March 14, 2011; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse (26) congratulates Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday (7) after making a catch against the Atlanta Braves during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

Super Bowl on TV but Cardinals baseball on the brain

The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI last night, battling back in what was truly a great game that went down to the final play. I lost money playing box pools. Other than that I had nothing else invested in the game. I enjoy football, but I would not put myself among the millions who consider Sunday a day to park myself in front of the TV from 1:00 PM to 12:00 AM. I pay attention to football, but me, I’m a baseball fan. I write about baseball and right now about the St. Louis Cardinals. So during the entire game, I stopped to pay attention to the commercials, was sure to check the scores at the end of each quarter, but my concentration was on Cardinals baseball.

Is there anything better or more intriguing than the hot stove season? I mean the day after the Cardinals won the World Series, fans jumped straight into discussing where Albert Pujols would sign. Fans make it a point to follow the beat writers, the MLB insiders (both real and impersonated) and some others who are locked into the news of the day on twitter or through various RSS feeds. The rumors fly about how each free-agent is destined to land here or there.

For the Cardinals this has been a very long and interesting offseason to say the least. They lost three highly touted members of the organization in a matter of two months; Pujols to free-agency, manager Tony La Russa to retirement, and pitching coach Dave Duncan, to be with his ailing wife. The drama with Pujols was all over the place. He was sure to be a Miami Marlin, then a Cardinal and finally seemingly out of nowhere he signed with the Los Angeles Angels. Then arrows were slung back and forth when it was over and done about who screwed up the negotiations and who was a traitor etc. It didn’t stop there.

The minute he signed, speculation moved on to how the Cardinals would replace him. Who do the Cardinals sign with all the extra cash? Will they use all the extra cash? What about Prince Fielder? He’s available and he’s younger! General manager John Mozeliak didn’t even sniff around Fielder.

Instead, Mozeliak was meticulous and calculated. He signed the super-utility man and possible FT second baseman he wanted, Skip Schumaker. He signed the shortstop he wanted, Rafael Furcal. Next, he inked lefty reliever J.C. Romero. He rested on the fact that he already had signed Lance Berkman in case this happened. He never had any intention to run to the bank and withdraw $20 million plus to try and replicate Pujols’ production. He knew his former ace, Adam Wainwright, was on the mend and on schedule to return in the spring. Getting Wainwright back is just like a free agent signing, except Mozeliak knows what he’s got in Wainwright. Pitching wins championships, break the bank hitters do not.

Mozeliak had money in his pocket and an above average player on the market in outfielder Carlos Beltran. Fans ran to the comments pages on the Cardinals media sites, us bloggers couldn’t type fast enough pondering whether Beltran would be good for the club or why he’d be a bad signing. Fans filled with emotion and the desire to see a winning team clamored for their voice to be heard. Some fans think they have an ability to sway the people who actually make the call and sign the checks. We don’t, we can only speculate as to why the front office and ownership will open the wallet for a player or close the teller window. Mozeliak opened his wallet for Beltran.  There was happiness and there was dismay.

This is the point. The offseason is filled with speculation and runs rampant with opinions. Fans feel the need to fill rosters with every imaginable player who is available. Who cares if there is no place for the guy to play? Just make room for him. He’s got balky knees, doesn’t he? So what, we have depth if he gets hurt. Does it matter the rotation is six men deep? No, trade a guy. Fans get angry when their ‘player du jour’ goes elsewhere, they laugh when another team signs the guy they no longer want and fans plead with management to do anything it takes to sign the hot player on the market. It’s great to be a fan. We can scream our opinions, we can write our posts and we can move on.

The front offices and the players behind the signings have no such luxury. They are held accountable. The front offices scour analyses from every corner when trying to fill spots on the roster. Even the 25th man is scrutinized and rightfully so. When GMs make the right calls, they win and they keep their jobs. When things go south, they lose their jobs. Plain and simple.

The players too are taking measured steps when determining their destination. Don’t think for a second that Albert Pujols signed with the Angels just because of some extra cash in the contract alone. There are multiple reasons why he could have opted to stay in St. Louis, earn less money with the contract, but have potentially more to gain beyond contract dollars and no one would have questioned him. He’ll be forever remembered as a great Cardinal. But is he going to be an icon and immortalized like Stan Musial now that he has left? I doubt it.

Pujols had the opportunity to break a multitude of records in St. Louis. Each year the legacy would have grown larger and larger. But the list of reasons to stay in St. Louis was just not long enough to overcome the Angels’ offer of more money and the extra goodies they promised beyond the contract. Pujols truly believes he can be great for the entire ten years with the Angels, and bought into the allure of generating the same esteem he earned in St. Louis, while in Los Angeles. So he moved on.

It’s early February and the fields in Jupiter, FL are being groomed as we speak. The non-roster invitees are excited to get to camp to try to win a spot with the club. The veterans are looking to spend 6 weeks getting into baseball shape. Players will work on their timing at the plate, their mechanics on the mound, their footwork in the field and study film of themselves until they feel everything click. By April 4th, the Cardinals will taking the field for their first regular season game, ready or not.

But wait; Cardinals fans don’t want the offseason to be over just yet. We can’t get enough hot stove when games are not on the schedule. Some fans are still eyeing one more prize, Roy Oswalt. Is he a prize? Is he needed? Is he wanted? Opinions abound. One side says the Cardinals shouldn’t let him get away. The other side feels they should let him go elsewhere; the team is already loaded with arms. Until Oswalt makes a choice, all we can do is follow the rumors knowing this; he’ll sign somewhere, some fans will be happy and some will wonder if the team made the right choice. Speculation is all we have until the ink is dry and that is the beauty of the hot stove.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Albert Pujols Cardinals Carlos Beltran Hot Stove John Mozeliak Lance Berkman New England Patriots Prince Fielder Rafael Furcal Roy Oswalt Skip Schumaker St Louis Cardinals

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