December 29, 2015

#TheCardinalWay can't induce discount contract offers to retain or add to #Cardinals roster

Looking at the Cardinals' failure to resign John Lackey, followed by the actual signing of Mike Leake, with all the "meh" it inspired in me, I wonder if Cardinals GM John Mozeliak isn't expecting players to take a discount of some sort in exchange for playing for the Birds on Bats.

After all, the Cubs' 2/32 to Lackey is the same, in terms of annual average value, as the 5/80 (setting aside the sixth option year) as the Cards paid for Leake, and he's not as good a pitcher. I can only conclude that Mo either offered less than $32 million, or else the length of contract was 1+ option and not a guaranteed two years.

This even goes to the Jason Heyward resigning failure, discussed extensively by me here. Yes, Mo, and at least one other team, made a higher AAV offer than the Cubs. And, yes, Mo had said at one time that the team was willing to offer an opt-out.

But, you know what? I've never seen St. Louis media, in its various post-mortems, which include discussing the value of the Cards' offer to Wayward, mention that the contract on the table actually had an opt-out.

I can therefore only conclude it did not, unless I get evidence to the contrary. And, the more and more I see Mo in action, the more and more I know that he carefully shades and hedges his language. (And, some might wonder if the lack of an opt-out clause in Mo's offer to Heyward wasn't deliberate, since he knew Heyward had said he wanted one best final offer from each team, with no second chances at the pie.)

Hence, the header of this piece.

At least with retaining players, it makes me wonder if Mo is trying to argue The.Cardinal.Way.™ is worth so much that players should take a discount on contracts.

The 1950s Yankees tried similar, and often succeeded. Their argument was that World Series money was worth a discount.

In an era where salaries were a lot smaller, and a World Series check could be worth 10 percent or more of even a veteran player's contract, this argument might have worked. (Having no free agency meant the Bombers were in a better position to sell it, too.)

But, even with the added rounds of playoffs, and Cardinals' recent post-season success, the monetary side can add up to just 1 percent. Sure, fandom love is incalculable, and local product endorsement advertising dollars can be big, but are they that much?

What about the chance to be part of that winning tradition? Yes, that is a big deal, but that should be an add-on to basic contract talk, not a partial replacement.

Per the final price, the fact that his value as a defender may be overrated in right, and turn out not to be so good in center, and related questions to him playing center in Chitown, I'm OK with Wayward walking, if Mo does something good in replacement.

That said, maybe Mo thought a discount for The.Cardinal.Way.™,  or simply a desire to be part of The.Cardinal.Way.™, would have Heyward wanting to stay in St. Louis after the original trade of Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins for him plus Jordan Walden. If so, Mo needs to recalibrate some thinking.

So far, he's done zip offensively (the Jedd Gyorko for Jon Jay deal is nice in my book but isn't anything big), and the Leake signing is in part CYA for failure to resign Lackey.

Two final notes.

First, they're a midmarket team, not a small market team. Between past success, ongoing fan support and other things, they can afford to spend $140, even $150 million a year, even before the new TV contract officially starts. Without breaking too much of a sweat.

Second, dealing with Scott Boras is not insurmountable. Matt Holliday is, after all, a Boras client. So, whether it's Chris Davis or somebody else, Cards fans should not let Mo, or any sports writers, use that as a smokescreen.

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