Cheap Seats

Stop the speculation

I'm getting really tired about the speculation from the national media regarding the Cardinals ability to sign Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa.

No one has been more (rationally) critical than me over the last two seasons about the Cardinals' recent penny pinching ways. And I have often wondered if the team was committed to sign Holliday to the sort of contract it would take to keep him. But the assertion that the Birds can't afford Holliday is absolutely ridiculous.

ESPN's Buster Olney writes:

Why Holliday could end up a rental

Friday, September 11, 2009 | Feedback | Print Entry

As the summer's trade season played out, rival executives came away from conversations with the Cardinals believing St. Louis wasn't in position to take on much salary. The Cardinals opened the year with a payroll of about $89 million. But as St. Louis played well early, hanging at or near the top of the division, its attendance climbed and turned out to be better than expected. Rather than the 2.8 million that was predicted for the Cardinals, they drew crowds that could, in the end, take them up to 3.4 million in attendance.

The St. Louis ownership seemed to respond, trading for Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday and expanding the payroll by about $6 million -- St. Louis got payroll relief of about $1.7 million from Oakland in the Holliday trade -- and helping to turn the Cardinals from contenders to what appears, right now, to be the best team in the National League. The Cardinals' midsummer spending spree doesn't mean, however, that the team's ownership is ready to paint outside the usual financial lines. Even if St. Louis wins the World Series, the Cardinals are not apt to pop up with a $120 million payroll next year; it's just not in the club's financial DNA.

Where do they get these fantasyland numbers? A $120 million payroll? Does Olney know that the Cardinals had an $88 million payroll this season and that they will shed the contracts of Troy Glaus ($11 million), Joel Pineiro ($7.5 million), Khalil Greene ($6.5 million), Todd Wellemeyer ($4 million)... Not to mention the $4 million they are paying Adam Kennedy to play for Oakland? They could pay Holliday $17 or $18 million a season and still come in at $100 million or less, depending on how they structured the deal and rounded out the roster.

With starters Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright under contract for about the same money as last year and starters Brendan Ryan, Colby Rasmus and Skip Schumaker all making very low salaries, the Cardinals are in very good position to keep their team intact without breaking the bank. Especially if they backloaded deals to spread out some of the money Holliday would make until after Carpenter's deal is up.

Where does Olney get the figure that the Cardinals have never had a payroll over $92 million? According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Birds had a total payroll of $99.6 million in 2008. And their ownership claimed the number was closer to $110 million.

Once you get past that, do we believe that the Redbirds gave away their best prospect, Bret Wallace, for a short term rental? Ownership and management has said publicly and repeatedly that they want to keep Holliday longterm. Will they get it done? I don't know. But is it smart to stoke all the bad feeling it will cause if they reward fans for supporting the team so well this year by cutting the payroll back again?

It's not like the Cardinals have been a one star show forever. They had THREE superstar position players on the 2004-06 teams (Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen) AND Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder in the rotation. PLUS Jason Isringhausen making a ton of money as the closer. So now it's too much to ask to have Pujols, Holliday along with Carpenter? The Cardinals have less than $51 million in payroll committed for 2010 and less than $44.2 committed for 2011. Less than $13.2 million is on the books for 2012.

Sure, they had a couple of down years. But they have a very nice core right now and if they keep Holliday and DeRosa then replace Pineiro and Wellemeyer with cheaper pitchers (maybe a vet 4th starter and Jaime Garcia or Mitchell Boggs in the five spot) they could be just as good as they are now.

Besides, the Cardinals have a lot of reasons to sign Holliday. First, look how many fans he has put in the seats. Second, Pujols said he wants the Cardinals to show him they are committed to being a winner. They have a lot better chance to sign Pujols to an extension with Holliday than without him. And if Pujols walks in 2011, at least they still have Holliday as the centerpiece.

I'm not trying to single out Olney. He's a good writer and I appreciate his work. But, until the Cardinals say that they aren't going to try to re-sign Holliday, what good does it do to speculate? Nobody knows what Holliday's primary motivation is or what the Cardinals have up their sleeve.