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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals happily serve as Red Sox dumping ground

Listening to St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak discussing the club’s acquisition of future Hall of Famer John Smoltz (pictured) Wednesday afternoon made me think about the recent success of the Cardinals in restoring the luster to Red Sox castoffs.

The deep pockets of Sox principal owner John Henry and his partners enable them to eat massive contracts like Big Papi consumes… t-bones. It amazes me that while his growing number of mistakes get run out of town, Boston GM Theo Epstein continues to be issued free passes.

A lower-revenue team like St. Louis cannot afford nearly as many missteps. It seems for every Tino Martinez or Adam Kennedy contract the Cardinals have to swallow, the Sox quietly dispose of a handful of Edgar Renterias. The former St. Louis shortstop was sent away from Boston after one year of a four-year deal with $11 million cash pinned to the front of his uniform.

In just the last two years alone, the Cardinals have picked up three Beantown busts. Oddly, the first name of each of the three begin with the letter “J”.

At the 2007 deadline, the Sox were happy to send Joel Pineiro to St. Louis in return for a minor leaguer, Sean Danielson. The former Seattle starter had been signed to a $4 million base deal loaded with closer-type incentives that previous winter.

After failing in Boston, Pineiro had been optioned to the minors at the time of the trade. Less than 90 days after joining St. Louis, he signed a two-year deal for $13 million that looked like a mistake in the first year but is a bargain today.

Shortstop Julio Lugo, like Renteria before him, wore out his welcome with the tough Red Sox crowd. After having designated him for assignment, the Sox ate the remaining $13.5 million on Lugo’s four-year, $36 million deal signed before the 2007 season.

In return for slumping outfielder Chris Duncan, who has since been removed from Boston’s 40-man roster, the Cardinals picked up a year and a half of Lugo’s services with no salary obligation attached. So far, Lugo has posted a line of .343/.392/.567 in spot duty for the Cardinals.

Desperate for shortstop help since dumping Lugo, the Sox unsuccessfully tried journeyman Chris Woodward and now have acquired veteran Alex Gonzalez from Cincinnati. Both are lesser players than the one they already had – Lugo.

Then of course we have Wednesday’s addition of right-hander John Smoltz. The 42-year-old, coming off June 2008 shoulder surgery, signed with the Sox this past winter. He struggled as a starter and did not want to go to the minor leagues to return to relieving, a role in which he excelled previously.

When the Sox released Smoltz, they remained responsible for the remainder of his contract. It has a $5.5 million base, with the Cardinals only liable for a prorated portion of the $400,000 per year minimum salary, about $100,000.

I am conveniently forgetting about a fourth Red Sox reject, pitcher Matt Clement, a name I thought I would never write about again. After having rehabbed him for the better part of two years, the Sox made no effort to re-sign Clement following the 2007 season. The Cards snapped up the former Cubs starter in January, 2008 for $1.5 million. Clement never reached St. Louis and was released from Triple-A Memphis that August after underwhelming results on the mound.

The right-hander had an audition with Toronto this spring, but is now retired from baseball. Clement has become the coach of the men’s basketball team at Butler (PA) High School, his alma mater.

Still, three of four successes wouldn’t be bad, would it? Getting another shot at the Sox with a chance to atone for the 2004 World Series disappointment would be the icing on the cake. No doubt the three jilted “J’s” would receive special satisfaction from participating in an October beatdown of the Beantowners.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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