Final Cardinals Winter Warm-Up extra points

Freese: Big gap in contract amounts

Miscellaneous follow-up thoughts after the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up fan festival.

As I prepared and posted a series of interviews as well as articles related to topics of interest to St. Louis Cardinals fans from the recent Winter Warm-Up fan festival, there are a number of items remaining in my head that do not fit neatly in other pieces.

Hence, the creation of this short catch-all article.

A couple of pending contract situations remain a focus of the front office. One is a short-term issue, with the other a much more strategic decision.

Salary Freese

When David Freese submitted his salary amount for arbitration, my perception is that its size caused disappointment among some Cardinals executives. Freese has asked for $3.75 million, while the club countered with $2.4 million. That gap is uncharacteristically large.

This situation will bear watching as an arbitration date later this month nears. Hearings will be held in Phoenix between February 4 and 21.

It has been 13 years since the Cardinals went to an actual hearing with a player. It seems unlikely still, as the Freese difference is relatively small in the big picture of Cardinals salary expenditures in total.

Yet if any case might threaten approaching a hearing and its associated messiness, it could be this one. The closest I recall to the Cards reaching a hearing in recent years was in 2009. That February, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick came to terms shortly before going in front of the panel to hear their respective cases.

Rather than over-react to the situation, it is worth noting that general manager John Mozeliak matter-of-factly told fans at Winter Warm-Up that he expects Freese to be the Cardinals' third baseman for the next three years. It seems doubtful that any damage would be permanent.

Marc Rzepczynski was the other arbitration-eligible player who had not yet come to terms with the club. That was resolved on Friday, as the two sides settled at the midpoint, with a very small games-pitched incentive for Scrabble.

Waino's extension

The other current major contract opportunity is that of Adam Wainwright. Already set for 2013, the question for Wainwright and the Cardinals is a long-term deal starting in 2014. The two sides said they made progress last fall before the pitcher shut off talks prior to the post-season, wanting to avoid the distraction. Indications are that the two will talk again this spring, but not do so during the 2013 regular season.

The big unknown is the impact of rising pitching salaries in the open market. Based on my gut feeling only, I still give it better than 50 percent odds for the two to make a deal this spring. The Cardinals may have to give a bit on contract duration and Wainwright give a bit on annual salary.

Trouble with the Cuban

In asking around about Cuban shortstop Aledmis Diaz, I picked up a concern about the reason for the delay in the player's January showcase for scouts. Only after Baseball America wrote about it last week did those details become clear.

Diaz is being investigated for falsifying his age, but in a unique twist, he may actually be younger than claimed. The older age, 23, is crucial to him being declared a free agent exempt from the MLB-imposed team international signing bonus pool restrictions.

It remains to be seen how this investigation will come out, but if Diaz is available, it appears the Cardinals are interested. The club was set to send its top amateur and professional scouting heads, Dan Kantrovitz and Matt Slater, to the initially-scheduled workout.

Yet, before getting too excited, it is best to remember that the Cardinals rarely engage in and win bidding wars. Further, scouting reports on Diaz have been mixed.

Who is in and who is out

After ducking Winter Warm-Up for two straight years, catcher Yadier Molina did appear to sign autographs in 2013, though he skipped the Writers' Dinner. Returning pitcher Lance Lynn and newcomer Ty Wigginton were absent from the weekend's festivities.

During the Writers' event, GM John Mozeliak fired off a zinger. When thanking new reliever Randy Choate for his attendance at the charity event, Mo noted that not all new signees choose to come.

Division of labor

This is hardly a news flash, but after listening to all the top execs of the club speak, divisions of responsibilities were very clear. Mozeliak works closely with chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. on baseball matters while president Bill DeWitt III focuses on the business side.

Why does spending criticism continue?

My final thought is about the investment stance of this ownership group. DeWitt Jr's comment to the writers about increased major league payroll in the future received wide attention, as it should. Yet, when he said it, I was not surprised. It could have an impact on the Wainwright situation, for example.

At least one well-read Cardinals site (that did not have a writer present among the WWU media, by the way) reported that DeWitt Jr. was "resigned" to having a higher payroll in the future. Standing there listening and looking at his face as he spoke, I did not get that impression at all. It seemed to me to be a matter-of-fact point made.

I have never understood the continuing "DeWallet" potshots made over the years about the leader of a very well-run and highly-successful franchise. Since we have the audio posted here on the site, you can listen to DeWitt Jr's WWU remarks for yourself.

Increased investment encouraging

There were several other encouraging signals perhaps not noticed by others that the club is making wise investments across the board in an attempt to exploit competitive advantage opportunities.

Adding one additional national cross-checker and one additional regional cross-checker to the amateur scouting ranks is designed to keep the Cardinals on top of the new draft spending rules.

Further, the decision to keep both fall instructional league and early minor league spring training camps indicate player development is also receiving investment focus from the organization.

I can see nothing but positives in the Cardinals wisely spending additional moneys for major league players, as well as keeping the scouting and player development pipelines full. That is how a successful organization continues to thrive.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2013 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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