Goodbye, Luddy - Hello, Pujol$$$Compared to most MLB trade deadlines, this season was a whirlwind of activity. Former CY Young winners and All-Star caliber pitchers were dealt (Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Roy Oswalt), some plucky utility infielders changed hands (Blake DeWitt, Ryan Theriot), and even former "franchise" cornerstones were moved (Lance Berkman).
But it has been the Cardinals' major trade this year that has instantly ranked among the top head-scratchers: the Indians' Jake Westbrook to the Cards for Ryan Ludwick, who was sent to San Diego. A #3 starter (at best) for the Cardinals' best clutch hitter - a hitter that instantly adds meaningful depth to the Padres lineup that desperately needs offense, a Padres team the Cards could very well meet this fall in the playoffs.
On the surface, it's easy to second-guess John Mozeliak. Ludwick was arguably the Cardinals best clutch RBI man. He is the best defensive right-fielder in the National League. He was, in so many ways, the heart and soul of the Cardinals offense. When Ludwick was hot, it didn't matter if the pitcher was Tim Lincecum or Tim Conway - he would smoke extra base hits and drive in runs. And the Cardinals would just win (baby).
He was the quintessential Cardinal and this was only echoed by the comments from his stunned, former teammates upon hearing of the trade. Jon Jay and Allen Craig are on the cusp of being permanent fixtures in St. Louis but neither can be classified as an everyday player - not like Ludwick was. Even my 93-year-old grandmother knows that Jon Jay will not bat .400...like, ever.
Luddy brought his bat, his glove, and his positive attitude to the club every day. But he also brought a surgically repaired hip and a $5 million price tag (due to increase to $7 or $8 million this off-season). So, like every decision made in professional baseball, it's all about money.
So we bear witness to another phase in the evolution of the Cardinals franchise. Like wealth distribution in the U.S., the Cardinals, too, are becoming a team of haves (Hollidays and Pujolses) and have-nots (Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez, Colby Rasmus). The middle class is disappearing everywhere - even middle class baseball players like Ludwick.
The trade the Cardinals really made was Ludwick for Pujols. Warm clubhouse, ditch-digging Average Joe for grouchy, cliquish superstar who has "spoiled" us with his brilliance and will be paid $30 million a year for the rest of his life to be a slightly above average first baseman.
The die has been cast. We're crossing the Rubicon. The bridge is aglow with flames.
I'm not saying that when the Cardinals sign Albert to his next extension it will be an event on par with Truman signing the order to bomb Hiroshima. I'm not saying that at all (though, someone in St. Louis tell me if a dark cloud and/or lightning appears over Busch Stadium that same hour the signatures are scribbled).
I'm just saying the Cards have decided to take a dangerous road, one lined with a few monumental All-Stars yet littered with cheap talent to balance the budget. We better start drafting gems like never before. We have to find SOME way to plug 20 roster spots with guys who only make $400k.
Best of luck to you, Luddy. Hope you win a ring in San Diego. I hope you get a standing ovation when you return to St. Louis. You always bled Cardinal red.
** wiping eyes **
Ok, Back from hiatus, it's time for...
The Hard Nine
1. The MLB: Every Game is Homecoming - I suspect part of Bud Selig's grand master plan is unfolding this year: keep the stands filled by keeping the home team fans happy. There are just three teams in baseball that are five games above .500 or better on the road (The Rays, Yankees and Padres). There is only one truly awful home team this year (Baltimore - surprise, surprise).
But aside from those 127 poor Oriole fans, every home team's crowd has a good chance of seeing a decent ballgame. Even gawdawful teams like Pittsburgh (23-26), Seattle (24-28), and Arizona (24-29) aren't totally helpless at home. Heck, the Nationals are in last place with a 29-23 home record.
The flip side is that many contenders (even division leaders) have been terrible on the road. Collectively, the Braves, Phillies, Dodgers and Cardinals are 92-122 on the road for an anemic .429 win percentage.
Good thing the NL finally won the All-Star game, eh?
2. Oh Look, We Got An All-Star for Free - As the Padre fans found out in Ryan Ludwick's very first game, the guy is a pretty complete ballplayer. As a pinch hitter Sunday, Ludwick hit a single to left and then aggressively scored on a double on a close play at the plate. Luddy made a beautiful slide to the back of the plate touching home with his left hand to avoid the tag and scored the winning run. Fitting, too, that he caught the last out of the game to close out the Padre's win. Dang it, there I go getting misty-eyed again.
