Cardinals' DeWitt says no big trade on horizon
By Joe Strauss
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — Seven months ago Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. convened a meeting of department heads to discuss an organizational worst-case scenario predicated upon diminishing attendance. A 20 percent drop would render the July 14 All-Star Game a mere respite from a grinding summer.
The club instead sold its 3 millionth ticket earlier this month, despite a highly stressed area economy.
A team unable to average 3.5 runs per game in May remains a player in the NL Central, even amid calls for outside reinforcements.
DeWitt on Saturday referred to the club as "in a pretty good position" given the season-long absence of third baseman Troy Glaus, the anxiety-related issues dogging shortstop Khalil Greene and a starting rotation missing Kyle Lohse. "We really haven't been at full strength all year," DeWitt said. "Hopefully, in time, we will be."
Attendance is off about 5 percent from last year, when the Cardinals drew 3.45 million. While DeWitt notes other revenue streams are down, he recognizes his team fares better than most.
"Three million is always our goal — that and to be in the race to the end," DeWitt said. "We've done better than (3 million) in recent years. I'd still say we're having a good season in that respect, though some of the other revenue categories are down. That's a function of the economy. But it's important because nobody knew which way the economy was going. It hasn't played out yet. We're still not certain of how revenues will be across the board but we're encouraged by attendance and what that means."
DeWitt acknowledged the search for another hitter but tapped down any expectation for a quick fix, reminding, "We're always hostage to what's available."
Potential trade partners — Cleveland, Oakland, perhaps even Houston — have recovered from horrendous starts, putting impact players such as Indians third baseman Mark DeRosa, A's left fielder Matt Holliday and Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada out of reach. DeWitt does not buy into pessimism about Glaus' potential return and hopes to see more out of Greene after he emerges from the disabled list.
"There are possibilities here and there, but nothing compelling," DeWitt said regarding a middling pool of available trade possibilities. "There remain some clubs that now perceive themselves in the race that may fall out and move talent. But you can't be certain of the market."
DeWitt acknowledged a connection between better-than-expected attendance and an ability to spend.
"It's a factor," he said. "We have some flexibility if the right situation were to occur. We wouldn't have been so sure about that early on."
The Cardinals opened the season with payroll about $8 million below last year's opening day amount. The club is 19 games shy of the schedule's midpoint, which arrives immediately before the Cardinals go on a 10-game trip to Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Chicago.
A player such as Tejada would then be due about $6.5 million for the remainder of the season. A historically slow starter such as Seattle Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre would have about $6 million left on his contract.
If DeRosa were made available, his remaining $2.75 million would be a comparable bargain.
"Maybe by then a team is looking to get younger or looking to get rid of payroll," DeWitt said. "Maybe a player in their system can take the place of a major-league player. Maybe that major-league player is someone we need."
DeWitt remains committed to a draft-and-develop philosophy that has caused some to accuse the club of overvaluing its prospects. DeWitt also strongly disagrees with critics who dismiss the impact of players now coursing through the system, crediting instead those who have graduated to St. Louis this season as a primary reason for the club remaining in contention.
The Cardinals chairman insists the club is positioned to trade prospects for immediate help but cautions, "I don't think it's that black and white. I think you have to look at every situation as it is at the time. Any time we wanted some help last year, everybody was looking for players playing on the club this year and playing well. To their credit, they asked for players we wouldn't give up. I think we have a good blend now."
Even with eight pending free agents, an increasingly crowded 40-man roster may prod movement as a surplus of outfielders and projected relievers, combined with ascending players, will demand decisions. Other issues — for example, how to measure catching prospects Bryan Anderson, Steven Hill and Tony Cruz — also remain.
General manager John Mozeliak last July tried to deal for Colorado Rockies closer Brian Fuentes and Atlanta Braves lefthanded set-up man Will Ohman but refused to pay exorbitantly for pending free agents.
Unknown is whether a tougher economic climate combined with lower attendance will make also-rans more likely to dump salary as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. The Cardinals apparently are prepared to find out.
"I don't know right now," DeWitt said. "In general, young players are now carrying a lot of value in major league baseball, so teams feeling out of it may migrate that way."
(c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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