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I missed discussing it in my haste to free-associate about Chris Duncan, but Todd Wellemeyer avoided arbitration at the same time, to a more significant tune of $4.05 million. Roster matrix:

 

2009 ROSTER MATRIX
ARBITRATION AVOIDANCE EDITION

STARTERS BENCH ROTATION PEN
molina c
$3.3m
thurston ut
$400K
wainwright rhp
$2.6m
perez rhp
$400K
pujols 1b
$16m
duncan lf
$850K
lohse rhp
$7.1m
franklin rhp
$2.5m
kennedy 2b
$4m
barton of
$400K
pineiro rhp
$7.5m
motte rhp
$400K
glaus 3b
$11.3m
mather of
$400K
wellemeyer rhp
$4.05m
mcclellan rhp
$400K
greene
$6.5m
ryan ut
$400K
carpenter rhp
$14m
kinney rhp
$400K
schumaker lf
$450K
rasmus of
memphis
boggs rhp
memphis
thompson rhp
$500K
ankiel cf
$2.5m
larue c
$950k
todd rhp
memphis
miller lhp
$500k
ludwick rf
$1.8m
freese 3b
memphis
mortensen rhp
memphis
--- ---
--- ---
TOTAL
$45.5m
TOTAL
$3.4m
TOTAL
$35.25m
TOTAL
$5.1m
OVERALL PAYROLL: $89.25m

Dunc and Wellemeyer's raises would push the Cardinals' 2009 payroll a little further out of the DeWallet Party's sensibilities, except that the jump is absorbed by revising Trever Miller's salary back down from the reported two-year deal and replacing Aaron Miles with a six-figure player. At $89 million the Cardinals are in an odd place—they still have a significant amount of payroll leeway, but aside from their infield depth, which will have to be include a guy who's not yet on the roster, they're in a position where they could theoretically field a competent team of salaried players. 

As for Wellemeyer, $4 million isn't out of line with what he offers the Cardinals, but it's not a screaming deal, either; Dave Duncan has earned his title as Chief Pitching Sorcerer, but long is the list of players who appear to figure things out and then... well, unlearn them over the winter. Combine that with peripherals that don't mesh well with a 3.71 ERA and Wellemeyer is a fair bet to disappoint, even if we really shouldn't be disappointed. 

Of course, Wellemeyer's enemy, context, might also be his friend, if the Cardinals' other pitchers remain this side of inspiring. Fungoes has a series of increasingly depressing hypothetical projections to that effect, with a cautionary aside about Ben Sheets. I can't agree about not pulling the trigger on a Sheets-type move, but there's something to the idea that the Cardinals have spent themselves into a mediocre rotation.

Look up at the matrix: the best pitcher on the team is the one making $2.6 million. Carpenter is the fragile elephant in the room, and symptomatic of another problem, but his absence emphasizes the trouble behind the Cardinals' other two contracted starters: in Pineiro and Lohse the Cardinals have paid the free agent rate for supplemental players, only there's nothing there to supplement. As the last piece of a rotation filled with young and/or great pitchers—Wainwright and perfect-world Anthony Reyes and Carpenter, for instance—the Kyle Lohse contract doesn't seem so outrageous. But as foundations go he makes an excellent roof. 

Finally, Derrick Goold kept twittering from the Winter Warm-up, and up came an interesting quote from La Russa:

La Russa on Ludwick's wish to hit 50 HR: "If he paid attention in meetings, he'd know we don't talk about hitting home runs."

I'm guessing there was a La Russa Grin somewhere in this quote, but I have to admit that the sentiment expressed in it is one that I've never understood. If Ludwick had said his goal was to steal more bases, or make more contact—not a word. But for a lot of baseball types, who've had ninety years this April to accept it as the most valuable of offensive weapons, hitting a home run is still something you sort of do on accident, while you're trying to help the team and give a hundred percent and just put the ball in play. 

There's no serious problem with this kind of thinking, at least in its La Russian permutation; he's a great manager, and if he doesn't understand what puts runs on the board, it's certainly clear by now that he knows how to handle the players that do it. But Inside Baseball's weird shame about hitting home runs has always puzzled me. 

Ryan Ludwick is a power hitter. His job is to score runs, and the way he does that is by hitting a lot of home runs. If he hits 50 next year and it turns out that he doesn't help the team by doing it, I will personally cater every meeting La Russa holds or attends in 2010, baseball-related or not. I mentioned this quote when it happened, but Ludwick's recent comment, in jest as it might have been, made me think about it again. Here's Matt Stairs after his pinch-homer in the NLCS.

Q. Matt, you're on the all-time list of pinch-hit homers. What is your approach when you go out there, and do you ever think I want to hit a homer? Do you try to hit a homer ever?

MATT STAIRS: Well, I mean, my whole career, even back in the early days when I signed back whenever with Montreal, my approach was try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And it's something I enjoyed doing.

It carries over from batting practice. In batting practice I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. And I'm not going to lie, it's fun, when you're there and you're hitting balls out of the ballpark.

It's one thing, I think the biggest thing is get up there, see how far you're going to hit the ball. I'm not going to lie, I try to hit home runs and that's it.

It's not exactly "I hit big or I miss big", as poetic home run quotes go, but nobody who's taken even a passing look at Matt Stairs on a baseball diamond would ever have disagreed with the man if he'd brought it up sooner. Ludwick's far better-rounded, if not as a shape than as a hitter and a baseball player, but this is a moment where I have to guess—and hope—that the distance between Tony La Russa the lifelong baseball observer and Tony La Russa the manager speaking to the press about one of his players was greater than usual.