Tuesday, March 03, 2009

United Cardinal Blogger Roundtable

Since 20 Feb, the illustrious bloggers known as the United Cardinal Bloggers have been posing questions, and soliciting answers, from each other. Yesterday it was my turn to pose the question.

There has been an undercurrent of acrimony laced throughout this recent off-season from some corners of the Cardinal fan base. Buster Olney alluded to it in an article on ESPN.com some time ago; Cardinals GM Mozeliak experienced it to a degree in his last chat with fans. The pet theory is this: the Cardinals are cheap, ownership won't cut loose with the moolah to sign players capable of filling holes in the lineup/roster, this team is doomed to not contend for the near term.

So I asked the following question to the UCB group:

"There's been a lot of talk this off-season about the Cardinals' payroll. On the one hand, we have the non-arbitration offer for Looper, the failed Fuentes signing, the lack of interest in pursuing Sheets (this is before his medical issues came to light), the non-signing of an impact bat to protect Pujols, the insistence in keeping payroll around $100M. On the other, we have Lohse's contract, Pujols' deal, Carpenter's heavily back-loaded contract, Piniero's (ugh) $7.5M for this season.

The ownership group has been accused of not spending the money necessary to field a competitive team. Do you agree or disagree, and why?"

Various folks weighed in with their opinion.

Dan (C70 at the bat)

"I've been on ownership's side most of the offseason and I don't see any reason to switch sides now.

The only thing I held against them was not pursuing Sheets, and it's very possible they had more medical info than the general public. Other than that, what would we have them do? They made a run on Fuentes that most of us were not excited about. Edgar Renteria might have been nice, but the Giants way overpaid for him. There just wasn't a whole lot out there this offseason, especially at the times when they were doing their shopping.

I look at what payroll is compared to this market size. I look at the fact that they locked up Carpenter before they had to (which may not have been the best idea, but no one could say it was the move of a cheapskate). I look at the Lohse contract.

I think that management is walking a fine line between fiscal responsibility and competitiveness and doing a pretty good job of it on the whole."

Chet (fourthebirdz):

Because of a winter of low-budget "moves," a fan would've gotten just as much excitement out of watching a winter of low-budget "movies."
If the Cards are playing up their farm system, it's probably because they have no choice but to actually use it for its intended purpose, because the FA market was volatile.
All bets were hedged this past cold-stove season, and by more organizations than the Cards, save this one New York group of which you may have heard.
But prospects? Good ones? Yeah. Lots of players that actually fit the "prospect" description, rather than the word "prospect" used as a synonym for "minor leaguer." Due to the tentative attitude toward player acquisition, we're seeing more "prospects" will a real chance of making the parent club. I predict the media outside St. Louis will be doing a lot of talking about three or four Cards' "freshmen" before May."

Sarah (La Beisbolista):

Admittedly, I have been a little wishy-washy on the subject. Sometimes it's hard to take a step back when you see other teams (like the Cubs, 'cause remember their huge spending spree after 2007?) buying up FAs and doing what could be construed as "improving the team" (whether or not that's actually the case) and your team seems to be content doing nothing.

Once it's all said and done though, I really think the smart thing for a team to do is move slowly. Throwing money around doesn't necessarily bring home the hardware, and I think it would alientate a lot of fans if the team operated with a revolving door of free agents instead of nurturing young talent and relying on the farm system.

Comeptetive is a relative term, as well, and it's hard to say that just because a player makes $100 million he's automatically the best option. Even the guys with the huge paychecks were making the league minimum at one point. They have to start somewhere. When I'm thinking rationally, I truly believe that it's possible to have a competetive team without breaking the bank. All things equal, you can't be a Cardinals fan and have any doubt that a young, unassuming group of players can win it all."

Matt (Whiteyball):

You can’t say the ownership group is cheap when they’ve consistently been in the top third to top half of major league clubs in payroll over the past decade. That doesn’t mean that they are not progressively sliding down from the top third towards the middle of the pack.

