Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Cardinals' season essentially ended when they lost four games of a five-game series over four days in Wrigley Field during the first week of September. St. Louis fans only can hope that management realizes that Tony LaRussa significantly hampers the team's chances to win with his inane lineups and rote bullpen management. Yet even with 16 free agents possibly on their way out the door, I expect the Cardinals to remain the Cubs' primary challenger in the NL Central in 2004.
In Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Edgar Renteria, St. Louis possesses four of the top fifteen, if not the top ten, position players in the league. Edmonds, Rolen, Renteria, and catcher Mike Matheny all won gold gloves. Tampa Bay appears willing to accept at least part of Tino Martinez's outlandish contract, clearing first base for Pujols, who could give St. Louis a fifth gold glove winner based on his play there in limited action.
An ideal 2004 lineup for St. Louis begins with Renteria leading off; his fantastic baserunning and on-base ability is more valuable at the top of the order than hitting 6th or 7th. J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero should platoon at #2, followed by Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen. Kerry Robinson and somebody like John Gall could share the #6 hole and left field, and Bo Hart could remain starting at second base, but upgrades at both positions would give this lineup incredible depth, more than compensating for Matheny's difficulties at the plate.
While signing Todd Walker and Jose Cruz, Jr. looks like the best solution, cheaper options seem necessary as the Cardinals need at least one new starting pitcher and desire to cut payroll. Also, unless Morris will sign an extension that averages less than his $12.5M salary in 2004, swapping him in a deal for Mark Buehrle might be a good move for the franchise's long-term competitiveness. Of course, as long as GM Walt Jocketty finds one respectable starting outfielder, or even a left-handed first baseman better than Martinez to keep Pujols on left, I don't see a huge problem leaving Hart at second for one more year, particularly if LaRussa will hit him 7th.
Losing 10 pitchers to free agency obviously hurts, however I don't see a major problem on the pitching staff other than a lack of left-handers. Matt Morris, Woody Williams, and Dan Haren return in the rotation. Finding two decent starters in this market seems rather simple, and re-signing someone like Sterling Hitchcock would be a good move. Any competent right-hander can fill the #5 hole.
Unfortunately, losing nearly every reliever other than Jason Isringhausen leaves the Cardinals with little overall pitching depth. Kiko Calero should return from injury to resume his set-up role, and Jason Simontacchi, Jim Journell, and Josh Pearce can handle long relief. With a couple dozen decent left-handers on the market, adding a couple for around $2-3 million total, perhaps Gabe White and Mark Guthrie, gives LaRussa the left depth he covets. As long as Jocketty finds one veteran right-hander, a relatively easy task any winter, I see no reason the Cardinals can't remain near the top of the division.
The one development that could severely crimp these plans is a reported ownership desire to cut payroll. Albert Pujols' eligibility for arbitration could force the trade of J.D. Drew unless he signs quickly as almost no one wants to see him in arbitration after making $3.7M last season. At least the pitching staff doesn't require an extra allocation of payroll as the salaries of Brett Tomko, Steve Kline, and other departing relievers can pay for the planned raises and a couple of free agents. Cutting most of Tino's salary, as well as that of Fernando Vina, could allow a short-term payroll reduction, and the Cardinals' don't need to add a bat as long as they keep Edmonds and Drew with the core of Pujols, Rolen, and Renteria. However the Cardinals stand in great shape to make the playoffs next year as Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston, and Florida all appear likely to lose a couple of elite players, leaving only the Cubs as St. Louis' primary competition for the NL Central and/or the Wild Card. Finding any way to improve the team, both on the pitching staff and in the lineup, places the Cardinals in a nearly perfect position to reclaim a playoff spot.
John Gall, 25, 1B-R
While I find the odds of Gall reaching double-digit value in 2004 quite low, depending on how much money the Cardinals plow into their pitching staff, he could end up starting at first base or left field. More likely, he'll need to demolish opposing pitching during spring training even to earn a bench spot, however he certainly owns the power and plate discipline to contribute off the bench. As long as he breaks camp in the majors, Gall at least won't hurt you for a couple of bucks, although I don't envision him as a long-time contributor for St. Louis.
Josh Axelson, 24, RH Reliever
Posting an 81:23 K:BB in 101 IP at any level merits mention, and now that Axelson appears settled in the bullpen, he could reach St. Louis some time next year. While he isn't a viable roto pick now, he should begin helping the Cardinals in the majors soon.
The combination of a rising homer rate and rapidly dropping strikeout rate at Memphis suggest Cummings requires at least another year of seasoning, although his solid control at least positions him for a call-up if needed. Make sure he compiles a few strong big league starts before considering him for your team.
Duff deserves a long look in the majors following his upper-level dominance over the past couple years. Hopefully he'll find an organization this winter that values his skills since the Cardinals never gave him a shot this season despite their severe need for bullpen help. While he doesn't own great control, his other skills all indicate a high likelihood for major league success if given the chance to contribute. I expect he'll merit a lot of fantasy attention once he finds that opportunity.
Seeing a career year from a 28-year-old right-hitter is never surprising, yet Jacobsen nearly matched his homer total from the previous two seasons combined. He continues to demonstrate the combination of patience and power that should earn him an extended AAA career and likely a big league job. Unfortunately, his decision to sign with Seattle yesterday probably pushes his major league debut back by a year, making him a poor fantasy gamble right now.
