Friday, February 18, 2011

The Honor Was Long Overdue

Stan Musial, the greatest Cardinal of all time:

Musial received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Feb. 22, 2011 from President Barack Obama. Obama's from Chicago, but he's a White Sox fan at least, so we can let that slide.

My friend, national baseball cartoonist "TUCK!" sums it up perfectly:

(copyright 2011—TUCK! published in "The Hardball Times" at; cartoon used with permission of artist)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why the Cardinals are Pujols Best Free-Agency Bet

The big risk for the Cardinals—and the biggest fear for Cardinal nation—is that they cannot reach a deal to re-sign Albert Pujols before his self-imposed deadline next week. Although they might decide to extend negotiations through spring training, I think that Albert wants to test the free-agent market. This is not automatically the end of the world for the Cardinals, however. As we saw with the Matt Holliday deal last year, free agency is not an automatic ticket out of the Gateway City.

FEAR #1: Pujols signs with a big-market team. Five years ago, this was a legitimate concern. But who out there has $30 million dollars to spend? The Yankees? They're already paying A-Rod, Jeter and Texiera a ton of money; can even their payroll afford that kind of money? The Red Sox have already shown a willingness to pass up huge long-term contracts on older players. I hear the Angels mentioned a lot, and that might be likely, but how happy would Albert be in the American League?

FEAR #2: Pujols signs with the Cubs. Please. Albert said he wants to be on a team that contends. He also said he wants to be the Cardinals successor to Stan Musial. The Man would never have played for the Cubs. Going to the Cubs, for any reason, would destroy Pujols' reputation in St. Louis. Plus, the chances of the Cubs seriously contending for a World Series title, even with Pujols, are just laughable.

FEAR #3: Small-market club throws big money to change their fortunes. Kansas City has been mentioned along with a few other teams. But the reality of these situations is that in order to sign Pujols, they would have to sacrifice pitching salary, which rules out competing for a title. Look at last season—the Giants and the Rangers made it to the Fall Classic on great pitching, not on the back of a single big-time slugger. Even McGwire and Bonds in their PED primes didn't carry a substandard team to a championship.

While it is conceivable that one of these scenarios could come to pass, what's more likely is that Albert will still find the best deal for the rest of his career in St. Louis. But why should Cards management handcuff themselves to one of the situations described above? Why should they limit or even eliminate their ability to keep a competitive pitching staff and sign other young talent because all their money is tied up with an aging and possibly injured superstar?

So what's the solution? If Pujols won't sign for any less than $300 million over 10 years, the Cardinals will take their chances as a free-agent bidder. What should they offer now, then? Well, he should make more than Ryan Howard, so let's say $29 million a year. What about time? Sign him for eight years until he's 40, then give him the option for year nine, then make it a club option for year 10. Load up the last 2-4 years with performance incentives that could raise the actual value of the contract to $300 million. Is this going to happen? Nobody really knows but Albert.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five Reasons Why the Cardinals Won't Sign Albert Pujols Before Spring Training

These are in no particular order, and as always, I'm just a fan like the rest of you. I'm not a paid sports journalist with inside information. I have been following the Cardinals since I was old enough to watch baseball, which was at the height of Lou Brock's career. Do I think Pujols will stay with the Cardinals? Yeah, I do, but I think if that happens, they'll have to sign him as a free agent, and here are the five reasons why I think that will happen.

1. Pujols wants a ten-year contract. That's just stupid. He'll be almost 42 at the end of that deal, and he's got a Dominican birth certificate, so he could really be 56. Name me one other hitter ever who hit .300/30 HR/100 RBI after age 38. By the way, in 1962 at age 41, his next-to-last year, Stan Musial hit .330 with 82 RBI and 19 homers. In Ted Williams' last year, 1960, at age 42, he hit .316 with 29 homers and 72 RBI. Great stats? Sure. $30 million worth? Not so sure.

2. The market value for lesser players is absurd. Stupid losers like the Cubs and the Red Sox (I said it) overpaid like crazy for mediocre talent, and Pujols agent wants Cardinals brass to join the stupid club. I think Cardinals brass is waiting for this year to prove how truly idiotic those contracts were, thus driving the market price for a Pujols free-agency downward after this season.

