re the recent conflict over diaries: please see this thread for an update. more on this subject to come later.
now for the other, more consequential conflict taking place in cardinal-land. i guess it's official, if it wasn't already: the cards have become the yankees. they're as much about ego and personality now as about baseball; what the participants say about each other off the field generates at least as much interest as what they do on the field. i'm referring, of course, to la russa's blunt remarks about rolen, capsulized in this diary and in joe strauss's article this morning. to me, the content of la russa's remarks is far less interesting than the subtext: he now regards the war w/ rolen as a competition. and tony, as in all things, very badly wants to win.
i have no idea which guy is "right" here, nor do i much care; in a clash of personalities like this, the fault almost always lies on both sides. from a purely baseball standpoint, if i could only have one of these two guys in my organization, either rolen or la russa --- i'd take scotty.
having said that: i'd deal scotty in a heartbeat if the cards could get a decent return. so far they can't, and that seems to be largely because the owners won't pick up much of rolen's salary. this is one instance in which the worn-out and overused "cards are cheap!!" accusation actually sticks, imho. is it any wonder that teams won't part with premium talent to acquire a player with rolen's salary, health issues, and recent track record? no duh. but there has been more interest in scotty than i expected --- and if the cards were willing to pick up, say, half the tab, they might actually be able to get a deal done. the acquiring team would get him for, in essence, 3 yrs / $18m; that's a bargain in a marketplace where guys like gary mathews and aaron rowand can command upwards of $10m a season. suppose the cards were to offer rolen plus $18 mill to the giants, who have expressed interest in scott and possess a surplus of young arms (from which they reportedly are willing to deal). mozeliak asks for matt cain in return. from a payroll standpoint, the $18m the cards are sending out to san francisco becomes part of matt cain's "salary"; it doesn't go into his pocket, but it's part of the price the cards are paying for his services. that gets added to the money that actually does go into cain's pocket --- he's 1 year away from arb eligibility, so he stands to earn an aggregate of about $8m over the next three years --- and you wind up paying about $26m over three years for cain. in this marketplace, a pitcher of his ability is a stinkin' bargain at 3 yr / $26m.
of course, we don't know if the giants would go for that specific deal; maybe they'd counter by offering noah lowry and jonathan sanchez, or maybe they'd tell mo "sorry, not interested." but i think that's how the team should go about it. approach the dodgers and offer rolen + $18m for andy la roche or chad billingsley; approach the angels and offer the same for jered weaver, or for ervin santana plus a prospect. and once the trade is completed, if there's still a hole at 3d base the cards still have half of rolen's salary left over to pay his replacement (let's just say mike lamb for the purposes of discussion). the objective would be to convert the $36m on rolen's contract into a package of talent that looks something like matt cain and mike lamb --- a package of talent that's younger and at least as good but not a penny more expensive; a package of talent that's worth the money.
i've often defended the cards' unwillingness to spend, because i've often thought the expenditures under consideration were unwise ones; refusal to make a bad investment does not constitute cheapness, it constitutes intelligence. but in this case, spending some $$$$ might rid the cards of a problematic relationship and bring young talent in return --- a good investment. it's the owners' job to facilitate that possibility and give mozeliak a decent product to offer at market. so far, it appears they haven't opened the coffers far enough to empower him.
one of the teams that has expressed interest in rolen, the dodgers, signed andruw jones last night to a deal worth 2 years and $36m --- another reason i think rolen at 3 yrs / $18m would fetch lots of interest. in this market, the jones deal looks like a bargain; i'd a lot rather have him on that contract than torii hunter for 5 / $90m, or aaron rowand on whatever dumb deal he ends up getting. while i think the cards could have afforded andruw for 2 years at that price, i don't view him as the type of player mo should be looking at. if the cards were better positioned to contend in the short term, then sure --- great buy. i think the dodgers will be pleased with their acquisition. but he wouldn't have got the cardinals where they need to go. he's expensive, past 30, and coming off a bad season --- the type of player the cards already have enough of; the type of player that got the team into its current mess.
step back and think about this team for just one second. about 20 percent of its 2008 payroll is tied up in three players --- encarnacion ($6.5m), mulder ($6.5m), and carpenter ($10.5m) --- with almost no value. one can't play at all; one hasn't been any good since 2005 and is coming off back-to-back surgeries; and one will miss 2/3 of the season before attempting his comeback from back-to-back surgeries. another 20 percent of the payroll --- edmonds ($8m) and rolen ($12m) --- is tied up in old, injury-prone, badly diminished players. those 5 contracts are among the 7 richest ones on the team, and they're all liabilities --- big ones. so big that only a team with a peaking farm system could hope to overcome them. there is a line of argument which contends that the team can be fixed via the acquisition of still more pricey, injured and/or declining stars. i reject that notion.
mozeliak was quoted the other day like so: "I feel really torn in trying to address '08 to make some impact to make sure we're competitive within our division, where it might sacrifice something for '09 and '10." that quote gives me comfort. it tells me that mo has his priorities in order: 2008 is a lower priority than 2009 and beyond. that's a rational approach, and mo should stick to it. but his patience will be tested by the win-now demands of fans and (in some cases) the media. i think it would be constructive for the cards to drop the pretense that they are competing in 2008 . . . . ok, from a marketing standpoint maybe they can't afford to do that. but they could say: "we'll be as competitive as our veterans make us. we'll be competitive if edmonds can avoid injuries; if rolen's shoulder is healthy; if mulder is able to contribute; if carpenter can give us a lift at the end of the year. we're always on the lookout for opportunities to improve the team, but they have to be long-term solutions as opposed to quick fixes. when we have a clean shot at a long-term solution, we'll bag it; in the meantime we'll rely on the warriors who won us 2 pennants and a world title."
some people would scream bloody murder at that statement, but others would appreciate the candor. fans get upset when their intelligence is insulted --- when the team offers empty promises ("we're looking for upgrades, we intend to compete") that it knows it probably can't live up to. candor might hurt the cardinals' ticket sales in the short term, but it won't do any long-term damage. lack of candor, on the other hand, damages the franchise's credibility and makes people cynical. reading the comments here every day, and at all the other cardinal blogs and the p-d boards, it's clear that cynicism is spiking. no matter what happens --- antonetti doesn't come here, la russa returns, a trade does or doesn't happen, an injured player does or doesn't come back healthy, etc etc --- the organization immediately gets denounced for acting in bad faith. while i don't think most of those accusations are warranted, i totally understand why people go there. they go there because the franchise is so far from honest in its communication. the cardinals talk down to their customers; they won't tell us truths they think we don't want to hear, or truths they think we can't handle. instead they serve up harmless little lies --- except over time and in the aggregate, the lies do inflict harm; frustration mounts, resentment builds.
the relationship between rolen and la russa seems to have deteriorated due to bad communication (or total lack thereof); there's a danger that a similar dynamic could pollute the relationship between the fan base and team --- probably not to the point of divorce, but certainly to the point of trial separation. there are two sides to every relationship. fans have to have realistic expectations; the franchise has to cultivate them. it's not happening that way right now.
* * * * * * * * * * *marketplace note: milton bradley's docs like what they see, according to ken rosenthal:
Bradley is expected to be ready by either Opening Day or April 15, and figures to land a one-year contract after some of the more prominent outfielders are signed.