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

Are the Reds and Cardinals heading in opposite directions?

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has received considerable praise in recent months. After all, he leads a very successful franchise that includes a top-rated farm system.

One of the underrated contributors to the Cardinals success, in my opinion, is the team moving quickly to ensure core contributors are signed to long-term contracts well before they reach free agency.

We have seen it time and time again – with home-grown Cardinals like Yadier Molina, Jaime Garcia and Allen Craig. When the deals were done, the organization took some risk in typically paying a bit more up front, while ensuring the players will remain longer under what will end up as being reasonable salaries in the later years.

In most every case, these contracts – criticized by some on day one – end up looking very good from the team perspective as the overall market values of players increase over time.

In some cases, such as with Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals actually executed this maneuver twice. The most recent contract was settled last spring, a season prior to free agency. The right-hander will receive $97.5 million in a new five-year deal that will cover the 2014-2018 seasons.

I thought about this once again as I read a recent article about the Cardinals’ most consistent rival in the National League Central over the last few years, the Cincinnati Reds.

Compare and contrast the approach of the two organizations in getting their top young pitchers locked up.

Reds star Homer Bailey, 27, is third-year arbitration eligible and can become a free agent for the first time following the 2014 season. For those who forgot, the power right-hander has thrown a no-hitter in each of the last two seasons and is still improving.

Yet, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty seems to be preparing his team’s fans for the worst, noting Bailey is going to be “most difficult” to sign.

This winter, the club has already seen outfielder Shin-Soo Choo walk, a case that roughly parallels that of Matt Holliday but with the opposite ending, and veteran rotation anchor Bronson Arroyo.

Arroyo is still on the market, but the 36-year-old right-hander apparently will play elsewhere next season. As recently as a week ago, Jocketty made it clear he has no money to sign a free agent of Arroyo’s stature.

This serves as just one more reminder that Cardinals fans should be thankful for the ownership and management in place as well as an encouraging sign for the future battles between these two divisional rivals.

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49 Responses to “Are the Reds and Cardinals heading in opposite directions?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Is this a veiled knock on Walt? You know criticizing Walt is considered treason in some circles don’t you? ;)

    • Brian Walton says:

      Depends on the circles you run in, I guess. Some wanted him gone badly enough to fly banners about it.

      It wasn’t a knock on Walt, anyway. He appears to have less money to maneuver with and his farm system isn’t producing as well as the Cardinals, or the Pirates for that matter. Looks like a tough spot to be in, competitively.

      • crdswmn says:

        The money issue is not Walt’s fault, the Reds are in a small market and their attendance hasn’t been ideal. I have no knowledge of Bob Castellini as an owner, or whether he is particularly tight with the purse strings.

        But you don’t you think Walt has at least some responsibility for the failings of his farm system? I know some people would argue to the contrary, but the Cardinals’ farm system did not exactly deserve a gold star rating when Walt was GM.

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        Are you sure about the money issue? Reds payroll may be higher than Cards in 2014.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I am sure that Jocketty is saying he has no money even though he has lost several key players. I have no idea which team’s 2014 payroll is projected to be higher.

          P.S. I checked on 2013. Cards $116 MM, Reds $111 MM. Pretty close.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Jocketty is a very shrewd guy. Signing Chapman was a brilliant decision, to outbid the rest of baseball for a tremendous talent. This owed to Walt and his pal, who mentored Mozeliak and who the Cards wanted to retain after canning Walt. The Reds realized Chapman was worth outbidding all the conventional high bidders.

    There is a case against some of Mozeliak’s pre-free-agency signings. We probably extended Garcia, Motte, and Craig as a reward for good performance and for representing the team well. These were probably not finance driven extensions, because we still had these guys under control.
    By extending them a year, we incurred some higher financial burden. This is illustrated with Garcia, when he needed a shoulder op. Garcia might have been non offered arbitration after 2013, but instead on the hook to pay him during 2014. We lost the roll of the dice on his contract.

    Motte had TJ surgery, so we might have offered him arbitration after 2013, because bounce back from TJ operations is a better bet. His extension may not have been a financial loser for the Cards, as was Jaime’s.

    Mo’s recent term for a deal like Molina’s is “the price of poker.” Molina’s deal is like Holliday’s or Wainwrights in the sense we paid Yadier top dollar to retain his services instead of losing him to free agency. The Reds do not have enough budget to do a lot of these deals, beyond one for Votto and a biggie for Brandon Phillips. They could not afford Choo for instance. This is just the financial facts of life for Cinci.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I disagree with many points made about the Cardinals; less so about the Reds. I will break this up so we can debate each player separately.

