The St. Louis Cardinals managed to go an almost unprecedented 4-for-4 with their acquisitions this summer, helping them to run away from their archrival Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Their hot streak might also have raised the confidence of their front office to extreme heights.
How else to explain club owner Bill DeWitt's stated winter objective to sign both their two superstars, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. "That's the goal," DeWitt told SI.com, "to lock up both of them."
DeWitt, leader of one of baseball's best organizations, also said, "We want to make sure Albert's a long-term, lifetime Cardinal."
As if a winter in which they will try to placate, satisfy and bring back managerial icon Tony La Russa and his annoyed pitching coach cohort Dave Duncan (Duncan was upset to see son Chris traded away) wasn't challenging enough, DeWitt is proposing an additional two-part trick that carries an extraordinarily high degree of difficulty.
"No chance can they keep both," one competing GM opined.
It isn't often a team confronts a contract situation with two more years to go. But Pujols is a special situation. "Two years is a long time, but two years can go fast," DeWitt said.
Pujols, who is make $16 million in 2010 under his current contract and another $16 million on a 2011 club option, is expected to seek at least a contract extension with a salary comparable to Alex Rodriguez's contract that's likely to pay him $30 million annually. Pujols' agent, Danny Lozano, didn't return a call Thursday, but it's illogical to expect Pujols to seek anything less than baseball's top salary, especially coming off perhaps his best season in a career of only excellent seasons. He's hitting .330 with 47 home runs and 129 RBIs.
Holliday, the top free agent this winter (just ahead of Jason Bay and John Lackey) who's hitting .356 since coming to St. Louis, is thought to be interested in a deal comparable to the $180 million, eight-year contract signed by Mark Teixeira last winter. DeWitt repeated their desire to re-sign Holliday, as well. "Our goal is to keep Matt Holliday, no question about that," DeWitt said.
The Cardinals, whose midsummer deals for Holliday, Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo and John Smoltz all paid off, have relied for years on star players loving perhaps the country's best baseball town to the point of leaving money on the table to stay in St. Louis. But to think they can or will spend close to $50 million per season on two players seems like a tough assignment, especially with ace pitcher Chris Carpenter's own contract up in a year.
But perhaps it doesn't matter whether anyone thinks it can be done. Negotiating with the two stars simultaneously actually makes sense for a variety of reasons, including ...
• By getting counter-offers from both stars, they can judge the reasonableness of both against each other.
• They avoid insulting Pujols by making a higher accompanying offer to him at a time they're likely to offer Holliday a deal to beat Pujols' current $16 million salary.
• They show both they're interested in retaining the best 3-4 combination in baseball, and perhaps give each an even better feeling about the team's chances (of course money is always assumed to be the key factor in any negotiation, but both stars have to relish having the other around).
• They show their great fans how serious they are.
• They show La Russa and Duncan how serious they are.
Regarding La Russa, DeWitt said that he remained "hopeful and optimistic" that he'll stay.
DeWitt didn't volunteer his opinion of their chances to accomplish the Daily Double of Pujols and Holliday. But if they can do it, they'll surprise a lot of folks around baseball.
A person familiar with the Astros' plans says they will interview Manny Acta for their managerial opening. But if the Houston Chronicle's candidate list has any legs, he'll have plenty of company. It's a veritable potpourri of former Astros stars and current Astros coaches and decision-makers.
The one person long seen as a viable candidate is Jim Fregosi, who doesn't have ties to the Astros but has ties to Astros GM Ed Wade, who like Fregosi spent a good while in Philly. Fregosi, a former manager of the Angels, White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays, has been working hard for years as a scout, most recently with the Braves. Fregosi has been a candidate in many places before, and it's somewhat surprising he hasn't gotten back into uniform.
Other interesting candidates include Astros icons Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell (their agent, Barry Axelrod, declined comment on any possible interest when reached by phone until real contact has been made) and former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus, now a Dodger. Astros owner Drayton McLane has always loved Bagwell and Biggio, and Dartmouth man Ausmus is seen as a rare person who could jump from his playing career right into a managing career. Also mentioned by the paper were interim manager Dave Clark, and Astros coaches Al Pedrique and Tim Bogar. Any and all should be forewarned that Astros management thinks they have a superb team, which doesn't make things easy.
The other possibility, and it's probably a long shot (though the possibility has been rumored), would be to hope La Russa and Duncan bolt the Cardinals and they can steal that vaunted tandem from the best team in the NL Central. That would be a coup, as it's hard to imagine La Russa ditching a great situation in St. Louis for a team with troubles.
Eric Wedge's chances to keep the Indians managing job are decreasing by the day. The Indians have now lost 11 straight, so it should be no surprise that GM Mark Shapiro is now being pressured to fire Wedge, according to people familiar with the Cleveland situation.
Wedge is well-respected and well-liked around baseball, especially by Shapiro, a longtime supporter. And Wedge is said by Indians insiders to be just as consistent and calm as ever during this dreadful year. But a team doesn't often suffer this sort of collapse and carry on status quo.
