The Cardinal Nation blog

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

Cardinals-based Cubs commentary

I’ve been noticing a number of interesting news items relating to the St. Louis Cardinals National League Central Division rivals from Chicago.

Heavy debt load

There is a segment of Cardinals watchers that never seem to be satisfied with the expenditures ownership allocates to the player payroll. One area often singled out is the over $20 million annual debt service required as a result of the construction of the new Busch Stadium. That is $20 million that could be used to buy free agents, goes one line of thinking.

Generally speaking, I am pretty sure those complainers are from outside St. Louis, apparently preferring to have seen an increase in the local tax burden to build the new stadium instead. Then there are those that have no idea how to pay for anything and just irrationally complain. They are my favorites.

Reaction to crumbling concrete, 2004 (AP photo/ Nam Y. Huh)It could be worse, folks. You could be in Chicago.

The good news is that deep-pocketed Ricketts family of the TD Ameritrade fortune bought the Cubs in October. The bad news is that the LLC put in place for the acquisition is $900 million in the hole after the Ricketts loaned themselves $200 million for working capital and improvements to crumbling Wrigley Field.

Forbes notes that the Cubs 2009 payroll of $134 million was third-highest in MLB but “stacked with high-priced players with no-trade clauses.” Their conclusion is that the combination of “high debt and bloated payroll makes it highly unlikely they will be able to improve any time soon.”

It is also worth noting that having a wealthy name-brand family purchase your favorite team isn’t necessarily the ticket to success. Just ask Royals fans how David Glass and his Walmart money have improved the KC clan.

Update: The Cubs have announced the Executive Club, an all-inclusive area on the Suite level, where seats are $300 per game or $24,300 for the season.

2010 roster changes

As Cardinals fans know, their winter roster changes included big steps like keeping Matt Holliday and signing Brad Penny, but also involved allowing a number of lesser players to leave.

The Cubbies made one huge addition by subtraction move when troubled outfielder Milton Bradley and his bad contract were shipped off to Seattle. In return, they took on another ugly deal in pitcher Carlos Silva. At least I have never heard anything negative about Silva’s clubhouse demeanor.

To that end, I have read several reports speculating that the Cubs recent addition of first baseman Kevin Millar was more about chemistry than baseball. The 38-year-old was a part-timer last season in Toronto and over the last couple of years batted .230 with an OPS of barely .700. Yet one of the self-styled “idiots” from the 2004 Red Sox is also known as a fun-loving, free spirited guy – just the opposite of the sullen, explosive Bradley.

I wonder if Sweet Lou Piniella can deal with the other extreme?

Here is a brief summary of the Cubs comings and goings this winter, courtesy of The Sports Xchange.

ARRIVALS: RHP Carlos Silva (trade with Mariners), RHP Jeff Gray (trade with A’s), OF Marlon Byrd (free agent from Rangers), 1B/3B Chad Tracy (minor league free agent from Diamondbacks), OF/1B Xavier Nady (free agent from Yankees), 1B Kevin Millar (minor league free agent from Blue Jays).

DEPARTURES: OF Milton Bradley (traded to Mariners), RHP Rich Harden (free agent, signed with Rangers), INF/OF Jake Fox (traded to A’s), INF Aaron Miles (traded to A’s, then traded to Reds), LHP Neal Cotts (non-tendered, signed minor league deal with Pirates), RHP Aaron Heilman (traded to Diamondbacks), OF So Taguchi (released, signed with Japanese team), OF Reed Johnson (free agent, signed with Dodgers), RHP Kevin Gregg (free agent, signed with Blue Jays).

Lou on Mac and hitting

Speaking of Lou speaking, his recent comments at an awards dinner in the Big Apple were reported in The New York Times. The Cubs manager says he forgives Mark McGwire and thinks the support of Albert Pujols will go a long way for the new Cardinals hitting coach, who he thinks will “do a nice job.”

A former hitting coach himself with the Yankees, Piniella also has some suggestions. He wonders whether McGwire will need to learn how to deal with today’s ballplayers and offered this interesting advice for working with major league hitters:

“You don’t really need to change any mechanics.”

Hmmm.

The Times piece ends with a totally unrealistic view of how McGwire will be greeted at Wrigley this summer.

“I think Cub fans will treat him fine,” Piniella said. “We have a great rivalry. He’ll be accepted well. I think they feel he confessed and it’s over with.”

Yeah, right. McGwire might be wise to investigate whether any of the Wrigley hard hats pictured above are still for sale.

La Russa on Chicago

Like Tony La Russa, Piniella’s current contract ends after the 2010 season and Lou has suggested it might be his last in the Windy City. In the same interview from which I reported his White Sox-related remarks, La Russa also made it very clear he doesn’t ever see himself taking his friend Piniella’s job.

“You’ve got a double-headed whammy there. I have a lot of friends and fans that I’m close to with the White Sox. And you know White Sox and Cubs, they don’t mix. I’ve got friends and fans that I’m close to in St. Louis, and the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cubs don’t mix. So I think if there is one place that I don’t fit, just because of my past, it would be the Chicago Cubs.”

Spring training handout debated

The Cubs made a preliminary decision on their spring training future, opting to stay in Mesa, Arizona rather than move to Naples, Florida. There is just one small problem – how to pay for the replacement for Hohokam Stadium.

The idea on the table is a controversial “Cubs Tax”. Under the proposal, other Arizona spring training teams would be assessed a ticket surcharge to build up a kitty for the Cubbies’ new den. Not surprisingly, cross-town rivals the Chicago White Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks have already come out against the half-baked idea.

It appears that the next key date is in mid-July, at which time Naples could re-enter the fray if the Arizona folks cannot come up with a more realistic plan.

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