Obviously, there must be a huge pile of money located near a ledge somewhere, because this would logically explain why so many Cardinals fans had to be asked to back away from ledges yesterday. I’m kidding of course, and the “ledges” weren’t real. The only huge pile of money involved was the one the Cardinals’ GM, John Mozeliak, was referring to when he described the team’s payroll in strict accounting terms as “leaking”. I’ve conferred with my personal accountants, Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe, and Mr. Cheatem himself assured me that “leaking” is a real accounting term usually reserved for company payrolls that exceed the $110M threshold. He also advised me that “buttload” represents approximately $100M, and “holy crap” is anything in the $105M range. If the payroll is indeed “leaking”, then I can’t help but wonder where this money was in 2010. The claim that the team couldn’t afford to re-sign Ryan Ludwick rings awfully hollow now. Yes, I remember that the team needed pitching, but I don’t think that they HAD to give up Ludwick to get a minor league pitcher that the Indians wanted. Corey Kluber is pretty good, but the Cardinals basically traded a 1-time All-Star/Silver Slugger who was having a pretty good year for a AA pitcher and an A-ball prospect.
As for the addition of “Fat Elvis”, Lance Berkman, there were plenty of people sounding off yesterday about the drawbacks to adding a plodding outfielder who will actually be 35 by opening day in 2011. He’s coming off a season in which he hit .248, had an obp of .368, and a slugging % of .413. He hit 14 homers and managed 58 rbi in 404 at-bats. His WAR value in Houston was a healthy 1.5, but it dropped to -0.1 in New York. Fortunately, there are also plenty of people ready to defend the “Puma”, and they’ll tell you he’s a lifetime .296 hitter who has a career .409 obp and .545 slugging %. He’s a switch hitter with power, and even when he’s not starting in the field, he’ll provide power off the bench. Some people project him to hit 22-25 home runs next year. He’s also a “good clubhouse guy”, and the contract is only for 1 year. If you really want to put a positive spin on it, he’s looking for some redemption as well as some playoff success.
As with ALL trades/signings/extensions, I think that’s there’s only one stat that truly matters. I’ve named that stat “DOTC”. It stands for “Date on the Calendar”. In this case, the value is “31“. That’s the day in March that we should hopefully see Berkman wearing the Birds on the Bat and actually playing in a game that counts. That’s why I’m never the guy near the ledge. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not second-guessing the GM, because I think that’s always a healthy thing to do.
I don’t disagree that Berkman might pound 25 home runs. I don’t care if he hits 30 home runs, because that one stat alone won’t be used by me to define the relative success of his time in St. Louis. I’m more interested in him being an on-base machine who is healthy enough to turn on fastballs from left-handed pitchers. If he can’t do that, then he basically becomes a really expensive platoon player who may require defensive substitution. I’ll even go so far as to put his at-bat +/- mark at 450, because I’m that worried about what I saw in his last days in Houston. In 2010, Berkman hit .171 (.261 obp) against LHP and .267 (.393 obp) against RHP, and 13 of his 14 home runs came against RHP. Of his 404 at-bats, only 82 came against lefties. While it’s temping to blame those numbers on his health and his time in New York, go back another year. In 2009, he hit .231 (.293 obp) against LHP and .291 (.436) against RHP with 18 of 25 home runs against righties. That year he had 134 of his 460 at-bats against lefties. As a matter of fact, you have to go all the way back to 2005 to find a year in which Berkman split somewhat evenly. In 2005, he hit .294 (.416 obp) vs lefties and .292 (.409 obp) vs righties. Still, only 3 of his 24 home runs were against lefties.
Here’s where my concern comes into play. Jon Jay is a lot younger and certainly a step or 4 faster than Berkman at this point. Jay’s splits last year were .308 (.387 obp) versus lefties and .297 (.350) versus righties. Even if Berkman’s numbers against lefties improve, what are the odds that he can match Jay’s obp against them? Even if it’s close, why would TLR pick Berkman over Jay to face left-handed starters when he factors in defense? Considering that Jay costs the team just above the bare minimum in 2011, it seems like the Cardinals are paying $8M for the difference between the two. At best, that difference is hopefully Berkman’s power against RHP. For what it’s worth, an arbitration-eligible Ryan Ludwick probably doesn’t get $8M, and he hit 11 home runs and .281 with an obp of .343 and slugging % of .484 during his 77 games in St. Louis in 2010.
If the roster is indeed set as Mo indicated yesterday, then some initial analysis is appropriate. Mozeliak maintained for quite a while that he was intent on upgrading 2B, and the team still hasn’t addressed the gaping hole at backup catcher. For those of you keeping score at home, there are approximately 2-3 spots still to fill on the 25-man roster, so I’m not sure what “set” means in that context. I’d imagine that Jay and Ryan are names he’ll shop at the winter meetings in hopes of filling a need, but it will be tough to make a move that does take the payroll beyond “leaking” into “Armageddon” territory. If all he really does is add a catcher, then either Skip is the starting 2B, or Ryan is the starting SS. I’m going with the scenario that involves the smallest number of ground balls reaching the outfield on this one. The Cardinals opening day lineup then projects something like this: Ryan Theriot (2B), Lance Berkman (LF), Albert Pujols (1B), Matt Holliday (RF), Colby Rasmus (CF), David Freese (3B), Yadier Molina (C), Adam Wainwright (P), Brendan Ryan (SS).
TIDBIT: I’d be willing to bet that I’ve seen Berkman play in-person more than any of my 3 dedicated readers, and I’ve actually heckled him into laughing during warmups in Houston before an Astros-Cubs game. It was a good-natured heckle, and he took it like a champ.
FYI: The Cardinals official payroll number for 2011 is $95.825M for 2011 based on 11 signed players.
FYI2: My “Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe” reference was not an original thought, and I can take zero credit for it. It’s an homage to the “Three Stooges” show which used the fictional name as both an accounting firm and a law firm on many occasions.