Is the overhaul already over?
Thanks, in part, to General Manager John Mozeliak's meandering remarks in a story on mlb.com, I'm getting the distinct feeling that the only improvements we're going to see from the Cardinals the rest of this winter are finding the "low hanging fruit" that is a backup catcher and a possibly a bench jockey.
"There's no doubt we could roll a club out today," Mozeliak told mlb.com writer Matthew Leach. "But I don't envision the current constitution of our roster to look like this six or seven weeks from now. I still think it's evolving, and it's a very fluid situation. I expect that there are going to be some opportunities.
"I think as we continue to look at these things, there are things that will appear or disappear," Mozeliak continued. "And our job is to make sure that as we look to solidify our lineup, we're able to take advantage of some opportunities that may arise between now and January."
In other words, get ready to see the same club we have right now -- with precious few exceptions, hitting the field in Jupiter, Fla. in February.
Things can appear and disappear? What things? The money in the budget for a leadoff hitter, a second baseman who can catch the ball on a consistent basis and a fifth place hitter?
As fans, we've been to this rodeo before, so it makes me shudder to hear the GM start the sell on how the team is really ok just the way it is even though it's no different than the club that ended 2010 as a major disappointment. The only real change is that Dennys Reyes has been subtracted from the mix.
Mozeliak goes on to say that his new plan is to expect players who performed poorly last year to magically be better in 2011. It's the new "when we get Mark Mulder back it will be just like we made a big move to add a pitcher" theory. He tells Leach that the original plan to find replacements for Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan might not be necessary after all:
"Both guys [Ryan and Schumaker] had below-expectations [seasons] in terms of their offense," Mozeliak told mlb.com. "When you look at believing who's more likely to have the bounce-back, that's part of it. Also it's just the availability of some help that might be out there. But I would finish by saying that we're not necessarily tied to just that strategy. There are some other things we can do. We're open-minded."
That's a healthy dose of the "there's just nobody out there that's better than the guys we already have."
Leach pegs the Cardinals payroll at $88 million in the write-up, which he said gives the Cardinals some $12 million to spend if they hit their targeted payroll cap of $100 million. But the Cardinals have spent close to $100 million in only one season in club history, 2008. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, The Birds had a payroll of $94.2 million last season, $88.5 million in 2009 and $99.6 million in 2008. So I'm guessing handing out raises to the few guys who are yet to have contracts for 2011 and the addition of a low level reliever and a catcher is going to put the team at $92 million or so and that' just about going to be that.
So much for impressing Albert Pujols with the club's commitment to win...
In his political doublespeak, Mozeliak told Leach that he's not ruling out signing a top, Type A free agent. But he basically tells fans not to get their hopes up in the same breath.
"I would say it would have to be a very special player," Mozeliak said. "Ideally we would not like to lose our Draft pick."
Translation: It's not that the Cardinals are cheap. They're willing to spend if someone blows them away. It's just that, well, no one is going to blow them away. The Birds could trade for Tampa's Jason Bartlett to improve the middle infield. But he's going to make about $5 million next season. The reality is that the Redbirds are more likely to go dumpster diving as they have in years past. And we've just gotta save that draft pick so we can draft another guy who either can't catch the ball or can't hit it.
Were they really in on Juan Uribe? No. But they might very well end up former Cubs infielder with Ryan Theriot when the Dodgers cut him loose after THEY got Uribe.
It drives me up the wall that the club is so close to having a championship quality team. But they just won't pull the trigger on the moves that would put them over the top. The club signed Jake Westbrook -- essentially the team's fourth starter. But we saw that it couldn't win in that configuration in 2010 because it didn't play good enough defense or score enough runs. Why should we expect the calendar to make more of a difference than the talent?