So much for dreaming St. Louis Cardinals fans who have fantasized that the game’s top star would be in the club’s sights after it refused to join the bidding for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
It was reported Tuesday that Los Angeles Angels slugger Mike Trout will remain in California for the balance of his Hall of Fame career. He’s agreed to a 10-year extension with the halos which will start at the end of his current contract that expires after the 2020 season. When the deal is up, Trout will be 39 years old. There are no opt outs and he has a full no-trade clause.
Trust me. It’s better this way.
We all know deep down inside that the Redbirds were never going to be the top bidder for the best player in the game. It’s easier not to get ourselves all worked up about how much sense it would make to add Trout to the middle of the St. Louis batting order or to rationalize that the Birds could afford to splurge on a guy who would fill the seats at Busch Stadium with fans and then lead the home team to glory.
St. Louis wasn’t even the top bidder when its own megastar, Albert Pujols hit the market. It’s a little ironic that the deal for Trout, the biggest in baseball history, would come out the same day Forbes Magazine released an article about what a colossal mistake the $254 million deal the Angels gave Pujols was. It was ridiculous, according to the article, to pay so much for a player who fell apart in his mid to late thirties, regardless of how wonderful he was when he was young. Anaheim owner Arte Moreno was so unaffected by the criticism that he’s packed two of the biggest contracts in professional sports history onto a team that has very little chance to make it to the postseason with such a lopsided roster. It was only a few months ago that pundits were calling for Los Angeles to trade Trout for prospects in hopes of putting a team on the field with a chance to compete. Trout got his money. But it doesn’t seem likely he’ll ever get a World Series ring.
To backtrack for a moment, it’s amazing that Redbirds fans these days see the fact that Pujols signed with the Angels as a shrewd move on behalf of the St. Louis front office. It wasn’t that the Cardinals refused to bid on Pujols. They simply over-played their hand, believing he would stay with the only team he had ever known. The Cardinals offered Albert nine years and around $200 million which would have been one of the largest contracts in the game had he accepted the deal. Instead, Pujols bolted for one more year and a few more million. It worked out for the best. But let’s not pretend it was planned that way all along.
Still, when the Birds saw what happened with Pujols, they seemed to lose their nerve for competing for top talent. Matt Holliday’s 2007 contract that paid him $140 million remains the team’s most lucrative deal. Of the 30 teams in baseball, 23 of them have doled out larger contracts that Holliday’s pact. When it comes to contracts, the Cardinals are much more in the league of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics than they are with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs. You have to be a whole lot smarter than clubs that are willing to spend twice as much as you in order to compete.
In the meantime, the disappearance of Trout and Nolan Arenado from the upcoming free agent classes makes it all that much more important that the Redbirds find a way to re-sign their own superstar slugger, Paul Goldschmidt. Even if the Cardinals were willing to spend money to make themselves better, there are fewer impact players exposed to free agency all the time. It’s the move these days to sign your own players before they hit the market and risk the freeze out that has greeted players the past two years.
But it’s not a layup. The Washington Nationals offered Harper 10 years and $300 million at the end of his tenure in DC. He declined, so close to free agency that he couldn’t help but try it on for size, and ended up defecting to the National League East rival Philadelphia Phillies.
If the Cardinals can’t sign Goldschmidt, all that’s left to do is hope the team can develop another Albert Pujols. But it might be a long, long time before something like that happens. While the club has been exceptional at developing complementary players and pitchers, it hasn’t been able to produce a middle of the order slugger for far too long. Here’s to hoping that the team doesn’t freeze up when it’s time to sign its rent-a-star to a long-term deal.