Time Machine: October 2006 – Jim Edmonds

A new series looking ahead to next year's offseason and resulting major decisions facing the Cardinals.

This is the time of year when the major decisions for next season are mostly in place – a time when thoughts can be allowed to drift forward into the future just a bit without ignoring more pressing immediate matters.


No better way to accomplish this but to hop back into our oh-so popular time machine, but this time setting the dial forward to next October, following another Cardinals playoff run. I make that statement, not to belabor what may seem likely to many, but instead to make a key assumption about the future environment.


On the other hand, if 2006 ends up more like 2003 than 2004 or 2005, then all bets are clearly off. A disaster of a season could easily signal more wholesale changes than I will consider in this series.


Obviously, the most recent case of this was the Tino Martinez situation, when subpar on-field performance led to the player's exile prior to the conclusion of his Cardinals contract. I am not anticipating any of those kinds of situations here, leaving the gloom and doom predictions to others.


However, I also do not subscribe to the overly-simplistic "keep the current team together next season" philosophy to which that some stubbornly and illogically adhere. Given the environment of the business of baseball, some regular roster turnover is a necessity each year.


Looking backward, how many Cardinals fans today wished the team had committed up to $25.5 million last offseason just to keep Woody Williams and Mike Matheny around for a few more years like the Padres and Giants collectively did? I could prove to you that a lot of people were most upset at the time, tossing around emotional terms like leadership and heart attempting to defend what would have simply been bad business decisions.


My point is not to belittle these or any other players' contributions, but instead to point out that the time to move on always arrives. Sometimes, team management has to come to that decision before the player is ready to accept it and before fans may be ready, either.


OK, enough of the speech. Let's get to some of the tough decisions facing Walt Jocketty over the next 12 months and my views of what might happen. We'll start with…


Jim Edmonds' option


While Edmonds' name has been thrown about in trade rumors this winter, I just don't see it happening this year, if ever. Some people forget to apply a reasonability check to this kind of gossip.


First of all, Edmonds cannot be traded anywhere with his consent. Second, people don't consider the broken glass that could easily occur simply as a result of Edmonds, a member of the team's core, being approached about a prospective trade. He is a pretty sensitive guy.


Quite possibly, Edmonds' future will be discussed after the season, as his 2007 option ($10 million salary or a $3 million buyout) provides a reasonable checkpoint at which to evaluate his future.


But, is it really that simple?


Will waiting become a distraction?


The main question in my mind about Edmonds is whether his option for 2007 having not yet been picked up could affect his mental outlook this season. He did some relatively-quiet complaining about this during the 2005 campaign. If the noise were to increase during 2006, it could become a distraction.


On the other hand, I understand why Cardinals' management is not rushing to exercise that option, despite Edmonds' status as one of the core members of the team. Committing $10 million of 2007 payroll before seeing how Edmonds performs in 2006 would not be a prudent thing to do right now. Maybe it would be a safe emotional decision, but not a sound business decision.


Let Edmonds continue to demonstrate during 2006 that he is worth $10 million in 2007 and the option may take care of itself.


But, what about that end-of-career extension?


However, even then the second part of the equation comes into play. That is the extension that Edmonds has said he would like that to receive, allowing him to conclude his career as a Cardinal. I predict this may become problematic in the months ahead.


I suspect that the 2007 option and the 2008-and-beyond extension may initially be brought to the table by Edmonds and his agent as a single package for the Cardinals to consider.


From the perspective of the player, I can understand why this approach might be taken. However, the Cardinals have already demonstrated a healthy reluctance to commit large amounts of money to players in the decline phase of their career. Edmonds will turn 37 years old midway through his 2007 option season.


Would Edmonds' ego allow him to accept that he would ever be worth less than $10 million per season, even as he approaches 40 years of age, for example?


Nothing against Edmonds personally. That is just the way it is.


Think about it. When is the last time you saw a star accept a multi-year contract that actually drops in value in future years, to deal with the indisputable realization that every player's skills fall off as he gets older?


Instead, what usually happens is that a team commits large amounts of future moneys that they have to eat later when the player slides down that inevitable slope – unless they can find another team to assume all or part of their liability based on the past appeal of the player. One doesn't have to travel very far to find recent examples.


