Finley addresses Cards’ biggest need

By Jim Callis
July 19, 2002

Even with a 3½-game lead in the National League Central, the Cardinals knew their pitching staff could put them in a precarious position, both in terms of making the playoffs and advancing once they got there. The death of Darryl Kile, injuries to Rick Ankiel and Garrett Stephenson and the continued ineffectiveness of Bud Smith have left two gaping holes in the back of the St. Louis rotation. On Friday, the Cardinals filled one of them by picking up Chuck Finley from the Cardinals for outfield prospect Luis Garcia and a player to be named later.

Finley has made more news this year because of his contentious divorce from actress Tawny Kitaen, which has featured allegations of spousal abuse and drug use from both sides. But the 39-year-old lefthander also has rebounded nicely from a 2001 season that was the worst of his 17-year major league career and included two stints on the disabled list with a recurring neck injury. Finley has gone 4-11, 4.44 with 91 strikeouts in 105 innings over 18 starts. Cleveland supported him with just 3.08 runs per nine innings, the third-worst figure in the majors and better than only Shawn Estes (2.73) and Tanyon Sturtze (2.95). Finley throws in the low 90s with his fastball, and also uses a curveball and splitter. He has gone 193-169, 3.85 in 510 big league appearances, with 2,527 strikeouts in 3,112 innings. He’s in the final year of a three-year, $27 million contract and will become a free agent at season’s end. The Indians still owe Finley $7 million from his original $11 million signing bonus, and also will pick up part of the remainder of his $5 million salary for 2002.

Garcia, 23, spent just seven months in the Cardinals organization after being acquired from Boston along with outfielder Rick Asadoorian and first baseman Dustin Brisson for Dustin Hermanson last December. At the time, St. Louis had more starting pitchers than it knew what to do with and simply wanted to dump Hermanson’s salary, while Garcia was the best hitting prospect in the Red Sox system. Originally signed out of Mexico as a pitcher in 1996, he hurt his arm and became a full-time hitter in 1998. At 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, his wiry frame has been compared to Richie Sexson’s. The Red Sox named him their Double-A player of the year in 2001, when he batted .306-26-89 in a season split between that level and high Class A. Converted to an outfielder this year, he hit .266-12-37 in 88 games at Double-A New Haven. Garcia batted just .183 in April and didn’t cross the Mendoza Line for good until May 19, but since then he has looked like his old self. A righthanded hitter, he has the power to bat in the middle of a major league lineup. He’s also athletic for a big man and has adapted well to the outfield, splitting his time between center and right. The latter is his likely destination as a big leaguer.

August 6 update: Double-A outfielder Covelli Crisp became the player to be named in the Finley trade. Crisp, 22, was a seventh-round pick in 1999 out of Los Angeles Pierce JC. He first emerged as a prospect with an all-star season in the high Class A Carolina League last year, and he has put together a nice encore at New Haven in 2002. In 89 games, he has hit .301-9-47 with 26 steals. Crisp is a switch-hitter who makes good contact and offers a little pop, though his speed is more noteworthy. He has the range to play center field but his arm isn’t an asset. While he projects more as a versatile fourth outfielder than as a major league regular, he’s another interesting pickup as the Indians continue to rebuild for the future.