Just another bad loss in a season that has seen too many of them, a reminder that this team, despite seemingly overachieving, could certainly be in much better shape.
If this team does indeed end up missing the playoffs, one of the first places to look for answers as to why will be their record against just a few teams. The Cardinals now have a losing record on the year against the Pirates, at 6-7. They lost their season series against an absolutely horrid San Francisco ballclub, with three wins in seven attempts. Their record versus the Brewers this year is an unsightly 4-9. El Birdos did manage to end up with a season series win against the Rockies, 4-3, but between the opening day rainout and subsequent loss to one Robert Wells combined with the very first bullpen meltdown of the season, one could make a compelling case that the Cardinals probably should have won all seven games against the defending NL champs.
Of those teams, the Brewers are obviously a pretty good club, but the other three are all complete pushovers that the Cardinals failed to take advantage of this year. And technically, the first couple of series the Cards played against Milwaukee this season came when the Brewers were struggling to find their identity. Regardless, the record is what it is, and the Cardinals find themselves having played those four teams six games under .500. They've pretty well cleaned up against the rest of the west, beating up on the Dodgers and Padres, and have handled the East quite nicely also. Within the division, though, and against a couple of really, really bad NL West teams, the Cardinals have looked more like the team they were predicted to be than the team we've (mostly) seen on the field.
I'm quite sure that most of you have seen it by now, but Jason Isringhausen is almost assuredly done for the season, and could very well be done period. He has a torn flexor muscle in his right elbow, and apparently has been dealing with it for some time. I believe- though don't hold me to it- that this is the same muscle that Troy Percival tore up a few years ago and still hasn't ever actually had repaired, despite his return to pitching. If this isn't the same general group of muscles and I'm just totally off base here, perhaps one of our resident medical experts could weigh in on exactly what we're looking at here with Izzy.
I've obviously said my piece in the past as far as Jason Isringhausen is concerned, but I still would just like to say once again that, if this is truly the end for Izzy, that he will be sorely missed. The man has done a ton for the Cardinals during his time here, and despite my, and a lot of other's, misgivings about the way he went about getting some of his saves, he still has saved more games than anyone else in a Cardinal uniform. That's quite a history, considering that the likes of Lee Smith, Dennis Eckersley, and Bruce Sutter have all spent time wearing the Birds on the Bat. Yet Izzy will go into the Cardinal record books as the all time franchise saves leader, and for that we all thank him. Take care, Jason. If you don't get come back this way as a player, I look forward to seeing you as a bullpen coach somewhere down the line.
Izzy came here as a free agent following the 2001 season, joining a team that had lost to the eventual champion Diamondbacks in the NLDS. Strangely enough, that's actually probably the most significant free agent acquisition the Cardinals have made this entire decade.
Since that contract that the Cards gave to Isringhausen, they've only given out four multi year free agent contracts. Braden Looper, Juan Encarnacion, Adam Kennedy, and David Eckstein all received three year deals, Eckstein after the 2004 season, Looper and Encarnacion after the 2005 campaign. Beyond those four and Izzy, though, virtually every player the Cardinals have brought in have been either via trade or via the scrap heap, with a smattering of homegrown players sprinkled in. I'm not sure, but that seems like an unusually low number to me. Unfortunately, I don't have the time this morning to do a full research in order to determine if that really is a low number or not.
What I do know, though, is that those contracts make as compelling a case as one could hope for as to why a player development system is so important. Jason Isringhausen has received approximately $49 million over the course of his time here, comprising seven full seasons. Now, as I said earlier, Izzy has certainly contributed a lot to the Cardinals' run of success over that time, but seven million dollars a year is still a lot of money. Even if Chris Perez becomes a truly elite closer over the next couple of seasons, he'll make less than a tenth of that over probably the next four years.
As for those other four contracts, altogether those deals are worth slightly less than fifty million dollars. And what do the Cards have to show for them? Two years of right around league average performance from David Eckstein, followed by one year of very rapid decline. A year and a half of slightly better than league average performance from Juan; obviously, what happened to him is outside the realm of ordinary considerations, so we'll just leave it at that. A year of average relief work from Braden Looper, followed by one below average season of starting and most of a year of slightly above average starting. And finally, Adam Kennedy. 'Nuff said.
Altogether, that fifty million bought about six and a half years of league average performance from those four players, if we just even out Looper's two years of starting and call it average. The big problem, of course, is that those fifty million also bought basically four years of decline, one from Eck and three full years of Kennedy.
I know this point has been well covered at various points in time, but I was struck in looking at the free agent deals the Cardinals have signed this decade just how mediocre the production really was for the money. If we ever needed a reminder that trying to build a team on the open market is a losing proposition, it's all right there. Those six and a half years of league averageness that you got for those fifty million dollars is essentially one decent player from the farm system.