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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Holliday re-signing hype and hysteria receiving too much ink

The St. Louis Cardinals are on their way to what is shaping up to be a most interesting post-season, their first in three years. The club may go into the playoffs as the favorite to represent the National League in the World Series for the third time in the last six years.

With the only suspense over the next three weeks being whether or not the team will secure home-field advantage, Cardinals watchers, apparently needing something to talk about, seem overly focused on free agent-to-be Matt Holliday’s future.

Until there is an announcement, if there will be one, chances are very high there will be nothing new to say before play ends this season about whether or not the power-hitting outfielder will return to St. Louis.

Yet the likes of ESPN’s Buster Olney continue to weigh in on the subject. In a Friday Insider article, Olney does a quick, back-of-the-envelope analysis of the Cardinals’ major payroll commitments for 2010 and concludes:

“Nothing in the Cardinals’ recent history tells us” that the club will “approach or surpass $100 million in payroll in order to keep him,” opines Olney.

Olney bases his historical perspective on data from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, concluding:

“…the Cardinals have never opened a season with a payroll greater than $92.1 million.”

While I am a proponent of using past behavior to help gauge what might happen in the future, this analysis seems narrow at best. Most likely, Olney has no idea what the Cardinals will do. They could shift money to future years by back-end loading their offer and/or defering money, increase payroll, restructure other players’ contracts or perhaps even trade some salary to accommodate Holliday.

It all depends on how badly ownership wants to keep him. None of us know what they are going to do.

The idea of trading salary is a realistic possibility. After all, that is how Mark DeRosa became available to St. Louis. Last winter, the Cubs binged on expensive free agents such as the unpopular and disappointing Milton Bradley and tried to acquire former National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy from San Diego. One by-product was purging the popular and valuable DeRosa, who was sent to Cleveland, from where the Cardinals later rescued him.

In recent years, several Cardinals players, most recently Jason Isringhausen among them, worked with the team to restructure their contracts, deferring money out to future years to create additional current years’ payroll flexibility. Who is to say that couldn’t be attempted again if deemed necessary?

Olney concludes with this statement:

“…I’ll venture a guess (and it’s nothing more at this point): Holliday winds up signing with the Angels…”

Turns out that Olney is not alone. Some members of the Cardinal Nation (note the “the” is not capitalized!) are all up in arms over a statement reportedly made by Post-Dispatch Hall of Fame writer Rick Hummel in a recent interview with KSDK Channel 5’s Jay Randolph, Sr.

In it, the “Commish” allegedly said there is “zero chance” the Cardinals will re-sign Holliday or Joel Pineiro. One major message board where some wild discussions regularly occur has seven screens and counting of reaction, much of it predictably negative.

No one apparently bothered to check out the accuracy of the statement – until I did.

In an email exchange on Friday morning, Hummel expressed concern over how well (or poorly) people listen and the risks of the internet before clarifying:

The quote was ‘zero’ chance they would re-resign the combination of Holliday, Pineiro and DeRosa, which I think anyone would agree with. They would have the least chance, almost ‘zero’, I would say of re-signing Pineiro,” explains Hummel.

That is what Hummel actually said to Randolph, which is most logical. I agree with him 100%.

With major long-term financial commitments to the front three in the rotation, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse, Pineiro most likely has priced himself out of the Cardinals willingness to pay open market value for his continued services after 2009.

Using the above logic, trading Lohse to free up money for Pineiro could be an option, but one would think there would be few takers given Lohse’s injury-plagued 2009 and huge remaining three-year commitment, not to mention having to buy out his no-trade protection.

The key point is that this has nothing to do with Holliday. Note that Hummel specifically did not rule out the possibility of the Cardinals signing both Holliday and DeRosa.

It is a shame that some can’t sit back and enjoy the ride here in 2009 and wait to get all wound up over the off-season until it actually arrives.

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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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