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weekend discussion: pick your poison

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lot of speculation lately about jim edmonds' future with the cardinals; now the same discussion is underway vis-vis mark mulder. both players could very well be in their final year with st louis, and i can't think of any off-season in which the cardinals lost two guys of such stature without getting big-league talent in return. not even the triple defection of renteria, matheny, and woody williams one off-season ago had the kind of impact an edmonds/mulder exodus would. i don't think the cards are prepared to allow it; indeed, it's not clear that they can afford to. for one thing, the organization has no replacements at hand; for another, they're still aching from the pounding they took this winter after casting role players like sanders grud'k nunez and tavarez adrift.

a lot of stl fans would probably like both edmonds and mulder to stay, but that's not very realistic; the payroll simply can't swallow both contracts. the team would have to raise the salary ceiling to, say, $100m a year to retain both players, and even if it was willing to do that it's far from certain that such would be the best thing for the team. both edmonds and mulder are showing signs of decline; it would be best to let some other organization overpay for their past-peak seasons.

what we're left with, then, is a split-the-diff'nce situation. it's a bad idea to try to keep both players and (strictly in a pr sense) a bad idea to let them both walk; they gotta keep one, and only one. but who -- edmonds or mulder?

it's easiest to begin this discussion with edmonds, since a) he has made it clear he wants to retire as a cardinal, and b) the cards hold an option on him for 2007. that option year really complicates jimmy's path to his last big contract. suppose he plays well in 2006; the cards will just pick up their $10m option on him for '07, and edmonds won't hit the open market until 2008, as he's heading into his age-37 season. at that age he'll be lucky to get a three-year offer, even if he stays healthy and effective. now consider the other scenario: edmonds plays poorly in '06, and the cards decline the option; he heads onto the market next winter as a 36-year-old player in steep decline. either way, edmonds isn't well positioned to make a big haul. so his best option, as matthew leach proposed recently at the cards' official site, might be to seek an extension now at a discount -- say, 2 add'l years at $9m per. that takes the uncertainty out of it for both sides; edmonds is guaranteed three more seasons in st louis (ie through 2008, when he'll be 37 years old), and the cards get him at a manageable number. and the team's discount is even deeper than it appears on the surface. they already owe edmonds a minimum of $3m for 2007 -- that's what they'll have to pay to buy him out of the option year. so it would only cost an additional $15m to extend him through 2008, or $7.5m a season in marginal dollars. when you consider that st louis will be paying juan encarnacion $6m a season for 2007-08, edmonds at (effectively) $7.5m a year looks like a hell of a bargain.

having now thoroughly persuaded myself that this idea makes sense, let's see whether that contract would make sense in a broader payroll context. if the cardinals lock up edmonds as described above, they would have the following commitments through 2008:

2007
guaranteed: pujols $15m, rolen $12m, edmonds $9m, is'hausen $9m, carpenter $7m, encarnacion $5m, looper $4.5m, eckstein $4.5m, rincon $1.5m. subtotal: $67.5 million to 9 players
arb-eligible players: bigbie, taguchi @ est. $2m per
non-arb eligibles: molina, reyes, luna, b thompson, wainwright, j-rod @ est. $500K per
TOTAL: ~ $75m to 17 players, leaving ~ $15m to fill 8 roster slots

2008:
guaranteed: pujols $16m, rolen $12m, edmonds $9m, encarnacion $6.5m, looper $5.5m subtotal: $49m to 5 players
options: is'hausen $8m ($1m buyout), carpenter $8m ($1m buyout)
arb-eligible players: bigbie, luna, molina @ est. $2m per
non-arb eligibles: reyes, b thompson, wainwright, j-rod, haerther @ est. $500K per
TOTAL: with buyouts: ~$60m to 13 players, leaving ~$35m to fill 12 roster slots
with options: ~$74m to 15 players, leaving ~$20m to fill 10 roster slots

looks doable at first glance. but here's the problem: this leaves the cards with only two starting pitchers under contract for both years and -- given what pitchers cost nowadays -- nowhere near enough spending money to acquire postseason-caliber hurlers. so they can't commit to edmonds now; they'd have to gut the rotation to do it.

okay then, let's say they let edmonds walk after 2006 and put the money into an extension for mulder instead. after seeing so many pitchers cash in this winter, he's got to be dying to get out there on the open market; but mulder is a whole season away from free agency, and a lot can happen between now and next fall. he could get injured; he could pitch poorly and drive down his asking price. if the cards offered, today, a three-year extension (ie, through 2009) worth $30m, mulder might very well take the sure thing. his buddy huddy did just that with the braves last spring -- signed a backloaded extension for 4 years / $36m. you think he might've earned a few pennies more than that if he'd been a free agent this winter? and hudson has to wait for his reward; the contract pays him just $4m in 2006 and $6m in 2007, then delivers $13m windfalls in each of 2008 and 2009.

let's plug in some similar numbers for mulder: $7m, let's say, in 2007, $11m in 2008, and $13m in 2009. that would make the payroll bottom lines (as per the thumbnails above) as follows:

2007: $76m (including $3m to buy out edmonds) to 17 players, leaving ~$15m to fill 8 roster slots
2008: with buyouts: ~$61m to 13 players, leaving $35m to fill 12 roster slots; with options: $75m to 15 players, leaving $20m to fill 10 roster slots

the bottom line doesn't change under this scenario, but the cardinals would go into 2007 with three starters (carpenter, mulder, and reyes) under contract; wainwright would presumably still be around, and guys like lambert and pomeranz might be close to reaching the surface. so one budget-priced inning-eating free-agent pitcher (hello, sidney ponson) might provide sufficient rotation stability. candidates to fill the centerfield hole would include bigbie, encarnacion, possibly cody haerther or prentice redman, or (if they get lucky) a value-priced free agent.

if it sounds like i'm endorsing this idea, i'm not; i'm not sure mulder will pitch well this season, let alone for the next four. (yesterday's post at mlbtraderumors pretty well sums it up for me: "Mulder's next contract looks like it will be one of the most egregious examples of a free agent mistake.") i'm in favor of preserving the status quo on both mulder and edmonds until the season ends -- and trying like hell, in the interim, to acquire a young, cheap, major-league-ready baseball player, most likely in exchange for marquis suppan or mulder. that's the best way, in my opinion, to preserve roster/payroll flexibility moving forward.

but if, as i proposed at the beginning of this post, we're talking a strict either/or -- ie, either mulder or edmonds is going to be a keeper for 2007 -- then based on present circumstances i guess it's gotta be mulder. i don't like it, but i don't see any way around it; retaining edmonds simply puts too big a dent in the rotation for 2007 and beyond.

i'm very interested in hearing how you all might move the pieces around to arrive at a diff'nt result.

Update [2006-2-18 9:4:57 by lboros]: ps --- per derrick goold's birdland, former angel scott spiezio will be in camp as a late nonroster invitee. a quick look at the biggest at-bat of spiezio's career here.