Cardinals future dims without Adam Wainwright

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If the worse-case scenario comes to pass, the Cardinals are about to lose the right-hander who finished third in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2009 and second last year for the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery. Adam Wainwright has won 39 games the last two years. In 2010, he went 20-11 for a team that went 86-76 as a whole.

So what would the Cardinals do without Wainwright?

The obvious answer is to sign Kevin Millwood. Sure, Millwood is coming off a season in which he went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA. However, that was in the AL East and Camden Yards. Of the 30 homers he gave up in 190 2/3 innings, 20 came in the Orioles’ home park. He’d fare a lot better in that regard in Busch Stadium. Plus, he’d be working with Dave Duncan, who always seems to get more out of old arms than anyone would expect. And going by Millwood’s solid 132/65 K/BB ratio last season, the 36-year-old still has some bullets left.

Possible internal replacements include Kyle McClellan, Brian Tallet, Ian Snell and prospect Lance Lynn. Ideally, though, the Cards would keep McClellan and Tallet in the bullpen and let Lynn, who went 13-10 with a 4.77 ERA for Memphis last year, head back to Triple-A for a couple of months.

Regardless of who takes steps in, there’s really no replacing Wainwright. Chris Carpenter may still qualify as an ace, but both he and Jaime Garcia are injury risks. A rotation led by those two and sinkerballer Jake Westbrook should be a clear step down from the 2010 group.

Which is a problem. The Cards had the NL’s best or second best position player last year, the league’s second best pitcher and they got fine seasons from their two other stars in Matt Holliday and Carpenter, yet they finished a mere 10 games over .500 while playing in baseball’s weakest division.  Their offseason additions don’t add up to much, at least not after factoring in what they lost defensively, so without Wainwright, this may be nothing more than a .500 club in 2011.

And that’s certainly is not going to make keeping Albert Pujols any easier.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

Braves
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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.