Remember when St. Louis Cardinals spring training was more about baseball than contracts?
St. Louis Cardinals players reported to Jupiter, Fla., last week to kick off spring training 2013, but that first week was full of contract talk instead of baseball talk, an unfortunate situation that has become the norm at Cardinals camp in recent years.
The Cardinals even went bigger than usual in the first week this year by having three contract announcements, but at least two of those were positive announcements. The organization picked up the option on manager Mike Matheny’s contract for the 2014 season, and it signed general manager John Mozeliak to a three-year extension.
The other announcement wasn’t so joyful. Adam Wainwright and the team said contract negotiations with the pitcher are not active at the moment, and there is not a timetable for when that situation will be put to rest.
All of these are necessary procedures for a Major League Baseball organization, but it takes away from the excitement of spring training and shifts the focus away from what we all want to enjoy: players on the field preparing for the upcoming season.
Unfortunately, early spring training workouts have been an afterthought in the past three seasons.
In 2010, Albert Pujols arrived at spring training camp in much the same situation Wainwright walked into camp this year. Pujols was headed into the final year of his contract with the Cardinals, and people spent an incredible amount of time talking and analyzing Pujols’ situation, nevermind the team was actually preparing for a season that would end with a World Series championship.
Spring training in 2011 wasn’t as bad, but that’s more because the result turned out much better for the Cardinals. Pujols had left the Cardinals and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in December 2010, but the Cardinals had another important part of their team heading into the dreaded final year of a contract.
That important player was Yadier Molina. People were already speculating about him joining Pujols in Anaheim after his contract expired at the end of the year, but Molina and the Cardinals squashed that talk early in spring training when he signed a five-year, $75-million extension to stay with the club.
Then came this year, and the Cardinals are again stuck in contract negotiations with a star player. It’s anybody’s guess how Wainwrights contract situation will play out, but that’s what keeps people talking about it even though we are less than a week away from the start of actual spring training games.
Understandably, high-profile contract negotiations are part of the way of life for Major League Baseball teams these days as salaries rise to the next astronomical amount and the performance-enhancing drugs topic refuses to go away.
However, the quality of life for teams, players and their fans might be better if people spent more time talking about exciting new players or position battles instead of off-the-field issues.
Spring training is a seemingly magical time of year when teams go to the tropics to work on aspects of their game so they are ready to debut for an excited fan base when they return home for Opening Day.
Baseball is great when it is little more than those quaint storylines. It’s too bad much of that gets overshadowed by the modern realities of the sport.