(BaseballStL) – Money. In the end, isn’t it always about money?
At the reunion of the 1964 Cardinal team that caught the Phillies and defeated the Yankees in seven games, the great Lou Brock made an interesting observation.
He said guys were playing hard mostly to get a better contract the next year. Of course $7,500 was good money for a major league baseball player then. It’s hardly meal money now.
With the league minimum north of $500,000 annually, there are no bad contracts from a player’s point of view, only better ones. Not so for the teams that pay them guaranteed money.
Want the details on free agency and arbitration? We have a breakdown here.
The Cardinals will have to make some decisions this off-season and expect a couple of them to be made fairly soon. So then, let’s handicap the off-season contract decisions;
Justin Masterson, Mark Ellis and Jason Motte are all free agents and none of them figure to be back. Ellis was insurance for Wong, Motte is redundant and was ineffective in 2014 and Masterson was a gamble that didn’t pay off (but might have if Dave Duncan were still pitching coach). That knocks about $12 million off the payroll.
Pat Neshek was signed for $1 million, a great find. The Cards would probably like to keep him but only for reasonable money because they have Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness for the later innings. Neshek was a very good set up man, and tinkering with the bullpen karma can produce unexpected results. So I think the Cards will make him a lowball offer but he will leave for more money and years.
Here’s where I will lose friends. A.J. Pierzynski is a free agent and will not command anything close to the $8.25 million he got this year. But he is a much better backup to Yadier Molina than Tony Cruz, who is arbitration eligible. Cruz cannot catch for extended periods and Molina should be catching fewer games next year. Pierzynski is experienced, handles pitchers well and can occasionally hit with some power. Only the players know if he was a good A.J. (like he was in Chicago and Minnesota) or a caustic presence (like San Francisco and Boston, reportedly). If it’s the former, I would offer him $3 million and say goodbye to Cruz. If it’s the latter, no deal.
The rest of the uncertainty revolves around players who are arbitration eligible.
One of the most heartbreaking moments of the season came in Pittsburgh when Shane Robinson slid into second and ruined his shoulder. Fans didn’t see him sitting on the training table after the game, shoulder wrapped in ice, sobbing, hand over his face. We look at players like pieces on a game board but these guys are human and they hurt. Robinson knew his season and maybe his Cardinal career was over. He doesn’t really fit in an outfield crowded with talent. Sadly, I’d let him go.
Peter Bourjos was coming off of two terrible injuries when the Cards got him so he started slowly but showed flashes of being a star. Nobody in baseball can go get ‘em any better. He was signed for $1.2 million. His limited playing time means he won’t break the bank so offer him arbitration.
Tony Cruz. Nice guy but isn’t a future Cardinal catcher. Let him go, unless they can’t/won’t keep Pierzynski.
John Jay made $3.25 million and hit his way back into the hearts of Cardinals everywhere with a solid postseason. His defense was somewhat better but still average at best but the Cards really have little choice but to offer him arbitration.
Daniel Descalso did everything the Cardinals asked and more over the past few years. But I’m going to defer to Whitey Herzog’s philosophy about bench players: roll over your bench every three years. Bench players start to think they should be starters and problems develop. Mike Matheny said earlier this year that Descalso deserved better, meaning he wasn’t getting many opportunities. That’s not likely to change. Sorry Daniel. Let him walk and use Pete Kozma as the utility man. He has more upside at short and he’s still a young man.
Lance Lynn has been one of the most effective starters in the National League over the past four years, all for minimum wage. He deserves a contract that reflects that. How long they want to keep him and at what price is the question. The Redbirds would like to lock him up for at least three or four years to avoid the constant uncertainty. But signing pitchers to long deals is fraught with peril. Remember Mike Hampton and Johan Santana? Look for John Mozeliak to resolve most of the other issues before tackling this one. But he stays at any cost.