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No Sympathy for the Devil

Mike SteffanosThursday, August 24, 2006
By Mike Steffanos


Any Mets fan old enough to remember the 1980s feels an extra jolt of satisfaction when the Mets defeat the Cardinals -- especially given how it's been since we've taken a series from them before last night. The battered Redbirds have certainly taken a step backwards this year, primarily due to age and injury, but also related to the choices the team has made during their run of success. The Cardinals have looked so pathetic at times over the past two nights that it would be tempting to feel a little sorry for them, if it weren't for those old wounds. Think I'll pass on that temptation. Even if the Mets find the way to sweep them out of town tonight, they're certainly will be no tears for that franchise leaking out of the Mike's Mets household.

The Daily News's Bill Madden shares with us the sad tale of St. Louis GM Walt Jocketty:

One can only imagine what was going through the mind of ever-resourceful Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty when he arrived in New York just in time for the Mets' announcement that they had acquired Shawn Green from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a salary-dump deal that cost them only marginal Triple-A pitching prospect Evan MacLane and about $6 million of Fred Wilpon's "mad money." Do you know how much Jocketty could have used Green? Or for that matter Bobby Abreu? Or even Cory Lidle?

The Cardinals are a team that is suddenly leaking everywhere while the upstart, underwhelming Cincinnati Reds hang tough on their heels in the National League Central. The Cardinals' need for another outfield bat is best evidenced by the fact that their three big run producers, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds have been together in the starting lineup only 61 of their 125 games. Edmonds, suffering from post concussion syndrome, has been limited to only pinch-hitting and pinch-running cameos in recent days, and his status the rest of the year is questionable.

But the $20 million the Yankees were willing to absorb on Abreu was entirely out of the question for the Cardinals as was even the $6 million Green would have cost them. Jocketty will only say he has "budget constraints," but the fact is, Cardinal ownership is on the hook for $340 million in out-of-pocket construction costs on the new Busch Stadium, which is nevertheless sold out just about every game. At a shade under $90 million, Jocketty isn't being allowed to add to his payroll and, chances are, he will have to even reduce it over the winter. You can be certain that even though the Mets and Yankees are doling out twice as much as the Cardinals for their new stadiums, there will no similar constraints on their GMs.

As a result, while Brian Cashman and Omar Minaya have been able to do their shopping for the postseason at the high-end counter, Jocketty has had to resort to the retread market. In pitchers Jeff Weaver and Jorge Sosa, outfielder Preston Wilson and his latest pickup, old friend Jose Vizcaino, who arrived last night, Jocketty has signed four players who were released. And, trust us, there was sufficient reason for their being released.

While Madden correctly describes the budget constraints that Jocketty toils under, I think it's also fair to note that, during his tenure in St. Louis, Jocketty has always favored veteran ballplayers, and was quite willing to deal away the team's prospects for established players. While he is a terrific GM, and this is a sound way to put together a team, it's also expensive. I remember back when the Cards used to develop a lot of their own talent, and maybe they need to go back to doing that. They've had a nice run with the current team but while some guys are getting old, they also lose key players like Mark Grudzielanek every off-season because they can't afford to keep them.

Maybe it's time to change the focus and work more from their own farm system, which was always the strength of great Cardinals teams. Not that I care about St. Louis, but their current woes points out to me the need to have a mixed approach to building a roster. The Mets might have a larger revenue base than St. Louis, but not extravagantly so. If you try to do it 90% with veteran imports you're going to crash into your budget eventually. That's why in the Steve Phillips years the Mets were such an odd mix of really good players and guys who should have been role players starting in key positions.

A friend of mine who is a Cardinals fan -- I know, I'm not sure why I'm friends with him, either -- was whining to me a while back about all the money the Mets were spending this year. No argument that the Mets had a payroll about $12 million higher going into the year, but I also pointed out that the Redbirds spent almost $30 million more than the Reds. That's bought them a huge 1-game lead in the standings right now. It's not just what you spend, it's how you spend it, remember? I'll be curious to see what direction the Cardinals go now, with pressure to fill seats and pay for the stadium. Will they elect to stay with whatever veterans they can afford and hang around on the fringes of the pennant race with mediocrity, or will they attempt to retool and make another real run down the road?

I have no love for the Cardinals, nor their fans who are only too willing to share their belief that they're the best baseball fans in the world and deserve success more than other fans. I've had respect for them, though -- how they run their organization and have built some great teams. If they choose to go the mediocre route, however, I refuse to take seriously the whining of those that point to the Mets efficient use of their own resources with jealousy. The Cardinals are not an impoverished small market team, and the mess they find themselves in currently is very much of their own doing.

New York Post: Shawn Green
Mark Hale quotes the new right fielder on his diminished power numbers this season:

It's not physical. I did make a conscious effort 'cause the first two weeks of the season, I was really struggling. And throughout my career, I've kind of started chasing home runs and it's caused me at times to be streaky.

So I just decided that I was going to forget about the home runs and just try to shorten my swing up and try to hit line drives. And then I got in a really good groove doing that with getting a lot of singles and a few doubles. But that was my approach, to try to be more consistent and it worked. And my goal is to eventually, hopefully sooner than later, build off of that and let the home runs come again.

