Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Cardinals are in a rather unique position among 2002 playoff qualifiers in that every one of their position players are under St. Louis control through 2003 yet only Matt Morris and Jason Simontacchi definitely will return in their rotation. All bench players aside from Mike DeFelice, including Eli Marrero, Miguel Cairo, Kerry Robinson, and Eduardo Perez, should easily return, but only Jason Isringhausen, Steve Kline, and Mike Crudale will be back in the bullpen. With all these pitching holes, a long list of raises, and a nearly empty farm system, the Cardinals need to find a way to restock their staff without depleting their very impressive offense.
Fernando Vina and J.D. Drew both seem like decent trade bait as either could bring back a replacement at his position and a solid starter, however I believe St. Louis instead will look to re-sign Andy Benes and perhaps Jamey Wright as relatively cheap rotation filler. Jimmy Journell could fill the 5th starter's role if healthy, and they can choose a few candidates for Spring Training invitations to fill out the AAA staff. Matt Duff, Luther Hackman, Gabe Molina, and Gene Stechschulte could complete the bullpen, although the Cardinals seem more likely to sign at least one veteran right-hander, likely either St. Louis free agent Rick White or Dave Veres, to pair with Crudale and Kline in the setup roles.
While trading Vina or Drew might make sense to insure the club remains competitive despite their mostly empty farm system, GM Walt Jocketty has shown an amazing ability to assemble two-to-three middling prospects or players to acquire a solid starting player. He specifically used this tactic to acquire Vina, Edgar Renteria, and Jim Edmonds, although even the Scott Rolen deal involved a similar allocation of resources. Since the Cardinals maintains a pipeline of interesting if older youngsters who could mature into major leaguers, a list currently headed by AA 24-year-olds John Gall and Dee Haynes, don't be surprised to see them packaged to grab a young starter from a team desperate to cut payroll. A likely non-tendered pitcher like Jeff Suppan also could fill a rotation spot.
I expect St. Louis will stay in one of the top spots in the NL Central, especially since neither Houston nor Cincinnati appears likely to make any major acquisitions, and the Cubs lack the offensive talent to compete in an unimpressive open division. Adding a respectable #2 and #3 starter should keep Tony LaRussa's veteran-laden squad at the head of the division for another year.
No Cardinals' prospect appears even moderately likely to earn double-digit fantasy value in 2003.
Mike Coolbaugh, 30, 3B-R
Coolbaugh appears just short of the service time necessary to lose his rookie qualification, but his solid AAA power numbers over the last five years make him a decent candidate to emerge as a St. Louis reserve. While he walks enough to stay valuable, his weak plate discipline and abundant strikeouts might not endear him to LaRussa. Consider Coolbaugh only if you're desperate for a small power boost.
Ivan Cruz, 34, 1B-L
Cruz compiled the best stats of his career following a one-year hiatus from the minors in Japan. His rebound is much more surprising considering he posted rather terrible numbers overseas, however his adjusted numbers compare very favorably with incumbent starter Tino Martinez. While I don't expect Cruz even to beat out Eduardo Perez for a bench job, his value could jump very quickly upon finding a regular role in the majors.
John Gall, 24, 1B-R
He committed sixteen errors while spending all but 26 of his 121 games at first base, so I don't expect Gall to see much time as a utilityman. His future value appears entirely dependent upon his ability to remain a productive offensive player at higher levels, and though he certainly possesses good power, his plate discipline is quite unimpressive. Of course Gall also clubbed 45 doubles, suggesting he'll maintain a respectable OPS at AAA next year. Unfortunately, even though he could replace Tino Martinez in two years, St. Louis seems more likely to move Albert Pujols to first while finding a new left fielder, so hold off on Gall in all but deep, mixed leagues.
Dee Haynes, 24, OF-R
Usually I don't get too excited about an older AA player with a .37 BB:K and .05 walk rate, and even his .87 contact rate doesn't compensate for his weak plate discipline. However these are all improvements over his 2001 ratios at A+ Potomac of a .17 BB:K, .03 walk rate, and .80 contact rate. Haynes also jumped from a .290/.329/.456 to a .312/.355/.510 despite moving to AA, so if he remains with the Cardinals, he could emerge as an outfield starter in 2004. He's a decent target in some Ultra drafts, making him the one St. Louis offensive prospect that I'd be comfortable drafting in most of our leagues.
