The Cardinals have spent most of this season playing with house money, and they know it. The $8M they bet on Lance Berkman may have been the best signing of last offseason in terms of risk/reward. A good bit of Cardinal Nation is now drinking the Kool-Aid, and I don’t have a problem with that at all. Berkman has earned all the praise that we can throw his way. Let’s just hope that the folks rolling the dice know when not to double down. After the season Berkman has put together, he deserves a raise and most likely a 2 year deal along with it. I may be in the minority on this one, but I hope it doesn’t come from the Cardinals without an awful lot of consideration. If you freeze Berkman’s numbers where they are right now, he would have the highest average, OBP, and most HR he’s had since 2008, highest slugging percentage and OPS since 2006, and his best WAR total since 2008. If it takes $10M+ per season to bring him back, then I’d rather see Berkman walk in favor of an upgraded middle infield. So “beak me” for enjoying good defense up the middle.
It takes a big person to admit when they are wrong, and nobody in the front office is that big. Moving 2B Ryan Theriot back to 2B was an obvious move, but it came about 100 games too late. Indeed, it may be true that some men marry their ideas more faithfully than they do their spouses. I’m unapologetically a Brendan Ryan fan, but I’m not simply going to remind everyone that he was traded away for Maikel Cleto and a bucket of waterlogged baseballs. It’s not like I knew that Brendan would be so productive in Seattle (2.5 WAR in 99 games). I’m not sure what the Mariners expected out of Ryan, but I doubt that they are upset about the return on their $1M investment at this point. The millions of dollars the Cardinals are spending on having a depth chart at 2B is a different story.
In retrospect, the Cardinals probably could have kept Ryan for slightly less than $1M, but there is no telling whether or not he would have been equally as productive. The point really is that he still had the potential to be that productive, and the Cardinals could certainly use his defensive prowess right about now. Last I checked, Brendan had the 5th highest UZR (6.2) of all qualifying MLB shortstops. By comparison, Theriot is ranked 23rd out of 24 with a UZR of -8.4. Even the statistical calculation doesn’t do this one justice, though. Consider a situation with a man on first base and nobody out. The batter hits a ball past the pitcher, and there is no way to throw out either runner. If the SS can stop the ball from going into the outfield, the runners are stopped 1st and 2nd. If the SS can’t stop the ball, then the runners are at 1st and 3rd with nobody out, and there are several situations in which the potential run at 3rd is basically conceded. That’s just one situation in which a SS with great range can make a huge difference without having an obvious statistical impact. Don’t think that the pitcher doesn’t know the difference and that doesn’t affect how he pitches. (Actually, you can obviously think what you want, except this time I’m strongly suggesting otherwise. Sure, there are times that the runner stops at 2nd just for fun – like when TLR is managing or when Yadi is running, but this is my situation and not yours.)
Oh where have you gone Aaron Miles (infielder & relief pitcher)? Miles is hitting just under .300 for the Dodgers for $500K this season. He certainly would have been useful to the Cardinals when they were experiencing a shortage of infielders at one point this season. Too bad they didn’t bother to re-sign him. Maybe he needs to work on his secondary pitch. (Possibly a cutter or sinker.)