3. Bill DeWitt is a really rich white guy. Guess what? Rich white guys don't become rich by spending money foolishly. Okay, guys named "Bush" can, but Bill DeWitt didn't. $300 million over 10 years for a player already in his 30s smells like a bad investment. Let's be honest, most of metro St. Louis already owns a Pujols t-shirt; they're not going to make up a third of a billion dollars in merchandizing and ticket sales.

4. Pujols is a catastrophic injury waiting to happen. The guy is, to steal a phrase, "one tough Dominican," but let's not let emotion trump logic—he's had both knee problems and elbow problems—serious elbow problems—for 3-4 years now. Blown out knee? Out for a year, lesser player the next year (see "Brady, Tom"). Torn elbow ligament. Tommy John surgery. Out for a year-and-a-half. At $30 million a year, anything less than 130 games minimum is money lost.

5. Hope you like minor-league pitching. Because that's all you're going to see on the mound at Busch Stadium if this deal goes through. Chris Carpenter has maybe 2-3 good years left in him. Adam Wainwright is almost certainly a $25 million a year deal to make once his contract is up. Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse will both be gone in 2-4 years. Jaime Garcia, assuming he lives up to his first-year promise, will command at least $8-10 million a year when he's arbitration eligible. How can you re-sign or replace any of these guys when more than 40 percent of your payroll is going to Pujols and Holliday? Answer: you can't.

So there you have it. I think that GM John Mozeliak has a strict bottom line number of years and salary directly from DeWitt that he won't budge on. Pujols and his agent Dan Lozano have evidently decided that they can get $300 million for ten years from some sucker chump franchise like the Yankees or the Angels. Others have speculated that desperate clubs like the Cubs or even the Royals (Jeff Gordon, please...) might buck up for Albert. Tomorrow I'll write about why either of those scenarios are unlikely, which leads to the conclusion that the Cardinals are in a better position to negotiate later rather than sooner.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Superbowl XLV post-mortem

I thought that the biggest risk for the Steelers was Rashard Mendenhall fumbling at a key point in the game; I even said so last Saturday on my radio show. As it turns out, his fumble in the second half led to the Packers TD that put the game out of reach. You can't turn the ball over three times and win a championship. Pittsburgh turned it over three times, and Green Bay scored three TDs off those turnovers. That was the difference.

The game itself was okay, but Pittsburgh played sloppy, especially in the first half, Green Bay dropped way too many passes, and the field was utter crapola in terms of traction. Did they spray it down with Pam® before the game?

I wonder how stupid all those people standing outside Jerry's UFO freezing to death and watching the game on big screens felt about spending $200 each for THAT experience...probably still better than the 400 people who paid for seats inside the stadium who were told, "Uh, sorry, we forgot to install your seats." The late, great Molly Ivins called her home state of Texas "the national laboratory for bad government." Evidently that reputation has seeped into the private sector as well.

I liked most of the commercials, but none of them were instant classics. The VW/Darth Vader ad was a favorite for most (myself included); John Williams' "Imperial March" is simply the most awesome piece of music to come out of Hollywood, ever. I also liked the NFL Network ad that showed all the casts of the classic sitcoms of the '70s, '80s and '90s. A couple of others that didn't attract as much attention but that I liked a lot was the Kia Optima "Epic Ride" ad, where the car was zapped from place to place through time and space, and the CarMax "I feel like a kid in a candy store" ad. The writer in me loved all those creative similes!

I didn't hate halftime, and I'm not a Black Eyed Peas fan, but it was at least interesting, even though the sound and the light tech was ridiculously amateurish. If Prince could play in a monsoon three years ago in Miami, you'd think that they could figure out how to turn on a microphone and some stage lights inside a dome.

Congrats to my friend Joe Bancroft, a Wisconsin native and die-hard Packers fan, who is basking in the afterglow of victory. Evidently he's forcing someone else (a Bears fan) to wear the "Cheesehead of Shame" as part of his celebration. As a Vikings fan, all I get is half-hearted pity, much like Cubs fans receive around the middle of August.

Who's likely to be there next year? I don't get paid for this, so here goes:
NFC: Dallas, Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa and Philly.
AFC: Colts, Jets, Ravens, Patriots and Chiefs.
Rams? Won't beat out the Niners for the division next year. Vikings? Rookie QB. Maybe I don't care if they sign a new CBA or not. Nah, I still care. I love this game!