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Growing Pains

We're all adults right? I want to echo the sentiment from Bernie Miklasz's article back in December. The Cardinals have had an absolutely incredible run of winning. In the last 10 years, the Cardinals have had two sub .500 seasons, which included the incredible 2004-2005 back to back 100 win seasons. It's been a great run but let's be honest about what it's come to at this point. The team had a 71-91 Pythagorean record last season.

I like watching a winning ballclub. I'd rather watch a club that wins big than one that barely contends though. Remember that even in the midst of last year's less than exemplary season, the Cardinals were competitive. That's the nature of the NL Central right now; it's a division that encourages Ed Wade to go all out and build a team that probably tops out around 85 wins. Namely, because 85 wins could take the division title and get you into the postseason in the NL Central. The Cardinals farm system isn't as bad as the Astros was and we do have the best player in the NL and the former best pitcher in the NL on our team -- there's considerably more "win now" talent available.

Still, the consensus hereabouts seems to be for the Cardinals to find a happy medium of winning now without sacrificing the future. For the most part, John Mozeliak has done that. What the Cardinals haven't done, bringing this back to the introduction, is be honest with their fans about the reality of the team being fielded in 2008. Bernie wrote in his column:

After a terrific run of reaching six postseasons (including two World Series) over the last eight years, the Cardinals were nearing the end of an era. And they have some rebuilding to do. They're in transition. It happens. It isn't a crime against humanity. So why can't the Cardinals just offer some straight talk? They had an intelligent case to be made to their fans.

I don't get it. Let's just be straight with each other, Cardinal management. I'll still come to the games and buy your overpriced beer and you'll field a team in transition -- deal? Do the Cardinals think that if they said, "We're going to see what our young players have to offer. It may be difficult in the short term but we'd rather be competitive for the long haul." that their fans would all suddenly abandon them? Did I miss something the last few years where they struggled to sell out the stadium? Do they think that if they double talk the situation that Cardinal fans won't figure it out?

I just don't understand the need for misdirection and shady duplicity. The Oakland Athletics struggle to sell tickets and are trying to get a new stadium in Southern California. They are in a market that features a plethora of sporting options and are entering a true rebuilding phase. This is what Billy Beane had to say recently:

"The best chance for long-term success is to have pitching you've developed and have a chance to hold onto," Beane said. "Personally, this (Swisher deal) was very difficult, but as we said with Dan Haren, we need as many good young players as we can get, so we can be good for a long time." [...] Beane reiterated that he didn't believe the A's could contend by standing pat, saying, "Our status quo going into next season was mediocrity at best, that's my opinion. The cost of indecision for us was probably a bigger mistake.

Candor is refreshing. Billy Beane puts faith in his fans and a realistic, rational assessment. The Cardinals may not need to go into the full-bore rebuilding model that the A's are entering but the St. Louis front office would be well served by being candid and explicit with fans that have stayed committed to the team. If July rolls around and the Cardinals are managing to stay in contention, wouldn't everyone be happier if the team had under-promised and over-delivered? Instead, the fan base is primed for another year where contending seems possible but a realistic assessment of the team shows that it's unlikely.


There's hints that the Cardinals are discussing a long term deal with Yadier Molina as he enters his first year of arbitration. You would expect the contract would cover the remaining years of arbitration and the first year of free agency possibly with a 5th year option. Of course, the implications for Bryan Anderson in a discussion like this are what first come to many people's minds. I doubt I need to remind anyone my sentiments on Yadier's (overrated) defense and total value.

What might surprise you is that I think a multi-year deal would be to the Cardinal's advantage in every aspect of the situation. The obvious caveat there is that if the front office can sign Molina to a deal that saves the team money in terms of dollars per win. That, of course, requires an evaluation of what he's really worth -- but let's not debate that subject today. Instead, let's assume that the Cardinals do sign him to a deal worth 80% of his projected value over the next 4 years (meaning they save 20% compared to going year by year). A few scenarios seems plausible:

  1. Bryan Anderson fizzles - This is the best argument for signing Yadi to a multi-year deal. I think it's safe to say that some within the front office/coaching staff prefer Molina to Anderson. After his 2007 season in Springfield, I was a little disappointed but Anderson remains a well-regarded prospect. When talking prospects there's always a risk involved -- if the risk seems too high, than the Cardinals would want to keep their major league proven catcher under control for as long as he's effective.
  2. Bryan Anderson develops normally - I'd like to see Anderson spend another season in AA. I don't think there's a good reason to push him and he was one of the youngest players in the Texas league last season. Even if they promote him to AAA, it still appears like the earliest Anderson would be ready is 2009. Catching is a taxing position to play and the idea of Molina and Anderson splitting time behind the St. Louis plate is somewhat intriguing. If Molina is signed to a reasonable contract, there shouldn't be an issue finding a taker for one of the catchers once this situation arises.
  3. Yadier Molina fizzles - Molina has had some trouble staying completely healthy and he's never been an offensive powerhouse. I think that those who attribute his mediocre offense to batting stances or health or age are deluding themselves. He's had nearly 1300 major league at bats and while there's still some room on the aging curve, it's limited at this point for a slow, plodding catcher. If Molina looks more like 2005/2006 rather than the 2007 version moving foward, a multi-year contract could be unpleasant. In terms of probability, I think this is the least likely scenario.
Allow me one moment to pat myself on the back. Baseball America came out with a piece yesterday discussing the farm system's productivity in terms of right-handed relievers. Last week I said the following:
If there's one area of the farm system that's primed to be productive, its right-handed relievers - Chris Perez, Jason Motte, Mark Worrell, Kyle McClellan and Mitchell Boggs all fit the power reliever profile.
Chris Kline discusses Perez, Motte, Worrell and McClellan in his BA article. While I don't necessarily agree with him on all of his prospect evaluations (Motte's slider does not have plus potential), the piece is worth reading and further reiterates one aspect of the farm system that could play a major role in shaping the future St. Louis squads. [/shameless self-congratulation]