Smile Politely

A Serial Moan from Cardinals Fans

I’ve resisted writing about the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason for too long. The time is right; someone needs to defend the masses from the incessant babble of the Homers at the Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis fans were set up for a franchise-altering offseason for the Redbirds, with the theme being addition by subtraction. Longtime general manager Walt Jocketty, winner of two pennants and deliverer of Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, was shown the door. His stubborn refusal to embrace a more youth-oriented focus and his immature treatment of the nexus of that movement, VP of player development Jeff Luhnow, forced ownership’s hand.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by his departure. I figured — ney, hoped! — that the one exiting stage left after the Cardinals mediocre season would be manager Tony La Russa, John Mozeliak, a Jocketty understudy, who was entrusted by team owner Bill DeWitt with the job of creating roster flexibility at the major-league level for the Double and Triple-A talent coming down the pike. Of course, La Russa just wants to win now and has historically been opposed to suffering through the typical ups and downs of youthful players not named Albert Pujols. Welcome aboard, Mo. Don’t let the team’s doublespeak knock the wind out of your sails.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the Cards’ roster moves since the Fall Classic. The team did not opt to offer lil’ sprite David Eckstein arbitration, screwing themselves out of a sandwich draft pick when he took the best (only) offer on the table from the Toronto Blue Jays. To fill his shoes, the Cardinals could have turned to youth from within and handed the job to rookie Brendan Ryan, who proved average in limited duty last season. Instead, Mozeliak signed a far below-average former Cub, Cesar Izturis, said to be good with the glove but weak at bat. Collectively, Cardinal Nation slapped its forehead and screamed, “What the hell? We thought the team was committed to a youth infusion!” To which a boisterous La Russa lifted his tinted spectacles and chuckled aloud, “Gotcha!”

It’s got to get worse before it gets better — at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Remember that pitcher we picked off the scrap heap and equipped with a refined sinkerball in the hopes of resurrecting a middling career? Jeff Weaver? Nah. Kip Wells? Nope. Todd Wellemeyer? Sidney Ponson? Mike Maroth? No, no and no. Joel Pineiro, fools! We signed him to a two-year contract after he outpitched four-fifths of our crappy rotation down the stretch. If Pineiro can’t fix an ailing rotation, then maybe an ex-Cub coming off major shoulder surgery can. Hello, Matt Clement! If the rotation gives way, at least our pen will be there to pitch six innings. We all know that every middle-of-the-pack club needs a high-priced closer. (Just ask the Reds.) So we picked up Jason Isringhausen’s $8-million option. I haven’t even made it to the absolute coup of the offseason: releasing La Russa’s pet, Aaron Miles (pictured), the other half of our 5-foot-6 keystone combo from 2007, then resigning him for more money. Brilliant!

Now, I know that you’re wondering about that youth movement I spoke of earlier. Wait for it. It’s coming. After DeWitt once again gave Cards fans the old song and dance about building a winner this offseason (after raising ticket prices), the team went about its business of ignoring bloated free agents and pricey Marlins much to the general public’s dismay. Then, Mozeliak, La Russa and company threw a bone to those among us hoping for a true youthful infusion by dumping slumping veteran Jim Edmonds on San Diego for next-to-nothing to make room on the roster for super stud centerfield prospect Colby Rasmus. Aha! The Youth Movement, at last!

All sarcasm aside, recent news of the Troy Glaus-for-Scott Rolen trade was refreshing. Finding a taker for the disgruntled, offensively-challenged Rolen was a necessary and positive move for the team. Glaus will give us a needed power threat in the four-hole. What we lose in defense — and by most metrics the loss is not as pronounced as some would believe — we should make up for in offense. Plus we slimmed our commitment from three years (Rolen) to two years (Glaus) with the dollars-per-year a wash. But one good move does not an offseason make, unless that one move is this move or that move or even this move.

So the Redbirds still have some explaining to do to us fans. Is the retooled front office going to have its way and clear valuable room for hopeful minor-league prospects, or is La Russa going to pout until he gets to call the shots and staff the roster with swollen veteran contracts? DeWitt can’t have it both ways. Soon enough he’s going to have to choose, and end the lip service. In the meantime, St. Louis fans can have fun creating anagrams with Aaron Miles’ name: LOSER MANIA; SERIAL MOAN; etc. …

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