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The Izzy Conundrum

The Winter of Discontent continues here in Cardinaltown. Just in case you haven't seen it yet, Tony came out once again, guns a blazin'. His target this time was Adam Kennedy. (Although, one could argue his real target was us, since he's essentially threatening us with more Aaron Miles.) Tony comes out and blasts Kennedy for, among other things, missing the Winter Warmup:

"...he needs to make sure he dots all the I's, and not coming to this weekend is, I hope, his first and only mistake."

I can understand Tony's frustration, and I can even understand his bluntness with what he felt was a player who didn't show up in the way the club needed him to. But is this really the situation the club needs now? Tony seems to be making a habit of calling players out even more regularly than usual as of late; I'm not sure if he feels he lost the clubhouse last year and is trying to reassert authority, if he feels as if the whole organisation is his to run now that everyone who didn't properly kiss his ass is gone, or if he's just flat out gone batshit. Honestly, I don't particularly care, either. Tony, whatever motivational technique it is that you think you're mastering here, I sincerely doubt it's going to work. Taking a guy to task for bad performance privately? Okay, good idea. Writing letters questioning the heart of a player, throwing a fit over a player not showing up for a glorified autograph session, and declaring publicly that you regret giving said player the benefit of the doubt last year? That I have a little bit of a problem with. I don't want to go down the road of all the problems I have with LaRussa at this point, but I really do wish he would stop airing all of the club's, and his own, dirty laundry, in public. I just don't think it's productive, and it's definitely kind of bush league. More baseball dynasty, less TV Dynasty.

We also have Albert tossing reporters out of his press conference. Don't get me wrong, I actually applaud Albert for his stand on this one. KTVI still refuses to admit any wrongdoing, claiming they were simply reporting what information was out there. That's fine, you can report the news, but don't send reporters to the man's restaurant and ask them what they think about Albert being a steroid cheat. I'm fully behind Pujols bringing some small consequences home to them. Even so, just another very unhappy corner of our baseball world.

In fact, the only player who seems to be really happy about things is Jason Isringhausen. During his Winter Warmup press conference, Izzy publicly pronounced, among other things, that he would exercise his no trade clause to block any potential deal. He also nixed the idea of his retirement being imminent.

"As long as I do my job, I'll be happy. I want to stay here."

All right. Now, I'm the first guy to applaud a player who genuinely seems to want to play for a specific team. A player who isn't interested in the typical mercernary behaviour we've come to expect from our athletes is a rare commodity, in my opinion. It's refreshing. I'm also at the head of the line to give all the kudos in the world to Izzy. After some of the nasty things I said about him in 2006, as well as some of the nasty things that I thought but didn't vocalise, I owe it to the man. He's healthy, and he's proven his worth. However, with all of those positive, feel good vibrations that I've got going toward Isringhausen, his current stance presents the club with a very sticky situation.

I think that most of us can agree that the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals are not a great bet to be a real contender. Lots of people think they could be competitive, and there may be some truth to that. But even the most optimistic among us have to be aware that it isn't going to be an easy road this season. The division is rapidly getting better around the Cardinals, and they're in a transition period. So, we're looking at a team that is a marginal contender, with an eight million dollar closer. Does a team in that position really need to be spending that on a commodity that will probably be seriously underutilised by the club? It's a tough question, and one that I'm not really sure I can answer satisfactorily, even just to myself.

The real conundrum we have here is because of Izzy's absolute desire to play here, and pretty much only here. Ordinarily, a team that falls out of contention, with an elite closer in the last year of a deal, would be an excellent bet to do one thing and one thing only: trade him. A top tier closer is a luxury that a non contending team simply doesn't need; the return they can get for such a valuable piece can often go a long way toward turning around the fortunes of a struggling team. In this case, however, Isringhausen is on record, declaring he won't allow himself to be traded. Okay, that's fine. He can just finish out his term here, move on with our everlasting gratitude and best wishes, and the Cardinals can reap the bounty that such a high quality free agent will bring, in the form of the draft picks.