They lock up key players such as Pujols, Carp, Molina, and Wainwright currently and Edmonds, Rolen and Izzy in the past. This doesn’t necessarily stand out like a big free agent signing, but it does mean the club will take care of business. I think the Cardinals are a little gun-shy when it comes to free agent signings. For every big dollar free agent who earns their money, there is a Zito, Schmidt, or even Carpenter who have made a lot of money that past few seasons, with their teams getting nothing in return.

All I ask is the ownership group be up front with the fans. How many years in a row has it been said that not spending in the off-season will translate into flexibility to bring in someone big at the trade deadline. When there is no big trade deadline acquisition, the club says it gives them the ability to be aggressive in the free agent market. The cycle continues year after year and is getting old. Why can’t they just say that they are happy with the young kids they are bringing up and want to give them a shot over going out and paying much more for a veteran, who might not be better. All I think any knowledgeable Cards fan asks for is a little honesty.

There is a key concern in camp right now that will really show the ownerships hand. The left handed side of the bullpen has looked pretty bad and Ohman and Beimel are free agents still waiting for a team. If these 2 sign elsewhere for under the $2-3 million price tag and the Cardinals bullpen still looks as shaky from the left side as it does today, then I think the ownership group is heading more and more towards the cheap end of the spectrum."

The consensus seemed to be ownership is willing to spend the money to field a competitive team. There was some negativity aired, namely on the ownership's continual spin to how their dollars are spent and why, but overall the folks who responded were satisfied in the DeWitt group's analysis of the market and restraint where called for.

As for me, I believe ownership is doing what it can to field a competitive team. If they weren't, we'd see payroll contract much like it did for the 1998/2004 Marlins, or this year's Padres, and guys like Pujols, Wainwright, Molina, Carpenter, Piniero would be traded away for prospects. Although we can still hope they move Piniero.

I think this undercurrent of dissatisfaction is the work of a very few vocal fans who probably wouldn't be happy with anything this ownership group does. That they have been successful in venting their frustration is apparent as some National Media have picked up on their outrage and given it some veneer of credibility. Cardinals fans I talk to, be it on line or face to face (and yes, there are other Cardinals fans in SoCal besides me - you just need to know where to look), aren't in that vocal minority.

You want to hear someone vent some frustration? Talk to a Cubs fan re: DeRosa leaving and Bradley coming in. Cry me a river, fellas.

To sum up: Ownership is doing a competent job in fielding a competitive team, a team with a chance to contend.

My thanks to those who contributed to the discussion.


Pitchers Hit Eighth said...

My apologies for not chiming in yesterday, but I'll offer a few thoughts here now:

I think in hindsight, we would all agree that not offering Looper was the right move. Not pursuing Sheets (they *had* to know something) was the right move. They made an effort to sign Fuentes, even reportedly offering more money - but there was no way he was going anywhere but the West Coast. Not sure I'd call that a "failed" signing.

Maybe Mo knows what he's doing after all?

Who defines an "impact bat"? Is Ludwick an impact bat? Is Ankiel an impact bat? I'd argue that both *could be*, but a lot hinges on health, constantly adjusting to pitchers learning them, etc. Everyone was so up in arms about getting Holliday, but didn't Luddy have a better season than Holliday in 2008? Ludwick is cheaper than Holliday. Holliday's numbers are significantly deflated away from Coors. It's all about evaluation for the Cardinals, and spending prudently.

I've said it before, and will continue to say it. The Cardinals are by no means a small market team. They are also not located in New York, Chicago, or LA. They cannot wildly spend like those teams and be able to write it off year after year. So much so, that contracts like Pineiro's and Adam Kennedy's, totaling $11.5mm for 2009 (assuming Pineiro doesn't pull a Lohse) - that is enough to hamstring this team. 10% of your payroll is significant when you view it as a sunk cost.

As for the payroll ceiling - baseball is a business, just like anything else in America. Why should the ownership group take losses every season just to appease the fans? Now, I'm certain we'll never know exactly how the books get cooked over at Busch III, but if the owners say $100mm, that's what is available. I'd say Mo has done a pretty damned good job with his $100mm so far.

chetthejet said...


You were a great guest on the UCB Radio Hour last night along with Josh/Redbirds Row and Jonny Bravo of the Johnson City Cardinals.

Hope you can take part in the UCB Radio Hour again real soon.