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Cardinals “dry powder”: Use it or lose it?

Is it better for a team to spend its entire payroll budget early or hold some in reserve?

In a recent Post-Dispatch article, some of the subjects allegedly discussed during the St. Louis Cardinals’ post-season organizational meetings were disclosed.

One item on the table was the concept of “dry powder,” holding financial reserves for mid-season trades to bolster the club down the stretch.

Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)Manager Tony La Russa is reportedly in favor of a change in approach, instead wanting to deploy the funds during the prior off-season, rather than waiting to do so during the summer. The article states there was only one major “dry powder” move in the last four years, the acquisition of Matt Holliday, overlooking the earlier Mark DeRosa trade.

Another argument cited in support of La Russa’s position was the early-season injuries to Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse, which proved to be difficult to diagnose in terms of a return time for each. It took the team from May until the end of July, when Jake Westbrook was acquired, to address the need externally. Even then, the deal was apparently neutral financially, so it would seem no powder was deployed. Other in-season additions were minimum-salaried scrap-heapers like Randy Winn, Jeff Suppan and Mike MacDougal.

I’ve been thinking about this, seeing benefits in each approach.

  • Positive for non-dry powder: Set roster early with the best team possible and run with it.
  • Negative for non-dry powder: No money to address emerging needs later.
  • Negative for dry powder: May wait for help that never comes or be unable to find the right players.
  • Positive for dry powder: It can generate in-season momentum, if used.

Let me explain my last point, one that was not made in the Post-Dispatch article. If the team plays well enough to contend, making a notable July addition provides momentum in at least two ways.

During the heat of the summer, it reinforces to the team that ownership is willing to step up to help them and to their fans that they are behind the club. It also puts pressure on their competitors to respond in kind and if they don’t, it might generate internal feelings of doubt within the enemy camp.

For those reasons, I still favor keeping some flexibility to make moves during the season.

How do you see it?

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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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