Will Brad Penny become the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals’ version of 2009’s Joel Pineiro, the unsung hero?
Ever winter, it seems the same thing happens. The Cardinal Nation works itself into a frenzy speculating over moves rumored, only to have the club do something completely unexpected.
So it was on December 7 when at Baseball’s Winter Meetings, St. Louis announced that free agent right-handed pitcher Brad Penny agreed to terms on a one-year contract with a $7.5 million base plus $1.5 million in incentives. The right-hander, most recently of the San Francisco Giants, was not even rumored to be a target of the Cardinals.
Once again, the Cardinals moved quickly and quietly to secure a free agent, this time a fourth veteran for their rotation, with the 31-year-old Penny effectively replacing free agent Joel Pineiro and joining Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse.
According to the terms of the contract, Penny will receive the full $9 million if he reaches 204 innings. In addition, in an accommodation to ease his potential re-entry into the market following the 2010 season, the Cardinals agreed not to offer Penny arbitration if he performs well enough to become a Type A free agent. It seems a stretch given that two years of stats are used and he was not even a Type B this year.
Still, the upper 90’s-thrower and two-time National League All-Star offers intriguing potential for the 2010 Cardinals rotation. Like 2009 late-season addition John Smoltz, Penny had been released by the deep-pocked Red Sox during the season. After being dropped by Boston on August 27, Penny drew interest from a number of clubs including Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, the White Sox and the Yankees.
Ultimately, Penny cast his lot with the Giants for the major league minimum and pitched so well during the final month, he likely priced himself out of San Francisco’s plans for 2010.
On the downside, Penny hasn’t thrown a complete game in three years. Two of his former managers in Los Angeles, Joe Torre and Jim Tracy, now with Colorado, were rumored to be against having Penny on their respective clubs. Yet the Cardinals have had success with others who had arrived in town with “me first” reputations and there is no reason to believe Penny can’t follow.
Penny broke the pattern of recent Cardinals rotation additions in that he had resurrected his value elsewhere and signed with the Cardinals for more than he had been paid the previous season.
His predecessor Pineiro had also flamed out with the Red Sox. The Cardinals added him at the 2007 deadline in return for a minor leaguer. Pineiro pitched so well that by October, he earned a two-year contract to remain that was surprising to many, both because of the money ($13 million) and duration.
Despite making 25 starts around a pair of stints on the disabled list in 2008, Pineiro managed just seven wins and posted an ERA over five. It seemed his $7.5 million salary for 2009 would never be earned. Yet, Pineiro did that and more.
The 2009 Cardinals featured both unexpected team success and a commensurate number of individual standouts. A club picked by most to be a second- or third-place finisher instead won 91 games while dominating the National League Central before a quick post-season exit.
NL Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols and mid-season acquisition Matt Holliday offered star power on the offense while Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright each just fell short of the Cy Young Award. First-time closer Ryan Franklin finished second in the NL Rolaids Relief Man Award tally.
Yet the Cardinals player who may have overachieved most, and in doing so provided the greatest boost to the club’s cause, was a well-traveled veteran that some fans wanted to see disposed of prior to the season – Pineiro.
Much was made in spring training about Cardinals third base coach and Team Puerto Rico manager Jose Oquendo leaving the 31-year-old out of his World Baseball Classic rotation. Some believe the perceived snub motivated Pineiro, while others look to his new found sinker, a pitch he calls a one-seam fastball, for his 2009 success.
The right-hander was consistent and efficient all season long, picking up 15 wins, one off his career best, while tossing a personal-high 214 innings. Pineiro spun three two-hitters.
His control was impeccable. Pineiro ranked first in the major leagues with his 1.14 walks per nine innings. He had 13 outings in which he walked no one and pitched three nine-inning complete games, facing fewer than 30 batters in each – quite a contract to Penny’s inability to finish his starts.
Pineiro helped himself by keeping the ball down. He led the majors with his 2.73-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio and placed among the top five MLB pitchers in inducing ground ball double plays with 1.22 per nine innings.
The Puerto Rican native finished the regular season 15-12 with a 3.53 ERA, his most wins since 2003 and lowest ERA since 2002, both achieved when he was with Seattle. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Pineiro pitched so well that he priced himself out of the team’s future plans, not unlike Penny and the Giants. But Pineiro’s future sights were set higher.
Despite being branded by some a product of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan’s tutelage, Pineiro set out to find at least a three-year contract in the $10 million dollar per year range. Due to market realities, he may have to settle for a two-year deal for half the amount or less, $15 million. In other words, it may be about the same annual value as Penny’s 2010 base. The Mets and Dodgers are rumored to be most interested in Pineiro’s services.
No matter how you slice it, the 2010 Cardinals would have to be delighted if they could achieve a comparable return from Penny as they received from Pineiro in 2009.