3. NL Rookie of the Year Update - The Cardinals' bullpen blew another win for Jaime Garcia who is still sitting pretty with a record of 9-4. But he is now only on pace for 14 wins which should still be enough to take home the hardware, but we can't count out the fact that the club is limiting his innings to keep his young arm fresh and the fact that the bullpen has been far from airtight for him. (Give me a second to put on my boxing gloves so I can write some more about stud lefties "I Spend Too Much Time At" Dennys Reyes and "Since I'm 37 Years Old Why Is My First Name" Trever Miller.) This will all be a moot point, however, if Jason Heyward of the Braves regains his early-season form and ends up the season with 20+ homers and puts Atlanta in the playoffs.
4. Thanks For The Stanley Cup, Seeya - Now with a team salary cap, the NHL is really starting to emulate the quirks of the National Football League. For one, as soon as you win a championship, you have your free agents signed away. And second, winning teams release perfectly good players because they can't afford them under the cap. In this case, the Chicago Blackhawks did not re-sign 26-year-old Antti Niemi who went 16-6 in the playoffs this past spring and have instead signed 35-year-old Marty Turco, the longtime Dallas Star. Jeez. With 26-year-old Stanley Cup-winning goalies falling out of the sky, maybe former Blue Chris Mason shouldn't be so shocked he couldn't find a job this summer.
5. More Signs of Armageddon - I read a great piece by Bill Simmons about how boring the Red Sox are now that they've won not just one, but two, recent World Series and it got me thinking: I think I'm ready to pull for the Cubs to win one too. Our country is 234 years old - the Cubs are championship-less for 102 years. In just 30 years, the Cubs' World Series drought will be HALF of our country's entire existence . When Walt Jocketty is done rebuilding the Reds, he needs to move to Chicago and save the Cubs, make some shrewd deals and trades, and get them a World Series win. Especially in this self-help, I'm damaged goods, pity me world we live in, this Cubbie fan torture has actually become a positive thing for them. Enough! Just let them win one so we can all stop talking (and writing) about it. And they can gripe about something else, like the Bears.
6. Daddy, the Cardinals Won't Let Me Start - As previously mentioned, John Mozeliak has already been second-guessed about the Ludwick trade and if the Padres knock us out in October this year, I will actually feel sorry for the man considering the wrath he will incur from us timid, faithful Cardinal fans (tee hee). But its also possible that he may look like a new-age genius if he unlocks the hidden All-Star within Colby Rasmus. He has everyday talent (and improving numbers against lefties), but was still platooned by Tony La Russa. The Ludwick trade forces Tony's hand and makes Rasmus a true everyday player and maybe that is the kind of situation he needs to succeed. He's always been "the guy" and with Ludwick gone he is definitely "the guy" in center field. Maybe he will find sustained success where pressure to perform is absent. That seems a better option than putting Tony Rasmus (Colby's dad and former(?) coach) on the payroll.
7. Taking a Holliday From Bashing Matt - It is official: Matt Holliday's FIRST season under his big new contract will not be a bust. He's been the best hitter in the National League since mid-June and is on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBIs. For $16 million a year, his numbers are adequate - barely.
8. Jimmy's Still Got Game - THN wants to thank Jim Edmonds for his game-winning home run against the Reds on July 26th. Jimmy Ballgame actually hit five home runs in July and is 10 away from 400 in his career. Check out his video highlights on mlb.com and you'll see he's made a couple spectacular catches in center this year as well. Unlike many stars that have taken too long to retire (ahem, Ken Griffey Jr., cough) Edmonds truly is still an entertaining ballplayer with a flair for the dramatic. Don't know if he's a Hall-of-Famer, but he was the best Cardinal outfielder I ever saw. Edmonds for Bottenfield will always be the signature trade of Walt Jocketty's amazing career.
9. Trade Targets Collide Tonight At Busch - The Cardinals will send newly acquired Jake Westbrook to the mound to face another recent Cardinal trade target, Brett Meyers of the Astros. The 30-year-old Meyers has pitched like an ace this year. He's definitely got better stuff than Westbrook so tonight will be the first litmus test of John Mozeliak's player personnel savvy. After Houston traded Roy Oswalt to the Phillies, the asking price for Meyers became prohibitively high. The 'Stros then locked up the hurler to a three-year contract extension. Did we get the right guy? We shall see.