The Cardinals sure haven't had much luck lately when it comes to passing out two-year contracts to players.
• In late January the Redbirds signed closer Jason Motte to a two-year deal to avoid going to salary arbitration.
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Motte held hitters to a .189 average in spring training but he gave up a pair of homers and walked five batters compared to striking out two in eight innings of work. Near the end of camp he reported that his elbow was stiff, which caused the Cardinals to shut him down. On Tuesday he had an MRI and it showed a partial tear of a ligament in his pitching elbow. The Redbirds have taken their traditional course of wishing really hard that the ligament magically gets better, although they concede that surgery is an option if that doesn't happen in the next couple of weeks.
The result: Let's just go ahead and face it, Motte is going to have the surgery and he's likely going to be out until the middle of 2014. Why? Because, like with Adam Wainwright, if he pitches with a partial tear its going to be a matter of when, not if, the ligament tears completely. If you're a player, do you want to risk that it tears sometime between the All-Star Game in 2013 and the end of the season in 2014? If that happens, Motte would hit the free agent market as an unproven commodity and it would seriously compromise his value.
His deal pays $4 million this season and $7 million next year. So the Cardinals are hosed when it comes to getting Motte this year at an affordable rate. But maybe they can salvage at least part of the 2014 season instead of giving $7 million worth of the payroll to a guy who can't help the team.
I like Motte, he's a nice guy and a good player. I'm glad to see his family taken care of. But the Cardinals could have saved a pile of money if they went through with arbitration and inked him back at a lower rate or cut him loose in 2014 if he can't pitch.
• In September 2011 starting pitcher Chris Carpenter inked a two-year deal for $20 million with the Redbirds. He was fresh off his dominating performance in the 2011 postseason that started with a shutout victory over the high-octane Phillies in their cozy ballpark and ended with his gutty performance to lead the Redbirds to victory in the seventh game of the World Series. Everybody knew the Cardinals wanted to bring back the 2005 Cy Young Award winner who had a $15-million option on his previous contract. He did the Redbirds what seemed like a favor at the time by agreeing to a longer deal with a lower annual value.
The result: Carpenter spent almost all of the 2012 season on the disabled list after shoulder weakness caused by nerve trouble caused him to be unable to pitch. After several false starts, Carpenter finally made it back to start three games and pitch 17 innings billed as a tune up for him to get ready for the playoffs. Carp started two games in the post season and lasted a total of eight innings, losing them both. He called Cardinals GM John Mozeliak just prior to the start of 2013 spring training and said he couldn't pitch and he thinks his career is likely over.
• Rafael Furcal signed a two-year, $14 million contract in December 2011 as part of the fallout of Albert Pujols signing with the Anaheim Angels. He looked like a steal the first half of the 2012 season with a .352 batting average as of May 20. The hot start earned him a spot on the National League's team in the All-Star Game. But From May 21 through the rest of the season he batted .220 with an on-base percentage of .282. He partially tore an elbow ligament in his throwing arm and was out for the rest of the year by Aug. 31.
Furcal opted not to have surgery and reported to 2013 spring training unable to throw all the way across the diamond from shortstop to first base. He supposedly worsened the injury trying to push it in camp and has since had to have the Tommy John procedure. He'll be out for all of the 2013 season.
Carlos Beltran also was an Albert Pujols dividend acquisition, signing a two-year, $26-million contract in December 2011.
Like Furcal, he had a monster first half of the 2012 season and found himself in the All-Star Game. Also like Furcal, he went flat in the second half of the season. In the middle of May he was hitting .307 with 12 home runs. In July he hit .200 and in August he hit .211.
Beltran hasn't had a major injury that threatened to send him for a long stay on the disabled list. But he's got bad knees -- a longtime scout I talked to last year in the spring said he thought at that time Beltran was done as a starting player because his knees were so bad -- and he is currently nursing a broken toe. He's off to a very quiet start in 2013 with no evidence of power in his bad, although in the last few days he's stroked a couple of solid hits. Hopefully Beltran will continue the upward trend. But I am afraid the odds are as good that nagging injuries are going to knock him down a peg from star status to being "just a guy" in the plate and from being an excellent fielder to a poor one.
The Cardinals got lucky in 2011 when they hit the jackpot by taking a chance on Lance Berkman with a one-year deal that gambled the veteran slugger could put together another good year. But ever since then, starting with Berkman's extension for 2012, they've been pumping a lot of money into the slot machine and the payouts have been few and far between.