Somewhere on my end-of-season regrets list will be Colby Rasmus. I’d like to keep thinking that Raz was traded solely for baseball business reasons and not because he couldn’t see eye-to-eye with TLR. If I can keep thinking the former, then I can go down the road a happy camper. If the primary motivator for the trade was the latter, then TLR needs to go. It’s not that I would choose Raz over TLR, either. It’s just that I’m tired of the necessity of choosing at all. I don’t care what LaRussa has accomplished in his career or even during his tenure in St. Louis. If his primary goal isn’t to do what it takes to win now and in the future, then he isn’t the right guy for the job. If he’s more worried about “team chemistry” than “player development”, then it’s time for Oquendo to take over in the dugout. For the record, I don’t believe in “team chemistry”, because it’s amazingly convenient that all championship teams have great chemistry. Winning tends to create the notion that the team has chemistry. It’s also amazing how much you can tolerate the most annoying co-worker when you receive a huge quarterly bonus check from the company president, isn’t it? Success begets success which begets tolerance.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kyle McClellan. Since I already made a desperate plea back in March to keep K-Mac in the bullpen, I don’t feel the need to make the case again. Suffice it to say that I didn’t think he’d last as a starter, and I gave a few decent reasons why, although I didn’t list “the team will trade for a better starter” among them. However, I did express a concern about how his arm would feel by the end of the year after pitching a lot of innings by the All-Star break. Switching back to the bullpen should help in theory, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t already a bit fatigued.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention the 800 lb gorilla in the middle of the room. Yep, it’s the 800 lb gorilla riding the elephant in the middle of the china store. Ding, ding, ding!!! It’s Albert’s contract situation. I’ll summarize my thoughts on this one as quickly as I can. It’s always been about loyalty to Dan Lozano. Dan sets up his own shop, and Albert wants to help his good friend Dan succeed. The easiest way to do that is to do and say all the right things during his free agency trek which will likely end well for both men one of 3 ways. In scenario 1, Albert spurns all offers and returns to the Cardinals for a hometown discount, so Albert looks like the returning hero, and Dan looks like the superagent. In scenario 2, Albert accepts a better offer than the Cardinals can produce, Albert looks like a bit of a jerk, and Dan looks like a superagent. In scenario 3, Albert doesn’t receive any offers better than what the Cardinals produce, Albert happily decides to stay in St. Louis, and Dan looks like a superagent. In all 3 scenarios, Albert gets paid, and Dan looks like a superagent.
Wait, there is a 4th scenario. It’s the most unlikely of all, and I seriously doubt that it will happen…….but it could. DeWitt and Mo could spend a day talking with about 40,000 people at Busch and find out what the fans really think. They would probably find out just how much fans like/love/adore Albert. They would also find out just how ridiculous most fans think the idea of paying anyone $25M, $30M, $22.17384M a year to play baseball really is. Better yet, they could just sit down with me for 10 minutes, and I could rant about how stupid I think it is to commit $25M a year to someone who refused to negotiate during the season.
I’m a Pujols fan just like about 99% of the rest of Cardinal Nation. I’m just not a blindly loyal fan who drinks the Kool-Aid by the bong-load. For $25M a season, I want an on-field leader, a clubhouse leader, 6 more All-Star appearances, 2 more Gold Glove awards, 4 more Silver Sluggers, 2 more World Series Championships, 3 batting championships, turn down service, pillow fluffing, extra after dinner mints, free wifi, upgraded nachos, and less “chatty” stuff at 1B. I expect more scowling, upgraded menacing looks, a tackle (or two), 3 imposing glares per 9 innings, 2 full smiles / game, and a Yadi bear hug after every win. Unless the fans can expect all (or most….or at least some of that), I’m reserving judgment on a contract extension, because I honestly don’t think the Cardinals need him as much as he needs the Cardinals.
Yes, he is probably a once-in-a-generation player. The problem with that tag is that the Cardinals have already had several of those, and he’s not going to come close to some of their records, even if he stays for the duration. Heck, many people think of him as the “King of WAR”, but his streak of leading the team in WAR was ended last year at 8 consecutive years, and that was well short of the 10 consecutive that Rogers Hornsby put up from 1916-1925. Pujols just reached the 2,000 hit mark recently, but that’s a far cry from Musial’s 3,630 hits. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Cardinals should leverage AP. I am suggesting that AP and Dan may be overestimating the amount of leverage they have, because they really don’t believe that there is any way that the Cardinals would walk away from Pujols. They may very well believe that it would be a public relations nightmare for the team, and I can say with certainty that at least 1 Cardinal fan wouldn’t agree. For every single player a “walk line” must be drawn somewhere. It’s just a question of where that line is. Albert can pretty much draw his own line at this point, but he would be wise not to push it too far with that good faith account he has built up over the years. The natives are a bit restless at this point, and missing the playoffs with Albert is just as much fun as missing the playoffs without Albert. The only difference is that missing the playoffs without Albert is probably a lot less expensive.
TIDBIT: Yeah, I woke up today in a pretty good mood, and then I realized that there was no Cardinal baseball on my tv right after lunch. This motivated me to type a lot of words without spell checking anything . at . all.! Darn. It!
MORE BITS OF TID: At some point in the future, I want to see my Cardinal baseball utopia contain a starting rotation that includes Wainwright, Lynn, Miller, Garcia, and a homegrown superstar to be named later. When that team wins the World Series, I’ll write an entire blog piece without sarcasm (well, I wouldn’t go THAT far).
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