      Garcia has completed two years of a deal that could extend to six years with options. So far, the Cards paid $9 million for 29 starts and 177 innings of ball, including a 12-9 record and a 3.81 ERA. Unless you can see the future, calling that contract a “financial loser” is impossible.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Garcia was under our control during 2012/13 anyway. So we would have obtained these results at somewhat lower price, regardless of his extension.
        The extension escalates salary in out years. Now that his shoulder has been operated upon, he could do a Mulder and disappear, for all we know. By extending him, the Cards have taken on this injury risk and may end up shelling out a lot of moola the next couple of years for weak performance.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Or Garcia could return to his previous performance and outstrip the value of his contract. I will repeat my point.

          Unless you can see the future, calling that contract a “financial loser” is impossible.

          • blingboy says:

            Mo might be looking at Garcia and Motte amd wondering if it might be better to pay more per year for Arb years in exchange for being able to take those years one at a time. Rather than being on the hook for multiples. In both cases, he is looking at paying a lot of money for damaged goods when top shelf replacements are at hand for cheap. I know he didn’t know for sure how the stream of new pitchers would pan out at the time those deals were signed, but what I mean is, he does know now, so his thinking may be different going forward.

            As to the point made above about whether Garcia’s contract will be a financial loser, there are two different measures. First, does the value of his production equal or exceed his salary. But also, could the team have recieved that same production or more for less money, either from him going year to year, or from somebody else. That is also a valid measure.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Fair points, though we don’t know about the benefit/extra expense if they had gone year-to-year any more than we know if the multi-year deal is good or bad. It is too early to tell, two years into a potential six-year period.

              Regarding alternatives, there weren’t/aren’t yet other left-handers to choose from internally. Maybe that will change in a few years as the 2013 draftees work their way up. A decent free agent would have cost more. The team doesn’t have to have a lefty in the rotation, but it is definitely preferable.

          • CariocaCardinal says:

            Can you explain the logic of calling Molina and Wainwright’s contracts “very good financially” without being able to see into the future yet say that it is impossible to tell without knowing the future if another contract is a financial loser?

            • Brian Walton says:

              Please re-read my comment you quoted. I was very clearly discussing Molina’s and Wainwright’s first long-term contracts, which turned out to be bargains for the Cardinals. Both deals have completed, so there is no “future” remaining.

              “Regarding Molina, I also referred to the earlier deals both he and Wainwright received that ended up being very good financially for the Cardinals: Molina: 5 years/$22.5 MM; Wainwright: 6 years/$36 MM. Some of those were free agent years.”

    • Brian Walton says:

      As a returning closer with all 42 of his team’s saves in 2012, in 2013 arbitration, Motte would likely have made substantially more than the $5 million he was paid last year. He did not hurt his elbow until after his 2013 salary would have been decided, so it was sunk either way.

      Motte may or may not earn his $7 million this year, but again without the ability to see the future, one cannot conclude anything about the two-year contract.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        When did Motte reach the majors? I forget. Late 2010?
        If he saved all the games in 2012, he would not have earned much more via arbitration. If he could have earned a lot more via arbitration, then he should get a new agent.

        Not all extensions are financially advantageous for the Cards and should not be shoehorned in this interpretation. The Cards were grateful to Motte for his service in 2012 and rewarded him with a two year deal that they did not have to give out, since he was under control anyway. He got a lot of financial security because of his great job in 2012. The Cards sent a positive signal to the clubhouse that they like to reward great performers.

        • Brian Walton says:

          You are probably right in that Motte may not have made much more in 2013 arb. I may have overstated that case. The expected benefit to the club was more in the second year. Had he logged another big year in 2013, his 2014 price on a year-to-year basis should have escalated beyond its current $7 million amount.

          With the benefit of hindsight, knowing about the injury now, then yes, it may have been cheaper going year to year. But that is a revisionist case. The overall money for the two years would not have been too much different since Motte’s 2014 arb case would be made on his past success as a closer. (That is how Axford got a raise to a deal worth as much as $6.25 million from Cleveland.) Plus, at the time the deal was done, there were no concerns I recall reading. It seemed to make a lot of sense.

