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Reyes exhausts Cards’ dry powder

The St. Louis Cardinals’ signing of reliever Dennys Reyes on Thursday was initially met with positive reaction from many across the Cardinal Nation, as the club moved to shore up their shaky left-handed relief situation.

I wrote about the signing yesterday at, so I am not going to rehash that here. Yet several comments in Joe Strauss’ follow-up article Friday warrant further discussion.

While the Cardinals nicely structured Reyes’ deal such that the majority, $2 million, is payable next season with $1 million due in 2009, it seems this small move is it for the club until at least July.

The Cards wisely ensured they have protection in case Reyes is injured in the World Baseball Classic, already underway.

“The deal is contingent on Reyes passing a team physical after his participation with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. During the tournament, Reyes will be covered by an insurance policy obtained by the corporation that owns the event.”

The next quote offered is about yesterday’s Pedro Martinez rumor. The story painting him as the 2009 Cardinals potential closer had shorter legs than an aspiring tadpole.

“Intrigue over approaching former Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez as a potential closer will go no farther. The club now views projected set-up man Ryan Franklin as its alternative to Chris Perez and Jason Motte should the younger pitchers not assert themselves this spring.”

I don’t really care too much about that, though positioning Franklin as the closer fallback isn’t really news, is it? This third quote is the one that really concerns me.

“Signing Reyes virtually eliminates any remaining financial flexibility the team has until at least midway through the season, according to an organizational source.”

Taken at face value, this is an incredibly limiting position for the team to have placed themselves. Trades are difficult enough to pull off without them having to be either neutral or positive in terms of cash flow and cutting off the possibility of any signings before even understanding what they might be seems short-sighted.

The team as currently constructed is heavy on outfielders, especially left-handed ones, and lacks depth at second base, in right-handed relief and potentially in starting pitching.

If the Skip Schumaker at second base experiment fails, the club would seemingly be committed to Brian Barden, Brendan Ryan or the like for at least the first half of the season. If so, the real likelihood that stronger options might come available over the next month would be ignored, despite potential need that may arise.

As already noted above, if the kids can’t handle the ninth inning, the club will have to make do with Franklin, who was not up to the same job last season.

If Chris Carpenter (or any of the other starters) does not remain healthy, then the in-house candidates such as Kyle McClellan, Brad Thompson or Mitchell Boggs will seemingly have to be good enough.

I am not suggesting any particular deals be done now and I realize that sticking to budget is important for any business. Still, an aspiring championship club is foolish to close any possible doors of improvement even before the season gets underway.

In this scenario, one would have to hold out hope the team can remain competitive until the second half and that even if so, some help will be added. That would be in contrast to 2008, when the party line was that the cost of doing every possible trade was cost-prohibitive in terms of prospects to be given up.

Finally, if such a decision to stop spending was made after the Reyes signing, it seems dangerous to communicate it, even informally. On one hand, it can surely help tamp down expectations, both internally and externally.

On the other, it can fan the flames of discontent with team finances that is already consuming a number of vocal Cardinals watchers. At least some of them are the very ticket buyers the club is continuing to court here on the day single-game regular season tickets went on sale.

What was already a difficult balancing act seems to be getting tougher by the week.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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