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in the wake of josh hancock's death, teams around the big leagues are banning alcohol from the home clubhouse; a meaningless gesture and (as kevin hench observes) a hypocritical one. brian burwell aptly stated last week that this isn't really about the players; it's about the culture, the society. what, if anything, can the cardinals do about that? what are they obligated to do about it? if i were their pr consultant (which, for the purposes of this blog post, i hereby appoint myself), i'd advise the team to cut a deal with one or two of stl's big cab companies to this effect: the cardinals pick up the fare (up to $25) for any passenger who presents the driver with a ticket stub from that night's ballgame.

i propose the idea in part because pat shannon offered to call a cab for hancock on the night he died; in calling taxis for their patrons, the cardinals would be evoking josh's memory and his tragic mistake. how many fares do you think the team would be on the hook for? i bet it'd be manageable --- only be a few hundred a night. sure, some jerks would be inclined to abuse the policy and hail a taxi while perfectly sober, just to avoid the crush at the metrolink station; the solution to that is to activate the policy at 11:00 pm or midnight, long after the game ends on most nights. that would make sense anyway, because then you're targeting those fans who stay downtown and have a few drinks after the game --- as josh hancock did.

let's assume they average 500 fares a game, and every one of those fares hits the $25 maximum --- that's $12,500 a night. multiply that by the 63 home dates remaining on the cardinals' schedule, and the tab comes to $787,000 --- a little less than twice what hancock's salary was. the policy draws tons of national attention; at the end of the season, the cardinals announce: "we took more than 30,000 drunk drivers off metro-area highways in 2007." add the tax writeoff to the value of all the free and favorable publicity the policy generates, and the team probably comes out ahead on the deal --- while actually doing something meaningful to curtail drunk driving. on any given night, they might save a life; what's that worth? it'd be a fitting tribute to the player they lost --- unlike the clubhouse booze ban, which is a mere CYA move and more than vaguely paternalistic. i daresay the ballplayers themselves might share the expense of all those free cab rides. how much do you think you'd collect for such a fund if you passed the hat around that clubhouse?

i offer the suggestion for free. wait, i take it back --- if the cardinals do take my advice, i'm gonna hit 'em up for a cab ride as compensation.

* * * * * * * * * * *

the subject of the cardinals' spending habits was much-discussed yesterday in the more usual context --- payroll and player procurement. ken rosenthal cited "questions about the commitment of ownership" in his article yesterday; an even more strident critique appeared at si.com, where jon heyman wrote: "[T]he Cardinals' problems go right to the top, to the owner, Bill DeWitt Jr., a rich guy determined to hold on to his money."

that might be an accurate portryal of the st louis ownership, but it's not sound analysis of the cardinals' current woes. the cards are losing because three high-priced veterans --- carpenter, rolen, and edmonds --- are contributing nothing and a fourth (pujols) is well off his game. i've asked before, and i'll ask again: who could, and should, the cardinals have spent their money on who'd be making a difference right now? anybody checked to see how the top free-agent pitchers are doing?

w-l era salary
batista 3-2 5.70 3 yr / $25m
eaton 3-3 7.43 3 yr / $25m
padilla 1-4 4.93 3 yr / $34m
schmidt 1-2 7.36 3 yr / $47m
weaver 0-6 14.32 1 yr / $8.3m
williams 1-5 5.10 2 yr / $12.5m
wolf 3-3 4.61 1 yr / $7.5m

the owners could've opened the purse strings for any of these players, but none would have changed the cardinals' lot today. braden looper --- whom heyman cites as a symbol of the owners' penury --- is outpitching every one of them by a long shot, and reyes and wainwright are pitching no worse. there are some free-agent pitchers who are off to good starts, but most either were out of the cards' price range (zito), got large-dollar contracts that were widely ridiculed (meche, marquis), or never would have considered signing with st louis in the first place (maddux). the exceptions are ted lilly and jeff suppan. suppy's contract looks great after 1 month, but it runs for another 3 years and 5 months; i gotta wait for that deal to run its course before i determine that the cards sold him short.

i think they missed the boat on lilly.

as far as the lineup goes, the only big-ticket free agents who might have helped are soriano and lee --- and they both got contracts that were widely derided, so it's a bit disingenuous to accuse the cardinals of underbidding. another consideration: money tied up in good-not-great 30somethings like soriano and lee would be unavailable to put toward the 20something powerhouses who are due to hit the free-agent market over the next few years. jake peavy, johan santana, and ben sheets will be available after 2008; dontrelle willis, miguel cabrera, matt holliday, and brett myers will be out there after 2009. the cards already have three eight-figure salaries (pujols rolen and carp) on the books for those seasons; add in a $16 million commitment to lee or soriano, and the team might not be in the running for any of those other players.

before you accuse me of being a blind apologist for the franchise, recall that i was harshly critical of it last summer (see this post and this post). but circumstances have changed since last summer. then they were an aging juggernaut with a rapidly closing window of opportunity to win a championship; now they're an aging .500ish team that needs to rebuild --- and has its championship (however flukey) in hand. furthermore, my critique last season wasn't purely based on dollars and cents. i did criticize the owners for cheaping out on aj burnett (whose contract now seems like a bargain), but i was even more critical of the team's reluctance to commit to its young (and cheap) players. getting younger has been an overriding objective since the 2005 nlcs, when the all-geezer outfield of walker, sanders, and edmonds ran outta gas against the astros. two years later, the cards are finally starting to address that issue --- duncan is laying claim to left field, two pre-arbitration pitchers are getting established in the rotation, and a third (thompson) is serving as a stopgap. if the cardinals blew it this off-season, their error lay in insufficiently stocking the outfield bench --- but even there, it might be argued that the failure is one of talent deployment rather than talent acquisition. the cardinals could have signed luis gonzalez, as derrick goold suggested the other day at Bird Land --- but why pay $7.5 million for a 39-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder when there's a 29-year-old already in the system (john rodriguez) who's about as productive? gonzalez is slugging .405 this year; rodriguez is slugging .481 at triple A . . . . .

the cardinals' problem is really quite simple. albert pujols is creating only 5.5 runs per 27 outs this year, just over half of his career rate (9.7 rc/27); if he were matching his career average this year, the cardinals would have about 15 more runs on the board in 2007. rolen created 6.8 runs per 27 last season, almost exactly his career average; this year he's producing 2.5 runs per 27, and that decrease has cost the cardinals 13 runs. edmonds created 5.8 runs / 27 last year, well below his career mark but still much better than the 2.3 runs / 27 he's creating this season; if he were simply matching last year's diminished production, the cards would have another 10 or so runs. taken together, those three players' slumps have cost the cards about 38 runs this year --- about 4 wins in the standings. that, plus carpenter's injury, explains why the cardinals are struggling.

and no amount of spending can fix it.