Sunday Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur

After a winter of discontent, disgrunted Cardinal fans are calling for the head of the beloved Fredbird, and on the team's front office to sign the Cheap, Cheap Chicken to a major league deal, as the team's new mascot.

Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals began the New Year off by signing left-hander Royce Ring to a $475,000, one-year major league contract to give them another lefty option in the bullpen. In addition to his salary, Ring can earn $25,000 in performance bonuses based on games played.

The signing of Ring comes off the heels of a one-year deal last month for $500,000, for free agent Trever Miller and claiming Charlie Manning off of waivers. Last season the Cardinals bullpen consisted of a lefty duo of Ron Villone and Randy Flores most of last year but didn't offer a contract to either pitcher. One can assume the Cardinals front office and scouts know more than I do, but for the life of me, I can't see where the Cardinals have improved here.

Even the most loyal fans in Cardinal Nation were agitated at the announcement of the signing of the 28-year-old, Ring, who was 2-1 with an 8.46 ERA in 42 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. After making an opening-day roster for the first time in his career, Ring was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA through June, then quickly faded and was cut by the Braves in early August.

Looking back, Ring was selected as the 18th overall pick in the 2002 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox. At the time, he was considered to the best college closer entering the draft and signed with the Sox for $1.6 million. Since signing and turning professional, he has been part of four organizations with the Cardinals being his fifth.

Looking ahead, if he makes the Cardinals 25-man roster out of spring training, and that is not a given, despite the major league contract, Ring will likely be used as the Cardinals second or third left-handed option out of the St. Louis bullpen.

The response from fans about the signing of Ring, was less than positive;

CJ -"Pure Raw insanity. I think this is where the hatred of Dewitt comes from, crap like this. It's not the tier one guys not being signed it's the bottom of the barrel junk bought at dollar general!"

BM - "Maybe the Cardinals need to get a new mascot, the Cheap, Cheap Chicken.

RM - "I can't defend this deal, the defense rests."

NL – "Welcome to the world of cheapskates."

BA – "More proof Mo is asleep at the wheel."

ES – "A Major League deal? Really? That is craziness."

Overwhelmingly, even among the most faithful Cardinal fans and loyalist to the front office, were bewildered and irritated by the Ring major league deal and troubled by the direction the St. Louis organization is taking in the offseason.

The Cardinals have no one to blame but themselves, for this reaction from the fans. The front office, year in and year out, continues to exaggerate about how aggressive they are going to be in the free agent market and in their willingness to make trades.

After the Cardinals finished in fourth place last season many fans were hoping the team would make some significant moves by now to address the needs of the team, including; adding a starter, a veteran closer as a bridge to Jason Motte or Chris Perez, upgrading the middle infield and adding a couple of lefties to the bullpen.

While the fans are chomping at the bit for marquee names or proven veterans like, pitchers; A.J. Burnett, Jake Peavey, Randy Wolf, Jon Garland, Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Brian Fuentes, Brandon Lyons Will Ohman, Arthur Rhodes, and outfielder Matt Holliday or second baseman, Kelly Johnson, they are served a platter of left-overs in Trever Miller, Charlie Manning, Royce Ring and minor league side dishes of, Ian Ostlund and infielder Joe Thurston.

Who could blame the fans for being upset over what has been served up to them? It's not like they can send it back, the only other option they have is to stop patronizing the Cardinals, or at least, cut back on their trips to the ballpark.

The Cardinals owner, Bill DeWitt's earlier forecast that the team was expecting a decrease in attendance this season, could become a self fulfilling prophecy with the moves the front office has made this winter.

IN OTHER NEWS

Manager Tony La Russa said the Cardinals had interest in free agent right-handers Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon, both of whom pitched for Arizona. Setup man Cruz, whose signing as a Type A free agent would cost the club a draft pick as compensation, was 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings last year. Lyon had 26 saves but a 4.70 ERA.

Don't look for the Cardinals to make move for a free-agent this winter that is going to cost them a first-round draft pick. In my opinion, they'll go with Jason Motte, Chris Perez or even Chris Carpenter as the closer, before giving up a first round draft pick. As to adding another starter, the Cardinals will wait and see about Chris Carpenter and may not sign anyone until the team reports to Florida.

General manager John Mozeliak said his team would owe at least $10 million more this season to their five arbitration-eligible players -- OFs Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel and RHPs Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer. Ludwick, coming off a 37-homer, 113-RBI season, may get 10 times as much this season as he did last year, when he made $411,000. Thirteen-game winner Wellemeyer, one year from free agency, may see his salary rise from $1 million to $4 million.

Besides the raises due the arbitration-eligible players, the Cardinals' payroll for 2009 will include hikes for RHP Adam Wainwright, whose salary will go from $500,000 to $2.6 million, and C Yadier Molina, whose pay will jump from $1.75 million to $3.25 million, as part of the escalation in their tiered multiyear deals.

"So there isn't as much freedom as people felt we had with guys like (Mark) Mulder coming off the books. There's definitely some internal increases that we're dealing with," Mozeliak said.

The old saying is "Money Talks" and after signing Kyle Lohse to a four-year deal, the Cardinals have been pretty quiet this winter.

The taunting of "Cheap, Cheap" may not be fair, but one can understand the fans discontentment with the team's front office.

Finally, replacing Fredbird with the Cheap, Cheap Chicken. All I can say is, I'm a close personal friend of Fredbird and replacing him with the Chicken, would just be another cheap move.







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