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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dear Cardinals GM: Don't Waste Money on Brian Fuentes

Posted By on Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 10:55 AM

Okay. I've screamed. I've begged. I've pleaded. Nothing seems to work. No matter how much I rail against the idea, the Cardinals and their general manager, Mr. John Mozeliak, seem hell-bent on signing Brian Fuentes. I just don't know what else to do. 

But you know what? I love the Cardinals too damn much to just give up. So I'll make one last effort to talk Mo and the team out of this course they seem so set on.


Okay, Mo. Here's the situation. I see that the Cards have something in the range of $15 million dollars or so to spend still. You know what? That's not too very shabby. You can get some pretty good stuff out there for that money. 

The problem, as I see it, is that you're set on giving a big chunk of that, somewhere in the range of $10-11 million, to Brian Fuentes. Now, I know what's going on here. All your friends, especially that Tony boy, are telling you how great Brian Fuentes is, and how important it is to get a closer, and just how bad the team is going to suck next year if they have to let Chris Perez actually do the job he was drafted to do.

Well, Mo, I have to say, Tony La Russa isn't your friend. Anyone who would try and bully you into signing a free agent to a contract you're not comfortable with isn't your friend. See, I know Tony can be real scary sometimes, but deep down, he's just as afraid of you as you are of him. 

Dave Duncan isn't your friend either, Mo. When Dave Duncan talks about how he would love to have Fuentes and how important it is that Fuentes is left handed, just don't listen to him. Okay? See, it doesn't matter which hand a closer throws with. He's a closer. He's not going to be used situationally, particularly not in a Tony La Russa bullpen. Did Tony pull Izzy whenever a lefthanded hitter came up to bat? No, that's right. He didn't. So why would he use this guy, who if you pay $10 million a year is definitely closing for the ballclub, any differently? As my friend Chuck said over at VEB today, "It matters that Trever Miller is lefthanded. It doesn't matter if your ninth inning guy is lefthanded." 

So this is the deal. You could go out and give that money to a guy like Ben Sheets, who is being offered a two-year deal by the New York Yankees. Sheets would step into the Cardinals rotation and make an immediate, positive impact. The upgrade from Mitch Boggs or Joel Pineiro to Ben Sheets is nothing short of massive.

Last season, Joel gave up 85 earned runs in 148 innings. Ben Sheets, on the other hand, gave up 68 earned runs in 198 innings. That's right; 50 more innings pitched, and he gave up seventeen less runs. If El Pinata had thrown the same number of innings as Sheets, he would have given up roughly 113 runs. That's 48 runs. Ten runs is about equivalent to one win in the standings, so Sheets over Pineiro would worth literally four wins, maybe even five. 

On the other hand, how much better is Brian Fuentes going to be than Chris Perez? I would be willing to bet my firstborn child that it isn't going to be four wins better. It would astound me, quite honestly, if he were even two wins better. Now, of course, I realize that bringing in Fuentes would bump somebody out of the bullpen, most likely your worst reliever. In that case, though, you're just replacing those mop-up innings with mop-up innings of somebody else.

Fuentes is a marginal gain at best. 

I have to say, Mo, I'm not sure that this thing is being handled the way it should be. I've heard just as many quotes from La Russa the last couple days as I have from you. I know he's a Hall of Fame manager and all, but aren't you the GM? Should I really be hearing Tony tell us all who the biggest focus for you is? Shouldn't he manage the players on the field, rather than trying to force the organization to give him what he wants at all costs? 

Brian Fuentes is a marginal upgrade on a team that needs significant upgrades. I know it's easy to just look at the bullpen and think that if last year's team had a good one it would have been in the playoffs. I understand. Maybe that's even true. But I also happen to know that there were several players on last year's squad that way, way out-performed anything anyone could have predicted. I think Ryan Ludwick will continue to be a very good player. I do not, however, think he's going to be a perennial MVP candidate. I think Kyle Lohse is going to regress some. Not terribly, mind you, but I do think he's going to take a step back. Todd Wellemeyer could very well fall off, too. After all, it isn't as if he's had a long career history of success in the majors. His success, quite honestly, is a pretty recent thing. Is it too far-fetched to think he might have a setback? I don't think so. 

All in all I think the team could very well lose about five wins off last year's total just by regression to the mean from some of the players who had huge years in 2008. Now, I do think Khalil Greene is probably good for two wins over Cesar Izturis, so there is that. You won 86 last year. Take away the five, add the two, and you've got 83 wins. I don't think 83 wins is good enough for the playoffs. 

See, adding Brian Fuentes at this point isn't exactly like putting spinners on a Pinto, but it is in the same vein. It's more like having a nice, late-model Mitsubishi Eclipse. Nice car, right? Right. But you want to race it. You want to compete in those late night races you see in The Fast and The Furious. So what do you do? Do you A) add a supercharger, knowing it's going to up your horsepower, or B) add those spinners we talked about, and then maybe buy some new sparkplugs or something? Yes, those spinners are going to look good, and the sparkplugs may help your engine a little bit, but you've got a chance to really upgrade the engine. For the same price, if you really want to win, shouldn't you go for the option that gives you the most bang for your buck? 

I know it's tough, Mo. You've got hundreds of different people all clamoring for a hundred different options, all trying to improve the team. But I think this is a pretty simple choice. Giving up a first-round draft pick for the right to pay Brian Fuentes $10 million a year to marginally upgrade your team over the guys you've already got in the bullpen just isn't a good use of resources.

You want to spend that money? Great! I'm tired of hearing people bitch that the Cardinals don't spend enough anyway. So spend it on something that's going to legitimately upgrade the team, rather than some fancy spinners on a car that isn't quite good enough to run with the big boys anyway. Make the real upgrade, and turn the team into one of the big boys. 

There. Now I've tried screaming, begging, pleading, and reasoning. If that doesn't work, I'm tapped. Maybe bribery next? Anybody have any money?

- Aaron Schafer

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