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"time to panic yet?" somebody wrote me yesterday, referencing carpenter's injury, and i gave the same answer i gave when i was asked that question during the cards' near-collapse down the stretch last september: it's never time to panic over baseball. it's time to panic when your 4-year-old wanders off in a crowded mall and you momentarily can't spot him; it's time to panic when you're going 70 on the highway and look up to find a tow-truck parked 10 yards in front of you.

but panic when your favorite baseball team, already playing like crap, loses its only good pitcher for another 3 months? i don't think so. it's not time to panic; it's time to alter expectations. heading into the season, i thought a reasonable expectation was that the cardinals would contend for a playoff spot. that no longer seems reasonable to me; it seems like wishful thinking. but it also seemed like wishful thinking last autumn to expect a deep playoff run out of the cardinals. on september 21st --- with mulder and izzy out, edmonds and eckstein unable to play, and the cardinals scuffling as they hadn't in years --- i put it like this: "the cardinals face long odds this october. but they're still gonna have games on the calendar; they'll still show up and try to win them. and we'll still be watching." that's how i'm approaching the rest of this season. for all that has happened, the cards are still gonna show up for their games and try to win them. i don't expect them to do very well, but maybe they'll surprise me. i didn't expect anything out of braden looper when they made him into a starting pitcher; he's surprised me so far. i didn't expect anything out of chris duncan when they made him the everyday left-fielder last july 1; i didn't expect anything out of josh kinney or jeff weaver.

if wishful thinking's the only item the kitchen hasn't run out of . . . well, bring me an order with a basket of bread. you can't eat gourmet every meal.

the "blow up the team" conversation has begun, and while it's not entirely misplaced, i don't think it's entirely realistic either --- and for sure it is premature. the cards aren't gonna acquire anyone at this point in the season who can help them for 2007 --- that is, not unless you think gms are lined up to offer good players for our broken-down ex-all-stars. (now that's wishful thinking.) if any significant trade goes down it will almost surely be made with future seasons in mind, so there's no rush; jocketty can get those deals done in june or july if, as seems likely, the cardinals are hopelessly out of it by then. moreover, several of the old nags we're all so eager to send packing --- edmonds, rolen, and izzy --- are 5 and 10 men, meaning they'll have to be bought out of their trade-veto rights; and their contracts are such that cards either will have to swallow a large chunk of the payroll (fat chance) or accept lesser talent in return. given the plentitude of lesser talent already in the system, that doesn't seem like progress.

indeed, as gratifying as it might feel to holler "dump the bums!!" --- who's not sick of watching these guys go 0 for 4 every night and lose 13-0? --- until one of our players draws a trade offer that actually moves the organization forward, we're probably stuck with them. at the very least, we're stuck with them for the next couple of months. if rolen or edmonds or eckstein has established any value by the trade deadline, maybe a worthwhile offer or two will develop --- in which case, dump away. i had edmonds traded to the yankees a year and a half ago, and i had rolen dealt to the angels back in november; the latter scenario remains a logical (albeit --- disclaimer --- entirely speculative) possibility, insofar as the angels are actively looking for a power bat and/or a 3d baseman. maybe rolen would appeal to them, if he can prove there's any power left in his bat. but scotty's got an iron-clad no-trade in his contract, which would complicate any transaction involving him. . . . the point here is that if the cards are ever in a position to get rid of one of their veteran players advantageously, i'm all for it. but dump 'em just for the satisfaction of dumping 'em? you don't get anywhere by selling low.

you sell high --- by which principle, the cardinals' most tradeable player at this moment is braden looper. he's affordable, he's under contract for next season . . . . . very attractive pickup for some arm-starved contending club. if he's still pitching well by july and the cards are still playing poorly, that's the player i would look for the cardinals to deal.

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jp riccardi did all baseball fans a great service by admitting that he lied about a player's health status --- he knew bj ryan's elbow was balky but told the media it was fine. i say it's a great service because i think riccardi gave us all a peek behind the curtain vis-vis the way most organizations treat injuries --- next time one of our team's Great and Powerful Ozzes makes a declaration about the well-being of chris carpenter, mark mulder, jim edmonds, johnny encarnacion, or anybody else, we'll all know how much to credit the "information."

writing on the subject yesterday (subscription only), will carroll suggested that such disinformation campaigns (which are common) are generally aimed at other teams, not at the fans; no gm wants potential trade partners to know exactly how large the holes in his roster are. but it's the fans who take the statements to heart --- and get pissed off when they turn out not to be true. quoting carroll:

The fact is, people in the industry lie, or in more cases, they just try to misdirect us, although without much malice. I won't fault it much more when it happens next time--and it will. I'll just ask whoever it is to figure out what it is you gain while you're losing your fans' trust.
and surely the clubs don't limit their lying to matters related to injury . . . . ah, but let's not go there. wishful thinking; wishful thinking.