Manager Tony La Russa ranked former Rockies closer Brian Fuentes as number one on his wish list over the winter only to see the lefty reliever choose what some said was a lesser deal from his hometown Angels over what the Redbirds had on the table.
And that may be, in retrospect, the thing that saved the season for St. Louis.
Closer Brian Fuentes passed over the Cardinals free agent offer. Which seems to have been a blessing in disguise. AP photo.
Not only is Fuentes having the second worst season of his career. But his decision to sign elsewhere is what gave the Cardinals the financial flexibility to pick up Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa, the difference makers in the Birds' run to the playoffs.
Fuentes is 1-5 with a 4.35 for the Angles. While he has racked up 42 saves with a very good team, his strikeout total is a little bit more than half of what it was last season and his walks and hits per innings pitched ratio, which has been in the 1.1:1 range for each of the previous three seasons, has ballooned to 1.450:1 this season. It's only the second time in his career that Fuentes has given up more hits than inning pitched, averaging 6.8-6.9 hits per nine innings from 2006-2008 but 9.2 hits per nine innings this season.
He's making $8.5 million this season and is under contract for 2010 at $9 million with a vesting option for 2011 if he finishes 55 games in 2010.
I'm certainly not trying to say that Fuentes isn't any good. But he certainly isn't the sort of impact player that would have dramatically changed the Cardinals. Ryan Franklin has been just as good at a third of the price, allowing the Birds to spend their money where it was needed most -- to improve the offense.