Maybe it isn't Boston's “Curse of the Babe,” or the Cubs' infamous Billy Goat that has cursed the St. Louis Cardinals front office, but since the Redbirds let general manager Walt Jocketty go to the Reds, GM John Mozeliak has had as much luck as Bill Buckner or Steve Bartman.
Heading into unquestionably the most important 30 days of his career and with the entire Major League Baseball community with its eyes on St. Louis, Mozeliak is in charge of extending the contract of the best player in baseball: Albert Pujols. The three-time MVP's contract ends after 2011 and Pujols has told the Cardinals he wants an extension by the beginning of Spring Training or he will test the open market at the end of the season. The Doomsday Scenario. And, playing President of the United States is the same guy who traded for Khalil Greene.
Not only did Mozeliak trade for Greene, he also paid him $6.5 million to hit .200/.302/.347/.619. Greene's failure wasn't an aberration either, the underachieving infielder was worse the season before he was dealt to St. Louis. Here's a look at moves during Mozeliak's tenure that have, for whatever reason, not worked out:
Kyle Lohse – Over the past two years, Lohse has made more than $20 million to go 10-18. He was given an enormous contract after going 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA. It may be the old 20/20, but Lohse never had an ERA below four before his 2008 season and has a 4.79 career ERA. He will make around $11 million in 2011 and 2012.
Brad Penny – The right-hander earned a $7 million contract from Mozeliak after pitching well in six starts for the Giants in 2009 with a 2.59 ERA. In the other 24 starts in '09 for Boston, Penny had a 5.61 ERA. In 2010, he started nine games, earning nearly $1 million per game started and more than $2 million per win.
Felipe Lopez – The infielder was outstanding in 43 games for St. Louis in 2009 putting up a .964 OPS in 169 trips to the plate. Common sense might insist that Lopez's career .731 OPS might be a better indicator of his performance. While Mozeliak didn't spend much on Lopez, he didn't get anything for the price. Playing in 109 games, he managed a .651 OPS in 425 plate appearances.
Mark DeRosa – St. Louis sent young relievers Chris Perez and Jess Todd to the Indians in late June 2009 to score a power-hitting utility player. Unfortunately, they got Mark DeRosa instead. A power hitter with a 96 career OPS+ and an average of 14 home runs per 162 games. The 34-year-old played through injury, hitting .228/.291/.405/.696 in 68 games for the Cardinals.
Ryan Ludwick – This more isn't about what Ludwick did after he was traded to the Padres, but what the Cardinals' replacements did after Ludwick left. Rookie Jon Jay had an OPS of .989 in his first 34 games, in his next 71, he managed a mere .715. Another rookie Allen Craig had an OPS of .711 in 124 at-bats, many after Ludwick left. To Mozeliak's credit, Ludwick struggled in San Diego with a .631 OPS after having a .827 OPS in 77 games for St. Louis.
Joel Piniero – A Dave Duncan project, Piniero went 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA in 2009 with a 117 ERA+, but the Cards could not retain the starter, who went 10-7 with a 3.84 ERA for the Angels in 2010.
Several of this off-season's decisions have had fans scratching heads. The team signed Lance Berkman, who hasn't played more than half a season in the outfield since 2004, to play right field. Mozeliak also traded the league's best defensive shortstop Brendan Ryan for a single-A pitcher and replaced him with the soft-hitting, no-range Ryan Theriot.
There's certainly a lot there to begrudge Mozeliak's performance for, but none of the gaffes will matter if the Cardinals keep King Albert.
Some have said Pujols,31, may take a home town discount as Joe Mauer did to stay with the Minnesota Twins. Pujols has been taking a discount, constantly outperforming other players getting nearly twice his salary. He has the No. 1 WAR in the National League for six straight seasons, but was paid around $9 million less than Manny Ramirez in 2009 and near $5 million less than pitcher Johan Santana in 2010.
What will St. Louis have to pay to retain the superstar first baseman? Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard signed a deal this season that will pay him $20 million between 2011-13 and $25 million from 2014-2016 with a $23 million team option for 2017. Howard's massive contract should act as a starting point for the Cardinals/Pujols negotiations. Pujols stands well above Howard performance wise, with a career 172 OPS+ to Howard's 140, not to mention defensively the Cardinals' star is second all-time in total zone runs.
CEO William O. DeWitt Jr. told FOX Sports that the team is confident Pujols will be signed by opening day: “Spring training is a long period of time — six weeks. Whether it’s reporting date, or a week after, I don’t view it as, ‘If it’s not done by this day, then . . .’ I don’t see a specific day. DeWitt said. But, SI's Jon Heyman Tweeted that the Cardinals have not yet offered “A-Rod money” to Pujols, yet.
The Cardinals' star deserves to make more money than any player in baseball; the team will argue that if they pay him $35 million they won't be able to keep upcoming free agents such as ace Chris Carpenter. Final answer may end up being somewhere in between. Prediction: St. Louis will pony up to the tune of $27 million per year over seven years with a team option for an eighth and buyout. Keep in mind Alex Rodriguez has career achievement bonuses where he makes an extra $30 million in marketing bonuses for hitting between 660-763 home runs, Pujols could get the same treatment for hitting his 500th home run, winning the MVP etc.
At the end of the day, the fact is the Cardinals can not let Albert Pujols test the open market. There's no way to spin Pujols as greedy since he's been underpaid for so long, there's no way to make up for the attendance they will lose and -as Mets faithful still remember the trade of Tom Seaver- no way to make up for the long-lasting slap in the face the best fans in baseball.
Matthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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