So Taguchi, 33, OF-R
The Cardinals' signing of Taguchi to a 3-year, $3M deal ranks with the dumbest moves of last off-season, and now he's holding an AFL spot usually reserved for prospects. Kerry Robinson's difficulties in 2002 also make Taguchi a strong candidate for a St. Louis bench spot in 2003, but he demonstrated very few skills even during his minor league time. Don't even consider rostering Taguchi unless he displays some relevant roto upside in April.
Matt Duff, 28, RH Reliever
Duff suffered from control problems during a few years in the Pittsburgh system, however he developed into a solid pitcher in the Northern League last year. St. Louis grabbed him for 2002 and watched him shoot from A-ball to the majors on the strength of an excellent 3.9 K:BB and 12.3 K/9. He'll likely spend another month or two at AAA, but assuming he maintains his skills, he should offer definite qualitative help upon his promotion.
Kevin Joseph, 26, RH Reliever
St. Louis acquired Joseph last year from San Francisco in the Jason Christiansen deal, however despite a fastball that reaches into the high-90s, Joseph possesses neither a good strikeout rate nor acceptable command. I see no indication of any ability to pitch in the majors. He's only risen up the minor league ladder due to favorable reports on his fastball, leaving no reason for any fantasy owner to acquire him.
Jimmy Journell, 24, RH Starter
Journell appeared to need at least a full season in the minors after an excellent 2001 season at A+ Potomac, and missing the entire middle of this season with shoulder stiffness certainly worries me. However he dominated in 10 AA starts and remained mostly effective in AAA, so I envision him in the majors by June if he's able to overcome his injury problems from this year. While a somewhat risky selection, Journell's minor league stats and the overall strength of the Cardinals' lineup make him an excellent long-term pick who also easily could help your team in 2003.
He's compiled relatively solid ratios at every minor league level prior to this season, when he only managed 33 innings before a right shoulder tear forced him out for the season. I like Pearce as a sleeper for next year if he proves he's healthy since his pre-2002 stats will place him in competition for a major league rotation spot. Consider Pearce for a low round pick if he's throwing without any problems in Spring Training, although recognize that he doesn't post good strikeout rates and isn't likely to emerge as a significant roto asset.
Les Walrond, 25, LH Swingman
Walrond absolutely dominated in four AA starts, compiling a 31:10 K:BB in 22.1 innings, so St. Louis promoted him to AAA after only a total of a little over a 20 innings at New Haven. He suffered through some control problems, posting a 4.6 BB/9, and the Cardinals used him in relief for 10 games. Fortunately his overall skills remain relatively strong, and I suspect he'll emerge in a long relief or spot starter role no later than mid-2003. I don't believe his upside is particularly strong, but he could help as a FAAB pickup once he demonstrates acceptable skills in the majors.
Dan Haren, 22, RH Starter
Jumping from a year of college and 52 professional innings to almost 200 A-ball innings is often a combination that leads to severe injury, however Haren's extremely impressive season leaves him a high-risk, high-reward prospect. St. Louis selected him out of Pepperdine in the second round last year due largely to the projectable power of his 6'5" frame, although I doubt almost anyone expected he'd move this quickly. Haren looks set to open 2003 at AA New Haven, and I expect he'll receive another mid-season promotion, along with a September cup-of-coffee. Some time in 2004 he should emerge as the Cardinals new #3 starter, and his ceiling may reach higher if he continues developing.
Tyler Johnson, 21, LH Starter
While he missed time with tendinitis in his elbow, Johnson still compiled one of the few impressive seasons of any pitcher in the system, and he should easily rank among the top Cardinal prospects next spring. A 34th round draft-and-follow from 2000, Johnson compiled a 58:21 K:BB in 40.2 innings in the Appalachian League in 2001 before suffering more control problems in three starts at Peoria. Now he'll receive significant attention for his fantastic record and excellent skills, but further arm problems obviously would reduce his potential. He's a respectable late round pick in very deep leagues, although I'd prefer to wait another year to see if he'll stay healthy while hopefully dominating in A+.
Rick Asadoorian, 22, A Peoria(Mid) OF-R
Tyler Adamczyk, 19, R+ Johnson City(App) RH Starter
Final Ranking of the total Fantasy Value of 2003 Rookies by Team
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
Also, make sure to go out and vote today. Hopefully you can choose from a better slate of candidates than the lineup we face in Cook County.
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