          You really need to stop the “positive signal to the clubhouse message” though. That holds no water.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Sending messages to the troops is what ownership does, in many kinds of businesses, not just the Cards. In baseball, the medium for messaging is money. Saying the Cards choose to reward favorite performers seems a non controversial and commonplace business practice.

            • Brian Walton says:

              I think the root of the debate may be in the definition of the word “reward.”

              From Merriam-Webster:

              to give money or another kind of payment to (someone or something) for something good that has been done (emphasis mine)

              Players are NOT paid for what they did in the past. They are paid for what they are expected to do in the present and future, during the term of the current contract. (Of course, part of the expectation of the future is based on prior performance.)

              In the specific case of Allen Craig, he is a young man in terms of baseball experience. Most would agree that his best years are likely ahead of him. That is why he got a raise and a big contract.

              Motte did not get a reward. The team offered a fair deal to avoid arbitration during his final two years under team control. The Cards did not buy out any free agent years.

              There could be exceptions when reward is PART of the consideration in a new deal. That is with an older player who has free agent options – NOT players who are still in their arbitration years like Craig and Motte.

              One example that comes to mind is the second year of Lance Berkman. He turned out to be underpaid during year one because he (temporarily) broke his late-career, declining pattern and remained mostly healthy and productive for a full season.

              Even though it seemed unlikely that Berkman could repeat his performance, the team gave him a second year with a 50 percent increase. Still, it was NOT PRIMARILY a matter of reward. They knew there was a real chance that Pujols would walk and they needed a first baseman.

              If anyone recently deserved a reward, it was Carlos Beltran. He led the team in home runs in each of the last two years and again, turned out to be underpaid relative to his contribution.

              Yet, the Cards did NOT reward him with a new contract. It is not because they did not appreciate his role in the clubhouse or his charity work or his results on the field – all of which were considerable. All that was trumped by the fact they didn’t need him anymore at the price he would fetch. They have other lower price, lower risk options.

              Bottom line, contracts are a matter of business, not benevolence.

              • blingboy says:

                It is very hard to imagine how Albert’s contract was based upon expected future production.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  It is even harder to imagine why Arte would reward Albert for his St. Louis accomplishments. Even being “family” has its limits. ;-)

                  • blingboy says:

                    Maybe the Angels analytics predicted Albert was entering the age regression phase where the effects of accumulated physical issues disappear and the body returns to age 25.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      Same with Vernon Wells, Josh Hamilton and several others. They have spent an awful lot of money over the years on what appears to be tired iron.

                    • blingboy says:

                      Exactly, which causes me to question that organization’s ability to focus on expectation of future performance. Or at least to analyze/value it in any sort of reasonable way.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                Teams have a lot of discretion as to where they choose to invest dollars. They can be and will often be selective in how the provide dollars to the workers in uniform.
                Consider Freese (born 1983) and Craig (born 1984). Freese entered pro ball as a 5th year senior and Craig after 4 years of college ball. When they reached the majors, they were not real young, but in their later 20s. We then have team control over them into there 30s. That is a lot of control over their prime ML years. With Freese, the player or team decided to go year to year, whereas we followed a different approach with Craig, offering a long term deal. This was good for Craig, giving him a lot of financial security. We provided him more security, guarding him against a career ending injury. We did not have to do this, because we had him for years of control anyway.
                Pitchers are more injury vulnerable. We gave accelerated financial security to Garcia and Motte. This has helped them financially, because they indeed suffered injuries in 2013 and we do not know if they can bounce back. Kyle McClellan did not bounce back. ML careers can be brutally short, so its nice for Mo to provide accelerated financial security to Craig, Motte, and Garcia, with their consent.
                In contrast, we traded Rasmus. He could earn a lot of money during his career, but we will let other teams sign the checks. We like to provide good deals to guys who fit in well with the team.

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        Actually MLB trade rumors estimated Jasom Motte at 4.7 million for 2013 as an arbitration number so to say he would have made substantially more (he only asked for 5.5) seems inaccurate.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Craig’s deal is not a “reward”. His contract was extended into his free agent years for the same reason the others were – for the future potential, not for what was done in the past. Again, only one year into a five-year contract, (or six with option), it is way too early to pass final judgment, but from where I sit, so far, so good.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Craig came up in 2010. We had control over him for 6 years. His contract extension provided, IIRC, just one additional year. The gurantee out through his 7th ML season provides him a lot of financial security and the Cards assume the risk of injuries throughout this period. If suffers a career ending injury, we will be on the hook for paying him. We hope this will not happen, of course, but its a genuine business factor.
        I do not see Craigs extension as a financial management advantage for the Cards, but more as sending a positive signal to the clubhouse by slightly extending guys who represent the team well.
        Since money is important within baseball, the Cards like to invest in the guys who serve them best. They dump Rasmus so the Jays can pay him, but pay Craig. Good decision.

