We've got snow in the St. Louis area this morning. I hate driving in snow. In fact, I've come to hate winter over the last year or so. It used to be my favorite season and now I've completed a full reversal of my feelings toward it. I'm ready for summer again.
With the end of the winter meetings, I've got some baseball thoughts bouncing in my head that lack a singular narrative. So come follow me on a random access to memory bits, which are barely related.
1) If the Cardinals trade Brendan Ryan, it's no big deal.
There's an element of having your cake and eating it to that's attached to the Brendan Ryan drama. Everyone seems willing to acknowledge that he's a rather average player and that the difference between Brendan and Ryan Theriot is one that's marginal. Given those conditions, should we really care if Brendan Ryan gets traded?
It's not as if Ryan is a young player; he'll be 29 in March. Even if you assume that he's a truly elite defender, he's still only a league average player. Do I think he makes a lot of sense at shortstop for a club that's as groundball heavy as the Cardinals? Yes. The level of angst related to his possible departure seems completely detached from the reality of his limited value to the club.2) If Albert Pujols wants to stay in St. Louis, he'll sign an extension shortly.
Jayson Stark was the latest to pen the concern of Cardinal Nation. I'm always perplexed by this line of thinking though. The idea that the Cardinals have to sign him now so he doesn't reach free agency. The implication within that being that both the player and the player's agent have no idea who will bid for his services or how much they will bid. That is fallacy ridden idea if ever I've read one.
We could all sit down and make a list and arrive at 3-4 clubs that will bid for Albert should the opportunity arise. While teams cannot make explicit offers to players, it's naive to think that there's no exchange of information or contact prior to the deadline at all. If you want to buy drugs, do you walk up to someone and say, "Can I purchase blow from you for say $100?" * Of course not, you make small talk and speak around the subject of hand to initiate the dialog.
My bizarre metaphors aside, Albert Pujols is in the driver's seat here. He's got a dollar figure in mind but, at the end of the day, he holds all the proverbial cards in this situation. If he wants to come back, he'll sign an extension. If he doesn't, he'll be gone at the end of next season. With this player in this situation, however, I'm going to be hard pressed to place blame on the club.
*I have no idea how much blow costs. When I was in high school, I worked at a Subway. It took me upwards of 6 months to figure out that the money changing hands at the end of the counter -- out of sight of the store camera -- was for marijuana-related drug deals. My ignorance knows few bounds on the subject of illicit drugs.
3) The biggest reason I'm awaiting Tony La Russa's departure is the clarity it will offer on front office responsibility.
Tony La Russa, for better or worse, forces everything through the prism of his perceived likes and dislikes. His preferences have become a fervent ongoing topic for the fan base. At times, that results in poorly reported stories from sketchy blogs that get the fan base riled up. I'd like to be able to assume that a manager is making a decision out of stupidity rather than some Machiavellian scheme in a protracted power struggle.
He's a hall of fame manager, Let's be clear about that. I'm not arguing that he doesn't have strong positives or that he's an out-and-out bad manager. I think he has blind spots - as anyone does - and that, at times, he makes the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. But, I've come to decide, that the real reason I find him frustrating is that he blurs the lines of responsibility. I'd appreciate a simplified hierarchy to know who was wrong and I can shake my internet finger at with disdain. I also look forward to more consensus on the manager's stupid decisions that will come without a fervent and often irrational following that Tony has developed. If Albert Pujols signs an extension though, I think I'll be waiting a long time for that clarity.
4) The baseball team is going to be rather static from 2010 to 2011.
The Cardinals just aren't making a ton of changes this offseason. Personally, I'm okay with that. I'm looking forward to seeing Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas in the pen for a full season. I'm intrigued by the recent history of Ryan Theriot -- did you know that in 2008, he posted a .387 OBP over 600+ PAs? I'm hopeful that David Freese can stay healthy for a full season even if I've never been convinced of his talent on the field.
That said though, this season feels different than the last few. It feels distinctly like a transition back to a veteran ball club with free agents and known quantities. I can't quantify that feeling and I don't expect everyone to feel that way but the additions of Jake Westbrook/Lance Berkman and the continued discussion of anyone not named Bryan Anderson for backup catcher are reminders of a not so distant past where the roster was filled from without. Whether that's because of diminished emerging talents or a conscious decision by the organization, I won't pretend that this feeling is anything more than a personal reaction to the current roster.
5) Don't look now but Chris Carpenter's contract only has an option year beyond 2011.
I wasn't a fan of the last extension given to Carpenter. It's worked out in the Cardinals favor thus far but not extraordinarily so. If they want to extend him, they'll need to cautious given his age and injury history. He'll cost the club $15M on his current option contract in 2012. That's a lot for a 37 year old pitcher. His contract situation is overshadowed by Albert Pujols but Carp is in no less of a short term situation.