What the Cardinals can take from the Yankees, besides the luxury tax

First, some briefs on yesterday's roster moves:

It's interesting to see the Brad Thompson perception gap—the RotoWorld box in the sidebar thinks he'll have no problem finding a job, even as a fifth starter; the Baseball Primer thread is remarkably positive, for BTF. But I think the average VEBer wrote off the artist occasionally known as WonderBrad a long time ago. 

I'll always think of him as a better pitcher than he probably was and is; I'm as susceptible as anybody else to overvaluing a player when he gets off to a good start, and there were moments there in 2005 (it seems like it's been longer) where his weird sinker seemed like the makings of a uniquely valuable short reliever. But I'm hard-pressed to think of any team that's strapped enough for choice to give him a clear shot as a fifth starter coming off a year with a K/9 of 3.8. 

Jarrett Hoffpauir leaves the 40 man roster—and, though this wasn't the Cardinals' intent, the organization—a victim of circumstance; without the Julio Lugo deal he might come into 2010 as the Cardinals' best free choice for Skip Schumaker's equally awkward right-handed caddy, but Lugo has a name and at least theoretically plays short. It's tough luck for the Cardinals; finding purchase on a big league roster is hard for backup infielders who can't play shortstop, but Hoffpauir, with his occasionally impressive bat and his consistently impressive BB:K ratio, has one more definable skill than most of these guys. (Being a Cardinals farmhand is apparently also a path to gainful MLB employment for these guys—Edgar Gonzalez and the poor man's Jarrett Hoffpauir, Mike McCoy, both saw big league time this year.)

In 2010 he would have had Lugo on one side and Daniel Descalso, who somehow failed to receive regular playing time in his 2009 AAA stint, on the other, though, so maybe it's best he's gone to an organization without a veteran playing for free and a prospect at second. (Which makes it even weirder that Joe Thurston didn't get the Brad Thompson treatment—hopefully he'll spend his Memphis summer working on his footwork rounding second base, not standing next to it.)

With that out of the way, the big news: the Yankees have finally beaten the Curse of Clay Bellinger. It was a tough road, but I can only hope that they have enough footage of Jimmy Fallon running out onto the field to properly commemorate those long years in Fever Pitch 2. What did these Yankees do that the Cardinals can emulate, multi-billion dollar payroll aside?

1. Make the Free Agent deals count. The list of Yankees busts in the years between 2000 and 2009 is comical both quantitatively and qualitatitively—these guys signed Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and Kei Igawa to deals totaling $106 million. The spending binge prior to 2009 will justifiably get a lot of attention as the difference-maker between this club and the ones that preceded it, but this time around Brian Cashman was at least forward-thinking enough to sign players who have established track records of performing in a way that resembles their enormous contracts. 

This hasn't been true of the Cardinals' last three pitching free agents—Kyle Lohse was signed at the absolute peak of his value, for a dollar value that seems blissfully disconnected from the rest of his body of work. The Joel Pineiro and Mark Mulder contracts, each two years, $13 million, were both affordable risks, and one of them worked out better than the Cardinals could possibly have imagined, but they were an extremely speculative way to spend $26 million; there wasn't much in their recent history to suggest they were multi-million dollar pitchers, of a separate species from recent gambles like John Smoltz or even the first appearances of Lohse and Pineiro. 

Matt Holliday is, for all his Boras-sized ambitions, a guy who will come into the first year of his contract almost certain to play up to it. He's durable, he's still within sight of his peak years, and he's a consistently excellent hitter with a broad base of skills. Which combines with makes Joe Strauss's recent, inexplicably phrased chat insinuations an interesting, if not instructive, topic of discussion: 

Chairman Bill DeWitt recently denied that the club has made Holliday an offer; however, there are suggestions that the Cardinals discussed a 6-year, $96 million framework with Holliday's agent, Scott Boras.

I'll be honest: I have no idea what "suggestions" means when it is both unsourced and right after an official club denial but also accompanied by an extremely specific contract "framework." No idea whatsoever. But assuming that Joe Strauss is not the one suggesting this, or Joe Strauss's barber, this seems like a fine deal for a team that, as a recent fanshot noticed, is filled with a ton of decent players. $16 million could be parceled out to three or four basically average guys, hole-fillers, and probably earn more wins above that famous replacement player than Holliday himself. But this team doesn't need Reggie Sanders—it needs MV3.

An argument could be made that these big free agent contracts need to be seen as the reward for, and culmination of, years spent cultivating guys like Skip Schumaker and David Freese to negate the need for the Kyle Lohses. But at $96 million, instead of $180 million, I guess two out of three isn't so bad.

2. Develop an inconceivably long-lasting internal core. How are three of the Yankees' best players still holdovers from 1996? Asking the Cardinals to develop three to five borderline Hall of Famers over the course of the next three years is probably a little too much to ask, but it's nice to see the Cardinals progressing in this direction; Pujols and Wainwright were locked down early, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Colby Rasmus follow along the same path.

Losing Brett Wallace leaves them one future core player short, but I'm glad the Cardinals still have at least one in the system; winning 78 games in 2007 isn't far removed from having top prospects like Jimmy Journell and post-surgery Blake Hawksworth a few years earlier. Get here soon, Shelby Miller. 

3. Look at all those young, successful relievers! The Cardinals made—and have continued to make—a good-faith effort at this with guys like Jason Motte and Chris Perez and Kyle McClellan. And since I am lost as you to the reasons for the enormous gap between Motte's PCL and MLB numbers, it's frustrating to see the Yankees' three fine young relievers, even if two of them had less than impressive postseasons. 

Interesting, though, to see how the three came to be important parts in the Yankee pen—one should probably still be in the Yankee rotation, another was a minor league free agent and career starter. 

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