November 03, 2011

#Stlcards and free agency

We all know what the No. 1 need is, or seems to be, both on the field side and on the marketing side, for the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason, as Hot Stove League time heats up: Re-sign Albert Pujols. With no other free agents of significance and Jason Motte the one potentially big arbitration case, followed by Ryan Theriot/Skip Schumaker as semi-big arbitration cases, per Cot's Contracts, the focus is Pujols, followed, perhaps, by Rafael Furcal (option was bought out) and the unlikely-to-return Octavio Dotel (option also bought out).

But if the team does that, there's zero left in the tank for any "splashes" in free agency otherwise. And, there's need in the middle infield, of some sort.

But, if they don't re-sign The Machine, they'll need to look at SS and 2B needs more carefully. Yahoo's Jeff Passan has out his annual version of the free-agent tracker, and unlike ESPN's, it's not paywalled, so let's take a look at who the Cards could pursue either way.

Personally, I'd try to re-sign Furcal on the cheap first. I'm not a Theriot fan, and even though he pushed to get him, by the end of the year, neither was Tony La Russa, apparently. Give  something OK in arbitration and go from there, or let him walk, too?

OK, if they pass on Skip and Ryan both, would they pay a few $$ more for Kelly Johnson? For the record, I am not a fan of Tyler Greene, even as a "hole-patcher," getting more significant time at either SS or 2B. After Johnson, 2B falls off a lot in free agency.

SS? Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes are the name players. Realistically, they only come in the picture as part of Plan B if the Cards don't re-sign Pujols. After them, free-agents at SS fall WAY off. So, realistically, that means re-signing the bought-out Furcal or calling somebody up from Memphis, if the Cards re-sign Pujols. Of course, if you look at the Cardinals' list of top 10 prospects, you'll see nary a middle infielder there. If not? I'd look for Reyes first, before Rollins, as well as going Kelly Johnson and putting Skip back in the OF as the fourth outfielder while Lance Berkman moves to 1B. Realistically, though, with Lance indicating that possible retirement is why he wants to go year-to-year, that's not a good option.

And, outfield free agents are fairly thin, too.

So, what this means is that, if Mozeliak won't pay, or even "overpay," to keep Pujols in a thin free-agent market, he's either going to overpay for a middle infielder or else gamble that with the return of Adam Wainwright, his pitching staff is so great that he can try to cut corners for a year. 

And, in order of for whom I'd prefer to see overpaid, factoring in how much they're likely to be overpaid, Pujols would be first. Under Plan B, Rollins would narrowly edge out Johnson, primarily because he won't command that much, leaving money available for other things.

Besides, looking beyond 2012, Mozeliak will get more flexibility. Lohse's a free agent and won't be back. Westbrook is an option that likely won't be picked up, or will be bought out, depending on its terms. Shelby Miller will be ready to come up from Springfield by then. Jaime Garcia's locked up through 2015. So, 2013 is a "gravy year" on contracts. If Berkman does another one-year deal, it will be for no more than this year.

2014? Carpenter's gone, in all likelihood, and probably retiring. Wainwright will want, and get, big money. But, with Carp gone (four of the Cards' top five prospects after Miller are pitchers), that leaves Carpenter's money to go to Pujols' contract. 2015? Garcia's still signed, as is Matt Holliday. Younger outfielders like Allan Craig and John Jay will get raises in arbitration, but not huge ones.

Besides, as I've said elsewhere, Mo, you'll make it up in ticket sales. If not re-signing Pujols costs you 200,000 in regular-season ticket sales at $20 a pop, that's $4 million right there. Add in, on average, one home playoff game a year not played at all, with 50,000 fans (roughly) at $30 a pop, and that's another $1.5 million.

So, Mo ... Albert Pujols is worth $5.5 million in ticket sales. Add that to the $16 million he made last year, and right now, you're at $21.5 million. An additional $3.5 million per year, given what I spelled out, should be easy to find.

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