gone, and the Cardinals will probably sign Westbrook or Buerhle (or maybe both,) which would leave Reyes, or possibly Mulder, as a valuable trade commodity - think that big bat that we're missing would be so hard to get after all?
Merry Christmas! Enjoy it - it's not very often that Santa brings something as awesome as a World Championship!