        • Brian Walton says:

          That is an ill-advised view. If they wanted to “send a positive signal to the clubhouse,” they would have extended Holliday’s buddy, Freese. That would have also had the double bonus of “sending a positive signal” to the local fans and ticket buyers by keeping the hometown hero a Cardinal long term.

          Let’s get real now.

          Here is why they gave Craig a big contract. It is very simple. It was NOT an emotional decision. It was NOT a reward. The team has advanced analytics that indicate to them that Craig should outperform the contract’s value over its term.

          Regarding the contract, you missed a year. The deal covers Craig’s final pre-arbitration season, his three arbitration years and if the final year option is picked up, two of his free agent seasons. 5/$31MM or 6/$43MM should play well.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Its not a matter of stuffing dollars in the pockets of buddies, Hollidays or anyone else. I also did not claim a Craig deal was an emotional decision. I believe it was deeply rational. On this, we agree.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Regarding Molina, I also referred to the earlier deals both he and Wainwright received that ended up being very good financially for the Cardinals: Molina: 5 years/$22.5 MM; Wainwright: 6 years/$36 MM. Some of those were free agent years.

      Per his new contract, Molina is receiving $15 million per year. He likely could have received more had he gone onto the open market, but the Cards worked to get him locked in ahead of time. Brian McCann was just given $17 million per year for the same term, five years, causing some to suggest Molina’s deal is better.

      • crdswmn says:

        Anyone who doesn’t suggest Molina’s deal is better is either not very smart, or is just biased. Overall, Molina is a better catcher than McCann and is being paid less to be so.

        • Brian Walton says:

          In fairness, Jumbo didn’t draw a comparison to McCann. I did to point out that Molina’s deal is actually proving to be under market (as he never actually reached free agency himself).

          P.S. Another way to look at it. Given the market for McCann is $17 million, does that mean Molina’s value is $18, $19 or $20 million per year? One could certainly draw such a conclusion.

          • crdswmn says:

            I know, I wasn’t tying what you said to Jumbo.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                Molina’s contract was a pace setter when signed. Its now a year later and a top of the market catcher commands a higher salary than Yadier did a year or more ago. Top of the market salaries can escalate through time. I do not see the Cards as having landed Molina cheap. They paid the piper for the time in question.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  Agreed, it was a pace setter for the first year. But because the Cards got Molina to agree to five years at basically a flat annual amount, the final four years are all assured of being below top of the market value. McCann’s deal made that a certainty. If/when others are signed over time, it will make the comparison even better.

                  The same kind of situation occurred with Holliday’s deal. At the time it was signed, $17 million was a lot. Now, there are many players making more and his consistent production continues. In fact, he isn’t even in the top 25 MLB salaries.

      • CariocaCardinal says:

        As stated elsewhere, it would be guessing at this point to say these are good contracts. So ar yea, but if they fall apart before they finish their contracts they might not be.

  3. Bw52 says:

    The Reds don`t draw the fans like the Cards do .Even now when the Reds are in contention I don`t think they have more than 30-35,000 very often for a weekend game.It happens sometimes just not as much as you would expect for a team in contention.

  4. Bw52 says:

    I looked up 2013 attendance .Reds had 15 dates over 40,000. 31 dates over 30,000.
    Cards had57 dates over 40,000. 32 dates over 30,000.

  5. Brian Walton says:

    Ken Rosenthal is saying the Dodgers are close to a deal with Clayton Kershaw, who is still in his arbitration years. Obviously, he should get more than Wainwright in his free agent years, but it looks like it will be a LOT more.

    Rosenthal is suggesting it could be for as much as $300 million over 10-12 years. The record for a pitcher is $180 million by Verlander.

    Like I said, over time, Wainwright’s deal is going to look better and better.

    • crdswmn says:

      Yep.

      I just don’t see how, with the way the starting pitcher market has been the last 2 or 3 seasons, that folks can say Waino didn’t leave money on the table.

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