5-5 on an 81:38 K:BB in 79 IP over 10 GS(22G)
Moving Johnson to the bullpen should speed his path to the majors, yet Johnson posted a 15-3 record and 2.00 ERA as a starter in the Midwest League last year. This demotion seems an unnecessary preemptory move since he didn't pitch badly at Palm Beach. Of course, rather than spend another couple years developing, Johnson could join St. Louis next summer after his dominant performance at Tennessee. He can succeed despite control problems with the Cardinals, although he no longer merits fantasy consideration until he secures a regular big league job.
While I still see no reason he couldn't succeed as a starter, Journell converted to the bullpen this year and soon should emerge as a dominant reliever for the Cardinals. Despite his disastrous debut, he deserves an extended shot to earn a spot with St. Louis next spring, and after the team's success with Kiko Calero at the beginning of this year, I expect a more open-minded approach towards carrying rookie relievers. Don't draft Journell before the reserve round even if he breaks camp in the majors since we don't know how quickly his minor league stats will translate into big league success, but remain ready to roster him since he still ranks among the Cardinals' better pitching prospects and could gain value quickly.
An injury halted his AFL campaign after two games, so we don't know when Kinney will return to the Cardinals. However, his utter dominance of the Florida State and Southern Leagues makes him one of the best relief prospects in the minors. Assuming he appears healthy and effective, he should challenge for a big league bullpen spot in spring training before likely receiving a big league call-up. If he maintains these skills over a couple months at AAA Memphis, consider rostering Kinney as soon as he debuts since he soon could emerge as a potential heir for Jason Isringhausen.
Lambert nicely rebounded from injury troubles to dominate the lower levels of the system. Given his solid AAA performance in 2001, he merits at least at NRI given his immediate upside. If he wins a bullpen job next spring, he likely will merit fantasy consideration by the end of April, although I suspect teams will want to see him pitch well in AAA again before giving him a shot in the majors.
After nearly sneaking onto the Cardinals' roster at the end of camp, he spent two separate 10-day stints in the majors in April and May. Unfortunately, he only saw action in two games the first time and never appeared for St. Louis in May. Ohme at least displayed good control at Memphis, but his weak dominance gave the Cardinals little reason to promote him again. While he probably could contribute in the majors in a limited role, he lacks obvious fantasy upside.
While his command disintegrated upon reaching AAA, 30 impressive AA starts suggest he should reach the majors by the end of 2005. Parrott ranks as the Cardinals' starting prospect most prepared for the majors, and given the injury histories of Matt Morris and Woody Williams, he easily could spend a half-season in the majors. Strongly consider him in any spring NL minor league draft unless St. Louis acquires significant pitching depth over the winter. I don't view Parrott as a future star, however his statistical profile depicts a pitcher positioned to enjoy a long big league career.
A shoulder tear ended his 2002 season in May, so this performance qualifies as an impressive rebound from that injury. Pearce probably merits a shot to start with the Cardinals, and depending on their off-season moves, he finally could receive an extended look. Unfortunately, I suspect St. Louis instead will find a couple of decent veterans to round out the rotation, so while Pearce could approach double-digit value with a little luck, he seems destined to end up in the bullpen. Feel free to gamble a couple of bucks on his skills if he breaks camp with the Cardinals, but otherwise wait to draft him until the organization gives him an extended shot at securing a roster spot.
While his increasingly impressive effectiveness in the minors justifies an extended look in the big leagues, his weak dominance gives him little overall upside. Pearson should emerge as a decent lefty for a couple of seasons at some point, but since we don't know when that will happen, he isn't a roto option in the foreseeable future.
The likely off-season departures of every member of the Cardinals' bench could create an opening for Seabol, and a good spring campaign could earn him his second big league opportunity. Of course, I don't see much upside in his stats, however he shouldn't hurt you if needed as short-term roster filler.
Although Stemle doesn't dominate hitters, he owns excellent control and could contribute in the majors if given the opportunity. He should receive that chance sometime in 2004, although while I expect him to emerge as an intriguing fantasy option at some point, Stemle is not a viable pick in spring drafts barring an unlikely off-season commitment to him by Cardinals' management.
Little about these numbers impresses me, however Stocks demonstrated marginally decent stats while remaining reasonably effective in his second AA season. The 1999 first round pick still possesses more upside than many pitchers in the system, and he could contribute in the near future in a limited role. Of course, Stocks appears more likely to struggle at AAA for a couple years, but a 2004 debut wouldn't shock me.
Other than an unexpected power surge upon his promotion, Taguchi hasn't demonstrated any significant batting skill since the Cardinals signed him two years ago. I see little reason why he shouldn't depart the organization next fall without losing his rookie status, and unless he surprises in the spring to make the team while beginning to steal bases in the majors, he won't warrant any fantasy consideration.
Aside from players listed above, no other St. Louis prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
While every other farm system either features someone ready to contribute in the majors or a couple of intriguing upper-level prospects, only St. Louis lacks anyone even close to the majors with a reasonable chance of exceeding a roto value of $20. Gall not only qualifies as the best Cardinals' rookie, it describes the attitude of management that allowed the franchise that created the modern farm system to fall to this level of inefficiency. Yet GM Walt Jocketty continues converting effectively failed prospects into decent big leaguers via trade, and while he failed to make the necessary moves this season, his cadre of upper-level borderline pitchers gives him some maneuvering room. Unfortunately, while the Cardinals' prospect machinations offer us moderate intrigue, St. Louis lacks any youngsters worthy of much fantasy attention right now.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Pittsburgh Pirates(Bay, F.Sanchez, Van Benschoten, J.Davis)
1. John Gall, 1B
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