I have had an epiphany. Dictionary.com describes an epiphany as “any moment of great or sudden revelation,” and I had one about the Cardinals this morning.
My thunderbolt is that I’ve been thinking too small about this franchise. Here we have one of the heritage franchises in all of sports, and I reached the point as a fan where I’m looking at payrolls and kids and farm systems, rather than thinking big. So I’ve changed my approach for the upcoming off-season. Of course, this is all predicated on Tony La Russa calling it quits. If he doesn’t, it’s a different plan. Without Colby Rasmus. If he does? Here goes…
1) Upon the retirement of La Russa, bring back Dodgers’ free agent Joe Torre as manager. Torre has told me several times that his greatest regret in baseball is not winning a championship here. We know he knows how to win a championship, and he managed two Dodger teams to the NLCS the last two years that had no business being there. Even though Joe is 70, he still has the energy and desire to manage. He’s a big part of my plan.
2) Sign Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter as a free agent. What have been the problems with this year’s Cardinals? Chemistry? The Yankee captain has been one of the great leaders in sports for 15 years. Consistent defense? While not Ozzie Smith, he still plays a solid shortstop and makes all those around him better. Offense? You could hit him first or second and he would be terrific. Even at the age of 36, Jeter has been durable enough to lead the AL in plate appearances this season. His batting average and on base percentages are at an all time low (still better than any Cardinal middle infielder), but in the lesser league and with the guidance of his second father, Torre, Jeter will bounce back. A four-year, $80 million commitment should get him here. If not, up the ante to do so.
3) Try to get Chone Figgins from Seattle. He’s owed $26 million over the next three years, $9m, $9m and $8m. He got into a dugout fight with the Mariners’ manager, so they’re down on him. Try to work a deal where you would send Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker (both of whom have some value) or another package to the Mariners, and take that financial obligation off their hands.
4) Try either Tyler Greene or Daniel Descalso at second base. What the Cardinals would be looking for in this situation is a defensive player, with offense becoming a bonus.
With the contracts of Brad Penny and Ryan Ludwick/Jake Westbrook coming off the books, the Cardinals will remove at least $13 million from their $94 million payroll. Both Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes are at $2 million this season, with Jason LaRue at almost $1 million. Right now, the Cardinal commitments for 2011 stand at roughly $80 million. Adding Jeter and Figgins at the amounts I’ve assigned, minus about $2.5 million to Seattle, would add $22 million to the payroll.
Yet it would give you a lineup of Figgins, Jeter, Pujols, Holliday, Rasmus, Jay or Craig, Molina, Greene/Descalso and the pitcher…hitting ninth. The top four in the rotation would be Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia and Lohse, with the hopes that someone like Adam Ottavino, Evan MacLane, Lance Lynn or even Kyle McLellan can fill the 5th starter void. The bullpen can be pieced together around Jason Motte (remember, it was Torre who started Mariano Rivera and Jonathon Broxton as closers), Ryan Franklin, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas and some left-handed free agents. The bench, with Descalso and perhaps Craig, has a start. Torre has always done a great job of integrating minimum-salary guys into the lineup when the need arises.
And, the payroll goes up to perhaps $110 million.
That’s my plan. I’m thinking big about the Cardinals. Now if only they would join me.