More Sensitivity in Cards' Contract Business?

Two opposing views about the Cardinals' approach in letting players go.

News item: On Friday, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch authored a story entitled "Mabry knows baseball's business side all too well". In it, Strauss implies that former Cardinal John Mabry was poorly treated following the 2005 season when parting ways with the Cardinals for the third time in his career.


Strauss goes on to rehash past ugly divorces from the team, including those of Matt Morris, Woody Williams and Mike Matheny, in an apparent attempt to extend a pattern of management's past and present insensitivity in player dealings.


In this article, Brian Walton and Leonda Markee share parts of their ongoing dialogue on this topic.


John Mabry


The former Cardinals infielder/outfielder received a very good guarantee from the Cubs relatively early in the free agent signing season. Mabry approached St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty, hoping to get a new deal to remain with the team. However, Jocketty advised Mabry to take the Cubs' offer.


Some interpret this as insensitivity on the part of Jocketty. 


Walton's take: It seems the Cards were not ready to commit a guaranteed deal to a 35-year-old reserve who hit under .200 in the second half of last season. Bravo. If I was running the team, I wouldn't guarantee a 2006 deal for Mabry, either. I would ask him to come to camp and compete with the likes of non-roster invitee Brian Daubach for a bench spot.


Jocko gave Mabry good, honest advice, even though it was not to his team's benefit. Mabry took it. I don't know that I would have done it any differently and I don't feel sorry for Mabry. He will have over a million ($) reasons to be happy for 2006.


Markee's take: I'm not talking about the Mabry situation specifically. A few details included in the article simply got me thinking about the issue again. More on that in a minute.


Matt Morris


After being a member of the Cardinals since first coming up in 1997, starting pitcher Matt Morris was offered arbitration by the Cardinals following an up and down 2005 season. But, Morris did not receive an offer from the Cardinals that he viewed as competitive for his services. He was right. Despite Morris wanting to remain in St. Louis, he eventually signed with the San Francisco Giants for three years, $27 million.


Walton's take: In Morris' case, I had gone on record expressing concern that team management strung him on too long this fall while they flirted with A.J. Burnett and eventually brought in Sidney Ponson to round out the rotation.

The Cardinals should have cut the ties sooner, as it seemed that all throughout the fall they had no serious intention of bringing Morris back, especially given his value elsewhere in the market.


On the other hand, the situation wasn't exactly a state secret. I can understand why Morris was disappointed, but if he and his agent didn't know what was going on, shame on them.


Markee's take: There is clearly a fundamental difference in how Brian and I view this overall issue. Morris' case is a good illustration of that difference. I think Matt Morris is a rare case in baseball where a player would have been willing to be a ‘lifer', playing only for the Cardinals. I agree that there are better pitching options for 2006 than Morris. That is only a side point in this issue. 


Morris bought into the emotional ties that Cardinals management tries to foster in their players. They freely use that connection to try and convince players to take less to play in St. Louis. I expect no less from good business people. However, the opposite side of that coin is for players to receive basic common courtesy in their dealings with the Cardinals. 


After the negotiations were finished and Morris was now a Giant, he deserved a telephone call from Walt Jocketty to try and smooth the ruffled feathers and let him know that his time as a Cardinal was appreciated and valued. That never happened and there is simply no excuse for that omission. 


Woody Williams and Mike Matheny


Strauss quoted the former Cardinals pitcher expressing his disappointment that Jocketty did not return his calls during his free agent period following the 2004 season. Williams eventually signed with the San Diego Padres for two years, $7 million plus incentives.


During that same off-season, the emergence of Yadier Molina made former Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny expendable following the 2005 season. While the Cardinals eventually made an offer for Matheny to remain, the Giants made a much better offer, three years, $11 million.


Walton's take: The players complain no one called them, but how do we know how many times the GM called their agent and their agent called the team? Even the players probably don't know that.


After all, it is the agent who has been hired specifically by the player to represent them in such matters. The player purposely wants to get out of the middle of contract negotiations (at least until they are looking for sympathy in the court of public opinion later on).


A goodbye call would be a nice touch, I agree. But all the complaints about not knowing what is happening during the process tell me the agents aren't doing their job on behalf of the player. Why should Woody be trying to get to Walt, anyway? That is what his agent is for.


I am told that the Cardinals have an end-of-season conversation with each of their players every year. There seems little doubt that Williams knew well ahead of time that his odds of coming back for 2005 were very low.


Matheny, on the other hand, apparently held out hope that the Cardinals would either go with two catchers or perhaps trade Molina. Having settled his family in the area likely made Matheny's separation even more difficult to accept.


