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confronting mortality

it's a day of mourning, and a great many cardinal fans' thoughts will be in tupelo. the comments thread is open for expressions appropriate to the occasion, if anybody wants/needs an outlet. but --- today only --- i will censor any and all discussion about the possible cause(s) of the fatal crash. that conversation can be resumed another day, for those who are interested; i hope any further dialogue will give rise to less aggravation than we saw yesterday morning.

the thread is also open for regular ol' baseball talk --- which, of late, has been a form of mourning unto itself around here. think back just one week, to last thursday --- the cards rallied from a 4-0 hole to beat the reds, 7-5, and win their second straight series. they were back within a game of .500 and beginning to look like themselves. the following night they rallied again, shaving 2 runs off a 3-run deficit and putting the tying run on 3d with nobody out in the 8th inning with rolen and edmonds due up. we were all feeling pretty good at that instant, no? that was only 6 days ago. alas, they couldn't get the runner home, zambrano beat them the next day, hancock died, and now the whole season is being written off.

i still think it's too soon to do that --- and i say so without cardinal kool-aid on my lips or rose-colored lenses over my eyes. i've watched every game; you don't need to tell me how awful the cardinals have been. they're having to confront their mortality in a baseball sense this year, as well as in the literal sense --- the cardinals as we have known them might very well be dead. but don't forget, they looked dead last year too, when they played four months of baseball as brutal as the one we've just endured. then, just as october began, jim edmonds got healthy. . . .

nobody is confronting his baseball mortality quite as starkly as jimmy. i wrote at the beginning of the season that "the fate of the st. louis offense may well rest in [edmonds'] hands" (see the last sentence of question no 2), and so far its fate has indeed mirrored his fate. if it's up to edmonds to bail them out, the outlook ain't so bright. at sports illustrated yesterday, albert chen had this statement from an unnamed scout:

Bottom line: they're not going to finish .500 without a healthy Jim Edmonds. It's pretty clear that his shoulder is still bothering him. His swing isn't right. I know they're hoping he can play himself into shape, but that may not be realistic. This team is toast without him.
i agree with the scout: the team is toast without edmonds, and it may not be realistic to think that he can play himself into shape this year. the more i see of him, the more i am convinced it won't happen. but i have to say, i didn't hear many shouts of protest when the cards re-signed him back in november. on the contrary, if the cards had failed to bring him back, i think the fan base would have stormed busch III and torn it down brick by brick. collectively, we wanted him to "retire a cardinal" --- and the owners gave us what we wanted.

and the truth is, there weren't many other options. there were only two viable centerfielders on the market --- gary matthews and dave roberts, the latter of whom i wrote about a few days after the season. matthews is past 30 and signed for too much money; roberts is only a couple of years younger than edmonds, and so far this year he's got a .655 ops. there was also some talk of shifting encarnacion to center field and signing a corner outfielder, but there were really only three good hitters on the market: carlos lee, alfonso soriano, and moises alou. all three are on the wrong side of 30 --- hell, alou is on the wrong side of 40 --- and lee and soriano both signed massive contracts that drew scorn throughout the baseball world. guys like dave dellucci and trot nixon and craig wilson were out there; they, too, are all older than 30. the indians signed dellucci for 3 years at $4m per --- an absolute steal --- but if the cards had signed dellucci to the same deal, dumped edmonds, and moved juan'cion to cf, how loud and long would the fans have howled "cheapskates!"?

the time to get younger was the 2005-06 off-season. it was the last time the cardinals had a surplus from which to trade --- a surplus of starting pitching. st louis was returning four "established" starters --- carp, marquis, supps, and mulder --- and had two rookies in the pipeline, reyes and wainwright. the plan going into the winter was to sign a pitcher and then trade marquis for a 20something outfielder --- names like kevin mench and brad wilkerson were being bandied about. but when the best pitcher the cardinals could afford was sidney ponson, they didn't feel they had sufficient depth in the rotation to deal from it. they also didn't feel comfortable handing a starting outfield job, or even a platoon role, to their 28-year-old reclamation, john rodriguez --- so they tapped the pool of so-so 30somethings and signed encarnacion.

the cardinals also may have toyed with the idea of trading edmonds to the yankees for robinson cano and chien-ming wang in november 2005, before the yankees landed johnny damon and while brian giles was still on the free-agent market. no telling how credible that rumor ever was; in light of subsequent events, i think there might very well have been some truth behind it. but even if that's the case, the rumor i heard is that the cardinals made the offer, and the yankees turned it down . . . . the precipitious drop in edmonds' skills may not have been entirely unanticipated.

if that's the case, then the front office's biggest mistake this off-season was in failing to acquire an adequate backup for a player they knew was at serious risk of washing out. they knew last november that edmonds and encarnacion were both ailing and might need significant help; their solution was to bring back spiezio wilson taguchi and schumaker, with the first pair supposed to provide offense off the bench and the latter two there to play defense. a month into the season, those solutions look pretty inadequate.

but they're not really the problem. edmonds is the problem.

is he a lost cause? at this time last season (ie, after 26 games) edmonds was nearly as bad as he is this season:

2006 79 12 16 4 0 4 12 24 | .203 .304 .405
2007 76 5 16 1 1 1 9 19 | .211 .294 .289

the rest of the way last year, edmonds went .273 / .364 / .491. it's a different season and he's a year older; there's nothing to say he's going to heat up again, as he did in 2006. the odds are probably against it. but if he doesn't, we'll have all summer and fall to lament the fact and to discuss how best to untangle the knot for next year. why give up 26 games into the season? just a week ago things were looking hopeful; a week hence, maybe they'll be looking hopeful again.