SI.com: In the background
In an article on unsung heroes baseball executives, Jon Heyman gives the nod to some people in the Mets' organization:

Omar's Gang: the Mets' Sandy Johnson, Bryan Lambe, Tony Bernazard, John Ricco and David Cohen

Johnson is one of the best baseball people the last quarter-century and mentor to Minaya, who has a keen scouting eye and the sense to know when to let someone else handle things. Ricco and Cohen take care of the contracts while the others assist Minaya with player assessment and procurement. Perhaps signing Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado doesn't take genius. But how about Jose Valentin, Endy Chavez, Chad Bradford, Paul Lo Duca and that deal for Duaner Sanchez?

I've written earlier in the week about the "gloom and doom" hand wringing in the media every time something goes wrong, and the dizzying rushes on and off the Mets bandwagon by the fickle fourth estate. Meanwhile, there is an aura of calm and professionalism in the Mets organization that we haven't sensed since the early days of Frank Cashen's reign. Perhaps that explains why the Mets just keep overcoming obstacles instead of being overwhelmed by them.

New York Times: Steve Trachsel
Ben Shpigel chronicles Steve Trachsel's woes from last night's start, including this little tidbit:

Trachsel acknowledged that he was occasionally distracted by a Beatles tribute band whose songs occasionally drifted into the first at-bat of the inning.

Sigh...

New York Post: Carlos Delgado
Brian Lewis profiles the slugger's emergence from a long, ugly slump.

Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Kevin Mulvey
Brian Moritz writes about the debut of RHP Kevin Mulvey, the Mets' highest pick (2nd round) in this year's draft.

Mets Walkoffs: Vince Coleman
While the Cards are in town, Mets Walkoffs looks at one of the least popular imports from St. Louis.

More Mets Stories:
SportsSpyder Mets

Continuous Mets Coverage:
MetsBlog
Hot Foot

Comments (9)

Take it all back about Trachsel....now!....rescind all remarks and raise this man on high...what a lofty soul...think of it, to be entranced by the Beatles to the point of distraction...Sublime...."Gentlemen, We have our Man"....finally, a human with priorities, Baseball is all well and good mind you, but Music of the Fab Four transcends the realm. It's surprising he didn't just wander blindly into right field with his head tilted upwards, a ear to ear smile and his eyes rolled back in his head...I for one, would have...esp. for our esteemed mop tops...Those of us who truly appreciate the art of music can only smile contentedly that we finally have a worthy represantitive.

n8genius -- you just can't make this stuff up. Maybe if you played those Beatles songs backwards they were saying things like "hang your curveball, Steve" or "leave your fastball up in the zone".

Way too much material to comment upon here, so I'll forgo my scathing comment on the public perception of various GM's and speak only on the Shawn Green quote.

If Green really did say that, and if he meant it as something more than a simple soundbite to send a reporter away happy, then he's out of his mind. "Forgetting about the home runs" has cost him maybe 60% of his value over a replacement player out of AAA ball. Do you think he asked for input from the Arizona management over that idea to limit himself to better contact hitting? Do you think they would endorse it if he did ask them?

Whatever, they traded Green, a player who commanded a long term salary worth many millions of dollars, for a second tier prospect, and they kicked in several millions to boot. I doubt this happened because they were pleased with the new Shawn Green approach.

Why this is worth mentioning is this: it scares me, when people in any walk of life try to rationalize away their foul-ups and shortfalls. You've got to look at those things before you can move forward; pretending it isn't happening is a great way to keep it happening. I don't know anything about Oliver Perez, but I sure hope he isn't trying to pin his failures on the Dodgers and Pirates management. And I hope Green wakes up and deals with the abilities he has left, and tries to find a way to contribute within that context. If you dig.

(Sorry, Mike and everybody. I hate to land upon a new Met before he's even unpacked, but this last comment seems to have punched a special button with me.)

i personaly cant wait untill trax is gone...here buddy, let me help pack your stuff this off season...stay the hell away from my mets!!!
In all honesty, i think maine, or bannister could fill his roll very eaze and may even do better,and would be cheaper. Now we just need to add one more solid arm to replace glavine the brave,and we are set!!!

Pedro/zito/the duke/maine/Bannister or perez/

I would be happy with that

dd -- It's a real quote, he gave it during a conference call with a bunch of reporters. He thinks he's going to start hitting more home runs again and be more consistent with the new approach. We'll see, I guess.
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cool breez -- I'd be very, very surprised if Trachsel is here next year, but I suspect he will still play a big role this year.

who would you rather have in the playoffs mike? Trax or maine?

Depends on which Trachsel shows up, and whether Maine gets better command of his off-speed stuff. I guess I'd lean towards Maine right now.

Well I go to college at Washington University in St. Louis, and I'll tell you that the city is Baseballtown USA. They will make every bit of money that they shell out back from ticket and merchandise sales with ease. I find money to be a feeble excuse to be handling payroll this way. However, you're right about Jocketty's favoring of veterans, but that hasn't always worked in his favor: not only with people like Mulder, Weaver and Spiezio this season, but also catching Larry Walker just in time for his career decline, and other examples I can't name off the top of my head. Honestly, if they wanted to, the Cardinals could function much like the Mets, but I think it's a matter of the owner being stingy.

Matt -- I wasn't making any excuses for the Cardinals, and I agree with you the favoring of veteran ballplayers has hurt them.

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