We likely won’t know for a couple of years, or more, if the Cardinals made a wise investment in signing pitcher Jamie Garcia to a new four-year contract.
What we do know, however, is that there are a couple of players on the Cardinals who should have been considered a more important priority than Garcia when it came to signing a contract or an extension for 2012 and beyond.
If the Cardinals had not signed Garcia to the four-year, $27 million deal last week, he would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career this winter. In other words, the only risk the Cardinals would have had in waiting to sign Garcia was financial. It’s doubtful, even if he had gone through arbitration, that he would have received a deal for more than the $3.37 million he will now receive next year.
In the case of Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina, however, there is a far greater risk involved in waiting.
Nobody can argue that signing Berkman last winter to a one-year, $8 million deal has been one of the best moves the Cardinals have made in a long time. With 27 homers and 69 RBIs in the first 101 games of the season through Sunday, he is on pace to record one of the best seasons by a switch-hitter in franchise history.
His contributions in the clubhouse have also been well documented, and he has stated often how much he is enjoying this season and playing in St. Louis.
Given that background, and add in the fact that Berkman also can play first base, and the current first baseman is a candidate to leave town this winter as a free agent, wouldn’t it make sense to try to get him signed to a new contract now, before Berkman can again be a free agent this winter?
The Cardinals have to know based on Berkman’s health and production this season that some team will no doubt put a higher offer on the table this winter if Berkman reaches free agency. Letting him even that choice would be a major mistake.
He will be 36 next February, so Berkman probably is not going to seek more than a two- or three-year contract, and the dollar amount should be reasonable. Waiting will only cost the Cardinals more money, and perhaps, the loss of the player. What would the team’s fans think about the middle of the batting order next year if both Albert Pujols and Berkman were gone?
In the case of Molina, he has a contract option worth $7 million for 2012, which the team certainly will exercise. At 29, Molina is unquestionably the best defensive catcher in the league and is now in the prime of his career.
And that makes it important for the Cardinals to get Molina signed to a long-term extension before he is eligible for free agency at the end of next season. Letting him get to the open market would be a major mistake, and even letting him go into next season sniffing free agency would be to repeat what has happened with Pujols this season.
While the Cardinals have prospects and young, less expensive help coming through the minor leagues, especially on the pitching side, they have nobody who is in Molina’s class, and neither do most teams in the NL. Trying to get him signed to a long-term extension should be at the top of General Manager John Mozeliak’s agenda.
The Cardinals likely would counter by saying they really don’t know what kind of money they will have to spend for next year and beyond until there is a resolution to Pujols’ status. That argument would make sense – if they had not locked up Garcia to the new deal last week.
The reverse can just as easily be argued – signing the other players first, knowing what the framework of your team will be if Pujols leaves – then offer him what you can and hope it is enough. If it isn’t, thank him for what he has done the last 11 seasons and move on.
Doing so without Berkman and Molina in the lineup, however, would be a major mistake.
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