The Five Hole with Chris Gift

The point each year is to win, and if winning is out of the question, then get ready for next year. It seems obvious that this isn't the year for the Cardinals, so why not salvage something from this year...

In the inverse stock market mentality that is the rule for baseball general managers in mid to late July - buy high, sell low - occasionally teams that have no business being buyers buy.

What is more obscure is when teams that are above .500, that are in contention or leading their respective divisions, but no shot at winning the World Series realize that when it is all said and done, division, wild card and pennant winners really don't matter.

Any professional team, from the Cardinals and Rams to the Rascals and the Rage have two goals: put people in the seats, and to win championships.

As each trade deadline approaches, teams need to weigh those two questions.

Question 1: Realistically, can we win a championship?

If Cardinal management (not just Walt Jocketty and Tony La Russa, but the entire front office) thinks that the answer is yes, they're gravely mistaken. Jocketty's trade deadline brilliance can't be questioned, but this year's team has too many holes for Walt to fill between now and August.

Houston acquiring Aubrey Huff, one of the few bats that may have helped the team without mortgaging the future (translation: trading Anthony Reyes or Adam Wainwright) not only solidifies the Astros' lineup but it also keeps Huff from coming here, much like the Yankees trading for Alex Rodriguez to keep him from Boston.

Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek are both too old and too expensive financially, Kansas City would most likely trade them for Bo Hart, Jimmy Journell and two members of Team Fredbird's AAA team, for the Cardinals to reacquire.

At the break, there were 19 teams within six games of their division's lead. Minnesota is currently in third place in the AL Central, eleven games out, but their All-Star Break record of 47-39 (.547) is only ½ game behind the Cardinals' 48-39 (.552).

Other than the glaring offensive weakness of left field, it doesn't take Branch Rickey to notice that the Cardinals' bullpen has more holes in it than some of the guys the Blues threw in goal this past season. After watching The Shawshank Redemption and Bull Durham the other night, it seems fairly obvious that pitching is to baseball what cigarettes are to prison. Pitching is the currency that deals and championships are built around.

None of the ten teams that are out of it have a dominant pitcher the Cardinals can obtain to make a difference. Getting a starter such as John Smoltz, Barry Zito, or Greg Maddux would make an extremely underachieving staff an extremely crowded and underachieving staff. The team should have the talent in the starting rotation to dominate, but because of injury (Mark Mulder), stubbornness (Jason Marquis), ineffectiveness (Jeff Weaver), inconsistency (Jeff Suppan) and poor run support (Chris Carpenter) it hasn't happened yet.

That leads to the bullpen. In American League also-ran bullpens, the only "sexy" name out there is Cleveland's Bob Wickman. In the National League, Florida's Joe Borowski and the man who replaced him in Chicago, Ryan Dempster, would be the pick of the litter. Dempster isn't going to be traded. He and Carlos Zambrano are the two pitchers the Cubs have for the future. Calling those names "sexy" and obtaining them by trading anything higher than the baseball equivalent of taking a girl to Ponderosa for a first date would be a mistake.

Sexy isn't making a trade to make a trade. Sexy is making a trade that makes playing the rest of the playoffs unnecessary. In the last ten years, the Aaron Boone for Brandon Claussen trade and while not a trade deadline deal, the Curt Schilling for Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon trade have been the sexiest.

There isn't enough talent on the field or available in trades to win a World Series, but the answer to the other question is a no-brainer.

Question 2: Win or lose, how many tickets are going to go unsold?

Short answer: Not many.

Long answer: For years, this team has had the hearts of enough people to draw well. Add the novelty of a new home, that is absolutely a palace (at least in the seating area) and empty seats are as plentiful as Einar Diaz jerseys at the team store.

For a long time the team will not have to worry about playing in front of small crowds. It doesn't matter if the team wins 115 games or loses 115 games each year.

People will come, Walt. People will most definitely come.

So the team isn't going to win a World Series this year and is going to have close to or over 40,000 people at every game from now until there is actually a ballpark village, right?

Then instead of making an unnecessary, unsexy trade, why not fold the tent and sell a player or two?

Not a fire sale. Don't put everything in a uniform including bullpen catcher Jeff Murphy and Fredbird on the market, but a controlled sale.

Give something up, for instance an aging free agent to be outfielder (sounds a little like Larry Walker) for a few prospects, especially if that left handed swinging outfielder is starting to go downhill and has a large option that the team isn't going to pickup next season.

Yes, instead of selling the future to lose to the Mets in the NLCS this year, the team needs to trade Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds' leaving here would put So Taguchi in center every day and allow Chris Duncan to play left. The team's centerfielder of the future, Colby Rasmus, will be 20 on August 11, and is most likely two years away. He was the team's first pick in the 2005 draft, and is currently playing for The Swing of the Quad Cities (can a rep from the Anaheim Ducks tell the Swing how advantageous a name change is?). There will have to be a centerfielder other than Edmonds between now and then. Why have Edmonds play out the string here and leave with no compensation when he could be dealt this summer and maybe Jocketty could strike gold?

Schilling was once a prospect traded at the deadline, as was Jeff Bagwell, Grady Sizemore, and Randy Johnson. If the Marlins don't realize that Antonio Alfonseca is more valuable being traded than pitching in South Florida, then they never get Dontrelle Willis.

The point each year is to win, and if winning is out of the question, then get ready for next year. It seems obvious that this isn't the year for the Cardinals, so why not salvage something from this year for the organization in 2007 and beyond.



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