Markee's take: Per that article, Woody Williams tried and could not get through to Walt at all. There's an implication that Matheny felt mislead and he made a very direct statement recently in reference to the Cardinals' Morris offer "That offer was an insult.  It was a slap in the face." that makes me think he indeed harbors hurt feelings about how things were handled.


I absolutely agree that agents may not be doing that end of their jobs well. That might be one of the key issues here. I also understand that Walt is in an awkward situation during the negotiation process where talking directly with the player may violate one of MLB's myriad rules. 


But that doesn't stop the Cardinals from contacting a player when they want to. Tony La Russa spoke directly with Edgar Renteria during those negotiations. We all know there are ways around whatever rules are in place.


Why would Woody be trying to get in touch with Walt when he has an agent? I think it probably gets down to the human side of the thing. My analogy is to the break-up of personal relationship. He's like the guy that can't believe his girl is really breaking up w/him. So he needs to talk w/her to hear, one-to-one, that it's really over. 


And in the baseball player's situation he may have concerns that anyone might have when dealing via a third party. No matter how good that third party might be, it remains a third party. The comfort level simply isn't going to be the same as it is if you hear it directly for yourself. 


He genuinely bought into the hype on the Cardinals and I'm sure that turning into an entirely different pitcher as a Cardinal was part of the falling in love process. But he genuinely appeared to love the fans and the situation. He deserved a 5-to-10 minute phone call.


Playing for the Cardinals vs. staying with the Cardinals


Markee's take: What I am talking about is Walt taking the time after negotiations are finished to live up to the public image the Cardinals like to portray: "We are the Cardinals. We expect you to take a discount because we treat you differently. This is a family here." 


It is the height of hypocrisy for the Cardinals to act that way then turn around and not even give the players that buy into that BS the courtesy of a final phone call to say "Well things didn't work out but thanks for your efforts on behalf of the team. We appreciate that and wish you the best in the future." Sure the player actually knows that if the Cardinals 'appreciated' them so darn much they would be coming back. But it still is nice to hear that you were valued as a person.


I bang Mark Mulder for being a 'rent-a-player' and I'm not alone among Cardinals fans in feeling this way at all. I like the players that wear the Birds on the Bat to care about its history, its fans. I want them to appreciate that it is the most special place on earth in which to play baseball. Part of that is Cardinals management acting with basic human decency after they have made the business decisions required in baseball. 


But Mulder is exactly right based on how the Cardinals handle the 'exit interview'. Why should he, or any other player, buy into what is important to me, as a fan that pays their salaries, when Cardinals management doesn't follow through on their end with what should be done?


Walton's take: I don't believe that the promise of playing for the Cardinals has all that much to do with how management deals with players when it is time for them to leave. Instead, it is about the fans and the overall environment of playing in St. Louis, including a consistent chance to win, that is the primary appeal. Maintaining the best chance to win year after year sometimes means letting favorites go.


I doubt these multi-millionaires call the teams when they dump them for better offers elsewhere. Suppose Renteria called Jocketty to say good-bye as he headed off to Boston or do you imagine that his agent did the dirty work? Clearly looks like a double standard to me.


Closing comments


Markee's take: Cardinals management has a history of ham-handedness during the break-up that could be lessened. I don't think it could be eliminated because we are dealing with one side that wants to come back and the other side that usually really doesn't want them back from a strictly business point-of -view.


My colleague refers to the departing ballplayers as ‘multi-millionaires' and they are.  There is an implication in his use of that term that their salaries should affect how their employers treat them. Since when, however, should the size of one's paycheck negate appropriate behavior? How much they earn is irrelevant to how they should be treated.  Because you pay me does not give you the right to treat me shabbily, no matter the size of the paycheck.    


Did I want Williams or Morris re-signed?  Nope.  Did I think Yadi was ready to replace Matheny?  Yep.  Do I value what each gave to the Cardinals?  Yep.  Did they deserve a simple phone call from our hypocritical GM thanking them for their service and wishing them the best?  Damn straight they did!


Walton's take: It is a very difficult balancing act to be sensitive and businesslike at the same time. I sense that Jocketty treats these players like men for the most part. However, management also considers the players commodities. Still, to assume that we all know everything that goes on behind the scenes is folly.


And, there is a decent chance there will be more hurt feelings in the not-too-distant future with contracts for players like Jeff Suppan, Mark Mulder and Jim Edmonds coming up before we know it.


Yes, I think the Cardinals probably could do better on certain communications aspects when some guys are leaving but there is no reason to baby the players, either. These men have the right to negotiate with any team they like and to secure the most money they can. There is little doubt who holds the ultimate power.


For me, the bottom line is that using the Mabry situation as justification to exhume this body once again simply to perform yet another autopsy was simply unwarranted. Even Morris, who surely could have been treated better, landed squarely on his feet, not on his back.


As far as I am concerned, this is a tempest in a teapot.


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