The team has the fan base remembering the 2004 and 2005 dominance, though I could go for an eight game losing streak so the team looks more like the 2006 team. You remember that team, don't you? They hoisted a trophy that year.
Yes, life is good in St. Louis...
The Cardinals have a grim offseason creeping up on them, which has shades of the 2006-07 offseason. They have free agent pitchers, some crucial components, and a few free agent hitters that could make or break this team in 2010.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this will all come when Albert Pujols is a free agent in two years? Yeah, not a good thought.
John Mozeliak has done a wonderful job rebuilding this team for the season. He's added power bats (Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa), a complementary bat (Julio Lugo), and a solid pitcher (John Smoltz). These four are better known as the four divine baseball prophets: Matthew, Mark, Lugo, and John.
While these moves were done with the approval of the fan base, team, and coaching staff, Mozeliak got his fair share of headaches.
Now, he's up for it again, but for different reasons.
He must decide what to do with a dominant team that may very well win the World Series and keep the team winning to avoid another two year disgrace period that had some fans standing on their roofs wondering whether or not to jump.
This is the period that will determine Mozeliak's fate as a general manager. It will make or break him.
He had a decent 2007-08 offseason which saw him flash some brilliance and creativity. He had a stand-pat stance in 2008, and a moderate approach in the following offseason. In 2009, it was all about winning.
He shifts from standing to moving, and this offseason will show which type he is: stand pat and watch, while filling in what he needs, or a moving general manager who is always on the look-out for upgrades, while creatively filling out his roster.
For Mozeliak, there are issues, hurdles, and achievements that he needs to address without blinking and looking back.
- Determining what to do with an entire coaching staff that is up for contract renewal
- Deciding if Dave Duncan is still a fit for the team
- Albert Pujols and his upcoming contract extension
- Not implicating the payroll in a just a few years
- Re-signing key players without affecting the previous two hurdles
Yes, there is a lot to do for a man who has become the most loved person in the Midwest, and the most hated if you travel up Interstate 55.
Coaching Staff Dilemmas
Tony La Russa does not have a contract for 2010. Neither does Jose Oquendo, Dave McKay, Dave Duncan, and the rest of the top coaching staff in the game. Problem? Just a teeny tiny bit.
La Russa wants to win now and he has developed, not the same kind of relationship that he had with Walt Jocketty, but a good relationship with Mozeliak. The recent fan lashing of Todd Wellemeyer, Chris Duncan, and La Russa's handling of each situation could strain this relationship.
Solution: End the relationship now. Oquendo is more than ready to take on a managerial gig, and La Russa is leaving on a high note, even if the Cardinals fail to advance within the playoffs.
Two straight bad seasons, a revival, the best coaching job of his career, a World Series trophy, two (maybe three) World Series appearances, all-time wins leader as a Cardinals Manager, and third on the all-time wins list is a good resume to leave with.
La Russa needs to go, and not with a bad breakup. Mozeliak needs to talk to La Russa after the season, explain the situation, and have a nice long talk. Most importantly, though, Mozeliak needs to let La Russa host a press conference explaining that he feels like he needs to walk away from the Cardinals.
If the Cardinals come out and say that La Russa will not be retained, it will be a press nightmare for the franchise. Letting La Russa do it himself not only lets him leave with his head held high, but it lets the franchise move on without having to constantly explain their situation. Both sides win, both sides look good.
As for Duncan, well, he needs to go to. His son is in an alcoholic rehabilitation clinic (this from reliable information) and he needs to worry about him. He obviously is not happy with the media, from his infamous spat with Kevin Slaten, to his recent stance of not speaking with the media, and he certainly is not happy with the treatment of Chris Duncan from the fans.
Duncan needs to leave the organization, get his head straight, and move on. This will be a bitter divorce no matter what. The Cardinals and Duncan are no longer a fit, and it is a shame too. Of all the players Duncan has coached, his finest job has been in St. Louis. Argue and debate all you want, but this is true: the La Russa/Duncan tandem have had their finest years under the Arch's shadow.
Where to go from here? A Oquendo and Marty Mason/Rick Peterson (pick your pitching coach because either would be good) tandem would keep the team flying high, especially if Mason is chosen as the next pitching coach.
Pujols is the best player in recent memory, hands down. No arguments, please because you'll only make yourself look foolish. He is clean, he has power, he hits for average, he is humble, he's a humanitarian, and he is an excellent teammate.
What the Cardinals do this offseason needs to be shaped around Pujols.
Pujols is signed through 2010, with a 2011 club option which will be picked up. If it isn't, watch for a Mozeliak firing right then and there.
Speaking of Mozeliak, he needs to make this Undesirable No. 1 this offseason. Pujols needs an extension. A "life-time" contract would make every fan happy, or even a three-year extension.
Whatever contract Mozeliak deems worthy to offer, and Pujols deems worthy to accept, the fan base will take a collective deep breath. Nothing worries a fan base more than losing the face of the franchise.
