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

It’s about time for Mo to channel his inner Theo

The St. Louis Cardinals are getting to the point where they need to force Scott Boras to declare his hand regarding Matt Holliday.

Those who read this blog regularly may think I am making a major flip-flop here.

Epstein with Edgar Renteria, December 2004 (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)After having been a consistent critic of Boston general manager Theo Epstein for his long history of paying off bad contracts (see photo for one example), why would I now be encouraging his St. Louis Cardinals counterpart John Mozeliak to model his behavior after the Red Sox leader?

Here’s why.

Both GMs were in a similar situation this off-season, having acquired high-profile but impending free agent outfielders via trade. The Sox picked up Jason Bay in the summer of 2008 while the Cardinals added Matt Holliday this July.

Each club wanted their player back for 2010 and beyond, but their approaches have differed.

Epstein made what appears to be a fair, early offer to Bay, which was turned down. He reportedly came back with a second proposal, but when it seemed clear it would not be accepted, Boston moved on.

The Sox have since signed a lesser replacement outfielder in Mike Cameron, but also added free agent pitcher John Lackey, are trying to dump another bad contract in Mike Lowell and are rumored to be after first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in trade.

Mozeliak waited to make his initial offer to agent Scott Boras for Holliday. He then reportedly “tweaked” his bid.

Unlike Epstein, Mo has been unclear on his strategy following his second offer. Beyond the one-year deal with Brad Penny, the Cardinals have not moved to fill other needs, given the need to settle the Holliday situation first. But how long can St. Louis wait?

Comments directly attributed to Mozeliak in recent days are contradictory. One report had him setting a hard deadline with Boras mid-week this week while others indicate he is shying away from drawing a line in the sand.

Boras may not have any other clubs deeply interested in his client and as such, given his way, he would string the Cardinals along as long as it takes to unearth a second, higher bidder – but only if they let him.

There are differing rumors as to the depth of the Mets’ interest in Holliday. Sports Illustrated reports New York may be speaking with Boras on Wednesday, but it could be only a ploy to try to get Bay committed. ESPN’s Buster Olney has the Mets taking a more passive stance, noting they are “monitoring the Holliday negotiations, but are not actively involved”, and suggesting Holliday is out of the price range of the New Yorkers.

If the Cardinals have made a pair of fair bids and Boras won’t accept, it may very soon be time to move on, as Epstein did rather than continue to indefinitely chase after Bay.

But there is the issue of exactly what the Cardinals bid is. Is it fair? Is it aggressive? Is it five years or eight years?

On Tuesday, Olney wrote this about the Cardinals plans: “the intention is to stand on a five-year offer”. At the end of his article, Olney acknowledges the bid reported by Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch “worth about $16 million for as much as eight years” without even attempting to rationalize the two seemingly-conflicting rumors.

Some possibilities for the mismatch:

  • The rumors were captured at different times. What was the Cardinals’ offer “pre-tweaking”?
  • The rumors could have been sourced from different camps. If one had to guess, one might expect that the P-D may be getting their information from St. Louis while ESPN may be closer to Boras’ lips.
  • The two may have a different interpretation of how variations like escape clauses, options and buyouts are reflected.

Not all contracts are the same, even when supposedly for the same duration. Here are some examples from what could be an almost infinite number of possibilities:

  • An eight-year contract with a player escape clause after five years is an eight-year contract, but obviously one with a huge hole in it.
  • A five-year contract with three subsequent option years is generally not considered an eight-year contract until the options are picked up or vested through incentives like appearances, innings pitched or at-bats.
  • An eight-year contract with only five years guaranteed is not an eight-year contract. It is nothing more than misleading wording for a five-year contract with three option years.
  • An eight-year contract with five years guaranteed, three option years and a buyout for the final three years is still just a five-year contract. Its minimum, quoted value is higher – the total of years one through five, plus the buyout amount.

For example, Albert Pujols signed a seven-year, $100 million contract in 2003. Year eight, covering 2011, is an option at $16 million or the Cardinals can decline, paying Albert a $5 million buyout. The $5 million was added to the $95 million in salary for years one through seven to reach the $100 million minimum commitment. Once the year eight option is formally picked up by the Cardinals, the deal will become eight years, $111 million.

Another example is Adam Wainwright’s contract, signed prior to the 2008 season. It covers four years for a total of $15 million. That is the quoted amount. In addition there are club options for years five and six that will total either $21 million or $22 million. The higher amount is based on winning the Cy Young Award in either of the next two seasons. Just one top five placement in the vote in either upcoming season guarantees the final two option years for Wainwright. That would upgrade his deal to six years, $36 million or $37 million.

Whether any of these possibilities are among what is being discussed between Boras and Mozeliak remains to be seen. But whatever Mo does, it is just about time to channel his inner Theo. Here is hoping he is up to it.

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