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
First of all,
But, is it really that simple?
Will waiting become a distraction?
The main question in my mind about
On the other hand, I understand
why Cardinals' management is not rushing to exercise that option, despite
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
I suspect that the 2007 option and
the 2008-and-beyond extension may initially be brought to the table by
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.
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
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
What is the market value for
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
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
In that environment, I could
Still, if the Cardinals are overly
concerned about committing $10 million to
A variation on this theme is to
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
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
There are other player
negotiations coming up that could further aggravate
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.
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 email@example.com.
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