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‘Tis the early Holliday season for Cardinals second-guessers

“Unreasonable expectations”, “exit strategies”, “blowing it”, “disappointing the fans”, scream the headlines.

It’s that season once again – the rhetoric season – the annual pre-second-guessing of St. Louis Cardinals ownership and management. It occurs every year at this time, no matter how the previous campaign ended on the field, what the outlook for the next might be or what has transpired during the off-season to date.

Granted, this is an uneasy time for writers on deadlines, needing something spicy about which to opine during a traditional period of low activity across Major League Baseball. (For a great graphical representation of recent years’ trades and free agent signings by winter day, see this post on the Fungoes blog.)

People starving for news seem to hang on every word spoken by club officials and agents alike, as if it is the accurate and only word. They don’t seem to understand or accept that these figures are professionals that know how to leverage the media to further their own interests and negotiating stance.

The hungry public gobble up the spin as translated by the writers as if it is a gourmet meal instead of the table scraps they usually are.

Other times rumors magically leak out, unattributed to any reputable source, yet the breathless rumor-chasing world can turn on its ear as a result.

Matt Holliday (Getty Images)Let’s take an example.

Some are currently worked up because the Cardinals have supposedly misled their fans regarding their chances of re-signing Matt Holliday, setting expectations unrealistically high. The storyline continues that the club is now trying to let the public down easily that they may be unable to keep the free agent outfielder. That is being passed off as news.

Apparently, the Cardinals should never have said they would do their best to re-sign the outfielder because some fans cannot sort through the clutter to logically think this through for themselves.

Others more romantically inclined, previously became convinced that Holliday would fall in love with St. Louis and sign for a below-top dollar amount just for the privilege to remain with the Cardinals. Their starry-eyed logic was based on several other players having done that in the past under entirely different circumstances.

How naïve is all that?

Anyone with any knowledge of the free agent market and the consistent tactics of agent Scott Boras over the years could easily forecast how the Holliday situation would evolve from the very day in July the Cardinals traded for him. In fact, many of us did just that.

After acquiring Holliday and seeing him in action, the Cardinals expressed interest in bringing him back, but openly acknowledged some time ago that they do not want to allocate the resources to be the highest bidder if it gets to that point. That seems pretty clear.

The Cardinals have not yet made Holliday an offer likely in part because they knew no matter how good it would be, Boras would turn around and use it to try to secure even more cash from another deeper-pocketed organization. This is not surprising.

If Boras can locate another suitor with more money, he will surely take Holliday there for 2010 and beyond. No matter what Bill DeWitt, John Mozeliak, Boras or any writer says, that is most likely what will happen. Again, this is not a news flash.

Other rabble-rousers suggest the Cardinals brass only recently realized it will cost them a substantial percentage of their player payroll to re-sign Albert Pujols as well as Holliday – perhaps more than the club believes they can afford. It seems a change of tune from these inciteful (not insightful) pundits who previously applauded the organization’s efforts in acquiring Holliday in the first place.

Despite the charges to the contrary, those running the team are not stupid nor are a majority of readers for that matter. Yet the extremists – the torches and pitchforks crowd – seem to enjoy getting worked into a frenzy – even before anything actually happens.

If the Cardinals play their hand well, serious competition does not surface and a significant amount of luck is on their side, there is still a chance Holliday could return. Timing is crucial though the club is certainly not in control of all variables.

Having the best of intentions could still lead the Cardinals to undesirable results. That is a very realistic possibility that has been known for months.

Maybe it won’t be anyone’s fault, but that won’t stop those on the sidelines from identifying a black-hatted target to take the blame. It could be the stereotypical cheap owner, the overly-optimistic GM, the money-grubbing agent or the passive player. Not knowing the true facts to be able to properly assign the blame won’t stop it from occurring, including a healthy dose of the usual name-calling.

In the meantime, all the inflammatory headlines and “he said, she said” stuff being written between now and when Holliday’s decision is disclosed is just noise on the line. Some eagerly soak that up. I guess it is good to fill in the time with the talk radio crowd when the obligatory Tiger Woods jokes are exhausted, but to me it is maddening.

Taking it one step further, can you imagine what it will be like with potentially two more years, over 700 days, of Pujols speculation ahead of us to deal with each and every morning, afternoon and evening?

Bottom line, if you feel misled or confused by any part of the Holliday situation, then you just aren’t paying enough attention.

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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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