Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Middle

This one's for my boy Jason, who is stuck in the middle of the country, unemployed (at least the last I've heard), and in a city that is not quite small but also not quite large. That's right, Jason is living in St. Louis, Missouri, where the next two years will be extremely interesting.

The Cardinals are stuck in the middle of being a large-market team and a small-market team. This is in terms of numbers, free-agent signings, and general attitude. I mean, you can probably even say the same thing about the whole city. St. Louis is not Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Philadelphia. It's also not San Diego, Pittsburgh, Tampa, or Kansas City.

But within the next two years, the future of the franchise and perhaps even of the whole city can be controlled by the DeWitt family (not the same DeWitt family that called Jeff Alden their daddy during the early part of this decade) and Cardinals GM John Mozeliak. Whether Albert Pujols stays with the organization instead of going to a team like NY, Boston, LA, Chicago, or Philadelphia is entirely in their hands.

If you look at the numbers, the Cardinals have never hit $100 million in payroll, a figure reached by nine teams in 2009. They've come very close, but have never hit it. Over the last five years they've averaged just over $90 million, and they're already on the hook for $89+ million in 2010. So they are in the second quartile.

The way the Cardinals have been able to construct a largely-successful ball team in the last decade is not by running up the score in the payroll department. They've done it in a big way through executing well-thought trades (Nancy Drew for the 2004 NL pennant through Ray King, Adam Wainright, and Jason Marquis), dinking and dunking with free agents and not having too many disasters, and through Pujols. It also helps that they're in a reasonably-bad division that contains the mis-managed Cubs and Astros, who both had nine-figure payrolls last year.

It seems that their philosophy changed somewhat-dramatically with the free-agent acquisition of Matt Holliday (whom they previously acquired by, yes, trade). But this is basically because Pujols himself had them by the balls. Pujols said if they want him to even consider a hometown discount, they have to prove their commitment to winning. And I think by acquiring Holliday, they have proven this commitment--and their commitment to signing Pujols. You gotta think they pick up Pujols's option next year, but after that, we will have more speculation than LeBron James is getting.

By the way, this topic comes up in the wake of the rumors that the Cards are thinking about trading their franchise player for Ryan Howard, a strikeout king who I read today is below replacement level against lefties. We know that the Phillies can afford Pujols. And by signing Holliday, we have an inclination that the Cardinals can afford to at least put up a competitive bid for him as well.

If they sign Pujols, they are taking a tremendous risk in many different areas. You gotta think he will be making $25+ million a year for at least six years. Between Pujols and Holliday, that's an automatic $42 million to two players until probably 2017. Plus, Pujols is on the wrong side of thirty (in Dominican years) and has had some injury concerns. But he's also the best player in baseball by a pretty sizeable margin and the cornerstone of this franchise.

It really is a situation where the Cardinals are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Look, teams like the Twins will inevitably dump Santana, and teams like the Padres will inevitably dump Adrian Gonzalez. But Pujols is on a different echelon from those two guys, as are the Cardinals. If they let Pujols walk after 2011, they play the poverty card and lose credibility in their desire to win championships. If they sign Pujols, they can never play the poverty card again, and they will be in the same breath as New York, Boston, LA, Chicago, and Philly. So coming up there will be a very daunting decision facing the St. Louis Cardinals. I think they'll retain Pujols. If they weren't going to make the winning run at him, they wouldn't have outbid the field for Holliday. How about you?


Anonymous said...

I think they have to, and will, resign him.


the gm at work said...

Agreed. And the move will probably vault them into the category of the "haves" instead of the "have-nots." My point is, they've been walking the line between the two for a long time now.

Anonymous said...


The Cardinals will certainly make every effort to sign Pujols. If he gets away it will be because some other team (and we know who that other team is) blows him away with some offer that the Cardinals just could not match.

Even if they do sign Pujols, I don't necessarily think that moves them into the "haves" category. Because if they do sign him, he and Holliday will make up just less than 50% of the Cardinals payroll. I don't think it means the Cardinals will spend more money on the other parts, I think it means they'll skimp on the other parts, which financially anyway, will leave them right where they are.

Of course, if they keep Pujols AND keep the status quo for the other roster spots, then yeah, they'll be a $100 million team.

--the Gunn

PF said...

Gm -

Agree with you that st. louis is in the middle. Also agreed that the signing of holliday means they are likely to competitivley pursue pujols. Whatever you think of holliday, I think we can all agree he's not a cornerstone player (of which there are admittedly very few). Also agree it will be tough to plead poverty if they do sign pujols. The only place I disagree is that this will have significance for the team and the city moving forward. Maybe it will, but maybe it won't, I don't think it will be definitive just based off of what happens with pujols. He's a unique player, and it could just end up being that a team that has been in the middle, and is going to stay in the middle, had to make some exceptions (the money they gave to holliday, pujols, etc.) to keep a unique player as a one time thing.

Anonymous said...

Is Mark Teixeira a cornerstone player?


Anonymous said...


You're a troublemaker. And thank God for that.

--the Gunn

jason said...

Just a correction on this, the phillies were the ones talking about trading for pujols, the cardinals front office had nothing to do with this. Pujols was greedy with his last contract so I do not see why he won't be greedy with the next, I think there is a chance the Cardinals trade him next season after they pick up the option if the contract negotiations are not going well. This would piss off many stlousians and they would curse the front office but hey they were cursing the front when they traded dan haren, but it resulted in a championship shortly there after to shut them up. I personally think that pujols will go to whoever offers the most money, I do see the cardinals in the bidding though... but watch out for a sneaky competetive bid that has little chance of winning so they can play the we tried our best card.

Ross Kaplan said...

Another major advantage that the Cards have is their pitching coach Dave father of the great Shelley Duncan. They don't have to spend big on pitchers when they can take a flier on the Pinieros of the world and let Duncan work his magic.

I don't think the Cards have a choice but to resign Pujols. They built the team around him and as forgiving as midwestern sports fans seem to be, the St Louis fan base will never forgive management for letting probably the best clean player in almost 3 decades for walking.