I have been a proponent of a 10-year, $200 million contract with a signing bonus to up the current year worth of his 2010 and 2011 salaries to $20 million, so it is a constant number. No reduction, no addition. Mark it down for $20 million, and you know exactly what you have to spend.
Will this happen? Who knows, really. Some have thrown around a five year, $100 million contract proposal. If you notice the numbers here, it will be around $20 million.
The theory is, though: If Alex Rodriguez can get $30 million, Pujols can get $40 million. Yes, he is THAT much better.
What happens from here will be a stain or a star on Mozeliak's record. He'll either be known as the man who locked up the most recognizable and most loved Cardinal since Stan "The Man" Musial, or the ignorant sap who let the iconic player leave.
Matthew, Mark, Lugo, and John
The divine prophets offer the biggest challenge. Well, I take that back. Lugo is bought and paid for (thank you Theo Epstein), so he isn't owed any money. I only added him to the section title because I love that saying.
Smoltz has had two really good starts (well, three if you count the start for Atlanta in 2006 that sealed the Cardinals' division title) for the Cardinals. He was signed with the intention to have him start to rebuild the arm strength, then move to the bullpen.
Plans can change. Go figure.
Kyle Lohse went back on the disabled list, Todd Wellemeyer...yeah, we'll leave that alone, and Smoltz needed to pitch longer. Not a problem.
Smoltz has been dominant, but against two bad teams. At this writing, he is getting set to face a team that can offer problems (opposing players), solutions (what he needs to do to be successful), and future visions (if he can start in the playoffs)—Milwaukee Brewers.
How he finishes the year could determine what he will do. He'll more than likely have to sign a similar contract to the one he signed with Boston over the offseason, but where?
The Cardinals are open to his return, and Adam Wainwright will do cartwheels throughout the clubhouse if he comes back. This one will unfold, and will be interesting, all the way to the dotted line.
Joel Pineiro, the third head on the current pitching beast (behind only Wainwright and Chris Carpenter), is in the walk-year of his contract.
Some fans, like myself, will be quick to remind those who want to re-sign Pineiro that the last time Pineiro found himself in the walk-year of his contract, he pitched well. He was re-signed, and 2008 ensued.
Let us also not forget about Lohse and his extension, but the jury is still out on that. Can't do much with fluke injuries, especially when they aren't to his arm or due to lack of effort or improper preparation.
Pineiro will walk. End of story. Mozeliak will not deviate from his rebuilding plan. Sure, he may have dealt off pieces of the future for a current win this season, but they came from positions of strength.
Shelby Miller is in the organization now and could move fast. Lance Lynn has quickly risen from future setup man to future number two starter. Adam Ottavino has learned to be a pitcher and not a belly itcher. Jaime Garcia is back from Tommy John surgery and is pitching well. Blake Hawksworth has emerged from bustville.
Pineiro and his future four-year contract are not needed.
Smoltz or another free agent pitcher will receive a one-year contract from St. Louis (or a trade from the sudden pitching surplus Atlanta) will ensue, and Pineiro will walk. Good news for the Cardinals.
Pineiro is already a Type-B free agent, and the only players in front of him on the list are done for the season, or are struggling. You can find the Elias Sports Rankings here.
DeRosa is another likely goner. He is right on the cusp of being a Type A free agent and will be one at the end of the season (Troy Glaus will continue to fall on the list, as will Luis Castillo). Take the extra draft picks in a deeper 2010 draft and be happy.
Why? Because as much as I liked Chris Perez and Jess Todd, DeRosa is replaceable. Sure, Brett Wallace isn't here anymore, but the Cardinals can take a slight downgrade on offense to play David Freese everyday.
Or, dare I say, Allen Craig?
DeRosa will cost far more than his current contract as he has gone from super-sub who played everyday, to an almost All-Star playing everyday. He will be a hot commodity this offseason, despite his Type A status.
Holliday is also probably a goner. I hate to say that, but it is true. When he came over to St. Louis, he was likely a three-year, $36 million player, even with Scott Boras as his agent.
Now, he is pushing a five year, $80 million contract figure. If he can stay hot in September and pulls off a strong postseason behind Pujols, Holliday will turn that into a Mark Teixeira-Esq contract figure (eight years, $160 million) and will greatly deserve it.
He is a Most Valuable Player (well, should have been had the writers not screwed him in 2007) and if he dominates in the 2009 postseason, he'll have "proven October basher" tattooed on his forehead. Far better than Teixeira.
And, an easier name to write.
Holliday is a Type A free agent, and while he should be Undesirable No. 2 this offseason, I think fans are kidding themselves thinking that he will return.
Sure, they can point out that Lohse took a big pay-cut to stay with the Cardinals and Boras is his agent, too, but people forget one thing. Lohse had just endured a horrible offseason in which he went from a four year, $40 million contract demand to a one-year, $5 million contract with the Cardinals.
