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The St. Louis Cardinals' Short-Term Rebuilding Plan

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The Roy Oswalt news continues in its stagnant way—what we know as of this morning (and keeping in mind that the Cardinals would like nothing more than to make this post completely obsolete this afternoon) is that they and the Rangers are both interested and that the Cardinals are shopping Kyle McClellan. If it comes down to who can trade their swingman fastest, I have to think the Rangers have the advantage—Koji Uehara, who should probably be closing somewhere, has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10 in two years as a relief pitcher.

So we don't know whether Roy Oswalt or Jake Westbrook will be making 30 starts next year, but we do know that the Cardinals have made a choice as to their immediate post-Pujols future—one that is taking a fascinating advantage of the changing economics of baseball. As prospects and pre-arbitration players become more valuable, the Cardinals have counted their prospects, paid for Jaime Garcia, and plowed the Pujols dividend into a bunch of thirtysomething ex-Astros.

The Cardinals have given themselves two years to act like a big-market team with a bunch of expensive, potentially valuable players—the two years it should take for their top-tier farm system to mature.

I can't emphasize enough how impressed I am by John Mozeliak's work here. Without Roy Oswalt, here's the trick the Cardinals have pulled: They'll go from spending $95 million on veterans as old as Yadier Molina in 2012 to $60 million in 2013 to $17 million in 2014. It's not quite Albert Pujols, but it's an impressive bit of consumption smoothing for a team that was expecting to pay for Pujols and Matt Holliday for the next 10 years.

If everything works perfectly—and it probably won't—the Cardinals will have a chance to graduate Shelby Miller, Zack Cox, Kolten Wong, and whomever else might pop up on the cheap from the top prospect rankings. If everything doesn't work perfectly, the Cardinals will have a lot of money to play with on their next rebuilding attempt.

It's a big step up from what used to pass for reloading-not-rebuilding—Kyle Lohse, 2009; Jake Westbrook, 2011—and as a result I'm not sure how sustainable the current economics of baseball can be. At some point other teams are going to realize just how valuable nine Lance Berkmans in a row might be relative to one Prince Fielder for the nine years. But for now, from Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran to Roy Oswalt, the Cardinals have taken advantage of it.


The Brewers sign Corey Patterson: I have to say, as glad as I am the Cardinals haven't signed Corey Patterson I'm a little disappointed the Brewers have decided to throw over last year's ex-top-prospect sixth outfielder, Jeremy Reed, for whom I've had a soft spot ever since he hit .373 in his first full season between high-A and AA back in 2003. Such is the allure of arbitrary end-points: If he'd hit .409 over 66 games out of 100 in AA he'd have just been a prospect, but since he hit that over his only 66 games in AA he was briefly a top one.


Dmitri Young wants to call it a comeback: I don't know if I can ever remember Young 75 pounds under his last playing weight of 295, even when he was allegedly a third baseman, and as improbable as it is with players like Derrek Lee forced into near-retirement I'd love to see him make it back.

The Cardinals didn't really have anything left for him to do after the Mark McGwire acquisition, but I think it's still safe to call his trade, straight-up, for Jeff Brantley one of the misfires of the Walt Jocketty period. Brantley was already having shoulder problems when the Cardinals acquired him, and he was as combustible as you might imagine in 1998 before slipping awkwardly into retirement by 2001.