Shapiro is believed to have had no intention to fire Wedge. But with the Indians having been outscored 71-30 in their 11-game slide, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make a compelling case to keep him as manager. His salary for 2010 is believed to be for $1.25 million, but the cash-strapped Indians saved about $15 million for next year with the trades of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.
Former Indians pitcher John Farrell, now the Red Sox's pitching coach, would be a candidate to replace Wedge.
Some teams are wondering whether the Cubs might consider drastic changes, considering a new owner, Tom Ricketts, is taking over the disappointing team. And that could include a potential sale of several big names.
If they do considering trading off some of their bigger contracts, there are lot to consider, including Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. But two GMs said they belief Soriano is untradeable with his $136-million contract and lack of recent production, and a third GM said, "Zambrano isn't the same guy he was. Something was wrong this year." And that GM wasn't talking about Zambrano's temper tantrums, but rather his pitching. The Cubs would have to eat a decent chunk of Zambrano's $18 million-plus salary to trade him, as well.
Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and especially Derrek Lee would be much more popular if put on the block.
One Cub likely to find himself on a new team next year is troubled outfielder Milton Bradley, and judging by his recent remarks to the Arlington Heights, Ill. Daily Herald, he should be happy about that (of course, he's never happy). Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey dubbed him "Meltdown Bradley" after Bradley's negative comments about the alleged "negativity" surrounding the Cubs organization -- the final bad deed that got Bradley suspended for the year by the organization. (This seems like a harsh punishment, but perhaps all sides realized it'd be best if Meltdown Miltie wasn't around anymore.)
In any case, he's got to go somewhere else next year. The Cubs and their new owners can't possibly want to start their new regime with the meltdown man.
One team that may make sense for Bradley is the Padres. Bradley's tenure in San Diego didn't end well, as he tore his ACL while going after an umpire (he was spun to the ground by manager Bud Black, who was trying to protect Bradley from himself). But while that was a disastrous situation, San Diego was still one of the better stops for Bradley. San Diego has historically been a place for players to blend in successfully.
One GM said of Bradley, "He needs to come somewhere where he won't be noticed too much."
That sounds like the Padres.
• Word is, Major League Baseball would like Rangers owner Tom Hicks to sell the team as soon as possible, and one person familiar with the situation said MLB has set a goal to sell by Thanksgiving. Hicks, who has encountered steep financial difficulties after making losing investments in soccer and hockey teams and apparently doing a little too much leveraging of other investments, had trouble meeting payroll at some points this season, and MLB helped him out. But MLB doesn't want to be in the business of running a team again. In addition to former superagent Dennis Gilbert, Reuters reported that Chuck Greenberg and Jim Crane are heading groups to buy the team. A source familiar with the situation said the goal price if $500 million.
• A scout who recently saw struggling closer Brad Lidge said he believes the problem is that his breaking ball "has flattened out." Many theories abound as to how Lidge has gone from one of the greatest years ever for a closer (no blown saves) to perhaps the worst (11 blown saves). The Phillies like Ryan Madson as the setup guy (he's only 8-for-14 in save situations, too), and Brett Myers won't throw a bullpen session until Tuesday. Consideration has to be given to moving Pedro Martinez into the closer's role, but the question there would be whether he'd be able to bounce back day after day. J.A. Happ, the Rookie of the Year favorite, could be another possibility. If they fully commit to closer by committee, that strikes of desperation.
• A.J. Burnett looks like he might have solved his difficulties after two strong starts on the West Coast. Burnett went to tapes of his games in the second half of last year in Toronto, and he made corrections to some mechanical issues. Generally, he was moving side-to-side too much and needed to go "downhill." If Burnett is back to himself, that would be a huge lift for the Yankees, whose only issue is their starting pitching.
• Funny Mets trivia (well, not so funny if you're a fan): They had one day -- one day!! -- where all their big players were available and playing (yes, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Gary Sheffield). Anyone who can guess the date wins a prize. Time's up. It was April 18. Johan Santana pitched, and the Mets beat the Brewers, 1-0.
• The Mets' dismissal of Latin American scout Ramon Pena is more evidence embattled GM Omar Minaya will be returning. After Minaya made the tough call to fire his longtime friend Pena, who ran afoul of co-workers in both Detroit and New York, Minaya's bosses wouldn't then turn around and whack Minaya.
• The Pirates' tank job is so bad (3-18 this month) it looks like an attempt to wrest the No. 1 draft choice from the Nationals and get a chance to grab young power prospect Bryce Harper.
• Some rare good news for the Pirates: Pedro Alvarez is tearing it up for the U.S. World Cup team in Europe (he had a three-homer game). The U.S. has won 12 straight after beating Cuba Thursday and plays Sunday in the championship game in Rome.
• The Rangers' Justin Smoak has hit a World Cup record eight home runs, breaking Tino Martinez's old record of six. The Rangers may be fortunate to have held onto him, as his name was prominent in Roy Halladay trade talks.
• Execs think Halladay will be back on the block this winter. "He doesn't want to be there. It only makes sense (to trade him)," one exec noted.
• Time for the Dodgers and Rockies to sign GMs Ned Colletti and Dan O'Dowd to new contracts, respectively. Both can become free agents.
• The tweeting continues at: http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.