BALLWIN -- Earlier this week a simple tweet on Twitter got Cardinals Nation abuzz not just with the possibility of landing a surefire elite starting pitcher, but with the prospect the Cardinals were rumored to be dangling in the deal. It was not the first time the Twitter culture would fail us this week.
Last night, an attempt to explore ways around the rule-book restraints that keep the St. Louis Cardinals from trading a prospect like first-round pick Shelby Miller faltered because of the 140-character limit on those darn tweets. So many armchair Walt Jockettys were eager to offer up suggestions that were tangental to the point: How would the Cardinals trade Shelby Miller?
Color me guilty, too. We all missed the real question.
Why would the Cardinals trade Shelby Miller?
'Tis the season for what colleague Bernie Miklasz recently described as "overheated trade rumors." So true. The pool of available starting pitchers figures to be rather deep this season, what with Cliff Lee at the top and plenty of others who could possibly move, from Jake Westbrook to Ben Sheets to even Roy Oswalt. The only thing deeper will be the speculation about where they'll end up. It already started with the Cardinals being linked to Lee and the mention that Miller could be a "chip" for the Cardinals to move.
We'll explore the tricky rules that make it difficult to move a draft pick like Miller later (See: No. 6), but for now, as we start the 10@10, let's just look at the reality of trading the top prospect.
1. The Cardinals have done it before. A year ago, the Cardinals packaged top pick/top prospect Brett Wallace with two other players and shipped them to Oakland for Matt Holliday. The Athletics wanted two first-round picks (or thereabouts) in exchange for Holliday because if they let him walk to free agency they would get two picks in compensation for his Type-A status. Lee would be the same, so consider the price tag set, at the minimum. The Cardinals could make the deal for Wallace because, among several reasons, the way that their depth chart setup at Wallace's position(s):
3B: Brett Wallace -- David Freese* -- Allen Craig (though he's an OF) -- Matt Carpenter (just drafted) -- way down, Roberto de la Cruz (high-bonus int'l signing)
* It's Freese that really made that deal possible because not only was Freese ahead of Wallace in the system, he was going to get first crack at the position unless the team re-signed, say, Mark DeRosa. And even then ...
1B: Albert Pujols. 'Nuff said.
The Cardinals weren't sure there was a place in the majors -- at least not an immediate place -- for Wallace, so he became a commodity they could move, especially for a player they planned to sign longterm. (And, eventually did.) Now, consider the depth chart at Miller's position. Let that marinate for a moment.
Miller is considered a top-flight pitching prospect with the potential to be a No. 1 or No. 2 in the majors. He's still a teenager so that ceiling is a few years away, but it's a high ceiling. So, we're not just talking "depth" at starting pitcher here, we're talking "depth" at high-caliber starting pitcher. It looks like this:
Sure, there are a few others who have the look and performance of future starting pitchers in the majors (Lance Lynn chief among them), but Miller is a rarity in the Cardinals' system. He's that high-end starter, that Josh Beckett-type.
2. Trading a commodity like that for a rental borders on a foolish gambit. Just take a look at the stark financial reality of the move. If the Cardinals -- or any team for that matter -- were to land Lee in the near future they would pay the prorated remainder of his $8 million salary. If he joins a team in time to make 15 starts that would be about $3.3 million remaining on his contract. To put that in context with Miller let's look at the cost of developing and then deploying the last high-ceiling starter the Cardinals cultivated from the minors to a major-league presence: Adam Wainwright.
Wainwright became a regular in the majors in 2006 as a reliever, and everyone remembers where that ended. Baseball's current CBA allows a team to retain control of a player for the first six years of his service time in the majors. There are triggers in place -- notably arbitration after the players third, fourth and fifth seasons -- that can lead to a raise in salary. But, relatively speaking, the player is price-fixed for the six years before he can hit the open market. Here are Wainwright's salaries for his first six seasons:
2009: $2.6 million
2010: $4.65 million
2011: $6.5 million
Wainwright has a $21-million, two-year option at the end of his current contract that would keep him with the Cardinals through 2013. But for the first six full seasons of his time with the Cardinals, the club will have invested about $15 million in him. With 1 1/2 seasons remaining, their return is a 57-29 record, a 3.01 ERA and 761 1/3 innings pitched in 164 games (103 starts). Oh, and a World Series title, a Cy Young finalist and a MLB record for consecutive home quality starts. But why split hairs. All of that for $15 million, roughly $3 million less than Barry Zito will make this season.
Say Miller follows that same salary structure -- right down to the penny. Include his $2.875-million bonus and the Cardinals will have invested roughly $18 million to $20 million in his first six years in the majors. If he averages 20 starts over those six years, that's about $150,000 a start for a regular in the rotation. Lee, at the prorated remainder of his contract, would get about $220,000 per start before vamoosing for the next big deal. Chris Carpenter's contract is up after 2012, so is Kyle Lohse's. Come 2013, Wainwright will be in the final year of his current deal and making $12 million, Jaime Garcia will be arbitration-eligible, and the Cardinals will be in need of a young gunslinger to help round out the rotation. So, the question again: Why?
3. The imminent arrival of the trade deadline always stokes conversation about the major-league team, but it also offers an excellent referendum on the state of a club's minor-league system. If a team has talent, then it will be clear -- because other clubs will want it. Drawing only from the Class AAA roster, that brings us to today's poll, which can be found in the upper left corner.
