By AARON SCHAFER (e-mail)
Here at The Rundown, we pay a lot of attention to the action on the field. It is kind of our job, after all. But what happens on the field is only part of the story.
It's been a busy year for the St. Louis Cardinals, and only a fraction of the action has occurred between the lines. So let's take a look at the year so far and see just what we may have all missed while we were watching the games, shall we?
1. Lohst in Translation In mid-March, the Cardinals were looking to be dead in the water already. At the start of spring training, the rotation looked shaky. When Joel Pineiro went down with an injury, it was just one too many things. Pineiro would start the season on the DL. The Cards had no one ready to take his spot. The season looked to be over before it began.
And then came Kyle fucking Lohse. One of the most coveted free agents of the off-season, Lohse and his agent, Scott Boras, badly miscalculated the market. Lohse found himself unemployed midway through spring training after expecting to get a multi-year deal somewhere in the range of four-years, $40 million. The Cardinals needed a healthy pitcher. Kyle Lohse needed somewhere to call home. A deal was struck, a one-year deal for a paltry $4.25 million. Fast forward about four months, and Kyle Lohse is the ace of the Cardinal staff. What the future holds for Lohse and the Cards is tough to say, but his signing is unquestionably of huge importance.
2. Centene Pulls Out Okay, so first it was supposed to be a mixed-use development, right? Then it was supposed to be a little bit of mixed-use, but with a giant corporate headquarters smack dab in the middle. But then, the rug was pulled out yet again.
Centene, the health care giant who had been in discussion with Bill Dewitt's ownership group to bring their corporate headquarters to the Ballpark Village development, finally cut the cord at the end of May. Apparently, the sides were just never able to hammer out some sort of arcane details that are just too darned complicated for the public to understand, since they refuse to tell us much of anything anyway.
Regardless of the details, the future of the whole development is once again up in the air. All the while, the 2009 All-Star game creeps closer and closer.
3. InBev With the Enemy For as long as just about anybody can remember, the Cardinals have been tightly bound up together with that great St. Louis institution, Anheuser-Busch. The Clydesdales on opening day, the ubiquitous advertisements, hell, the stadium is named after the Busch family. Or, well, maybe it's named after the beer. Or maybe it's, oh, never mind.
So what now? Do we get InBev field? Stella Artois Stadium? Beck's Park? You know, I actually sort of like that last one. Maybe this won't be so bad after all...
The fact is, the Cardinals and Anheuser-Busch have been tied together for years. A-B's corporate identity is changing, and you just have to wonder if there's any room in that new identity for the local nine.
4. About Last Night... Did everyone see the All-Star game last night? Never mind the fifteen innings of the game itself. The Yankees put on a spectacular show last night, sending their ballpark off in style. Admittedly, the ceremony probably went on a little bit longer than it strictly needed to, but 49 Hall-of-Famers were at the game last night. Whitey Ford was there. Yogi Berra was there. Willie Mays was there.
You want to follow that show? I don't.
5. Isn't that Tony Parker's Husband? Earlier this season, after less than 100 big league at bats, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a six year deal worth $17.5 million. If both of his options are picked up, the deal could end up being worth a total of $40 million. Why does this apply to the Cardinals, you ask? Happy to answer.
Really, this is important for just about every team in baseball, but particularly to the Cards. See, the Cardinals just happen to have a guy named Colby Rasmus in their minor league system. Before the season, Longoria was rated right around the second or third best prospect in the game. Rasmus usually came in right around number five on those lists. Now, that's not to say that the Cards need to be in a hurry to sign Colby to a long term deal any time soon. But what the Rays did is part of an entirely new paradigm in the way that teams value players.
Formerly, contracts were awarded entirely on merit, on past successes and performance. Increasingly, though, teams are beginning to look at players in a slightly different light. Cost-controlled years are more important all the time, to the point that teams now appear willing to pay for not only a player's potential, but for predictability. Rather than wait for a player to prove he's worth a certain dollar figure, we may now see teams setting a dollar figure on a player years beforehand, counting on the contract to be advantageous at best, non-crippling at worst.
