Last week, the St. Louis Cardinals non-tendered utility infielder Daniel Descalso. Joe broke down why the decision makes perfect sense for the Cardinals. Even though Descalso's skills aren't high enough to merit the salary he'd have likely commanded via arbitration, we'll always have Octobers past for which to be appreciative.
First, a review of the arbitration process and its consequences. The Cardinals had to decide whether or not to tender a guaranteed major-league contracts to each of their arbitration-eligible players like Descalso. Had the Cardinals tendered Descalso a contract, they'd have committed to paying him in 2015. But, since the Cardinals non-tendered him (that is, they did not offer him a guaranteed major-league contract for 2015), Descalso is now a free agent, able to sign with the team of his choice.
According to Stan McNeal of Fox Sports Midwest, one of the teams that is interested in the free-agent Descalso is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who just so happen to have former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa working in their front office. McNeal shared La Russa's thoughts on Descalso via Twitter.
Tony La Russa on @DanielDescalso: ‘One of my favorites all time because he’s a winning player.’ Dbacks mentioned as a possible destination.— Stan McNeal (@stanmcneal) December 9, 2014
Over the last year, I've wondered where the description "winning player" regarding Descalso came from. I assumed it was a Mathenyism like The Right Way or Accomplished. But the origins of Winning Player Descalso may very well date back to 2011, the last season of the La Russa era in St. Louis and Descalso's rookie season.
I suppose Descalso was a member of Cardinals teams that won one World Series, two National League pennants, four playoff berths, seven postseason series. However, one has firm grounds for asserting that the Cardinals teams he was on won in spite of him, his .243/.313/.341 (.288 wOBA, 81 wRC+), middling baserunning, and fielding that ranged from mediocre to awful depending on where he stood on the diamond. So it seems that the Winning Player label is less about Descalso's skill and more about his can-do attitude, which general manager John Mozeliak discussed after the Cardinals non-tendered the infielder. From Derrick Goold at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"Difficult," said Mozeliak Wednesday during a briefing with reporters at his Busch Stadium office. "Dan was one of those true professionals but he was also someone you would call a friend.
"Whatever you asked of him, he would always do it. He always went out of his way to say, 'Hello.' From a baseball player to a person, he did a lot of positive things for us. Unfortunately, we weren't able to provide the type of playing time he was looking for. And, frankly, I think it could have become a strained relationship if we'd kept going with it."
This is a masterful bit of Mospeak on Descalso. Mozeliak lauds him as a person, notes that Descalso did whatever was asked of him while with the Cardinals, makes a vague comment about "positive things," and then justifies the signing by stating that he thinks keeping Descalso on the roster and not playing him might have "strained" the relationship—indicating that Descalso might not have been such a "true professional" with a can-do spirit if he continued to ride the pine as much as he did in 2014, when he notched just 184 plate appearances (almost half as many as his next lowest full-season PA total of 358 in 2013).
It's only fitting that the man known as Dirty Dan is one of La Russa's favorites and that the Hall-of-Fame manager's current club is interested in Descalso. It would be poetic if the Diamondbacks and Descalso were a match. I hope it happens.