Separation Anxiety

The full details of the Skip Schumaker signing put me in a bit of an awkward situation. Initially, upon hearing the Cardinals actually went out and resigned Skip to a two-year deal, my reaction was decidedly negative. I wrote yesterday about the prospect of watching Schumaker play another two seasons in a Cardinal uniform, a column which netted me one very angry -- though quite polite -- email from a reader and one thumbs up from my editor.

Now, though, after finding out the particulars of the deal, that Skip will only be making $1.5 million per season, I feel as if my vitriol has really lost some of its potency. After all, the Cardinals are essentially paying Schumaker the market rate for around one-third of a win, and utilised properly I feel fairly confident Skip should be able to manage that. As terrible as he was in 2011, he was still worth twice that, coming in at 0.6 WAR largely while playing a position he should never, ever play. Ever.

So how does one go about faulting the organisation for a signing with so little downside? Schumaker is certainly no great shakes at, well, much of anything on the field, but the level of crapitude one has to sink to in order to fail to reach 0.3 wins is honestly a little tough to fathom. So yes, I will hate watching Skip Schumaker ground out to second base 250 times next year, but at such a modest salary it isn't as if he will be killing the team. Hence my confusion.

I'm certainly not the sort of person who needs everything to be split into good and evil. Not everything is black and white, this or that, great taste or less filling. But I do in general at least like to know how I feel about an issue, and I'm just getting too many mixed signals from myself right now.

But then again, the objections to having Schumaker around aren't really about the money, are they? I mean, they sort of are, in the sense he's exactly the sort of player you should be able to replace pretty much for free, ergo paying him for said production feels like a needless expenditure. But at the very highest end of things, Skip Schumaker is not the sort of player who is going to break the bank.

There are still two problems with keeping a guy like Skip around, though. The first is our old friend opportunity cost. As inoffensive as Skip Schumaker may be at a bare million and a half salary, and as unlikely as he is to underperform that figure, there's also not much in the way of upside above that. Sure, in all likelihood you'll get at least that third of a win from Skip you're paying him to produce. Honestly, though, do you really think there's much of a chance he does much better? That's the problem with keeping Skip Schumaker -- well, one of the two, anyway -- around as a sort of baseline player: you can't really do any better so long as he's taking up that roster spot.

The other issue with paying Skip is, um, the money. I know, I know. I said just a second ago it wasn't really about the money. But, well, yeah.

That million and a half being paid to Schumaker doesn't seem like much, really, until you figure in he's not the only fringe player the Cardinals will be paying a pittance to play like they're making a pittance. Take, for instance, Kyle McClellan, the other returning member of the 2011 team I was desperately hoping we had seen the last of. I'm sure someone is going to say, "But Aaron, Kyle McClellan isn't going to be the closer or anything! He's got his uses, and as long as he's the last guy out of the 'pen I can totally live with him. You could do a whole lot worse."

Leaving aside for a moment whether or not you really could do a whole lot worse, does anyone here think the Cardinals couldn't replace McClellan's performance with one of the myriad other right-handed relievers they have? Because I have to say, I'm willing to lay a fairly large chunk of money on the line that Eduardo Sanchez or Lance Lynn could outpitch K-Mac pretty handily in 2012. Now if the club wants Lynn to start in the minors rather than relieve in the majors, I can understand that train of thought somewhat. Even so, it isn't as if the Cards lack options to the point of needing McClellan around.

So take that $1.5 mil you're paying Schumaker and add whatever Kyle McClellan will get in arbitration. (He made $1.375 last season, and will actually get a raise on that, one would have to think, after making however many starts it was.) I'll just pull a number out of my ass and say he gets $1.7ish million. That $3.2 million would probably come pretty close to getting you someone who's actually good, like, say, Mike Gonzalez. Despite a rather nasty case of homeritis last season, Gonzalez has been one of the better left-handed relievers in the game over the past handful of seasons. His most recent contract, a two-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles, paid him $6 million total for those two seasons.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I still hate seeing Skip Schumaker coming back to the Cards, even though the salary he'll be paid is so low as to make it close to a lock he'll offer at least that much value. There's just no creativity to bringing back Skip. No imagination. Replace him with Tyler Greene or Adron Chambers, replace Kyle McClellan with Eduardo Sanchez, and you've got most of the cost of a quality player in hand, all while substantially increasing your possible upside without risking much more of a downside.

Keeping guys like Schumaker and McClellan on the payroll feels like an attempt to hold together what was a very successful team without properly crediting what ultimately did and did not make that team successful. The man who produced $35 million worth of value per season while being paid less than half that is gone. The Cardinals, if they want to stay competitive and move into the post-Albert world continuing to win, are going to need to be far more efficient with their roster than they have been in the past. There are far more efficient ways to use these two roster spots than Skip Schumaker and Kyle McClellan. But here we are, team holding on to players who do not contribute in a meaningful way, without any good apparent reason.

Maybe they're afraid of the downside. The total collapse that could be around the corner if the team trusted unknown options. Maybe they're just trying to keep the band together in the wake of the team's identity departing. Neither one is a good enough reason for me.

The Baron's Playlist for the 14th of December, 2011 -- A handful of breakup songs for our recent separation

"Your Ex-Lover is Dead" - Stars

"Iodine" - Leonard Cohen

"Beer" - Reel Big Fish

"Valentine's Day is Over" - Billy Bragg

"My Darling, I've Forgotten" - Of Montreal

"Am I That Easy to Forget?" - Skeeter Davis

"Heartbroke" - the Good Life

"Poke" - Frightened Rabbit (this one cuts very, very deeply)

"2002" - Bob Schneider

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