I'm writing this article partially to defend Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, who a lot of people will not allow to leave Walt Jocketty's shadow, and partially because I always say "this year isn't the Cardinals best chance to win."
I'm going to explain what I mean when I say that, and also prove that John Mozeliak knows what he's doing.
As a disclaimer, I am familar with the basics of contracts, team and player options, etc., but I am a little hazy around the specifics of free agency. So if you spot a flaw in my calculations or claims, let me know.
After becoming more familiar with the Cardinal's financial situation, I got very excited. I think other Cardinals fans will too.
Here's what I do know. The St. Louis Cardinals have a crap load of money becoming available after this season. And the majority of that money is dedicated to players who aren't making a significant impact on the team this season. Here are the players that will go into free agency this season, and their salary this season in parentheses.
-Jason Isringhausen ($8,000,000)
-Juan Encarnacîon ($6,500,000)
-Mark Mulder ($6,500,000)
-Braden Looper ($5,500,000)
-Kyle Lohse ($4,500,000)
-Russ Springer ($3,500,000)
-Caesar Izturis ($2,850,000)
-Jason LaRue ($850,000)
-Ron Villone ($600,000)
Now, this is where it get's tricky. After doing some research, I believe the rule in the MLB is that a player must earn six years of employment before venturing into free agency. So with that said, here is a list of players that need their contract renewed, but don't have the eligibility to become a free agent. These players will be eligible for arbitration.
-Aaron Miles ($1.4 mil), Randy Flores ($1 mil), Todd Wellemeyer ($1 mil), Rick Ankiel ($900,000), Chris Duncan ($439,000), Brad Thompson ($414,000), Ryan Ludwick ($411,000), Tyler Johnson ($398,000), Skip Schumaker ($396,000), Brendan Ryan ($393,000), Brian Barden, and Brian Barton ($390,000)
This leaves, if you're counting, $44,951,000 to spend on next season's campaign. With crucial building blocks, like Albert Pujols, Troy Glaus, Yadier Molina, Adam Kennedy (JOKE), Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Ryan Franklin under contract for next year, Mozeliak and the Cardinals have a lot of money and flexibility to pursue some big names on the market.
The members of the second list actually contains more crucial members of the crew then the first one. Ankiel, Schumaker, and Ludwick might just be the opening day outfield for 2009, and might have earned multi-year deals. You have to assume the team really wants to lock up Ankiel long-term before he hits the open market next season with agent Scott Boras.
But the good news about that list is that the team would have to purposely NOT offer these players contracts for them to leave. They have their choice of who to bring back.
I think Todd Wellemeyer will probably leave, and I also doubt the club will bring back Chris Duncan or Tyler Johnson. Brendan Ryan is the biggest question mark. He's hit terribly the last couple months, La Russa isn't a huge fan, and he's getting too old to be a prospect. But none of those players are very crucial to the Cardinals' success.
Assuming they bring back Miles, Ankiel, Ludwick, Schumaker, Barden (a better, younger version of Ryan at this point), and Thompson, there are holes at 2B and SS, where there aren't above average starters, and in the pitching staff. But all of these holes can be filled easily with minor leaguers for cheap, or in the free agent market.
Now is where Mozliak can use that money that he has been waiting on. The market at 2B and SS is deep. The Cardinals have always been interested in Orlando Hudson, and fan-favorite Edgar Renteria was rumored to be heading back to Stl around the deadline this year too. Even if these deals don't work, the alternatives will be better then a platoon.
In the rotation, the options are endless. Wainwright, Carpenter, and Piñero return, but there's also a surplus of young arms in the minors. Kyle McClellan could go to the rotation, and Jaime Garcia, Clayton Mortensen, Jess Todd, and even Mitchell Boggs could compete for a spot.
If not, the club could go out of St. Louis. Kyle Lohse probably won't be back after his strong performance this year, but there's always a chance. Pitchers like Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, or Randy Wolf are options at the back of the rotation, or Ben Sheets, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, or Mike Mussina could be brought in as a high-profile signing.
The bullpen help available is also high, in the minors and on the free agent scene. Chris Perez, Mark Worrell, Kelvin Jimenez, Fernando Salas, and Luis Perdomo might be ready to help next year, but Luis Ayala, Scott Eyre, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Fuentes, Eddie Guardado, Brandon Lyon, Rafael Soriano, and Salomon Torres will also be tempting.
Just to give fans a visual of what they might see, let's assume my Hudson and Renteria signings go through, or something similar to that type of player and deal, (they'd command about $18 mil combined), and the club signs one starter, and uses another from inside the organization. Here's a potential lineup:
1. Skip Schumaker (LF)
2. Orlando Hudson (2B)
3. Albert Pujols (1B)
4. Rick Ankiel (CF)
5. Ryan Ludwick (RF)
6. Troy Glaus (3B)
7. Edgar Renteria (SS)
9. Yadier Molina (C)
-Bench: Bryan Anderson, Aaron Miles, Adam Kennedy, Brian Barden, Brian Barton, Colby Rasmus, (possibly Joe Mather, Nick Stavinoha)
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Chris Carpenter
3. Derek Lowe
4. Kyle McClellan
5. Jaime Garcia
-Bullpen: Joel Piñero, Brad Thompson, Ryan Franklin, Russ Springer, Chris Perez, Will Ohman, Damaso Marte
No, this isn't the perfect lineup, and the bullpen might still have some holes in it, but the bottom line is that 2009 is the first time in a couple years that the Cardinals will not be bogged down by crappy contracts and injured players before the season begins. With a lot of youth in the organization, the payroll could go way down and the team could be a lot better.
This is why John Mozeliak is not an idiot or a cheapskate. He knows that the team is going to be really good, young, and cheap, in the near future. Why sell that away for a run at the title this year, when this clearly isn't the best chance?
This little investigation also shows how excited Cardinals fans should be for the future. Teams like the Milwaukee Brewers have decided that this season is going to be their chance, and have essentially a huge drop off to look forward to next year. Not the case with St. Louis.
So regardless of what happens this season (although I truly believe the Birds can and will secure a playoff spot), let's keep an eye on the bigger picture, and remember the great hope and talent that we have to look forward to.