Cheap Seats

Cardinals fans split over free agency

It seems there is a deep divide in Cardinals Nation.

On one side are people who hope against history that this will be the year that the Redbirds open up the checkbook and splurge on a bunch of free agents to give the team a talent infusion.

On the other side it seems there is a group of folks that think spending any money on free agents is a mortal sin. Every all-star that’s injured can be replaced by a guy from Class AA ball, they say. It’s a badge of honor in their estimation when the Cardinals refuse to spend money and it’s deeply shameful if they even consider top free agents.

The team’s current situation is likely to test the patience of Cardinals fans. With the announcement of surgery for Lance Lynn the team is in the market for a starter. Meanwhile there is much debate over the worth of free agent outfielder Jason Heyward.

No matter what happens, it seems half of Cardinals fandom won’t be happy.

Some folks are going to be disappointed if no one is signed. And other folks are going to be infuriated if the team spends a bunch of cash.

It seems everyone has an unchangeable opinion. But I’m not sure why they’re so critical when the St. Louis front office, by proof of the team’s record over the past two decades, seems to know what it’s doing.

While the Birds have never been one of baseball’s freest spenders, the truth is that the club has never been adverse to getting players through free agency or acquiring veteran stars through trade. It’s overpaying that bothers them, as well it should. But general manager John Mozeliak, according to his own words, is always open to any means of improving the team.

It’s great that the Cardinals have been able to build much of the core of their team from within. Catcher Yadier Molina and longtime franchise cornerstone Albert Pujols were drafted and developed by the Cardinals as were current pitchers Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Seigrist.

Mozeliak never said the Cardinals wanted to use ONLY home grown players. The idea is to fill as many needs as you can from within -- and then use trades and signings to fill in the holes. That’s what happened when the team signed Matt Holliday, a rare off-season where the club made off with the highest-priced player.

The Cardinals had an obvious need for a middle of the order hitter. Yet some fans screamed that the $120 million contract given to Holliday would ruin the franchise. Turns out the team’s leadership knew what it was doing. Today, the Holliday deal seems like a relative bargain.

Still, some fans love to hate Holliday, carping for him to be traded and replaced with Tommy Pham or Stephen Piscotty or the next kid off the minor league bus.

The rift between the two sides of Cardinals Nation could become deep this winter as the Birds now find themselves in the unusual position of having to wade deep into the free agent waters to add (or retain) a position player and a starting pitcher.

But I urge people to find common ground as free agency plays out. If the Cardinals made a big splash by re-signing Jason Heyward and going out to get a pitcher like David Price or Zack Greinke it doesn’t mean the team that abandoned its principles and changed its course. It just means Mozeliak meant it when he has repeatedly said all options are always on the table.

And look on the bright side: If the Cardinals sign a couple of players, it prevents the team from having to part with top young talent in trade.

It will prove to be very shrews of the team to give a qualifying offer to John Lackey when the pitcher likely turns it down. Then the Cardinals will recover the draft pick lost if they go outide of the organization to sign a top free agent.

Sometimes it is more frugal to spend money than it is to give away other resources.