Emotions, Money and the St. Louis Cardinals
It’s eerie to realize how much ingrained beliefs can change in five years.
Albert Pujols was the reason I became a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Storming onto the scene as a nobody at 21 years old, he posted one of the best 11 year stretches of all time. At the age of 10, I saw him win his first MVP award, at 13 his second, and each one furthered my expectation that he would be a lifelong Cardinal. After he won his second World Series in 2011 and Tony LaRussa rode off into the sunset, I expected nothing more than to see Pujols in the box on opening day in 2012, birds perched on his jersey, wondering only if 35 or 40 would be the number of trots around the bases.
Instead Anaheim was a more attractive destination, with 10 years and $240 million the draw. Whatever adjective you choose to represent the irrational betrayal I felt, I accept. My immature baseball mind was not able to rationalize why Pujols would leave, or why the Cardinals failed to give him a blank check and an accompanying pen. Instead, I created a personal vendetta against the legend, which I held for probably too long.
As baseball became more than just a hobby to me, an internal switch flipped it self around, setting my mind at ease with the negativity that gripped my Pujols-centric emotions for a three year span of time. I began to realize how accurate the decision to let Pujols walk was, and the flexibility it allowed the franchise I will always stand by, to have.
Past performance, from a purely statistical perspective, is something that cannot dictate future contracts. The quote from Jose Bautista below really got my wheels spinning on this whole idea.
“I’ve given this organization a 5-year hometown discount already.” Let us first acknowledge that Bautista signed this five year, $65 million extension he is referencing after coming off a 54 home run season in 2010, his own choice. Now let me don my Oklahoma accent, power-stache and play Dr. Phil.
Lost in this sentence is a notion that Bautista, present day, desires payment in the future, for past performance. It’s a subtle, latent nudge at the concept that he wants to be paid as though he will produce, from age 36 forward, multiple seasons of above average major league value. I firmly believe this, and the funny thing is that I vaguely see his perspective. Our society has an obligation to take care of our elders, in life, and in baseball. But just how much should that permeate contract negotiations?
Clubhouse leaders can be absolutely necessary, mentorship and experience even more coveted, but if such factors are the skeleton for an already risky contract, your organization will not function at peak performance. This revelation is a distinguishing factor between my mind during the Pujols free agency in 2011, and my mind now.
Front offices are much savvier now in projecting value, making absurdity in contract value less and less likely. Thinking that at 41 years of age, Albert Pujols will be remotely worth $30 million is a belief rooted in fault, and one I hope to never see more of.
This whole introspective moment brings us back to the elephant in the room. What do we do with the king of intangible value, Yadier Molina?
Yadi is a player who like Pujols, I grew up in deep admiration of. When he becomes a free agent after the 2017 season, I am confident my reaction will not be a three year vendetta, avoiding some deja-vu reminiscent of Pujols. My maturation as a baseball fan has coincided, somewhat depressingly, with a lower susceptibility to emotional player attachment. It might be because I am now older than some of the prospects coming through the minor leagues, something that I feel is an annual revelation for fans of all ages – “Wait… Julio Urias can’t legally drink in the United States?!“.
While the bevy of advanced metrics show Molina’s unbelievable presence behind the plate, I will always remember the way he has handled various Cardinal starters since the first pop of his glove in 2004. There was an etherial confidence he had in his pitchers, almost as though he was the scapegoat if failure was to occur. I could go on forever.
There is surely an attempt somewhere in the baseball community to quantify the performance difference for pitchers between catchers, but I am focused on the eye test myself, and the rest of the Cardinals brass gave Molina for the twelve years we have admired him.
It seems there is little credibility in this ‘eye test’ conducted by someone, like myself, who is not a scout. I believe if you have watched the amount of baseball I have, or likely more, your personal eye test carries more value than you think.
Remember Jose Bautista? How do we apply that logic to Molina? It just feels different when the player in question is on your team.
Any fan who has watched Molina over the last few years has noticed, particularly in 2015, the decline physically of the Cardinals’ catcher. Brian McCann just got 5 years, and $85 million at the age of 32. Russell Martin got 5 years, and $82 million at 32 years old in 2015. Yadier Molina will be 35 midway through the 2017 season. I would love to see him in a Cardinals uniform for the rest of his career, but if that does not happen due to the dollar amount on the offer or the emergence of Carson Kelly, I will not conjure a vendetta, but simply appreciate the memories with an understanding for the future of the Cardinals organization. I trust John Mozeliak to reward Molina for what he has done and correctly value the intangible aspects of his game, all while keeping the best interests of the organization in mind.
Here’s to 2017, which can end with a very different look to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, Molina’s intent stare can be gazed at right here.
Contract info can be seen on Spotsrac.com. Props to those guys for such a fluid interface.
A version of this post can be found on Viva El Birdos, the SB Nation Cardinals community.