4. The Cardinals' stole five bases Wednesday afternoon against the Arizona Diamondbacks, setting a record for Busch III and reacing a total they had not seen at home in more than a decade. The last time the Cardinals stole five bases in a home game was Sept. 27, 1997, against the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals actually stole six bases that day: Delino DeShields had one, Willie McGee two, Luis Ordaz 2 and Mark McGwire one. That was one of three bases that McGwire stole that season.
5. Albert Pujols is on the cover of American Way magazine as a prelude to the coming All-Star Game in Anaheim. The article about Pujols and his place in history as well as the game's present is written by some local bloke. (Follow this link for the story.) A quote from Pujols that appears in the article:
"Now a player hits 30, 40 homers and he must be on something. ... What about (Babe) Ruth? What about Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio? There were great players back then, and I'm pretty sure they were clean. Why now in this era can't there be somebody like a (Ryan) Howard or a (Ryan) Braun or myself - guys who have that talent? I can't hit 47 home runs or 50 home runs because people will point fingers? To me, that's not fair."
6. The Pete Incaviglia Rule is in place to prohibit a team from trading a player until he has been under contract for at least one calendar year. This applies to the Miller Scenario above because unlike Wallace the year before, Miller's first year won't be up until after the trade deadline. That makes it tricky to trade -- and why again would you? -- but it does not make it impossible. As we discussed on Twitter last night, the Player To Be Named Later loophole offers a way to move a player before his year anniversary. I checked with a team officia (and rule guru) to be sure, and he made a salient point: If a top draft pick is the PTBNL, which is completely Kosher, then why would the receiving team want that player to continue pitching/playing for another team. What about an injury? How would you recoup that deal? As Jacob Larsen pointed out on Twitter last night, Jeremy Bonderman was once a PTBNL in a deal because he could not be moved until his year was up. He was a second-round pick with Oakland and the A's moved him 1 1/2 months after the original deal to stay true to the Inky Rule.
Usually a PTBNL is selected from a list of available players. When the Cardinals made the deal for Khalil Greene, a PTBNL was included, and it was clear why: The San Diego Padres wanted a chance to scout at least one of the players on the list. That player? Luke Gregerson. The righty was having an excellent winter-league season and the PTBNL addition bought the Padres time to decide whether that was enough to take him. They did. Now luke at him. But if Gregerson got injured or faltered the Padres had other options. How would that be possible if the PTBNL is the actual target -- the blue chip -- of the entire deal? At best, the deal would violate the spirit of the Inky Rule. At worst, it would be a SNAFU.
7. The Farmnik Report, complete with the updates from the Texas League All-Star Game, is posted. Follow this link. One quick related note: Cory Rauschenberger (nee Meacham) is returning to the organization after a 2+ year absence. The righthander will be activated today for High-A Palm Beach. He has been throwing on the side and the club is interested in seeing what he can do in live games.
8. Hit the Links: Buster Olney has a fascinating "peer review" about baseball general managers posted for Insiders at ESPN.com. The article uses comments from other GM -- anonymous, of course -- rate the easiest GMs to deal with, the hardest to make a deal with and the "card players" in the bunch. The aforementioned Walt Jocketty is in the "card player" group because, Olney quotes a peer, "he never commits to anything." ... As the fill-in for no-no pitcher Edwin Jackson, Barry Enright gave Arizona what it needed to avoid a sweep in St. Louis, writes Nick Piecoro in this morning's Arizona Republic. Now that he's done that, Enright may find himself as the stand-in for Dontrelle Willis, who was moved to the bullpen officially Wednesday. (The lineup card in the Cardinals' clubhouse even had him listed as "available" from the bullpen.) ... The Milwaukee Brewers are on an upswing, having won seven of 10 before stumbling at home against Houston on Wednesday. Anthony Witrado has the details about the loss in this morning's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. ... I'm sure you saw it. I hope you saw it. But just in case you didn't: Here is Bernie's brilliant send-up of the situation in Cardinals Land after yesterday's arduous loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks and that darn Bucky Enright.
9. The Cardinals are tied for the major-league lead with nine stolen bases in the previous seven days. Yes, they lead the league in ... steals (over a small period of time, yadda, yadda, yadda). Brendan Ryan has three steals in that stretch and of course there were the five steals Wednesday mentioned above. But don't go calling them the go-go Cardinals just yet. Give them a few days. Really, they are the opportunity-running Cardinals. Consider the main catchers who the Cardinals have run on in the past week:
Jason Kendall, KC -- 64 of 86 have successfully swiped a base against the Royals' catcher.
Chris Snyder, AZ -- 45 of 57 have successfully stolen a base against the D-Backs' receiver.
And there doesn't seem to be any reason to stop running, even with Milwaukee and its catchers coming to town.
Jonathan Lucroy, MIL -- 14 of 21 have stolen successfully against one of the Brewers' catchers.
George Kottaras, MIL -- 28 of 32 have stolen successfully against the young catcher, who has also struggled offensively this season.
Greg Zaun, MIL -- 19 of 25 have stolen off veteran.
10. Quick closing question: With the opening late last night of the NBA Free Agency sweepstakes -- otherwise known as LaBronapalooza -- I'm wondering what the baseball equivalent would be? Clearly James=Pujols, but Wade, Bosh, Johnson and even vets like Allen and Pierce have to have their baseball equivalents, right? So what would be the free agent class that could compare -- complete with, what, five "max" players?