It's good to hear that Cardinals John Mozeliak say that the team is willing to raise its payroll to be more competitive in 2011.
But the addition of the words "if necessary" into the equation -- combined with the Redbirds' fuzzy math when it comes to its financial outlay -- still has me a little bit nervous.
How can a hike in payroll NOT be necessary? The Cardinals penny pinched their way out of contention in 2010. They were in or near first place as the trade deadline neared and we all waited in anticipation for the dry powder to be loaded into the cannon. Mozeliak and team Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the Birds were going after a pitcher AND a hitter to bolster their chances. Not a bench bat, mind you, but a starter. And that wasn't going to be cheap.
What they said and what they ended up doing was wildly different -- even by Cardinals standards. The club gave away its third best hitter, Ryan Ludwick, to rent pitcher Jake Westbrook in a deal that not only fell far short of fans' and players' expectations... It also slashed the payroll for the remainder of 2010 and in 2011 because the club no longer has to pay Ludwick in his last season of arbitration.
The Cardinals have already gone public in their desire to bring back Westbrook in 2011. I like Westbrook. I think he did a decent job. But if the club is going to be tight with the pocketbook, I don't know if he is a priority. Westbrook is projected to cost $7.5 million a year for at least two seasons. Wouldn't that money be spent more wisely on a replacement fifth slot hitter?
Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Kyle McClellan are already under contract for 2011. And I have an inkling that Kyle McClellan is going to get a serious shot at the fifth spot. It would seem Westbrook's biggest role would be replacing the disappointing Lohse. But can the Cardinals afford to admit that they made a $41-million mistake? They have to hope for Lohse to suddenly be back to 2008 form next season or they are in big trouble either way.
I'm all about solid and deep pitching. But if I could get a slugging right fielder, third baseman or middle infielder who could bat fifth for the same price as Westbrook, I'd rather have the guy who can play every day than the one who plays once a week.
After that, the team could use a leadoff man, lefthanded bullpen help and a more versatile utility man.
There's lots to spend money on if the Cardinals want to improve.
I wouldn't mind bringing Westbrook back. But it has to be a team-friendly deal. Maybe one that pays a reasonable base salary with incentives for results. If Lohse stinks and Westbrook gets hurt again, the Cardinals could be on the hook for $20 million in bad contracts for two pitchers.