Ask the Colorado Rockies if they wish they could rethink giving Larry Walker at 38 years old $12.5 million plus a $1 million buyout for 2005. The Rockies dropped a nice chunk of change, $8.5 million, for nothing else than to watch Walker spend the last year plus of his career wearing a different uniform.


Or, how about the Angels committing $14 million last offseason for two years of the services of then-40-year-old centerfielder Steve Finley? How does that decision look now as Finley had a terrible 2005 and was then shuffled off to San Francisco, baseball's version of the elephant graveyard?




What is the market value for Edmonds? Finley's deal from last season was for $7 million per year. During this offseason, the highest profile centerfielder signing a new deal was Johnny Damon, who at age 32, received $13 million per season for four years with the Yankees. In four years from now, Damon will be at a similar age and juncture as Edmonds. While not a centerfielder, Brian Giles is closer to Edmonds in age. Giles coaxed $10 million per year from the Padres to return for his age 35, 36 and 37 campaigns or $9 million per year for four seasons (team option).


Looking at Baseball-Reference.com, the top three players listed as similar to Edmonds are Chipper Jones, Tim Salmon and Shawn Green.


Jones recently re-worked his extension into a three year, $37 million deal to cover his ages 34 through 36 years. Green is also younger than Edmonds at 33 and has two years remaining on a three-year, $32 million deal that is viewed by some to be an inflated amount compared to his results.


Salmon, 37, Edmonds' former teammate with the Angels, has run into injury problems late in his career. After his previous four-year, $40 million deal ended, Salmon earned just $400,000 during a 2005 season in which he couldn't play.


Disconnect the option and extension?


As a result of all this, I predict that at some point during the negotiation process between the Cardinals and the Edmonds camp that the option year may get disconnected from the extension. That way, the potentially less-contentious issue of 2007 could be dealt with separately from the question of how many years are left in Edmonds career and how much he should be paid for them.


In that environment, I could potentially see Edmonds' 2007 option being picked up by the Cardinals at some point during the 2006 season as a first step.


Another variation


Still, if the Cardinals are overly concerned about committing $10 million to Edmonds for 2007, they might actually encourage discussion of a multi-year deal in an attempt to soften the immediate impact and spread the money across multiple seasons.


A variation on this theme is to again ask Edmonds to defer money, which he has done in the past. However, given the potentially-improved cash flow the new Busch will bring, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals continue to use the deferral route as often as they had previously.


Will external factors come into play?


Like I said above, ideally I would prefer to see results on the field in 2006 prior to dealing with Edmonds, but there may be other considerations. How could other actions in and around the team affect Edmonds?


Last season, two other core players, Jason Isringhausen and Chris Carpenter, received contract extensions from the Cardinals. Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols are locked up, too. Of course, all four are considerably younger than Edmonds.


There are other player negotiations coming up that could further aggravate Edmonds if his contract is not addressed. In the next installment of this series, I will explore the Mark Mulder situation. How it might relate here is as follows.


Suppose Edmonds sees Mulder, a relative Johnny-come-lately in St. Louis, receiving a big-bucks extension to remain a Cardinal while his own 2007 remains murky? That could lead to a increase in Edmonds' dissatisfaction at a time when focus needs to be on the diamond.


The replacement?


Then, there is the issue of the heir apparent for the Cardinals to consider. If Edmonds would leave the Cardinals, who would replace him in centerfield? At age 37 next year, with a nice glove but weak bat, So Taguchi will not be the answer. Looking at the minor league system, prospects like Skip Schumaker and Reid Gorecki haven't yet shown they have what it takes, either.


However, newcomers Juan Encarnacion and Larry Bigbie both have considerable major league experience playing in center and are each under team control for at least two seasons beyond 2006.


Waiting to do anything with Edmonds until the 2006 season is at least far enough underway to get a reading on the new guys' potential future in St. Louis would be important input for Walt Jocketty to have as he ponders his many options for Edmonds.


Our next trip into the Time Machine will be to look into Mark Mulder's situation for 2007 and beyond. Don't miss it!


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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