As a team who not only possesses a prospect of a similar caliber, but also has committed themselves to player development in the future, the new paradigm for investing in talent and trying to control costs means more than you might think to the Cardinals.
6. Goodbye, Scott Remember when Scott Spiezio got kicked off the team in spring training? The man with the red goatee was given the boot after it came to light that he maybe hadn't been completely honest about what he did on his winter vacation. Seems that Scotty had actually been running over people's fences, vomiting on pretty much everything in sight, and hiding in closets significantly more than he had let on. Which, of course, begs the question: how much of those things is cool, and how much is a problem? Well, apparently, however much Scott did was too much for the Cardinals.
The year before, the Cardinals had mourned the loss of Josh Hancock and had to deal with Tony La Russa's own boozing. Coming so soon on the heels of all that, the team had to react strongly, and they did. They could have let it fester, but they didn't. It was defining moment in the season, I think. If ever there was a time the organization had to make a stand, that was it.
7. Turn Out the Lights, the Ballgame's Over It wasn't supposed to be like this. Jimmy Edmonds, one of the defining players of the Cardinals in this decade, had requested a trade to the Padres. He wasn't going to be a starter here anymore. He was going back home to Southern California. Life wasn't good, necessarily, but it was alright. F15teen, Edmonds' restaurant here in St. Louis, scheduled quite a to-do, a homecoming for Jimmy Ballgame. The first time Edmonds took the field back here in the Lou, wearing his Padres uniform, was supposed to be a beautiful thing.
Well, suffice it to say, the Edmonds Day thing at F15teen didn't happen. It was cancelled at almost the exact moment that Jimmy became a member of that team that plays on the north side of Chicago.
Jim Edmonds is a Cub now, and it sucks.
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
8. On Base, Schmon Base Tony La Russa said an interesting thing in spring training. He said that the lead-off spot in the lineup, which was basically just a huge void, would be filled by the player with the best on base percentage.
I know, doesn't seem like a big thing, does it? But in saying that, Tony said quite a bit.
La Russa's opinion of stat heads in general isn't real high. He spoke of them in less than glowing terms in Three Nights in August, comparing on-base percentage to red stretch banlon. In other words, it ain't gonna last.
So he changed his mind, you say. So what? Well, the thing is, when Tony made that statement in spring training, he was essentially setting forth his new persona for the year. We've seen a bit of a New Tony this season, a Tony much more willing than in years past to try something a little bit different. In the past, La Russa was seen as a total maverick, but as time went on, he became set in his own ways just as firmly as the baseball men who once criticized him for his unorthodox methods 25 years ago. By 2007, Tony was a dinosaur himself, hidebound and inflexible.
With that one statement, embracing an idea he had long decried, Tony set all that to rest. He may not be a maverick anymore (or he may, I don't see a whole lot of other clubs batting the pitcher 8th yet), but at the very least, Tony has shown new flexibility that I didn't think he had in him anymore.
9. The Hippies are Coming! The Dave Matthews Band became the first band to play a concert at the new Busch Stadium. I'm sure that's pretty exciting to a lot of people. To me, well, it's pretty neat that there was a concert at the new stadium. And hey, I hear Dave Matthews is a pretty cool guy. So there's that.
It's not every day you can convince tens of thousands of college freshmen to get together and smoke weed, right? Oh, really? Well, nevermind, then.
10. The Mayor is Coming! You know, Mayor Slay has taken a lot of heat over the whole Ballpark Village fiasco. Hey, it's his city, right? So, you know, when the giant fishing hole in the middle of downtown shows no signs of going anywhere, we all tend to look askance upon him, you know?
Hey, there, Mr. Mayor. How come this fucking hole's still here, when we were promised, you know, stuff that wasn't a hole? You know, all that stuff? That wasn't a hole? Is this thing on?
But hey, at least the guy has some outrage of his own. He came on out on his blog a while back and began blasting away at the Ballpark Village delays. How important is that to the Cardinals and their owners? You know what, it's tough to tell. But hey, at the very least, it's one of the more interesting things we've seen, and that's good enough for me.