His extension was just slightly below market value, and he wanted to stay to not only continue working with Carpenter, Wainwright, and Duncan, but also because he didn't want to endure yet another bad offseason. Would he want to endure that again? More than likely no, but like we learn in eighth grade health class "once is enough."
Holliday has never been a free agent, and is coming off a Manny-Esq revival. Oh, he is also 28 years old and will be the top fish in a shallow free agent pond.
Enjoy every second of Holliday, folks, as he is probably gone.
What I am about to say will shock you. I talk about how Holliday is a goner because of money, DeRosa will want the money he deserves, and Pineiro will get the money he has earned.
The Cardinals have $40 million coming off the books for the offseason.
They have nine impending free agents. One is almost guaranteed to return (Jason LaRue), four are limbo (Holliday, DeRosa, Smoltz, Pineiro), and four are gone (Glaus, Khalil Greene, Wellemeyer, Rick Ankiel). With that much money coming off the books, all could re-sign.
Ankiel, Greene, Glaus, and Wellemeyer are gone, as I just said. Greene and his "anxeity" problems have become a huge problem, and he will leave, especially with Brendan Ryan's emergence.
Glaus will try to land a contract for next season by playing this September and in the playoffs (book that, by the way; someone needs to be the designated hitter in the World Series). He won't return, even if DeRosa walks.
Wellemeyer has little to no use in the 2010 Cardinals season. He can go elsewhere and try to latch on as a set-up man with his power fastball, or a backend starter. St. Louis is not an option.
Ankiel is the sore mark. He has been loved in St. Louis since 2000. People still wondered and hoped when he was making his comeback as a hitter. He has proven that he can play an above-average centerfield. And he has that pitcher's arm.
He won't return to the Cardinals. Colby Rasmus has upset him in centerfield, and the minor league system is deep in outfielders. He'll have to take a very big paycut, or possibly a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training with another team, but it will be worth it.
Some fans believe that you come to St. Louis to revive your career. While I too believe this to be true (and has been proven more than Rod Blagojevich's illegal activities), I am of the few and far between that believe you can do the reverse: leave St. Louis and revive your career.
Of course, that theory only goes to a select few, as you can always revive yourself anywhere. What I mean, is that when you have been in St. Louis so long and so much is expected of you, leaving can be the best thing for you.
Ankiel falls in this category (as does/did Chris Duncan). He has been in this organization for a long time. He has been looked to, looked up to, and looked down upon. He has risen, fallen, risen, and falling. He needs to leave, change his scenery, and hope for the best.
And believe me when I say this: The entire organization and fanbase will wish him the best. He needs to leave. Not for the good of the organization, but for the good of himself.
The Cardinals will have 27 players (from the 40-man roster) under contract or team control for 2010. What they do from there will be minimal.
Holliday and DeRosa play two positions: left field and third base. Every other starting nine spot will be filled.
There will be two open rotation spots, one of which will be filled from within (one of Garcia, Ottavino, Lynn, Hawksworth, Mitch Boggs, Kyle McClellan).
The bullpen is locked down, with Ryan Franklin, Dennys Reyes, and Trever Miller under contract. The other spots can easily be filled from within.
There are really only two questions marks, though one has a few sub-marks:
- How will the Cardinals fill the third base and left field holes?
- What will become of Brad Thompson?
The Cardinals can fill third base or left field with one player: Craig. If he is sent to winter ball (as I hope will happen) as a third baseman, that will solve one question.
He was drafted as a third baseman, but moved to left field, right field, and first base because of some butchering at the hot corner. Working with Oquendo could solve some of those problems, but he could fill either hole.
If Craig takes left field (assuming Holliday and DeRosa walk), David Freese will probably take the hot corner job. The Cardinals don't have any other solid options in the high minors to take the third base job. Freese and Craig are the only options.
For the outfield, they have plenty of options. A left-field platoon of Shane Robinson and Jon Jay could be attractive, or replace Robinson with Nick Stavinoha. Joe Mather is back from wrist surgery. Daryl Jones is going to the Arizona Fall League to make up for play time and is talented enough to skip Triple A.
Mark Shorey (Memphis) and Tyler Henley (Springfield) could be dark horses for a job.
Holliday and DeRosa's production may not be fully replaced (nor would their presence), but with improvements in production that will likely come from Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick, that would help.
Thompson is going to be the real story. He is arbitration eligible for a second time. He is a free agent following 2011, and can be a back-of-the-rotation starter, or a long relief arm out of the bullpen.
For the Cardinals, he is not needed.
He is out of options, which means he would have to clear waivers to be sent to Memphis. He is a non-tender candidate, and will likely make more than $1 million in arbitration. He is certainly not worth that, at least not to the Cardinals.
What the Cardinals do with Thompson will be interesting. Stay tuned for that solution.
This coming offseason will be the one that makes or breaks John Mozeliak as a true general manager, or a puppet for the ownership group. I speak for Cardinals Nation when I say that I hope he is a true general manager.
I guess we shall see.