Hold on.

See, this is where this situation gets really interesting. Izzy has proven, by words and actions, that he really doesn't have any real desire to go anywhere else. Given that fact, if the Cards really wanted to expunge him from the payroll at the end of the year, can they possibly risk offering him arbitration? To me, the answer is no. I think, if you offer Izzy arbitration, he'll just accept it. I think he would be happy to get paid market value for his services, while continuing to play where he wants to be. If the Cards really didn't want him back for 2009, they can't offer him arbitration. Of course, that means they don't get the draft picks that would help them bring in the players to turn this ship around. So, at this point, it looks to me as if the Cardinals flat out cannot get rid of Izzy, if they hope to get any kind of return at all for his departure. If you offer him arb., with the hope of reaping the draft pick bounty, he accepts. If you really want to get him off the books, you have to accept that you're going to get absolutely nothing for him.

So, what course of action can the Cardinals possibly pursue? Should they keep Izzy around? He does appear to be healthy, and when he's healthy, he's still a hell of a closer. On the other hand, they do have a whole lot of bullpen arms coming along very soon, including a couple who look as if they could definitely be closer candidates. Do they let him walk? At that point, they get absolutely nothing. Bupkes. &nbspNot even draft picks. What say you, denizens of Viva El Birdos?

Personally, I would argue for keeping Izzy around. It's strange for me to be arguing in this direction. I'm usually all about making the most extreme moves you can to get younger and cheaper; I think these half assed rebuilding jobs tend to end up leading to years of in between, mediocre or worse teams. And, as I said earlier, the kind of drain that Izzy puts on a payroll is hard to justify for a team on the fringes of contention. So why do I feel this way?

I love the Cards' bullpen prospects. I really do. I think they've got several guys who could step in and do a very nice job this second, and they're only going to get better. But what's the problem with Chris Perez being a setup man for awhile? Or Jason Motte handling the seventh, rather than the eighth? To my mind, absolutely nothing. I have a tough time justifying to myself the financial outlay for Isringhausen, but I also think that a bullpen, composed of those kinds of terrifying arms, could go a long way toward making the team competitive. A bullpen that can shut down literally the last three or even four innings can make a starting rotation look a whole lot better than it actually is. To me, this is the sort of bet-hedging that could actually work out beautifully for the team in the next few years. Particularly once you take out the salaries the Cards are paying to the Russ Springers and Franklinsteins of the world and replace them with affordable, early arbitration year salaries, suddenly the bullpen isn't a huge investment anymore. If Izzy is really as serious as he sounds about staying here in St. Louis, then he should be signable for a reasonable deal. I'm not saying you lowball him out of the negotiating room, but he shouldn't be looking to break the bank if he's that passionate about staying.

To me, keeping a guy like Izzy around to provide stability and solidity at the back end of a bullpen isn't a bad thing. It's a luxury this team may not necessarily need this year, or even next, but if the alternative is watching such a talented ballplayer walk away without getting anything in return for him, I don't have a problem with putting gold rims on a Pinto.

At the very least, we'll know there's at least one guy who's really happy to be here.

Next week, I think I'm going to start profiling some of the players we may be looking at when the Cards make their pick in the June draft. I'm not going to do them all at once, so I want to get started on them pretty soon.

One last thing. I met a gypsy not too long ago, and I totally stole her crystal ball from her. As a result, I'm going to start looking into the future, once a week, and see what's on the horizon for our favourite baseball team. So, without further ado, I present,

Great Moments in Redbirds Future History!

August 12, 2008
A rash of athlete's foot is reported among the players. It is eventually traced back to Jason LaRue, and he is fined $50 by the team's kangaroo court and ordered to buy new shower shoes for the team. He sheepishly does so, and laughs are shared by all. Over the following days, all thirteen players who have caught the fungus visit team doctor George Paletta to get a prescription for some cream to knock it out. Sadly, there are no survivors.

This has been a Great Moment in Redbird Future History.

Today's tournament of champions results are directly below.