Nearly ten years ago, Cardinals’ slugger Mark McGwire, who had signed a below market value contract to stay in St. Louis after being traded here in 1997, welcomed a newcomer to the club. After the Cardinals traded for Jim Edmonds in the spring of 2000, McGwire greeted him in the home clubhouse in Jupiter, Florida by saying, “welcome to Baseball Heaven.”
Edmonds agreed that it was, and signed his own below-market contract several months later. Subsequently, Darryl Kile, Matt Morris, Dave Veres, Mike Matheny, Fernando Vina and Andy Benes signed very good contracts…but for not as much as they could have received elsewhere.
Scott Rolen joined the club in 2002, turning down $140 million from Philadelphia and signing with the Cards for $90 million. But, aside from Rolen, things changed before that 2002 season. McGwire retired. The Cardinals spent big money on free agent first baseman Tino Martinez. Paid him more, probably, than they had to. Kile died and Morris regressed. Benes had already retired.
And then, before signing his seven year, $100 million dollar deal in 2004, Albert Pujols declared that “this is a business” and that there would be “no hometown discount.” From that point on, at least in players’ eyes, the romantic idea of Baseball Heaven died. St. Louis is no longer a destination worth taking less money to land in.
The Cardinals either have to pay market value (see Chris Carpenter’s six year, $65 million deal), spend big to buy out free agent years, as in the case of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, or bargain shop, as they did for the likes of Reggie Sanders, David Eckstein, Ryan Ludwick and Ryan Franklin.
That brings us to this year. Matt Holliday’s agent is Scott Boras. Holliday is NOT Andy Benes, and he isn’t going to give St. Louis or anyone else a financial break. Like most Boras clients, he’s a mercenary, going wherever the highest paying job is. Someone will probably give him “Mark Texiera money,” which is eight years and $180 million. For St. Louis, Holliday isn’t worth that. He’s a nice player, but not one that you break the bank for. If we presume that Pujols is going to get $25 million a year, his complement might bring down $18 million, but not $22.5 mil. So the Cardinals will be shopping for the likes of Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady, Vlad Guerrero or Rocco Baldelli in free agency to play right field, with the hope that Allen Craig will arrive in 2011. That’s the reality of baseball in 2009-2010.
Baseball Heaven is no longer. Unless…the new Cardinal hitting coach gets together with his frend Holliday…..