Edmonds: The Unthinkable or the Chipper?

Some possible new news in the future of Jim Edmonds as a St. Louis Cardinal.

Ever since centerfielder Jim Edmonds joined the St. Louis Cardinals from the then-Anaheim Angels via trade in 2000, he has been one of the pillars of the club.

 

As a Cardinal, three All-Star appearances, six consecutive Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger Award and a fifth-place in the 2004 National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. His Cardinals teams have won or tied for four NL Central Division crowns and made the playoffs five of his six years there.

 

But, despite all the contributions and recognition, Edmonds' days in uniform must eventually come to an end, as it will it be for all players. The only question is when.

 

Will 2006 be his last year wearing the Birds on the Bat? Or, will the team exercise their option to bring Edmonds back in 2007? Will he receive an extension to further his career beyond 2007? Or, could Edmonds even be traded?

 

We'll look into all those scenarios. But first, let's review the background.

 

Facts

 

Edmonds is a ten-and-five man, meaning he has ten years service time as a major leaguer, the last five with one team. As a result, the Basic Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association provides full no-trade protection. However, that no-trade clause can be waived by the player at his own choosing.

 

Edmonds is in the final year of a six year, $57 million contract that covered the 2001 through 2006 seasons. For 2007, the Cardinals can either exercise Edmonds' option for $10 million or provide him $3 million in severance pay.

 

Edmonds has stated publicly on multiple occasions in the last year that he would like his 2007 option picked up and wants to retire as a Cardinal. In other words, he would probably like a contract extension, too.

 

In a Monday story in the Belleville News-Democrat, Edmonds sounded pessimistic about his future. "If they don't pick (the option) up, I don't know how many opportunities there are going to be for me to play," Edmonds said. "I'm going to approach it like this season will be one of the last ones I have. Hopefully, they'll allow me to come back. But if they don't, I have to be ready for Plan B."

 

Edmonds will be 36 years old in June. Statistically, Edmonds is in the decline phase of his career. There is already a very lively discussion on our Message Board about what a great player Edmonds still is. I have nothing to add to that other than to acknowledge that the impact of Father Time will be felt, unless Edmonds has been hanging out with Dorian Gray, that is. (I have assumed Edmonds likes the wild life, not the Wilde life!)

 

The shocker

 

I have received word from a single source that the Cardinals have begun to quietly test other teams' interest in a trade for Edmonds.

 

I do not know if Edmonds has yet been approached about the possibility of waiving his no-trade clause, but I suspect not. However, Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty and Edmonds apparently did meet privately during Winter Warm Up to discuss the outfielder's future. It is unclear whether that meeting occurred before or after Edmonds talked with the Belleville paper.

 

According to my source, at least three teams have expressed interest in talking with the Cardinals about Edmonds. They may include the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs. At this point, I am not going to extend this rumor beyond what I was told by speculating much about possible trade packages (Manny Ramirez or Miguel Tejada?) or the feasibility of doing business with these particular partners (the Cubs? THE CUBS?).

 

As always, I have to include an emphatic warning. I DO NOT believe that the Cardinals are anywhere close to a making a trade nor am I even necessarily convinced that they mean it.

 

But, just the rumor that a deal may be under consideration crosses a line that I did not think would be crossed. Regular readers know I had consistently discounted any notions of an Edmonds trade all winter long.

 

Edmonds and Lar-ry

 

Edmonds may be concerned that the team will use his salary money in an attempt to sign Mark Mulder to a new contract and go cheaper in centerfield in the future. It may be coincidence, or not. But, do remember that both of the new outfielders acquired by the Cardinals this winter, Larry Bigbie and Juan Encarnacion, have major league experience playing centerfield.

 

Still, my source tells me that the Edmonds camp has proposed a "Chipper Jones-like" extension so that he can remain a Cardinal until his retirement. But at least up until now, it has apparently not been seriously considered by the Cardinals.

 

For reference, in November, the Braves' third baseman signed a new deal. There are some interesting parallels with Edmonds' situation. In fact, Baseball Reference ironically lists Jones as #1 on its list of batters similar to Edmonds.

 

Jones' previous six-year contract was to end in 2006, with him receiving $17 million this coming season. There were also two team option years in 2007 and 2008 that would pay $15 million each season or could be bought out for $5 million. Jones also had a vesting option based on plate appearances or being named an All-Star. Under that deal, Chipper would potentially have received as little as $22 million or as much as $47 million in 2006 and beyond.

 

The new contract covers the same 2006 through 2008 seasons, but provides more security both for Jones and the Braves. It effectively reduces Chipper's 2006 take from $17 million to $15 million ($4 million bonus plus $11 million salary). For 2007 and 2008, Jones will be assured of making $11 million each season. There is also an option for 2009 at somewhere between $8 and $11 million, potentially with vesting and undoubtedly with a buyout.

 

So, what does this mean? Jones potentially took less money (three years, $37 million) in return for knowing with relative certainty that he could remain a Brave for what may be the rest of his career.

 

For this to work similarly for Edmonds, he would have to be willing to come down in salary from his $12 million in salary in 2006 and the $10 million option in 2007 in return for more guaranteed years.

 

Clearly, Chipper had more leverage in terms of years on his previous deal and potential money to "give back". He is also over two years younger than Edmonds.

 

Still, I can see why Edmonds would favor a similar approach to the one that Jones and the Braves took.

 

Trade talk logic

 

But, why float the idea of a trade? I can see at least four possible reasons that Jocketty may be thinking about it. The reality may be some combination of these or other factors not even listed.

 

  • Put pressure on Edmonds to perform in 2006.

 

  • Quiet Edmonds' public talk about wanting his 2007 option picked up by opening discussions now.

 

  • Use the threat of a trade to push Edmonds into agreeing to an extension that decreases the Cardinals' current and future contribution below the $12 million mark in 2006 and $10 million next.

 

  • And last, but not least, simply trade Edmonds while he still has value.

 

That last point is not one that Cardinals fans will want to believe; nor should they at this point, anyway. Yet, any trade for Edmonds would likely bring qualified major leaguers in return, perhaps younger and with more upside for the future. As Jocketty looks ahead, such a deal could have merit.

 

However, there are a precious few who can match Edmonds' all-around contribution today, here and now, and he is a valuable component of a 2006 Cardinals team that is built to win this year, not later.

 

Given that unfinished business for 2006, my instincts tell me that despite the bluster and backroom intrigue, Edmonds will play this coming season under his current terms and his future will not be addressed until this fall.

 

Beyond that, it's anyone's guess.

 

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

 

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